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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.


Lilly outfit (more or less)


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."




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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