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WEIRDER STUFF
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Weirder Stuff Episode VI: Rainbow Shadows

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"Eh, well enough," Devin raised one shoulder dismissively.  "All things considered it's not been bad, and yeah she did tell me about the metal blow out your mom had.  It's to be expected, Marissa gets that a lot.  Most the school thinks she's a slut, they just won't say it out loud."

"Wait," Laurie interjected.  "How can people think she's a slut?  She's unattainable.  Cade is the only guy she's dated since you two moved here."

"It's typical high school," Sean helped his sister out.  "She's a slut because she's unattainable.  Since she won't date then school logic dictates that her refusal to commit to a relation means it's because she's promiscuous.  Plus they hate her so thinking and calling her a slut makes them feel better.  Even the bullies get bullied, save that in Marissa and Devin's case were someone to say it out loud to their face, the twins would ruin them, and they know it."

Devin nodded, tensing his jaw with a bit of admiration for Sean's pretty accurate appraisal.  "That's about the right of it.  People have hated us for years, but they're afraid of what we would do if we found out."

"What would you do?"  The inquisitive junior asked.

"Now?  Nothing."  Again he blew it off with a half shrug and a dismissive roll of his eyes.  "My sister?  Prolly would at least try to flex a bit on the person to remind them that she's still their better, you know how she is.  Honestly though?  Neither of us really care.  Never have.  No matter how much people throw at us at the end of the day we're still rich, hot, and going to a good college after high school.  Statistically, Shelly doesn't educate a lot of Masters degrees or PhDs for that matter.  We laugh and take solace in knowing that no matter what they say, this town is still full of losers.  Plus, now?  We have super powers.  Even better and it further proves the delineation in genetic superiority my sister and I have been preaching from the get go.  We are actually better than everyone else.  True facts."

"Gee," Laurie rolled her eyes and completely lost interest in what Devin was saying.  "Thanks.  Good to know."

All the rogue Fellowdude offered was a smile.  "Some exceptions exist, but let's be honest, everyone at this table couldn't stand me, let alone like me, a few months ago."

"Still can't." Cade offered dryly.

"Still don't." Sean offered with a honest shrug.

"Aaaaaand a big 'screw you' to the both of you." He offered them as they all smirked at him.  "I'm all kinds of impressive, there's really not a whole lot about me that isn't likeable..."

"Oh, god... what.  Ever."  Laurie raised her hands like she'd heard enough.  "Don't wanna hear it.  Noooooope."

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The petite redhead shrugged. "You know, Devin, for a pair of fresh eyes, you're not that bad now.  Still a massive swagger, but you're kinda nice." She offered him a genuine smile. "Not everyone's out there after the twins, just so you know."

After giving it further thought, she added, "I have yet to really 'meet' Marissa though... Last time we had a talk we were..." She stopped there for a moment. "Busy." She glanced at Sean questioningly, unsure if his parents knew anything about them, but not willing to take the risk. Her hand mechanically travelled to the back of her head, a gesture she had stopped thinking about years ago.

There was definitely something odd about her Shelly sherpa. One wouldn't meet those eyes every day in the street. Now if she compared with Devin's...

It really was a nice day to be out. It was a big change from Brittany's inconsistent weather. Not as many squirrels over there too. She really liked the little critters. So she thought as she grabbed her glass of lemonade.

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The path back to the shaded picnic spot their families shared wasn't a long one, even accounting for the roving, shifting bands of people that clustered and scattered, seemingly at random. Somehow, though, it seemed much farther than it had a few minutes ago. She and Jacob had been talking. Sort of. Things were- okay, maybe they weren't ideal, but at least they were moving in the general direction of "better," right? But then Marissa had happened, as she invariably did, like a prettier, more socially-acceptable version of a Biblical plague that descended whenever someone, somewhere, experienced a fleeting moment of happiness. And of course, in the interest of trying to maintain the peace and not spend what could be their "last day in the sun" arguing, Autumn hadn't really said anything, even though a part of her felt like she should have. Scowling, the redhead half-heartedly kicked a piece of pine bark from the footpath as the pair trudged back the way they'd come. Even Jase had-

"Jason Bannon. Really." It was a question phrased as a statement, flat and uninterrogative and unamused. Unimpressed, maybe. She glanced sharply up at her former best friend, blue eyes narrowed in frustration and not a little suspicion, as if he'd somehow guessed the direction of her thoughts. He couldn't do that, right? Maybe it was just that weird not-quite-telepathy of people who knew each other really well. Probably, it was luck.

"Yes, Jason-Bannon-Really," she shot back with a soft huff of annoyance, tugging the elastic band off her ponytail and freeing the mass of unruly copper curls that were beginning to escape its grasp. It wasn't Jacob's fault things had started sliding sideways, she reminded herself. It wasn't. "And?"

Jacob blinked down at her, surprise and something else registering momentarily in his eyes before he shook his head, stared resolutely down the path ahead of them. "And," he repeated intently, "I don't get it, Autumn. He's dangerous. You know that."

She did know. Jason Effing Bannon was dangerous in all sorts of ways, but the ones Jay was worried about were probably of the least actual concern.

"Yeah. Yeah, he is." The vibrant redhead nodded briefly, a concession to the truth of his statement, as she swept her hair back from her face. Weaving the rebellious strands into a thick plait as they walked gave her something to do with her hands, something else to focus on besides the little knot of anxiety twisting in her chest. "But he's also here. And he's honest, and smart, and a lot of other things. And-" He likes me. She hesitated for a moment, unable to actually say the words with conviction as the memory of Jase's unrebuffed flirtation with Marissa added another strand of uncertainty to the snarl of conflicting thoughts. His interest seemed genuine enough, and he was obviously attracted to her, but if he was still in love with Mari, even if the gorgeous brunette didn't care about him at all... It's fine. No big deal. Exhaling, Autumn flipped the finished braid back over her shoulder. Totally fine. "And I like him," she finished simply.

"Like him." Jacob's tone was flat - neither accepting nor dismissing her statement, he seemed to be turning it over in his head. "Yeah, I saw."

 "It's not like that." Autumn protested, flushing and elbowing her oldest friend in the ribs, causing Jacob to grin a little as she reconsidered her words. "Okay, not just like that." she amended. "I mean, I liked him before the kissing started."

"Because he's honest and smart and a bunch of other stuff?" Jacob hazarded, then raised his hands placatingly as the redhead shot him a scowl. "Okay. Okay. I swear, I'm wearing my 'concerned friend' hat right now, A-Rae, not my 'ex boyfriend' hat. I'm not dumb - Bannon's changed over the summer: walks taller, hot car, acing classes... but he's also getting into fights and threatening guys with hay hooks." Jacob's handsome features were earnest as he spoke, his eyes examining her for clues to the mystery. "So what I'm asking is 'why?'"

"Why what?" Dana looked up from where she was setting out a pitcher of iced tea, having caught the last few words as the two friends approached. She glanced at Jacob, then at Autumn, then back the way they'd come from, and an eyebrow was raised in wry understanding. "Oh." Apparently the maternal antennae were as sharp as ever.

"Oh, what?" Ian glanced over from where he was chatting to Nathan by the grill, beer in hand, then saw the teens and smiled. "Want to load up a plate?" He clapped the boy on the shoulder approvingly, then looked at Autumn as he indicated Effing-wards with his bottle. "So. That's the guy?”

"Who's the-?" Before she'd even managed to finish asking the question, Autumn's brain finally caught up to her mouth and provided the obvious answer: he'd seen Jason. If her dad had drawn that particular conclusion, then logically, that also meant he'd seen her with Jason. Oh, god. Wordlessly, she turned to Dana, the faint sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach turning to so much lead as the older woman struggled visibly to keep from laughing and shook her head, busying herself with putting napkins and glasses of ice on the table. Thanks, mom, she grumbled to herself. She'd apparently get no help there. Well... Fine, then. She straightened a little, exhaling sharply as she did so. If Ian had seen them, he'd seen them, and, and so what? Jase was her boyfriend, she reaffirmed mentally, setting other concerns about flirting and exes briefly aside. There was nothing wrong with kissing him. Even in public. Even in front of her parents. Nobody was naked, and no small children had been traumatized, so... It was fine. Sure, having someone draw attention to it was embarrassing, but wasn't like she'd committed a crime or anything. Right? Right. People kissed in public all the time.

Not like that, they don't, that other Autumn pointed out helpfully. 

"Oh. Yeah," the girl replied aloud, concentrating on the reassuring warmth of the sunlight on her back and definitely not on the heat rising in her cheeks as she nodded and poured herself a glass of lemonade from one of the pitchers. "The tall one?" She glanced briefly at her father for confirmation, and nodded again. "That's Jase, yep. He and his dad are about to eat lunch, too, but he said he'd come over once they're done."

Well... Assuming the Mantis doesn't devour him, first, the uncharitable part of her brain added. She'd seemed annoyed about something, for sure, but nothing would happen with Cassie over there to act as a buffer, right?

"Sounds good." Autumn's dad said noncommittally as he sat down, exchanging glances with her mom. "Nathan was saying that his dad is in a militia." It wasn't quite a question, and wasn't quite an accusation. Autumn set her shoulders and counted to five as she turned back to the table.

 "Then he also told you they're not troublemakers." The redhead sat, helping herself to food. She smiled brightly at Nathan, who shrugged and nodded agreement. "The way Gar describes it, it's mostly just an excuse for a bunch of guys to go camping and run around in the woods once a month."

Her dad grunted, chewing that over for a moment before glancing at Jacob. "You know the guy?"

"Oh no." the teen in question waved his hands defensively. "Don't drag me into this."

"I'm just curious about him, is all." Ian said. "I've been away for a little while, and now my little girl's dating some guy I've never heard of."

Jacob glanced at Autumn, then shrugged as he spooned some potato salad onto his plate. "I barely know the guy, and only then because the school's a small place. He's always been the quiet kid who hangs around with one or two other people and doesn't say much, y'know? One time I tried to talk to him in freshman year, he wouldn't look at me and didn't say much." He paused, then, "He's different this year, though. Maybe he was going through an awkward phase or something." The teen smirked as a memory occurred to him. "He schooled Mr Jelbert in U.S. History the other day."

"Schooled him?" Jacob's dad looked askance at his son, who nodded. "Mr Jelbert called him out for not paying attention just as he's starting to talk about banking, and the guy goes and rattles off the entire history of the Federal Reserve - and some of what he spouted wasn't even in the textbook. Told Mr Jelbert that when he taught something he didn't know, then he'd pay attention." Jacob built himself a burger. "Got to admit, that was kind of weirdly cool. Rude, though."

"So he's a smartass?" Ian frowned, tapping his fingers on the table.

"He's apparently very intelligent." Dana replied, looking at Autumn. "When I spoke with him, he was very forthcoming about it. Admitted to speaking six languages." Her tone was conversational, but took on a slight edge. "You know how rumors can be in a small town. Best just to meet the boy yourself rather than listen to gossip."

"Hmm." Ian's murmur was neither agreeing nor disagreeing, but he nodded. "Guess so."

Autumn’s teeth bit into her lower lip as her father- who’d spent more time working over the last year than he had at home- commented on not knowing someone she’d hung out with. He was busy. He had to travel for his job. Real estate wasn’t exactly a booming industry near Shelly. She got it, and she didn’t want to make him feel like shit for not being around, but, at the same time, the temptation to point out there might be a pretty freaking obvious reason he didn’t know most of the people she did was strong. On the other hand, though… Up until the last couple of weeks, her circle of friends and acquaintances hadn’t really changed much since elementary school, so even if a part of her wanted to be petty and spiteful, it also made sense that he wouldn’t know because this was all happening so crazy fast. If she could barely keep up with what was going on herself, how could she expect her dad to?

Ugh. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, inhaling the smell of charcoal and wood smoke, cooking meat, and grass crushed underfoot. There was no way to solve everything in one afternoon. She couldn’t fix things with Jacob, find a way to get through to Marissa, reconnect with her dad, and figure out how to tell them all about the Dark and Not-Cody while still enjoying the day as a family, and maybe- hopefully- get a few moments to spend with her new boyfriend somewhere in the midst of all that. They were going to have to fight for real later on, so was it really worth stressing out and arguing about all of the other stuff now? No. No, of course it wasn’t. If- when, the restive redhead corrected herself as she exhaled slowly- they all got back home, there would be plenty of time to deal with the petty, spiteful, absolutely and completely trivial bullshit afterward.

“Six languages apart from English,” the younger of the Keane girls added with a little smile that suggested she wasn’t quite bragging on his behalf, opening her eyes as she finally sat down at the table next to Jacob and nodded in her mother’s direction. “His dad’s super chill, by the way. I think-“ She hesitated, spooning pasta salad onto her plate next to a pile of potato chips. Diplomacy wasn’t exactly Autumn’s strong suit, but in the case of the Bannons’ complicated family life, discretion seemed like the safest bet even to her. “I think he’s just been through a lot. He’s not a crazy hermit with a secret stash of explosives or anything. The couple of times I’ve talked to him, Gar’s been really down-to-earth. Just… A decent guy, you know?”

"Sometimes people aren't as everyone seems to think." Dana commented as she poured herself some lemonade. She smiled somewhat mischievously. "And sometimes people grow and change, like Jay said. I mean, compared to Devin Jauntsen being pleasant and chatting politely while helping me in the kitchen, Autumn dating Jase seems pretty mundane." That was good for an almost spit-take from Jacob, who started coughing on a mouthful of burger as Ian stared. Devin Jauntsen was a name even the travelling real-estate salesman knew - whereas Jase had been a peripheral nonentity slouching out of sight, Devin was a front-row-center troublemaker. Autumn winced internally as Ian, Jacob and even Nathan turned to look at her.

"The Jauntsen kid was at the house?" Ian asked with a touch of incredulity.

"Mmhmm." Dana nodded, a definite Puckish air about her, though whether directed at her daughter or her largely absentee husband was tough to say. "Yesterday, in fact. He, Jase, and Cassandra Allen were spending the day with Autumn, so they came over to have breakfast before they went out." She popped a cherry tomato in her mouth. "He was very polite, talked about growing up and trying to put the bullying and bad behaviour behind him."

"Pod people. Has to be." Jacob said flatly, deadpan. "No way otherwise would Cassie and Autumn be hanging out with Jauntsen and Bannon. And Jauntsen talking about turning over a new leaf? Bannon dating?" He mimicked turning a lamp to glare into Autumn's face. "Who are you, and what have you done with Autumn? When does the alien invasion begin?"

"They just went with me up to the Rez," she protested, laughing in spite of herself as she batted his hand and the imaginary light aside. Nathan frowned thoughtfully at that, tipping back the bottle of beer in his hand as he considered the pair of teenagers in front of him. “It’s not like we all got together and cried and ate junk food while we binge-watched Gilmore Girls, or anything,” the energetic young woman grinned at her childhood friend over the rim of her glass as she drank. “And, yes,” Autumn conceded, replacing the red plastic cup on the table. “Devin Jauntsen was at the house, and no, he’s not one of my favorite people. He’s gonna have to do a lot more than just talk a good game before that changes. His sister, too.” She shrugged a little, taking up her cheeseburger in both hands. “Like I said earlier, though. If they want to change, I’m willing to let them try. If they totally fu-“ A flying potato chip caught her in the arm, and Autumn glanced up, shocked, to see her mother glaring intently at her across the table. “Fall on their faces,” she amended grudgingly as Dana’s eyes rolled heavenward, “then fine. But they should get the chance to do that. “

“Sounds reasonable,” Nathan allowed. Then, a little more cautiously: “So did you guys find what you needed up there?”

Autumn could almost feel the emotional weight of the attention being directed at her: casual interest from her parents, curiosity and confusion from Jacob, and pointed inquiry from her virtual uncle. She hadn’t been willing to tell him who the others like her were when they’d spoken in the kitchen, and the expressive redhead groaned inwardly, dismay etched plain on her freckled features as she realized she’d just done exactly that. Fucking hell. Resisting the urge to bang her forehead on the table, she nodded mutely, taking a bite of burger that seemed oddly flavorless in the wake of her unintended admission. Jacob wasn’t stupid, and his dad definitely wasn’t, and what the latter had probably guessed, the former would work out pretty quickly. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, absently rubbing the toe of one shoe against the back of the opposite ankle. Maybe it would be okay? Maybe it didn’t even matter if he knew, now, since they were going after the Dark.

Ian’s head tilted as he gauged his daughter’s reaction, eyes narrowing measuringly. “What were you guys up to at the Reservation?”

“Mm,” Nathan interjected, holding up a finger as he finished chewing. “She told me last week she had a group project, looking into Shelly’s history. I suggested she head up there, see about meeting up with one of Owen’s friends, maybe talk to the elders about getting their side of things. Dig into the old stories.” He smiled, faintly, at the young red-haired girl he’d helped raise. “I’m glad it helped.”

She swallowed guiltily, returning the smile with a tiny one of her own. It wasn’t a lie, not really, but it wasn’t exactly true, either. “It did, yeah. We got a lot of good information.” Her clear blue eyes met the warden’s, and in that moment, Autumn decided. “We’re going to finish everything tonight, actually.”

Edited by Vivi OOC
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"Marissa's right."  Jason glanced at the dark-haired girl, then at Cassie.  "On all counts."

"Of course I am."  Marissa snorted delicately, flipping her hair back over one perfect bare shoulder.  "I'm always right."

"Indeed."  Pale jade eyes crinkled slightly at the corners as he took a sip of iced tea, regarding Marissa for a second longer before looking Cassie's way.  "I'd recommend taking Devin as your demonstration partner.  His power's effect is undeniable, and he's less likely to unsettle your mother - well, more than necessary."  A faint curve appeared at one corner of Jase's lips.  "Plus you can introduce your Homecoming date to your mother."

"That, and it leaves you free to spend time with Autumn."  Marissa's tone was dry enough to mummify flesh.

"A distinct possibility, yes."  Jase shrugged one shoulder.  "She may also require someone to do a flashy demonstration to her parents, and even if not, I like spending time with her."

"I noticed."

"We all noticed."  Cassandra piped up, grinning.

"NSA spy satellites with thermal signature detection noticed."  Hank opined, also grinning.  Jase glanced at him, then Cassandra, then Marissa, his expression - so far as could be discerned - one of calm good humor.  In truth, he was feeling calm, and in a good mood.  The specter of death and defeat, whilst a real possibility statistically, was not causing him any anxiety, dread or fear at all.  He and his friends were as ready as they could be, given the constraints of time placed upon them.  They would go to face their foe, and the alternative to victory was most likely death, whereupon all other concerns would subjectively cease to exist.  That being the case, victory was preferred, and so that would be his objective.  

"Pie?" he asked the others with a raised brow as he dished himself up a slice of Mama Cassidy's gift.

"Smooth subject change, kid."  Hank smirked as he held out his own plate for a piece.

"We could carry on talking about my kissing Autumn, but I was being kind to you, Hank."  Jase said evenly as he cut another slice and deposited on his father's friends plate.  "After all, it's probably been awhile since anyone kissed you like that."  He paused for a beat, then smiled slightly at the older man.  "Well, anyone female."

Gar and Hank snorted with laughter as Jase looked at the two girls, knife in hand.  "Pie?"

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Cassandra quickly scooped up a pair of plates and said, "Definitely pie. And...if I could trouble you for two pieces? Even with Devin for a wingman, I feel like a little pie-bribery can't hurt."

As the precious cargo was offloaded to her plates she added, "This is going to be really hard but if I get through this fight, she'll find out sooner or later."

Cassie lifted her slice of pie up to eye it it from the side, examining its scrumptious filling in detail.

"It's going to hurt her, and she's been hurt so much already...it feels bad. But she needs to know. It'll be easier on us both to get it done now. If I don't make it back, at least she'll know why."

Then with a sudden wry grin she looked back up at Jase and Marissa and said, "Wooo, fourth of July! Partyyyyyyy!" in a self-mocking tone.

"I'm gonna go check with Devin and make sure he's okay with helping me out with this. Thanks for the pie, and the words of advice, Marissa...Jason. It's stuff I kind of knew, but for some reason it really helps to hear it from outside my own head."

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"Think of it like a shot," Marissa offered the plucky blonde.  "It has to have that sting before it can start to help you.  Help he get on the road to healing."  Shelly's Queen seemed abnormally helpful and polite than her usual self, almost like an actual friend, but she didn't use the 'f' word.  There was a brief pause as the pie was being collected, a silence that said  that she was done offering up kindness with no opportunity for self promotion or personal gain.

In a vain attempt to hide herself from the plebeians surrounding her, she checked her phone.  It allowed her to distance herself from everyone while still being a part of everything.  After scanning a few messages her eyes rose from the screen, offering Cassandra a perfect view of her coffee-colored eyes.  "...and your welcome."  She aid softly, and quickly went back to her phone.  If there was any reaction from Cassie, or anyone else, she didn't look around to notice, she just went back to her messages and social media, silently grumbling about Courtney's choice of apparel today.

"Christ, she'd dressed like a Riverdale cast-off," she huffed.  "I swear, that girl is a mess."

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-< Previous Night >-

Lilly stepped off the porch and headed, the dirt and gravel crunching with each step she took. Her strides were neither meandering nor purposeful as she headed toward her truck, thinking about the day and the one to come. Reaching her truck, Lilly tossed her iPod and gloves onto the passenger seat and then opened the the door which, as usual, protested at the motion. She took a seat and pulled it shut, slipping the key into the ignition and giving it twist causing the old engine to roar (or maybe cough) to life. 

The old pickup headed down the long driveway of the Bannon farm as Lilly thought to herself about the life, especially that since the night of the bonfire when their lives were irrevocably changed. Since then they had discovered the strangeness of Shelly and it's cycle and everything that came with it, from secret government experimentation to the presence of other... entities... with a vested interest in Shelly. And now it was on them to take care of Cody, or the Horned Man or whatever he was now and The Dark or whatever, breaking the cycle. They were just teens, teens with amazing abilities right out the MCU movies, but still just teens, and upon their shoulders a lot was resting. 

Before she knew it, Lilly's truck was heading down the long, stretch of road cutting through the countryside to connect Shelly proper and Bullwark AFB. She had been lost in thought, driving more or less on autopilot, but the buildings, or lack thereof, pulled her focus back to the moment. She clicked off what passed for the sound system in the pickup. The old, crackling speakers, which were not helped by the usual volume she listened to her music at, fell silent as she drove down the solitary road, the rhythm of the engine and the whistling of the wind through the rolled down windows replacing her usual music for the rest of the trip as she thought about tomorrow night.

As usual she pulled up to the gate, pulled out her military I.D. and held it out for the guard with a smile. It was barely even a formality seeing as she was Lt. Col. Pryor's daughter and she had, over the course of a few years, met most, if not all, of the security personnel under her dad's command. That, combined with the fact that there were very few spouses or children on base made her stand out. Still though, they did take their job seriously, so protocols had to be followed.

"You have a good night, Lilly." the guard said as he handed the card back to her, waving her through.

"Thanks. You too, Roy. You going to the Labor Day thing at Champion Fields tomorrow?" she asked as she tucked her I.D. in her pocket.

"Is there anything else to do around here?" he replied with a grin.

Lilly let out a small laugh and shrugged. 

"Touche." she responded adding some flare to the pronunciation and then put her truck in gear, driving through the gate and following the familiar route to her home.

"I'm hooome." Lilly announced as she came in the door and jogged up the stairs to her bathroom. After a quick shower, she reappeared downstairs to find her parents watching the late game and eating some dinner with a plate waiting for her. 

"Thanks mom." Lilly said as she grabbed the plate from the kitchen counter and walked over to join them, plopping down on the sofa and folding her legs to cradle the plate as she cut off a bit of the lemon pepper chicken.

The trio watched the game, riding the ups and downs of it as they ate their dinner and caught up in between. It was a fun time with her parents, and made Lilly realize just how little time she had been spending with them as she got older. Yeah, that was only natural, she figured, but reflecting on it now, it was not something she liked.

Bill Pryor glanced over and could see the faint expression on his daughter's face and, like usual, decided to just rip the band-aid off.

"So why'd you sandbag at the tryouts." Bill asked simply.

The question caught Lilly by surprise, her gaze snapping to her father who was still watching the game. 

"What?" she asked.

"Come on Lilly. Don't play games with me. I know your times and distances. You under-performed. I want to know why. Was it the pressure?" he replied, meeting her gaze as he spoke.

"It wasn't the pressure." Lilly sighed, her shoulders slumping as she looked at the floor.

"Okay. Then what's his name? Is it that Jason we met at the game?" her father asked.

"There's no boy, dad." she answered as she rolled her eyes and looked at her dad with smirk.

"Okay. Okay. Her name then?" he asked unsure, prompting Lilly to throw one of the small pillows on the sofa at him.

"There's nobody, okay?"

"Is that the problem then?" he asked cautiously.

Lilly rolled her eyes in the overly dramatic fashion common to teenagers.

"I would rather not sit here and discuss my love life, or lack thereof, with my parents on the living room sofa, especially when it had nothing to do with the tryouts." Lilly sighed.

"Okay, then what happened?" he asked again, then time pausing the game.

Lilly set her plate aside on the coffee table and pulled her legs to her chest, wrapping her arms around them and frowned.

"I just... I dunno. I guess it's not what I want anymore." she finally let out. "For months know I've been feeling this way, but, I dunno. I didn't know how to tell you. I mean, at one time I really did want it, but now, not so much. I just, I dunno, kept doing it and going through the motions because it's what I've done for so long and what was expected of me, what I was supposed to do and be. I needed some time to figure how to and then BAM! there was the tryouts and I still didn't know how to tell you."

"Soooo you just made the whole trip a waste of time and money?" he asked, his expression a bit more serious now.

Lilly clutched her legs a little more tightly to her chest as she tried to hide behind them. Despite all her newfound abilities, nothing was a match for the disappointment in her parent's voice. Lilly nodded and looked at her knees, feeling rather small and powerless at the moment. "I didn't want to do it, I just didn't know to tell you that it's what I wanted anymore. I didn't want to disappoint you. But I guess that's what I ended up doing anyways." she finally said, letting out. In a way it felt good to finally say it, but that was small solace in comparison to what she said.

"I'm sorry. I really am." she said, almost sobbing as she closed her eyes and rested her forehead on her knees.

Cassandra scooted closer on the sofa and slipped her arms around her daughter, holding her close.

"Honey, changing your your mind it not a disappointment to us. Feeling like you couldn't tell us is a bit disappointing, I'm not gonna lie, but we're your parents. We want the best for you, and we love and will support you in whatever you do, whenever you figure out what that is." Cassandra explained as she gave her daughter a squeeze with her hug, feeling some of the tension leave Lilly as she did so.

"You can always talk to us. Always." Bill added as he got up and sat on the arm of the sofa, reaching down to rub Lilly's back. "Take some time and figure out what you want to do. But, you know, being the first woman NCAA quarterback would not exactly a bad thing. Just saying." he added, finishing with a bit of humor.

Lilly could not help but let out a laugh. "Yeah, no pressure." she said as she lifted her head, resting it again her mother's as she looked up at her dad.

"Of course. No pressure." he reaffirmed with a faint grin tugging at the corners of his lips.

 

-< Labor Day, 2:30-ish >-

Lilly's pickup pulled in not long behind her parents' car, parking beside it. She hopped out and walked around the back, lowering the tailgate and hopped up into the bed, sliding the small grill, cooler and other things the family had brought to the tailgate for easier access,. Bill took the loaded cooler, Cassandra gathered the umbrella and large bag while Lilly grabbed the small grill. Thankfully it did not take them long to find a decent spot to set up in the large field.

"I'll go get the chairs." Lilly offered, not particularly waiting for a response from her parents as she took off back toward the truck at a jog and grabbed the folding, aluminum chairs.

Cradling the chairs in her arms she headed back toward her parents, catching sight of Coach Meyers who nodded to her as she passed by.

"Hey Coach." she greeted with a smile as she jogged past.

"Have a good day, Pryor." he responded. 

Lilly turned around, jogging backwards to face Coach Meyers. "Sure thing, Coach. You too!" she said as she turned around and barely caught the glimpse of a couple walking across her path behind her, causing her to spin to avoid them as she continued on, turning back around and never slowing. Coach Meyers watched the teen's evasive action with some interest, totally avoiding the couple, the small scene bringing some ideas to mind...

Lilly trotted up and set down the chairs as her parents were busy setting up the grill and doing a little bit of last minute prep to some of the food to be grilled. One by one she unfolded the chairs and set them out in a semi-circle under the shade of the umbrella.

"So how long till the food's ready?" Lilly asked half jokingly, already teasing her dad a bit.

"Grilling is an art, and art cannot be rushed." Bill retorted, causing Cassandra to roll her eyes.

"Yeah. Well we're getting a late start thanks to the breakdown and we haven't eaten, so step on it, Picasso." Cassandra said walking up behind her husband, resting her hands on his shoulders and giving him a peck on the cheek.

"So a little less 'Picasso' and a little more 'paint by numbers', eh?" Lilly quipped causing her mother to laugh.

"Exactly. See? She gets it." Cassandra said with a grin to Bill, who just shook his head.

"Everybody's a critic." he muttered.

"Love you, Dad!" Lilly said, giving Bill a quick hug. "I'm gonna go scope out the vendors real quick as we can work out a plan of attack."

"Okay. Don't take long."

Lilly moved through the crowd, waving or offering a quick hug to friends and teammates here or there, occasionally getting tips on some of the best vendors and generally carousing. It was a beautiful day, the atmosphere was vibrant and jovial so Lilly was doing her best to soak it all in while she could.

She finally spotted Cass, Marissa, Jase and his dad along with his friend, Hank. Lilly bit the side of her bottom lip for a moment as she thought about he Fellowship's plan for that night. She had wanted to ask her dad some things, but it would have been more than a little odd and she was not ready to raise suspicions, much less lay everything out on the table to her parents right now, despite what they had told her the night before and did not want to deal with her dad's reaction to the plan to walk into the lion's den. Hank though, was a veteran, and from what she gather, had seen and been through some shit. Not only that, but he was 'in the know' when it came to the Fellowship, so he could probably offer the best advice. Gar was in on it too, for that matter, maybe he could help out too.

With a nod to herself, as if making up her mind, Lilly stepped out from the crowd and approached the small group. For her part she had her long, brunette hair down and was wearing sunglasses, short, denim overalls which showed off her legs rather well, with a black crop top underneath and her feet were her seldom seen Chuck's.

Spoiler

Lilly outfit (more or less)

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Lilly smiled and waved as she walked up."Hey guys." she said, greeting her friends and then lifted up her sunglasses to look to the two adults. "Mr. Bannon. Mr. Graskle." she said, greeting each of them with a respectful nod as well, as she was taught. "Happy Labor Day everybody."

Edited by Lilly Pryor

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"Hey, Lilly."  Gar gave the girl a one-handed wave from the grill and Hank tipped his bottle towards her in silent greeting.  Marissa waved, briefly looking up from her phone, and Jason just nodded as Cassie turned, a plate of pie in each hand, and smiled at her.

"Hi!"  The blonde chirped, careful to keep both plates up so Bacon wouldn't be tempted.  She waved as much as her burden would let her at her friend.  "I'd stick around, but I've got to go deliver pie to soften my mom up.  Time for 'the Talk', you know?"  Lilly nodded in understanding, and Cass grinned wryly.  "See you later, assuming I'm not grounded for life in some escape-proof panic room my mom secretly built.  I'm not sure whether she's going to be more freaked out about the weird stuff or Devin taking me to Homecoming."

"Doesn't that count as weird stuff?"  Jase asked, only a glimmer of quiet humor in his eye indicating that he was joking.

"Definitely.  It's my brother." Marissa smirked.  "Lead with that.  If that doesn't freak your mother out, then nothing else you tell her will."  The teens and the two adults present all snickered, even Jason's lips twitching in an actual people-smile as he held a hand out above the picnic table towards Marissa, the dark-haired beauty high-fiving him almost on reflex before settling down, scowling down at her phone as though something there was offending her sensibilities.  "Oh, and Cass: don't forget to take your dunderfloof with you."  She motioned with one clawed hand towards Bacon, who was sitting in his best '(Wo)Mans) Best and Most Loyal Friend' pose at the end of the table, ears up and brown eyes attentive for any scraps that might be dropped for a Good Boy.  "If he runs around loose and eats someone's toddler, that's on you."

"Sure."  Cassie shook her head a little, smiling.  "C'mon, Bacon."  The dog let out a short, quiet bark and rose from his haunches, trotting after his friend at a rough approximation of 'heel', eyes up for any possibility of a dropped pie plate.  Lilly settled onto the vacant bench slot, regarding the other two teens.  Marissa seemed pensive, insofar as she could tell, and Jase... was Jase.  If he had any nerves at all, they weren't showing - which probably meant there weren't any.  Which in itself was hard to conceive of for Lilly, and another indicator that she really didn't know the boy she'd thought she did.

"Drink?"  he asked, turning his gaze to her as he finished his pie and sat back.  At her nod, he poured a tumbler of iced tea and slid it across, his expression quietly amiable and pale eyes revealing nothing of what was going on behind them as he also refilled Marissa's glass.  He indicated the food on the table with a raised eyebrow, and Lilly shook her head, smiling.

"Thanks, but my dad's doing his 'Picasso of the Grill' thing and I owe it to him to turn up hungry.  When it's finally ready, anyway."  Lilly grinned, and Jason nodded.

"Have you told your parents what's going on, yet?"  he asked, causing Lilly's smile to fade as she shook her head again.

"I just confessed to him last night that I took a dive on the tryouts.  I..."  Lilly bit her lip, thinking.  "I'm not sure how he'd even deal with this."

"Cassie had a similar worry."  Jason shrugged.  "Marissa made the excellent point that, if we were to disappear tonight, it would likely be better for our parents to know why.  They have to know sometime, after all."

"Yeah."  Lilly sighed, idly swirling her drink around.  "I guess.  It's just..."  She paused. How did one tell Jase that they were afraid?  He had no frame of reference for that.  He wouldn't be able to commiserate.  Hell, what if he looked down on fear and those who felt it?  What did he really think, after all?  "It's just complicated."

"I told Cass.  It's not complicated at all."  Marissa interjected, her tone matter-of-fact but not harsh.  "Rip the bandaid off, lay out the truth - with a demonstration if need be - and then leave it to them to believe you or not."  Jase nodded slightly in agreement, and then looked down as a text alert went off on his phone.  A faint smile crinkled the edges of his eyes.

"Your gal?"  Hank looked at him with a smirk spreading across his rugged features.

"Yes."  Jase replied simply and without embarrassment, standing and slipping the phone into his pocket.  He fixed his gaze on Lilly for a moment.  "If you need help talking to your parents, corroboration or extra demonstration, or even help sneaking out, let one of us know.  We are in this together."  Without waiting for an answer he turned and moved off in the direction that Autumn had taken half an hour or so previously.

"Ten bucks her dad hates him."  Hank said with a grin.  Gar scowled at him, and Hank raised a hand defensively.  "I'm just sayin'.  Jase is an acquired taste, and his little girl just played tonsil hockey in public with the dude.  If I was a dad, I'd be keeping the shotgun close at hand."

"Not funny." Gar said flatly, a faint crease of worry between his eyes.  "Jase doesn't react in normal ways to things like that.  What if someone makes a joke about shotguns and he interprets it as a genuine possible threat?"  Hank eyed his friend.

"I was just funnin', Gar.  C'mon, Jason will be fine.  He's smart enough to think things through.  He can tell the difference between a real threat and someone blowing air."

"Sure."  Gar nodded, worry still haunting his gaze as he settled down to a plate of pie.  "So."  He looked at Lilly, smiling a little as he attempted to distract himself.  "How did your dad take the news you tanked the tryouts on purpose?"

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"What's not to like about Jason?"  Marissa toned in calmly and in that honest voice she used to express a point.  "He threatens to slit the throats of his class mates with farming implements, pull hearts from the chests of people, and, oh, yeah, let's not forget breaking almost every bone in someone's body and putting them in a coma after he creepily stood outside their window... yeah, I don't see this going bad at all."  She rolled her eyes and shivered in mock concern.  "What parent would have any doubts, whatsoever, when it came to their child being safe.  Alone.  With him.  Psshh, it'll be fine."

"Relax, Mr. Bannon."  Marissa added, looking up from her phone.  "Jason told Autumn the truth and she was just ducky with all of his violent tendencies and urge to murder-death-kill everything he felt threatened by.  I'm sure her parents will totally feel the same way.  Apparently the old Arnold Schwarzenegger line 'yes, but they were all bad' is still the end all, be all, get out of trouble excuse for being a violent psychopath.  Although, they'll need to get a place that has a massive porch or basement, something tells me they're going to need the hid- storage space."

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"Perhaps all that is so."  Gar Bannon's eyes narrowed in a manner not unlike his son's, though his quiet anger was more apparent as he stared at the teen.  "I can't deny any of it.  Here's the thing though, sweetheart, you're right.  Everyone he's hurt or threatened to hurt was a bad person, by any measure."  Gar placed his bottle down with an audible clink.  "You know what else?  He's also doesn't talk shit behind his friends backs or try to feel powerful by cutting other people down.  When he starts making innocent people miserable, ruining lives with gossip and rumor, and hurting or bullying people for his own amusement and ego, that is when I'll get really concerned."  The older Bannon smiled, an unpleasant thin-lipped smile.  "Thanks, Miss Jauntsen, for putting my worries in perspective.  My son might be every bit the violent psychopath you claim he is, but I've just been reminded there's worse people."

He stood up, anger still simmering in his expression.  "Going to get some fresh air."  he declared to Hank, who was torn between eying his friend concernedly and eyeing Marissa like she was a venomous spider.  The ex-Marine just nodded, settling back into his seat as Jason's dad stalked away.

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"Yes, because it's everyone else's fault," she fumed and returned to her phone.  "And, as always, a hasty retreat is the best way to handle things head on."  She turned to Hank, since in her eyes he seemed to be the only one with any measure of courage at the moment.  "For the record, Mr. Graskel, it's not rumor, its fact.  It's not amusement, it's concern.  Autumn happens to be my best friend and she's dating a guy who folds people up and has no capacity for fear of the consequences or remorse for his actions.  It's not 'behind his back', as everything I've said here I've already told Jason, but as always, it's easier to just turn around and walk away from the issues, than face them."

She stood up, sighing and tucking her phone in her tight back pocket.  "Well, Lilly, sorry to cut this short, but as always the truth speakers are the monsters and the monsters are protected by the blind.  C'est la vie.  Mr. Graskel, thank you for the plate, it was delicious and extend my gratitude to Mr. Bannon as well, when he's done avoiding the truth.  I see where Jason gets it from."

"I guess if us kids won't listen, and the parents are just going to rush off in a huff, and the law obviously doesn't care, the press might be interested.  Violent crime like that in small Shelly?  Locals in the guy's neighborhood have been scared silly with concern that whomever is responsible is still out there."

"Darlin, I don't think that's a good idea."  Hank tried his absolute best to adult.

"Me either, so maybe you should get on that.  There's an old African proverb, Mr. Graskel: A child that is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.  Quite frankly I'm a little sick and tired of people walking away from me.  I'll be here all day, Jase has my number, let me know when he or his father feels like talking."  She didn't say anything more, simply dumped her late in the 55 gallon drum that served as a waste bin and walked on like it was just another Monday.  She slid her phone from her pocket and went right back to texting, or, whatever she did on that thing.

Edited by Dave ST

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Lilly watched the exchange between Marissa and the adults at the table and sighed to herself. Things were clearly not well between Marissa and Jase, and did have a point, even if it was not brought up in the most tactful of ways. 'It's often not what you, but how you say it.' appeared to be a lesson that Marissa had never learned, or was choosing to ignore for any number of reasons. In the end, just Lilly and Hank were let at 'Camp Bannon' as it were as Lilly watched Marissa walk off.

"She means well, even if she not show it in the best of ways. I think she's just not used to caring about people so she gets a bit overly protective or something. I dunno." Lilly said to Hank.

"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Hank responded, to which Lilly nodded.

"Yeah. I know. We all have issues. I just hope we can get some of them worked out before it's too late." she replied.

"You mean like you and throwing your tryouts?" Hank asked.

"Yeah, that's one, at least." Lilly said, lifting up her sunglasses to sit on her forehead, holding her hair back and out of her face. "I just didn't know how to tell them. I mean, yeah, it's been weeks since we started getting these... abilities, but it's still happened really fast, you know?" she said, almost looking for some agreement. "And before I knew it, it was time to leave for the tryouts and I still didn't know how to talk to them. It's like, I didn't want to disappoint them for giving up or whatever."

"But you didn't give up, did you? I don't know too much about you, but from what I do know it's pretty clear that you're no quitter." Hank said as his calm, some might say cold or calculating, eyes looked her over.

"Yeah, I guess, but I couldn't tell my parents that I and dropping a dream I've had and worked so hard toward for years because it's nowhere near a level playing field anymore because I can... because of what I can do , you know, now. It's cheating." Lilly said and then added, "Or at least it is to me." with a shrug.

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"Devin's alot better now, that he's not hellbent on informing everyone on how much better he is than they are."   Cade said with a smile.  "Damn shame what it took to bring that change on, but I'm sure it will only help him reach a new level of awesome."

It was strange but he meant it.   Not in that he had truly wished Devin harm, and what happened to him wasn't something he'd wish on anyone, but the change it wrought in him was for the better.   He was still insufferable at times, but with his powers he could just leave, he didn't have to deal with all this.   He didn't though, and at least for Cade, that meant alot.  

Cade smiled just a little.  "So anyone got plans for the rest of the day?"

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With her hands loaded with conciliatory pie, and Bacon trotting happily at her side, there was only one missing element to her grand unified plan to tell her mom that...everything she'd believed about the universe was a cruel lie. Oh god. And that was Devin. Cassandra immediately grasped that looking around the grounds wasn't the best way to do this. Instead she fished her non-pie hand into her pocket and fished out her phone...then texted him.

>>hey can u come to my table? by the big tree with no leafs on the left branch...gonna give mom the talk and need proof<<

She spotted her mom sitting at that very table and felt her hands getting clammy. Marissa was right that it wasn't complicated. Not really. But it was still terrifying. The complexity of the situation wasn't about psychic powers or facing danger. It was wrapped up in the complexity of Cassandra's strained relationship with her mother the past several years. How strained it was, and why it was strained. And on top of that, Teresa wasn't...she didn't like supernatural fiction or stories, she wasn't into fantastic tales. Cass had no sense for how she'd react, finding out that the world was darker and deeper than she'd ever known.

But she had to know. There was simply no alternative.

As Cassie arrived at the table her mom looked over at her and smiled affectionately. It was a smile that reminded Cass painfully of a time when they weren't in such short supply. There had to be a better time...

...there wasn't though. This was it. Literally it. Tonight she might die. Teresa had to know. Now.

She put the plate of pie on the table and slid it over to her mother. "Hey. Compliments of the Bannons. It's really good."

"Ohhh, wow," Teresa sighed as she dipped her fork tines into the pie, then plucked them back out and tasted them. She always did that with pastries, always tasted them on her fork before taking a bite. "Mmm, that's really good. It's, uh...it's just...there's not any...nonstandard ingredients right?"

Cassandra couldn't help but laugh. "Yeah, it's full of pot, mom, what do you think?"

Her mom laughed in return and took a bite. "It's addictive enough to be true." She took a second bite then another look at her daughter. With that terrifying insight mothers have she then asked, "Everything okay?" Her tone clearly conveyed she already knew everything wasn't.

"Not...exactly," Cass replied. "I need to talk to you. About...everything. Everything I haven't been talking to you about. For...jesus, for months now, I guess."

Teresa had paused in eating the pie, listening and watching Cassandra intently. She took a guess, "Is this related to all your new friends,and how much time you're spending with them?"

"Partly," said Cassie with a nod. "It includes that. And...just...it's not bad, exactly. I need you to know that up front. It's not bad news. It's just...complicated and challenging, and I...I'm talking about talking about it, instead of talking about it. Shit."

She took a deep breath. "Okay. Uh. Once Devin gets here."

Now Cassandra's mom narrowed her eyes with vast and descending suspicion. "Jesus, Cassie. Devin? Really?"

 

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Lunch had gone by quietly after the gentle interrogation of Autumn's new life and friends. Nathan had smoothly changed the subject away from mysterious historical projects to hockey league games, for which Autumn could've hugged the man. Her dad obviously hadn't thought anything was amiss, but her mom was thoughtful, remembering the letters and the talisman and the conversation they'd had last night. More than once, Dana fixed her daughter with a pensive gaze which, when noticed, she swiftly replaced with a smile or looked away. 

Jacob, too, was thoughtful. Obviously he knew about the secret history, at least a large part of it as related to the Crockers and Kavanaghs. Though involved with the sports conversation - bemoaning the lack of a school team for the Montana youth hockey league tournaments - he more than once studied his childhood friend as though looking for signs of change. It was a little unnerving, all the more so since Autumn couldn't outright tell him to stop looking for the horns and tail. So she settled for pulling faces at him every time she caught him regarding her. It was childish, but better than feeling like a lab specimen. As the extended family sat back from the remnants of their feast, Autumn tapped out a brief text. 

"Jase?" her mom asked, noting the phone use. 

"Mmm. Asking if he wants to come over." The freckled teen smiled. "I figure we'll have front row seats - Jase versus the Keane and Crocker menfolk." 

Dana laughed, rolling her eyes and glancing at Ian, Nathan and Jacob. "Think we should ask him to go easy on them?" She teased, prompting laughing protests from the guys. The older redhead wagged a finger at them. "Seriously, everyone play nice. I mean it."

Despite the fact that she hadn't really been looking forward to this particular meeting, there were some advantages to introducing Jase to her dad- and her uncle- under these specific circumstances, and getting that whole thing out of the way ASAFP. It wasn't a tactical or strategic consideration on her part, really, so much as a desire to avoid nuclear fallout in the confines of her home. Out here, in the open and in public, things might get a little... Well, tense, maybe, but probably an awkward atmosphere was the worst that would happen, and Autumn was something of an expert in that particular field. Especially lately, since the world had been turned right the fuck upside-down, and every day was full of possibilities for what she'd started thinking of as the Weird to rear its freaky head and dismantle some long-held belief about reality, or about the universe being a generally benign place instead of an unrelenting horrorshow. 

Although, she considered, getting to her feet as the guys present protested their innocent intentions, it wasn't all bad. Besides: even if Dana was having fun screwing with her semi-maybe-estranged husband and teasing her daughter in the same breath, she'd already met Jason and talked to him and let him spend the night with Autumn in the woods and- hell, fed him, for crying out loud. If she hadn't liked him, or at least been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, the younger redhead was pretty sure that would already have been made abundantly clear. And, she reflected with awe and not a little pride on the enthusiasm of her mother's swearing the previous night, very, very colorful.

"Sweetheart, where're you going?" the woman in question asked, still laughing at Nathan's half-joking offer to 'ask around the office' about Jason Bannon- an unnecessary effort, she felt fairly sure, given how unnervingly direct the young man seemed. Even so, it was always nice to know people who could do that sort of thing. Just in case. She watched her only child over the rim of her glass as the girl rose from her seat and started heading away from the group. 

"Mmm?" Autumn blinked, finding herself a short distance from the table and moving vaguely in the direction she and Jacob had come from earlier. "Oh, um." That was actually a really great question. Where was she going? "Nowhere, I guess," she confessed uncertainly, taking a few steps back toward her family before her feet carried her once more in the opposite direction. "Just waiting." Absently she smoothed her shorts back down where they'd ridden up a bit, sea-hued eyes scanning the crowd as though searching for a ship on the horizon. Apprehension and anticipation animated her restless frame in defiance of the meal they'd just had, and as she paced slowly, methodically along the demarcation of shade and sunlight at the edge of their little picnic area, Autumn very deliberately waited- or, at least, avoided wandering off to find Jason herself, which was basically the same thing anyway.

And then he was crossing the open space from the more public areas of the field, appearing without fanfare as if he'd been there all along, and she paused, squinting slightly in the bright afternoon sun. She waited, watching as he closed the distance with that effortless economy of movement that was, itself, a kind of grace, and every step applied another degree of torsion to the coil of energy that twisted like a spring in her limbs. There was movement behind her, bemused commentary about the sudden end to her pacing, and in an effort to hold still a little longer Autumn rocked forward onto her toes and back onto her heels, leaves crinkling softly beneath the soles of her sneakers. He looked different, dressed casually, but even from a distance... Exhaling, she shoved her hands resolutely into her back pockets, and she waited.

He saw her there, of course. Pale eyes sought and locked on to the tumble of bright copper hair before taking in the cutely freckled features that began to light with a smile as she met his gaze. As was his way he subjected her posture to calm appraisal as he drew nearer, studying the faint flex of the muscles of her calves as she rocked on her feet, noting the way her hands were firmly placed away from temptation, marking the faint indentation of her teeth in her lower lip. Her manner spoke of restraint to him, of wanting yet also desiring to not appear to want. Beyond her, the faces of her family reflected bemusement - some smiles and exchanged glances as they marked the athletic girl's behaviour. His crystalline mind catalogued all of this, choosing a course of behaviour and action. These people were important to Autumn. What they thought of her was important to her. What they thought of him also mattered to her. He understood this as a cognitive analysis rather than from any innate empathy - mostly. After all, it was true he liked that Gar seemed to like Autumn. He liked that she made his father smile. Was it important to him that it be so? He filed that question away in the back of his mind for later examination as he came to a stop before his girlfriend. 

He wanted to reach out, pull her close, to feel the shape of her body against his through their clothes as he drank kisses from her panting lips. But this was not the time for that. There was a level of propriety to be observed in front of relatives, was there not? Their earlier 'greeting' had been unrestrained, abandoned to desire. This setting was... more formal.

"Hey." he smiled faintly, the corners of his eyes tightening as he leaned forward and down, brushing his lips over hers in a firm, but relatively chaste kiss, one hand lightly curling around her waist and resting on her hip for the brief embrace before he straightened up again. "How was lunch?"

"Good," she replied, smiling as she reached up, idly tracing the first few letters printed on his shirt. The contact was brief, and not nearly as direct as she wanted, but they were in front of her family, and after the scene earlier, and Marissa's commentary... Patience, the crisp black characters seemed to chide her, and the sprinkling of freckles on her nose took on an entirely new pattern as they scrunched together. Ugh. Even his clothes were frustrating: partly because she was attaching meaning to something completely random, and partly because he was still wearing them. "There was some smack talked," Autumn continued, lacing her fingers through his and drawing him with her, taking a few steps backward as the smile-turned-grimace broadened into a grin. "And some shade thrown, obviously, but the food was good, the sun's out, and now I'm fat and happy. Also," she added in a theatrically conspiratorial tone, "my mom's asked if you'd mind going easy on them."

"I heard that," her father retorted dryly as the younger of the Keane ladies beamed innocently at him over her shoulder, and the elder snickered and opened a bottle of cider for herself. With a brief glance at his wife's friend, Ian set his drink on the checkered cloth and rose, brushing his hands lightly over the crisp fabric of his khakis before rounding the table. Autumn couldn't help but feel a twinge of anxiety as Ian approached, more so than she had with her mother; that first meeting had mostly been embarrassing and awkward because of Dana's assumption that something was going on. Which- at the time- hadn't been true at all, but now Jason was meeting her dad, as her for-real boyfriend, and until a few days ago that wasn't a conversation she'd ever expected to have. So... 

It's fine. Just breathe, Autumn. It'll be fine. The earnest young woman took a deep breath, her fingers tightening slightly on Jase's as she drew her shoulders back and glanced fleetingly up at the laconic young genius's profile, then back at her father. "Dad, this is Jason Bannon. Jase, this is my dad." 

"Ian Keane," the realtor added with a polite smile as he approached, extending a hand in greeting. "Pleasure to meet you, Jason. And, 'Ian' is fine."

"Pleased to meet you too, Ian." Jase replied, taking the older man's hand in a polite clasp and shake. As Mr Keane kept his measuring gaze on Jason, so too did the pale, glimmering eyes of the youth not waver from Autumn's father's stare as his lips twitched upwards in a faint smile. Ian wasn't sure he liked the way he was being looked at. It wasn't hostile or mocking - in fact the older man didn't get any sense of animosity at all. Rather, he experienced the same sensation Dana had on the first handshake: of being assessed without any particular bias, as though it didn't matter at all to the assessor, at this stage, whether or not you liked him. Dana, perhaps due to her calling in life, had compared Jason in that moment to an undomesticated creature, deciding whether someone was friend or foe and not personally invested in either outcome.

Autumn's dad, on the other hand, just felt that there was something entirely too self-composed and confident in the teen's bearing. A career in realty had taught him that everyone got nerves meeting new people, even in friendly relaxed circumstances. Even he got emotionally tense and had to work to steady himself before meeting with new clients. Folks smiled a little too broadly, talked a little too fast, at least until they settled down a little and the newness of the encounter faded somewhat. The kid carried himself like he had nothing to prove and no-one to prove it to - not from some affected teenage nihilism, but like a much older, more seasoned man should. 

"Do you prefer Jase, or Jason?" he asked, indicating a space at the table in silent invitation to sit.

"My friends call me Jase." Exhibit A said calmly as he took the invitation and sat, nodding to Jacob in the manner of teen males. His eyes crinkled slightly at the corners as he smiled at Dana, then Autumn, before glancing back at Ian. "And since I've been asked nicely to take it easy on you, Jase is fine." That got another snicker from Dana and a snort from Autumn as Nathan Crocker smiled and leaned across the table, hand also extended. 

"Nathan Crocker, Jacob's dad. It's a pleasure, Jase." 

"Warden." Jason inclined his head fractionally as he shook Nathan's hand much as he had Ian's. "I actually remember you from Middle School, when you came and gave a talk. It actually kindled my interest - I spent a lot of time after that researching Montana's ecosystem and began taking camping trips." 

"Really?" Nathan blinked, smiling a little as he sat back. "Always nice to meet another outdoorsman. Do you hunt?" 

"I've not hunted yet." Jason shrugged, accepting a drink of lemonade from Autumn as she slid herself onto the seat next to him, avoiding the urge to reach up and play with the ends of his shaggy hair. Nathan watched him as he spoke, forming much the same first impression as Dana had of the youth - but also tinged with the knowledge he had regarding Autumn and his suspicions of her new friends.

"You'll have to get Autumn to take you out there." Dana suggested as she sipped her cider. 

"True. She's a good shot - most of the time." Jacob grinned at his friend.

In answer, Autumn made the kind of face at him that usually earned a parental admonishment that, if she kept making it, it'd eventually stick. "Good enough!" she protested, playfully prodding Jacob's shin under the table with the toe of her shoe. "As long as it's a clean kill, I don't have to be able to take the wings off a fly at a hundred paces or anything. I remember watching some of the state archery competitions, and some of the international ones on Youtube. Nuh uh." She shook her head emphatically, shifting a little so that her hip was pressed against Jase's."Hard pass. I'll get better eventually, just by doing it. I don't want to kill the fact that I enjoy it by treating it like a job, y'know?" 

"Some colleges," her mother interjected innocuously, chin on one hand as she watched the three teenagers, "have archery scholarships. Just a thought." 

"Okay, yes, but," Autumn countered, meeting Dana's gaze and directing a pointed glance at the lean form of the young man sitting next to her, before peering meaningfully back at the veterinarian with the laughing hazel eyes. It would've been more subtle if she'd written "This is supposed to be about him right now!" across her face with a marker, and on the other side of the table Nathan narrowly managed to stifle a grin by getting up to retrieve another drink from the cooler. "That's a conversation for Future Autumn to have, not Today Autumn." 

"Mmm. Future Autumn. Right." The auburn-haired woman took in the girl's expression, smiling bemusedly as she took a drink from the bottle in her hand. Her daughter couldn't hide what she was thinking to save her life, and her new beau... Well, who knew what he was thinking? "Let's hope she's getting better grades than the other one."

Today Autumn's head fell back as she sighed expressively, her long, drawn-out exhalation ending in the guttural ugghhh that suggested frustration and being generally over a subject. They'd already talked about this earlier, hadn't they? Nothing had changed in the couple of hours since. Straightening, she took a sip of lemonade to cool off a bit. "Yes, she will be. Like I said, Jase and I have Chemistry together-" 

"I do recall you mentioning that," Ian interrupted, some of the earlier dry humor in his voice returning as he reclaimed his seat. "I just didn't expect to see it myself." 

"Oh my god," the redhead groaned, clapping her hands over her face as a surge of bright pink bloomed from her collar all the way up to her hairline, nearly obscuring her freckles in vivid rose. Of course. He did see them, and it felt too much like the violation of some pre-Dark-confronting taboo to pray right then for a meteor strike or for the earth to open up or to just spontaneously combust. Instead, she just wished fervently for time to skip forward, past the part where her parents amused themselves in front of Jase at her expense. "No," she protested plaintively through her fingers, "you know what I mean! The class! We have Chem class together, and he's helping me!"

"Of course that's what you meant." Jacob nodded, smirking. 

"You were very clear as to your meaning." Jason put in, not in the least abashed or discomfited. Indeed, his delivery was so deadpan even Autumn had to double check to be sure of the glint of devilish amusement in the pale jade eyes that turned to smile at her. 

"Noooo. Don't you start." she warned him, raising an admonishing finger to add weight to her words. It was no good, of course. It was hard enough to maintain mortified outrage in the face of the ancient humour behind those eyes, let alone when his body was touching hers and she could feel the heat of him permeating her skin almost as warm as the blush on her face. 

"I was merely agreeing with you." Jase tilted his head to one side. For someone who was compelled to speak the literal truth, he was pretty good at quiet innuendo and wordplay. Demonstrated amply by his waiting a beat, then stating "On all counts." As Autumn made a noise somewhere between a groan of frustration and a squeak of embarrassment, letting her head fall into her hands, Ian spared a smile for his daughter's plight before once more focusing his parental attention on Jason. 

"So what are your college plans, Jase?" he asked casually, regarding the youth over his beer. 

"Tentative and formless." Jase replied with a slight shrug of one shoulder. "I have a great interest in STEM field subjects, and am currently working out how best to pursue multiple degrees, then doctorates in the more specialised topics which interest me most. It's that last part that's currently giving me pause to consider: which areas to pursue doctoral study in." 

"Doctorates. Plural." Ian stated, raising his brows and exchanging a look with Dana, who shrugged very slightly. "That sounds time-consuming and expensive."

"Perhaps. I am confident that the financial aspect will not be a worry. There are foundations who fund education for those of demonstrated ability." he said earnestly, sipping his lemonade. Autumn froze, grateful that her face was still in her hands as her eyes swivelled sideways to study Jason's profile. Aeon. He had to be talking about that Aeon Society. Or did he? Perhaps he was simply saying he'd find it easy to earn scholarships and grants. Which was indeed also likely. 

"You sound pretty confident of that." Jacob's brow furrowed as he stared at Jason, who nodded. 

"I am." he stated simply. "But what will you do after that?" Ian asked. "What's the career plan? Or is there one?" 

"I don't yet know where my doctoral studies will lie. Until that is decided, a career plan is superfluous." Jason admitted. He smiled very slightly then, curling a free arm around Autumn's waist, enjoying her nearness. "If everything falls through and entropy makes mockery of my plans, I will make new ones."

Despite the mention of Aeon and her father's polite interrogation, Autumn relaxed a little as Jase's hand slid across her back to rest just above her hip, his thumb idly brushing over the faded cotton of her t-shirt. She couldn't be sure if it was a deliberate gesture of comfort on his part, or if that was something he'd consciously consider in this situation- but even if not, the intentions behind an action didn't always have anything to do with the results, and anyway it felt good, so whatever. Resisting the temptation to press closer against him, to feel more of that warmth radiating from his skin, as she lowered her hands from her still-pink cheeks she instead rested one on his knee, briefly running her fingertips across the new-denim texture of his jeans. It was different, a notable deviation from the typical Jason Bannon uniform, but not unappealingly so, she decided, admiring the way the breeze tousled his hair and privately hoping he didn't decide to change too much. 

"So, no concrete plans, then, but you're thinking about something in one of the science or tech areas. All right. What about plans not related to your career, then? Travel, or family, or hobbies you might pursue," Ian elaborated, his free hand indicating the general area of the field and the wider world beyond. "Autumn hasn't really told me much about you, so I'm interested in finding out more about who Jason Bannon is. And, as my wife pointed out earlier today, you're probably the best source of information on the subject."

"Travel, for certain. I enjoy new experiences - especially food-related ones." Jase tilted his head, smiling slightly and studying the others at the table as he answered. "I also like learning languages and studying cultures." 

"Autumn said you speak six languages?" Jacob looked skeptical, though not offensively so. Jason nodded. 

"Aside from English, yes. Ancient Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Russian and Italian." The glacially composed teen explained. "Self-taught - well, with the aid of books, audio teaching materials and Youtube language coaches. In fact, today I picked up some materials to start learning German." He paused, considering for a moment. "My spoken fluency is likely quite stilted and formal, without much in the way of idiom or colloquialism. That would take speaking the languages conversationally with native speakers for awhile - it's hard to converse with audio tapes, even if I practice mimicking the inflections and vowel sounds. But I can read and understand the languages mostly fluently." 

"As for hobbies..." he shrugged. "I read a lot. Poetry, literature, technical manuals, medical texts, philosophical works, histories, fictions." He smiled, a quick flash of amusement. "Pretty much anything and everything. I enjoy cooking, gardening, running, hanging out with my friends."

"He's glossing over the fact that he's got an indoor garden filled with the most beautiful collection of flowers I've ever seen." Autumn smiled as she nudged Jase playfully. "It's like paradise in there." He returned her smile with a faint one of his own. 

"I'm glad you like it." He said softly, meeting her eyes for a moment before glancing back at Ian. "As for family... Perhaps? One day. I'm still just sixteen, after all. I think it'd be wise to figure out how and where I fit into this world before making such plans."

"Sometimes you don't get the chance to figure it out, though." Nathan put in with a wry smile. "Sometimes, life - or love - happens while you're making those plans." Jase nodded agreement. 

"Then I adapt to the new challenge."

"Not a bad way to look at it," Dana commented airily, giving her daughter a wink and a quick smile of encouragement as the freckled teenager squirmed more under Ian's questioning than the subject of the parental examination himself. "Being resilient is a good thing, and-" The pretty vet paused for a moment, the smile softening a little as she regarded her not-so-little girl with misty eyes, reflecting on the emotional exchange and revelations of the night before. "And I think we're all learning to adapt to new challenges lately, yeah?" 

"Yeah." Autumn smiled despite the liquid brightness of her eyes as she rose from the table and circled around to where her mother sat. Kneeling next to Dana, the active redhead wrapped her arms around the other woman's waist. She didn't cry. She was done crying for a while, and just thinking about it was exhausting. Even so, she pressed her face against her mom's side, absorbing the admission of a shared but unspoken grief, and the scent of home, and the feeling of safety as Dana murmured reassurances and gently stroked her hair, here and there tucking a stray curl back into the haphazard braid from which it had escaped.

Distracted, Ian made to get up, but his wife shook her head. "It's fine. She's fine. We just... had a talk last night." She drew Autumn up into a fierce hug, squeezing her spirited, copper-crowned daughter tightly enough to make her squeak softly and return the embrace. "Girl talk," she added, drawing back and pinching the girl's cheek with an impish grin that belied the fondness in her gaze, and both women's noses crinkled as the rest of their extended family looked on with varying degrees of concern and confusion.

"Girl talk," Autumn affirmed, still smiling a little as she settled back down on the bench next to Jase. Jacob frowned across the table at her, eyebrows drawn together in wordless curiosity; like Dana, however, she just shook her head. Inhaling, she blinked the moisture from her eyes and straightened, then slowly exhaled again. Just breathe, Autumn. You have all day. Taking one more centering breath, she let her hand drift back to Jase's knee and offered her father a quick, apologetic grin. "Sorry, sorry. Please, let the grand inquisition continue."

Ian frowned, wondering what on earth they could possibly have talked about that would've evoked that kind of response, and made a mental note to ask about it later; again, he had the uncomfortable experience of feeling as if he were on the outside of his own family, looking in. Directing his attention back to the strange young man beside Autumn, the blue-eyed salesman took a thoughtful swig from his bottle and asked pointedly, "Right. So. Where exactly does my daughter fit into these not-quite-plans, then?"

Inwardly, Autumn cringed- it wasn't quite "What are your intentions with my daughter?" level bad, but it was pretty darn close, and knowing Jase, he was likely to say almost anything. She was about to speak up, to protest that they'd only been dating a couple of days, but- 

"That is up to Autumn to decide, not anyone else." It was a simple, unadorned statement, but one spoken with conviction. Five pairs of eyes locked onto the impassive genius's angular features as, for a solid fifteen seconds that felt like the passing of an age to the non-Teulu majority, no one at the table made a single sound. One corner of Dana's mouth slowly curved upward in an approving smile and although Jacob's eyes narrowed slightly, he tipped his cup in Jase's direction in a gesture of grudging respect.

"See?" The cheeks of the girl in question were tinged with a pleased flush as she beamed triumphantly at her father, then up into the pale green eyes of her brilliant, kissable, impenetrable, amazing boyfriend. "That, gentlemen, is why I like him."

"Is it?" Jason sounded intrigued and curious as he looked at Autumn, then shrugged at the others smiling faintly, a lopsided crooked quirk of the lips. "I thought it was just the car." Ian was still staring at him as though trying to figure out whether Area 51 was missing some alien experiment or cyborg - a not uncommon reaction to the new, post-summer party Jason. 

"Ugh." Autumn elbowed him gently as chuckles came from her family. She grinned at him through her fading blush. "Speaking of, when are you going to let me drive it?" 

"Get an A in Chem and we'll talk." Came the deadpan reply. Jacob snorted with laughter and Dana broke into snickering: even Ian smiled at that. Nathan watched the interplay with a raised eyebrow and a grin. 

"An A?!" 

"Winners drive the Charger." Jase shrugged in the face of the blue-eyed glare he was being subjected to, the glint of challenge in his own eyes unrepentant. "Losers get to sit in the passenger seat and look beautiful." He spread his hands in a 'what can you do?' gesture. "It's the rules." 

"Really?" Autumn set her mouth in a tight line to avoid the urge to start giggling, even as a renewed flush threatened her freckled cheeks at being called 'beautiful' by him again - and this time in front of her family. "An A, huh? And then I can drive?" 

"One 'A' in Chem or English means you get to drive the Charger on one occasion for a decent amount of time. An 'A' in both at the same round of assessment becomes five occasions. 'A' average over the course of the semester means you get driving rights until the end of the next semester." Jase stated, smiling slightly. "Sound fair?" 

"You own a Charger?" Ian looked interested, despite his evident humor and grudging approval at watching Autumn get challenged in such a way. Dana was in danger of choking on her cider at the expression on her daughter's face as the younger redhead stared calculatingly at her boyfriend.

"1970 turbocharged V8. Found a junker with the engine in restorable condition for a few hundred dollars, then restored it myself with some help from friends." Jason explained, nodding. "It's been pointed out that perhaps she's not the most practical ride for a Montana winter, but I like classic muscle cars. If I get stuck in a drift, I'll push her out."

Autumn considered Jason's profile while he spoke, her wide eyes narrowed speculatively as she half-listened to him detail for the others present the particulars of the great black beast, technical specifications that might as well have been one of the foreign languages he'd studied. Honestly, she hadn't really cared anything about driving the Charger at all- mostly she'd just been carrying on the running joke of people begging to get behind the wheel. At least, that was true until he'd said she could only do it if. 

That one word "if" suggested a lot, like, maybe he thought she could pull it off, but didn't think she would. Or maybe he wanted to see what would happen if she tried, or he was just giving her a hard time in front of her family because it was funny, or he was just interested in seeing her reaction, or he was actually thinking about her future career prospects, which was maybe not entirely unreasonable for an alien genius, or- At least three reasons, she reminded herself, chewing idly on the inside of her lower lip. So, okay. Screwing with me is definitely on the list. Probably he also wants to see if I'm willing to do it, and what'll happen, and I also don't think he'd bother bringing it up if he didn't believe it was possible. Hm. 

She didn't really care about the car. The car didn't matter. Driving the car didn't matter. What mattered was that he'd set the bar and dared her to reach it. Fuck it. Why not? What was the worst that could happen, right? 

"Hey, Dad? Uncle Nathan?" she chimed in decisively. "Can one of you guys teach me how to drive a stick?" There was a defiant gleam in her eye as she interrupted the guy talk, a bright smile drawing out the curve of her mouth and accenting the dimples that framed it. "I'm gonna need the practice for next semester."

"Ahh, if only you'd been so enthusiastic about studying before," Dana quipped, the bemused half-smile lingering as she began clearing away the remains of lunch, packing up the leftovers and empty containers. As she reached across the table to retrieve the bowl of cherry tomatoes and baby carrots, Autumn very pointedly pulled it out of her mother's reach, curling one arm around it and claiming the little trove of snacks for her own. Dana gave a soft snort of laughter, resigning herself to rolling up the half-empty bags of chips instead. "Where was all this last year, hmm?" 

"Could we please talk about something besides school?" Autumn pleaded without looking up, eyebrows drawn together in a little frown as she studied the contents of her hoard and picked out some of the choicest tomatoes from the lot. "The semester literally just started, and all afternoon it's been grades and college, grades and college. This was supposed to be a day off." 

"Well," the elder redhead drawled blithely as she leaned over, deftly plucking a prize from the bowl and earning a huff of protest and an exaggerated scowl of mock-reproach from her daughter. "Jason's the one who brought it up this time, but I suppose we could always talk about that camping trip you two took. If you'd prefer." The crunch of the bite-sized carrot was audible, terminal punctuation to a statement that might otherwise have seemed open to interpretation. 

"School's fine," Autumn capitulated quickly, shaking her head even as she grinned in response to her mother's teasing. "I'm good with school."

"Mmhmm. I thought you might be." Dana's impish expression grew more thoughtful as she regarded the self-possessed young man, but his eyes were on Autumn, and hers on him as he intently devoured the cherry tomato she'd placed against his mouth. Something about the gesture reminded her of seeing them together in the kitchen at home, and as Autumn's fingers brushed his lower lip, the pretty vet quickly intervened before there was another hands-on situation. This was definitely not the time or the place for PDA, especially with Ian around. And, poor Jacob... Although, she realized, he seemed to mostly be taking it in stride- certainly he was handling the news that Autumn had apparently moved on much better than Dana had expected. "Jase, would you mind giving me a hand getting these back to the Jeep? I think everyone's done eating, so that'll give us some more room."

That icy jade gaze flicked from Autumn's face to Dana's as he ate the rest of the cherry tomato, his girlfriend's fingers still lingering in a brushing touch on his jaw, as though she were focusing on the movement of muscle and bone under his olive-tanned skin as he chewed. "Sure." he replied in his soft-spoken tone, smiling a fraction as he looked back at Autumn and took in the slight pout of her lower lip at having her fun-with-food interrupted.

"I'll be back soon." he told her quietly, his smile widening and reaching his eyes as he leaned in and gently kissed that pouty lip before getting to his feet, picking up an armload of containers and letting Dana lead the way.

"Oh! Hang on a sec, I'll help," Autumn offered as she hopped up from her seat, lips still tingling from the brief kiss in a way that left her feeling momentarily uncertain whether that warm effervescence was due to her Shine, or his pheromones, or some combination of both, and ultimately deciding that Today Autumn didn't care much either way. And of course, going with them had absolutely nothing at all to do with wanting to steal another one. Or two. Or three. She was supposed to help out with stuff like that, anyway, not just sit around and let other people do it for her. 

Jacob nodded, apparently reaching more or less the same conclusion as he stood up and stretched a little, taking a quick mental inventory of what they might still need for later. "So will I. What can I carry, Dana?"

"No, no, don't be silly," Dana all but chirped in reply, breezily waving them off with a quick shooing motion of her free hand. "We've got it. Besides, if you're serious about this driving thing you still need to convince your dad over there. You take care of that, and we'll handle this." 

"But-" It was a fruitless protest. As she watched her mother conscript her boyfriend into helping with post-lunch cleanup, Autumn couldn't help but feel simultaneously guilty for not pitching in, and uneasy that Dana had pulled him away. She shot Jacob a quick glance across the table: Why are we being let off the hook? her expression demanded, but he looked just as confused as she felt. Being told to do nothing while the guest was put to work was, for the two young Shelly natives, an unprecedented experience that left them both unsettled. What was the protocol for something like this? Was it okay to not help? Autumn shifted her weight uncertainly from one foot to the other, torn between following after them anyway and taking the chance to talk Ian into helping her.

"Tell you what," Nathan cut in abruptly, leaning forward and catching the girl's attention with a quick tap on her elbow. "If your dad'll teach you the basics, I'll cover the rest- bad weather, bad roads, bears- things like that. You know." He grinned affably, tipping back his drink and savoring the sensorial contrast of cold beer on such a warm afternoon. "Driving conditions." 

"Bears are a driving condition?" Autumn blinked owlishly at him, distracted momentarily from the conundrum of pursuing either filial duty or personal interest. 

"They are where we'll be headed." The warden winked at her, then glanced from the independent-minded redhead to her more conventional father. "If, obviously, your old man says it's all right."

"Sweetheart, I don't mind helping you. I do, however," he emphasized, pausing slightly for effect, "have some concerns we’ll need to address, and I thought you said when you got your license last year you didn't actually want to start driving." 

"Yeah, no, I still don't. I mean..." She paused, frowning a little as she considered the practical limitations of a bicycle for long-distance travel. Assuming she managed to survive high school, there probably would come a time when it was no longer convenient. "Eventually...? Right now, though, I don't need a car, so I'm not gonna worry too much about it until that changes. Maybe if I end up going to college." 

"When. When you end up going." Ian shook his head, refusing to yield on this point. "Take a city like Billings, for example. If you go to MSU, you'll almost have to drive. It's huge, compared to Shelly: over a hundred thousand people versus maybe, maybe three percent of that here." 

"Okay, fine, when I go. I can totally get away with keeping my bike as long as I live in a small town, though," Autumn countered, grinning as she reclaimed her seat, resting her elbows on the table and swinging her feet idly underneath. "Maybe I could get a job monitoring the effect of tourism on the ecosystem around... Hmmm. Mt. Vesuvius, or something." 

"In Italy." Rarely had four syllables, distributed over two small words, ever been laden with such skepticism; Autumn suddenly got the impression that if she'd Googled "doubt" at that moment, a picture of her father's face would've replaced that old video game meme in the search results.

"Just a thought! Bikes are legitimately a thing in lots of places in Europe. Or up in the Pacific Northwest, or something. The pictures I've seen of the mountains up there are crazy gorgeous. Or, I don't know. Maybe I could see if we've still got family over in Ireland, see what that's like. I could do like a study abroad thing after high school." She shrugged. That was more Future Autumn stuff. "Anyway, I don't need to own a car with a stick shift to be able to drive one, and Jase's happens to be available. -Ish." 

"Whoa, whoa. Just so I'm clear on this. You're seriously willing to try to get A's in Chem and English just so that you can drive Bannon's car, but not to get into college?" Jacob laughed incredulously. 

"No, not just," she tossed a carrot stick at him, unable to suppress an answering grin as her childhood friend caught the edible missile deftly and popped it into his mouth. "So, look, it's not about driving the car, really. It's more about proving I can do it." The earnest young woman hesitated, then admitted, "...And, also that I can do it first. Okay, okay," Autumn spread her hands as she laughed, fingers outstretched, "I know how that sounds, but he's always just said 'no' when people've asked before. And, honestly, now I'm kind of curious to see what it's like." 

"Well, if you want extra help, and your dad's busy, or mine is, or whatever." Jacob leaned back a little, stretching his legs under the table. "The truck's a straight shift. Besides, I've gotta admit I'm kinda looking forward to seeing Jason Bannon riding shotgun in his own car."

The Effing Girlfriend's smile widened, lighting up her freckled features with mischief. "Same."

 

Meanwhile... 

 

Having successfully maneuvered her daughter's slightly, er, peculiar new boyfriend away from prying eyes and ears and freckled fingers, Dana Keane was left with a new problem: the boyfriend himself. Specifically, she reflected as she pushed the button on the key fob, how to confirm or deny her suspicions about their supposed extracurricular-curricular activities. History project, my butt, she grumbled silently as the rear hatch of the Jeep popped open. For some reason, it just hadn't clicked into place that they'd talked about the old family ritual the night before, on the same day the kids had supposedly gone up to the reservation. But once Nathan had spoken up at the table, she remembered some of the other hints of strangeness, of changes she'd noticed lately, and the whole situation started to seem... What was the word Autumn used? ..."Sus." 

"Thank you," the slender veterinarian huffed softly as she heaved an overloaded tote bag into the back of the vehicle. "For going up there with Autumn yesterday. Our family-" She paused, rearranging the cargo a little to make more room for the containers Jason was carrying. "Well, my side of it anyway, Dad's family- has been here in Shelly for a long, long time, so there's plenty of history to be studied." Turning, she regarded the pale-eyed young man thoughtfully, leaning her hip against the frame. "So what kind of project were you guys working on?"

"Autumn didn't tell you?" Jason asked casually, without any qualm or hesitation as he shuffled the armload of containers into the space provided, and Dana took a moment to be both amused and impressed at the attempted deflection without falsehood. Unfortunately for the lean youth with the direct stare, however, she had been expecting something of the sort, and her own gaze was unwavering as he straightened up and turned to look at her. 

"Oh, Autumn told me." Dana folded her arms and narrowed her eyes slightly, noting how Jason didn't shuffle, didn't shift his weight, didn't look away under the feminine suspicion. He simply stood, hands loose at his sides, regarding her with that omnipresent eerie self-possession. "I'm just curious what answer you would give." 

"Interesting." Jase's head tilted slightly, a faint smile quirking at the corner of his mouth. 

"What's interesting?" 

"That you think I would answer differently." Jason shrugged slightly. "It reminds me of a joke." Dana stared hard at him for a long moment, but when that didn't cause so much as an eyeblink she sighed.

"Fine. I'll bite. What's the joke?" 

"Can you keep a secret?" Jase asked, leaning forward a fraction. Dana sighed again. 

"I'm supposed to say 'yes', and then you say 'so can I'." she shook her head, lips tightening. Jase straightened up again. 

"Oh, you've heard it." he said without any trace of surprise or disappointment. Dana counted to five. Raising her voice at him probably wouldn't achieve anything. Invoking parental authority, her instincts told her, would be a non-starter. Pressuring her daughter's boyfriend in any adversarial fashion would likely yield only negative results. Give a little, to get a little in turn.

"Something's going on." she said quietly, her eyes searching his and finding only gleaming jade mirrors. She remembered the letters, and the talk with Autumn. "Autumn told me she went out to the reservation because of her grandfather's letters. My dad believed in ancient tales, and monsters, and Evil with a capital E-" she broke off, forcing herself to keep meeting that unyielding gaze. "Crazy tales. But Autumn hinted she believes in them too. And I know Nathan knows something about it." 

"You care about my daughter." she went on, seeing a flicker of something in the still pools of Jason's gaze as he nodded at that. "I just need to know... what's going on. That she isn't in danger. Please." 

He went still for a moment. It was similar to that time a couple of days ago in the kitchen, when she'd asked Jase what he'd do if he hurt Autumn accidentally. The youth's presence seemed to go away, somewhere behind the portals of his eyes. Then he took a slow breath, and returned again. 

"I think Autumn has things she wants to tell you." He said softly. "I think she is going to tell you soon, but wanted to enjoy a family day with you, and Ian, and the Crockers first. I can't speak for her, Dana. It wouldn't be right."

Dana found herself nodding reflexively as the sounds of the afternoon- lively, celebratory sounds, the familiar background noise of human interaction, exclamations and laughter, faint music- drained away with the blood in her face. That wasn't a 'No,' she realized. It wasn't a denial, or even a polite reassurance that she was wrong, that her assumption was irrational and completely off-base. It wasn't a, 'Your daughter is perfectly safe and you have nothing to worry about.' Jason Bannon could have said almost anything, and the day would've carried on just as it had been. 

But he didn't. He very deliberately didn't say it, and what he didn't say drowned out even the dull underwater roar of silence in her ears. 

There was a moment, then, as the axis of the universe tipped beneath and around her, that Dana remembered the hospice nurse taking her hand as they'd sat with Owen. How the woman had said nothing at all, because there weren't any words to truthfully shape the sounds of those emotions. This... This was different, though. There was no bed, no dimly-lit room. Autumn wasn't sick- she was strong, she was healthy, she was vibrant and so, so full of life, and whatever was going on, whatever was really happening, it wasn't that. Her daughter wasn't helpless, and neither was she. Not this time. And Dana nodded, drawing in a slow, shaky breath as the world resolved from blurred, wavering shapes back into the sharp, stoic features of the strange, distant young man her daughter had brought home like some exotic lizard she'd found while roaming the trails behind the house.

"All right then," she grudgingly conceded after a moment, running a hand back through her auburn hair as she exhaled and closed the rear door of the Jeep. "That's fair. I don't like it, but... it's fair. We'll revisit this later." The last was a firm statement, unequivocal in its certainty and as unyielding as her tone. Glancing back toward the picnic area, Dana extended her other hand toward the odd, green-eyed youth. "Come on, then. You’re right. She can speak for herself, but I want to be there to hear it."

Edited by Autumn Keane
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Devin looked at his phone.  Between his sister's angry rants and Cassie's text he seemed to be paying more attention to it than the conversation happening around him.  Finally he slapped his hand on the table softly to gather everyone's attention and offered a parting smile.  "Well, this has been fun, but, I have to skee-dattle, Cassie needs me for something."  He stood up and offered the assembled teens a wave as he prepared to hunt for Cassie and her one lone, leafless-branched tree.  "Hit me up in a bit guys, I'll see you then."

He set off after thanking the Cassidys for inviting him over for a plate, for which he received a series of suspicions facial expressions and fake platitudes that told him that no matter how they said he was more than welcome, he wasn't.  Devin knew false fronts when he saw them and didn't really blame them, he just wished they were more honest with him and themselves.

He had been walking across the park, sharing waves with the few people he still 'knew' and even shared a wave, smile and wink with Courtney who was too busy talking with a small group of guys 'admiring' her outfit, when his sister slipped from a throng of people lining up to try someone secret BBQ chicken recipe with a plat in hand and her small, pointy talons poking into brownish-red meat.  She sucked her thumb clean with a smack while looked on, shaking his head.

"So?"  He asked.  "How'd it go?"

"As well as to be expected," she said, licking her fingertip.  "You were right.  No one even acknowledges that he even did something.  They blame everyone else for it, walk away, or just plain deny it."

"I told you."  He added with a chuckle.  "No one here is our friend.  We're the scapegoats if things go south.  We already have the three-year history and I'm betting it's only a matter of time before the Liam thing gets put on us too.  Best we can do is keep it tight and let them play their games.  Jason is smart, smart enough to lie with the truth and smart enough to make everything look like it's everyone else that's to blame for it, so let him be their problem.  In the mean time, we work on us."

She rolled a few strands of peeled chicken into her mouth with her tongue.  "What if he does hurt her though, Deej?  I do worry, you know."

"Not our problem."  He shrugged.  "You talked to her, she blew you off.  At this point, if winds up broken and in the hospital because him, I wouldn't bother visiting her.  Let her piece together why.  Look, I know it's cruel, but we're trying our best to be friends with people and we're not good at it, but at least we're trying and so far we're not really making head way, meanwhile he's assaulting people al-la Batman and no one so much as wants to pull him aside and say 'what the hell', they left that job to a us, a bunch of kids.  We both know where this is going, so let them handle their own business.  That's how they want it, fine."

She shrugged as she chewed, nodding in agreement with her twin as they walked.  "I spoke with Jacob.  He actually seemed alright.  I miss something?"

"About three years?"  Her brother laughed.  "It's a surprise what people are like if you peel your face up from your phone and actually talk with them for a moment before you try to destroy them socially."

"Yeah," she said with a exhale of realization.  "I'm noticing that.  So, where are you off to?"

"Cassie is about to drop the 'the talk' on her mom."  He said while pivoting to one side to dodge a couple who were so into their own conversation hey didn't even notice him.

Marissa smirked.  "Pretty sure she knows, I mean, she had Cassie, right?"

"Yeah, but I figure at the very lest I can lie there while Cassie has her way with me in public," he mused with his own devilish smirk.  "Things I do for a date with the hot blonde, right?"

"Mmm, you're such a giver," his sister chuckled.  "Seriously though, we were just talking about this at the 'Cabin In The Woods' table.  She's really on edge about it.  Her mom has been through a lot," for a moment Marissa's sincerity rose to the surface and she was thankful none but her brother were there to witness it.  "Just, be supportive, okay?  Cassie's a good person and she's really been dealt a rough hand, so, be there for her.  She needs a win."

Seeing that she was being serious and thoughtful he tucked his humor away for a moment and offered his partner in crime a smile.  "Relax, she's in good hands.  I have her back."

"Good," Marissa licked her finger tip again and shooed him away with the same hand.  "Now go.  Go be a hero or something, I'm gonna find more chicken, this stuff is so good."

Hands in the pockets of his hoodie, Devin approached the Allen table.  He had noticed them talking from a distance and it looked like stall tactics until he got there, but for the most part they seemed to both be in a good mood.  He slowly approached and Cassie braced herself for the witty quip or lewd comment veiled in a greeting and hoped her mom would find it as amusing as Devin no doubt would.  Instead he simply just approached with a friendly smile.

"Hey, Blondie." He offered his Homecoming date a gentle rub on her back.  It reminded her of what it was like to have that 'special someone' in her camp.  Mentally she knew Devin was as smooth as they came in these parts, but emotionally she couldn't help but appreciate that feeling of having him there.  Something about him just left her mixed up sometimes because she knew all of his tricks and still a part of her considered falling for them.  "Mrs. Allen," he offered a nod."

No quip, no witticism, nothing, just honest, supportive Devin.  Yeah, this whole thing stunk like End Times.  Her glare told him that they would have words about what he was 'trying to pull' later, but instead she decided to resign herself to the soft, tender trace of Devin's nails gently scratching her back.  He was full of it, sure, but what sort of mad woman denies decent back scratching?  "Text said you needed my help.  What's up?"

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Teresa's face was starting to undergo a subtle but cataclysmic change. Chin firming, eyes narrowing slightly, jaw clenching. She gave Devin a very polite nod. "Devin."

Cassandra waved a hand at her waist level, trying to attract her mom's attention. "Mom, just hold on a second. Whatever you're thinking, you're wrong."

She looked at Devin and said, "Hey, thanks...I'm going to tell her everything and I need proof. Nothing I can do is...obvious, you know?"

Now it was Devin's turn to nod. "Yeah, I know. Me and Marissa talked. It was a rhetorical question. Go get her."

With a deep breath, Cass addressed her increasingly skeptical mother.

"I'm psychic."

Teresa frowned as her ears reported words that her brain refused to contemplate. "I'm sorry, what?"

"It started in July...that party I went to? Some seriously weird things happened out there, and...a bunch of us got psychic powers. Me, Devin, Autumn, Jase, Lilly...you know, the kids I've been hanging out with."

Her mom closed her eyes and started to turn away. "Jesus Christ, Cassie. Can't we get through one day..." She paused and looked back at Devin. "I'm sorry," she said, "maybe you'd better head back to your table. We're just..."

Cassie nudged him, and Devin...not sure what else to do...held up a hand with his palm empty and up. Then the water bottle that had been on the table in front of Teresa was in his hand. "Are you sure you don't want a drink first?" he asked.

And Teresa paused, her dismissal interrupted. Her brow furrowed slightly as she very visibly tried to parse out what she thought she'd seen. Had he grabbed it when she wasn't looking? He'd already had it, hadn't he?

Devin didn't give her a chance. "No? Okay, guess I don't need this then." The water bottle vanished again. Only to be replaced by the plate of pie. "Looks like you like the pie at least."

Cassandra's mother closed her mouth, then opened it...then sat down hard. Her eyes fell on the water bottle, and she very hesitantly reached out to touch it.

Cassie leaned over the table and followed up on the opening. "That's what he can do. He can teleport things. Even himself. Jase can move things with his mind."

Teresa shook her head. "Just stop," she said breathlessly. "Both of you, just stop. This isn't funny."

"It's real," Devin replied evenly. "It's not a joke. Look." The pie vanished from his hand and appeared on the table in front of her. "It's not a trick."

She touched the pie plate too, her hand shaking. "How is this possible?" Teresa asked, and her voice was no steadier than her hands. There was a kind of desperation in her eyes as she looked up to Cassandra.

Cass could only shrug. "We don't really know how," she admitted. "We've been practicing, learning to use what we can do, but...in the end, we still don't understand how it works."

Her mother swallowed hard and looked back at the pie. "Can you do that too?"

"...no, I can see things." At the expression on Teresa's face, Cass quickly pressed ahead. "I mean, at a distance. Like remote viewing. And back in time. See, hear...like I'm there." She sat down across from her mom and reached out across the table. Teresa reached out as well, and they held hands over the table. "It's ok, mom. I know it's...weird, but it's not bad we can do these things."

"I just...it's just a lot," replied her mother. "I have so many questions, and...it's still hard to believe even seeing it right in front of me."

Cassandra nodded fervently. "Believe me, I know. We all went through some of that. It hasn't even been two months now, but it feels like it's been a year or more."

"Oh my god," breathed Teresa. "I just... How did you never tell me this before?"

"I mean...I didn't know how. At first we were still learning, still experimenting. And then it was like...you already didn't trust me, and I didn't know how to prove it, and I didn't feel okay about..."

Teresa frowned and motioned a hand, cutting Cass off. "Wait. I'm sorry, what? I didn't trust you? What are you talking about?"

Cassie sighed and reached up to scratch at an eyebrow. "I just mean...you know. All that stuff about the prison, and dad and the military... I'd pretty much spent all my credibility like, forever ago. And that was on stuff that was at least somewhat plausible. What was I going to do, just knock on your door and say, 'hey mom, I can see things happening a state away if I try hard enough, even though I can't prove it to you.' That would have gone over real well."

Her mother was still for a long moment, then said, "Okay. Okay, maybe you have a small point. But, I mean..."

"No, I get it. You don't have to explain." Cassandra took a deep breath. Her mother seemed like she was recovering from the shock. "There is...more though."

She laughed shakily. "What, having...powers isn't enough?"

"It's probably more than enough, but there's more."

The serious tone in Cassandra's voice caught Teresa's attention. "What is it?"

Cassie glanced up at Devin and said, "You don't have to stay if you don't want to. Mission accomplished." She smiled. "I owe you one."

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"Nah," he smiled at her.  "You know I got yer back, fam."  The teleporting teenager addressed Cassandra's mother with a shrug and a simple tone.  "Mrs. Allen, no one can do the things we can do, so it stands to reason that there are certain things that only we were meant to do.  I know the truth is sometimes stranger fiction and your daughter is a lot of things," he grinned at Cassie.  "Smart, gorgeous, plucky, but she's not a liar.  What you hear won't be easy, but every word of it is the truth."

He stood up and leaned over to the lovely blonde, "If you need me, I'm a text away."  He looked to her mother and offered a wave.  "See ya Mrs. Allen.  If you need questions answered, I'm... always around, these days."  He smiled and walked back off into crowds of park goers well into their barbecue and beers by now.  He hadn't made it more than fifty feet before Courtney caught up with him.

"Deej," she gripped his arm to halt his meandering.  "Do you know where your sister is?"

He rolled his eyes and sighed like any good, annoyed brother should.  "Courtney, I posses psychically enhanced spatial awareness and omnidirectional acuity."

Courtney just looked at him like he was a statue and slowly shook her head, her mouth hanging open in a trapped phrase.  "Sooooo..."

"Yes!"  He chuckled, still a playing up being annoyed.  "Yes, I know where she is.  I know where everyone is.  She's over at Mr. Hendrick's table trying to weasel more chicken out of him.  The food is helping her cope with the loss of Autumn."

"Wait," the redhead seemed shocked.  "Autumn's dead?"

"Well, not medically.  Not yet, anyway.  No, my ever-giving and ever-benevolent sister welcomed Autumn into her circle of friendship... and now now she'd rather just spend all of her time with her boyfriend... who told my sister he loved her and kissed her... and is now dating her 'bestie'."

"...that's a bit messed up."  Courtney said through a furrowed brow still trying to put all those pieces together.

"Eh, it's par for the course around here.  To hear her tell they're all monsters.  To hear them tell it, I'm sure it all somehow be Marissa's fault.  Still, she's my sister and I see left ass-out while those two are running off and having the time of their lives.  For two people claim to care about her, I'm sure as hell not seeing it.  It'll sort itself, I'm sure.  She just needs a few days alone in the woods with her potions and rituals and a little Jase doll while she burns strands of Autumn's hair and bays at the moon maniacally.  That always perks her right up."

"Right."  Courtney expressed little to no interest anything Devin had past 'par for the course'.  "Mr. Hendricks' table, got it thanks."  She walked off, smiling and waving as she made her way to Marissa.

"No problem.  Yeah.  Gooooood talk.  Glad we could have it."  He clicked his tongue and shook his head before meandering on...

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Gar

The walk had helped somewhat, Gar's anger fading to a gnawing mixture of worry and guilt.  He was Jase's father, yet his son was going into battle against dark forces, wielding incomprehensible powers, alongside other kids, some of whom at least didn't like or trust him.  And, a small whisper of doubt asked, why should they?  After all, Jase had threatened another kid with a farm tool.  He had crippled Liam.  He had suspended a grown man in the air and calmly recited all the many slow and painful ways he could kill him as though reading off a fast-food menu.  Did it matter that the first two were attempted rapists and the third was some messed up secret eugenicist experimenting on the whole town like it they were lab rats?

No and yes, the sad-eyed man in the camo ballcap thought to himself as he moved through the rest area field, eyes down as he considered.  Sure, they were 'bad people'.  But only the first instance could really be claimed as 'acting in defense of another'.  The attack on Liam had been vengeance after the fact, pure and simple.  Threatening Cook...  Gar still wasn't sure why Jason had done that.  Anger at Cook insulting him didn't really fit, not completely enough to warrant the response.  A demonstration of strength?  Some calculated strategy to shake the Project people out of their sense of being in control?  Gar shook his head absently, still deep in thought as he wandered.  His son had changed, ever since things had gotten strange over the summer.  He'd become more assertive, more aggressive, less content to just drift through life with his books and his flowers.  He remembered yesterday, coming home and interrupting Jase and Autumn on the porch.  How she had reacted much as one would expect - burying her face in Jason's shirt and blushing furiously.  Jason, though also clearly caught off-guard, had looked at the interloper with a baleful glittering stare for an instant, then relaxed.  As if for a moment some predatory instinct had bridled at the interruption.

Puberty?  Gar wondered, shoving his hands into his pockets.  Was that all it was?  An increase in certain hormones and instincts, without the morality or social chains to keep them in check?  Acting out, testing limits much as any adolescent would, only with far more capacity to do harm and far less innate restraint born of empathy.  The former biochemist mulled over what he could remember of neurochemicals and hormonal transmitters.  Neuro hadn't been his area of specialty, but the evidence seemed to fit.  Jason was growing up, and like all teens was blundering to and fro like a bull in a china shop.  Only the china was other people and the bull was a youth with no conscience who could crush cars with his mind.

So what to do about it?  Jason had said he'd respect any punishment Gar saw fit to deliver.  At the time, the father had been reeling over the revelations of the day and was simply grateful that his son was alive.  And as for arresting or imprisoning him...  Assuming the law even provided for psychokinetic assault, assuming the world was ready for psychic powers, and assuming Jason even agreed to allow it, Gar had been to prison.  The thought of Jason in even a juvenile detention center was troubling in all sorts of ways.  Would he be safe?  Would he be forced to choose between defending himself or being injured, as in the fight at school?  And besides: Liam had been largely healed by Lona.  His memory of the assault had been altered by Courtney.  The Project had gone to lengths to cover things up.  A big public punishment now seemed... counter-productive. 

Perhaps there wasn't a perfect answer, Gar admitted to himself.  Perhaps the best answer he could come up with was to parent more vigilantly.  To encourage his son's better qualities, and correct him where he struggled.  Of course, it'd be easier if he had a clue how Jase thought most of the ti-

He'd been dimly aware of the two blonde women at the pretzel stand as he wandered near the Carousel, and had corrected his course absently so as not to run into the back of the one with the longer hair as they chatted over cups of beer.  But something the taller, slimmer woman had said caused her friend to giggle as Gar passed them, a musical sound of merriment that sent a shock of recognition through his brain and caused him to wheel, eyes wide as he looked up from the ground at...

"Kait?"  Eyes the colour of sunlit blue skies lost their sparkle of mirth as the woman turned, colour draining from her complexion under the sun hat as she stared back at him with an expression of almost animal panic that quickly resolved into stoic resignation.

Kaitlin

"Gar."  she said softly, her breath tight in her throat as she fought down the urge to flee.  Claire Sevy looked from her colleague to the strange man, shifting slightly to stand alongside Kaitlin in solidarity.  Her newfound friend was rattled, that much was obvious to the art teacher.  And though the man looked shocked and bewildered, she didn't know him from Adam.

"Is there a problem?"  she asked Kaitlin quietly, eying Gar as the younger woman shook her head slightly.

"No...  Um..."  Kaitlin looked at her friend beseechingly.  "Could you give us a moment?  I'm fine."  she added as she saw the doubt in Claire's eyes, who nodded slowly.

"Alright.  I will be right over there." she said in a tone that made it clear she was warning Gar as much as reassuring Kaitlin, who smiled fractionally despite herself.  Gar wasn't a threat to her, not in the way Claire feared at least.  With another searching glance at the two of them, Claire headed over to the Carousel, taking her camera out of her bag as she went.  

"You've changed your look."  Kaitlin noted, turning back to look at her former husband.  As openers went it was pretty lame, but better than just staring awkwardly.

"You look the same."  Gar responded softly, and the ache in his voice made her wince.  By the Two, how could she have done what she did to this man?  He didn't look angry, or hostile.  Just... hurt.  "How have you been, Kait?"

"Surviving."  The shock was wearing off now, and she gestured towards a bench nearby.  "Want to sit?"

"I guess the big question.."  Gar nodded as they moved to the bench and sat down together.  "Is 'where did you go'?"

"Away."  Kaitlin sighed, fiddling with her beer cup.  "It was..."  She stopped and turned toward him.  "I want you to know:  I'm sorry.  First and foremost.  I'm sorry."  Hazel eyes studied her for a long moment, Gar's expression one of wary stoicism now that his own surprise had abated somewhat.

"Reckon that's the first time I ever heard you apologise."  he said slowly.  Kaitlin snorted lightly.

"Not true.  I apologised for elbowing you in the nose that time playing racquetball."

"What you said was 'I'm sorry, did my elbow get in the way of your thick head?'"  Gar smiled faintly.  "Then you told me to put some ice on it and not to be a baby."

"That was mean of me."  Kaitlin looked down at her beer cup again.  "I was trying to put you off dating me."

"I know."  Gar looked at her, then out at the crowded rest area, and sighed deeply.  "Y'know, not long ago I'd be yelling and demanding answers right about now.  There'd be recriminations, tears, 'what the fucks' and 'why the hells' flying all over the place.  Everyone would be staring.  But it has been one hell of a summer, and I'm all 'what the fucked' out."  He looked back at her and gave her a crooked smile under his sad, thoughtful eyes.  "So how's this?  I don't do that, and you don't run away again, and we talk.  There's things you should probably know as well about-"

"Jason.  Yes."  Kaitlin nodded slowly.  "I... sort of ran into him last week at school."

"At school?"

"Yes."  She gave a short ironic laugh.  "Turns out I moved to the same place you did, only two weeks ago, and I'm teaching our son's Biology class."  Gar stared at her, then looked down thoughtfully, rubbing his chin where his beard used to be: such a familiar gesture she wanted to reach out and take his hand as she used to when he got pensive.  Instead she fiddled with her beer cup, turning it around in her hands.

"That... actually doesn't surprise me as much as it would have a week ago."  Gar admitted finally, looking back up at her.  "So how did he take seeing you?"

"He... wasn't happy to see me."  Kaitlin replied.  "Told me to stay away from him and from you.  Gar... Our son is, well... dangerous."  She had been expecting disbelief, or perhaps surprise at that, but instead got another thoughtful nod.

"I know.  But he's also our son."

"You know?"  She blinked, surprised.  Gar gave her a faint smile again.

"Told you it's been one hell of a summer.  But what do you know?"

"That he... has gifts."  Kaitlin's eyes widened further at the lack of surprise on her beloveds face.  "You know about that."

"Yep.  And that he's... not exactly normal even without the gifts."  Gar looked at her carefully.  "He's... well, there's no easy way to say it.  He's a psychopath, and-"

"No he isn't."  Kaitlin corrected almost on reflex.  "I know that's what he thought when he told you, but he didn't know everything I know.  That is to say...  Well, it's, uh, complicated."  Gar stared for a moment, then laughed at that, a chuckle and a shake of the head.

"Kait, complicated is every damn day around here lately."

"Okay."  she took a deep breath, set aside the beer cup, and took his hand in both of hers.  "This is going to be a lot to take in.  I'll try to keep it concise.  It started with a girl who wanted to get away from her birth family - yours truly - and a trickster..."

 

Devin

She was a vision as she moved around the flashing lights and swirling chaos of the Carousel, a lithe figure in a white knee-length sundress that clung to her as she moved.  There was little of the demure in her manner: she walked with a bold, straight-backed grace that was almost a feline prowl, her straight hair falling to her waist, a river of striking gold glinting with copper strands in the sunlight, moving in accordance with the sway of her hips and the turn of her head as she looked around her with bold, open curiosity in her grey eyes.  Without makeup, the rose of her full lips natural as the bloom in her cheeks and the sparkle of her eyes, she appeared perhaps no older than Devin, though her attitude was not girlish in the slightest as she saw him and altered her course slightly to approach.

Meandering as he was, and absent-minded though he appeared, the teleporter was still keyed into every object in space around him: although he didn't know who was coming up on his left side, he did know the girl was there as she fell into silent step with him no more than an arms length away, head tilted slightly and direct grey stare appraising him.  She didn't say anything, seemingly content to just walk in step with him and watch him, at least for the moment.

Spoiler

 

GM note:  Closest image I could find to what I had in mind, at least for now.  :D

original.jpg

 

Edited by GDP_ST

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Cade wasn't all that surprised when he didn't get an answer, everyone was busy with either food, or their own conversations.   He let out a sigh, and pulled out his phone.  He knew Marissa was still mad, probably would be for awhile still.   

That said, he really didn't want to just avoid her the rest of the day.   With what they'd planned to do tonight, he knew that with his own relative lack of super powers like his friends, and his own nature, he might not make it home, no matter how much he wanted to believe otherwise.   Feeling like that, well, it pressed home one thing on his mind. Moping about what he'd done, about tonight, those were things he shouldn't be doing.

He asked himself what he really wanted to be doing, how he wanted to spend the day, and with whom, and the answer was simple.  He actually wanted to spend time with Marissa, having fun, teasing each other, and God, when she turned that smile, her real smile his way. 

He typed out a short text, even as he idly wondered if he could get a squirrel or two to find her.   He didn't really control animals, just got them to trust him, and he doubted they could understand him further than his most basic intentions.   "That'd never work, besides, it'd probably really annoy her." he said quietly, to no one in particular, his inner thoughts escaping vocally.

The text was a simple one  "Hey, want to hang out?  If you do, Tell me where you are and I'll come to you."   he didn't really think about it, probably a good and bad thing.   He realized it had probably not been enough time for her to calm down, but it was done, and for now he'd just wait.

If she didn't reply, or just told him no, well he'd just have to suck it up, and find another way to spend what could be his last afternoon.   "She'll probably say something about making her wait."   he mused.  

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On 11/6/2020 at 9:31 AM, Catherine 'Kat' Barras said:

She stopped there for a moment. "Busy." She glanced at Sean questioningly, unsure if his parents knew anything about them, but not willing to take the risk. Her hand mechanically travelled to the back of her head, a gesture she had stopped thinking about years ago.

The question was obvious in Kat's tone and look. Sean shot his parents a covert glance, considering how to circumspectly answer, when the parental Cassidys gave him the perfect opportunity. He wasn't sure if it was coincidence or if they they had picked up on something or if it was something else.

"Laurie, your turn to keep on eye on the grill," Jack Cassidy called out. He finished the rest of his beer with a single pull then nodded at Sean as he plonked the bottle in the small blue bin they had brought for the purpose. "Sean, take care of the baked goods we still have on sale for the Carousel fund." It was a knock on his son's masculinity or lack thereof that Jack asked him to look after the baking while his younger, yet taller, sister took care of the grill. Sean had made or help make most of the pies and pastries while Laurie needed more experience with the grill. "Your mother and I are going to take a spin on the Carousel before people slow down on the food and it gets even more crowded and the lines get longer."

Laurie stood up to man the grill while Sean shifted seats on the picnic table to he was sitting next to the side table they had set up to display the baked goods. When Jack and Carolyn Cassidy had wondered off hand-in-hand, Sean turned back to the others, though his heterochromatic eyes were directed at Kat. 

"They know about me and figured it out about Jason. They know there are others - and probably have some suspicions about who - but I haven't told them. Don't feel it's my place. Up to you guys if you want them to know. And I haven't told them about what happening tonight. I'll tell them some when its over. Laurie will if we don't come back."

Fire flared with a hiss at the grill, Laurie's lips a tight line, not liking Sean's assertion any better hearing it a second time.

"How about you guys?"

On 11/26/2020 at 3:26 PM, Cade said:

Cade smiled just a little.  "So anyone got plans for the rest of the day?"

"Not anything in particular," Sean said, giving his hoodie a small tug as it began to stick to his back slightly, sun and rising warmth starting to make his sweat slightly through his layers. "Just enjoying the sun and the company, y'know, before..." He shrugged a slender shoulder. A grin spread across his fine, feminine features. "Despite everything, I'm practically vibrating out of my skin waiting for tomorrow. I might be, I dunno, two, three years ahead of schedule--" Sean waggled the fingers of one hand, "thanks to my Voodoo, but I still can't wait for ReGenesis to drop tomorrow."

Sean frowned faintly when Devin made his exit, as he exchanged a pair of pies for several bills. He couldn't read thoughts or emotions, but he could sense the electric impulses dancing through nervous systems and the various parts of the brain. He was still deciphering what they sometimes meant, but could see something similar in Devin and his parents, mostly his mother. It wasn't animosity, not quite distrust. Even if he hadn't told his mom everything Devin had done to him, and even if he was well on his way to forgiving the exasperating, arrogant, gymn-ass, maybe even considering him a friend - of sorts - his mom still considered Devin very suspect. Sean couldn't quite tell what Devin thought about his parents.

19 minutes ago, Cade said:

"She'll probably say something about making her wait."   he mused.  


Sean arched a brow as Cade mused aloud. Whatever reconciliation he might have going on with Devin barely extended to his glamorous, devilish twin as yet. Still, he couldn't help feel a slight pang of envy. Another one of his disparate friends who had formed a relationship that was based on something other than friendship - or only friendship, at least.

"Then don't keep her waiting, man," Sean said. He couldn't tell where Marissa was, but he could tell where her phone was, and that was practically the same thing. "You can do better, but I get it."

"Pfft! As if!" Laurie scoffed, having reclaimed her seat at the picnic table.

Sean snorted in rebuttal. "Go surprise her before she answers." He pointed off to the side. "She's that way."

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Devin hammered away on his phone, his thumbs moving at near light speed with the practiced proficiency nearly all teenagers possessed.  He was texting Lona.  They'd been on the road for a few hours now and although they said they would just make it a clean break, that lasted all of forty minutes before she was texting him with pics of the countryside and before they knew it they were on two or three hundred texts by now.  It was idle chat; thoughts and opinions on the day, what the other was doing, how everyone else was doing and what they were up to.  She wasn't coming back, that much he knew, but he honestly liked that they were talking.

His senses were, much like himself, all over the place.  He'd grow accustomed to being 'aware' of everything going on around him and like the rest of the Fellowship, on some level, had learned to 'mute' the background or face going mad with twenty-four hour stimulus overload.  For the most part he didn't sense a whole lot in his casual everyday life, just enough in his general vicinity to keep him from bumping into things, or pinpointing his balance and acuity, making him look really cool and agile when he wanted to be.  Out of them all, Devin was the show-off and he never passed up the opportunity to have a bit of fun with his abilities.  He knew she was there after the first few turns he made and she was still on his heels, still he just made his way, monitoring her distance from him and soon enough he realized that she was just behind him for a few steps, she was following him intently.

She was a simple arms length or so behind him.  He could work with that.  He slid his phone into his pocket and swiftly turned on a dime expressing like he'd forgotten something and just like that, they ran into each other.

The gentle impact seemed to catch her off guard, and as her hands gripped his shoulders reflexively to keep her balance his hands braced her waist to help her keep her footing.  With a still startled look on his face the con-artist teen could have let go, but didn't.  "Oh, god!  Oh, I am so sorry..."  He let their eyes meet and background of his senses went almost completely silent.  She was beautiful, more so than he expected and... not from around here.  He knew everyone in Shelly and this girl didn't get though being almost his age and not getting hit on by him at least once in the three years he'd been living in Shelly.

"Are, uh... are you okay?"  He said to her eyes as much as the rest of her.

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Marissa's phone chimed as she was licking the barbecue sauce off her fingers. Sure, she hated the small town boredom of Shelly, but she could appreciate that these people knew how to cook! She'd managed a few recipes, which seemed overly long and process driven, but she'd already streamlined them into more efficient means of creation. She couldn't wait to try them out and maybe share them with the rest of the Fellowship.

“Wow, Marissa,” Chet's voice traveled longer than his shadow, but she raised her eyes up as her sunlight was suddenly stripped by his looming presence. “Stress eating?”

“That,” she smirked and spun to face him, her hair whipping about in typical starlet fashion. “Would imply I have something to worry about.” She dropped her paper plate in near by waste bin and looking up at the tall jock whose nose was still pink and scabbed up from her brother's assault on him a few weeks ago. “Do I have to worry, Chet?”

“Eh,” he slyly shrugged with one shoulder, delivering all the suave, social maneuvering one could expect from, say, a drooling cow slowly trying to speak through its cud chewing. “Just that you and your brother are off your game lately,” she loved the way he made everything a sports reference. “He's randomly attacking people, namely mwah. People you have a problem with are coming up missing and... well, you've been on a warpath lately with the rest of the clicks. People are loosing faith in you, is all I'm saying.”

“First, it's 'moi', there's an accent there, it's French. Second, it's 'cliques', with an 'ee' in it. Again, French, so there's a smidgen of an accent.” She pressed her finger and thumb together to measure a smidgen for him. “Now, if you're done referring to people as verbs instead of nouns, let's get to the good part: if you want it, you've got it.” She shrugged calmly. “I have way bigger things to deal with in my life right now that playing Degrassi with a bunch of backwater high school window-lickers.”

“You've gone completely nuts,” he chuckled. “Cheer squad will love to know how you think about them.”

“I'm joining tomorrow, Chet. I'll tell them myself.” She shifted her weight to her left hip and refrained from snapping her fingers in his field of vision. So far he had yet to actually make any eye contact with her as his gaze kept shifting from her bust to exposed midriff. “Just so you know, Chet, The Game isn't about being popular, it's about staying that way. In terms you'll understand: once you sit your Joffery little ass on that throne, you have my whoring, conniving, and really intelligent brother to deal with on a social battlefield. When he's done with you, I will step in like a crazy bitch with dragons and Chet... I don't want the throne, I just want to watch the kingdom burn.” Now she snapped her fingers at him to capture his attention and with a blink his eyes were now fixed on hers for the first time. He could see the crazed fire dancing behind them like a animal defending its territory. “So, take it if you want it. Be the Prince of Shelly High,” she splayed out her arms wide to encompass everything around her. “But I will always be the Queen of Mean and I didn't earn the title by letting people talk to me like I was second to anyone or anything. Take your veiled threats and obfuscated intentions and challenges and save them for someone who is actually afraid of you.”

Chet just glared at her, then swallowed a bit harder than he intended. “Y-you've lost your damn mind, girl. Jesus.”

She slipped her phone from her pocket and read Cade's text only to realize she still didn't have any sunlight. She looked to Chet and waved him away. “We're done. Go.”

He marched off with some curse under his breath, she'd caught the 'crazy bitch' part but simply rolled her eyes and placed her attention back to her phone. [Uh, duh! Come feed me and tell me I'm pretty. I'll meet you at the 'best ribs' competition area, it's only five bucks a plate. Bring your appetite.]

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Devin

Her surprise was registered by a single blink of her eyes as he turned back and 'bumped' into her - and that was perhaps the only normal reaction the girl evinced.  She didn't blush, didn't glance away all flustered or step back from his close proximity.  She simply stood there with her hands on his shoulders, seemingly uncaring of his hands on her, and regarded him with a calm direct stare, full lips curving in the faintest of smiles as she studied his expression, then let her eyes travel to where her fingers lightly grasped him.

"I am fine."  she replied quietly, her fingertips stroking over the material of his shirt where it covered his shoulders.  "Gentle."  Her tone was that of someone musing aloud over some fascinating mystery, and her accent was hard to place.  "Strong and brave, but gentle."  Certainly there were American vowel sounds, but the manner of speech, the precision and cadence, were not those of a native speaker.

"Sooo..."  Devin kinda shoulda felt awkward, maybe.  But she wasn't pressing herself against him or smoldering like he was the last steak on the grill and she was hungry.  Her manner was intimate, though.  Almost flirtatious, to his mind.  Her grey eyes flicked up to meet his as he spoke.  "Do we know each other?  I ask because, well, I've not seen you around."

"Have you not?"  and there was a glimmer of humor in those eyes, a here-and-then-gone smile teasingly curving the bow of her mouth.  "You sound sure.  Maybe you just did not notice me.  But now you have."  And she slowly eased back, letting his hands slip from her waist as hers did from his shoulders.  "You can call me... Ellie.  And I am looking for a hero."  Again the direct stare, the unreserved studying of him from behind the inscrutable feline glitter of her eyes as she half-smiled.  "Are you a hero?"

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And she was crazy.  Of course.  On the hot crazy matrix she was right on track.  'Hero'?  Why in the world would she ask that unless she was one of Sean's weird-ass role playing nerds who couldn't let the game stay at the table or was part of the 'New Strange' that seemed to be his everyday now.

"Ellie," he smiled.  Her expression, it seemed familiar.  She wasn't looking at him so much as studying him.  She wasn't speaking like a person who wanted to express themselves, only someone who had something to say and nothing more.  A question to ask.  A person to find, and that was it.  No emotion, no purpose beyond the moment, no drive, no ambition.  It was like talking with Jason's sister.  "I'm Devin, and I'm pretty sure I would have noticed someone as beautiful as you."

"Hero, huh?"  He opted out of an eye-roll.  He let her go and they now stood facing each other like normal hormonally driven teenagers.  "Depends on how you define hero.  I mean, some heroes save the day in the simplest of of ways, by just being there for us, or letting us know we're believed in.  Others fight fires or police cities.  Some heroes aren't even really heroes, they stand and fight five minutes longer than the hero before them.  So, what do you need a hero for, Ellie?"

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Around 3:30pm.

 

Do dragons bask?

 

It was an idle thought, but one that nevertheless brought a smile to Autumn’s lips. They’d been sitting like that for a while, warmed by the late summer sun: Jase’s head resting on her thigh as he lay stretched full-length across the blanket near Camp Keane-Crocker, the amber-flecked fingers of one hand running idly through the tousled bronze of his hair. The other rested below his rib cage, imprisoned there by the lean arms folded over it, where now and again she could just detect a subtle, soundless vibration as her fingernails grazed his scalp. 

 

Jacob had wandered off not long after Jason and Dana had returned from the Jeep, following a quick flurry of text messages which Nathan surmised likely came from his Homecoming date; rather than just hang out and wait for round two of the Dadquisition to start, Autumn broke out the soccer ball. Though not an athlete, Jase was quick on his feet and had the advantage of height over her, and what started as a simple game of “keep-away” had quickly turned competitive, drawing whistles of encouragement and cheers from the adults present as they abandoned a discussion of the city’s recent zoning approval for an expansion of the country club and the potential revision of some residential property lines. Back and forth the pair darted, weaving between the trees that defined the claim the two families had staked, and without field, net, or scorekeeping battled for possession and- ostensibly- bragging rights. 

 

Time after that had vanished in a haze of exhilaration and frustration; of tangled limbs and collisions, tumbles that left dark smudges of green on their skin and clothes and blades of grass in their hair; of fleet-footed evasions and of the sound of Autumn’s laughter and oaths of vengeance ringing out across the picnic area. It’d felt like she could run forever like that, with the thunder of blood in her ears and the sun and the breeze on her face, and the tall, lean figure always either just ahead of her, or just behind as their shadows danced across the ground: the thrill of the chase, without any real fear of being caught. But, eventually, reality had imposed- which, she decided, was just rude- and although Jase refused to complain, she could see the intensity of the exertion was beginning to wear on him, his angular face flushed and intent on the game, and even her lungs and legs had started to protest the pace they were keeping. A draw, they’d agreed finally, as if it were certain they’d be able to try again another day. To be continued. And, collapsing on the blanket where they’d remained, they’d shared a bottle of water and just… breathed.

 

What is he thinking about? the red-haired girl wondered, studying the curiously immobile mask of his features in repose. The grand unified theory he and Sean were working on? Some new fertilizer composition for his garden? The upcoming pre-apocalyptic battle, perhaps? Or maybe he’d already filed that away, satisfied with his own planning and preparation. There was no hint of what thoughts or dreams moved beneath the surface, and except for the occasional twitch of his eyelashes and the slow rise and fall of his chest, there was little in the way of outward signs to suggest that any vital force animated him at all. “Bannon the Impenetrable,” she murmured, and then caught her breath as those ageless jade eyes opened and focused on her, hints of copper bright as the band around his wrist glimmering lazily within. 

 

“Just thinking out loud. But-” Autumn hesitated for a moment, tearing herself away from the threat of face-searing immolation lurking in those pale green depths to watch her parents and Nathan chatting with one of the teachers who’d stopped by. Her hands slid away from him as Jason sat up and braced himself upright on his palms, noting the direction of her gaze. 

 

“But,” he suggested quietly, “you have something you need to say.” 

 

“Mmm.” She nodded, teeth worrying at the inside of her lower lip as she frowned. “I do, just… Not yet. I know I have to, and I will,” she insisted, meeting his eyes. “My mom, at least. And Nathan, because he kind of knows what’s up, already. Not about all of us, I mean, but about the Dark being real. If it goes wrong, later, I was thinking of asking him to at least make sure the Old Town Hall gets torched, you know?” 

 

“I was considering asking Hank the same.”  The Effing Boyfriend said quietly, his eyes coming back to rest on her freckled features.  He smiled faintly, an ironic twist of his lips.  “Perhaps they will team up.”  His smile faded as he regarded her intently, reading and studying, attempting to divine her intent and mood.  “Do you want me to stick around while you talk to your mother?  I’m told my demonstrations cut through the red tape of disbelief quite swiftly.”

 

Autumn blinked, eyes widening suddenly at the memory of being cornered in the girls’ bathroom while Jason pulled ice cubes from the faucet like some stage magician, with a smiling Clara as his slightly manic assistant. No. No, no, no, that was definitely not what she had in mind, and her head was already shaking before the words even formed. “Um, I’m pretty solid on demonstrations, I think. If it gets to that point, I’ll figure something out. Honestly, I’m kind of hoping she doesn’t need one, but…” Autumn’s voice trailed off, and a crooked little half-smile tugged at one corner of her mouth as her shoulders twitched upward in something like a shrug. “I did, right? So, I guess we’ll see.” Her wide, clear eyes moved over his face for a moment, taking in the symmetry of his features and searching for some hint of what was going on behind them, some suggestion that might inform her rudimentary grasp of Bannonology. Was he concerned for her? Curious how she would handle things? Thinking about his own father? It was nice that he’d offered to hang out, to help, but surely there were things he wanted to do, or say… Weren’t there? 

 

“Honestly, I’m good, thanks. I’m gonna just…” She exhaled, the curve of her lips tremulous as she glanced back in the direction of her family. “Just chill with them for a little longer. And, hey, maybe your dad might like it if you spent some more time with him, too, instead of that darn red-haired girl that keeps dragging you off.” Her nose scrunched slightly in self-deprecation, and the rose-cheeked redhead leaned forward, resting her freckled brow against his tanned one. “If you don’t mind, though, when I talk to my dad… or if things get out of hand with the whole conversation… it might be nice to have my boyfriend there as moral support. You know, since he’s got that whole ‘alien genius’ angle going for him.”

 

The answer was a kiss, a gentle press of his lips on hers that lasted forever and ended frustratingly soon.  “I’m a text away.”  Jase said softly, his eyes gazing deep into hers as he reached up slender fingers and toyed with a loose curl of bright copper hair.  Dropping his hand again, he started to gather his feet under him, making ready to rise.  “I’ll go and see how my dad and Hank are.  Both of them like you, by the way.  I can tell because they keep teasing me about you.”

She grinned at that, a pleased flush blooming beneath the surface of her skin that had nothing at all to do with the kiss, despite the warm sparks still zinging through her nerves. Gar was a good person. Not perfect, but good. She could sense it in the same way she could feel an oncoming storm, or the weight of someone's eyes on her. That he liked her, or approved of her enough to tease Jason about their relationship, was definitely a bright spot in the day. As for Hank-

Legs still crossed, Autumn planted her feet and pressed the soles into the earth, straightening as she did so. There hadn't been anything like a for-real conversation with Hank Graskle yet, but he was friends with both of the Bannon guys, so... that was a thing that needed to happen, if only to learn a little more about the man. Understanding over fear, she reminded herself.

Smiling impishly up at Jason as he rose alongside her, she replied simply, "Good," because it was, for any of a number of reasons, and squeezed his hand before releasing him back into the wild. She watched him go for a moment, weight shifting slightly from her heels to her toes as her eyes tracked the tall, rangy figure back across the picnic area, and then drew in a long, steadying breath. "Hey," she interjected, sinking onto the seat next to Dana with a smile; already, the sunlight had begun to change. "We brought cards, right? It's been a minute since I got to beat Dad at Rummy."

Just a little more time. Just a little longer, please.

Edited by Autumn Keane
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(Collaboration with Dave ST)

Devin

"Clever too."  Ellie remarked, smiling once more as he called her 'beautiful'.  The smile reached her eyes, a glimmer of weird approval/sly humor at the wordplay that, yes, was also all-too familiar.  Fuck.  "Why does anybody need a hero, Devin?  They need to be saved."  She looked around at the clusters of people: families eating, friends wandering around in conversation, children running to and fro, then looked back at him.  "Would you say a youth, scared, trapped and hunted by a monster in a hostile place, who elects to blow himself up to try and kill the creature that threatens him is a hero?"  She tilted her head consideringly, watching him.  "Doomed, but unwilling to give up.  Surely that qualifies."  She reached out and took his left hand, turning it in her grasp slightly to show the coppery-brassy glint of the bracelet on his wrist.  Then she half-turned, looping her arm through his.  "Walk with me a little?"

Wordlessly he allowed himself to be led for a few moments while the beautiful, blonde distracted gears in head did their slow rotation of processing what was happening.  "Wait.  It was you.  You were there when I was half-dead.  You saved me."

"H-how did you get here?"  He asked, stunned by the revelation as a thousand more questions leapt into his mind.  "And... thank you for being hot, and a chick.  I was so hoping I wasn't imagining it all... that would have been so awkward."

"You are welcome."  she replied with another smile, looking sideways at him as they moved past knots of people.  She was tall, he realised now that they were walking side by side.  Her flat white sandals did not lend her much height, yet she was still only perhaps an inch or two shorter than himself.  "As for your question:  I got here through the Blight you found yourself in.  It connects..."  she hesitated a moment  "...where I am from... with here.  Like a cancer growing between two organs can link them up.  A Blight causes wounds in the walls of the world.  Weak spots where someone who knows how can exploit them - or in some cases blunder through."

"After I placed my..." she hesitated, finely-formed brow furrowing slightly as she searched for a word.  "Bracelet on you, you disappeared.  Which surprised me greatly - and also left me with a problem.  Without it, I could not find my way back to the door to my home.  Searching, I found another door from the Blight, but this one was wide open, a gaping wound rather than a simple weakness in the Wall.  I plunged through it... and found myself in a place surrounded by armed people."

Her lips pressed together slightly, as if at a frustrating memory.  "It was humiliating.  I was trapped in a chamber with no way out, forced to choose between surrender and simply being overpowered anyway.  They took my... armor, weapons, and then they studied me as though I were some... animal to be poked and prodded."  The grey eyes hardened with a feral gleam in the otherwise impassive features for a moment.

"They were complacent, and I escaped.  That was perhaps four or five solar cycles ago.  I emerged from that place into some mountains, that way."  she pointed west.  "I came here, to find you.  And ask for help."

Western Mountains?  Site B, maybe?  She dumped out at Site B?  Wait... so the government or possibly Crossroads had a full-on breach into the Land of Upside Down Thunder?  So not good.

"Wait... wait... so... you're trapped here?"  Devin asked the obvious, not because he didn't know the answer but because he felt a bit guilty.  This girl had saved his life at the expense of not being able to return home.  "Ellie, you sacrificed your way home to save my life.  You don't need a hero, girl.  You are one.  And, to my credit I did not 'blunder', I was pulled through by The Dark, or it's minion that was hunting me, thankyouverymuch."

He pulled her aside, away from the people and distractions to a few trees off near the park's edge.  "Ellie, if you need the bracelet back, it's yours.  Is that what you need?  Someone to help you get home?"  A million questions would have been lowballing what his mind was processing at the moment, aside from her beauty and athletic body.  He wanted to know so much, but doubted if he had the time.  "It's been five days, have you eaten?  Are you hurt?  Do you need a place to stay?  After I returned from the Land of Upside Down Thunder... the... Blight as you call it... all I could remember was you.  I want to help you, and I'm sure my friends will too."

"I appreciate your concern.  I am not hurt.  I am hungry, though not starving.  I killed and ate some kind of small animal two days ago, and last night I found some food thrown away behind a merchant place.  After that I found a 'motel' - a place with many sleeping rooms, most empty.  I found a way into one such room and slept there, though I had to flee this morning.  I found this dress and these shoes in another merchant place."  Ellie twirled a little, flaring out the hem of the sundress, smiling over her shoulder at Devin before turning back to face him.  Her smile was gentle as she reached out almost fondly and touched his shoulder, though a touch of wry humor glimmered in her gaze.  "But you credit me too much.  I did not know you would disappear.  In all honesty - because I want honesty between us, Devin - I was going to take you to my home.  The tennyn bywyd would have worked if I was in contact with you, and would have protected you from the Blight... and also would mark you as mine."  She smiled in amusement, her gaze direct once more as she looked into his eyes.  "My motives were entirely selfish - I wanted for myself the brave handsome boy who would fight to the death."  Something mischievous flickered in her expression.  "So, if I am being honest, no.  I do not want you to return it."

"But you are Radiant.  Like your friends.  So the tennyn bywyd acted differently."  She was studying him again, trying to figure something out.  "I was able to home in on you because you wear it.  I hid and watched as you and your friends practiced your gifts.  Then I went away and washed and slept at the motel.  And now I am here."  She finished, spreading her hands to the sides with a small flourish.

"Mark me as yours?"  Devin chuckled softly, scratching the back of his head and looking for the right way to break up with a girl he hadn't even dated yet.  She was from out of town, and he needed to play up to her culture, or at least what he'd gleaned of it up to this point.  "Okay, Ellie... you've been through a lot, and I'm sorry for that, I feel a bit responsible.  When you slipped this bracelet on me Ellie, I was already with someone else.  I couldn't have been with you if I even if I wanted to, I'm sure you wouldn't appreciate your man being with another, after all, that's the opposite if 'yours', right?"

"Our culture here is a bit different.  So, instead of us starting with 'yours' and 'mine', lets set all that aside and get to know each other, hmm?"  He motioned for her to follow him, offering her his arm once again.  "Let's get you some proper food and something to drink.  Also, great taste by the way, you look amazing, so congrats on your first successful shop lift, but let's not steal anything else, alright?"

He led her through the people to one of the numerous spots where plates were available for a few bucks as fund raisers for the various things going on around the city.  With a plate of food, a soda and a bottle of water each, they selected a quiet table away from prying ears.  "So, these tannenbaum things," he held up his bracelet.  "You can tune into them and track them?  How's that work?  I can't get this thing to do anything."

"It was not made for you."  Ellie explained between hungry mouthfuls of burger.  She motioned at the bun with her free hand.  "What do you call this?"

"Cheeseburger."  Devin watched raptly as the rest of it vanished in the next few bites.  The elegant-seeming blonde chewed thoughtfully on the last mouthful, nodding in apparent approval, before taking a drink of water.

"The tennyn bywyd," she enunciated carefully.  "is given to us sometime during childhood.  It is forged in our presence, and contains a part of our innate radiance.  It is said that they anchor us, remind us of who we are.  They also protect us from the Dark, can be used to mark property-"  she indicated him with a slight smile "- and, if exchanged with another's, signify a bond of trust and unity."

"Property?"  Devin narrowed his eyes.  Ellie smiled at him over her soda.

"Not now, of course."  she shrugged with no apparent embarrassment.  "You are Radiant, not simply an admirably vigorous ni'Teulu male worthy of playing with and breeding from.  If you wish to remove it and give it back, you can do so."  She sipped at her soda, frowning slightly at the taste.  "Oddly sweet, this."

"Yeah, it's carbonated water with sugar syrup added.  We call it a 'Coke'."  He'd heard that word before, 'Teulu' when Jason was justifying his murderous behavior, blaming it all on his genetic disposition or some such.  As he put it, it was the space race he belonged to... then that meant... "Wait, you're Teulu?  I know one of you, but admittedly I know little about your culture."

On any other day, from any other girl, Devin might have been choking on his Coke at the mention of wanton breeding with him, but 'never stick it crazy' was screaming loudly in the back of his mind.  "What does me being 'Radiant' have to do with anything?  We call it having Shine.  Are you not allowed to date guys who're Radiant, or something?"

"You know of us?"  Ellie looked mildly surprised - which in human terms likely meant she was shocked, open-mouthed and goggling.  She stared at Devin for a long moment, her interest in the Coke forgotten as she studied him from under raised eyebrows.

"Know one of you."  Devin corrected.  "But I don't know much about you."  The alien girl sitting across from him (and how messed up was that sentence) looked lost in thought, then seemed to snap out of it.

"Shine."  she tested the word, shrugging.  "You being Radiant means you are not human, not lesser.  Not to be treated as a prize."  She tilted her head consideringly as she looked at him.  "There are no Radiants amongst the Teulu - we were created by the Radiants of the distant past.  That is,"  she shrugged "if you believe our histories.  And I do not know what 'date' means... But by context I think you mean to couple-bond with?"  She gave him a slow smile, a hint of suggestiveness in her gaze.  "There are no rules about that for us.  An unattached Teulu may be with whomever they please.  A Radiant?  Even more so I would imagine.  I would not think that question has ever been seriously considered by our laws, since no-one has likely met a Radiant."

"Well, you have," he smirked.  "I'll bet we're certainly not as impressive as the histories, but here on Earth, trust me, I'm all kinds of impressive."

"Dating is when two people decide to pursue an intimate relationship with each other, yeah.  Usually it's used as a means of measuring compatibility with one another before marriage, or uh... a life bond, I guess?  Earth is messed up, we generally go through a lot of partners before we find one we're compatible with and want to tolerate for the rest of our lives."  He was still absorbing her words while he chewed his burger.  She seemed to be so much more well put together than Jason that he wondered if it was a gender thing, or a cultural divide issue that made them so different.  "Some of us don't and we just play the field until we retire with a house full of cats and World of Warcraft."

"I don't think of myself as any better than the people around me, Ellie."  He said finally as he finished his bite.  "There is no one lesser than me, or greater, there's just," he shrugged.  "People.  People just trying to live their lives and make some sense of it all.  You say the Radiants 'created' you?  What for?"

"War, or so it is said."  Ellie tried some of the homemade potato salad on her plate and evidently found it acceptable.  "The most common story recounts that the Radiants were not warlike - they had no need to be, as their power meant none could compete with them and their technology meant there was no scarcity.  But that was before the discovery of the Dark.  So some of the Radiants saw the need for warriors, picked humanity as the base stock due to their aggression and adaptability, enhanced the traits they wanted whilst eliminating useless ones and..."  She shrugged, spreading her hands as if to say 'that was that'.

"There are other stories which say that the Radiants who made us intended to use us as conquerors.  Against other worlds, or even against the other Radiants.  Teulu who believe that say that it explains why we are imprisoned, having to risk travel through unstable wounds in the Void in order to come forth into the universe."  She nibbled on a stick of celery consideringly, then gave the impression of mentally shrugging and took a bite.  "Those who believe the first story say we are set apart so that we will be ready when the Dark grows strong enough to become a real threat, and it is all part of our creators plan."  She shrugged slightly.  "There is not enough data to support either theory as pre-eminent.  Perhaps neither is correct?  Only the Radiants of old know for sure, and as I said-"

"-nobody's met one."  Devin finished, nodding as Ellie smiled slightly in agreement, studying him in that direct, appraising way she had.

"You say you do not think of yourself as better."  she stated, obviously weighing her words.  "But you are.  You are stronger, more agile, more handsome than many humans.  You experience the weakness of fear, but it does not stop you.  You seem clever.  Objectively you are a superior specimen, through genetic advantage, training and talent.  I think you would stand well in a match against a young male of my species, even without your powers."  Her gaze was frank as she let it run over his features and build.  "  You are, as you say, all kinds of impressive.  So how is it you cannot perceive yourself as superior?"

"That's right, you're new around here," he chuckled.  "Earth has a long history of segregating people between 'better' and 'lesser'.  It's probably our worst character trait, to be honest."

"I know that my sister and I will be going to a better college and most likely be more successful than ninety-five percent of the other kids in our age bracket around here.  We work hard, take care of ourselves, and we have drive and ambition.  We want to succeed.  Others are content to simply 'go with the flow' and that's fine I suppose, it's their life."  He peeled back the top of a small packet of peanut butter and dipped his celery stick in it and offered it to her.  "Here, try it this way."

After eyeballing it for a few moments, appraising it's rather bland appearance, she took a bite and allowed it to register as Devin went on.  "I know I can be a bit arrogant sometimes.  I don't apologize for being ambitious and wanting more than when what simply crosses my path.  I want to do and be whatever I choose and I'm willing to put in the work for it.  I've never considered myself superior, just... I dunno, better in the sense that I have drive and they don't.  I mean, where is the cut off for the comparison?  If some dude can do brain surgery and I can't, be definition he's superior to me... I have Shine, he doesn't, does that even out the playing field?"

He shrugged.  "It's a slippery slope, Ellie.  I just want to be who I am, help those I can with these gifts, have a little fun while I do it and enjoy what life has to offer.  I've seen what one group of people thinking they're better or superior to another group can do to the world.  It's bad for everyone all around.  Gods were meant to help the worlds they're born into, not rule over them."

"Intriguing."  Ellie scooped out some more peanut butter from the packet as she spoke, and for a moment it wasn't certain whether she was talking about the substance she was eating or about Devin's expressed philosophy as, with a quiet hum of enjoyment, she ate the snack.  Then her grey eyes fixed on him again.  "So it is not so much blindness to your potential as a point of ideological principle, this denial of superiority?"  She considered him as she ran her tongue around her teeth behind closed lips, pondering both the new taste sensation and the novel point of view.  "This is a path of discussion I would like to walk again some time."

"For now, tell me about this other Teulu you met.  Another scout like myself, I assume.  This place has a very strong Blight underlaying it in the Void, so it is not impossible that there might be another doorway into it in these parts.  I can also assume they were not as forthcoming as I have been, or you would know more about us than you did.  Unless you were dissembling."  She took a sip of her soda, eying him, then gave a faint smile and leaned forward a little.  "Another female."  she guessed, eyes gleaming with playful humor as she remarked  "I may have competition."

"Nah, it's a dude," Devin shrugged nonchalantly.  It didn't surprise him that she was curious, though.  Everything in Shelly seemed to lead back to Jason Bannon as a topic of discussion.  Give any conversation three minutes and eventually Jason's name would pop up.  "He's not a scout, he was born here.  At least, that's what he says, anyway.  Apparently his mom is from some other dimension and his dad is human and he's some alien with no capacity for remorse or fear... or so he claims."

"He doesn't know much about his people or culture either, which is why he couldn't tell me.  You um..." he wasn't quite sure how to tell her and before he realized it he'd leaned over and wiped away the large deposit of peanut butter from the corner of her mouth with his paper towel.  "Got a little.  Yeah... uh you gotta watch that stuff, it's sticky, clings to everything.  I tried using my finger to spread it one day and man, there was peanut butter everywhere."  He chuckled, feeling a bit of warmth rise to his cheeks.  It wasn't like him to feel flustered around another person... "But... uh, yeah.  Jason.  He's good people, still.  Prone to violent outbursts and a habitual felonist, but he means well."

For a moment the compelling girl's lips quirked in a faint smile as he dabbed away the peanut butter, a warmth coming to her gaze as it lingered on his cheeks, then met his eyes.  "If his tale is true, then he is correct about the remorse and fear.  We do not have such feelings.  But...  A male?  Raised here?  Who would have trained him?"

"Don't think anyone did."  Devin shrugged, looking up from his phone as he dashed off a text.  "Dude knows nada about it, mom ran away and left him with his dad, and he just found out."  He eyed the pensive look in her eye as she sat back.  "What?"

"That cannot be true.  No Teulu mother would abandon her child, least of all a male, to grow up with no preparation.  We are predisposed to bond tightly with our blood, and our friends and mates.  To form prides and clans.  Males are rarer than females amongst us.  A mother would never abandon one.  Wars are fought over our young."  She shook her head.  "Your friend is lying, which we cannot do.  Or perhaps deluded."  she amended, placing a hand over Devin's.  "I do not wish to offend you by insulting him.  Though... that does not explain how he knows of us."  She sighed lightly.

"So many questions.  The more I ask, the more I am ignorant. I came to ask for your help, and now I find I just want to spend time with you."  A slender finger ran along the back of Devin's hand and brushed the bracelet, causing a faint vibration to sound in Devin's awareness.  "Conflicted.  I need to get back what was taken from me.  I should seek a way home.  And I want to just stay here in the sun and eat new foods, perhaps couple with you."  Her eyes met his again, a mixture of humor and curiousity in her gaze.  "That is, if you would find that acceptable.  I am not sure which desire should take precedence."

Devin laughed awkwardly, trying his damnedest not to blush. He blushed. "Um ,wow, uh... Ellie, look I uh, just said farewell to my girlfriend this morning and I kind of need some time to process that. I don't think coupling, with anyone, is in my immediate future. I need a bit of time. I mean, you're beautiful and wow, but... it's been like, twenty minutes. This is Earth, Ellie, let's work on getting to know each other and you seem very competitive. I already promised to go to Homecoming with Cassie. Last thing I need is you pulling a Jason and leaving her mangled corpse on my doorstep as a some gift of endearment." He sighed, not wanting to say more but felt it was necessary. "Also, look... I uh, I have something to do tonight. An enemy we need to face and The Dark had made him like, supes powerful. I don't want to be running all kinds of game on you and then not be around tomorrow to make good on any of it." He set his hand on hers, and offered her a smile. "I know you like me I get that, in fact, I get that a lot. Blondes go crazy for his highness, but I got so much going on right now, girl that aliens and extra-terrestrial hook-ups, as awesome as they sound, really aren't in my plans at the moment. I need to be focused on what lies ahead." "Look, if you want to stay, then stay." He shrugged and took back his hands to gesture all around him. "It's your life, girl. Live it up. We have an extra room at the house, you can stay there. Hang out, meet the others, take in the Earth culture. It'll be a blast. Sean could easily enroll you at Shelly High if you wanted to breathe deep the nuances of high school life," he met her eyes and raised in brows in an almost pleading manner as he concluded with a shrug and, "But only if you want to. I mean, could be fun, I dunno."

"I understood perhaps half of that." Her wry half-smile was nevertheless genuine. "Let me try to understand. So, first: you are flattered at my attention but, most importantly, you just separated from a bond-mate. One you felt close to. And you feel it would be improper to couple again so soon." She nodded as Devin did. "I understand that. Good bond-mates should be honored." She studied him intently. "Second, you are attending a 'Homecoming' with someone called Cassie. In context, that would suggest some local festival or celebration, for which you have a partner to dance and talk with. Whom you think I might harm as a competitor because the other suspected Teulu you know has done such a thing?"

"Well... that bit might have been a joke of sorts. Far as I know, he's not done anything quite like that." Devin shrugged. "But, you know. Cultural differences, a lot I don't know, yadda yadda." Ellie smiled a little. "If you've chosen someone else, my hurting them would only turn you from me. So would be utterly illogical. Your Cassie is safe from me. Indeed," her eyes sparkled with wry mirth again. "The wise course would be to protect and befriend her, so maybe she would share you."

"Uh... share..?"

"Of course. Males are rare where I am from. One male will have perhaps two or three females at a time. Pride leaders even more. The prime female agrees to share, assuming her mate agrees and finds the other female attractive. From such tightly knit groups is a pride formed."

"Yeah. That sounds awesome." Devin felt like his face was never going to cool down as visions of hot blonde threesomes danced in his head. "But, y'know, this is-"

"This is Earth, yes." Ellie sipped her drink, regarding his flushed features. She seemed to be enjoying his flustering. "So I will treat this as a scouting experience, and stay at least until you can find a way to help me get my belongings back and return home, and we will get to know each other."

"As for your upcoming battle... I would offer to fight with you, but if you truly fight an envoy of the Dark I would be of little use without my weapons and armor. So I will say this:" She reached out and took his hand in hers again. "Fight well. Find life on the other side of death's shadow. I will be waiting there." The words had a soft formality to them as she smiled once more.

Edited by GDP_ST
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Cade smiled at Sean, but shook his head.  "Thanks but I'll wait until she replies.  Don't want her to think I had the wildlife watching her or actually asked someone to find her for me, that would really annoy her."   just as he finished speaking, his phone chimed, and he read her reply.   He was abit surprised, but smiled.  "Now it's okay."   he gave his friend a nod, and made his exit, heading over to where the rib contest was being held.
  
Marissa really wasn't hard to find once he got in the general area.   Even with everyone's attention on their food,   it was hard to miss the way so many would steal a glance a certain direction, obviously drawn to Marissa.  He moved right along side her, sliding his arm around her, and he could see the flash of jealousy from at least three of the guys trying hard to not get caught.

He smiled at her with an almost innocent grin.  "You look great Marissa.   You're the only one who could turn the attention of anyone in this area from their food, let alone half of them."   he teased her. 

After he'd spoken, he realized it was abit awkward, and sighed inwardly.  "You ready to eat?"   He admit it was gonna be interesting to see her eat ribs, a notoriously messy food.  Considering how she'd acted when they went fishing, he was gonna enjoy this.   
 

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The Project Director's Office:

Annette looked up from the report that had just been handed to her and stared at a somewhat out of breath uniformed ComInt non-com and a stone-faced Major Taggart.  "A what, now?"

"An alien, apparently a scout.  From a world beyond the under-dimension."  Taggart responded, looking at his own transcript then back at Annette.  "Needless to say, while this isn't quite a worst-case scenario, we have to-"  The elegant brunette across from him rapped her knuckles on the desk's top, silencing him.

"Major, I might be wrong..."  Annette leaned back in her chair and regarded him with a hard stare.  "But didn't the Project Director - namely me, at least currently - give express orders that intrusive surveillance into these young people and, indeed, most of Shelly was to be cut back?  Ceased?  I distinctly remember saying 'Stop that thing'."  She shifted her gaze to the sergeant, who adopted the time-honored eyes-on-the-wall stare of an underling who knows that he was following orders and thus none of this was his problem and thankfully well above his pay grade.

"You did.  But as per my mandate as the Branch Nine command presence, I adjusted the orders so that our automated systems would monitor for certain key signifiers.  Explosions, 911 calls, police alerts, and any communication involving certain keywords.  Like 'alien', 'the Dark', and so on."  The major's poker face was a credit to the uniform as he stared right back at the slim woman who was technically his superior.

"Damn it, Jack."  Annette sighed, crumpling her copy of the transcript and tossing it into the nearby bin.  "We need these kids to trust us."  Taggart looked at her for a moment, then signaled the sergeant from the room.  As the door closed he spoke.

"Respectfully, ma'am, we need to trust them more than they need to trust us.  Our strategic intel people rate them individually as potential threats ranging from 'dangerous' to 'utterly catastrophic'.  And that's just based on their abilities, never mind their personalities which, might I remind you, are those of teenagers at best."  He indicated the sheet of paper in his hand.  "That's all we got, by the way.  As soon as Jauntsen mentioned encryption, we couldn't even find their damn signal, let alone crack it."

"Right.  And how do you think going in ham-handed and stealing away Devin's 'slammin gorgeous alien chick' in the name of national security will go down?"

"Not well.  But that's a secondary issue.  Analysing some of the responses, it seems that some of the subjects know about this alien race, in particular Cassidy and Bannon."

"Thats-"

"'Do you have a sister you never mentioned, Jase?'  And though the responses of some of the teens are very much confusion or disbelief, the Bannon kid was way too incurious about the mention of an alien species.  Almost offhandedly so.  That plus the Keane girl's tone of disgust with Cassidy's apparent stupidity might indicate an in-group secret not all the teens are privy to.  Namely that the Bannon kid is also one of these 'Teulu'."

"Don't you think you're reading too much into texted words?"  Annette asked quietly, her brow furrowing as she looked down at her desk, deep in thought.

"I would rather be suspicious than caught off-guard."

"But we have Jason Bannon's complete medical history.  We know the name of the attending nurse who delivered him in the hospital, for crying out loud."

"Yes ma'am.  We also have a sample of his DNA, as yet un-analysed.  Same goes for all of the subjects.  We collected the samples when they were our guests here, but per your orders we did not process them."  Taggart looked at her expectantly.  

"You sure your mandate as Branch Nine command didn't let you see fit to countermand that order too?"  Annette demanded, glaring at him.  Taggart was unmoved.

"We're on the same side, ma'am.  I acted as I saw fit with the surveillance, and didn't see a reason until now to order genetic testing."

"Until now."

"Yes, ma'am.  I'll be frank.  I like your style, I share your ideal that the kids can be handled without strong-arm tactics, and I don't want to believe they're a threat to us." Taggart straightened a little.  "But if your order stands, I will have to seek higher authority from my own directorate, and then I have to say why, and then it becomes a shitshow.  On the other hand..."

"If I let you test the material collected, we can keep it in-house."  Annette ran her hand over her face.  "Fine!  Run all the samples you have.  But Major?  I want this contained and quiet.  Compartmentalise it within the project, only people you trust.  And stay away from the kids and their 'guest' until we can decide how to proceed."

"Yes, Madam Director."  Taggart nodded, then turned and quietly left the room.  Annette stared at the closed door as she heard the major's booted feet recede down the hall.

"Fuck."  she muttered savagely, slumping back in her chair and looking up at the ceiling.  "What the hell next?"

Edited by GDP_ST

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She rested her head against her bae's chest as a way of acknowledging his greeting.  "If by that you mean to say that I'm the only person attractive enough to distract this ravenous pack of half-starved mongrels from the carcasses they're picking through, momentarily causing them to forget the gnawing hunger which will characterize the remainder of their impoverished, fruitless existences... then," she wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed, smiling devilishly as she did so.  "You say the sweetest things.  Also, yes.  Yes.  I.  Am."

"Sure," Cade chuckled under his breath.  "Let's go with that."

They made small talk as they ordered their plates and Marissa dropped offered the bumpkin girl a ten as they collected their bottled waters and wet-naps at the end of the line.  They chose table further away from the main through fare of food enthusiasts which was occupied by a small collection of student from their school.  After few well placed words and veiled threats the Queen of Mean had dispersed them, receiving a series of ill-tempered looks and disgusted sighs of frustration sent her way.  Once situated she began to shear the meat from the bone in downward swiped with her plastic knife.  Handling the food didn't seem to be her thing as she daintily pinched and picked at it, although she had no qualms about licking her finger tips clean.  Afterwards she picked at some of the meat with her sharpened nails, pinching it and prepping it for consumption.

"What?"  She noticed Cade appraising her ritual silently.

"Nothing," he shook his head, shrugging.  "You just seem... irritated.  Is it about ear-"

"No," she cut him off.  "Earlier is done with.  I said my part and we're moving on."  She wiped her hands with paper towel, something he noticed she did after every bite.  She seemed to refuse to allow herself to remain dirty for longer than a few seconds.  "But, yeah, I am a bit irritated.  Not at you.  Chet decided to pay me a visit in all his cro magnon charm."

"While I have confidence in your ability to handle yourself, do you want to have a few words with him?  Tell him to back off?"  He gnawed on the bone taking most of the meat off in a single bite.  Shelly was not the most exciting place in the world, to be sure, but Cade had to give it up to all the devoted barbeque aficionados who made this time of year totally worth it.  "You know, it was sort of made to be eaten off the bone.  It comes with it's own stick... see?"  He displayed his rib, pinched tightly in both his hands, offering up a test bite as a tutorial for proper carnivore etiquette.

"Ew, no.  You look like a slob," she half chuckled.  Her smile lit up the moment as the warpath trotting Queen of Mean rarely seemed to take much solace in humor these last few days.

Cade smiled that corn-fed, down home smile of his and dropped a bare rib bone on a side plate.  "Maybe, but I'm about eight more ribs away from being a fat and happy slob.  I can live that."

She laughed and shook her head, pinching up more of the barbecued meat with her talons.  "You do you, sexy.  Have you ever tried fine manipulation with acrylics?  Especially with slippery food like sauce-covered ribs?  It'd be sometime tomorrow before I got a bite and not to mention how much these cost me, I'm not about to risk messing up my manicure just for some 'what is best in life' moment with my food, and thank God for liquid lipstick and Sephora delivering out this far into nowhere or I'd be reapplying every five minutes.  Besides, it's more classy this way..." she smiled petitely and twisted the cap off her water.  "And thank you for the offer, it's sweet, but I can handle Chet.  If it gets out of hand, I'll call you."

"Fair enough, and Mari," Cade chuckeld.  "We both know that's like plate twelve for you.  Let's be real, 'classy' Scott Pilgrim'd out the window around plate three."

Her water bottle cap bounced off his chest as he attempted to dodge, eat and laugh all at once.  "Jerk," she said with a grin on her lips as she her own laughter matched his.  "I can't help it, okay?  I think it's these talents, or something but I am starving like all the time, but I'm putting on weight.  I feel like my metabolism in on jackrabbit mode or something.  I hope I don't transform into a rabbit or something."  She 'pfft''d at the thought as it humored her.

"Hare."  Cade said with a mouthful of rib meat.  "Jackrabbits are hares, not rabbits.  Hares have longer ears, like a jackass, hence 'jack' rabbit, and longer legs."

She looked at him, her faced scrunched up with doubt.  "Really?  I always thought they were the same thing.  I mean, they look the same."

"Nope," he chewed contently.  "Totally harmless too.  I could show you sometime, if you like.  No surprises, promise."

"Huh," she squeaked, actually having learned something new without it being thrust upon her in a tornado of whirling teeth, claws and random diseases.  She narrowed her eyes at him, skeptical, considering his ambush in the past.  Rabbits were sort of cute, and relatively harmless (or so she thought).  "Maybe.  They are soft and cute.  We'll see."

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Jason

Jase had gone a short distance from the Keane's area when the text alert came and he fished his phone from his pocket, adroitly stepping around a running child who was chasing the family dog as pale eyes sought the touch-screen... And he stopped walking, staring intently at the text that Devin had just sent.

His mind raced.  Another Teulu - presumably not his mother, as Devin knew 'Ms Forster'.  The 'owner of his bracelet' - the mysterious figure who'd rescued him on the Other Side.  His thumbs tapped out a bland response, hoping that Devin would pick up on the fact that not everyone would know what a Teulu was and not say anything further on the matt-

*ping*

Do I have a sister?  Jason sighed through clenched teeth, wondering who the person with Sean's phone was and when they'd realise addiction was a problem and to stop eating paste.  He almost typed that, but considering that the damage was not yet catastrophic, restrained himself.  Autumn's reply said plenty, in any case, he mused as he watched the exchanges and various responses, and a stronger reaction from him, in particular, would simply increase the suspicions of others.  He wasn't even particularly vexed with Devin - his friend was as impulsive as Jason was calculated and, in his excitement at finding an attractive alien girl, could be forgiven an outburst.

Devin's last message, regarding encryption, caused another sigh.  Of course, there was the distinct possibility that their communications were being spied upon.  Even if the Project was taking a more hands-off approach, they wouldn't leave the Fellowship completely unwatched.  Well, the cat was out of the bag. Either the Project was listening and now knew there was an actual alien in Shelly... or they weren't.  In the face of the coming fight against the Dark, that was a problem for tomorrow.

He was curious about the stranger, though.  A female of his species - a proper one, without the 'defect' that caused his mother to be more human in her manner and responses.  What was she like?  Friendly, according to Devin's texts...  And unabashed when going after something she wanted - in this case Devin - which was similar to how he himself expressed his desires.  Was she dangerous?  Potentially, probably.  A scout for a civilisation such as his mother described would be hardened to survival and battle.  Jase experienced a moment of concern for his friend.  The wrong word... But no.  If the text was to be believed then the female liked him, and that would buy a lot of leeway - again, much as with Jason himself.

Besides, Devin could handle himself, surely.

It'd be fine.

Probably fine.

His lips thinning slightly, he made his way to the table Marissa described as 'Camp Cabin In The Woods', somewhat surprised when he arrived to find Hank was the only one there.  The former Marine saluted Jase with his bottle idly as the lean youth sat down.

"Hey kid.  How were the in-laws?"  Hank grinned lazily as the icy green eyes of his young friend narrowed, though a faint smile curved Jase's lips.

"In-laws presumes marriage."  The psychokinetic teen popped the cap off a bottle of root beer and took a drink.  "That's a little far ahead of where we are, though Ian did all-but ask me what my intentions were."

"Hah!"  Hank laughed.  "Did you answer that?"

"I did."  Was all Jase said, a sparkle of mirth in his gaze as he sat back in his seat.

"Well, you ain't bleeding from shotgun holes, so I guess the answer worked."  Hank shrugged, then leaned forward a little as a more serious light entered his eyes.  "You need to talk to your ex."

"My ex?"  Jason paused for a moment, then  "You mean Marissa?  She's not my ex.  We never dated."

"Uh-huh, well, she's plenty pissed at you over something and wants to talk.  Said something about burning the village down if people keep avoiding her.  Personally, I think she's mad about you and Red, but if I were you I'd just go and see what she's got to say without making your mind up first."

Jase considered for a moment as he took a drink from his bottle, then nodded.  "I'll take care of it."

"Good.  Now I'm gonna go find a head."  Hank tossed his empty into the trash and stood, nodding at his surrogate nephew.  "You don't want bad blood before a battle.  Get your shit tight, kid."

"Right."  Jase watched as Hank walked off, then pulled out his phone and tapped out a message.

<<<To Marissa>>>
From Jason:
  I heard you wanted to talk.  When is a good time / place?

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