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WEIRDER STUFF
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Weirder Stuff Episode VI: Rainbow Shadows

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Courtney smirked evilly as she checked her phone.  She was just skimming people's posts about the Carousel and the current days events.  People had already begun making it a photo montage from everyone's collective selfies and rando-pics.  The one she was eyeing evilly was the one of Jason Bannon cupping Autumn Keane's ass that was swiftly getting a variety of comments that ranged from the quizzical to the down right comedic.  Devin's new arm candy was raising a few issues among the 'fan girls' he had the school that wondered who the new girl was and why none of them knew her.  The rumor mill was a abuzz with the addition of Jacob and Tawny making it onto the Shelly scene as one of the least likely couples in the history of... well, everything.  Most of their comments were mean spirited jibes about Jacob trying to get under her bible belt.  Of course, Marissa and Cade made the list as well with a few snap shots of them walking about arm in arm and both lighting up the area with their 'power couple' smiles.

"Hey, bitch."

"S'up, ho." Courtney smirked as her eyes panned to the source of the rather unorthodox greeting.  She scooted her butt down a bit on the picnic table she was sitting on to make room for Marissa who promptly perched herself beside the redhead.  "You and Cade... looking good, and rumor has it you're joining the cheer squad?  Girl, we can practice routines together."

"I started that rumor," Marissa smirked mischievously.  Truth be told, she had the Shelly rumor mill in a chokehold and most information was vetted through her before it moved on to the high school water cooler.  "But there's truth in it.  Going to join tomorrow."

"Um, what about try outs?"  The lovely ginger pointed out, still scrolling through pics on her phone.

"Pfft," Shelly's Queen snorted.  "I taught you everything you know about gymnastics and no one the cheer squad can even do a half-assed head stand.  The splits does not a cheerleader make.  I'm make it in, trust me."

Courtney nodded.  "God knows we could use someone beside me who could do something more than the splits."  She laughed.  She held her phone up to share the screen with Marissa.  On it was a pic of Cade and Marissa, her arms draped around him and looking up, smiling, into the dazzling blues of his.  "Aw, you two are so cute."  She chided her partner in crime.

Marissa grunted, rolling her eyes.  "He's a means to an end, Courtney.  Don't make it out to be more than it is."

"I have a hundo that says he falls in love with you."  She chuckled.

"I'll take that bet.  He's not going to fall in love with me, we've talked, set the terms, he knows the deal.  Besides, I'm not wearing a yukata."

"What?"  Courtney looked to her, confused.

"Nothing," Marissa sighed, scrolling lazily on her phone down the same list of pics her 'friend' was scrolling through.  She crinkled her nose at the Devin and Ellie one, flipping over to the texts to read, finally, who this new girl was.  So... that was going to be a conversation for later.  "So... what do you know about Jacob?  Crocker."

"Nothing, really, except that he used to pull Autumn's hair and make her scream his name." her matte red lips bent into a dismissive frown.  "I don't really know him to be honest.  We've not talked since... Jesus... third grade maybe?"  She giggled as a memory resurfaced.  "See, I was taking care of our class hamster for the summer and I had no idea what to feed it, but we ran into him and and his dad at the Kroger so I asked him about hamsters and-"

"Yeah," Marissa cut her off.  "Don't care."  Marissa had little knowledge of who Courtney was before the Queen of Shelly had entered her life.  The younger, still privileged little girl that was Courtney Adams used to almost be sweet and endearing before she became a spiteful, mean, nymphomaniac telepathic.  They grow up so fast.  "So, what could you find out?"

"Why would I want to find out anything?  The guy hates me and I've no love for him."  She shrugged.

"No, Courtney."  Marissa set her phone down and pivoted to angle herself to look at the redhead directly.  "I don't mean talk to him.  So... I ask again... what could you find out?"

"Ohh," now she was interested.  The evil little redhead pivoted as well as her phone went to sleep in her lap.  "That.  Well, I'm not sure.  What exactly do you want to know, Em?"

Marissa's lips spiraled as her malicious grin could get no wider.  "Everything."

---==={}===---

"Hey there handsome," Cade's brunette date mock cat called him from the tree she was leaning against as the stout young man approached her.  "What's a girl have to do to take you home?"

"Feed me," Cade smiled.  "And tell me I'm pretty."

"That all?"  She pushed away from the tree and approached him, wrapping her arms around him as the tips of her feet elevated her high enough to kiss him.  The gentle glide of her tongue across his upper lip sent a erotic shiver down his spine.  "You are so easy.  You offer all the girls the same deal?"

"Nah." her faux-bae replied while his hands set to rest as the base of her back, the tips his fingers tracing gently across the top of her ass.  Her jeans were so thin and tight she may as well had been naked to his touch.  "Most girls I just give it up for free, but I know you have money and I'm always hungry."  Surprisingly Marissa laughed at that, stepping away from him and slugging him in the chest with all the force of a girl who'd never thrown a punch before.

"Ugh, I feel so used," she replied, mocking a combination of swooning and being aghast by his bravado.  "Fine," she took his hand.  "We'll do pretzels, but I expect you to put out."  They both laughed and moved once more through the crowds, stopping to meet others from school and even posing for a few pics and group selfies with people they knew.  Finally they walked alone and Marissa was daintily pulling apart a large pretzel with her manicured talons.

"So," she asked.  "What've you been up to since we parted?  Oh!  I ran into Courtney.  She thinks we looks totes adorbs together.  Whole school is talking about us."

Edited by Dave ST

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"Ladies."  Courtney's smile was wide as as she descended upon the Heaths like a wolf on the fold.  Or something like that, not that she cared.  She had a Task to complete, after all.  

Courtney would be the first to admit - though never out loud - that for all her intelligence and confidence she was a natural subservient, albeit selectively so.  At various points in her young adult life, one individual or another had filled the spot of the unattainable, non-sexual 'master' figure in her mind.  At first, it had been Dr Cook, who she'd never managed to seduce, and who otherwise gave her a free hand to misbehave as she saw fit, so long as she didn't endanger the Project.  During this time the Jauntsens had come to Shelly, and actively and smoothly taken over the social hierarchy of the school.  Courtney, though a year above them, had noted their rise and, oddly, had not been able to do anything about it.  Her telepathy gave her some insight into Marissa's moods and reactions, but Devin had always been a wild card, impossible to reliably read.  And, despite how it rankled, she freely admitted that the Twins were good at their role, and the sense of rivalry had been mixed with some grudging respect.

And then Cook had fallen, and in his falling he'd shown himself to not really care about Courtney at all, losing interest in his 'star' as soon as brighter, stronger psychic kids had emerged to study.  And like that, she'd been adrift.  No longer special, no longer belonging, no longer wanted...  And then Devin had said "You're one of us, too."  And Marissa had come to her for help with the creepy guy threatening her family.  And Bannon had shrugged and said sure, come out to the farm for training, and then offered to help her if she wanted.  And Kat had-  well, done a lot of things, but mostly just extended affection and sexy fun times, and asked Bannon for Courtney to be included, and kissed her and murmured...

But they couldn't all be her master figure.  Kat wasn't a dominant person, Bannon was, but had no emotional need for a subservient.  Which left the Twins.  Devin had no more need for people to do his bidding than Bannon did, but Marissa...  Marissa thrived on having flunkies, especially reliable, talented ones who made her look good.  And Courtney needed someone she could look up to who needed her in turn.

It occurred to her that although she'd repeatedly tried to read Devin's mind, she'd never really tried to read Marissa's beyond the emotional level.  Almost as though, even before they were frenemies or even friends, there was something about the gorgeous, imperious brunette that engendered respect from Courtney.  So when Marissa had once again come to her for help, the redhead had jumped at the chance to prove her worth.  Of course, she couldn't just yank out all of Jacob Crocker's deepest, darkest secrets.  It was almost impossibly painful for her to do such a deep dive into someone's conscious and subconscious, and shameful or embarrassing secrets were usually well-hidden in a person's psyche so even they wouldn't have to look at them.

So she would have to work around the edges.  Talk to people who knew Jacob, who moved in similar circles.  Maneuver the conversation around to the handsome young man, then lightly skim and draw out such secrets as she could.  The Heaths were a good starting point.  Strong local roots, big into sports and community activities like Crocker was.  And not actually hostile to Courtney, which helped.  A few facts were gleaned, though nothing particularly damning presented itself, the strangely-identical cousins eager to gossip about Jacob apparently dating Tawny as part of the overall gossip about love and life in Shelly High.  Of course, there was also Lori and Lacy's somewhat mournful individual yearnings for Bannon for Courtney to privately experience some schadenfreude over.  There was a sense of smug superiority for her in knowing what she knew about their 'boy next door' fantasy.  To Courtney, who divided the world between 'special' and 'ordinary' people, Bannon was way out of the Heath's league, even if they presented themselves as a package deal.  Autumn, for all her flannel-wearing, bristle-legged homeliness, was 'special', and for some reason Courtney was still bafflingly unsure of was able to draw out gentle warmth and almost volcanic passion from the cold-eyed young genius.

Drifting on from Lacy and Lori, and mulling over what little she'd learned and where to go next, Courtney pulled out her phone and checked what new scandals were presenting themselves on Shelly's social media bubble.

*  *  *  *  *

Hannah yanked her overnight bag out of the trunk and, slamming the lid down and locking the car, stalked to the front door.  Relief with finally being home was mingled with intense irritation at her son's radio-silence.  Though she was broadly tolerant of teens being teens, and dearly loved Charlie, the fact that he hadn't answered a single text or call over the last day and a half was both worrying and frustrating.  Okay, fine, he had a new girlfriend and Labor Day Weekend was a big deal for him and his friends, but god knows it wouldn't take more than a minute of the boy's time to pick up the phone and say that, yes, everything was fine and no, the house hadn't burned down.

Which, she was relieved to note, it hadn't.  The blinds were drawn, though, which meant that Charlie likely had just gotten up and gone out without properly taking care of things.  Great.  Probably a pile of dishes in the sink and towels next to the washer, too.  Or else the blinds were drawn for privacy and he was up to no good with Sophia-

"I'm home!" she called out as she opened the door and, turning, plopped her suitcase down by the coatrack.  Her nose wrinkled - there was a stink like the garbage hadn't been taken out, or perhaps a drain had backed up.  The house was silent and dark, and as her eyes were adjusting Hannah stepped further in, listening.  "Charlie?"  she called out again, peering up the stairs.

Her foot hit something soft, and she looked down.

Next door, Sally Azuolas dropped her broom mid-sweep as a piercing, raw-throated scream split the air. Then another, if anything even louder.

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Cade chuckled.   "I think we look good together too.   Though most everyone's really just looking at you., the half that's actually pretty."   He smiled, and continued.  "Well after It became clear you weren't coming right back,  I figured now was as good a time as any to have my own talk with Jason."   When her eyes narrowed, he felt her tense up, and he shook his head. 

"Not about you, this was for my own reasons.   I told him what I had to say,  for better or worse, he explained the reasoning for what happened, and we both moved on."  

He shrugged his broad shoulders, and sighed.  "My concerns won't just vanish, but tonight we all have to trust each other.  I didn't want to let this go unsaid and cause me to hesitate later.   Maybe what I told him gave him something to think on too."

He expected her to be cross with him, but he knew far better than to lie to her.  He wasn't all that good at it, so he didn't see a point to doing so.

"Other than that I'd mostly just waited for you, and done a little people watching.   Seems some of the proto-couples on the track team are finally taking steps to move past that stage."   Seeing his friends happy made Cade happy.   "Nothing to major going on."

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"Cade, half the girls in our class would kill to date you," she looked at her man with a skeptically raised eyebrow.  "You know that, right?  And half of that half is all into animals and hunting and fishing and living and smelling like beasts."  She patted him on broad chest with her free hand, grinning sweetly.  "You know, your people."

"And yeah, I'm sure Jason explained his reasoning, and that's your business, but remember Cadums: he's a super genius.  For a guy who claims he can't lie, he's done it to me twice now, both times while looking me in the eyes.  He's smart enough to manipulate the truth and you along with it."  Her hand that was clasping Cade's lifted up and she gently kissed the back of his hand.  "Just keep your wits about you, okay?  Something's off about him."

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He'd wandered away from the main field, going into the woods that bordered the rest area and, finding a secluded tree to lean against, had fished a rollup from a case in his pocket and put it between his lips.  A barest flicker of his will, the end glowed, and he drew a deep drag on the fragrant home-grown leaf inside with a sigh of contentment.  It occurred to him that this was his first smoke of the day, and then he realised he'd not had a cigarette since... Saturday, maybe?  After leaving Autumn's place.  That was good for a faint smile as he looked up through the sun-spackled leaves of the tree, watching them shift and rustle in the breeze.  Birdsong came in sporadic snatches from around him, and he exhaled, wreathing the pleasant smoke around his head, letting the problems and cares of the world fade away for a few as he thought of coppery strands of hair curling around his fingers...

"Hey, Bannon!"  The lanky young man sighed, opening his eyes at the bovine hollering.  It seemed there was never a quiet moment, today...  Though that wasn't exactly true, was it?  Not long ago, he'd been relaxed with his head on Autumn's lap, her fingernails sending thrills of relaxation and pleasure down his spine as she'd idly caressed his scalp.  It was a good memory, that one.  The scent of her, warm from the sun and exertion, and the feel of her other hand under his on his chest, and the sensation of her eyes studying his face.  There had been a calm in that moment which surpassed the simple pleasure of working in his garden, or learning some new esoterica from a book, accompanied by a thrum of her energy, her presence.  That connection... that connection which baffled him, so similar in broad strokes to the sense of connection he'd once felt with Marissa, but so much more...

"Bannon?!  I know you're here, dude."  Several sets of footsteps, heading this way through the treeline.  A reach out with his senses told him there were four people.  At least one was...

"Here, Chet."  he stepped around the tree, hands in his pockets, rollup hanging from the corner of his lips as he regarded the senior and his company.  Two football players: Kieran and Todd, the latter of whom looked a little uneasy as the cold, calm glittering Jase's gaze passed over him.  And Tammy Keller - his ex-customer ever since she and two confederates had tried to discuss business at school.  As they approached him, he assessed them as a group.  All of them had reasons to hold a grudge against him.  Chet and Todd for the events at the county fair, Kieran for his girlfriend hitting on Jason at the first game of the season, and of course Tammy.  Calmly, Jase decided that if their purpose was to attack him today then that would not be permitted.  There was too much going on for him to worry about risking injury at the hands of primates, Dark-driven or not.  He didn't say anything else, just waited.

"Got any to share?"  Chet pointed at the rollup, his manner somewhat high-handed, as though it was not really a request.

"It's not weed.  Just tobacco."  Jase said.  "I've got two more of them on me... and they're mine, Chet.  I'm a businessman, not a tobacco charity."

"Cute.  I'm sure you give freebies to your friends."  

"I might.  But we are not friends."  Jason's tone was casually matter-of-fact.  "You are, at best, customers.  Except her."  He nodded at Tammy, who scowled.  "She's cut off."

"She's with me now."  Todd spoke up, putting an arm around Tammy's shoulders.

"My condolences to you both."  Jase's eyebrow twitched upward as a gleam of something sardonic and cold showed in his gaze, the closest he came to a smirk.  He took a drag from the cigarette as Todd colored and stepped forward, to be stopped by a hand from Chet.  The big senior turned back to Jase and stepped closer, still out of arms reach though.  He can be taught, ladies and gentlemen, Jason thought sarcastically.

"Okay, fine.  We get it, you're a tough guy now that you're friends with the Jauntsens."  Chet grinned.  "Here's the thing, though.  They're losing their throne, fanboy.  Devin's lost his edge, and Marissa is just spinning around on her six-inch heels pissing off everyone.  She even told me she doesn't care about being on top of the pecking order anymore."  He pointed a beefy finger at Jason's face.  "So your protection is for shit, kid."  Blowing twin plumes of smoke from his nostrils, Jase looked at the finger, then at Chet, who lowered it and went on.  "So here's the deal:  I want what they got.  Free weed, free Addys.  You did that for Marissa before you were friends, which is why the Twins mostly kept you off limits.  Tribute to the throne, y'know?  Or else things will get bad, without them sheltering you."

For a moment Bannon looked at Chet, then the others, blinking once as he took in their resolute features, then he smiled, his lips pulling back from his teeth in a grin that was roughly one-third amusement and two-thirds sheer menace.  Then he gave a soft, low laugh.

"You monkeys are adorable."  he chuckled.  "No, seriously, hear me out.  You are like retarded cavemen who see the sun and think it's the eye of a monster peering at them.  You hear thunder and think it's giant sky-beasts fighting.  You think fire is a flower from the gods.  You have no idea what you're really perceiving, because you lack the imagination or wit to look beyond the obvious."  He drew another puff of smoke, the end of his cigarette glowing briefly as he laughed again.  "You're actual imbeciles."

"Is that so?"  Kieran demanded, but he didn't move forward.  The sight of Bannon actually laughing was... unsettling.  It wasn't a happy sound, or even ironically happy.  It was full of eerie menace.  It was just wrong sounding.  Bannon just nodded, then fixed his gaze on Chet as his laughter faded away like the rustle of dry leaves over gravestones.

"The Twins ruled because they have a quality you do not, Chet.  I doubt even they were fully aware of it, but they had the instincts that make a competent ruler.  Sure, they bullied and pushed people around, but they also intuitively knew who they could push and how far.  They regulated what went on, stopped matters from getting out of hand.  Stopped people like you from getting in over your head."  Now he stepped forward, hands still in his pockets.  Chet had a couple of inches and probably thirty pounds at least on the lean youth, but that didn't even seem to give Jason a pause as he stopped inches away from the large senior, his gaze as sharp as emerald razors.  "Get this through your head, Chet.  The Jauntsens never protected me.  They were protecting you.  I'm glad they're not playing the pathetic game of high school grab-ass any more.  Good for them, shows they're growing up."  He blew smoke in Chet's face.  "So yes, you're right.  A new order will arise, surely.  But here's the message I have for wannabes..."  His gaze was coldly serpentine, his voice dropping to a hiss of warning.

"You want weed, you buy it.  Otherwise you leave me alone, you stay out of my business.  You leave Sean alone, and stay out of his business.  You leave anyone I sit with in class or the cafeteria alone, and stay out of their business.  Including the Jauntsens.  No shoulder-slams.  No locker pranks.  No keying of cars.  No malicious gossip.  Nothing.  Play your little game in the kiddie pool with all the other piss-stinking toddlers and leave the grownups alone.  Or I will take a personal interest in your misery.  And you'll only realise just how badly you fucked up when it's already too late.  Just like at the fair."  

Chet didn't move.  He was aware of the others behind him.  He was aware that, if he struck Bannon now, the others would join in.  They would beat the kid down, surely.  There were three guys - and Tammy - against him.  And then... And then what, really?  He looked into Bannon's eyes and saw nothing of fear or care there.  His gaze flicked down to where Bannon's hands were still in his pockets.  What if he had a knife?  What if he recovered from his beat-down, and then one night the sharp edge of something would come to rest on his, Chet's throat this time.  And Cody had disappeared after the fair...  He swallowed.  Had Jason killed Cody?  God knew there was enough trackless wilderness in Montana that a body could be dumped anywhere...  Oh god...And the rumor was that Bannon had criminal contacts in the big cities, too.  Cartel, some said.  Just the school rumormill, but looking into that hard, cold green stare, Chet wasn't so sure.  What he was sure of was that he desperately wanted to pee.

He'd started out the day with big plans, and some bravado.  This year was going to be the year of the Chet, for sure.  And now he'd run straight into both Marissa's vitriolic lack of concern, and Bannon's predatory menace.  And suddenly he just wanted to be away from here, drinking beer with his buddies in the sunshine, not face to face with someone who didn't seem quite sane or human, who seemed to radiate cold like an incarnation of Death.

"Feel free to go away now."  Jase said quietly.  "It's a pleasant day.  Go and enjoy it.  Elsewhere."

"Right."  Chet mumbled, stepping away.  "Right...  C'mon, guys."

"Chet?"  Kieran looked askance at the larger senior, then at Todd, who found himself aware of a full bladder all of a sudden and also just wanted to be away.  Tammy repressed a shiver - the air was suddenly cold, and huddled closer to her new boyfriend as they drifted away from the lean figure who watched them go, sunlight glittering in the green slits of his eyes.  Now and then, one or another of them glanced back, noting he was still watching them... until suddenly they looked and he was gone.

Back behind the tree he'd been relaxing against, Jase leaned back against the bark and enjoyed his smoke.  He wondered if the pretenders to the throne would take his warning to heart.  Probably?  He'd seen fear and uncertainty in their eyes, but then they were exceptionally stupid.  He drew in a puff and exhaled with a sigh, looking up at the pattern of sunlight through the leaves overhead.  Time, and Darwin, would tell.

For now, though, there was the comforting fragrance of good tobacco, and the warmth of the summer's end, and the memory of soft fingers playing with his hair...

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Cade just shrugged.   Truth was, he hadn't noticed, or even really cared so much about it.  His life was simple, so long as he had baseball and track, and was able to game with his friends.   With regards to her words about Jason, he nodded.   He is definitely different, as things stand though, he's on our side."

The idea of Jason being set against the Fellowship, that was terrifying.   He knew their weaknesses, how most of their abilities worked, at least all of them that had been used during the training sessions.

"Enough about that though.  I believe I promised you something to eat.   Do you still want a pretzel, or are you hungry or something else equally bad for you?" he teased lightly.  That gesture, her kissing his hand, made him smile at her, and he noticed the looks they were getting.  

"God I'm surprised they don't just pull out their phones and take pictures sometimes.."
 

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"Baby, you're with me," she looked up at him while squeezing his arm tightly and pulling him closer to her.  "Might at as well get used to it.  I have to admit though," she crinkled her nose up at the few 'fans' that were either gawking, faking a smile in their direction, or snapping a pic to post up.  "Since I've bothered to get to know you losers, it has started to dawn on me just how much damage my brother and I have managed to do to this town in a few short years."

"The people in our class are so petty," he captured the hint of disgust in her voice but decided it best to let her vent.  "I get it, I'm petty.  But I come from privilege and money, I'm allowed to be.  It's one of the bennies of having more than the poor people.  I mean, when you don't have anything, you're really not in a position to be petty, take what you can get you bunch of dust slitherers.  It's getting worse, though.  Chet and his new regime, I think, are going to try and wrench the throne from Deej and me, the problem with that lies in the fact the Devin and I had a system.  We thought meticulously about how and why we would manipulate people, every cruelty had a purpose and was part of our grand experiment."

"Which was?"  Cade chuckled and shaking his head at what he was hearing.  She was casual about how evil she was and the cruelty she dished out that sometimes it was hard to believe she and the girl who smiled and giggled along with were truly the same person.

"To take over the social hierarchy of the school, which we did.  The problem came in where we started to hang out with you guys... and you all plummeted our popularity."  She shrugged casually, spilling the facts, as she saw them, without any sort of filter.  She stopped Cade and faced him.  She looked up into his blue eyes and held his hands in hers.  "I know you guys think my me and my brother are horrible, and in a way, we are, but what you guys don't get is that my brother and I were holding the leashes of evil far worse than us.  They don't understand tact, planning, and subtlety.  My brother and I were bullies, sure, but we never physically hurt anyone."

"Marissa, you almost drove Stacey Williams to suicide, last year."  Cade reminded her.  "You literally embarrassed her to the point where she was home for three weeks and on suicide watch."

Shyly his date looked away from him, smiling pridefully of her accomplishment while failing to meet his gaze.  When she finally looked back at him she'd filtered the memory away.  "Not entirely my fault.  Courtney helped."  She chuckled.  "But even then, all part of the plan.  She was a prime example of the 'one bad day' theory.  We're all just one bad day away from snapping and going off the deep end."  Cade's judgemental glare cast a wide shadow over her.  "Anyway, Cadums, we're not talking about Stacey, stay focused.  My point is, without my brother and me to keep the real bullies in check, it's going to be anarchy.  What's trying to fill are shoes is a gaggle of violent hoodlums.  Cade, if we survive this crap tonight, we're returning to a Hellmouth of a high school."

She swayed her hands in his and looked up, offering him a seductive smirk that he knew by now was a precursor to her trying to manipulate him.  "Although, speaking of tonight... I don't see any reason we should die without having a little time alone first.  Want to, maybe, come over later before we all meet up and, you know..." she cooed with a wicked grin as she offered him a suggestive wink.

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"...and that about covers the basics."  Devin said as he and his impromptu 'date', Ellie, walked through all the various picnic settings of the other families who had gathered for the Carousel.  She'd locked arms with him, keeping close and doing her utmost to absorb all the knowledge Devin was spilling her way.  A crash course in 2019 teenage etiquette seemed far more complicated than her first training regiment.  And she thought the Teulu had rules...

"...what if violence is directed upon me without provocation on my part?  Surely I'm permitted-" The dazzling blonde looked at him, her eyes narrowing in curiosity.

"No."  Devin chuckled.  "You are not home, you are on Earth.  We don't, or at least, the well adjusted don't just mete out death as a solution to our problems."

"How has your species advanced this far?"  She shook her head in confusion as she looked around at all the families laughing and playing away their day, oblivious to the fact that an alien from another realm walked among them.  "It's like you have nothing to contribute to the other realms besides breeding stock."

"Baby Yoda."  Devin retorted with swiftly.  "That's us.  We invented Baby Yoda.  Oh, and peanut butter, and French kissing.  Pretty sure America invented too."

"I'm not very familiar with your culture, but even I know that French things are the product of a place called 'France'."  The athletic blonde squeezed his arm in warning that she knew he was trying to put one over on the tourist.

"French-Americans." Devin shrugged.  "Prolly immigrants, searching for a new life and really like licking the powdered sugar of their toast... and BAM, French toast, French kissing.  A total two'fer."

"The act you portray of the Fool, Devin, it does not fool me," she said calmly.  Like Jase her eyes were never just still.  They moved and scanned every person, every object, she was perceiving possible threats from all sides and assessing their surroundings with a trained, heightened awareness.  "You are a god, as you put it.  Yet you walk among insects.  I do not understand you, but I will."

"There's nothing wring with these people, they're good and you know, Xena, Warrior Teulu, a little love might do you some good."  He fist bumped someone from school as they walked past another group of teenagers their age.  They didn't take notice of the stares the the others teens were giving them as Ellie moved among them with fresh eyes drinking in her blonde hair, athletic frame and cheek bones that would give Marissa a run for her money.  She didn't know it, but Ellie was swiftly becoming the talk among the male students and in less than the half hour since her arrival people were wondering where she'd transferred from.  Small towns.  Got to love them.  "Not everything is a war you know, Ellie.  You're safe here, more or less."

"It's when you feel the safest," she said softly.  "That you're not."

"There you are!"  Misti and Carl caught sight of their son as the couple were passing by the Fingleman's picnic area.  Devin groaned an rolled his eyes as his mother waved him over.  "Of course you know our son, Devin."  Swiftly he was snatched up and with her arm around her son she presented him like a display.  "I believe he has a few classes with your daughter."  The nail digging into the back of his collar told him that was his cue.

"Uh, yeah!  Mr. and Mrs. Finger-uh ba-uh, man.  Fingleman.  Sophie's awesome.  We get on great."  He turned on his 'bullshit' smile as he rolled his shoulders, hinting for his mom to back off.

"Well, have you heard from her recently?  She hasn't answered her phone today."  Mr. Fingleman asked.

"Hmm?  Oh, uh...," Charlie an Sophie, to Devin's knowledge, were consummating their new found relationship with lots of sex.  Like, tons of it.  Now, the last thing one did was rat out their homies, so Devin being Devin who was so smart and so slick, he thought up a lie and he thought it up quick.  "Honestly, you probably won't answer it for awhile.  See, her and Charlie are big time theatre nerds and ol' Chuck got his hands on a preemo rendition of Les Misérables.  The whole thing performed live, Charles was going gaga over it.  Last I heard they were making a day of checking it out, singing all the songs and taking a lot of notes.  He trying to push it as a venue for this years school production.  I wouldn't doubt if they had it cranked to eleven and were singing along.  It's what los- lovers do.  Of theatre.  Lovers of theatre.  We're all meeting up in a bit, if she's still ghosting you by then, I'll personally see to it she checks in."

"We'd appreciate it," Mrs. Fingleman replied with a mother's concerned smile.  The one that said she was worried still but she was glad her daughter such good friends.  Neither of the Finglemans notice Carl, Devin's father, standing off to one side and slowly moving his finger through the universal hand sign for intercourse.  Devin nodded swiftly, yet conspicuously.  His father pursed his lips and made the 'I knew it' face.

"Who's your friend, Devin?"  Carl asked, intentionally putting his son on the spot again.  He was overcome with a certain measure of pride that his son was in the company of such a beautiful young lady.

Devin turned hi head to where Ellie was patiently waiting and observing the conversation.  "Oh!  Sorry, uh, everyone this is Ellie.  She's um, new to Shelly.  I'm showing her around."

"New?"  Misti narrowed her eyes in suspicion as she'd not heard of any new families moving to Shelly.  "Where did you move from?  I'd love to meet your parents."

"I did not 'move' here," she said calmly.  "I ventured through the Void and through a wayfarers portal I found myself here, where I was to begin my search for your son.  Teir fa Thunn is where I call home, I seek to return there and Devin has agreed to assist me in getting back there."

Had he the presence of mind to do so Devin may have bothered to count the number of blinks in the awkward silence to tally up just how screwed he might be.  He didn't mind so much that it was his parents, but the Fingleman's were right there...

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Cade smiled, though he wanted to laugh too.   A wise man doesn't laugh when their faux girlfriend invites them over for some ""before the fight with the eldritch horror" alone time.""  He nodded   "Always good to get a preview of what awaits after we get back safe and sound."  It was his turn, and he lifted her hand and lightly kissed her knuckle.   "Makes it all the more important that we make it back."

His grin was so honest, like it just came easy to him to smile this way.   "Later on, but sometime soon, just in case, I'm gonna need to pick your brain on fashion ideas."

When she arched a perfect eyebrow at that, he shrugged.   "I'm gonna need something good to wear when we go to Homecoming. Can't go with you looking like a hick in his Sunday best, right? I  knew better than to suggest my normal suit, well I'd rather not earn your wrath quite like that.   My options for people I know to ask about that sort of thing are my grandfathers, which would be pretty terrible, my Dad, who's probably worse, and Mr. Bancroft.   He's a sort of wildcard, he's offered good advice before.   But with this, I figure it's best to ask for help from the expert."

Truth was, he hadn't wanted to ask Marissa, but in the end, he wanted her to be happy, to not regret saying yes, so he set aside that desire, and decided to ask.   After all, she'd know what color dress she was going to wear, and he smiled.  
 

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"Smart, gorgeous, plucky, but she's not a liar.  What you hear won't be easy, but every word of it is the truth."

Both of the Allens watched Devin make his exit, and then Teresa looked at her daughter with that narrow, pointed suspicion in her eyes again. Devin? those eyes asked her. Really?

Cassie sighed. She just wasn't ready to try to explain any of that and what she'd actually come here to explain. She waved a hand as if trying to clear a cloud of smoke away.

"These...abilities we have, they sort of pushed us into a very old and very weird, um, conflict. A fight that's been going on for a long time here in Shelly."

"A fight," her mother replied flatly, immediately not liking the sound of that. "What kind of fight?"

Cassandra felt herself wanting to deflect, but pressed down on herself. Tell the truth, or you'll never forgive yourself. "There's a kind of...parasitic force that operates in the town, and the area around it," she said. "It can influence people, it has powers a little like ours, but sort of...the opposite. It's a big reason why Shelly has so many disappearances and violent crime even though it's such a small town. It stirs people up, then kind of feeds on all the pain and anger and bad emotions that result. And when it gets strong enough, it sort of...takes people."

Teresa could only repeat again, "Takes people?"

"Yeah. The...the parasite itself isn't physically here. It's in a kind of, um, bubble, I guess? Like a tiny alternate dimension attached to our world. When it gets strong enough, it can reach across and into our world. When it does, it takes someone from here, over to there. And then the whole cycle repeats after a few years. It's been going on for centuries. Before the English settlers came, the natives who lived here knew about this place."

"Okay...okay..." Cassie's mom put her hands to the sides of her head and just held them there, eyes closed for a moment. "Jesus, this sounds so..." She opened her eyes. "It sounds like a book, Cass. Like a direct to paperback book. This is real?" Doubt danced in her eyes, a desperate sort of doubt. A needful doubt.

"It's real," Cassandra replied softly. "And we have to stop this...this parasite. Which means we're going to have to force our way into its messed-up dimension and confront it directly. And...I don't know how that's going to go, so I had to tell you. Just in case..."

Teresa shook her head sharply and said, "Stop. Just stop. Stop right there. That's enough." She started to reach across the table, but Cassandra pulled her hands back.

"I have to finish, Mom," she said. "Just...hear me out. No one else can do this. Okay? It has to be us."

"You're children, Cassie," Teresa countered...somehow both trying to placate, but also starting to show veins of anger pulsing under the skin. "There must be other people with abilities like this. Adults. Trained..."

"Trained in what? Interdimensional combat? Dark God hunting?" Cassandra shook her head. "Please just listen. For a second. It's on us. I know it's not...fair, and it's not right, but it is what IS. This parasite is only going to get stronger the longer we wait. It's infected one of our..." she paused. The word 'friend' didn't really describe Cody. "...schoolmates, and he's killing people. The police can't stop him. We can, but the creature, the real threat, it'll just keep making more. We have to stop it at the source. There's no other way."

"No. I can't let you." Teresa took a deep breath and steadied herself. "I hear everything you're saying, but I would be a failure as a parent if I let you do any of this."

"Mom, you know I'm going to be a reporter right? Not the kind that does...movie reviews or human interest stories. I'm going to be taking risks, sometimes putting my life on the line. That's going to happen."

"This is different!" Teresa suddenly exploded. "You're not talking about taking risks here! You're talking about...about...a bunch of kids taking on some kind of..." She trailed off, unable to articulate what she was thinking without sounding like an idiot in her own ears. Finally she concluded with what she was feeling instead. "I can't lose you, Cass," she confessed, eyes tearing up. "You're all I have left."

Cassandra took a deep breath. "...which brings us to the next piece of news."

As her mother wiped her eyes and gave her a suspicious look, Cassandra took her cellphone out and called up the photo of her father. She held it out for Teresa to see.

"What is this?"

"It's dad. He's alive."

Teresa grabbed the phone and brought it closer to her face with shaking hands.

"He's at the prison right now...which I should probably let you know is currently being run by a...rogue scientist."

Her mother's eyes flicked up from the phone to focus on Cassie. "What?"

Cass sighed and shook her head. "Okay, there's a LOT going on, but I want to sort of focus on the immediate stuff. I will give you a full run-down as soon as I can, but the short version is that the government set up secret labs around the area to study the weird things going on, and one of the scientists went crazy and set up a secret lab in the prison and dad must have seen something he shouldn't have so they...faked his death and brainwashed him so he doesn't remember who he was."

Teresa's face hadn't changed at all during the explanation. After a moment she repeated in a hard voice, "What?"

"...moooom..."

"No, I'm being serious. You knew this? How long have you known this?"

"Not that long? And before you even go there, I didn't tell you before because you wouldn't believe me unless I did ALL of this, and...and...I didn't even know how to START. And we were busy training to go up against the Dark..."

"The Dark?!"

"...that's what we call the parasite."

Teresa set the phone down and pushed it across the table back to Cassandra. "Well obviously we need to get in touch with the police. The FBI maybe. And Cassie, they might be able to handle this 'Dark' thing too! You don't..."

"They CAN'T, mom!"

"...KNOW!" Teresa finished over her. "Okay? You don't know! They might have a whole squad of...of...people like you and your friends, only professionals."

Cassandra shook her head. "They don't! And I DO know. The things we can do, the powers we have...they're because of something happening in Shelly too. It's all happening HERE. All of it. The good and the bad. Even if the government knew, and it only kind of partly does, they don't have anyone who has powers working for them."

With supreme effort, Teresa put that aside and persisted on another tack, "...all right, saying you're right about that for the moment, the situation with your father is different. No...dark parasites or strange abilities there. That's just kidnapping and assault and...I don't even know what brainwashing is, but I'm sure it's illegal."

"Yeah, but the prison...the company, and this scientist...they know what they're doing. The police and FBI won't find anything. And then he'll know that WE know, and we'll probably never see dad again." Cassandra drew in a deep breath, and reached out across the table to her mom's hands. "I'm going to get him out. Me and my friends. We can hit them before they even know we're there. Once he's out of there, you and me...we can talk to him. We can break through what they did." Now her own eyes were watering. "We can have him back, mom. You just have to trust me."

In a quick motion, Teresa grabbed her daughter's hands and squeezed. "I trust you, Cass...it's just...this is terrifying, okay?" She had to wipe her eyes. "You're not even out of high school, and...I can't even understand any of this. How am I supposed to feel?"

"I'm scared too, mom," Cass agreed. "I just...couldn't do this without coming clean. Even though I knew it would be hard for you to hear. I don't think we're going to lose, but...I didn't want to just disappear and have you never know what happened. This thing we're doing, it's worth it...it's worth the risk, but it is a risk."

"Oh baby," her mother sobbed, and suddenly pulled her hands away so she could walk around the table, sit down by Cassandra and enfold her in her arms. "My sweet little girl..."

For what felt like a long time, Cassandra let herself be rocked slowly. Finally Teresa took a deep breath and looked down deep inside herself. She didn't know what to say, but she needed to say something. There was a lot of emotional anguish in the way, uncertainty and fear and loneliness seething...but under all that was something that had always been true. Saying it was harder than she ever expected it would be.

"I...trust you," Teresa said at last. "If you say you have to do it...if you say you can do it...then I trust you."

Cassandra felt something in herself start to give way, and she tightened her arms around her mother. "You think I can do it?" she asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

Teresa laughed through her tears. "Honey...when you were a little girl, you threw yourself at a huge corporate prison so hard, and so often, they had to threaten to sue to make you stop. And that was before you had...psychic powers or whatever you have. There is nothing you can't do, Cassie. Nothing. So...keep your eyes open, and you think things through, and you go save the world. And then save your dad."

"It's just saving Shelly, I think," Cassie giggled into her mom's shoulder.

"Well," replied mother comfortingly, "One thing at a time."

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Posted (edited)

Just say it, her brain urged as Ian excused himself, the game on hold while he greeted Lucius Cole and some of the city council members that had been the subject of boring adult conversation earlier. Frowning, she tapped her cards against the table, condensing them into one neat stack that concealed their faces from casual perusal. It was literally that simple. She just had to say the words- uncomplicated, normal English words- and her family would be in on the big secret. Well, she considered, at least they’d be in on part of the big secret. The important part they needed to know in order to, hopefully, stay safe, and at least sort of informed. All the stuff about aliens and government conspiracies and shadowy extrajudicial prisons could wait, probably.

But being simple didn't make something easy, did it? If she told them the truth, there was the definite possibility- no, the definite likelihood they'd freak out. Her mom, maybe not so much, since she'd at least grown up with some of the stories even if she didn't believe them. Plus, there was the conversation from last night, and the letters, and the talisman… Those might help, a little. Her dad, though? Ugh. He'd probably want a psych eval or a drug test, or both. And, honestly, she had to admit that none of that was irrational. Accepting the undeniable nightmarish realness of the Weird didn't make it any easier to deal with, even after being shoved into the water at the deep end with the expectation that she'd either learn to swim pretty fucking quick, or drown.

If she didn't tell them, though, and something happened... An icy frisson, completely at odds with the warmth of the late summer afternoon, prickled the baby-fine curls at the nape of Autumn's neck as she remembered the tiny, forlorn shoe forgotten in the corner of a dark basement. No. Not an option, she decided, laying her cards on the table quietly. She couldn't- wouldn't do that to them.

"Hey, mom?" Just fucking say it, Autumn. She swallowed, taking a sip of watered-down lemonade to moisten a throat that had gone suddenly dry. Dana glanced at her daughter quizzically, her hazel eyes still bright with laughter at something Nathan had said- something Autumn had missed completely in agonizing over telling her parents what no parents would ever want or expect to hear from their child.

Just. Fucking. –

She inhaled. "Grandpa wasn't crazy. There is an- an evil, in Shelly, a Darkness. An, um." She hesitated as the avuncular warden tipped back his bottle in a long, deliberate swig, his attention fully on the girl he’d helped raise. "An Enemy, he called it. And tonight we're going to try to stop it, and I wanted to tell you in case..." Her voice trailed off in something like a hiccup, choked by a rising wave of emotion that flooded her sea-colored eyes like an incoming tide. Pale, bronze-flecked fingers twined together in a Gordian knot of anxiety. Good. You’ve got this. Keep going. Breathe. Drawing in a slow, quavering breath, she tried again, this time meeting her mother's gaze with some trepidation. "In case I, um. Didn't come home."

Her mom looked at her for a long moment, seconds ticking by like hours as both Keane ladies looked at one another, each wrestling with the paralysis that came from fear - not for oneself but for another. Not too far away, Autumn's dad was laughing and chatting with Lucius Cole and a couple of the town Aldermen. The sun was shining, the music of the Carousel coming as though from a greater distance to the little island of stillness that marked the Keane picnic table. A stillness that was broken by the sound of a bottle softly being set down. Both women looked at the bottle, and at the hand that still loosely gripped it, as anchor points for their whirling thoughts as Nathan watched Dana carefully. The slim older redhead took a slow, deliberate breath, only the faintest quavering betraying her inner turmoil as she looked back at her daughter.

"So." she nodded slowly, her tone almost deliberately clinical. Her 'trying not to freak out' voice - which was better than her 'you're in so much trouble young lady' voice, at least. "By 'we' you mean-?"

"Some friends... and people we know." Autumn hesitated, then "It has to be us, Mom. It's kind of a whole thing-"

"You know about this?" Dana looked sharply at Nathan, who shrugged and nodded his head slowly.

“Some. I knew Autumn was special. I knew there was an evil here - big 'E' evil. I knew she wasn't alone - she didn't name names when I talked to her about it, either." The man who was as her uncle looked at her sternly. "I didn't know they'd be rushing off on Labor Day to go and fight it, though."

"Right." There was a whole discussion yet to be had contained within that word, but Dana forced herself to focus on the immediate, important matter at hand as she looked back at her daughter, noting the way Autumn wasn't shifting her gaze away, noting that though she was plainly scared and worried, she wasn't panicking. "You know, I tried to get Jase to tell me what was up with you, what was going on." Dana's lips quirked wryly. "It was like trying to squeeze a stone for water. So - why does it have to be you and 'some friends', Autumn? Why not the sheriff, or the state troopers, or hell, even the National Guard? If this Dark Enemy is real and you can prove it, why not just get a bunch of men with guns to deal with it?"

"So..." Autumn hedged uncomfortably, shifting the plastic cup a little to reveal a damp crescent of condensation beneath. "I mean, saying 'it's complicated' is kind of an understatement. We didn't really pick Labor Day in advance, or anything, but going up to the rez, and some of the things that have happened lately... It kind of changed our minds a little." As she spoke, the restless teen half-consciously fidgeted with her drink, nudging it now and again to add to the vague flower shape she was creating in delicate lines of pooling water. "It seemed like a good idea to just, you know.” Her shoulders twitched upward in a half-hearted shrug. “Get it over with before things get worse. And honestly, if getting a bunch of dudes with guns was an option, the people who get to make those decisions would've already done it." She paused for a moment at that, recalling the situation at the hospital, and exhaled. Maybe? Hopefully? But Site B and Crossroads existed right alongside whatever this Aeon Society was, and Branch Nine, as well. They'd seemed capable of dealing, mostly, with the things that had crossed over, or through, or whatever, but that was a totally different thing from actually crossing the threshold of the Door that Cass had described. "Or at least I hope they would've."

With a quiet huff, the energetic young woman swung her legs over the bench seat of the picnic table and got to her feet, fingertips already drumming against her thighs as she moved. "The problem is that it's not here for them to go after it. It's like-" Exhaling, Autumn took a few more steps, slowly pacing the length of the table. "Okay, I could be totally wrong about this, because a lot of the whole subquantum theory thing is over my head, but, the way I picture it, it's like you're in a house. And you know there are people in the room next to you, but there's a wall there. You can't see them, can't touch them, or vice-versa, but they're there. There is a Door, though, and sometimes it's open, and someone on the other side can get through, or you could go over to the other side of the wall." She paused, gauging the effect of her words. The men with guns can't get through the Door, but we can." Probably. "We think."

"You think." Dana echoed. "Okay. I'm following you down the rabbit hole here because the alternative is to drag you to the medical center and demand a CAT scan." Nathan stirred as though he were about to say something and Dana lifted a hand. "No. Nothing about whether it's true or not right now. Let's just be happy I'm suspending disbelief, okay?" She fixed Autumn with a penetrating stare. "And once you open this door - what then? What's on the other side? Something bad, right? What are you and your friends going to do about that, Autumn Rae? What is my little girl going to do about this Dark Enemy she's talking about? You're not soldiers. You're not cops. Why you, is what I'm asking."

Her reply was almost immediate, requiring no serious consideration or agonizing because she'd asked herself this same question more than once over the past week. Why me? Why any of us? The answer was simple, and for a moment there was no element of pleading or hesitation in Autumn's voice, just the quiet certainty of someone who, peering out a window, was commenting on the weather. "Because there isn't anybody else." Her words hung in the air for a long moment, faint trills of birdsong and distant laughter brushing against, but not quite breaking the uncomfortable silence as she swallowed again, hard, and regarded her mother with as much conviction as she could muster. "We're it, Mom. Some of us can do things that, honestly, I don't have any explanation for. It's-" She sighed, a short, sharp exhalation, and braced her hands atop her head, fingers lacing together amid the coppery strands that had been teased free of the imprisoning braid by the wind. "The Blackfeet call it the 'Dawning Light.' Some of us call it 'Shine,' because that's what it does, what it is, like a verb and a noun at the same time. I've gone through a couple of Grandpa's journals." Nodding at Nathan briefly, a tacit acknowledgement that he'd been right about what she'd find in the study, she continued. "And talked to Laughing Joe up at the reservation. There are lots of stories about the fact that people like us, who can do what we can do, would show up one day and... I guess, clear away the Darkness that's been growing here, cut out the tumor and let things heal. I'm not trying to sound dramatic, or anything, but we really are it."

"Okay... Okay." Her mom was really trying, Autumn realised as she watched the veterinarian's slender fingers fidget with the cards in her hand. Really trying not to freak the hell out. Really trying not to stand up and demand to know what the damn hell was going on. Really trying not to ground Autumn for life for either telling her the greatest cruellest whopper in family history or to try and protect her daughter from the chance of death she'd felt was enough to warrant warning her mom over. Dana took a deep breath, closing her eyes and stilling the restless motion of her hands. "You, and 'some others', have powers. That's what you're saying. Weird mojo, God forgive me for even entertaining the thought." She opened her hazel eyes and regarded Autumn intensely. "I've got a pretty good guess who all you mean when you say 'we', 'some friends', and 'people we know', you know. It's not hard to put together."

"Yeah, but it's also not all my secret to tell." Autumn admitted. "What you suspect isn't the same as me blabbing other people's business."

"What's to stop me grounding you?" Dana asked bluntly. "Just locking you away in your room for the night? Jesus wept, Autumn, assuming I believe every particular of what you just told me, why should I let you go into that sort of danger?!"

"She told you." Nathan interjected, calm, quiet, but with a certain element of forcefulness. "It's her and her friends, or nothing. Assuming she didn't just escape anyway, you'd be making things worse for the ones going. Dana, listen to me." He leaned forward slightly. "You recall that mess at the Marias Medical Center on Tuesday? Biological containment leak, it was called. And those fellas claiming to be from the CDC sure wrapped everything up neatly. But that doesn't gel up with some reports from people who saw strange things that day. I've been talking to folks. Monsters, and ice forming from nowhere, and people appearing and disappearing. And a couple of the sheriff's boys who I know say they can't rightly remember what happened that day. But Autumn here, and 'some other' kids, were right in the middle of it." There was a long, pregnant pause as Dana looked at Nathan, considering his words, then at Autumn.

"Fine." she said at length. "But... if you come back - and you had better come back, Autumn Rae Keane-" The dreaded full name was invoked like a binding, a maternal geas. "-We're going to have a talk. I want to know everything. Beg, get permission from others to discuss it, whatever you need to do. Everything. That's my condition for not boarding you up in your room. Take it or leave it."

"When I come back," Autumn repeated, nodding solemnly. She had a vague idea how much trust was being banked in that demand, what it meant for her mother to even consider taking her seriously at all; pointing out that if she really wanted to get out of being grounded, she would, didn't seem necessary. "And, Dad, too. He'll need to know, if he's staying." Frowning a little, tiny creases like arrows appearing between her brows, the red-haired teen reconsidered. "Maybe even if he isn't. But I also need you guys to do something for me. A couple of somethings. Just, I guess for my own peace of mind. Mom," she continued, most of the earlier nervousness gone as her hands slipped from the crown of her head back to her sides. It was a strange feeling, actually having the conversation she'd been dreading, the one that had gone a dozen different ways in her head. It started as all tension and nerves and feeling like she couldn't breathe, and then... Then it wasn't much of anything at all. Just plans being made, as if there was nothing extraordinary about the whole completely unbelievable situation. Huh.

"You, and Dad, and, if they want, Uncle Nathan and Jay, need to stay at the house tonight. It doesn't matter what the excuse is. Just, once I leave," she added, her sea-colored eyes uncharacteristically grave as they studied the familiar perfection of her mother's features, "don't go out for anything. Unless the Crockers have a talisman, too, home is the safest place from the Dark, or as safe as any place can be. If the stories are true, it shouldn't be able to affect any of you there."

"And on that note." The restive teen paced a few steps back the way she'd come, putting some real and metaphorical distance between herself and her audience. She could feel the softness of the earth beneath her heels, beneath the thin rubber soles of her well-worn sneakers, as she turned her attention to the warden. "Nathan. Thanks. For telling me about the journals, and the trip to the rez. For carrying around something that shouldn't have been your problem. You said you guys would support me, as the 'Kavanagh in the hot seat,' and maybe later on that'll mean something different than it does today, but just know I appreciate it." Cutting her eyes briefly in Dana's direction, Autumn took a deep breath. "If I'm not back by tomorrow morning,” she stated emphatically, “if something happens and we get stuck over there, or it takes longer than we thought, I need you to go to the Old Town Hall, and I need you to burn it down.”  It wasn’t a normal request, to be sure, but this wasn’t a normal conversation, either, and the earnest young woman’s expression was rigid with the knowledge of what she was asking. “This is important."

There was a soft silence broken only by Dana's intake of breath, then Nathan nodded slowly. "So that's the place, huh?" he asked, eyes narrowing in his weather-tanned features. "Okay. I'll see it done. And don't worry none about Jake and me and your folks. We'll stay over, keep the light in the window for you and your friends."

"Yeah. Whatever happens, don't go exploring in the Town Hall with some half-assed idea of looking for us." Autumn fidgeted, trying not to let a tremor enter her voice as she thought of those she loved roaming that Dark place. "Just... burn it down."

"And once you've beaten the Enemy, then what?" Dana asked softly, hope in her eyes. "Normal life resumes?" Autumn hesitated then, pondering the whole 'alien conspiracy', the secret organisations, the mysterious Site B, Jase being an actual alien rather than just acting like one...

Was there such a thing as “normal life," anymore? She wasn't sure- which seemed especially strange when, not that long ago, she'd been completely certain that the answer was "yes." Now, though, even if she couldn't penetrate the full depths of the mystery she'd been caught up in (and, if she was totally honest with herself, wasn't sure she really wanted to just yet), there was no denying that it had been a comfortable lie. A veneer of normalcy painted over something deeper, and much darker and stranger, than she could ever have imagined. But... it wasn't all bad, was it?

The feeling of Marissa Jauntsen, of all people, hugging her like an actual human person for just a few moments, sharing genuine feeling in the wake of a near-tragedy. The flames of the setting sun illuminating laughter in pale green eyes as she soared over Shelly in the arms of someone she really, really liked. The sensation of enormity, of connection and unfathomable hugeness, of knowing what it really meant to actually touch someone. The vague memory of a spiral, a circle, a twisting ring woven from life and death and everything in between, a pattern observed simultaneously as the weaver and as a single skein amid the tapestry's warp and weft. And her family, the people she loved, were a part of that, too- part of whatever was happening, even if they didn't see it, and even if she didn't have the words to explain it.

"I think," she began slowly, carefully, "that's the hope. Or, at least as close to normal life as we can get. Just..." Autumn sighed, raking a hand back through the haphazard plait that seemed determined to unweave itself before the end of the day. "Things are already changing, and even if we go in there and save the day and all of that, and even if nothing else happens afterward, 'normal' is probably going to look different than it does right now, because we'll know more. We'll see the world differently, I guess. Does that make sense?"

"It does." Not for the first time this week, Dana found herself looking at her daughter not as a little girl, or even a teenager, but as a young woman who was growing up and out, often in unpredictable ways, but undoubtedly as her own person. Was the terrible secret and mysterious powers she'd talked about responsible? Was it her new circle of friends, from the impenetrable boy she seemed head over heels for, to the perky Cassandra and the admittedly-not-as-bad-as-feared Devin Jauntsen? Was it just... growing up? All of the above, perhaps, she decided as she got up from the table and circled round it, beckoning her girl to her and giving her a fierce hug. "You've grown. Right under my nose. And here I thought I was ready for it." she murmured, squeezing her eyes shut as she tried not to cry. Taking a breath, she straightened up and moved them to sit together. "So... " she began, looking for a way to broach the topic. "What do you do? I mean, your special powers thing. What is it?"

"My 'special powers thing'?" Autumn repeated, surprise and laughter registering in the sudden flash of a smile and the crinkling of her nose. Pressed close against her mother's side as they sat down again at the table, she could feel the tension in the slender vet's body echoed in her own. She's trying, the girl reminded herself as she took the older woman's hand, squeezing it softly in a gesture that was both comfort and comfort-seeking, simultaneously a response to the unasked-for reassurance that she was still Dana's little girl, and a tactile inquiry whether the reverse was still true. Even without the benefit of her Shine, the younger redhead could feel the faint rhythm of her mother's pulse through the light golden-ivory skin, the almost imperceptible twitch of the muscle at the base of her thumb. With it, there was so much more, information she could interpret intuitively but didn't yet understand well enough academically to really explain.

"I'm not sure what to call it." She mulled it over for a moment, musing on both Jason and Devin's comments, considering once more how it all felt, how intrinsically her abilites seemed to be linked to emotion- to passion, Jase had said, like two sides of a coin. That it should be used as an extension of her will, and not feared. “It's just sort of... life, I guess. I can see it, feel it." Frowning thoughtfully, Autumn shifted a little in her seat, angling toward her mother rather than curling up against her like the child a part of her still wanted to be. "Change it, in some ways, I think. Heal living things. Improve them." Her voice dropped a little, and she glanced furtively in the direction her father had gone, checking he was still occupied. "Or... The, um, opposite. There's a lot I still don't know, but the more I do with it, it seems like the more I'm able to do. I can show you...? If you want," she added quickly. "I don't want to, y'know, freak you out or anything, but if it'll help..." Autumn's voice trailed off, eyes wide and expectant as she glanced from one grown-up to the other.

"Maybe it would help, at that." Dana sighed after a moment’s consideration. "There's so much I'm taking on faith, and then there's your grandfather and his stories..." her voice trailed off, and Autumn could only imagine the lingering guilt her mom felt at not believing her father when he'd needed her to. The slim auburn-haired woman smiled at Autumn, a sad smile tinged with hope, and nodded. "Show me something, then?" She paused, flashing her daughter a wider smile. "Something non-gross, if you can." she added, throwing a wink at Nathan who was leaning closer, his own expression betraying an underlying excitement. After all the years and all the stories, the Warden was more than ready to see something wondrous, or so it seemed.

“Non-gross” cut out a lot of the most obvious options, but also the ones that might- on reflection- have been just a little bit on the traumatic side. She was reminded, suddenly, of Charlie's physical transformations, and narrowly suppressed a shiver. They were, if she was being generous, impressive, but... Yeah, no. The whole point is to reassure them, not make this worse. Nothing crazy, Autumn. No, like... slicing your fucking hand open and then healing yourself, or whatever. Her abilities weren't, she thought, as visually disturbing as his- or as obvious as, say, Devin's or Kat's- but even if her mom was used to the sight of blood, that didn't mean she liked it. So, okay. That left her with the subtle approach.

"Right. Non-gross." Nodding absently, Autumn got to her feet, Dana's fingers slipping from her grasp as she moved to the end of the table. "So, just to warn you, I haven't actually practiced this yet. Jas-"

Fuck!

"-someone," she continued in a rush, a bloom of crimson staining her cheeks as Dana's eyes rolled heavenward. "Suggested it yesterday, and it seemed like a good idea. So." Kneeling on the grass between the two adults, the red-haired vitakinetic gave herself a solid mental kick, swearing softly under her breath. Even if some things were probably super-obvious, and even if this was her mom and Nathan, both of whom were people she trusted, it wasn't like they'd all talked about who to tell, or not. In fact, she reflected guiltily as she reached up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear, as a group they hadn't really agreed on much of anything at all, so far.

Exhaling slowly as her mother and her "uncle" craned their heads curiously to watch, she ran her fingers lightly over the broken blades of grass, her vision shifting until the carpet of fading green differentiated itself into countless individual clusters of leaves, their entwined roots spreading out in a seemingly-infinite net just beneath the surface of the soil. The sounds of the afternoon grew dim, distant in Autumn's ears, and the breeze that lifted the hair from her brow was cool, but the sun on her face, her bare arms and legs, was warm, a suffusion of light and heat that sank into her skin and bones as the grass tickled her fingertips. It was only crushed, she knew, not dead, and though there was no pain, no real sense of injury, the plant's primitive repair system was... aware? Hmm. Yeah. That seemed like the right word. Aware, in some way, of the damage that had been done. It would have to be in order to function, she supposed, simultaneously curious about how that worked, exactly, and intrigued by the prospect of more focused exploration later. Setting that aside for the moment, she drew in another deep breath and reached out, feeling her Shine trace the ragged edges of the slender green leaves that had been trampled underfoot. The energy she felt was smaller, quieter than she'd sensed in flesh-and-blood beings, but no less vigorous or tenacious for all that. Without the distraction of perceived hurts or shared sensation, healing the "wounds" of that single plant was almost shockingly easy, and as her fingers stroked the torn blades of grass meditatively, they slowly straightened, brightening at the infusion of vitality in her touch until one small cluster of green was vibrant as midsummer.

"Well, I'll be..." Nathan Crocker's oath trailed off as he watched the small miracle unfold. Dana just stared, eyes widening as the import of what she was seeing hit home, then she seemed to recover a little, looking at her daughter with fresh eyes.

"And it works in reverse, too?" she stated rather than asked. As Autumn nodded a trifle uncomfortably, Dana reached out and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "The boy whose leg you broke in that fight?" Autumn nodded again, slowly.

"That was sort of an accident." she admitted, remembering the fight, the heady red taste of her power as it had lashed out. "I mean, I wanted to hurt him - not too bad, just enough to stop him, to defend myself and Jason," she added hastily. "But I wasn't really thinking about how I was doing it. My... Shine just filled in the blanks. I kicked him, and it made the kick... worse, I guess."

"Hmm." Dana's expression was thoughtful as she helped Autumn back up to sit next to her. "Normally my next question would be: 'Why couldn't Jase use his own Shine to defend himself?' - but we're pretending I don't know he's one of the other teenagers you're talking about, and like you said, it’s not your secret to tell. Yet." she added significantly, then looked at the verdant, lush patch of grass Autumn had coaxed into renewed life. "That's... well, that's pretty damn amazing." she said quietly, a tinge of awe entering her voice. "I wish..." Her voice trailed off then, and she simply hugged Autumn tightly with one arm. Autumn didn't need to ask what her mother's unspoken wish was. Of course Owen Kavanagh would have gotten a kick out of seeing this.

And, of course, in one of the worst possible ironies, the same powers he'd have been thrilled to see with his own eyes could've told her something was wrong, could at least have made sure he got treatment if not actually saved his life directly, and of course they hadn't appeared until after he was gone. It wasn't the first time she'd thought about just how fucking unfair it was- but that's not what Dana meant, and Autumn knew it. And... Owen'd had a choice, hadn't he? As unfathomable as his decision seemed to the ones who loved him, he'd decided not to speak up. Not to sacrifice his stupid selfish pride. Not to pursue treatment. The feeling of grief was still there as she returned her mother's embrace, still rose up unbidden from some internal sea, but she was surprised at the fleeting nature of the emotion this time- it wasn’t a torrent or a violent upwelling, but a wave that rushed against the shore of her consciousness and then slowly, quietly withdrew.

Maybe it had something to do with the ritual the night before, or maybe there was too much going on to really process any of it fully; either possibility seemed totally reasonable. After tonight, she promised herself silently, pressing her cheek against her mom's shoulder. After tonight, assuming there was an after, she was gonna go up into the treehouse and get so high she wouldn't need Jase to fly her anywhere. 9'12" high. Johnny Cash eating cake in a bush with his bare hands high. Elon Musk sending a Tesla into space high. Turn down the television because she couldn't taste the mac and cheese high. Absolutely fucking orbital.

"Me, too." Focusing back on the present, Autumn glanced across the table at the warden. "Would've made a lot of this way easier. Nathan wouldn't have gotten stuck having to tell me, for starters." She smiled a little, the expression more apology than jest. "But the easy way wasn't how Grandpa did things, so I guess... The hard way, it is. It's just a whole lot.” She made a face, something like a grimace, but relented as something else occurred to her. “On the plus side, I don't have to deal with it completely by myself."

"Right," Dana agreed, her brows knitting together as she glanced over her daughter's head toward the Carousel and the crowds there. "You have your friends, who I'm pretending for now not to know about."

"For now." The younger redhead nodded, despite the urge to clarify that most of them weren’t actually friends at all. "But I'll get permission to tell you what I can, or have them tell you themselves." Her phone vibrated in her pocket, and, sighing at the thought of some other galaxy-brain-level comment in the group text she'd started earlier, Autumn fished it out and swiped at the screen.

-----Monday, 09/02/2019; 16:44-----

[From: Kat] Hey, I'm omw to get one of your armbands

That was reassuring, at least.  Two down, eight to go.

"Speaking of which, I need to go take care of something." The freckled teen leaned up and gave her mom a quick peck on the cheek as she swung her legs over the bench and got to her feet. "Just headed over to the car for a few, shouldn't take long. If Dad comes back, Uncle Nathan can finish my hand for me." Her mother’s worried frown gave her pause for a moment. “I just need to give out armbands for the party. I’ll explain later. It’s.. a whole story, more Grandpa stuff, but I’ll tell you. Promise.”

As Dana sighed and reluctantly waved her on, Autumn flashed her a smile she hoped was reassuring and headed toward the Jeep, typing all the way.

 

Edited by Autumn Keane
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On 12/26/2020 at 5:43 PM, Cade said:

Cade smiled, though he wanted to laugh too.   A wise man doesn't laugh when their faux girlfriend invites them over for some ""before the fight with the eldritch horror" alone time.""  He nodded   "Always good to get a preview of what awaits after we get back safe and sound."  It was his turn, and he lifted her hand and lightly kissed her knuckle.   "Makes it all the more important that we make it back."

His grin was so honest, like it just came easy to him to smile this way.   "Later on, but sometime soon, just in case, I'm gonna need to pick your brain on fashion ideas."

When she arched a perfect eyebrow at that, he shrugged.   "I'm gonna need something good to wear when we go to Homecoming. Can't go with you looking like a hick in his Sunday best, right? I  knew better than to suggest my normal suit, well I'd rather not earn your wrath quite like that.   My options for people I know to ask about that sort of thing are my grandfathers, which would be pretty terrible, my Dad, who's probably worse, and Mr. Bancroft.   He's a sort of wildcard, he's offered good advice before.   But with this, I figure it's best to ask for help from the expert."

Truth was, he hadn't wanted to ask Marissa, but in the end, he wanted her to be happy, to not regret saying yes, so he set aside that desire, and decided to ask.   After all, she'd know what color dress she was going to wear, and he smiled.  
 

"Then I will put you in touch with my brother," Marissa's lips curved into a sly grin as Cade kissed her knuckles.  She flushed slightly at his charm but still careful to not to show to many of her cards all at once.  He was certainly charming and sweet and treated her right, but he was a means to an end.  She had to keep telling herself that.  "Cadums, I can't give you advice, then it would look like I dressed you and, sweetie, we can't have that.  If it got around that your 'girlfriend' was dressing you up for dates, it would damage your rep.  Now, if my brother does it, well, then it just looks like bros hanging out and getting ready for their dates for Homecoming."

"Think he'll help out?"  Her date asked.

"Sure," her shoulders popped up in a swift shrug.  "He's helping out Jason, I'm sure he'll help you out too.  I mean, it's either that or you ask one of the Cassidy sisters, I hear Laurie likes dressing up little boys, but I swear if you show up a French maid's outfit sporting heels higher than mine, it's over on the spot."

"Your brother it is." Cade laughed.  "It is really cool of you two to sort of spearhead the Homecoming thing for everyone in the Fellowship.  Offering up your dresses and makeup advice and all that.  I'm sure the girls really appreciate it."

"I guess," she shrugged again, blowing off his comment with a lack of belief in her tone.  Once again she led him along the trails between all the people and their families.  "I really think they all just assume I'm trying to make little Marissa's out of all of them.  I get that it's a little harder to trust me, considering what my brother and me did to them for the last three years, but I mean, come on, I can't do better if people don't let me reach out and actually do better.  Trust has to go both ways.  I'll admit, you Fellowship losers aren't that bad.  A bit nerdy and tad on the psychotic side, but the conversations are okay, the food is good, the adventures are whacky and so far the sex had been mind blowing."  She noticed the way the large teen holding her hand turned a few darker shades of red as she mentioned their intimate relations out loud.

"Give them some time," he replied calmly, hoping to shift the conversation away talking about their sex life in public.  "We're all really worked up about the going on of tonight.  After we face this hurdle I think a lot of us will be more open minded about our thoughts on the future."

"Pfft," she scoffed.  "For those of us that come back.  I've seen the movies.  Super-hot rich white girls always die first.  I'm skipping my shower tonight just so I don't get caught unaware, wrapped in a bath towel."

"Hey," he stopped suddenly and turned to face her.  "Don't talk like that."  His thumb traced gently down her cheek as his eyes met hers, locking her attention in his stoically intense gaze.  "I will be there for you.  If I have to stand against everything the Dark has at its disposal, I will be there between them, and you.  We're all coming home, even if I have to tear down another dimension to make it happen."  He leaned in and kissed her lips gently, so gently in fact that she felt her eyes close and pang of want as he pulled away from her.

Wow. Was about all her brain could muster as a thought to the words her valiant knight spoke while the rest of her body tried to keep up with the fact that were once again walking and he was saying something else... she just had no idea what.  She'd not imagined Cade as so intense, so laser focused on being the Spartan who didn't care how many the enemy were, only where he could find them.  It was exciting and sent a chill down her spine as she also realized... it was kind of hot.

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Casssandra's phone rang with an electronic arrangement of 'Jessie's Girl,' informing her that Autumn had sent a text. She gave her mom a pat on the shoulder, tapping out of the full-nelson momhug she'd been caught in. "I'd better see this," she said.

Her mother released her and looked down at the phone warily. "Is that about..."

"I don't think so, but..." Cass swiped into the phone and tapped the notification.

-----Monday, 09/02/2019; 16:48-----
<<<Group Text>>> [From: Autumn]

Okay. You guys have about 15 to either come get these, or make arrangements to pick them up later. I'm not chasing you down. We've all got stuff to do today.

 

"Oh! Shit, I mean, shoot that's right," she blurted. "The bracelets."

Teresa's eyebrows drew together. "What?"

"No, it's...it's normal. We're just supposed to meet up with Autumn, it's no big deal. I'd better go." Cassandra got to her feet, then gave her mom a quick one-armed hug around the shoulders. "See you soon, mom."

She accepted the hug, but got one last zinger in before letting go. "You promise?" Her tone was light, but Cassie could see a steel-hard core of truth at the center of the words.

"Yeah," Cass replied. "I promise. I'll see you soon." Then she was heading off again, texting back as she went, crossing over towards where the Keenes were making court, getting smaller and smaller until she was gone.

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Sean watched Kat's slight form disappear into the crowd, then stood up from the picnic and helped starting putting the leftover food away, in plastic wrap and plastic containers as he replied to Autumn's text with a thought. He bounced another back after her response then gave Laurie a nod.

"I wrapped the food up, you get to haul it to the car, Laurie," he informed her with a smirk. "I'm getting ice cream."

"Get me one?" the taller Cassidy pleaded. "The peach one?"

"Who said I'd be coming right back?" Sean countered with a wave as he started sauntering over to the Wilcoxson booth. "It might be melting before I swing by again, then I'd have to eat the other one I paid for."

Laurie blew a raspberry and Sean laughed as he turned around and headed off to get his ice cream and Autumn's tea. He slowed his pace as he was passing by the Finglemans - he recognized them, having been over to Sophia's place before when they used to be friends - when he caught sight of Devin there with who he presumed was 'Ellie.'

He glanced at her covertly, wondering if he could see any similarities between her and Jase. From where he was, he couldn't really tell, other than she was tall. Of course! New girl in Shelly, likely an alien, and she's nearly six feet tall. There's a higher percentage of girls taller than average in town than there's red heads.
Sean snorted to himself and continued on his way.

It wasn't that being short for a guy - average for a girl - really bothered him that much. The ones who had teased him the most about his height were his sisters and friends. Puberty had given him other attributes to worry about and with the help of Dr. Cook, his therapist, and other specialists, he was finally starting to accept them, in his own way. It totally sucked they were killing him.

Sean caught a text zipping by from Autumn's phone and idly read it though it wasn't meant for him. Then he tripped over nothing when he read the words. Scrambling back to his feet and brushing himself off, people would presume his pink cheeks were for embarrassment for his fall, not what he was reading. His flush deepened when replies continued bouncing back and forth between her and Jase and he couldn't prevent his curiosity from peeking.

It wasn't like they were the worse texts he had peeked ever peeked on, not even close. Way more dick pics than he ever expected or was comfortable with. But they were between one of his best friends and his best friend's girlfriend, and that made feel it extra explicit. He stopped, he had to stop. And he did! Totally coincidental that when he stopped peeking, texts between Autumn and Jase also stopped.

Sean got to the Wilcoxson Booth beside the Carousel, flush fading with his good fortune at finding only one person ahead of him. Wilcoxson had been making ice cream in Montana since 1912 and it was so good. Even better, the person ahead of him, a tallish, older fellow with a broad brimmed hat and a drawl from Texas didn't dither about his choice.

"Miss," the fellow said politely, doffing his hat to Sean as he stepped aside.

Sean just nodded back, keeping his face neutral as he refrained from correcting the guy. It was a battle rarely worth fighting, and even less now to him with the fight the Fellowship had ahead. He stepped up to the counter and ordered the Mountain Berry Ice Cream in a waffle cone he'd been yearning for and Autumn's blackberry ice tea.

Matilda - horrible name for a pretty blonde in her early twenties, she'd crossed out the name on her name-tag with a sharpie and wrote 'Tilly' under it - handed him his order then nodded at him and gave him a wave. She'd been working at the Wilcoxson booth since he had spent some time with his dad fixing the place up a few years ago and had gotten ice cream pretty much every time he'd been there.

"There you go, Sean. No charge."

"What? Why?" Sean said, raising his head from taking a lick from his ice cream. Y'know, to make sure there wasn't anything wrong with it.

Tilly nodded over his head. "Texan feller before you laid down a hundred dollar bill. Said I ain't have change for a hundred. Said he weren't expecting none, just to let it cover the next orders 'til it runs out. Now, don't go be telling every one, Sean, just let it go and be fair."

"I won't," Sean assured her.

Sean hustled off to the parking lot, giving the Texan a less neutral nod of acknowledgment in pass, who tipped his hat towards him, the crinkling about his eyes the only shift in his expression of laconic geniality.

Sean's brisk pace made his scuffed red sneakers kick up loose gravel in the parking lot, as he looked down rows of parked cars until he caught sight of Autumn's red hair. Licking the ice cream - a delicious mix of blueberry, huckleberry, and bilberry - around the rim of the waffle cone, so any melt would take longer before getting to his fingers, he quirked a brow in surprise that no one else was there.

The buxom boy silently held up the cardboard cup to the other redhead, multi-hued eyes wincing at the spine-tingly cold crawling down his throat from the bite of ice cream he had taken. "Coooold," he rasped, taking several deep breaths as the cold faded. "Blackberry ice tea, as requested."

"Nice," Autumn nodded, smiling appreciatively as she took the cup. "Thanks. I owe ya."

Swallowing a mouthful of the tart, slightly sweet beverage, the outdoorsy teen considered the rather more curvaceous tech-wizard thoughtfully. She knew of Sean - no one who'd lived in tiny, rural Shelly for very long could avoid hearing about him - but it wasn't as though they'd ever had a real conversation. There'd never, she realized, been a reason to before.

"Did you see the smol one on the way here? I was expecting her first, honestly." The freckled redhead smiled a little and took another sip as she opened the rear passenger side door of the Jeep.

"I thought she'd be here, or already here and gone too," Sean admitted, considering Autumn right back. 

Yeah, Jase had opened up, or at the very least, started asserting himself since the end of summer. But what was it about Autumn that had broken right through to him? He shrugged and hoped his face wasn't reddening again when he recalled their private texts.

"She probably just got distracted by something shiny. Or someone. Also, er, 'shiny'." 

Fucking Courtney! He gave a contrite smile. "Okay, that might be a bit mean. I like her, but man, does her mind bounce around. She'll show up, I'm sure. Or you can pass me her bracelet and I'll make sure she gets it."

"Sorry," Autumn grinned in an almost-apology, setting her drink on the ground to lean inside and grunting softly as she reached under the seat. "Limit of one per customer. She can get her own. Personal accountability, and all that."

Her voice was muffled by the bench seat of the Jeep and the miscellaneous dog toys, cooler bags, and plaid flannel blankets scattered throughout. She hummed quietly, shimmying a little and all but crawling through to the back of the vehicle before pausing with a loud "Ha!" of triumph. Backing out, her cheeks flushed and hair dishevelled, the energetic young woman thrust an open metal lockbox in Sean's direction as she beamed at him.

"Take your pick. You're the first, so it's only fair." There was a momentary pause, a trickle of berry-colored ice cream welling up at the rim of the crisp cone; Sean hadn't been there over the weekend. He probably didn't know what he was getting, or why he was getting them from her. The smile on her lips faded. "Did, ah, anyone tell you what these are, out of curiosity?"

Sean hadn't been staring at Autumn's ass as she climbed half in the Jeep. But he had noted it with purely academic interest. He wanted to see what Jase saw in her, and as they hadn't ever hung out or anything, he couldn't help but notice the physical first.

Sean collected the ice cream starting to run down the cone along with a bit of cone with a bite. He shook his head, then leaned forward to look in the box, fingering the bracelets with his free hand. There was a tingle to them, something reacting to his Shine, like the artifacts he had seen in Helena.

"Jase gave me an update on the training session yesterday - along with a light excoriation for not being there - but didn't mention the bracelets," Sean admitted as pulled out one of the not-copper bands to give it a closer look. The swirling patterns on them were so faded to be almost indiscernible, felt more easily than seen. He arched a brow at Autumn. "These like the thing Devin got, er, on the 'Otherside'?"

"Mmm." Autumn nodded, the box shifting slightly as she leaned over to retrieve the tea he'd brought her; the circular bands of oddly weathered metal chimed softly, the faintly musical sound muted by the cloth in which they'd been wrapped.

"Probably? Honestly, I'm not sure," she admitted as another, clearer note sang out from her pocket like a bell of cool glass.

Recognition flickered across her bronze-flecked features, eyes widening slightly as the smile that had vanished suddenly reappeared- along with a subtle brightening of the pink suffusing her cheeks. Without actually talking to her, or being able to read her expression or body language, would Jason know what she'd meant by the invitation to go for a walk, or would he just assume she meant an actual walk walk? Her fingers were practically twitching with the urge to just hand the lockbox over to Sean while she checked her phone, but... No. If she was going to do this, she'd have to take it seriously. Texts could wait for a second, even if they were from him.

"They're supposed to be 'protections for warriors,' but we don't really know much about them. TLDR version: they're old, and we don't know who made them, or whether anyone else had them before, or how they're supposed to work. Cass has decided they bond to one person and lock everyone else out of using them, since Devin's nearly killed her, but..."

She shrugged, a gesture that simultaneously suggested a lack of practical knowledge and a lack of confidence in the claim. "We don't know. We'll have to test that later, I guess."

She paused for a moment, wondering how much Sean knew about the whole Teulu thing, and whether she should mention her grandfather... and then remembered the group text, copper brows knitting together. Probably better not to say anything else, just in case. Grandpa always said being smart didn't mean you had any sense.

"Anyway, they seem to respond to Shine, so... maybe tuning, like to a person, activates it. Could also explain what happened with Devin's, if Cassie just tried using her powers or whatever." Nudging the lid carefully closed with her thumb, Autumn set the lockbox on the back seat as Sean turned the not-quite-copper band over in his hand, the worn etching catching the late afternoon sun.

Sean focused on the band of metal in his hand, studiously avoiding the pulse coming from Autumn's phone that was practically begging him to look at the message it portended. Nope! Not now, not with Autumn standing right here.

The band wasn't a machine, it didn't contain any ancient, super advanced tech he could fathom, not as he and his voodoo senses understood it. It just felt... alive in some fashion to his basic awareness of Shine. Was it brighter than it should be under the afternoon sun?

"Maybe we should've swiped one of those psionically active arrowheads when we were at the Montana Historical Society Museum, after all," Sean admitted, glancing up from the band to flash Autumn a wry grin. "We might've figured out how to test things like this. Though a felony for convenience's sake could be asking a bit much."

Sean's two-toned turquoise and jade eyes went back to the band. Then without further consideration and some finagling with his ice cream cone, he slipped the band over his slim wrist. He stared at it expectantly. Nothing. No pulse, vibration, mental or audible tone, anything to suggest it was 'activated.' Just warmed by the sun and the ambient temperature while in the metal lockbox. 

"Huh." He twisted his wrist one way, then other, eyeing the patterns on the band again. "That's it then. Would have been convenient if it had told me all about itself, or given me a pop menu with its stats at least." 

Sean closed his eyes for a moment, picturing his brief foray to the Historical Society Museum. "Wished I had paid more attention when we were at the Museum, but with some research we should be able to determine a rough estimate of how old they are. At least to tell if they are pre or post Clovis era."

Autumn nodded in response, very deliberately not  grabbing at her phone as she took a slow, appreciative drink from the cup Sean had brought. It seemed strange that she'd gone on a day-trip with him, spent at least as much time in his company recently as some of the others, and still knew painfully little about the petite young man. But...

"Tomorrow, maybe." There was a wealth of subtext contained within that final pair of syllables despite the superficially casual tone: hope, fear, resignation, and uncertainty, and all of it was writ plain in the curve of her smile, the subtle shift of her feet in the dirt, and the squaring of her shoulders as the Girl Scout exhaled. 

Yeah. Tomorrow. 

"Thanks again for the tea, Sean. See you later?"

"Yup. Later."

Autumn could see all she was feeling mirrored in the other youth, in the sharpness of his nod, the tentativeness in returning her smile with his own, the tenseness of his shoulders. There was perhaps less hope and more determination in the tightness about his eyes.

Sean tilted his ice cream cone towards the tea in Autumn's hand in a sort of salute. "And no problem 'bout the tea. Grab me a coffee sometime."

Sean turned, intending to amble his way to the Carousel, licking at his cone and suddenly, it was like he was in slow motion. He made a noise, not a grunt of pain, a softer exhalation, as a... a sensation, akin to whacking your funny bone (Yes, Sean knows it's not actually a bone) hard, except it didn't hurt. And instead of going up from his elbow, it went down from his fingertips.

His fingers twitched. He tried to stop it, tried to catch it, but only made it worse, and watched as he lost his grip on his ice cream cone. Maybe, if he had just let it fall, if he had been built like a boy rather than a very well developed girl, it would have landed on the ground.

Instead, ice cream practically exploded across his chest, the white and black of his hoodie painted with pale lavender. His shoulders slumped as he stared down at himself.

"Fuck me," he muttered, in disgusted resignation.

Gingerly, he plucked the slider between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and unzipped his hoodie and shrugged out of it. Revealing he was wearing a femininely cut, dark grey shirt, the modest scoop neck offering up a discrete amount of cleavage.

Autumn could see red blooming across Sean's face as spun the hoodie to roll it up in a ball, but his attention on was his left hand. The red didn't seem like embarrassment, but barely subdued fury, as though his hand had betrayed him.

First the lemonade, then tripping over nothing. Now this!

"What the fuck is happening?"

"Whoa, hey. Hang on a sec." The decidedly less-developed redhead reached back, set her drink on the floorboard without glancing at it, and came up alongside him. "You okay?"

Concern replaced conviction in her wide, clear eyes as they studied Sean's delicate, feminine features. Why do guys always get the prettiest eyelashes? she wondered distantly, a part of her grousing inwardly about the seeming unfairness of it all even as she scrutinized the angry scarlet flush burning beneath his skin. Was he just pissed he ruined the hoodie? Mad that he lost the ice cream? 'Cause that'd ruin anybody's day, honestly. All she had were guesses, though the shock and exasperation of his last question gave her pause.

"C'mere."

It wasn't quite mom-voice, and it wasn't quite Marissa's signature hauteur, either, but there was a firmness in Autumn's tone that brooked no argument and left no room to decline as a hand on his elbow turned him back toward the Jeep. "We always keep stuff for emergencies, because..." She gave him a little smile over her shoulder and waved a hand vaguely, expansively at the interior before climbing in. "Dogs. Paper towels, Tide pens, that kinda stuff."

After a few moments of rummaging and muffled curses as she leaned over the back seat into the rear of the vehicle, Autumn re-emerged, napkins and stain-removing travel wipes in hand and with a slightly crumpled green flannel over her arm. "Here," she insisted, giving him a chance to clean up the worst of the purple smears on his jacket while she shook out the oversized button-down shirt. Although even if it did stain it wouldn't look terrible tie-dyed, she decided privately. Not really his aesthetic, though. "Just bring it back tonight, yeah?"

"I will. Thanks for this," Sean said, dealing with the worse of the mess with the napkins and stain-removal wipes. He nodded at the flannel Autumn held in her hand. "And for that."

He held up his hoodie, giving a grunt at the result, then folded it up and held it between his knees. He took the proffered shirt and slipped it on, rolling up the sleeves before buttoning it up. The colour in his cheeks softened to a diffuse pink as he noticed Autumn's gaze unconsciously drift downwards for an instant.

With girls and women who know about him, about his condition, even if only in a general way, they usually treated him in one of two ways. As just another one of the girls, or as some perverted spy trying to sneak his way into sacred feminine spaces. The former was way better than the latter in his experience, but holy shit, girls could be so frank and explicit in what they talked about.

"Just been clumsy all day. Getting all my ones outta way before tonight, yeah?" Sean explained, though not convincingly. Still, from the stubborn set of his jaw, Autumn knew Sean wasn't going to explain more. "'Til tonight." He gave her a nod, tucked his hoodie under his arm, then ran a hand through his red hair. "Think I'm gonna take a last ride on the Carousel. Later Autumn."

His tone left the meaning of 'last' ambiguous, even to himself, as he turned around and ambled off towards his Grand Cherokee to drop off his hoodie. It could have meant that he wouldn't ever have a chance to ride the Carousel again, through death or injury. Or that it would be behind him at this transitioning point between adolescence and adulthood. Or a number of other inferences he wasn't introspective enough to dwell on.

He could dwell on them on another day.

Or not.

Edited by Sean Cassidy

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Cade smiled inwardly, though he knew he'd taken a risk, saying what he did.   Still, she had asked him to "date" her to protect her from Jason.  This was just abit of a stretch on that.   He'd talked about some of the other things he'd seen, the couples from the track team finally getting together.

It was then he'd felt a buzzing in his pocket, and pulled out his phone.   The group chat had sorta blown up, and he'd missed it.  His phone was somehow on silent, and he'd found Marissa again, so he was understandably distracted.   "I forgot all about this."  He grinned at Marissa, and nodded.  I was Enjoying your company too much."

He shot off a quick message, and noticed that Marissa had already pulled her phone out to see it, and put her own message.   

He offered her his arm, and when she took it, they set off to meet with Autumn.
 

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Monday 2nd September, 16:45

Across Shelly, away from the sunny Champions Field and the high school drama and family revelations, things were happening.  The sheriff's department was called, Alister himself investigating.  A tough man, he still felt his gorge rise at what he found at the foot of Hannah Fuhrman's stairs.  He'd investigated maybe a murder or two - crimes of passion usually - and wild animal attacks, but the butchery of a boy his son's age, his son's friend at that, was enough to shake the stoic lawman.  Charlie Cole had been ripped open, as if some one had reached into his torso and ripped it asunder extracting their hand.  Hannah had already been taken down to the station, a doctor called to give her a sedative.  The woman had gouged lines in her cheeks with her nails before neighbours had been able to stop her, and would be on suicide watch, a female deputy with her at all times.  The first deputy to attend, after having thrown up on the dining room rug, had shakily taken down what passed for a statement from the hysterical mother of the dead boy.

Pulling on some protective forensic gloves, he followed the bloody handprints on the rail and wall of the staircase, as though the killer had almost gleefully stroked blood and viscera over the family photos on his - or It's - way upstairs.  The shower was still running, cold water now sluicing down the drain, and Ian Alister noted the splotchy red handprint on the frosted glass of the stall.  Reaching inside he turned off the water, then looked around the shower for any clue as to what had happened, his brain and eyes operating on autopilot while he locked away the nagging, gibbering voice that said this had something to do with what Cade and his friends were into.  An open bottle of shampoo lay on the floor of the shower as though dropped there - expensive woman's stuff, probably Hannah's.  Charlie wouldn't have used it.

The kid hadn't been alone.  So... what?  Was the female the killer, who'd cleaned up before leaving?

Hmm-ing, the big lawman made his way to the bedroom, noting the state of the bed, noting the clothes on the floor - a girl's skirt and top on the right side, with a purse on the nightstand.  He extracted the drivers license, and swore softly.  Sophia Fingleman.  She'd been the girl in the shower, and probably not the killer, given that she'd been cosy with Charlie on that day last week when everything went to hell.  So now she was missing, perhaps for a day or two judging by the state of the Cole kid's body.  Perhaps-

His phone rang.  With a curse, he answered, pocketing the license and the car keys.  "Sheriff Alister here."

"Sheriff, the doc says Hannah needs to be in a secure unit.  She's almost catatonic right now, but he can't guarantee she won't self-harm.  We're not going to get anything from her, Ian."  the voice of Charlie, his right-hand man, came over the line, lowering slightly as he used his bosses name.  "Hell, it'd be cruel t' even try right now."

"Yeah."  Alister sighed, rubbing his forehead under the hat-band.  "Alright, get her moved to Marias and make sure there's friendly eyes on her at all times.  We also want a coroner - get one of the deputies, not Fingleman."

"Not Fingleman?"

"His daughter was here, and there's no sign of her."

"Shit, boss!"

"Yeah, I'm headed to the Field now, I'll tell him myself.  Alert State and the Feds too.  Murder, with an obvious missing girl.  She left her belongings here, so she probably won't be in plain sight.  Have them keep an eye out for anything suspicious."  Alister turned and went downstairs, his mind worrying at the mystery as he skirted the dead body and stepped outside.  The nearby neighbours were having statements taken - so far nobody had seen or heard a damn thing before Hannah's screams.  Parked across the street was the Fingleman girl's car - a brief check indicated nothing inside.  The sheriff straightened, closing and locking the trunk, and sighed as he looked around at the scene.  There was nothing left to do here, at least at this stage.  No more reason to delay.

With another muttered curse, he headed for his cruiser.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Captain Josh Williams, U.S. Army, was having a good day off.  He'd eaten a stack of ribs and chicken wings, had a beer, and was currently stretched out on a blanket with Tess, who was looking decidedly cute in a short white sundress and sandals and a big floppy hat, cradling his head in her lap as the two talked quietly.  The Project, strange powers, and his own odd daughter were not issues for the day - Kat had wandered off to hang with her new friends, and while Josh was very much aware that the super-powered teens were, well, special in all sorts of ways both good and bad, he also figured that objectively, the same was true of Kat.  She had come back after hanging out at the Bannon farm in a good, if pensive mood, and he knew from briefings that the teens met there to practice with their gifts.  So evidently that had gone well, even if Kat hadn't been forthcoming about what, if anything, she'd learned.

Which was sort of a problem, too.  He knew his superiors would want him to try and glean anything he could about the capabilities of the kids, but one of those kids was his goddamn kid.  He was considering going to Taggart and asking for reassignment if the Major wouldn't back down on that.  It was unreasonable to expect a man to spy on his own child, but at the same time he personally wanted to know what was going on in his daughter's life, too.  He wanted her to trust him, not worry about whether he was turning around and selling her secrets for a promotion.

No doubt about it, compartmentalising his life was tougher than he'd first thought.  Perhaps he could talk to Taggart and the Director lady...  She seemed nice.

"...so I was thinking perhaps we could throw Kat a 'Welcome to Shelly' party."  Tessa was saying.  Josh blinked, looking up at her face under the sun hat.

"A party?" he echoed.  "With who?"

"Her friends, dumbass."  Tess lightly tapped the top of his head.  "Like I was saying - it seems she's made some good friends already, with Sean and those other kids she's hanging with.  A party would be a cool way for her to have them round, and we could meet them, learn who she's friends with."

Josh nodded, though the idea set soft alarm bells ringing.  Most of the kids hadn't seemed bad sorts, but having seen the footage of the Site C raid and the aftermath of the Marias Incident, what there was of it, Josh was leary about letting them into his actual home.  Tess cocked her head slightly.  "You don't like the idea?"

"No, it's not that."  Josh protested, sitting up on his hands and looking out over the field.  Kat wasn't with the Cassidy's anymore, he couldn't see her from here.  She was probably circulating, taking in the sights and sounds, hanging with different people.  "It's just that-"  He was saved by his phone buzzing.  Tessa made a soft exasperated sound, and he threw her an apologetic smile as he pulled it out.

"Got to take this.  Work."  he said, and Tess nodded resignedly as Josh got to his feet and moved a few meters away.   Answering the call, he put the phone to his ear.  "Williams."

"Papa-Papa-Echo Thirty-Three."  The automated voice declared before hanging up with a click, and Williams found himself automatically sifting through the procedures in his brain for what it meant.  He'd never heard this one actually used-

Oh shit.

'Papa-Papa-Echo Thirty Three' was 'Project personnel and resources under threat.'  Punching a call code into his phone, Williams lifted it to his ear once more.

"Captain Williams, seeking clarification." he said tersely into the device, his eyes looking around now for threats rather than to take in the sights.

"Captain, glad you called in, sir.  I was about to call you.  Major Taggart's orders: secure your little girl and bring her to the Project.  Someone or something has killed one of the special kids.  More details when you get here."

"Understood."  His hands feeling as though made of ice, Josh hung up and turned to Tessa, who was regarding him as she poured herself some lemonade.  "Tess, I hate to do this: can you manage getting the stuff home?" he asked, trying not to sound too tense as he waved the hand holding the phone.  "They're going nuts over some exercise or other."

"Urgh."  Tess made a frustrated noise, standing and smoothing down her dress.  "You are lucky I find uniforms hot, mister."  Forcing a smile for him, she shook her head and made a shooing motion before leaning in to kiss him.  "Go on, get.  I'll finish my book in the sun, then get Kat to help me pack up."

"I'll call her to come and help you, explain myself."  Josh replied, stepping away with a smile.  He hated lying to her, hated that his work put that necessity on him.  Was it important enough, he wondered, to warrant such deception?  A question for another time, that, because right now his daughter might also be in danger.  Turning on his heel, he headed into the crowd, eyes peeled for Kat's coral-hair.

*  *  *  *  *  *

"So..."  Tawny said, smiling up at Jacob, aware of their hands holding as they walked through the woods some distance from the Field.

"So."  Jacob smiled back.  He had a nice smile, the blonde mused.  Not as heart-catchingly roguish as Devin's - it didn't make her stomach flutter the same way - but it was a nice smile.  Warm, reassuring, a little shy himself in that way that guys sometimes had.  He'd asked her out to Homecoming, and she'd been surprised herself at having said yes.  After all, she'd reasoned afterwards, if she waited for Devin to wise up she'd be an old maid with cobwebs in her panties - assuming he wised up before she was dead of old age.  So while she was waiting, she was going to damn- darn well be a teenage girl.

"Why'd you ask me out?" she asked suddenly, coming to a stop and leaning back against a tree, looking up at him, studying his handsome features. He was almost as big as Cade, though warmer in manner: where Cade seemed to walk very carefully so as not to break or offend anyone around him, Jacob seemed more relaxed, more comfortable in himself.  "I mean, the whole school knows that you and Autumn had been a thing for, like, ever.  So..."

"I guess."  Jacob sighed, leaning his shoulder against the trunk of the same tree, looking down at their entwined hands.  "Thing is, I dunno if that was just because we're such old friends, and when we grew up it was like a natural thing that everyone expected.  I never even asked her out, we didn't even really date - just hung out and, well, you know.  And then we fell out, and we almost weren't friends no more, which I realised was worse than not being boyfriend and girlfriend."  He sighed again, looking at Tawny.  "I guess what I'm trying to say is that Autumn was a friend with girl parts, not a girlfriend, and maybe we got turned around on that because of being teenagers and dumb."  He grinned self-deprecatingly, shaking his head.  "So we've sorta hit the reset button on that, and are trying being just friends again."

"I know what you mean." Tawny nodded, smiling up at him encouragingly.  "I've been crushing on Devin for, like, ever."  She held up her free hand to forestall objection.  "I know: he's the Devil himself to most people, but he's always been sweet to me.  Never took advantage even when I was throwing myself at him - he's not the dog people say he is.  I don't think he's even as bad as he says he is."  She gave him a sympathetic look.  "I saw him with Lona, and that was tough - even though I was happy he was happy.  Was it tough for you seeing Autumn with Jason?"

"Kinda?"  he replied, shifting his feet slightly.  "Especially since the first I know of it was them kissing.  I mean... He's Jason Bannon.  Before today, all I knew about him was that he's some misanthrope crazy person who deals weed and once threatened football players with a sickle."

"Hayhook"  Tawny corrected with a shiver, thinking about the cold eyes of the boy who'd taught her the previous day and what Devin had warned her about him.  He'd not acted at all hostilely to her, even been friendly and encouraging.  But still.

"But I guess, like with Devin, I didn't know the whole picture.  He's definitely made Autumn real happy."  Jacob admitted.  "I talked to him some, when he sat with us earlier.  He's odd, but he seems smart and maybe that's why he's odd... I dunno, really.  Guess I'm tryin' to say he's not what I expected.  I dunno what to think of him, right now."

"Yeah."  Tawny nodded.  "People often ain't what you expect.  The Lord made us all different, after all, and only He sees our hearts."  She looked down, then peeked up at him through her lashes.  "I'm glad you asked me, you know."

"You are, huh?"  Jacob felt heat rising to his face, but kept his cool.  She was, as his grandma would say, lovely as a sunrise.

"Yeah."  Tawny twisted an end of one of her braids, something on her mind.  Jacob just kept quiet, watching her.  Finally she met his eyes again.  "Would you... like... like to kiss me?  Just a kiss, is all."  she added hastily.  She wondered how it would compare to Devin.  She also wondered if Jacob was a good enough kisser to help her get over Devin.  Probably not, but what if...?

"Sure."  Jacob said quietly, moistening his lips, a trifle hesitantly.  Other than Autumn, he'd not really made out with anyone outside of the occasional game of spin the bottle, and that didn't count as everyone knew.  He smiled, and leaned down, his lips coming into contact with Tawny's.

The kiss was hesitant, and gentle, and sweet, Tawny half-closing her eyes as she let herself experience it.  It was different from her passionate kiss with Devin, which had been all hunger and need as well as unrequited love, a desperate need to bridge the gap between their hearts.  But there was some heat here, too, a comforting sensuality, the girl feeling it in her belly as she leaned up into Jacob, sighing a little.  He was a good kisser, after all-

Her eyes widened as a shape appeared behind the tall boy's shoulder, her squeak of alarm the only clue anything was amiss before he was torn from her and thrown aside like a doll.  Tawny opened her mouth to scream, but the grinning, sharp-toothed, noseless horror of a face that filled her vision stifled her scream in her throat, her mind rebelling in terror and revulsion.

"Hey, Tee."  Something that had once been Cody's face leered at her from his towering height, his voice glottal and thick with triumph and worse as he mocked Devin's nickname for her.  "Love your top..."

Too late, Tawny found her voice, but a hand the size of a catcher's mitt clamped over her mouth, and then all was darkness.

*  *  *  *  *  *

"Kat!"

The petite redhead looked around as her dad materialised from the crowd.  She'd been meaning to go and meet with Autumn, but had gotten distracted with... well, everything.  "Hey, papa."  she smiled chirpily, then sobered as she saw his face.  "Hey, what-?" she started as he took her arm, not ungently, and started to lead her towards the parking lot.

"No time."  Josh Williams said, his voice tense and eyes scanning the crowd.  "You're in danger, we're going somewhere safe."  Kat protested, but her father was too strong and his grip too sure for her to break it easily as he almost bodily carried her.  

"At least let me-"  she started, but they were at the parking lot, and a black SUV was pulling up and her father was yanking her up and into the back seat.  "-phone my friends... DAD!"  Her yell got his attention as the SUV's door slammed and they started away.  "What's going on?!"

Josh looked at the driver and passenger seats - two members of his team were in civvies, their eyes moving and weapons out of sight below the line of the windows, then he turned towards Kat.  "All I know is that one of your friends is dead, and I've been given orders to secure you.  That's it, so far."  He leaned over and took her phone, pocketing it.  "We're headed to the Project facility."  he added, in a tone that implied that was final, young lady.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The Fellowship had trickled by after Sean had left, Autumn fuming a little at the delays but managing a smile for Cassie as the blonde reporter had collected her bracelet.  Kat still hadn't shown up by the time Marissa and Cade had arrived, the Bitch Queen of Shelly receiving her bracelet with a barely hidden air of being in a fine old snit, as Autumn's Grandpa would say.  She didn't quite snatch it away from the offered box with a sneer - which was just as well because, given the text exchange, Autumn would have hauled off and slapped the taste out of her mouth.  Right now, she was past the rapids of caring why Marissa was pissy and in the still, cool waters of not allowing it to be her problem.  Fortunately, a pointed glare and a hair flip as she turned away, bracelet in hand, was all the acrimony apparently desired, Autumn meeting the first with a bland fuck-you smile and the second with an eye-roll.  By comparison, Cade was at least decent enough to look somewhat abashed as he smiled at Autumn, brow furrowing as he considered which identical bracelet to take, then selecting one with a 'thank you' before turning away to where Marissa was waiting nearby.

With a sigh, Autumn looked around to see if Kat was nearby, but her attention was immediately diverted by the lean shape propped comfortably up against the side of the family Jeep behind her, her lips curving in a smile as she shut the box and placed it back into the car for later.  If Devin and Kat showed up at the town hall - which was likely - then they could pick out their bracelets then.  Clambering back out of the Jeep, she closed it up and turned to her boyfriend with another smile.

"All done?"  Jase asked, moving closer, his eyes on her face with that intense expression that felt like it was going to drive the breath from her lungs.

"Yeah..."  she nodded, stepping to meet him, and taking his hand in hers.  "Let's go for that 'walk'."

"Everything okay?"  Jason murmured as they exited the parking area and headed into the woods bordering the Field, Autumn not-quite pulling him along.

"Peachy."  the redhead said, her voice containing a slight edge.  "I give everyone an hour and they take their sweet-ass time, plus Marissa being a... well, Marissa about the whole thing."

"I saw."  Was all he said.  He considered telling her about the talk with Marissa earlier, but wasn't sure it would help anything right now.  At best, it would simply cause deeper division in the Fellowship at the worst time.  At worst, Autumn could decide to turn round and go confront Marissa directly.  Who knew how that could end up?  He knew Marissa was not his friend, by her actions and her words.  He would watch and wait to see if she was Autumn's as she claimed to be, or if her pettiness would overcome that impulse.

"And Kat didn't show up at all, despite texting she was on her way."  Autumn continued, looking back at him over her shoulder.  "So, right now, I want to spend time with you and forget the whole thing."

"How did it go with Dana?"  he asked as they headed into a thicker section of woods, Autumn glancing around as though looking for something before glancing back at him once more, smoldering darkness in her blue eyes and a smile on her lips.

"Later, for all of that."  she said, stopping and pulling him close to her, her arms going around him as she pressed her lithe body against his lean frame.  Her lips were raised to his, her voice a breathy murmur.  "I want you, here and now.  So no more talking, oh Greatest of Calamities."  She pushed him back against a tree, hard, her mouth finding his as her hands roamed down past the waistband of his jeans, her breathing taking on a whimper as she felt him stir against her, his kiss deepening, his hands coming up to bury themselves in her coppery curls and hold her mouth against his.

This.  Yes. was all she could form as coherent thought as she felt him respond, felt her own insides become molten.  The drama, the terror ahead, all fell away as the fire rose in both of them.  He tasted of tobacco and spice and root beer, his scent underlaid with that cologne he favored.  And Jason was no less swept away, his senses overwhelmed with the taste and feel and scent and sight of her as he kissed open-eyed, delighting in the drowsy half-lidded expression of pleasure in her gaze.  The sun shone through the trees, dappling them both with radiance, flashes of red-gold hair and green-gold eyes coruscating in the scattered light.  Her hand wrapped around him, her other hand unfastening his jeans as she broke the kiss, gasping "...condom...".  He reached into his back pocket, releasing her as she stepped away, beginning to tug her shorts down-

"...help..."

Both teens froze, looking in the direction the weak call had come.  They had barely heard it over the thunder of their pulses, but heard it they had.  Autumn tugged her shorts back up, extending her senses into the bushes as Jason rebuttoned his fly, his expression one of cold alertness.

"One person, injured."  Autumn murmured.  Jase nodded, stepping forward, the air shimmering lightly about him as he formed a field of will-made-solid around his body.  Stepping past the bushes, Autumn a few paces behind, both of them stopped as they saw who was there.

"Jacob!"  Autumn moved past Jason in a rush, dropping to one knee by  her friend.  His face was bloody, a welt over one eye and leaf and bark detritus in his hair and stuck to the blood on his face.  His brown eyes were unfocused as they sought out the familiar voice.  

"Autumn...  Somethin' hit me..." he murmured.  "Tawny... Tawny gone."  As they spoke, Jason moved past in the direction Jacob seemed to have stumbled from, searching the ground.

"He was thrown against this tree-stump."  he said quietly pale eyes coldly evaluating the area before he returned to the two of them.  "No sign of anything else."

*  *  *  *  *  *

"CADE!"

Marissa and her boyfriend turned to see Sheriff Alister striding towards them, his face grim under the brim of his hat.  Stopping before the two, he looked around before leaning closer.

"Cade, I'm not officially telling you this, but it's your friend.  Charlie."  The sheriff hesitated, looking around again before lowering his voice.  "He's gone, son.  Foul play.  I've no idea who - or what - but I figured you and your friends need to know."

Marissa gasped, her face going pale before she recovered her composure some.  She glanced at Cade, whose face seemed to be set in stone as he digested the news, then looked at her bae's dad.  "Where?"

"His home.  Doesn't look like a burglary gone wrong or anything like that, either.  Looks like... well, your sort of weird.  Dark weird."  Alister was stoic as a man could be, but his eyes were haunted by what he'd seen, his voice hushed.  "And his girl is missing, too."

"Oh god."  Marissa brought a manicured hand to her mouth to stifle the outburst, or scream, she felt was building in the back of her throat.  The sheriff gave them both a warning look.

"Cade, before you and your superfriends do anything else, I want you to get your mom and sister home safe.  And if you do decide to do something else, don't go blundering around at a crime scene for crying out loud.  Kidnapping means the staties and the feds are going to be all over Shelly by nightfall."  Sheriff Alister straightened up.  "I didn't tell you kids any of this.  If your mom asks whats up, just tell her I will explain and you're just doing what I asked."  He sighed, straightening his hat.  "And now I've got to go tell Coroner Fingleman his daughter is missing."

With that, the tall sheriff strode off into the Field, the two lovers watching him go.

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Frantically Marissa tapped out a text to the group as fear began to ride her nerves and shake her fingers anxiously.  Dead?  This was not happening.  This could not be happening!  With that simple concept now planted in her mind it swiftly sprouted into an all-too-possible reality.  Something out there was playing for keeps now.  It was hunting them and so far, it was winning.

“Hey,” Cade tried to put his arm around her but she swiftly jerked away as the moisture in her eyes became the first tear of many that were going to fall.  “Marissa everything-“

“No!”  She stepped away from him and glared up at him.  “Everything is not fine.  It’s not going to be fine, Cade!”  She stepped in realizing she was being louder than she intended.  “We’re being hunted.  It killed Charlie, it has Sophia… bait, Cade!  It wants us to go after it.  Why leave him and take her?  We’re next.   It’s going to find us and it’s going to kill us.”

She backed away from him again, the panic rising in her mind while she paced, thinking it might calm her down.  She was showing her crazy and she knew better, but, fuck, wasn’t there a being stalked by an extra-dimensional demon clause in there, somewhere?  Should be.

Her lover took a step towards her, but she held up her hand, blocking him from getting any closer.  “Cade, I… I can’t okay.  I just can’t right now.  I don’t need hugs and kisses or a fucking fishing trip, I’m not some cardboard cut out of a girl.  I’m angry, I’m scared, I’m freaking the fuck out… I need space.  Room to breathe.”

She looked down at her phone and read the message.  “Delayed?  Are you fucking serious? UGH!”  She groaned at the sky, rolling her eyes, almost sure they were making a pit stop to sow their oats before the big night.  “Those two, I fucking swear!”

---==={@}===---

“You’ll be safe with her,” Devin said calmly to Ellie.  They were in the parking lot of Bunnies, a few miles away from the Carousel.  Ellie’s mind was still trying to get a hold of how his travel worked and him taking her with him was as much a blessing as it was an honor.  He had so much to learn about Teulu culture…  “Her name is Annette Giles.  She’s a friend.”

Annette stood several yards from them, just outside her car at the driver’s side door.  She couldn’t hear them but when Ellie saw her looked to Devin and cocked her head.  “Have you coupled with her?  She is extremely attractive.”

“No,” he smirked, stifling a laugh.  “At least, not yet.  She is a friend and if something happens to me tonight, she can try to help get you home.”

“Devin, I-,” she shrugged, not sure how to phrase her next words.  “I do not trust her.  I wanted it to be you.”

“I know, Ellie, but we can’t work on that unless I make it home tonight,” he shrugged, trying not to look worried.  “If I don’t, she will be there for you.  If I do, we get to work on getting you home.  Deal?”

“Very well, if there is no other way, then I suppose we’ve little choice.”  The blonde Teulu inhaled and exhaled slowly and steeled herself for meeting what was possibly the fifth, or sixth rival of the day?

“Devin, I’m so glad you called,” Annette said as a greeting as they approached her.  “You must be Ellie, I’m Annette Giles, a friend of Devin’s.”

“Yes, the one he claims to have not coupled with… yet.”  Ellie once again brought the crimson to the forefront of Devin’s cheeks.

“Is that so?”  Annette said in a dry tone.  “Yes.  Poor me, but I’m on the mend.  Holistic diet, yoga, the target range.  Anything to get him out of my head and bring peace to my loins.”

Ellie nodded sagely.  “Yes.  That is best.  Your age mingled with your lack proper respect for such a divine figure makes you an ill-suited mate.”

Annette’s icy glare fell on Devin.  “Well,” she exhaled.  “Isn’t she a gem.”

“Don’t look at me like that,” he said with a shrug.  “I didn’t rub her lamp.  I didn’t call her here.  She just… showed up.”  He slid the bracelet from his wrist and placed it in Ellie’s hand.  “Here.  Take this.  You’ll need it to get home.”

“You will be victorious.” The statement hung in the air with the confidence with which she spoke it.  Devin had never really anyone speak with such with a measure of truth and confidence in their voice before, except maybe Marissa, but this really didn’t compare to getting guys to fall for her because of a plunging neckline.  “I will get to know this Annette Giles and patiently await your ret-“

Devin looked down to his phone.  His eyes narrowed and his expression took on a stern, serious tone.  “Charlie is dead.”  He said out loud as he looked up to Annette, who was also looking at her phone with a look of sorrow on her face.  She nodded, confirming she got the same message.

“Jesus, fuck…” Devin stepped away, sliding his hand through his hair in disbelief.  “Jesus fuck… it killed Charlie, man.  Fucking, Charlie!  Dude just got a girlfriend!  I mean… who the fuck…” he paced; a bit frantic as he collected his thoughts as the death of his ‘friend’ settled in.  “I mean, she really liked him and she’s gone too.  Because none of us were believing the cherry popped last year in drama club story.  No fucking way.  Right up there with I got a ‘girlfriend in Canada’.”

“You have a girlfriend in Canada,” Annette pointed out.  It was a low blow, sure, but Devin’s new girlfriend called her old and unworthy of him.  Him!  A snot nosed, loudmouthed, moronic sixteen-year-old… with perfect hair and a charming smile.  God, she hated this job sometimes.

“Not the point!” Devin pointed out, loudly.  “We need to find her.  Save her.  Anette, I…”

“Devin, I know,” she nodded, offering him a caring smile devoid of humor.  “I want to talk all of you out if it, I do, but I know I can’t.  Something gave these powers for a reason, maybe this is it.  Ellie will be safe with me until you get home.  Go save the world, hero.”

“S'what we do,” he offered her a smile and looked to Ellie.  “Be safe.”  He turned and ran behind the building as a purplish flash faintly lit up the pavement in the summer sun.

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Cade didn't try to get close to her again.  "Okay Marissa.  We can either rush off to go meet the others, or go find our families, and get them to head home, then go meet the others.  My mother and sister will listen, based on me saying this came from Dad.  Will your parents do the same?"

"Unless you think we should just go straight to the table and wait for the others."   He knew his dad only told them because it was Charlie, one of their friends, who was "Special" like them, and because of concern for them, knowing a little of what they'd already been party to.  He wasn't so inconsiderate to just ask her to help him wrangle his family alone, wanting to make sure her parents were safe too.

"Whichever we do, I'm not going to leave you, I don't think any of us should be alone right now."   He waited for her to state what she wanted to do, and text to both his mother and sister, finding out where they were.

Cade seemed to be calm, almost inhumanly so, though that was only on the surface, and quickly gave way to anger.   He was worried, scared, but mostly he was angry.   A friend had died, someone that friend had cared for had been taken.   The same waited for all of them, if they didn't act now.   Like hell was he going to let that happen without a godamn fight. Like. Fucking. Hell.   As the thought went through his mind, it was probably the first time Marissa really saw what he looked like when he was angry.   It was a scowl that somehow made him look even more intense than before. Few people had ever seen this face, it was totally different than the normal, quiet Cade.

Seeing that look Marissa nodded, her composure returning.  They had things to do before, and despite what people thought of her, she didn't want to see people hurt.  "Let's go then."   She didn't take his hand, instead walking beside them as he went first to find his sister, with a trio of her friends.  Their reaction to Cade and Marissa was one of awe, and Cade smiled thinly.  "Sorry Girls, but I'm gonna need to borrow Haruka."   they all looked at him, and Haruka looked at the two older teens, about to protest.  Marissa of course saved the day, quietly convincing Haruka to come along.   She followed them, wondering just what was going on, but neither of them would say anything, though she could tell her brother was worried about something.

Miyakko was ensconced within a small group of other parents, not of the Fellowship, but from the track team.  She smiled as they walked up, though it faded as she saw Haruka with them.  She politely excused herself to come over to them, and Cade shook his head.  "Dad's fine, and Haruka's not in trouble.  It's okay.   That said there has been an incident, and Dad wants you to head home, Mom, and take Haruka with you."

"Cade, what's going on?"  she asked.  "Dad wants you to go home, and asked us to see to it that you do.  Please,  I'm sure he'll explain better once he gets home, but I really need you to just listen to me this once."

Haruka, about to blow up on her brother, looked and saw the worry and fear in his eyes, she saw the fear in Marissa's eyes, and took her mother's hand gently.  "Mom, let's just go.   There's no way Dad would do this without a reason, nor would Cade."

"Thanks Ruru."  Marissa gave the younger girl a smile.   "We'll make this up to you."

With her daughter going along, and seeing the concern in her son's eyes, Miyakko nodded.  "Alright we'll go, I know your father's got his reasons, as do you, but I want to know them too."

Cade nodded, and saw them over to the parking lot, to his mother's car and  looked to Marissa.  "Now, on to the hard part."   He didn't know her parents, but from what he'd heard, they'd not be anywhere close to as easy to motivate to leave.  She'd helped him, and though he didn't know what help he'd be, now he'd return the favor.

Edited by Cade

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Marissa was texting her brother as Cade spoke to his mother.  Finally, she rolled her eyes and turned to Ms. Allister.  “Seriously?  Ms. Allister, it’s an emergency.  The reasons are largely inconsequential, it’s for your safety and Haruka’s.  We’re not sticking around either if it’s any consolation, now please, go.”

“Christ,” Marissa fumed as the two drove away.  “She’s that sort of woman who keeps asking ‘why’ in the middle of a crisis then gets eaten by the giant dinosaur with a look of surprise on her face while it happens.”

“She’s just worried,” Cade offered as he tried to look calm amidst the tremors of emotions swirling like a maelstrom within him.

They two made their way across the park as swiftly as they could, Marissa keeping a surprisingly spry pace considering her four-inch wedged footwear, until they reached her and Devin’s parents.  They were in the middle of a conversation with a few families that they didn’t know, or care to know, and were almost thankful when Marissa approached and without explanation grabbed their arms and lead them away like children who’d just been caught doing something bad.

“Marissa!” Misti attempted to correct her daughter’s actions but found Marissa’s grip to be akin to iron and she seemed to be effortlessly dragging them along as they tried to keep pace.  Out of view of the rest of the park, she released them.  The trees concealed and obscured them as a row overgrowth completed the natural curtain that she hoped would allow her to speak with her parents openly.

“Ow,” Carl rubbed his arm.  “Christ, Punk’in.  The hell is going on?”

Misti glared as Cade simply followed silently, his face still a pool of emotions that shifted from anger to worry then to concern to rage.  She looked to Marissa then nervously to Carl.  “Sweetheart, what is going on?”  She managed a chuckle of concern as she awaited an answer.

“Mom,” she looked to her mother then to her father.  “Dad.  You need to leave.  Now.  There’s been a murder and there is a chance that the killer might come after you to get to me and Devin.”

Carl laughed.  “Sweetie, you and your brother have pulled a few in the past, but going as far as a mur-“

“Dad!” Marissa raised her voice to cut him off.  “For fucks sake!  Listen for once!”

Misti raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms defensively.  Her posture took on the disapproving mother kind as she interjected.  “Marissa Beatrice, I will not have you using that tone.  Cade, dear, you can go.  This is a family matter now, thank you.”

“Nah.” Cade shrugged slightly.  “Good where I am.  She’s as much my family as my blood.  We’re Fellowship.”

“The fuck is Fellowship?”  Carl fumed, now thoroughly pissed that his daughter was swearing at him.  “Some cult?  You run out and join a cult or something?”

Marissa sighed and rolled her eyes.  She held up her phone, the FaceTime on it showing Devin looking at his phone’s camera with a raised, yet confused eyebrow.  “Are you hearing this Deej?  I told you.  Dense as fucking uranium.  Do the thing.”

“Stop with the langu-“ as Devin appeared, instantly on the scene in a flash of purple light, Misti’s words seemed caught in her throat.

“S’up, bruddah.” He fist-bumped Cade who only offered him a silent nod and a fist.  “So, now that we have your attention.”

Marissa took a deep breath to center herself and pressed on, offering her brother a ‘thank you’ smile as she stepped forward.  “Mom, Dad?  Devin and I have super powers.  The killer is not a who, it’s a what.  Now, I know this is a lot to take in, but we’re the only ones who can stop it.”

“Wh-what is it?” Carl managed to get out after giving his son a creepy once over, as if looking for the smoke and mirrors that made his son instantly appear.

“It’s a god,” she replied.  “A being of darkness, ancient and evil.  We don’t expect you to believe to believe us-“

“Reassuring, because we don’t.” her mother said flatly.  “How did you do that Devin, and these super abilities, what are yours?”  Her eyes fell to Marissa.

“I think, therefore I go.” Devin smirked.  “We don’t have time to explain string theory to you two.  Marissa is not lying.  Not-Cody is on a warpath and we’re the only ones who can stop him.  He’s not vulnerable to conventional weaponry.”

“Okay, I’ll bite.”  Carl said lazily.  “What is he vulnerable to?”

“Us.” Cade said stoically.

“We’re hardly conventional.” Devin added.

“And let me guess, you have powers to?”  Mist threw a disbelieving gesture his way.  “What are they?”

“I look intimidating while using simple sentences to assert my dominance.”  Cade offered as he crossed his arms.  His tone told her she was barking up the wrong tree with him.

“Mine’s putting up with your shit for the last sixteen years,” Marissa interrupted.  “Look we don’t have time for this, you need to go home, lock the doors, stay safe and protect each other.  Please.

“But… why?  What is it and what does it want-“

“Mom!  We’re going to fight this thing.  We’re the only ones.”  Devin’s voice rose above his mother’s.  Marissa closed her eyes and looked away as the sound of her brother angry reminded her of harder times when he was the one always being bullied.  Bullied because he was protecting his sister.  “It’s done.  No compromises, no talking us out of it.  We’re telling you this because we love you.  We love both.  We might not come back.”

“And we don’t want you living the rest of your days wondering where your children disappeared to one day.” Marissa’s voice was soft and caring as she looked at her parents.  “You may not be perfect as parents go, but we both knew you deserved better than that.  We didn’t plan on you finding out this way, but… well, Deej is right.  This thing killed Charlie.  We must do this, and we might not come back.  We just wanted you to know that we love you.  Both of you.”

Devin shrugged; his lips not quite smirking.  “She nailed it.  I mean, this story is long and complicated, and to tell it to you, we need to survive tonight.  I teleport.  Marissa is like super hawt and mesmerizing.  That’s our power.  You wanna know more?  We need to take down the Not-Cody first.  For Charlie.”

“I cannot believe what I’m hearing,” Misti chuckled in disbelief and she tossed up her hands and paced away from the children.  “A-are you two high?”  The twins both exhaled and simultaneously rubbed the bridge of their nose in frustration in a moment Cade had only seen a few times where the twins moved, thought, and acted the same.

“That is without a doubt the single most loaded pile of bullshit I’ve heard in a long damn time,” Carl laughed.

“Thank you.” Misti gestured to him in thanks for supporting her point of view.  The twins’ faces sunk as neither of their parents seemed to believe a word of any of this.

“So, you better come home,” he continued as he stepped forward and held both his children, each in one arm, and hugged them tight.  “And tell me all of it.”

“You believe us?”  Devin asked, holding his father, the man he never got along with, like an actual son was supposed to.

“No,” their father stated honestly.  “I believe you just did something amazing; I’m processing that.  But I also know that Cody kid is still missing, you said Charlie was murdered by him and I think you idiot kids are about to go and exercise of some backwoods justice.”

The twins backed away and looked at their father then to each other.  “You’re not going to stop us.”

“We may not have been the best parents,” Carl motioned to himself and Misti.  “Suppose we owe you an apology for that, but we raised you to look out for each other, and taught you that when the world pushes… you spit in its face and push right back.  I know you’ll do the right thing.”

“How do you know that?”  Devin asked.  A hint of defiance in his tone as he studied his con man of a father.

“Because we wouldn’t.”  He offered his son a slight grin that seemed almost fatherly.  “Be safe and look out for each other.”

“Dad, I-,“ Marissa wiped tears from her cheeks while searching for the right words.

“Carl, you cannot seriously be buying into this.  That Alister boy is obviously feeding them some cockamamie stories and luring them into some weird hazing.”  Misti raged, glaring at Cade who only looked back at her with such a calm and composed expression that it could have brought a tear to Jase’s dried, unused tear ducts.  The children turned to leave and walked away while Misti was in mid-rant.  “Carl!”

Their father turned and held his wife, possibly for the first time in months.  “Mist.  Mist.  Shhh.”

“I’m a horrible mom,” he could hear the tears welling up inside her as her children walked away.  “They… they hate us…”

“No, no, they don’t.  They were talking and as usual we weren’t listening.”  He met his lovely wife’s gaze and smiled that charming, hereditary smile.  “Something strange is going on, we both know it, we both knew it.  Our children.  Ours, are at the middle of something big and they’re going to do great things.  We’ve both made mistakes, Mist.  Me especially… but look at them.  Strong, independent, smart, and doing what is right.  Don’t you see?  By being us, we’ve taught them how not to be us, and… well, shit… I’m proud of them for that.”

“We are a fucking mess, aren’t we?” Misti chuckled through tears.

He traced a strand of hair from her face and tucked it behind her ears as he dabbed away her running makeup.  “I knew what I was getting into.  No regrets.”  And there in the midst of all the chaos Misti and Carl met again for the first time…

Spoiler

Devin is now with Marissa and Cade.  The three can meet up with, or continue with, whatever the current trending path is.  If they need to simply be moved to the next scene, that's fine.  If anyone needs/wants them to help move their own snippets along, simply say so and I'm sure we can accommodate.

 

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Fuck                                  Fuck                 

            Fuck                                                                               Fuck

                          Fuck                                  Fuck

    FUCK                           FUCK              FUCK                         FUCK

                 FUCK                          FUCK                        FUCK

Kat's breathing was heavy as the SUV's door slammed, the noise akin to a prison door. One of her friends was dead? Phone. Fuck. She took a deep breath. Closed her eyes, focusing on her other senses. Anyone with two brain cells would know that a car is supplied in energy by the engine. If you simply removed the supply, then... She frowned. Turning the whole fuel tank into water suddenly didn't seem like a good idea.

Kat was familiar with her powers, now. As she had told Courtney the day before, manipulating matter felt hard, whereas manipulating energy was but child's play. And she would've kind of felt bad for breaking that car. If she wanted to be able to reason her Dad, she needed subtlety. Not to break the engine. I guess I just need to tell the engine to fuck off for a moment.

And subtly, the car signaled to its driver, with an annoyed rattle, that it would not move any further until ordered to, coming to a smooth stop after a moment.

"We're not headed towards the Project facility." Her voice was cold, void of any hesitation. "We need to talk." Kat's heart was palpitating, but for some reason unknown to her, she was calm. A limpid truth shone in her mind, bright as day: if she wanted to stay alive, she had to be with her friends. And her mind was dead set on doing that. What could guns do against an entity able to walk dimensions?

Her dad looked askance out of the window, then at the driver in front of them as the SUV came to a rolling stop, but at her words and, more importantly, the tone, he refocused on his petite daughter.

"Kat?" he asked in a studiously calm tone. "Is this you?" He gestured towards the front of the car, where the driver was cussing under his breath and trying to restart the engine, getting nothing but clicking noises.

"Won't start, captain." he reported after a moment. The other soldier was looking around, eyes on the outside of the stalled black car.

"Kat?" Josh repeated.

The French girl sighed. "Yes. It's me. I can't just follow you to the Project facility. Especially not today." She paused for a brief moment. "Who..." Repressing the urge to cry, scream, or whatever her dysfunctional brains wanted her to do, she bit her lip, and kept going. "Did they tell you which one of my friends died? Because I saw almost all of-"

She stopped, thinking back. She did scan her surroundings earlier. It could be, as far as she knew, one out of three of her friends. And one of them did not show up at Bannon's farm. She pressed tense fingers on her closed eyes, nervous. "Point is, I'll be safer with my friends, you should know why. And... there's something else I need to tell you."

"Kat-!" Her dad stopped, pausing as he took in what she had said, then sighed softly. "Okay... Okay. What's the thing you need to tell me?"

She took another deep breath. "I have an idea of which one of my friends was killed, and not by who, but by what. It wasn't someone, it was something." She opened her eyes and looked at her Dad. "Tonight, we're dealing with that thing. Not negotiable."

Before he could object, she went on. "Two reasons. One, conventional weapons won't work on it, we're the only ones able to get the job done. Two..." She looked at the soldiers in the car, then back at her Dad. "... you guys can't travel through dimensions like that thing. We can. And I can't tell you who exactly, because it's not my story to tell. But, yeah, that thing? Totally hiding under your nose." Did I say too much? She thought. Time would tell.

He studied her for a moment. "Was it like... whatever was sending those things into the Project that day, last week?" As she nodded wordlessly, he chewed at the corner of his lip. "Shit." he muttered as he stared into space, then looked at her again. "And I've got a pretty good idea of who, Katherine." he said in a dry tone. "I do have a clearance, I've been briefed."

He fell silent then, regarding her somberly. "You're just kids." he stated quietly. "You know what you're asking me to do?"

Her mask cracked for a moment, fear painted on her features as clearly as her brushes would have on a canvas. Tears started rolling down her cheeks, her voice silent compared to the world around her. "I know." She wiped her humid cheeks.

"I have to. We have to. What if everyone in town ends up dead tomorrow, ha? That would totally suck." Irony replaced fear in her voice. She couldn't waver now, that would be the worse thing to happen. "I have to be with my friends. I couldn't just watch them die knowing I could've actually helped, right?"

She was talking to herself as much as she was talking to her Dad. She didn't want to go, but knew she would hate herself for the rest of her life if she didn't go. The rest of her life. It wouldn't mean much anyway if they failed.

"Shhh, honey, honey, c'mere..." Aware that the two soldiers in the front were still there and paying attention, Josh felt more than a little awkward thrust into the role of nurturing parent. But Kat was his little girl, and though she was putting on a brave face he could see the strain it was causing. He slid across the seat, wrapping an arm around her and patting her back as he stroked her coral-red hair, hugging her tight. When he spoke again, it was quietly.

"I've not been around much. Guess I was still seeing you as a child." he mused aloud. "If you really believe you have to... to go do this?" He looked down at her, and Kat nodded in response despite her teary eyes, despite wanting to cling to him. Josh took a deep breath, and let it out in a sigh. "Okay then..." He pulled her phone from his pocket and passed it to her, one arm still around her shoulders. "Just... is there anything I can do? The Project can do? To help I mean? Do you kids- guys need anything?"

She sniffed, then grimaced. "I don't have a clue, to be honest with you." She paused, taking back the control of her voice, then: "First-aid kits for the after-party, maybe. Uh, yeah, no, scratch that. We got that part covered."

She fell silent for a moment, considering the question more seriously. "I think it's best for the Project to not get involved right now. If I read the room correctly last time we talked about it, things are a bit... tense?"

"Huh." Captain Williams grunted, looking at the other two Project personnel, both of whom were doing an admirable job of not appearing to pay attention. There were standing orders not to antagonise the bunch of superpowered kids. And his daughter was definitely one of them. He looked back at Kat. "Okay. I'll offer you a deal. I'm not going to have one of my men there tranq you, and I'm letting you go back to your 'Fellowship'. In exchange, you come back safe, and when you do, we sit and we talk about what you did, okay? A debrief." He forced a smile he didn't feel. "Over cocoa."

She gave him a poor grin, and a clumsy hug. "Deal. Cocoa sounds great." She mentally sighed, glad of how it had turned out. She then checked her newly retrieved phone, her eyes narrowing at the messages she had missed, and swore under her breath, typing a short reply to the group chat. "I need to get back to the Carousel, fast." She wondered if she could run faster than a car. Probably faster than this one. Wait...

She realized she was still holding a tight restraint on the engine's energy flow, and released it. "The engine should be able to start now."

The driver tried the starter, the engine purred into life, and Josh nodded with some relief in his expression. He wasn't sure what Kat's powers entailed - it certainly wasn't as easily summed up as 'psychokinesis' or 'teleportation', but he was glad she hadn't permanently disabled a government vehicle. He was going to have a hard enough time explaining this snafu to Taggart as it was.

Leaning past her, he opened the door. "We both better get going, pipsqueak." he told her, giving her hair a quick ruffle. "Be careful, and be smart, okay?"

"Aye, aye, Captain." She replied with a smile, as she stepped out of the vehicle. She waved her hand in quick goodbyes, then closed the door and started running. Really fast. Her lungs quickly started burning, but it didn't really matter. Three hundred meters? That's nothing compared to my morning torture.

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
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Sean rode the Carousel, , sitting astride his favourite steed, the one with that looked like a nightmare with a unicorn horn, its mane, hooves, and eyes lacquered a fiery orange. Wistful melancholy etched his fine features as he held onto the pole with both hands, his eyes closed, letting the rollicking music washing over him as his mount reared up and down as the Carousel spun round and round.

He had helped his dad, some, in refurbishing the Carousel several years back. Mostly just wiring the lighting and screwing in light bulbs. He knew he is dad once had expectations, aspirations that his son would join him in his contracting business. Once, Sean had wanted nothing more. He liked building things, putting things together to make something better, grander.

But even before puberty had sent his development careening in different directions, Sean's dreams had going in different directions as well. He certainly still liked electrical work, but his interest in landscaping and house renovations waned in favour of software programming, computer assembly, and cobbling together gadgets and devices. 

His father had never faulted him his interests, and was even proud of his eccentric son and designing and programming a full, indie video game - two, in fact, though Jack Cassidy didn't know his son had completed his second with the tremendous help of his developing electokinetic prowess. Still, Sean could help but feel a bit of regret, a sense that he was abandoning his dad in a way. Both Teagan and Laurelei had help their father too, but Teagan had gone off, joining the army with the goal to become a Ranger, and while Laurie was still searching for what she wanted to do, it had always been clear she would be joining Jack in the contracting business, eventually to take it over.

Sean's goals had been to make it big enough in the video game industry to let his parents retire early, with enough so they could enjoy their time, while not himself falling into the same miasma of greed and short-sightedness that the AAA game studios and publishers seemed stuck in.

It seemed like that would be a long-shot now...

When he caught the text from Marissa, Sean felt like Lilly had just kicked him in the sternum. He could hardly breathe while at the same time, the urge to vomit was almost overwhelming. One hand slipped from the pole, the back of his wrist going to his mouth, as though the physical motion itself could keep everything from coming up.

He didn't even bother pulling out his phone to send his reply, barely restraining himself from yanking on the flow of electrons coursing through the Carousel to bring it to a sudden halt. Instead, he swung one leg up and over the carven saddle and timing it well, jumped off the nightmare unicorn when it rode low with an unexpected show of grace he would have been proud of if he hadn't been so distressed and scampered away from the Carousel.

With a genetic sword of Damocles hanging over his head, potential doom weighing on him from Not-Cody, from storming Site B, from the idea that there wasn't actually a solution for him there, still in a way, it hadn't felt entirely real to him, it felt almost like one of his roleplaying games. Yeah, bad stuff had happened, but they had always pulled through.

He hadn't been burned in a way, like Devin had been. Sean might have been forced to face his mortality like someone his age should never have to, but there wasn't a visceral immediacy to it. Not like finding out Charlie was dead and Sophie missing, and in all likelihood, it was Not-Cody's doing.

If Charlie wasn't his best friend, he was still a good one. He had helped out Charlie, filling in for part in a play at the last minute when the girl dropped out. Charlie had been in the first D&D game he'd ever run, and been in practically every game and campaign he'd run since. The idea that he wouldn't be there anymore, was gone, seared deep. Other than his grandfather, Sean hadn't lost anyone that close to him, definitely not someone his own age.

Sophie. She was missing, possibly dead, too. They had been friends once. She'd been the first girl he had ever asked out. He didn't think anyone besides the two of them knew. She'd turned him down. Hard. Cruelly, even. That had hurt. Bad. Bad enough that he hadn't even considered really asking another girl out. Not until Kat, anyway. He had hated her, too, for a while, if not to the degree he held for Courtney, but it had faded quickly, an emotional scar, instead of a psychic wound he kept picking at, and he had never wished her harm.

Dead. but maybe not dead. Maybe a chance to save her from the monster Cody had become. Sean had started towards his sister and parents, to warn them, to send them home, to whatever safety home could offer, but redirected himself to the parking lot at a pace just short of a jog. He didn't know what the plan was now, if they were going to try to hunt Cody down now or not. With Devin able to blip around and take them along, they might be going as soon as they gathered and he wanted the go-bag he had stashed in his Grand Cherokee.

<<<To: Laurie>>> [From: Sean]
<Pack up. Get Mom and Dad and get home. Now.> Sean sent to his sister as his sneakers skidded on gravel, one arm over his chest as he hustled towards his SUV.

<<<To: Sean>>> [From: Laurie]
<What's going on?! I thought 'stuff' was happening when it was dark.> Even through text, Sean caught a hint of his sister's worry.

<<<To: Laurie>>> [From: Sean]
<Not-Cody hit us first. He - No, IT - got Charlie and Sophie.> Sean debated for only an instant to before telling his sister the truth, glad he had had the foresight to voodoo her phone. Okay, it hadn't really been foresight, she'd just wanted unlimited data, text, and phone, with a zero dollar phone bill. <Who knows who else it might go after. Tell the 'rents it's something like what happened at Marias.>

<<<To: Sean>>> [From: Laurie]
<Love you.> Short, trite, even, but the sentiment came through. <You guys stay safe. Okay, safe as you can while doing what you guys have to do. I'll look after our parents. You better come back, bro, or I'll kick your ass. And I can do it, shorty.>

Laurie stared down at her phone, willing Sean and the rest of the Fellowship success in taking down the fucker who was working for the Dark, or was a part of now, or whatever. Then she shoved her phone in a pocket, squared her shoulders, then turned towards her parents, hands balled into fists and eyes hard with determination. Watch. Study. Analyze. Act now. Breakdown later.

She looked over Champion's Field. Was the news out already? Were people rushing around, was there a subliminal panic growing the crowd. She saw the Sheriff, but he strode in the same brisk lope he always did.

"Mom, Dad, we gotta go," Laurie said with a firmness she had never directed at her parents before. She waggled her fingers in a way suggesting something ephemeral and then started bagging stuff up, throwing other things in the cooler. Work economically. No need to rush. A few minutes now will save more later. "Some stuff, voodoo stuff, is happening. Stuff like at the hospital Sean told us about. You understand?"

Jack's hand tightened on the tongs he was holding, his knuckles going white. Carolyn stared at her youngest child, who was an inch taller than she was now, and looked to have some growth left to her yet, then slowly nodded. "We don't like it, but we understand. Enough, at least, hon. What does Sean want us to do?"

Edited by Sean Cassidy
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