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Weirder Stuff Episode VI: Rainbow Shadows


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The Allen Residence
- Morning

The Allens did not usually celebrate Labor Day.

It hit a little close to home. It had been one of Arthur's favorite holidays, and he'd made a big deal out of the barbecues and celebration of it. That, plus it being pretty close to the day Teresa and Cassie were informed of his demise, made it a rather somber event for them now. Cassandra hadn't even been home last Labor Day, choosing to spend most of it out with friends instead. Even at the time she'd felt like shit about it afterwards, leaving her mom alone on that day...but the oppressive mourning and tension were just too much to deal with. There wasn't a good solution, so she just split.

She wasn't going to let it go that way this time.

Teresa was in the kitchen, absently stirring a bowl of oatmeal and milk as she gazed off through the sliding glass door to the backyard. She hadn't really realized it, but even though her mind was occupied with deciding what to have for lunch, and what kind of wine to have with it, her eyes were resting on the outdoor grill that was parked just under the awning over the back porch. When Cassandra came in she glanced over and managed a tired smile.

"Hey hon. What have you got going today?" The casual words had a slightly forced quality to them, Cassie noted. Her mother hadn't forgotten.

She shrugged, then said, "I was thinking of going to the Carousel fields....meet some friends."

When Teresa nodded quickly and looked away, Cassandra came over and bumped shoulders with her. "I mean both of us going."

"Oh, uh," her mother replied, taken off-guard, "...you know I like staying in on days off. Not like I get a lot, so it's nice to just rest up. You can go ahead..."

"Please, mom?" Cassie interjected. "It'll be a really nice day out. We can get some super unhealthy food. And it won't just be my friends there...you'll have friends there too. We can bring Bacon."

At the sound of his name, Bacon came scrabbling over from the little laundry room where he had a little bed of old blankets set up for him. He pressed in between Cassandra and her mother's legs, eagerly bridging the gap between them.

Teresa smiled and reached down to give the German Shepard an affectionate scratching between his pointy ears. "I was thinking I'd just relax today," she demurred.

Cassie was having none of it though. "You mean mope," she said. "Look, you don't have to stay for long if you really don't like it. But I think it would be fun to go out for once. You know, be in the sun, have some really greasy food...maybe on a stick... When's the last time you took a ride on a merry go round?"

Her mother smiled a little in spite of herself, then looked down at her oatmeal. It was cooling, with the milk making little pools on top of the grey mush at the surface.

"Look," Cassandra pressed, "the bottom line is that I'm spending today with you. I think we'd both have more fun out at the Carousel, but if we want to stay here and eat ice cream and watch Lifetime...cool. We'll do it. But...I think once you feel some sun and some wind, and once you get moving, and see some familiar faces..."

Jesus, thought Teresa abruptly. How long has it been since I've seen any friends? Leaving out phone calls, texts...had it been weeks? Months? Suddenly there were tears in her eyes.

"Honey," she said, trying to think of a good reason not to.

"Just give it a try, mom," Cass quickly interrupted. "Come with me."

Bacon wuffed at this, wagging his tail.

"See? It's two versus one."

Teresa laughed at that. "Oh, so we're a democracy now?"

Cassie grinned and offered a hand. "More like a...pirate ship. We're doing what I say. If you hate it, you can mutiny. Walking planks may be involved."

I'm not letting you waste away for someone who's not dead. And I'm not letting what might be our last time together be sad and depressing.

After a moment's hesitation, Teresa gave Cassie's hand a quick squeeze and said, "Would you cover this up and put it in the fridge? I'm going to need actual shoes it sounds like."

Edited by Cassandra Allen
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The Keane Residence, 0830. -ish.

It was the smell of coffee, rather than the sound of the dogs or the brilliant sunlight pouring through her window, that roused Autumn from her dreams. Blinking against the light, she groaned and dragged a pillow over her face. She’d just been sitting in front of a campfire with Jason, in a tiny ring of orange glowing amidst the deep blue-black nothingness of the woods at night, and he was smiling that little half-smile of his over the rim of his mug. What had he just said? She frowned, trying to remember the sound of the syllables, the shape of his mouth, the exact cadence of his speech, but it was already fading. Ugh. Why was it that when people talked to you in dreams, it made sense, but afterwards it just dissolved into gibberish? Or maybe it was nonsense to start with, and because you were dreaming you just got to decide what it meant. Or maybe… She sighed, flinging the pillow and the blankets off as she peered up at the sunlit ceiling overhead, the faint outline of pale green stars just visible here and there in the wash of brilliant white. Maybe she’d just dreamed in Russian, or something.

Crazier things have happened, right? Like finding a radio that changes dimensions. Like seeing actual monsters. Like rescuing cats from a secret prison, or discovering that aliens are real, or that you and other people at your school have super-powers.

Or, you know. Like dating someone who actually speaks Russian. She smiled sleepily at that, shifting around a little on the striped sheets.

Or like… She blinked again as something else occurred to her. Going to sleep on the couch and waking up in your own room?

As she sat upright, the redhead’s sleep-fogged brain struggled to piece together the series of events that had somehow led to this particular outcome. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed, letting them dangle there for a moment as she stared blankly at the haphazard arrangement of clothes on the chair nearby. They’d been watching Braveheart, she was pretty sure, and she didn’t remember coming upstairs, but… here she was. So, how…? Almost fully awake now, she could just make out the drone of conversation from downstairs. Voices. Her mom’s, and a deeper, more masculine one- Suddenly everything clicked into place.

“Dad!” she yelled, bounding out of bed and down the stairs, accompanied by a chorus of excited canine voices as the dogs rushed to meet her. “Morning guys,” she greeted them in passing, idly reaching down to pet whichever happened to be closest on her way to the kitchen. 

“...definitely your daughter,” he was just saying as Autumn rounded the corner and, with an excited whoop, launched herself at the father she hadn’t seen in what seemed like months. “Ooofff, hey, careful. Coffee,” Ian chided her with a grin and a one-armed hug, absorbing the impact of her energetic embrace as he held the half-full mug up and away to avoid the fallout. With a bemused shrug, Dana took it adroitly from his hand and set it on the island, watching as her typically not-a-morning-person offspring squeezed the breath from him before she’d even said hello. “Hey, sweetheart,” he greeted her, returning the hug with both arms this time and planting a kiss atop the dishevelled red-gold curls she hadn’t yet bothered to comb. “How’s my little firecracker doing this morning, hmm?”

“‘m good,” came the pleased reply as they swayed back and forth like that for a few moments. She didn’t even protest the childish nickname, cringey as it was, since he was the only one who’d ever used it anyway. ...Well, and even apart from that, it was a little reminder that even in Billings or Bozeman or Missoula or Helena, he was still her dad. He still remembered. Note to self: do not let him call me that in front of anyone today. The grin in her mind refused to remain hidden there, irrepressibly curving the corners of Autumn’s mouth upward as she squeezed him tightly. He was home. Finally. “Missed you.” 

“I know. I missed you, too.”

“What time did you get in?” she asked, grabbing an oversized mug and glancing back in Ian’s direction as she poured herself a “cup” of coffee. 

“Eh, a little later than I intended,” her father admitted sheepishly, exchanging a look with Dana over Autumn’s head as he reclaimed his own mug from the counter. “You two were already out.” He smiled, reaching out to tousle her hair fondly as she grinned and ducked away with a grumble of half-hearted protest. “So I thought we’d head out a little early today, find a good spot to set up and just spend the day together. The three of us.”

“Cool. Yeah, that sounds good.” The girl’s nose crinkled slightly as she smiled, stirring sugar and cream into her drink. 

“It does,” the older Keane woman agreed. “Maybe she’ll even introduce you to her boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend?” Ian blinked, pale blue eyes wide as he looked from his daughter to his wife. “You mean, not…?” Dana shook her head: No. She didn’t mean Jacob. Not anymore, at least. Comprehension dawned, and he nodded, taking a quick sip from his mug. “That’s right. I remember now. Your mother did say something about a… camping trip, I think?” He glanced at his daughter for confirmation, and she rewarded him with a smile and a quick nod, her amber-speckled features going faintly pink. 

“Mhmm, and he came over for dinner after that.” she replied cautiously, checking from the corner of her eye to see if her mom planned to explain why, exactly, he’d been invited to stay. The auburn-haired vet caught the none-too-subtle glance, and smirked. 

‘He did,” Dana added breezily. “And he was a great help, too. Very hands-on.” Warm hazel eyes danced with mischief as she arched an eyebrow at her daughter, whose rosy cheeks flushed to a deeper scarlet at the memory. Amused, she turned to check the breakfast quiche in the oven then, leaving her concerns about the swiftness of their developing relationship for another conversation. It was still early in the day, after all, and Ian ought to have the chance to meet Jason for himself before more serious parental discussions were had.

“Oh? Good to hear,” he replied distractedly, glancing at his watch. It wasn’t quite nine yet, but Warden Crocker had already called to let them know what he and Jacob were bringing for the day-long picnic- he also suspected it was to find out if he’d actually made it back to Shelly this time. It was hard to fault him for that, the tall real estate broker reflected with a pang of guilt that rendered the mouthful of black brew he swallowed slightly bitter on his tongue. “So, is this new guy a junior, too, this year?”

“Yeah, we have Chemistry together.” There was a moment of what definitely felt like an awkward silence in the kitchen, and Autumn’s eyes widened. “The class, I mean,” she clarified quickly, groaning inwardly at her father’s expression and wishing fervently that she could crawl inside her coffee mug. “Well, and, uh, Study Hall.” 

“Chemistry,” her father reiterated flatly, warily glancing from her to Dana as the latter stifled a laugh and resolutely switched off the oven, refusing to return the look she could feel being burned into her back. “Well that’s… That’s great, sweetie. Just great.” 


Later that morning.

“They’ll be fine,” the pretty vet reassured her husband, smiling as she scratched under Zee’s chin. The Keanes had been loading up the Jeep for a little while now, packing it with enough coolers and bags to feed and entertain the trio for at least a week, but it wasn’t intended solely for them: sandwiches and cold salads for lunch, ribs and thick pork chops to grill later, sodas and iced tea and a couple of six packs of summery IPAs and traditional lagers. “They’ve got plenty of water out, and lots of shade if it does turn warm this afternoon. We’re not going to be gone all day,” she reminded him, watching as their energetic daughter hefted the last bag of ice into a plastic storage container and snapped the lid shut. “How do you think they manage when I’m at work and Autumn’s at school?” She paused for a moment and, tentatively, rested her hand on his. “It’ll be fine.”

“Fine, or fine?” Autumn interjected with a grin, going up on her tiptoes to give both parents a kiss on the cheek. Dana rolled her eyes at that, smiling, and shook her head. “I’m gonna do one last door check and grab my phone. Anything you guys want me to get while I’m in there?” Her father patted his pockets, frowning a little, then shrugged and offered her an easy smile.

“No, no, I think I’ve got everything.” His gaze moved over her shoulder, catching his wife’s eye as the paternal expression softened slightly. “Everything I need, anyway.” He didn’t miss Autumn’s requisite grimace of teenaged disgust at the thought of parental romance, or the softly-murmured “Gross,” under her breath as she turned and jogged back up to the house with the dogs at her heels. He shrugged again, a sort of uncomfortable one-shouldered gesture Dana immediately recognized as one her child had adopted. “Parents,” he opined laconically, opening the passenger door for his bride. “Totally,” she replied, deadpan, and climbed inside.

“So, this new guy,” Ian began cautiously, leaning against the side of the SUV. “You’ve met him. Is he… I mean, what’s he like? Jacob’s a good kid. Good guy, I guess.” He corrected himself, realizing that a seventeen-year-old wasn’t much of a kid anymore. Not really. “I thought they got along really well. I mean, hell, they grew up together, and then-” With a sigh, he gestured vaguely, helplessly, toward the house.

“‘And then’, yeah,” Dana replied thoughtfully, nodding as she followed his reflection in the side mirror. There was no need to elaborate further on that particular point; Owen’s passing had hit a few people pretty hard, his granddaughter especially. Until recently, seeing Autumn taking interest in other people and going out again, she hadn’t realized exactly how hard the girl had taken it- or even how hard she’d taken it herself. And then last night… Well, the air felt a little clearer, didn’t it? “I kind of half-expected them to get married right out of high school, to be honest. And I like Jacob, I really do, and maybe they’ll work things out and find each other again later. I’m just…” She sighed, thinking back on the weird charge in the atmosphere when her daughter and the Bannon boy had been in the kitchen, the pair so intent on each other that at times she’d almost wondered if she’d even really been present there in the room. It wasn’t exactly reassuring, but the very nature of that intensity, and their youth, all but dictated that it couldn’t last long. The brightest flames burned quickest, after all. “I’m just glad,” she finally allowed, “that I don’t have to worry about that for her anymore.” 

“Mmmm.” The reply was noncommittal, Ian watching the house as his wife watched him. “Jason Bannon, you said?”

“I did. As for what he’s like?” She paused, her expression pensive; there really wasn’t a satisfying answer to that. “He’s… Well, it’s hard to say.” Dana smiled as her husband glanced at the mirror, meeting her eyes through the reflective glass. “I guess you’ll just have to see for yourself.” Oddly, it was easier talking about her daughter’s shiny new relationship than it was to discuss her own nearly twenty-year-old one, and the two fell quiet after a moment, listening to the small but beloved pack of fosters they’d taken in huffing and whining and yelping softly as they gamboled about in the front yard. 

Autumn’s father opened his mouth as a thought occurred to him, something he felt he ought to have said already, when the girl herself came bounding down the porch steps, pausing to distribute head scratches and belly rubs aplenty before heading over to the car. “‘Kay, all set.” Clambering into the crowded back seat, she checked her phone out of habit and tucked it in the pocket of her hoodie as Ian closed the door. She’d obviously fixed her hair a little, added a few hints of makeup, but otherwise hadn't fussed too much over her appearance; maybe this boyfriend thing wasn't such a big deal. Nothing to worry about, he reassured himself.

“So,” he tried again, getting situated himself and glancing at his pink-cheeked offspring in the rearview mirror. “This Jason guy. How’d you guys meet? What’s he like?” Dana snorted softly under her breath and turned, watching the house disappear behind them. True to form, if Ian wanted something, he’d try all avenues available to get it. It made him a great realtor, but an annoying partner sometimes.

Shrugging, the restless redhead peered conspicuously out the window, ignoring the warmth creeping up the sides of her face. How was she supposed to describe him to her dad, of all people, when Jason Effing Bannon was still a mystery to her? Maybe always would be. Huh. “I mean, he’s kind of-” She paused, pursing her lips as the trees whizzed past. “Different. But he should be there today. I hope. So, I guess you can meet him and see for yourself?”

With an exasperated sigh, Ian returned his gaze briefly to his wife- who was also staring out the window- and turned out onto the highway. “What is this, a conspiracy?”

“Nope. It’s a mutiny,” Dana quipped, cutting her eyes at him. “While the captain’s away, the crew will play, or something like that.” Muffled laughter from the back seat answered her, but her husband’s expression was less amused. Even if Autumn hadn’t caught the edge hidden in her mother’s joke, he had, and it stung. Moreso because it was true, and he had no right to deny it. 

“Ahh, that must be why the rum’s gone, then,” he replied with a taut smile, and a levity he didn’t quite feel. Labor Day, indeed: he was apparently going to have to work his ass off to get this right.

Edited by Vivi OOC
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Champion's Field, The Carousel - Before Noon

Jack and Carolyn Cassidy strode through Champion's Field, their fingers interlaced with easy camaraderie, giving off the vibe of a pair of high school sweethearts who had made it through the hump of time and experience to find their affection had grown deeper without having to show it with feigned or overabundant PDA. They hadn't been high school sweethearts, though they had known each other in high school. Rather, they had gotten together when Carolyn was in college and Jack had been finishing his carpentry apprenticeship, after a messy falling out with a mutual loved one they hadn't talked about since that time. 

The sky was clear, the sun was bright, early morning chill already long faded with the promise of greater warmth throughout the day. Jack wore a Billings Bulls cap with a deeply curved brim to keep the sun off his head, sandy blond hair buzzed short ever since he started balding. Carolyn let her hair hang loose, once as rich a red as her son's and youngest daughter's, now faded to a strawberry blond with sun and age. They had a quiet sense of pride about the Carousel as they idly wandered the grounds with no concrete destination or path in mind.

Jack had donated labour and materials to built several of the food stalls, designed for easy set-up and take down, and for the siding that protected The Carousel during the off season. And Carolyn had donated time with managing the finances for one of Toole County's non-profits that organized funds to maintain the restored the classic 1936 Carousel. The Carousel hadn't been their dream, but they were glad to have helped make it come true.

It helped alleviate their concern for their odd son and all they had he revealed to them. There was something going on with him, they could tell, but not precisely what. Sean was a private sort, and they had generally left him to his own devices as much as he could. Lately, they had noticed a change in Sean, an easing acceptance to his condition, rather than the discomfiture, dissatisfaction, and resignation that he used to vacillate between, even if there was an edge to that acceptance they couldn't quite define.

Jack exchanged nods or a few words with various students and ex-students he had hired to work with him during the summers over the years. One, who had graduated three years ago tried to hand him a resume, which Jack refused with a good natured laugh. Salt of the earth he might be, but even he usually only accepted resumes online and had a standard form to fill out. He did arrange an on the job interview in a few days time for him though. He'd been getting more work of late and could use more all year help with his general contracting business. Carolyn chatted with several friends she saw in passing, a few who were also reasonable parents on the PTA.

Laurelai, her hair a deeper red than her mother's, her face less freckled, stalked ahead of her parents wearing her football jersey and a leash wrapped around her left hand, an irritated energetic bounce to her steps. Sean had taken off to Great Falls with Jason this morning before she had the chance to tag along, and Teagan had cancelled - Again! - saying she couldn't make it off base. And she knew the Fellowship had something going on today or tonight - she'd been practicing her observational skills - but not what.

Laurie's spritely mahogany and white pygmy goat Rascal pranced along at his mistress' side with cheerful mischievousness, snagging bites of lavender cotton candy whenever Laurie let her arm swing low. A few wisps of it clung to the side of his mouth, which only served to draw even more attention than his adorableness already did and which Rascal accepted as his due.

The youngest Cassidy sibling stopped to speak with the Heath sisters for a while, finding out that Lilly had returned, and making a mental note as to why Sean hadn't mentioned it. When she jogged to catch up to her parents, she got interrupted by Ryan Andersen. He was a guy in her grade, about her height, but if anything, even skinnier. And it seemed like he had never shaved yet, wisps of blond hair as fine as the cotton candy in her hand curling around his lips and chin. He was kinda awkward, kinda obliviously entitled, but not really a bad guy, even if any girl with at least a modicum of good looks knew he had a tendency to stare.

"Oh! Hey! Hey! Laurie?" He called out as he rushed from between a pair stalls as he saw her passing by.

"Yes, Ryan?"

"Hi." Social greeting completed to his satisfaction, Ryan immediately proceeded to what was really concerning him. "ReGenesis looks awesome. Can you get a game key for it from your brother and give it to me?"

"I probably can," Laurie admitted with an exasperated roll of her eyes. "But Sean isn't giving out game keys to anyone, not even reviewers, and especially not anyone who claims to be an influencer or who boasts about his five hundred subscribers on YouTube." Laurie gave him a pointed look. Ryan blinked, Teflon to her snark. "Jim Fines got a test copy, only because Sean is friends with him online."

"So.... yes?"


"Oh." Ryan blinked again, then nodded. "That's okay. I'll just pirate it when they break the protection."

Laurie's lips curved in a private smirk. She seen Sean's coding, even if she couldn't make any sense of that. "You do that, bud. He calls his game data protection and encryption Keelhaul. Make sure you read the user agreement. Later, Ryan."

Laurie skipped adroitly around Ryan and Rascal gave him a headbutt to the knee which nearly buckled the fifteen year old to the ground, sticking his tongue out at him as he trotted after his mistress. As Laurie caught up to her parents, the Keanes were arriving to Champion's Field. Jack gave Ian a nod in greeting as the Cassidys ambled over. Jack and Ian were acquaintances, Jack having been hired by Ian or on his clients' behalf to fix up property for living or flipping. The Cassidy women waved.

"It's been a while, Ian," Jack said. "You and your ladies need any help unloading?"

Edited by Sean Cassidy
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Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Kat opens her eyes. The white paint on the ceiling reflects an orange, weak sunlight, quite a match for the blue and chocolate hues decorating her walls and woodwork. Through the open window can be heard the sounds of nocturnal wildlife yawning and stretching out before dusk, daring diurnal critters to an all-night party.

Did I sleep all day?

The teenager frowns, mechanically pushing a couple blonde hairlocks away from her eyes.


The house is empty. Her Dad hasn't come home yet, and Tess probably went shopping. Suddenly, solitude feels oppressing, and the petite French girl opens the front door, going deep into the jungle. She has to find her friends.


The sun has set. The wildlife overwhelms her sense with its screeches, groans, swish and rustle through exotic bushes bearing fruit never to be eaten by human beings. A bat flaps her wings above Kat's head, and for a split second, the teenager freezes, eyes darting to the obscure ceiling of branches and leaves, a shy and dim moonlight trying its best to pierce the rank foliage. The jungle bears a strong feeling of seclusion to the young and puny woman, carried by a wind of foul despair. Her heart races for a moment.


She heard the cry. It had to be that way. As she rushes through the jungle, the complaint, definitely human, intensifies. A clearing. Ghastly spectacle. Blood. Mangled bodies surrounded by countless misshapen beasts, clad in black fur and dark, shining skin, as if covered in kerosene. Her heart stops at the sight of one of their victims, impaled on a branch, most likely the one whose cries she heard. Courtney bleeds as red as her hair.


A thousand pairs of wicked eyes blink. It's all over now. The last offering presented itself. Kat's world is nothing but furious screeches begging for blood as the last thing she sees shines in the dim moonlight. Razorsharp fangs.


Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Kat opened her eyes. The white paint on the ceiling reflected a rose, timid sunlight, quite a match for the blue and chocolate hues decorating her walls and woodwork. Through the open window could be heard the sounds of diurnal wildlife yawning and stretching out before dawn, daring nocturnal critters to an all-day party.

Just a dream.

The teenager frowned, mechanically pushing a couple red and coral hairlocks away from her wet eyes. She curled up under her blanket, clutching to her pillow in a desperate attempt to calm her heart down, muffling the sound of her heartbreak escaping a dry throat.


Kat looked at her reflection in the dresser mirror, her eyes running across the celtic patterns on her naked skin. It had become a habit for the young woman, part in pride for a design she drew herself, part in wait to actually notice the changes her Dad's morning torture would eventually bring to her fragile shape. She was beginning to realize that, only now, her cheeks were losing that round shape characteristic of children, her oval features slowly growing into a brittle, thin heart-shape, most like her mother's.

Talk about late puberty... Christ, I'm seventeen!

It still wasn't enough for Kat. Maybe deep inside, she wanted to be marvelled at, to be noticed, and her looking like a prepubescent boy was a big obstacle only time could overcome. And she finally was getting there, as much as a couple glances at her Eve costume could tell. Her eyes caught a glimpse of gold in the pixie-ish sea of red and coral hair, still humid after her shower, framing her face under the morning sunlight. After a closer look, she let out a deep sigh.

Guess I do take from both my Mom and Dad... Gonna have to dye those hair roots again, some day.


Water paint splashed on the fabric, the brush, guided by a steady hand, lacing the colors one with another, singing in an upbeat fashion Kat's awe less than a day before. Her work was but a draft of what might take a couple weeks to picture, but the outlines were already set in discreet carbon, depicting what felt to Kat like one of the few most amazing moments in her life. Purple shimmer braving ice and fire.


Around noon


Josh quizzically glanced at his daughter in the inner rear mirror. Kat had been surprisingly silent today. "Something wrong, pumpkin?"

Ugh... he knows I hate it when he calls me like that. And Tess' in here too, what's he thinking?" The petite redhead exhlaled loudly to show her discomfort at the name. Maybe I'll stay blonde... She thought. "Nothing's wrong... I..." She fell silent again. It was just a dream.

"Wanna talk about your dream?" Tess chimed in. Kat realized she must have been thinking out loud. Her gaze met Tessa's chestnut eyes, watching her from the passenger seat. Kat's lips pinched into a pensive pout and she shook her head. The pretty brown-haired woman shrugged at her boyfriend as he drove the car towards the Labor Day Event.

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
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On 9/19/2020 at 11:07 PM, Sean Cassidy said:

Laurie skipped adroitly around Ryan and Rascal gave him a headbutt to the knee which nearly buckled the fifteen year old to the ground, sticking his tongue out at him as he trotted after his mistress. As Laurie caught up to her parents, the Keanes were arriving to Champion's Field. Jack gave Ian a nod in greeting as the Cassidys ambled over. Jack and Ian were acquaintances, Jack having been hired by Ian or on his clients' behalf to fix up property for living or flipping. The Cassidy women waved.

"It's been a while, Ian," Jack said. "You and your ladies need any help unloading?"

"Jack," Ian greeted the big man with an affable smile and a quick handshake, and extended the same friendly courtesy to his wife. "Carolyn. Laurelai. Good to see you. Nice day, isn't it?" He glanced around, taking in the scant crowd so early in the day and then back at his own girls, who smiled and waved at the group as Autumn leaned in the driver's side and popped open the hatch at the rear of the Jeep. "The help would be appreciated, thanks. You know, you guys are welcome to stop by this evening, grab a bite and a cold one. Warden Crocker's got the steaks, and we've got the ribs, and I don't think the five of us will be able to eat it all."

"Are you kidding? Jacob can eat his own weight in ribeyes, and I'm pretty sure Autumn's not far behind him," Dana interjected with a laugh, brushing non-existent dirt from her hands onto the legs of her neat denim capris as she joined them. "Hey, Jack, hi, Carolyn," the pretty vet smiled warmly, then turned to Laurie and her caprine companion with a knowing, vaguely disapproving grin as she eyed the cotton candy in the young girl's hand: an actual pair of Rascals. "Morning, you two. Good to see you're keeping her out of trouble," she quipped, eyeing first the goat and then the red-haired teen. The young woman had the presence of mind to look at least a little sheepish as she brushed an errant wisp of spun sugar from the goat's furry cheek. "Seriously, though, if you don't have anything else planned, swing by. I think Nathan's already setting up, so we'll have all the food in the same place. And probably too much of it." She paused for a moment, considering something, then glanced at her husband. "Although if Jason hasn't eaten yet when he gets here, Autumn might bring him by, too."

The Cassidys exchanged a look, eyebrows raised in wordless surprise: their Jason? Had the half-wild cub they'd adopted as one of their own- one rapidly growing into an adult with at least the seeming of civility- found a second family to help feed him?

Unaware of the silent conversation between the other couple, Ian nodded, his smile broadening into a grin that didn't quite reach his eyes; he'd hoped to spend the day with his family, and even these essentially trivial, perfectly normal shifts in his daughter's social life like new crushes and fallings-out with friends were reminders of how tenuous their connection was lately. "True, yeah. Hey, maybe we won't have a week's worth of leftovers this year. We should probably ask-" He turned, but his impatient offspring was already out of earshot, carrying one of the large plastic storage containers off toward the shady spot where the Crockers were almost finished lighting the charcoal for the brats they'd brought for lunch later. Jacob was jogging up to greet her, and Dana followed the direction of her husband's gaze, then met it and offered a little shrug. "Well," he laughed, "I guess we ought to get started, or there's not going to be anything left to unload."

As the three families hauled coolers and containers into the shade, the men bantered about hockey and the ladies discussed work and current events in town. The three teenagers, for their part, kept conversation light and casual- while skirting the subject of the Homecoming dance, they talked animatedly about the game itself and Laurie's excitement-slash-anxiety about actually getting to play. It didn't take long to get everything organized: neatly-stacked bags of charcoal, bins of ice for the drinks (alcoholic and otherwise) and uncooked food, and then the grills were lit, blankets spread, chairs unfolded, and tablecloths taped down onto folding tables. By the time all was said and done, the little tree-covered area the Crockers and Keanes had carved out was almost a self-contained Labor Day celebration on its own.

"Hey, thanks." Laurie squinted slightly against the sun as the energetic young woman handed her a bottle of water from the depths of the cooler and rose, absent-mindedly nudging the lid shut with her knee. The youngest of the Cassidy clan still hadn't worked out how or why her brother and his best friend had managed to skip town so early, or what the group of teens were planning, and it was driving her crazy. ...But Autumn's parents had mentioned Jason, and she knew they all hung out at least once in a while, so maybe she could get some info from the Girl Scout? It was worth a shot, anyway. "Sooo." As openings went, it sounded casual enough, and the other girl smiled as she cracked open her own bottle.


"So," the sophomore repeated with slightly more conviction this time, sighing appreciatively as she took a sip of the cold water. "Great Falls, huh?"  Autumn blinked at her, suddenly distracted from watching Rascal playing a boisterous game of tag with someone's black Lab and wondering if they should've brought the kids along after all. "Sean and Jason," she clarified, as comprehension dawned in the older redhead's eyes. Good. That meant she did know something. Now all she had to do was find out what, and the best way to do that was to pretend she already knew. Affecting an air of nonchalance as she screwed the cap back on the plastic bottle, she pressed a little further. "How come you didn't go?"

Autumn's brows knit together in a brief, but expressive frown, her blue eyes narrowing, and Laurie cursed silently to herself. "Why would I go to Great Falls? My dad's home." Crap. She'd forgotten about that little detail- or, rather, it hadn't occurred to her, since she didn't really know the outdoorsy junior all that well. For that matter, she wasn't sure her brother did, either, but that was an issue for later.

"Sorry, sorry," she conceded, grimacing in genuine apology; she really did feel kind of bad about carelessly drawing attention to Ian's absence. "I just wondered if they'd invited you, that's all."

"Mmm." There was an uncomfortable pause, and then: "It's fine." Autumn nodded slowly, ponytail swaying as her expression gradually softened into a faint smile. It wasn't Laurie's fault her dad was away so much, even if being reminded of it stung a little. It would've come up at some point during the day, anyway, from Nathan if not someone else. I need to talk to him, she reminded herself, glancing back at the inquisitive girl and her goat, who had come bounding back over. "Yeah, no, they didn't. I mean," she shrugged, unscrewing the lid of her drink. "There's nothing I needed there anyway. I think they were just-" And then she remembered, abruptly, that Jason had mentioned one very specific thing he intended on getting while they were out, and- ohgod- she took a long, slow drink of the icy water in her hand as if it might somehow quench the sudden rush of warmth that surged beneath her skin. "Just shopping," she finished lamely, refusing to meet the other girl's eyes as the natural pink of her cheeks deepened to a vivid scarlet that rivalled the brilliance of her hair.

"Shopping. Riiight." There was obviously something more there, but as badly as she wanted to press the issue, Laurie didn't think she'd get much further right then. Not with Autumn looking for all the world like she could light all the grills in Shelly just by proximity. Maybe she could try again later, or maybe one of the others would be able to tell her more, if she could track them down. "Well, anyway, good talk and, uh, I'll see ya later?"

"Yeah, sure. See ya." The young vitakinetic smiled, despite the near-ignition of her fiery hair, and headed over to rejoin her parents as the sprightly pair of mischief-makers meandered off again.

Edited by Autumn Keane
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"Are you sure you know how to grill?" Cassandra's mother asked for the third time as they got out of the car and went around to the trunk to bust out their picnic gear.

Cassandra shook her head dismissively. "Mom, it's the 21st century. You don't have to know anything anymore. It's all online." She held up her phone, which had a video of someone grilling 'great bbq chicken in under ten minutes' up.

"So...what, you have to carry a phone everywhere and pay for access to every skill you need?" Teresa asked pointedly.

Cassie shrugged. "Just until they can wire it into our heads directly. Besides, you sell books. That's charging for knowledge."

"Hon. Library. We don't charge."

"Hon. Taxes. You totally charge. It's just...harder to see." Cass stuck her tongue out.

Teresa hauled out an armload of bags of groceries for the cookout and stared her daughter down. "Taxes keep the library open, but that's not the same thing as charging for books." Bacon, still in the back seat of the car, barked and awkwardly hopped up so his front paws were on the glass of the window.

Cassandra glanced at Bacon and went over to let him out. "No but really. Like, what keeps a bookstore open? Profits from book sales. That's how they pay salary and rent on the building and all the taxes and stuff on them. So what keeps a library open? Sure some fees, like late charges...which are also sort of after-the-fact charges for books..."

"No, those are completely avoidable!"

"...but also local and county taxes. If it wasn't for those, you'd have to charge per book. As it is, you don't...but that's basically because everyone who isn't using the library, but does pay taxes, is subsidizing everyone who does use the library."

Teresa sighed and looked around the Carousel fields. "Is it too late to encourage you to pursue a different vocation? What were you into before? Skateboarding? I hear that's a nice profession that doesn't involve as much talking back to your parent."

"AND IN SUMMARY," Cassandra finished, "The internet is awesome, even if it costs money to access and is probably going to mean everyone gets stupider because it enables intellectual laziness. This chicken he made really does look good though."

"It had better be, because you're now the honorary chef."

Cassie opened the door, scowling. "I was thinking I'd serve in a supervisory capa...BACON!"

The dog exploded out of the car with enough force to knock Cassandra back a few steps and bolted joyfully across the field. He made a beeline for the black Labrador that was snuffling around one of the unoccupied picnic spots. They exchanged doggie butt-sniff greetings, and then the German Shepard noticed something else that earned a bark.

Cassandra spotted where Bacon was going next and winced. Was that a...lamb? A goat? It was kind of far away. What would Bacon do to a goat?

"Hey mom, I'm gonna go get Bacon back. There's an open place over there."

Teresa glanced over, shading her eyes, then said, "I'm not carrying all this stuff by myself."

"I'll be right back!" Cassie called, already running off. "Promise!"


Meanwhile, over near where the Houses of Keane and Crocker were holding court, Laurie was belatedly crossing to follow to where her family was setting up shop with her goatling hopping along at her side. The gamboling Rascal was suddenly accosted by a very curious dog. Bacon went up to Rascal and sniffed him all over. This earned a playful head-butt in response.

Cassandra came running up not far behind, looking a bit winded.

"Hey, sorry, that's my dog," she explained. "Bacon! Over here!"

The German Shepard reluctantly disengaged and trotted over to sit at Cassandra's side, panting.

"He wasn't going to hurt him or anything," Cass explained to Laurie, still in apolgetics mode. She turned a little and spotted Autumn's folks a little ways off, watching with a mix of curiosity and wariness. Bacon looked an awful lot bigger than that little goat. Cassie gave them a wave and a grin to let them know everything was okay.

"Can I pet him?" Laurie asked, already coming over to let Bacon sniff her hand. He did so enthusiastically, and transitioned directly to licking.

Cassandra nodded. "Yeah, he's super friendly."

Then from a distance, "Cass!" The teen reporter-wannabe turned at her name to spot her mother lowering a bag onto the table she'd picked out, and gesturing back at their car...where another couple of bags sat atop the trunk.

She winced and gave Laurie a 'what can ya do' shrug. "I have to get our stuff. We should all meet up though. I saw Autumn's folks...anyone else here?"

Laurie nodded and answered, "Just you and Autumn so far, I think? Sean and Jason aren't back yet from wherever they went..." She paused, but Cassandra's face didn't betray any hint of knowing more about where that place was.

"Okay, well, lets keep our eyes open. It'd be cool to see everyone." With that Cassandra headed back to get the rest of the cookout goods before it started melting into the bags, Bacon running ahead of her.

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So arrived the Jauntsens.  Not together, of course, as Marissa was arriving from her rendezvous at the Allister homestead and Devin was arriving from his farewell with Avalon and since it seemed Adele was in the middle of an apoplexy as he left, *that* went swimmingly.  Misti and Carl arrived in their BMW, once again letting the small town wonder where the Jauntsen's got their money from as the Beamer, Mercedes, and Ducati all parked side by side.  Carl was the fist to walk to the front of the car and take in the entire scene.  He was in jeans and a grey polo with hiking boots that looked like they'd never been hiked in.  Misti was sporting one of her many summer dresses in a dark floral pattern that complimented every seductive curve of her body.  Carl raised his eyebrow as he looked around at all the families gathering, thankful they could see half of his expression through his dark sunglasses.

"Why do we come here every year if you hate these people so much?" He asked his wife.  "I mean, all in all, this place isn't so bad."  His lips curled into the hint of a smile as a few kids ran past them, arguing like siblings.

"It's not the place I hate, Carl," Misti's sarcasm and venom were as obvious as a the guns on a battleship being fired.  "It's being stuck here because of your stupidity.  Now, let's at least fake like our lives aren't a total shit show, please?  And did you have to park so far away?"

"We took the car, Misti.  I know you're used to just leaning your broom against the wall, but that just doesn't work with a Beamer, sorry."  Carl shook his head, scoffing with a half-chuckle.  "Can't believe I got sober for this, but hey, we fake that your ass is real, your tits are real and your lips are real... why not step up our game and take it the next level: the entirety of our lives."

Marissa leaned against her car door, glaring at her mother and father already lacing into each other.  Her arms were folded against her bare abdomen as her deep brown eyes glimmered with violet sparkles, a slight bi-product resulting in her increasing frustration at with her parents as well as her 'boyfriend'.  Her look was pure frustration as she watched through narrowed eyes and tightly pursed maroon lips.  Her gaze shifted only slightly to her right as her twin brother approached her, looking back that their parents and shaking his head with a sigh.

"They at it already?"

"Yup," she sighed, shaking her head as she turned to face him.  "Not even ten seconds.  I'm half tempted to whammie the both of them and make them behave," her statement trailed off and she added a shrug.  "Maybe get us a larger allowance too."

Devin sucked his teeth at the sweet deal.  "I'm almost on board, but we made a deal, not to family or Fellowship.  How'd lunch go?"

"Brilliantly," she smiled sarcastically.  "Sheriff treated me like trash, made it clear he doesn't want me dating his son and I accidentally incited a pregnancy scare that Cade deflected by ratting out that all of us have powers."

Devin could only laugh.  "Are you serious?  So his whole family knows now?  About all of us?"

"No," she shook her head, letting her straightened hair tickle her shoulders.  "Sheriff saved it, sorta.  I gave Cade an earful, I just hope he listens.  And why does everyone automatically assume I'm pregnant?"

"Might be because you're a ho."  Her brother added, lovingly.

They were silent in contemplation for a moment to ponder Devin's wisdom about his sister's promiscuity.  "No," she shook her head again, scrunching up her lips.  "I don't think so.  Ho's get paid, I'm more of a slut.  I'm in it for the hell of it."  They smiled at each other, sharing their own sibling humor with each other in silence.  "How'd the whole Lona thing go?"

Devin shrugged one shoulder, and Marissa could tell he wasn't feeling like himself at the moment.  "It is what it is, you know?  I told her I loved her, she told me she loved me and we agreed to just go live our lives.  No long distance or hook-ups that just keep some false hope alive.  Just hurts though," he sighed.  "We didn't even get a chance."

She wrapped her arms around her brother and hugged him.  "Sorry.  If you want to talk, I'm here.  I know you liked her, even if I gave you shit about it, it was good seeing by big brother happy.  I'm here, okay?  Love you."

"Love you too," he smiled and squeezed a squeak out of her before letting her go.  "And thanks.  Now... let's deal with these two before dad starts to sell swampland timeshares and mom starts handing out poison apples."

The devious duo met up with their parents and calmed them down in the span of a few well placed comments about public decorum and what they would do if they embarrassed the twins in public.

"There's Laurie," Devin nodded to the young redhead, pointing her out to his family.  "Don't see Sean... so he's probably not going to show.  Courtney's going to be here no doubt."  Marissa slapped her brother's shoulder, holding in a laugh.

"Do those two have bad blood?" Carl asked.  He was completely behind on the events and goings on of his children's social lives.  "Wait, our Courtney?"

"Yes, dad, our Courtney."  Marissa laughed.  "Laurie and Sean are plebs, so we, Courtney included, don't really associate with them at whole lot at school.  Sean likes to wear women's clothes and then ride a moral high horse when people don't assume he identifies as a male.  He offered to expose himself to another student, but the little shit always plays the role of pariah.  Frankly, I don't get him at all.  I have boobs and you don't see me whining about it.  Lately, Deej and I have been spending more time with him and a few others.  Kind of like an outreach program for those who are socially or friends challenged.  We're not allowed to call them 'unpopular' anymore."

"Language, sweetheart," Carl corrected his daughter.  "And that's great, you two.  I'm glad you're stepping up and being leaders and role models for others."

"Oh, yeah, totally dad.  We do our best to set a high bar, but a good example.  Looks like Autumn's here too," Devin pointed out for Marissa.  "Christ, between the Cassidy's and Keane's it's like they packed for Armageddon.  Autumn and Marissa are besties now, in case you two haven't been keeping up with Marissa on Insta... or any of her other basic bitch attention seeking apps."

"Devin,"  Carl glared at his son.  "What did I just say to your sister about her mouth?"

"Stop opening it for the entire football team?"  Devin replied and was answered with a swift slap to the back of his head by his father.

"You need to explain that one to me, Marissa," Misti looked off at the Keane's and the Cassidy's with an obvious measure of disapproval.  "I appreciate what you and your brother are trying to do for the less fortunate of Shelly, but you don't have to be friends with them.  Encourage them to stay in their lane and stick to what they know, like fast food, cow herding... septic pumping.  And Devin, sweetie, stop implying your sister is a whore." As Devin stopped rubbing the back of his head his mothers hand went upside it in the same spot his father struck.

"Ow!" he cried out. "What the f-... frick."  He was now frantically rubbing his head to ease the pain.  "Doesn't this qualify as child abuse?"

"Not if there's no bruise," Carl smirked.  "And you deserve it.  Oh, and you're such a pain in the ass, I don't think the authorities would mind.  Might even throw us a party... even send us a replacement from the orphanage."

"Autumn is awesome, mom."  Marissa pointed out to her mother while father and son shared their wit.  "Sean and Cade too.  They might be a bit strange at times, but they stick together and have each others backs no matter what.  More than I can say for this family.  Diane-"

"Dana." Devin threw in a swift correction as his hand threatened to catch his hair on fire as it was moving so fast against his head.

"Whatever.  Autumn's mom is a vet.  She's a doctor, just like you.  Why not try to get know some people in this town, mom?  It's not like it would kill you."

"Marissa," her mother's tone was cold and laced with condescension.  Misti has adapted well, socially, but for the most part it was simply an act.  Like her children, she didn't care for Shelly one bit.  She longed for the coast and her home in Malibu.  "No one in this little town is 'just like us'.  I'm sure her mother is very talented as sticking her hand of the ass of a horse, but that hardly makes her a 'doctor', sweetie.  Hopefully, we will not be in this town for much longer, kids.  I don't want the two of you to slow down and get comfortable with this place and the mediocrity.  You're better than this place.  You're destined for great things and I want to see you both reach your potential.  Your father and I want what's best for you and I assure you, you're not going to find it in Shelly Montana.  Kids, there comes a point in your lives when you're going to have to realize that despite what all the bleeding hearts say, some people are just better than others.  Success doesn't offer participation trophies.  You either earn it, or you lose and go home with nothing."

The twins looked at each other with that 'if they only knew' grin on their lips.

"You're all heart, Misti," Carl huffed with a roll of his eyes behind his mirrored frames.  "God forbid our children have friends, but that," he pointed to the sheer amount of stuff the two family's brought with them.  "Is exactly why we donate to the food tents.  And speaking of, I plan on eating eating a lot of unhealthy, greasy food today.  Who's down?"

"Totes game," Devin raised his hand from the back of his head.

Marissa raised her hand with a expectant smirk.  "Down like the economy."

"I expect to see all of these extra calories reflected in your daily workouts, kids.  Three extra sets, from the both of you.  And Devin, I know you've been skipping the yoga portion." Misti chimed up as the twins threw their heads back and groaned.  "If you want to play hard, you will work hard.  Now come on, game faces everyone, let's make our rounds."

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In Sean's car, half an hour after Noon.

"Whatcha doing?"  Sean frowned a little at Jase's feet on his dashboard as he glanced over at his friend, but at least the tall youth had slipped his boots off and was resting sock-clad feet on the upholstery rather than his boot soles.  He'd set the passenger seat into a full recline shortly after their last conversation and had apparently been napping - or meditating. Or contemplating his next kill Sean had (mostly) jokingly said to himself as the Jeep ate up the miles and the weird Nordic folk music had filled the car with stirring vocals and drumming.

Now, however, he had been aware of movement and, when he looked, saw Jase still reclining tapping away at the touch screen with a tiny smile quirking one corner of his mouth.  "Ahh.  Texting your girlfriend."  Sean nodded sagely.

"Texting everyone."  Jason replied as he hit 'Send', causing Sean's phone to chime a moment later.  "I thought it would be a good idea for the Fellowship to have my new number."  Looking at his phone's screen, Sean nodded.  It was a simple message.

//My new number.  For the Fellowship only, please.  Jason//

"To the point."  Sean grinned, putting eyes back on the road as Jason went back to tapping at his screen.  "And now?"

"Now I'm texting my girlfriend."  Jason's smile turned mischievous.


Autumn's phone gets this text:


= = = = = = = = =

As noon moved firmly into the past and one o'clock approached, the air was filled with the scents of grilling food and the shimmering smoke rising from a few dozen staked picnic areas.  Hank had wandered off to chat up one of the nurses from the Medical Center and Gar was spending his time listening to the small radio playing country and rock music, watching his own grill as it slow-cooked some ribs, and casting his gaze over the other families present.  This was the first year he'd turned up to the Labor Day cookout and, despite his nervousness regarding his neighbours, had so far been treated with more warmth than he would have expected to receive as the town drunk.

Of course, he wasn't that guy anymore.  He'd shaved and put on a fresh shirt and everything, today.  Heck, he was even sipping on a Coors, which everyone knew wasn't real alcohol so much as beer-flavored soda.  In truth, Gar had only drank so heavily to forget his misery rather than out of some addiction to the substance, so quitting wasn't so much an issue as was just cutting back, drinking socially rather than in order to numb himself till he fell asleep.  Still, he was avoiding anything harder than beer these days.

He smiled as a flash of red-gold drew his attention to Autumn, laughing with her parents as they and the Crockers relaxed together.  On a whim, he tried to spot the others of Jason's strange circle of friends.  No Sean, obviously.  He was off with Jason. There was Cassandra Allen, dispensing a tummy rub and scritch to her dog.  Over there was Laurie Cassidy... who was not one of the super-teens but hung around the barn sometimes.  No sign of the huge Allister boy or Lilly Pryor... Ah, there were the Jauntsens.  He didn't know their parents really - had bumped into Carl in a bar once or twice and Misty at the school when he'd had to go in for some administrative reason or other.  They seemed okay people at the time, but watching them now he couldn't help but wonder at how very 'California' the family was.

Still, the kids were mostly okay, and were Jason's friends, so he gave the family a companionable salute with his beer as they passed - which Misti ignored, turning her sunglasses-bedecked face away, and Carl apparently didn't notice.


= = = = = = = = = 

He could feel them up there, through the Tree he could feel them.  Laughter, celebration, food and drink in the warming light of the sun.  He remembered what that had felt like.

Not Araun.  Araun had not felt the sun's warmth in millenia.  Araun's celebration was in the defilement of life and the rending of flesh.  But Cody... Cody remembered last year, when he'd gotten a kiss in the woods after dark from a cheerleader following the Labor Day picnic, recalling the taste of her lipgloss. He remembered the smoked ribs, the beer he'd snuck away from his dad's cooler, the taste of apple and blackberry pie, his mom's laughing.

And he moaned, a sound of misery and regret, more human now than he had been in weeks, more Cody now than he had been in weeks.  His long, extra-jointed fingers clenched the rests of his grisly throne, his talons scoring the yellowing bone as he let out a sob.  He could still taste Charlie's heart.  He could still smell the raw charnel odor of this, his realm of blood.  He sobbed again, drumming the back of his head against the back of his throne.

"What have I done?"  he slobbered through teeth no longer neat and white, that cut his gums whenever he closed his mouth.  He threw back his head and let out a howl of loss - cut short as the other consciousness in his mind returned from whatever far-flung gulfs of contemplation it had slumbered in.

Not you.  Them.  They did this to you.

"They..?  No.  I chose.  Me..."

They forced you.  Laughed at you.  Made you afraid.  You are not afraid now.  I gave that to you.

"Yes...  Not afraid.  Sad."

All that you miss is ephemera.  Not real.  The hunt, the kill, the taking of what you want.  That is how you know a thing is real.  The other voice took on a low, intimate tone.  Ahh.  You are lonely.  Soon, my child.  Soon we shall be free of this place and you shall be a king.  Until then... There is the girl.

The girl, yes.  Cody rose from his throne, stepped Through to the cellar where he kept... a prize.  A memento he had taken from his first real kill.  Eyes now easily able to pierce the darkness saw the naked form flinch away, ears keen as a hounds heard her muffled whimper of terror.  Araun was right.  Soon, he would kill his tormentors, release their Radiance, and together they would break free from this place and he, Cody would be a king!

Until then there was... the girl.


Time stamp:  Coming up to 1300.  Jason and Sean will be back soon.

Only PCs have been given Jason's number.


Edited by GDP_ST
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Around noon-thirty. (-ish.)

"...haven't really thought all that much about it, I guess.” Autumn leaned back on her hands, enjoying the tickle of the warm grass between her fingers and against her bare legs as she reclined next to her father’s chair, half in the early afternoon sun and half in the shade cast by the trees nearby. As end-of-summer celebrations went, this one was going pretty well, so far. The weather was beautiful, there was plenty to do and to eat, and for the first time in forever, her extended family was all together- even if she still hadn’t managed to catch up with Jacob yet to apologize for going off on him on Tuesday. She needed to handle that soon. Glancing over at him, sprawled out and dozing on one of the blankets as they waited for lunch and the inevitable food coma, she felt that little twinge of guilt again. Yeah. Today. Definitely. For now, though, focus, Autumn. You’re having a conversation.

“Something with the EPA, maybe? I’ve got Environmental Science this year, and Miss Kyleson said they do a lot of internships. Not all of them are paid, obviously, but doing it for a summer or something after I graduate might help me decide. If I graduate,” she added on reflection, grinning a little as she considered her academic performance thus far and defiantly, resolutely, did not consider any other reasons she might not finish high school. Nope. Nuh-uh. There were plenty of things she needed to do today, that she wanted to do today, and dwelling on what might or might not happen later wasn’t one of them; she’d gotten all her crying done already.

Nathan Crocker tilted his head to regard her curiously, idly turning the half-full bottle of Corona on the armrest of his folding chair. His boy had already made it clear he wanted to get involved in the administrative side of the agency, and everyone had assumed Autumn’s path was equally apparent, if not stated outright. “Not Fish and Wildlife?” he asked, brow furrowing slightly beneath the bill of his faded green baseball cap; her parents’ expressions mirrored his confusion. After all, she’d grown up hearing about the ins and outs of being a Warden on an almost daily basis, loved the outdoors like other girls loved Sephora or pumpkin spice, wasn’t afraid of getting dirty or bloody, and had idolized Owen and everything he did.

“I mean, I thought about that, yeah. And it still might be what I end up doing, but between you and Grandpa I feel like I already know so much about it that I should try something else first.” Autumn’s nose crinkled slightly as she grinned up at him, stretching her legs out on the ground while the warmth of the sunlight soaked into her skin. “Maybe a few something elses. You know, expand my horizons a little bit. And, honestly, I haven’t even graduated yet, so I don’t wanna think about eight more years of college, or whatever, that I’d have to do if I wanted to be a vet. Plus, being in an office sounds boring, nurses and teachers get treated like shi- uh, like crap,” she hastily corrected, remembering who she was with as her mother frowned disapprovingly, “and I’d hate the military. So.” With a dismissive shrug, the earnest young woman glossed over her slip of the tongue and summed up her thoughts on her future career prospects.

“So,” Dana countered, still scowling a little over her glass of iced tea, “you do realize you’re going to have to get a degree for a government job, right? Especially for an agency like the EPA. And with your grades-“

“I know, I know,” the younger redhead protested half-heartedly. “My grades really are getting better, though!” At her mother’s dubious expression, she added, sheepishly, “…a little. Chem isn’t that bad. It’s mostly just the math that sucks, but Jason’s helping, and I was thinking about asking Marissa to help me out with the English stuff. At least the literature part. She’s always quoting something or other.”

“Jason, and… Marissa?” Nathan tipped back his beer, one prematurely silver eyebrow raised as the muffled sound of a tiny bell chimed from the pocket of Autumn’s faded cutoff shorts.

“Yeah,” she nodded absently, pulling out her phone and swiping the lock screen away. “Bannon and Jauntsen. We’re friends now, I guess.” The sound was a generic tone with the standard vibration pattern, which meant the sender was someone she didn’t know. Huh.

//My new number.  For the Fellowship only, please.  Jason//

Wait, Jason actually has a phone now?!

She blinked and re-read the text again one more time, just to make sure. Suddenly, the trip to Great Falls made sense, even if Laurie’s intent curiosity didn’t, exactly.

A broad smile slowly spread from the generous curve of Autumn’s mouth to the corners of her eyes as- Nathan’s question forgotten entirely- she began swiftly tapping the screen with both thumbs, adding the new number to his contact info and only vaguely aware that the adults were talking around her. It seemed totally unreasonable that just the sight of his name, the knowledge that the succinct, perfunctory message was from him, inspired such a reaction: a sudden wave of warmth, not unlike the feeling of the sunlight washing over her through a break in the clouds. And yet, unreasonable or not, it did. It wasn’t the same sensation of fiery-faced embarrassment as when he teased her, or even the heat sparked by his gaze or, more searingly, his kisses. It just… Sort of, was. Like some weird, immutable law of the universe.

Also weird was that she was one-hundred percent aware that it was weird, because barely more than a week ago she’d thought of him as some sort of slouchy, murder-stare-having cryptid to be avoided at all costs, but it was also simultaneously kind of… not weird? Maybe? At least, not capital-w Weird, anyway. Catching her lower lip between her teeth, she scrolled through the list of notification options, still smiling. What should I use for his ringtone, just in case? He might not call or text much, if at all, unless it was an emergency or something logistical, and it seemed like the sort of pragmatic reason he’d buy one in the first place, but… Maybe? Hmm.

It chimed again. The eager redhead tapped the icon that appeared and instantly regretted it, feeling a rising wave of scarlet rushing up to her face as the reminder of peak Autumness stared back at her. She could almost, almost picture his exact expression, too: the gleam in his eyes, the little twitch at the corner of his mouth that hinted at laughter. Mother. Fucker. It was one of her favorite compound curse words, but in that moment it seemed somehow inadequate to describe the feeling of total embarrassment, indignant fury, and grudging amusement roiling in a tumultuous storm within her. Credit where it was due, it was an apt meme, and it was a funny reminder of how they’d actually met, but for fuck's sake, it wasn't fair! He couldn't even get flustered, and at least once a day since they'd become friends he'd made her feel like she was about to spontaneously combust. Couldn't she eventually gain some kind of immunity to that? Please? Obviously, he was deliberately screwing with her, and obviously there would have to be reprisals.

[You suck! Just wait until I catch you, LOL.]

If he wasn’t back in Shelly yet, that gave her some time to-

“Autumn Rae.”

She blinked at the pointed tone of her father’s voice, the inclusion of her middle name sending an alarm signal directly to her unconscious: almost immediately, the preoccupied teen glanced up from the messaging app and the list of sound files she’d been browsing. “Hmm?” Not exactly the most eloquent response. Ian glowered down at his distracted daughter, displeasure writ plain on his features, and she winced, her cheeks reddening even further. Shit. There was no point pretending she’d been paying attention when she very obviously hadn’t. “Sorry. Um. What was the question?”

“Oh, for f-“ The glare Dana had given Autumn earlier was suddenly directed at her husband, who hesitated visibly under that withering stare, and then sighed. “Warden Crocker was asking about your new friends.” Something about the way he said that last word- friends- suggested that the initial question hadn’t been posed neutrally. Which… Yeah. That was fair. Jason did have a pretty sketchy reputation, and everyone present knew about her history with Shelly High’s unofficial princess (even if most of the adults in town considered the glamorous brunette an immaculate angel, beyond reproach). But things changed, right? People changed. Or at least, they could.

Couldn’t they?

“It’s only ‘Warden’ Crocker when I’m on duty, Ian.” Nathan smiled affably, tipping the near-empty bottle toward the real estate broker and receiving a similar salute in kind as Autumn’s father reluctantly conceded the point. “I’ve always been kind of partial to ‘Uncle Nathan,’ myself.”

“Sorry,” she repeated contritely, resting the edge of her phone on her knee and wobbling it mindlessly back and forth. It wasn’t her favorite subject, but it was a welcome distraction from freaking eggplants. Ugh. “I mean, as far as Jase and Marissa go, stuff just happens, you know? Sometimes you learn things about people that can change how you think about them. Like, Jason’s not a serial killer, just kind of quiet, and Marissa’s not a terrible person, she’s just a bitch.”

“Autumn!” Dana hissed sharply, lobbing a crumpled napkin at her offspring in frustration as the FWP warden stifled a laugh and her father groaned.

With another grimace, the younger redhead instinctively batted the offending missile aside. “Okay, fine, but we already talked about this last week, and she totally is! I can’t help it, Mom. I didn’t make her that way. And, like…” Folding her legs, she glanced back at her former best friend and realized that at some point while she was tinkering with her settings and blushing furiously at the meme Jase had sent, he’d sat up and started paying attention to the conversation. Of course. Why not? she lamented inwardly. Why wouldn’t a day in the life of Autumn Keane be full of awkward? “It’s just, I can tell that she’s making an effort. And, yeah, she’s not really great at the whole friend thing right now, but if I don’t give her a chance to at least try, she might not ever be.” Inhaling, she tried to meet Jacob’s gaze, his dark hazel eyes shadowed beneath windblown hair and almost unreadable. “Maybe she was pretty awful to me, and maybe I hated her for it for a while. Maybe I still haven’t totally forgiven her yet.” Autumn watched his lips thin, his expression hardening slightly in a way she’d learned to recognize unconsciously in him over the years, and now consciously through making notes of Jason’s subtle facial cues. “But maybe I also want things to be better. I hope they can be, anyway.”

“Yeah. Maybe.” Nathan glanced down at his son, who’d barely spoken a word until that moment as he’d lain in the shade after lunch, then questioningly at Autumn. “Gotta have hope, either way, right?” Cautiously, she nodded, and Jacob did likewise in some tentative, unspoken teenage accord. Exhaling as he stood and stretched, the tall athlete gave the adults a quick, polite smile. “I’m gonna go walk around, see who’s here.” There was a pause, and she plucked at the blanket she was sitting on, trying to decide whether they’d both actually been having the same conversation. “You wanna come with?” She couldn’t read his expression, silhouetted as he was against the afternoon sky; it took a moment for her brain to register that he was talking to her, because that basically never happened anymore, did it?

“Yeah, sure.” In spite of herself, Autumn felt herself smiling, just a little, as she got to her feet and brushed the grass from her legs. “Sounds good.” Casual invitation, casual response. It was a start, at least.

Edited by Autumn Keane
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Champion's Field, after Noonish

Rascal scampered about, alternately munching on a pair of cored apples Laurie had given him as a treat, and flinging them about while her dad showed how to grill, starting her out with bratwurst, kielbasa, and other varieties of sausage. Jack Cassidy manipulate fork and tongs like a maestro's baton, taking the occasional sip of a local microbrew stout and giving his youngest daughter laconic instruction. Carolyn got out the buns and condiments and a pair of jugs of pink lemonade, lemonade ice cubes thunking against the plastic before setting out a wide selection of baked she and her son had made leading up to Labor Day, pies, cookies, muffins, and breads. Some to eat, some to give away, some to sell, the proceeds split with the fund that maintained The Carousel.

Carolyn stretched, fists knuckling the small of her back and noticed someone she'd only seen rarely in passing at Shelly High when she was there for a PTA meeting. Jason's father. Garreth, yes, that was it. She had to admit to herself, she hadn't thought particularly highly of him. But now, he was clear eyed, clean shaven, and wore a clean shirt - it made for a surpassing improvement. He noticed her attention and tipped his bottle her way, giving her a nod. Carolyn brushed strawberry blond hair from her face and nodded back.

Then on a whim, she picked up a pie, strode over to where he was minding his own grill by his lonesome, a pleasant smile creasing her pleasant features.

"It's nice to see you out and about," and sober and clean, went unsaid, though understood. It wasn't unkind, Carolyn had a suspicion to what had encouraged Jason's father to apparently change his ways. "Garreth Bannon, and joining the rest of Shelly at The Carousel this year. I'm Carolyn, Sean's mother. Just wanted to introduce myself and say you have a fine young man in Jason and it's been our pleasure to have him visit over the years."

"Gar," the elder Bannon corrected, his nervousness easing somewhat, allowing himself a faint smile and nodding his greeting. "I wish I could take credit for the man Jase has become, but... " He shrugged self-deprecatingly, but there wasn't the bitterness there would have been even just a few days ago. "Gotta thank you folks for having him over so much and your boy being a friend to mine ever since we moved to Shelly."

Carolyn laughed lightly. "That goes both ways, I think." She gestured at the grill. "Jason has always been helpful in the kitchen, but I didn't know if you brought more than meat to eat, so I thought I'd bring over a pie, cherry and blueberry." She set it to side of the grill, and waved her hand over it. "There's a little bit more in there, punching up the flavor while mellowing the sweetness. Jason has been fond of it... once Sean worked out the kinks in the recipe."

"Thanks kindly, Mrs. Cassidy."

Carolyn waggled a finger. "If you insist on Gar, I have to insist on Carolyn. Perhaps someday, we can have both Bannons over for dinner. Considering, we have heard so little about you."

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//My new number.  For the Fellowship only, please.  Jason//

The twins both looked at their phones simultaneously, polishing that twin stereotype of sharing just a bit of the others' thoughts.  They looked to one another and Devin shrugged as Marissa rolled her eyes.  "Great." She vented sarcastically.  "Now he has my number."

"I can see it now: 3AM texts... 'Hiker struggled, slipped, fell in wood chipper.  Blood everywhere.  Help with clean up.  Dad will kill me'."  Devin smirked as he dotted his arm across the air bouncing it with every word as he spelled his thoughts in pantomime.

"I'm sure he told them all he loved them before he chewed them up into kibble, so that certainly makes it okay, right?"  Marissa mused, smirking.

"Oh," her brother nodded in confirmation.  "Totally.  He's really big on love."  Holding up his phone Devin tapped out a reply to Jason's message.

//Groovy.  Marissa said she doesn't buy it.  Send n00dz.//

A moment later when her phone chirped up his reply, she slapped his arm.  "Asshole."

Their parents were currently mingling with one of the teachers from the high school.  Since Misti worked there anytime there was some form of social function happening anyone who worked at the school tended to find other members of the faculty and latch on to them.  Unfortunately at the moment it was Devin's algebra teacher, Mr. McRiley.  If the judgemental glares from his parents weren't enough to hint at the lecture he was going to receive later, the smug tone in Mr. McRiley's voice was certainly there to remind him up.

Mr. McRiley went on.  "He's smart, always has been, but so far this semester his mind seems like it has been everywhere but his class work.  With that awful business over the summer between him and Chet, violent outbursts like his are certainly indicators of deeper troubles.  I just think he'd do much better if he was a bit more focused."

"Yeah," Devin mumbled.  "And if you'd quit riding my dick."  His parents both angled a look towards their son that border lined on psychotic rage that only parents at their wits end seemed to be able to call up.  "What?  It's true.  The dude is a condescending prick.  I know I'm not that good at it, but what I don't need is some smug asshole slipping little quips about shitty I am at it while thinking he's managed to mask them behind his superior intellect and fanciful wordsmithing."  Mr. McRiley cleared his throat, a tell that he was anxious and possibly embarrassed at being called out.  "Regardless of how much you don't like me, or my attitude," that's it Devin, play the system.  "Your job is to teach in a polite, professional and respectful manner.  If you don't like how I act, then my parents should have been notified by now, not turn it into some vendetta of yours where you get to be a prick and I walk away not learning anything."  Cherry on top.  "He looked to his mother with pleading eyes.  "Tell me I'm wrong, mom."

Mr. McRiley looked to Devin, then Misti, then Carl.  Devin wasn't at school, he wasn't sitting in the classroom and he wasn't at the mercy of of the school's or Mr. McRiley's rules.  They were in public on their personal time and this smug bastard decided he'd make it into some impromptu P/T Conference?  Nuh uh.  This was probably the last time they would get to spend with their parents and... friends(?) and Devin'd be damned if he was about to allow his Algebra teacher to screw that up and get his WiFi and phone privileges taken away on the night they were supposed to save the world.  "Well, yes and no, Devin," she smiled at her son then addressed his teacher.  "Mr. McRiley we are aware of how much of a handful our son can be.  He's had a few discipline issues of late and has never really adjusted to life Shelly as well as we'd hoped.  However if my son has one talent it his tactless acuity for calling it as he sees it.  A talent I hope he can polish one day, but until then I'm in a position, as a parent, to listen to both sides of the story.  So, why don't we revisit this conversation tomorrow in my office?"

"That's sounds great," Carl chimed in.  "We appreciate your concern, but this is not really how we planned on spending our Labor Day.  We're very serious about our children's education and if there are opportunities on either side of the educational spectrum that need addressing we'll certainly look into that, but this is not the forum, Mr. McRiley.  It was a pleasure to meet with you and we do hope you enjoy the rest of your time here today."

The teenager's parents both pursed their lips in frustration at their son as Mr. McRiley pressed on to another family and greeted them with a warm smile and a handshake.  It was like he was on a 'ruin Labor Day' mission for all the high schoolers.  "Wow, Devin."  Carl nodded and forced a insincere grin from his lips.  "Not even twenty minutes.  Twenty goddamned minutes and we are already getting spoon fed how much our son just doesn't give a shit.  Going to look great in your transcripts for... technical school?  Community college?  Is that what you're going for, or was just lounging around the house smoking pot until you're thirty four more or less what your shooting for?"

"Dad!" Marissa's tone of urgency caught her father's attention.  "Look, he's not lying.  The guy a real jerk.  I mean, come on, of course Devin's grade sucks, we're only two weeks into the school year.  And he's already got a tutor."

"You went and got a tutor," his father asked him.  "Already?"

"W-well, yeah," Devin was quick to follow up, crafting his lie as swiftly he could.  "Proactive, right?  Jason Bannon.  He's totally been helping me out, but, you know... long weekend haven't been to class...," he chuckled.  "What can I do, right?"

"Pass your next exam," his father's digit was stiff against the bone of Devin's chest.  "I want it, in my hand, and it better be an 'A'.  That Bannon kid supposed to be smart, you have until Friday to get like him.  Phone.  WiFi.  Ducati.  Gone.  You hear me?  I'm tired of being embarrassed by my own god damned kid everywhere I go."

Their parents walked on ahead as the twins trailed several paces behind them, both on their phones.  Marissa looked over to brother and mouthed silently the word 'sorry', then tilted her head as she noticed he had a credit card out and was tapping away on his phone.  "What're you doing?" She asked aloud.

Her brother shrugged and kept tapping away.  "Fuck that guy.  He's a pervert.  The way he talks to me and they way he locks his eyes on the ladies in the classroom, the dude has issues.  So, I'm helping him out."  Devin held up a worn leather wallet for Marissa to notice then tucked it swiftly back into the pocket of his Under Armor hoodie.

"Holy shit!  Where did you get his wallet?"  She whispered and looked about in a paranoid fashion.  "What do you mean 'helping him out'?"

"A little teleportation magic, aaaaand platinum access on every porn site I can think of."  Devin smirked and kept tapping away.  "He'll thank me later."

"Fucking diabolical." she grinned evily.

Mr. McRiley's wallet found its way randomly in one of the coolers of a random family who were just there to enjoy their day.  Credit card and all were placed back where they were found and he made sure to purple bamf it to the very bottom where it could soak up all the cold water all day and hopefully ruin anything that was in it.  The spiteful little sociopath had all of zero fucks to give when it came to caring about how well the rest McRiley's day was going to go.

Grinning evilly at the other, proud of their little caper, the twins merrily went on their way.  They hung in the back as the Jauntsen's managed to locate Carolyn Cassidy and they were waiting for all hell to break lose as Crolyn scowled at the twins in the back while also trying to make polite conversation with two prominent members of the town's PTA.  Great.  The Carolyn Cassidy and Jason's dad... and the Jauntsen parents all there... all available to talk each other in a neat little circle of friendship... this would not end well, considering Gar knew their dirty little secret and the Cassidy's hated them... hell, their own parents hated them.

"Hey, Deej," Laurie's voice cooed pleasantly through the static of their parents' nonsensical B.S. and polite banter when all they really wanted to was tell the others how much they didn't like them, or their weird-ass kids.

"Red," Devin smiled a bit, letting just a hint of his charm show.  "Hey, how's things?"

"Things are... thing...ing, slowly along."  She was year younger than the rest of them but there were still times in the girl's mind where her brother and the others were like giants to her.  The difference a single grade made to the narrow scope of a teenager was amazing at times.  "Marissa." She added in as polite of a greeting as she could.  Marissa scared her, not because Laurie was easily bullied, in fact quite the opposite, but there were still those people out there who just knew how destroy a person with a few words and no matter how tough their exterior was, they carried those wounds inside for days or weeks while they healed.  Marissa was one such gifted individual, able to cut people down and revisit them in a few weeks to restore her dominance... like mowing the grass of people's egos and self-esteem.  She was woven from bitterness and dyed with spite into the blackest sackcloth from which only malevolence and darkness could sieve its way through.  Plus she was always really well dressed and super pretty, so she supposed she hated for that too.  Probably more that than the darkness and evil thing... but was mean!

"Wow," Marissa snarked at Laurie's desperate attempt to make conversation with her handsome and obviously irresistible brother.  "Smooth, Cassidy.  So, where's your brother?  Haven't seen him around yet?  He lose another bet and waiting for his dress to dry?"  Laurie rolled her eyes and sighed only to be met with Marissa resting a hand on her shoulder and smiling with pride.  "Oh, honey, don't misunderstand, I'm not putting you down.  I'm praising you.  Making your brother wear a cheerleader outfit to a school game in small town dominated by small minds and religious doctrine?  "Ugh," she rolled her eyes and grunted in pure praise.  "You single handedly destroyed your brother's social life in a single evening.  You have talent, girl.  Why aren't you in my camp?"

"I, didn't-" Laurie stammered suddenly realizing the perspective Marissa had put on it was accurate, if not tactless.

"Oh, I remember why you're not in my camp," she grinned viciously.  "Half the school wants to wreck your brother for being some freak, their words, not mine, who decided to embarrass our school at a home game by being a self proclaimed 'guy' who wore one of our cheerleading outfits, but wasn't a cheerleader.  The other half wants to wreck you for thinking you could just dress your brother up in a school uniform he didn't earn and embarrass the team and the school you play for all for... what?  A silly bet?  Didn't consider that, did you?  It's a uniform.  You don't wear it if you're not in the team.  Those are earned, not just tossed on because you want a giggle.  You're both pretty screwed, honestly.  Coach is pissed and didn't find it funny at all.  So, yeah, good plan, pleb.  Can't wait for the sequel."

A bit slack-jawed at the revelation she looked to Devin who could just shrug solemnly.  "I hate to say it, but she's right, in her own eloquent, evil way.  You may have been better off walking into a church and using a lit bible to set fire to the American flag.  The Coyote's are laughing stock right now and the team wasn't happy that it was one of their own who set it all up... I mean, I hate it, I do, because people around here are ignorant and closed minded, but... we have no control over how other people react to things."

"But, I'll bet we totally bullied you into doing that when you go crying to mommy though, right?"  Marissa folded her arms and scowled at the little redhead.

Edited by Dave ST
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Laurie opened her mouth to protest - then shut it again with an almost audible snap, her complexion going a little pale.  With her new drive towards logical thought, she couldn't really argue with the Twins assessment - and that was really fucking irritating.  She absently noted in a corner of her mind that wasn't a seething morass of resentment, anger and guilt that the Twins and Jason both had this way of presenting cold hard truth in a way that seared itself into the ears and brain, though Jason's coldly amused scorn had been a lot easier to handle than Marissa's venom.

"Shit."  she muttered, chewing on her lower lip, lost in thought for a moment.  She hadn't considered the wider picture.  She'd just been doing the kid sister thing and teasing her brother, and he'd just done the older brother thing and indulged her.  After all, it was just high school shit, right?

Only Sean was ostracized already for being different.  Hell, if he'd not had a friend who literally didn't care on an emotional level about social norms or what others thought, her brother might have had an even worse school life than he'd had already.  Sure, he had powers now and was part of some super-secret-super-team of teens (something Laurie was not at all copacetic about being left out of), but he still had to go through at least two more years of this shit.  And as for her... if the coach really was as pissed as Marissa insinuated, Laurie's career as a star kicker might be over before it began.  She might even have damaged the cause of other girls who wanted to play football.  All because she'd been thoughtless.

"No."  she said quietly, looking up at the Twins with a firm set to her jaw.  "No crying to mom.  It's on me."  She took a breath, then:  "So I'm asking - without sarcasm - for help.  Advice, even.  You guys know how to play the game - you don't even have to spell it out for me, just give me a pointer or two to fix this mess."  She hesitated.  She was tempted to try the big blue eyes, but realised that being a kid had been what had gotten her and Sean into the problem.  So instead of wheedling, she simply asked.  "Please?" 

= = = = = = = = 

[You suck! Just wait until I catch you, LOL.]  Autumn's text got a twitch of a smile from him, and he was taking a moment over considering what would be a suitable response when the group text chime sounded.

//Groovy.  Marissa said she doesn't buy it.  Send n00dz.//

Sean was aware of a soft chuff of mirth from the lean figure still slouching in the passenger seat as they entered town limits, and Jase's fingers flying over the touch-keys in response to the group text.

//Can't.  Sean won't let me take my pants off.  Very car-proud.//

"Want us to head straight there?"  Sean asked, checking the road signs and glancing at his friend.

"Drop me at home?"  Jase replied, peering out of the window a moment as he thought.  "I'll drop off my haul then head down in the Charger."  he smiled faintly.  "Nothing against your baby here, but I want my own car handy.  Just in case."

"You got it."  Sean nodded, turning off the main road and headed for the Bannon Farm.

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Like Marissa, Laurie had always been a firecracker of attitude, almost to the point where Marissa wanted to choke her out.  However, the little redhead had guts and a part of Shelly's Queen Bee could appreciate her fire.  With a dazzling eye roll and uncaring sigh the lovely teenager looked at her peer.  "Fine, we'll help you."

"You will?"  Laurie seemed more shocked than appreciative.

"We will?"  Devin seemed more skeptical than on board.

"Laurie, we have made a million mistakes," she started.  Her mind was on her conversation with Coyote last evening and she could help but shake (and refuse to admit) that the old man was right.  She needed to up her game and stop pushing allies away when the fate of worlds seemed on the line.  "But back home in Malibu, when a guy shows up to school in makeup or a dress, no one bats an eye.  Sweetie, here in the 'Tana, you guys are about forty years behind the acceptance curve.  Your brother is adamant that he is a guy and identifies as male, so what was he doing in a women's cheerleader outfit?"

"We told you, it was just a silly bet we made at the house," Laurie shrugged like it was no big deal, and, in the confines of the Cassidy home, it wasn't.

"And now everyone is assuming Sean is just fronting about his sexual identity.  His showing up was more a 'coming out' statement than the loss of a bet it was meant to be.  You two know the truth, we know the truth, but you can't speak for a town of three thousand bigots."  Marissa's face went a little sour as she brought up a point that just made their work all the more difficult.  "Him offering to expose himself to other guys also didn't do much for his popularity."

Laurie winced.  "Yeah, I uh... I heard about that, but that guy was a complete ass and-"

Marissa raised her hands to calm down and shush the sophomore before she got too loud.  "Again, Laurie, you miss the point.  The moment your brother opens his mouth, everything is his fault.  It's literally him against the school and this town, and he thinks a few choice quips, insults, and playing the victim are going to turn out in his favor.  It won't.  He needs to start manipulating the system and making it work for him.  Bigots all love to be bigots until they find out that others are judging them or, some law or policy somewhere has been violated and now they're stuck having to explain themselves to people more open minded than themselves.  Like, say, the school, Shelly High versus the State of Montana."

Laurie shook her head and shrugged, trying to piece it all together.  "W-what do you mean?"

"He needs to shut up, and let himself get bullied and trod upon with humility so..."  Marissa clarified.

Devin stepped up, a grin a mile wide on his face.  "...when Marissa, myself, Autumn, Jason, Cass, Lilly and Courtney all start posting on various social media accounts and taking a stand as people witnessing Sean being treated that way, it's no longer Sean's fight.  It quickly becomes Shelly Montana versus the Board of Education for the state of Montana and all those people caught in digital 4K abusing a poor, technically special needs student, due to his genetic... differences, now a whole town has to explain why they think it's funny to pick on a handicapped kid."

"You guys are geniuses."  Laurie scoffed in a half laugh.  "Evil fucking geniuses."

"True." Marissa smiled.  "But Sean needs to stop taking things into his own hands and let his fr-" she paused and cleared her throat.  "Us, handle things for him."

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It only took maybe fifteen minutes before Cassandra started feeling a little awkward sitting at a picnic table with her mom. There were too many secrets between them. Cass watched her across the flaking, sundried planks of the tabletop, reading whatever book she was into at the moment on Kindle on her phone, and wanted to talk to her. But what about? Hey mom, me and my friends have super powers now? We're going to go into a shadow hellscape and fight demons with our powers? No? Okay, how about dad's alive and at the prison but he's been brainwashed and might not remember us anymore? How about that?

The worst thing was that the reason she couldn't talk about any of that wasn't exactly that she didn't think her mom could take it. It was that Cassie knew her mom would not for an instant believe any of it. And would, in fact, assume her daughter was just being cruel. Mocking her. 

"Hey mom," Cass said, "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure hon," was Teresa's absentminded response as she swiped a finger to turn a page.

Cassandra hesitated and scratched at the picnic table's surface, watching more flakes of ancient paint peel away. Had it been green once? Light blue?

"Do you trust me?"

Her mother glanced up from her phone and pushed her sunglasses down her nose some so she could meet Cassandra's gaze eye to eye. "Do I trust you?"

"Yeah. When I...say things, or tell you things."

Teresa shrugged. "I trust your intentions...mostly." On seeing Cassandra's face turn a combination of disappointed and outraged, she quickly added, "I know you mean well, but you...tend to jump to conclusions is all. You see a few pieces of 'evidence' which may or may not really be linked to anything, make up an elaborate story about how it all happened...and boom. Next thing I know you're breaking into prisons and almost getting arrested."

Cass slumped on her bench. "Mom," she said in protest, but didn't get any farther.

"Hon, I get it. I used to love 'sherlocking it' too when I was younger. When you're smart and educated and perceptive, there's this temptation to feel like you can just unravel mysteries with a couple of shrewd observations and a bit of mental addition." Teresa shook her head. "But that's not how it works. Sherlock Holmes was a shit character in a very entertaining, but very poorly written detective series. The only reason he was ever right about anything was that the literal author of his reality wanted him to be. His actual process? Garbage."

Now Cassandra sat up straighter. "You think I don't know that? That's not what I'm trying to do! Why do you think I got into the prison in the first place? To find out if my hunch was right!"

"Uh huh." Teresa pushed her tinted glasses back up her nose. "And how did that work out for you? Not only did it get us in a lot of trouble, but all it did was prove you wrong."

"Okay, so if I told you dad was alive, you wouldn't even consider listening?" she challenged.

Her mother paused, then set her phone down and took off her glasses. The eyes underneath were...not angry. Tired, more like. "Baby, he's gone. We saw a doctor about this."

"What if I had proof?" Cassie went on recklessly. Her fist dove into her pocket, grabbed her phone. The one that had a copy of the photograph of her dad on it.

Teresa rubbed her eyebrows and slid her hand down her face to prop up her chin on her elbow. "Can we not, Cass? It's a nice day. A...a holiday, and...can we just not? For one damn day?"

For a few seconds Cassandra wobbled on the brink...then she let go of her phone, even though her fingers felt stiff doing it. In her mind's eye she could see the results of her mother really believing her husband was alive and well, but completely beyond her grasp. Just more pain. She closed her eyes tightly.

I just wanted to tell you the truth.

"Yeah. Sorry. We...we can not. I'm going to...I'll just be over there. For a bit." Cass stood up and grabbed the frisbee she'd brought along, then whistled for Bacon. The big old dog wuffed and came after her as she hurriedly walked a little ways off from the table.

Frisbee with Bacon was basically throwing the disc, having him catch it, then trying to wrest it away from him...and doing it again. It was fun, but it wasn't a proper game. That was why Cassandra was so pleased to see Bethany come over towards her, waving a hand over her head. Beth burned like a vampire, so she had a baseball cap on, and even then a smudge of sunscreen on her nose, cheeks and chin. Not a lot of words were exchanged, but greetings and a hug, and a quick reallocation of game resources ensued. NOW the game was more like a sort of 'keep away' from Bacon, with the girls trying to throw the frisbee high enough and fast enough (but not TOO high or TOO fast or it wasn't a game) to elude Bacon's mighty jaws.

Bacon usually won these games, but they were fun to play.

Teresa watched the girls and the dog play for a bit, feeling an odd little tug to maybe join them. Maybe later, she reasoned, after they'd slowed down a little. For now, this book wouldn't read itself... But when she looked back at the digital pages on her phone's screen, brightened up to full to remain visible in the sunlight, Teresa couldn't quite get herself to concentrate. This was the second time Cassie had talked about him. And something about her voice when she'd asked if she trusted her.

They'd need to talk about this tonight. They'd both be feeling better after a nice day in the warm sun, and some picnic food. Then they could talk.

Edited by Cassandra Allen
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Her phone vibrated in the pocket of her blue jeans, and she fished it out, hoping for...

//My new number.  For the Fellowship only, please.  Jason//

Kat's tongue clicked in her mouth and she shrugged, registering Jason's number in her contacts. She tucked the phone away on the backseat, her eyes wandering off to stare at the scenery behind the car's window, as they reached their destination. The car stopped in the parking lot, and Kat glared at her phone for a moment, and opened her hand, calling the phone to her, opening the car door once it slapped against her palm. At least that thing's still working.

It was a nice day to celebrate the end of summer but somehow, Kat didn't feel like celebrating at all. Or rather, she felt like celebrating but for a different reason. Celebrating felt like a send-off to Hell. In truth, she was scared out of her wits, the untamed zoo of her thoughts more agitated than usual. If Kat had to describe how she felt today, she'd probably say her eye caught a lot of things, but she was unable to focus on a single one of them, her primal instincts, stirred by her recent nightmare, looking for threats everywhere. I wanna get back in the car.

A strong hand squeezed her shoulder, and the French girl turned to her Dad, all thoughts interrupted by the low rumble of her stomach. A wide grin drew on Josh's features. "Let's find a place to fix that." He said, looking around for a nice spot to sit at under the trees.

"You coming, honey?" Tess added after a moment, following her boyfriend, in her pastel summer dress, amidst the crowd of happy people oblivious of the darker events happening in their city.

Kat rubbed a pensive hand on her stomach. Can't be helped. She took a deep breath and caught up to them, trying, for once today, to feel relaxed and actually appreciate the festive mood of the day.

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Champions Field, after 1 pm.

Gar smiled awkwardly as he made his escape from the impromptu couples chatter that was forming around the Cassidy picnic spot, feeling a sense of relief that he had a grill to go and check on - an excellent pretext that prevented his exit from being too obvious and awkward.  He sighed as he opened the cover on the grill, checked on the ribs and kielbasa, then settled back into his lawn chair, fighting back the brief desire for something stronger than a Coors Lite as he watched the families, so normal-seeming, tiny islands of sanity and human contact despite the dramas and quarrels and disagreements.  He missed Kaitlin most at times like these - which was one reason he hadn't come to this type of event before.  Or anything communal, really.  And his only family now was... Jase.  Who didn't need him so much as he just liked having him around - Sort of like a half-wild cat that knows how to change it's own litter and use the can opener, he mused wryly.  I am tolerated, accepted, loved even, but not needed.

My own son doesn't need me.  Never really did.  A thought that had, in the past, would have triggered Gar into reaching for a bottle of hard liquor now simply evoked quiet sadness.

"What's on your mind?"  Hank settled into his nearby chair, pulling a fresh bottle of beer from the cooler and regarding Gar calmly.

"Nothing much."  Jason's dad shrugged, forcing a smile.  "You struck out with the nurse, huh?"

"Turns out she has a boyfriend in Oregon."  Hank smirked slightly.  "Who'd a-thought?"

"At least she wasn't washing her hair."  Gar chuckled, clinking his bottle against his friend's.  "Plenty of fish in the sea, man."

"Truth."  Hank laughed, glancing at the pie Mrs Cassidy had left on the table.  "How'd you get on with the real people?"

"Pretty good."  Gar shrugged.  "It's awkward, though.  Only thing we have in common is our kids, and I'm pretty sure I'm one of the only parents in Shelly that knows about... you know.  I kept looking at Carl, or Jack, or Carolyn, and wondering if they're also pretending that our kids aren't super-teens."

"God, can you imagine?"  Hank snickered, then sobered as he indicated someone with his bottle.  "Well, we know there's at least one parent in Shelly that knows what's up."  Following the pointing bottle neck, Gar saw the tiny new girl... what was her name?  Kat.  That was it.  With her father, the Army captain who was part of the Project security detail, and with his girlfriend.  He gave them a short wave of greeting as they passed, a gesture answered by a nod and smile from Josh and a small wave from Kat.  Just normal family people doing normal family things, that's us, he thought quietly.  Nothing odd going on here.  He wondered if any other other parents knew this might be the last day they shared with their kids.  Jase had been frank with him  - but that was Jase.  Practical to the point of coldness, he'd advised his father to sell up and move out of Toole County if the teens didn't come back, for his own safety.  Again, that jarring inversion that comes upon most parents when they realise their child is an adult that does not need protection and is, perhaps, even more capable than they are themselves.  It just happened sooner with his son than with most children.

= = = = = = = = 

It was almost a physical shock when she saw him, and Kaitlin immediately ducked into the shade of a stall, grateful of the sunglasses and the sun hat she was wearing.  Gar was here?  Mentally she facepalmed - of course Gar was here.  It was a small community, and a big day.  Jason would likely be here too, somewhere.  Taking a breath to steady herself, she half-turned and peered over at where her mate sat, talking with a rough-looking man with broad shoulders that filled out the Army surplus jacket.  She noted those details absently, focusing on Gareth.

He hadn't changed much.  A little gray in his hair, cut short now rather than the longer cut she'd known him to have.  That same sober, serious expression that could illuminate in a smile or laugh.  He'd gotten thinner in the face, and lost the short beard.  Kaitlin stared for a long moment, painfully aware of her heartbeat in her ears.   She was aware she'd taken half a step towards him and turned away, closing her eyes for a long moment.  Eight years, and still the draw was there;  he was still her nghalon'd'ewiswyd.  She wanted to go to him.  She wanted to leave this field.  She wanted to throw herself into his arms and never stop kissing him.  She wanted to run from Shelly where she wouldn't be reminded of her failures...

"Kaitlin?"  Someone had been trying to speak with her, and the blonde woman shook herself out of her reverie and turned back to see Clair Sevy, another new addition to the Shelly school faculty, smiling as she approached for a hug.  She was a big hugger, it seemed.  Kaitlin obliged, smiling back as the two new teachers greeted each other.  "So, you decided to come check this out too, hmm?"  Claire gestured at the field around them, bustling with families as she smiled.

"Yes."  Kaitlin nodded, letting Catheen fall away as she re-adopted her human mask.  Kaitlin Forster was not moon-eyed over some single father.  "Though unlike some I'm not treating it as an excuse for an unofficial parent-teacher conference."  she indicated Mr McRiley, who was taking advantage of his bully pulpit to heckle yet another underperforming high schooler.  The man was unpleasant in that bland, petty human fashion that tarnished the daylight in faint, nondescript ways.  He also made Catheen's knife hand itch when he looked at her - fortunately, Kaitlin didn't have a knife hand.  Nope.  Not at all.  Or a slender Teulu blade strapped to her thigh under the dress.

"Oh, no.  He isn't?"  Claire looked disapprovingly at the algebra teacher.  "For crying out loud - this is the last holiday of the summer.  Leave the poor kids alone."  she muttered, then smiled wanly at Kaitlin.  "I shouldn't say it, but he's a horrible unctuous little man."

"There's worse people in the world, I suppose."  Kaitlin smirked a little.  "Well, in some worlds."

"We should go and undo some damage."  Claire suggested with a smile.  "Talk about how delightful the kids are."

"Some of them, maybe."  Kaitlin's laugh was unaffected.  She found herself warming to the Art teacher.

= = = = = = = = =

The Charger rolled to a stop, the engine's grumble and the strains of Bach dying away as Jase killed the ignition before slipping out from behind the wheel.  Dressed in faded jeans rather than combat pants, and a dark grey t-shirt that, instead of being plain, bore the logo 'Patience: What You Have When There Are Too Many Witnesses', the only concession to regular Jason attire was his boots.  He slipped his phone into his pocket and strode in the direction of the bustling Champion's Field, green eyes shining like chips of emerald under the shaggy fall of his hair.  He could smell a few dozen grills adding their savory smoke to the late summer air as he joined the crowd, now and then turning to move aside for knots of children or families as he wove through in search of familiar faces, making for the picnic area  with his typical straight-backed grace.

The Keanes were easy to pick out, as were the Cassidys, though he saw neither Sean nor Autumn with their respective families.  He spotted Cassandra and Bethany playing with Cass's dog.  Kat was there with her father.  Devin and Marissa were standing near their folks, talking to Laurie, who wore an expression of sober consideration as she nodded, said something then moved off with her pet goat.  Scanning the family picnic area, he didn't see the Alisters or the Pryors, and mulled that over as he located where his dad and Hank were and began heading over to them.

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The two teens walked side by side with hands thrust into their pockets: he in trail-tested khakis, she in the cuffed cut-off shorts that were once her favorite jeans. They had done this a half-dozen times over the years, just the two of them, and it felt easy, somehow. Normal. Almost as if the last couple of weeks hadn’t happened, and they’d never argued, and she’d never lashed out and he hadn’t pulled away. Only ‘almost,’ though. There was a measure of synchronization in their steps despite the disparity in height, an unconscious kinesthetic familiarity developed over the course of a lifetime and woven inextricably into the malleable fibres of muscle and sinew and bone- something she could actually feel now if she concentrated, the countless miniscule adjustments being made as they moved through the growing crowds near the picnic area. Once upon a time, that had seemed a special kind of magic, the unconscious physiological manifestation of some deeper bond between them. Maybe it had been, back then. If so, what was it now? 


Habit? Muscle memory? 


“Guessing you went up to the Rez this weekend.” Part question and part statement, as icebreakers went it was more hammer than pick, blunt force rather than precision or finesse, but it served the purpose. Autumn blinked up at her childhood friend as she nodded, one hand rising to shield her eyes against the sun; gone were the halcyon days when she could look down at him, before he’d stretched like a rubber band pulled taut and then filled out again. Did all guys do that? She was pretty sure Cade Allister had never physically been a child, or at least she couldn’t remember him as one, Sean Cassidy had some… developmental issues, and Jason Bannon... well. He’d physically been a child, sure, but mentally? Yeah, I kind of doubt it, she reflected soberly, blinking away the memory. For most guys, Jay included, there didn’t seem to be much in-between- one day they were ten, and short, and skinny, and then practically overnight they were six feet tall… and also skinny. Until they weren’t anymore. 


“Mmm. Your dad?” Her tone wasn’t quite accusatory; despite everything that had happened they were practically family, after all. It made sense that if the warden had told Autumn about Jacob when he’d visited on Wednesday, he might also have talked to Jacob about her. The broad-shouldered young man shook his head and she frowned, a question in the clear, bright eyes that regarded him: If not Nathan, then…? 


“Mary,” he returned, avoiding her gaze. Ahh, right. Autumn nodded again, this time in recognition rather than confirmation. Joe’s granddaughter. The pretty one that Devin had shamelessly flirted with- not that she’d ever seen any evidence the elder Jauntsen twin could actually be ashamed of anything. 


“Didn’t realize you were close,” she murmured tonelessly, turning her attention from his expression to the carousel, the awnings, the distant trees. Why did it bother her? Was it just that she missed hanging out with him? Was it the feeling that she’d been replaced? Or maybe that now there was so much to say, it was almost impossible to say it? Frowning, the red-haired girl continued to poke at the thought as they moved. He shrugged in mute reply, dark eyes passively skimming over the faces of the other teens also milling around as they meandered through the few stalls that had been set up, heading aimlessly in the direction of the temporary stage where local musicians had already begun to play. It occurred to her that there were probably a lot of things she didn’t realize, or just didn’t know about him anymore. Recent events had proven that things could change drastically in just a few days, and they’d been apart for… too long, possibly. “She seems-” The restless young woman’s hand twitched upward in a wave at Marissa as they passed the twins and their parents, the greeting itself yet another indication that her life had veered dramatically from its previous course, like a river shaken from its bed by tectonic shifts far below the surface of the earth. “Nice, I guess,” she allowed, finally.


Jacob was quiet for a few more steps, and his head dipped briefly in a nod, breeze ruffling his dark hair. “She is, yeah.” Autumn had no ready reply for that, although privately the redhead wondered what the older Blackfoot girl was to him, or he to her. Not that it was any of her business, of course, even if she was curious. It would be weird if he hadn’t dated anyone by now, or hooked up, or… whatever. For fuck’s sake, does it even matter? Seriously. Then, cautiously, he ventured another question of his own. “What’d they say?”


It was her turn to shrug, to deny him the satisfaction of a straightforward answer, but even as she did so Autumn recognized how petty a gesture it was. Nathan had taken Jacob up to the reservation already, and so he knew at least something about what was going on, and this was way more important than their personal issues. Hurt feelings and resentment paled in comparison to the scope of what they were up against. Exhaling, she drifted a little closer, lowering her voice and glancing up at her unusually laconic companion to make sure she had his attention. 


“I got the history lesson,” she began slowly, tugging at an errant strand of bright copper that lay coiled over her shoulder and wishing she’d kept her hoodie on, despite the warmth of the day; at least she’d have had something to fidget with while she talked. “So-” Autumn hesitated, the toe of one sneaker scuffing gracelessly at the dry grass being trampled underfoot. She knew that Jay was a lot of things, and ‘stupid’ wasn’t one of them. It’s just that pragmatism was practically embedded in both families’ DNA. He’d been up to the Rez and heard the stories from the Elders way before she had, but that didn’t necessarily mean he took any of it seriously, did it? After all, she’d seen the effects of the Dark firsthand, and a part of her still wanted to rationalize it all away. 


“Do you believe any of it? The stories about the, ah…” Her gaze was fixed on his features as she leaned closer, one hand gesturing in a loose circle as if to encompass a range of ideas. “You know. The Enemy, or the Dawning Light, or the whole bit about gods walking the earth, and the cycle thing.” 


Jacob’s eyes narrowed slightly as he peered into hers, studying the reflection of cloudless skies in their depths for a long moment before swearing under his breath and turning away. He dragged a hand back through his hair and, with an exasperated sigh, nodded. Despite the awkwardness, the tension that lingered like a chasm between them, there was something like relief in his voice, his shoulders gradually relaxing when he spoke again. “Yeah. Not all of it, maybe, but my dad showed me the journals our family’s been keeping. Generations of us might have been crazy, sure, but that’s a very specific flavor of crazy to be. And since you know now, I guess that’ll make it easier for us all to keep an eye on things. That’s all we really have to-”


“But it isn’t,” Autumn interrupted quietly, freckled fingers twining together in a knot of wordless anxiety. “Not for me, anyway.” He frowned, stopped there in the middle of the throng, and stared uncomprehending down at her face, at the earnest and uncertain expression gazing back up at him. “Your dad knows. I thought he might’ve told you, but…” She shrugged again, an almost imperceptible movement that seemed more apology than dismissal. “Look, Jay, I know things aren’t-” Swallowing past the sudden tightness in her throat, the vibrant redhead exhaled slowly, counting as she did so. Today might be her last chance to say anything, and this hurt, this twisting, tangled snarl of regret and anger and loneliness, would not stop her from saying it. “They’re not great, and they haven’t been, and I’m sorry. I really, really am,” she whispered tautly, blinking rapidly as his features rippled as though underwater. “I just wanted you to know, in case something hap-”


The remainder of the sentence was cut off as the tall young man who’d been her friend once pulled her off the path and into a hug. "It's fine, A-Rae. Okay? It's fine," he murmured, watching their families laughing and drinking in the shade back the way they'd come.

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"A-Rae?" Came the soothing voice of Marissa and all the contempt in her tone was barely concealed with her wicked grin and narrowed, razor-like glare that proclaimed her desire to hurt Jacob in some way.  The twins and Jacob never got along, as one of the few individuals in the school that willfully fought back against their bullying and harassment he'd quickly earned himself a label of ire from the Disastrous Duo.  "Now why didn't I think of that?  What's the 'Rae' for?"

She brushed away her thought, knowing she could ask Autumn later, and they both doubted she actually cared.  "FYI, your boy toy just arrived.  Devin is stuck with Laurie fawning all over him, so that was no fun.  For what he's spending on her he better get his money's worth."  She huffed with irritation at her brother.  "Anyway, c'mon, let's mingle."

"Run along," she waved him away like he was dismissed.  "Girl talk time."

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"Do you think she'll actually help?"  Laurie asked Devin.  The two had stepped away from their parents and were slowly walking along in the shade with Rascal prancing along not far from them.

"Pretty sure," Devin shrugged.  "I know she's a bit abrasive, but she cares in her own way.  Marissa is trying, she just will never admit it because she feels it's a sign of weakness, or admitting that we were wrong in some way."

"Uh, you tortured a school for three years," Laurie laughed.  "You kinda were."

"I know that.  She refuses to accept it.  It's just," he shrugged again, sighing.  "Her way.  I don't know.  I know it's hard to believe, but, she really does like you guys.  If she says she's going to help, trust me, tomorrow?  She'll have it halfway sorted.  Trust me."

Her lips curled in an appreciative smirk as she tugged a strand of coppery hair back behind her ear.  "Well, tell her thanks for me?  And thanks again, you know, for this weekend."

"No sweat.  Glad you had a good time and I'm surprised your mother let you slip away with me, she still seems to hate me and now thinks we're canoodling on the side."  Devin laughed a bit recalling the trip they'd taken and the numerous laws they'd broken recently.  He'd kept her out until four in the morning the other evening and expected her to be grounded for life.  Texts had later revealed that while she was in a heap of trouble, it wasn't as bad as she thought, considering she owned up to her wrong doing, promised she'd be more careful, and absolutely swore nothing had happened between her and Devin, intimately.

"Noooo," she laughed.  "No canoodling.  They were pretty pissed, yes, but I did explain none of it was your fault."  He looked at her a bit confused so she explained.  "Well, I was honest.  I mean, I agreed to the trip, right?  So, it's not like you put a gun to my head.  I simply told them, when they tried to blame you for everything, that it was a two party deal, you know?  I could have and should have left and come home on time, but I didn't and that has nothing to do with you, so they should be blaming you for my choices."  Her own shrug punctuated her statement.

"Wow, you took a bullet for me," he smiled at her.  "I appreciate that."

"Yeah, well," she grinned, blowing it off like it was no big deal.  "You're not a bad guy, most of the time."  She laughed as he his face took on an expression of offense.  "You, Deej, at some point you're going to have to talk with my parents.  If you're really serious about repairing all the damage you've caused over the years, then, it's not just me and my brother you've hurt.  MY mom and dad had to deal with it too.  They were our support group though all of yours and Marissa's storms."

"I know, I know," he huffed.  "It's just... going to take time.  My list apologies is growing daily."

"Well, I'll keep putting in a good word for you, how's that?"  She smiled and leaned into him, nudging him with her shoulder.  "It's the least I can do, I suppose."

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"Hey kid."  Hank nodded his habitual greeting as Jase emerged from the crowd and, nodding briefly in return to both his father and friend, retrieved a bottle of iced tea from the cooler.  His dad stepped over and hugged him: a perfunctory embrace, quickly done with and with the roughness of unvoiced emotion.  At his son's quizzical head tilt, Gar smiled and shrugged.

"It occurred to me I probably didn't hug you a lot in the past."  he said by way of explanation, studying the lean young man as if committing him to memory before turning back to the grill, fiddling with the sizzling food as a pretext to break the awkwardness.  "Good shopping trip?"

"Yeah."  Jason smiled a little, looking around briefly as he spoke.  "Got some language tapes and books - German this time."  He turned his gaze back to his father, studying him as he added  "And a smartphone."  Hank frowned, glancing at Gar also.  Neither man owned a cellular phone - neither trusted them or approved of them as devices, a common point of view amongst the militia.  Gar, however, nodded slowly as he busied himself flipping the ribs.

"You know the risks.  I've told you often enough."  he said quietly, turning to look at Jase.  "I have to allow that you know what you're doing."

"I'll be working with Sean to secure it."  Jason nodded.  "Don't worry.  By the time he's done with it, it'll be safer than walking over and whispering in someone's ear.  I weighed the cons against the convenience for me."  Gar regarded him a moment longer, then nodded.

"So long as you thought it through."  he shrugged again, then gestured at the table.  "Carolyn brought a pie over.  We'll take them some ribs over when they're done."

"Seems fair."  Jase nodded, leaning one hip against the table as he relaxed.

= = = = = = = = 

5 hours ago, Marissa Jauntsen said:

"FYI, your boy toy just arrived.  Devin is stuck with Laurie fawning all over him, so that was no fun.  For what he's spending on her he better get his money's worth."  She huffed with irritation at her brother.  "Anyway, c'mon, let's mingle."

"Run along," she waved him away like he was dismissed.  "Girl talk time."

Autumn stiffened as Marissa's venomously dulcet tones broke into her reconciliation with her oldest friend.  She was well aware that the Twins had a thing about Jacob, who was both stoic and popular enough to shrug off most of Mari's malice and physically capable enough to stand up to Devin's more physical bullying attempts - bullying wasn't really much fun when you took at least as many lumps as the other guy, after all.  After several stalemates, they had mostly confined themselves to petty spite and opportunism for the last year or so.  Jacob was - or had been - a threat to their thrones: unlike Jason, who would simply ignore goading and would react to being shoved by moving away and waiting to see if the other person's arm got tired, Jacob would push back, stand up for himself and others, and as an athlete, outdoorsman, all-round nice dude and decent student, was probably a shoe-in for Prom King.

Now?  With the Dark, and aliens, and weird powers, and monsters?  Autumn figured Devin probably didn't much care anymore that Jacob 'defied' the Twins order.  Hell, 'new' Devin would likely try to make amends, or at least be cool from here on out.  Marissa, however, was just petty enough that she always had time to stick the knife in.  Why did I agree to be friends with her, again?  Autumn thought in a mixture of exasperation (at Marissa being, well,, Marissa) and embarrassment (at having been caught crying in public) as she wiped her eyes before straightening up and fixing the Queen Bee with a direct stare.

"Marissa."  she said in a quiet voice, her grey-blue eyes clouded with her frustration.  "I wouldn't walk up on you having a conversation with someone and dismiss them.  There's more important shit going on than 'girl talk'."  She smiled a little.  "Can we all just get along, for today at least?"  she asked, looking from Marissa to Jacob, who nodded, smiling reassuringly at her.  Looking back at Mari, she saw the glossy-haired teen roll her eyes expressively, fold her arms, then sigh.

"I suppose so."  she smirked, unfolding her arms and reaching out to hook her hand through Autumn's elbow.  "Still, let's mingle, hmm?  Jacob can come along too, of course."  she added as though dispensing a favor, her dark eyes taunting as she regarded the tall young man.  The fact that he reminded her of a more-assertive Cade did him no favors in her eyes.  

"Sure."  Jacob fell in on the other side of his childhood friend, smiling at Autumn wryly.  "Couldn't pass up the chance to meet your boy-toy.  Whoever they are."

"Mother. Fucker."  Autumn grumbled.  She'd hoped Jacob had missed that part in the overall Marissa-ness, but obviously he hadn't.  UGH! Why me?  It wasn't like she and Jay were a thing anymore.  They hadn't been for a little while.  Yet, there it was - the awkwardness of her ex meeting her current boyfriend... and given how Jay had expressed concerns about who Autumn was hanging around with earlier this week, this meeting was going to redefine awkward.

"Oh, you don't know?"  Marissa sounded surprised, with just a hint of insincerity to let those listening know that she was loving this.  "Not surprised, really.  A-Rae likes to keep things close to her chest.  Very close."  she added suggestively, causing Jacob to scowl and Autumn to, for a change, wish that a meteor would strike someone other than herself-

And then she saw him, leaning against a picnic table, a drink in his hand.  Dressed differently from normal, but that only registered dimly in the rising warm ocean roar of her mind as she took in his iridescent gaze and that lean symmetry of his form she felt was etched on her libido.  Marissa was saying something, but Autumn only answered 'mmhmm', stepping a little faster, her arm slipping from her friend's clasp as she sped up.  She saw him turn to watch her, noting her approach as he straightened, setting his drink down absently and moved to meet her.

"...and there he goes."  Hank snickered as both grown men watched the wiry shape move at a stride to meet the girl with the hair that threw back gleams of copper and gold in the sunshine.  The two teens were walking fast, as if they were going to run at any moment and collide, but then stopped suddenly, mere inches from one another as they looked into each other's faces.

"Hey."  Jason said quietly, feeling 'it' again, that rising electricity as though a storm was in the air, sparks of white fire in his blood at her mere proximity.  That primal, irrational part of him reached out in it's chains, wanting to touch, to kiss, to taste.  He paused as long as he could, devouring her with his eyes.

"Hey."  Autumn returned, a little breathlessly, as though she had been running, lost in the glittering sheen of his gaze.  Her face felt hot.   Her body felt hot, as though she were on the verge of delicious immolation in emerald fires.  Neither said anything else for a long moment.  They just stared into each other, and those watching felt, as Dana had that Saturday morning, a sense of voyeurism at witnessing something so unashamed in it's expression.  Hank and Gar coughed and looked away.  Marissa was aware of an astonished sound from Jacob and looked to see a surprised scowl on the young man's face.  Not everyone was paying attention, of course.  But of those that were, at least one person present was experiencing something very different from discomfort or embarrassment at what she was seeing.  

Oh, no.  Kaitlin had seen her son arrive while chatting with Ms Sevy, and had been covertly watching him to see if he'd notice her.  But the red-head's arrival put fears of discovery way down the list of concerns for the shapely blonde woman.  The way Jase looked at her...  Oh no.  No no no.  No.  Damn the Trickster and all his works. She cursed, a common Teulu phrase for when things went catastrophically wrong.  And she couldn't intervene.  Gar was right there, and in any case, for the replacement Biology teacher to be interfering would call attention... Damn it.

Autumn placed her hands on Jason's chest, and like a circuit being completed the action broke the two out of their paralysis.  Her hands slid up and around his neck, one of his hands went around her waist, drawing her closer, his other hand cupped her cheek, fingers splaying across her flushed skin as she fitted herself to his frame and went up on tiptoe, their lips meeting in a kiss that was far from innocent and yet unreservedly pure, an expression of desire both honest and unfettered by any other consideration.

"Oh, there's Jase."  Dana's words caught Ian's attention and he looked just in time to see his daughter throw her arms around the neck of and kiss the lean, shaggy-haired figure who held her possessively.  "Uh... I guess Autumn saw him too."  Dana grimaced slightly as she noted her husband's expression.  Well, at least you haven't seen him put his hands on her bu-  Oh, he just did.  Great.  she sighed inwardly as her lithe and active daughter did everything but climb her tall boyfriend as his hands slid down to... brace her.  Yes.  That was it.

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"And there she goes," Marissa said softly, making certain Jacob could hear her.  She motioned to Jacob with her open hand.  "Boy," she swept her hand to where Jason and Autumn were acting like it's been years and two wars and a continent since they'd last seen each other.  "Meet toy."

She folded her arms, placing her weight on one hip, narrowing her eyes in villainous observation.  "Man," she sighed.  "Makes you wonder what he did to just sweep her off her feet like that, right?  She's been positively ecstatic since he spent the night with her on Friday, I'm so happy for her.  She's just so secretive, you know?  I don't know who had her heart before Jason, but man, they sure did a number on it.  It's so nice to see her happy again.  Gives me the giggles."

She turned and faced Jacob with innocence in her eyes.  "So, you and Tawny, huh?"  She nodded.  "I can totally see that, you two are going to be so adorable together.  I know we've had our misunderstandings in the past, Jay, but perhaps you'll save me a dance at Homecoming?"

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Out and About Shelly

Sean dropped Jason off then started heading for Champion's Field to meet up with his parents and sister, when his Jeep chimed, indicating it was hungry. Not surprising he'd gone to Great Falls and back twice this weekend. He huffed and switched lanes to stop off at the gas station to fill up rather than heading to The Carousel directly. He loved his Trailblazer, no doubt, with its height and capabilities on and off road, but he still regretted being outbid on the Tesla. With his powers, he was sure he could keep an electric vehicle running indefinitely - well, almost, he would get tired eventually rather than having to gas up his vehicle. He'd been looking at electric conversion kits, but they were pricy and he didn't have the savings after buying his Grand Cherokee. He believed he could do the conversion himself, with help, but he would still need a garage and the right tools.

Sean pulled in to Simons Petroleum and hopped out of his vehicle. He sauntered around it, reached up and unscrewed the cap to the gas tank and stuck the nozzle of pump inside. He frowned at the pump for a moment when it asked him to preauthorize an amount. It would be so easy to spoof the system, to make it think he'd payed when he hadn't, but he resisted the urge. He tapped his debit card on the reader then pulled the trigger to let the gas start filling the tank. Tapping his foot in time with the music coming from his car, Sean grew aware at being stared at.

Sean glanced over between the pumps to see two men looking at him as they spoke, standing by a F-250 even more jacked up than his Grand Cherokee. The younger of the two was Jared, a member of the Shelly High Football team, the older, presumably his father. The fireflies of bioelectric impulses danced inside them both, showing a rising agitation, but not so much Sean thought violence was imminent. He shifted so his back was mostly towards them, but was still able to keep them in his peripheral vision.

"In my day, boys had the decency to look and dress like boys and play football and girls to look and dress like girls and be cheerleaders. None of this tranny shit or identifying as this or that from one day to the next, making mock of God's plan for 'em."

Jared the Elder was speaking to his son, but was being loud enough to make sure Sean heard him. Sean's shoulders tightened even as he sighed. It felt like a year ago since he made that silly bet with Laurie. A bet he was pretty sure he'd lose, a bet he'd made to force himself through his own hang-ups to see what something felt like. He'd known he would get comments, but he hadn't thought it would be this big of a deal, didn't think it would alter the opinions people already had about him. He feigned not hearing them, as he pulled the trigger a few more times to make sure the tank was full, then settled the pump in its cradle and completed the transaction.

"You hear that, titboy?" Jared the Younger called out, taking a step towards the feminine boy. "You'll get your comeuppance. You ain't had no right dressing up and pretending you're a cheerleader, even if your sister is on the football team, travesty as that is." Sean could barely make out Jared mutter something about Lilly before he raised his voice again. "You're making The Coyotes a laughing stock."

Sean just stared at the rangy jock. You're doing that on your own, bud, he thought, but no one else around was laughing. The attendant was looking on through the window of his kiosk. "I'm sorry, just because I was wearing the uniform, you think everyone thought I was a cheerleader?" Sean's sweet voice was full of scorn. "Did any of you see me on the field cheering? Or even stand next to another cheerleader?"

"It don't matter none. You ain't earned that uniform. And none claiming to be a boy would be caught dead in it."

Sean barely bit back the laugh. Earned? Right. Yeah, skill made the team, football or cheerleader, but especially among the cheerleaders under Courtney's reign, it was nearly as often made by nepotism and sycophancy. "Sorry I confused you, Jared." He spared a scathing glance for his father just before climbing up into the Jeep. "And in my dad, we're smart enough not to smoke when we pumping gas."

The ashy cigarette dropped from Jared the Elder's mouth as Sean drove away. He slammed the steering wheel with the palm of his hand, furious at himself for taking the bait, furious that others were making a big deal out of something he thought so small in the grand scheme of things, even if privately, it had been a big deal to him. Furious that he and his friends were facing a goddamned monster on these goddamned people's behalf. He made a sharp turn away from the direction of Champion's field, needing time to cool off.

He didn't want to die.

He had bloody super powers, and it felt like death was waiting for him everyway he turned. Cody and the entity that was inside him, or part of him, tonight. His own genetic abnormalities in an uncertain amount of months time if he didn't find a longshot answer at Site B, where he might also end up getting killed trying to infiltrate. Or even something as mundane as turning into another glossed over hate crime statistic, which could happen pretty much anytime, practically anywhere.

Sean drove down Shelly's main street and had the almost overwhelming urge to just... keep driving. He'd seen so little of the world. In a few months, he could see some portion of it, more than Montana and a few hospitals in some of the bigger cities around the US. He could get by, as long as he could find an ATM or had access to the internet. Cryptocurrency was practically made for someone like him. Everyone else in the Fellowship was pairing off, but there was no one for him. They might have been his friends, but nothing more to the freak, despite Jase's assurances earlier in the day.

He glanced in the rearview mirror and angrily scrubbed away a tear he hadn't felt on his cheek.

But they were his friends, and he still had family here, and that was the tether that stopped him from abandoning Shelly altogether and just continuing down the highway. He turned and drove home. In the barn, he stopped to wash his face in cool water, then checked in on his Matrix Trio, getting the updates on ReGenesis. Everything looked like it was checking out, the last bugs exterminated, Steam page and the direct site ready to go. He hit a key, a physical key for added poignancy, and started the countdown for release tomorrow morning.

Then he found his cat, Turing, and coaxed him from his dresser. Turing had been none to pleased with him since he experimented with what he could do with electromanipulative control on the grey cat. But Turing magnanimously relented to his touch and let Sean pet him for a while. Calmed by the near silent purring, Sean picked Turing up on his shoulder and carried him into the main house. Just in case he didn't come back tonight. Then he got back in his car and drove to Champion's Field, parking next to his dad's truck, a spot miraculously still open on the gravel lot. 

Sean collected his nearly ever-present satchel and slung it crosswise over his shoulder as he slid out from his vehicle. Squinting against the noonday sun, he looked over Champion's Field, finding his parents among the scattered trees by the picnic area with the other families, more or less in the same spot they claimed every year. Just like most of the other families who usually attended each Labor Day, in an unwritten but still understood accord.

The buxom boy strolled over to his parents, hands stuffed in the pockets of his white hoodie with its spreading tree graphic. His father gave him a nod and pointed at the grill with a pair of tongs, assuring him that he'd have to take his turn cooking. His mom turned from placing a half dozen muffins in a paper bag and accepting a few bills in return, giving her middle child a motherly smile.

"There you are, hon." Carolyn swept a lock of strawberry-blond hair behind her ear in a mirror of her youngest daughter as she looked over her shoulder to where she'd last seen Jason. "Everything okay? I thought you'd show up with Jason - oh!"

Carolyn's brows rose in surprise at finding Jason in a close and public embrace with the Keane girl. Her lips creased with a private smile, pleased for the boy who had spent so much time at their place. She hoped her own son found someone someday, even if it didn't last, and regardless where his inclinations lied. She and Jack had discussed talking with Sean about it, but had decided to leave it alone for now.

Sean followed his mother's glance then looked away, gemstone eyes darkening with a hint of envy. Instead he prepared himself a Polish sausage on a bun with all the trimmings and grabbed a canned drink. After an instant of consideration, he took another can and stuffed it in his satchel. He tended to go through the first can quick.

"I'm fine. Jase just wanted to get his car and then I had to gas up, then check on something back home. It's all good."

Carolyn gave Sean a sharp look, well aware that wasn't the whole of it, but deciding not to call him on it. "Okay... If there's anything you think we should know, about, well, you know, please, Sean, don't keep us in the dark."

Sean hid a shiver under his hoodie, looking for an excuse to leave before he inadvertently revealed more than he would prefer. He saw Laurie and Devin talking a ways off and nodded towards them. "I won't, I promise. There's Laurie. She texted me when we were out. I should go, um, apologize."

Drink and sausage in hand, Sean hustled over to his taller sister and the even taller Devin. "Hey, guys. Hope I ain't interrupting, just have to escape the 'rents for a bit." He shuffled his drink into the crook of his arm and fished out the other can from his satchel, offering it to Devin first, though he held it out somewhere between Devin and Laurie. "Want a Fresca?"

Edited by Sean Cassidy
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"Hey," Laurie cheerfully greeted her brother.  "Nope we were just talking."

"I was talking, she was flirting," Devin pointed out as Laurie bumped playfully into him with a quiet laugh hidden in her steps.  A part of Sean hated to see it, but she was actually flirting.  Devin was too, but he knew Devin was shameless in his pursuits for feminine attention, which, as a brother, gave Sean's feeling some pause.  IF was one thing for Devin to mindless do his thing, but if his sister was stating to like Devin... that might only be setting her up for some unwanted, and very real, heart-break.  Devin denied the Fresca.  "Nah, I'm good, man.  Water day for me.  I feel you though, Cassidy, about getting away from the parents.  Our only bring us here so they can show us off to the rest of the town and make it look like they might actually know what they're doing.  Lord knows they certainly don't care."  Devin laughed and scoffed as he watched his mother and father wandering about 'mingling' with people they positively despised.  "You know, last year, my mother actually FaceTimed a parent teacher conference.  Had me hold the phone.  Saddest part, she works at the school.  Apparently the cookie platter was empty and she was more concerned about how that made the school look as a host to the parents than being a parent to her kid."

He sighed and shrugged, shaking his head.  "I mean, genetically, you Cassidy's are a mess, but as far as parents go, you guys hit gold."

Laurie nodded through pursed lips and sucked her teeth.  "Yep, it's true.  Teagan is a shaved wendigo and I actually have cloven feet and a tail hidden by my shorts.  You got us."

"Oh, I knew it.  Jaunt, super sleuth." He scrolled his hand like he was placin the words in the sky.  "Might go into business for myself if Not-Cody doesn't finish us off tonight."  Like everyone else, it was on his mind.  No matter how from the thoughts he tried to distance himself, the thought of battling Not-Cody this evening seemed to keep creeping to the forefront of his mind, finding its way into his words.  He realized it was a little unnerving and look at the other two apologetically.  "Sorry, its uh... kinda on my mind.  Been a messed up few days."

"Wait, what?" Laurie glanced at Devin with concern then whipped a red pony tail in Devin direction as she looked to her brther.  "Cody, what?  Who is gonna what now?  Sean, the hell is he talking about?"

Devin peered around her to look at Sean.  "You didn't tell her?"  His neck tightened to stretch his lips into a frown.  "Oooh, shit.  Sorry, dude.  Thought she knew."

"Know what?"  She asked firmly.

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"Eee-yeaaah..." Sean hedged, juggling the extra Fresca back into his satchel as he looked up at the other two. "I was gonna tell her today, y'know, after this. Ain't your fault, man." He gestured around Champion's Field with his drink in one hand, bun and sausage in the other. "I was gonna tell you, Laurie, honest."

Sean couldn't really blame Devin. It was getting hard to remember who knew what, and what you could tell to whom, and what you didn't mind others knowing. And as much as he might still be leery of the interest Laurie was showing in Devin - Devin interest in Laurie was less of concern, since he showed the same interest in practically every female in Shelly, and probably out of it too - there was far worse that Laurie could have making a mistake with. And through all that was happening, even Sean had to admit Devin had really stepped up his game.

"Tell me what?" Laurie reiterated, folding her arms huffily, eyes hard on both her brother and Devin.

"Mhmphmer," Sean mumbled around a bite of sausage to give himself a bit of time. Picking up on his mistress' irritation, Rascal when to butt Sean in the butt, who just managed to scoot out of the way at the last moment, almost dropping his drink. He glared at the goat. Devin looked like he wanted to give him a high five. "Msstsrd."

Sean took a sip of Fresca to help put down his last bit of sausage, then quickly finished the rest of it, then his Fresca, wiping his hands on his pants. He casually looked around to make sure no one seemed to be eavesdropping on them. "Okay, the Cliff Notes. Cody got infected with an evil... thing, entity --- Remember that episode of TNG, with the Skin of Evil? Anthropomorphic evil, abandoned on a planet?"

"Yes..." Laurie admitted dubiously, giving Devin a slightly self-conscious glance.

"Okay, something like, but in a dimension next to ours. But able to reach into ours at certain points and time. That got inside Cody and now Cody ain't Cody anymore. The Big Bad. At least one of them. He's on the Other Side. If he gets on this Side, stuff gets bad, like super bad, super pandemic bad, maybe zombie apocalypse bad. People acting on their worse impulses is just the start. So, we're going to stop him. Tonight."

Sean gave his sister a pointed look, trying to impress on her the seriousness of what he was trying to convey. Laurie didn't seem to be buying it at first, then she shifted her weight, considering what her brother could do. What Jase could do. What Devin, of all people, could do.

"Okay... right. But like, there has to be somebody else who can go do that, right? I mean, I know you guys can do all these incredible things, but you're all still in high school for fuck's sake."

Sean shook his head, a bit reluctantly. "They can't get to Not-Cody, not where they can stop him before it's too late." He nodded towards Devin. "With our help, Devin can get us there, and together, Voltroning our powers, we can stop Not-Cody."

Laurie shivered, hugging herself tighter. This was insane. "This is insane. You all kn - why didn't you tell me before?"

"I was still trying to figure out how to tell you that we're to the land of Upside-Down Thunder to face off against an entity of unmitigated and seemingly immortal evil, and we might not win." And we might die.

The last part might not have been said, but Laurie heard it. She'd seen her brother scared before, but he'd always toughed it out before, fought his way through it. But he was struggling now, and didn't want to show it. She didn't stop hugging herself, but she straightened her shoulders and stood up tall, giving Sean and Devin a determined nod.

"Okay. Okay," she repeated. She took a deep breath, unfolding her arms, her hands balling into fists. She nodded again. "You guys gotta go what you gotta do. So, what do I do? How do I help?"

"If we don't come back, you get mom and dad out of Shelly, Laurie," Sean said with somber seriousness, sending shivers of scare sweat sliding down Laurie's spine. Sean looked over at Devin. "That about cover it?"

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Champion's Field, after Noon. -ish

Kat rose her eyes from her sandwich at the amused cough of her father, and her eyes followed Josh's, to Jason and Autumn's shameless embrace, and a faint smile pulled the corner of her lips. She laid back, lazily pressing her back against the tree she was sitting by, and deployed her mind web, scanning around while taking a bite of her sandwich. If Jason's here... Bingo! Sean was around too, standing next to Devin and someone who somehow felt familiar, but Kat couldn't quite put a name on that person. Devin's sister was here too, and Kat remembered Autumn's advice from last Thursday. She glanced at Tessa while her mind smoothly flew over Cassandra's presence. I guess we're missing Cade, Lilly, that guy Charlie and... Courtney's there actually...

Kat frowned for a moment, setting aside the reminders of her nightmare, and her mind web broke up. "Hey, Tess."

Said Tess turned to Kat at her inquiring tone. "What's up, honey?" She replied.

"Think you could show me places to buy a nice dress?" That's it, Kat thought, focus on what happens after we hunt that man-stag down, and you'll be alright.

Tess rose an eyebrow. "I know a couple shops in Great Falls, but why?" Kat could clearly hear what her Dad's girlfriend implied, and she grinned. Slightly.

"Well," she started, "I've heard about Homecoming, and we don't have stuff like that in France, so I guess... I wanna try something new?" She paused for a moment, trying to read Tessa's expression. "Also, Sean asked me out for Homecoming. And I accepted. Least I can do for my Shelly sherpa." She took a sip off of her can of Ice Tea and stood up. "Speaking of, I'm gonna pretend I have a social life and go talk to my friends, I can see them around."

Her father huffed a chuckle, amused, and handed her another sandwich before she left. "Thanks, Dad!" And she was gone.

Choices, choices. Which one of her new friends was she going toward? She didn't really know. The sun felt pleasant on her face, her forearms, and there was this intermittent breeze, barely noticeable, but it was probably the best part of it. Her feet on auto-pilot brought here to where Sean and Devin stood at. From the looks of her, the third person could be no one else than Sean's sister. "Hey guys!" She said as she came around.


Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
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"Yeah," Devin nodded.  His tone carried the same measure of seriousness that Sean's did.  It was obvious that no matter how hard these kids thought they were, there were certain things, like impending doom and the safety of their families, that seemed to quell the teenage smirks and quips.  "Look, I'm sorry I brought it up.  I thought you knew, but this is something we all have to do."

"I know," she held back the moisture in her eyes by nodding and trying not to think about it. "Ju-just be careful and I'll do what I can on this side for all our families if, well... if things don't go well.  If you can't save him, at least make sure that whatever took him from us regrets it."

Devin allowed himself a subtle curl of his lips.  "S'what we do girl, we're the Fellowship," he draped his arm around Sean and pulled him close before doing the same with Laurie.  "We spend all day looking like Heaven, and all night fighting like Hell.  We'll be fine."  He released them from the hold, which if anyone would have told Sean a few months ago that he'd be fighting the Forces of Darkness and getting three way hugs after half-assed pep-talks, he would have said 'hell no'.  There it was though, Devin trying to keep the group together while it was obvious he was, like the rest of them (except Jase, who stoically face everything with his emerald stare and homicidal indifference) was falling apart.

He clapped his hands to punctuate the end of that moment with the dawning of a new one.  "Come on!  Seriously, I'm not being all mopey today.  We're here.  It's a party, so come one, let's mingle, let's hang out, for all that is indecent and unholy let's be teenagers for one freakin' day without drama or explosions or the inky doo-doo butter of evil oozing through the walls and screwing things up.  Sun's shining, we're all here, we got barbecue's happening.  Lets enjoy ourselves."

"You," Laurie looked at him skeptically.  She pointed at him and then to her and her brother, moving her finger between them.  "Want to hang out with us?  Like, actually hang out."

"Yeah."  Devin offered a stiff, single nod that was a statement in and of itself.

"In public."  She stated.

"Yeah." He stiffly nodded again.

"In front of all these people?  Devin the whole school is here."  She gestured to the crowd.  "You're popular.  We are... not.  What about image you don't have to hang out with us to prove something, you know.  We get it, it's fine.  We're not going to be all butt hurt if you-"

"Stop."  Devin cut her off, smiling slightly.  He looked to Sean and he both.  "Look I know I've been horrible in the past, we all know, I'm running out of breath constantly repeating it, but true facts, so listen up.  When I've faced the Dark and I've protected people, even if accidentally, and I have to go to mirror dimensions to kick their bitch-king in the teeth... it helps grow someone past how many likes my newest Snap gets.  If I might go down tonight fighting, then I want to spend today hanging out with my friends.  Or, the closest thing I've every had to any.  That's you guys.  So come on, show me what those below the social poverty line do for fun."

Laurie looked to her brother while Sean shook his head, partially laughing, and partially in disbelief.  Don't look at me," Sean smirked, shaking his head.  Leave it to Devin to ruin a perfectly good moment of attempted redemption by being an entitled rich kid.  "This Twilight Zone stuff is like, my everyday now.  I'm almost numb to it at this point."


From the looks of her, the third person could be no one else than Sean's sister. "Hey guys!" She said as she came around.

The three looked to Kat as she approached and Devin gestured in the new redhead's direction.  "Bam!  See?  There you go.  We have found a stray Kat." He looked to Sean and gave that 'Devin-smirk'  "It's like a double-date now, dude."  Laurie slapped Devin in the gut with the back of her hand, gently, but enough to make a point.

"We are not dating," she glared sternly into his eyes.  "Ever.  Wash that thought out of your head right now, Jauntsen."

"Or, it's an orgy," he smiled and powered through.  "If you two are into the whole Game of Thrones thing... which explains the hooves and boobs-"

"Wow."  Laurie could only laugh and shake her head.  "You are such a treat, Jauntsen."  She broke off and approached Kat.  "Hi, I'm Laurie, Sean's sister.  Hopefully you've arrived to save us from his mental retardation."

"Oh, come on!" Devin protested.  "I'm just spitballing ideas.  Tossing out a few hypotenuses and developing theories.  This is science, right?  I thought nerds loved science.  I'm trying to be involved in your hobbies.  Solidarity, my brothers... and sisters."

Edited by Dave ST
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“Jacob,” the dark-eyed Shelly native corrected Marissa tersely as they watched the new couple greet each other, and the venomous beauty had the satisfaction of seeing her barbs finally strike home; at least something today was going the way she wanted. Not so for the young man next to her, whose robust frame seemed to waver on the cusp of intervention as the line of his jaw hardened visibly. A new boyfriend was one thing. That new boyfriend being Jason Bannon was another issue entirely. “A-Rae, what the hell are you doing?” he muttered, dragging a hand back through his hair. 

"Consider yourself caught," Autumn breathed, drawing back slightly with a giddy grin she could feel all the way down to her toes. Was this what it felt like to be iron near a magnet? Whether this, whatever this was, could be described as physics, chemistry, or pure biology, it was unquestionably real. Crazy, and a little unsettling, but real. As real as the sun on her face, and what felt like a hundred tiny suns in her chest all rising at once at the sight of him.  

Jason smiled a little in answer, or at least she thought he did, if the near-imperceptible crinkling at the corners of his eyes was any indication. It was too risky to hazard a glance down at his mouth, still so perilously close to hers, to really be sure. He was Jason Goddamn Bannon after all, and dangerous, especially in such close proximity. "I was caught a couple days ago," he murmured, his fingertips tracing a line of fire over the redhead’s freckled cheek as he tugged a rogue strand of hair back from her face, and all pretense of self-control fled in the wake of that simple, unaffected statement. Weaponized honesty, she recalled dizzily. She could feel the faintest whisper of his breath, her lips tingling in renewed anticipation, and there was a flicker of… something that surfaced in the deepening sea-blue pools of her eyes as she felt herself moving again, fingers sliding upward through his hair-   

-And then someone whistled, shrilly, and with a sudden start Autumn felt her higher brain functions re-engage, lungs expanding as they drew in air she hadn’t realized she’d needed. Oh. Oh, god. To her embarrassment and dismay, she realized abruptly that they had an audience, and that her chances of breaking the news to Jacob in any kind of normal, natural way were now pretty much zero. An incendiary flush of bright rose bloomed beneath her skin as the girl with flaming hair and cheeks to match sank back down onto her heels, feeling the solidity of the earth beneath her feet for the first time since she’d seen him there. Well, of fucking course there’s an audience. We’re at the carousel on Labor Day. My old best friend is standing over there with my new best friend, I’m pretty sure both of them want me dead, and here I am in the middle of everybody, climbing Jase like a fucking stepladder. Jesus fuck, Autumn. But, still... it could be way worse. Her parents could be watching.

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The whistle had reminded Jason that the world did not consist solely of the living flame he'd held in his arms and kissed, though it hadn't had the same face-reddening effect as Autumn stepped a pace away from him, even white teeth showing against the pink of her lower lip as she cast her blue eyes around briefly, perhaps seeking the whistler, before looking back up at him through her fine copper lashes and smiling sheepishly.  He smiled in return, faintly curious as to why she was evincing embarrassment.  Were girlfriends not supposed to kiss boyfriends?  Was it the public forum that made it embarrassing, and if so, why had she kissed him so ardently?  He was still focused on that, and the taste of her lip gloss and the tingle of her tongue against his as Autumn's fingers closed around his hand, drawing him after her towards Marissa and the powerfully-built figure he recognised as Jacob - Autumn's ex. 

Both were subjected to swift analysis as Jase approached them.  Neither seemed to be embarrassed by the overt display of affection.  Marissa was smiling, which could mean anything - she was far too much the mercurial mistress of her expressions for anything to be taken at face value.  Jacob was not smiling, and in fact seemed unhappy.  Not uncomfortable:  Upset.  As though he'd seen or heard something which irritated him which, a cynical part of Jase's awareness of human nature theorised, would possibly explain Marissa's sweet smile.

Jealousy, perhaps.  Jacob and Autumn had been broken up for awhile, but perhaps there was still feeling there?  Jase was not aware of any personal animus between he and the warden's son.  In fact, as with ninety-percent of the population of Shelly, he had barely exchanged more than three words with Jacob in the last two years.  They just didn't mingle.

"Marissa."  he smiled slightly as he greeted the lovely girl, nodding to her, then to the youth standing with her.  "Jacob."

"Nice shirt."  Marissa's glossy red lips crooked in a lopsided smirk as she read the logo.  "Suits you.  And actual jeans, too?"  She cast a glance at the still pink-faced Autumn.  There was no point trying to embarrass Jase, but teasing was still fun...  "Dressing to impress?"

"Reflecting a change in outlook through a change in appearance."  Jase replied with a slight shrug.  "I thought the shirt was amusing.  I bought a few different ones.  You're looking very 'hot slice of apple pie' yourself."  he added with a glimmer of humor in his jade gaze as it took in her outfit.

"Why, thank you."  Marissa's smile widened a little.  "If I'm going to enjoy a last day in the sun, I want to ensure that everyone misses the sight of me afterwards."

"Last day in the sun?" Jacob had recovered enough from the sight of Autumn liplocking Shelly's answer to Don Corleone to rejoin the conversation.  The fact that Jase wasn't acting shifty as usual was just another point of concern for the handsome teen.

"Dramatic way of saying its the last day of summer, Jay."  Marissa laughed.  Ignoring his muttered correction that his name was 'Jacob', she peered around the couple in front of her.  "Are those ribs on your dad's grill, Jaybee?" she asked with the too-casual air of a lioness spotting a wildebeest at a watering hole.

"Beef.  Smoked last week."

"Hook me up."  Marissa hadn't really had a chance to eat at the Alister family lunch, and her inhuman metabolism was clamoring so loudly that even if it had been tender young hiker on the Bannon grill, she'd still have a go.  She looped an arm through Autumn's as she stepped forward and past, re-appropriating her friend as she made a beeline for where Hank and Gar were sitting.

"Sure."  Jase replied with a faint smile as he watched the two girls head off, then glanced at Jacob with a wry shrug and a gesture of invitation to follow.  "You hungry?"

"Sure."  Jacob said in unconscious mimicry, following along as the skinny form of the disreputable youth led the way.

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Cassandra and her friend had slowed the game down as both they and Bacon got winded, and were now parked under a tree not far from the Allen's table. Bacon lay between the two, gnawing on the frisbee and enjoying the pats and scritches he got from them as they chatted. The afternoon heat was building to its peak, but a constant light breeze made taking a moment like this to sit very refreshing.

Bethany gave her a smile as she looked up from where she was tickling Bacon's ribs gently and asked, "What?"

Now on the spot, Cassie hesitated. What to say?

"This is going to sound weird, but...it's been on my mind lately," she said slowly, testing each word as it came out of her. "I just...want you to know that I never forgot about you or wanted to not be friends with you. And I still feel like you're my best friend. Even though we..." And her feeble inspiration sputtered out there.

"...don't see each other much anymore?" replied Beth with a little mischief and a little regret. When Cassie nodded, Beth went on, "We sort of got sucked into different circles, I guess. Now you have your friends and I have mine, and...my friends play board games and watch sci-fi and cartoons, while you guys..." Here Beth frowned, "I don't know...get in fights in the hall? What DO you guys do?"

Cass hesitated at that, then shook her head. "That...we mostly hang out. Like...it's hard to explain. We're all really different people, but there's just something that holds us together."

Secrets, she thought. Strongest social glue there is. A shared secret.

And here she was, keeping it. Others had told their families, or friends. Why not her?

"I'll tell you what," Cassandra said. "I will give you all the deets and the day in the life of, after Homecoming. You know, if I still can." She broke a smile at that, even though it was not a joke, and Bethany laughed because it sounded like one. "I just didn't want you to feel like there was anything, like, bad between us. At least not on my end. I know I kind of disappeared on you, but that wasn't because of you. I was just...kind of messed up."

Beth leaned over to give her shoulder a squeeze. "Thanks. Was it your dad?"

Cass shook her head. "No, it...I mean okay it was partly that, later on. But even before any of that happened I was just sort of... I felt like I was spinning out of control. Like, you remember that flat rock out by the quarry that we'd lie down on and look up at the stars, and you could close your eyes and feel dizzy? Like the whole world was spinning you off? Like that. Only all the time. I didn't like what I used to like, or like to do what I used to like to do, and I didn't feel like I even knew myself anymore. And then I met Dylan and the other kids over there and it was just really simple for them. You know? Fuck all that shit. Who cares? Just...fucking...enjoy the good times, and deal with the shit times when and if they come, because you can't stop them from coming."

With a wince, Beth said, "I can think of a bunch of ways that could mess things up..."

"Yeah," Cassie sighed. "And...it got old. Once I decided I knew what I wanted to do. But it was really nice for awhile not feeling like I had to know."

Bethany reached out to give Bacon's head a long, epic-level petting. "You could have talked to me."

"I know. I wish I had. I just...it felt really bad. Like I was a failure. Like, I was flunking remedial Being Alive." Cassandra ripped up a fistful of grass and started tossing it into the breeze, one blade at a time.

"No, you're not a failure," Beth tried to say, but Cass quickly shook her head.

"I know. That's not now, that was then. I'm feeling a lot better now. I'm okay, Beth, really. I just really wanted you to understand. None of it was about you. You were always a great friend, and...I hope we're still..."

Beth reached out again, this time to put her hand over Cassandra's mouth. "I get it," she laughed. "We're still friends. It's okay. Okay?"

Cass leaned over to pull Beth into a hug and blinked back tears. "Yeah," she said. "Yeah, it's okay."

They sat there a bit longer in the shade of the tree, then parted to their respective families. Both looked forward to seeing each other again, but only one was confident it would happen.


After Beth had to get back to her table, Cassandra checked in with her mom, then went on a bit of a walkabout of the grounds. With the afternoon heat rising and sunset still hours away, some families were already starting to pack up to go back to where the air was conditioned. She did spot, however, some other friends off in the thinning crowds. Autumn was easily visible from her floof of wind-tossed orange hair, and the uncanny height of the boy at her side. Cassandra headed that way to see how they were doing and was just in time to see one of the most unintentionally PG-13 examples of PDA that she expected to see outside an arthouse cinema movie. Jason's height made it seem, from a distance, like it was an adult macking on Autumn too, which was a little weird.

Still on her way over, Cass put a pair of fingers in her mouth and whistled like her dad had taught her, making a shrill 'wolf whistle' sound that was clearly audible even at a distance. Bacon, still half-galloping at her side, lifted his head and barked at the noise as well.

As she got closer Cassie recognized others there too. Marissa for sure, though she was hazy on the dude she was with. She'd seen him around school, but couldn't place the name right away. Jason was sure sizing him up though, and that was...interesting? Concerning? Autumn was still Autumn though, and was blushing intensely at having been interrupted in her 'extracurricular activities.'

"Hey!" Cass called, waving. "Autumn!" Bacon then ran ahead to Autumn and Jase, eager to meet whoever Cassandra was so interested in.

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"Glad to see things going so well for you two," Marissa said calmly as she walked with Autumn.  "Although, is discretion something you're aware of?  Christ, girl, Jacob and I were starting to feel like we should be stuffing singles into your underwear to show our support for a soon-to-be single mother the way you were riding him like a stripper pole.  I'd offer you advice but we both know you'll run off in a huff claiming that if he murders you then goody, we can all be right about him, so I'll not waste my breath.  Hell of a show though, Jacob positively cringed with jealousy.  Well done."

Since everything to Marissa was a game or challenge for dominance, there wasn't a single moment where she believed that Autumn wasn't, on one level or another, trying to rub Jacob's nose in her new relationship.  She didn't know the what had transpired against them, and honestly didn't care, but she was pretty sure that Jacob was at fault.  Had he not been, he wouldn't have cared so much when he saw her dash off into Jase's arms.  "No worries, I manage to twist the knife a bit myself on your behalf.  So, what happened between you two?  I remember you two almost inseparable at the lake last summer.  He cheat on you?"  Her eyes got wide and unscrupulous grin appeared with scandalous curiosity flaring in her eyes.  "You cheat on him?"

As they approached the Bannon Camp she was relieved to learn that they had not erected a Faraday Cage around the grill and demanded that 'guests' submit to a pat down to check for government bugs and wear tin foil hats to make sure the satellites didn't try to steal Hank's secret BBQ sauce recipe.  "Gentleman."  She smiled at them both with enough amethyst push behind her smile to make them rethink their religion, which was par for the course for her these days.  Thankfully, the two men were made a of stronger wills and more forceful personalities than most, and knowing Marissa's powers were centered around pure beauty and that she sometimes 'accidentally' sent off waves of likeability, it hardened them to her megawatt smile that could have had lesser men eating from her hand.  Still the coo of her voice resonated like the mating call of a twenty-something escort trying to put herself through medical school and it didn't make her any less beautiful.  "Jason promised us meat.   Is it help yourself or do we have to beg for it?"

"Ah, damn it girl."  Hank fumed but kept his voice down.  "It's bad enough you all do what you do, but you... you know damn well that's not funny."

She chuckled nonetheless.  "I'm just messing with you," she laughed.  "Come on, it's nice to be able to share a joke with people who actually know, you know?  No harm meant."

Gar had to wonder.  He knew there was a lot of tension between Marissa and his son, ever since she'd shown up their farm not long ago dressed like a young woman really looking to impress a young man.  It was obvious Jason being with Autumn irritated the living hell out of her, it didn't take a life of hard living and a failed relationship with an extra-dimensional psychotic nymphomaniac reject (must be Monday in Shelly) to tell him that.

Cass's announced greeting turned everyone's head away from Marissa's 'might seduce your dad-type' Billie Elish impression.  "Cassie!"  She squeed happily... and it was all fake.  She mumbled as a rabid four-legged dunderfloof (fluffy, idiot dog) was barreling at them.  It was almost impossible for Autumn to miss the way Marissa tensed and reflexively used her bestie as a human shield, putting Autumn between the snarling, rabid beast and the cuddly German Shepard quickly, and happily dashing forward.  "Ugh!  Cassie!" she squealed.  "Get it on a leash!"

"Imagine that," Gar said softly in his deep voice.  "Girl don't like animals."

"Well I mean, historically, they do sense evil.  It tracks."  Hank smiled widely at the young Marissa and held up a red Solo picnic plate loaded with some ribs, casually adding with a smile,  "Sides are on the table."  He nodded in the direction of the Bannon picnic table.

"Great," Marissa sighed as she accepted the plate.  "Sure, why not, highlight of my day: getting heckled by the Weird With Beards club.  Cass!  Keep your mutt away from me, I swear to god I will call animal control!"

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On 10/17/2020 at 1:55 PM, Jaunt said:

"Oh, come on!" Devin protested.  "I'm just spitballing ideas.  Tossing out a few hypotenuses and developing theories.  This is science, right?  I thought nerds loved science.  I'm trying to be involved in your hobbies.  Solidarity, my brothers... and sisters."

Sean rolled his expressive, two-toned eyes in exasperation. He wasn't sure if Devin muddled up his words on purpose to be funny or actually did it by accident. Knowing for sure would probably be worse, and likely no less exasperating. He shook his head, and gave Kat a wide, genuine smile in greeting.

"Kat. Great to see you here." He arched a questioning brow at Devin. "If you want to be involved in our hobbies, you should come around to gaming night." He blinked. D'oh! Did I just invite Devin to gaming?! Well, it at least meant he was thinking beyond the final showdown of final destiny with Not-Cody tonight, even if gaming nights had been spotty at best, lately.

"Baby steps, brah," Devin said. "One bit of nerdery at a time."

"He does have a point though," Sean said, sidling up beside Kat, lips curving coyly at he glanced at his sister. "'Bout the double-date thing."

"He does?!" Laurie exclaimed, just as Devin said, "I do?"

"Yeah, I asked Kat to Homecoming. She said yes." Sean sounded nonchalant, but his eyes gleamed.

Kat looked surprised for a moment as Sean made the declaration then beamed widely. There was barely an instant of surprise in Devin's face before an enthusiastic, "Dude!" and a fist