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Weirder Stuff Episode VI: Rainbow Shadows

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Slipped her earbuds back in and turned on her playlist again. The next song queued, starting soft at first as she shook out her limbs and did a couple of quick stretches while glancing around the farm and makeshift training area, taking in the terrain. She bobbed her head for a few moments as the track began to shift. She started at a normal jog and began to accelerate to what was easily a sprinter's pace, but for her it was a casual effort. She made a lap around the area, getting used to the speed and into the music, seeking escape in the sweat and exertion. Her conscious thinking stepped back and she began to just move and react to the terrain and improvised obstacles. 

She approached the barn and shifted her balance and footing, running horizontally along the wall in defiance of gravity almost to the end to change her direction before foot touched ground again. She slider under and dove, flipped, tumbled and hurdled over obstacles easily 6' tall. She almost looked like liquid, moving with such fluidity through the terrain, never stopping and barely slowing for the briefest of moments, getting more and more bold with each obstacles as her confidence in her abilities grew. Lilly used walls, trees and farm equipment to push off of to change direction, keeping her speed to around 20 mph at first, but gradually pressed on the gas, keeping it conservative out of safety for the others and respect for the farm. 

Finally she found herself running right at the barn again, only this time as she drew near she pushed off with a foot, her leg flexing to propel her up at an angle toward the wall, changing the direction of her inertia. Step after step came in rapid succession on the old barnwood, her toned legs pushing her farther and father up the wall until she nearly crested it. At the top Lilly slapped the roof before running back down the wall to land safely on the ground. The entire display looked almost effortless, like the young athlete was hardly even trying, and judging by the speed she had when she started up the wall, almost any onlooker could have guessed that she could have gone much higher had there been enough wall.

With a smile, and even more confidence in her abilities, Lilly jogged to her truck at a normal jogging pace and grabbed the gym bag that perpetually lived there. She jogged back to the plough and dropped her bag by it, unzipping and fetching her weightlifting gloves and chalk bag from it. Casually she walked around the huge metal farming implement, slipping on her gloves and strapping them tightly as she looked for good places to place her hands. Once she completed a circuit around the plough she grabbed her chalk bag withdrew a small handful of the powder, rubbing it between her hands as the excess drifted away in a small cloud.

Lilly approached one end of the plough and shook out her arms and carefully placed her hands. With a grunting of effort Lilly lifted the end of the plough, breaking it free of the dirt that had accumulated and hardened around it. Lilly shot one foot out behind her, shifting her stance, her tight rear flexing as she lifting the plough higher and higher. Shifting her grip in it in a flash, she stepped under it and lifted the end over her head, holding it there for a moment with a smile as some of her friends stared on. With some more effort, the end plough was once again on the ground.

Lifting the end too some effort, but she knew she could do better. Chalking her hands again, and this time slapping them together to remove any excess in a cloud in front of her, Lilly moved to the middle of the plough. She took a few deep breaths and placed her gloved hands on the sun-warmed metal. Digging her feet into the ground, the young athlete exhaled, her amazonian physique flexing and her face contorting into a mask of exertion and her gaze intense as the teen began to life the two ton piece of farm equipment from the earth, quickly stepping under and then lifting it higher in a 'clean and jerk' weightlifting motion. She led it for a few seconds and then let out another, louder grunt of exertion as she lowered it, more or less safely, to the ground once again and then fell on her back, laying there, sports bra clad breasts and bare, washboard abdomen riding and falling quickly as she caught her breath with a huge on her face and began laughing.

Edited by Lilly Pryor

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So, of course, after dragging the entire cooler over from the barn by herself Jason felt it was certainly a good enough idea to make use of the convenience. It would figure that he was to lazy to do it on his own, but then again, why should he? He was Jason Bannon and everyone was just part of his grand experiment in becoming a real person one day.

Be that as it may, Marissa had been sitting long enough. After her conversation with Lilly, which wasn't bad as far a socializing with the Nerd Herd went, she decided to it was time to at least get serious and attempt to unfuck some of the bad karma she'd levied on herself over the course of this weekend. Amazingly enough, she didn't have a scrunchie but she didn't really care at this point. With a simple shake of her head her dark brown hair she gently primped it with her nails as she approached the gangling serial killer in training. Sill, regardless of her personal feeling on the matter she didn't want to see him dead because of Enterich's thunder-wood getting so hard that he just had to kill something because 'he was the boss'. She wouldn't mind him being broken and mangled in the same way he left Liam but she sure the Fellowship would claim that it was somehow not right than some monster would treat their poor Jason that way, completely missing the point of the irony... and that was no fun.

“Last stop on the apology tour?” She asked him as she approached. Ever-spectacular in her appearance, the alluring Diva really only had that as her ice breaker since already being this close to him made her skin crawl. “So, food for thought, since your the thinker and self-proclaimed genius,” she looked down the cooler he didn't consider for his guests. “Obviously.”

Her hair usually appeared black, but in the brightness of the afternoon sun it's dark brown hue shimmered here and there in the sun as she continued. “Right as we get this whole Enterich name seemingly plucked from a vision and Cody's location practically handed to us for a face-off, lo and behold, the return of Lilly. Now, were this just high school drama, Jason your ashes would already scattered, your lands burned and your fields salted, but this is not high school. I've had a bad feeling for some time now, a pang in my gut. Something, and I don't know what, just doesn't feel right. I was talking about it with my brother, so, I figured it only proper to discuss it with you too.”

“My point is, be careful.” Her voice was sincere and caring enough but she could fake emotion ranges the same way Cade faked being interested in what Cosmo said about his and Marissa's compatibility. “This is just a bit too convenient, at least from my perspective. We know Shades aren't always violent and we have no proof that none of us are immune to Dark influence. I mean, what Olympic try out? She's trained her whole life and no one even knows what Olympic event she was going for... and what Olympic hopeful risks injury by playing high school sports and goes to a public school? Now, all of a sudden, in our darkest hour enter the Lilly. Might be paranoia, might not. Just food for thought.”

"Interesting point of view." Jason fixed her with a stare as, head tilted slightly, he considered her words, filing away the 'high school drama, ashes, burning and salting' for later review alongside Devin's earlier statement that Marissa was unhappy about him and Autumn.. also comparing with the tone of sincere care in her voice as she warned him. Another contradiction. He wasn't sure why the rancor, or why Marissa would even care who he dated: it ceased to be her business when she turned him down. But then, she was right - whatever 'logic' led her to being mad at him was less important than the Dark and its agents. "You propose Lilly was lying about the tryouts - that should be easy to determine. Competitors are registered and their events logged somewhere. Olympic hopefuls are not too low-profile for a half-decent web search."

"As for Enterich being seemingly plucked from a vision..." he went on calmly. "I have no reason to disbelieve Cassandra. If she says she saw something, then until I have good logical reason to believe otherwise I shall go with that fact. Her vision might have been fooled - but to what end? To divert us from tackling Cody? We go after him tomorrow evening anyway. This Enterich, whoever he is, is secondary to that." He took another drink of water from his recently-appropriated bottle, pale green eyes on her still. "I will take your words into consideration, though." he admitted as he lowered the bottle once more. "If something does not feel right to you, then I will treat that with the same gravity as I treat Cassandra's visions."

"Sure, because Sean's never faked a document in his life, go ahead, look that up, I'm sure it's legit." She rolled her eyes. "I'm not doubting Cassie, nor Lilly. I just, I don't know. My worry-dar is off the charts and right now no one seems to really want to listen to reason." She paused and sighed. "Okay, maybe I am doubting everyone... but this world we're a part of now is insane and everyday I'm just waiting for people to just peel their faces off like this whole city is one messed up Scooby-Doo episode. I just can't even, most days. I don't have powers, all I can do is worry, so I worry. A lot.  Not that anyone listens, but hey, whateves."

"Anyways, just stay alert," she offered in a tone that almost seemed like she cared. "Devin's going to patrol the city tonight, make sure nothing is out of the ordinary... whatever the hell that means in this town. He'll text if there's a problem, I asked him to include you in that as well since you seem to have some sort of bromance going."

"Thank you." He nodded slightly. "And... for what it may be worth, I don't dismiss your intuition, Marissa. You claim to have no powers - but you do Shine. Perhaps your worry-dar is part of it. Or maybe you just have good instincts." He gave her a faint smile, the edges of his eyes crinkling slightly. "If you have a concern, I will listen to it." He paused, his smile turning a little wry and lopsided. "I might not act on it, but I will listen. And I'll stay alert."

She shifted her posture slightly, a bit relieved that Jason had agreed to remain alert, but that seemed the extent of tells the her composure was willing to gift. "Well, that's it." She said tersely.

"Have fun or whatever you do and enjoy the new girlfriend. If things get weird tonight you'll know." Her arms went out from her sides and fell against her scarlet sheathed hips like a girl with nothing left to say. "If you need me for anything, Devin can let me know." With that said she began walking away.

For a moment, he considered asking how she and Cade were doing, perhaps trying to converse with her as the friends they had been, a week and a lifetime ago. He weighed the apparent rancor she held against the apparent sincere care she had for his life and limb - a confusing set of equations, the math not adding up. She was a study in contradictions, and he was not sure whether she liked him or disliked him. He wasn't even sure she knew.

"Marissa." he called softly, watching as she looked over one finely-shaped shoulder at him. His emerald gaze was expressive for a moment, a question flashing a fin in their depths before the waters stilled once more. "Thanks again." was all he said, his manner sober.

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After the training with Tawny, Cade wanted a little break.  He'd picked up the targets and knives, stones and balls he'd used, and smiled.   They'd both pushed fairly far, and he got another bottle of water.  He didn't see Marissa, even as he went to get his other bag with the trail mix.

He got his phone and sent her a text.   "Hey, I'd like to talk to you for abit.  Mind joining me In the clearing in the woods north of the Farm.  I'll have some music playing."   The text went out before he could think of how it sounded, and he sighed.    "I'm sure she'll have something to say to that."     True to his word he brought up a playlist of older music, mostly old rock songs, since he knew Marissa wasn't a fan of country.   This was the music his grandparents and Mr. Bancroft had put him onto.   It was generally less angry in his opinion than modern music, though he was more fond of country, pretty much like most teenage boys in Montana.

Having done that, he made his way to the clearing, took out the trailmix, and set to work.   His ability to make animals trust him wasn't control.  Up until now it'd helped him do minor things, squirrels were relatively inquisitive, so they were easy enough.   This time he'd brought some other trailmix, and some beef jerky to see if he could get something more than squirrels.

He sat for easily half an hour this time.   The tempting smell of the food wafting in the breeze, his phone quietly playing "Drift Away" by Dobie Gray, one he admit he found to be incredibly relaxing.   He wasn't surprised that first one, then three squirrels came up curiously taking some of the nuts, then soon he had more than half a dozen.  They came right up and took it from his hands, and he was able to pet them without issue.

What surprised him, were the trio of raccoons.   They were normally nocturnal, and he was surprised they came, but the smell of the jerky must have gotten to them.   He'd brought peanut butter trailmix this time, having read that the smell would be stronger, which he knew might draw more animals.  They were inquisitive, and came up to him, only as he held out jerky.   They took it from him in their hand-like paws and went off several feet to eat.   They returned as he held out more jerky, and soon, they didn't even leave him.  They just sat there muching away.

The final animal to be drawn by the assortment of smells was perhaps the most surprising.    He'd seen Badgers before, he'd hunted them with his Grandpa, but this one was large, and The Raccoons did move away behind him. The squirrels made a quick exit to the trees, as badgers ate small rodents. Badgers were onery, and they gave it a wide berth.   Still after staring down a smilodon, Cade was far from afraid.  He set out another piece of jerky, and it came forward, sniffing and then eating it.  Seeing this, Cade got out more, and the badger came right up to him, utterly fearless, and drawn by hunger.  Still he set the jerky down, and the badger ate it, and then put its paws on his legs, standing up and sniffing, essentially begging for more.   Cade chuckled, as the music had been playin on, having gone through several songs.    He pulled more jerky out, and fed it by hand to the adult badger, even as he risked petting it's back.   This was still a wild animal, but he could foster trust quickly and easily, and seemingly with any normal creature, if given time.   It wasn't control, just a little help in taking the first step of trust.

He was so wrapped up in the badger moment that he didn't notice his lover-without-a-label had entered the small clearing.  If not by virtue of her presence the rectangular phone slid into the thigh pocket of her leggings had told him that she'd gotten the message.  "Uh," the quiver in her voice drew Cade's attention.  Her opinion on wild animals was much akin to her opinion of Jason: just because one could summon or play with them, didn't one was in control of them.  "Cade."  Her eyes were locked on the massive, carnivorous predator at his feet.  Marissa couldn't tell a death carpet (badger) from a velocirabbit (kangaroo) but natural flight or fight response froze her in place as her primal brain recognized a predator for what it was.  She took a step back.  "W-what the hell is that?
The shaken tone of her voice remained as looked around and then finally at him before ultimately locking on the death carpet, as it posed the greatest threat to her, and asked, "Why are you surrounded by tree rats and trash pandas?"

Cade looked up at Marissa, standing there looking at the badger halfway in his lap, with three raccoons trying to almost hide behind him.    "Marissa, hey.   I guess you could say this is me training the other thing I know I can do.  I can't control animals or anything, but I seem to have a knack for getting them to trust me.  This would be an American Badger.   Probably one of the meanest animals in these parts."  He took out some more jerky, and set it off to the side, the Badger quickly went to it, and he got up.   He put some for the raccoons, since they'd stuck around and then head over to Marissa.

"They're all still wild, still probably skittish around others, so now that i'm not sitting and feeding them, they'll head off back into the woods.   As soon as the badger came up, the squirrels left, since they eat them.   Aside from the Smilodon, the badger's the biggest thing I've had come up, and so far my "gift" seems to work with everything.  I don't know if it'll be as useful as what the others can do, but you never know."

As the animals all scampered off Marissa listened to her bae's words and couldn't have looked less impressed if she were actively trying.  It was no fault of Cade's she just hated nature.  It was dirty, smelly, noisy, and the things that lived on fringes of humanities borders were ugly and stunk like unwashed laundry.  Okay," her eye widened as she smiled, displaying a false sense of interest.  "Well, glad I could be a part of history.  Enjoy your dirt and death carpets and fart squirrels, text me later, I'll be hungry and you can bring me food."

On that note, she turned to leave, her footing unsteady as she tip toed away, now in fear of stepping on a nope rope.

"Please Wait."  He left where he'd been, and actually pulled some lysol wipes out of a bag in one of his pockets.   He wiped his hands down thoroughly and  smiled at her.   "I'm pretty much done here, so if you want we can head back together.   If you don't want anything  here, we could go get something. " 
"I wanted to ask you something before you go."   He kept some distance, he knew she wasn't a fan of nature at all, and while he was trying to be clean, he knew it probably wasn't enough to reach out to her.

"Would you go to Homecoming with me?"   It was probably comical, considering everything else,  not to mention just what they'd done earlier in the day.  Still it was a formality of high school, and being totally honest, he really did want to go with her to the dance.   He'd need a new suit, and he already had a line on it.
"I already ate here," she said.  "I said later, because later I'll be hungry.  I need time to primp.  My hair has grass in it, and I'm all sweaty."  She wasn't at all sweaty.  Still they walked together a few steps until he'd asked her to Homecoming and then she stopped.

Her arms slid around him and she rested her head against him.  "Of course I'll go," she tip-toed up and pecked his lips.  Her smile was enough to fill him with the courage to battle the Dark a hundred times if it would mean keeping her beautiful light in the world even one more day.  "And thank you for asking."
As quickly as the storm of her beauty had hit the rolling plains of his heart, everything became still again as she was back to old self.  "It about time too.  Jesus.  I'll text you my ideas because we're going to need to match, I don't want you running out and getting some off-the-rack burlap sack.  We'll be there together so you represent me as much yourself, oh and wah, wah, wah... wah, wah... wah... wah..."

It was best to just tune her out sometimes.  The sky was blue, the grass green and his friends were all having the time of his life, not to mention, he was going to Homecoming to hottest girl in school.  As far as Sundays went, this one was turning out to not be so bad.

(written with Marissa's player)

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"Hey. Leg-humper."

Brushing clumps of melting snow from her hair as she eyed the ravaged pizza boxes, Autumn nudged the back of Devin’s knee with her foot. As greetings went it wasn’t exactly the friendliest, but there was a measure of esprit de corps in its delivery that wouldn’t have been present a week earlier; a week earlier, she probably wouldn’t even have bothered greeting him at all. Funny how a few near-death experiences and waking nightmares could help put things in perspective. Fate, or chance, or whatever had conspired to throw them all together, headfirst, into uncharted waters to see if they could swim. And here she was, paddling alongside them as they fought to stay afloat, to survive the oncoming tide- whatever that was. Things were definitely changing, and not always for the best, but…

That’s the nature of things, to change. They have to, don’t they?

“’Sup, Granola?” The still-shirtless gymnast looked up from the somewhat thankless task of condensing the remains of the pizzas they’d maimed and mangled into one box, shooting a sidelong smirk in her direction. “And, uh, last I checked you’ve got two legs.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, and Autumn wasn’t sure which Devin was more obnoxious: the one who’d snapped her bra and ruined her chances with Tom Winslow the year before, or the one who now flirted with every pair of XX chromosomes he met.  

“Both of which I will use to kick your ass,” she threatened without real conviction, cursing silently as she felt the warning signs of an angry flush warming her cheeks. Maybe his super-power wasn’t finding pizza places- maybe it was being annoying. Or both. Could it be both? The redhead snatched a slice of 5-Cheese from the box in his hands and tore off a bite with mock-ferocity.

Devin’s grin only broadened as he slid up next to her, his free arm slipping easily, casually around her shoulders; with or without a boyfriend in the picture, the fast-talking teleporter was a menace to female-kind. “Ooooh.” He feigned a shiver and leaned closer, balancing the pizza in his other hand. “You know, that’s not usually my thing, but keep talkin’. Let’s see where this goes.”

Fuck’s sake, Autumn. This is already a bad idea. And, obviously it was, which was part of the reason she felt compelled to do it in the first place.

Shrugging the arm off as she glanced heavenward, the spirited teen finished her mouthful of cheesy, melty deliciousness and turned to face him directly. “I want you to help me with something. Have you got a minute?” There was visible tension between her eyebrows now, the residual playfulness following her ill-advised teasing of their resident phytophile fading fast.

“Hey, look.” Devin slowly shook his head, spreading his hands in the iconic gesture that begged understanding. “If this is about you and Jason, I just wanna say that I totally get where you’re coming from, and I’d love to help, but my heart’s in kind of a vulnerable place right now.” He paused, biting his lip and affecting a pained expression as he gazed at her with soulful, liquid brown eyes. “I just don’t think I’m ready to be hurt again.”

Just eat your pizza. Eat. Your fucking. Pizza.

She did. Swallowing her pride along with her food, Autumn took two more bites as intangible flames crept up the sides of her face, painting her skin in scarlet. It was fine. Totally fine. “Devin. I’m being serious,” she finally managed. “Like, Dark-fighting serious.”

He blinked at her then, owlishly, and shrugged. “You know, you could’ve just opened with that.” As she stared at him, uncomprehending, that sly, smarmy grin reappeared on the former bully’s lips, and she tossed her half-eaten crust at him in indignation.

“Oh my fucking god, Devin, so help me-“

“Chill, chill,” he laughed, holding up his hands to ward off further pizza-related violence. “I’m just messin’ with you. Relax, girl. Damn. You make this way too easy, you know that?”

Uggggghhh.” The versatile subvocalization, one the red-haired vitakinetic frequently employed, was in this case a low, elongated groan of frustration at the back of her throat. Sure, there were other people who could help her, but that wasn’t the point here. “Fine. I want help learning how to do what you and Jase did.”

It was Devin’s turn to frown, then, forgetting for the moment how satisfying it had always been to get a rise out of her. “I don’t know if I can teach you how to do what I do,” he hedged, “and you know if you want to hear about fire and ice and all that you should talk to Jaybee.”

“No, not that!” She shook her head, bending to collect the empty pizza boxes as the wave of crimson surging beneath her skin began to gradually abate. The mindless gathering gave her something to do and, potentially, something to throw, so helping out seemed like a win-win situation. “I mean more like the actual fight. You seemed like you knew what you were doing.”

“Ohhh, you mean the sparring? ‘Cause I’m not gonna lie, were were just kinda making all that up as we went.” She glanced back over her shoulder as she worked, lips pursed in obvious skepticism, but Devin just shrugged and grinned.

“Hmm.” Picking up another demolished scrap of cardboard, Autumn tossed it into the growing pile. It definitely hadn’t seemed improvised at the time; at some points, she’d wondered if they were fighting for real, or for practice. For those two, it could’ve been both, maybe. “Okay, well, I mean, watching you guys… I just thought it was sorta cool. You both seem so comfortable with your powers, like they’re just a regular part of your lives, y’know? I thought you might be able to help me figure out what to do if- when something happens. Or like, when we go deal with Cody.” Guiding the last box onto the pile with the side of her foot, she peered across the jumble of grease and corrugation, watching Jason and Lilly for a moment before turning back to the pizza-bearer. “I don’t want to be in the way,” she admitted. “And I don’t want anybody else to get hurt because of me, so I need to be able to do more than just… I don’t know. Kick a football player in the knee and yell.”

“So why are you asking me, instead of him?” Devin jerked his head in the direction she’d been looking, setting the one remaining box aside and bracing his hands on his hips. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really mind either way, but you aren’t exactly a founding member of my fan club.” He paused, then added, not-quite smirking, “And I’d know if you were, ‘cause Tee would’ve told me. She’s the president.”

“Mmm.” She pulled the hair-tie from her wrist, gazing off into the distance as nimble fingers wove the chaotic tangle of red-gold curls into a thick braid and secured it in place. Things did have to change. “A bunch of different reasons, I guess. I don’t like the idea of depending one person for everything, and he has things he wants to do, too. Can’t be all over him all the time.” She grinned a little at that, a new wash of pale pink warming her cheeks as she shrugged one shoulder. “Plus, he makes it, um, hard to concentrate. Also plus, if I’m gonna be hanging out with your sister, you and I should probably get used to each other.“

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Kat was sitting in the grass, not far from the barn, rewatching the movie of Jason and Devin's spar in her head. She actually had learned a lot once she had activated her super-duper Power-Vision. I probably need to come up with a better name for that... Since everyone had been so busy, she had decided to train on her own for a while, and things were going as smooth as they could be.

Her field of view was darkened by the Power-Vision, but she could still see reality through the veil the hypothetic layer of subquantum was displaying under her eyes. She had disposed a wide but flat stone before her crossed legs, testing a wide variety of changes on innocent blades of grass, and analyzing her own powers by looking at her own hand. She had quickly reached the conclusion that converting energy demanded her but little effort if not none, whereas producing energy was quite tiring for her. Reshaping the stone to make it flat had helped her realize she was, or had, like a reservoir of Shine, a finite amount of energy to be spent on her powers. Reshaping objects and producing energy depleted it., converting energy did not, neither did her Power-Vision, nor her ability to know the composition of a material to a molecular level. That last one she just had discovered, while picking a stone large enough to be molded. She could hardly put names on it, but she knew what the stone she picked was made of. That stone was unique now, at least to her eyes. There were many others like it, but this one was hers.

This is why the petite redhead focused solely on converting energy. She had had enough of one headache for the day, and had barely recovered from her battle of wits with the plough - thank God, at least she had had pizza! A blade of grass emitted a small column of smoke as it quickly dried, and finally took fire, while Kat turned gravity around it into heat. Funny. I have an endless reserve of gravity... She first chuckled at the thought, then literally burst out with laughter. She didn't quite know why. Was it the fact that owning gravity was a fairly stupid concept, or was it the exhilarating realization that she could do anything as long as gravity was there? She couldn't tell.

"Someone's happy." Courtney sat down beside Kat, folding her legs elegantly to one side and smiling as she cocked her head at the petite girl. Her dark red hair fell almost artfully to one side as honey-brown eyes glanced around at the others, all involved in their own conversations, then back at Kat. "I've got to say, this is better than I thought it'd be. Nobody's giving me the stinkeye or even particularly thinking bad things about me. That I can tell, anyway." Crimson lips curved in a wry smirk.

The French girl gave it a shrug. "Well, the way I see it, you were just part of the Project. you have as much right as Tawny has to be here. Besides, the only one you really gave hell to isn't here..." Devin's word from earlier suddenly rang through her mind. "Anyway, we're past that now." She quickly added.

"Look." She grabbed a blade of grass, and dropped it on the stone. Then grabbed it again, and dropped it once more. But this time, the blade of grass was falling much slower, glowing with a faint light, until it reached the stone, drawing a genuine smile on Kat's features.

"Uh." Courtney looked surprised as she watched. "You make grass glow? I mean, it's cool and stuff - pretty even - but..."

Kat giggled, before explaining. "Not the point. I made it lighter! I turned the norm of the force pulling it down -it's called gravity, by the way, I read that in a book- into light! Think of the applications! I can turn it into heat, speed, sound, any kind of energy, you name it!"

"I know what gravity is." Courtney smirked, laughing. "So you can affect it? That's pretty cool, alright. So can you turn sound into gravity? Or heat, then? Does it work mulitple ways?"

"I... guess? I didn't try yet." She thought for a moment, then turned at her friend with an impish grin. "Try talking..."

The gorgeous redhead lifted an eyebrow, and opened her mouth to speak. But instead it looked like Courtney was blowing a huge bubble of light, that flashed before disappearing. Instead, where light shone the air felt warmer, at least the way Courtney felt it on her lips. It suddenly grew colder as a loud bang resonated around them, followed by Kat's uncontrollable laughter, resonating like a trill across the fields.

Courtney jumped at the sudden report, letting out a little shriek, then narrowing her eyes at the giggling little gamine. "Oh, very funny. Har de har." she huffed before laughing herself, shaking her head. "Okay, so what practical use is that trick? Scaring me out of my panties is not exactly..." she waved a hand at the place where Devin and Jason had had their epic battle. "You know?"

"Well, I could produce enough decibels to kill anything that has a beating heart, if I convert enough... anything... at the same time. I could jump higher, even fly, if I do my mojo correctly." She pointed at tiny pile of ash on her stone. "I could heat something up, warm enough to make it burn. Not as spectacular as Jason's flame, but... I guess that works. I could also convert ambient heat into anything else, just to freeze something. I didn't try it yet, but I guess I could throw a rock and speed it up to the point it's as deadly as a bullet." She shrugged. "There's a ton of possibilities."

"And you can also convert solid stuff, right? Like you did with the plough." Courtney's expression was thoughtful as she absently chewed on a lower lip, staring at where Lilly was practicing her free-running, eyes widening as the athletic teen went up the side of the barn like a cat up a tree. "Wow." Courtney was momentarily distracted, and both her and Kat watched the display for a moment or two.

"Could you change, say, this rock into gold?" Courtney asked, returning to the topic at hand as Lilly jogged off to her pickup.

Kat's lips formed a pensive pout. "I could. But I like my rock like that. Besides, converting energy doesn't ask me to even lift a finger. Repairing the plough gave me a bloody headache. Earlier I realized we have..." She squinted her eyes. "Do you play any video games? Like... World of Warcraft?"

Courtney's stare was blankly uncomprehending. "Are you about to make a nerd analogy? Because it will go 'whoosh'" she motioned over her head. "Like that."

The petite redhead rolled her eyes. "Fine. We have like, a reserve of Shine, and using our mojo depletes it. That's what I meant by 'not lifting a finger'. This rock didn't use to be flat. I made it flat. Now I have... less Shine? Point is, I'm pretty sure turning this stone into pure gold would take... I don't know... Are you ready to pay a whole month worth of pizza for a golden flat stone? 'Cause it's gonna make me as hungry as a marathon runner after he beat the World Record."

"Kat." Courtney's tone was that of a patient adult explaining to a toddler why going potty on the lawn was not a good idea. "You turn a big enough rock into gold, and I will use it to buy you pizza for a month. With the change, I will go shopping in Milan. And maybe donate some to a worthy cause."

"Okay... But I don't wanna. Last time I turned matter into something else, I didn't feel very good. Yesterday, I tried painting with my mojo. I managed to do it, but I felt like I had a bolt-on helmet afterwards." She wasn't smiling anymore. "It's like lifting a skyscraper with my own two arms. That's how difficult it feels."

She stared at the stone for a while. "It's weird, isn't it? If it's energy, I can do whatever I like. But anything else, I'm almost powerless..."

"Join the club." Courtney said blithely, leaning back on her hands and lifting her face to the late-summer sun. "I can read surface minds, and can link folks together, and I can read emotions and affect them a little - I mean, I can make someone less or more angry, but I can't create anger out of nothing, you know? And sometimes I can make someone do something by pushing them to obey me - but that's hard. Anything more than that and I get headaches and nosebleeds." She smiled, her eyes closed as she sunned her pale face.

"I was Cookie's star pupil. His naughty schoolgirl telepath - not that he ever made use of the 'naughty schoolgirl' bit. I thought I was Queen Shit before I saw Bannon freeze a sink and the pipes in the walls, or heard that Lona could cure the sick with a touch, or Devin could teleport." The lovely redhead sighed. "I really thought I was special and better than them all, even the Jauntsens, because I had my secret power. And then Cook threw me under the bus as soon as shinier toys came along to study. And the worst part? I can't hate you guys for that. I tried. I wanted to fuck shit up for the 'Fellowship'. Even tried to get Bannon beaten up by a member of the football team once - I hoped he'd lose it and toast the guy and then everyone would tear themselves apart over it." Courtney opened her eyes, which glistened moistly as she blinked at Kat. "I'm a horrible person. And these guys? They're actually pretty cool. I'm glad they include me, even if I feel like phonier than a Chinese Louboutin."

"Awww." Kat could not repress the urge to hug the pretty redhead sitting besides her, her arms sliding around Courtney's shoulders. "Don't say stuff like that. I mean... of course they're cool. But you're cool too. You're trying to change, and that's cool. I'd rather be friends with the real Courtney than with Queen Shit."

Courtney sniffled, then let out a little sob as she turned in to rest her forehead on Kat's slender shoulder. "But what if the real Courtney is horrible?" she said in a tiny muffled voice. "I'm such a t-t-total bitch, all the t-time. An- an- and today I attuned to Devin and you and Cassie and people and I'm so small compared to it all." She straightened up a little, wiping her eyes and runny mascara with one hand. "I'm a senior. I always thought I'd go on to work as Cook's Girl Friday or something, but now? I don't know if I'll even live out the week." Warm brown eyes sought out Kat's. "I don't want to feel horrible, Kitty." she said, almost plaintively. "I didn't when you were with me the other day. Can we...? Can we... you know. Go somewhere out of sight and you make me feel not-horrible for a bit?"

Kat's eyes widened with surprise. "Like, now?" A nervous chuckle escaped her lips, but there was softness in her eyes as she planted her gaze into Courtney's. "Listen. I'm all for fun naked stuff - hell, before Friday, it had been months since I had a good shag -" she said with a horrible grin, "but there's even better to fix your problem on the long term. I'm not gonna let you die to the hands of some weird magical murder hobo with antlers. So what, if you can only do telepathy? It's your thing, just become the best at it. Sure, maybe it's not as spectacular as teleporting or freezing water, but you heard Jason. You might be the key to us kicking that thing in the balls."

She gently grabbed the pretty redhead by the shoulders and offered her a genuine smile. "You can feel emotions. If you'd just learn how to use it properly, you could be friends with anybody, just by being there for them and saying the right thing to them when they need it. Your Shine is probably the most beautiful of them all. I mean it."

Courtney was speechless. She didn't say a word when the French girl grabbed her by the hand. A couple seconds later, and the flat stone was left alone with its sprinkle of burnt and not burnt grass.

The two girls reappeared fifteen minutes later, the smaller one sporting a satisfied grin over pensive features. Kat turned to her friend. "You know, if you wanna... practice telepathy or... stuff, even vent a little, I'm here for you, okay?" She flashed her a brief smile and a wink, then suddenly jogged off towards Devin and Autumn, yelling: "ANY PIZZA LEFT? I'M FAMISHED!"

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“Yeah, some,” the teleporter replied to Kat as she and Courtney approached. He left what was there as he and Autumn collected what was trash and prepared to leave. “Could ladies excuse us for a second?” He added with a smile as he left the two girls to eat.

It wasn't that he didn't want to talk, but Autumn had confided in him for something and he didn't feel right it was right to put her business out there for others to be involved in, that was her call to make, not his. Pizza boxes, napkins and paper plates were carried in as many ways as possible between the two teens as they walked towards Jase's barn where a larger city issued bin was to discard everything. He didn't say much as they walked, taking it step by step and considering her request as things between them slowly built more awkwardness with each passing step. He was certain she didn't like him, and he didn't blame her, but she had a point, if her and his sister were going to be friends that would mean they would need to find some common ground or avoid each other completely.

He held up the lid of the massive blue bin so Autumn could hoist her armful of pizza boxes and discard the concern for having to do it later. Neither wanted to party at Jason's house and leave him to clean it all up. He swung up the small garbage bag filled with plates and whatnot and let the plastic lid slam closed. “So, did you mean, like now or...” he let his words hang in the air before deciding to move on. “I mean, it doesn't matter to me. We've a full gym at the house, weights and all that, plus the gymnastics gym too. I've been doing a lot of practicing in the evenings, nothing major, just like staff tricks and stuff and helping Marissa get her fight on too. We're both horrible at it, but still it helps to have a sparing partner. YouTube is a big help, also.”

He stopped and she followed suit, turning to face him right as he was meeting her green flecked eyes. “I'm cool with coaching, no problem there, but, I'll be honest with you Granola, I don't even know what you can do. I know you have Fondler's First-Aid, where you touch people and heal them, but that's it. I can help unless I know what I'm helping with. So, look, no pressure but, what I can help with out of the gate, and I'm not trying to preach, is I'm not afraid. My powers are amazing and I can use them for all manner of mischief,” he grinned. “I can even teleport people into the sky and let them fall to their death.”

“Comforting thought,” Autumn huffed out half of a laugh as she listened, curious of where he was going with this.

“Right?” He grinned again, raising his eyebrows. “But I can go to sandy beaches, and take you, my friends, with me. See the world in ways a television screen could never do justice or just in way I never knew existed. No matter how I use my powers, I can't be afraid of them. The how is up to me. If you want to master your abilities, you have to embrace them. I realized early that my mental frame of mind played a great deal in controlling or learning to control my abilities.” He gestured up and down his body with his hands.

“I sleep in the buff,” she rolled her eyes, suddenly no longer interested in where this was heading. He laughed and raised u pa hand to pause her rising desire to just walk away from him. “Hold on now, hear me out. When I woke up naked in the back yard, it was because I was having nightmares about the Land of Upside Down Thunder. Hell, I still have them. It wasn't me losing control of my power though, it was my power trying to protect me my reflexively getting me out of harm's way. Like when you lift your arms up and flinch, or wake up just before something ad happens in dream. We might think we're fine, or have accepted something, but deep down our minds know differently. If you're afraid of something you can do, it won't mature and can hold back from understanding your limits.”

“It's not that easy, Devin,” she looked at him. Her thick, coppery locks bounced as she paced in the sunlight of the mid afternoon. “It's not some 'well, just get over it' sort of thing.”

“Sure it is,” he shrugged. “But, I think differently than most, so I'm not going to say either of us is right or wrong. Simple math, Granola. Jason has fire, but he also has ice. Sean electricity, but also light. I'm able to bring myself to the world, but in time have learned to bring the world to me. My guess is, if you can put a body back together, you can rip one apart, can't you? That's what has you spooked, isn't it? A little Molester's Massacre to go with your Fondler's First-Aid?”

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The tip of her tongue stuck out ever so slightly as the lovely blonde held out her hand, palm up, floating a few long, roughly straight sticks upright in her hand.  One object was easy enough, multiple even were easy of they were in rabid motion, like juggling, but fine manipulation, like Jase was capable of, was still far outside her wheelhouse.

As the sticks leaned to one side, so would she walk with them, forgetting that it wasn't about her movement or gravity, it was about her mind and how well she was in control of the objects.  One fell one way and she danced with it to keep up, until her movements caused another to sway a different direction and she shimmied with it to 'catch' it from falling until the inevitable cascade of them all falling in different directions as once forced her into retirement and sighed as she watched them fall.

"Ah, poo."  She huffed and pursed her lips in disappointment.  Without letting her failure take root in her incurable sweetness and optimism, she bent down and began collecting them all again for another try.

"Want some help over here?" asked one of the other lovely blondes in the Fellowship strolled over. Cassandra, finishing off her water bottle, in her t-shirt that was looking pretty grungy after being sent to the mat by Lilly and then lying on the grass with Jase. She bent over to scoop up a stray stick that had bounced farther away, then brought it over with a warm smile.

Tawny looked up to see Cassie and that megawatt smile of hers just lit right up.  "Sure!" It was an invitation as much as it was a greeting.

"I'm, um, not really good at this.  Jase and Deej have both been really nice and helped me a lot," she giggled as she admitted to getting assistance.  "Do you twiddle-twaddle things with your mind too?"  Her face widened in surprise as a sudden possibility occurred to her.  "Can we all do it?  That would be so neat."

Cassie spread her hands shook her head. "As much as I'm always down for a good twaddle," she said with a chuckle, "I gotta use my old-fashioned hands for it. My main power is all about seeing and hearing things. At a distance...even back in time. I can see people's powers too, and it turns out I can even sort of mess with them. Block them sometimes." Cass shrugged. "That's new for me though, so I'm pretty bad at it. I was just practicing a bit with Jase, and now I need a breather. Guy is really intense sometimes, you know?"

Tawny snorted and it was so out of place for her delicate, almost Disney Princess features.  "Oh, I know.  He was less practice and more throwing things at me."  How she managed to make a minor complaint sound like it was a-okay was a lost art form.  "But he's was great.  I totally get where he's coming from.  'That's life," she chuckled, poorly mimicking a mans voice.  "You the test first, then the lesson!'  Is what my dad would say."

She looked off.  "He doesn't throw things at me though..."  She cheerfully shrugged and pressed on.  "Soooo, what's the plan?  Hey." something seemed to distract her momentarily.  "Like... what kind of sight?  Because I had to tell Deej that peeping on the girls locker room was not cool.  Pretty sure he's doing it anyway, but do you see things like that?  Like, past walls and stuff?"

"Kind of? It's more like...like a crystal ball," replied Cassandra. "If I know where I want to look, I can kind of reach out to a place, or a person even if they're really far away, and then it's just like I'm there. I don't really go there, like Devin does. I can just see and hear things there." She grinned. "So yeah, I could peek in on the locker rooms, if I wanted to. Haven't done it yet, but I could." Cass looked around, spotting Devin a little ways off chatting with Autumn. "Now you know why Devin and I must never join forces. No locker room would be safe."

"I don't know," she sort of side eyed Cassie with a friendly smirk.  "Seems all Deej needs to stay on the straight and narrow is a 'hot girl' to use the Deej vernacular,"Cass had to give her props for air quoting. "Holding his 'please don't be you for the next five minutes' leash."  They both shared a laugh.

"You guys have been awesome for him, he's changed so much." Cassie could the unspoken 'thank you' (not air quoted) in her voice.  There was hint of scarlet marching to the surface of her cheeks.  "So!  What's the plan?  How do we do this with you... and me... and sticks.  But you have to tell me more, I want to know all about you.  We've never really talked much at school."

"I know! That's one of the reasons I came over. One thing about weird government conspiracies and aliens and..." she made a little 'explodey' gestures by her temple, "mental powers is that it brings people together, I guess. Here, lets do it this way. Instead of Jase throwing stuff at you...you can toss stuff towards me. We'll work on how strong you are."
"As for me...I work on the school newspaper. When I'm not being a pest, I like bike riding, skateboarding, looking up random things online. My mom works at the county library. Dad used to work at the prison as a therapist. I..." she paused for a second, then bulled on. In for a penny... "I used to think he'd been killed in an accident, but I recently found out that was a lie, and he's just been...uh...brainwashed. Because Crossroads is literally evil incarnate."

"What?"  Tawny walked over to Cassie after she told him about her father and hugged her gently.  Because that's what good Christian girls did, personal space just wasn't a thing when tragedy struck and a good was warranted.  "Oh, I'm so sorry."

"The guys are going to get him, right?"  She asked, still holding Cassie semi-tightly until her captor was sure that hug therapy had helped.  "I mean, that's what you guys do, right?  You kick all kinds of butt and fight the darkness or whatever?  I mean, if you know where he is, can't Devin just 'bloop' him back to here?"

"We're going to, yeah," Cassandra promised. "We have to go after the Dark first...and...it's okay. He's safe where he is. They're not hurting him." The hug was a surprise, but once sprung it was equally surprising how comforting it was. "Thanks." She released Tawny and asked, "So what about you? All I know about you is that you're an old friend of Devin's. Tell me all about the Tawny."

She smiled at Cassie.  "I always have spare hugs.  Hugs for days."  The blonde sweetheart shrugged.  "Not much to tell, honestly.  Born here, probably going to stay here," the somber tone told Cassie that Tawny was not okay with that idea.  "My mom and day are okay, Christian as you may have guessed," she thumbed the golden cross around her neck.

"Honestly there wasn't much to tell until Marissa and Devin moved in a few years ago," she smiled.  "They're really strict, so when I got these powers poppa thought it was Satan's handy work and thankfully my momma was able to make him see some reason or I would probably be locked in some convent's basement.  They hate all my friends, so I never had any over, or really went out much.  The twins sort of got them over that, not because they like them, but because they refused to stop coming by, or leave."  She laughed.  "It was so funny watching my mom and dad change colors as they'd just wait for me to be allowed to come out."

"Then that Dr. Cook man came along, told them he could help me," her cheeks flushed red at the mention of Dr. Cook and Cassie quickly noticed (and felt through the surge of psi) as every tiny object seemed to shake and vibrate in place.  A few sticks of the several she'd collected started to fold themselves like someone breaking a pencil with their thumb and just moving down the length.  "They practically sold me to him.  Didn't care what he did to us as long as he 'cured' us."  The Christian lacquer that made Tawny so sweet and glow so brightly, cracked and Cassie knew that smoldering, tiny ember glowing deep in the back of her eyes: hate.

"Hey." Now it was Cassandra's turn to give the hug back. "Hey. That's over. Dr. Cook's under control now. And you know, you don't have to stay here." She let go and backed up a step. "You can go literally anywhere in the world. And I don't just mean because Devin's on your address list. All this shit that's going on is scary and dangerous, but we're all going to come out of it stronger than before. All of us. Nothing's going to stand in your way."

It was a moment before the hug was returned.  A tense moment, until she finally returned it and Cassie stepped away.  "Oh... I'm sorry!"  Flustered and a bit panicky, she bounced on her tip toes and flailed her hands a bit with tense and awkward undirected energy.  "I'm sorry, Cassie, I'm so sorry!  I get emotional and..." she didn't seem like she wanted to share out of fear of being looked at differently.  "...and, I sometimes break things.  Or stuff goes all crazy or flips over or... I threw a bowl at pa once.  It cut his head.  With my mind."  She winced, and tried again.   "I mean... my mind threw the bowl and it cut his head."  Her finger danced about trying to put all the words in place.  "Not that I threw a bowl at him and then cut him with my mind..."

She relented and sigh.  "I'll shut up now.  I'm weird, I know.  Got no chance at a normal life now, anyhow.  The Dark will find us and try to kill us no matter where we go."

"We're all weird," Cassie soothed. "And we're going to kill the Dark before it can. So you go right on throwing stuff with your mind. We're going to need that." She hesitated, then asked, "Have you thought about what you want to do afterwards? I mean, we fight the Dark, we win...finish high school...what's next for you? Nevermind what you think might happen, because none of us can tell that.  I just mean...what do you want to happen?"

The Montana Belle shrugged honestly.  "I've honestly never given it much thought."  She smirked bashfully.  "When I was fourteen I thought Deej and I were gonna get married and run my family's horse ranch together.  Make an honest man out of him.  That dream's sort of faded now... he only likes me as a 'sister'... so," she sucked her teeth behind a forced a smile.  "Yeeaah."

"I'm not like you guys," she said calmly.  "I'm not super smart or have a passion for news or some kind of sports.  I'm just average and just average people sort of stay at home and raise horses and marry some guy they settled and hope the one that got away at least visits once or twice after school before forgetting you ever existed.  Sorry, that was a seriously depressing response... what about you?  What are Cassie's after saving the world?  If you say Disney World, promise me you'll take me too!"

"Mmm...I still want to get into the news," Cassandra said. "It's going to be a lot of work...I'm not super smart either. And the thing with magic 'eye' powers is that I'll still have to put in the hours. Maybe I can look back in time to see who did a murder, but no one else knows that. So I still have to find the evidence, talk to the witnesses, show my work, like in math class. No free rides, and honestly? I'm glad. I don't want to lose my edge." She shrugged. "I'll probably want to head east or west...get my name out there, get writing, get some attention. There aren't a lot of big newspapers left, so working for one's pretty hard now."

"You could always intern for Marissa when she's a big time CEO."  She looked at Cassie with hopeful eyes.  After a few moments they both broke down in a giggle.  "Seriously, no, I would never allow you to do that to yourself.  I think it would be nice to go out west.  See the beaches, learn to surf or something.  I don't know.  It's kind of funny, I know a guy who could take me anywhere and I plum can't think of a single place I'd rather be than here.  With all my problems and all my miseries."

She fidgeted and spun about, stopping and flexing her arms behind her back in a slight stretch.  "Kind of poetic, I think.  To be anywhere else would feel like running away and, Lord knows, that gives your problems longer to walk and more time to get even angrier with you."  She seemed to be feeling a bit better if the smile she gave Cassie was any indication.  "If you make it big, will you write a piece on our ranch so I can retire filthy rich?"

Cassandra smiled. "I dunno about your ranch, but I've heard there's a pretty cool girl living out there who can do amazing things with her mind. I bet an interview with her would be great for both of us." She looked away for a second, then back. "So. About Devin. I can tell there's some feelings there...for him."

She crinkled her nose a bit.  "Really?  Noticed that did you?"  Her mild sarcasm was laced with soft laughter.

"Yeah. I get it though. He's nicer than he wants people to know about." She hesitated, then plowed forward. "He asked me to Homecoming, cards on the table. We're going as friends though. I don't know if I'm...in the mood for a boyfriend right now. And even if I was, I don't know if it'd be him. But...at the time, I didn't really know you. I was just thinking...I don't know. I wouldn't mind trying to help you two get together?"

"It's alright, he has his Avalon issues,"  she looked about to see who else might be listening and when confident that they were clear she leaned in slightly.  The thrill of actually gossiping seemed to excite her.  "We talked about it and, I'm okay with us being where we are and letting things happen.  I've no problem admitting that I'm in love with him, but you can't force something like love it's nothing more than a friendship that has caught fire.  He's not really feeling the relationship thing and we both know if I push to hard, it'll just end up bad."

"Please don't be all on egg shells about it, Cassie.  He's a great guy, he loves big, if you just get to know him."  A stick floated up into her hand and she spun it about in her fingers.  It seemed to give her something to do with her hands as she spoke and thought.  "I know that it's entirely possible that other guy might sweep me off my feet and, like a hobbit, off I'd go and love would start all over.  I have a date for Homecoming too.  We might even kiss, who knows?"  She said with a devious and scandalous raise of a single eyebrow.  "Go with him.  Get to know him.  If you feel ready, then go ahead and be with him.  If I didn't honestly and truly want him to be happy, then what sort of friend would I be and what would that say about the sincerity of my love?"

Cassandra nodded. "Maybe it's for the best then," she said with a smile. "He really doesn't deserve you."

"No, no he doesn't,"  she laughed.  "I read that a relationship is likely to last way longer, if each partner convinces or has convinced themselves that they do not deserve their partner, even if that is not true."  She shrugged.  "I don't know about that, but he finally met someone he did want to be with and he cares, and he's losing her.  I can tell that he's not okay.  Now isn't the time for me to worry about who he ends up with.  He's my friend, I need to be there for him and there isn't a soul alive who doesn't deserve love and support when their world is out of balance."

"I'm totally going to rub in his face at Homecoming though."  She giggled.  "You know... Cassie... you're a reporter... and I happen to know all his dirty little secrets."

She waggled her eyebrows. "Pace yourself. We will have plenty of chances to go over each of them in excrutiating detail. For now though, lets say we work on your brain-arm a little? Go for distance?" She held out her hands as if to catch a thrown football.

"Deal," she grinned and tossed the stick up into the air where it stayed.  "More to the point, I might be able to help you get past some those horrible jokes and snarky comments he uses as walls to keep people at a distance."

The stick flew to Cass who caught it and immediately tossed it back where it hovered to the side as a new one rose and was tossed at her again.  Within a few moments Cass was tossing them back and taking a step back each time.  "I may love the guy, but sometimes he's a down right jerk, and I still owe him some payback for a wedgie a few months ago."

Cassie nodded. "I'll take you up on that. I don't know if we're going to be serious...but even as a friend, I'd like to get to know the real him better."

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Posted (edited)

Fondler's First-Aid and Molester's Massacre. Really? That’s fucking hilarious coming from a guy whose powers are all about running away or making himself the center of the world.

After those little quips Autumn was roughly two seconds from telling Devin with one finger what she thought of him, but that would defeat the whole purpose of talking to him in the first place, wouldn’t it? God, that was fucking annoying. Exhaling sharply, she pressed the palms of her hands over her eyes, staring into the faint patterns and formless waves of color that overlaid the darkness; it occurred to her after several moments of slow, measured breathing that to him, it probably actually was hilarious. …And she had sort of set the standard herself with the leg-humping comment. So-

Fine. Whatever.

"Spooked?" She took one more deep breath and let her hands fall back to her sides, considering what she’d seen of the teleporter himself as much as the actual words he'd used. "No. Not 'spooked.' I don't have nightmares. I don't wake up in cold sweats. I'm not afraid that I’m going to lose control and accidentally turn everybody inside out, or anything like that. What's holding me back from using them is knowing how to use them.” Squinting a little, she tugged at the end of the fiery braid draped over her shoulder, looking out at the broad sweep of open fields behind Devin as the sun glared down. “Jase gave me some really good ideas on how to practice the actual powers themselves, which will definitely make learning how they actually work and what the limits are a lot easier. Plants don’t move, though, and they don’t fight back, and everything the Dark throws at us sure as hell does. That’s why I’m talking to you, and you can either help me with that, or you can’t.”

“Look, I get that you have seen some shit, and you’re trying to be less of a monster than the things out there that want to eat our faces. Awesome. I am here for it, one hundred percent.” The ocean-hued eyes that had been dark and tempestuous in the loft were calmer now, her gaze clear and direct as she levelled it at the former bully. “But this whole Broda vibe you’ve got going on right now isn’t working for me. We’re not at the point in…” She gestured vaguely with one cinnamon-speckled hand, indicating the space between them. “Whatever this is… that I’m ready to talk to you about feels. Hell, your sister and I are supposed to be best friends, and I’m not even sure we’re there yet. So, if you really want to know what I can do, all right. I’ll show you. Well,” she amended with a one-shouldered shrug. “Part of it, anyway.”

Edited by Autumn Keane

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Posted (edited)

"Fair enough," Devin said, processing all of that and letting it go before he just made it worse.  "You let me know when we are there.  Until then, you're right, plants and bugs don't fight back, so show me what you have."

He stood a few steps away and tapped his chest.  "Hit me with your best shot.  No teleporting or blinking away or none of that."

Edited by Dave ST

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It was a difficult thing to want to be loved so much yet be unable to allow people close to her. She was over joyed and thrilled that Cade had asked to Homecoming and her stomach fluttered with butterflies as her teenage mind swam through the cluttered mire of all the possible things he could wear to match her dress or the dances they'd dance, or the absolute thrill that he would be showing up at her home to get her and her parents would see her leaving all dressed up with a handsome guy... it felt so, real, like her novels and television dramas.

Yet, no matter how often she appeared to be there in the emotional moment, her mind simply couldn't commit to the idea that happiness was simply a trite, made up fantasy for people who were too simple or weak to know any better. Everyone in the world was out for themselves, it was just a matter of when and where, choice versus circumstance. When hungry enough, any animal would turn on others of its kind and humanity had never ceased finding new ways to be hungry. For Marissa it was control. She hungered for absolute control of her life and everything in it, be her lovers to her aspirations, to her business dealings. If she wasn't on top, she would grind and fight until she was. After all, hunger was about survival and when it came to surviving, there were no rules.

The small pocket on her thigh vibrated and as she read the text on her phone and quietly cursed to herself. She grumbled and suddenly walked away from Cade. “Baby, I have to go. Can you tell everyone I said bye. And tell my brother to text me, please?”

“Is everything okay?” He was concerned and the way his eyes narrowed told her that he was silently scrutinizing her sudden desire to depart.

She offered him a reassuring smile but kept slowly distancing herself. “Fine,” she said calmly. “Just family business. My mom is being a pain, is all. Typical 'now that you have your license you can run all the errands' lazy parenting B.S., that's all.”

“I know how that goes, I'll pass it on to Devin.” His laugh was sympathetic, after all, what teen didn't know the age old irritation of doing all the driving once their license was in their hands. It was like parents slipped into lazy mode now that the kids could do it all. “Text me later?”

She spun on her heels, her chocolate hair whipping to fall over her opposite shoulder as she offered him one of seductive smiles. “Sure,” she tightened her tummy and ran her hands down until they stopped just short of her thighs in a teasing gesture he was sure she stole from a dance number. “Text me your favorite color, Lord knows you earned it today.” With a sultry wink and a 'you-know-you-want-me' smile, she spun back around and headed off to her car.

Her lover still was trying the process the fact that he'd seen Marissa-freaking-Jauntsen naked today, let alone had had sex with her too. On that same note, he was still trying to process that it was certainly possible it might happen a second time. Like most guys he had a 'preferred' color, not a favorite, but he knew why she wanted it. She was going to send him a few images later of her in whatever color he sent her... now... all he had to do was decide what color he wanted to see her in so he could make that his new favorite thing, ever. Sex. Hot girl sending him lewd pics. Possibly more sex. Plus, badgers. It was so good to be Cade Allister right now.

---===[Marias Medical Center]===---

Thank God for tinted windows. It wasn't the first time she'd changed clothes in her car, but there was something about the act she just didn't care for. Still, the text seemed urgent so running home to change didn't seem viable. Within ten minutes after arriving in the parking lot of the medical center, her hiking heels, simple denim skirt and a black and white top that fell off her shoulders was once again exposing her midriff so she could she proudly brandish her navel piecing of a glittering black stone in the shape of a heart. Her hair was brushed and redone and her makeup back on fleek, as was proper for a diva of her station.

Dr. Cook's old office was still completely furnished, which the young woman assumed was the doing of either Æon or Branch 9. Today, as she entered the comfortable office of the now detained sociopath, Annette Giles was waiting for her. Marissa noticed something in the atmosphere almost right away, as her keen shine immediately processing the myriad of social cues, body language, and micro-expressions that were red flagging all over Ms. Giles. A normal person would have almost certainly missed them, however Marissa's strange social cognitive perceptions allowed her to quickly read the scene with the speed and talent of a seasoned professional.

“Marissa, hello.” Her smile was warm as she extended a hand in greeting which the young woman accepted with a curt smile from freshly applied glossed lips.

“Is everything okay?” The diva's voice was calm but still weighed heavily on the side of concern and skepticism. Something seemed off about this scenario already. “Your text seemed urgent.”

Under her normally calm exterior there was turmoil of a sort, an anxiety crawling just under the surface of her skin. “Well, it is, come with me, there is something I need to show you. There's been... a development. Please,” she extended her hand, motioning to the secret elevator that slid open as she gestured, inviting the young woman down to the secret Æon/Branch 9 facility below the medical center.

Edited by Marissa Jauntsen

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As the elevator descended, Annette made no conversation, adding to the tense atmosphere despite the occasional glance and smile that was meant to be reassuring.  The glamorous teen was far from reassured - though she sensed no deception or ill-intent from the cultured Æon representative there was a creeping sensation that the elevator was dropping into a pit of terrible revelation, and Annette was not happy about what she was about to reveal.

The two lovely women, one neatly turned out, cultured and elegant, and the other regal glamour and sex appeal personified moved from the elevator and through the halls of the Project to Annette's office, passing the large glass windows of the control center and the labs along the way.  "I'm getting a lot of pressure from our science people to ask some of you to volunteer for tests."  Annette said, more as a distraction than because she felt it was important - at least, that was the impression Marissa gained.  "Right now, I'm refusing to ask until they clear Branch 9 to release details on Site B."

"Might be an idea for them to hurry."  Marissa stated casually.  "I know my brother, and I know the others.  Sooner or later they will forget about asking nicely."  Annette glanced at her, nodding slightly.  

"That was my impression, too."  she agreed in a quiet voice, opening her door and motioning Marissa through.  "Please, grab a seat."  As the teen dream complied, Æon's woman-on-the-ground went around to the other side of the sleek black desk that, Marissa knew from prior experience, contained enough high-tech gadgetry to cause Sean to mess his panties.  Pressing a few keys on the touch-sensitive surface caused lights to coruscate into life as the holographic projection system activated and threw up a monitor screen which rotated towards Marissa.

"As you know, the Project has surveillance cameras all over Shelly, installed whilst Doctor Cook ran the show."  Annette began, her dark eyes on Marissa as she tapped a few more keys.  "These days, at my orders, surveillance on specific individuals is only carried out with good cause and authorisation from myself or Major Taggart.  Otherwise the surveillance section of the Project is on standby.  Cameras are recording, but no-one monitors or goes over the footage unless we see an adequate need."

"Why do I get the impression this is a lead up to something I won't like much?"  Marissa's eyes narrowed at the older woman, who sighed and pressed a final touch-key, bringing up a camera view of Marissa leaving the empty office that served as, so far as she knew, Enterich's meeting spot if not his base of operations.  She was in mid-stride, Marshal Marshall watching her from the doorway as her pleated skirt swung enticingly from her hips.

"I routed the feeds here covertly and kept an eye on you."  Annette stated.  "All I wanted to do was ensure you would enter and leave safely - there's no cameras inside the building, so intelligence on the meeting was not the objective.  However...  I did spot something after you left I think you need to see."  She sat down, motioning to Marissa to keep watching the screen.

Frowning, the radiant brunette narrowed her eyes at Annette, then went back to watching the screen.  She saw herself get into the Mercedes and drive off, with Marshall watching her from the doorway in a way that was faintly gratifying.  Then the handsome marshal went inside, and all was quiet for a bit.  She looked expectantly at Annette Giles, but the other woman's eyes were on the screen, and so Marissa forced herself to keep watching.

Finally, after perhaps ten minutes, the door opened and out stepped Dale and Marshall, speaking quietly but unhappily.  Judging from their body language and gestures, Marshall was infinitely less happy about whatever they were talking about, whereas Dale seemed to radiate resigned dislike.  They talked for a few minutes by the car, and then the office door opened again...  

Marissa stared.  Someone - or something - had exited the office door.  It had opened, and whoever had done so was the focus of the two rogue marshals attention.  But there was no image on the camera...  No, there was something.  It was a smudge, roughly the size and shape of a person, little more than a distortion in the air like a heat shimmer.  It put her in mind of... of...  Jason's forcefield, only without a person inside it.  The shimmer-smudge stood there outside the office, apparently speaking to the marshals briefly judging from their nods and reactions, then as they turned to get into their car the smudge turned and moved away along the sidewalk at a walking pace, though its movement could best be described as drifting.

The camera feed followed it - though Marissa was pretty sure by now that the It was a He and the He was Enterich - until the smudge turned down an alleyway.  The screen then split into two cameras, one covering each end of the alley.. but the shimmering presence did not exit the alley it had turned down.

"You can see why I showed you this."  Annette Giles said quietly as the recording came to an end.  "I kept the cameras focused on that alley for half an hour longer, by the way.  Nothing came out."  Her hand trembled a little as she tapped a button, resetting the recording.  "If you want to see it again, just ask.  But now the question arises - who exactly, or what exactly, was that?"

Edited by GDP_ST

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Marissa stood, folding her arms to rest under her chest as she approached the monitor and tilted her head, examining the shimmer/smudge. “It's Enterich.” She answered confidently, but not fully sure. “They don't use the front door, it's bolted shut. No one else was in building. Myself, Dale and Marshall, plus Enterich. Unless this invisible person was in there whole time and I just didn't notice them.”

Do have any senses that would have alerted you to a presence?” She was always ceaseless in her inquiry into what powers they all possessed, she could help it, the children were fascinating, yet today, she asked more out of hope than curiosity.

Ms. Giles, I don't possess any powers. I mean, I have this sort of preternatural sex appeal thing going, but that's not a power, its just sort of, I don't know, always there? I mean you saw how I rocked that skirt, right?” Her eyes darted upward and she sighed in admiration of herself. “I think that's my new favorite skirt, and is Marshall not hot, or what?”

Let's focus, Marissa,” Annette offered her a smile. “So 'no' on the detection, so whomever that was it may have been someone other than Enterich. Let's not rule out the possibility.”

We could have my brother check out that alleyway. If he just disappeared, there might be a portal or something, a spatial tear, perhaps?”

The Æon representative smirked softly. Marissa's curious look in her direction pried a response from her thoughts. “I'm sorry, it's just how casual you said that just now. Sometimes it's hard to forget you're all just teenagers still trying to figure things out. You're all so amazingly resilient.” She stood to meet the young woman by the displays. “Do you think we could do that without your brother catching on to our activities? I know you wanted the others kept out of this, but maybe it's time to-”

No.” The Queen of Shelly shook her head, her hair dancing elegantly across her shoulders. “If the Fellowship finds out my brother and Jason will rain devastation down on Crossroads until they get Enterich for him even making the suggestion to harm one of our families. It's like you said, we're kids, still fumbling in the da-,” she paused, a part of her mind refusing to utter that word here. Her hesitation didn't go unnoticed by her host.  “Still fumbling about. We're stupid, and we're impulsive.” She stared long and hard at the blur on the screen. “If this man has powers, or truly wasn't there, I might know a god who can help me figure this out.”

I-I'm sorry,” her tone certainly indicated that she was still processing what Marissa had just said. Her voice was still a bit of a chuckle as she dared to ask: “Did you just say a god?”

Marissa smiled to Annette from over her shoulder. “Ms. Giles, I told you my contact list was in full-on beast mode. When are you going to start believing me?”

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Lilly had lain on the ground by the plough for a bit, laughing to herself and catching her breath as considered what she had just done. Not but a few weeks ago she would have considered it unbelievable, but now the teens lived in interesting times. Their paradigms were expanded in remarkable ways with the addition of psionics, alien or extra-dimensional entities, malevolent forces and secret groups and conspiracies seeking to use or control them. Compared to what most of the rest of the Fellowship could do, the lifting of the plough was not less believable.

Staring up and blue sky and the faint wisps of clouds that occasionally drifted by, Lilly began to consider what she and the others might truly be capable of. They were a handful of teens upon whom's shoulders the possible fate of their world, or reality, or whatever rested. Now they were, for the first time, be proactive and take the fight to Cody and The Dark, and though optimistic because, like, how could one not be after seeing what they could do when they actually got on the same page and worked together, Lilly also had some doubts about everybody returning. If they were going to do this, then she needed to know who was going and plan accordingly. 'Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst' she remembered her dad saying on more than one occasion. It seemed like good advice now.

After a bit of thinking and consideration of several things, Lilly finally rose and looked around. Spotting Tawny, Lilly approached and, unfastened the velcro on the back of her weightlifting gloves, slipping them off.

"Hey Tawny." she said with an upwards nod of the head as she got close to the beautiful blonde and held her gloves in her teeth for a moment as she bushed herself off. Taking the gloves back into her hand she smiled and continued. "I was a little surprised to get back into town and see you here, but I am glad you are."

"Heya!"  She squeaked with delight with the prospect of meeting someone new, the pure hearted blonde offered a pearly smile and a wave.  "Yeah, me too!  A lot been happening, a week ago I thought we were the only ones with powers, and now you guys have had them this whole time and... like, wow with them."

Tawny knew of Lilly Pryor, just had never really met her.  She didn't play sports, and mostly kept to herself but over the last couple of years they'd seen each other plenty in classes.  Her being a strong advocate of Team Devin didn't earn her much in the way for credibility, but despite people's reactions she never quit stating how wonderful of a guy he was if people asked (they usually didn't).

"I saw you lift the thingie," she smiled.  "Wow.  I would have cheered and clapped but with all the craziness going on between fire and magic gates and mind reading... I don't know what I'm supposed to be impressed by.  Is super strength your power?"  She covered her mouth gently, like she's something wrong.  "Sorry... is it okay to ask?  Devin said the Fellowship can sometimes be like a dysfunctional prison yard and I read you can get 'shanked'," she air quoted.  "Whatever that is, if you ask people how they got sent there.  Do you guys have like, a rule book or something?"

Lilly's smile grew into a small laugh as she shook her head at Tawny's question. She was a bit refreshing, after dealing with the others. Yeah, Cassandra has pluck, but Tawny was sweet and perky and almost innocent.

"There's no rule book, and Devin can, let's say exaggerate a bit at times. Yeah, sometimes there is difficulty getting everybody going in the same direction, but no, nobody has been violent with each other, aside from sparring or whatever in training.

As far as my powers, I am not entirely sure. It's like.. well, kind of a long story. But I guess the short of it is that it seems while pretty much everybody else's shine gave them mind powers, mine seems to have internalized into my body. I am still discovering what I can do, honestly. I mean, I've felt stronger and faster and stuff, but it took a while before I realized I might be able to do that." she said, nodding toward the plough, "or run as fast as a car, or hop six foot fences like they were hurdles on the track, or run up the side of a building. Today was the first time I really had a chance to let loose some. And there's other stuff too, like all of my senses are better, which makes eating pretty awesome, but locker rooms and restrooms... not so much." she laughed.

"We thought we were the only ones too, and kinda freaked out at first since we did not know about the study or anything and the way we found was a bit, disturbing. Anyways, finding out there's others is kinda like, I dunno, finding relatives you didn't know about. I mean, we're all different, but we all share this experience, and that is somebody that nobody else will ever be able to really relate to or understand. And yeah," Lilly aid as she glanced around at the others thoughtfully for a moment, "we might argue and bicker some, but we are like a family and families do that. We always know that we get each other's back though, and that includes you too." Lilly said elbowed Tawny playfully in the arm.

"Yeah, the, um, 'study'," her cheerful tone slowed some.  "It wasn't a great place to learn things.  Dr. Cook wasn't a very nice man."  Her smile faded but then quickly returned.  "Yeah," she recovered.  "Deej said you guys were all really great and that if I needed something I could just bug the heck out of you all until you gave in and gave me my way."  She giggled.

"Well, he didn't say 'heck', but, you know," she twirled her finger to move forward with the conversation.  "So, um, you had to give up on the Olympics, huh?"  Suddenly aware that it might be a touchy subject she extended her hand to silence Lilly before she could reply.  "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm not trying to pry.  You don't have to answer that, of course.  The twins were talking about it earlier."

Lilly's smiles faded a good bit at the question and she nodded as it returned a bit. "Yeah." she said with a sigh. "I mean, for a few reasons. I couldn't leave everybody with all this stuff still out there, threatening my friends. Besides that, I feel like it would be cheating. I suppose there is some sort of arguments that 'it's not cheating, just superior genetics like any star athlete' or whatever, but I feel like it would be cheating."

Lilly looked away and off to the distance at nothing and no one in particular for a moment as she thought it. She was not happy about what she had done, or at least what she had to do to get it done. "Yeah, it sucked to watch my mom's face each time. Disappointing her was, well, rough. I mean, she was not disappointed in me, because she knew I would do my best, but more like disappointed for me. And I hated doing that. My mom and dad have been nothing but supportive and now it's all for nothing and that money is wasted, even just the money for the trip. It's like-- I dunno. They just saw me go and fail. They would be fine with that though, as long as I did my best, but I didn't It's just-- They don't even know truth of why, you know?" she said, blinking a few times to clear her eyes of  some tears that were threatening and then finally bought her gaze back to Tawny. It did not take Marissa's intuitive eyes to tell how deeply it affected Lilly, and yeah, most of the rest of the Fellowship knew she threw it and gave up on her dream, but probably did not grasp how it affected her fully.

Lilly took in a breath and forced a smile. "What fun is it anyways when you know it's not even contest?" she asked with a weak grin,  giving Tawny another playful elbow.

"Anyways, Cook is an ass. Don't worry about him. We got you and we'll help you as much as we can. You can do the same stuff as Jason, right? Move stuff and make it hot and cold or whatever?" she asked.

"Hey," in came a surprise Tawny hug.  "There is a time for all of that."  She broke off the hug and stepped back.  "They don't know now, and sure, maybe there is some small measure of disappointment, I mean, they're human, right?  They have feels and they love you and totes wanted you to have your dream.  Remember though, there will come a time when you can tell them, and then they will understand.  It's sort our curse, I guess, a bunch of broken teenagers stumbling to figure out how to save a small town from fairy tales and Netflix critters."  She paused and shrugged, offering Lilly an unassailable smile.  "You know what though?  I like being broken.  You know all those cracks?  I like to think that how the light gets in."

"I, um... I can."  She didn't seem confident in her answer.  "Can move things.  Fire I can only stationary things, like little fire sculptures, I can't um... 'fwoosh'," she spread her hands about and moved them around like she was casting a spell while making fire noises.  "Like he does.  And, cold only happens when I have an outburst... like freeze a water bottle or the, um," she seemed really embarrassed and her cheeks flushed crimson.  She silently mumbled.  "Pipes at our house.  Jason said he could help me learn to control it, so, we'll see."

"Well, Jason can help you with that. Honestly, all of can probably, at least somewhat, even me. Like, I might not know how to exactly guide you to do what you do, but I can, like, help you practice control and stuff buy trying to throw stuff at me or something. I dunno. We can all help, but Jason probably the most. Just- Just keep it, I dunno, professional, I guess. Feels and stuff are not his forte." Lilly explained and then looked around at the rest of the Fellowship doing their various training, sitting or horsing around.

"As for the cracks, well, that's just wabi-sabi." Lilly said with a nod.

"Huh? Did you lip go numb?" Tawny asked, somewhat confused.

"No, no. Wabi-sabi. It's, like, a philosophical ideal. Beauty in imperfection, essentially. Like, it's the crack in the Liberty Bell that makes it special. I never thought of us that way, really, but I guess you described us pretty well. We're all cracked, or even somewhat broken, but that is what makes us special and beautiful too, I guess."

"I thought that was the green stuff they give you with Sushi?" She asked with an adorable sincerity.  "Maybe we can figure something out, sure.  Right now I'm plum tuckered, Cassie was throwing things at me for a good ten minutes already.  She has a good arm, let me tell you."

"Oh!" She blurted and reached out grasping Lilly's arm.  "You're still going to Homecoming, right?  Jacob Crocker asked me on Friday to go to with him, can you believe it?  Please tell me all this stuff that's going hasn't made you reconsider.  I won't lie, it's awesome to finally have friends, and the secret society of powered teenagers is way cool... I was hoping I could, um," she went all bouncy-flouncy for a moment trying to build the will up to finish her thought.  "I could maybe be show off a few of my new friends at Homecoming, maybe kind of show the school that I'm not some super awkward perky Christian girl?  It's been a little dry for me in the 'people who like me' department since I started having outbursts and setting things on fire.  Granted Marissa destroying me socially didn't help either, but... it's her way.  I don't begrudge her."

Lilly blinked, a little surprised by Tawny's small outburst. She had always known Tawny, or at least what little she knew of her, as being fairly quiet and reserved, so seeing her so animated was something new.

"Yeah. I'll be going. I mean, I got a few things I need to do first, but yeah, I should be there. It should be fun. And if the football team keeps winning, I could even make Homecoming Queen. I promise to be a benevolent Queen, should I be so honored." she laughed with a fake, haughty demeanor.

Slowly though her smile faded as she took on a more serious mein, considering things to come. "Actually... I wanted to talk to you about Monday night. Are you going to be there? I mean, don't get me wrong, you absolutely do not need to go or feel pressured or anything. Nobody will say or think a thing if you sit it out, so don't feel obliged or anything at all. I mean that. Seriously." she stressed firmly.

"Honestly?  I'm not sure.  Deej and I got into a big fight about it already.  He doesn't think I need to be there, but I know he's just trying to play the Knight."  She somberly sighed and shook her head.  Her animations slipped away and soon she was fiddling with her nails.  "I feel I need to be.  We've been chosen for something, to protect lives and help people.  I wouldn't feel right walking away from that.  He feels that I'm not ready, and I think he also wants to protect me."

"And I appreciate it, I do, but, my heart says I need to stand my ground and be there.  So, you know what?  Let him be mad.  He's young, pleeeeeenty of time to get over it, believe me."  She offered Lilly a smile.  "Besides, I'm the back up.  No playing hero for me."

"Really, the only person who can ever say if you are truly ready or not is you." Lilly offered, returning the smile. "And honestly, even if you can;t do much on your own, I am pretty sure you can still link up with other's to boost or help them or whatever, so there is always that." she added with a small shrug. 

Lilly thought for a moment, considering what they were planning on, her gaze once again on nothing it particular for a moment before to looked Tawny in the eyes once again, resting her hands on the blonde's shoulders. "Seriously though, I am not telling you to stay or go. We each have to make that decision ourselves. This will be dangerous, though, so just don't make a decision out of guilt or some feeling of obligation. If you decode to come though, just know that we got your back." Lilly reassured, slipping her hands away only to offer a fist bump with a warm smile.

"Oh, I know."  She smiled and shifted her weight a bit, no longer fiddling with her nails as she bumped her fist to Lilly's with a shy, yet broad grin.  "How about you?  If you want to talk or anything, I mean, I know this is not really normal, for, like... any of us, but... we're all we have to talk to.  I'm a great listener.  With all that going on you're carry quite a bit of mental and emotional stress.  If you need to vent...," she pursed her lips.  "Y'know... vent."

"I've just never really been one much to vent at people, you know?" she added with a shrug of her strong shoulders. "I'm an only child, and kept to myself a lot before we moved here, so I learned to let stuff out on the track or field. A good workout and the natural release of endorphins can do a lot. And so can a great piece of baklava." she said with her crooked, half grin. 

"Baklava? Those Russian face mask thingies for cold weather?" Tawny asked, confused, prompting Lilly to let out a small, good natured laugh

"That's a balaclava. Baklava is a dish. I think it's actually from Turkey, the place, not the bird, but it has spread around most of the Mediterranean and beyond. It's like a dessert lasagna, but with layers of crisp, puff pastry instead of pasta, and with honey and chopped nuts in between instead of sauce, meat, cheese or whatever. It's sooo and my yaiyai-" Lilly explained, getting another confused look from Tawny indicating that she had lost her again. "Sorry. 'Yaiyai' is a common Greek term for grandmother. You see, I'm Greek and Spanish on my mom's side, but I can speak German, go figure." she said with a shrug and continued,  "Anyways, she makes the best baklava. It is, like, life affirming." the brunette teen explained, almost drooling as she thought about the dish for a moment before pulling herself out of her reverie.

"But yeah, maybe sometime I might need to vent. I mean, we all change." Lilly replied with a smile, appreciating the generous offer from Tawny and didn't want he to feel like she had dismissed it, which she hadn't.

"Holy shikaka!  I just had the greatest idea!"  The young blonde had a sudden burst of excitement.  "The next time we do one of these things, why don't we make it, like, a barbeque or something and we can all bring a dish.  We don't have much time of summer left, but Jason has a barn and the loft, we could all get together and celebrate after we, you know...," the excitement faded from her voice as the topic of battling the Dark once again seemed to linger in the air.  "...well, providing it doesn't turn into a massive clusterfluff."

"So, German, huh?" It was an obvious ploy to change the topic away from anything Dark related.  "I speak horse.  Our ranch has been in my dad's family for a few generations now, I guess.  I like them.  They're noble and strong and love big... but *ooohhh *are they ornery if you're not treating them right.  We currently are taking of ten, we have eight, and two are visiting for, uh," her demeanor took on the smirk of a fourth grader, but the chagrin of teen not comfortable with saying something out loud.  "...'study hall' purposes.  It's a weird situation, because usually the owners would have come and picked them up by now, but they couldn't make the trip and probably won't be until around Christmas, but by then with the snow and whatnot."  As the talk of horses arose, Lilly had to smirk slightly at the Montana drawl that Tawny worked so well at concealing came out in full.  "We'll probably have them until spring.  What with boarding costs and 'study hall' it looks like we'll be okay this winter."

She laughed as she caught her drawl.  "Sorry, I'm rambling.  You're dad is military, right?  I think I saw him at school once, in uniform."

"Yeah. He is head of security for Bulwark. There are good and bad things about being the Lieutenant Colonel's daughter on base." she chuckled and then stopped as something occurred to her. 

"What is it?" the blonde asked, looking quizzically at Lilly.

"You know, knowing what he know now, it certainly makes the fact that the base was named 'Bulwark' have a lot more meaning. Huh. I wonder..." Lilly replied, letting her voice and thoughts trail off for a moment as she considered the name and just how like various groups had known about The Dark and Site B and all of it.

Lilly shook her head, dismissing the thoughts for now as a small smile came back across her face. "Anyways. Yeah, a pot luck sounds cool. We should run that by Jase. He's prolly go for it. And we should go get a burger or something sometime.

"Oh yeah! That would be great!" the Tawny agreed perkily.

"Cool." Lilly replied as the pair drifted back over toward the others.

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[[Devin.]]

The redhead frowned and stretched out her hand toward him. The spot where her fingertips made contact with his bare skin throbbed briefly, a sharp, burning sensation as if he’d been stung by a wasp, or accidentally touched bare metal left in the summer sun too long. …But that was all. A momentary flash of discomfort that appeared from nowhere and vanished almost as suddenly.

“Is that it?” He shook his head in disappointment, brows arrowing together in a disparaging frown. “Seriously? C’mon, Granola. You can do better than that. A bee sting’s not gonna stop whatever Cody’s turned into. Don’t half-ass it. Think of this as your chance to get back at me for three years of giving you shit.” He tapped his chest again, regarding her with an air of open challenge. “Let’s go. I’m right here.”

Autumn exhaled and pressed her hand flat against his skin, her eyes darkening as the wide, deep pools of her pupils expanded.

Devin’s impressive athletic ability was something he’d gained through countless hours of grueling effort, of trial and error. He knew what it felt like to fail spectacularly until he finally got something right, and he’d had his fair share of sprains and pulled muscles and bad falls; the pain he experienced at the instant she touched him a second time outstripped all of them. It forced the air from his lungs as his diaphragm collapsed, and then so did he, crumpling like wet paper, folding in on himself gracelessly, helplessly. He hit his knees, breathless as blinding, unrelenting torment spread like wildfire from his solar plexus through his chest, setting off alarms all throughout his brain that whatever this was, it was going to kill him. He was going to die, he felt sure- even as his rational, logical mind reassured him that he’d been here before and in just a few seconds the feeling would ease, that he’d just had the wind knocked out of him and it would be fine.

Except, it wasn’t fine, not at all. The feeling didn’t subside. He could only suck in tiny breaths in hitches and spasms as his eyes watered and the world blurred around the edges with bright sparks dancing in his field of vision and his stomach kept heaving but nothing happened and the only sounds he could make were guttural animal moans because there was no air and maybe he was going to die right there on the grass at Jason Bannon’s farm twitching like a beetle on its back and had he ever made anyone else feel like this and there were so many girls he’d never gotten to see naked and Tee was gonna look terrible in black and why wasn’t it stopping? It should have stopped, or lessened, or at the very least he should’ve passed out by now, but no. Stubbornly, consciousness persisted. The feeling of being unable to breathe persisted. The pain persisted, without diminishing and without respite. Agony and horror intermingled in the chaotic tumble of his thoughts as the interminable moments passed: he really was going to die.

Except he wasn’t. And that was, for just a moment, the worst possible thing he could imagine.

“-ey, …evi… …re …ou okay? Devin!”

And then he was aware of Autumn kneeling beside him on the grass, her hands on his shoulders, shaking him, and it was over. Just like that, it was done, as if it had never happened, except that he was lying on the ground with the bitter, acrid taste of bile on his tongue, and the eyes that had looked at him with such reproach only a few minutes before were rimmed in red.

[[Autumn.]]

Okay, so he wasn’t going to teleport away, so… What was she supposed to do? She didn’t really have to injure him or anything, obviously; he just needed to know what she was capable of, so he could give her advice. That was all. It was fine. No big deal. Like Jason had said, there was nothing inherently malicious in it, and Devin wasn’t a threat to anything but her sanity.

It’s fine.

Stretching out her hand toward him, Autumn concentrated on that faint sensation of something streaming beneath her skin that was like, and yet not like blood, too intangible to be seen but nevertheless hot and bright in her mind’s eye. She touched his chest, bare fingertips on bare skin, and through that tentative contact felt the physical totality of Devin, the strange impression of movement that she’d felt when she’d hugged him in the hospital, as if he were only partially- or, no, intermittently- occupying the space she could perceive. As her awareness of his essential energy, his vitality sharpened, a flicker of that luminous scarlet Shine reached through her fingers and into the currents of his life, uncoiling in slender filaments that rasped across his nerves. He flinched and she recoiled reflexively, breaking the connection.

“Is that it?” Devin grimaced a little and shook his head scornfully, eyes narrowing as she withdrew. “Seriously? C’mon, Granola. You can do better than that. A bee sting’s not gonna stop whatever Cody’s turned into. Don’t half-ass it. Think of this as your chance to get back at me for three years of giving you shit.” Squaring his shoulders, the gymnast smacked an open palm against his chest. “Let’s go. I’m right here.”

Autumn exhaled. He was right. He’d asked to see what she could do, and, yeah, she’d technically shown him, but… But not for real. She wouldn’t have the option to pull metaphorical punches with Cody, or any of the other creatures serving the Dark. Right. Okay. She reached out again, pressing her hand flat against his chest, just beneath the breastbone. Again she could sense the blood and bone and sinew that made up his form, the strengths and frailties of the flesh, but this time she let his invocation of the torment and harassment he’d inflicted shape the expression of her power. It was shockingly, almost shamefully easy, the redhead realized, to bring that unresolved anger to the surface; where emotion met essence the sanguine energy flared bright, surging in rich crimson streams through her veins and the physical/spiritual connection of skin on skin to crash furiously, gratifyingly into him like an invisible wave of resentment and pain-

And then he folded, dark eyes wide with shock and already welling with tears as the brash young teleporter hit the ground. His body curled in on itself, convulsing with the conflicting need to retch violently and draw in air, neither of which were physically possible, and a growing sense of unease washed away the haze of red that had flooded Autumn’s vision. Any second, it would wear off- he’d suck in a deep breath, maybe laugh, and say something stupid. It would be fine. But as the moments passed, and the gasping turned not to laughter but to guttural, animal wheezing, like a deer with an arrow in its lung, she started to worry.

Oh, fuck. What if I really hurt him?

A sudden rush of panic lanced down her spine, pushing her forward as she knelt on the grass beside him. Was he messing with her? A quick look at his contorted, reddened features suggested otherwise. Almost frantic now, the fiery young woman rolled Devin onto his side, ran her hands over his back and- No. Nothing was broken, there was nothing actually wrong with him, so why wasn’t he-

“Hey, Devin. Hey, stop screwing around, are you okay? Devin!”

And then it hit her: There was nothing wrong with him. It was pure sensation, not an injury. There was no way for his brain to cope with that, to compensate for the fact that there was no point of origin, no wound- she had completely bypassed his body’s ability to produce neurochemicals to adjust to pain.

What the actual fuck, Autumn? That’s totally- No, no, fuck it, nevermind. Worry about that later.

Almost on instinct she reached out, mentally dashing away the connection her touch had forged, and Devin shuddered once, violently, before collapsing onto his back. Shit, shit shit! Oh, fuck, oh god, she swore silently. The world went suddenly liquid as she grabbed his shoulders and tried to pull him up, but her fingers kept slipping on the sheen of sweat that coated his now-flushed skin. Come on, come on, you annoying motherfu-

“’m good,” he croaked suddenly, wearily lifting one arm in a shaky thumbs-up as his pupils contracted, focusing on her face. “S’all groovy. Gonna die now.”

“Oh, thank fuck,” she breathed aloud, releasing him and sagging backward to sit on her heels as her heart finally slowed its hammering inside her ribs. “Okay, it’s fine, you’re fine. Just, uh. Just try to breathe.” The words could’ve been meant for either of them.

Edited by Autumn Keane
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Devin didn't rightly feel like moving right away.  He'd sacrificed a lot for his skills over the years, sprains, pulled muscles, even serious neck injury scares and a concussion one or twice, but never in all his years of training had he ever experienced pain quite like that.  A part of his twisted mind almost wanted to ask her to do it again, just make sure it was was real.  It was intense and despite feeling like he was about to die, he'd hadn't felt more alive in quite some time.

"So," he said through a ragged breath that was swiftly returning as his brain gently stopped hyperventilating.  "So... that was a thing.  One," he wheezed through a short laugh that ended in a few coughs as his lungs weren't quite recovered from the panic yet.  "You have very calloused hands, my sister can recommend some lotions."

Autumn rolled her eyes and sighed.  Before she could go off on him again, he raised a hand to let her know he wasn't finished.  "Two," he grunted as he managed to push himself up to a sitting posture.  He sighed, still struggling a bit for breath as he looked at her.  "The thing with a spar, or any fight, is energy.  Obviously, you want to hit the hardest to end it as quickly as possible.  Now, I'm no Kung Fu guru guy, but what Jase and I did, that was both offense and defense: wanting to hit and finish it while not being hit in return.  You?  You seem to have a luxury we don't: the ability to transfer pure pain with a touch.  See, you don't need to hit someone, just touch them.  Were I you, that's where I would start.  I'd work on my ability to evade, dodge and train myself to look for openings in my opponents offense so that I could sneak in a touch that would disable them."

He seemed a lot better in a short period of time.  He didn't appear to have any desire to walk and his voice was sounding a bit raspy, but for the most part he seemed to be alright.  "Devin," Autumn started, a bit of worry still in her voice.  He may be the source of most of her annoyance, but she certainly didn't want him hurt.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't know... I mean, I knew, but I didn't exactly think it would... I'm still figuring it out."

"Don't," he shook his head, smiling.  He reached out and took her hand, a small act that was more for the display of showing he wasn't afraid to touch her after what she did to him, but also because almost dying kind of puts things in perspective, even for a sixteen year old boy.  "You've nothing to apologize for.  I said don't hold back, you didn't.  We're cool."  He shifted and laid back down into the grass.  "Marissa and I have been practicing at home, mostly YouTube videos, but we Amazon'd some headgear and padded gloves and all that.  You're welcome to join us any evening.  As for today, give me about ten, maybe fifteen minutes and we'll work on for awhile on you avoiding attackers, but," he looked at her and grinned.  "Can we turn that down to a pinch and not 'turning your insides into liquid Kanye on autotune'?  That'd be great, thanks."

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"Hey Jason?"

He wasn't meditating now - resting back on the grass by the cooler after Marissa had left he was to all appearances dozing, stretched out with his hands folded behind his head and his booted feet crossed at the ankles.  A distance away, Autumn and Devin were practicing avoidance and touch, this time the pain dialed back down to a stinging sensation as the pair worked on the redhead's sense of timing and footwork; when to step back, when to dart forward and try for a touch in a semi-serious game of tag that involved more than a little cussing and even some laughter from both parties.  Nearer, Kat was devouring a fourth slice of pizza while Courtney teased her about having a big appetite for such a tiny thing and Cassandra watched and grinned.  Cade was talking to Lilly, the pair of 'Spartans', as Marissa called them, quietly discussing their likely roles in the coming fight as they tossed a football back and forth almost meditatively, much as other teens might pass a joint.  Tawny had figured now was a good time to quietly mention her idea to Jase - after all, it seemed training was more or less over - and as her shadow eclipsed his repose she saw a glimmer of emerald as his eyes opened a little and regarded her... and just like that the intensity of his focus, which had been non-existent as he napped, was turned back on like a halogen bulb.

The sunny blonde settled down near him, folding her legs and fixing him with an earnest expression in her blue eyes.  She wasn't daunted by his wordless expectant stare - not like she would have been at the start of the afternoon, anyway.  Jason might be odd, but he was one of God's own creatures same as everyone else, and besides, he remembered her kindness to him.  It mattered to him, which meant he couldn't be a bad person.  Right?  God knew there were plenty of less odd people who overlooked common kindnesses.

"I wanted to ask: why didn't you teach me fire and ice stuff - what did you call it?  Thermic and exothermic reactions?"  She plucked at a blade of grass and rolled it in her hands, absently marking it as decent grazing pasture that the teens were using as a bombing range.

"I will."  Jason replied quietly, his half-open eyes still resting on her face.  "Today, though, I wanted to get you confident with your strongest gift rather than dilute the time we had by trying to teach you everything."

"That makes sense, I guess."  Tawny put one end of the grass stem in her mouth, looking at him.  "So you'll keep teaching me, right?"

"Yes."  For a moment, it seemed that was all the lanky youth would say, but then "You're a good student."

The answer to that was a radiant smile that seemed to flow from her shining eyes to suffuse her expression with light.  "Yeah?"

"You pay attention, you don't quit, you focus well."  Jason stated simply, as if recounting facts.  "Keep that mindset and you'll do fine."

"Oh stop, I'm blushing."  Tawny smirked, though in truth she was a little.  She looked off to where Devin and Autumn were 'playing tag' as much to give herself a break from Jason's unblinking scrutiny as out of curiousity about what the pair were doing.  When she figured she'd had enough of a break, she looked back at him to see those slivers of emerald still watching her, like a cat would watch a stranger.  Not hostile, but not inviting either.  Just... watching.  "So, I was wonderin'.  After we, y'know, beat the bad guy - I know that's assuming a lot but, hey, hope for the best, right?"  She paused, looking at him as though seeking confirmation, but there was no comment forthcoming.  She coughed.  "Anyway, afterwards, I was wondering if we should have a victory party?  Like a barbecue and pot luck next Sunday afternoon?  Everyone can bring something and we can celebrate here, let our hair down and stuff?"

There was a long pause, during which Tawny bit her lip and wondered if she had perhaps presumed too much... then Jason smoothly sat up, his eyes opening fully as he nodded.  "It's a good idea." he said with slight smile.  "If we win-"

"When we win."  Tawny corrected, almost wishing she didn't when she saw his eyes narrow a little but reassured when he simply smiled faintly and nodded.

"When, as you say, we win."  Jason reiterated with the minor alteration and a sly smile.  "We can float the idea at the others."

"Cool!"  Tawny squeaked, almost leaning forward to hug him, but fortunately Jason was saved from sparkly rainbow puppy cuteness by Devin and Autumn's return.

"I'm beat."  Devin blinked a slice of pizza into his hand from the box a few meters away and started to wolf it down.  "Think it's time to call it for the day, Jaybee?"

"I think so."  Jason nodded, getting to his feet and nodding as Tawny likewise scrambled to her feet.  Glancing at the others, the tall lean young man raised his voice a fraction.  "That'll do for the day.  Anyone that wants to change and freshen up can do so at the house.  Coffee and soda, and more snacks for the terminally hungry will be there too."  The cooler containing water bottles, lighter now than it had been when Marissa had dragged it onto the practice field, raised into the air and bobbed along behind him as he turned towards the farmhouse.

"You still owe me a flight, professor."  Autumn murmured as she came up next to him and looped an arm around his waist, necessitating the taciturn Effing One to put his arm around her shoulders.  He smiled a little, wry warm humor in his gaze as he looked down at her.

"Still time for that once I've seen to my guests."  he bantered lightly.  "Think you can stand to wait that long?"

"I dunno. I might get a better offer."

"Doubtful."

Edited by GDP_ST
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Cade had nodded when Marissa left.  He was gonna stick around and hang out for abit, though after all the more physical training, and having various animals crawling on him, a shower wasn't out of line.   

After Jase made the offer, Cade nodded.  "Thanks, I could use one I think between the training and having a badger crawl up in my lap."

Cade made his way back to his jeep and grabbed the spare change of clothes he kept after depositing his training bags.   After getting directions to the shower, he went and quickly took a good shower.  He tidied up after himself and then put his worn clothing in the bag, he went and put them back in his jeep.  He'd wait an hour or so at least before texting Marissa.  He still needed to invite her to the cookout, something His mother agreed to already and Haruka was excited for.   A part of him had wondered if he should extend the invite to the whole family as he took his shower, but he for the "First" meeting, it was perhaps best that it was just Marissa.  His father had numerous issues with Devin, they all knew, so it was perhaps best not to invite anyone else in order to keep the peace.   

Of course his dad would be working the fair that evening, Thus Haruka and their mother would be there mostly alone.   

He head back to the house where the others were, wondering what was next on the day's agenda.

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Lilly and Cade had been tossing the football back and forth talking when Cade heard Jase's offer and tossed the ball back to Lilly before departing to take Jase up on the offer to freshen up. Lilly looked over behind herself, whipping her ponytail around her shoulders and saw Jase leading the way to the farmhouse, floating cooler in tow behind him and turned to follow herself.

As Lilly headed toward the house she spotted Kat and Courtney up ahead and considered them for a moment. She still had not particularly met Kat yet, but she certainly knew Courtney, and she had managed to bury the hatchet (or at least it *seemed* that way) with the twins, so she figured why not go for broke? Courtney had been a terror at the school, especially to Sean, but if the Jauntsens could make a change, then Courtney should be afforded the same chance too. That did not mean it would be easy, but anything worthwhile rarely is.

"Hey Courtney. Wait up a sec." she called to the redhead as she squeezed the football in her hand and, with a skip, started casually jogging to catch Courtney, who had slowed her pace and was giving Lilly a look that was a mixture of surprise and confusion.

"Yeah?" she asked almost curtly as Lilly drew near.

"Hey." Lilly greeted as she slowed to a walk alongside Courtney. "I just wanted to say that I can't necessarily speak for others, but I wanted you do know that I don't really care about what you did in the past, at least before the attack at the hospital. You threw your lot in with the rest of us, are here now, and are probably gonna be risking your ass with us Monday night, so that's all that matters to me. Anything from before, as far as I am concerned, is water under the bridge. Cool?"

Lilly's mind was virtually impenetrable to the young telepath, but she could still get a sense of her emotions and she at least didn't sense any deception from Lilly. There was still a faint shadow of irritation there, to be sure, probably just from seeing Courtney's after all she had done to the Fellowship in the past, but there was now a kernel of posivity there now that could be nurtured. One would never totally let go or forget past slights, but is was certainly possible to move past them, and for her part, Lilly seemed to be honestly trying to let go of their past. Courtney was slightly taken aback at first. She knew that Devin and Marissa had been accepted, or forgiven, or whatever, by the Fellowship, but hearing those words from Lilly Pryor the first time they had spoken (which was never friendly in the past) in weeks was not something she had expected. The corners of Courtney's lips were slowly tugged up as she smiled at Lilly with an odd mix of thankfulness and irony in her smile. "You don't know everything I did... But thanks." she replied.

"Everything? I'm sure I don't." Lilly acknowledged with a shrug. "Maybe you can fill me in some time?" she said, leaving the offer out there and then continued, "But until then, I do know what you did last week, and you're here now, so that's good enough for me. People change, and yeah, maybe not always for the better, but they should at least be given a chance to do so, and to be accepted for who they are instead of who they were.. or who you thought they were." she said with a warm smile and small wink as she strolled alongside the redhead with the farmhouse growing ever larger before them as they drew ever closer to the old structure.

"Thanks." Courtney said sincerely. It was kind of odd to hear Courtney Adams being friendly and sincere after they way she had talked to, well, pretty much everybody at the school for years. At the same time though, Lilly could also see a bit of the how and why she behaved like she had with Cook's influence and simply being a telepathic teen. People all wore masks and thought things privately in the sanctuary of their own minds that they would never say aloud due to politeness, fear and a multitude of other restricting factors. But to hear that from everybody, to know how people truly thought about you, others, and everything would have to make a person cynical at the very least. Navigating high school while doing so, had to be even worse. "No problem." Lilly said to Courtney with a small smile and nod as they set foot on the porch. 

The teens gradually made their way to the farmhouse, trickling in here and there as they finished their own activities, conversations or simply finally noticed that the others had gone inside. The nine teens filled the small kitchen, some sitting at the table while others leaned against the counters. Occasionally one or two would slip out to commandeer a bathroom to change or freshen up while more snacks and beverages were distributed among them.

Jason opened the refrigerator door and several cans of Coke floated out, moving from person to person until each as accepted. With a nod Lilly shifted the football she had been idly toying with in both hands to her left and accepted a proffered can of Coke with her right, holding the can near the top with her thumb and middle finger as she used her forefinger to pop the tab.

"You know, I've been thinking about Monday night." the brunette teen said and then took a swig from the can. "Like, so far every time any of us have crossed over to the Land of the Upside Down Thunder, they've gotten stuck there for a time. So I'm thinking it might be a good idea for us to bring some supplies, like water, snacks, power bars, first aid kits. You know, just in case. We never know what might happen or who might be hurt or drained or whatever. Hopefully we won't need of it, but best to be prepared." she suggested and took another large swig from the can of Coke. 

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"That's not a bad point," Cassandra said, snagging her own floatyCoke. "And some weapons, you know? We can't all fling rocks like bullets or burn stuff with our minds. Even someone like me might get a lucky shot in. Oh, and...maybe some gas and a lighter? Just in case we need to set fire to the Tree the old-fashioned way for some reason. I'm sure there's some camping stuff in my garage I can grab without Mom ever knowing it."

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"After my run-in with demons there, I keep a back pack loaded with essentials."  Devin waved off the coke.  After loading up on grease and carbs from the pizza he's decided that he'd at least forego the extra three hundred crunches it would take to work it off.  "First-aid, foldable knife, food, water fire starters, etc.  Also, think about portability.  It probably isn't a good idea Cass for you to rolling all over town with gas tied to your bike.  That tends to get people asking questions, so please, guys, be smart about it.  Jase doesn't need the law up here causing his family issues because all the local kids are carrying gas to the Bannon farm."

"Also," he grew a bit more somber in his tone and expression.  It wasn't something he wanted to talk about, but it needed to be said.  "Say your good-byes.  I know no one wants to think about it, but the reality is simple: we might not all make it back.  For some or all of us, this will be a one way trip.  Tomorrow is the Carousel, take that time to be with your families, loved ones, whomever.  Say what you have to say, do what you need to do.  If you feel they need to know what you are and what you're going off to do or you just want to keep it secret and ride out your luck, that's entirely on you.  I'm not here to tell you there's some magical 'right way' to say 'I hope I don't die in an alternate dimension so I come home after I've saved the world'.

"I will say this, though," he forced a half smile.  "Please don't ghost them.  Make sure they know how important they are to you, just in case.  Because I for one am planning like I'm staying, but I'll be fighting like nothing can keep us from home."

After that... he really needed that coke.  He collected it from the table and popped the top for his first drink.  "S'all I got."

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"The ideal personal go-bag should have enough resources to sustain one or two people for seventy-two hours."  Jason noted dispassionately from where he was loading up the coffee maker and setting it to drip.  "Food, water, first aid gear, a multi-tool or at least some manner of folding knife, as Devin and Lilly said.  Additionally, I would recommend a non-battery powered light source - there are good windup lamps or flashlights out there.  A small windup radio. Thermal survival blankets.  Water purifying tablets, and sachets of Gatorade to help with electrolytes.  Signal mirror, work gloves, duct tape, dry warm change of clothes in a waterproof bag.  A foldable waterproof poncho.  A Bivi bag-"

"Wait, a what?"  Kat blinked as Jason turned from putting things away, noting several of the Fellowship staring at him.  He smiled slightly.

"A foldable thermal survival bag you can sleep and shelter in in emergencies."  he explained, crossing to a closet by the back door to the kitchen.  Reaching in, he pulled out a medium-sized backpack that looked to be military surplus and in a camouflage pattern.  "My go-bag.  Twenty pounds in weight: with a decent pack to distribute the load it's not too bulky or heavy."  He handed it to Kat, who hefted it, nodding before handing it back.  Jason set it on the table so others could take a look inside if they wished and stepped back.  "About two years ago my dad started insisting we keep and maintain one each.  At the time I thought it largely pointless and a result of him listening to militia paranoia, but humored him.  Now... I'm glad I did."

"I bet."  Cassandra, ever curious, examined a couple of the pouches and side pockets on the backpack.

"Given the likelihood that, if we survive tomorrow, we're all going to be living lives less ordinary, I think it's wise everyone puts together a bag.  It doesn't have to be as complete as this one."  Jase indicated the backpack.  "But like Devin, have some essentials handy and ready to carry.  We never know when we'll need it."

"And it's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it."  Autumn nodded agreement.  Tawny looked a little grave as she considered the pack on the table.

"Amen."  Devin said.  "We can't keep half-assing things at the last minute.  We can't know everything that's gonna happen, but there is shit we can do to prepare ourselves as best we can."

"We've a case or two of MREs downstairs."  Jason said as he moved to check on the coffee.  "If anyone wants a couple to start off their own bag, let me know."

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"Preeeeeetty sure my Dad has a lot of these too..." The French girl nodded with a jaded pout. After all, her Dad was in the Army, he more than probably could help her with that kind of stuff. Speaking of bag... Kat had brought her backpack on the way inside, and now really felt like taking a shower. She didn't like that much smelling like grass and dirt. Her gaze wandered off to the pretty telepath standing in the room with the others, and she instinctively moistened her lips. The gorgeous redhead was quietly listening to the chatter while sipping on a soda. Kat ran a distracted hand through her hair, pensively scrutinizing the silhouette of her friend. Courtney was raising some feelings, the little pixie thought she had locked down, deep inside, a long time ago. Ugh, calm down, girl, right now you need a cold shower.

"Hm, Jason, can I use your bathroom?" She asked, her backpack in hand.

Cold, green eyes gazed upon her for a moment. "Upstairs, first door on the right."

"Thank you!" Kat bursted out of the kitchen and started climbing the steps of the stairs when she suddenly came to a stop, realizing the sheer amount of books surrounding her. What had been culinary volumes was slowly giving place to some even more refined cultural chef-d'oeuvres her eyes could not have missed. That guy reads French? Le Misanthrope... Du Contrat Social... Les Fourberies de Scapin... Candide... La Henriade... Wait...Contes Libertins? Step by step, following a trail of books that, perhaps of all the teens gathered, except the actual owner of the books, only her French eye could have perceived, she reached the top of the staircase and kept following the crumbs of what was memories of French high school and long afternoons at the library for her. The amazing quantity of books seemed to be overflowing from a room, not far, on the left of the upstairs hall, and as she approached, the presence of books felt physically apparent, even when she closed her eyes. Her small hand grabbed the doorknob, and she entered the room, her eyes widening in amazement.

There were no walls to speak off, only books, a closet, a window and a desk. A very cultured Spartan, she thought as she gazed upon what could not be a teenager's room. It was too clean. The way the sheets were arranged on the king size mattress lying at the center of the room, futon-style, would have made any maid in a five stars hotel drool with jealousy.

"No way," she whispered to herself, approaching one of the gigantic shelves. Les 120 Journées de Sodome! Justine! Juliette! Zoloë! The Joy of Sex! Weird choice of porn, if you ask me... Ah! La Chute. L'Été. La Curée. La Prisonnière. Les Fleurs du Mal! Oh this is getting better and better... Les Litanies de Satan... L'Imaginaire... Bérénice... Poètes Saturniens... A childish grin drew on her lips as she read another title. Le Petit Prince! A joyful giggle escaped her throat.

"It's customary to ask before entering another's bedroom." Jason's voice was neither angry nor particularly accusatory, in fact if anything carried an understated wry curiousity in it's tone as he watched the pixieish redhead from the doorway to his room. As usual, he had arrived with such a light tread the engrossed girl had not heard him.

Kat looked at the lean frame of the teenager, standing in the door frame in his sleeveless teeshirt and grey sweatpants, with a fresh eye. He was full of surprises. Wait a minute... The realization of where she was standing suddenly rushed through her mind, setting her cheeks ablaze. "Oh shit..." There was no hole deep enough for her to hide in at that very moment. She just wanted to disappear, and be forgotten. Forever. This was way too embarassing.

"I'm so sorry! I... I didn't realize... The..." She fell silent, her panicked eyes fluttering once more across the shelves.

He just watched her for a long moment as she floundered, head tilting slightly to one side as he studied the flustered young woman with a level, intent green stare. A faint tug at one corner of his lips betokened a smile, and there might have been a flash of ancient humour in his gaze, but it was hard to be sure. "Something catch your eye?" he asked finally.

She ran a trembling hand through her hair. This is so awkward... "Erm... A lot of things, actually... So... you read French?" she said in an uneasy voice as she slowly approached the door frame.

"Depuis que j'ai dix ans, oui." he answered, watching her approach with his habitual calm, studying her expressions and body language intently. "Je parle plusieurs langages."

"Okay, wow ! Sans mentir, c'est... surprenant !" she added, still getting closer to the door, a delicate and warm pink clearly visible on her cheeks. "Okay, c'est vraiment gênant... Je vais juste... prendre ma douche, okay? Encore une fois, je suis vraiment désolée d'être entrée dans ta chambre comme ça, je suis une terrible invitée..." She shrugged, as her unruly grey eyes, filled with shame, finally met his green. In fact, she was not ashamed of being caught in his bedroom. She had no idea until she saw him standing at the door. Then her brains had done the math. She was simply ashamed of not having realized sooner.

"Mes livres ont piqué ton intérêt." he said quietly, smiling a little more, faint warmth touching his cold eyes. "C'est normal. Ce n'est pas comme si je t'avais attrapée en train de te fouiller mon tiroir à chaussettes ou en train de te rouler dans mes couvertures." He indicated the shelves, his hand brushing past her shoulder. "S'il y a un livre que tu aimerais emprunter, tu n'as qu'à demander."

"Euh... Okay... J'y penserai, merci..." She swiftly slipped into the corridor, flashing him a brief smile of apology as he handed her fresh towels he apparently brought with him before catching her in his room, and made her way to the bathroom. She entered and quietly closed and locked the door, dropping her bag on the ground and leaning her back against a wall, her face on fire. I really need that cold shower...

Spoiler

"<Since I was ten, yes>." "<I speak a few languages.>"

"<Okay, wow! Not gonna lie, it's... surprising!>" "<Okay, this is really awkward... I'm just gonna... take a shower, okay? Again, I'm so sorry for entering your bedroom like that, I'm a terrible guest...>"

"<You were interested in the books.>" "<It's quite alright. It is not as though I caught you going through my sock drawer or rolling in my sheets.>" "<If you saw any you would like to borrow, by all means ask.>"

"<Uh... Okay... I'll think about it, thank you...>"

 

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
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"Alright, well," since standing in a kitchen while everyone just glared at one another in rapt fascination wasn't really his gig, Devin finished his Coke and tossed the can in the trash.  "Guess this is, uh, pretty much done, so I'm gonna go.  If you guys need me, text me or call me."

"Good job today guys thanks for showing up and keep at it.  Practice makes perfect and all that.  Let Jase know I'll see him around."  Devin stepped out of the door and skipped down the steps that would take him to his ride home.

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Cassandra looked over from where Kat's flagrant Frenchness had distracted her, just in time to catch Devin's farewell address. She crossed the room after him and caught the door before it could quite swing entirely shut, then opened it up again.

"Hey, Devin," she said, and immediately wasn't quite sure what came next. She'd meant to talk to him before this point, maybe even do a little 'training' with him, but without consciously meaning to had somehow managed to avoid him. Now Cassie felt like she had something to say to him, but couldn't quite figure out just what. It was way too late to pull the eject lever now though. "Thanks for the ride up here, and...for being on at least semi-good behavior tonight," she said with a half-grin. "I let you go easy this time, but next time we all do a training day? Punishment. Justice from on high."

She nodded, then added, "See you there." Cassie hadn't really planned on saying that, but it felt right. A demand from her that he survive, and a promise to do the same.

"Hey," Devin added as she started to back up. "Look, um, when you're ready to go, give me a call, okay? I'll get you home and... maybe we can grab a shake or a burger or something? Y'know, if you're up for it."
 
Cassandra paused, then grinned wider. "Shake and a burger after a whole night munching on pizza? You'd better hang onto that sixpack if we're going to Homecoming." Then she looked away for a second and tucked an errant lock of hair back behind her ear. "But...a ride would be cool. And we could get something, sure."
        
"Or we can sit and drink a Coke and talk for a bit. Max won't bother us as long as we order something." He laughed. "Don't worry about me Blondie, I'll be good and ready for you to show me off to all your friends." He smirked. "See you in a bit."
        
"Yeah, seeya Devin." Cassie retreated back into the house and broke into a jog as she went looking for Jase with a bit more urgency than was strictly required.

Edited by Cassandra Allen
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Watching everyone milling around- upstairs, downstairs, in the door and out and in again- without any particular plan or idea of what they were supposed to be doing, but instead just sort of doing it, was oddly relaxing. Sure, the kitchen was a little crowded, and a little noisy, but it wasn’t what Autumn would consider hectic, just… Active, with people chatting amongst themselves and cleaning up, relaxing, winding down after the excitement of discovering more about each other, and about what they could do. Where they fit. Where they belonged. It was certainly less chaotic than trying to cook bacon with four excited dogs all jockeying for position around her feet.

Smiling, she pulled down a couple of mugs from the rack as the coffee maker beeped that it was finished, enjoying the warm tides of vital energy that ebbed and flowed around her.

Even after the discoveries she’d made in her grandfather’s study and what they’d learned that afternoon from Laughing Joe, the lively, rose-cheeked young woman still had a thousand questions which might never be answered. In fact, most of the answers she’d gotten seemed only to inspire more questions. Still, knowing that generations of her forebears had stood against these same rising shadows, that they had laid out the path forward in the very marrow of her bones and the blood in her veins, made it all a little easier to bear. Forging the link with Marissa earlier had demonstrated beyond her wildest imaginings that she really was part of this, part of a greater design, an unfathomably complex tapestry- maybe not a part of the Fellowship, specifically, but a part of what was happening, at least.

And some of them were her friends, and there were Rules.

Which reminded her: she hadn’t actually seen Marissa in a while, and they still had a conversation to finish. She’d said they would, after all. Rule Number Three. Autumn set the pair of mugs on the counter as Cassie came prowling back in through the door where Devin had just departed.

Leaving the coffee for a moment, the vibrant redhead peered out through the kitchen door, catching sight of the gymnast as he headed toward the insanely expensive motorcycle he drove like a lunatic down the backroads of Shelly. “Hey,” she called, stepping out onto the porch and jogging down the steps after him. “Hey, did your sister leave? We were talking, and then training, and pizza, and-“ Hesitating, she shrugged. “You know. She just didn’t say goodbye, so.” Left unspoken was the implicit, “…so I wanted to make sure nothing happened.”

“Oh, yeah, she’s fine.” Pulling his shirt down over his head, Devin shot a quick smile in her direction, a glimpse of white teeth that flashed and disappeared. “She text me not long ago, said Mom called her home for an errand or something.  Now that we have our licenses, we get to do all the running they don’t feel like doing.  She did dart out in a hurry, so chances are Mom pissed her off, don’t take it personally.”

“Cool, cool,” she nodded. “I’ll text her later, then. So, listen. DeeJay.” She smiled a little, fleetingly, at the use of the nickname. “You didn’t have to help out this morning, or go to the Rez. But you did. And…” Autumn drew in a deep breath, sighing as she dipped her head briefly in concession. “It was nice not to have to do it by myself. So, thanks.” Squinting slightly at him in the bright light, her blue eyes narrowed and the freckles across her nose crinkled together in another unique, utterly singular pattern of bronze specks. “I mean it. Having you guys there helped a lot.”

“Anytime, Granola.” He shrugged dismissively, as though it was no big deal. “I know it’s hard to believe, but I’m trying to be as good of a friend as I can be, even if some don’t want me as one.  I’m not saying I blame them, but, y’know, if you need me, for anything, don’t hesitate to ask.  I’ll be there in a…” He smirked.  “A flash.”

That earned him a roll of her eyes as the expressive redhead returned the smirk with one of her own, a crooked half-smile that tugged at the corner of her mouth. “Mhmm. I’ll… keep that in mind, yeah. Anyway. See you tomorrow.” It was a statement, not a question; whatever else she expected of Devin, if anything at all, it apparently didn’t involve him bailing on them last minute.

“Yeah, see ya,” he replied with a quick wave, turning back to the sleek Ducati as Autumn headed back up the porch steps and into the crowded kitchen. Maneuvering around the table where Tawny was carefully inspecting the contents of Jason’s backpack, she made a bee-line back to the coffee maker. It wasn’t a terrible idea, she reflected as she filled both mugs, leaving one pristine and pitch-black and profaning the other with sugar, followed by a splash of cream she got from the fridge. It would be easy enough to put something together that would keep her going for a couple of days, at least; it would just take a little re-shuffling of the supplies she’d taken to the Old Town Hall the previous night. Mentally, she ticked off the list of changes she would need to make, picking up the pair of mugs and turning just as Jase descended the stairs.

He moved, as always, with the economy of motion and accompanying stealth that had startled and unsettled her on so many occasions, and only the warning flash of movement she caught from the corner of her eye prevented a scalding hot, highly-caffeinated disaster. Mother fucker, she swore inwardly as her heart leapt into her throat, a rueful grin curving her lips. If they were going to be spending more time together, she’d have to put a bell on him, or something. Christ. But where, exactly, would you put it? The thought was enough to send a tingling rush of pink flooding up into her cheeks from somewhere farther south, and as the cool green of his eyes met her warmer blue ones, Autumn held up the coffee she’d poured for him. An offering. A gesture of… something. Of what, exactly, she wasn’t sure, but it seemed appropriate.

“Thanks,” he murmured, his gaze intent on her face, which seemed to her more feverish by the moment. “Mhmm,” she managed, even as her internal voice screamed at her to just freaking kiss him already. Was one word supposed to sound so… so… hot? Ugh. He was just thanking her for the coffee, for crying out loud, but- But then his fingertips were warm on hers as he took the cup, even that incidental contact sparking a sudden flicker of something galvanic down her spine. Autumn could feel herself leaning up, drawn toward the inscrutable young man as if by some new form of gravity, and then-

“Excuse me, Jason Bannon. According to my sources, you're offering something called 'airplanes.' Can you comment on that?" The cheerful blonde seer swept around the table with a triumphant grin, having finally tracked down her elusive prey. “I’ve decided to write a companion piece to my main story.”

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He'd felt it too - that casual yet profound intimacy as she proffered then handed him the mug, the way her eyes met his as he felt her fingers under his for a moment - imbuing the everyday courtesy of simply getting someone a drink with a deeper, arcane meaning that rang like a silver chime in some recently-opened chamber of his mind.  It didn't seem congruous, didn't seem rational or logical as a reaction to simple stimuli.  It was, after all, just a mug of coffee.  But as he analysed the sensations and yes, feelings evoked, he realised that the catalytic agent was Autumn herself.  Alchemy, he mused with a faint inward smile as his head lowered slightly in response to the fire-haired girl's body beginning to lengthen up towards him like a flower toward the sun - and then Cassandra's irrepressible chirpy tones intruded and chased the bluebirds away, and Jason glanced towards her as Autumn dropped her gaze to her coffee and pretended she hadn't been about to do... well, whatever it was.

"No comment."  The green-eyed devil stated calmly before taking a sip of coffee, an impressively stony deadpan that, had Cassie not become somewhat skilled at spotting the glimmers of humor in her strange friend's glacial gaze, could have been construed as a genuine refusal to discuss the topic.

"My sources are impeccable." Cass grinned, throwing a wink at Autumn, who nodded around taking a sip of her own coffee.  "Eyewitness accounts, plus a first hand report that it was..."  she snapped her fingers as though trying to remember, then looked at Autumn.

"The coolest thing ever."  Autumn said with mock-gravity, nodding.  She smiled slightly at her partner in pluck, then glanced up at Jason.

"Sounds like fake news."  Jason's eyes crinkled at the corners.  "Who are these alleged sources?"

"Well... her."  Cassie pointed at Autumn.  "And I witnessed it."

"Allegedly."  Autumn put in.

"Well, damn."  Jase shrugged, lips twitching now.  "Curses.  And drat."

"Soooo...  Once you've had your coffee..?"  Cassie began.

"...perhaps you could offer rides?"  Autumn grinned as she and the blonde reporter, in unison, put on their most appealing faces and chorused "Pleeease?"  Jason just looked from one earnest entreating face to the other, took a swallow of coffee, and then nodded.

"Yay!"  The ensuing victory dance attracted the attention of the others, who expressed amused bafflement in varying degrees, necessitating a brief explanation from the two girls.

"Airplanes?"  Tawny blinked, then her mouth made a pretty 'O' of surprised realisation.  "You mean whizzing people around with telekinesis?"  She looked intrigued and doubtful.  "I dunno, isn't that dangerous?"

"Most fun things are dangerous."  Cassie grinned.  "Skateboarding..."

"...rock-climbing..."  Autumn put in.

"...sneaking into the gym locker for a quickie with an assistant coach..."  Courtney nodded, then smiled wickedly at the looks she got.  Chuckles ran round the room, even Tawny laughing through her disapproving blush.

"Seriously, though."  she went on after the moment passed.  "I'd be worried to give someone an airplane in case I lost concentration or something."

"You'll get past that."  Jase said with authoritative reassurance.  "This is early days for you, and you've made strides rather than steps."  He gave the sweet-faced girl a slight smile.  "The key is to keep challenging yourself, improving that confidence and focus."

"It'd be good practice." Autumn's nose crinkled as she smiled broadly at Tawny.  "If you want to try airplaning someone, I volunteer.  It's seriously awesome."

"Maybe." Tawny's intrigue was definite.  "I think I'd need to experience it first, though." she said slyly.

"I'm sold." Courtney's carmine lips curved in a grin.  "Fly me!"

"Me first." Cassie mock-scowled at all and sundry.  "I brought it up, you all can take a ticket."  Laughs and good-natured bantering followed as those interested in the Effing Bannon Fairground Ride jockeyed for marching order and those not looked on with amusement.  Meanwhile Jason watched from over his coffee, an island of stillness in the motion, quick keen gaze noting, studying and analysing the vibrant expressiveness of his friends.

Spoiler

GM note:  Write yourself an airplane time!

Jason will finish his coffee in five-ten minutes or so, then start with Cassie.  Interested PCs should work out in Discord who will be going next, interspersing with the NPCs present as necessary.  Anyone can ask for and get an airplane.  See the end of this post in Danger Room for what sort of thing to expect.  Jason won't slam people into things or drop them suddenly or be a dick about it - he'll try as best he can to make it fun.  Hit me up in DMs if you need or want some input.

 

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Ten minutes later, they were all gathered on the front porch for the hijinks.

"Okay okay!" Cassandra laughed, and broke away from everyone and skipped down the steps to stand in front of Jason with her hands on her hips. "Anything I need to do?"

Jason shook his head laconically and replied, "Just try not to move your arms and legs too much. You might hit something and hurt yourself."

She got that skeptical expression that she often got...but then her eyes widened and she looked down as the ground started moving away from her. "...oh shit."

The sensation was...weird. It wasn't at all what Cass had expected. She'd figured it would feel like invisible hands, maybe big ones or maybe some kind of tendril wrapping around her. She'd expected some kind of invisible tangibility lifting her up. But it wasn't like that at all. It almost felt like she was falling very slowly upward instead, in that there was no feeling of something solid that her weight was pressing on. The closest thing she could think of to relate it to was that resistance one felt when holding the same poles of two magnets close together. There was resistance without substance...a zone she could not move through, but that had no texture or surface.

Overcome with wonder, Cassandra moved her hands around herself, but whatever force was lifting her didn't impede her movement at all. It was only lifting her...not a force field or something like that. When she concentrated on her own Shine, she could clearly 'see' the power emanating from Jason, stretching out to her and enveloping her in a glow that was not her own. He was being careful, Cass noted. He could have just affected her arm, and hauled her up that way...and that would be a lot less comfortable. Instead the force he was creating affected every particle of her being at the same time and intensity, and as a result she could barely tell she was moving aside from seeing the world shift around her.

That concluded her study, and she devoted her remaining airtime to enjoying it. After doing some swimming moves, and tucking herself into a midair flip, Cassandra mimed holding a broomstick and shouted, "It's time to tryyyyyyyyyy defyyyyyyying gravity...and you can't keep meeeeeee down!" and dissolved into laughter as she zoomed around a few times, then descended and came in for a graceful landing.

Cass flashed Jason a big grin after that, then turned to look at the others. "Okay, that's awesome. Fight over who goes next."

As the other girls started shouting their names and jockeying for position, Cassandra backed off a bit and dug her phone out of her pocket. She punched up Devin's number and gave him a call.

"Hey, Devin. If you still want to meet up, I'm game."

Edited by GDP_ST

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Cade smiled.  "Well if no one else wants to go next, I'll go."   He made his way out to where Cass had been, and smiled.   As he felt the sensation of being lifted, there was a moment of fear, simply because he no longer was really in control.  Before his feet fully left the ground he struck an easily recognizable pose, That of Superman taking off,  and maintained it.  Pretty much everyone there already knew he had some closet nerd tendencies, so Imitating Superman while Jason flew him around was essentially perfect for him.   

It was a new sensation and situation, surrendering control, but he knew Jason wouldn't drop him.   He'd been curious over whether or not it would feel strange to be free of gravity, and it did, but it didn't upset his stomach or anything.  

He looked the part at the very least, though he lacked a cape.   He hadn't really communicated it to Jason, but the other Teen had easily read his intentions, and after flying around abit, He came plummeting down , landing in the classic "Superhero Landing" Pose, and then rising to his full height.  He was pretty happy with that, even if it revealed to the three newest additions to the group that he was a nerd too.   

He walked back to the others and smiled, "Thanks Jason.  That was actually pretty fun."
 

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Jase smiled slightly at the athlete's theatrical flight pose and landing, nodding in response to the thanks.  "You're welcome." he said simply, then turned his gaze on the others.  "Tawny?"

The pretty blonde chewed on a fingernail, then shook her head.  "It's okay." she said with a smile.  "Today's been a... Well, a whole lot.  I'm happy just watching."  She was aware of the direct, intense stare sharpening a little as her dangerous mentor studied her, and shifted her feet.  She didn't want to be mean, or rude, but she'd been told by Devin what Jason was capable of as preparation for this day.  'Just in case', he'd said.  And though she'd found Jase patient and a little surprising in other small ways, she still had the image of a badly crippled Liam in her mind.  And it was one thing to bravely sit and practice telekinesis with him, even making small talk, when her knight protector was within shouting distance, and quite another to trust him around all these other people who she didn't really know all that well and, in the case of Courtney, didn't like that much either.

"Alright."  Jason, his scrutiny over, shrugged unconcernedly, and turned his head as Courtney bounced down the steps to stand on the grass.

"Me next, then!"  She smoothed her denim skirt and fluffed out her hair like she was readying herself for a photoshoot.

"Ten bucks if you drop her in the duckpond."  Cassie said in a stage-murmur loud enough for the glamorous senior to hear.

"Hey!"  She scowled at the blonde reporter.  "Not cool."

"Twenty bucks, then?"  Cade put in, deadpan, and Courtney's scowl found a new target as she planted her hands on her hips.

"No-one is getting drooooopppppped." her tirade was cut off in a shriek as she was levitated into the air, feet kicking.  "Jase?"  she called down from fifteen feet up as she started to circle over the grass.  "You're not dropping me, right?"

"I'm not dropping anyone."  Jason said firmly, though his eyes crinkled at the edges in a humorous manner as he added "Trust me."  Courtney relaxed a little, getting into the sensation of flight and stretching her arms out to the sides before, greatly daring, closing her eyes as she soared, dived and swooped upwards again under the incomprehensible young man's control, relishing this unexpected thrill..  She couldn't read his intent, couldn't get a sense of whether he would drop her or not, and for the thrillseeking young telepath that was akin to being blindfolded and naked.  Indeed, it caused a sudden rush of heat as Courtney realised she was at his mercy, and that he was dangerous, and she would have no warning if he got the notion to do her harm.

Courtney whooped in exhilaration, opening her eyes and laughing aloud as she realised she was skimming a mere foot or so above the ground towards the farmhouse, then rising slightly, her body tilting so her legs were coming down as the emerald-eyed telekinetic set her down so gently she might have stepped down from the air.  "Ohmygod that was amazing!" she giggled as she jogged back up the steps, a glint of mischief and lust in her eyes as she approached Jase.  "Ten out of ten, would ride again." she cooed, stepping forward for a full body hug...

Only for Autumn to pull Jason aside, hugging his arm to her as she nodded agreement.  Courtney almost stumbled as the tall lean shape she'd been about to drape herself on was pulled away. "Isn't it the best?"  Autumn asked in an ingenuous fashion, though the stare in her clear blue eyes leveled at the interloper made it plain even without telepathy that, no, that hadn't been an accident.  Courtney smiled a little, recovering her composure and inclining her head in a gesture that could be agreement, or could equally be an acknowledgement of having been outmaneuvered... this time.

Jason, for his part, seemed oblivious to the subtexts in play, instead looking around with a question in his gaze.  "Anyone else want a flight?"

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The petite redhead raised a tentative hand and stood up. She still felt a little awkward towards the lean teenager, but the feeling couldn't beat her want, having seen her friends enjoying themselves so much. Jason briefly nodded and, an instant later, a surprised Kat began floating inches away from the ground, then farther, and farther, childish amazement quickly replacing her startled expression as she looked back at the other teenagers grinning at her.

She began a very convincing moonwalk, followed by skating moves, and as Jason understood her intentions, she started accelerating, executing a perfect double Lutz followed by a death drop spin, then stopped mid-air, guided by Jason's invisible hands, to quickly dash around the spectators of her impromptu performance at a safe distance. As she began slowing down, Kat flashed the young psychokinetic a wide grin. "Oh, I wanna try something! Can you drop me?" Faint crinkles appeared at the corner of Jason's eyes, and a moment later, Kat was three feet above the ground, eyes wide in surprise.

"Still wanna try something?" He asked, his voice sprinkled with dry humor.

I hope no one's epileptic here... She thought for a moment. A nervous giggle was her answer, but she firmly nodded. And began falling. Rapidly. "Woooohoooo!" She yelled. And right before impact, she suddenly disappeared in a sudden burst of light, forcing everyone to cover their eyes. Her laugh rang like a trill when they opened confused eyes, staring at the delicate pixie standing with her hands on her hips and an impish smile on her face.

"Okay, that was really cool!" She told Jason, still grinning wide after the adrenaline rush the fall had caused. "Thank you!" Her heart was beating loud in her ears, flushing her pale cheeks, full of dimples, with a faint pink of excitement.

Again, that smile-not-smile that was, as Kat had noticed over the past few days, characteristic to the lean teenager. She couldn't quite see it on his lips, it all happened in his cold, green eyes. They simply got... warmer, and it somehow felt better than most of the smiles she had ever been given.

"You're welcome," he simply replied, and so Kat returned next to her friends on light feet.

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras

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Ms. Giles was interested, to say the very least, but still Marissa said no more than she needed to and excused herself from the Branch9/Aeon bunker. In truth she had no idea how to contact Coyote, it's not like he maintained a reliable mobile number (why? She had no idea). Still things seemed to be connected to what was weirdest in Shelly and the weirdest she knew off the top of her head was 'The Bridge'. That crossing that led them all over to the party the fateful night when all this madness began.

The drive only took about five or ten minutes, not that she noticed much with her music up loud and her mind focused on a task. After arriving she wasn't entirely sure what to do. She paced for a few moments, her heels crunching in the dirt and loose gravel of the well worn road as her arms lay crossed over her chest to ward her from the dumb idea that crossing over that bridge was what she needed to do. Why did she always come here? What was it about this place that always seemed to lure her back and call to her when she hand bearings or had resigned hope. After about another five, maybe ten(?) minutes after the answers didn't come to her she finally threw her arms to her side and screamed for The Trickster God.

"I know you're out there somewhere!" He voice bounced off the rocks and trees that lined the path leading to The Bridge. She called for him numerous more times and all the replied was the echoes of her own voice. She flung open her car door and reached for the now half full bottle of water she'd swiped from Jase's house as she was leaving. It was cool and relaxing on her already stressed patience and vocal chords. "God damnit, Old Man," she mumbled, sighing as she took a breath after drinking. "Where the hell are? Why can you carry a damn phone?"

She pushed off where she was leaning on her car and screamed loudly. "Carry a damn phone! Christ." Tired and irritated, she took a rest to check her social media...

After a few minutes and a few dozen scrolled-through InstaSnapz posts, the lovely young brunette sighed and looked up. Yep, she was still at the old logging site that had served as Party Central the night everything went upside down in a way she was still dealing with. Yep, there was no black-clad figure approaching from the woods. And yep, she felt like a proper idiot. "Gods, my butt." she muttered, turning towards her car...

And stopping dead as she saw the lean figure of Coyote, aka Mr Black, aka Troy Lucero, aka God-knew-how-many other names, leaning against her car, arms folded across his chest as he regarded her with eyes of a green so dark they appeared like polished moss agates.

"Wondered which of y'all would seek me out to talk to me." He said casually, with a touch of down-home folksy drawl as he smiled slyly. "If I was a gambling man, I'd have bet money on your brother being the one. And lost, too." He straightened up from his indolent slouch, unfolding his arms and essaying a short bow, eyes twinkling in the dark tan of his face. "How can little old me be of service, young lady?"

"So you're him," she questioned herself and no one in particular at once. "In the flesh, or... whatever you're made out of." She spun her hand about to signify all of him with a slightly disgusted look on her face as she realized she had no idea what gods were made of... what if it was gross?

"So, yeah, Marissa. That's me, hi." She smiled politely. She would have loved to have been shocked by the instant appearing act, but she'd just seen Jason take flight using only the power of his mind and the thoughts of nubile hikers on his dinner plate. If she was shocked (which to some degree she was) she hid her crazy well under impeccable composure. "So, I hate to just call you up and bother just because I need something, but, that's what this is. I need help, in the worst way and I hat to even have to ask for it but... supernatural things are just something I can't fight. This guy, Enterich... he has my family on a hit list. If I don't help him he says he'll kill them. So, while I'm running my game on his game behind the game he's running upfront, I find out that he's some invisible freaky guy who doesn't show up on cameras and disappears into alleyways. Which... means he not human."

"Look," she raised up her hands to profess the the last of her case. "I know you're a god and you can't help us directly... but for crying out loud, none of this comes with an instruction manual! This guy is going to kill my family and I have no idea how to stop him." She inhaled and held back the tears that wanted force their way through her heart, to her eyes. "I pride myself on being strong and doing everything on my own and... never asking anyone for anything... and they might suck at it but they're still my parents... please," she could almost feel her pride fall in her throat as a giant lump. "What is he, and how can I stop him?"

The smile faded as she spelled out her problem, leaving the man's(?) face blank and expressionless - save for the eyes, which were intent on hers as she spoke. When she'd finished, he regarded her for a few moments longer, with a Sphinx-like mien that would put Jason to shame. When he spoke, it was almost a shock.

"Flesh." he said, animation once more coming back to his features. "I'm flesh and spirit, like you. Just held together differently. Well..." he gave her a keen-eyed stare. "Not so differently where you and your friends are concerned." She didn't fail to notice that the accent was gone. Now he sounded... nondescript. Transatlantic, almost. "As for Enterich... He's not a guy. He's a creature entirely of spirit. That's why cameras don't see him, but people do." He tilted his head slightly, questioningly.

"You've met this thing? Been in it's presence? Perhaps shook it's hand - or what you thought was it's hand?"

"Sort of," she lied out of habit, then in an uncharacteristic moment of clarity she corrected herself. "I mean, yes. I've sat right across from him, sharing coffee. I thought he as human, just some sleazy-creeper who was holding my parents hostage for information on the Fellowship. I went to Ms. Giles, we devised a plan and I fed him a ton of bunk information so I could collect some form information about him so we could take him down. That's when we noticed he was all invisible... wait...," something suddenly dawned on her. "What do you mean a creature of spirit? I thought those things couldn't exists without some, oh, what did my brother call it? Silent Hill weakening of the Shroud between our world and theirs... and he's no monster. He's smart. Like, super smart." She shrugged. "Okay, well, he's pretty smart, those two U.S. Marshalls working for him are not the best picks."

"Coyote," her eyes were filled with sincerity. "I didn't get mind powers or laser beam hands or rapist-ball foldy powers." His look and the turn of his spoke volumes of a millions questions. "Long story. Jase folded up a dude with his after sitting outside his window and fogging it up for awhile. He's like way creepy, capital 'creep'. Point being is I can go to them he'll hurt my family if I do and my only power Great-Great-Gramps isn't much of a help, I don't think Enterich cares how fantastic my butt looks in yoga leggings. Admittedly, it does look fantastic, bee tee dubs."

"So?" She shrugged, her arms tapping her sides as she let them drop in resignation of not liking having to ask someone for help. "How does one defeat a spirit? Or, banish them or... send them back to... wherever?"

"First things first." Mr Black held out a hand to her. Marissa stared at the outstretched hand for a moment, then divined his intent and, after a moment's hesitation, placed her own hand on his. "Let's see what we're dealing with."

She felt a tingle, similar to when Autumn had attuned with her, but there was no sense of smallness this time, no sense of connection to a greater, awe-inspiring whole. She was aware of Coyote's energy, a deep, timeless tide that put her in mind of the ocean at night, when phosporescent plankton would glow and shimmer on the surface - and then the sensation was gone as he slid his hand from hers.

"What I thought." He murmured, furrowing his brow and examining her eyes like a doctor looking for a concussion. "It's a Cythraul."

"A what now?" Marissa blinked, staring at him with a mixture of impatience and nervousness. Coyote's breath hissed between his teeth as he pondered for a moment, a long finger tapping his chin.

"Basically a sentient extension of the Dark. Not the Tree, nor the horned spirit, but of the real Dark. Even back in the day, we weren't sure exactly how they came about. Think of them as demons - that's probably the closest metaphor. They exist in places like Shelly - places where the Dark has a foothold, and home in on negativity. Greed, anger, hate, and so on. They know what someone lusts after obsessively, for instance. Or what makes a person furious. And they specialise. Each Cythraul has a favourite flavour. This one's is fear. And he is ripe and fat with it."

"Fear," her vice was a swirl of confusion and rejection. "That can't be right... I mean, aside from my fear of him taking my parents way, why target me? There's plenty of plebs in Shelly for him to feed on... fear of being mediocre their whole life, of going more day dealing with their significant other's mediocrity, being mediocre in Shelly, Montana... being afraid of sudden;y having an original thought but realizing your mediocre in Shelly, Montana. Waking up with Autumn's bed head... I can think of million things to be afraid of in this dump."

She fumed as her words were a bit stressed. The fact that she was dealing with an actual slice of the Dark Pie and not some vanilla scoop set off to the side for their enjoyment straight up gave her the willies. She moped, asking questions to no one in particular. "Wh... why me? Why not the poor people who infrequently bathe, they're obviously afraid of soap."

"I'm not Doctor Phil, granddaughter." Coyote's voice was gentle but firm. "All I'm going to do is give you the hard truth. Enterich is attracted to the fearful. He - it - feeds on fear, understands fear, walks through your nightmares, and knows how to manipulate fear to sow discord, chaos and thus generate more of that tasty treat he loves. Here in Shelly, with the Tree cycle and the Horned One waking up every twenty seven years, it's like an all you can eat buffet for him."

"Cythraul work insidiously, spreading their influence like a virus. Fear is common, and a useful mechanism, but when it goes bad it can make people do stupid things - take risky actions, harm themselves or others, push away friends, even turn on them. Like the man said, fear is the mind-killer. The murderer of rationality." The lean figure in the black clothing shrugged. "Enterich twisted the marshals to his puppets using their fears - and has probably done similar elsewhere in Shelly with individuals, and has tried to do it to you." He smiled faintly at her. "Luckily you had enough sense to control your fear enough to seek some outside help, and so his bluff is called. You see... he can't hurt your family. Well, short of sending his puppet marshals after them. He played you, convinced you he held their lives in his hands. Want to know how I know?"

Numbly, her head whirling, she nodded.

"Because, sweet girl, the nasty people your daddy embezzled money from, necessitating his relocation to Shelly... was me." Coyote smiled slyly. "I needed you and your brother here, so I played on Carl's ethical flexibility, then made sure he got Witness Protection. Enterich doesn't have a marker on your family. He's all bluff and sleight of hand. What other things did he tell you or offer you, hmm?"

Marissa's eyes narrowed, her lips tightened into a thin razor ready to slice the throat of her ancestor. "Wait... you?" Her voice was seething with a building ire. "You? You played my father into ruining our lives and bringing us here? You destroyed us! My mother hates my father. He's a wreck and all he does is drink to forget how he ruined our lives and my mom? She hates it here more than I do and has the pharmacy in her purse to prove it!" She shoved him back a step and stepped forward herself gaining the ground she took.

"Marissa, there is more at work here th-"

"Than what I want? Than mine or my family's happiness? That we should be self sacrificing and sit back and suffer while everyone else is saved and lives happily ever after?" She shoved him again, gaining the step once more.

"You and your brother have been given an op-"

"Opportunity?" She screamed, finishing his sentence for him again.

"I see you've done this before," he mused, hardly phased by outburst thus far.

"The opportunity to do what? Rush off and die like 'heroes'," she air quoted and mocked the word in a voice of what her perception of a slow person might sound like. "You uproot us, destroy our family name, take away everything we have and you just chuckle it away like everything is dandy? You mother fu-"

She was cut short by the loud sound of his hand across her cheek. She pressed her palm and could feel the heat rising in her jaw than now hung open in absolute shock and total bewilderment. There was an awkward silence until Coyote finally spoke. "Sorry, but between you and me, your father should have done that years ago."

Tears welled up in Marissa's eyes as all her walls crumbled. She honestly wasn't mad at him, or even that he slapped her. He was right, she deserved it years ago... more than anything now, she just needed another breakdown. Without warning she lashed out, movement causing the god to flinch in reaction. Her arms wrapped around him and she held him tight. It didn't make ant sense to her in the moment and most likely wouldn't make any sense after she'd had time to think it over, but now all she needed was something to hold onto, some she could cry in front of and not be judged.

Her was buried deep within his black shirt as she sobbed. “I just want my life back,” she cried.

“Silly girl,” the ancient god gently wrapped his arms around her, holding her gently. “Life is whatever you make it. You don't need to be thousands of years old to know that...” he silently spoke and let her cry as long as she needed to.

How long she cried for, she wasn't certain. She was just aware of him holding her, aware of his compassion as he cradled his distant, far-removed descendant. At some point, as the built-up grief and fear purged itself from her like toxin from a boil, Marissa started to come back to herself, albeit as a raw, stripped bare version of the normally composed, glamorous high-school queen. She sniffled, letting her head rest against her great-great-who knew how many times-great grandfather's chest.

"Better?" he asked quietly, receiving a mute nod in return, though the girl showed no inclination to disengage from her hug. He stroked her back gently through her glossy dark hair. "I'd apologise for all of it, but honestly it's too important to apologise for. I've done worse things in my time than shuffle people around the chess board, and I would do them all again if the stakes were the same." There was an indefinable weariness about him, the way he said that, and as she peered up at him through tear-stained eyes he smiled sadly. "You wonderful children are my Hail Mary. You are the reason I've done everything I've done. Seedlings, each precious and unique and tailored to the purpose, cultivated over centuries and millenia, sown at the right time in the right soil. A chance to set things in motion that will make it all right." He brushed away some tears from her cheeks with his thumbs, and kissed her brow.

"I don't know what will happen next, Marissa. Win or lose, you shining seedlings are the masters of your own fate from here on out. I can conjecture, but I'm done steering past the point where you defeat the Tree. If you want it, you'll have it in you to guide humanity - and others - to a better future. You are the new Radiants - and hopefully you'll not repeat the mistakes of the old ones." His lips quirked in a wry smile. "Myself included, though I like to think my mistakes were made with the best of intentions."

As she unceremoniously jammed her palms into eyes and wiped away tears that mingled with less than classy sniffles, she listened to him talk like... like her. A very old, very patient man who had millions of regrets very few apologies. Sometimes, for greater good, one just had to swallow their pride, sacrifice their happiness and simply do what needed to be done. "God, I'm so embarrassed," she sniffled and forced a laugh.

"No need to be," he looked down at her with eyes filled with ancient understanding. "Ain't nothing in the world like a good cry. We've all been there."

The way he said those words made her consider something that hadn't dawned on her until now. "Thank you." She said softly. "For this, the cry," she chuckled again sniffling as punctuation. "And for everything else. You've kept watch this long, keeping this thing at bay and patiently waiting until time and evolution sent in the Calvary. I can't imagine how lonely you must have been," and in retrospect it mad her loneliness seem a paltry affair by comparison, she thought. "Trapped in a world where everything constantly changes, except you."

Perhaps it was the crying, the emotional outburst that let the gates around her usually walled in and secured heart to open if only for awhile to the outside world. Perhaps is was the loss of control that allowed her to simply be the young woman she was and not the one she'd constructed for the world to worship. For the time being, here in front of her ancestor, she was completely unplugged. Once more she wrapped her arms around him and from her shine pulsed something mostly unheard of from the depths of Marissa's usual intensity: love. "We've got this." She said softly, reassuring him that he could finally rest and maybe go catch a movie. "I just wanted you to know that we're grateful. In our own messed up ways, but, we are. Thank you. I-," she sniffled and hugged him tighter. "I think I know how what to do. What's to be afraid of?"

"Oh, there's always going to be something." he said with dry humour in his tone that made her smile a little. "The trick is to be afraid, but not driven by fear. Angry when anger is warranted, but not defined by your rage. To desire honestly and openly, but not be enslaved by selfish wanting. That's how you find real control - realising that you control only yourself and how you approach the world."

"All of which is easier said than done." he added, hugging her tight. "Took me a few hundred years to get the hang of it. You're going to screw up - sometimes big, sometimes small. All of you kids have roads to travel - but nobody said you had to travel them alone and without support." He paused for a second. "That's what you've got each other for."

"Pfft," she snorted. "Have you met the others? Not exactly on the best of terms with them. One's always trying to be in everyone's business, my crush told me he loves me after he used his powers for aggravated assault and now we're part of a conspiracy to cover up a crime then decided to sleep with my bestie, my bestie decided that she's totally into vengeful violent types and thinks sleeping with my crush is a phenomenal idea. The guy I'm dating thinks 'romance' is fishing and baby sitting his sister and surrounding himself with death carpets and trash pandas and my brother? He such an idiot that he's ready throw himself into whatever fire is burning brightest just to prove to everyone that he's not 'that guy' anymore..."

"I hope you know what you're doing, Coyote," she smiled and laughed. "Because we're a complete shit show."

"It's a point of view, certainly. I'm sure they're equally enamoured and glowing in their descriptions of you." he grinned like his namesake. "People are people, even little gods like you." He chuckled, fondly patting her shoulder. "I wouldn't have any of you any other way, to be honest. You all bring something necessary: curiousity, savagery, warm bravery, reckless courage... even death carpets. And you, my dear, have more to offer than looking good in yoga pants. Which I'm hoping you'll realise. All the differences, those mistakes and errors and learning and finding yourselves and growing together? Those are what will make you individually formidable, but when together you will be great."

He paused a beat, then said "Probably."

Another beat, then "I'm sure it'll work out. It'll be fine." And his deadpan delivery was marred somewhat by a slight smirk.

"I see," she forced a warm smile. Given her mood that wasn't easy. She was furious with him, with all the weirdness in her life, but mostly with herself and how everything seemed to be taking a toll on her and she wasn't able to handle it. She prided herself on always remaining in control and already she was on two break downs in one week, crying in front a god and actually caring that some guy lied to her and ran off with her best friend! She was better than this, and she knew it. "Old and Busted has jokes."

"So, all I have to do is strip away this Sith Lord's hold over me by overcoming my fear?" She shrugged in acceptance of the logic and sighed. "Sure, why not? Can't be any weirder than anything else going on in my life right. I swear Chris Hemsworth could fall from the sky right now in nothing but his birthday suit and I wouldn't bat an eyelash." She looked to the havens and waited a moment or two before sighing again. "Ah, well. Worth a try." The two shared a smirk.

"I should, um... prolly get going. Thank you for coming to see me." She smiled politely through tear soaked makeup. "He, um, I don't know what the god code is or anything, but, you know, if you want to come by for dinner or something sometime, or come to a cook out, we'd love to have you. I guess what I'm trying to say is," Marissa shrugged bashfully for the first time in years as she pondered how to invite a god to hang out sometime. "You're not in this alone anymore, so, don't be a stranger... is all. I mean, technically, you're family, right?"

"Technically I reckon I am." The ancient being allowed with a small smile, his folksy accent slipping back into place and causing Marissa to smirk and roll her eyes expressively, at which he laughed. "I'm pretty sure we'll see each other again." Coyote stepped back from her, raising a hand in farewell. "You go on now."

There was a faint unease at the tone of Coyote's enigmatic assurance that they would see each other again that nagged at Marissa's mind - not unease of him, but for him - but despite that she smiled and stepped over to her car and it's still-open door. Getting in, she cast one last look at the Trickster-

Or rather, where the Trickster had been. For the tall lean figure in black was gone as if he'd never been there, only the prints of his boots in the dust a sign he was more than a phantasm. Taking a deep breath and letting it out, the beautiful girl closed the car door, grumped momentarily at her streaked makeup in the rear-view mirror, then headed back to Shelly.

Edited by GDP_ST

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Those who had wanted to had freshened up, had a coffee or a soda, and as the afternoon came to an end people started to go their separate ways without much ceremony.  Tawny, with a cheery wave and a smile, cycled off down the dirt road first.  Cade was next, slinging his equipment duffel into the back of his Jeep before driving off.  Lilly was next, pausing long enough to offer Cass a lift only for the blonde to demur, stating with a smile that she had a ride coming.  And sure enough, as Courtney's cherry-red convertible drove away with Kat in the passenger seat, a purplish ripple in the air and the purr of Devin's bike announced the teleporter's return, and Cassandra grinned as she hopped aboard the bike's pillion seat and donned the helmet.  That done, she waved to Autumn and Jason as Devin gave them a jaunty salute, and the dust of the road was once more and finally disturbed as the Ducatti left.

"So."  Autumn said, leaning back on the porch rail and smiling at the Effing Boyfriend.  "I can't help but notice I didn't get an airplane." she bantered, feeling a little breathless suddenly as he stepped closer, her face tilting up to regard him as she forced her hands to stay on the porch rail with an effort of will, given that they'd rather be doing other things right about now.

"That's true."  Jason nodded, angular features expressionless.  "I was thinking we could do something else."  he murmured as his hands slid around her waist, jade-hued eyes meeting hers.

“Mhmm.” For a moment, it was the only reply she could make- language was, after all, governed by slightly more evolved parts of Autumn’s brain than the ones currently in operation. Pheromones, the rational part of her brain insisted through the delicious haze of warmth clouding her thoughts. With the railing pressed against her back and the heat radiated by Jason’s long, lean form so tantalizingly close, it was something of a miracle she managed even that much. She was dimly aware that they were completely alone. That his bare arms were on either side of her, implicitly preventing her escape even if she’d thought to make one. That he hadn’t yet changed clothes, and it would require only the slightest effort to-

Releasing the porch railing, Autumn mirrored Jase’s movement. Pale fingertips dipped below the waistband of his sweatpants, the wide, clear blue pools of her eyes darkening as her hands skimmed around his hips and pulled him another half-step forward.

He'd been intending to bedevil her a little, make her blush, steal a kiss, then bring up what he actually had in mind. To be playful, perhaps mischievous as he had been on Saturday morning when he'd inflamed her a little then dropped the word 'hiking' into the conversation. All of which went flying out of the window as Jase felt warm fingertips on his bare flesh, the lithe, athletic young woman running her hands tantalisingly over the skin of his hips and pulling him insistently against her. And just like that, like a circuit was completed and electrical current flowed between them, passing from his touch through her and then into him, and that primal savage part of him, looser in it's chains than before as a result of his careful balance between control and passion during the practice fight with Devin, lunged.

He pulled Autumn against him in turn, arms going tighter around her waist as his lips met hers with almost bruising force, a sound like a hoarse echo of a growl in his throat as he drank deeply from her willingly open mouth, grazing his teeth against her lower lip before entangling his tongue with hers. All he could feel, smell and hear was Autumn: the warm solidity of her body, the scent of woods and grass and natural feminine perfume, the gasps as she eagerly returned his kiss, and in that contraction of his world to her he lost all sense of everything else.

There was an undeniable hunger in that reciprocation, in the greedy melding of lips and teeth and tongue that kindled the flickering spark in her abdomen to bright, insatiable flame. The quiet gasps she made against his mouth turned to soft moans as the spirited redhead tried, in vain, to get closer, to press the length of her body any more fully against his; if it wasn’t for their clothes, she could, but to untie the hoodie from her waist, to tug off their shirts, to cast off shoes and pants and all the other annoying trappings of civilized society would take time away from kissing him, from the taste of him. Neither situation- being unable to feel the glorious friction of skin on skin, or breaking even the little contact she was getting in order to strip down- seemed tolerable to her fevered mind.

“More,” she breathed in a low plea against his lips, one hand sliding up his spine beneath the white cotton of Jason's shirt, as the other drifted farther southward. With a little maneuvering, Autumn wriggled her way up onto the railing, shifting until her knees were on either side of his narrow hips. It wasn’t quite what Devin had suggested when he’d interrupted them in the loft, but she was in no way interested in pausing to go look for a table now. The only thing that did have her attention, in that moment, was the sweet, fierce delirium of desire that burned beneath her skin- burned, consumed, and yet left neither agony nor ash in its wake, but something as-yet formless, nameless, and wholly unconcerned with anything but the feeling of him in her arms

Jason was aware that his control had reached it's limits. His need was painful, pressed against her through flimsy layers of interloping cloth as his hands slid under her hoodie and the t-shirt she wore beneath it, fingertips stroking the warmth he found there. It was frustrating, being so close and yet how discordant that awareness of never being close enough was. It would be easy, his reason supplied, to remove the pesky obstacles. He could cocoon himself and Autumn in his Shine and then just burn everything unimportant away, letting it all char and fall away and leave only pale ivory skin dusted with copper pressed against him and then- and then they could- they could fit just right together. In the depths of his half-lidded, passion-dark gaze fireflies began to swirl...

"Christ!" Gar said as he rounded the corner of the house with his kit bag and camping gear, back from the militia camp-out, only to be confronted with a scene best described as 'bordering on not family friendly'. Coughing and with hazel eyes wide, he half-turned away. "Uh... so... I'm home." he announced to no-one in particular.

Distracted as she was by Jason’s kisses, his touch, the texture of his skin beneath her fingertips, by the tangible proof of her lover’s mutual want, the insistent pressure she could just feel through her jeans, Autumn hadn’t heard the arrival of any vehicles- nor indeed anything at all over the mad rush of blood pounding in her ears and the quiet whimpers of need that caught in the back of her throat. So when Gar’s shocked exclamation interrupted the relative peace of the afternoon it caught her utterly and completely off-guard. 

Jesus fuck!

The startled curse was muffled by Jase’s mouth on hers- or hers on his, the two being so intertwined it would’ve been almost impossible to determine- and it was only the reflexive tightening of her thighs around his waist and her hands on his back that prevented her from falling backwards off the railing. All at once, the heat that had been building in her core surged to the surface of her skin, staining with crimson the sun-warmed cheeks that had moments before been rosy with desire. 

Oh, god. Oh, my fucking, god, Autumn.

With a mortified, despairing groan, she buried her face against her boyfriend’s shoulder, as if in doing so she could somehow escape the awkward. “Hi, Gar,” she muttered almost inaudibly, pleading in vain for some merciful deity to just incinerate her on the spot.

"Dad."  Jason's voice held a taut husk as he fought back down the consuming urge, his hands still holding Autumn to him, aware of her arms and legs having tightened even further around his lean form as he glanced at his father, breathing hard and eyes alight with a feral flame for a long moment... and then returning to his normal outward composure as control reasserted itself. 

"So I guess you didn't hear the pickup."  he noted, glancing quickly to ensure both teens were decent before actually turning back to face them with an uncomfortable smile.  "You guys have a good training day?"

"Productive."  Jason nodded, his breathing coming a little easier as his heart slowed and blood settled from the searing heat that had been running through his veins.  He still cradled Autumn, one hand gently stroking the ends of her hair absently as he spoke.  "The old plough is fixed - though needs a tow linkage bar.  The far north field is a bit waterlogged but should be fine.  And we learned a lot from each  other."

"Good.  Good."  Gar smiled a little less awkwardly.  "I was gonna get some dinner going - Autumn, you want to stay for a bit?"

It hadn’t been all that long since Devin had brought back pizza, but the prospect of finding out more about the laconic young man and his dad firsthand- and of getting a free dinner on top of that- was enough to make up her mind. Still red-faced, she nodded against Jason’s chest, and then, realizing that wasn’t really an answer, tried again. Turning her head so that her cheek was pressed against her companion’s breastbone, her flame-crowned head tucked beneath his chin, Autumn hazarded a smile at Gar.

“Um, for a little bit, yeah, thank you. I could eat.” The gear the older man was carrying caught her eye, and for a moment she wondered what he and his friends got up to on their outings. It also struck her as a little bit strange, an interesting coincidence that both Jase and his father had gone camping on the same weekend. She inhaled, an involuntary shiver running hot and cold through her body as she breathed in Jason’s scent, and swallowed hard. Down, girl. “And, if you want, I’m happy to help out. I mean, I don’t know how to cook Provencal anything, but I’ll do what I can.”

Gar chuckled slightly.  "Oh, it's my turn to cook, so it won't be anything fancy or experimental.  Fried chicken and mashed potatoes with some green stuff on the side.  Come on through to the kitchen and I'll put you to work."  he smiled good-naturedly at the girl before disappearing through the front door, leaving the pair alone again, though they could hear him opening closets and doors inside as he stowed his gear.

"I'm going to take a shower.  A cold one."  Jason murmured, his lips moving against Autumn's coppery curls, taking a breath and letting it out again slowly.  She could feel the warmth of his exhalation on her scalp as he lifted her down from the porch rail, then gently kissed her upturned lips, his eyes closing for a moment as he did so, then smiled slightly and led her inside.  They parted ways at the foot of the stairs, Jason letting his fingers slip from hers as he stepped away, his eyes still on her, before turning and taking the steps up two at a time.  As he disappeared round the corner of the stairwell, Gar stuck his head out of the kitchen doorway.

"I'm betting you know your way around a potato peeler."  he waggled the implement between thumb and forefinger at her.  "Mind starting with that?"

"Yeah," she replied distractedly, watching Jason quickly mount the stairs.  She’d been in that shower herself, and it was hard not to imagine him there now beneath the spray, with that clean, faintly herbal scented lather on his- No. No, no, no. “No.” Autumn shook her head, echoing her own silent admonition to herself as she tore her eyes away from the staircase, a renewed wave of scarlet suffusing her skin. “No, I mean, I don’t mind. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” 

She followed Gar into the kitchen, humming under her breath as she busied herself physically by scrubbing the potatoes he brought, and mentally by trying to think of how she was going to broach the subject of the letter and the talisman to her mom. Jason's dad seemed to be handling the crazy well enough; he didn't look quite as tired as he had the first time she'd met him, more alert and interested, and a little of the sadness in his warm hazel eyes had dissipated. In theory, having at least grown up with Owen's seemingly outlandish stories, Dana might be completely fine after an initial freakout. Or she could ship me off somewhere, the redhead sighed internally, glancing over to where the elder Bannon was prepping the chicken.

"Hey, Gar?" She frowned a little as she dug out a bruised spot from the pale white flesh, still swaying slightly on her feet at the music playing in the background of her thoughts. "Can I be nosy for a minute?

Jason's dad glanced over at her as he mixed the seasoned breading together, a curious expression on his face.  He was perhaps a shade shorter and a lot broader of shoulder than Jason, his eyes more of a muddy hazel than vivid green, and his face was animated, warm and human compared to his son's remote outward mien.  But there were similarities too, such as the quick intelligence, undulled by drink now, that gleamed in his eyes as he regarded his son's girlfriend.

"Sure."  he said after a moment, smiling.  "What's on your mind, Autumn?"

The expressive redhead took a deep breath, holding onto it for a moment as she decided how to start, and then exhaling in a sudden rush. "So, I've been kind of wondering." Tilting her head, she returned the smile he'd directed at her, nose crinkling slightly as the expression turned rueful. "I didn't really get a chance to ask last night, because, you know. Existential terror and all that." Still smiling, Autumn shrugged at that, a sort of nonverbal punctuation easily interpreted even by those not familiar with her. "But... How are you taking all this?" She gestured broadly with peeler in hand, indicating more than just the kitchen and the dinner preparations. "Since the hospital, I mean. Not Jason and me." The smile changed, broadened, and she could feel her cheeks growing warmer by degrees as she glanced quickly back down at the few potatoes that remained and picked one up.

"I feel like I'm gonna have to tell my mom, you know? And I know you two are different people, but you kind of remind me of her, a little, and I was wondering how you've been handling the sort of... I don't know. The nightmare stuff, and having us all out here.  Because it's crazy, right? And, I guess..." Autumn swallowed, shrugged again as she blinked back the sting that warned of imminent tears. "I guess I don't want to make her worry any more than she needs to."

Gar nodded slowly as he started coating the chicken pieces, his expression contemplative as the fiery-haired girl spoke and for a long moment afterwards.  The silence stretched out a little, and when Jason's dad did speak it was with slow deliberation.

"Honestly?  I've been scared almost witless." he confessed in a quiet voice.  "Nothing new there - I was always scared about being a lousy dad, or that Jason was autistic.  Finding out about him just gave me something concrete to be afraid of rather something from inside my own imagination."  He sighed, brushing some crumbs of breading from his fingers over the bowl before grabbing another piece of chicken.  "Monsters, conspiracies, ancient aliens stuff, psionic powers, and him being... different... they all worry me."

"But he's Jase, you know?  I can't stop him doing what he's doing.  I'm not even sure that morally I should try.  For all that he's only sixt-"  The older man's voice wavered a little, but he continued to speak as he prepped the meal.  "-sixteen, he's not a child.  So if I can't stop him, all I can do is make sure he's not distracted by me, that I'm a help rather than a hindrance.  And once I realised that, it got easier."  He smiled over at Autumn, his eyes a little moist but with tears unshed.

"And he has you, and the others - some of them, at least."  Gar snorted slightly.  "You guys aren't going off alone to fight monsters.  You've got him, and he's got you."  He shrugged.  "It's a challenge, but I can't help if I'm panicking and trying to wrap him in cotton wool."

Autumn was quiet for a few moments, finishing up the last of the potatoes and disposing of the peels as she mulled over his answer. It was the same earnestness he'd showed a week ago when she'd turned up looking for his son, hoping to retrieve the faded red hoodie that was even now tied around her waist- so very unlike Jase in terms of being openly emotional, but also very like  him for being unapologetic about it, for listening, for taking her question seriously. Most adults wouldn't admit to being afraid of anything, or what they were really afraid of, least of all to a "kid." She was reminded again of that initial impression she'd gotten, the fact that she liked the slightly awkward, very human father of her now-boyfriend. 

He's a good dad. There was never a doubt in her mind, in any of the situations in which she'd seen Gar Bannon, that he dearly loved his strange, brilliant son, and that Jase would probably have been a very different person otherwise. Not someone she'd ever call a friend, at the very least, and definitely not someone she'd date, or get caught kissing on two separate front porches on consecutive days. Probably, he'd have ended up being exactly the way the twins described him, if not worse. 

"I think," she began slowly, beginning to cut the denuded tubers into manageable chunks as she considered her words, finally electing to follow on from something he'd just said. "Speaking as a friend, that we're pretty lucky, you know? We're lucky to have him, and also lucky he has you. He's-" She paused, the blade of the paring knife hovering for a brief instant over the half-deconstructed potato she was working on. He's what? 'Different?' The man knows that. "Kind of amazing, honestly," the animated girl admitted quietly, unable to suppress the smile that spread slowly across her features. "And, thanks. I want to be honest with my mom, and she's kind of used to me doing everything on my own, so... maybe if it's not just me, it'll be easier."

"Honesty definitely would be my first pick - but she's your mom.  Ultimately, you know best whether you think she can handle it."  Gar smiled a little at her.  "I have to say, though, getting thrown in the deep end the way I was is not the best way to get introduced to the weirdness but it definitely cut through a lot of BS about what is possible.  I saw what Jason can do, what all of you can do.  As demonstrations go, it was effective."

"Tell me about it."  Autumn smiled, her nose crinkling slightly as she peered over at him.  "My introduction was Jason holding a door shut on me, then pulling ice cubes out of tap water like a stage magician pulling ping pong balls from his ear."  Gar looked at her askance, then snorted with laughter, Autumn's own merriment mingling with his as the two relaxed a little.

"I think your mom will be okay. She seems a sensible woman - so she'll naturally assume you're insane and then that she's insane.  But she'll get past it."  Gar said as their chuckling faded.  "I did."

"Yeah."  Autumn said thoughtfully, setting the knife down and dumping the chopped potatoes into the pot of water before turning and feeling her heart jump up into her throat as she noticed Jason standing in the doorway to the kitchen, leaning against the doorpost and watching her.  "Shit!  Sorry... sorry..." she apologised, feeling her face redden a little.  Typically, he'd not made a sound as he'd come downstairs.  Gar looked around at her outburst, then spotted his son and nodded.

"Yeah.  He does that.  Been doing it since as long as I could remember." he confided in Autumn.  "Hank likes to joke that if you can't hear anything, it means Jason's standing behind you staring at the inside of your skull."

"I have to find some ways to entertain myself."  Jase said quietly, with a faint smile.  "And sneaking up on Hank was a great way to learn how to cuss."

"Mhmm, unlike the rest of us who had to learn it from cranky old men and the internet," Autumn replied with a grin, staunchly refusing to acknowledge the flush of warmth that always surfaced whenever she realized Jase was observing her. She'd asked him about it when they'd gone camping- what he saw when looking at her so intently- but it couldn't be the same answer all the time, and surely there was nothing all that fascinating about mashed potatoes. Was there? She was tempted to ask again, but reminded herself that if he answered, he'd do it honestly, and that... might not be something Gar Bannon especially needed to hear. Or maybe even that she needed to hear. With Jason, it was hard to say. And, in fairness, it wasn't that she minded, really; it could be a little bit unnerving, that level of attentiveness, but also sort of flattering, maybe? Mostly, she was just curious, though that was true about a lot of things where he was concerned. 

"Have you guys been friends very long?" she asked instead, glancing first at the older man and then the younger with inquisitive blue eyes warmed by the presence of good company. She had a vague idea that Jase spent time with Hank, training, and that Gar himself was somehow associated with the militia. Neither thought was especially reassuring, but the rational part of her stubbornly maintained that she liked both the Bannon men, and for whatever reason, they both seemed to like Hank Graskle, so... Perhaps her judgement of him was as unjustified as it had been of the two in front of her now. As with everything else, there was really only one way to know for sure, and that started with asking. "Also, if there's anything besides potatoes you need help with, my hands are free."

"Looks like dinner's under control for now.  As for Hank... Since about a year after we came to Shelly, though I met him six months in when I hooked up with the Sons."  Gar revealed as he set the pot to cooking and started warming up the oil pan.  "We got along, but he's a private person, so it was a while before we were actually friends."  He gave Autumn a knowing look, tinged with a little defensiveness.  "Folks round here don't approve of him much, but he's a good guy, and for all that people like to snicker about 'militia crazies', Hank ethos is one of self-sufficiency and being prepared for the worst days rather than counting on the good ones to last forever.  The Sons aren't right-wing uber-Christian neo-fascists or whatever.  We're just a support network for each other: folks who feel that the system increasingly grinds up individual rights in pursuit of the greater good, and that sooner or later it will likely collapse, so let's get ready for it rather than panic about it.  Actual revolutionary types get given the bums rush."

"Mostly it's just a bunch of vets, men - and some women - sitting around discussing the best way to grow potatoes and keep livestock over sharing beers."  Jason put in as he moved towards the coffee pot, preparing three mugs of coffee: black for himself, a dash of cream for Gar, and cream and sugar for Autumn.  Gar's mug floated to set down next to the man as Jason stepped close to Autumn, offering her the coffee in much the same fashion as she had offered one to him earlier, sharing a smile with her as their eyes met.  "Plus some paramilitary style training - which is what has most people nervous I would imagine."

"I was in a bad way when I came here."  Gar nodded, speaking quietly.  "I felt like I'd been screwed over by the system, and was talking to all sorts of wackjob conspiracy theorists trying to get a sense of control of my life back.  On the whole, I'm lucky I fell in with Hank.  He helped get my head straight - sorta.  I still crawled into a bottle for a few years, but at least I wasn't full-on nuts."  He cleared his throat, smiling a little.  "Anyway.  That's the tale of the Bannons and Hank."

Autumn nodded, smiling back as she leaned her hip against the counter and took a sip of coffee, rolling the taste of it around on her tongue even as she turned Gar's words over in her head. It was a lot to take in, especially when she really hadn't expected him to be quite that open and forthcoming about everything. Probably has something to do with Hank being his best friend, she reflected. People tended to be protective of the things that were important to them, and Jason's dad was much easier to read than The Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities. "Sorry. I didn't really mean for that to be a- a judgy kind of question. I just don't know much about him, and I've seen him a couple of times now, so..." She took another drink from her mug and rolled it thoughtfully between her palms, absently watching the creamy whorls of ivory and brown intermingle fluidly. 

"He does make me nervous." Glancing up at the elder Bannon, she managed an awkward smile at the admission. "But, you don't. And Jase doesn't." She paused for a beat, tilting her head back to peer at the tall, enigmatic young man behind her with a glimmer of laughter in the shifting blue-grey-green of her eyes. "Not always, at least. Unless he's trying to, and then it's pretty much guaranteed." Straightening, she added, "So, I feel pretty okay, I guess, taking your word for it until I find out for myself."

"Which is all that can be reasonably asked."  Gar nodded as he loaded the basket up with a few pieces of chicken and lowered it into the oil pan, watching the surface for a few minutes as it seethed and roiled.  Turning then, and picking up his own mug, he smiled briefly at her and took a drink.  The kitchen was silent for a little while, then, but it was a comfortable sort of silence; Gar keeping one eye on the stove as he reflected and sipped coffee, and Jason leaning against the counter next to Autumn, close enough she could feel his hip brushing hers, himself content not to speak.  Autumn reflected on the way both men, young and old, seemed comfortable with silence and stillness, differing in quality though the feel of it was from each.  Gar was the stillness of a forest glade - there was motion there, leaves and fronds stirred in the breeze, a sense of things happening out of sight but none of them particularly ominous.  Whereas Jason was, of course, the frozen primordial lake: nothing appeared to disturb the stillness at all, and then you walked out on the ice and realised that you could see beneath it... and then something down there where the water was warmer stirred and looked back at you.

"How are you handling all this?"  Gar said into the quiet after a short while, glancing at Autumn curiously.  "I mean, training to use your gift, being expected to fight monsters and timeless evils, not to mention Aeon and Branch 9 and Crossroads."  He smiled wryly at her.  "How does a nice sensible girl like you deal with this madness?"

"You're assuming I'm nice and sensible." She grinned, a flash of fey humor in the wide, sea-colored eyes that sparkled at him over the rim of her mug as she took another drink. It was a fair question: she'd just asked him more or less the same thing, and he'd mentioned a week prior that he hadn't really been able to hold a conversation with his son's friends, so it stood to reason he'd be curious how the people Jase would be fighting alongside might be coping. Turning the mug in her hands, absently savoring the warmth of it in her fingers, Autumn considered that. A few of the teens- Jason included- had mentioned or alluded to the fact that all of them might not be coming home. What that meant to her, personally, was a very different thing than what it might mean to someone else. Especially when that someone else was a father who was, even indirectly, trusting her with his child's life. 

Oh. 
Well, fuck.

Why hadn't that occurred to her before? Autumn wondered at that. Was it just because she wasn't a parent, and didn't think like one? Or because really having to think about other people in general still felt awkward and uncomfortable, like a new pair of boots that hadn't yet been broken in? Hmm. Aware that Gar was still waiting for an answer, still patiently sort-of smiling as the gears in her head turned (probably audibly), she nodded, acknowledging the question more seriously. "It is madness, yeah, like you said," she began quietly, studying the half-full mug in her hands. "Scary in a very real, nightmares-come-to-life kind of way. Which, mostly is fine. Fear can be useful, you know? Healthy. In most people," she amended, gently nudging Jason's hip with her own.

"But sometimes there's no running away from what you're afraid of. Sometimes you have to walk toward it, I think. The worst that happens is what would've happened anyway, but you're on your feet and facing it, if that makes sense.” She smiled again, slightly. “That’s kind of what my grandfather tried to teach me. The difference in just being afraid of something, kind of letting instinct take over, and consciously respecting it. So, I guess, to answer your question, I just…” She paused, lower lip caught momentarily between her teeth. “I just do. Do the thing now, freak out afterward. Sort of like last night. Maybe I cry, or get sick, or go sit in my treehouse and smoke a little. Or a lot,” the redhead admitted with another little grin, “depending. But I also feel like maybe it’s easier for me, because it isn’t just me anymore. I do have a couple of friends now, which sounds kind of sad when I say it out loud, and I found out my family, my mom’s side I mean, has been dealing with this since before Shelly was a thing. So.” She was quiet for a moment, then hazarded a glance up from the swirling mixture of cream and caffeine. “Does that help?

"Having a couple of friends isn't sad."  Gar grinned at her.  "Means you're discerning.  Quality over quantity, right?"  They shared a smile, then Gar took out the cooked chicken and put on a fresh batch to fry as he pondered.  "It does help, though.  Sounds like you're dealing with it right in my opinion.  It's still sorta hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Jase here-" he indicated the Effing One with a wry smile, "-finds having a girlfriend more of a thing worthy of talking about than fighting evil beasties."

"He does, hmm?"  Autumn glanced at Jason, feeling her cheeks pinken again as she realised his eyes were on her, had probably been on her the entire time.  He wasn't moon-eyed or anything, just... studying her.  Intently.  He's learning me, like I'm a language. she realised then, with a small smile, thinking about her 'Bannonology notes for dummies'.  He was interested in her in pretty much the same way she found him fascinating - or at least, it seemed that way.

"Oh yeah.  Can't shut up about you."  Gar's wink let Autumn know he was teasing.  Jason's gaze flickered to his father, curiously, then he too realised that Gar was kidding around and smiled a little as he took a drink from his coffee.

Dinner was comfortable and uneventful.  Much as when Devin had come round a few days earlier, talk of Dark, powers and weird stuff was by common consensus not brought up.  Gar ate ravenously, and the teens only slightly less so despite having had pizza not so long ago.  They discussed the upcoming hunting season, school and sports and the plans for the Carousel festival tomorrow - turned out Gar and Hank would likely be there, grilling and chilling with other Shellyites.  Jason made mention of the fact he'd be in Great Falls most of the morning with Sean, but should be back before the afternoon wore on too late, and Autumn tried not to think about what he'd said about buying condoms, because that way lay fiery-faced spontaneous combustion.  Finally, with the meal over, Gar went to rest whilst the teens quickly cleaned up.

"Once we're done here, I'll get you home."  Jase said quietly as he scrubbed and rinsed a plate.  He glanced sideways at Autumn, a faint smile playing around his eyes and lips.  "We could go by road... or air.  Which would you prefer?"

Ohmygod! Ohmygodhohmygodohmygod! Pleeeeease don’t let him be kidding!

The response was near-instantaneous, her decision requiring only slightly longer than it took for his words to register. "Seriously?!" Realizing just a moment too late how loud her startled exclamation was, she clapped the dish-towel over her mouth, wide-eyed. Even through the layers of cloth, Autumn’s girlish squeals of excitement were unmistakable as she bounced on the balls of her feet, with only the fact that Jason’s dad was trying to relax keeping her from actually jumping up and down right there in the kitchen. He’d told her on the camping trip that if he ever learned to fly properly, she could be his first passenger; and a flush totally unrelated to the anticipation of Jase making good on his word stole across her cheeks at the memory of the look in his eyes there in the firelight, what he’d said after, and whether the way he’d said it had meant anything… But the last, at least, was something for Future Autumn to worry about. Current Autumn needed a completely different kind of confirmation.

The clear blue eyes that studied his features fairly shone with anticipation, searching his expression for some hint of teasing not betrayed by the Effing Boyfriend’s neutral tone. “Seriously?” She tried again, softer this time but no less urgently, dish-towel still clutched just under her chin in the event she needed to muffle another shriek. There was a pleading note in her voice as she leaned closer, and a suggestion of hopeful optimism. “You’re not just messing with me, are you?”

His smile widened a little, which could be deliberate mannerism on his part, but the warmer hue to his gaze was unmistakeable.  "I promised." he said simply, as though that explained everything, then paused, his head tilting slightly.  "And even if I hadn't, I'd still offer.  It's a nice evening."  Another pause, his eyes almost luminous as they rested on hers.  "And there's no-one I'd rather fly with."

It was nothing short of miraculous that Jase managed to hold on to the plate- although certainly his ability to rapidly process visual information, in concert with the multitude of expressions he'd observed in the last few days, must have helped- as Autumn threw her arms around him in a fiercely exuberant embrace. Pressing her face against his chest to stifle the cheers of unadulterated joy, the energetic redhead thanked all the gods that hadn't incinerated her thus far for ignoring her pleas.

He let go of the plate, which drifted onto the drying rack, because there were better uses for his hands, weren't there?  Such as holding the copper-tressed elfin creature who was currently excitedly cheering directly to his heart as he felt her energy surge and roil and enfold him as much as her arms were tightly clasping him to her.  It was a good feeling, this feeling.  Warming without being consuming, a tenderness to it that was almost selfless - her happiness being a tangible state he could feel, or so it seemed - and important to him.  He smiled slightly, resting his cheek against the top of her head as one arm enfolded her and the other gently stroked her hair whilst he reflected on that warmth which, he was pretty sure, he would always associate with copper curls, eyes like the sea, and a crinkle-nosed smile illuminating a freckled face.

"You'll have to hold on tight, of course."  he said with a faint teasing tone, his eyes closing as he breathed in the warm scent of her and felt her hair against his cheek.

"Mm, are you kidding me?" Autumn grinned broadly and unreservedly, the change in her expression a tactile sensation through the fabric of his shirt as she hugged him with renewed enthusiasm. "You'd have to pry me off with a crowbar. Believe me, I don't plan on letting go." She could feel the sure, steady drum of his heart against her temple, and, breathing in the somehow green fragrance of his soap with the suggestion of his own scent just beneath, the lively young woman felt improbably, unequivocally happy.  It was a feeling totally incongruous with the unsettling knowledge that in roughly 24 hours they'd be facing the stuff of nightmares, and yet the present and undeniable reality was this. Just, This, whatever it was, or meant- or didn't. And This was, really and truly, fine.

Drawing back a little, she lifted her head and pressed a brief, but warm kiss against the side of Jason's throat, brushing her lips in a feathery caress over his pulse, and finally released him. "Come on. Let's finish all the boring stuff so you can take me home. I mean, I'm not in a hurry to be there," she conceded with a laugh, "but now I can't wait to go."

They fell to with a vengeance, finishing up the dishes and wiping everything down.  Between Autumn's enthusiasm and Jase's meticulous efficiency and second pair of hands, they likely set a record or two - not that they were actively counting the seconds anyway.  There was rather an underlying sense of simple pleasure in each other's company that thrummed under the busyness, expressed in glances and smiles and the occasional soft-spoken exchange.

Finally they were done, and Autumn waited by the back door, practically bouncing on the balls of her feet as Jase slipped upstairs to check on his father before returning, as noiselessly as he'd left.  "Sleeping."  he noted in answer to Autumn's expectant look, then opened the door and, taking her hand, led her outside.

"Okay, how're we doing this- eep!"  Autumn's question was cut off in a squeak as Jase turned, folded an arm around her waist and another behind her knees, and lifted her with his own arms as though she were a toddler rather than a healthy athletic one-forty.  Almost on reflex, she threw her arms around his neck and shoulders, blue eyes wide with surprise as she stared at his face.  Jason wasn't a ninety pound weakling, but still - to lift her in a bridal carry without even a soft grunt of effort was not something she would expect from anyone less built than Cade.

"A new trick." he explained, his eyes gleaming iridescently with amusement at her shock.  "I'm kinetically amplifying what my own muscles are capable of.  Comfortable?"

Even as she sought for words, she was aware that the two of them were rising into the air, Jason slowly turning in place as they ascended so she could look out over the panoramic view.  They were ascending deceptively smoothly, before she knew it they were three times the height of the farmhouse and still climbing, the sun beginning to set in the western mountains and the lights starting to come on in nearby Shelly.

“Yeah. Yeah, I am.” Autumn’s soft reply reflected something of the childlike wonder shining in her eyes as the earth fell away beneath them. There was a strange sense of unreality as they rose above the Bannon homestead without engines, instruments, or anything at all between them and the sky, or the ground, or the rest of the wide world around them- no artificial barriers, just… Potential. Possibility. The higher they climbed, the more dreamlike the whole experience seemed as her perspective shifted and the physical limitations of the world she lived in expanded. The farm. The roads she biked down. The fields and the woods and the surrounding homes, the hard line of the horizon interrupted by the distant swells of hill and mountain. It all shrank as the first few stars appeared faintly overhead, glittering flecks of prismatic color in a broadening expanse of soft violet. 

A week ago, she’d never have imagined this moment, the indescribable upwelling of delight and exhilaration and, oddly, peace engendered by the experience. No matter what happens tomorrow, she realized, I had this today.

A sudden surge of vertigo played havoc with her vision as the bright-eyed redhead peered up at the infinite vault above and then downward, and then quickly buried her face against Jase’s shoulder as the world spun dizzily, disjointed from the slow turns he was making. She made a quiet sound that mingled groaning and laughter, her arms tightening a little around him until her psionic energies automatically compensated for the disruption of equilibrium. “You’re really- this is really happening,” the girl in his arms breathed rapturously, admiring as she gazed up at him the shape of his features in the twilight, the brilliance of his eyes, and then the seemingly endless scope of the late summer evening as it descended around them.

"It is."  His return gaze was no less intent than hers, taking in the shine of her eyes and the way the dying sun struck sparks of fire from her hair and loaned her ivory skin a glow that was outshone by the radiant joy in her expression.  Her arms around his neck, her lips forming his name as she exhaled caused yet again that sounding, that chime deep within him that hinted, for an instant, at a deeper mystery than he could fathom.  She was light and warmth and life and happiness - and holding her close, seeing that reflection of himself as she saw him bathed in that same warm emotion enriched him immeasurably.  'Granola can help', Devin had said, and he was right.  Through Autumn, he connected with that human ephemera of warm happiness where before there had only been cool contentment or satisfaction.  Through her, Jason understood a form of joy.

"You are a series of revelations to me."  he said softly, feeling that need to say more, to let her know how special she truly was.  Instead he kissed her, a brief, sweet kiss that broke too soon for either of them, then smiled as he angled them towards the Keane home at roughly five hundred feet up, feeling her arms tighten and hearing her whoop of excitement whipped away by the wind of their passing.  He kept their speed a steady forty miles per hour, both for comfort and because he did not want the trip to end too soon; travelling as as the crow flew meaning that the meandering of roads had little bearing on their course.

And then Autumn was not just rising, but flying. Well, technically, Jase was the one doing all the work, and she was mostly just trying not to squirm so much that he dropped her, but still- flying. The closest she’d ever gotten to this feeling on her own was riding her bike, racing down a hill so fast she couldn’t keep her feet on the pedals and praying no one pulled out onto the road in front of her. Even then, though, she’d still been tethered to the earth, rooted by gravity to that mechanical assemblage of wheels and chain links and gears. Here it was just her, and the wind, and the warm reassurance of Jason’s arms as she laughed, pointed at places she recognized and wondered aloud what people would think if someone saw them, and tried in vain to keep the uncooperative red-gold curls out of her eyes so that she could see, damn it.

Suspended between earth and sky, the restless teen again had that same mad, fleeting notion she’d gotten on the drive to Browning, that they could just keep going- that a part of her wanted to keep going, despite her family, despite the obligations and boring, mundane matters that demanded otherwise. How much broader the landscape looked from this height, and how very small Shelly, Montana seemed by contrast! Maybe if they got through this, she’d be able to see for herself what lay beyond the horizon, the edge of the world she knew. She could hope, anyway, and she did. Crazier things had happened, after all. Like this- because, honestly, dating Jason Bannon (much less feeling any type of way about him at all besides terrified) was kind of crazy, and she knew it. She was also at least a few hundred feet in the air, watching flat land slowly give rise to the hills and woods where she'd grown up, so... Eh. Crazy was kind of relative, really.

"This is perfect, you know?" She leaned forward with a grin, her lips almost against his ear as she spoke over the sound of the air rushing past. "I'm gonna want to do this all the time now!"

She felt, rather than heard, him chuckle as they began to descend and slow down, his eyes crinkling at the edges betokening good humor.  He had followed her pointing finger, occasionally varying his course to bring them nearer to landmarks she'd pointed out, enjoying the the feel of her arm around his neck as she excitedly squirmed to look in every direction at once.  He didn't think the chances of them being spotted were high - they were five hundred feet up and most of those capable of spotting them would be in Shelly, looking into the setting sun.  Twilight and dawn were the times when the human eye was least adapted to dealing with the light and it was hardest to sort the real from the fantastical, which was probably why they were used as metaphors and devices in poems and tales.

He spotted the Keane house, and near it the woods threaded with the bright ribbon of the creek where he had taken a chance and gambled a friendship for something more, and won.  Perhaps they had both gambled, the thought occurred to him.  Autumn was taking a chance, from her perspective.  A calculated one, maybe...  But then again, maybe not.  For all his rationalisation of why he liked Autumn, why he was attracted to her, he realised that to be simply analysis after the fact.  He was drawn instinctually to her bravery, emotional warmth and femininity, much as he was to Marissa's imperious manner, wit and beauty.  There were many reasons why an attraction existed, for certain, but they were less important than the draw itself.  And whereas one had rejected him, feared him, the other found him... amazing.

Noting the car parked outside the Keane garage, he gently set them down a couple of dozen meters down the track that led off the property, then carefully lowered Autumn so she could stand.  "We can do this again, for certain."  he smiled at her, taking her hand in his and walking her towards her home.  "I was wondering if you'd like to go on an actual date, also.  Say... this coming Friday evening?  Great Falls?  Dinner and a movie?"  His smile turned mischievous.  "First class air ticket?"

The worst thing about moments you never wanted to end, Autumn realized, was that they always did, eventually. Maybe that made them more special, though? After all, if you always got everything you wanted, you wouldn't appreciate any of it as much, would you? You might even start to resent it, or take it for granted that just because you wanted something, you were entitled to have it, or that it would always be there. The best thing, she decided, was that sometimes, with certain people, you had a lot of those moments, which was kind of the best of both worlds. Sure, the moments still ended, but you were almost guaranteed to discover new ones whenever they were around.

Jase, she was finding, was apparently one of those people. They'd landed, of course. They were back on good old terra firma and walking toward her house; she could feel the rocks beneath the soles of her sneakers, their irregular shapes uncomfortable enough to remind her she was awake. Why, then, feeling his fingers intertwined with hers as he asked her out on a for-real date, could she almost swear her feet hadn't yet touched the ground? I guess he really was serious about the 'less casual' thing.  The thought was immediately followed by the sensation of warmth spreading through her veins- gradual and pleasant, easy, rather than the quick rush of heat the intense young genius normally provoked with either his teasing or his kisses in roughly equal measures.

"Friday, hmm?" She tried- and failed- not to sound too eager, her instinctive enthusiasm for the idea evident in the slightly higher pitch of her voice, in the reflexive tightening of her hand in his, and the suggestion of a bounce in her step as they headed up the drive. Dinner and a movie was a date date. Going to Great Falls meant it would be late when she got home, so her mom... and maybe her dad, if he stayed all week... might already be in bed. That flush of warmth grew warmer at the implications of being alone, after dark, unsupervised with Jason, especially if he was really serious about flying there. It had only taken a few minutes to get from his home to hers, and already she wanted to drag him up to the half-finished tree house and prolong the evening with fewer clothes involved. "I'd like that, yeah," she smiled up at him, her eyes reflecting the deepening hue of the sky. 

And yet... Would they be here, on Friday? She ran her thumb across his, memorizing the shape of his features, the almost luminous green of his eyes in the half-light. Of course he's not human. Just look at those cheekbones. Fuck. Maybe asking her out now was his way of expressing hope that they would be around then, defying the metaphorical darkness and the very real Dark by affirming his intent to live. "I'll ask my mom about it after tomorrow. You know, once we've had a chance to-" Exhaling, the earnest redhead shrugged a little, her smile fading slightly as the lengthening shadows stretched around them. "To work out the details. It's a weekend, but I'm sure she'll still wanna talk to you about it, you know? Especially if my dad's home."

"Of course."  Jase replied, still smiling slightly in the gathering dusk as the lights from the Keane home danced in the pools of his gaze and glinted on Autumn's hair.  "If I know Dana, she will likely question me closely."  His eyes glittered with laughter at the expression on his girlfriend's face.  "I shall be circumspect in what I say."

"Oh god..."  Autumn had a sudden mental image of Jason calmly stating his intention to have mutually-enjoyable naked sexy fun-times with her, and the subsequent clanging of a convent bell somewhere in Europe.  "Please, don't get me locked away in a convent."

"If I do, I promise to come and break you out again."  Jason's tone was matter-of-fact, and despite the traces of humour in his expression Autumn could readily imagine ancient, iron-bound oaken doors being ripped bodily from their hinges as the Devil himself stalked through a priory, sending nuns fleeing before him like a flock of birds before a hungry cat as he searched... for her.  And there was another warm rush right there, the realisation that the Chiefest and Greatest of Catastrophes was not only impossible and impenetrable, but implacable.  He would come for her, she realised as she glanced at his profile.  Because she was his, because he cared, because he had promised... pick whichever reason you liked.

They had reached the bottom of the steps leading up to her porch, and already both teens could hear the barking of the dogs start up inside.  Jason glanced at the front door, then turned to Autumn, giving her a brief, too-fleeting kiss on the lips.  "I'll see you tomorrow at the Carousel."  he murmured...  And then was gone, rising up into the dusk in a rush that further tousled Autumn's wild copper curls as, a second later, the door opened to show her mom, peering out at whatever had the dogs roused and spotting her.  

"Welcome home."  Dana looked a little askance at her daughter, who'd been staring upwards when she opened the door and looked properly windblown as though she'd been riding her bike without a hair tie.  "Everything okay, sweetheart?"

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.” Autumn smiled, quickly mounting the steps as she tucked her hair behind her ears. “Just a long day, and I think I ate my weight in fried chicken. Apparently Jason’s dad’s a really good cook, too,” she added, closing the door as the two Keane women went inside, the dogs milling around their ankles in an excited bid for attention. “I wonder if that’s where he learned it from? Huh.”

Dana paused just inside the door, a slight frown drawing her auburn brows together as she regarded her rosy-cheeked offspring dubiously. “I thought you four were headed out to the reservation this morning?” 

“Yeaaahhh, and then afterward we all went and ran around at his place, the farm on the other side of town.” Shit, I totally forgot to say anything. Fucking hell, Autumn. “Sorry, I know I should’ve called, but I kind of… didn’t think about it.” She grimaced, thrusting her hands into the front pockets of her jeans and rocking back slightly onto her heels.

“Mhmm. I didn’t think about a lot of things when your father and I were dating, either.” Dana plucked an errant blade of grass from her blushing daughter’s hair, twirling it bemusedly between her thumb and forefinger. 

“Mom, no, no,” Autumn protested, withdrawing her hands to wave them as if warding off some invisible assailant. “It wasn’t like that, I promise.” Beat. “Also, gross.”

Her mother’s amusement was evident in the slow ascent of a single eyebrow and the twitch of her lips. “It’s only ‘gross’ because we’re your parents.” 

“Well, yeah. That’s exactly why.” The younger redhead’s expression- brow furrowed, the corners of her mouth turned down as she shook her head- was the perfect non-verbal representation of the ‘ugh’ that found its way into so many of her conversations. Did all parents feel compelled to casually remind their kids that they had, at some point in the ridiculously ancient past, made out? Or even… Blegh. No. No no no no no. Suppressing a shudder at the horror of such imaginings, the energetic young Girl Scout knelt down, rubbing furry canine sides and scratching behind ears in an age-old ritual to restore wholesomeness and peace of mind.

“All right, well. Speaking of your father, he called a little while ago and said he’s on his way in. He should be here around eleven, midnight at the latest. He also told me not to let you stay up this time.” Dana grinned, gently tousling her daughter’s already-disheveled mane even as she scrutinized the tell-tale signs of sunburn on her fair skin. “But you and I both know that’s not going to work, so how about this. Since you were late, and since you didn’t text me, you can go take the dogs for a run and make sure they’re fed. Then go get cleaned up and changed, because you look like you’ve been playing in a field all day. Don’t wrinkle your nose at me, young lady,” she laughed, as Autumn did just that, rising to her feet as the dogs settled down around them. “I didn’t tell you to roll around in the grass, did I? Once you’ve had a shower, put some aloe vera gel on that pretty face of yours, and after that we’ll do popcorn and AMC on the couch until your dad gets here. Deal?”

As punishments went, playing with the dogs was pretty light, so she didn’t think her mom was actually mad. She’d been honest, after all, and it had also been a while since they’d just hung out and watched old movies together. It was an easy decision to begin with, made easier by the sobering thought that they might not get another chance to do it. Which… they were going to have to talk about, and soon, but not until she brought the letter and the talisman home, at least. “Deal.” 

“Did Jason not feel like saying hello?” Dana glanced meaningfully toward the front door, and then back at the restless girl he’d returned home.

“Oh. Yeah, he kind of flew off in a hurry.” Do not leave it there, Autumn. Do. Not. Trying unsuccessfully not to grin at her own bad joke, she quickly added, “He should be at the Carousel sometime tomorrow, though. His dad, too. I think you’d like him. Gareth Bannon, I mean. He reminds me of you, actually.” She paused, considering her general impression of the man thus far. “Super smart, but down-to-earth, too, you know?“

Dana did not know, and in fact had a very different impression of the elder Bannon based on things she’d heard; as she watched her daughter re-braid her hair, pale fingers deftly weaving the windblown strands into a much tidier plait, it was hard not to be swayed by the girl’s conviction. She was sixteen, after all, and so for at least a little while, she knew everything. “Mhmm,” the thoughtful veterinarian hummed noncommittally. She’d heard a lot about Jason as well, prior to the weekend, and while he did seem a little different he was also polite, and surprisingly respectful of her and, more importantly, of Autumn. While not thoroughly convinced, she had to concede that it was at least possible some of her concerns were unfounded. With a smile, she smoothed back a few of the stray curls stubbornly refusing to lay flat at her daughter’s temples. “Well, maybe we’ll go say hello. It’d be nice to see who’s looking after my girl when she’s over there, hmm? Now go on, or we’ll still be standing here when your dad gets home.”

With a delighted grin, the vibrant young woman seized her mother in a brief but fierce hug. “Thanks, mom. We’ll be back in a little bit. C’mon, guys!” As if they’d been waiting for a signal, all four dogs jumped up and dashed for the door, bounding excitedly back and forth until their two-legged companion led them out to play in the purple twilight.

Edited by GDP_ST
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Act 1 - End of Day: Sean

This must be how a god feels, Sean thought as he slipped free from the bonds of the flesh to inhabit the digital landscape of ReGenesis directly, where he was able to create and destroy with but a thought. Where he was able to be anything he could imagine. He had swum through the streams and rivers of cyberspace before, no need of a computer as an interface, but that had been like using top of the line VR.

Over the last week though, he’d learned how to Enter The Matrix, a universe that could be contained inside something smaller than a fingernail, yet was near as infinite as reality itself. It was a place he could go that even Devin couldn’t jaunt off too, and it felt like total liberation.

It had also scared the complete crap out of Laurie when she’d come into the Barn to ask him about some books Jase had suggested and she’d found her beautiful, busty brother comatose in the engulfing embrace of his computer chair, his pale face illuminated in a patina of colours by the soft glow of his array of monitors. He wasn’t dead, she’d been sure, still able to detect he was breathing, but he hadn’t roused when she’d roughly hauled him to the couch over her shoulder, when she’d shook him, given him a slap, or even threw a glass of water at his face.

Laurie had been about to call Jason to ask what she should do when Sean had returned to himself with a deep breath, a brief sense of disorientation and finding his face, hair, and shirt wet. There followed frantic - and at times too loud - questions and explanations.

That was when he found out when he was in cyberspace, he had absolutely no sense of his body. He was still tethered to it - when he stepped out of cyberspace, he went directly back to his body, regardless of where it was, but otherwise, couldn’t tell what was happening to it.

It was more than a touch of frightening, and meant he’d have to be really careful when being a Ghost in the Machine while out in the field. It also percolated an idea that in case of a worse case scenario at Site B, he might have a last ditch escape plan from his failing genetics. It wouldn’t be ideal, if it even worked, but it might still be life.

Of a sort.

Finishing his video game would also give him a sense of continuation, if the solution he hoped to find at Site B proved to be a failure. Before the onset of the weird and his electrokinetic abilities, he figured he had at least two more years of development time. He didn’t have a publisher or executives mucking stuff up, or other creatives redirecting progress, but he was still only one guy, regardless of how skilled a programmer he was.

With digital voodoo, Sean had at first believed he could get the time to under a year. But now, with the growth and expansion of his powers, especially with all the mundane work he’d already done, he was pushing for release next week, since he was only going digital download. 

It went beyond the vast and delicate control he had when jumping into cyberspace. With practically supernatural coding skills, he managed to program semi-autonomous proxies or agents that could act without his direct oversight. Figuring that out naturally led to the idea that when he was completely in cyberspace, and thus, essentially just a digital construct himself, why he couldn’t make copies of himself?

He could… after a fashion. The copies didn’t have his full capabilities, but they were close, similar to the semi-autonomous agents he could create but with a semblance of his personality and psionic technokinetic mojo. Working on Regenesis was turning out to be about the best training he could get for most aspects of his psionic array of powers.

It also meant he’d gone from a one man game developer, to a team - admittedly of variable size, since it took distinct neotic effort to create the copies and proxies. But he could trust them implicitly, and they worked the way he wanted them to, without the distractions and biases inherent to meatbag programmers.

The video game was basically done at this point, Sean’s flock of digital minions running quality control now, looking for bugs and fixing them, which he’d look over after they reported back to him. At the moment, he was working on social media for Intersectional Games - his game studio - and the Steam page, preparing for release day, and tweaking the algorithm, so that ReGenesis would get noticed a little better through all the trash.

It was an ongoing battle, the Steam algorithm seeming to have some manner of perverse sentience. It didn’t, he was sure, but it sure seemed that way. Over the last week or so, Sean had noticed an odd… irregularity, first on Steam, but then on other sites he frequented online. At first, he chalked it up to bad code, propagated when linked back to his Steam page.

But the irregularities weren’t random. He found a sort of pattern to them, something almost akin to Morse code, like someone hiding a message in the code of a program, a message that they definitely didn’t want just anyone finding. When Sean really turned his attention to the regular irregularities and tracked down the source to a kernel in the hidden messages section of the comment thread on his Steam page, it wasn’t what he expected.

“Todd Asper?!” It wasn’t talking, it wasn’t texting, but it was digital communication, that seemed to include both, along with emojis, gifs, and code itself.

“It’s about time, Titboy.” The insult seemed instinctive rather than intentional, as were the gifs of overly generous, bouncing cleavage - there was a distinct sense of desperation in Todd’s ‘voice’. “I’ve been trying to get your attention for almost a week now. I need your help.”

“My help.” 

Sean’s tone was a flat as the blank faced emoji was… well, blank. He could recognize Todd’s digital signature now. And was considering scrubbing it from the internet with extreme prejudice. 

“It was you who skimmed my place. And at Crossroads?” He was more doubtful about the latter. When he Ghosted, he was considerably stronger than he’d been at Crossroads, but this Todd wasn’t the electronic juggernaut he’d contended with there. “You don’t seem to have the same oomph.”

“Yeah, yeah, that was me at your place. Surprisingly little porn, by the way. And at Crossroads.” There was something like an envious grumble coming through Todd's evident desperation. “They plugged me into a… a thing, to overclock me. I shoulda had you…”

“Uh-huh, right. So, Cerebro?”

“Sort of? Except it’s more like electric amphetamines. A boost, a rush, no subtlety or fine control. And not pleasant. Anyway, that’s why I need your help. I made a deal, except it’s not what I thought and now I can’t leave.”

“That seems like a you problem, Todd.”

“Well, if the assholes here get their way, it’ll turn into a you problem, Cassidy, and problems for you and all your friends. Look, I’m sneaking online here and I’m not sure how long I have. The shit they’re doing here at Site B… I don’t want to be the next experiment. I saw what you guys did at Crossroads - I didn’t tell them all of it. I want out.”

Sean was about to write Todd off. If he’d gotten himself into a bad situation due to his own actions, that was on him. But the mention of Site B changed the dynamics a lot. He needed Site B, and learning all he could would only help his - their - chances of success.

“Site B, hmm? Tell me what you can - especially about their security and defences -  and I’ll see if I can talk my friends around to help your sorry ass.”

“You are so full of shit, Cassidy,” Todd retorted. Even online, Sean wasn’t the best dissembler and Todd could sense the eagerness in the freak hacker and electrokinetic. “But if it’ll help… think about all the stuff you’ve heard about Roswell and Area 51, and just believe me, it’s worse and crazier than that. They…”

Todd began ‘talking’ very fast, only the electronic medium allowing Sean to keep up with the information being spewed at him. Sean could barely get a word or question in edgewise before Todd was off at a desperate gallop once again. At least the medium also let Todd add pictures and video - even if they were jumbled at times in his haste - and let Sean save them to show the others.

Todd suddenly stopped, given the sense of looking over his shoulder, before ‘saying’, “Help me Oboobi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”

Then he was gone, as suddenly as though the plug had been pulled, which Sean supposed it was, and Todd clearly didn’t have an UPS. Sean scrubbed any traces of Todd or himself from where they had communicated, then stepped back into his body.

He stood up, knuckled his back, stretched, ran a hand through his rich red hair, then began pacing, considering what to do about Todd and Site B, only paying cursory attention when his proxies Neo, Trinity, and Morpheous pinged him to report on their activities and progress with polishing up ReGenesis for release.

When there was a knock at his door, thinking of Site B/Crossroads death squads, Sean practically jumped out of his enviously smooth and fair skin - there were side benefits of apparently subconsciously manipulating the electromagnetic spectrum, such as never having to worry about sunburn or UV-based melanoma, or even developing freckles. 

Visible rings of lethal photons began to congeal into existence when Jason poked his head in. Sean let the nascent incandescent chakrams disperse in a soft flash of prismatic light, a hand went to his chest as he caught his breath. 

“Surprise?” Jason drawled.

“Get a phone for fucks sake, so you can call or text,” Sean complained for not the first time. Worry about Death squads abated, Sean offered his taller friend a grin - though to be fair, all his friends except Kat were taller. “So, how did training day go?”

Jason updated him on the antics of the Fellowship - and Courtney - that day, and in turn, Sean shared what he’d learned about his own abilities. But when Jason mentioned going to talk with the Project, Sean sucked in an audible breath.

“I think I have to talk with them too, dude,” Sean said, thoughts on why he had to go to Site B high in his mind, but unable to voice them yet, even to one of his, if not his closest, friend. “I was just in contact with Todd - he’s like me, I think, like how Tawny is like you. He’s trapped at Site B, and wants out. I learned some things. It might end up being a ‘Kitty’ type situation, except y’know, people.”

“Hmm.”  Jason mused aloud - more for Sean’s benefit, the digital wizard knew, than out of some mannerism that was automatic to him - as he stared blankly out of the loft’s large open window.  “Ms Giles has already said that she can’t talk to us about Site B - yet.  Not until she gets permission from her higher-ups and Branch 9.  Going in there and asking about it before she’s ready to talk could be a wasted effort - and besides, you need to get your head into the game for tomorrow evening.”

“Tomorrow evening?” Sean blinked, then understanding dawned as Jason glanced his way with a calm expression.  “Ohh, shit.  We’re going in tomorrow evening?”

“There is no point in delaying further.”  Jason shrugged.  “The longer we take to confront what Cody has become, the worse we make things.  It’s why you coming today would have been a good idea.”

“I know…”  Sean reluctantly conceded  “I just figured I could practice my schtick as well here and-”

“And the dark spirit and the tree aren’t likely to have computers or machines for you to subvert.  It will be a battle such as at the climax of one of your GM’d adventures, the disparate heroes working together in direct confrontation with a foe.”  Jason’s tone was mildly critical.  “Today would have helped you to figure out your best placement in such a fight.”  He shrugged slightly, head cocked to one side as he regarded Sean.  “It is done now.  As your friend, I urge you not to miss any more team activities - or I will have to come and fetch you.”

“To drag me there kicking and screaming, huh?”  Sean smirked, then blinked as Jason slowly nodded.

“If that is your preferred manner of travel.” the eerily composed youth said… and then smiled very faintly.  Sean was pretty sure that this was a Jason idea of a joke - but then, like all Jason jokes, there was a kernel of truth in the deadpan delivery.

“Right.  Got it.”  Sean muttered, smiling a little as he shook his head.  Jason nodded again, then turned to go.

“Don’t forget to pick me up early tomorrow.” he said as he reached the door, looking back at Sean.  “There’s more to fill you in on, but time is short at the moment.  We can do it on the drive.” 

And with that he was gone, the tread of his boots on the stairs making as usual less noise than they should as he headed down.

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The cherry-red convertible was parked, a couple dozens steps away from the Williams' front door. Everything was silent, aside from the occasional cars driving around, and the sun wasn't so high in the sky, somewhat gliding down, above and behind the houses, to meet the horizon in a lazy fashion. The two girls were enjoying the last bits of sunlight caressing the car, leaning in the seats and sipping sodas bought on the way to Kat's place.

There was no conversation going on between the two, each reflecting on how a crazy afternoon it had been. The petite redhead cast a glance at her friend, unsure about how to ask the question. The question that had been running around like crazy in her brains while Courtney drove her home. It felt good to spend some time alone with the pretty girl seated next to her. It seemed to involve a lot of sun and a lot of fun. It felt new, but not the scary new, the pleasant new. People sometimes shelter themselves within a barricade of familiar things, because familiar is good and easy to deal with. But what becomes of life when you stop making new experiences, new friends, when you stop getting surprised, hurt, amazed? Kat was starting to realize that her life had been dull, and it almost had driven her mad. Mad at herself for living such a bland life. Friends made it easier. Alice had been her anchor to the world. Alice had brought some new into her life. Some pleasant new. And now so did Courtney.

And right now, Kat was confused about all this new. Where was it going to lead her? She couldn't process that much, constantly harassed that she was by the rebellious traffic of thoughts tainting her mind. The question she asked herself, and couldn't possibly ask Courtney right now, came back. Does she really like me back? Kat genuinely liked her friend. The sight of the pretty redhead rose some warm feelings of excitement, joy... and something else, much, much deeper into Kat's very guts. It's too soon. She thought. And still, Kat felt like there was more to her relationship with Courtney than just friendship. And she didn't want Courtney to answer that question, not right now. It scared her.

At the same time, Kat was confused about her feelings toward Jason. Definitely not crushing on him. He's just intimidating, and I'm being shy. S'all. The lean teenager certainly had a way of creeping the French girl out. Even though what happened this afternoon was entirely Kat's fault, she still couldn't believe how discreet he had been. How could one walk so silently? The voice of her friend pulled her out of her reverie. "Hey, Kitty?"

"Yeah?" Kat's unruly grey eyes lazilly travelled to her friend's face as a brief smile drew on her lips.

"Not saying I don't enjoy your company, but I'm gonna need to drive myself home too..." Courtney said, a touch of dry humor easily recognizable in her voice.

The French girl sniggered, grabbing the strap of her backpack. "Yeah, it's getting late... Thank you for driving me home." Her eyes met Courtney's. "It was a fun afternoon... I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then? At the Carousel?" She added, with the vivid hope of seeing her friend the next day.

"Yeah, I'll be there." Her friend replied with a grin, her eyes levelled to Kat's.

Yes! "Cool!"

Then everything went too fast for her to compute it all at the same time. Kat had to give it a try. She leaned towards her friend, landing a soft peck on her lips, and for a fleeting moment it felt like time stopped, her heart missing a beat. And then she was already running away, toward the front door. "Byyyye!" Her brain was empty, or rather so filled with thoughts that she could not think, her heart pounding so hard in her chest it might as well have ripped itself out.

The door slammed behind her, and she leaned against the solid wood, slowly slipping to the floor, her fairly pale cheeks painted in the same red she sported every other morning this week, right after the final sprint to the front door. She rose to her feet as her stomach, as well as some noise coming from the kitchen, told her it was about time she ate dinner, and she dropped her bag, all thoughts replaced by expectations of a real feast.

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The bike pulled up to Bunnee's burgers after a rather mild, ten minute or so, cruise through Shelly from the Bannon Farm.  A death grip wasn't required by Cassie as her driver traveled smooth and slow down the streets instead of his usual speed demon manner.  She assumed it was because he was in the crowded areas of Shelly now, and while the Sheriff might know about them, he wasn't above issuing tickets to the lot of them for being idiots.

They walked in together, garnering a few looks from their peers who were here already (because Bunnee always had the high school crowd in here in some form or fashion).  In the eyes of high schoolers a couple of friends couldn't just go eat a meal by themselves with out them obviously being on a date of some sort and they could both feel the judgmental eyes of their classmates silently calling them out on their business.  Those who actually cared anyway.

They say anywhere as Maxine instructed them while blowing past like a busty wind on the busy Sunday evening.  The evening church rush was happening and their peers were in their Sunday best.  They slid into a free both as the Heath twins passed them on their way out.  They pretty blondes both said 'hi' at the two and they exchanged greetings.  Cassie couldn't help but notice how they flushed when Devin politely replied in his own flirtatious way.  H really couldn't help him self, it seemed.
“Well, you two are not the pair I expected seeing in here,” Max smiled wryly.  Being in on all the high school gossip she almost more familiar with the lives of the students of Shelly High than the students themselves.  “When did this start?”  She smirked while asking playfully.

“Relax, Max,” Devin held out a hand to slow her roll.  “It's just hanging out.  Purely sexual.”  Cassie's glare could have froze the waters she brought them solid.  She was used to his humor, but, dude.

“Oh, right.”  Max nodded in sagely understanding.  “I totally get it.”  She touched Cassie's shoulder and nodded.  “I get it sweetie.  We ladies need to set our standards early in life, and we can't set that high bar without first realizing where the low bar is hovering at.”  Her side eye to Devin screamed there was ointment in the back to treat the burn.

Devin just half laughed and nodded his head, soaking it up.  Max was good, she was an ace at dealing with him.  “Two sodas and an order of chili-cheese fries and you're totally off my Christmas list.”

“Oh,” she pouted.  “Darn.

She took their drink orders and sped off to the kitchen to do her thing.  The two were left alone finally and Devin looked at his pseudo-date and didn't quite know how to kick this whole thing off.

“Sooo...”  Smooth, Devin.  Real smooth.

Cassandra let him hang for a second, just for the 'purely sexual' before offering him a hand. She arched an eyebrow and prompted, "So?" Then after a sip of soda reminded him, "Maybe start with Homecoming?"

"Okay," he agreed.  "So, where to begin?  In case you hadn't heard my sister is pretty much kidnapping all of you for preparations at our place before the dance.  I'm tasked with somehow making Cade and Jase presentable.  If you don't have a dress yet, talk to her, she's in a 'formal affair frenzy', like a shark sniffing blood in the water.  We won't be taking my bike, so no worries there, I'll have my car that night, so we don't mess up all effort we put into making ourselves pretty for for the ball.  Seriously, if I ended up with mud on my slacks, I'd throw a fit."  He shrugged.  "So, yeah, that's my side if it all, whatchu got?"

Cassie laughed a little. "A notepad, fortunately," she quipped. "Okay, so I should probably give Marissa a call then, since I do have a dress, but not one she's going to be happy with. And...hmm." Cass paused for a second, assessing Devin. "I'm trying to decide if you meeting my mom in advance will be a net positive or not... You've never set foot in the library, have you?"

"Sure I have." He chuckled.  "Ladies are totally into smart guys and all that.  Whenever we have some big study assignment I always make it a point to hang out there after school at least twice in the first week it's been assigned.  Some girl always needs some help studying."  He grinned wide.

"Totally down to meet your mom, though.  Met Autumn's for the first time today, she totally loved me."  He opened his arms wide like it should be a no-brainer that Cassie's mother would obviously fall immediately in love with the rich, spoiled walking white stereotype of entitlement.

"Coooooool," sighed Cassandra, already imagining Devin being Devin in front of her mom. That would go down one of two ways...either 'what are you doing, Cass?' or 'are you doing this just to hurt me, Cass?' And it was so exciting waiting to see which one she'd go with. But you didn't get far telling Devin not to be Devin. One way or the other, she'd just have to deal. Cassie reached out to nab some fries out of the greasy little cardboard cradle they arrived at the table in. "That wasn't so painful," she remarked. "Even if it means a shopping trip with Marissa. Now all we have to do is...survive. Best Homecoming ever."

"Didn't know if you'd still be hungry after the pizza, figured something munch on couldn't hurt though."  He smiled, stealing some of the fries too. "That's it?"  He looked at her skeptically.  "No list of rules for friendship dating?  Hands off the butt, hands off you, ghost arm only in all pictures? No? That was easy."

He chewed his fries and washed them down with a sip of his soda, which she noticed had no ice in it.  "So, out of curiosity... why'd you agree to go out with me for Homecoming?"

"Dude," she admonished with a grin, "If I gave you rules, it would just be a checklist for shit to do to get to me. As for why?" Cassie stirred her coke with her straw for a second, watching the foam burble up between the chunks of crushed ice. "First, you're funny sometimes. I think we could have fun. But also because ever since this crazy shit started, you've let the whole 'naughty manchild' thing slip a few times. The guy I think I saw when that happens is one I'd like to meet." She looked up at Devin again and lifted an eyebrow. "Can you set us up?"

"Wow, that was," his posture visibly changed as he sat up and rested his arms on the table, suddenly more invested in the conversation.  She'd been interviewing people for years and, while certainly not a professional, she'd learned enough to know when she'd gotten someone's attention.  "Surprisingly direct.  I'm used to people dancing around answers with reddened cheeks and that annoyingly playful 'I don't know' reply."

"Blondie, look, the... 'manchild', as you put it," his grin told her he found it amusing.  "It's my way of dealing with all this 'shit'." He air quoted.  "I don't mean anything by it, I j-" he paused and looked around the place at all the other people.  "I just need to not be so serious all the time.  One, I would be even more unbearable than I am as the manchild, and two, it would be far less entertaining.  You have to admit."  He smiled wide.

"Buuut," he dragged out with a slight protest in his tone.  "If serious Devin is what the lady wants, I think I can swing it.  Might even waive the hourly rates, I dunno."

Cassandra grinned. "I know, and truth is that I like it when you're funny too.  We all gotta have some way to deal with everything. And us...I mean, everyone thinks they have it rough, but lets face it. We're going to war against..." Abruptly she stopped and looked around to make sure no one was paying them attention. "...alien magic monsters, so I think we owe each other some benefit of the doubt. So yeah. You don't have to stop being you. Just sometimes, when it's safe, be the rest of you. You know?" She took another fry and tapped it against her bottom lip, then ate it. "My turn now. Why did you ask me?"

"Ugh," he rolled his eyes and flopped back in his seat.  "I forgot this game goes both ways."  Cassie smirked evilly at the bit of torture.

"Come on, fair is fair."  The fry she was pinching swiftly met its fate while she eagerly awaited for him to man up.

He returned and rummaged about for a good, chili and cheese drenched fry to give him courage.  Fine, but, no jokes."  She raised her eyes brows in a silent promise as she sipped her drink.  "Well, I'm shallow, so... if I didn't think you were, at the very least, an eight, I wouldn't have bothered."  She was pretty sure that his way of telling her she was pretty.

"Devin, the Heaths are like.... sevens, tops."  Cassie protested.  "And you flirt with them all the time."

"True, but together they're a fourteen."  He pointed out, proud with his math.  She didn't have the heart to inform him that it wasn't quite how it worked.  He seemed to sober up some from his fooling around.  "...and aside from you being hot... that's it."  He shrugged.  "That's all I know about you, Cass.  I... we..., hell, Cassie, we, all of us, fight and bitch and moan and yet here we are, at the end of it all, ready to die for people who will never even know what we did, together.  And there's the old us, now there's the new us's, with unlikely friends and super powers... I guess I want to know more about Cassandra..." he paused, looking at her, his eyes wide as he struggled for the right word...

"Allen." She nodded in that wow sort of way.

"...Allen," he snapped his fingers.  "Right, that was where I was going with that."  His smile did to conceal that he'd even remotely remembered her last name.  "We're all gonna make it through this, but... I don't us to do it as strangers.  Y'know?"

"Hmm," Cassie watched him for a moment, rolling the words around in her head. In the end, she decided, his reasoning wasn't that far from her own. They were just sort of...investigating each other. Scraping a layer under the surface. "Okay. You don't have to wait for Homecoming for that. Here we are...at least until the fries are gone. What do you want to know? AMA. Open book." She took another fry then and popped it into her mouth.

"Oh," Devin chuckled.  "Ohohohoho, alright, let's do this.  Let's see... what are your top three turn-ons?  Who has the nicer butt?  Dana or Autumn?  What are you most self-conscious about?  What do most people think is true about you, but isn’t?"  He kept counting them off in his fingers like they were preloaded in his mind like some spin the bottle, Truth or Dare Championship Belt holder.  "What is the most childish thing you still do?  What is something we, your friends, would never expect that you do?"

"Those are the warm ups," he smiled but she noticed it faded fast and his expression went a little more serious in its presentation.  "...and I know you have issues, with home and Crossroads... so, you know, don't worry.  We'll bring him home... I'm trying not to ask the stupid obvious stuff.  It's not like our lives are anything close to normal."

"Okay wow," Cassandra laughed. "You've been giving this some thought. Let's see." She started ticking off fingers. "A good scalp massage, skinny dipping and victory. Autumn, definitely. I'm self-conscious about my hair...it sticks out too much when it's short, but it's super hard to style when it's long, which is why I ponytail it or just let it floof most of the time, but that feels lazy?" Cass shrugged. "People think I'm voyeuristic but it's really just business for me. Not that I get paid or anything, but that's how I approach it. I still love stupid-ass Saturday morning cartoons, and..." The last question forced her to think a little more. "I volunteer at the Sagebrush when I can." At Devin's blank look, she added, "It's the food pantry in town. Lately..." Cass sighed. "...haven't had that kind of time lately."

"Why?"  He asked out of curiosity.  "Not that's a bad thing or anything, I'm just curious.  What makes you volunteer there?  Was it sort of a 'hey seems fun' kinda gig or did something draw you there?  Oh, and I'm totally with you there on the Saturday morning cartoons."

"So...my freshman year, I wanted to do something 'hard hitting' you know?" Cassie said, making air quotes. "And I was fixated on the prison, so I wanted to get like a word on the street kind of thing. But...here I am, comfortably middle class white girl, what the fuck do I know about word on the street? So I asked mom, and she suggested the Sagebrush. I didn't even know, at the time, Shelley had a food pantry." Cass paused to finish off her soda, slurping the last bit up the straw before popping the plastic top off to munch on a little ice before picking the narrative up again. "So it was scary at first, but I started talking to some, and...their stories were really kind of gut-punches. And I left feeling like absolute shit, because I'd thought they were scary. So after the article I wrote did not make it in the paper..." Cassandra grinned and shook her head. "...because it was kind of shit...I went back. I felt like I owed them something, because when I first saw them, I didn't see people. And then after that it was just...kind of affirming. The guys that run it are super nice, and really grateful for any help they get."

"Wow, I uh, huh," he nodded his head.  "I didn't know either.  I mean, I knew we had quite a bit of families around here that we help out around the Holidays with the boxes at the school."  The look on his face was akin to something resembling a realization.  "I just never really considered where all those boxes go.  I guess, like you said, I never really considered that there are people receiving them."  There was a long pause in their conversation as Max slipped by and offered to refill her drink.

"Okay, you're depressing me..." he leaned in and tacked off a few more.  "Last ones, and then... I guess it's your turn.  Fair is fair.  What is something that people think you would never be into, but you are?  What is the silliest thing you have an emotional attachment to?  What is the most embarrassing thing your parents have caught you doing?  Why did you break up with your last boyfriend or girlfriend?"

She saw the play there, asking about an ex while disguising it as part of the game.  Devin might have thought he was slick, but the wasn't.  Cassie was onto him, easily.

"Hoo, okay." Cassandra exhaled, clearing the palette. "Lets see. Something people think I'm not into...that's kind of like that other question, but all right. I am hopelessly addicted to jigsaw puzzles. You know how most kids have, like, band posters or movie posters or whatever? I have puzzles that I've finished. And that's also the next answer. I got a three thousand piece puzzle when I was twelve, and I fucking knocked it out of the park, did it in like three days, working on it hours every day. My parents got it laminated, and framed, and I'm going to take it with me everywhere I go until I die." She fished around for what remained of the fries, getting a few chunks from the bottom of the carton. "Embarrassing...that would either be the time Dylan and me did 'breakfast in our undies' when Mom was out of the house...only she wasn't out of the house yet and walked right into us...or the time dad smelled pot on my breath and we went through an entire decade's worth of 'war on drug' slogans for the next two hours."

She gave Devin a lazy smile then, arriving at the 'ex' question. "What makes you so sure I broke up with him...or her?" Cass asked teasingly. "Maybe he or she dumped me."

"Maybe," he shrugged.  "Either way, whomever they were, how'd it go down?  I'm curious, the people have a right to know, Cassandra..." he paused and finally snapped his fingers.  "Allen.  Ha."

"I just have never seen you with anyone, granted I never paid much attention to you, even when I was knocking your school books out of your hand while you were fiddling with your phone..." he chuckled.  "Man, you made that so easy.  You were always on that thing."  He shook his head in fond reminiscence.  "So?  Who were they?  How'd the whole last relationship go down?  Mine's easy... unlikely pair, met, laughed, spent an afternoon making love, then she got grounded and moved away a week later.  Which I suppose is a win because at least I didn't turn her gay... which is what my sister was betting on."

"Are you sure?" Cassandra asked. "Did you keep in touch after you left?"

She poured some of the melted ice water in her cup into her mouth and swished it a bit before swallowing. "Well, as you might have gleaned, my boyfriend's name was Dylan. We were together a couple of years. He and his friends are into skating, alternative music and slacking off...and when I met him all three of those things were things I was kind of into. I started hanging out with them, and we just started going out." She shrugged. "Nothing complicated, and that was the appeal. The whole thing was very chill, very laid back. But my situation changed. I wasn't happy just fucking around, watching the world go by anymore...and he was. So yeah, I broke up with him."

"See?  I knew you dumped him."  He said with confidence.

"Me being picky isn't necessarily good news for you," Cassandra reminded him with a grin.

"Pfft," he chuckled.  "I'm sure you told him what was up.  all he had to do was grow up a little, be willing to be flexible in order to keep you happy.  And he didn't want to do that after a couple of years?  Fault lies with him, Blondie, not you're wanting to mature and grow.  Had it been a few months, or something?  Okay, I could see it.  Two people need to be flexible for a relationship to be successful.  Fixed thoughts and patterns of behavior can have a negative impact on a relationship leading to fixed patterns of behavior.  Being able to break that cycle is called psychological flexibility."

All she could do is just glare at him.

"Sorry, my mom was a behavioral therapist before we moved here."  He shrugged.  "EmJay and me have had every blurb of psych-speak hammered into our heads.  It's how we manipulated a whole school for several years.  Bad idea in retrospect, but totally fun along the way.  My point is you wanted to mature and grow, which at our age is not an unlikely want.  We need to discover the whole 'who we are' thing.  Your being picky wouldn't necessarily apply to me unless...," his eyes flared wide and leaned in, silently, but in feigned shock asked her: "Blondie, are you trying to get in my pants?"

"I can neither confirm nor deny those allegations," Cassandra replied cagily. "For what it's worth, my dad is a psychologist too, so...yeah. That much I get." She tapped her chin as she looked at Devin. "I guess that makes it my turn."

"Fair is fair," he smiled.  "Just make sure you're ready to know the answer before you ask, I do have little shame after all."  As Max walked past he raised a single digit and pointed to the dwindling chili cheese fries.  Although hard at it, she nodded to him and went on about her duties.  "You know, my sister might have some ways to help you out with your hair too.  She's lazier than she lets on, and still looks like a million bucks everyday.  Hit her up, she'll probably tell you how she does it."

"That might almost be worth the ladling of contempt I'd get for it," replies Cassie. "Okay. Let's see." What did she really want to know about Devin? As fun as it might be just to ask questions to get under his skin, that wasn't the first priority. How deep did the 'jerk side' of him run? "If you could change one thing you've done in the past up until now, what would you change...how would you change it, and why?" she fished.

That got him.  His smile seemed to fade as swiftly as the witty quips sprang to his lips on any other occasion.  She could tell that he was legit taken off guard by the question.  Cassie half expected a dodge... but he began, with very little preparation, like he knew exactly what it was he was going to say.  "I know that Marissa is easy to dislike.  She's hateful and hurtful and... she used to not always be like that.  We used to be like you guys, albeit richer and better dressed, but we were just... ordinary kids, y'know?"

They way he looked into her eyes while he sorted through his memories seemed to indicate she'd found the serious side of the teleporter she'd been looking for.  "We were the zero's among the elite.  We weren't as super rich as the richest kids, so we were the poor kids who got picked on.  Mom was always trying to get us some commercial and get us into acting on Disney or Nick but it never happened.  We're pretty sure it was her they didn't like, not us."  He sighed and shook his head at the memory of some of the antics his mother pulled at auditions but didn't dwell on them.  "Anyway, it didn't bother me as much as it did her.  It really hurt her her self-esteem and... I don't know, I'm her brother... I was supposed to be there for her."

"When we got here, it was her idea to dominate Shelly.  All we really did was become the monsters we hated so much.  Now?  She's so distant from people, doesn't really seem to in touch with how people feel or even care for that matter.  She's so self absorbed that," he trailed off and rubbed his face with his palms, an obvious sign that he was bothered by saying these things out loud.  Perhaps because it reminded him that it was real.  "I don't know... if I hadn't agreed and put my foot down or made some effort to pull her out of this stupid prank sooner instead of letting it go on for so long, she might still be the EmJay I used to know.  One you guys would wouldn't even recognize.  That's on me, I guess."

"Stupid prank," Cassandra repeated, sorting through the story in her head. "You mean the 'dominate Shelly' prank?" She sat back for a second, then said, "I know I don't really know you two, so...I should probably keep my mouth shut, but I'm me. So...this sounds like something you wish you could change that Marissa did. And you're maybe blaming yourself, but it's still her mistake. I mean..." she offered Devin what she hoped was a comforting smile. "...I don't think even you could stop Marissa from doing something she really set her heart on."

"Normally I'd agree, even when it came to my sister, a topic I'm usually pretty bull headed on... but I went along with it.  She didn't beg me or need to convince me, I went along with it Cassie and let me tell you, I had a blast doing it.  I wish I could say I was sorry for all of it, but I'm not.  It was a fun ride.  Do I regret it?  Yeah.  In retrospect it was phenomenally dumb idea, but... I'm only realizing that now."

He shrugged with one shoulder while reaching for his drink.  "We're both hateful and spiteful, I'm just more a more 'in-the-moment' guy.  Let me get it out of my system, I'm good.  EmJay likes the long game.  I part of me thinks I should have recognized it sooner and pulled her back.  I don't really blame myself for what she's doing, or has done, or... will probably do," he smirked with a roll of his eyes.  "I'm her brother, y'know?  It's not so much as just wanting my sister to be safe and happy... and stable."  He let out a deep, audible sigh.  "But, yeah... that's my big goof.  Knowing better and still being dumbass anyway."

"Most kids our age are dumbasses," corrected Cassandra. "You've gone further than just that." She let that hang, then nodded. "But yeah, that was...more complicated than I expected it to be. Which isn't a bad thing. Again, I get the feeling you've thought about this stuff before, which...is good." She took another bite of crunchy ice and went on, "All right, now...think about your first crush. What about her did you notice the most? Why was she your crush." Then with a grin she added, "Or he."

"She," he said with a smile.  "Ugh, god...," he groaned.  "Can we go back to complicated brotherly issues?  Those are easier."

"Nope," she teased.

"You're horrible," the teleporter joked as she laughed a bit.  "Okay, fine... but this goes no further.  Her name was Hannah.  She was year older than me and her parents were rich as hell, like Arab oil rich.  I'm pretty sure bled gold and kept her room warm by paying bums wearing suits made of hundred dollar bills to light themselves on fire."  They both laughed at his extreme example.  "If you've never been out to Malibu or the surrounding area... it's nuts out that way.  Crazy rich people, doing crazy things with money."

"Brunette, she was... incredibly well developed," he smirked.  "But that's not why I liked her.  To be honest... there wasn't just one thing, which completely baffled me.  I honestly didn't know why I was attracted to her, but, I was.  That not knowing just made me want to know more.  So, I joined gymnastics... because, yeah, you guessed it, she was in gymnastics too.  Turns out I was really good at it and she wasn't, or maybe she just hated it... anyway, the more I tried to get to know her she more she treated me like crap and the more I let her because I really liked her."

"It was awhile before Marissa pointed out I was friend-zoned, so I made my move and asked her out to a school dance."  Dismissively the young man rolled his eyes and shrugged.  "Not only did she reject me, she rejected me hard.  Had all of her friends laughing at me, calling me out at school, basically making my life hell until it was no longer funny and they moved on to other torments.  God I hate that girl so much." he chuckled, but she could tell it wasn't a half-hearted laugh... she'd really hurt him and he hated her for it.  "She was my lesson on how to won everything I do so people can't make fun of me for it.  Laugh at everything and be proud of the things I do.  Forget what people think or say, y'know?"

Cassandra nodded sympathetically. "I can totally understand it, yeah. I'm still curious about what you saw in her though. You might not have understood it then, but you've picked that part of your life over a hundred times. I bet you have some insight now that you didn't then, yeah?"

"A thousand times, per year, since," agreed with her.  Once again his eyes wandered off into that little pocket of reminiscence everyone possessed, where they kept the moments of their life couldn't, for whatever reason, let go of.  "How can I say this and not come off like some creeper?  So... I'd never crushed on anyone before her.  She was gorgeous, sure, but everything about her attracted me to her... her voice, the smell of her hair," he looked to Cassie, holding up his hand to pause the action.  "It was gymnastics.  to paired up to help each other out so yes, her hair was whipped in my face on several occasions.  I wasn't, like, creeping in while she slept and stealing locks of it or anything."  He passively shrugged and offered one of his charming, witty grins.  "The security at her house was way to tight."

"It was her smile, her voice, I don't know, Cassie, before I knew it I was willing to join gymnastics just to meet her and felt like the luckiest man alive when we were paired off together to practice.  Looking back honestly... I don't know what specifically it was and seeing how it all turned out, I must have looked pretty pathetic to everyone on the outside looking in."  He sipped his coke and shook his head, looking for the words a bit more.  "Sometimes there's just love.  You don't know what it is, or why it happens, but there you are... joining gymnastics and letting someone take advantage of you for just the smallest chance that maybe, just maybe they'll be yours.  Jason doesn't really understand how lucky he is, sometimes, not feeling things the way we do."

"Aww..." Cassandra smiled, charmed despite herself. "I don't know, man. It sucks when it goes wrong, but...he's also missing out on the high of it. Seems like he's been like...trimmed. Clipped. Pieces of the human experience just carved off, and he'll never know what he missed. And you and me...we'll never be able to really explain what he missed." She shrugs. "But that's who he is."

Then Cass jabbed a finger at Devin again. "...and we're not here to talk about him. You're still on the hot seat, mister." She folded her arms and smirked. "Okay then, I think just one more. We're almost outta fries and we'll need our sleep. Think back on a time when you felt completely at peace with...yourself, with the world. A moment when everything bad just melted away, and you were happy without effort. Now...what were you doing during that moment?"

"Oh, Jesus... remind me never to spin the bottle with you.  You're brutal."  He laughed.  "That one is easy though.  Every since we," he looked around and leaned in all super spy-like and lowered his voice.  "Our abilities.  I've been skydiving a lot.  I looked up that this Joe Kittinger guy held the record for something like a hundred thousand foot skydive.  So, I went for it.  First, it was incredibly cold, did not know that, so I bailed out early.  Tried again with proper attire, and it blew my mind.  Imagine three minutes of your life where you just let go and ride the wind straight down.  For all the wind rushing through my ears it was amazingly quiet."

"I fall for about two-thirty, which gives me plenty of time to negotiate a landing, but to just disappear from my room and be falling for two minutes over the lights and sounds of Hong Kong or New York, or... one of those phosphorescent algae tides that sometimes happen in the ocean, it makes the world seem so massive so, I don't know, massive.  Me and my problems don't seem so big anymore in those two minutes.  I see all the people we're helping, the lives we're saving and... I guess I realize that despite, the total shit I've been, I'm actually someone's hero, somewhere... even if they'll never know it.  Nothing quite puts at peace like knowing I'm not as hopeless as I thought I was."

His expression snapped back to the now and cleared his throat in the middle of another smile as he gesture towards her with his hand.  "Wanna go sometime?  Totally safe.  We'll start low to the ground, thirty second freefall of the reservation.  It'll definitely do wonders for your hair.

"Hmm...I could kind of do that too, just seeing things at a distance," Cassandra muses. "But I think you're right. It wouldn't be the same if you didn't feel yourself falling. Yeah, that'd be really cool" She holds up a finger. "Not tonight though. Too much pizza in me. And now, soda and fries. Uhf." Cassie rubs her cheek ruefully. "I'm going to need a better workout." And with that she deftly grabbed the last fry and ate it. "Okay. I liked this. Thanks, Devin."

"Anytime," he said as he stood up.  "I had fun too, and whenever you're ready for the drop, let me know.  Like I said we'll start low."  He dropped a twenty on the table even though two drinks and fries couldn't have been more than ten bucks at the small diner, and followed Cassie out to give her a ride home.

Perhaps it was their conversation or what awaited them tomorrow, but neither were in a real hurry for the evening to end and it showed in Devin's careful, rather slow (for him) cruise back to Cassandra's house.  The purr of the engine was low and almost silent down eave avenue as the young man barely gave it what it needed to maintain the speed limit but, no matter how hard they tried, time moved ever onward and eventually the sleek, black motorcycle came to a slow stop outside Cassandra's home.

He walked her to her steps and tried his best to make any of this seem like it had some weird date vibe to it.  It didn't have that vibe did it?  No, it couldn't have, because they weren't dating.  "Well, I'll uh, see you tomorrow, I hope?  Carousel?  Before we all go off and..." Awkward silence was the order of the evening when it came to tomorrow.  "Well, you know.  Thanks for hanging out.  I didn't realize Cassandra Allen was such a complex person.  I might have to investigate further."  He nodded with curiosity on par with mad scientists the world over.

"Definitely," Cassandra said in reply. Her cheeks reddened as she realized that could be taken a couple of ways, "I mean, about seeing you tomorrow." She nodded...then admitted, "And also the other thing, except, you know, about you."

Ugh...and she was wanting to make a living using words? "Okay! So...thanks. Seeya." Cassie fished her keys out of her pocket and gave Devin an awkward wave. A gesture felt appropriate but, like...what? Handshake was formal and impersonal and cringe. Hug felt...too the opposite. Shit, end on a joke!

"Drive safe," she said, and managed a grin.

He laughed at her safe driving comment, walking back a few steps as he winked at her.  "No promises, Blondie."  He turned to walk back to his bike.  She breathed a sigh of relief as he didn't go for a hug or a handshake... just smiles and witty banter.  After all, they were still friends and... he still had Lona issues he was dealing with, that much was obvious.  He spun about around half-way to his bike and was stepping back again.  "Oh, hey, if you want to, text me if you have Homecoming concerns or feel like going a few more rounds of questions or... you know... if you just can't sleep.  Worst that'll happen is I don't respond because I'm already sleeping."

It was close to 'I'd like to talk to you again' as guys who were not sure about their relationship status got to saying 'we don't have to be face to face to flirt shamelessly'.  Since no one in the Fellowship was really getting a lot of sleep lately anyways, except Jason who was usually sound asleep stuffed full of hiker gibblets, his offer didn't seem like an unreasonable one.  His bike roared to life and hushed to a purr before he revved it up and was on his way down the street.  Her lips curled in a grin and she shook her head as the dark street lit up in a sudden, Back to the Future purple flash once he was out of sight.

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The Keane home, sometime that evening.

“Hey, Mom?”

They were a little more than halfway through Jurassic Park, both Keane women in their most comfortable pajamas and curled up with dogs occupying every inch of couch-space their humans weren’t. During the commercials, they’d argued over which of the male protagonists was hotter, and Autumn had showed her mother a dozen or so of the better memes the movie had inspired in the nearly three decades since its release.

“Hmm?” Dana popped another handful of buttery popcorn into her mouth, glancing absently at her daughter across Zee and Dakota’s heads.

“Remember when I took that stuff back to the other house on Thursday?”

“Mhmm. Yeah, the… oh, what was it? The fishing tackle and the jigsaw?”

“Yeah, and a couple of other things Dad borrowed. So, I went inside, you know, just to make sure everything was still good. No leaks or weird smells or broken windows or anything.”

“Right…” Something in the girl’s tone caught her ear, distracted her from the television- suddenly the rugged paleontologist wasn’t all that interesting anymore. Autumn took a breath, realizing that the box was open now and that shutting it again was not the easy option, and forged on.

“Well, I checked the basement, and- did you know Grandpa had an office down there?” She asked, regarding her mom curiously for any sign of recognition.

“An office,” Dana repeated carefully. “No, I didn’t. Why?”

No going back now. The younger redhead absently petted one of the dogs using her as a pillow, drawing reassurance from their solidity. “I found a couple of letters, and one of them was to us. Me and you, I mean.”

There was no response; Dana’s face was frozen in the flickering light of the TV.  Hesitating only a moment, Autumn continued. “Do you want me to bring it down?” There was another pause, followed by a hasty confession born of guilt. “Sorry, I got curious, I already read them both…. But, um-“

“Go get them.” The older woman’s response was quiet, scarcely audible over the panicked cries of the children on screen. Her hazel eyes were fixed not on the television, but somewhere above it. Beyond it. 

Autumn nodded, unsure if her mother noticed the gesture of assent, and squirmed her way out from beneath Briggs and Lexi, who’d managed to arrange themselves simultaneously across her lap and against her side, imprisoning her against the arm of the couch. “Sorry, guys,” she murmured as they grumbled, roused from their drowsing by her movement. Was her mom angry? A furtive glance at Dana’s cameo-perfect profile in the dim light of the television didn’t reveal much, and she headed uncertainly up the stairs.

By the time she returned to the living room, the light was on, the bowl of popcorn was on the coffee table, and her mother was sitting on the edge of the couch, her gaze one of too-calm expectation. “So, this is the one for us.”  Autumn fought down the flutter of nervousness as she handed over the strangely heavy envelope with its folded stationery. The room was silent then, Autumn reclaiming her spot on the couch and watching as her mother slid the letter from its container, unfolded it and read it.

It didn’t take long. Dana’s eyes closed momentarily as she folded the letter back up and returned it to the envelope. She bore the look of a woman struggling with some deep-seated emotion as she carefully set the letter aside and looked at Autumn questioningly.

“And you read this?” Autumn nodded. “Give me the other one.”

There was a sense of energy in the room now, something swirling and tense, and it was with the same growing unease she’d felt when she’d followed Jason Effing Bannon into the woods to an abandoned trailer a week and a lifetime ago that Autumn placed the other missive into her mom’s hands.  Again, there was the rustle of paper being slid from an envelope, and the unfurling of the letter.  Again, there was the silence as the older Keane woman read. This time, however, the reaction was different. Autumn watched as her mother’s face darkened, her eyes narrowing as she reached the end of her father’s last words.

“Bullshit.” It was just two syllables, spoken quietly, intensely, but there was something behind them Autumn recognized, although then the voice had been her own. The word was jagged and tremulous with a raw edge unsmoothed by time or the careful, assiduous avoidance of unpleasant thoughts.

“Mom, I don’t-“ she began tentatively.

“Bullshit!” Dana all but shouted, crumpling the paper and throwing it violently at the floor, startling the dogs. “This is such ridiculous, insane, absolute fucking bullshit! He, what? Left these just… lying around in a magical locked office in his own fucking house expecting some random similarly magical fucking idiot from god knows where to just stumble across them? Fucking magically?! He knew he was goddamn dying and this is what he decided to do- leave a note for some meth-head looking for a DVD player to pawn? Jesus fucking Christ, Dad! What the fuck were you thinking?!”

Autumn had expected her to be a little angry because even she’d gotten kind of pissed off herself at first. She’d also maybe thought her mom would just be totally dismissive of the whole thing, but this… This was waaaay beyond her experience or understanding. This was not parental behavior. Not at all. Especially not for her parents. Her parents were sane. Normal. They were usually pretty chill, and she never once questioned whether they loved her because they’d never given her reason to. Yeah, sure, there was maybe some weird or awkward stuff between them, grown-up stuff, but it had just never really seemed like that big a deal because they’d never made it one. For Dana to go from 0 to 100 this fast, though? Weren’t adults supposed to have their shit together?

Oh. Oh, god. I don’t- I don’t even know what to do with this. There was nothing she could do but stare as her mother broke down, flinging the blanket aside while the dogs whined nervously, scattering, and Dana rose suddenly from the couch, furious tears streaming down her flushed cheeks.

“It’s been over a year, Dad! A fucking year! And I’ve been doing the best I fucking can, trying to figure this shit out on my own, and I thought I was doing pretty fucking okay, you know? I thought I was doing a pretty fucking good job just not losing my shit completely and taking care of everything that had to be done, the hospice visits and the memorial and the fucking house and all the accounts and the stupid fucking legal bullshit because, hey, people can’t just fucking die and be dead and have that be the end of it, can they?” As Autumn watched with mounting horror the woman who had raised her storming aimlessly, erratically about the living room, a sudden realization struck, lightning in the midst of the tempest raging around her: just because Dana had been doing all the normal mom-things, the boring grown-up stuff, it didn’t mean she wasn’t having a hard time. “And this? This fucking bat-shit ignorant fairy tale nonsense is what I get? More of your fucking stories? Heartfelt letters to a goddamned stranger when you couldn’t even be bothered to tell your own fucking family you were sick until it was too late to do anything about it?! Magic fucking spells?! What the fuck, Dad?! What the actual-“

Whatever Dana was about to say was cut off as Autumn flung desperate arms around her, dragging her fiercely, bodily into a hug. It was like hearing that awful, broken laughter all over again, except instead of being a twisted mockery of self-deprecating mirth it was just raw, unvarnished grief and fury all roiling together into something unbearable. But, still, it was pain, so blatant in its expression the impulsive young woman could almost feel the ragged edges of it herself, her mother’s tearful exhortations dissolving into shuddering sobs as she squeezed her close. They clung to each other like the survivors of some terrible cataclysm, a living Mobius strip of pale arms and red hair and hot tears entwined together in the aftermath of the explosion that had detonated their quiet life a year and a half before, but whose shockwaves were only really reaching them now.

A little later...

“Autumn.”  Her mom sounded better.  Still raw, still hoarse from crying, but once more ‘Mom’ - the adult with their composure restored, not the hurting child torn with grief and anger.  The two of them were cuddled together on the couch, Autumn holding Dana and letting her grieve until the older woman recovered, at least enough to talk.

“Yeah?”

“Why did you tell me about this now? Tonight?”

“It just… I guess it just seemed like the right time. There’s been so much going on, and I wanted to wait and talk to this guy that was supposed to be Grandpa’s friend, you know? Laughing Joe. I didn’t wanna say anything to you until I’d been out there, because it really… I mean, it’s a lot.”

“It is… ‘a lot,’ yeah.” Apart from Lexi’s tentative snuffling at Autumn’s hand, the room was almost silent. “So I’m guessing they had you go through the ritual, then? At the reservation.” Autumn just shook her head, rubbing the even-tempered Pit’s head in a wordless reassurance that, yes,  things were okay now. Or, at least, that they seemed to be. “Mmmh.” Dana nodded, plucking at the hem of the blanket tucked around them. She was quiet for a moment, pensive and visibly exhausted from the emotional outpouring. “I knew about it, at your age, but I never would go. Dad tried to convince me. I just never understood why it was so important to him, all those old stories. I thought he should focus on the real evils in the world, the ones that you don’t need some medicine man to investigate. Maybe I should’ve humored him,” she mused bitterly, glancing down at the tousled head resting against her shoulder, the pale, red-rimmed eyes that peered up at her. “Maybe I would’ve understood him a little better.”

How did you respond to something like that? Owen was her grandfather, sure, but he was her mom’s dad. That was a whole different thing, and again she felt that uncoiling of guilt, of shame for not recognizing what had been in front of her the whole time. “I mean, if you didn’t believe in it, though,” Autumn began, her voice trailing off as she realized she really had no idea what to say in this situation. Maybe she’d already used up all her ability to people for the day.

“I didn’t. Don’t,” her mother amended. “But he did, and his believing formed the basis for a lot of the things he did, the…” The older woman sighed, a heavy, weary sound, absently resting her cheek against her daughter’s hair, breathing in the citrusy scent- sweet and bright, like ripe tangerine, but with a hint of grapefruit’s woody, underlying bitterness. “The choices he made, even if they didn’t make sense to anyone else but him.” Another pause. “What about you?”

Autumn hesitated. “…Yeah? Probably. Not exactly the same way he did, maybe. I don’t know. We didn’t really talk about it, to be honest. Not the whole Kavanagh thing, anyway. I guess…” She frowned, wrinkling her nose as she burrowed close against her mother’s side. “I guess if I had to explain what I think about what he thought, which sounds kind of weird, I’d say that there’s maybe too much of the world, of everything, for us to really understand all of it. I mean, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try, just that it’s too big for us to see all of it at once, and we come up with stories. Like the elephant and the blind men. So maybe Grandpa was feeling the trunk, and you got the leg, and I’m touching the side of it, you know? It’s all the same thing, the same elephant. Just…” She gestured under the blanket, her hands spreading apart and lifting the patterned fabric slightly, and shrugged. “Like, I don’t think magic is a real thing, and I’m not sure if Grandpa did, or if it was just how he framed the stuff that was too big to see.”

“Mhmm. When did you get so talkative?”

Autumn shrugged a little, pressing her face against the reassuring solidity of her mother's shoulder as she felt the telltale flush creeping up the sides of her throat. "I dunno," she mumbled, her words only half-audible through the blanket. It wasn't entirely true, of course- she had an idea that it might've had something to do with spending the day around someone who actually listened, but you didn't say that to your mom, obviously. The tired young redhead nestled closer, seeking out that maternal warmth that had so often been a source of comfort.

With a knowing smile, Dana kissed the top of her daughter's head. "Should I blame Jason Bannon, do you think?" Her initial answer was a muffled sound that might have been agreement, followed by a soft, "Maybe." As Autumn hugged her mother's waist, the older, wiser redhead pulled her close; how many more of these little-girl moments would she get before the adventurous teen went off on her own for good? Not enough, the pretty veterinarian decided, exhaling as her eyes drifted closed for a moment as behind her lids bittersweet memories of family played out, of chubby, sunburned toddler cheeks and the rare sound of Owen's laughter, the smell of grilling meat and sweet grass underfoot.

"I'm sorry about the letters." The apology, softly-spoken, was scarcely more than a murmur against her mother's arm as Autumn stared at the images moving on the television screen. "I just thought you'd want to see them."

"No, I'm sorry." Her mom's voice was soft, her tone reflective as she squeezed the girl's shoulder. "You were right to show them to me." She sighed then, feeling her daughter's hair under her fingers as she stroked her back. "So maybe you're right - about the elephant thing. Perhaps your grandpa was trying to put a shape or a name to something that was too big for him to fully understand. I mean, isn't that what religion is?" Dana asked rhetorically. "He had faith - even if it was in something crazy, it was also in us." A thought occurred to her then, as she looked down at the copper curls crowning her not-so-little-anymore girl's head. "You know, if he believed that only a special person could find the letters, and you found them - maybe it wasn't so crazy." she commented, smiling a little. "Someone special did find the letters." Another pause as a further thought occurred, ideas beginning to take shape of all the strangeness that had happened of late. A series of random incidences, perhaps - the medical center lockdown, the fight, Autumn changing in ways that were surprising, new friends like... Jason Bannon? Devin Jauntsen!? It wasn't a fully formed thought. More a zygote of a thought. A fleeting sense of potentiality that was lost in the background noise of her emotional exhaustion and the contentment of holding her daughter close, but one that would, perhaps, surface again later in quiet moments. "You know..." Dana said casually. "Dad's letter mentioned a talisman bundle. I don't suppose there was such a thing?"

"Mmhmm," Autumn hummed in half-conscious confirmation, the combination of physical and emotional weariness with soft canine snoring and her mother's gentle touch having led her perilously close to the edge of slumber. "Brought it back with the letters. It's on my desk, 's got feathers and stuff on it." She stirred, blinking as the hand on her back stilled and the vague shapes of the furniture and photos on the wall slowly came back into focus. That had been the whole point of talking about the office, hadn't it? The hope that her mom might actually consider at least going through the motions of the ritual. The bracelets, the talisman- even if she didn't understand how they worked, particularly, she'd seen some of the evidence that they did with her own eyes in the soft, shimmering silver of the Light surrounding them, and talking to Joe had helped lay a few of her concerns to rest. That, she considered, turning the morning's conversations over in her mind like a smooth river stone in her hand, had helped too, just hearing from someone who'd known her grandfather that he wasn't crazy. Or, at least, no crazier than anyone else in Shelly. Shifting, the drowsy young woman straightened, extricating herself with obvious reluctance from her mother's embrace. "I can show it to you, if you want?"

"Please." Dana nodded, smiling a little at her sleepy-eyed girl. Smiling back, Autumn wormed off the couch again and went to retrieve the talisman, returning to the living room with it in hand and carefully passing it over before plopping back down on the couch. Her mom examined it, fingertips running over the mixture of long and short feathers, the polished stones, the occasional tooth or claw. the intricate braided leather thongs. "I should have listened more to him." the older redhead said quietly, her head bowing as she closed her eyes against threatened tears. "Maybe if I'd listened, tried to understand, he would have felt he could trust me with- With other things. I'm sorry, Dad." The last was said almost as a whisper as she drew in a steadying breath and raised her head again, smiling at Autumn through fresh tears which she wiped away with one hand, holding the talisman out on her palm. "Do... How do you feel about his instructions? I mean... It's silly, but I feel it would be right, somehow. Wouldn't it?" Dana asked, a trifle uncertainly as she regarded her daughter.

She wanted to tell her mom it wouldn't be silly at all, that her grandfather had been right- mostly, anyway- and that it was okay. That it would be okay, because even after he was gone he was trying to protect his family, his daughter, and because she was going to help finish what Owen couldn't. But she couldn't say that, could she? There was no way to make that promise and be sure she could keep it. What if she couldn't?

"I think," the expressive young woman replied slowly, earnest blue eyes narrowing slightly as she considered the question and the tumult of her thoughts tumbling over each other. "I think it feels like the right thing to do, yeah. It was obviously important enough to him that he left-" Autumn hesitated, her throat constricting around the sounds she wanted to shape, the words her lips couldn't quite form as she watched the tears drip silently down her mother's cheeks. Oh, god. Oh, fuck. I don't know if- "I mean," she managed haltingly, "I think it would. Um." Keep talking, Autumn. You're almost done. She swallowed hard, Dana's face rippling and wavering in her field of vision as if she were looking up through the surface of the creek, eyes stinging in the current. "It would help. Maybe." She nodded, lips compressed into a taut, pale line that suggested a smile.

Her mom's answering smile was almost a mirror of Autumn's, tight-lipped with the urge not to sob as her own warm hazel eyes went liquid with hitherto unshed tears, but her nod of agreement was firm. "It will be like having another part of him still with us." Dana said, almost as much to herself as to Autumn. And then she smiled a little wider, carefully drawing Autumn into a one-armed hug, a hug which the warmly emotional young woman returned.

The decision made, there was not much more to discuss. Mutual consent decided that over the front door would be the ideal spot for Grandpa's last bequest, the stepping-stool was fetched from the kitchen, the sewing box from the lounge. Exchanging glances, the two Kavanagh women - for such they were, by their blood and their roots in this land - each pricked their forefingers and dabbed a spot of blood on the strange talisman. There was an air of solemnity about the process, a sense that something sacred was being enacted, and then Autumn stood up on the stool, stretching upwards to hang the talisman on a small hook before stepping back down to stand alongside her mother.

It was gradual, a faint whisper on the edge of her awareness, but it was enough to prompt the lithe young teen to focus her... sixth sense? Third eye? Shine-vision? And there it was, a tracery of silver so pale as to be almost translucent grey, a net of Radiance limning the doorframe, the walls, spreading from the talisman. And there was more, too. A sense that she'd only felt at her grandparent's house before now, and realized was the cessation of the spiritual smog that was omnipresent almost everywhere within Toole County. Here, the metaphysical air was clear for the first time, and Autumn could not help but smile slightly as she took a deep, steadying breath of it. Dana felt it too, at least on some level. Autumn could sense the tension flow out of her mom, could see the subtle lifting of her shoulders as though a weight was gone from them.

"Yeah," she murmured, leaning against her mother's side as she peered up at the talisman with its claws, quills, and feathers where it hung above the door, just next to a frame that held one of her grandmother's embroidered blessings. "Yeah, I think that does help." Even without the faint web of intangible, invisible silver weaving itself protectively around the house, it really did just seem... right. It wasn't even about having the physical reminder of Owen, because until she'd found it in the secret room at the other house, Autumn hadn't known the odd little bundle even existed. The thing itself held no association with her grandfather in the energetic redhead's memory; it was the idea of the talisman, the notion that one of the last things he'd tried to do, in his own way, was to make sure they were protected from the Dark. The Enemy. And now, as her mom had suggested, some part of him was bound up in that ritual, that memory, to be kept safe and cherished as he'd wanted to keep them.

This- Shelly- was her home. Their home, she reflected soberly. Not just that of her distant ancestors, but her family's. Her friends'. And paired with that thought was a curious possessiveness, a half-formed sense that the forces arrayed against them were wholly alien, antithetical to life, and therefore couldn’t be allowed to remain. As if, at least in part, she was entitled to make that decision. There were also people like her grandfather, like Nathan and Jacob and Laughing Joe who maybe knew what was going on, or had a vague idea of it, but who couldn't act directly- not like she, or the others in the Fellowship, could. Warden Crocker had called her the “Kavanagh in the hot seat,” and said they’d support her if she needed them. Rubbing her cheek idly against the soft flannel of her mom’s night shirt, Autumn didn’t bother blinking back the tears this time as something cold and tense suddenly twisted like a snake in her stomach.

She might need them after all, because tomorrow, she was supposed to defend that home.

It would be okay, right? She’d reassured herself of that earlier, but- Her arms tightened around Dana’s waist, eyes squeezed shut as she buried her face against her mother’s shoulder. For all the nightmarish horror, the undercurrent of raw and primal fear that gnawed at her belly and pounded against her ribs and shrieked and hissed inaudibly that she was six-fucking-teen, and there was a whole world she’d never get to see, and other people could handle it, and that it would totally destroy her family if she didn’t come home… There was also the quiet, undeniable truth that it wasn’t just her; the meeting with Laughing Joe, the journals, the training, and the talks had proved, definitively, that she wasn’t alone. She had seen, for just a moment with Marissa at the farm, the sheer enormity of what she was part of- of the ring, or spiral or whatever it was. Others had been where she was now. Others had taken risks. Others had asked these questions, wrestled with the same doubts, and still chosen to do what had to be done, even if they were afraid. Even if they didn’t want to. Everyone was fighting in their own way, she guessed, peering back up at the talisman. Even after they were gone.

Autumn sucked in a shuddering breath and shook her head to dispel the uncommon existential bleakness of her thoughts for a moment, pulling away long enough for the two women to put everything back in order. They didn’t discuss the faint, dull ache of the matching pinpricks on their fingers, or how appropriate it was that Owen’s rough bundle of wild magic now hung next to his beloved Caroline’s more refined, domestic version. Nothing much was said at all, in fact, until they shared a brief, subdued exchange regarding what movie they should watch next. More popcorn (with a medically inadvisable amount of butter and salt) filled the big mixing bowl, blankets were straightened, and sleepy dogs rearranged themselves around the pair of redheads- a living barrier of soft snores and warm, furry bellies to ward off any lingering shadows as they all settled back in to cuddle for what the youngest of the Kavanaghs resignedly acknowledged might be the last time.

“…Didn't I tell ya before? It's my island.”

“Hamish, ride ahead to Edinburgh and assemble the council...”

It was well after midnight when the front door opened and then closed again, but not yet so late- or so early- that the light of dawn had begun to steal across the sky. Dakota stirred and peered over the back of the couch, Zephyr grumbled, and Lexi yawned, while Briggs just whined softly without waking. “Hey, guys,” Ian murmured with a weary smile as he rubbed the big sable Shepherd’s head, glancing first at the flickering screen and then at the two women fast asleep on the couch in each other’s arms, with the pale light of the television sparking hints of gold in their hair. “I’m home.”

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Spoiler

Act 1 is now closed.  

+2 XP for everyone.  Bonus XP as follows:

+2 XP for Devin
+2 XP for Marissa
+2 XP for Cassandra
+2 XP for Autumn
+2 XP for Jason.
+1 XP for Lilly
+1 XP for Kat
+1 XP for Cade

Shelly, Montana.
Monday 2nd September.  Labor Day.

It was the end of summer.

Not the end of the actual, physical season of summer.  That, officially, wouldn't be until the twenty-third of the month, three weeks from today.  Rather, it was the end of the summer as a concept in the minds of the populace.  After today, wearing white was a faux pas.  After today, Halloween decorations would start being sold, and pumpkin spice lattes too - even if the latter might be iced ones because the weather was still warm.  Everyone would be back to work, back to school, bidding farewell to the spirit of summer and moving into fall.

But that would be after today.

Most towns and cities in America have their Labor Day customs.  In fact, the smaller the town the more likely such customs were to exist and be more universally approved of.  In Shelly, the custom was to gather at the Carousel, a restored merry-go-round that in the winter months was moved inside a large, low, hangar-like building known as the Carousel Rest Stop.  In the summer, it was brought out once more to be the focal point for local and state fairs and celebrations, sitting in a large field surrounded by tents and stalls as music blared from nearby stages and people came from all over Toole County and even further to join the fun.

But on Labor Day, there were relatively few from outside Toole County present.  The celebration was more local, more intimate.  A friends and family affair.  Sure, there might be some out-of-towners from other parts of the state, visiting with relatives.  Or families of servicemen and women posted at the nearby base, considered to be honorary Shellyites by most if not all of the locals.  The setup was modest and simple - there were some entertainments: live music, some stalls and food vendors, and of course the Carousel itself, a glinting and sparkling and painted remnant of an earlier age - but by and large people would arrive with hampers and coolers, set up tables and grills, and barbecue and picnic with one another, wandering around and visiting their neighbours, sharing food and recipes and camaraderie as the smaller children, perhaps sensing the end of the spirit of summer, ran and shouted excitedly.  The teens, too, had their own customs on such days.  Though the specter of school on the morrow made parental oversight a little too tight to throw real parties, it was common enough for them, as the afternoon wore on into evening, to slip away from the main picnic areas into the clumps of trees ringing the field and smoke, drink and make merry away from the eyes of parents or snitching younger siblings.

That, however, would be later.  Right now it was just short of noon, and already the field was bustling with activity, people arriving with their families as the Carousel whirled and blared and the stall-holders chattered and laughed.  It was a warm, balmy day, the sunlight soothing away the chill of the morning and casting few shadows.  Shelly was gearing up to give summer a fine, cheery sendoff.

Spoiler

Welcome to Act 2.

In-Game time is just prior to noon.  Your PC might be there already with their family, or they might turn up any time from now onwards.  Cade and Marissa have a poast to make and can arrive later anytime after that.  Jason and Sean are currently on their way back from Great Falls and will arrive around 1pm-ish.  Charlie and Sophia Fingleman are absent.

The Keane family and the Crockers are present, as are the Cassidys and pretty much every other family in Shelly.  Even Gar Bannon and Hank Graskle have showed up for the first time, being downright sociable for a change.

Go, play, poast and have fun!  This is your PCs day in the sun before darkness falls.  Muwhahahahaa!

 

Edited by GDP_ST

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After leaving Jason's, Cade had headed home, knowing he needed to do several things, but he couldn't make himself do one that night. He settled for inviting Marissa to the family cookout. A part of him didn't really expect her to come over, but she did like Haruka, and if anything it would give her a chance to meet Cade's mother and father in a setting that was actually pleasant.

He got home and went to get his dirty clothing together, washing what he'd had on before and the clothes from the last couple days before heading inside. His mom was in kitchen, putting away dinner, and she smiled "I was just about to put everything up..."

Cade smiled. "I'll handle it mom, after I make a plate." It was light fare, some stew that'd keep for days. He knew his dad wasn't going to be home until late, so after fixing his plate he dutifully covered the dishes and put them away in the fridge. His mother sat there with him while he ate.

"You had a good time with your friends?" She asked him quietly.

"Yeah, we really did, and we got some great news. Lilly is back."

"Didn't she go try out for the Olympics?"

"Yes, she did but she didn't make it. Maybe next time."

"That's too bad, she's a gifted athlete. The competition must have been pretty stiff."

Cade continued eating as his mother spoke, and nodded. "I bet so. She'll make it next time though, I'm sure."

It was the sort of small talk he'd grown used to, and he looked at her, knowing he'd have to be the one to bring up anything more. Just as he was about to, Haruka came in. "You're still eating, you're so slow."

Cade had just finished. "What's the rush? I wasn't coming in there just yet. I need to talk to Marissa for a bit still. I sorta forgot to invite her for tomorrow with everyone around."

Haruka fumed for a moment then smirked. "I guess I can wait to kick your butt in Mario Kart a bit longer so you can do that, but don't stay on your phone all night."

Miyakko watched her children go back and forth with a content smile, and took Cade's now empty plate and glass, and went to wash them, Cade being a bit exasperated by this, but he bowed his head in thanks. "Thanks mom. Alright Haruka, I'll go call Marissa, and then we'll see who beats who in Mario Kart."

He went to his room and dialed Marissa's number, waiting patiently for her to answer.

 

So, a lot had happened that evening after she'd left the training session, most of which she just wanted to ignore for the present to allow herself time to process, evaluate, then, if needed, disseminate to the others. For now she sat calmly in her bed, in her comfy jammies, reading Name of the Wind before bed, as it was going to be a long day tomorrow, she'd decided early turning might be a good idea. When her phone began playing Kronk's Theme from The Emperor's New Groove she sighed and closed the book.

"Hey, babe." She answered, sliding her glasses from their perch on her nose, she listened to her lover's proposal. "Um, yeah, sure. I think I can swing that. I can just meet my parents and Deej at the Carousel later." She smiled and bit her lip teasingly. He couldn't see her, but she was a method flirt. "Did you get the text I sent you earlier?" She could actually hear him blushing through the phone. "Well, think of that, when you see me tomorrow. See you at noon."

---===[Allister Residence, Labor Day, Monday Sept 2nd]===---

"Marissa!" Haruka squee'd as she ran over and gave her adopted babysitter/bestie/adopted sister a big hug.

"Hey, girl!" Marissa laughed and returned it with a big squeeze and a grunt of big hug love. "Behaving? No giving your brother or mom any trouble, are you?"

Miyakko, Cade's mother, smiled brightly as she greeted the lawful half of the Jauntsen twins. She paused momentarily to take in Marissa's outfit, which Cade didn't seem to mind, but knew his mother would have a few choice words about decency later in private. Considering Marissa's usual adherence to class and standards of propriety, her lover assumed she was wearing was as much to torment his teenage hormones as it was to irritate his parents. Truth of the matter was, the skin tight denim jeans, and the red bandana patterned halterneck that left little to modesty was simply her way of giving the end of summer a last hurrah before she welcomed in the harsh and cumbersome attire of her winter wardrobe.

"Marissa, hello." Miyakko smiled warmly, offering her hand. "Cade doesn't stop talking about you, and thank you again for keeping an eye on Haruka, last week. You were a life saver."

"It was no trouble," she laughed softly, taking his mother's hand while fanning away concern for babysitting with her other. "Ru-Ru and I had all kinds of fun, don't mention it. She's an absolute joy to spend time with." Her bae marveled once more at her ability to endear herself to people, especially since she'd never met his mother before and here she was a few moments into a conversation and Miyakko was ready to hire her fulltime to watch his sister.

"Ru-Ru?" Cade said to her after the exchange and they were walking through the house to the back yard?

"Yep!" Haruka smiled wide. "What's wrong, she not give you a nickname yet?"

Marissa smiled impishly. "Not one I can repeat until you are a lot older, girl. Go help your mom."

"Why? So you two can play kissy-face?" His sister snarled at them with an repulsed expression.

"Maybe," Marissa smiled. "He's still mine, and I happen to enjoy kissing him, you'll get it once you're older."

As she ran off to help, Marissa took the moment to steal a kiss from Cade, enjoying his arms wrapped around her waist as he drown in her lips and the softness of her skin. His mind had returned to yesterday morning and their first time together so many times in the last twenty-four hours he didn't even remember what focus was like. Cade's father clearing his throat startled them both and they separated, both wearing sheepish smiles of embarrassment. Cade's was genuine, Marissa's was a practiced reflex.

"You two think you can keep your hands to yourself for a bit?" The Sheriff looked at them both with a stern, fatherly glare that told them he wouldn't be having any of that in his house. "Let me get right to it," she focused on Marissa. "I get you kids have these awesome powers and think you can save the world or whatnot, but this?" He waggled his finger between the two of them. "This, I don't like. You and your brother have been a pox on this community long enough that I'd hopped my son would have better taste in women, and where is the rest of your shirt?"

"Dad!" Cade narrowed his eyes, sending waves of anger in his father's direction.

"No, it's okay," Marissa smiled and rising her hand, she rest it on Cade's chest while she met her accusor in the eyes. "Thank you for having me over this afternoon, Sheriff. You have a lovely home. Cade was just escorting me to the back yard." She offered the Sheriff her hand. "Would you be so kind?"

Cade was annoyed with his dad, but at the same time he did understand his problems at least with Devin. He spared his dad a look, and shook his head. He wanted to make some sort of comeback to defend Marissa, but one look showed she didn't want him to. He reached out and took Marissa's hand and led her into the backyard wordlessly, Leaving on Ian Allister in their home, to watch his son and the succubus queen who'd ensnared him head out to his backyard. He was moderately happy The boy's grandparents weren't going to be there, her outfit would scandalize them all.

Cade leaned in and whispered quietly. "You look great, just thought you should know. I don't care what they say, now or later."

The picnic table was set up for all of them, and Miyakko smiled. "Marissa would you like something to drink? We've got sodas, water, and sweet and unsweet tea. The food is just about done, We've got hamburgers, shiskebobs, and hotdogs coming off the grill, with all the trimmings, with the usual sides of potato salad and some rice."

Haruka smiled. "If you're hungry now I can make you a salad."

Both the Miyakko and Haruka were the picture of hospitality, and while Cade knew he'd hear about Marissa's outfit later on, he was happy now. He knew it was short notice, but he was happy she'd come.

"That all sounds fantastic," her sincere smile was a treasure too long unseen in the Allister home. As Ian walked into the back yard. He as the typical Marine, large, thought he owned everything he set his eyes on, and figured he was way more important that he actually was. She side eyed the giant of a man and waited until he was in earshot. "Please, no doting over me. No one should have to act like a servant for my sake, not when I'm perfectly capable. A water sounds great, just point the way." If he wanted to play hardball, she'd play.

"Over here," Haruka pointed to the cooler filled with beverages. She grabbed a water for Marissa who accepted with a smile.

"Okay," Marissa approached Cade and twisted off the cap. She leaned in, whispering softly. "What the hell is his problem today? I thought we were all cool after the Branch Nine chat."

Ian was all too aware that Marissa had seemingly charmed his entire family, and while it was easy to see why with Cade, the fact she could do so, even dressed like that, to Miyakko, who'd been very conservative since coming stateside with him, and his daughter, Haruka, who he admit to himself he was extremely protective of, irked him in the extreme. This was getting far out of hand.

Now she was whispering to Cade, and he answered quietly, and Ian couldn't make it out. "He's mad at me still, and I don't think he approves of how you're dressed. It would absolutely scandalize all my grandparents, and I think it makes him uncomfortable." he said with a smirk. "They won't be joining us today though, so no worry there."

Ian made his way to the grill making some final adjustments, and tried to ignore the succubus in his home, cozying up to his family.

Cade shrugged, and then gave her a comforting smile. "I'm glad you were able to come, I wasn't sure if you and your family had plans for today or not."

 

"Well, I don't care what he thinks, I didn't get dressed for him," she shook her head in irritation and then smirked and rolled her eyes at Cade. "Or you, for that matter, don't look at me like that. I happen to like this top and-"

"Me too," Cade agreed with a nod.

"-aaand," she spoke as she chuckled. "If he doesn't like it, that his problem. However," her met his with all seriousness. "If you two are still fighting, Cadums, you need to make up with him, at least, as much possible. He's your dad, and, well, tonight..." she let the point drop there since they both knew exactly what was going down that evening.

Cade let out a small sigh, and his smile faded considerably. "You're right, but I'm still mad too. Devin made a valid point after you left yesterday, one I know Dad will understand. But it's kinda hard for me to get past things. To set aside my doubts."

He shrugged his broad, massive shoulders, and nodded. "After we eat. I'll tell them, and while they put things up, I'll go talk with Dad. Do you mind being left alone with my mom and sister for abit?"

He gave her a little smile "Thought you weren't gonna call me that in front of my family."

 

 

"I didn't. They can't hear me." Her impish smile was followed with a wink. "I'm a big girl, I think I can handle your mom and Ru-ru for a few minutes."

She gently placed her hand on his arm, "Look, I know you two are mad at each other, but think of it like this: no matter what, no matter how messed up my family is, I know that somewhere under it all my mom and dad love me. They don't always... or, ever, show it, but they're my parents, you know? I know, under all that Marine-ness your dad loves you more than anything in this world, so, just in case, make sure he knows you feel the same. He deserves at least that piece of mind for the rest of his life."

"Now," she looked at him, craning her head imperially like the queen she believed herself to be. "Show me off, entertain me, I wanna meet your fams. Who knows, I might even give your mom some fashion advice... poor girl. This isn't nineteen-forties Japan, Christ."

"You think mom's bad, you ought to see her mother, Mariko. Though I admit the Yukatas she sent mom and Haruka for Christmas do look amazing on them."

He smiled back at her, and led her back over to the table, where Miyakko was just finishing setting everything out, and Haruka'd taken up a seat. It was set up on the back porch, which had fans blowing on low to fight the midday heat, and Haruka met them first. "Finished your lover's chat?" She asked them both impishly.

Miyakko let out a small sigh of exasperation. "Haruka, be more respectful. Marissa's our guest. Besides it's not nice to tease your elder brother either."

"Mom, if I don't tease him no one will...."

Cade shook his head. "Totally untrue. There are more than enough who will. You're just mad because you only beat me in three races last night."

"You're supposed to be nicer to your little sister and let her win at games...." Haruka answered smirking back at him and Marissa. "Do you play games with your brother, Marissa? Cade mostly plays his strategy and fighting games, but I can get him to play Mario Kart with me. and there were those couple times we got mom and dad to join in and play mario party."

 

"Why would they need a yukata in Mont-" she shook her head and waved it off as Cade led her back over to the rest of the his family. Why they would need yukata's in the middle of Montana where they had no reason to ever wear them, and obviously didn't seem to practice any of the religious ceremonies necessary for their use while in a state devoid of the cultural festivals common for seeing them, Marissa had no clue.

"Well, we have an Xbox and a PS4, but neither of us really sit down with them a whole lot. My brother and I workout together, practice our gymnastics, dancing, stuff like that. We've been horsing around at home and putting on YouTube videos of people shuffling and trying to get the steps down in one go... we've been tripping over each other, a lot." Her smile panned across the whole table as she spoke, a sure sign of someone used to public speaking. "It keeps us active instead of idle, which, if you've never met my brother, it's hard to keep him in one spot for long."

She smirked as the Sheriff choked momentarily on his drink.

"Her brother is Devin, Mom," Haruka informed Miyakko. "He's really cute." It was Cade's turn to choke as Marissa hid her smile, poorly, with a raised hand to her lips.

"I'll pass that along," Marissa teased. "We do veg-out though, and when we do Devin likes his speed and sports games. Personally, and don't judge me, I play really violent games, like Grand Theft Auto."

"Imagine that," Ian grunted softly with a sharp side-eye to the dark-haired beauty.

"It's true." She giggled, ignoring him. "School is sometimes really stressful, coming home and annoying people online and listening to them lose their minds when I ghost them and drive off into the sunset." She shrugged, completely unapologetic. "We all have our guilty pleasures."

"Could you teach me to dance?" Her lover little sister asked.

"Haruka, don't pester her," Cade's mother touched her daughter's shoulder, reminding her she was there and as a mother, ever watchful.

"No, it's fine," Marissa laughed. "Tell you what, Ru-ru, maybe later this week, after school or something, Cade can bring you by and we can all practice some dancing and maybe order a pizza and watch another Disney or Pixar movie? If, your mom and dad are okay with that," as the young girls eyes lit up with hope Marissa pointed a finger to the heavens. "And, you're nice to your brother from now until then. Deal?"

She narrowed her eyes at her brother, then to Marissa. Cade laughed and extended his hands out like he was shrugging. "How is this even up for consideration? I'm not that hard to be nice to."

"Yeah," the two ladies in his life said in unison. "You kinda are." They both giggled and looked away, as if to conspire against him. Miyakko chuckled softly at their antics as it was nice to see Haruka and Marissa getting along. Ian just... Ian'd.

"Deal!" Haruka finally said, shaking Marissa's hand to bind the bind the young socialite to her word.

Marissa looked down at Haruka and narrowed her eyes. "Starting now."

Cade chuckled softly, She'd made a friend for life in the form of his little sister, and despite her attire, even his mother was warming to Marissa, if only because of how she acted with her children. His father sighed, and surrendered to the fact that Marissa wasn't going anywhere any time soon.

Ian took the meat from the grill, and brought it over to the table, setting it out. "Alright everyone, dig in." Plates were quickly filled and the somewhat late lunch began. The food was well-cooked, and while no delicacy, clearly the sheriff knew how to cook barbecue rather well.

Cade smiled as he thought about how things had gone so far, but the idea of having to say goodbye, even if it was only "Just in case" was still somewhat daunting, almost as much as making peace with his dad.

Miyakko smiled. "I take it the two of you will be going to the fair tonight as well? We'll be there too, Though Ian has to work." She smiled. "Meeting up with your friends, or just a date for the two of you?"

Cade almost choked, surprised at the directness from his mom, but he smiled. "Well yeah, we're gonna go, and I'm sure we'll be meeting the others there at some point. The fair's about the only big thing going on in town, after all."

 

It was no surprise that Ian was working. Large events like the one that night required security and for the members of local law enforcement to represent their community by being ever-present in the even of a problem. "Well, I do have familial obligations. My parents have, for once, both decided to be seen in public together and want my brother and I both there to support and represent out family. Since DeeJay and I have started branching out our circle of associates, our parents were hoping to meet some of them and their families. Which, I might add, is totally weird, but my dad is on some 'being a family' kick again so we have to humor him for a month or so."

"Not close are you?" Miyakko asked.

Marissa shrugged. "My brother and I are. We've never really fit in here in Shelly-"

"Might have something to do with how you and your brother tormented every student of every grade since you arrived," the Sheriff slipped in with that smooth point-of-fact whose tone carried no attitude, simply honesty. "Tends to put a damper on one's being welcomed into a community they're a stranger too."

Cade looked across the table to Marissa. He knew that face and she was on the verge of some scathing retort that could quite possibly get her arrested. He braced, clinched and tried not to take a bite of any food right away, to prevent possibly choking. "You're absolutely right, Sheriff." Was not the reply her bae was expecting, nor was the Sheriff who offered her an inquisitive look that was laced with years of analytical scrutiny. He knew Marissa never just rolled over bared her throat, not after he'd heard her go off on Jason a few days prior. "Yet here I am, trying to be better, and still not welcomed. One can't expect people to change if one never gives them a chance to." Ian narrowed his eyes at her and it felt the like the camera of life was zooming in on his exquisitely chiseled features.

Cade hid his smile under a bite of his burger and looked over at his lover. It wasn't often someone put one over on his dad, but considering the proximity with which everyone was working now under Branch Nine and Aeon, certain standards of propriety were laxed and Marissa was not about to be embarrassed at this function simply because the Sheriff had a bone of contention with the Jauntsen twins. It wasn't that he didn't have cause for such contention, but Marissa would be the fisrt to say, plain and simply, 'there is a time and a place'.

"I'm not familiar with your reputation, Marissa," Cade's step-mother added, trying to get the conversation away from Ian saying or doing something that might embarrass them both. "Are you and your brother, ill-behaved? Because while I value my step-son's happiness, I also value him making sound decisions."

"Mom," Cade shhok his head, burying it in his hand. "Jesus. Can we not sit here and give her the third degree?"

"No," Marissa smiled and set her tea back on the table after having finished with it. "It's fine. My brother and I were horrible people, Mrs. Allister. Then, life just sort of dropped something into my lap and I realized that I needed to start growing up-"

"Oh, my god, you're pregnant." Miyakko covered her mouth and swiftly looked to Cade, Ian stopped drinking his tea, just holding it to his mouth as his eyes darted angrily to his son.

"What?! No! Oh, god..." Marissa buried her face in her hands.

"Mom! No! I swear!" Cade attempted to protest over the unintelligible of English and Japanese. "She's not-"

Marissa stopped talking, placed her elbows on the table, and buried her face tightly in her hands. At least Cade's parents were about par for the Shelly Montana course... Just kill me. I know gods exist.... one of you, any one... I don't care... just end it.

She prayed to whomever would listen while Cade diffused the situation with his family.

All the questions were grating on Cade's nerves, at least Marissa'd successfully and effortlessly shut down his dad.

Still that last statement from his mother caught him completely by surprise. As he watched his Dad's surprised look war with the smug gleam in his eyes, and his sister just look back and forth between Cade and Marissa, even as Marissa put her head in her hands. Clearly the threshold had been reached.

Cade steeled himself. "Mom, Marissa's not pregnant relax, Please. That's not at all what she's talking about."

He pressed on after a moment"Look, pretty much everyone at school knew it was best to stay on Marissa and Devin's good side, or at the least, off their radar. You didn't want to be on their bad side, because they could definitely make your life at school miserable." He reached over, and put and hand over Marissa's. "Something happened to all of us, and it has made all of us take a look at how we were living, and decided that things need to change."

He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "Like seemingly everyone, I had my issues with Devin, but it all seems to be not worth bickering over now. Nothing's perfect, but we're making progress, at least some of us. We don't all get along like some well-oiled team, a fair amount of us are still getting over years of dislike or torment, but we're making the effort, because if we don't, it's all over."

Miyakko seemed to have calmed down some. She bowed her head to Marissa, who'd looked up when Cade spoke in what sounded like nonsense. "I'm sorry for that, my mind just went there, and I apologize for such a forward and inappropriate comment."

Miyakko turned her gaze to Cade. "What do you mean it's all over, Cade?"

Ian perked up, and gave Cade his most intimidating glare. Defiance was clear in Cade's eyes, it looked like this was going to be a major brew-up between the two.

"My friends and I have special powers. Some more than others, but we ALL have them. There's government and corporate entities trying to control and create those with powers. There's an entity that's between this dimension and another that's out to devour all of those with these powers, and we've been working and training to fight back against it, and those who'd try to control us."

 

In the silence that followed you could hear a pin drop. Ian's face went momentarily slack with astonishment, Miyako likewise stared at Cade like he'd sprouted a second head that was babbling Turkish, and Haruka... was the first to break the silence as she snorted with laughter then started giggling, her hand over her mouth. The merriment broke the spell, Cade's step-mom's expression going from surprise to narrow-eyed disapproval even as the Sheriff glared at him with as close to a stone-face as he could manage.

"Cade. Is this some sort of prank you and your friends are playing? Perhaps from one of those games Sean hosts?" Miyako asked, a trifle waspishly. "Because it is not funny."

"It's no prank Mom. It isn't meant to be funny. You might think I'm crazy, or whatever, but it's completely true." Cade said with a certain surety in his voice. He was definitely going to regret this, but it was done now.

He seemed somewhat resigned to this and looked to Marissa with an almost apologetic look, at least they weren't assuming she was pregnant now.

Wrenching her hand from her bae Marissa glared at Cade, her lips pursed and tightened in a less than mirthful expression. She shook her head calmly and massaged the bridge of her nose. "Oh, my god... how?" She looked at him. "How did manage to make a pregnancy scare worse?" She swiftly glared to his mother, swiftly adding: "Which I'm not by the way."

Then he just kept rolling with it and she shook her head as her lips tightened more and more until finally... "What the hell, Cade!?" Marissa stood from the table but didn't leave. She paced about close by. "That's not your secret to tell. You want to shower them with the 'truth', fine, but you had no right to drag everyone else out into the open. I..." she ugh'd to the sky and glared at him. "I can't even with you right now."

"Wait." Miyako looked from her son to Marissa, suspicion and confusion on her porcelain features. Haruka, sensing the mood, stopped giggling and shifted in her seat, glancing sideways from her parents to her brother and his glamorous girl. Ian's expression was a masterclass in the Thousand Yard Stare - currently fixed on a point somewhere beyond Cade's head as Miyako looked from the teens to her husband for moral support. "Ian? Are they both in on this? It is a joke, right?"

"Yeah. A bad joke." Ian glowered at Cade and Marissa. "Alright, kids. You've had your fun, stop with the playacting, okay? It's bothering your mom, Cade."

Cade nodded. "It's over. The last thing I want to do is bother Mom. Forget I said anything." Clearly this wasn't the time, and all he'd accomplish is drive his family apart. It wasn't the time or place, and he lacked the energy to continue with this now. He knew he'd answer for it later, but the last thing he'd wanted was to upset his mother.

He pushed back from the table, looking ashamed, for a host of reasons.

"I," she composed herself, letting the rage bubbling inside her and the litany curses that it brought with it subside. "I should go. Thank you for inviting me Mr. and Mrs Allister, it was... interesting."

The glare she was shooting at her bae, the dead man walking that she knew, should have come equipped with their own speed lines and separate ten issue side plot. "Hopefully we'll all see each other later, my parents are thrilled for the opportunity to meet my fr- acquaintances. Thank you again, for the invite. Cade, if you would be so kind as to see me out..." the tone that carried told him he might be a dead man.

Cade had never looked more defeated before. He rose from the table, and nodded to his parents, before turning to walk Marissa out in a dejected silence. He'd fucked up, and he knew it.

Feeling like a failure wasn't something Cade enjoyed. He'd pretty much ruined everything he'd hoped to accomplish, and gained nothing by doing so. It was a life lesson, to be sure.

He failed his friends, he failed his family, and he failed Marissa. He even felt he failed himself regarding the whole thing. In the end, his Dad had to bail him out, and he KNEW there'd be a reckoning over that later, another lecture at the very least.

Once they got outside the house, he did at least manage to look Marissa in the eye, Even with all the palpable fury radiating from her.

"I'm glad you came, and I'm sorry for my part in ruining everything." He was sincere in everything he said, and that tone of shame was still there. An apology wasn't going to fix things, that much he knew. He wasn't sure he could at this point. He'd made the invite never expecting this sort of thing to happen.

 

The two lovers stopped not far from her car, when she suddenly spun about and stopped her bae. "Okay, you know what? This whole..." she waved a hand around him to signify his currently mopey mood. "Thing you have going on here, this shameful, defeated, woe-is-fucking-me mood needs to stop."

"You're 'sorry for your part'? Cade, you wrote, starred in, directed and produced that whole mess back there." She chuckled but it didn't seem genuine. "I get your mom and dad being spooked that their teenage son and his crush might have made a poor life choice and thought dropping the 'we're having a kid' bomb at a barbecue might lighten the blow back, but... what the actual hell? You try to escape that conversation by outing all of us and our powers... that was your big deflection? Throwing all of us under the bus so you could have your moment? If you want to tell your mom, fine. Tell her. About you. My powers and my brother's powers, which you were kind enough to call us out by name, thanks for that, are our business."

She almost seemed like she was going to cry. She was angry, he could tell. Actually, livid would have been a better choice. She paced for a few moments, not looking at him with her palm pressed on her forehead in thought while her other rested on the curve of her hip. "Is this it, Cade? Is this what I have to look forward to? If things were to get serious between us, is this the man I have to look forward to having in my corner to protect me, encourage me, warm me on cold nights and shelter me when my world is crumbling? Sad eyed, mopey Cade who can't stand up to anyone and buckles at the first sign of anger or displeasure from his peers?"

The dark haired girl shook her head, obviously keeping the more hurtful things she wanted to say to herself. "You're supposed to be keeping me safe from Jason, in case he goes all loopy again like he did on Liam and now all I see is that you're probably scared to death of him. Did you ever confront him about how he treated Cora? He fucking thrashed her and you said he and him were going to have a chat... did you? I know the answer is 'no'. Is that my fate? Jason or some guy says something to me or touches me and here's big bad Spartan Cade... head down in his knees afterwards like 'sorry, I would have done something but...'." She calmed her breathing and looked at him. "What're you afraid of? Huh? So you screwed up... own that shit, head held high and move on."

"Baby," she rest her hand gently across his chest. "I don't send pics of me in my underwear or make out in my bikini or have sex," she smiled looking away as a slight flush rose to her cheeks. "With just anyone and everyone. You are it, Cadums. You, and just you. I know everyone thinks I'm gorgeous, but I only want to be gorgeous for you, because you're the guy I kinda like. The blue I'm wearing isn't for all of Shelly, babe, it's for you, but... I can't be with a guy who is... well, whatever this is." She gestured to him again. "Think about the man you are now. Look to the man you need to become. Pack a bag and start making the journey, baby, because we're not having this talk a second time."

She raised up, not too far since her wedge heels almost made her a giant herself. "Now, wrap arms around me, squeeze me and kiss me like you already miss me, and I'll see you later, okay?" If she was still mad, which he knew she was, it all seemed to go away as her lips gently pressed to his before evolving into a passionate expression of desire, attraction and want for one another. As they broke their embrace, she patted his chest. "Now," she wiped her lipstick from the corner of his mouth as she smiled at him. "Go face the music. Tell your sister, yes, we can still hang out, because I know she'll ask. Same rules apply. Thank your family for me, and... think about what I said."

 

"You're right Marissa, and thanks again." he answered with a smile. She could have crushed what was left of him, and yet she built him back up, in her own way.

Cade smiled at the hope Marissa'd given him. She was understandably mad, and right about everything else. He wasn't like this, he didn't want to be like this. Still, as he watched her drive off, he knew going back inside was the first step.

He made his way back inside, passing by the kitchen. His mother was there, cleaning up, and Haruka and Ian weren't. He overheard his mother muttering softly, mostly her surprise that her stepson would have a chunibyo phase so late. Cade cringed at that, Chunis were so damn cringe-worthy, but if that was the worst she thought of it, well, he could live with it for now. He headed for his room and closed the door behind him. His bags from yesterday were in the jeep already. He'd need to talk to each of them, and he had a feeling on who was going to be first.

As could be expected, his dad didn't bother knocking. But nor did he kick the door open and slam it shut behind him with force. Instead, and somewhat more ominously, Ian Allister quietly opened the door to his son's room, quietly entered, and quietly shut it once more before turning to look at Cade. The sheriff's grey eyes were darkly clouded, though his expression was stonily calm as he regarded his son for a long moment, then spoke. "And what. The hell. Was that?" Cade winced inwardly. This was the 'dressing-down a dumbass recruit' voice, used only when said luckless recruit had done something so abysmally stupid that shouting was redundant, like pulling the pin from grenade and then tossing the pin, or violating range safety. Cade had heard his dad use it once, and only once, on a deputy who had shortly after been fired. "Well?"

"That was me failing to read things right, and making a big mistake. And you helping me get past it with the least disruption of everyones' lives." Cade answered his dad, no defiance in his tone. "Thanks for that. I messed up and you had to clean up after me. " "Believe it or not, I'd meant for all of that to serve as a preface how important you all are to me, that i didn't want to keep living with a secret like that, at least not from the people who matter most to me. It didn't go that way. So now Mom thinks I'm some sort of Chuni, Marissa is mad at me, and I know you are. The others will be too when they find out, and I'll have to square this with everyone. It's going to be a long hard road ahead."

Ian Allister sighed, moving to sit wearily on the chair at Cade's desk. "Christ on a bike, Cade. I am mad, yeah, but I'm also glad your mom is confused rather than troubled about something she can't do anything about. And Haruka, too." The big man ran a hand over his face. "I mean, look at me. I'm as objectively helpless as they are, compared to this Dark, and monsters, and shadowy conspiracies, and you and your friends. And I've seen action. I've had training. I'm a goddamned United States Marine, with access to a sheriff department armory, and I'm next-to helpless." He fixed Cade with a serious look. "It takes all I've got to keep it together, son." "Imagine if your mom knew what I know. Consider I probably don't know half the shit you kids know, and that alone is enough to keep me up at night. Your mom is a smart, tough woman-" and for an instant Cade saw that, whilst he may or may not be having an affair, his dad did care for Miyako. "-but this shit you guys have on your plates? She'd likely lose her mind if she believed in it. And who could blame her?" He sighed again, leaning back in the desk chair. "Being open and truthful is a good thing, kid. It really, really is. But there's times and places, and while your mom might deserve on some level to know, you're not doing her a favor by telling her." "And certainly not Haruka, Cade. She's eleven goddamn years old, and you're going to tell her that monsters and superpowers exist? Because for her, it'd be a TV show or comic book come to life, and she'd tell the whole world. Sure, maybe they'd laugh at her, but then she'd do stupid shit to try and prove it."

"You're absolutely right Dad. I didn't think it all through like I should have. Haruka's gonna tease me pretty badly about all this probably for months. Mom being confused is the best outcome, and I mean it when I say I didn't want it to go this way. " He sighed and then sat on his bed. "When Devin gave us all abit of a reality check, I made me think about all this, though perhaps not the right way. I don't have actual powers like the rest of them. I have to depend on the skills you and my grandpas taught me. What I do is very mundane, but I can't just stop. I have to keep moving forward too. I didn't want to have any regrets, if..." He shook his head. "If something does happen, and I don't come back. I hadn't really worried about it so much before, we've pretty much been able to handle everything that came at us, but going forward that may not be the case."

"I'm sorry, for what happened the other night. I jumped to a conclusion, I didn't wait to actually talk to you. I was mad because you'd made mom worry, that she was crying, so I just reacted impulsively. Here I've gone and done about the same thing, and in front of Haruka and Marissa too. I know you don't actually owe me an explanation, but I would like to know what's going on. It's fine if you don't want to tell me. I meant what I said about not having regrets, and I haven't been fair to you. For that and everything else, I apologize, Dad."

Ian Allister nodded. "I'm still mighty pissed at you, but mostly due to a near miss than because of actual harm you've done. It was dumb with good intentions, which is better than being smart with bad ones, I guess. Still, watch out for your mom and Haruka. They might not believe it, but now that you've let the truth out of the bag they'll be less likely to ignore signs that something is up." The big retired Marine stood up, shaking his head. "As for your friends... yeah, if Marissa tells them they'll be plenty mad at you. Did she break off the boyfriend/girlfriend thing?" he asked with a hint of hope.

"No she didn't. Though this was definitely my warning to not screw up like this again. She's mad at me, understandably, I'm mad at myself too." He seemed relieved by the fact she hadn't ended their "relationship", and he could tell his dad wasn't happy about who he was dating.

"Hmmph." His dad's frown spoke volumes, but he didn't say anything more on the subject of Marissa. "Fair enough. Just..." he paused. "Be careful. You say you don't have powers like the others, but you have this Shine they were talking about. That means something - it means you can't afford to be a kid now. There's going to be things you face that your parents can't protect you from, and you've no idea how shitty I feel saying that." He sighed. "What I can do is be a shoulder and an ear. If you need someone to talk to man to man, I'm here." He smiled sadly, then turned towards the door. "First bit of advice: Don't talk any more with your mom and Haruka today about your slip. Let it fade, wait for them to bring it up if they do. Don't poke the sore tooth. And be careful."

Cade nodded. "Thanks, Dad. I'll take that advice." He met his dad's gaze, and smiled. "Thanks for understanding, that I have to do this, and letting me do what i have to. I know you don't want to, but you've seen it, it has to be us."

"Doesn't mean I like it." His dad half-smiled back. "I'll be collecting your mom and sister and taking them to the fairground in a bit. You, on the other hand, better pick up those condoms from the floor by your nightstand before your mother sees them." He pointed at the half-unrolled string of silver packets that had fallen unheeded during the shenanigans yesterday morning. As Cade opened his mouth, he shook his head. "Grown-ups rules, son. Don't ask, don't tell. And at least you're being safe in that way." He left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

Cade let out a sigh after his dad left, and quickly went to put the condoms in his nightstand where they should have been put before now. His dad definitely knew now, though, and it wasn't so much that he was ashamed, just glad his mom hadn't seen them just laying there. He made sure his room was spotless before he left it. Once he was done cleaning up, he head downstairs, it was time to go to the fair, though he didn't really expect it to be as much fun as he had when the day began.

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The movers had already left the day before and were well on their way to Avalon's new home in Canada. The Wright house was down to only what they needed to get by for one more evening before they all said goodbye to Shelly for good. It would only be about another hour or so before they hit the road but Devin had made it his his personal duty to make sure his soon to be ex didn't leave Shelly without first having a proper goodbye.

The Wrights didn't care for Devin, so when his Ducati purred as he cut the engine after pulling into their driveway, he didn't much acknowledge their glares at him. The Wrights were having some sort of sorted love trist with Lona's mother at the expense of Lona being treated like a non-existent entity or an inconvenience in her mother's life. The last thing those abusive freaks needed to be doing was cast judgmental eyes on Devin.

They continued to load things into the vehicles as he walked past and towards the side gate that led to the pool house where Clara and Lona stayed (it kept them out of the house and out of way, parents of the year). “She's still grounded,” Adele had the nerve to say to Devin after he passed her. The side gate was always locked, but that never stopped him. With a leap and kick off from the house, Devin soared and rolled over the gate with a practiced gymnast's grace. Furious, Adele turned towards the house and gave pursuit to the pool house with all haste but when she stormed inside all she found was Clara, hair in a tight ponytail, finishing some last minute packing and planning.

“Where's Avalon?” Adele asked. Clara only shrugged and shook her head.

“I haven't seen her for twenty minutes, maybe? She went to get breakfast she said.” Again she shrugged and stuffed a few travel distractions in her bag. She nodded to towards the house. “I figured she was in there with you guys.”

Lona laughed as her hands hit the table of the Waffle House. Seattle seemed to be where they were enjoying this morning's fine dining. “Oh, I am so grounded for life. Slick, Jauntsen, slick.” She looked at her phone as it lit up where it was resting on the table. “Clara says we made it by half a second. And my mom is currently going on a tirade. You excel at pissing people off.”

Devin shrugged and smiled wide. “Not my finest work, but I think given the time crunch, we totally nailed it.”

They laughed and joked for the better part of a half an hour or so as they ate their greasy spoon hash browns and eggs. Neither broached the subject of the inevitable departure and Devin knew that soon he would have to take her home. It was what it was, however and until that moment came he chose to focus on nothing but her. It was amazing, his thoughts wandered, how he was able to meet someone who was just as messed up as he was, but inspired him to be a better person.

At the beginning of summer someone pitching the notion of he and Avalon Wilson dating would have garnered some of the strangest looks and laughter not only from Devin, but his sister as well. She wasn't exactly the sort of girl he'd have considered being caught dead around with her leather jacket and shaved head and whole host of attitude issues. Yet here he was, dreading the moment she'd be out of his life.

It was almost storybook the way they held each other's hand by nothing more than curling their pinkies around the others. Now, they were back in Shelly, walking the nature trails of Montana's more scenic vistas that overlooked the mountains and plains still untouched by human ambition. It had only been a few minutes of silence as the view still amazed them enough to capture their tongues as their hearts were sifting through possible farewell dialogue.

“I'm going to miss you,” Devin finally managed as they looked out on the fields where early morning mist still clung to the canopy of trees a few miles away before dipping down into the greens and yellows of the tall grass in the neighboring fields.

“I'll miss you too,” she smiled but kept her gaze affixed on the valley below. “So... is this the part where we profess undying love and swear that we'll be together again soon, or... how's this supposed to go?”

“We both know how it's going to happen. I'm pragmatic enough and you've performed and written enough love songs to know how this'll all go. We'll swear some pact to never forget each other, but we will. We'll swear that we'll find each other one day, but we'll bother either married with a butt load of kids or too busy with our careers to make the time to make it to the spot we agreed to meet at.” She chuckled silently, as he wasn't wrong. Movies and song were pretty far from accurate when it came to the successful ratio of high school kids and their lost crushes finding one another later in life. “Look, Avvie, all I know is that where ever you go don't go there thinking about the next time we'll meet or hold onto the hope of when that day will come. Just go knowing that right here, right now, in this moment, I love you.”

Disney Princess tears were not what formed in her eyes, but raw emotions had certainly found its way there and hey eyes met his with inquisitive wonderment as she, despite who she was talking to, could feel the honesty in his words. “Really?” She asked, a part of her wanting to hear him say it again, desiring to know that somewhere in her messed up life of insanity and mourning and negative feelings that somewhere in it all, some guy actually manged to fall for her. Flaws and all.

“I guess,” Devin shrugged. His smirk was forced as she could sense the lack of the usual bravado he typically carried like a trophies on his shoulders in the shape of a golden devil and silver angel. “I know that when I'm with you I'm elated. I feel joy, happiness, wonderment... all the things that describe someone feeling love... I've only ever been in deep shit before so this is kind of new. But, I don't want to be one of those guys that tethers you to a promise or a hope and you give up on being you in order to wait for that hope to happen. You're amazing Avalon, I regret never seeing it sooner, but you have two more years of awesome Canadian Boarding School-”

“Ugh,” she grunted and rolled her eyes. “Don't remind me.”

“-and then four,” he gave her an appraising once over. “Probably six, years of rebellious college years and I don't want you wondering or thinking about me and the big 'what if'.”

She sighed, loudly and defeated by the situation. “I know, but, that doesn't make it any less bullshit. We didn't even get a chance, Devin. It's not fair.”

“Believe me, I know,” his voice faltered as he, like her, was pushing as hard as he could against the slowly bursting dyke of his emotions. “But, we both know this is going to happen, so I just want you to go knowing that you make me feel like love. One big, heaping pile of quivering confusion and happiness. I want your heart to know and feel like mine does right now for you, I want your songs to say all the things your heart can't and I want you to never forget that you've inspired me to do and be greater than what I was. To be a friend, a leader, a boyfriend... so, thank you and if you ever stop to think, whether tomorrow or years from now, whether or not I ever think of you from time to time, the answer is 'yes'.”

She smudged away a tear from her cheeks with the ball of her palm. “God, for a jerk, why do you have to be so good at wording?” She sniffled. “Just... just c'mere...” she pulled him close and they kissed passionately under Heaven's watchful eye. After several moments of heart wrenching bliss she broke off the embrace to smile, telling him: “I love you, too. Or time was short, but you've been an amazing guy and I know you can be even better. I hope, hope, that one day we can maybe see how hot we can burn without the chains of parental authority holding us back, but, you're right. Let's live our lives, git gud, and be awesome and if that time comes, so be it. If not, we have now and our first time? Well, we never forget that, right?”

Right,” he smiled lovingly at his soon to be one-that-got-away and kissed her gently on her lips.

A few carefully placed texts managed to get Avalon smuggled back into the pool house. As Devin left the parents of the home threw a fit the moment they saw him. Adele followed him, yelling something, but he didn't pay her any mind, after all, what were they going to do? Not move just so just they could stay and hate Devin? Not likely. They'd get over it, but him not even offering her a glance or motion that revealed he cared anything about her or what she had to say only drove into a larger fury. By the time he got on his bike and drove off she was telling him something cruel and vindictive about her daughter never seeing him again. That was fine. She had to live with the damage she was causing now and even the most devoted daughter could only tolerate so much before she would eventually turn her back. He knew Avalon would be just fine and no matter where she went, he'd always be there for her... literally in the blink of an eye.

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The Last Day Of Summer, The Last Day In The Sun.  A fulcrum point between Then and Soon.  There was a synchronicity to the day, Coyote mused as he looked out of the window of his hotel room, the inelegantly-named 'OYO Hotel Shelly, MT'  The cheap, reasonably clean and low-profile hotel was as good a place as any to lay his head when sleep became a necessity - as he had told the winsome Jauntsen girl, he was made of much the same substance as other living creatures, and his physical needs were largely of the same kind, though altered in some ways and diminished greatly in others.

Substance, he mused, holding a hand up to his gaze, peering at the solid-seeming flesh and noting, on the noetic level, how paper-thin his vital force now was.  It had been a long time.  Too long, even for a race that had thought itself immortal.  Too long to be cut off from the surge and shimmer of true Radiance, the Source of All, on this prison-rock.  He had husbanded his strength through millenia and now, in this time and place, the fruition of every manipulation, every nudge, every word sown in the right ears at the right times was coming to pass in a handful of seedlings, beautiful and fragile, each containing a spark of his Radiance passed down through uncounted generations, nurtured in the deadly yet fertile soil of Montana.  Keeping track of the bloodlines alone had been a Herculean task, let alone ensuring that they would propagate in the right way.  Each of them had a touch of greatness, a spark that the presence of Radiance could fan into an illuminating star... or a terrible inferno.

Or both, the near-immortal thought with a smile and a shrug.  Fire burned, but from ashes arose new growth.  Illumination could also be blinding.  They would need to find the balance between blindness and destruction.  He hoped that they would find that balance in each other.

Hope was all he could do, really.  Tonight was the night.  He sensed that as the sailor senses the storm through the ache in his shoulder.  One of his seedlings was already dead, their light devoured.  Tonight would see if the others had the mettle that their world would need.  He looked out of the window at the Champion's Field surrounding the Carousel across the road, and mused at how apt the naming of the field was.  Today, the champions of this little blue-green ball would revel, and tonight go forth to either bring doom or salvation to their people.

* * * * * * *

Catheen of the Draig, born from Elsbett by Iskand, heard the sound of music and laughter and voices as she sat at the table in her apartment's small kitchen nook.  The sun was shining outside, the blue skies calling her to step out, to wander amongst the people of her adopted home.  After all, Kaitlin Forster would be expected to show up, wouldn't she?  She'd smiled pleasantly and nodded noncommitedly in the teachers lounge when asked if she'd be attending, half intending to simply claim a stomach-ache when she did not show.  But she shared a quality with humanity that her son did not - the need for company, to be part of a larger grouping, to feel the ebb and pulse of people around her.  Put simply, she was lonely.

She did not deliberate overlong.  Donning a sundress and sandals, and slipping a pair of sunglasses over her cerulean eyes, she checked herself in the mirror before applying a couple of touches of makeup.  She grabbed her purse and a broad-brimmed sun-hat as she headed out of the door, wondering idly if her son would be at the Labor Day event...

* * * * * * *

Hannah Fuhrman was annoyed.  Not about her weekend - she'd caught up with an old flame from college who had been just the right mixture of friendly and flirtatious to take her mind off her philandering soon-to-be-ex-husband.  They'd had a nice date, and Brock had been a gentleman and not pressed when she'd bid him goodnight with a kiss on the cheek before headed to her hotel room alone.  Her lawyer had advised her to wait until the papers were all signed before getting back on the horse - advice which at the time the heartbroken woman had scoffed at but was now grateful for.  Then she'd spent Sunday shopping and treating herself to a spa before heading back to her hotel once more.

Only to receive no answer from the home phone or Charlie's cell when she tried to call him at noon on Monday to let him know she was on the way - and give him time to clear up any evidence of teenage shenanigans.  Her lips thinning in an irritated grimace, Hannah heard the voicemail message for the sixth time.

"Charlie, it's your mother.  Again, again.  Please call me back, or better yet, answer your damn phone, mister."  she said with some severity.  "And the house better not be trashed when I get back, or you are grounded for life."  she added with only a faint trace of humor in her tone.  "See you in a couple hours, sweetheart.  I'm leaving Great Falls after I have some lunch with a friend."

That boy, Hannah sighed as she hung up and turned back to finish packing.  "Probably off smoking weed with his reprobate friends again." she muttered with a shake of her head.  Still, she was meeting Brock again for lunch, so at least she could swap divorcee stories and enjoy herself before going back to being 'The Mom'...

Edited by GDP_ST
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