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WEIRDER STUFF
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Weirder Stuff Episode VI: Rainbow Shadows

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Cassandra's mom was a bit late to the party, and her manner of entry showed it. Almost running, checking each room number frantically. Even passing the spot that Marissa and Autumn were seated, she barely seemed to register them there...then stopped looked back. Recognition lit up, from the picnic. The redhead Cassie had been talking to.

"You're..." Teresa paused in mid-phrase and shook her head, skipping to the important part. "Is she all right?"

Autumn nodded, but before she had even started trying to put an answer to words, Marissa stepped in smoothly. "She's fine, Mrs Allen. We all are."

Teresa nodded at that distractedly, then sagged a little and put a hand to her forehead. "She said that on the phone, I just...it would be just like her to play it down. I...thanks. Both of you. Not just for now but, you know. Then. Keeping her safe."

This time it was Autumn that spoke first. "She kept us safe," she corrected. Her voice wasn't as loud and clear as Marissa's, but she said it firmly. "She was the one who knew what to do, and told us how to do it."

Cassie's mom absorbed that, and had to blink away tears that weren't quite shed. There were so many words to say that she couldn't say anything. In the end Teresa just gestured at the door and said, "That's...I'm glad you were there for each other. I just have to..."

The two girls said their goodbyes and Teresa continued down the hall until finding and letting herself into the room.

Immediately there was tension in the air. Too many people, too little space. For a second Teresa just froze, unsure how to fit into this...then Cassandra leaned out and waved at her. Here was something she could understand instinctively!

They stood off to one side a bit, as much as the room allowed, just hugging. When her mother started fussing at the bandage around her arm, Cassie sighed and explained it was just some kind of rash or irritation. She spared Teresa the detailed recounting, for the time being. One nightmare at a time.

After a few minutes of that, Cassandra's mom turned to look at the other parents and said, "Hi everyone. I'm Teresa Allen, Cassandra's mother. I'm a librarian at the main branch. This is all...I still don't know what to make of any of it, but I think we have a lot to be proud of right now." Her arm rested around Cassandra's shoulder, and squeezed her.

 

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11 hours ago, Cassandra Allen said:

After a few minutes of that, Cassandra's mom turned to look at the other parents and said, "Hi everyone. I'm Teresa Allen, Cassandra's mother. I'm a librarian at the main branch. This is all...I still don't know what to make of any of it, but I think we have a lot to be proud of right now." Her arm rested around Cassandra's shoulder, and squeezed her.

"Thank you."

A few gazes turned to Jase, who's eyes had now opened and were swiveling towards Mrs Allen as the slender youth sat up, swinging his legs off the side of the examination bed and perching on the edge staring at Teresa like a bright-eyed young falcon - albeit one in torn army surplus clothing covered in blood, soot and gods-knew-what else.

"Seriously.  Thank you, Mrs Allen."  he said with an incline of his head towards Cassie's mother.  "A levelheaded response, absent of hysterics, finger-wagging, disapproval or 'what is this I cannot even'."  He smiled slightly under the layer of grime on his face.  "It's plain to see where Cassandra gets her centered forthrightness from."  He gestured at the blonde girl that the older woman still had her arm around.  "You should be proud of her.  Without Cassie, we wouldn't have been able to find the enemy, or how to get to it, or known how to defeat it.  She saved lives - not just ours, but countless others who would have suffered if we'd failed."

The green laser of his gaze swung to Devin's father.  "And you and Misti should be proud, Carl.  Devin and Marissa were fucking champions out there.  Devin got us there and back again under the worst of conditions, and when we were in that place his first thought was to save the helpless, to rescue Sophia and Tawny, and with them secured he then pitched in to fight an enemy that could have ripped him in two with ease.  He didn't fuck up, he didn't hesitate."  Heedless of his wounded leg, the lean teenager stood up and limped over to his backpack, rummaging around in it as he spoke.  "And Marissa?  She used herself as bait, distracted the enemy so the rest of us could do what we needed to do.  She fought shoulder to shoulder with us."  He straightened and turned back around, a couple of MRE packs in his hands as he limped back to the bed.

"Devin... Marissa... Cassie... Cade... Sean... Kat... Autumn.  All of us went out and kicked ass."  he said forcefully as he glared around at the adults present, zero fucks evident in the icy depths of his gaze.  "We might be your offspring, but stop thinking of us as 'kids'.  Because none of you, and no-one you can name, could have done what we did today, and until Mrs Allen all I've been hearing is irrelevant, incredulous and frankly ungrateful bleating."

In the silence that followed he ripped open the two MRE packs, smaller packages extracting themselves and floating into the air around him in a loose orbit.  He looked pointedly at his friends, his chosen family... his pride.

"Who wants pizza?  It's MRE pizza, but hell, it's pepperoni, cheese and carbs."  He gave them a crooked smile.  "I'll save a couple of pieces for Autumn and Marissa when they get back."

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Marissa shrugged, cup already in hand as she surveyed her options for second rate coffee.  One of the nurses, for some reason just couldn't keep her eyes off them as they browsed.  "It is what it is," she said glumly, holding her blanket to cover herself as she decided.  "And thank you.  You know, for saying you're my friend.  I'm horrible at it, I know, but aside from my brother I've never really had real connections with people, sooo..."

"It's like, look at my mom, right?  Tell me I'm not like her, you totally can't right?  I know I'm horrible and changing isn't as easy as simply saying it, it's like... cardio for inner peace: you're intentions are to change, but no one ahs time for an hour on the karma bike five or more days a week, it's stressful and tiring and we all have better things to do.  Full disclosure, I didn't join up with you guys to save the world or make friends, I saw Cody... or, rather what he'd become, by 'saw' I mean in the word-of-mouth sense."  She filled her cup with the magic brain-zoom fluid and couldn't help but notice the nurse still staring at them, a hefty, angry looking woman that looked like she should be instructing German boot-camp not helping with the wellbeing of people.  "His choices, his hate, his avarice... those made him into that thing and all I could think was: we have no idea how he got that way.  Was he offered a deal and took it or was his name added to the dotted line slowly and methodically over time as he consciously allowed himself to be cruel and depraved and... Autumn, a part of me wonders how many letters of my name I'm up to on the dotted line... I don't want to end up like that."

"So... I escape.  Party a little bit, meet up with guys in Great Falls.  Sometimes I just do it at home and once I did it too hard and now everyone knows," she sighed and chortled morosely.  "Because my mom is hell bent on making sure she ruins anyone's life who is having a better time, prettier, or just plain enjoying themselves because she's fucking miserable.  I still haven't told her my card got punched, of my god she is going to lose her mind."  Finally she rolled her eyes and sighed and looked to old nurse and confronted her.  "What?"  The nurses didn't say anything and just averted her eyes for a moment, going back to some paperwork on a clipboard.  Marissa whispered.  "Christ, some people."

She sipped her coffee, smiling at her 'bestie'.  "This is nice." she laughed.  "Talking.  Maybe it's the endorphins and adrenaline wearing off, but-," the blood soaked teen again noticed the nurse glaring and Marissa pursed her lips and glared back.  "Yes, lady, that right, take it in.  We're soaked in blood and covered in bandages the same way unfulfillment and poor life decisions cling to you like a cloud of misspent youth and lifetime of regret."  Cup to her lips Autumn's eyes couldn't get much wider as they darted back forth while her friend made a scene.  "So go deliver your towels or bedpans or whatever they trust you to handle Kronk, and don't worry about what's going on over here."

Annoyed, but defeated, the nurse simply shook her head and walked off.  With a scoff, the Queen of Mean sipped her coffee again.  "I swear, people are so rude.  Anyway, like I was saying, maybe it's those wearing off, but it feels good to just not be in bitch mode, y'know?  Despite my mom, I'm pretty relaxed right now.  Happy to be alive, I guess."

Edited by Dave ST
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"That's a good reason to be happy, yeah," the redhead replied slowly, unsure if this actually, genuinely qualified as not being in bitch mode. Maybe rather than an on/off switch, bitchiness was more like a volume knob; they were just so used to Marissa being on the higher end of the scale that when she did ease up a bit, a level of awfulness that would barely be tolerated from anyone else felt like a welcome shift toward humanity with her. "Y'know, Marissa," she began, "she was probably just freaked out and worried, so maybe that wasn't really nece-" Dark brown eyes framed in long black lashes blinked back at her, uncomprehending, and Autumn sighed. Baby steps. "Never mind. Anyway, so..." 'So,' what, Autumn? Where are you planning on going with this? Are you gonna talk about her crazy mom? About her overdose? About whether or not Cody could've been saved? About whether you think she's going to end up like him? Taking a sip of day-old coffee, Autumn made a face. If dealing with Jason Bannon, she decided, was like a perpetual obstacle course that tested resolve and mental agility, interacting with Marissa was like trying to navigate a hedge maze littered with land mines, pit traps, and ninja assassins that really just tested your fortitude and sanity. No... She said she's in a good mood, so... Maybe something she enjoys? Possibly?

"So, listen." The soles of her boots squeaked very softly on the gleaming floor as Autumn shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "Everything's kind of crazy right now, and I don't know what to ask or talk about first, but as far as all of-" she lifted her free hand, comparatively clean owing to the gloves she'd worn, to indicate the girls and their general surroundings- "this is concerned, everybody's probably gonna need time to process. And unless you want me to go tell your mom how old she looks, or something- which I will totally do, because it's not like your parents can ground me for telling them they suck- all I can do for you there is just, listen, I guess. Which is also fine, but this is probably not the best place for that conversation, y'know? So." She took another long drink of the bitter, caffeinated liquid and, shuddering, poured in another packet of creamer, swirling the cup around to mix it. After another experimental sip, she nodded and continued. "I was wondering if you'd be willing to help me with something. Nothing weird!" she added hastily, blue eyes widening. "Just... So, I have this dress, for Homecoming, and I really like it, and my mom bought me some shoes to go with it. And, you know, they're great and all, but, um. I-"

"She bought you heels, didn't she?" the canny brunette interjected, eyeing her bestie shrewdly. It was the only logical reason someone like Autumn would've mentioned shoes, since her entire footwear collection seemed to consist of hiking boots and old Converse sneakers. Talk about a stereotype... Marissa wouldn't be the least bit surprised if she shuffled around the house in those stoner sandals, Birkenflops, or whatever they were called.

"Yeah. And-" The red-haired young vitakinetic could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks- her own this time, thankfully- as her face grew warmer under Mari's scrutiny.

"And you've never worn them a day in your life, have you?" "Obviously," her dark eyes seemed to say.

"I mean, kind of?" Autumn hedged. "Not these specific ones, which are..." She glanced down at Marissa's ruined hiking heels. "Well, for me they're kind of on the tall side. But I don't wanna break an ankle or anything at the dance, and you wear them all day, so I thought maybe you'd help me out? Y'know, teach me your secrets, or something? And that would give us chances to talk about the other stuff, too."

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"No, it's fine, I get it," Marissa smiled.  "Sorry, I'm kina coming down from whatever we lived through and I could probably talk your ear off.  That's not a bad idea, though.  I'd love to help you out.  God, I'm pretty sure I was born in heels, so this will be a snap.  Just text me and I'll come by," her face winced every time she sipped the coffee, announcing that it was offensive to her palate.  "Okay, this is some gross coffee."

The two laughed for a moment, "Right?" Autumn snickered.  "I didn't want to say anything, it's free, I would've felt bad, but... wow."

"Ugh," she waved off Autumn's attempt at politeness.  "Don't worry, I'll say it if you don't.  I'll be me so you don't have to," she smirked.  "Besides, I need to see this dress of yours so I can select a makeup palette for you.  Something light so as to not hide those beautiful freckles of yours but still make your eyes pop.  Trust me, with my help, Jason's heart is going to get up to at least six, maybe seven beats per minute, easily."  She smirked, poking fun at Autumn's stoic boyfriend.  "I uh, guess we should head back, and... thanks."  Without warning Marissa wrapped her arms around Autumn and held her tightly before finally letting her go.

"Friends are nice, I like this."  Marissa chuckled.

The redhead at her side scoffed bemusedly.  "Eh, it's new to you.  The novelty will fade in a few weeks."

"That's fine, just as long as you remember that I'm in charge," her bestie said in a mirthful tone.

"Oh no."  Autumn chuckled.  "No, no, no."

"Yup, totally am.  I make the rules."  They stepped into the hallway and made their way back to the infirmary, both hearts a little lighter than they were a moment ago.

Edited by Vivi OOC
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"Oookay."  Carolyn Cassidy's voice cut across the somewhat awkward silence following Jason's small rant.  The teens and parents looked around to see the Cassidy clan standing in the doorway to the infirmary, arms laden with hampers, bundles of clothes, towels, blankets and assorted necessaries - or at least, items which the family had determined might conceivably be needed.  "I'm not sure what we walked into here, and it's nice to see Jase riled up and defending his friends - so long as he's not bitten anyone-"

"Not yet.  Night is still young."  Jason said around a mouthful of MRE pizza.  Carolyn smiled tightly, then pursed her lips and looked at the tattered, bloodied Fellowship, her gaze finally settling on her son with a mixture of relief and anger.  She swept into the room, Laurie and Jack following her over to Sean's bed and setting their bundles down on convenient surfaces.

"However," she went on  "I have a few questions for my boy, here."  She watched as a slice of plastic-wrapped pizza floated past her and landed in Sean's hands.  "Starting with: what enemy?  Why are you all covered in blood?  Why did I find out about this from Misti Jauntsen- Hi, Carl - of all people?"  She crouched down and peered at her son, trying to see past the muck to determine whether any of the blood was his as Sean squirmed slightly under the maternal scrutiny.

"Yeah-"  Laurie started hotly, obviously wanting to add her own ire, but Carolyn shot her a look over one shoulder and Sean's younger sister subsided, giving first her brother, then Devin, then the apparently uncaring Jason (still eating his slice of pizza) a hard glare.  Her mom returned her gaze to Sean, one eyebrow raised expectantly.

"Well..."  Sean looked at her uncomfortably, then at his friends in mute appeal.  Jason was staring at him as realisation dawned.

"You didn't tell them."  he stated rather than asked, his brilliant emerald gaze unwavering from his friend.

"Oh man..."  Devin shook his head.  It was his turn to smirk now that Sean was the focus of maternal ill-will.  "Dude, we agreed to tell the 'rents.  You are boned."

"Gentlemen, please."  Carolyn said in a tone that hinted that, whilst she wasn't angry at them, she really wanted to get on with being angry at her son.  Over at the entrance to the infirmary, Autumn and Marissa came back in and, immediately picking up on the atmosphere, moved over to where Jason and Devin were observing with a certain level of schadenfreude. "Sean?"  Carolyn's enquiry contained a whole library of subtext.

"What's going on?"  Autumn murmured to Jason, smiling faintly in thanks as he passed her a slice of admittedly strange-looking pizza.  She hopped up to sit beside him on the bed and tore open the package.

"Sean didn't tell his folks what was going on."  Jase murmured back.  Marissa's eyes widened even as she accepted a floating slice of wrapped MRE.

"He didn''t? Oh man.  He is so boned."  she commented in unconscious mimicry of her twin, who nodded, still smirking.  The peanut-  well, pizza gallery went back to observing.

"Well, I was trying to protect you."  Sean said earnestly, clasping his fingers together and trying not to fidget.  "I didn't want you to worry, or freak out, or try and do something that'd get the enemy to notice you-  I was going to tell you after we made it back, only it didn't work out that way..."

"And you didn't think we'd worry about you after we found out you had snuck off to fight god-knows-what?  You didn't think that would lead to me having a fit every time you were home late from school and calling round all your friends?"  Carolyn's voice raised a couple of decibels.  "And what if you didn't make it back, hmm?  Who was going to tell us you had d-"  She broke off then, looking down and away from her son, reaching up to squeeze the reassuring hand Jack had placed on her shoulder.  After a moment, she composed herself.

"Was it going to be Jason's job?  Devin's?  What if none of you made it back and I had to find out from one of the parents who did know?"  She shook her head, disappointment, sorrow and anger in equal measure in her tear-filled eyes.  "How could you, Sean?"

"I did not know either."  Miyako spoke up, her dark eyes glancing around the room then at her son.  "Your friend says you were brave and that I am wrong to treat you like a kid, but you did not tell me what you were doing, Cade.  You tried to, but..."

"I messed it up." Cade admitted, nodding.  "I kinda wanted to try again, but I wasn't sure how to, and then things started happening fast and-"

"We will talk about it later."  his mother said quietly, but there was an echo of the same hurt in her eyes as was more evident in Carolyn's, who was less easily appeased.

"I asked you a question." she pressed, looking hard at Sean.  "How could you keep something so important from us?"

"I wanted to tell you."  Sean tried not to sound like a kid caught playing hooky, he really did.  But there was no disguising the gut-punch of guilt as he looked from his tearful mother to his stern father to his angry sister.  "I really did.  But every time I started to try... the words just wouldn't come out."  He gestured expansively.  "'Hey, guys, I'm off to fight a demon of death and terror in a hell-dimension mirror of our world.  We have to do it, otherwise it will hunt us all down one by one like it did to Charlie.'"  The effeminate teen's mouth twisted in a frown, tears in his own eyes.  "I was scared shitless, mom!  Of what we had to do, of telling you, of how you guys would react...  Pick one."

"Oh, honey..."  His mother hugged him, heedless of the blood and dirt, and after a moment he hugged her back, trying not to bawl his eyes out in front of the others - especially the Jauntsens.  "I'm still mad as hell at you."  Carolyn murmured to her son.  "Don't think you've heard the last of this.  But I'm glad you're okay too."

"I wondered if something was up earlier."  Laurie said quietly, her anger dissipating somewhat in the face of Sean's obvious guilt as Jack reached over and ruffled his son's hair.  She looked from Sean over to Devin.  "You guys were being a little shifty at the picnic."

"Mmmffmmfff."  Devin shrugged, his mouth conveniently full so he wouldn't have answer, his smile guilelessly innocent (and utterly full of shit) as he met Laurie's stare.  She switched targets to Jason, who merely shrugged in much the same way.

"Wasn't our place to tell."  was all the laconic genius stated, his logic utterly reasonable and irrefutable.  "We told our parents.  Well, most of us."

"That's enough."  Carolyn admonished the closest thing she had to a second son as she stood up, looking over at him.  "Are you okay?"  she asked then, noting the blood-stained rent in his combat pants.

"I'm fine."  Jase replied calmly, looking at the thermos flasks Jack was unpacking from one of the bags.  "Coffee in those?"

"Yes."  sighed Carolyn as Jack, smiling and shaking his head slightly, watched a thermos float over to Jason's outstretched hand.  There were always constants in life - Jason and coffee was one of them.  "Where's Gar?"

"Right here."  Jason's dad said as he came in, a shopping bag containing a change of clothing in one hand.  Jase looked at him askance.  "What?"  his father asked, coming to a stop by the bed and placing the bag on the end of it.  He smiled at the redhead sitting next to Jase.  "Hey Autumn."

"You're here."  Jason stated, a little puzzled, setting the thermos of coffee aside for the moment.

"Sure am.  Brought a change of clothes."

"But I said you didn't need to come down-"

"Shut up and c'mere."  Gar pulled the sitting teen into a hug.  "You might not have needed me to, but I needed to."  he said to the nonplussed young man, his voice a murmur.  "Glad you're okay."  After a moment, the slender youth's arms went around his father's shoulders, patting once or twice.  It was a curious sight, for sure, when one considered that in this case, it was the child doing the comforting to the parent.

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"Well," Carl started, speaking over the emotional silence that befell the room.  "I think it's safe to say that none of us in this room really know the others as well as could, considering our children all go to school together."  The act was on.  Carl Jauntsen carved out his own little space near his son where he could pace and address the other parents, the similarities with his son was evident, as Devin would do the same thing: move about, clear people away, and become a center of attention when he had something to say.  "I think we all have a lot to unpack, right?  If the texts I'm getting from my wife, Misti, are any indication, she's out in the parking lot trying not to have a mental breakdown."

"Little late for that," Marissa murmured.  Pizza MRE's were gross, it was just a fact, you had to pace yourself.  Edible, but not particularly flavorful, but there she was almost finished with hers while Jason, who'd started before the others, was close to about halfway with his.  Like most things edible, pizza MREs did not survive once it came in contact with the gravity of Marissa's celestial body.  Her father shot her a glare that said 'later'.  "Sorry, please, go on..."

"My children tried to tell us earlier about all this and your daughter is right, Carolyn, it was so absurd we didn't, we couldn't believe it." Carl gestured to Sean while speaking to his parents.

Devin snorted back a laugh.  "Sean's a boy, dad."

Carl's expression drained completely and looked to his son.  "Seriously?"  He asked deadpan while Devin just nodded.  Ever the salesman and quick to recover, he continued on, nonplussed by the revelation.  "Well, okay.  So, that's a thing.  See?  Lot's of unpacking.  We're all on unfamiliar ground here, so why don't all of us, parents and children, all gather at our place tomorrow night and let the kids explain everything to us and get us caught up to speed.  No judgements, completely open minds and we can begin to tackle this incredibly weird series of events with all of us starting on the same page, hmm?  I think opening dialogue is the best place to begin."

"Dialogue?"  Jack Cassidy retorted, the large, well fed and hard working blue collar man chortled under breath like he'd been insulted.  "You want dialogue, Jauntsen, let's dialogue about how your two little monsters have bullied our children for the past few years.  They sent our kids home in tears and fearful to even step foot in school.  Let's 'dialogue' about that."

Concerned, Devin's father looked at him with that stern look that all fathers had.  "You two bullying kids at school?"

"In our defense dad, they let us keep doing it." Marissa said casually, like there was nothing wrong with that statement and making no attempts to deny it at all.  She happily chewed her pizza MRE, thrilled to have something to munch on.  Jason and Autumn both just slowly turned to their heads to look at Shelly's High reigning aristocracy.  She was chewing contentedly, picking away at the food with her nails, when she stopped and looked at them.  "What?"  She shrugged.  "You did."

"Yeah." Devin admitted while shrugging like it wasn't a big deal.  "But we're all cool now, it was a phase."

Carl smiled, and also shrugged like it wasn't a big deal.  IT was like looking into a mirror with Devin and Carl standing next to each other.  "And there you have it.  Just a phase, Jack.  'Everything's cool'.  Like Fonzie."  He smiled, pleased with his Pulp Fiction reference.  So with that settled, Carl moved on.  "See?  All done.  Proof that this can work."

Devin groaned and rolled his eyes.  "Don't bother, dad.  Trust me, these people can over complicate boiling water."

"Be that as it may, arguing or spitting venom, assuredly isn't going to solve anything." Carl stated.  He looked to his son, then to his daughter.  He paused and winced his face slightly trying to discern what it was she was over there picking at.  "Marissa, Monkey, what are you eating?"

Marissa huffed, irritated and launching a volley daggers at her father with her glare.  "Don't call me Monkey, and I don't know, daddy, Jason gave it to me.  It's not bad."

"See?" Devin outstretched a hand towards his sister, looking at his father with vindicated righteousness.  "I told you.  Any guy offers her something and she just sticks it in her mouth."  Some parents attempted to hide their smirks while others looked at the twins with some measure of being unamused by their behavior.

Carl's had shot up the back of Devin's head, making a 'thump' sound that some may have argued sounded hollow.  "Stop trying to embarrass your sister.  Christ Devin, we're in a hospital for crying out loud."  He turned to the others seemingly with no loss of his composure.  He looked to Autumn and grinned slightly.  "I'm not sorry you had to see that, however."  Meanwhile Marissa made a nasty face at Devin like she's gotten away with murder while her brother rubbed the back of his head.

Edited by Dave ST

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On 2/18/2021 at 8:16 PM, Bannon said:

"Who wants pizza?  It's MRE pizza, but hell, it's pepperoni, cheese and carbs."  He gave them a crooked smile.  "I'll save a couple of pieces for Autumn and Marissa when they get back."

Kat's arm instinctively went up as she turned hungry eyes to Jase. "Thanks!" her weary voice chimed in as a small package floated toward her. "Bloody brilliant!" she added, after opening the pack and smelling the contents, a blissful expression on her features. She carefully extracted the square of pizza from its enveloppe, holding it much like a zealot would a relic of his faith. In fact, it was clear to anyone in the room that food might have been Kat's religion from the beginning. She was completely oblivious of the world around her, captivated by the tasteful promises in the palm of her hand, treat her stomach loudly showed it had been expecting. She moistened her lips and took a bite, ignoring the faint, distant pull of the pain in her bandaged, disinfected cheek. The cut was but long gone from her thoughts, Kat entirely focused on what she was tasting as she leaned, eyes closed, on the chair back.

She let out a deep sigh.

What if...

Thump. She glanced at Devin rubbing the back of his head and held a giggle in, the last twenty seconds of conversation surrounding her finally kicking open the door of her social awareness. She looked at her pizza, held it in front of her and dropped it. Or rather, left it to float in front of her while she turned gravity applied to the pizza into heat.

Ding. Her internal microwave timer chimed in. The pizza, warm to the touch, fell into her palm as heat dissipated. She took another bite and rolled her eyes. "Guys!" she articulated around a mouthful of warm tasty tasties. "Who wants their pizza warm? It's. Awesome." The happy growl of her stomach agreed heartily.

"Warm?" Autumn blinked at the petite French girl, then peered speculatively at the pizza-ish rectangle in her hand. "Yeah, sure," she grinned, shrugging a little. At this point everything was kind of out in the open anyway, and heated pizza was always better than room temperature.

Kat grinned back, leaving her chair to approach her friend. "Can you lower your hand when you feel the heat?" She asked, mimicking the motion, "I don't wanna cook it too." And so did Autumn, her hand leaving the slice to float by half a dozen inches, heat radiating around for a moment. Ding. Flop. The MRE pizza fell back into the redhead's hand, warm enough to smell appetizing, but not enough to hurt to the touch. The French girl smiled. "Bon appétit!"

"Anyone else-" Her voice died out as she noticed her father, standing in the door frame with worry in his eyes. The fledgling pizza warmer remained silent as she approached and gave him a one-armed hug, burying her face in his chest while sparing his vest some pepperoni and cheese stains. At ease knowing his daughter was in one piece, Josh returned the embrace and ruffled her not-so-clean hair, only to look back at his own hand and ask: "Gosh, honey, where have you been? Are you alright? How are you feeling?"

"I feel... like I've been trampled on by a bunch of sumo wrestlers." Her reply came out muffled. He raised an amused eyebrow, casting a glance at the other teens, taking in the blood, dirt and bandages. "That place was more than gross..." She added, raising her head. It was clear in her expression she was glad to be back, alive.

"What's that?" He asked, concerned, his chin motionning at her cheek.

"Uh... nothing. God... I don't even know what I'm gonna tell Tess." Josh rubbed the back of his head - much like his daughter would have - with his clean hand, pretty much convinced they weren't supposed to tell Tess anything remotely close to the truth as it was. "Oh, remember the cocoa?" She asked, taking a step back and another bite in her slice of pizza.

Her father nodded, remembering their conversation in the car. "I do." He grinned. "I'm glad you're safe."

"Mr. Jauntsen was talking about something like that, like... a group meeting, tomorrow evening. I'm just..." She pointed at her chair. "Gonna be over here, enjoying my pizza." Adding motion to her words, she stole back to her chair and sat gracelessly and teenagerly, resuming her dinner.

"You do that," he replied with a smile, slightly furrowed brows, and glancing, inquisitive, at the twins' father.

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras

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Carl looked askance from the newcomer to his diminutive offspring and then back to him. "Yeah, mister...?" "Williams." Kat's dad supplied, smiling easily as he extended a hand. "Call me Josh." "Pleasure." Carl shook the offered hand, and gestured at the assembled teens and their parents. "Yeah, I was just saying that I think it'd be a good plan for us all to get together somewhere out of the way and let our kids explain what's going on. You know, over snacks and drinks, chill atmosphere away from prying eyes. That sort of thing."

Ian Allister finally made his way inside, having finally found the chance to do so. He heard the tail end of Carl's idea and nodded. He could feel the eyes upon him, and knew this was likely going to be a grueling experience. "A group meeting somewhere private, with plenty of room and after the kids have all had a chance to clean up does sound like the best place to actually clear the air." His voice drew his family's attention, with a certain weariness in Cade's eyes, and warning in Haruka's. There have been far too many secrets being kept. I can only speak for myself, but I would have liked to know about what's really going on, long before it got to the point where our children risking their lives was the only recourse to resolve this situation."

Cade had also taken one of the MREs and dug in, not really bothering to taste it, this wasn't the first time he'd had one, and he found himself nodding. They came here to get checked out, not to have it out with their parents, or watch them have it out with each other.

"Understand something, Sheriff." Jason's voice was it's usual glacial timbre as he studied Shelly's lawman. "Us risking our lives was always the only recourse to resolve the situation. And it may well be so in the future, too. None of you could have protected us - turns out it was our job to protect you. Be prepared for that to be the case again." In the silence that fell immediately after, he glanced at Carl. "A meeting to air the subject seems logical." he shrugged, glancing at his father. "I've already told my dad everything. But I'm sure that's not a universal situation."

"Sweet," Devin chuckled. "Party at our place." Marissa huffed, rolling her eyes. "Deej, shut up." Carl quieted his children with a gesture and a 'knock it off' glance. "Not to fall too far down a rabbit hole, here, but, you actually knew about this, Sheriff? How is it you knew and the rest of us were completely in the dark."

"I'm dying to know that myself," Misti's voice from the doorway was cold and the glare she shot at the Sheriff could have melted a steel beam. She'd apparently decided to rejoin the others and her heels made a familiar sound as they hit against the tiles, it was like seeing what Devin and Marissa would be like in 15 years of so. She folded her arms and waited for him to respond. "Please, regale me, us, as to why you knew our children were in danger and thought it prudent to simply... not Sheriff."

Ian frowned, and shook his head at Misti's scathing request, and answered her. "I knew some of it, and saw some of what they were up against with my own eyes. In the end the decision to go through with this was their choice, dangerous or not. Nothing was really going to keep them from going. In the end, Yes I did turn a blind eye for the most part, because I knew the only way they'd all come back is if they remained together. I believed in them. Think of that what you will, but the fact is these kids did go out and save two lives, two lives we couldn't have saved, and they all came back to us."

"Their choice? Their choice?! God dammit Ian, those are my fucking kids!" Misti's voice raised and it was possible she was simply saying what a few of the other parents were thinking. "Stop them or not, who the hell are you to 'turn a blind eye' to the safety of my goddamned children! You have a responsibility pinned to your chest to, at the very least, say something, anything to us!" "Michelle," Carl placed his hand on his wife's shoulder in an attempt to calm her a bit but instead she simply spun about and latched onto her husband tightly. Misti was no the best mother, sure, but instinct and love still tore at her heart at the prospect of losing her babies. "I know, just... we'll all talk later. I know you're hurting." "The hell is wrong with this town," she sobbed into Carl's chest. "What is wrong with these people?" "I don't know honey," Carl consoled her. "We're close to Canada, it could be any number of things... they're safe, right? Emjay and Deej are safe, that's all that matters tonight, okay?" He held his wife and let her cry as he silently mouthed to 'sorry' to the sheriff.

Autumn stared hard at the adults, blue eyes bright against the flaking red remnants of violence, pain, and misery that marked her features- that marked them all. It wasn't the penetrating glacial gaze of the young man sitting next to her, or the contemptuous glimpse of the void in Marissa's dark-eyed glare, but an all-encompassing, fathomless sea of roiling emotion. "Really?" she asked tersely, all her reserves of diplomacy having been depleted for the day "Is this the 'chill atmosphere' we can look forward to? Sorry, Mr. Jauntsen. I don't think your place is a good idea. I'd rather do this somewhere a little more neutral."

"Maybe the Project can give us a room," Cassandra mentions. "Fit it up with padded walls, some stress balls..."

"And you think the location is the issue, uh," he snapped his fingers, still holding Misti with his other arm. "Autumn," Marissa helped him out, not even paying attention, but now on the prowl for more MREs. "Autumn. Because she'll be anywhere else you select, your place, our place, the playground at the school. Doesn't matter where are, sweetie, distressed and angry parents are going to be there." He shrugged. "My wife's children, our children were almost killed tonight and I know you went through one hell of an ordeal, well, now we're going through one too. You can't expect everyone to handle this situation in precisely the manner you want it to be dealt with. My wife is emotional, Gar isn't, Jack and Carolyn are rational, me? I'm just trying not to lose my own mind here, so can you please, just not bust our balls tonight, kid?" At Cassandra's interruption he looked to her, then the rest. "Project? What's 'project'?"

Cassandra hesitated for a second. She was pretty sure she wasn't supposed to be spilling this bean...but fuck that. Their parents got to know about psychic powers and alien demons but not the quasi secret spy agency or whatever it was? No, down that road was just more scenes like this: trusts broken, tears shed, angry words all around. Rip off the bandaid. Besides. They had a right to know. She took a deep breath.

"There's a group in town that's been monitoring Shelly secretly. Keep tabs on all the weird shi...stuff that goes on here. Researching it. That kind of thing.  We met with them a while back, and we compared notes. They told us what they knew, which wasn't a lot...we told them what we did, which back then wasn't a lot either."  Clearing her throat, Cassie went on, "They have a base. Underground. Plenty of space for us to fight in."  She then glanced at her watch and said, "And someone should be showing up to shut me up in...four...three...two..."

The adults present all noticed the same thing: the way that the teens eyes all swiveled towards the door as Cassandra counted down. As the blonde seer's voice stated "...One." there was a moment when even some of the parents, sucked in by the air of anticipation, half-expected someone to appear there. No-one did. The moment stretched out, and Cassie looked at her watch, then at the door, then at her mom and shrugged. "Guess no-"

The click of heels interrupted her as a expensively and fashionably dressed lovely brunette entered the infirmary room. She smiled a little at Cassie, shrugging lightly. "Very sorry for being late." she apologised, both to the clairvoyant and to the room at large. "I had some calls to make. Annette Giles." she said by way of introduction to the parents present - at least those who had not met her yet. She seemed perhaps the tiniest bit out of breath, as though she'd been hurrying. "Current head of the Project Cassandra mentioned." She went on smoothly, her tone one of polished authority as she got down to business.

"I can, of course, lend one of our conference rooms to you all as a meeting place if that is your wish. No underground base - there are several suitable large meeting rooms in this Medical Center, and we can guarantee you privacy." She raised her hands, palms out in a gesture requesting forbearance. "I would ask your understanding, though: whilst your marvelous children are of course free to tell you whatever they wish, I am not similarly free to answer questions. The Project, at least for the moment, is classified on a number of levels, and I have no official permission to share anything." She paused for a moment. "Yet, that is. I am stretching the limits of my remit simply being here and offering the neutral ground you mentioned."

She glanced around at the adults, her expression one of pleasant professionalism. "I won't ask if there are any questions, ladies and gentlemen, because I will not be answering them. If a room is needed for a meeting, it can be provided. Whatever you decide, I would suggest that you let these brave young people go home, get cleaned up and rest, however. There will always be more questions, but there is a finite amount of time."

Rather than bite Carl's, or Misti's, or Sheriff Allister's head- or her own tongue- off, Autumn shoved the remainder of the (thankfully) warm, moderately flavorful pizza into her mouth, chewing through crust and pepperoni and unmeltable cheese as though she'd suddenly developed a grudge against food. She was just washing the last bit down with the day-old coffee she and Marissa had found by the nurse's station when Cassie spoke up, and the redhead relaxed visibly. Oh, thank fuck. Getting in touch with Ms. Giles was one of the options she'd intended to suggest in the wake of Carl's invitation; even before Misti's encore performance it just didn't seem right to have a meeting like the one he'd described at someone's house. The whole situation with the Dark, and people being frustrated, and demonstrating powers, and just all of it was kind of a lot to put in somebody's living room, even if he'd made the offer in good faith.

"That'd be my vote," she added as Annette wrapped up. "It's secure in case things start to get out of hand, we can all be equally awkward and uncomfortable on the car rides home afterward, and, also..." Her nose crinkled unhappily as she finished off the last of the dark liquid in her cup. "It kind of fits, since we were here the last time." She glanced back at Carl and, grudgingly, nodded. "And I do think it's a good idea to make sure everyone's on the same page, since obviously not everyone is."

"That's the only thing I've heard this evening that's made any sense," Misti's voice was a stress ridden collection of fractured tones. No one here could understand why, and the Jauntsen's certainly weren't going to stand and explain themselves to anyone. "Devin, Marissa, let's go. We're leaving." When the twins didn't look like they were planning on moving swiftly her tone grew more stern. "Now, let's go."

"Jesus, mom, can you not freak out in front of the hot director?" Devin complained, flashing an awkward, yet flirty smile at Annette. "Hey, Annette. S'up? So, uh, I saved the world tonight, any of your exes pull that one off?"

Annette managed a polite smile. "Hello, Devin."

"C'mon, Romeo." Carl collected his son and began the task of ushering him to the door. He looked back to his daughter. "Monkey, c'mon, let's go."

"Ugh!" Marissa rolled her eyes and grumbled with annoyance at her father. "Stop calling me that! Christ." She stood and dumped her blanket off in the chair where she was sitting, revealing her shredded outfit that barely preserved her modesty at this point.

"And what the hell are you wearing?" Carl took up the concerned father attitude. "Where did you save the world? In a night club?"

"Ugh, I wish, dad." She lazily schlumped off to meet up with her family. "No, it was a blood strewn hellscape that appeared to have been made from the disemboweled victims of souls less fortunate than ourselves. Hence, why we smell like puss and disease." That was not the reply he was expecting, and just remained quiet as they all exited the infirmary. "Devin'll draw it, no worries."

"Later guys," Devin offered up quietly. "See you later, you know... if we're not grounded for life. Nice work tonight." As he passed by Annette he placed his hand up to his ear and silently mouthed 'call me' and sent a wink her way.

Spoiler

Thanks to all who took part in the group IC chat.

Current in-game time is about 20:30 on Labor Day.  We're at a point we can do closing poasts now - get your characters home, some private interaction with families, and end the day.

 

Edited by GDP_ST

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Carl had left his OHSSV (Off-Highway Special Service Vehicle) at the hospital, calling another ranger to come and collect it for him so he could ride home with Misti and the kids.  He didn’t feel his wife was in any shape to drive and he was right as the interior of her car exploded into an immediate argument between her hysterical points of view and the twins’ constant ability to argue as a collective force.  He’d even swerved more than once by the time they’d arrived at the house because he had to try and keep an eye on the road while also trying to referee World War III happening right next to him.

He couldn’t believe what he had heard though, the crazy adventures and high school drama his children had been involved in over the seven weeks or so.  Monsters, demons, dark gods, secret military organizations and mad scientists, the whole thing seemed like it couldn’t even be possible, but here were his children raving up and down about ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Coyote’ and ‘The Dark’ like they’d just gotten out of a movie theatre for the greatest show they’d ever seen.  They refused to talk about the woman, Annette Giles, but swore that she was on their side, for the most part, and she could be trusted about as much as any other government employee, which to Carl meant ‘not at all’.

The moment they got into the house Marissa was on her way to her room to collect what she would need for a long, hot shower.  Devin disappeared, literally, and they could hear him rummaging up in his room until they heard the shower in the downstairs apartment turn on.

“Well?”  Carl asked his wife as he twisted the cap off a beer and handed it to her.

In an unladylike display that heralded back to her college days, Misti chugged half of it in a single pull.  “What.  The.  Fuck.” Was all she added as she caught her breath.  She frantically shook her head and shrugged, completely at a loss for words.  “S’all I got.”  She gasped before she tipped her bottle back again, finishing it off and gesturing for another.

Carl laughed quietly, handing her a second and getting one fore himself.  He handled changes to order a lot easier than his wife, he was adaptable, dynamic, chaotic whereas Misti preferred things to be ordered, static, hierarchical.  They’re children had turned out just like them.  “Fair.”  He added as the fridge door closed and he leaned against the counter.  “Chelle, you gotta get your shit together if we’re going to get ahead of this.  They already hate us, that’s not news, but this?  Powers?  Babe, we push them too far and they won’t be like Bannon kid they told us about in the car, folding kids up like paper and assaulting students with farm implements.  We know our children-“

“-god, it’ll be totally anarchy.”  Misti massaged the bridge of her nose.  “We raised sociopaths whose greatest strength is their ability to work together.”

“No.” Her husband shook his head and took a swig of his beer.  “We didn’t raise them at all.  That’s the problem.”

“I know, I know,” she dismissively shook her head.  “Carl, Devin is classic attention deficit, his mind is always in a thousand different places.”  Water cascaded over Devin, cleansing the stain of blood from his skin leaving only a body that seemed to be a road map of pain.  Dark blotches of blackened/purple hued bruises were littered across most of his body in most of the common nerve and blood vessel clusters.  The head from the shower caused his whole body to be wracked with a comforting sort of pain and he remained unmoving, winching in pain and embracing the rewards for his heroism.  “All he knows how to do is run away from responsibility.”

“I guess that explains his particular ability,” Carl mused with a tip of the bottle to his lips.

“Carl, have you seen how angry he is?  No matter what direction his mind is pulled in, at the center of it all is anger.  He hates us and seeks forgiveness from others because he’s unable to forgive others, notably, us.  People are accustomed to not forgiving those who have hurt them; instead, we tend to seek revenge so we can return on them what they have committed towards us.”  Devin winched in pain, collapsing in pain and bracing himself in on the tiled divider of the walk-in shower and clasping his side with his other hand.  Everything hurt, blind teleportation had, for the second time, made his organs feel like they were turned into jelly.  He stood there, quietly for a moment and just let the pain wash over him until he finally stood and tried to wrap the towel around himself once more, this time with better success as he didn’t make any sudden movements that would aggravate all of his bruises and torn muscles.  “We don’t forgive because we’re weak, but because we are strong enough to see that we need to close the door on our past.  It’s not about agreeing with or even accepting the action that others have committed, we don’t have to understand, or support, or even approve but because although we continue to bear it in mind, we no longer need to keep in our hearts or minds.  If he doesn’t learn to let things go Carl, with powers like his, he could make mischief on a global scale, and that is in part, on us.”

“Marissa balances him out,” their father, still resting against the counter, crossed one foot over the other.  “Devin’s just mad, all teenagers are pissed about something, Chelle.  He acts a fool, sure, but he’s a good kid.  We both agreed that Chet kid had that one coming, it’s an isolated incident, not an established pattern of behavior.”

“And I’d be inclined to agree, were our daughter not a borderline narcissistic sociopath.”  Red slowly dissolved into pink and Marissa inhaled the thick steam, letting it clear her bleeding sinuses.  Droplets of blood hit the floor of the tub mingling with the pinkish swirl of blood from victims unknown.  The adrenaline and endorphins had left long ago, her inhuman metabolism devouring the high and numbness to the pain she called life but here in the shower she could feel the Black Beauties kicking in and jumpstarting her senses again, giving her that euphoria she desperately needed to cope with the strangeness of monsters, evil and crush-thieving redheads.  “She ticks off seven of the nine DSM-5 criteria for a fair diagnosis of a narcissistic sociopath, Carl.  A doctor only needs five before demanding further testing be done.  Those I’ve dealt with in the past who’ve had NPD had trouble handling criticism, stress, and change, and easily became impatient or angry if they didn’t think they are being treated correctly, and you can’t tell me she doesn’t have trouble regulating her behavior and emotions, feels easily slighted, and has relationship problems.”

The pain was almost an intoxicant as this point as hot water splashed onto her open cuts and numerous nicks and scratches.  Where her brother collapsed from the pain, his sister convulsed and shuddered under the bombardment of searing pain across her body until the swelling red of her freshly created wounds numbed themselves to the effects of the heat and contact.  She couldn’t explain the feeling, like an itch being scratched or a trouble some mosquito bite, the longer she let the water sear her the better it felt until she just couldn’t stand it any longer and had to step away.  “I’m afraid she’ll become depressed if she falls short of what she feels is ideal.  We already know she secretly feels insecure, vulnerable, and has fragile self-esteem.  That’s why she tries to escape the pain through drugs and promiscuity.  Now, put Devin’s abilities into the ‘balance’ of Marissa’s selfish hands and either they’ll end up dead, or a lot of other people will.”

“Woah, woah,” he waved his beer bottle back and forth to slow the conversation.  “Since when is our daughter promiscuous?”

“Christ, Carl,” his wife shook her head.  “I work at her school, I’m gorgeous, and I wear low-cut tops, do you honestly think the boys there don’t share rumors with me?  They told me she was hanging out with guys from Great Falls, so I’ve been tracking her phone for, Jesus… since June?  It checks out.”

“Her texts were coded with possible drug deals,” Carl shrugged.  “I never thought to look until she had that little run-in last month.”

“It was an overdose,” Misti said flatly.  “That much hydrocodone washed down with that much bourbon is either a suicide attempt or plain stupidity, and we both know our daughter isn’t stupid.”

“It wasn’t a suicide attempt,” Marissa said with all the emotion of Wednesday Addams.  Both of her parents jumped with a start as they looked towards their daughter as she stood in the entrance to the kitchen in a black sports bra and revealing booty shorts, her hair was in a series of wet strands that formed a ponytail.  Her legs, abdomen, neck and back were a series of reddened lines of aggravated tissue where thin scratches were trying to heal and the larger cuts, all claw and teeth marks, were already an unsightly blackish red of developing scabs, a few were so deep they were forming glistening deposits of clear white blood cells as her body struggled to repair the damage caused to it.  Barefoot she padded to the fridge and slid open the freezer drawer and her parents caught the cute pink letters on the back of her skimpy booty shorts that read ‘Spank Me’.

“For fuck’s sake, Marissa,” Carl scolded her, averting his eyes, pushing off the counter and walking away from her to stand by Misti.  “Put some damn clothes on, and what the hell are you doing with clothes with shit like that written on it?”

“Cade got them for me,” she lied with an appreciative smile, like he knew just what to get her to make her happy.  “I figured you’d be proud of this,” she motioned down her body.  “I mean, you helped make it.  Seriously, though, look at me right now, everything hurts, even baggy jammies… I finally said ‘fuck it’ and just came down in my underwear.”

“Hey,” her father pointed at her with the hand that was gripping the neck of his beer bottle.  “Language.  You’re a lady.”

Devin appeared in a violet shimmer in nothing more than a pair of workout shorts, his bare body revealing the myriad of bruises and contusions just under his skin, and without missing a beat the loud sound of a hand on an ass echoed through out the kitchen enough to make Carl’s shoulders wince, Devin smile wide, Misti to smirk evilly, and Marissa to scream out in pain with both hands on her ass.  “Don’t mind if I do.”

“Moooooom,” Marissa was almost in tears as she looked at her mother, pleading for parental intervention.

Misti ignored her, sliding her phone up as she scrolled in search of something.  “What?  Honestly dear, you were literally asking for it.”  The twins broke into a fight, a shouting match of who was the bigger asshole/cunt and which of the two were more likely to sell sex for crack.  Somewhere in the middle of it all the large bag of pizza rolls Marissa had recovered from the freezer were being meticulously set upon the cooking sheet by the two of them.  Even while fighting they were always working to achieve a common goal.

Carl leaned over to see what Misti was scrolling through, and she tilted her phone so he could get a better view.  “Seriously?”  He smirked and looked at her after taking his eyes away from the booty shorts, she’d found online that read ‘Spank Me’ across the back them.

“What?” She smirked.  “They’re adorable.  I’m getting them in red.”

As I was saying, before,” Marissa said loudly, feigning to make a strike at her brother standing next to him, the sudden movements of his flinching made him hurt enough so she didn’t press an assault.  “Somehow, it seems I have an enhanced metabolism.  I eat a lot.  Like… a lot, which seems to have the secondary effect of things like drugs and alcohol filtering through my system faster than normal.  Our powers don’t come with instructions, I was testing my metabolism to see what’s limits were… I grossly miscalculated.  Yes, I overdosed, no I was intentionally trying to end my life or be irresponsible.  It was simply science gone wrong.  Lesson learned,” she lied while she turned to pre-heat the oven.

“So, what?”  Carl asked.  “You can’t get drunk?”

“No, I can,” as the judgmental glare of her parents fell upon her, she quickly adjusted her answer, lying yet again.  “Not that I have, of course.”

“Of course,” her mother and father said dryly, not buying a word of it for a second.

“It’s just, if you drank three beers in an hour, you’d be over the legal limit, because there would be too much alcohol in your blood in such a short period of time.  I’d more than likely be alright, or at the very least still be able to drive.”  She explained, keeping behind the island in the kitchen, to keep her parent’s mind at ease over the little amount of clothing she was wearing and to keep her mother’s judgmental glares at her laceration-ridden body.

“And, you just go wherever you want?”  Misti directed the question to Devin, who was poorly attempting to juggle pizza rolls.

“Pretty much.”  He shrugged, losing a few that tumbled down onto the cooking sheet.  “I can take myself, or others, or anything, anywhere I want.  If I’m being particularly lazy-”

“-which is not a stretch, at.  All.” His sister smirked and tried to realign the pizza rolls that he kept knocking out of place.  As always, she was bringing order to her brother’s chaos.

“Oh, look,” Devin handed her the cutting board sitting on the counter.  “Cade came by to see how you were doing.  How sweet.  You two run along, adults are talking.”  She threatened to hit him with it, but he stood his ground, wearing a victorious smirk on his face.  She settled for putting it back on the counter and simply taking the pizza rolls and placing them in the oven as it beeped, letting them know it was ready.  Thankfully, with her family present, she couldn’t mess up something as easy as pizza rolls.  “Like I was saying, lazy, yadda, yadda, I can bring the objects to me instead.  Or just open a portal everyone can walk through, or drive through, or fly through… whatever.”

“Y-you guys can fly?” Carl asked, not sure why his voice wavered in disbelief at this point.

The oven door creaked closed, “Just Devin and Jason.  So far.”

Their parents looked back to their son.  “It’s not really flying.  It’s more like a series of microportations.”  When they looked like they had no idea what he said, he elaborated.  “Basically, I blink, or jaunt as I like to call it, so rapidly that the human eye can’t even keep up so to those looking on, I’m essentially floating or flying, if I shift the distance.  My real power is getting takeout from Italy.”

“Oh, god, yes.”  Marissa groaned ecstatically.  “That tagliatelle alla Bolognese was to freaking die for!”

“Y-you get takeout from Italy?”  Carl knew than answer, but asked anyways as he chuckled to himself, positively impressed by the capabilities of his children.

“Well, not at the moment,” Devin gestured to the numerous bruises across his body.  “Short jaunts only until I recover a bit.  Blind teleporting isn’t easy, it makes my insides feel like they’re being liquified.  Escaping from the Void was a blind shot and it about did me in.  So, yeah, short hops for a little while, while I’m on the mend.”

“Our son can get takeout from Italy,” Misti laughed with a twinge of hysteria to it as she tipped back her beer.  “I can’t fucking even right now.”

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The ride home for the Allister family was a quiet one, but Cade could feel coming storm.   Haruka glanced at him, and he smiled, though it was a grim smile.  He and his father would go get his jeep tomorrow, and that would be at least one headache less to deal with.

Cade head straight for the hose in the back yard, knowing he'd be the one to clean out where he'd sat later.  He washed himself down with the cold water, the  trying to get the worse of the previously dried gore and gunk off of himself, before he went inside.  It stung of course, he wasn't unscathed, and the stinging water found every little place it could to send a jolt of pain through him.  Haruka brought him some old towels, setting them by the back patio, which he used to dry off.   Done with that first washing,  Cade made his way inside, heading to the bathroom he shared with his sister.   He was in there awhile, taking three times as long as normal to wash the grime, gore, and blood, careful to only use his towels, and letting the hot water  warm him after his hosing down outside.   "Goddamit."  it was the first word he'd said aloud since leaving the hospital, "I hope Marissa is alright."   he really should have actually said something,  should have done something to actually try to stand up for her.  He felt useless, just as he had when Cody had healed from the gunshot.

But he hadn't done anything for Marissa, or Devin.    His own mother's words had shocked him into inaction, and he'd failed to step up to  help his friends.  He pounded one fist on the wall hard enough that it knocked over a bottle of bodywash.  "God, I'm a fucking failure."  he groaned out, before getting on with cleaning himself up.

His sister, who was in her room on the other side of that wall, heard him, probably the only person who could have, and whispered quietly, "No, you aren't."

When he finally came out he had on some clean shorts, and a t-shirt, and his phone in his hand.  He'd already shot off a message to Marissa, saying he was there, any time, if she needed him.  He'd ended it with "I may not be able to come as fast as your brother, but if you need me, I'll be there."  he meant it, and it made him smile.  Then he realized that that could probably be taken another way, almost panicked, and just decided to live with whatever came from that too.

He knocked on Haruka's door, but she wasn't there, instead he found his parents, sitting in the den, his sister seated next to his Mother, and it was obvious he was meant to sit beside his father.

Miyakko waited for him to sit, and nodded once.  "I think the two of you have alot that you need to talk about.   Why don't you start at the beginning..."

Cade looked to his father, and nodded.  "Okay, Mom. So it all started..."   It was half an hour later before Cade looked at her and nodded.  "And that brings us to tonight.   We crossed the dimensional boundary and fought the Dark in its realm.  We won, saved Tawny and Sophia, and then came back home."   He had omitted anything regarding branch 9 or Utopia, which was easier than he thought, since he didn't really know as much about them to begin with.   

"I see."  Miyakko turned her gaze to Ian, and nodded.   "You knew all of this?"

Ian was abit shocked at everything that had happened, about the truth about Liam, and everything else.  He'd truly only glanced the surface of what was going on, and a part of him was angry with Cade for keeping so much.   "No, I didn't.   I had an idea, but there has been alot more going on than I ever expected."  He gave Cade a stern look, but shook his head.   "It's alot for anyone to believe, anyone to live through, in so short a time.   It's all the worse because it's a group of kids that includes my son."

Cade looked at his father, who continued.  "I do understand why you said nothing.   We'd not have believed you.   Hell I didn't want to believe, even after seeing what I saw, son.  I'm sorry for that." 

Ian looked over to Miyakko.  "I'm sorry I didn't tell you what I did know, I thought I was protecting you."

Cade nodded.  "I wanted to tell you at least what dad knew, but I just didn't want you to worry, mom." He was looking at his mother squarely.  "When I did finally tell you, I screwed it up, and you thought I was just delusional from all the games."

He looked over at Haruka, who had remained quiet.  "I didn't tell you, because you'd have probably told everyone else."  He smiled, and Haruka gave him a hard glare.   She was clearly mad at him too.

Miyakko sighed.  "This is all alot to take in, I'm furious with both of of you, but I know you had what you thought were good intentions.  Ian, I'm your wife. I plan to spend the rest of my life with you, I left my home and my family to come here, and start a family with you.   You can Rely on me.   That's something you had best remember from now on."

She turned her gaze to Cade, and shook her head.  "I know you and I have no blood ties Cade.   Even so, you have been as perfect a son as a mother could ever ask for. You love your sister, and you love me, I've never doubted that.   I'd always thought I was the sort of mother you could be open with, but I was clearly wrong.   I'm mad that you didn't tell me sooner, that you've so recklessly endangered yourself when you're so precious to so many people.   What I'm most mad about, is that you left tonight, knowing you might not return, and you left so much unsaid.  If you hadn't come back, You would have hurt us, all of us, your friends, your grandparents, even Mr. Bancroft.  You aren't someone who can just disappear and not leave a gaping hole in the lives of others son.   Think on that, please."   She was nearly in tears.  "We can discuss your punishment in detail tomorrow, but right now I'm going to bed."   Clearly there was no room for Ian, and he nodded.  "I didn't get to eat since Lunch, so I'm going to fix something, then rest."

When Ian had left, it was only Haruka and Cade in the den, and his little sister came to stand in front of him.   "You can't do that again, Cade.   I promise, I'll keep your secrets, for you and Mari and everyone, but don't shut me out.   Don't leave me like that without..."

Haruka began to sob, and Cade reached out instinctively to hug his little sister to him.  He held her gently, letting her cry, and when she shed no more tears, he walked her back to her room.  "Goodnight Haruka.   I promise, it won't happen again."   She offered him athin smile before closing the door, and Cade went to the kitchen.  His dad had just finished making a pile of sandwiches, knowing full well Cade would eat some too.  "Get the drinks."   He said, as he took the plate stacked high with sandwiches to the den.   

Cade fixed them both large glasses of tea, and went to sit across from his Dad, setting his drink down in front of him, and sighing.  "We both really screwed up."   Cade said quietly.

"We sure did."  Ian answered.   "What matters now is how choose to go forward from here."  He gave him a look that said   "I know you didn't tell us everything." and Cade nodded.  

"You're right dad, We all have to keep moving forward."

"You're still going to be grounded."  Ian looked at him, and there was a ghost of smile, as he finished another sandwich. 

"So are you, from the looks of things."  Cade replied as he finished one of his own.  

Ian frowned, but raised his glass, an unspoken toast, acknowledging they'd both survived the ordeal, something Cade understood, and did in response.   The two of them found a fishing show to watch, and both slept there in the den that night.   Everyone had survived, and with the Dark gone, things would get brighter.  It was a hope Father and son shared, as they both drifted off.

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The Fellowship nodded, waved, or murmured their own farewells in answer to Devin as the Jauntsens left, and Jase drained the plastic cup of coffee and screwed it back onto the thermos before floating that back over to the Cassidys. Glancing at Annette, he nodded. "I guess we'll be taking you up on the offer, unless someone says different." the tall young psychokinetic told her as he stood, testing his wounded leg.

"Right." she nodded in reply, watching him with a curious expression, as though trying to perceive something not evident. He looked up, meeting her gaze, and she simply smiled and looked around at the others present. "I'll order a room set aside for tomorrow, and drinks and snacks will be provided." Annette stated, then gave them all another polite smile and withdrew.

"Time to go, then." Jason suggested, glancing at Autumn before turning his attention to his dad. "I'll see you at home, dad. I have a promise to keep, then have to pick up my car."

"Promise?" Gar looked askance at Autumn, then Jase.

"I'm taking Autumn home to Dana, as I promised." came the simply stated answer.

"Strikes me you'd need your car for that." Gar seemed more curious than confused, his brows drawing together over his hazel eyes. Jase gave him a faint smile, the edges of his eyes crinkling as he swung his gaze back to the redhead sitting beside him, the ice of his expression thawing slightly.

"Not necessarily."

At the sound of her name Autumn's head came up, her attention suddenly diverted from the door to the exam room, in which direction she'd been staring distractedly since the abrupt departure of the Jauntsens and Ms. Giles. Glancing from the warm hazel of Gar's eyes to the frosted jade of his son's, her brain worked to reassemble the bits of conversation she'd half-heard. "You're going to take me home and then get your car?" she paraphrased, perplexed. "How do-?" At the sight of an oh-so-faint glimmer of amusement in those pale green depths, she stopped short. If they weren't driving, then... Wait.

"Wait, seriously?" Autumn murmured cautiously, her torso angling toward him to study his expression for any signs of dissembling or mischief, her own eyes brightening with excitement as they searched his. "I thought, you know, we'd just get a ride to your car and drive to my house from there. I mean," she added hastily, straightening to take in the sorry state of their clothes. "We're gross. Or, at least, I'm gross, specifically, and you can change clothes." Her bronze- and rust-flecked features scrunched unhappily; even if she couldn't smell herself anymore, that didn't mean other people couldn't. "Unless your dad put something in that bag for me, too," she ventured, a teasing light in her eye as she glanced at the older man.

Gar cleared his throat. "There's sweats and a t-shirt, but only for one person." he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.

Jase smiled slightly, then leaned down and kissed Autumn's cheek gently, uncaring of the grime clinging to her. "I'll clean up later, once I've gotten you home." he told her quietly, his voice a murmur as his hands found hers and drew her to her feet. "A bit of dirt is no reason to pass up a flight with you." A hint of a dimple appeared in one soot-streaked cheek. "Unless you'd rather we drive..?" he suggested with a sly gleam in his eye.

The answer was an emphatic, unequivocal, "Nope!" Autumn grinned as she slid off the edge of the table, her fingers tightening momentarily around Jason's when the soles of her boots struck the tile floor. It felt strange to smile after what had happened, to feel laughter bubbling up in her chest instead of sobs threatening to break free; even knowing they'd survived, that they'd all made it home, couldn't quite dispel the sensation of an impending breakdown. This, though, the simple joy of being close to someone she liked, of touching his hand and feeling the warmth rising in her cheeks, was at least enough to make it bearable. "What if we split the clothes?" Autumn inquired suddenly, eyes sparkling as she leaned up on tiptoe to suggest more quietly, "You take the pants, I'll take the shirt?" Someone behind the new couple cleared their throat and her grin broadened, the flush suffusing her skin visible even beneath the ruddy remains of that other world.

Smiling, he drew her after him, turning at the doorway to the infirmary room and casting a glance back at the others. Despite the wound in his thigh, and the blood and smoke-stained clothing and skin, and the faint weariness of the adrenaline wearing off, he seemed otherwise untroubled by the privations of the evening, as though the horror had not touched him in any way other than physically. His gaze was clear and bright as it rested on Sean and his family, then moved to Cassie and her mom, before finally alighting on Kat and her father.

"See you all in school." he said by way of farewell, giving them all a nod and a smile. Next to him, Autumn waved a silent goodbye, giving Cassie and Kat a smile before turning and leaving the room at his side.

The two teens walked hand in hand through down the corridor, past the curious glances of the staff and the few sheriff's deputies that were still hanging around, talking quietly over coffee. In the parking lot, they could hear faint wrangling voices as the Jauntsens, some distance away, got into their cars and started off. Jase looked up at the clear evening sky, taking a deep breath, before turning towards Autumn and tugging her closer to him.

"Going to pick me up again?" Autumn grinned, wrapping her arms around his neck, feeling that sweet familiar warmth rise inside her at his proximity. He brushed his lips over hers, his hands sliding around her waist.

"I was thinking you could stand on my feet." he replied, playful mirth in his eyes. "You'd have to press close and hang on tight, of course."

"Oh, no," the girl in his arms lamented cheerfully, not at all dismayed by the prospect as she moved closer, stepping carefully up onto the steel-braced toes of his combat boots. With her pack on and the heavy steel pry bar strapped to it, there weren't many other practical ways she could think of to manage such a feat anyway. "That's only one of my favorite things. I guess I'll just have to deal with it."

Much as he had moments before, Autumn glanced skyward, tearing her gaze reluctantly from the angular symmetry of his features. The Summer Triangle. The Fox. The Arrow. The Eagle. The Swan. The Harp. Only some of the brightest stars were visible, but it was just enough to mark the constellations and asterisms her grandfather had showed her, some of which were charted in pale green stickers on her bedroom ceiling. Her grin softened a little as her eyes roved once more across the clear expanse of sky overhead, a deeper, more velvety hue now than it had been at the hill, and yet in a reversal of circumstance, now also obscured by the mundane lights in the parking lot.

"I'm glad I get to see this again," she admitted quietly, squinting a little into the darkness. "I didn't know if I would. Well, if any of us would, honestly." Her shoulders shifted a little in a shrug, the smile that curved her lips more contemplative now than teasing as she leaned against him.

"There's a curious added beauty to it." Jase's voice was also soft as he followed her gaze up and out into the night. "Logic states that the world is the same in texture and colour, but it seems... more, tonight. Greater, more luminous. The possibility of death, of losing my own existence, seems to heighten everything, make it even more valuable." His eyes returned to her face, lingering on her dirt-and-freckle covered skin and the blue of her eyes - almost indigo in the dim light - framed by that omnipresent tumble of copper and gold. "Everything." he repeated softly as he contemplated her, his hands tightening on her waist and holding her against him as he began to rise into the air.

The ascent wasn't jarring, nor was it gradual. It was a smooth elevator ride straight up, leaving the ground and the lights and the cars and people and the world behind them as they rose into the night sky. Jase turned them slightly as they climbed higher, letting them both see Shelly spread out below them like a carpet of sprinkled lights as he held Autumn close to him, feeling the warmth from her that was more than merely physical.

I'm not standing on the ground, she realized giddily, her grip tightening instinctively on Jase's shoulders as she clung to him. The only thing beneath her feet was his feet, two precariously narrow points of contact through which gravity seemed to stubbornly maintain its grasp on her as the earth fell away. It was almost, almost a dance, a kinetic sort of call-and-response: every movement, every breath and subtle change in his posture registered in her heightened awareness of him and obliged her to match it, and the sense of instability was alternately thrilling and terrifying. It would only take a moment's distraction and she could lose her balance, plunge hundreds of feet back down to the rural town that lay beneath them in a moonlit patchwork quilt of forest and farmland and tiny homes. ...but, flying! the redhead reminded herself, trying desperately not to move too much as she cautiously shifted one arm down to his waist, pressing her cheek against his chest and staring, wide-eyed, at the world as it opened up. And, besides... he promised not to let me fall, right? So... It's fine. Totally fine. Unconvinced, her heart continued to pound at the inside of her rib cage.

"I think I've seen this movie before," Autumn quipped a little breathlessly, grinning as she hazarded a brief glance up at his face- and then quickly back to the starry horizon. If the evening air was cool as they rose just a little closer to those glittering points of light, she never noticed.

He could feel her heart pounding against his, or so he fancied anyway. Jason was keenly aware of Autumn, as always when she was near and especially when they were touching. The curious mixture of strength evident in her grasp and the shift of muscles under her stained hoodie as he held her, and the feminine softness natural to a young woman, was a tantalising tactile complement to the inner warmth she kindled just with a look or a touch. Did she feel it, he wondered? Obviously she felt something for him - that was plain even to his un-intuitive grasp of peopling - but how deeply did she feel? Was he just yet again reading too much into signals, as he had with Marissa: projecting his own desires onto the situation and interpreting every data-point in the most favorable way? Or was there more there, under the honest desire and friendship?

And moreover, wasn't the honest desire and friendship enough? If not, why not? What was this urge he had to possess and be possessed by the girl he held, so similar to the camaraderie he sought in the Fellowship, yet turned up to eleven? A 'place' in someone's life, their place in his... Was this something he should be seeking? Was it even practical or healthy for both of them?

He set the concerns aside, relegating them to a corner of his mind to mull over later. Right now, he was content - even happy - to be once more soaring above the petty concerns of the world with the person he chose.

"Lost son of an alien race raised among humans, with more-than-human powers..." Jason's voice held a note of wry humor as he looked down at the girl nestled against his chest. He smiled as he started them flying in the direction of the Keane home. It wasn't far - certainly not as the crow flew - but he also was not in a great hurry. "I fail to see the connection."

"Mhmm." Autumn tipped her head back slightly, her expression one of bemused skepticism as she peered up at his near-impassive features. He was as much a mystery as ever, with only subtle changes in body language or minute variations in tone suggesting what might, might be going through his mind, but there were times- like right now, she thought- when he seemed to really try. To consciously show how he felt or what he thought, to give people a glimpse of the life beneath the otherwise mirror-smooth surface of that frozen lake. To smile, or frown, or even laugh once in a while. So much so, that-

"Honestly, sometimes I forget," the earnest teen admitted with a little smile of her own, the clear blue of her eyes moving over his face before turning once more to the endless swath of land and sky before them, all silver and violet and deep black velvet scattered with pinpoints of light above and below. "That you're different, I mean. Well," she amended, one shoulder twitching in a shrug as she held him tighter. "I mean, apart from being-able-to-fly different, which, in my opinion, is one of the best kinds. The fact that you can do this whenever you want, can go wherever you want. And, I know Devin can kind of do the same thing, right? But, if he was taking me home, I'd already be home, you know?" She inhaled the cool, pure air, so implausibly clean and revitalizing after the stagnant, rank smell of decay in the world of the Throne and the Tree.

I'd already be home, and I'd have missed this.

"And then..." She exhaled again, slowly, as that thought led inexorably to another. "There're times it's obvious. Like earlier tonight, when Devin was trying to open the portal, and-" Swallowing past the sudden tightness in her throat, she took another deep breath. "And I wasn't sure you were coming. I couldn't tell if you even wanted to."

He was quiet for a few moments, the only sounds either of them heard were the murmuring of the air moving past them as they sailed serenely through the dark sky. She had noticed, then. He had wondered if any of his friends had caught how close he had come to the slipping of his self-control, the near-abandonment to the instinct to stand and deal death until his last heartbeat. Most of them had likely been too busy with their own concerns at the time, he had reasoned. But of course, it stood to reason that she would notice... especially if she was attuned to him as he seemed to be to her.

"I..." he hesitated as her eyes, deep blue and glimmering with the light of the stars above - and perhaps some unexpressed emotion - turned up to his face once more. "It was a near thing." he admitted quietly. "Something deep inside me was telling me I wasn't yet out of resources, was still able to do damage to our enemies. I wanted to stand and fight, an urge as powerful as the draw I feel to you. Something biological, rather than mental." He took a breath, sighing as his arms around her waist tightened slightly.

"And then I told myself I was putting you at risk. You, and the others. That it was conceivable if I failed to retreat, you would stand with me, or try to come and get me, and in so doing would be hurt." He looked down into her upturned face. "That thought, that possibility, mattered more than my desire to fight and kill."

Those wide blue eyes looking up at him grew wider still as Autumn listened, a rush of warmth that had nothing to do with nervousness or altitude creeping slowly up the sides of her throat. Once again, he'd managed to completely subvert her expectations. She'd thought he might admit to getting caught up in the moment, to being tempted by the urgency of the primal drives he'd described before, or even that he might've wanted to test himself, or just deal out bloody vengeance. She'd even considered the unlikely possibility that he might have been thinking of trying to hold off the nightmares on his own while everyone else escaped, but unnecessary self-sacrifice didn't seem to fit with the rational, logical impression given by the stoic young man. Almost anything, as usual, was at least a little bit plausible where the unfathomable workings of the Impenetrable Jason Bannon's mind were concerned, and the fact that he'd put the others, put her ahead of his own interests...

Oh, god. What was she supposed to say to that? Even if she'd had anywhere to go, to turn away from the impossible directness of that unblinking green gaze, there was something in his expression that held her in place as surely as the feel of his arms around her. Something she'd seen when they'd gone camping, when he'd told her how she'd made him feel then. Warm in the cold places. And then, of course, she'd opened her big fat mouth, and said the first thing that had come to mind. ...But, then again, he'd said he wasn't bothered by it, she remembered, teeth catching at her lower lip as his words turned over and over inside her head. He felt drawn to her? Was that just the cognitive empathy he'd described, his way of quantifying attraction? If so, though, why would he have compared it to an urge to kill as many of those things as possible? Were sex and violence just part of the same thing, for him, or was it related to their Shine, somehow?

"I don't think I'd have been the only one to stay behind, in that case, but... Yeah," she murmured, watching the reflection of the moonlight in his eyes.

"You said you..." Pausing, she could feel the heat of the blood suffusing her skin, could almost hear the sound of her own heartbeat over the soft rush of the breeze. If you ask him, what do you think he's going to say? Weaponized. Fucking. Honesty, Autumn. Although, worst case scenario, you could just throw yourself backwards and die, so there's that, her inner voice interjected helpfully. Inhaling, she counted to four, fingers toying idly with the ends of his hair as it fell over her hand. "That you felt drawn to me," she continued after a moment, watching his eyes, the corners of his mouth, the line of his jaw for any changes she could try to interpret through the admittedly weak lens of her current understanding. "That it was like the urge to fight those things. What does that mean?"

"'As powerful as,' not like." he corrected mildly, taking a moment to glance past her at the ground below to ensure they were still on course. "The urge isn't alike in anything except perhaps intensity."

"Right." she answered, still watching his face, his eyes as they returned to her. "So…?" Her doggedness in pursuing the true question made him smile a fraction.

"I am designed, at the genetic level, to be a hunter, a warrior, a killer. It could be argued 'so are humanity', and that is indeed where the drive comes from. Only in the Teulu it is stripped of conscience or fear, and instead becomes... a sort of fulfilling act, almost celebratory." he admitted. "At least, that is how I understand it. So I feel the drive, whenever a challenge is presented, to rise to it. When something presents itself as an enemy, my urge is to exercise dominance over that person or force - to the point of destroying it if it will not submit. You have a fight-or-flight reflex. I just have 'fight'."

He paused, watching her features, trying to gauge her reactions. "There's nuance to it, of course. Friends, family members - they don't trigger so extreme a reaction. And I have spent most of my pubescent life learning to avoid conflict, to control the urge even before I fully understood it." He smiled wryly, a cold expression for a moment. "If that were not the case, there would have been a spate of murders in the school well before now. I've certainly considered such things in the past." He watched her for a moment longer, warmth returning to his eyes. "I'm telling you this, because with all that instinct driving me in a certain direction, the only thing I have to compare it to in terms of power is how you cause me to feel. There are many rational reasons why you are attractive to me, not least of which your physical attractiveness." His emerald gaze roamed her face, lingering on every detail.

"But the draw I describe... it's like all of those sensible, logical reasons come together to form a white hot, searing fire that is beyond logic. It's not just desire, and it's not just friendship. And it just feels right. As natural to me as the other urge we just discussed."

"Oh," Autumn replied simply, blinking up at him as, somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice very much like her own laughed hysterically. She did ask, after all.

And there it was: the unsubtle, unvarnished reminder that he was undeniably dangerous in ways even the other super-powered teens weren't, even if the only real concern Autumn felt for herself was the one to her sanity. A reminder that social shame and fear of punishment wouldn't alter his behavior because they were irrelevant to him. That the only limitations he was willing to accept were the ones he devised for himself. That he had actually considered not just violence, but actual murder... Which meant that, somewhere in the recesses of his mind, was a perfectly preserved memory of the person- or people- he'd thought of killing, and had chosen, for reasons of his own, not to. She frowned a little at the thought, simultaneously trying not to imagine who might have been targeted, and resolving to ask. Eventually. Maybe.

He could have done it, she realized, and would almost certainly have gotten away with it. He was capable. He had no moral compunction against it. He was unnervingly intelligent. ...But he hadn't done it. That was important, wasn't it? Important because he'd told her, important because he could easily have made different choices, important because it seemed to reinforce the idea that even if he really was a dangerous creature who was almost certainly going to be the death of her one day, he wasn't a feral one.

"I... First, okay. At some point, we should probably talk about the whole 'considering murder' thing. Preferably before I'm asked to testify, please," the Effing Girlfriend added, the corners of her mouth curving faintly upward. "Because if I'm gonna date a super-hot angel of death, I need to know about these things. Second-" She hesitated for a moment, then cautiously leaned up toward him, the heat suffusing her skin intensifying as her lips fleetingly brushed his. "Thank you for telling me."

"If humans can rise above their fear and show bravery or kindness, surely I can rise above my instincts and show restraint." Jase murmured into the feather-brush of her lips on his. "Whether dealing with immature fools who have no concept of their actions, or when in a battle to the death with Dark-twisted creatures- It is fitting that I not get carried away by my instincts. Especially if I want to actually live amongst and with humanity. Well..." he smiled faintly, dropping a kiss of his own on her lips, taking advantage of them still being near. "...some of humanity, at any rate.”

"So yes, I worked out some mental exercises - how to do the thing. And, knowing that it could be done, I then decided whether it should be done. After all, they were just rude, crass and ignorant children playing stupid games. Was it my task to clean up the gene pool? I asked myself. And I decided no, it wasn't, however temporarily satisfying it might be to be able to walk down the halls without someone slapping my books out of my hand or pushing Sean into a locker, the greater satisfaction was found in controlling myself and rising beyond them." He cocked his head, his smile widening. "And as serendipity would have it, my restraint has paid off. I am a better creature for not giving in to my instincts, and the world is better off for it also."

"Well, yeah," she agreed, wrestling with the urge to keep asking, to delve deeper into those fathomless and frigid depths when darkness was the last thing she wanted more of today. Later. We can talk about it later. Not yet. Not now. "I'd definitely say it's better all around. To be fair, I might be a little biased, since I kind of enjoy breathing, and also kissing you, and I'm pretty sure at least one of those would be off the table if you'd decided not to show restraint, so..." With another little shrug, the warm-hued redhead dismissed the sensation of rime crystallizing up her spine, banishing thoughts of death and pain for a day when they hadn't seen so much of it already. "I'm glad that you did. That you do, I mean," she corrected herself, the broad curve of her smile widening slightly in response to his. "And, y'know. Will hopefully continue to do so. Although now I have even more questions, so..."

Pausing for a moment, Autumn watched the shadows shifting across his face, resisting the temptation to steal another kiss. A little part of her felt guilty for trying to just enjoy the moment, to be content with the thrill of balancing precariously over her hometown, holding tight to the inscrutable and impossible form of the guy she liked. But hadn't she earned at least that much? Taking a deep, shaky breath, she tried again. "So maybe we could pick up where we left off at the kitchen table, and the campfire? I was thinking maybe this week. Wednesday-ish, if you're not busy?"

"Where we left off from the campfire?" Jase's smile faded, and yet his expression was one of mischief, that ageless gleam of humor evident in his eyes as he pretended to consider her meaning causing Autumn's face to heat up once more. "Oh, you mean our conversation."

"Yes." Autumn remembered that she was a couple of hundred feet up in the air and elbowing her impossible boyfriend could lead to disaster. So instead she squeezed him a little, a pleasant compromise as she smiled up at him. Jase considered her expression, his manner turning pensive - at least so far as she could determine.

"It's a curious place I find myself in." he mused aloud, studying her eyes. "For the first time in my life, I have found a person that I wish to know me, as I wish to know them. Who is warm, and beautiful, and asks good questions and listens to the answers without undue judgement. Who makes me warm in the cold places." The remote-seeming youth let his gaze roam Autumn's features once more, a lover’s caress from his jade eyes. "I don't want to keep anything from you... And yet I am aware of a possibility that, perhaps, you will ask a question to which the answer will drive you away from me." He moistened his lips, looking down at the ground below once more to check their position. "To be honest, I am wondering if perhaps I have already told you too much, if you are already preparing to pull away from me... But if that is so, at least you have known me better than anyone else. There is a satisfaction to that, I think. So yes, we can continue the conversation whenever you wish."

Although the smile lingered on her lips a few moments more, the deep blue of her eyes warmed by the unexpected pleasure of his compliments, Autumn's copper-red brows knitted together in a tiny frown, her dirt-smudged features a mask of perplexed curiosity. She'd expected the teasing, even if she somehow still hadn't developed an immunity to it and perhaps never would, but the rest...? Was he worried that if she knew more about his condition, she wouldn't want to see him anymore? Although she supposed it wasn't really technically a condition, now that they knew more about where he’d come from. And that was the idea, wasn't it? To learn, and understand? To confront what she'd been afraid of?

"Hey," she said after a moment, arms tightening around him instinctively as she dipped her head a little, seeking his eyes with her own. "You know we've only been going out for a couple of days, right? And I thought the plan for this whole dating thing was for you to learn more about relationships, and for me to try to understand you a little better. ...Not counting pheromones or, um... Compatibility," Autumn continued more quietly, and it was her turn to glance at the ground, willing the cool air to draw the heat from her face. "So, you know. Why would I pull away from you, or be driven away from you, when we've barely even started working on that? Besides." Hazarding a glance at his profile again, the expressive young vitakinetic smiled, her nose crinkling as she teased him gently. "You still have to take me to Homecoming. I'm not letting you off the hook that easily."

He nodded, conceding to her logic with a small smile curving his lips. "That's true. Would be a shame to miss out on that." He studied the charming crinkle of her nose as they began their descent now, the Keane house drawing nearer, the lights of the porch and windows beacons of warmth and family and safety in the night that was, perhaps now, a little less scary than it had been yesterday. Dipping his head, his pressed his lips to hers as they came closer to the ground in front of the Keane home, the lingering kiss gentle though still possessing and communicating some quality of the hunger the girl in his arms evoked.

His feet touched down on the ground first, Autumn still standing on them as the kiss continued, even as the barking of the dogs inside the house started to intrude on the pair. Slowly their lips separated, Jase staring into her eyes as reality started to come back to both of them. "You're still amazing." he told Autumn in a low voice, the edges of his eyes crinkling slightly.

"I'm still glad you think so," she replied with a grin, stepping gingerly off his steel-toed boots and sighing at the feel of solid ground beneath her feet once more. "And I meant to say it earlier, but... I'm really, really glad you came back with us." Her smile faded by degrees, leaving behind a glimmer of some bright, liquid emotion in the wide and guileless eyes that shimmered up at him in the amber glow of the porch light. "I'd have missed you." The sound of excited barking grew suddenly louder, and then closer as the door opened behind them, and Autumn drew Jase into one more too-brief kiss before turning to greet the four-footed members of her family. "Hey, guys- Noooo, don't lick me, you don't know where I've been! Mom, call them back!" she cried out plaintively. "Lex, sweetie, I love you, but c'mon. I need a shower."

Disentangling herself from the surging canine bodies, the redhead extended a hand, reaching back toward the tall, glacial-eyed youth whose kisses could spark bonfires. "Come with me?"

"I'd have missed you."

Such a simple statement, with so much feeling underlying it. Jason wasn't sure what emotion glistened in the seas of Autumn's gaze as she'd declared that her world was better with him in it, and had been locked in analysis as the dogs had noisily and enthusiastically greeted the laughing, protesting redhead. He knew that it was genuine, and there was depth to the liquid expressiveness, but the subtleties of nuance and shade were lost on him. He knew only one thing for sure: he thought the same way - glad that she was alive and well, that his world was a richer place for her existence.

And then she gently pushed the excited dogs aside, who reluctantly scampered back over the threshold at a sharp maternal tone of command from within, and Autumn turned to him, hand outstretched in invitation. The moment was captured in his memory - her expression, the outstretched hand as she stood poised against the rectangle of warmth that was the doorway, and beyond the tumble of red-gold curls he could see the concerned Dana, her hazel eyes wide as she regarded the bloodied state of both teens. "Come with me?" Autumn had asked. Was it his over-analytical brain that attached layers of meaning to the situation, the words, everything? Come with me, into the warmth. Did she know, even peripherally, how significant it all seemed to him in that moment? Could she ever know how significant she was?

He hesitated for maybe half a second as these thoughts flashed through his mind, and then nodded simple acceptance to Autumn's request, limping forward and wrapping his long, slender fingers around her hand as he moved to stand next to her, both teens looking as though they had returned from war - which was not far from the truth.

"Dana." he gave his girlfriend's mom a faint smile, inclining his head to the auburn-haired vet as he indicated Autumn with his free hand. "As promised."

Regarding the pair of teenagers with a mixture of relief and worry, the slender woman, still wearing the same clothes from earlier in the day, hesitated at the threshold as tears welled up in her eyes. Seeing the two of them, seeing her daughter bloodied and dishevelled but still undeniably alive, she felt her breath catch in her throat as she stepped back to let them in. Even hearing her voice on the phone earlier hadn't been enough to dispel Dana's worry that something had happened, might still happen before she could hold her again. "Both of you, come on. Come inside," the older woman insisted tremulously, even as her face began to crumple.

"Mom," Autumn breathed as they stepped inside the entryway, but got no farther as a soft, strangled sound escaped Dana's lips and her mother's arms were suddenly around her, tugging her forcibly into a fierce, unyielding hug. The younger redhead returned the embrace one-armed, the fingers of her other hand still entwined with those of the tall, laconic young man next to her. From within, the sound of a chair scraping on the hardwood floor followed by footsteps muffled the anxious whining of the dogs as they milled about uncertainly, and the pretty veterinarian glanced up at Jason over her daughter's shoulder. Thank you, she mouthed silently, her red-rimmed eyes brimming over.

Ian rounded the corner a moment later, and his wife rose, drawing the back of her sleeve across her eyes as she sniffled, still shaking with near-silent sobs. "There's my girl," he muttered in a voice taut with emotion, pulling Autumn close and, heedless of the state of her clothing, squeezing her until she squeaked softly in protest. "Are you hurt? Are you okay?" the distraught man all-but demanded, fear and concern and the faint scent of alcohol radiating off him in waves. Leaning back, her father took her face in his hands, studying the film of faded red grime overlaying her features. "I'm so glad you're home. Thank you," he echoed his wife's unspoken sentiment, glancing briefly up at Jase. "For bringing her back to us."

"I'm fine," Autumn murmured, smiling as she rubbed at her eyes, smudging the dried dirt and blood away from the paler tracks drifting down her cheeks. "I'm okay, really. We're all okay."

"She brought me back too." Jason replied in his quiet, grave fashion to Ian Keane, and though Autumn's parents were perhaps puzzled or curious as to his meaning, the girl with her warm hand still in his clasp understood. Dana studied them both, her initial blinding relief giving way to more conventional concern as she took stock of the ripped and dirty clothing, the scratches, the blood and dirt covering their faces. Moreover, the maternal radar looked for less-obvious signs of distress, and she noted that while her daughter was as expressively emotional as ever, swiping at the tears on her cheeks even as she smiled through them at her parents, the tall lean young man next to her looked... unperturbed. Tired, perhaps, but not at all like someone returning from a life-and-death struggle should behave. No redness around the eyes, no haunted gaze to go with the stained and bloodied features. He was watching Autumn and her family with the air of someone patiently studying a new culture, and the slim, pretty veterinarian was reminded again of that otherness that hung around him.

"Come into the kitchen, you two." she ordered as her composure returned, at least somewhat. Later, she might hug her daughter and weep again. Later, she might just lay awake holding her little girl and vowing never to let go. Right now, though, there was 'momming' to do. As they all moved through in a small knot, Ian still with his arm around Autumn's shoulders, Autumn still drawing Jason after her, Dana did not miss the way her daughters new and baffling boyfriend was favoring one leg. The dark patch around the rent in Jase's pants drew her attention, the white of a bandage showing through the tear, and her eyes widened slightly. "Are you-?"

"It's fine. Aches a bit is all." Jase's voice was calm. "Autumn worked her mojo, and the medical center bandaged it up for good measure." And there it was again - no wincing, no complaints of discomfort, no note of bravado in his voice or 'pain don't hurt' nonsense. The least teenaged teenage boy - scratch that: young man - she'd ever met. He sat on one of the chairs as they all came to the table, his bright green eyes regarding her even as she stared at him.

"It aches a bit," Dana repeated incredulously, then shook her head, eyebrows rising in resignation as she sighed. Had it really only been Saturday that he'd stood in this same kitchen, distant and different and- Her hazel eyes drifted downward, where Autumn's fingers still clutched Jase's under the table. -And demonstrably interested in her daughter? On Friday, they'd been 'just friends.' A day later, they were dating. And then, earlier that afternoon, it had been like watching a physics experiment, with the two of them pairing up, separating, and then drifting back into the other's orbits; not so much inseparable, perhaps, as inevitable.

And now this: strange powers and evil spirits, and who knew what else. Maternal worry warred with Montanan pragmatism as she pulled a canister from the cabinet overhead, preparing herself for what might be yet another uncomfortable conversation. "I suppose I should put some more coffee on. Jason," she continued over her shoulder, turning to empty the cold remnants of an earlier brew into the sink. "You're welcome to make use of the shower upstairs, and I'm sure we can find something for you to wear home, if you like."

"Coffee sounds freaking amazing," Autumn sighed, finally releasing her boyfriend's hand and slipping the straps of her backpack from her shoulders, lowering it to the floor next to her feet. "Shower sounds better, but I can wait a little bit longer." Rubbing her palms across the stained knees of her ruined climbing pants, she shifted restlessly in her chair; it was hard to tell if the twisting, knotted feeling in the pit of her stomach was due to hunger or the beginnings of a long-delayed emotional breakdown. "How's Jay doing?" she asked her parents, willing herself to focus on more immediate concerns. "He's all right. Passed out in the guest room not long after we got home," Ian replied, taking a seat across from the two teenagers and regarding them with a weary expression. "Warden Crocker's on the couch."

"Mmm," Dana agreed, summoning up a faint smile from some hidden reserve of mom-ness. "But he probably won't stay there once he smells the coffee." Glancing at the green-eyed genius from the corner of her eye, she added, "I'd say you could stay the night, since we've already got Nathan and Jacob here anyway, but I'm guessing your dad will want you back."

Jase considered that for a moment, as he likewise shucked his backpack, recalling his father's words and actions at the medical center. "He will." the lean youth nodded affirmatively. "But a shower and a coffee would be great, Dana. Thanks. He brought some clothes down to Marias which I shoved in my pack, so no worry on that score." He gazed at Autumn, his expression curious. "You sure you don't want to shower first?"

I'd like to shower with you- No, bad Autumn! Mom and dad are right there. The thought of wet olive and bronze skin, soap suds and green eyes gleaming was almost enough to change the knotted feeling to something more heated and delightful. It was such a vivid image, helped by the fact she had seen him mostly naked and wet before. Had wrestled with him, play-fighting in the creek as the sun sparkled through the spray of kicked-up water...

"No, you go ahead." The lithe young woman leaned in and kissed his cheek, smiling up at her unlikely and impossible boyfriend. "You'll be efficient and quick - I feel like I'll need to wash myself at least three times over, then stand under the spray well after I'm clean." And possibly cry a little too, she didn't say. "There'd be no hot water left."

"Fair point." Jase smiled faintly back, nodding as he rose to his feet. Dana turned back from the coffee maker as he shouldered his pack once more. "I'll get you a towel and a washcloth." she insisted, accompanying him out of the kitchen. In the hallway, they encountered Nathan, rubbing the back of his neck and yawning as he shambled out of the lounge. At the sight of Jase he stopped short, then glanced at Dana.

"Autumn?"

"She's fine. In the kitchen." Dana smiled, gesturing over her shoulder. "Coffee's on, too." Nathan's smile of relief was broad and genuine, and he nodded to both of them as he passed by. Autumn's mom led Jase upstairs, opening a closet and producing a guest towel for the young man.

"Thanks. I won't be long." Jason nodded as he took the towel and turned towards the bathroom, only to be stopped by a hand on his arm. He looked quizzically at Dana, who abruptly hugged him. It was a quick hug, and perhaps a little awkward due to the fact that his arms were full with the pack and the towel, but it was heartfelt and warm. She smiled a little at his bemused expression and stepped back again, watching as he turned and carried on to the bathroom, then went downstairs to her family.

"So... how'd it go?" Nathan was asking as Dana re-entered the kitchen. "I mean, did you win?"

Did we? the redhead wondered as she leaned over to unlace her boots and grimaced at the scarred, stained leather; like most of what she was wearing, they were probably beyond salvaging. They'd done their job, though, and so had the teens who'd traveled through a wound between worlds to do battle with nightmares made flesh. Even so, she realized, Charlie Cole wouldn't be at school anymore, and neither would Cody Sikes. ...But Tawny and Sophia would. Did that make it even? Was that, on some massive cosmic scale she couldn't fathom, somehow fair? Was that a win?

Autumn took a deep breath as she sat up, inhaling the rich scent of brewing coffee with obvious relish, grounding herself in the present moment. "I think..." she began uncertainly, nudging the heavy-soled footwear off her feet and onto the carpet with a pair of muffled thumps. "Probably, yeah. I mean, we did the thing, right? We all came home. We fought the monsters, we got rid of the bad guy..."

"Well that's good, then, right?" Ian asked, frowning a little at the uncharacteristically pensive expression on his daughter's face.

Nathan nodded gravely, almost imperceptibly. "But?" the warden asked quietly, both men regarding the girl who looked to have been through a war zone as her mother paused in the doorway, listening, then slipped unobtrusively past them to the counter and the coffee maker that burbled softly at the end of its cycle.

"But," she sighed, the lively blue of her gaze turned inward as she slumped back in her seat, sock feet skimming idly back and forth over the rug. The sensory memories- the stench of rot, the screeching of inhuman mouths, the rubbery-slick feeling of whatever had grabbed Cassandra- came rushing back, and the animated young woman shivered bodily as she recalled what Marissa had said about Cody and her own fears at the medical center. "One of those monsters used to be someone from school. I didn't really know him, and he wasn't a good person I guess, but still. He was still a person at one point, you know? Still... human." There was a long moment of silence, the adults in the room slowly processing that this wasn't metaphor, wasn't some poetic description of the way people could go astray and turn down dark and violent roads.

"And we killed him," the sixteen-year-old stated tonelessly. "Whether he was just screwed up, and made bad choices, or whether he really was just sick and twisted from the beginning, he's never coming home. And," she took a deep breath, her voice trembling, "and I know he had to've brought it on himself, and he killed Charlie Cole, and he hurt Sophia and Tawny, and there's no telling what else he would've done if we hadn't stopped him, but I just don't understand how. How did he turn into this- this nightmare thing? Why, if he had a choice, any kind of choice at all, would he do that? How did somebody get so..." She was shaking now, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks, and Dakota whined softly next to her, pressing his nose against her leg. "How did he go so far we couldn't bring him back?" she whispered plaintively, begging the grown-ups around her for some shred of insight.

"Let me help with the coffee," Nathan murmured as Dana started forward, rising from his chair to put a hand on her arm. "I know you're her mom," he said quietly, meeting her desperate gaze with resolve, "and you want to help, but give him a chance, yeah? Girl needs her dad, too."

Ian Keane rubbed the bridge of his nose, then braced his chin in the palm of his hand, fingers splayed awkwardly across his mouth. He'd expected to come home for a few days to spend some time with his family after hearing about the fight at school. He'd expected to come home to the same town, the same wife and daughter he'd left behind the last time. He'd expected sanity. Normalcy. Maybe some of the typical teenage acting-out, sure, but... Not this. Not all these secrets, a child he barely recognized, a boyfriend who could create the illusion of fire in his hand, and crazy talk about ancient evils and fighting honest-to-God monsters. But Autumn... He sighed, the stricken expression on his little girl's face eroding the entrepreneur's composure. Real or not, it was hard to deny that whatever had happened had affected her deeply.

"What would you have done differently?"

Exhaling in a long, shuddering breath, Autumn glanced at her father, then down at the warm, honeyed grain of the table top. "I don't know," she admitted softly, scrubbing the back of her sleeve across her face. "They had to be stopped. Cody and the spirit, I mean. I get that. I do. But when we got there, it seemed like Sophia was changing, too, and we managed to help her. Why her, and not him? Could we have saved him, too, if we'd tried? I don't-" She shook her head, the words catching in her throat as the knot of tension in her stomach twisted up into her chest. "I don't know," she managed, leaning forward to rest her forehead in her hands.

Ian looked at his wife and Nathan, momentarily helpless in the face of his daughter's despair. What to say? What could a man say when his only daughter had come face to face with Evil with a capital E? He could privately deny many things, could dismiss the flame dancing on a boy's hand as illusory whilst ignoring the very real force that had locked him in place when he'd tried to physically pull Autumn away from Jason - A trick of some kind it was a trick like hypnosis that's all - but Autumn's grief, her confusion, was real. He couldn't turn away from that. He slid his arm around her shoulders and drew her into another hug, feeling her turn and bury her face against him as he stroked her rebellious curls.

"Maybe..." he began, then hesitated as he tried to formulate his thoughts. "Maybe because what was wrong with Cody was his own choice? Like..." he looked at the far wall, eyes roaming the fixtures and fittings of the kitchen as he remembered old sermons, talks with priests from back when he'd actually sort of believed in his faith rather than merely performing it as a social exercise. "There's sin, which we fall into backwards because we're dumb, or we're selfish, or we make a mistake. Everyone does that."

“And then there's evil, which is deliberate, and we choose to step into: whether by doing terrible evil things ourselves, or by turning away and doing nothing when other people do them." He shrugged, still stroking his little girl's hair. "I don't know, sweetheart. I really don't. Maybe you could save Sophia because she was just sick, but maybe Cody was more than that. Nathan's told me a little bit about the Darkness. Seems to me it can't - or rather couldn't - make a person evil. It just... showed them the weakness inside, like the Devil in scripture can only tempt people." He sighed, hugging her a touch more tightly. "I'm just glad it's all over now."

Autumn leaned into her father's embrace, closing her eyes as the sharp, spicy-sweet bite of his cologne enveloped her. For a moment she just let herself be held as if she were still a little girl with skinned knees, secure in the knowledge that her dad was the biggest and the strongest in the whole world, and if he said it was okay now, it must be so. If he was there, it was safe. It was a feeling more than a conscious thought, a childish sense that parents were protectors, that wherever they were, bad things couldn't follow. They were the ring of warmth and love keeping the nightmares from her bed, the glow of the porch light that always guided her safely home through the shadows, no matter how far afield she'd wandered. But Autumn wasn't that little girl anymore- not really.

The Dark and what it represented was terrifying in a way that Marissa with her deliberate cruelty, or even Jason in his clinical detachment, were not. They almost certainly could hurt her, but the Dark would, given a chance, and moreover wanted to, and could twist people like Cody into acting on its behalf. Maybe he hadn't realized it at first, and it had just preyed on his fears or insecurities... What if the Dark was the reason people came up with the idea of the Devil in the first place? she wondered, nodding mute agreement against the smooth fabric of Ian's shirt even as she slowly pulled away. If so, it was unlikely that a high school kid in the middle of nowhere was the only one who'd fallen victim to it- or, worse, sought it out willingly. "It'd be nice if it was," she admitted, giving Nathan a wan smile as he set a mug in front of her. "All over, I mean. But-" The redhead hesitated for a moment, reaching for the cream and adding a splash to her coffee.

"But...?" her father inquired, his brow furrowing. Autumn grimaced, stirring sugar into the milky swirls in her cup. She knew that tone, the slight elongation of even that single syllable advising caution.

"There's more to it." Inhaling a slow, steadying breath, she took up the warm mug in both hands and waited for all the adults to take their respective seats at the table, spoons chiming softly against porcelain as they dressed their drinks. "I know if I try to tell you everything right now, I'm going to forget a lot, 'cause it's been kind of a day. But, basically, that, uh, door I mentioned to the other place is still there, and we need to close it and make sure nobody else moves in."

"Mhmm. I see. And, is that all?" Dana peered at her daughter across the table, studying the face that was, in many ways, so like her own- and yet now, with the knowledge of what she could do and what she was dealing with, so very different.

Autumn was quiet for a moment, taking a long, slow sip of coffee as she tried to collect her thoughts. "Well... At some point we also should maybe talk about the fact that some of us have these powers, that Cody possibly isn't the only person who was tempted 'cause this has been going on for a long time, aliens are probably a real thing, there's at least one secret government organization that knows about all this stuff, and there's gonna be a... I guess, a meeting for all our families at the medical center tomorrow evening to get everybody on the same page." Remembering the earlier chaos, and even her own parents' reactions, that didn't seem likely, but maybe things would settle down between now and then. "Hopefully," she added, and then glanced back at her father expectantly. "Also that I still haven't gotten an okay to go to Great Falls with Jase on Friday, and I want to have everybody over for a camping trip this weekend, if that's cool with you guys."

"By 'everybody over for camping' you mean..?" Dana inquired as Autumn's dad just looked at her, clearly at a loss as to where to even start. Mom, on the other hand, had obviously decided to start around the edges of the list their increasingly unpredictable daughter had dumped in their laps. Though maybe Autumn wasn't so much unpredictable as she was simply... growing up. It was the world that had become unpredictable, Dana reflected, and the 'kids' - for want of a better term - were just ahead of the curve in racing to deal with it.

"Those of us who were there tonight." Autumn confirmed, blue eyes looking at her mother earnestly over the rim of the coffee mug. "Summer's over, pretty soon it'll be too cold for camping and anyway, Homecoming is the week after and we need to spend time together that isn't all about the Dark and-"

"Right, hmm." Dana nodded thoughtfully, exchanging a parental look with Ian almost on reflex. "Let’s call that a tentative 'yes', for now, shall we?" Ian stirred slightly, brow furrowing as he sought for a valid reason to protest, but finding none he simply shrugged and nodded. "And Great Falls with Jase - that's a date, right?" Autumn's dad's eyes narrowed slightly as he regarded first Dana, then Autumn.

"Yes." Autumn mumbled into her coffee mug, trying not to blush and only half succeeding. Her father 'hmph'd quietly under his breath, causing Dana to restrain a smile. "He asked me on Sunday when he brought me home." She peered at her father in mute appeal.

"I don't see any reason why not..." Dana looked at Ian, who despite realising he was outnumbered was not going to surrender easily. There was paternal duty and honor to be satisfied here.

"Where's he taking you?"

"Dinner and a movie." Jason said calmly from the doorway as he stepped in from the hall, even more noiseless than usual due to his boots being carried in one hand. "Nothing too exotic." he went on as Dana started, Ian practically jumped out of his chair, and Autumn - despite her own urge to start - tried not to laugh at the sight of other people experiencing her boyfriend's idiosyncracies. His soiled clothing tucked away in his pack, Jase was wearing the grey sweats and white tee his dad had brought down to the Marias Medical Center. His hair was towel-dry, the still-damp ends brushing his neck as the lean youth's brilliant pale gaze studied the Keanes before bending to set his boots by the door. "Shower's free." he added, giving Autumn that faint smile that was both warm and warming.

She swallowed the mouthful of coffee by reflex alone, neither the temperature nor the flavor of the drink fully registering. Her eyes widened slightly as she took in the sight of the green eyed pyrokinetic, the dark pools of her pupils following suit as flames every bit as palpable as the ones he conjured licked up the sides of her face.

"Autumn?" Ian frowned, still a little unsettled by the new boyfriend's sudden appearance- a feeling not diminished by the expression on his teenage daughter's visibly rosy features.

Talking with her family about what had happened, about what it might mean, had put Jason's out-of-sight showering completely out of mind, but... Autumn's fingers twitched with the sudden, almost overwhelming urge to run them through the ends of his hair, and the lightweight cotton shirt clung to his torso in a way that seemed to highlight the leanness, the angularity of his form, highlighting the lingering summer-bronze hue of the flesh beneath.

"Autumn?" Her father tried again, exasperation mounting as Nathan leaned down to pet a pair of dogs looking for attention and Dana- eyebrows raised- took a long drink from her mug to conceal the twitch of her lips. She'd seen this before, and despite her feelings on the matter, seeing her estranged husband flustered so obviously by adolescent hormones was almost enough to make her forget her own unease. "Oh, for crying out loud," he sighed, passing a hand over his face.

Irresistibly, her gaze was drawn from the dangerous green-gold of his eyes downward, and for a long, quiet moment the red-cheeked redhead wished that she shared some of his telekinetic gift. If she could touch him, even from across the room... And then her eyes moved lower, and the warm mug seemed suddenly cool in her hands. Oh god. Why does he have to be wearing-

"Autumn!" Blinking, she jerked as if startled, turning instinctively toward the sound of her dad's voice, but Ian merely scowled, rubbing the bridge of his nose. There was no way he was leaving the two of them alone. Not in Great Falls, not in Shelly- hell, not even in his own living room.

"What?" she replied, abashed and a little breathless as she averted her eyes, studying... Well, pretty much anything except her boyfriend's face, although she could imagine the suggestion of not-quite-mocking amusement lurking in those glacial jade depths. "Sorry, I was just, um. Thinking."

"Obviously." Ian sighed for neither the first nor the last time, shaking his head. "Right. Were you going to get cleaned up, then?"

Pursing her lips, Autumn took another tentative sip of coffee, peering intently at the whorls of ivory and rich brown swirling therein. It sounded like a good idea, but once she was in there on her own, it might be a while before she felt like coming out again, what with the inevitable crying and being sick and prolonged scrubbing, followed by more crying, and then hopefully getting high enough to sleep through the night. "Not right now, no. I want to, but I don't think I'll be good company afterward." Hazarding a smile at her parents, she shifted uncomfortably in her seat as the soft percussion of her heels hitting the chair frame filled the brief moment of quiet that followed.

Dana reached over and placed her hand on top of her daughter's, mute understanding in the older redhead's gaze, as Ian laid a hand on Autumn's shoulder and squeezed gently. Her mom looked up at the still-standing Bannon and gave him a weary smile. "Coffee, Jase?" she asked, drawing back her hand and making as if to rise.

"I can get it." It was a soft-spoken statement, rather than a polite offer. Indeed, he was already setting his pack down by his boots and moving to sit by Autumn as the coffee pot floated from its cradle, a mug sliding into place under it as the black brew started to pour. Ian made a muted sound of disbelief, his eyes widening at yet another hard-to-dismiss intrusion of the unreal into his world. Dana's eyebrows rose as she glanced over her shoulder, but she seemed less upset and more intrigued as the coffee mug, now full, drifted past her to Jason's outstretched hand.

"So you can." she agreed after a moment to recover her aplomb. She smiled at him, shaking her head slightly as he took a sip of the unadorned liquid in the mug. "That's a handy trick. Lord knows I could do with extra sets of hands." 

"How did you do that?!" Ian demanded, finally finding his voice.

"I can feel, as if touching, any object around me." Jase said calmly. "A kinetic awareness. And then I just reach out and move the object, feeding it kinetic energy."

"Just like that." Autumn's father looked like he was wavering between doubt and amazement. Jason glanced at him, his head tilting slightly.

"It wasn't always that easy or smooth, no. In the beginning I could only move small objects, and without much finesse. I practiced a lot." He took another sip of coffee, his free hand resting next to Autumn's on the table. "Now I can lift my father's pickup or a tractor without any real effort. I'm not exactly certain how much mass I can move, but I would assume it's sizeable."

"And the fire?" Dana asked, remembering the flickering, dancing golden flame on the boy's palm.

"Also kinetic energy, but at applied at a molecular or atomic level. Thermal excitation or subtraction." He lifted his free hand, palm up. Shimmering motes of began to coalesce from the air as beads of frozen moisture came together, forming a delicate ice sculpture of a stemmed rose. "So I can heat things up, or cool them down. The first trick I ever did to open Autumn's eyes was to pull ice cubes from running tap water." He smiled a little more at Ian as he showed them the finished flower. "She reacted a lot like you are now." He glanced at Dana, then held out the frost-rose to her. "For my hostess, for your kindness."

Hesitantly, Autumn's mom reached out and took the rose, noting the sparkle of frost along the edges of the perfectly formed sculpture as Jase placed it in her palm. It was cold, but not uncomfortably so, and seemed to show no inclination to melt as it shimmered in her fingers.

Though rarely of the same mind on any subject, for a brief moment following Jase's display both father and daughter shared a mutual sentiment, expressed as it was in different ways as they considered their respective companions: "Should I be jealous?" Ian, eyes narrowed as he struggled to make sense of what he was seeing, took in his wife's expression of rapt wonder and conceded that perhaps the flame he'd seen had not been so illusory after all. Autumn, nose crinkling with impish humor, playfully flicked Jason's forearm with the backs of her fingers. "You know she's married," the red-haired girl commented wryly, glancing at her boyfriend over the rim of her mug before taking a sip of coffee.

"Of course she is. Just my luck, alas, that I am too late." Jase's gaze was filled with that ageless mirth that so characterised his sense of humor. A faint smile dimpled his cheek. "So I'm practicing for when you're her age."

Despite himself Ian snorted aloud, Dana pressed her lips together to stifle her amusement, and Autumn... had just drunk a mouthful of coffee before his impeccably-timed retort. There'd been that tiny, almost infinitesimal pause, and she should have known right then that she was in trouble. Mother. Fucker. she swore internally, her glare a silent promise of vengeance the instant before she broke. Caught helplessly between drinking and laughing, the redhead choked and spluttered furiously for several seconds- a relatively brief span of time that nevertheless felt like an eternity in which she struggled to decide whether she'd die herself or strangle Jason right there at the kitchen table. "You suck," was all she managed through the hoarse combination of mirth and misery.

"Well," Nathan interjected, keeping a bemused eye on his surrogate niece. "Nothing wrong with appreciating older women, after all. Having more experienced hands on the tiller."

"Nathaniel Crocker!" Dana hissed, looking up from her admiration of the glittering rime-rose to shoot her childhood friend a look that could've peeled the paint from the wall behind him, but Autumn just groaned and dropped her forehead into the crook of her arm as it lay on the table, shoulders shaking with muffled laughter. She literally couldn't even, at this point, after everything that'd happened that day. Just... couldn't. Hearing such a cheesy line from Jase has been bad enough, but from Nathan? Seriously? It was no wonder none of the myriad of gods she'd half-jokingly prayed to had ignored her pleas for death- clearly, they all hated her.

"Okay," she gasped, panting softly as she lifted her head to peer with mock-sternness at her utterly, completely impossible boyfriend. "Fine. If she gets ice flowers, I want to fly up Granite Peak this winter. I'm even better practice for Future Autumn than she is."

"Wait, wait, wait," Ian interrupted, shaking his head. "First, that's the other side of the state, and we haven't even gotten to this date in Great Falls yet. Second, sweetheart, I know you're a confident climber, but that's entirely too dangerous, even for professionals, and especially in winter. Third-" He paused, eyes narrowing again slightly as he absorbed the import of her words. "Did you say 'fly?'"

"Mmhmm." Autumn nodded as she pointed a finger at Jason whilst taking a restorative sip of her coffee. The Effing Boyfriend, eyes still gleaming with their silent, but no less expressive version of laughter, nodded in turn as the three adults stared at him.

"She did. She said 'fly'." he stated with a slight shrug, then smiled faintly as he looked into Autumn's sparkling gaze. "And sure, I see no reason not to fly up there."

"Now, hold on just one minute!" Ian protested, torn between disbelief and paternal protectiveness. "You can fly? Come on." He looked from his daughter to the lean, inscrutable young man, then at Dana and Nathan too, before returning his stare to the two teens. "Tell me you're joking."

"Not about this." Jason replied calmly, finishing the last of his mug of coffee. "It's how we got home tonight, in fact. Autumn enjoys it, and I thought it would be a welcome distraction for her." The lithe young redhead beamed at him then, ignoring the faint pinkening of her cheeks, and narrowly avoided the urge to curl her hand around the back of his neck and pull him in for a kiss. As it was, she settled for simply lacing her fingers through his and squeezing warmly as she looked at her parents and 'uncle'.

"See? Flying." she emphasised. "Is utterly fu- flipping awesome, by the way."

"But is it safe?" Ian persisted. "What if you-?"

"As safe as driving, if not safer." Jase asserted with quiet authority. "The only danger is if I lose consciousness, which would be equally dangerous in a car. There's no other road users to worry about, no mechanical failure to fear. I fly as easily as I walk - a simple act of will and..." he mimed soaring upwards with his hand.

"Right." Ian subsided, plainly lost in thought as he absorbed all this. Jason glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall, and giving Autumn's hand a gentle squeeze began to stand.

"I should probably go. We still need to go to school tomorrow, and my dad will need to talk with me as well." He moved to the door and thrust his feet into his unlaced boots, stamping them down a couple times to get them properly seated. Autumn and her family, Nathan included, all got up, mugs of coffee in hand, and came to see him off. Handshakes from the menfolk, a brief hug from Dana, and then Jase was walking down the porch steps beside Autumn as the adults remained up on the deck. Turning to her in the warm golden light that spilled out from the doorway and windows of her home, Jase studied that upturned face, marking each freckle, each glimmer in the deep blue eyes.

"Are you going to be okay?" he asked softly, his eyes intent on her expression.

"It's nothing a goodnight kiss and a few years of therapy can't fix." The smile as Autumn gazed up at him, his features limned in amber light and violet shadow, broadened from a facetious quirk of her lips to something warmer and altogether more genuine. "Yeah," she conceded, succumbing to her earlier temptation and reached up to thread her fingertips through the tousled ends of his hair. "I will be. Not today, and probably not tomorrow, but I will be. Just have to keep moving forward." It seemed a little strange, both that he'd asked and that she'd felt compelled to reassure him- mostly, she realized, because Jason Bannon wasn't the type to need reassurance. But maybe, like when he'd talked to her earlier about Devin, it was his way of peopling in a way she could understand. A kind of consideration on his part.

The thought sent a ripple of something that felt the way honey tasted shimmering through her limbs, something she couldn’t definitively pin down; if he was making that effort, then he must've believed she was important enough to merit it, right? And... even if she couldn't know for sure whether that was true or what it meant, the fact that he cared- because what else could she call it but a kind of caring?- was like the warm glow of a campfire on a dark night.

"I'll text you in the morning," she murmured, her fingers sliding through the dark strands at the nape of Jase's neck as she rose up on tiptoe to brush her still-smiling lips briefly across his. That same unknown warm sweetness, spiced with the smoldering heat of more easily identifiable wants, swam languidly along her nerve endings, sparking them into pinpoints of incandescent life, and she felt herself leaning into it, into him, into that sensation of embers flaring- You'll see him tomorrow, Autumn. Seriously. Don't start climbing him in front of your parents, at least, an inner voice reminded her as someone's shoes scuffed at the wooden porch behind them. Well, not again, anyway.

"See you tomorrow," the redhead breathed, withdrawing just enough to press her forehead to his, the shadowed blue of her eyes meeting the shimmering jade depths gazing back at her. "Bring coffee?" From this close, the faint, almost microscopic smile that answered her was easy to read, and she leaned in for another quick kiss before stepping back.

"See you tomorrow," Jason echoed, that hint of warmth lingering in his expression until the moment he glanced upward, and with a sudden rush of air that tousled her already dishevelled curls, vanished into the night. Her sock feet thumped softly up the steps to the front door, and Autumn paused, peering expectantly up at her father. Transfixed, the weary realtor stared up at the darkness overhead, beyond the reach of the porch lights that bathed them in that soft amber glow.

"He really wasn't joking," the awestruck entrepreneur muttered, as Dana and Nathan blinked at each other in astonishment.

"Nope. He really wasn't," his daughter affirmed simply, before heading inside for that long-awaited shower. Now, the tension coiling in her abdomen, pulsing threateningly behind her eyes demanded, and she agreed; all her not-yets were spent.

Nearly an hour later, when all the hot water was, indeed, exhausted- and so, for that matter, was she- Autumn sat between her parents on the couch, Nathan in the recliner just a few feet away. Dressed in the most comfortable, well-worn pajamas she owned, the young woman sipped her last mug of coffee for the day, and did her best to quietly fill them in about what had happened, how she'd gotten involved, and what she knew about where it started. For the most part, Dana contented herself with holding Autumn close and letting her daughter do the talking, interrupting occasionally to ask a clarifying question, while Ian was more visibly troubled by what he'd seen and heard that day. Most of the details, like who was part of the Fellowship, could be left for the meeting with everyone else. Thankfully, the emotionally drained redhead admitted openly, that would also mean she didn't have to "out" anyone or go around getting permission from the other teens in order to keep her promise to her mother.

Thankfully, too, after a cursory description of what she was capable of in the wake of Jason's earlier demonstrations, her father declined a similar show from her. Manipulating kinetic energy was one thing, after all- manipulating living tissue to repair, alter, or destroy it seemed to him, somehow, more unsettling on the whole. That Jacob was alive, and simply resting down the hall, was sufficient testament to the fact that it worked, despite a lifetime of adamant insistence that everything must have a reasonable explanation, and nothing like this could possibly be real.

It was late when she finally crawled into the safe haven of her treehouse, the rest of the Keane household in fitful slumber. Making yet another mental note that she needed to finish it ASAP, Autumn wrapped herself in the comforting weight of her blanket, cocooned herself in the mind-numbing relaxation of a well-packed pipe, and banished thoughts of nightmare worlds and near-death experiences and existential crises for some near-future version of herself to address. If anyone in the house happened to glance out a window that night and take note of the tendrils of smoke winding away from her half-finished retreat in the yard, not a word was spoken; when her mother checked in much later, unable to sleep, she found her little girl bundled up in bed, nightlight on.

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Cassie and her mother spent the drive home in a silence that couldn't decide if it was tense or relaxed. There was little, if any, rancor between between mother and daughter for once, but Teresa's unasked questions were pressing out against the air. Of those questions, one loomed over the others, casting a long, deep shadow.

In the Allen's driveway, before they got out of the car, she couldn't hold it in any longer.

"Cass?" Teresa said softly.

Her daughter paused, the passenger side door unlatched but not quite open yet, and looked back.

"You..." For a second she couldn't put it into words. "When you were telling me about...about all this stuff before, at the park...you mentioned something other than monsters and dark universes and...all that." Teresa took a deep breath. "Your dad."

And Cassandra nodded slowly. She didn't say anything yet, feeling that her mom wasn't done just yet.

"He's alive."

After waiting a moment, Cass nodded again.

Teresa closed her eyes, and her fingers tightened around the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white. It felt as if a storm was back...something she thought she'd lived through, but had only ever found the eye of. And now it was back, hurricane winds in her mind, tearing her apart.

Cassandra reached over to squeeze her mother's shoulder. "We're going to get him, mom. We're going to find him, pull him out of there, and undo whatever they did to him. After what we just did, that's...they don't stand a chance. We know what we're doing now. Really know."

With a choked sob, Teresa took hold of Cassie's hand and squeezed it hard. "Promise me, only if you can keep yourselves safe...and only if you can keep him safe," she managed. "Don't rush into it. Be smart. I won't...I can't trade you for him. Okay?"

Frantically nodding, Cass said, "Yeah, of course. We're not going to be stupid about it. I promise. I'll use my power to find him, then Devin can bring Jason and Ch..." She cut off, realizing belatedly that Charlie wouldn't be going to back Jase up. Never again. "...Autumn," she corrected herself, feeling a stab open up again. "Or whoever. We'll work out the details. It'll be fine. We'll get him back."

Teresa nodded and wiped at her eyes, then opened her own door and went with Cassandra into the garage as the big door whirred and clanged shut behind them. They were maybe three steps into the house before the other questions started to spill out.

"...so, I'm really unclear about this tree thing? What kind of tree WAS it?"

Unseen to her mother, Cassie rolled her eyes and smiled. It was going to be a long night.

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Josh cleared his throat, pulling Kat out of her reverie. She had been staring at everything -or nothing- for a while now. At the small slice of pizza, at the wall, at her hands, at her friends, at her Dad, at the corridor tiles, at the parking lot, at the car, at the passenger seat, at the moving scenery behind the window. The small teen turned to her father in the driver's seat. "What is it?"

"I said," he replied with an amused grin, "we can't tell Tess what actually happened. Official story is, you guys tracked down a dangerous kidnapper. We stick to that story."

That answered the question she'd asked fifteen minutes ago. She noticed how he spoke for the both of them. "Okay..." She didn't really like the idea of concealing the truth to Tess, whom she was beginning to consider as a good friend. But it wasn't so much lying as telling a half-truth, was it? "How am I gonna explain my Disney princess looks, then?"

Her father huffed, focused on the road. They were almost arrived, his eyes already scanning the street for the modest gate in front of his house. "Mud." He said, laconic. "Shower, ASAP." He added a moment after, reversing gear to park the car.

---------------------

It was all rushing back to her as she cowered under the boiling hot stream of water pouring out of the shower, her face pressed against her knees. Flashes of morbid horror, burning pains, ghastly, uneasy feelings, bygone echoes of the aberrant Blight bearing down on her brazen Radiant bulwark, salted tears over disillusioned laughter mixed with her sobs. Although it was fine. Nobody was here to see her. Just her, alone in the shower, letting go. Alive. The strange mixture of feelings washed down the drain, along with the remnants of what caused them to bubble up inside her. Filth made way to cleanliness.

Kat certainly didn't have it as bad as most of her friends, physically speaking, that is. Bruises all over the place, mainly caused by the impact with whatever sent her flying, and her crashing to the bloody, dirty, flesh-y and bone-y ground. All her muscles aching from the tension, the stress, the exertion. And that nasty cut on her jaw. Mentally speaking, it was something else entirely. She couldn't, wouldn't, didn't want to come any close to whatever the Dark was, anymore. There was nothing and so much more to it.

---------------------

Kat could hear Tessa's worried voice, pressing her boyfriend with questions, as she came down the stairs in clean, ample clothes, her socks softly brushing against the wooden floor. Standing in the frame of the kitchen door, she cleared her throat, two pairs of eyes converging on her. And suddenly Tessa's arms were around her. Josh's eyes narrowed on the cut to her jaw as she held her bandage high. "I'm gonna need a new one."

"You had me worried you know. Suddenly, there was a killer out there-"

"I'm fine!"

"And I couldn't find you or Josh-"

"Everything's alright."

"What's that on your cheek?"

"T'is but a flesh wound."

"What happened?"

"..."

"..."

"I'm hungry."

Gargl

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras

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Cup of coffee held absently in his hands, Sean sat silent and sullen with ache and regret on one of the examination tables, one foot swinging idly to thump lightly against the base. The shame of the worry and anger he had caused his parents still stung, all the more that he couldn't promise them or himself that he wouldn't do it again. That he was doing it right now. A tremble rippled up the fingers of his right hand towards his elbow and before it made his cup of coffee shake, he let it go, shifting slightly to sit on his hand.

He wasn't sure what he thought about the Jauntsens' father. Carl Jauntsen had taken the correction about his gender rather easily, surprised but not much issue of it, unlike most in Montana in Sean's experience. Misti Jauntsen on the other hand... Like most of the guys at Shelly High, he had considered the Jauntsens' mother just about the hottest member of the faculty. Not anymore after the display he just witnessed. Weeell, Devin's mom's a bitch, she's a big fat bitch, she's the biggest bitch in the whole wide world... Okay, she's far from big and fat, but she's still a bitch, and explains a lot 'bout the Jauntsens.

As concerned parents and their children began leaving, Carolyn Cassidy turned her eyes from her son to the sophisticated woman who appeared to know a lot and had offered to explain nothing, a frown coming to her lips. "I would like to speak with Dr. Cook, if that is possible."

Annette just shook her head, smiling faintly with disapproval.

Carolyn harrumphed. I don't think I like that woman. "If you could see about arranging authorization for that, it would be much appreciated, Ms. Giles." Carolyn gathered her husband and children with a glance, and started collected the supplies they had brought that hadn't been used. "And I suppose we should be getting on our way as well." Her tone turned as wry as her expression. "It's still a school night."

Sean hopped off the table, stifled a groan with a stretch, then helped his sister and parents with the things they had brought. "Er, I still have to collect my car..."

~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~

Jack Cassidy parked his truck near the Old Town Hall. Sean climbed out, but when Laurie went to follow him, Carolyn stopped her, reaching back to place a hand on her forearm. "You stay with Dad, honey. I'll ride with Sean. He hasn't even taken his mother out in his new vehicle yet." 

Jack gave his a questioning look, nodding towards his son, who stood a ways away, hands shoved in the front pockets of his hoodie as he stared at the dilapidated Town Hall. Carolyn shook her head, giving him a wan smile before leaning to brush his shoulder with her lips, then got out to join Sean. Sean gave a start when his mom stepped up in line with him, grunting at his own surprise, then led her towards his Grand Cherokee, looking more black than green in the gloom.

They were quiet as they followed Jack's Ford F-250 by several cars length back to the Cassidy residence. Carolyn glanced at her son as he drove with an assurance that belied his experience, noticing the rust of dry blood behind his ear and down part of his neck. She reached out to brush off the flaking blood, her eyes growing sad when Sean flinched away from her touch. Some of her anger towards her son abated. Her son had demonstrated his abilities to her and Jack and Laurie - some of them at least - days ago, told them much of what was going on, if not, evidently, everything. Obviously, others knew, but finding it out personally had made everything her son had said and shown that much more real to her and Jack, and made their concern and fear for him that much more acute.

"Was it bad, Sean?" Carolyn asked gently. "I'd like you to tell me what you can. I'll share with Laurie and dad so you don't have to again."

Sean's jaw tightened stubbornly, eyes tightening in the way they always did when he refused to cry and Carolyn didn't push it. With his issues, she and Jack had given their middle child as much space as they could. She could only imagine how bad it was. 

"Yeah..." Sean finally ground out, his high voice hoarse as he stared straight ahead, barely seeing his dad's truck. "It was a nightmare. Really, a nightmare, but real."

"Tell me. You don't have to hold onto it alone."

Sean gave his mother a quick glance and the sheer sympathy and empathy on her face almost broke him. The anger was still there, but the understanding was far stronger. "Okay."

He told her. The place beyond this place, the place of blood and bone, terror and misery. The thing Cody had become, the creatures borne of that place. He had told her about The Dark, but it had been a nebulous thing. This was more concrete, visceral. They had won, but the wound was still there. That they would have to head into danger once more to try and seal the wound between worlds, or at least help it heal. And this time, he would tell her when he went, despite the worry it would cause his mother, if she insisted. She did. About the Aeon Society, though that was little enough, and the splinter group that Dr. Cook had been part of, if perhaps unwittingly, or unware of to what degree.

Sean still couldn't bring himself to tell his mother just how bad his condition was though, and the other reason he needed to go to Site B. He knew his parents sometimes blamed themselves for his condition, though they and he knew it was in no way their fault. If he told them it progression would lead to an early death, they'd blame themselves even more. It was one thing to tell them he was heading into mortal danger, it was another to tell them regardless of what he did, mortality was coming for him early.

By the time he finished talking, he'd been parked at home, idling in the driveway, his dad and sister already inside the house after watching him and his mother for a long moment. Carolyn was quiet for a long time, watching her son, trying to figure out what to say. Finally, she leaned over and hugged. Sean stiffened at first, then relaxed into the embrace, hugging his mother back.

"Don't think you're off the hook, Sean. We're all still figuring out what all this... this is, what it means." Carolyn sat back, giving her son's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "But no matter what danger you and your friends throw yourselves in, we, your dad and I, we want to know. We'll worry, I can't promise we won't try to talk you out of it, but we'd rather know than not, okay." She waited with motherly patience until Sean relented with a reluctant nod. "Do you want to stay in the house tonight?"

She didn't turn her head away from Sean, but her eyes flicked towards the Barn. The Barn, dark at the moment, that Sean lived in as his own apartment, even if it lacked a few amenities. For just a moment, Sean was sorely tempted, but he refused to bow to the fear he still felt from the encounter with Not-Cody and the Tree and the other residents of the Otherside. He gave his mother a tight smile and an awkward shrug. "No. It's okay, I'll be fine. I... I just need some time alone and a shower so bad. I'll pop in to grab something to eat though."

"Okay, hon." Still disappointed, Carolyn understood. She opened the door to the Grand Cherokee. "I'll speak to your Dad and Laurie."

Carolyn slipped out the SUV and headed toward the house, hiding wiping her eyes from her son. Sean stayed in the car for a while longer, taking several deep breaths, trying to calm himself, before he ease his vehicle over to the gravel driveway by the Barn. He turned the key in the ignition, turning off the vehicle, and holding them tightly in his hand, he shuffled to the place he considered his. As he opened the door to the Barn, he couldn't help himself but bring up the psionic potential for lasers and tasers, shifting his eyesight to perceive parts of the spectrum beyond human capability, just in case anything lurked in the gloom.

The only thing in the Barn was Turing, his grey cat, his eyes reflective orbs up in the loft where Sean's bed was. Turing let out a plaintive meow and Sean released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Shitfuck, get a hold of yourself, Sean."

With a thought, the Barn came alive with light and Sean entered his room. He took off his filthy boots, new no longer, leaving them by the door, then hopped around as he pulled off his socks. He wasn't even going to try and save them and just threw them in the trash. Despite Autumn's much appreciated ministrations, he still ached, and slowly shrugged out of his hoodie, shirt, and pants as he trudged towards the small bathroom that had been added last year. He was sore enough, that he hadn't so much difficulty taking off his bra since he'd first started wearing one.

He stared at himself in the bathroom mirror, trying to see if there were any visible signs of what he'd endured. Specks and spatters of blood and gore here and there that his earlier efforts at grooming hadn't caught. A few bruises that were already yellowing thanks to Autumn, but not gashes, slashes, or other wounds. His eyes were still wide, showing white all the way around. For some reason, he thought he'd look older. He felt older, but his face was still the pretty girl's face he'd been inflicted with, that he'd grown accustomed to as his.

He stripped off his underwear and slumped into the modest shower stall. He hissed at the bite of cold water hit his head and back, turning into a moaning sigh as the water warmed up, hot as he could bear it. It was barely enough as he scrubbed vigorously, not sure if he'd ever get the taint of that Place off. He shook, he trembled, slamming a palm against the tiles, then went back to scrubbing. They'd won, for fuck's sake. They'd defeated Cody, saved the girls, and now, he was breaking down?! 

Under the hot shower easing his aches, he couldn't feel the tears mixing with the water.

~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~

Sean went inside the main house just to grab a hefty sandwich before retreating to the Barn. He ate mechanically, barely tasting the smoked meat and sweet mustard and pickles, eating out of remote necessity than any desire. The aches permeating his muscles and tendons had lessened, replaced by flesh still stinging from the heat of the shower and the harshness of his scrubbing. He didn't know what to do with himself. He felt both exhausted beyond belief and wired to the gills. ReGenesis was being released at midnight - it should have been exciting, thrilling, but all it felt at the moment was a chore he couldn't be bothered with right now.

After pacing for a while, then staring blankly at the steam page for ReGenesis, Sean gave up and stumbled up the steep steps to the loft and fell into bed, tucking himself tightly into the blankets, though he didn't expect he'd fall asleep anytime soon.

He was wrong.

~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~

He was running, always running, running away. But the harder he ran, but more he struggled, the slower he went, the ground turning to mud, turning to blood. He sunk to his ankles, knees, waist, was wading through sickly sweet and warm pudding-like blood, feeling weaker with every slurping step he took. There was a tremendous weight on his chest, something rasping against his smooth chin, like someone taking a file to his face-

Sean woke up with a gasp, hair and nightshirt soaked with sweat, and sitting up, felt something tumble from his chest to his lap. One hand on the mattress, the other scratching through his matted hair, he looked down. Passed his breasts, Turing looked up at him with what seemed like reproach. He scritched him under the chin, Turing leaning hard into his fingers and purring. Sean bit down on a giggle. Nightmares waking and sleeping. Great. He looked over at the clock. 2:47am. Wonderful.

There was no way he was going back to sleep. He collected his phone, shifted Turing to his shoulder, and carefully navigated the stairs back down to the main floor of the Barn. He started a pot of coffee, splashed his face and hair with some cold water, changed shirts, then settled on the couch, absently petting his cat as he watched the metrics on ReGenesis, more out of professional duty than any real desire. He had wanted to be awake for the first sale. ReGenesis was up to 18, now 19, units sold and he could barely care. It was just something to watch instead of the nightmares hounding him waking and sleeping.

It was going to be a long night and even longer day.

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Episode 6 is now closed.  Well done all!

The official story is that an unnamed roving serial killer is responsible for the death of Charlie, the disappearance of Cody, and the kidnapping of the two girls.   Local law enforcement and the FBI 'know' that the plucky (tm) teens of the Fellowship tracked down their friends, confronted the serial killer and, in a harrowing life or death battle, killed him in self defense whilst trying to rescue Sophia and Tawny.

Branch 9 are pulling every string they have to keep the FBI and other authorities from interfering the kids - mostly by implying semi-truthfully that the process of debriefing, interviewing and counselling is already underway.  Branch 9 naturally have actual FBI agents and high-ups amongst their number, so it's pretty easy to fudge the system.  Still, there's always a loose thread for some Mulder or Scully to perhaps chase later... :D 

So far as local rumor goes - Shelly is a small town.  Some of the official story will get out, through deputies and medical personnel perhaps.  Expect the kids to be figures of quiet interest, and perhaps a reporter or two might catch a sniff of a story and come around.

Everyone is now free to post in the Fallout story thread.  XP is as follows for Acts 2 and 3 of the Episode:

Spoiler

Act 2: Carousel

+4 XP for Devin
+4 XP for Marissa
+3 XP for Cassandra
+4 XP for Autumn
+4 XP for Jason.
+2 XP for Kat  (More participation needed.  You only reacted to ST events rather than engaging proactively)
+3 XP for Cade
+3 XP for Sean


Act 3:  Into The Dark (plus aftermath)

+6 XP for Devin
+6 XP for Marissa
+5 XP for Cassandra
+6 XP for Autumn
+6 XP for Jason
+5 XP for Kat
+5 XP for Cade
+5 XP for Sean

As always, DM me if you feel Aspirations have been satisfied or wish to discuss the awards.

 

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