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Ep. VI Intermission: Fallout

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"Give," she said deadpan, opening and closing her hand expectantly.  "I'll pay you back, swear, I'm just starving right now."  If Cade had only known how serious she was being, he would've rummaged faster.  She'd tore through two plates of scrambled eggs, toast, and hash browns just a couple hours ago and her stomach was churning like she'd gone days without food and was standing downwind of a pizzeria without a penny to her name.

While he dug for the Snickers she allowed herself a momentary weakness to smile at how sweet he was the moment he wasn't paying her any mind.  She collected herself as he straightened and handed her the candy bar.  "Thanks," she said, almost playfully.  "I uh, have to get to," the bell rung loudly in the hall and she smiled, looking down as it interrupted her.  As it finished she continued.  "Class, yeah.  Um, see you later, okay?  Text me, just don't get your phone taken away or I laugh at you."

"Get to class.  Shoo."  She tippie-toed up and pecked him on the cheek, before stepping into her own classroom.

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"Yeah, I'll see you at lunch."  Cade smiled, and turned to leave, noticing people pretending hard to have not been watching.  He just shrugged his shoulders and head on for his own next class.  He wasn't all that concerned with the looks.  If Marissa wanted to, she could put an end to any rumor, or start whatever she liked on a whim.   Nobody was actually going to say anything out loud in front of either of them, so it wasn't worth worrying about.   Even as he sat in his chair, kids were still filing in, he shot off a text to her.   "That smile Was worth it."   he'd seen only the tail end of it, but that was enough.   He'd pay for that later he was sure, but he didn't care, and turned his phone on silent before putting it away, even as the last student took their seat.

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"Well?"  Taggart not-quite-demanded of the slender, athletic blonde in the sun-dress as she stepped out of the elevator into the Project complex main corridor.  Her eyes tracked him as he fell into step with her, the grey of her eyes reflecting some manner of wry amusement, from what the Major could pick up.

"Quite well, thank you."  Ellie replied.  "It was generous of you to allow me to meet them."

"That's not what I meant."  Taggart wasn't going to be brushed off, though he didn't show much frustration at the alien's evasiveness.  In the day she'd been there, he'd pretty much come to understand that her people, these Teulu, considered direct  questioning - at least from strangers - to be rude, and would therefore respond to it with verbal games.  He was also aware that the girl was trained to at least the same standard as his men when it came to combat and survival skills, having killed five men, naked and barehanded, whilst making her escape from Site B, then had made her way across open country to Shelly without being recaptured.  Even allowing for the element of surprise and the doubtless underestimation of 'a girl' by the Crossroads mercenaries, that was impressive.

"I am sure."  Ellie replied, moving with a graceful stride that looked unhurried until you realised that she was eating up the yards.  "I prefer not to repeat myself overmuch, Major Taggart."  she offered by way of explanation, throwing him another glance.  There wasn't really much the soldier could say to that - technically Ellie the Alien was Annette's guest, by way of being Devin's friend, and Taggart's authority over her was strictly limited to ensuring she didn't cause or come to any harm.  He was certain she found it somewhat amusing to be protected by 'merely human' guards, too - there was an element of amused condescension that, though never overtly expressed, Taggart was positive existed behind the ageless steel-hued eyes.  Almost positive, anyway.  She was as hard to read as the Bannon kid.

"How did it go?"  Annette asked as they entered her office, looking up from her desktop holo-terminal as Ellie moved without being invited to sit in one of the comfortable chairs, crossing one leg over the other without much apparent regard for the shortness of the sundress.  "We shall have to get you some more clothes today, too."  Annette noted.

"Devin's friends recommend a place called Good Will."  Ellie responded with a shrug.  Annette considered.

"I think we can do a little better than that.  Great Falls isn't Milan, but there are clothes stores there so you can blend in with the locals a little better."  she noted with an appraising gaze.  Taggart cleared his throat, and the elegant brunette smiled mischievously.  "However, before I take a day off to take you shopping..."

"He is Teulu."  Ellie stated calmly.  "That is what you wanted me to find out, yes?  You could see and hear what was being said, so the only reason you would be asking me anything is to determine whether or not Jason is of my people.  He is."

"How sure are you?" Taggart asked, now taking a seat as they got down to business.  "He could just be a human psychopath.  In fact, that's what he even told us he was."

"Then he believed that to be the case at the time."  Ellie responded.  "Evidently he's learned differently.  As for how sure I am: very.  A wolf raised amongst dogs is still a wolf."

"But his father is human."  Annette noted, picking up a pen and fidgeting with it.  Ellie nodded.

"Then his mother is not."  The Teulu girl replied.  "There are no 'half-breeds'.  Our genetics will always be dominant - the offspring of a human and a Teulu will be Teulu."

"Great."  Taggart sighed.  "The psychokinetic is an alien killing machine."

"Born here, raised here.  He is more alien to me than to you."  Ellie stated.  "He has the instincts but not the training to best employ them.  His instincts prevented his death at the hands of those two clumsy killers, but he failed to recognise the ambush until it was almost too late.  If he had not been a Radiant, he would be dead."  She shrugged eloquently.  "It is not a mistake a grown male of my people would make.  He is too human."

"He's only a teen, though."  Annette glanced from Ellie to Taggart, then back again as she toyed with the pen.

"And the ambush wasn't as clumsy as you think."  Taggart put in.  "They were posing as officers of the law - hell, technically they are.  There's a cultural imperative here to cooperate if such a person demands it, an implication of trust of the authority they represent."  Ellie considered this.

"As I said:  too human."  she said at length, shaking her head.  "There is no such imperative for us.  The only imperatives are the good of the pride and the clan.  No stranger can simply walk up to a Teulu, proclaim their authority, and demand compliance or trust."  She smirked faintly.  "As amusing as such a sight would be."

"Cultural insights aside..."  Annette leaned forwards, clasping her hands on the desk.  "I'm fairly certain that young Mister Bannon will be a lot more wary from now on.  What about the others?  What were your impressions?"

"Devin's twin has an ill temperament, and does not like me."  Ellie shrugged.  "Doubtless she likes few females, especially ones close to her brother.  Teulu sisters are similarly protective.  The seer, Cassandra, is rude.  Full of questions, which she fires off like arrows at a foe.  The life-witch, Autumn, seems friendly - and fond of Jason, as he is fond of her."

"And is that a bad thing?"  Taggart asked intently.

"It is a thing."  Ellie answered smiling faintly, a cryptic amusement in her expression.  "I am curious as to whether they are sexually active."  She appeared to ignore the discomfort the two human adults evinced at her out loud musing.  "I would say they are, given their closeness."

"Not really our business."  Taggart muttered.  Ellie threw him an amused glance, one eyebrow raised.

"The one called Sean was largely silent, at least until he tried to barter with me for my people's technological secrets."  she went on, returning her gaze to Annette.  "Also rude, considering I saved his pride-mate's life and that Devin had already freely offered to aid me."

"Right."  Annette nodded.  "Now, the million dollar question - by which I mean a question which is very important...  Are we going to have a civil war on our hands given the revelations Cassandra Allen kicked up?  Will Jason take violent action against Marissa?"

"How should I know?"  Ellie asked with a shrug.  "I don't know either of them very well, nor do I know the details of the situation."

"You know Teulu.  What would your people do in such a situation?"

"For a pride-mate to betray the trust of the others - if that is what happened - I suppose it is one of the closest things we have to a 'sin'."  Ellie's voice was contemplative.  "But to kill a pride-mate is also terrible.  It's not just cultural - it's instinctual.  Even if Jason no longer considers Marissa one of his friends, so long as he considers Devin to be one there is unlikely to be violence."

"In short, you don't really know, but you don't think it'll get messy."  Taggart said.  Ellie considered that, then nodded.

"Yes.  Unpleasant and tense, but not violent."

= = = = = = =

"You didn't have to walk me to school."  Autumn said, not really complaining.  After the events of the morning, it was kind of nice to walk along with Jase in the sunshine, her hand in his, their fingers entwined.

"Probably not."  Jason allowed, sharp emerald eyes pausing their study of passing cars and their surroundings to glance at her.  "But I wanted to anyway."

"Not gonna argue."  Autumn grinned back, the sunlight shining in her blue eyes as she impulsively looped her arm through his and resisting the urge to slow down, perhaps to stop off in an idyllic spot, run her fingers through his hair and-.  It wasn't a very long walk, after all - maybe fifteen minutes or so - and she knew Jase would be going back to the medical center afterwards.  "So Hank's going to bring your car and stuff to Marias?"

"Mmhmm."  Jason nodded.  "Then I'll be at home the rest of the day.  I'll text you when I get my phone back."

"Good."  Autumn looked up at his profile as he resumed his watchfulness, studying the scar on his cheek and how the ends of his hair brushed it, then sighed as she saw the school grounds start to come into view down the road.  "Ugh.  That walk was too short."

"It was."  Jason agreed, smiling faintly as he slowed to a stop, turning towards her.  "I'll leave you here - don't really want to be seen by a faculty member and have to answer a dozen tedious questions."

"Right."  The energetic redhead rocked up on her toes, then onto her heels as she tucked her hands into her back pockets and gazed up at his face, noting the way he seemed to be similarly studying her.  "So I'll see you- umph"

The kiss was sudden, though in retrospect should not have been unexpected, and Autumn's hands shot up and around Jason's shoulders to steady herself as he stepped into her, his lips seeking hers almost hungrily.  Lazy heat uncoiled in her belly, arcs of golden lightning energising her nerves as she felt the brush of his Shine on hers, felt the vigorous, vital life of him pulse under her touch, reading his desire almost subconsciously in the dance of chemicals and the surge in his pulse.  And then the time for assessment was past, her hands sliding up to lock into his hair as she kissed him back, pressing against the unyielding angular hardness of his lean form.  His hands rested on her hips, exerting just enough pressure to keep her close as their mouths and tongues danced together for a long, searing moment.

"...later."  Autumn breathed as their lips parted, aware of the heat in her cheeks and the tingling of her lips.  Dear God... Even his goodbye-for-now kisses were enough to steal the breath from her, though she took some gratification from the darkness of desire evident in Jason's eyes - and other signals of his interest.  Refusing to look down, for fear she'd simply drag him into some nearby secluded bushes, she smiled up at him.

"Definitely."  he replied, giving her another kiss, this one more brief and gentle than the first.  "Let me know how it goes today?"

"I will."  she nodded, sobering a little as she recalled her not-quite-pledge to help Cassandra out.  With some reluctance on both sides, the two teens disengaged and stepped apart.  "Be safe."  she told her impossible Effing Boyfriend with another smile.

"I will."  he said soberly, before turning and heading back the way they'd come.  With a sigh and a straightening of her shoulders, Autumn turned and headed to school.

=  =  =  =  =  =  =

Jason wasn't really sure this was safe, per se.  Though he was reasonably confident that it wasn't dangerous, he wasn't one hundred percent certain.  But then, whilst absolute certainty was nice, waiting for it meant that nothing would ever happen.  Sometimes, like with kissing girls, one had to take chances.  Sometimes you got a Marissa, sometimes you got an Autumn.  It'd be a shame to miss out on the latter for fear of the former.  He'd met Hank outside, the gruff former Marine handing over his car keys and his satchel before clapping his young friend on the shoulder and heading back to the farm.  Jase told him he'd be along soon - he needed to sort some things out.

Marias Medical Center was a big place, the size of a city hospital, vastly larger than Shelly or even Toole County required.  But Jase remembered last week, and the route Taggart's men had taken escorting the Fellowship down to the complex beneath the medical center, and so he found his way to a distant store-room, shelves half empty but surprisingly dust-free.  This, then, was the place he remembered.  There was at least one other elevator down to the complex - but that was Cook's private one, in an office in a more populated part of the medical center, with a code lock that had probably been changed.

"I know you know I'm here."  he said in a conversational tone, looking around the vacant room.  "I want to talk to Ms Giles, and I'd prefer to do so by invitation rather than the other way."  There was silence for a long moment.  Jason waited as the seconds ticked past into minutes, deciding that five minutes would be long enough for them to answer him, one way or the other.

It took two.  The far wall of the storage room emitted a grinding sound and slid up, revealing a large freight-sized elevator with a gleaming metal panel interior.  Taking a moment to sheathe himself in an imperceptible glove of force, Jason stepped in, turning to face the door as it slid shut and the elevator began it's descent...

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Sean's Jeep ground to a halt and he blinked, realizing where he was. He pulled the keys from the ignition, a finger through the keyring as he held them in his fist and leaned back in the seat. He'd been driving aimlessly, not sure where to go, sure he didn't want to head back to school or back home yet. But he hadn't expected to end up here. He sighed, rubbed his fingers through his rich red hair, then climbed out of his SUV.

His scuffed red sneakers shuffled across the old bridge to the improvised party ground Sara and Jase had cleared what felt like forever ago instead of just several weeks. Sean looked about as he walked through it. It didn't feel so much as abandoned as reclaimed, few signs of the party that had taken place here. A few logs used for improvised seats. Scattered stones that might have been used to ring a fire pit. Very little litter.

Summer parties like that hadn't been something Sean had much interest in. Truth be told, he still didn't. He'd come at Jase's urging, mostly. It seemed like all the craziness had started here, this was where it had begun, where the lives of the Fellowship had irrevocably changed. Sean felt his eyes grow tight. Where for at least one of them, it had led to an early end.

And it suddenly felt like a really dumb idea that he'd come out here, alone, in the middle of nowhere, just after one of his friends had been targeted for assassination. Well, it wasn't quite the middle of nowhere. He frowned, then shrugged, and began ambling down a faint path through the trees and up the hill, dirt and gravel pattering down behind him on the occasional steeper slope.

The technokinetic sensed the recording devices - or rather, their signals - before he saw them, let alone the old abandoned trailer. He could turn them off, or spoof them so they wouldn't even acknowledge him, but what was the point, Sean thought. He didn't particularly care if the Project knew he was poking around about here. He continued up the hill and through the screen of trees into the clearing.

A part of him was mildly surprised to find the trailer still there. Shifting his vision into a different spectrum, he could tell the miniature fusion reactor was still there too. Seems like the Project didn't have time to collect this stuff with everything else happening. He paused, then shrugged again, and continued towards the trailer. The metal steps shifted under his weight, the foot biting into the dirt. The door creaked open at a touch.

The trailer smelled musty, but not as bad as it first had. It didn't seem to have been disturbed since the others had collected the files. Sean climbed inside, idly looking around, though he didn't expect to find anything that had been missed the first time around. He did have the weird radio back home, still trying to figure out how it worked. He was beginning to suspect its retro appearance was just a false front hiding the real components that gave it seemingly near infinite range. Maybe it worked using quantum entanglement? He was as interested in the fusion reactor, though he would feel better studying that in more controlled circumstances. He could do something about the radioactive rays it was emitting, but still...  radioactive.

His phone vibrated and Sean smirked to himself as he nabbed the message through the air. His digital chicanery seemed to be working, someone in the Project monitoring the area alerting others that he was there. Good. He pulled out his phone, swiped to a page. 66 total sales for ReGenesis. 69, 70. A slight uptick as the sun climbed towards its noonday peak.

After poking about the trailer for a bit, Sean took a break, sitting on the top step. It was funny. Jase had just started revealing his mental acumen at school instead of flying under the radar, and here he was, barely able to care about school. Not just today, it was getting hard to even consider thinking about school for the rest of the year with everything else going on. Even his ideas for college, if he even decided to go, were shifting.

It felt like something so far away, especially when it was possible he wouldn't be alive to go. And now, there was potential it wasn't just his own fucked up genetics that might end him. He couldn't see why Enterich would only target Jason, unless Marissa really did have something to do about it.

Edited by Sean Cassidy

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Kat yawned as she left the medical center, and began making her way home. The only bright thing in her day was the sun. She was tired, her body was a sack of small, countless itching sores, she couldn't have a proper sleep-in, and now people were shooting at her friends, which wasn't making her feel any safe now. She paced up.

I need a distraction.

She fished her headphones out of her vest and plugged them in to her phone, music blaring into her ears after she pressed the Play button. Unconsciously, she adjusted her steps to the beat and already, the walk back home didn't feel as long. Why would two guys with badges try and shoot Jason? From what she heard, he wasn't especially a saint, but he certainly wasn't evil incarnate either. And then there was the problem of finding a decent dress for Homecoming. She had less than a week to do so. She still couldn't decide which of Tess or Marissa to ask about that. Or maybe she had asked one of them already. She was too sleepy to remember. Sleeping in the grass wouldn't be too bad, given the temperature and the sun.

One thought leading to another, she found herself in front of her front door - That's funny. Or not, she thought - asking herself whether she'd go on a quest for croissants or actually make some pancakes herself when she'd wake up Surely someone would sell croissants in Great Falls. But how am I going to get to Great Falls?

Before she knew it, the damn skirt - and the rest of her god damned hooker outfit - were on her room's floor, and she tucked herself into bed, counting her thoughts like sheeps passing in the night till it bored her into slumber.

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Spoiler

GM's note:  Morning time stamp is now over.  We're moving into 'Lunchtime' - roughly from 1130 to 1300.  These are not exact, but as long as people's posts try to follow a loose continuity it will not be a problem.

They'd kept him waiting a little while, which he didn't really care about.  It was logical to suppose that Annette Giles was a busy woman, and even a member of the Fellowship couldn't necessarily bump her schedule on a whim.  Besides, it gave him a chance to sit quietly, alone with his thoughts, spiraling as they did in a loose double-helix of crystalline forms and shapes in the halls of his mind.  The murder attempt, the mysterious Enterich, Site B, meeting a member of his species, Marissa's possible betrayal, Devin and Autumn saving his life, the reactions of his various friends, his plans here in the Project... All kept in the air, turning and presenting new facets with each turn as he considered each issue.

He sat in a small anteroom obviously meant for visitors - though what visitors he was not sure.  Perhaps serious men and women in uniforms and suits, come from D.C to be wowed by their off-the-books project?  Worthies from the mysterious Aeon Society, come to nod and chatter as Cook put his show-ponies through their paces.  That was almost good for a smile.  Cook's best demonstration had been Courtney whose gifts, impressive though they were, were already being rivalled by the couple of telepaths in in the Fellowship's ranks.  Right now, Courtney had the edge in experience with using her gift, but her raw power, the strength of her Shine, was lacking.

That sent his thoughts down another tangent.  What was the connection there?  Had the experimentation of the Project actually harmed Courtney and Tawny's natural development?  The early interference having somehow stunted them?  If so, perhaps that could be corrected, once he had access to Dr Cook's notes and had time to study what the modern-day Mengele had been up to.

The door to the anteroom opened and Ellie walked in, moving with the same feline grace with which she'd entered the hospital room earlier, and sat in the comfortable chair next to his, half-turning and drawing her long bare legs up to curl into the cushions as she gazed at him, cheek propped on one hand, her air contemplative.  Jase, lounging in his own chair with his arms folded, stared back expressionlessly.  She was beautiful, for certain.  Clear complexion, wide grey eyes, full lips, and a body that was athletic, hardened even, yet with female curves in what his aesthetic sense deemed the right places.  They stared at each other for a long moment, which stretched to a minute, then two, as some silent battle of wills played out between the two of them.  Finally, she gave a slight sigh and inclined her head, still regarding him.

"You have the eyes of the Draig." she stated, head tilted, considering him as she spoke.

"I recognise the name of the clan."  he replied.  "It was my mothers, before she left El and came here."

"She did not teach you about the Teulu."  Ellie remarked then, her eyes narrowing.  "She abandoned you."

"When she realised that I would not be like her, or my father."  Jase agreed, nodding.  "She is Teulu, but feels fear, shame, regret."

"Interesting."  The blonde girl pondered.  "I have heard of that deformity now and then.  She is lucky to have made it to adulthood - perhaps the reputation of the Draig is not earned."  This last was delivered with a faint amused look, which Jason returned.

"If you seek to push a button, or prick my pride, you will have to do better."  he rejoined with a shrug.  "I have no investment in my mother's clan.  I don't even know of them beyond their name."

"You and the one called Autumn seem close."  Again the frank studying stare as she looked him over, appraising him.  "Does she know you are not human?"

"She does."

"She has a marvellous gift."  Ellie commented.  "A good choice, I think.  She seems resilient, too.  Healthy."

"Are you commenting on her as a comrade in arms, a girlfriend, or as breeding stock?"  Jason asked, tilting his own head as he stared at her, his emerald eyes narrowing a little.

"All three are worthy of consideration."  Ellie smiled a little, a sly light entering her gaze.  "Does she know how you feel about her?"

"I have told her, by word and action, what she means to me."  Jason shrugged, glancing at the clock on the wall.  Ellie regarded his profile.

"Your scar is fetching."  she noted, changing topic yet again.  "A sign of danger survived, of a tale to be told, of experience.  Many females would be drawn to it, I think."

"Thank you?"

"Not me, of course."  Ellie stood and stretched, almost incidentally - he was sure - showing off her body in the sundress.  "I am for Devin."

"So I gather."  Jase's reply was dry, reflecting his own amusement.  Ellie glanced at him, a brow raised.

"If I were not, though, your redhead would have caused to be nervous.  Even if you are skinny and undertrained, and do not know your heritage, your mind is sharp and your Radiance is strong enough to make the warrior Taggart nervous."  she eyed him speculatively.  "And you are handsome.  Handsome counts for a lot."

"I am interested in learning more of my heritage."  Jase remarked, studying her.  Ellie shook her head.

"Since your mother has not taught you, perhaps I will."  she said in a tone of one thinking it over.

"I would be sure to tell Devin what a fine ally you are, if you do."  Jason smiled slightly, one corner of his mouth curving.  Ellie's eyes sparkled with humor as she looked back at him.

"You learn fast."  she noted.  "Good.  You have much to learn."  She stepped towards the door, beckoning him.  "For now, though, Annette is waiting."

 

= = = = = = = 

"I thought you'd gotten lost."  Annette said pointedly as the two young Teulu entered her office. Taggart, seated in a chair to one side of her desk, studied the pair of them intently, plainly trying to catalogue similarities.

"You were observing us."  Jason said calmly, taking a seat in front of Annette's desk.  "I'm fairly certain if you did believe we'd wandered off the path there would be alarms and soldiers everywhere."  The older woman stared at him, then shrugged, looking at Ellie expectantly.

"I wanted to speak with him."  Ellie said as if that explained everything.  "I was curious, and you did not say it was an urgent matter."

"She didn't say to dawdle and flirt over coffee, either."  Taggart grumbled.  Ellie smiled a little at the Major.

"I do not work for Annette, or yourself, Major Taggart."  she told him.  "And I have been without a male for a long time.  So if I wish to take a moment to flirt with handsome powerful males, I shall do so.  Besides, there was no coffee."  She paused, a gleam entering her grey eyes.  "Speaking of handsome powerful males, do you have a mate, Major Taggart?" she asked, eyeing him speculatively sidelong through lowered lashes, her manner one of semi-blatant flirtation.  "Perhaps a coupling would improve your temper.  I am for Devin, but he has a date to Homecoming already, so I am free if you feel the urge."  Annette cleared her throat, trying not to laugh as Taggart reddened at being propositioned by a girl who appeared just about old enough to be his daughter.

"Ellie."  she said with a hint of reproof.  "Please."  The blonde girl inclined her head and moved to recline on the office's couch, still smiling a little, her gaze resting on the uncomfortable Taggart.  Annette studied the young man across from her, noting the cheekbone structure so similar to Ellie's, the scar, and the piercing eyes that studied her right back without giving much, if anything away.  "You wanted to speak with me, Mr Bannon?"

"Call me Jase."  came the calm reply.

"Jase, then."  Annette smiled, reminding herself she'd dealt with worse characters than the youth across from her.  Perhaps not as dangerous in an immediate way, but definitely more malicious.  She'd seen and heard the conversation between Jason and Autumn when they'd been alone, and though her heart had been touched by the sight of young love, more important was the knowledge that Jason Bannon was not an unreasonable savage.  "What can I do for you?"

"Funny."  Jase didn't smile, but his eyes did reflect humor.  "Once, Cook asked me the same question.  And I answered him the same way - I want a job."

That got the room's attention.  Taggart straightened, glancing at Annette, who went very still, her expression one of intense thought.  "You want to work for us?"  she asked after a few moments.

"With you."  Jason corrected.  Annette leaned back in her chair slowly, regarding him.

"And how do you see that working?"  she asked, trying not to fidget.  "After all, you are only sixt-"

"Please don't tell me that I am only sixteen as though that makes me somehow less worthy."  Jason told her flatly.  "I have perfect three-dimensional, multi-sensory recall.  I can can do advanced calculus mentally at roughly the speed of a computer.  I can read, parse and absorb data faster than likely anyone you know.  I have taught myself to a post-graduate standard in multiple disciplines.  I am learning literally nothing in high school except that teenagers are petty and how to be bored out of my mind."  Jason spread his hands expressively.  "In addition to which I am not even human, as you no doubt already know, and a psychokinetic of constantly developing potential."

"I see."  Annette glanced at Taggart.

"Do you?"  Jason asked rhetorically.  "I am bored, Ms Giles.  Worse, I am wasted.  I am under-utilised and achieving very little forward motion in my current situation.  I want to study these gifts, the Shine - or Radiance - and the energies of the Dark.  I want to put my brain to use developing new science - because right now, Ms Giles, this cutting edge frontier is still in the realm of witchcraft and quackery.  You've got people trying to understand, comprehend, and measure Radiance.  But they cannot feel it, cannot use it.  I can.  I've even got a hypothesis as to how our abilities work - but I need equipment and funding to test it and develop it."

"Perhaps you could sit down with some of our scientists-"  Taggart began.

"Who will listen attentively, be properly impressed, and then I shall be ushered off to school and cut out of the loop whilst they chase the breadcrumbs I give them blindly."  Jason interrupted, his eyes glinting.  "I'm not interested in a pat on the head, Major.  I want to be on the inside of this one.  What I don't know, I can be taught.  Hell, assess me first if you don't think I can cut it.  Give me a trial run assisting whoever is your lead scientist.  Because frankly, I'm about as suited to high school as I am to the vacuum of space.  I want to be doing, to be challenged, not to waste my damned time in a glorified day-care center."

"What about your friends?"  Annette asked quietly.  "Your girlfriend, even?  Socialisation is important, even to... your kind.  I assume, anyway."

"I don''t plan on cutting off contact with them."  Jason retorted.  "And, let's face it, you want them to be working with the Project too.  I can be a test case, an example that the Project - specifically you two - can be trusted.  Look," he leaned forwards slightly.  "On paper I will still be going to the school.  But pull some strings.  Say I've been assigned to advanced lessons - it won't be false, because I will be learning here.  I still plan to go to Homecoming, and to hang out with my friends, and live a life outside of the lab. But I have reached my limit with attending lessons that teach me nothing and waste most of my days."

"Let's say we give you an assessment... and it your mental gifts are everything you say, and we bring you to come and work for us-"

"With you."  Jason corrected again.

"With us, yes.  How much do you see yourself being paid?"  Annette asked with a small smile.  Jase sat back in his seat again, smiling back at her.

"For the initial period of three to six months, something reasonable."  he suggested.  "Comparable to a STEM graduate in a well-paid entry position.  After that apprenticeship is done, perhaps at the end of winter break, we can renegotiate."  The elegant brunette glanced at Taggart, then at the intently watching Ellie, then at the youth in the chair before her.

"And your father-"

"Will be fine with it."  Jason said firmly.

"Well."  Annette steepled her fingers, plainly considering.  "You'll need to be tested, of course.  And we'd likely identify areas you're not fully competent in yet and set up a training program."

"Good."  Jason nodded.  "I want to learn.  Stasis is death."

"But we'll need to think about it, too."  Annette held up a manicured hand.  "That is not a 'no', far from it.  But I will need to seek approval for this, and so will the Major.  I think, however, on balance, that our superiors will be agreeable."  This last was not quite a question as she glanced at Taggart, who shrugged.

"Provided Mr Bannon-"

"Call me Jase."

"-Jase has scores to match his claims, I see no reason why not."  The soldier studied the youth.  "I'll get a proper test sorted out for him, then we can take things a step at a time from there."

"Good."  Annette placed her hands on the desk and rose, smiling.  "I have to say, this is possibly the oddest job interview I've ever been part of."

"It's my first job interview."  Jason admitted, standing up.  "Not counting Cook, who shut me down fast."  He took Annette's offered hand and shook it, then turned to the Major.  "Major Taggart." he nodded.

"Jase."  Taggart offered his own hand for a shake.  "Got to say, I like the moxie."  The older man smiled wryly.  "Good luck, because I won't take it easy with the test."

"If I wanted easy, I'd stay in school."  Jason replied with a faint smile, then turned to go.  "I can see myself out."

Edited by GDP_ST
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1240, Marias Medical Center

"Really, I'm fine."  Tawny protested, sitting up in the hospital bed and smiling at the tall, handsome young man who'd come bearing flowers.  "They're lovely, though."  the golden-haired girl admitted, looking at the vase next to her bed and then at Jacob.  

"They're sort of an apology."  Jacob sat down in the chair by the bedside, smiling at his Homecoming date despite the nasty-looking faded bruise that covered one side of his face.  He fiddled with his hands, looking down at them, then at her.  "I'm sorry I couldn't-"  Tawny leaned over and placed her hand on top of his.

"Jacob, there's nothing you could have done." she told him in an earnest, yet gentle tone.  "It was...  Well, he was out of your weight class."  she said, remembering some boxing jargon she'd heard an uncle use once.

"I know."  The warden's son smiled ruefully, then sighed.  "That doesn't make it easier, somehow.  I'm not really used to feeling..."  he shrugged, looking away.

"Helpless."  Tawny finished for him, nodding in understanding as he looked back to meet her eyes.  "Join the club."  Jacob smiled a little at her.

"I'm glad that... You know."  he said, indicating her.  "You're alright.  That they were able to save you."  The 'they' hung between the two, each trying to decide what the other might know.  After all, Tawny was Devin's friend, and Jacob was Autumn's ex, right?  Surely, each reasoned, the other was in on 'the Secret'?  Jake had been listening last night when Bannon had brought Autumn home, when his dad and the Keanes had sat down with the strange kid and discussed horrors and miracles.  It hadn't really been explained why the creature that had been Cody had taken Tawny or Sophia, though. Or killed Charlie Cole.  There were answers the stoic young man needed, and he wasn't even sure what the questions were yet.  Or who to ask.

For Tawny, it was similarly confusing.  She knew why Cody had taken her, of course.  He'd ranted about it, grinning that mirthless razor-filled grin at her.  She'd tried to focus, to use her Shine against him, but her terror had scattered her concentration like leaves before a wind.  She knew that Devin and his friends, the Fellowship as they called themselves, had come for her.  Deej and Emjay had visited earlier today, Devin being as sweet as always and Marissa... almost kind.  "I'm glad too."  she said softly.  "It was..."  she remembered the cold grasp of the Tree on her, not just her flesh but her soul, and shivered.  "It's over now, anyway."

"Yeah."  Jacob nodded, frowning a little.  "I guess."

=  =  =  =  =  =  =

Deep in thought as he left Tawny's room, hands in the pockets of his jacket, Jacob almost missed another tall, though much sparser shape as it strode down a side corridor and turned out of view.  Had that been...  He hurried to the junction of the two hallways and glanced left, seeing his quarry as it turned another corner, this time into the main lobby.  Tall, slender, shaggy hair...

"Bannon!"

The other stopped, glancing over his shoulder as Jake Crocker caught up with him, not missing the scar that traversed the ice-eyed youth's cheek.  That was new - it must have been from the battle last night, Jake reasoned, his gaze focusing on it for a moment before meeting Bannon's eyes.

"Crocker."  Jason inclined his head, eyes narrowing as he considered.  "Visiting Tawny?"

"Yeah."  Jacob said, falling into step as the two teens continued on their way out of the hospital.  "You?"

"Had to speak with some people."  Jason said by way of reply.  Either he didn't want to talk about it, or it wasn't Jacob's business, or both.  The warden's son eyed him as they moved into the parking lot.

"Some people, huh?"

"Yes."  Bannon's reply was as informative as the previous one, and his expression was... well, Jacob never wanted to play poker against him.  It was like trying to read a wall.  He stepped ahead and turned, raising a hand without touching Jason to bring them both to a halt.

"Okay... so.  Look, I know there's stuff going on."  he said.  "And I know it's weird stuff.  And I want to help.  So what can I do?"

"I don't know.  What can you do?"  Jason inquired, fixing the taller boy with a level gaze that was neither hostile nor friendly.  In the face of the question, though, Jake paused, his shoulders sagging slightly.

"I... dunno." he admitted, thinking, throwing a glance at the twin icy emeralds currently appraising him and finding no succor there.  "I mean... I don't even know what's going on, really.  Just stories and snippets, and what I overheard.  Which sounds... crazy."  Bannon didn't say anything, merely looked at him.  "Look, Autumn thinks the world of you, that's... uh... pretty obvious.  And it's not just a girl-boy thing." he went on hastily.  "I just want..."

"To understand."  Jason said quietly.  "You are lost right now, and you're not sure what is real and where you fit into things.  Understanding would help you."  He paused, considering.  "But it is not my place to just dump everything on you.  We have a sort of... unofficial rule, I suppose.  You are Autumn's oldest friend.  As with her family, it would be a trespass for me to tell you what was going on without her consent."

"I guess that makes sense."  Jacob frowned, considering the angular features of the other youth.  "I don't like it though."

"Nor did Dana."  Jason shrugged slightly, lips twitching in a smile.  "She asked me yesterday, before everything happened, to tell her what was going on.  I told her the same thing I am telling you - you should speak to Autumn.  Possibly on another day." he added, eyes narrowing in thought.  "Today is not likely to be a good day."

"Right."  Jacob wondered at that, but stored it away for later examination.  Bannon was still staring at him, and Jake remembered himself.  "Oh, right."  he said, stepping out of the way.  "Hey... Thanks.  For talking to me.  Or... not talking to me?  Listening to me?  Whatever that was."

"A gift of time."  Again, that weird glimmer of humor in those depthless eyes.  "You are Autumn's friend.  It is the least I can do.  See you later."

"Right."  Jacob shook his head as he watched Bannon head over to the gleaming muscle car he drove.  "Shit."  he said softly, grumbling as he turned and headed for his own car.

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1240, Shelly High School

The school newspaper office was quiet, a perfect place for Cassie to slip away, to sit down and ostensibly go over material from the classes she'd missed this morning - but more truthfully to wrestle with the revelations shown her by her gift.  It certainly seemed like Marissa was in with Enterich, who was definitely a Bad Guy in addition to being a sicko who'd convinced another sicko to murder a child.  What had the money been for?  Was it anything to do with the murder attempt this morning?  She wasn't looking forward to the meeting later, for certain. Well, she was and she wasn't. On the one hand, it needed to happen, and her desire to find the truth at the heart of today's events would (hopefully) be satisfied.  On the other hand...  It was likely to be acrimonious.  Both Jason and Autumn had expressed misgivings about the meeting - the other half of Team Pluck somewhat nebulously and her strange boyfriend with characteristic brutally clinical breakdown.  Cassandra was moderately satisfied with her powers of persuasion in getting Jase to attend - she just hoped it wouldn't add to the disaster potential.

And thoughts of Jason Bannon naturally led to 'Ellie'.  The striking similarities in how they acted - but Ellie was an alien and Bannon was a human psychopath.  Or was he?  He wouldn't lie about it - from what she understood of him - so maybe he thought he was one.  Or maybe Ellie was lying.  Or maybe... maybe, maybe, maybe.

Another problem for the pile.  Just let them get through today before working on tangential stuff, please, the blonde girl grumped to herself as she read the textbook page.  Or stared at it anyway, her eyes seeing it but her brain elsewhere.  She was saved from disappearing down another rabbit hole of musings when the door flew open and Leila Cross stormed into the newspaper office, closing the door firmly behind her before moving to sit at her desk, opposite Cassandra's.

"Okay.  What the actual fuck, Allen?"  Leila's speared her newsroom partner with a glare and went on without waiting for an answer.  "First, where did you go this morning? Second, does it have anything to do with rumors I'm hearing about Jason fucking Bannon being shot?  Because if it does, I want to know why you're not already talking to me about the story.  And speaking of stories, what the hell is this I'm hearing from my sources that you and a very assorted group of Shelly High's... let's call them 'finest' were at the fucking medical center last night after having rescued two kidnapped girls from a serial killer?  Said group also containing Jason 'El Chapo' Bannon, Autumn Keane and the Jauntsens, who were also late in today.  Why is Marissa Jauntsen dressed like a monochrome girl next door?  Are you part of some weird teenage sex cult and can I join?  Someone says they spotted Bannon kissing Keane down the road from the school not long ago - which is pretty damn frisky for a dude who reportedly got shot.  What's the fucking story, Cassie?!"

All that was missing was the toothbrush mustache and Leila thumping the desk demanding photos of Devin.

Edited by GDP_ST

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1300-ish, Shelly High School

The Snickers bar didn't do much, in fact, she was hungry again about thirty minutes later.  With eyes closed she stood at her locker, hidden by the small door, taking a moment to collect her thoughts and just relax.  She could hear the school all around her, the chaotic garble of too many people talking all at once, the occasional squeak of a shoe across the waxed floors, locker doors slamming closed or popping open.  It was almost hypnotic and she felt like she could just curl into a ball fall aslee-

"Um, excuse me?"

She breathed.  If she ignored it, it would go away.  Right?

"E-excuse me?  You're Marissa, right?  Marissa Jauntsen?"

She opened her eyes and lazily spun about to face whomever it was trying to get her attention.  Lunchtime.  One hour... just one hour to herself, was that too much to ask?  It was, said the cosmos as she tried to guess why Steve Rodgers, before the serum, was trying to flag her down at her locker.  Sandy blonde, 90 pounds soaking wet (with a brick tied to his ankle, hopefully), and unpleasant to look at he certainly wasn't anything she'd consider interesting.  His teeth were straight and his eyes were a pretty shade of silvery gray.

"What," she asked lazily and like she hadn't heard a word he'd said up until now.

"Hi, I'm, uh, Garett."  He smiled nervously and offered his hand which she just glared at as her eyebrow slowly raised up in confusion.

"Great."  She slid her book into her locker, having realized just then that she'd been holding the whole time.  "Don't care."

Garret lowered his hand, his cheeks flushing slightly, "Oh, uh... so, um, you're Cade Allister's girlfriend, right?"

"We're not putting a label on it," she said on reflex.  She turned from her open locker and looked at Garret.  "You're still here... why?"

"Yeeaah, why wouldn't I be?" he tried to smile past her attitude.  Truth was she intimidated the hell out of him most days, but today she just seemed less like herself and more approachable.  "But you two are going out, though, right?"

"Yes, no... sort of," Marissa, exasperated let her shoulders collapse and she just faced him, shaking her head in annoyance.  "Why?  What's it to you, anyway?"

"My friend, didn't know if you had a date for Homecoming and wanted me to ask you for him," he pointed across the way and heads of two other students disappeared behind lockers.  "Ronnie."

"Wilkins?" she said with a disgusted look on her face.  "He never bathes.  I have a class with him, we can smell him from three seats away... no, nuh uh, no way in hell, ever.  Plus, he's a Freshman.  Tell Ronnie to stay in his lane.  Maybe his pillow is free that night, Gary."

"It's uh, Garret." He pointed out.

"Don't care." She also pointed out.

"Um, what about Sean Cassidy?"  Garret added.

"Sean is a guy, Barret."

"Garre-," he shrugged.  "You know, never mind.  I'm cool with Barret.  No, the reason I was asking was because you hang out with Sean, right?"

"Sean hangs with me," she corrected him.  Her gaze got as hard as it could, given how miserable she was feeling.  "So if you have a problem with him, you have one with my brother and me.  Now, why do you want to know about Sean?  Hurry up, you're like a little mosquito, and you're starting to bother the hell out of me.  I don't even recognize you, are you a Freshman too?"

"Wh-what?  N-no," this was why she scared the crap out of him.  She spoke and flipped to angry faster than he could think of what he was going to say.  He swallowed hard, trying to relax and say what he needed to before she went nuclear.  "I mean, yes.  I am a Freshman, but I don't' have a problem with Sean... we heard he's a gamer and were wondering if he had any open spots in his gaming group?  I was hoping you could... um, p-pass my info along to him, please?"  He presented her with a torn piece of notebook paper with their numbers written on it in obvious gamer handwriting.  "I have a raw damage wizard I've been wanting to try out and was hoping he had the room."

She stared at the paper for a good long moment, brow raised in mock appraisal of the weeb specimen so brazenly standing in front of her.  What happened to her?  When did the nerds and losers of this school decide that she had fallen so far that they could simply just approach her like she was one of them and not their royalty to be worshipped?  She sighed deeply and snatched it from him.  "Surefinewhatever," and stuffed it into her jean pocket.  "Now go away, Glen I we're done."

"See?  Now you're not even trying anymo-" she forced her past him with a slam of her locker and made it three steps before her world began to spin.  She stopped as the walls wavered and the ceiling weft about slowly her eyes rolled back and Marissa fell backwards...

Garret yelled for help from won of the teachers and Courtney hazily appeared in her field of vision as a blurry mess right before her world went black.

Edited by Dave ST
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Cassandra sat through the entire tirade, then said, "Wow, okay. From the top." She closed her eyes and started to recite:

"I was feeling off, so I went to the doctor's office. It has nothing to do with any rumors. There's nothing to talk about yet. I don't know what you're hearing from your sources, maybe you should check with them? Mari's trying to set a new trend, she thinks the look'll be hot. Yes I am. No you can't. And...someone doesn't sound like a credible witness?"

Leila folded her arms more and more tightly as Cassie went on, then said, "This is bullshit, Cassandra. You report to me. You can't keep secrets from your editor! What's the point of a reporter who doesn't report?!"

"Yes!" Cass said abruptly, cutting her off. "It's bullshit! Ask bullshit questions, get bullshit answers! Jesus, Laila, are you actually paying people to follow me around or something?! Look! I've been through some shit lately, and I am still trying to work out what I can hand in, and what will get me arrested for handing in. Who's kissing who is nothing, Laila. It's nothing."

She took a deep breath, trying to exhale the sudden tension in her neck and shoulder, and held her hands out in mock surrender.

"Alright. Deadlines are good. Deadlines keep me focused. I need two days to untangle all this, and get something printable on your desk. Alright? Two days. That'll give you time to get it out this week if you get the copy in on time."

Laila narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "So what, you just fuck off for two days, then put some piece of science fiction down? No, I want to know what this story IS, Allen. What are you working on, and why isn't it...any of those things I was asking about? I'm handing you grade A material here, but you're just...no, I need more time..." Her voice slid up into a mocking falsetto on the last phrase.

Cassandra rubbed her temples and said, "Right, well, I can't say much yet because ongoing investigations and all that, but basically a tiny bit of what you said was kind of right in a very roundabout way. Remember when Cody disappeared?"

Immediately Laila was sitting down across from Cassie, intently focused. "Yeah."

"Well, then around Labor Day some other kids were taken too. A few kids realized something was going on, and pieced enough together to get in way over their heads...but then, against all odds, managed to pull it out at the end and save some lives. That is the story. What I'm going through now is working out how specific I'm allowed to be, who wants to be on record, and all that."

Laila was quiet for a moment, studying Cassandra minutely. "Two days?"

"Best I can do."

Finally she nodded. "Okay. Two days. But it had better be exactly as awesome as you're making it sound." Then Laila stalked away.

"Sure," Cassie grumped under her breath. "Because that's what I needed. More pressure."

 

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This really is a strange place to be in, after what happened. What happened? She can't say for sure. She can't... remember?

Oh whatever. The music is at least decent. In fact she can't really help tapping her foot to the beat.

It's her birthday party. Again. Erwann and Alice did this. Very sweet of them. Now she can remember.

"'Cause I'm going to live my lifeBut something feels... amiss. There is a very odd noise every time she taps her foot.

Now that she's looking at it, it makes sense. Rotten flesh, mingled with dirt, and blood, and bone. And she taps her foot.

Of course the sound would be weird. She raises her eyes, staring at the horde of chitinous, ravenous monsters charging her.

Of course something would feel wrong. She closes her eyes, not able to watch her friends, swallowed by the crowd.

It'll be over soon. And the music keeps on going. She opens her eyes, facing an impressive row of teeth, and-

If you wanna live your life
Live it all the way and don't you waste it
Every feelin' every beat
Can be so very sweet you gotta taste it

Life's a party, make it hot
Dance don't ever stop, whatever rhythm
Every minute, every day
Take them all the way you gotta live 'em

 

You gotta do it, you gotta do it your way
You gotta prove it
You gotta mean what you say
You gotta do it, you gotta do it your way
You gotta prove it
Let's get loud, let's get loud
Turn the music up to hear that sound
Let's get loud-

 

Squeaked, sitting straight in her bed. The sun was much higher than before, so high she couldn't see it through the window anymore. It was probably noon. Her heart was drumming fast in her chest, faster than Johnny Rabb on steroids. Her trembling hand grabbed her phone on the nightstand. Almost 1PM. That was enough sleeping for today. She breathed, very slowly, for a couple minutes. I hate nightmares. After staring at her phone for a moment, she remembered. She still didn't get a reply from Courtney. She quickly tapped on the tactile screen.

She deployed her mind web, scanning the surrounding of her house. Everything was rather quiet. She sat there for a couple minutes, watching the minature stars moving around. Birds, rodents, even insects. Without her Shine, she probably would've never noticed how crowded the world is. She was busy reflecting on this when her phone dinged. It was Courtney. Kat exhaled heavily, at ease.

Ten minutes later, she jumped out of bed, in a rather happy mood. So happy, in fact, that she almost forgot to get dressed on the way out of her room, closing the door she'd just opened, red-cheeked at the thought. Should she have breakfast, or lunch? Now that was a rather hard question to answer. Or rather simple really. She technically had breakfast with her father. Lunch it is. She looked down at her phone while going down the stairs, an excited grin crossing her features. "Ow." Maybe she should check the wound on her cheek first.

The house was empty. At this hour it made sense. Of course both the adults are busy adulting. Did that come out wrong? The petite French girl shook her head, setting the sterile compresses, strips and disinfectant on the kitchen table, along with a small mirror she'd found in the bathroom. She sat down and began removing the padded rectangle stuck to her sensitive face, grimacing. The cut was oblique, about one inch long and not so deep now that she took a good look at it, running accross her jawline to the left of her chin, chilling reminder of how close that pointy bone had been to her external jugular vein. She grabbed a compress, spraying it with the antiseptic, and began dabbing the cut, making sure it remained clean. She strapped a couple strips on it, closing the minuscule gap between the edges of the wound. There was no real need to groom it further, she'd read online that a cut of this size was best kept uncovered if you wanted it to heal properly.

Kat stared at her reflection for a minute, uncertain of what she was thinking about. Her stomach growled. Right. Lunch.

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras

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About 1:15pm


When Cade got the text, he made a quick reply, and then turned around from heading to class, instead heading to the nurse's office.  It wasn't that much trouble to get in to see Marissa, and he smiled.  He'd made a quick stop at a vending machine, for another snickers.   "Brought you a little something."   he said quietly.

Marissa was lying back a bit on the small hospital examination table the school had and her eyes lit up at the sight of the Snickers bar.  She was sipping Coke from a can with a straw.  The small hospital table to her left had several wrappers from tiny Halloween bite bars they'd fed her but her complexion still owned a pale and weakened pallor.

The can found a home next to the wrappers and snatched the candy bar.  "Ugh, thank you!  They had a coke and just these parts... Christ, I had to look up on Google for them how to treat me.  They ran to get me a Gatoraide.  The military needs to station some medical people here, seriously."  She tore into the Snickers and sighed as her eyes closed with pleasure while she chewed.  Her mouth filled with chocolate and nougat and in an in a very unladylike fashion spoke while she was nomming half of a Snickers bar.  "Don'chu hev claph?"

"You're welcome."   he grinned at her.  "Yes I have class, but I knew I needed to come check on you, and likely, something you'd be wanting."  Cade laughed abit.  "You were also very explicit on what would happen if I "ghosted" you if something happened. "  he shrugged. "It'd look odd to people if something happened to you and I didn't come to check on you."

"So..." she slowly stopped chewing and side-eyed him.  "You didn't come because you actually cared, just because you were afraid of what I would do if you ghosted me?"  Her lips pursed and she nodded.  She sucked on her teeth.  "Can't say I blame you.  You're learning at least, thanks for coming at least."

She lifted her phone and set it back down.  "Deej's been texting me and my mom is coming down after she finishes a meeting, so she might send me home.  If you don't see me the rest of the day, that's where I am.  Text me if you like."

"You know that I came because I care."  he said,  his voice quiet.   It struck him as odd, her seeming almost bothered that he didn't list that first.   He really didn't understand women, least of all, Marissa.    "Yeah, I'll text you."   he looked at her.   "Are you really okay?"   his actual concern was evident now.

His label-neutral lover relaxed and sighed.  "Honestly, I don't know."  She shrugged and looked up at him.  "Something's not right.  Cade, I've torn through two plates of eggs, toast, sausage, two snickers bars, a yogurt, some mixed fruit and veggies for lunch and... I'm still hungry plus, I weighed myself and I'm down three pounds from last night before we went and... you know."

"I've watched enough T.V. to know that whenever people get super powers, there's always one persons who just go wrong and... they melt away or they explode, or they break down..." A look of worry spread through out her pallid complexion.  "I... I'm kind of freaking out.  It's like my body is eating itself, and me, to death.  I've seen Thinner, this won't end well for me.  Oh... and the school nurse think I might be pregnant, so there's that.  Expect my mom to go nuclear."

"i'd heard that rumor myself.   Crap like that spreads faster than anything.  I haven't paid any mind to it, it'll die on its own soon enough.    I won't say you collapsing, and your increased appetite isn't concerning, but a heightened metabolism would help you resist poisons and disease too, right?  I mean it always does in the comics if we're gonna use that as a basis.   You're just always hungry, you could turn out like the Flash and have superspeed too.   Just means we have to cook some really big meals, going forward.   Maybe ask the others if any of them are experiencing something similar?   I'm not, but then we've established I'm not like any of the rest of you.    I'm no genius, but I bet your mom will want to take you to the medical center  to run some tests, and see just what's going on.  You know your mom isn't going to let them do anything shady,  she'll be watching like an angry Hawk, I'm sure.   You could ask to see my mother, too, if you like.  If there's anyone at the hospital you can trust implicitly, it will be her."  he'd let his inner nerd out just abit, and he didn't care.

Cade smiled.  "As for your mom, don't let her get to you.    You've got enough stress.   I've got your back, and you know Devin does.   Hell, the Fellowship sticks together, even if we don't all always get along.   Go home get some rest before the meeting.   I'm sure it's going to be stressful enough.    If you need anything, let me know and I'll get it on my way over, after I go home to get cleaned up."

"I'm thinking that might not be a bad idea, I'm a little worried."  He was a bit quirky at times, but she knew he cared.  She was pretty sure he couldn't help but care, like a Paladin always looking for a Princess in a tower, Cade was always going to be the nice guy, that much she could tell.  Still, he was cute when he wanted to be.

She mustered a smile and held out her arms, waving her fingers inward to summon him to her.  "C'mere.  Hug me and kiss me while I still taste delicious." She invited him, referring to the chocolate still on her lips.  He smiled and leaned down, holding her gently and kissing her.  His neck tingled as her hand slid through his hair and her nails gently tickled his scalp.  She was right... she tasted like chocolate.

"Hopefully I'll feel better soon, hmm?" she cooed with anticipation and hope in his ear.  "Go, get to class... I'll feel guilty if I make you late twice in one day."

He couldn't help but smile.  "Worth being late for you." he answered her back, before they released each other.  "When you're feeling better, I'll be sure to show you how glad I am for that."  he added, before drawing himself up.  His hand lingered on one of hers she was slow to pull away, his own hands were quite warm, and he finally pulled back.  "If you need me, you know how to reach me."  He turned and left, looking over his shoulder once at the door, still smiling.   He didn't think it was something bad with her powers, as far as he knew, nobody actually had any sort of negative side effects, unless they overused their abilities.

(written with Dave)

Edited by Dave ST
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12:20, Nuclear-powered Trailer

Sean glanced up from his phone towards the sun that was just starting to slide from its zenith. With his gifts, he could look at it without risking damage to his eyes, and to his vision, the sun was far more than just a yellow-white blob in the sky. It was a dancing, coruscating tapestry woven from the gamut of the electromagnetic spectrum. The sight had helped him model alternate types of vision - through technology or mutation - to ReGenesis, instead of just using the standard greenish darkvision. He had it, of course, but he had more, too.

The voluptuous boy stood up, hands going to knuckle his back and stretch the strain from sore muscles when he paused, heterochromatic eyes widening in surprise as he looked down at himself. The lingering aches from facing Not-Cody and the deluge of monstrosities in the Blight had faded away unnoticed during his time of self-reflection and under the sun. He interlaced his fingers and stretched his arms over his head, then rolled his shoulders. Nothing, no strain, no pain. What remained was a faint, subtle, almost electric, thrum of health and vitality.

It felt somewhat akin to the feeling of increasing and accelerating the bioelectric synapses in his brain when he overclocked it. Much, much, milder, to be sure - he wouldn't even have noticed save for the sudden realization of the absence of pain - but analogous. Were the scope of his powers starting to broaden-

- his stomach gave a muted growl of warning hunger. Well, it was pass the start of lunch period. Sean brushed off the seat of his pants, gave one of the watching - but unseen - cameras a small, two-fingered salute, then began strolling back to his car.

1:30ish, Bunnee's

A cheek resting on a fist, the crimson-haired electrokinetic dipped a crispy sweet potato fry in the small tub of paprika garlic aioli, his eyes on his tablet sitting on the chipped laminate of the booth table at Bunnee's. He was up to 87 units sold, creeping closer to triple digits. Tiny in comparison to AAA games selling millions of copies at launch, but he didn't have the advertising budget of the big publishers - just his own efforts online, and he was only releasing as digital downloads on PC. He could have cheated, Sean supposed, but he had pushed all his time and unfair advantages on finishing the game and getting it out there, rather than word of it getting out there. Besides, he didn't have shareholders he was beholden to, he didn't mind the game finding its audience over time. As long as it did find an audience.

A quarter of a club sandwich remained on Sean's plate, next to the few remaining sweet potato fries he was absently finishing. A wireless earbud was tucked in his ear as he had continued to listen to IrønBjørn's playthrough over lunch, while occasionally responding to questions and comments on Steam and the II pages, YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit. Either he was getting used to IrønBjørn or IrønBjørn was getting used to ReGenesis, but the Streamer seemed to Sean to be far more engaging and entertaining than he initially had been.

With perfect timing or perfect serendipity, just as Sean finished the last sweet potato fry, Max showed up to replace his near empty glass of orange-lemonade for a full one. Sean looked up his tablet to nod his thanks, expecting the well-endowed waitress to give his plate a questioning glance, silently asking him if he were done. Instead, she slid herself onto the bench seat across from him. Sean blinked, cocking his head in inquiry.

"Shouldn't you be in school, Sean?" Max asked idly.

"Probably," Sean admitted in a drawl. He shrugged. "Not feeling it today. Charlie. Other stuff. Skipping a day ain't gonna hurt." He ran a hand through his hair, then frowned in self-recrimination as he picked up his phone. "I should probably tell my mom before the school calls."

"I get it," Max agreed with a nod. "I've been hearing things-"

"Only half true, at best," Sean interrupted hastily.

"I won't ask which half." Max shot him a wry smirk. The busty waitress had always treated him well, treated him as he wished to be treated without ignoring or overlooking how he looked, and for that, Sean was grateful. It did help him accept his appearance rather than be shamed for it, and it helped her with earning bigger tips from him. "Just don't make a habit of it, right? At some point, somebody might end up calling the Sheriff on you for truancy."

Sean rolled expressive eyes. That would be something, with what he knew and what the Sheriff knew, coming to get him about truancy. "No promises, Max." Sean smirked back and tapped his tablet with a forefinger, a joking tone in his voice. "I just released a new video game. Might end up a big, fancy indy developer making bank. Who says I need school?"

"Yeah, about that. That's why I'm taking a minute to sit down with you, Sean. There's a guy been asking around about you..."

Sean froze, almost dropped his phone, and stared wide-eyed at Max, thoughts of the assassination attempt on Jase shoving itself to the forefront of his thoughts. "Wh-who's looking for me? What he look like?"

"He looks like he's from California, blond, kind of a surfer dude with a well paying job in tech somewhere. Wears an expensive suit but doesn't look stuffy in it. Drives the kind of fancy, ostentatious car the Jauntsen boy would drive if he drove a car instead of a bike. You can't miss it."

"What he want?"

For answer, Max pulled a business card from her apron and placed on the table in front of Sean, the rich cardstock making a crisp slap on the laminate. Sean leaned forward to read the card. It stated: Brad Stanton, EA Talent Acquisition, Senior Technical Recruiter, followed by an EA business email and a phone number. The business card looked expensive with a touch of gilding. Very American Psycho. Sean hadn't been sure people even still used business cards.

"Huh."

"He was looking for 'Sean Cassidy'," Max said, "for a 'mutually beneficial and totally sweet business deal', but I don't think he knows exactly who you are, or what he's expecting."

"Why didn't he just email or send a private DM?" Sean wondered, more to himself than to Maxine as he picked up the card. After the debacle that was his attempt at streaming on Twitch, he kept personal information tight online, but he had business accounts for Intersectional Interactive on various social media sites. It might be conceited, but Sean had always assumed he'd get a call from a big AAA video game publisher or developer. He just hadn't thought it would be so soon. Certainly not the day he dropped his second game. He was thinking at least after his third, maybe longer, unless ReGenesis ridiculously blew up.

"I got the feeling Brad thinks a personal meeting will make his offer, whatever it is, more appealing." Max gestured at Sean's tablet. "How's the game doing? Think Mr. Brad Stanton is here about that?"

"Maybe?" Sean hedged.

It's not like he had a ton of viewers and subscribers on his YouTuber channel about the making of ReGenesis and video games in general. He supposed he could have garnered some interest because of Annwn. But there was no way anyone would be interested in a new, untested IP. Then sent Marshalls, like real ones even if they were corrupt, after Jase. It would make sense to send a rep from a big video game publisher after him to put his guard down.

"I'll have check this guy out online, see if he's legit. Thanks, Max." Sean waved the card then stuffed it into his satchel. I'll have to talk to mom after, too. Carolyn Cassidy might only work part-time as an account from home, mostly keeping the books for her husband, but she'd also helped her son set up his business. She was the closest thing Intersectional Interactive had to a CFO. Not like he'd ever sell anything to a company like EA.

"No problem." Max stood and gave Sean a quick smile before heading back to the counter. "Just when you sell your game or company for big bucks, don't forget your favorite waitress at your favorite diner, okay?"

Sean laughed, a genuine, feel good laugh. He hadn't had one of those in what felt like forever. "I won't."

He took a sip of his orange-lemonade then picked up his tablet, minimizing the stream. Let's found out who this Brad Stanton really is...

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“Em?”  Devin yelled loudly as his backpack slid off his shoulder and he closed the front door of their home.  He passed through the foyer and took a right into their massive kitchen/dining room area and saw half the contents of the fridge splayed out on the island like an orc raiding party had stopped by for a bite after looting and pillaging.  “Emjay!”

“Down here.”  Marissa called out from the basement where the Jauntsen twins entertained guests.  The Mirror was congratulating her on another successful workout as she was standing but bent over, hugging her legs in a display of her excellent flexibility.

Slowly Devin walked about the island in the kitchen looking at all the food that was either gone or in various states of either half eaten or mingled with foods that should never be eaten together.  Lunchmeat was torn open while lettuce and condiments were carelessly cast about the island’s surface.  Every last remaining pudding cup looked like it’d been licked clean while two different soda cans were left on their sides next to open and empty juice cartons.  “Jesus Christ,” Devin whispered to himself as tried to look away from the culinary train wreck as he followed the sound of her voice down into the basement.

He thumped down the stairs, mindful of his aching muscles although they’d seemed to have loosed up quite a bit after being active for most of the school day.  He saw his sister bent over and stretching, her ponytail sprawled falling to the carpet.  “What hell, Em.”  He thumbed towards the stairs.  “The fuck happened up there?  You okay?”

“Oh my god, yes.”  She sighed, standing up straight and arched her back to work out the rest of stretch.  “I feel great, now.  Guess I was just hungry.”

“Em, that’s not hungry!” His thumb shifted to a finger as he pointed upwards.  “That’s a full-scale raid on the fridge.  Where did you put it all?”

“I know, right?  I’ve no idea,” she answered with more pep than he’d heard in a long time.  “Most of me still hurts all over, but look,” she turned slowly, showing off the excessive amounts of skin she put on display when she worked out.  “Most of the scratches are gone, Deej.  Not even a scar.”

He brother inspected her, looking at where he remembered a few of the larger cuts to be and sure enough, she was right; they were gone, not a red mark or a blemish.  He traced his thumb along her side, where one of the larger wounds was just that morning, before Jason’s accident.  “Fuel.” He said softly.

“Hmm?” his sister asked, stepping away to retrieve her water bottle.

“You needed fuel, Em.  You were more injured than all of us.  Shit, one of this things tried to eat you, I saw the entry wounds from its teeth, there’s no way… Emjay, your body needed to fuel the healing, that’s why you went all hungo.  We need to call Annette, you need tests, there’s more to your abilities that mega-thottery.”

“I’m not a thot, fuck off.” She snapped back, while chuckling.  “And relax, I already called her.  Thank to the school, Mom thinks I’m pregnant, so, yeah, there’s that.  I’m going in so the Branch people can have a look at me and figure what the hell is going on.  While I’m there, I’m going to shut Mom up by scheduling an appointment with Doctor Lassiter for a Paragard, since Dad’s insurance covers it.”

“…a what now?”  He asked.

“A whoziwhatsit.” she replied.  “That makes girl parts not do mommy stuff.”

He nodded slowly.  “Oooooh.  Don’t you need a parent’s permission?  Mom is I’m sure okay with you being safe, but after this, I think you’re banned from dick until like… 2090 or something.  Just a guestimate.”

“She knows she can’t stop me from having sex Deej, barring locking me in my room, and even then, you can teleport and open portals.  I think Mom and Dad both know at this point; all they can do hope we’re responsible with our choices.”

Devin laughed.  “Which you obviously weren’t.”

“We were!”  She protested.  “Devin trust me, there was nothing left to impregnate me by the time he put the condom-“

“I don’t need to hear this!”  He clasped his hands over his ears and loudly proclaimed ‘lalala’.  His sister was relentless and simply resorted to pantomiming every seedy, disgusting sexual act she and Cade had committed with a series of tongue in cheek gestures, hip thrusts and implying there was, at some point, the insertion of a fist into a cavity.  As she slowed down, he gently lifted his hands to check if the coast was clear.

“And then it was my turn…” she smiled wryly as he turned and fled upstairs, screaming ‘lalala’ as she chased him to their respective rooms upstairs while she loudly yelled every foul act, mostly made up, since he could no longer see her gestures.  He only knew freedom after he’d slammed the door to his room.  Grinning evilly, she retreated to her own room and prepared for a shower.  They’d have company soon.

---===[@]===---

Between the work out and the shower, Marissa was feeling better.  Her body still ached, her muscles feeling like sludge, but her and her brother had always toughed it out and pushed themselves, especially while not feeling well.  No longer hungry, she went to clean the kitchen only to find that her brother was already on it.

“Best bro ever,” she pecked him on the cheek and smiled as he shooed her away.

“Nuh uh, you can’t kiss me anymore, I know where that mouth has been,” he joked.

“Puh-lease,” she rolled her eyes, grinning.  “I know your number.  There’s no telling how much herpes you’ve smeared on my cheek.  Rebecca alone you’ve been with what?  Six, seven times?”

“Uh, four.” He corrected her.  He side-armed in a change of topic.  “Feeling better?  Everyone should be here soon.”

“No,” she shrugged.  She’d changed after shower into comfortable leggings and a crop top sweatshirt that exposed her midriff and hung off one shoulder, covering the sports bra she wore underneath.  Her sweatshirt read: ‘Can’t talk right now.  Doing Hot Girl shit.’  Her feet were bare and patted softly on the kitchen tiles.  She was in light makeup, reasserting her position as the only girl in Shelly who wore lip gloss while dressed for lounging.  “But I’m faking it well enough.  Pretty sure this is going to be a complete shitshow, but, it is what it is.”

“And if this doesn’t end positively?” he asked while wiping down the island and tossing the paper towel in the trash that was filled with the remnants of the fridge.

“Then it doesn’t.”  She shrugged and chuckled.  “Made it through sixteen years of my life without them, Deej.  Pretty sure I’ll be okay for another sixteen or so.  I have superpowers, plus I’m gorgeous.  This girl will be fine, trust me.”  She drew her phone from the pocket on the thigh of her leggings and tapped to open an app.  "I'm kinda peckish, think we should order pizza for everyone?"

"Are you serious?"  Devin looked at his sister in absolute amazement.

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Posted (edited)

Just before 4pm, Marias Medical Center.

Normally, the fact that it took Autumn longer to walk to the hospital than it would have to bike there would not be considered an advantage of any kind; at the very least, it was demonstrably less efficient. Normally, of course, she would also have had her bike, and it wouldn't have mattered. Since that wasn't the case, however, the endlessly energetic redhead decided to use the extra time as an opportunity to clear her head, to break the inertia of her mood through forward physical movement and put sneakers to pavement. It wasn't really all that far from the grounds of the high school to the medical center, anyway, and contrary to the interpersonal storms looming on the horizon, the late summer sky was bright and clear. It was a good day for a walk, if nothing else, a good day to stretch her legs and her brain and shake off some of the awkwardness involved in deliberately not talking to Marissa all afternoon. Serious conversations were off the table until later, after all, and there was no way Autumn could just talk to her about Homecoming or french fries or whatever as if nothing had happened. A whole fucking lot had happened, and while there wasn't much she could do about most of it... Maybe this would be different. Possibly. Probably. She hoped. So it was that she arrived at the massive, state-of-the-art medical facility for the second time that day, in slightly better spirits and considerably dustier shoes. The place was still, as always, a maze to her, the gleaming hallways seemingly identical and perhaps intentionally designed to be confusing, but at least for now there was no particular urgency to her wandering, and it didn't take long to get from the patient intake desk to the main one a little further on. Okay. Taking a deep breath, Autumn made a half-hearted attempt to smooth back the rogue strands that had escaped her ponytail as she approached the nurse's desk. Fingers crossed.

"Hi," she began, smiling at the petite older woman on duty. She looked to be in her fifties, maybe? Not un-pretty, though, which seemed weirdly standard for a tiny town in rural Montana. "I'm here to see a patient. I know I need to check in, but I'm not sure what room she's in. Can you help me?"

"Who's the patient, honey?" The nurse asked she set down her mug, taking in the rambunctious curls and large blue eyes with an answering smile. "Sophia Fingleman?" Autumn tucked her hands in her back pockets as the nurse nodded, clucking sympathetically as she checked her register. "Poor girl... ah, yes. She's in room 114. You'll need to sign the visitor's log." The nurse motioned to the book on the counter, then continued as Autumn quickly jotted down her name and the room number. "It's right down the main corridor, first left, and just along there on your right as you go down. Are you a friend from school?"

"Yes ma'am, we go to school together," Autumn nodded, rocking back slightly on her heels as she glanced down the hall the nurse had described. They weren't friends, really, but she felt pretty sure it would be weird to point that out, under the circumstances. In fact, given how little they'd actually interacted over the years, it felt a little weird coming to visit Sophia at all. If I didn't know what happened to her, would I even be doing this? she wondered, but found no immediate answer. "I know she's probably tired, so I won't stay too long. Thank you for your help!" With another polite smile, the copper-tressed teen headed off in the direction of Sophia's room. It occurred to her, halfway down the main hall, that the Finglemans themselves might be there, and it took all of her resolve to keep walking rather than turn around and ask about the ICU. "Well, fuck," she sighed, hoping she didn't run into them. Or, at least, that they didn't ask a lot of super awkward questions if she did. Room 114 really was shockingly easy to find, given the bewildering layout of the place- it was almost as if the nurse's directions were some kind of magic spell or secret code that settled the labyrinth of hallways into a navigable configuration. At least she didn't have enough time to get nervous, or think too much about what she was going to say, because, honestly... She had no idea. The door was slightly ajar when she arrived, and although she couldn't hear any conversation through the narrow gap, Autumn hesitated briefly before knocking quietly on the frame.

"Yes?" A quiet female voice answered the knock. Autumn wasn't certain whether she was disappointed or relieved at that, but regardless it was too late to run away now even if she'd wanted to. Taking a breath - It will be fine - she pushed the door open and stuck her head through. Sophia's bed was in a semi-upright position, allowing her to recline whilst not having to crane her neck to watch the TV - currently muted - or to speak to visitors. The room was a double, but the other bed was currently unoccupied, an also not-uncommon occurrence in Shelly's hospital, over-equipped and over-large as it was for the town. Shapeless in a hospital gown, and with an I.V in one arm, Sophia looked at the newcomer with a certain amount of curious surprise, though perhaps not as much astonishment as Autumn felt at seeing the room's other visitor. For seated on the edge of Sophia's bed, her hair an artificially dark red that complemented her tight sweater and scarlet lipstick, was Courtney. The two redheads stared at each other for a moment, each seemingly nonplussed at the sight of the other, until Sophia smiled wanly at her new visitor. "Heya, Autumn. Come on in. I... I was hoping some of you guys would stop by - while I was awake anyway. I heard that Devin looked in on me, but I was sleeping." The pale brunette seemed a little dopey, a sense of calm that Autumn instinctively sensed was chemical in origin permeating her mood. "Courtney was just telling me that you guys went through hell." She blinked a little, her eyes filling with tears. "Thank you."

Well, fuck. This is awkward. Shifting her weight uncomfortably from one foot to another as she lingered in the doorway, Autumn considered for a moment how unpleasant this was likely to get. She'd been a little anxious about Sophia's parents being there, and how to deal with the barrage of questions they'd probably unload on her- because, obviously, she hadn't exactly prepared a list of answers ahead of time- but Courtney Adams was one of the last people the young vitakinetic had expected to see here. And, if she was honest, one of the last people she would have wanted to see. She still hadn't forgotten when the glamorous cheerleader had been Cook's pet, eagerly threatening to get more "hands on" if he'd just give the word, and part of her hoped, disagreeably, that she'd try it sometime. Nothing she'd done in the days since had exactly endeared her to the 'plain redhead of Shelly High,' either, but if Sean and Sophia could tolerate her after everything else... Eh. With a mental shrug, she pushed the lingering rancor to the back of her mind; that wasn't why she'd come. "Yeah," she nodded and slid into the room, a faint smile of her own answering that of the girl in the hospital bed. No matter what they'd been through, it'd only been a few minutes, at most. Sophia Fingleman had clearly been in there- with Not-Cody, and the Tree, and everything else- for way longer than that. "I mean, it wasn't the worst trip I've ever had, but I'm not in a hurry to do it again, if you feel me." The tomboyish redhead scanned the room, blue eyes alighting on an empty chair moments before she perched there herself, hands tucked under her thighs as she leaned forward to look the curvy brunette over more carefully, her vision overlaid suddenly with drifting currents of vital energy. "How are you feeling, anyway? And, sorry if I interrupted."

"It was just catching up." Courtney smiled, looking back at Sophia, who nodded, giving both redheads a weak smile.

"I'm..." The smile faded like mist, and Sophia looked down at her hands. "I'm supposed to say 'I'm fine', right? That's what my mom and dad want to hear. That I'm fine." she said in a small voice. Autumn could see the work she'd done last night, the soothing of the traumas both mental and physical, was still holding. But it was plain that Sophia, though perhaps not traumatised in the classic sense, still remembered far too much of what she had gone through. She looked up at Autumn, chin sticking out slightly as she firmed her jaw, trying not to cry. "They've got me on something to stop me freaking out. But I don't feel like I'm going to freak out. I just feel sad, and hurt, and not at all okay. And Charlie..." Her voice trailed off for a moment, and Courtney reached out and placed a hand atop of hers, the glamorous girl's dark eyes full of something that could only be... empathy. "I just want to cry my eyes out. But my mom was doing that in here last night, and then she started having hysterics when they talked about... you know, assault and stuff, and dad had to take her home, and I feel like if I start crying I won't stop." Sophia went on after a pause. And Autumn could see the emotional pain, the hurt that the memories caused even if the damage had been healed, like the aching of scars. And there was more there, something she'd perceived last night during the chaos. A tiny life pattern, part of Sophia's yet distinct. So tiny that only her Shine could tell for certain it was there at all.

Autumn exhaled, the sound one of audible uncertainty as she nodded again. Whether they knew each other well or not, it was clear the girl had been through something awful, and a hard, tight knot of indecision constricted in the red-haired Girl Scout's chest. How many years of therapy would it take Sophia to recover? Would she ever really recover? And, for that matter, would any of them? Shifting forward slightly in her seat, Autumn rubbed her palms over the threadbare knees of her jeans. "I know that feeling. About the crying, I mean," she clarified quietly. "So, y'know. If you need to, just do it. Just cry until you can't anymore, because there's no reason you should be fine right now. And-" Autumn hesitated, compassion warring with courtesy as her freckled features scrunched slightly in a grimace. She was supposed to say that it'd be fine, that it was over, and all of that, but how could she tell someone else what she didn't really even believe herself? And knowing what she did about both the prevalence of the Weird and about Sophia's situation in particular, just thinking about saying it felt weirdly empty, even if she could have made up some Hallmark card inspirational stuff. "...And, honestly, it's probably not going to start getting better right away, so I think if it helps to cry, or scream, or whatever to get it out, it's fine." Clear, expressive eyes narrowed fractionally in consideration as she weighed whether or not it was worth it to mention the reason for her visit, or if it would be better to come back another day- potentially without an audience. "It's better than trying to pretend things are okay when they're not."

Sophia nodded, tears welling up in her eyes again. "He showed me Charlie." Her voice broke at the mention of the dead boy's name. "Forced me to look, like it... like it gave him a s-s-sick thrill seeing me cry. He said all kinds of horrible things and..." she looked at Autumn, her wide eyes filled questions as tears streamed down her pale cheeks. "It was the Dark, right? That's what made him do that stuff?"

"Cody was always bad." Courtney said with conviction, tapping the side of her head again by way of illustration. "Most people think stuff they'd never do or say, right? A bitchy comment, a mean expression, kicking some asshole in the balls. Everyone does it, which fucked me up when my gift came along. I felt like everyone was two-faced, a hypocrite. I could read enough to see the contrast but not enough to provide all the context. I've only recently started, I don't know, finding my way back from that. After Cook, and finding out about the Fellowship, and so on." Her lips quirked slightly as she shrugged at both the other girls. "Anyway, Cody would absolutely do all the things he thought of unless he was convinced he'd get caught and punished for it. He wasn't just an awkward guy or on the spectrum - he got off on tormenting weaker creatures." Courtney frowned, her gaze distant. "At the time I thought he was just a useful mad dog so long as Chet or Devin could hold his leash. Boy, was I ever dumb. Point being, Sophia darling, Cody was a monster in the making before the Dark got him."

The girl in the bed nodded, reaching for a tissue and blowing her nose, her eyes reddened from the tears that still flowed. "I... yeah, he was always sort of a creep, wasn't he?" she asked the other two rhetorically. Both redheads nodded, each with their own remembrances of Cody's actions over the years. "I kind of feel b-better talking about it with you guys. Is that fucked up? I mean, we've never been friendly, but..." she paused. "I feel like I can talk to you."

"Friendly or not, we've all seen some shit. Kind of makes it easier when the people you're talking to don't automatically assume you're crazy, doesn't it?" Almost everyone, it seemed- or at least, everyone with two X chromosomes- had a story about Cody being that guy, but that was when he was still human. Sophia, however, was in a unique and definitely not enviable position. Well, yeah. Her new boyfriend got murked by a legit monster who dragged her off to Nightmare World and did god-knows-what to her, and now she's- "Sooo," Autumn drawled, cutting off that line of thought before it could develop fully. "Listen, um. I do need to talk to you about something. Specifically, I have to ask you something, but it's... complicated, I guess. I don't want to make this harder for you, so if you don't want to answer any questions about what happened, I totally get it. One hundred percent." The lively redhead spread her hands, palms forward, in a gesture of sincerity. "It's a massively fucked up situation. I just-" She paused, struggling with the desire to just ask what Cody had done to her and get it over with so they could move forward, and conversely to not fuck up Sophia's fragile mental state even more than it was already. "I want to help, but I'm really, really not good at this kind of stuff, and if I just ask the stupid question, I'm afraid it's gonna make everything worse. And... you've been through enough, so, yeah," she finished quietly.

Her meaning was not lost on either of the other two, Courtney nodding silently in agreement with Autumn's last statement as she looked from her to Sophia. The brunette's pallor had increased a notch, but she seemed collected still as she considered the vibrant redhead in the frayed jeans. "People asked me the question." she said quietly, her fingers twisting in the blanket covering her lap. "That's when my mom freaked out, before I could answer. I guess they don't want to ask me without mom or dad present..." She took a long, quavering breath, then looked directly at Autumn, her jaw set. "The answer is 'yes'. That thing - Cody - he did..." Sophia swallowed her eyes looking up above Autumn's head now, unable to face the expressions of either of the other girls. "He raped me." she finished in a small voice. Her gaze dropped as she looked down at her fingers. "He raped me." she said again, more firmly, her eyes fixed on her hands. "I tried to fight him... But then he forced me to look in his eyes. I remember feeling like I was being squeezed - inside my own head. And I don't remember much after that. Just..." She clenched her fingers together, nails creasing the skin on her hands. "Just bits. Pictures. Like you guys, and how I was so, so hungry, and then pain, and then I woke up here."

Jesus fucking Christ. It was the worst possible scenario, wasn't it? It took a moment for the initial shock to wear off, the surprise at how plainly Sophia had admitted what'd happened to her, and how Cody had overpowered her. Changed her, or corrupted her, or whatever. How openly she'd described how it felt, even though it was obviously difficult. Whether it was bravery that'd moved her to speak up, or the drugs lowering her inhibitions, or just a simple, desperate desire to be heard, there was no turning back now. Autumn exhaled a slow, steadying breath, then glanced surreptitiously at the lush-lipped bombshell on the other side of the bed before nodding at the distraught brunette. Courtney was being... not awful? Empathetic, even? It was almost as uncomfortable as this whole visit itself, but she was not about to complain. "All of this stays inside this room, then." Or at least as much inside this room as the Project's or Branch 9's or whoever's surveillance allows, she reminded herself. Fuck, fuck, fuck. As she leaned back in her chair, the soft tap tap tap of her sneakers on the polished floor was the only sound for a long moment. Now what? "Okay." Even white teeth worried visibly at the inside of her lower lip. "Okay," she repeated, as if in confirmation. It's fine, Autumn. It'll be fine. "So, like I said, I'm really bad at this, and if I say the wrong thing, I'm sorry." Inhaling, the flannel-clad redhead straightened again, silently willing the tension in her chest to unravel itself. "I mean, I'm sorry anyway, because that's not something anybody should have to deal with, and the fact that you got through it is amazing." There was no point telling the poor girl how they'd found her, she decided. This was going to be bad enough on its own. "One more question, though, and I promise I'll answer any you have." She paused briefly as Sophia, very tentatively, inclined her head in agreement. "Did you have sex with anybody else over the weekend?"

Courtney stiffened slightly, her honey-brown eyes widening in sharp inquiry as she glanced at Autumn, causing the other redhead to wonder if Court was going to lift the information out of her mind. She narrowed her eyes at Courtney for a moment warningly, shaking her head very slightly, then looked back at Sophia, who was biting her lip. "Well... Charlie, before-" she stopped, closing her eyes tight against tears, then opened them, a rapid intake of breath accompanying a sudden realisation as she looked at Autumn. "Why are you asking?" Her voice was strained, a note of a quiver at the end of the question as she looked from Autumn to Courtney, then back at Autumn, a mute and fearful query in her gaze. "Why would you ask that?" she asked in the tone of one with a dreadful, inevitable suspicion.

Autumn swallowed, closing her eyes as her lips compressed into a thin, pale line. It was a fair question. It was actually the only reasonable question, under the circumstances, and also the hardest one to answer. "Because," she began, pale fingers clutching at her knees to keep her hands still. Better to just be honest, right? Hopefully? "You know when we came to get you and Tawny, you were-" Briefest of hesitations. "You were hurt pretty badly. We kind of patched you up, and in the process I saw something." A sudden thought occurred to her, that Sophia might think other people knew if she did, and she shook her head vehemently, errant copper curls swaying around her face. "Nobody else knows, Sophia, I swear, and I'm sorry, I know this is a lot to put on you, but I thought it was important, and I didn't want you to find out when it was too late to do anything about it, if you wanted to, I mean, and-" Autumn. For fuck's sake, girl. Take a breath, or you're going to pass out before you tell her why you're here. Inhaling, she fixed her gaze on Sophia's wide-eyed, stricken expression, and counted to four. One. Two. Three- "And you're pregnant," she exhaled in a rush.

"No." Sophia was already shaking her head, eyes wide in her pale face like dark wounds in her soul as she tried to process what she was hearing. "No. That's not right." she repeated through stiff lips. "It can't be right." Courtney reached over and placed her hand firmly over the brunette's twisting fingers, stilling them - and that stillness seemed to spread through Sophia like the opposite of a ripple in a pool.

"It might be Charlie's." The glamorous redhead suggested softly.

Sophia was still shaking her head as she moved her gaze to Courtney, no longer about to panic but far from 'okay'. "We used condoms." she near-whispered in the silent room. "I mean... It can't be Charlie's. Which means it... it has to be..." She looked down at herself, at where hers and Courtney's hands were over her belly. Fresh tears came, a fresh wave of grief and pain almost physically emanating from the girl. Autumn saw Courtney wince, eyes tightening as though fighting off a headache, but the cheerleader kept contact with Sophia, her voice still gentle.

"Condoms aren't a hundred percent." she said firmly. "Close, but not certain." She glanced from Sophia to Autumn then, a question in her eyes. "Can you tell? For sure, I mean?"

Autumn blinked, momentarily taken aback by the calming effect Courtney seemed to have on the traumatized girl. She'd expected an outburst, especially following the stupidly blunt way she'd made her pronouncement- Really, stellar job there. Slow clap. -But this was... Wow. Courtney was not only not being much like the Courtney she knew, she was actively helping. Okay. Well, that made this a little easier. "I don't know," she admitted, frowning. "I mean, it's so early I'm surprised I noticed at all, and I don't really have any way of comparing-" The soft, uneven hitch of Sophia's breath made her stomach clench, freezing the words in her throat. Even if it was the truth, she realized, it wasn't helpful. Shifting a little in the chair, Autumn tried again, her eyes earnest and not a little regretful as she glanced at Courtney, unable to meet the despairing look of the girl next to her. "I've never done it before. I mean... It's probably something I should be able to do, but I don't really know how. I can try, I just..."

"Would you?" Sophia asked quietly, red-rimmed eyes boring into her with an intensity completely at odds with the calmness of her manner. There was more than curiosity or sadness in that gaze, and even with Courtney's reassuring influence it was easy for even Autumn to read the desperate need there.

The young vitakinetic nodded slowly in response, scooting the chair a little closer to the bed with a discordant scraping sound. She'd already gone this far. She couldn't just drop a bomb like that and walk away, could she? "Fair warning. I don't know if this will work, okay? And, I'm sorry. I just thought you should know, so you could decide for yourself what you wanted to do about it, instead of just finding out later. Are you ready?"

As Sophia nodded, Autumn looked at her for a moment, then, hesitantly, opened what some of the Fellowship were calling her 'Third Eye' and Looked again. This was that rudimentary awareness she'd discovered during that horrible time last week in this very hospital, and then studied more whilst camping with Jason - she could feel both Courtney and Sophia's life, could tell that they were distinct and separate members of the same species. Somewhere, nearby and on the edge of her heightened awareness, she could feel other human lives, each different, yet with common threads. She could even feel the tiny life just starting to develop inside Sophia, though its 'signal' was hard to discern against the background. Barely more than bacteria, right now.

Taking a deep breath, Autumn reached over and placed her hand on Sophia's arm, letting her more thorough, more precise and keen senses flow through the brunette's aura, noting the sedative in her bloodstream, the neurochemical bitterness of sadness and fear in her brain. She focused downwards, moving through Sophia's body... There It was microscopic, a tiny thing, a fertilised egg just beginning to become more. For a moment, Autumn was lost in contemplation - almost awe - at the feel of it. Such potential, in such a small cluster of cells. We all start like this, she mused with a shock akin to revelation before collecting herself and examining the embryonic life form more closely. A chill ran down her spine as realisation dawned - this living thing was not wholly human. In fact, the 'feel' of it was so different from human, given her experience of such things, that it wasn't even a close cousin like a Teulu. It felt... malignant. Wrong, somehow. A microscopic pinprick of something Dark.

Autumn went utterly still for a moment, all her restless energy crystallized into a single point of concentrated horror that chilled her blood- not for herself, but for Sophia, and what it meant that Cody had done this. Hell, that he'd even been able to do it. Her eyes, pupils tiny flecks of black in wide, turbulent seas, fixed on the now-expectant young woman's face. Was this part of some long-term plan, or just more pointless, purposeless awful? There was no hiding the stricken expression on her freckled features as she shook her head.

"What is it?" Courtney pressed, her slender, well-manicured fingers squeezing Sophia's. "Did it not work?"

The other redhead opened her mouth to speak, but the words wouldn't come. How do I tell her? she wondered, feeling the dull, queasy lurch of nausea in the pit of her stomach. Should I even tell her? Or should I just... I don't know, say there's something wrong with it, and it won't survive? I could make her have a miscarriage, couldn't I? I mean... How would she even know? Wouldn't that be easier? Was there a handbook? Some crazy pamphlet in the entryway of the hospital, like, 'So You Were Raped By A Corrupt Spirit In Physical Form: A Guide For Expectant Vessels.' The thought, ridiculous as it was, tore a quiet, choking sound from her lips that wasn't quite manic laughter, and wasn't quite a horrified sob, but some ugly mixture of both. It only lasted the span of a single breath, but she could feel Sophia's arm tense reflexively beneath her hand. Get your shit together, Autumn. You came here to help, right? So help. Let her choose. "It's not Charlie's," she managed, her voice barely more than a whisper. God, this was fucking hard. It would've been easier to deal with those monsters around the Tree again than tell her the truth. "Sophia, I'm sorry. I can-" She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes as the other girl's face crumpled. "I can help you. I will help you, okay? I-if you want. It's your choice."

Sophia cried. She didn't wail, or tear at herself, or scream out. She simply wept, as though some instinct told her screams and noise were pointless, and all there was... was the horror and grief. So she cried, one hand seeking out Autumn's and clamping down on it as though for support as her other hand gripped Courtney's manicured fingers. The cheerleading Senior reached over and took Autumn's other hand, and the vitakinetic realised that Court was likewise silently crying, her perfect mascara running down her cheeks as, for now at least, the brash, brassy telepath was unable or, perhaps more accurately, unwilling to shield herself from the pain in the room. Eventually Sophia's sobs tailed off, the tears still drenching her cheeks, and her fingers gently squeezed Autumn's hand. "Yes. Help me with it." Sophia stated in a broken voice. "If it was Charlie's, then maybe... But no. Not him." The last word was delivered with something near venomous vehemence. "Get it out of me."

There was no further discussion necessary. Sophia never needed to know that this thing inside her was inhuman, that even if it wasn't hurting her right now, it would eventually consume or kill her if allowed to grow to full-term. It wasn't a person, and could never be a person- even with all the Cassies in the world to help purge the Darkness, there wouldn't be enough left of it to survive. Even Cody had been human at one time. This, though... In spite of herself, Autumn shivered at that feeling of wrongness. "Okay." Autumn drew in a long breath, and in her mind's eye delicate threads of crimson uncoiled within her, tiny filaments of energy racing eagerly down her arm and through her fingertips. They hummed along Sophia's veins, followed the currents of her lifeforce and arrowed, unerringly, toward the infinitesimally small malignancy within her belly. It was barely anything. Barely more than a few cells clustered together. ...And, with a thought, it wasn't even that anymore- the tiny kernel of life extinguished, pierced by a thousand impossibly fine blades and smothered in the sanguine stream of her power. There was no guilt, no feeling of regret, but rather an odd sense of satisfaction, she realized with a little jolt; it was an excision, not a murder.

"Let me know when you're going to start," Sophia murmured soberly, squaring her shoulders a little as if to prepare for an uncomfortable procedure.

"It's already done." The tip of Autumn's tongue darted out to moisten suddenly dry lips as she mentally blinked away the shimmering tides of vital energy that coursed around and through them all. "I want to check in with you again in a week or two, just to make sure nothing weird happens, but it's done."

Sophia nodded, mild surprise at the ease and painlessness of the whole procedure giving way to profound gratitude as she squeezed Autumn's hand again. Though her nose and cheeks were red and blotchy from crying, and though there were still tears aplenty waiting to be shed, she managed a small, but genuine smile. "Thank you." she whispered. "Thank you so much. I... I don't know how-" Abruptly she leaned close and awkwardly hugged the young vitakinetic. "It's fine." Autumn returned the hug as best she could, patting the other girl's back reassuringly. "Really, it's no problem. You just focus on you, okay?" Her blue eyes found themselves looking at Courtney over Sophia's shoulder, the cheerleader discreetly wiping away her smudged mascara and tears as she met Autumn's gaze and smiled slightly, nodding.

"I'll be around to help. Or if you need to talk. Or just want to hang out." Courtney told Sophia as the pale brunette relinquished her embrace of Autumn and sank back against the pillows. "A buttload of 'experts' are going to come along and try to get you to talk about this stuff. Your folks are gonna worry a bunch about you, too. It's going to get frustrating, and painful, and sometimes you're going to feel like venting. Having someone else around will help you." She smiled slightly, a quirk of her scarlet lips. "Autumn will be keeping an eye on you too, from the sounds of it." she said with an overly-conspiratorial wink at the other redhead in the room.

"I absolutely will." Autumn responded, smiling at Sophia. Courtney being an actual human being was somewhat throwing her off-balance - sort of like when she realised Jase was not, in fact, the boogeyman she'd expected him to be when she'd cycled up to brave the dragon in his lair, a week and a day and a lifetime ago. She stood up, tugging at the sleeves of her flannel shirt. "So, uh, I've got a day ahead of me, so I should get moving." Both the other girls nodded.

Giving them both a nod and a waist-high wave, Autumn let herself out of the room. One down, two to go. she mentally recited, checking the first item off her to-do list.

Did I handle that right? the restive redhead wondered, sidestepping a pair of hospital staff chatting quietly in the hall as she followed the signs and arrows through the maze of corridors. If I hadn't told her at all- just, like, took care of it on my own- it wouldn't have been her decision. She wouldn't have to deal with knowing that thing got her pregnant, obviously, but... It's her body, so, her choice. Isn't it? Or, it should be, I think. And, Autumn admitted to herself, I don't think I could've actually told her the other stuff... Either that it was Charlie's but wouldn't survive, or the whole truth. Both of those would've just been cruel, wouldn't they? For different reasons, but, still. She was uncharacteristically lost in thought as she walked, wondering about the hows and whys of dead monsters and ones that had never lived, the ends of her sleeves drawn taut over her hands; idly, she wished she had her hoodie. It felt kind of strange to be out without it, just as it felt kind of strange to be more preoccupied with ethics and murder attempts and scary-smart boyfriends than homework and the start of hunting season. "Can I help you?" a warm, feminine voice inquired suddenly, breaking her out of her reverie. The owner of the voice, as Autumn blinked and turned her head, was a slim, dark-skinned woman in plum-colored scrubs, her short, curly hair frosted here and there with grey, and she glanced pointedly- bemusedly- at the glass-covered list of names and office numbers at which the red-haired girl had been staring for a little while now.

For a moment, the flustered junior's features were a mask of confusion and embarrassment, and she shook her head as warmth flooded her cheeks. Without realizing it, she must've wandered back to the intersection where she and Cassie had ended up when searching for Dr. Cook. Great. "Um. Maybe?" Autumn admitted uncertainly. "I'm trying to get to the ICU, um, wing, I guess? There's a patient I need to visit."

"You are way off track, then, sweetheart," the other woman laughed, giving her a quick once-over. "You must've just come from school, huh?" As the red-faced teen nodded, she grinned back and shook her head. "Mhmm. Thought so. You've got that look, like all the lights are on but nobody's home. My kids used to do the same thing when they came home in the afternoons. Zombies, both of 'em, until almost dinner time." She gave the flushed young woman another measuring glance, her expression softer now, more nostalgic than amused, and tipped her head toward another corridor. "Head down that way, past the stairs. Go through the double doors, turn right at the next big intersection and you'll see the nurse's station a little farther down on your left-hand side. They'll get you signed in." Autumn ducked her head in a quick nod, and gave an abashed, but grateful smile in response.

"Awesome," she enthused, "thanks for the help. Hope you have a nice day!"

"You, too, sweetheart. Hope everything works out for you."

That makes two of us, Autumn thought wryly as she turned, her feet carrying her onward once more. She didn't envy the hospital staff here, well-funded though the place obviously was. Especially lately, with all the messed up stuff that'd been happening. At least they seemed nice, though? And that made days like today, which was already massively fucked up, a teeny bit easier to deal with. The trick now, though, wasn't just finding the ICU wing, or ward, or whatever, but actually getting into Dale's room. As she pushed cautiously through the heavy double doors and approached the desk her guide had indicated, it occurred to the impulsive redhead that maybe her plan should've been just a little bit more specific on that point. Too late now! her brain chimed up, and she had to agree. The only thing to do was keep going forward. Fortune favors the bold, or something. Right? "Hey, hi," she began, smiling politely at the small handful of people working behind the counter. "Is this where visitors sign in?"

"It is, sweetie." Replied the closest nurse behind the counter, as she turned away from what she was doing and smiled professionally at Autumn. Tapping a couple of keys on her terminal she looked at the redhead expectantly. "Who're you here to see?" Briefly Autumn wondered how many patients a small-town ICU could have - surely not many, right?

"Ms Dale, I think the name is?" she replied, then mentally cursed at the alert, searching glance the nurse gave her.

"You think?" The nurse, still maintaining professional pleasantness despite the suspicion in her gaze. "Sorry, sweetie, but if you don't know the person I can't let you see them. And if you do, I have standing orders to call -" Her eyes flicked over Autumn's shoulder and she stopped.

"It's fine, Molly." came a male voice from behind Autumn, young with a hint of an accent. Glancing back over her shoulder, Autumn was mildly surprised to see Etienne, wearing a doctor's white coat that did nothing for his pasty complexion. Cook's former spy looked like he'd been through hell and was just recovering, certainly not appearing like the fresh-faced twenty-year old he'd been posing as, but his eyes were alert and his tone firm as he went on. "She's expected."

"Right." And just like that, the nurse nodded and turned back to what she'd been doing. No entry to the visitors log, no questions. Etienne gave Autumn a slight smile and a nod, gesturing down the hallway to a doorway at the end. A man in security uniform stood to one side of the open doorway, but like the guys who'd been outside Jase's room earlier, this one didn't look like a run-of-the-mill rentacop.

"I'm to stay with you." Etienne said as she fell into step and they approached the ICU room. "She's sedated at the moment, drifting in and out - barely conscious at the best of times. Which is lucky for her, considering the pain she must be in." He shrugged. "I've been assigned as a pair of eyes and a potential friendly face should she come round."

"Friendly," Autumn repeated skeptically, her eyes lingering with evident suspicion on his profile. "Right." It was solid confirmation that they'd been listening when she and Jason had talked about Dale earlier, and while part of her bristled at the observation of their time together, the practical result was that she didn't have to wait for an escort. I guess I'll call that a W. Or maybe a w. Etienne, though? Seriously? With a sigh, she turned back to the hallway, and the undertaking, ahead. "So, look. The plan is that she does wake up, because it's gonna be really hard to talk to her otherwise. I get that you're not just here for moral support, which... whatever, okay. Birds aren't real, big brother is watching, I get it. Just..." Frowning, she shook her head, glancing briefly down at her hands as she rolled her sleeves up to her elbows, revealing the faded glow of a summer tan and amber freckles like constellations scattered all over. It was a half-conscious task, like braiding her hair, and half-consciously she wondered what she'd do if, like Dale, that capability was suddenly taken from her. "Listen. I'm not here to hurt her, but it might hurt anyway, if she's as bad as I've heard."

Etienne made a face, nodding agreement as they stepped past the guard on the door. "I figured. I've enough medical knowledge to know that the nerves in her hands and forearms are likely shot - mostly because there's precious little flesh there to contain nerves anymore. All the pain will be at the top of the forearm. Your b- Bannon did a number on her."

"Yeah, well I'm not exactly crying on her behalf." Autumn retorted.

"Me either. Look, I owe you guys - for rescuing me after Cook turned me over to Klein." Etienne said sincerely as they approached the bed, currently hidden from view behind curtains. The beeping of monitors was audible in the otherwise quiet space. "I'm not pointing fingers, just giving a friendly warning that it's not pleasant."

"No, it's... fair," the spirited young woman conceded. It was pretty obvious that Jase's capacity for violence was daunting, to say the least. He didn't think like a human, or respond to things the way humans did. Well. In some ways he does, her brain reminded her slyly as she huffed, twisting her hair up into a knot and looping it through the ponytail holder again. And even if you didn't know what he could do, he wasn't exactly approachable. Or, hadn't been. Did he change, or did she? Or was it only the perspective that was different? Could he even change? Huh. "And he- Bannon," she clarified quietly, "is my boyfriend. You can say it. It's not some huge deal, and if I was that worried about how people would react I wouldn't be dating him in the first place." Etienne's description, combined with the bits and pieces she'd already heard, had painted a fairly grim picture of what awaited her behind the white privacy curtain. Somehow, it was still inadequate. The woman lying in the bed- or what Autumn could see of her, through the tangle of cords and tubing- looked to be in maybe her mid-thirties with shortish, dirty blonde hair. In decent shape, she thought, with a strong jaw, and long lashes above the delicate creases and faint purple shadows ringing her eyes. Dale's hands, though... The redhead swallowed hard as she was confronted with the reality of what Jason had done to her, her fingers finding purchase on the cold metal rail of the hospital bed to steady herself. Encased in sealed, oxygenated clear plastic 'mittens,' the marshal's hands were just- "Gone," she whispered, half-disbelieving. "Jesus fuck." She was going to kill him, the girl reminded herself as she stared, trembling, at what had been fingers, now curled into blackened claws. Bits of charred flesh clung tenaciously to the bone, growing steadily wetter and pinker and- oh- ohgod -meatier up the woman's forearm just before the pressure cuff.

A wave of nausea roiled through her and the red-haired teen blanched visibly, knuckles going white as she gripped the cool, reassuring solidity of the steel frame. She was going to kill him. She was. But if he'd wanted her dead, she would be. Wouldn't she? Which means... He did it on purpose. Inch by inch. Not in an attempt to disable her, or even just eliminate her outright. This had- Wounds like this had taken a little while. Had taken focus. "Can I have a chair, please?" she murmured hoarsely.

"Sure." Etienne disappeared outside the curtains once more, leaving Autumn to stare at the crippled woman for a long moment before he reappeared, setting down a hospital-issue plastic chair next to the bed. Then he stood back at the foot of the bed, watching as Autumn released her death grip on the steel frame and sank into the chair with a murmured "Thanks." "He once threatened to do that to me if he ever caught me snooping around his home, according to Clara." the youthful-seeming spy observed, his own gaze seeming to be drawn to the ruin that was the renegade marshal's hands. "Burn me to death by inches."

Autumn inhaled sharply, seemingly surprised at the sound of another human voice as she blinked up at Etienne, and then back down to the still form of the woman in the bed before them. She watched quietly as the tiny lights on the monitors flashed, and then nodded. "Then... Yeah. He probably would have," she agreed slowly, her manner subdued. "But if that's really how it happened, I think maybe he was warning you through her. He's-" Pausing for a moment, she licked her lips. "He's not really the threatening type, you know?" Etienne nodded and fell silent Autumn took a deep breath and focused on Dale. The eddies and flows of vibrancy that were the woman's life-force sprang into sight, streaks of red and scarlet shooting through the aura from the burned flesh of her arms, muted and deflected from the pain centers of her brain by narcotics, though not completely. If she'd been conscious, she'd have been in agony, painkillers or not. The tissue damage was... terrible. Terrible and complete. Her brain latched onto a conversation by phone, last Thursday. "...I was attempting to see if there were actually any purpose to the cruelty I was witnessing..." was what Jason had said when asked about why he'd not spoken up sooner about rescuing the cats. Did he see purpose in this, then? What were his reasons - and more to the point, did she want to know?

After all, whatever his reasons, he'd agreed - without much of a fight - to let her heal Dale's wounds. And to leave both marshals alone, to let the authorities take care of the problem. Because she, Autumn Keane, had asked him to do so. That was kind of a weird thought, right there, and hearkened back to her earlier thought - was he changing because of her? Or was he the same, and she was simply discovering new facets of his character untouched by others. Without Autumn Keane, would Dale and Marshall even now be facing an excruciating death? She shook those thoughts aside for later, and concentrated. She could 'see' where the hands were supposed to be, like a pattern or... or blueprint of sorts, overlaid on the ruin that was left. She wasn't sure if she could actually regrow hands, though - that was well beyond what she'd tried to date. Or was it? After all, she'd repaired a damaged brain and excised a deadly pregnancy today. Perhaps this was simply another step up.

Either way, they were about to find out, weren't they? And if she couldn't do it... Well, in fairness, Marshal Attempted Murder wouldn't be any worse off than she was now. "I'm gonna try to shut her pain off before I wake her up." As she broke the long, uncomfortable moment of silence, Autumn drew in a long, steadying breath and exhaled. Although largely unnecessary, just the act of saying it out loud seemed to help her focus, to quiet the less-than-productive thoughts. Besides- unlike most of the others in the Fellowship, her powers didn't always have any kind of visual component, so she figured it was a little less weird if she at least described what she was doing. "After that," she continued, "we'll cut the drugs off, and I'll start bringing her out of it." With a quick glance up at Etienne to confirm he'd heard her, she scooted the chair forward and reached out, gingerly resting one hand on Dale's upper arm. Autumn's vicarious experience of pain was a strange thing, even as she recognized how useful it was- among other things- in protecting her own psyche. She was aware of the feeling, and could even gauge its type and intensity, but she never really felt it directly. Not when helping Jason after the fight in the hall, not when testing her abilities with Devin, not when patching Jay up or getting the others back on their feet once they'd dealt with Not-Cody. Not even when Jason was bleeding to death on the ground in front of her. Her ability was a tactile experience, a near-physical connection at once more intimate than sex and yet less so, with pleasure and pain and all the assorted functions of living and dying laid bare before the relentless, restless questing of the vitakinetic's power.

"Okay," the pale redhead murmured to herself, grimacing slightly as her mind recoiled from even the dulled edges of Dale's agony, the sensation one of a thin blanket being laid over jagged shards of broken glass. It was, as Etienne had suggested, a mercy of sorts that she was unconscious. "There're way too many nerve endings to shut them all down one at a time. I wonder if I can-" Her voice trailed off as she frowned, traced the thousands upon thousands of nerves backward, followed tiny rivulets to broader streams where the older woman's energy eddied and churned. Somewhere between her ruined hands and the brain which told her even in drugged slumber that they were damaged beyond repair, Autumn knew there had to be an intermediary of some kind- a place where smaller tributaries of vitality met in a greater river, and it was that confluence she needed to interrupt. Just a slight deviation... There. It was simpler to just temporarily block the pain before it reached her spinal cord instead of trying to "soothe" it like a normal injury, and more efficient; if she could give Dale her hands back, everything else should resolve on its own, right? Besides, Autumn still didn't know how she was going to do that, or how much it would take out of her, and there was no point wasting time or energy. It was awful, the whole situation, but... also weirdly satisfying? Knowing what she could do, as long as she didn't think too much about why she needed to do it, sent an odd little thrill zinging through her.

"I think that should do it." Pressing her lips together as she studied the effects of her interference, it did seem to be working. The pain wasn't gone, per se, but it wasn't getting through, and for all practical purposes that was the same thing right now. "Can you switch that off? I need to start getting the drugs out of her system." Wide, sea-colored eyes turned to regard Etienne through the shimmering curtains and currents.

He nodded, moving around to the other side of the bed and making some adjustments to the IV monitoring station. As the digital display zeroed out, he then turned and carefully brought a velcro strap up from the side of the bed, curling it around the still-unconscious woman's arm at the elbow and fastening it out of sight. Moving around the bed, he did similarly to her legs, then moved past Autumn to attend to the other arm. "In case she wakes up fighting, or tries to hurt you or herself." Etienne explained quietly as he performed this task. "We're not really worried that she could hurt you, mind. Not in this condition - but trying would mess her up worse."

"Right." Autumn nodded, frowning a little at the restraint but seeing the sense in it. If Dale freaked, or tried to lash out, she could easily add extra damage to what she had suffered. As Etienne finished his work and moved past her back to the foot of the bed, she turned her gaze back on Dale and focused once more on the slow-moving, undulating curtain of her vital essence. It was comparatively easy, after everything else she'd done today, to detoxify the sedatives from the woman's system. A mere brush of her power send the filtration mechanisms of the body into overdrive and forced the opiate receptors of the brain to ignore any lingering signals.

A murmur came from Dale's throat within seconds, her eyelids fluttering then opening as she stared up at the hospital ceiling with a gasp. Her brown eyes darted this way, then that as she took stock of her situation, the straps holding her to the bed creaking slightly as she instinctively tried to sit up. Then she gave up, head and shoulders sinking back into the pillows as her gaze focused on the silent figure at the foot of her bed, then swivelled to look at the closer redhead sitting beside her.

"Shit." she muttered through dry lips, her eyes narrowing in faint recognition. "You're one of his friends." Her eyes widened again, darting from Autumn's face to Etienne and then trying to see past the curtains in vain. "Is he here?"

Autumn shook her head, watching fear and resignation war on the marshal's careworn features. It was like she'd genuinely expected him to be there, like she thought this was some crazy torture scenario. "You and your partner shot him in the head and buried a bullet in his chest." There was a moment of quiet, save for the muted beep of the heart monitor, in the wake of that terse statement. "No, he's not here," she stated as calmly as she could, sitting a little straighter in her chair and squaring her shoulders and definitely not scuffing her shoes back and forth against the tile floor. "It's just me. Well," the red-haired teen amended with a faint, taut smile, "me, and my chaperone there. You're at the medical center, by the way. So, apart from 'trapped,' how're you feeling?"

Dale looked guiltily relieved as she sighed deeply. "Look, I'm sorry he's gone. But I didn't have a choice-" She began, but a glance at the redhead shut her up. It was obvious, though, that Dale had taken Autumn's words as a statement that Jase was dead. "As to how I feel... I don't hurt. Why don't I hurt? I remember being on f-" and then she looked down at her hands. A choked noise came from her throat as she lifted the twisted, blackened claws in their clear plastic mittens as best she could, a wheeze that should be a scream, except there was no breath to make it. She gasped, then took a deep breath, tears starting in her eyes. "Oh god shit fuck. That fucking freak! What the fuck did he do?" she croaked staring in horror at her hands.

You can do this. It's fine. You're not lying, and you can maybe help her. It'll be fine. "Does it matter?" Hands folded in her lap to mask their shaking, Autumn rooted herself to the seat, to the cold commercial flooring underfoot as the marshal's dark, panic-stricken eyes darted in her direction. "He can't undo it, any more than you can undo what you did." She could feel the tiny crescent shapes of her nails digging into her palms as she watched Dale's world come crashing down around her with little more to mark its passing than a gut-wrenching groan from the woman's cracked lips. Her career, her whole life- it was all over. It hurt, almost physically, to just sit there in silence- even knowing what she'd done, the almost animal quality of Dale's wheezing, desperate cries was nearly intolerable. Nearly. "I just want to know why," Autumn asked finally, perched rigidly in the plastic chair. "You said you had no choice, but there's always, always a fucking choice."

"Jesus. Kids." A bitter hoarse bark of a laugh followed the earnest teen's statement, even as Dale's eyes leaked tears. "You've got no damn idea. The guy I work for? He ruins people. Like, literally, ruins their lives. Takes everything away, leaves fucking nothing behind. Scorched..." she looked at her hands again, then up at the ceiling tiles resignedly, her voice still a hoarse murmur. "...scorched husks of people. He has stuff on me. That's it, that's my reason - to keep my life intact." She laughed again. "Fat lot of good it did me."

"You know, you're right." Autumn nodded, her jaw clenched as she shrugged. "I've got no idea. Not a clue." She inhaled abruptly, the toe of one shoe tapping a soft staccato rhythm of frustration on the floor. "Which is why I'm here, and why you're awake right now. Enterich didn't ruin your life. You did. So explain to me why, since I'm so clueless, and I might- might," she stressed, "be able to help you."

"Help me?" The tear-filled brown eyes glared at her. "How can you help me? I'm facing murder one and then life in jail with hooks for hands, Red. Where in all of that will my telling you every fucking sordid thing I've ever done help me?" She rested her head back against the pillow again, closing her eyes. "What are you going to do, put in a good word with the State Police? Visit me in the pen?"

"Okay. Yeah," she admitted with another little shrug, a quick upward twitch of her shoulders as she watched a tear roll silently down Dale's cheek. It was weird, the mix of contempt and sympathy that knotted in her stomach for the broken woman- a complicated feeling for a complicated situation. "Fair questions. So," Autumn sighed as she leaned forward, the toes of both shoes now alternating that soft tapping; it was easier than getting up to pace around in such a tiny room already crowded with the bed and machinery. "I told you there's always a choice," the redhead replied quietly. "And I'm not here to get you to like, testify or anything, and no, I don't know anybody in the State Police. I don't even want to know what shitty thing you did that Enterich is holding over your head. I just want to know what you know about him, what he's doing here. This is your chance to unfuck things."

"Too late for that." Dale's voice was world-weary as she spoke, her eyes still closed. "I'm still alive, and I'll bet he can get to me even in a prison." A shudder ran through the woman. "I didn't want to kill that kid. Didn't want to do a lot of things." Her eyes opened and she looked at Autumn again, her expression that of a woman making a decision. "Fuck it." she sighed. "It won't bring your buddy back, but if you really wanna know.... I don't know what he wants here. Not really. I know he's involved with Crossroads, that private-run prison. And with some local developers who were in on the deal for that place." She frowned slightly, concentrating on remembering. "He got a call from there, last week. Something about an escape, or a break-in, or something. People hurt, property damaged or stolen. I could only hear his side of it. It was after that he had us pick up the Jauntsen brat to have a little talk with her. She goes off after shaking hands with him and being all polite, and the next thing she's bringing him a file and he's paying her off: one hundred grand, small bills. That's when he put out the kill order on the kid. Said he was dangerous and to be careful, but to get it done." She snorted slightly. "Said he had telekinesis. Didn't say nothing about setting people on fire or being able to walk after taking a shot to the head. Crazy shit. Crazy world."

"And what I know about him? He's a fix-it guy. That's how he always comes to you: you have a problem, he can fix it. Sometimes it's a problem he caused, or he represents the people who have the problem with you. Either way, that's how it starts. He's connected like you wouldn't believe. And once he has you on the hook, he'll let you get on with your life till he needs you, and then he'll shift pieces around the chess board till he's got you where he wants you to be." Dale sighed again, closing her eyes once more. "That's all I know, kid."

Autumn exhaled slowly, letting out a long, shaky breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "That's... Okay. Okay," she repeated, turning to look at Etienne for a moment. Going in to rescue him had been the catalyst for this, hadn't it? It might have happened anyway, and sure, it wasn't really his fault, but... fuck, this was going to be a lot to process, and it sure as hell looked bad for Marissa. "That's more than we knew this morning. So... All right. I can't keep you out of jail, or any of that stuff. I don't have that kind of clout." Getting to her feet, she nudged the chair backward and moved to stand beside the exhausted woman's bedside. "I do think I can help you, though," she insisted. "Or, at least I'm going to try. And-" There was a moment's hesitation, an uncertainty in the girl's voice as she leaned forward. "I'm sorry in advance." Dale's eyes shot open at that, a question already forming on her lips as she turned her head, but the earnest young woman next to her had already grasped her arm and the world suddenly exploded into searing, blinding agony for the second time that day.

The phantasmal structure Autumn had seen before flared to life in her enhanced vision, like an imprint or echo that Dale's life force hadn't yet forgotten. Everything would have to be remade, of course. Everything. And not just once, but twice. Could she do both arms at the same time? Muscle and blood vessels and glands and hair follicles and- Fuck it, she decided. The faster she got it done, the better. Like tearing off a... a really, really big band-aid. Through the contact of her fingertips, that connection to another person forged by her Shine, the redhead's energy flowed out of her in luminous streams of scarlet and gold- slowly at first- simultaneously an open flame and a sunset setting the ocean aglow with reflected light. It rose and surged as she focused, a roaring, rushing tide that coursed in bright torrents to fill the void where healthy flesh and hot blood had once been. From somewhere in the distance she could hear shouting and a guttural, bestial cry, but then even that was drowned out by the percussive, rhythmic beat of a drum that vibrated through her bones in an irresistible primal imperative.

More, demanded the voiceless voice within she'd come to know, only this time it wasn't a thirst to be slaked, a shared hunger to be sated, but rather a debt that must be paid. And then, there was pain all her own, a voracious scouring sensation that began behind her eyes and rapidly spread throughout what Autumn was aware of as her own body, hollowing her out, draining every ounce of energy she could muster from what had always seemed a boundless reservoir. There was a glimmer in the distance, movement on a horizon she couldn't see, but only dimly perceive. The edge of a ring... or a spiral, perhaps. It was too far to reach, but even so, the young life-witch could feel a part of herself reaching, straining toward it-

Through clenched teeth she whimpered, heedless of the sound of her own voice as the marshal's blackened, shrunken hands twitched in their sealed chambers, flakes of charcoal crumbling away as the carbonized outer layer split to reveal pale ivory beneath- a pair of ossified butterflies emerging from their ruptured chrysalises. Dead tissue sloughed away as Autumn's Radiance flooded the same pathways she'd traced earlier, cutting free what couldn't be saved and forging tissue anew in the cellular crucible of life itself. It took forever. It took only a few minutes. And when it was done, and she was empty in truth, she simply sat, missing the edge of the chair behind her to slide gracelessly to the floor.

Edited by Vivi OOC

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Kat glared at her computer screen, slumped on her desk, her bare feet moving back and forth above the floor, on their own. For the first time in a long time, she wasn't really feeling like doing anything in peculiar, aside maybe from shenanigans with an attractive telepath friend of hers, sunbathing with a side of gentle, possibly love-or-like treatment.

I feel like I'm forgetting something...

The petite French girl grabbed her phone and stared at the group text notification, and it stared back at her. Shit, shit, shit, she thought as she read through the exchange of texts in the conversation. Well, there goes my date... She quickly sent Courtney an apologetic text, then checked the clock on her phone. "Shit." She was going to be late if she had to walk to the Jauntsens'... Wait a minute. I don't even know where they live!

Luckily for her, Courtney was kind enough to send her the address after Kat had asked her, and not long after, the petite redhead was riding Tessa's bike, in her every day school clothes. She had given up on making the healing process of her scratches feel any better, and decided to just bear through the unbearable itching with clenched teeth and a long, spicy list of cusses.

Outside the Jauntsens' - 15:45

The ride wasn't so bad, given the sunny weather and pleasant temperature, although it wasn't exactly how she had pictured her late afternoon would turn out to be. Blood was pumping a healthy pink into the petite French girl's pale features as her bike came to a stop, right outside the address Courtney had given her. It had to be the place.

The lawn was impeccable, smoother than Bruce Willis' head on chemo, the white walk fitting perfecly, red carpet to an Oscar ceremony. The whole picture looked like one of these realtor advertisements on TV, except this house wasn't for sale. People lived in it. She shook her head, putting an end to her dazzled contemplation, and went to ring the bell,  unsure yet of where to set her bike at.

It wasn't long before the front door opened, Devin greeting her with a "Hey, New Girl!" She leaned her bike against the house before coming in, her jaw slightly dropped as she took in how the house looked like inside. "This really is a realtor advertisement..." She thought out loud.

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras

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"Welcome to casa del Jauntsen," Devin invited Kat into the foyer and then to the right where he and Marissa were waiting in the kitchen/dining room.  As always his sister was a vision of beauty and Kat could tell she wasn't even trying.  Although not shallow or concerned with the opinions of others, it still left a pang of jealousy in the pit of her gut as she reflexively drank in every perfect curve of Shelly's Queen and se wondered if that was part of Marissa's powers too.

As she stepped through the threshold the large kitchen was on her left and an open dining area was on her right.  One thing about the Jauntsen home was that it was swimming in natural light and directly across from where Kat stood was a sliding patio door that led out to a deck that over looked the pool below.  Marissa was standing next to the island in the middle of the kitchen area, resting her hip against it as she tapped away on her phone.  If she knew Kat had arrived she hadn't acknowledged her yet.  Everything was expensive, from their dining room table to their refrigerator that had an instaview door that allowed people to see inside without opening the door but remained tinted and opaque any other time.  Why people needed a eight thousand dollar fridge or a five thousands dollar Skorpio Keramik dining room table (imported from Italy, of course), completely escaped her until the switch in her head flipped, reminding her that she was in the Jauntsen home where big and flashy and expensive were their everyday.

"You're just in time," Devin said.  "Marissa's ordering pizza because she's eating for two after her boyfriend knocked her up."  A roll of paper towels bounced off the side of Devin's head as he smiled and tried to hold in his laughter.

"Fuck off!  He's not my boyfriend!"  Marissa hissed, slapping her phone on the counter and glowering at her jerk of a brother.  Just as swiftly her expression switched to something more amiable and she smiled at their guest.  "Hi Kat," she greeted the squirrely new girl with tone and cordiality one would expect from someone who'd been mastering etiquette since a young age.

"That's your take away?" Devin giggled.  He knew Marissa wasn't pregnant, thanks to Autumn's diagnosis, but as her brother he just couldn't let it go without having a bit of fun at her expense.  "Whew, for a second there, I was worried that the real problem was Cade knocked you up."

She huffed and rolled her eyes, turning her attention to Kat.  "Hi, Kat.  Welcome to our house, we're just waiting on the others to arrive so make yourself at home.  By that I mean you know where everything is at your home, so you have no need to wander about touching or picking anything up, because it's your house... you know why it's there, so you leave it alone."

"Christ, Marissa," Devin chuckled.  "I think Kat has better things to do than come to our house to break or swipe our shit.  Excuse her, Kat she's temperamental."  He leaned in and whispered to her.  "Pregnancy hormones, most likely.

"Asshole," his sister fumed.  "I'm not pregnant, and I'm just drawing a line in the sand, Devin.  How much do we actually know about her?  Aside from her being French, so she's probably a great runner and her fashion choices easily mark her as someone who must be supporting a drug habit?"

Devin just looked at Kat, shrugged and laughed.  "Welcome to my everyday in this house, Kat.  Wanna Coke or something?"  He stepped towards the fridge, bending down to swipe up the paper towel roll from the floor as he did, carelessly tossing it into the empty sink basin.

Edited by Dave ST

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9 hours ago, Jaunt said:

"Welcome to my everyday in this house, Kat.  Wanna Coke or something?"

The petite French girl chuckled behind her hand. "Yeah, sure, please." She turned around, unable to not admire the interior, so different to what she was used to. Her own mother had always been a woman of simple tastes, even though she had the means to live a very comfortable life. Spending money on shiny things wasn't the way Kat had been raised - her Mom's outraged reaction at the cost of Kat's tattoo still a vivid memory in the petite redhead's mind.

"By the way, you doing okay?" She turned toward Marissa with a raised brow. "Courtney told me about..." She grimaced and mimicked fainting, unsure of how to word her question.

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"My passing out?  I'm doing well enough," Marissa politely smiled, informally letting Kat know that it was okay to talk about.  "I called the medical people at Branch-9 and asked if they could make time to see me and figure out what's wrong.  I think it's related to my abilities, at least, I hope it is.  A part of me wonders if we all could have caught something from that biohazard of a dimension we came back from."  She rolled her eyes and sighed.  "Why we're all not in quarantine is beyond me."

Devin handed Kat her coke and slid another across the counter to Marissa as she nodded in acceptance to his offer of one.  "I was just low blood sugar, this time.  So I'm hoping they can help me out.  By the by, I needed to go to the medical center anyways, so I can kill two birds and all that.  Thank you for asking, at least someone cares."  She directed her tone towards her brother.

"I care, sis!  C'mon," Devin smirked as he leaned against the kitchen counter.  "I need you to be okay so I can keep making fun of you."

"Don't you have a Canadian girlfriend to call, or something?"  Her eyes narrowed with a return salvo.

"She exists.  You met her."  He shrugged, defending his bunker on the Canadian girlfriend front.

"Did I though?  Lots of psychic powers being thrown around, especially around the time you two were 'dating'," she air quoted.  "I'm convinced it was all a mass hallucination."

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1:30ish - 4:00, Bunnee's

Even without grey or black-hatting, you could learn a lot about someone online, using purely public and legal resources, if you knew where and what to look for. Brad Stanton seemed legit from everything Sean could see, his digital history showing no signs of being faked or just popping into existence from nowhere. Graduated from the Haas School of Business at Berkeley - not on schoolship, seems his parents made bank before the dotcom bubble burst. Social media accounts were remarkably apolitical, only a little ostentatious with flashing wealth. Seemed like a guy who liked his fun, fast cars, travelling to exotic locales, and maybe a bit of a foody. Certainly liked girls, but didn't come across as a crass, perpetually drunk fratboy.

Sean was curious how Brad had heard of him. He could have seen some of his YouTube videos on the making of ReGenesis, he supposed. Did Brad think he could nab II and its IP and Game Engine for a sweet price before Sean got a big hit? Or did he or someone in EA realize the potential he had and was looking to crush or co-opt a possible future competitor before he found his footing? Finishing his lemonade, Sean flicked the edge of the business card with his thumb. He had no intention of selling, of course - even before all the weird, he had ideas of how he wanted to work in the industry. But he couldn't help but be intrigued with what Brad was offering.

Sean kept the booth until school ended, continuing his watch of the Let's Play, keeping an eye on the metrics of ReGenesis, answering a few more questions and responding to a few more comments. There was a deep sense of satisfaction that there didn't seem to be any bugs - on his part - found yet, nor any issues with installations. A few people asking if and when it would come to Apple or consoles, which Sean stayed firmly non-committal about, and even more so about multiplayer. That was an idea for the future, like, after graduation - if he had that time. That required more infrastructure and maintenance.

Four o'clock came surprisingly quick, Sean letting himself be distracted until his phone chimed with the warning notification he had set earlier. He packed up his stuff quickly, finished up his last glass of orange-lemonade, crunching down on an ice cube, then dashed for the door, giving Max a wave goodbye in passing.

4:20, Casa del Jauntsen

Sean had used the excuse of having to rush to be rather sparse on the details when Laurie asked him what was going when he drove her home. It didn't go well mentioning Jase had been shot, but was fine. People were rarely fine after being shot, but well, there it was. He was nebulous about the full reason for the gathering at the Jauntsens, partly because the situation was... nebulous itself, everything not as it seemed. And if he'd told Laurie his and some of the others suspicions, she might have insisted on coming too.

Sean parked his deep green Grand Cherokee, which seemed more worn and dingy than it actually was against the pristine landscape of the Jauntsen estate. Red sneakers sauntered across the white walk as Sean looked about on his way to the front door. The place looked exactly like what a West Coast family with too much money would get if they moved to more rural Montana, or rather, as a vacation home or something. Before the start of the school year, Sean would never have expected he'd ever step foot on the place.

He hesitated for a moment at the large double doors, then pressed the door, fancy little tune sounding. A moment later, he could just make out the pounding of feet, the one of the doors swung open to reveal Devin standing there. The curvaceous boy couldn't help but tense up as he looked up at the taller boy, recalling all the times Devin had Simon Phoenixed him into lockers or worse in years previous. True, Devin seemed to be trying to change, to make up for how he had acted, but then again, Sean had never stepped into Jauntsen lair, and to him, especially after what had happened this morning, Marissa was still a very suspect wild card.

Devin scoffed, rolling his eyes at one of his former victim's wariness. "Come on in, dude, nothings going to happen. Give MJ a chance to make her case before judging her."

"S'why I'm here, to give her that chance," Sean said, making a conscious effort to relax. He was totally judging her already though, and he suspected Devin knew, going by his snort as he turned around and waved Sean inside. As he folowed Devin inside the ranch-style... well, manse, he muttered, "Hope we don't end up regretting it."

He tried to be blasé, but the place screamed expensive, and Sean couldn't help but looked around. He'd help his dad on some of contractor jobs. He been in big houses, fancy houses - okay, two houses - but none of them had been like this. It was almost antiseptically clean, looking practically staged, ready to appear in Architecture Digest, just waiting on the photographer to show up. It also had a somewhat impersonal vibe, not quite like a hotel villa or something, maybe AirBnB-ish. Very few family pictures or knick-knacks or bric-a-brac from what Sean could see. There was stuff, tasteful even, but the place still felt spartan.

Sean took a step into the kitchen behind Devin and stopped. He hadn't intended to be one of the first to show up, but the only ones in the kitchen besides Devin was Kat... and Marissa. Effortlessly gorgeous, and even more dangerous than she looked. He'd seen how far she'd thrown on of the things on the Otherside, and she might be working with the one who had sent assassins after Jase. She'd been terrible to him and his sister, and it was still an effort to pull his eyes off her. Inside the long sleeves of his hoodie, his hands balled into fists.

"Hey, Kat," he said by way of greeting, giving the slight girl a friendly, subdued grin, before giving Marissa a neutral nod, schooling his features with imperfect success. "Marissa."

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Around 1630, Marias Medical Center.

She wasn't sure how much time had passed. She hovered for awhile in that iridescent scarlet and gold expanse, tugged both towards and, more powerfully, away from the far distant edge of All Things... or something like that, she mused, then realised that there was a consciousness with which to muse, and that with that realisation noise and sensation came back to her.

 "...hrist almighty - she's..." Dale's voice, fading in and out, sounding like Autumn's ears were underwater.

"...pecial, yes." Etienne's voice, coming from closer by.

"...at's wrong... do that?"

"I don't know." Someone had picked her up and sat her in the chair once more, Autumn realised as sight returned, blurry at first but then sharpening. Hands were on her shoulders, steadying her, and Etienne's worried face filled her vision. It wasn't the worst thing to wake up to - provided you didn't know the handsome spy's history. Beyond his shoulder she could see Dale, staring at and flexing her healed hands inside the clear plastic protective sheaths. "I think she's coming out of it." Etienne sounded relieved, standing up but keeping a hand on Autumn's shoulder in case she slumped over again. Dale's eyes were wide with both wonder and shock as she glanced from her hands to Autumn.

"What are you people?" she asked wonderingly, fearfully.

"Tired." Autumn murmured.

"And also no longer any of your concern." Etienne added firmly. There was a sound of footsteps as two men in orderly scrubs - but with shoulders and a manner that suggested otherwise - came into view and began unhooking various monitors from Dale. "You're going to join your friend. After which..." he shrugged. "About the only thing I can predict is that you'll not go to a regular prison, nor be executed. We certainly can't have you running around knowing what you know."

Dale opened her mouth to protest, but shut it again, her face paling somewhat as her situation sank in. The orderlies, finished with the unhooking and preparation, made ready to wheel her away. Etienne's hand was still on Autumn's shoulder as he leaned down and spoke to her. "Are you okay, Ms Keane? Do you need anything?"

"Water, please," she husked, nodding carefully as her equilibrium slowly returned. Jesus, I hope I never have to do that again. Did it work, at least? "Just. Something to drink, yeah." The attractive twenty-something agent glanced at one of the orderlies, who likewise nodded and excused himself while the others adjusted the casters on the bed. It was hard to tell through the clear protective cases, but... it did look like there was movement. That was a good sign. Even her thoughts felt lethargic as she sat there; the tickle of sweat-sticky hair glued to her neck pricked annoyingly at her awareness, but she couldn't quite rouse herself to do anything about it, and so she just stared straight ahead at the woman in front of her. She'd need physical therapy, for sure, although that was way better than the alternative.

What would it be like to have new hands? she wondered. Are they a different color, now, since they have brand new skin? Does she have, like, those really thin, sharp fingernails like babies, or normal grown-up ones? Are her fingerprints the same as they used to be? Or... Does she even have fingerprints at all, now?

Maybe she'd ask later, at the Not-A-PTA-Meeting meeting. Leaning back in the hard plastic chair, Autumn let her head rest against the wall behind her as she watched the hospital staff go about their work. She licked her lips, wondering how far the nearest drinking fountain was. "Hey. Uh. Miss Dale." The dazed marshal turned her head, exhausted and uncertain of her future. "Don't know if this'll make you feel better or worse, but you didn't kill him. I'm not saying you're forgiven for trying, or that you didn't earn every bit of this. But at least you're not an actual murderer."

"He's still alive?" Dale's attention was taken away from her new hands at that, her head jerking as she looked at Autumn in shock for a moment before understanding dawned. "Guess you did that, too." she sighed, nodding acceptance of the situation, her expression neutral. "Not sure whether I feel better or worse either, kid." she murmured, her mouth quirking wryly. "On the one hand - I'm still a murderer. On the other, at least there's not a teenage body on my tally." She sighed again, her eyes on Autumn as the orderlies wheeled her bed out. "Thanks, anyway." she said by way of farewell.

Etienne reappeared next to the exhausted redhead then, holding out a bottle of water and a candy bar. "You look beat." he told Autumn quietly as she accepted the offered items with a wan smile of thanks. There wasn't much to say to that, so instead she swallowed a couple of mouthfuls from the bottle then tore open the candy wrapper and ate in silence. It likely wasn't enough - she could feel through her heightened awareness of her body that she'd need something more substantial, and soon. But it'd do for now. Perhaps Jase would swing past McDonalds or something on the way to the meeting at the Jauntsens, the thought of which was good for a mental Ugh! This day was stretching out too much. Just get through the day, Autumn promised herself. Get through the crazy, and then go up to her treehouse and watch the stars and light up a joint. Maybe invite Jase over to share it with. Yeah. Cuddling and a smoke - she could go for that right now. After food, anyway.

Autumn chewed the last bite of caramel and peanuts quickly as the awkwardness of sitting in an empty ICU room with a gigolo-spy-turned-maybe-good-guy outgrew her diminished tolerance. It would've been easier if they'd sent someone else, someone she either knew better, or not at all. As it was, her passing familiarity with Etienne meant that it felt wrong not to make some attempt at conversation, but didn't actually leave her much to talk about except how gross she thought his relationship with Clara had been. But Clara was gone, and Canada might as well be another planet. A thought flickered through her mind for just an instant, then, as she set the water bottle on the floor: that there had been other members of the nascent Fellowship, like Clara, who might have to cope with something like this on their own. But... She couldn't do anything about it, could she? She could do something about, Sophia though. About Dale. About the treehouse that needed finishing and questioning potential accomplices to a murder attempt, and about Homecoming and learning to skateboard and driving Jase's car.

She licked a smear of melted chocolate from her thumb before slipping the phone from her pocket and tapping out a quick text. [Hey. Business is all done. You still available?] "So, is this a probationary thing for you, or did they give you a job, or what?" the spent high-schooler asked finally, crumpling the empty wrapper in her free hand with a muffled crackle of plastic. Glancing up at her observer, she balanced the edge of the phone case on her thigh, see-sawing it back and forth out of habit until even that felt like too much effort.

"Probationary." He gave her a wry shrug. "In view of my attempted change of heart which landed me in Site C, Ms. Giles is giving me a chance to be useful."

She nodded, and it occurred to her that his last comment to the marshal applied to him, as well. "Mm. I guess that makes sense." And it did. ...And then nothing. She had nothing else to say. It felt weird to talk about what had just happened, especially knowing he was there to keep an eye on her, and it felt weird to say nothing at all. There was another minute or so of uncomfortable silence before her phone vibrated softly and Autumn flipped it over with an audible sigh of relief. In keeping with Jase's usual level of efficiency, he'd used the minimum number of words to reply- //"On my way"// -but it might as well have been a sonnet. Oh, thank god. A slow smile warmed the soft sea-blue of Autumn's eyes as she re-read the text. If Jase had been there in person, she'd have kissed him. Difficult conversations notwithstanding- because they were going to happen, and hopefully sooner rather than later- she probably would kiss him anyway, when she saw him again. Her thumbs moved quickly over the screen, accompanied by the faint crinkle of the candy wrapper. [You = the actual best. I'll be outside by the main entrance.]

 "Okay," she announced, leaning down to grab the cap of the water bottle. "My ride's on the way, so... Yeah." Exhaling, the redhead slowly, cautiously got to her feet, making sure she was steady before hazarding a step forward. "Good luck with the, um. You know. The job and everything."

"Such as it is." Etienne smiled self-deprecatingly as he accompanied her from the room. Autumn half-worried that he was going to walk her all the way out, but the Project agent turned down a different side corridor with a discreet farewell wave. With a sigh of relief, the fire-haired teen navigated her way out of the Marias Medical Maze a lot more easily than she'd plumbed its secrets. She'd saved lives, altered lives, taken lives, and all in one day, she reflected as stared thoughtfully just ahead of her shoes. Saved Jase, arguably saved the marshals from Jase, and saved Sophia, in a way. She had altered the course of Dale's life. She had excised the horror that had been growing inside Sophia. None of those things would have been probable, if not possible, without her.

Had she left things better than they would otherwise have been? It was hard to see how she hadn't, even if there might still have been more ideal outcomes than these. She emerged into bright sunshine and blinked her wide blue eyes as she looked about her, moving to sit on a stone bench to one side of the main entrance. Checking her texts caused her to smile at Jason's reply and shoot off a response of her own. Idly shuffling her feet on the paving, lost in thought, she didn't register the sullen grumble of the Charger until she heard a door opening not too far from her and heard a voice call to her. "I got a text: Someone wanted to look hot riding shotgun?" Snapping her head up, she met the pale green eyes and faint smile from the Black Beast's driver through the open passenger-side door.

"Only until I learn to drive it," Autumn retorted, grinning despite the bright flush slowly blooming in her cheeks as she swept the half-full bottle of water from the bench and rose. It was good to see him, she realized. Not just in a casual, hey-there's-someone-I-know way, but in a way that made that little almost-smile (the kind of thing she'd never have noticed if she didn't know how to look for it) totally worth dealing with everything else that was going on. How to Speak Bannon was still a work in progress, sure, but not everything demanded an immediate explanation; sometimes there were more effective ways of communicating than just talking. Settling into the passenger seat a moment later, she tugged the door closed and, instead of going through the motions of putting on the safety belt, turned.

"Hey," she murmured, still smiling as she shifted to face her perplexing and dangerous and utterly impossible boyfriend. Before any further greetings or replies or banter could be exchanged, the lithe redhead's arms slid over Jason's shoulders, her fingers gliding through the dark hair at the back of his head. Leaning over the gear shift she pressed her lips to his in a slow, searching kiss, hmmming with delight at the brush of his palm across her cheek. Whatever this feeling was, this whiskey-sweet warmth he could spark with nothing more than a touch- "pheromones," or simple chemistry, or something less quantifiable- it was hard to deny how incredibly addictive it was becoming. "Missed you." The words were a whisper, if that, a half-conscious exhalation just before her teeth grazed his lower lip, followed by a teasing flick of her tongue. She was aware, somewhere in the back of her mind, that they were in the front of his car, in front of a busy hospital, but that mattered less than the fact that he was right there, his breath on her skin, and the steady rhythm of his heart against her chest.

Missed you, she'd said. Rather, she'd breathed those words into him as their lips met, as though the exhalation had carried the words unbidden from within her. She'd missed him - not some abstraction of him, not some fanciful imagining of him. Him. And Jase was profoundly rocked by the realisation that he, too, had missed her for the scant few hours they'd been apart, in defiance of common logic and reason, knowing that he'd see her again soon: he'd still missed her. And even as the Mandelbrot of his experience with Autumn opened and unfurled yet another vista for Jason Bannon to consider, there was the caress of her tongue on his lip, and the feel of her heated cheek under his palm, and the sweetness of her lips just millimetres from his own...

Kissing her wasn't so much a conscious action as it was an act as natural and necessary as drawing breath. Their lips met, her hands tightening in his hair as the gentle exploratory brush of lips became a deeper, more passionate give and take. He was aware of the pleased 'Mmm' from her, the scent of her warm hair, and the way she pressed her body against his without fear or self-consciousness. How long the kiss lasted was hard to say, but it broke eventually, the two of them leaning together, foreheads touching as they searched each other's desire-darkened eyes. "I wish we didn't have anything to do for a few hours." Autumn confessed, her fingers playing delightfully with the strands of his hair over his ear.

"So do I." Jase replied honestly. "Yet we do." With a sigh that was as heartfelt as it was shared, the two parted a little, Autumn strapping herself in as Jase put the Charger in gear. "To be continued." he said with a sideways smile at her.

"Yeah." Autumn smiled back despite feeling somewhat grumpy that, yet again, there was something (allegedly) more important going on than the chemistry, the pheromones, the fwoosh. There shouldn't be, damn it.

"How did it go?" Jason asked as he carefully pulled the Charger out of the parking lot. Glancing at her, he clarified. "If you want to discuss it, that is."

That drew another sigh from her lips, one decidedly less rapturous than the last. Leaning back against the headrest, Autumn relaxed into the dull rumble of the engine, the faint thrum of movement that hummed through the car and into her bones. She really, really didn't feel like going to either of these meetings, especially not with the seductive growl of the Charger urging her to just close her eyes for a few moments, but maybe it'd go quickly. It was the best she could hope for at this point, since drama seemed destined to destroy every chance they had to relax. "It went okay. Better than I thought it would, but also not at all the way I thought it would," she admitted, one corner of her mouth curving upward in a rueful half-smile as they pulled out onto the road. "Checked on Sophia. She's..." The drowsy girl considered, for a moment, what he might consider relevant. "Recovering. Physically, she's fine, but she remembers too much, I think, to ever go back to the way she was. She went through a lot." Her voice trailed off, wide eyes reflecting the distant blue of the sky as she remembered the way the brunette's hand had shaken during her recounting of that hellish nightmare.

"Dale," she began again, quickly changing the subject, "is a whole other thing. So, I may have... sort of... let her think you were dead," Autumn admitted grudgingly, a guilty flush suffusing her features. "And she told me about Enterich, too, stuff Cassie didn’t know: that he's apparently really influential, plays people like a game of chess, manipulates them and uses things they’ve done against them later. He’s also connected to Crossroads somehow, and some local developers who worked on the prison, and apparently he brought in Marissa after he got a call about the break-in there last week. So he could also have something to do with that Dr. Klein guy who was running the experiments there, maybe, since he was the one who had Etienne when we went to get him. I don’t know, it just seems like a weird coincidence.”

She took a deep breath, carefully weighing how much more to tell the inscrutable genius sitting next to her. If he still had feelings for Marissa- and it was hard to imagine that he didn’t- the idea that she could potentially be a traitor would have to be even harder for him to deal with than it was for the rest of them. Maybe not bringing up the fact that she got paid a hundred fucking grand to give Enterich a file that resulted in the attempt on his life was the better option for now. She could always mention it later, if it seemed relevant, right? No point making things any worse, and besides, there was always the chance that her first new friend in ages would have a really great, totally rational explanation for everything.

“Anyway, she said he told them- the marshals- you were telekinetic, but not about the other things you can do. And there’s something else about the situation with Dale that I want to throw on the table, next time you and I get to sit down and talk for a while, but not today. Honestly, today I just want to go to these stupid meetings with you, and drag you off somewhere to get high AF and be irresponsible for a couple of hours." Huffing softly in frustration, Autumn reached up to tuck a rogue curl behind her ear. "Anyway, the marshal's doing okay, probably. I gave her her hands back." There was a note of quiet pride in her tone, a hint of awe in the little smile that bowed her lips. "Like real, brand-new, working hands. I did that."

He’d listened silently as she’d relayed the fruits of her talk with Dale, his expression neutral, his manner relaxed as he drove the car.  Her admission that she’d let the renegade marshal believe him dead elicited a small nod - an acknowledgement, a sign of approval, or both: it was hard to tell.  Otherwise, the only reactions were a slight narrowing of the eyes, an air of focus as she told him about Enterich.  When she finished, he was silent for a moment or two before speaking.

“So if he brought in Marissa - and possibly paid her off with whatever was in the duffel - that could also mean he has something on her.”  Jason said softly.  “And used that to pull her in.  The payoff… the payoff was simply to ensnare her further, perhaps.  Carrot and stick.  A connection to Crossroads - it makes sense that he would start to target us.  Obviously he - and those he’s working for - want the team that tore apart their facility neutralised.  Probably before we can go after Site B.”  He tapped the edges of the steering wheel absently, then glanced at the girl in the passenger seat.  Jase thought for a few moments, his eyes following the road as he mulled over the other import of Autumn's words. First and foremost, of course, was the fact that she could grow limbs back from pretty much stumps

"That’s something we should probably address once we’ve discovered the depths of Marissa’s involvement.  For now, I admit, I’m more intrigued by the fact that you regrew limbs.  That's impressive." he said, glancing her way. "It's an incredibly complex biological machine - bone, tendon, muscle and nerves, not to mention the skin. Being able to repair it is something, but being able to regrow parts is amazing." He pondered her other statement - that she wanted to throw something about Dale onto the table next time they continued their Conversation. That implied something about her reaction to what he'd done to the woman who'd tried to kill him. He worked that around in his head some as they drove: plainly, she wasn't outright rejecting him over that - more likely, she simply wanted to understand his logic. Which was simple enough - he wanted to punish Dale and terrify Marshall, to cut loose and cause pain to those who'd dared to hurt him. His sparing of Dale at the last minute was as much due to his wavering consciousness as it was to a change of heart - he didn't have the resources to wait until she'd slowly burned to death whilst Marshall watched.

Which took his thoughts down another line. Was he a sadist for taking satisfaction in the terror and pain of his enemies? Probably, at least by some people's definitions. It wasn't a sexual pleasure, or an obsession with the causing of pain. He didn't enjoy the suffering of those who had done him no harm and actively sought to prevent or avenge the suffering of friends. So: a sadist? Or was it simply his instinct being satisfied - enemies should suffer and know fear, should be dominated, or else die. He filed that away into another part of his mind for continued examination.

"I wonder - did your Shine seem to know what needed to be done, to rebuild such delicate machines?" he asked Autumn, a note of curiousity in his voice. "How did you observe the experience of healing her?"

"Hmmm." She rolled that around in her mind as they drove, trying to piece together a description that both matched her experience and was semi-coherent when she strung the words together. "You know how they say people who've lost a hand- or a leg, or whatever- sometimes still feel it? Like, it's still attached somehow. ‘Phantom limb,’ I think it's called. Well, in a way, maybe it is still there." Turning to watch Jase's profile for a moment, Autumn tipped the water bottle back and forth in her hand, the contents softly sloshing while she thought. What was the word he used for their powers? The scientific term. "Or... More like, the body has a memory of it being there, remembers where it was and how it was shaped, how all those pieces fit together. Sort of like a-” Noetic? Was it noetic? That sounds right. “A noetic blueprint, or something. I could see that, with Dale," she explained, unconsciously flexing her fingers in imitation of that phantasmal framework. "I didn't need to really guess or try to figure it out on my own, because her pattern was already there. I just needed to follow it. It was..." Her smile broadened a little as she returned her attention to the road ahead. "It was incredible. Totally draining, but also worth it just to know that I could do it, you know?"

And just as quickly as she'd turned away, she was shifting in the seat to look at him again, her eyes intent. "Okay, so, I was thinking about this, and I didn't get to ask her before they hauled her off to the basement, or wherever. So I wanna hear what you think, and then we can bug Annette or somebody to find out. She's got new hands, right? Do you think she has the same fingerprints? Does she need to learn to use them again, through physical therapy and practice? Or are they just copies of the hands and arms she had before, with the same manual dexterity and skin texture and everything? Because it wasn't all just lumps of scar tissue, right? But it's driving me crazy that I don't know if they're really new, or just duplicates of what she already had, because those are really different things."

"If you are working from an existing template - that blueprint you mentioned - then her fingerprints should in theory be exactly the same - minus any callouses or scars that she had there." Jason answered after a few seconds to think. "Our DNA carries the blueprints for all inherent details of our bodies - which is what it sounds like you were accessing to rebuild her hands. Individual DNA will determine a person's fingerprint from that template." He steered the car past some lights and turned onto the road leading to the Jauntsen house, idly musing on the fact that he'd only last week first visited the place as he turned his mind back to her question.

"So I'd say that the hands are both new, because they lack the wear of her life to date, and also duplicates, because they are using the same template as before. Fresh duplicates, perhaps should be the label. As for the other questions..." He pondered. "They won't be any stronger or more dexterous than the template allows, though again, any weakness or lack of mobility from wounds or tendon damage would be reset. Learning to use them again... I doubt she even had time to adjust to the fact she lost them." He glanced at Autumn, his cold green eyes glinting gold in the reflecting sunlight from outside the car. "I would think any rehabilitation would be swift - they are her hands, after all. If there's any adjustment period needed at all."

"More interestingly even than that - could you enhance someone's natural template? We know you can regrow tissue. You can boost a person's natural healing - probably a manipulation of blood cells to increase clotting and repair. You can even repair damage to the brain." He glanced her way again, his words calling her attention to the faint line of the scar against the darker skin of his cheek. "So... can you enhance other biological functions? Can you make someone stronger, or taller, or alter that blueprint you mentioned?"

"I... think so," she replied carefully. "I remember getting the feeling when I helped you after the fight that I could probably have pushed a little farther, not just healed you but made improvements. I did it to Devin, just a little, when we went into the prison. Made him a little bit tougher. It’s something we’d have to test, for sure." Autumn thought about the other part, whether she could make more dramatic changes, as she watched the power lines roll by through the driver's side window behind him- Oh, damn it, I totally forgot to ask about food! "Crap, I'm sorry, I got carried away talking- is there any way you could hit a drive thru before we go? This meeting is not gonna go well if I walk in hangry, and I'm absolutely starving. Etienne gave me a candy bar earlier but-" She paused, backtracking mentally for a moment. Context, Autumn. "Sorry. I guess they've got him working there now, since they can't just let him walk out knowing about all this. They had him babysitting me while I was with Dale. Anyway, yes. Food, please? When I said it was a draining experience, it really was. I feel like I haven't eaten all day."

"Sure." Jase thought for a second, then turned right instead of left at the next junction. A few more turns put the Charger in the drive-thru lane of a McDonalds. Burgers, fries, and a few sundries were swiftly ordered and paid for and then the teens were back on the road again, Autumn already working her way through a double cheeseburger with occasional happy hmm-ing sounds as her boyfriend steered the gleaming black car back into traffic and helped himself to fries. "I think we could probably do some experiments with plants again - see if you can change the color of a rose or alter the growth parameters of an orchid, for instance." Jase suggested, glancing at the copper-haired girl beside him.

Autumn, her mouth full, simply nodded, blue eyes communicating her own curiosity about her capabilities. "Sorry... mmf." she said, swallowing. "Yeah. That's a good idea."

"If you can alter the genetics of plants, that just by itself has huge potential." Jase went on. "Disease-resistant crops. New pharmaceutical properties engineered into existing plants." His eyes were on the road, narrowing as he considered the possibilities. "Even plants that can grow in hostile, toxic environments, turning the toxicity harmless, for example. Just as a possibility: imagine a strain of grass that uses radiation as part of its photosynthesis and renders it harmless. You could potentially reclaim poisoned land like Chernobyl." His lips twitched in a rare smile as he looked at her. "By the way, that would officially make you more amazing than me."

And just like that, she went from thinking about future explorations of the limits and scope of her abilities to the here-and-now immediacy of being teased by her boyfriend. Stifling a snort of laughter, Autumn covered her mouth with the back of her hand as she shook her head. It took the Titian-tressed girl a moment to finish chewing and swallowing before she could elaborate on that mute denial, even as her face reddened slightly beneath his gaze. "Hm-mm. That would make what I do more amazing, maybe." Taking a sip from the large cup of soda they were sharing, she pretended to give the matter serious consideration- more serious, even, than the possibility of restoring the environment from catastrophe- with a dramatically furrowed brow and pursed lips. "Amazing is something that you are, after all, not something you do," she intoned, the corners of her mouth twitching as she looked down at the remainder of her sandwich, the trees out the window, the drink between her knees, anywhere but directly at him, and tried desperately not to grin. "It's just part of you, you know? Genetic, maybe. Like being tall, or having really gorgeous eyes or giving really good hugs. You can't help it. It's how you were born." She shrugged, casting him a sidelong glance as the smile that threatened to surface on her lips sparkled instead in her eyes. "Amazing and impossible."

"Ugh." Jase pantomimed rolling those aforementioned gorgeous eyes, glancing at her with that shimmering witchfire of humour in the jade depths as he plucked the drink from between her legs and took a sip before dramatically proclaiming, "Fine, you win this round." Autumn giggled, the laughter welling up from her stomach, thankful this time that he hadn't waited for her to take a bite of her sandwich. Of all the things, Jason Bannon mimicking a sixteen year old girl - namely her - pouting was just the right combination of surreal and observation comedy.

"You said it wrong." she told him fondly, reaching over and trailing her fingers through the ends of his hair where they brushed his collar. She wondered idly if he'd ever cut it, or how long he'd grow it. Then she snatched the drink cup back and grinned, her cheeks reddening under the bronze dusting of freckles, as she took a sip.

"I did?"

"Yep. You said 'ugh'. It's 'ugh'." she informed the Impossible One, trying not to look into the glitter of his gaze as she studied his cheekbones, his nose, his lips... "More a sound of disgust than a word. Good work on the 'fine' though." she added airily, with the manner of an old hand imparting wisdom and encouragement. She took a bite of her sandwich, conscious that the iridescence of his gaze was on her now, and determined to finish her meal rather than get lost in his stare again. Plenty of time for that later, she told herself, aware of a nagging twinge of something in her chest at the word 'later'. Very faint, just an echo of the pang she'd felt this morning when she'd seen him lying on the road, covered in his blood... But he was fine, now. Just fine.

"I'll bear that in mind." he said in a grave manner belied by the twitch of his lips as he went back to driving, now and then reaching for a handful of fries. Too soon, it seemed, they pulled into the driveway leading up to the Jauntsen house. "Looks like at least one of them is here." Jase noted as he took in Sean’s vehicle. His tone was back to being neutral, Autumn realised, glancing at him once more and seeing the warm humour and flirtation of just a few moments ago gone, locked behind an air of calculated wariness.

"Mhmm." She watched him for a moment longer, wondering not for the first time at the abruptness of his changing mood. Or was it maybe closer to a mindset than a mood? A switch in his head he could turn off and on at will. Of course it would be totally normal for him, if so, but... what a weird concept it was for his average sixteen-year-old girlfriend with her average human brain. Was it unique to him, to Jason Effing Bannon, a conscious part of his efforts to interact with the people around him, or was it part of his genetic makeup, engraved into his DNA as a survival mechanism by whomever (or whatever) designed his species? Like so many other things she wanted to ask him, though, it would have to wait. For now, at least. There were a few questions she felt pretty sure she could get away with, though, prolonging the moments of calm before the storm, and as they got out of the car, gazing at the sizeable home across the immaculate lawn, Autumn came up alongside him. "Hey, are you really okay?" she inquired, peering up at him and squinting slightly at the brightness of the sky above his head. "No trouble breathing, or fuzzy memories, or anything like that?"

He turned to face her at the question, and as the cold emerald of gaze met her cerulean blue eyes once more the frost melted from his manner and, at least for a fleeting moment, his gaze was warm - and warming. The scar along his cheek, so stark and forbidding when his eyes were cold and his face was blank, seemed more rakish as his lips twitched and the corners of his eyes crinkled in a smile. "No." he said after a moment of reflection, his eyes still on hers. "I feel fine. I even remember fading in and out of consciousness, Devin talking to me before you got there, keeping me alive." He glanced at the house at that, his gaze more reflective than wary in that moment, then back at Autumn. "I am... reluctant to confront the possibility I have an enemy in that house." he said very softly, in the manner of one admitting a failing. "I do not enjoy the consideration of what that will mean. Of what that will require of me."

Autumn's eyes widened slightly as the shock of his response set in. It wasn't so much that he'd confessed to having reservations about the potential outcome of the meeting, or even that he'd thought about the possible consequences, the actions he'd take to survive if things went completely sideways. After the events of the day, events which nearly fucking killed him, that level of pragmatic mental preparation was absolutely to be expected- especially from Jase. But this reluctance to admit someone he trusted might want to hurt him was definitely not. At least, not given what she knew of him so far; even knowing how those pale eyes could smoulder with a primal inner fire, or that when he really smiled there was a hint of dimple in his cheeks, it was impossible to ignore his acerbic wit and frosty, incisive intellect. He seemed so damned clinical most of the time, so matter-of-fact about things like killing the marshals, it was hard to imagine him having second thoughts. And yet, the very fact that it was such an unusual demonstration of vulnerability from someone who could hardly be called "vulnerable" tugged wrenchingly at the expressive young woman's heartstrings.

There was that twinge, again, that faint ache in her chest that demanded movement, demanded that she do something. Almost before she realized it Autumn was stepping forward, slipping her arms around Jason's waist until the full length of her body was pressed against his, her ear against the muted drum of his heart. She hugged him tightly, fiercely, her fingers curling into fists in the back of his shirt, and as she did the athletic redhead felt the echo of that contact through her Shine, that soft, crystalline hum just beyond the threshold of hearing as her awareness resonated in some intangible way with his own. "What can I say that'd help right now?" she asked quietly, closing her eyes at the feeling of his lean arms encircling her. "Because I really want to, but I have no idea how to do it."

He held Autumn close, feeling that vibrancy, that warm scarlet and gold that was her Shine as it wrapped around him much as the feel and scent of her hair enfolded his senses as he rested his cheek against the top of her head. And as he did so, Jase considered his own actions. A week ago, he'd have walked into the meeting without expressing any misgivings to anyone. He'd have still experienced them, but would not have shared what was going on behind the mask of his expression. A week ago, though, he hadn't been close to someone the way he was close to the lithe redhead pressing herself against him, holding him close with fierce gentleness. So much had changed in such a short time, it seemed.

"You're doing it." he murmured, his lips moving against an errant curl of copper hair. "You've been doing it, ever since you cycled up to my home to ask for your hoodie back. Even if we weren't dating, even if you didn't light a fire in my blood, there's still no-one I'd rather walk in there with." He looked down into her wide blue eyes as she lifted her head from his chest and stared up at him, his own expression grave as he lowered his face to hers, stopping barely half an inch from her mouth. "Thank you." he whispered, his breath warm on her cheek before he brushed his lips firmly against hers in a lingering kiss.

Coming from anyone else- or in most other circumstances- Jason’s somber, semi-dramatic declaration and the formality of its delivery would have demanded some sort of light-hearted, teasing response. In this case, however, Autumn just couldn’t bring herself to laugh, even if only to lighten the mood: in part because the portion of her brain normally responsible for coherent thought was largely focused on the warmth of his kiss and the faint scent of tobacco from his shirt, and in part because if the last week of talking to the detached genius had shown her anything, it was that in that moment he was utterly serious. And that was… a lot to think about on a day when there was already a lot to think about. 

“Same,” she replied with a sigh, reluctantly pulling away and wondering, briefly, what it said about her that she hadn’t run for the hills yet. “And, anytime. Seriously. You don’t have to thank me for doing something I want to do, though.” Smoothing the wrinkles she’d created on Jase’s shirt, Autumn released him with a quick, uncertain smile, then reached up and tugged the elastic band from her hair, freckled fingers weaving the uncooperative mane into a more manageable braid as they moved side-by-side up the pristine walkway. 

“You guys are lucky,” Devin announced with a smirk as he waved them inside, opening the door to greet them. “I was this close to turning the sprinklers on. Come on in.” 

The house was just as Insta-worthy as she remembered from the last time she was here, a week and forever ago. Only then it’d been as someone hoping to make a friend, and now… Taking a deep breath, the redhead steeled herself as she followed the more gregarious Jauntsen twin into the dining room where the others were gathering. Now she was just hoping not to lose one.

“Hey,” she offered in greeting, her lips thinning out into a smile. “Sorry I’m late. I had a couple of things to take care of.”

Spoiler

Current time is roughly 16:45, for those arriving later.

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"Sean," Marissa glared at the effeminate young man through narrowed eyes before scoffing and rolling her eyes at him.  "Can't say hello to me, Cassidy?  Really?  Just my name?  That's the game we're playing?  If you have a problem, say something.  You're allowed, you know.  It'll do you far more credit."

1 hour ago, Autumn Keane said:

“Hey,” she offered in greeting, her lips thinning out into a smile. “Sorry I’m late. I had a couple of things to take care of.”

"It's all good," Marissa replied, her attention pulled from Sean.  "I ordered a few pizzas, since we have this and then we get to collectively have to deal with all our parents at once.  I'm hoping cheese and pepperoni might help us all fight the urge for ritual suicide."

"Truth," Devin added, bee lining it for the fridge.  "You two want a Coke?"

Their hostess waved her hand, indicating the whole of the house.  "We're still waiting on Cassie and Cade, so make yourself at home, you two should know where everything is or just talk amongst yourselves."  If Marissa had any issues with Jason in her home or being in close proximity with him, she didn't seem to show it.  In fact, it started to feel almost deliberate that her attitude was spiking back and forth around him just to keep his inability to process social interactions like everyone else on edge.  With her, who knew?  Anything was possible.

"So," she padded around to other side of the island and rest on her elbows.  "When am I going to see this Homecoming dress of yours?  I need deets if I'm going to plan a makeover for you."  She turned her attention to Sean briefly pointing to Autumn.  "Talking to Autumn, not you."

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"Coke sounds good."  There was no overt tension or stiffness in Jason's manner as he nodded in response to Marissa's greeting - and, for that matter, agreement with her reasoning regarding the pizza.  "Thanks."  he said to both Jauntsen Twins as he came to rest, leaning by one of the broad windows, exchanging a companionable nod of greeting with Sean and Kat.  Autumn, restless herself, noted the way he seemed to be at ease and tried to emulate it, perching one hip on the central island and murmuring her own thanks as Devin slid a condensation-frosted can across the countertop.

"No probs."  Devin said, holding out a second can to Jase and feeling the tug of an invisible hand as it plucked the can from his fingers.  "Say, Jaybee, I got a question."  The largely-irrepressible teleporter leaned against a counter near the lean, freshly-scarred genius, popping the tab on his own Coke as he looked at Jason quizzically.  "You're not having any issues with your powers, right?  I mean, you used 'em this morning and just now, and it doesn't look like you're having trouble.  Cuz when I try to, it's like pulling my own sack off.  I was thinking it's something to do with the teleporting across dimensions.  That makes sense, right?"  He took a drink as Jase's eyes narrowed fractionally in thought, going distant for a moment.

"It makes the most sense." the lean telekinetic said.  "Assuming that the working theory we have of a subquantum reality is true, and that our powers come from manipulating it, yours would likely place the most direct physical strain on you.  The rest of us draw from it, or look through it in Cassie's case."  He indicated Devin with his own can before popping the tab.  "If I'm right, you physically interact with that layer directly... diving in and out.  And like a diver, going too deep and coming up too fast can cause strain to your system." 

"So it's sort of like the bends."  Sean put in, distracted from the urge to glower at Marissa's jibe about dresses by the topic at hand.

"Mmh."  Jase nodded absently, staring into space a second or two, lost in thought.  "Which would also suggest that the layer of reality we travelled to was perhaps more 'distant' to our own, perhaps needing you to push on through the subquantum layer to some other realm it connects to, rather than pop down and back up again like you do when doing 'normal' teleporting around in our world."

"That's def what it felt like, yeah.  Like trying to push through a wall made of broken glass and barbed wire."  Devin nodded, wincing at the memory.  "So, you're not affected, because your powers just draw juice from this subcutie realm-"

"Sub-quantum realm."  Sean and Kat helpfully corrected in unison, eliciting a wave of a hand and a roll of the eyes from Devin.

"Whatever.  Whereas I, being all kinds of impressive, literally move through it."  he proclaimed. That was good for a roll of the eyes from everyone else present except Jase.  Marissa's eyes rolled so hard they should have been accompanied by a rattling sound, causing Autumn to experience a moment of sympathetic amusement.

"Into and out of it, yes."  Jason nodded, smiling fractionally.  "Of course, it's all theory right now - based from observation and talking to you guys about your powers, but still only theory.  I could be totally off."  He took a drink of Coke.

"More study needed?"  Kat hopped up and perched, squirrel-like, sitting on the edge of the island counter, feet kicking slightly.

"And equipment.  Proper lab, and more than likely instruments that would need to be custom built - since I doubt any sort of sensor or instrument exists yet that can measure Shine."  Sean frowned in thought, turning the problem over  in his head.  "Well, maybe in Site B."  Jason nodded, then shrugged slightly.

"Possibly, yes."  he agreed.  "It's not as immediately important as other things.  Right now I'm just hammering together a theory, but it seems to hold up against the curveballs coming my way.  Right now, though, the science of our powers isn't as important as what we need to do with them - thought it might help us to figure out other possibilities later on."

Edited by GDP_ST
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"We shouldn't need to do anything with them," Marissa said matter-of-factly.  "Frankly all we've done so far is tear our own worlds upside down to suit everyone else's wants and the people who've seen necessary to thank us for it is... oh, wait... no one has actually done that yet.  All we have is a military organization who wants to exploit us, and mysterious organization who wants to exploit us, a demon that wants us dead, another mysterious organization who wants us dead, oh, and for some reason, we are still accountable for our any missed assignments on the day we go to Charlie's funeral.  When does the world offer up a little praise on our direction?  And by praise, I mean making sure we all get to go to decent colleges and that our families will be taken care of while we're serving someone's agenda."

"S'what heroes do, Emjay."  Devin shrugged and looked his left towards his sister.  "We save the world because it needs sav-"

"Fuck that."  Marissa cut him off.  "This isn't a comic Devin.  Or one of your stupid HBO high-budget series... this is real life.  One of us already had his future taken away from him trying to help people who we all don't give a shit, or wouldn't if they knew.  You think the military or Giles cares?  They just want us working for them, keeping us on their leash.  I think once this business is squared away we need to start asking for answers and if they don't want to give them, we take them."

"Oh, like what EmJay?  We know their totes shiesty, they're the government!"  He laughed.  "We all know their bullshitting us."

"Well, it cost Charlie his life."  Marissa said flatly.  "They could have been watching out for us, they could have been training us, they could have been doing something.  We're out of our league, at least, I thought we were, until I was there and I saw us fighting and winning and surviving.  I know it's possible, I know we can do this but if we're with them there's no way in hell I'm doing it for free.  If we go solo, we'll need a lot of money to make that happen and hella PR.  We're stuck."

Edited by Dave ST
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The sharp bite of the icy Coke on Autumn's tongue was a satisfying- if fleeting- distraction from the shop-talk and theorizing... which was, she felt, also largely a distraction from the gorgeous brunette elephant in the room. Cassie had said that Marissa was being defensive about whatever they'd discussed, and meeting here was her idea, so it wasn't like she was unaware of the situation. And yet, here she was, casually chatting about Homecoming and makeovers and everything else as if they'd just decided to have a group study session or something, and it was a totally normal day . What the actual fuck?  It didn't make sense. Granted, a lot of things in life didn't make much sense lately, but "supernatural crazy" and "regular crazy" were different things.  How the hell is she so calm? I mean, seriously. I'm not even the one in trouble here and I'm more nervous than she is. Jesus. Listening to Marissa, it was like nothing that had happened even mattered to her. Maybe, Autumn realized with a pang of uneasiness, it actually didn't. Even if, by chance, Enterich had used her, she could still be writing her name on that dotted line one letter at a time, walking into the Dark with her eyes wide open.

"Sorry," she admitted. "Was kind of lost in thought there for a minute. It's been a day, you know? Anyway, I guess... We can talk about the dress thing later." It's always "later," isn't it? Exhaling as her fingertips drummed a soft metallic cadence on the side of the frosty aluminum can, Autumn glanced toward the rear of the house, and then back at the others. Kat probably had no clue what this was about. Sean should, but it was hard to tell. Jason could be a blank slate with enviable ease, Devin probably knew but didn't care, and Marissa... Well, who the hell knew what she was thinking? Everyone else seemed totally chill, totally fine, but standing there in the dining room the restive redhead felt like she was being slowly strangled by frustration and nerves. Suddenly, fresh air and a walk sounded like an amazing idea. "Hey, Devin? Think you could show me the backyard? I kind of want to see the equipment and stuff you talked about on Sunday."

 

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4:45 pm


Cade had returned to class, and was asked to remain a minute afterwards.   The teacher asked him what happened when he'd gone to the bathroom, and surprisingly, Cade told the truth.   She wasn't happy with him, but let him off lightly.   "I want a 350 word essay on why you feel rules exist.   I  was going to say more, but you did admit what you did and didn't lie.  I won't be so lenient if there's a next time, Cade."   Cade didn't smile, but answered her softly  "I understand, ma'am."

With Studyhall as his last period, Cade used the time to knock out the essay.  It wasn't as easy for him as it would be for others, but he wrote it out.  He knew it was idealistic, and that he'd technically been in the wrong, but it hadn't felt wrong to him.   It took him the whole time, and he ended up about twenty words over.   As the bell rang, he packed everything away, and went to put it in his jeep.   Then it was back to the gym and locker room for practice.

Practice was abit more physical, as they had to run laps.   When Cade noticed that the team ran together, he kept pace with them.   Clearly there was more of a team mentality than he was used to, it would be a learning experience for him.   Luckily, he did have some friends on the team, who flanked him.   After the run and some stretches, it was time for drills.   Following that, more route running with the wide receivers, with Cade actually missing a pass, though it was nearly a catch.  "So you aren't perfect."  Mike quipped.   "Good to see, you were gonna put alot of pressure on everyone if you never miss."  

Cade shrugged.  "Was a bad release  on my part.  Sure I've thrown a football often enough, but I'm still way more accustomed to a baseball.  You hold and throw a different way.   I'll get it down and you watch, we're all gonna have a great season."   

"Just remember, you won't always be standing still, and the guys will be coming for you, hard."  

"Yeah, have a feeling Coach is gonna move to the next step tomorrow."   

Mike came up close to him, and his voice was low.  "Just be careful.   Some ain't too happy about you just showing up and being handed quarterback.   They're not gonna miss a chance like that."   

Cade nodded.  "Thanks, you be careful too.   Helping me may not make you any friends."

"If you are as good under pressure as now, you're gonna make the entire offense look good man.  When we win, we all win.  I am not gonna drop the ball in pursuit of that."

The rest of practice saw them work on routes, and then some hit the showers.  Cade just head home, since he had something to do.   

Getting home, he found Haruka, who wasn't happy, since she was having to ride the bus since he had practice now.   "You stink."  

"it's hot outside."  he answered flatly, even as he set his backpack down in his room, grabbing clean boxers, and heading for the bathroom.   "Are there still leftovers?" 

"Yeah. I don't think Mom's cooking tonight."

He turned the shower on  "go ahead and eat, I gotta get cleaned up, and then head out again."

"Going to see Marissa?"  She asked pointedly.

"Among others.  We're all getting together for abit."  Cade shut the door and then took his shower, washing his hair and then drying off.   It hadn't been a bad first day as part of the team, even if he definitely felt some hostility.   It all came down to whether or not he could produce real results on the field.   He was untried, but confident.   "When we win Homecoming, that should help things out.  This should be the start of something good."   

He'd never really wanted to play football before, but now that he'd agreed to do so, he was going to give it everything he had.

Once done, he head into his room, getting dressed in Jeans and a nicer shirt, then head back downstairs, grabbing the sandwich Haruka made without him asking.  "Thanks for the sandwich Haruka."

"You're welcome."  She called back from the den.  Cade wolfed it down, drank a glass of water, and sighed.   He wasn't full from that, but he was already running abit late, still he knew they'd appreciate him not coming over straight from practice.   "I'll be home later if Mom or Dad ask."

She didn't answer then, and Cade left, heading over to the Jauntsen family home.   With the other vehicles present when he drove up, he sighed.  He was definitely one of the last to arrive.  He shot off a text to Marissa, letting her know he was there, as he walked up to the door and knocked.

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"Tell you what," Marissa offered a polite smile but Autumn could tell she was irritated.  "When you decide you have time, you let me know, okay?  We all have our priorities, I get it."

The doorbell rang and her eyes blossomed.  "Ah, that's Cadums, back in a jiff."  She swiftly padded off, her bare feet tapping on the tiles as lightly jogged to the door.

Devin nudged Autumn and nodded towards the patio door.  "C'mon, we'll take a look."

He led her out of the kitchen and onto the patio which overlooked the massive swimming pool and the back yard beyond the pool's gated in area.  They could hear Marissa walking in with Cade so he could mingle while they all waited on Cassie.  He leaned on the clear-stained, wooden railing railing.  "Pool, obvs.  So over there," he pointed to an area about the size of a tennis court with various matts and rails and bars and Autumn didn't even know what...  "Over there is the gymnastics floor.  Balance beam and parallel bars, but mom won't let us get asymmetric bars because she says we'll kill ourselves."

"Wait," Autumn stopped him there and looked back into Marissa talking with people as she handed Cade a drink.  "Marissa does this stuff too?"

"She can, yeah.  Been at it as long as me, I just found a passion for it," he shrugged.  "She's more tumbling, flipping, handsprings, flexibility, dancing.  A floor show girl, y'know?"

"Imagine that," she chuckled as the sun shaded her hair into hues of copper.

"Right?"  Her host laughed a bit and pressed on, pointing to a small area about half that size built right next to the gymnastics floor.  "Over there is our gym.  Kettle bells, dumb bells, weight bench all that, but Marissa's just been using The Mirror since we got it.  Except for Yoga, we do our Yoga out there, except when it snows.  Everything here is designed for flexibility and strength training, not getting buff, but getting toned and fit.  The floor makes a great spot to practice skills safely, especially if a fall is involved and we have matts and everything else.  Here, we could teach you anything you wanted to learn, or, you know... just come by to work out.  'Bout time I saw that peach in Yoga pants anyway, right?"  His eye brows bounced a couple times as he grinned at her like the devilish dog she'd come to know.

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He'd been tempted to follow them out into the yard - as much for the fresh air and stay with the two people in the room he felt most comfortable with right now as to take notes on setting up an exercise area.  For all of his apparent casual demeanour, Jason's mind was analysing endless patterns and permutations and likely outcomes for the meeting, based on past interactions and observation.  Of course, people could surprise him.  But in his experience, it was usually people he didn't have enough data on to predict that surprised him, such as Autumn cycling up to retrieve her hoodie last Monday only for a friendship to spark up that had later flared into a relationship.  Or Devin, turning around on his previous petty bullying ways, setting up a framework of the man he wanted to grow into that revealed deeper truths than had previously been apparent.  Eyes the colour of frozen jade seemingly idly studied the other two present as Marissa bounced from the room to go and let Cade in, but in the silence following the female Jauntsen's bitter nihilism, the crystalline prism of Jase's mind performed calculations.

Kat was still largely an unknown.  But she seemed flighty, unfocused, lacking any real stake in the goings-on and uncertain of her own position.  She may very well have feelings about Marissa's apparent involvement in the attempted murder, but what she would do about it was an unknown quantity.  In her shoes, not really being close to anyone, Jason imagined he would likely just listen, observe, and then leave the drama behind as best he could.

Sean.  His oldest friend, and yet...  Barely two words had passed between them since the attack.  He'd been at the hospital, for sure.  But his attention had plainly been elsewhere.  With cold, crystalline clarity Jason assessed that it was likely that, whilst his friend cared, he was also uncomfortable with taking positions that he felt were outside his expertise or self-designated role as the groups 'technical wizard'.  Could he count on Sean caring?  Probably.  Could he count on Sean acting, taking a stand?  Probably not.

Cade.  His eyes flicked to the large athlete as he entered the room with Marissa.  Nothing much had changed since his analysis at the Carousel Rest Area.  Cade was a well-meaning, vaguely amiable mass of ambulatory carbon molecules who liked apple pie, truth, justice and the American Way.  Give him a pair of spectacles and he'd be Clark Kent if the Last Son of Krypton had decided to shine athletically at school.  Jason wondered how the hulking young man would handle todays revelations.  Doubtless he'd be disapproving, but would he have the principles to weather the almost-guaranteed bile-spitting that Marissa would inflict on anyone who dared to disagree with or disapprove of her? 

Because, as his text exchange with Cassandra had laid out, Jase considered that the likelihood of Marissa being at all contrite, of expressing any regret of her actions or their consequences, was minimal.  Even if such sentiments were expressed, they would doubtless be footnotes followed up by qualification and justification, and an air of imperious defiance that anyone could find her to be at fault.  And somewhere in that would be a manicured finger pointed at him, more logically ridiculous assertions that he was a sick abuser, doubtless freshly fueled by his daring to inflict pain on the people who tried to kill him.

Jase had agreed, reluctantly, to come to this meeting.  His reluctance was not born of fear, as Cass had sophomorically suggested in an attempt to prick his ego.  It was simply that he felt this whole thing was a performative farce at best, and an attempt to provoke him at worst.  Either way, it was a waste of his time, time better spent doing literally anything else.  He wasn't 'afraid to face Marissa':  he simply believed, based on observation that it was wasted effort that would lead to no resolution.  She would continue to yank people's strings so long as they allowed her to do so, and when they eventually tired of it, cut the strings and walked away, she'd find fresh marks to yank around.  As in the old movie: the only way to win was not to play.

Was his mind made up, as Cassandra had suggested?  He paused his ruthless calculus and reflected for a moment.  In a sense it was - every observation, every word, every inconsistent action, every expression on Marissa's face went into his current hypothesis of her behaviour.  But his mind was not closed on the matter.  There was an allowance that she, like Devin, had depths yet to be revealed, that she could yet decide to leave behind childish things.  There was room in his calculations for the possibility that she was simply confused, a 'hot mess', or even that she was self-destructively unbalanced rather than malevolent to the core.  But possibilities and maybes did not alter her actions to date.  He could not base his concept of Marissa off what she might turn out to be.  That required hope, and hope was not an emotion he could experience.

He seemed to the others to be present, leaning against the counter as he now and then sipped Coke from the can in his hand.  But his eyes, though tracking movements, were largely unseeing as he set aside his concerns and analysis and stepped into his mental palace, pulling up a text on string theory and it's relationship with quantum field theory he'd scanned into his memory not long ago.  The conversation just now had sparked some thoughts regarding the physical relationship between the energies of Radiance and how they might quite possibly have their own isolatable particles or waves.  Numbers danced in his minds-eye, and now and then he'd pause in his reading to seek a reference from elsewhere in his mental library.  A master of chemistry, Jase's knowledge of particle physics and the higher math necessary to calculate it was perhaps at graduate level, but it was still incomplete to say the least.  If he was to impress the Project enough for them to seriously consider his proposal, he would need more preparation.  This would be easier sitting in front of his laptop, of course - but he could at least make some mental notes for deeper study later.

Edited by GDP_ST
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Cassandra was late.

Her eyes flicked from the road ahead to the glowing numbers of the digital clock in the dashboard, and she swore under her breath. How did you explain being late in a car like this?

Of course, she'd much rather explain that than explain how she got so much as a single scratch on it because she'd been driving in a rush. The car was Marissa's, and it looked like the kind of thing that would balance a set of financial scales with a Malibu dream house. Intellectually Cass knew it couldn't be that expensive, but something about the smell of the upholstery, and the way the seat gently gripped you when you sat in it, and the gleaming technology set into every inch of the dash...and the incidental luxuries that were so offhanded as to be taken for granted... It just felt like the kind of car that a careless moment would either require corporate backing to cover, or a life's savings. One neither she nor her mom had at the moment.

So she drove carefully. And she'd gotten off to a late start after school. One might expect someone who could see the past and future to be better at time management, but Cass had gotten into the zone doing some work for the paper. Evidently psychic alarm clocks were not among her powers. In hindsight she almost wished she'd begged off when Devin had texted her asking if she could pick it up. But lets face it, Marissa had an awesome car...driving it had seemed like it'd be fun! And when would she ever get another chance?

The light ahead turned red, and Cassandra felt herself relax a little as she let the sporty, expensive plaything drift to halt. It gave her a second to consult the GPS and confirm, for probably the eightieth time, that she was on the correct heading...even though she pretty much knew the way to Devin and Marissa's place by heart now. And it gave her a few seconds of eased anxiety, until she realized someone could rear-end her. So then she looked backwards and nearly missed the green light.

Ugh! This was supposed to be a good time!

Finally, FINALLY, though she spotted the Jauntsen place after cruising through 'the good part' of town's winding avenues. She even signaled pulling into the driveway, even though no one was behind her. Then, seizing a moment to relax as she shut off the engine, Cass texted Devin, 'Hey, Im here, sorry 4 being late...b right in.'

Then Cass just breathed for a minute. Then she unbuckled and got out of the car and closed the door...and then remembered to lock it with the little fob. It beeped at her, and Cass tried not to let it sound snide.

When she knocked, the door to the house opened nearly immediately, revealing Devin standing there. Cass held the keys out and said, "Never again," quietly.

Devin's smug grin actually faltered, and he leaned over to get a glimpse of the driveway. "Is...it all right?" he whispered.

"Yeah. It was just...like riding a pogo stick made of diamonds down a flight of stairs, you know? Just really stressful."

Palpable relief emanated from Marissa's brother and he took the keys. "Jesus, you can't scare me like that. Thanks for bringing it back. Pizza's on it's way, we got Coke in the kitchen."

Cassie followed him in and gave a little wave of shame at the people visible in the kitchen and dining room.

"Hey everyone. Sorry I'm late. We all here now?"

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“Hard pass.” Autumn laughed, shaking her head and rolling her eyes briefly skyward. Even if Devin was kind of obnoxious, and even if there was still some lingering resentment which hadn't entirely been erased by a week of borderline decency on his part, it was hard to deny that his awful jokes could occasionally be the perfect distraction. It was almost as if the awkwardness he created somehow canceled out the ambient awkwardness of the situation for a minute and left her free to think about something besides the events of the day. ...And, she had to admit, that was a welcome bit of mental interference. “Honestly, I don’t even think I have any yoga pants, and I wouldn’t even know where to start, anyway. Coming by to try some of the other stuff out, though? Maybe, yeah,” she allowed, resting her forearms on the railing as she surveyed the impressive set-up. “The bars could be cool to learn, or at least it’d be interesting to see how they work. Might be fun to try some beginner tumbling, too. I’m kind of okay at cartwheels, but when I tried a walkover at camp year before last I ended up flat on my back.” Her nose crinkled slightly, freckled features scrunching into a rueful grimace at the memory of the troop leader's concern and the laughter of a half-dozen eight-year-olds. “I just couldn’t get my feet down fast enough," she admitted, her sun-warmed cheeks going pink in the late afternoon sun. "So, yeah, if somebody can show me how to avoid making that a repeat performance, I’m down."

"That," he pointed towards her. "Is a flexibility and balance issue. I used to do the same thing, it just took some time and practice to build technique and confidence. If you’re interested, I'd be glad to go through the specifics with you. You're athletic, but that doesn't always equate to being limber, so don't get discouraged and you'll be fine. Some flexibility training, even if it’s not part of a yoga practice, would help with that." He sounded different as he spoke about his gymnastics capability and willingness to teach. His usual jokes and Devin-isms took a backseat to serious, open ended dialogue and appraisal. It appeared he was genuinely interested in teaching her... if only to get her into workout clothes, at the very least.

The sound of the doorbell chimed through the house, and Marissa kept talking with everyone in the kitchen as though she couldn’t hear it; although she chatted mostly with Cade, it gave her a great excuse to force everyone else to listen to the sound of her voice. After a few more moments of the door not being answered Devin sighed, politely smiling at Autumn. "Excuse me a second." She nodded as he went, glancing briefly over her shoulder to peer through the patio door as he strolled back in and walked past everyone in the kitchen. "I'll get it," he said to his sister sarcastically, spreading his hands. "Please, don't trouble yourself."

"Great, thanks!" Marissa shot back with a brilliant but patently artificial smile.

"Thot," he muttered just loud enough for her to hear, rounding the corner while she made a face behind his back.

Back on the patio, Autumn took a sip from the soda he'd given her, her expression going distant for a moment as she watched the shifting patterns of light scattered across the surface of the swimming pool. The Jauntsens had everything, at a glance, didn't they? A huge home, a refrigerator that could probably do their homework, new cars, specialized exercise equipment, closets full of clothes. But they didn't have dogs, or a little vegetable garden, or a half-built tree house, or the perfect camp site. Was it worth it, she wondered, to have everything and nothing? Was that enough for them? And with that, she was right back to thinking about Marissa, and Enterich, and the marshals, and all the frustrating moral quandaries in which they were currently mired. Sighing, she realized the person ringing the doorbell had to be the last of their number to arrive, so she turned from the potential distractions in the yard and headed back into the kitchen just as Cassie was finishing her apology.

“It’s fine. Might as well get started, yeah,” she agreed, gently bumping Jase with her hip as she passed. Setting her half-full soda on the counter, Autumn planted her hands on the edge and hopped up on the island a little further down from Kat, offering the waifish French girl a friendly smile.

 

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"Yes, I suppose we should," their hostess addressed Autumn's comment to being.  Her brother passed her, holding up her car keys and jangled them up in front of her face.  She snatched them, silencing the small bits of metal along with the large plastic fob.  She offered him a confusing look, knowing that she'd given the keys to her mother and his only reply was to tilt his head in Cassie's direction.  The Princess of Jauntsen Castle looked in Cassie's direction and mouthed a silent 'thank you' for returning her vehicle.

Setting them on the glass-top stove that the collective was pretty sure cost a million dollars and prepared as well as cooked their food while also doing their taxes.  She leaned against the counter behind the island, crossed one leg over and folded her arms.  "So, I suppose I should start from the beginning.  Those U.S. Marshalls that attacked Jason this morning also visited us about a week ago.  Our real name isn't 'Jauntsen', we moved here to Montana three years ago under Witness Protection and those Marshalls were here attempting to harass us while asking questions about our parents."

She spoke with her hands as she continued, not slowing for a moment as she addressed everyone with occasional looks in their direction as she expressed how skilled she was at public speaking.  "A couple days later they pulled me over on the way to school.  They gave me a card with an address on it and told me to be there, alone, or they would come after our parents.  The address on the card took me to my first meeting with Enterich.  He claimed to be a member of Crossroads and his offer was simple: either I collect data on all of you and give it to him or he’d destroy our family.  Go after our mom and dad, either lock them away or kill them, or both, hell, I don’t know.”

“You might be wondering why I didn’t tell any of you,” the brunette’s feet padded the tiles as she began to pace.  “Simply put, while I'm pro-bungle when it comes to you handling your day-to-day life problems, I don’t trust you to handle my affairs.  You’re either clumsy, ignorant, or,” she looked at Cassie in particular to express her last thought on the matter.  “Loud.  Or in my brother and Jason’s case, outright barbaric.  He was quite explicit in his statement that if I told anyone he’d hurt my family, and the last thing I needed was all of you telling me ‘everything will be fine’ and then getting my parents killed because Devin and Jason went around kicking in doors and lighting everyone on fire and punching them in the face because they threatened me.  While I know you would have meant well, I had zero faith that you could keep your promise and be subtle without putting my family at risk.”

“So, I teamed up with Courtney,” she shrugged and then swiftly raised a finger to stave off questions.  “Before you ask, it’s because she’s the only telepath we know who could have read my anxiety and discerned what was really bothering me when I told everyone nothing was wrong.  I had to control the flow of information and she was the only weak link, by making her a part of my team I was able to maneuver her actions and decision-making in a direction more aligned with my goals.  We discussed the situation and after some input from Courtney, and a good cry in my car, I decided the best course of action was to consult with professionals who have training and experience:  I went to Annette and Taggart and informed them of what had transpired.  Anette thought it best if I met with Enterich, upheld my end of the bargain and secured my family’s safety while collecting intel on this guy.  I agreed and we went to work.”

Marissa paused momentarily to take a drink of water, her eyes shifting to the microwave’s clock to estimate how long before the pizza arrived.  “The information I was to give Enterich was carefully vetted info we gathered from Doctor Cook’s old notes on all of us.  The plan was to tell him what he wanted to know without telling him anything at all.  At this point, Courtney had issues with sending me into the dragon’s lair without backup, so I was in full Queen Bee mode to keep her head in the game and prevent her from running to tell all of you.  She helped us parse the information and scrub it for anything that might be too much to tell him and after that, I waited until Sunday.”

“As you might expect, he asked me more generalized questions as he read the information.  My task was to be evasive, so I simply resorted to a litany of insults and minor cruelties to express how little I knew about any of you, or your abilities.”  She paused and smirked, that evil little twinkle sparkled behind her eyes.  “I’ll admit, that part was fun.  He only seemed interested in Jason, however, which didn’t make sense at the time.  Everyone else he just asked general questions about and discarded, but he took a special interest in our golden boy over here,” she gestured to Jason.  “I was quite clear with him that if he attempted anything that not only would Jason live, he, and we, would be very pissed off and that would end the mark of his existence.  A promise,” again she raised a finger to accent the point she was a bout to make.  “I whole-heartedly intend to keep.”

“Afterwards I briefed Annette and the project and I did not tell them about the hundred grand Enterich paid me for delivering the intel to him.  I figured we, as a Fel-“ she sighed, still hesitant to refer to herself as part of the group and accept her place amongst the nerds and outcasts of Shelly.  The adrenaline of impending doom wasn’t hanging over head any longer and without demons or The Dark looming, and the current subject matter, she didn’t feel like one of the group.  “Team, might as well get paid a little bit for all the effort we’ve been putting in.  It’s in my closet and the moment we had some breathing room my plan was to present it to everyone, at which point I would explain the Enterich sitch… but here we are.”  She splayed he hands out to address everyone.  “If Enterich was planning on hurting anyone, he didn’t say or let me in on his plans.  He only said that Jason was obvious problem that needed to be dealth with, at which point I issued him the warning.  I told Giles all of it and it was her and Taggart’s responsibility to do what they do in order to keep us safe and until I was sure I wasn’t going to do anything that would compromise the lives of my parents.”

“That day at training, Cassie, I was telling you to back off Enterich because your snooping could have made him think I snitched.  Your constant inability to let shit go could have gotten my parents killed,” she said flatly, but calmly.  That morning I slept with you,” she looked to Cade, unabashedly putting their sex life out there for everyone to know about (not that they didn’t already).  “I needed to get my head out of the dark places it was in.  That evening I went and called on Coyote.  I met him and… it was enlightening.  Enterich is apparently some sort of demon a fear demon, he called it a cythaul or something, I can’t quite recall what he said.  It’s a part of the Dark itself, like The Tree, but mobile.  I also learned of something called The Library of Shadows.  I’ve had Courtney running recon into the heads of everyone at Branch 9 and Proteus to discover what that might be before confronting Annette with it.”

She sighed.  “And that’s the gist.  That’s why you saw me with Enterich, that why I collected money from him, and the moral of the story is: everyone has secrets.  Just because I’m not working with you guys, doesn’t mean I’m working against you.  Now…” she inhaled deeply and let the breath go, centering herself.  “I assume you have questions, tirades, diatribes and accusations… so, floor is yours.”

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Well, there it is.    That thought went through Cade's mind as he listened to Marissa lay out what had been going on.   She'd been given the choice of spying on the Fellowship, or the assured destruction of her family.   In her place, he couldn't say he'd make a better decision.   In her mind, what she did was justified.   She fed Enterich old data,  which while useful, was of limited use going forward, especially now.

She'd gone to Annette and Taggart for advice, and even gotten Courtney to go along.   She hadn't told any of the Fellowship anything before now, and he didn't know exactly what brought this confession on now, but he was glad for it.   

He couldn't blame her for Jason getting attacked, He could definitely see her warning Enterich about what would happen if he went after Jason or any of them, and failed.  

Marissa officially putting their sex life in the open wasn't something he could do anything about, though there was a part of him that thought it inappropriate.  What was done was done.

"So our next Goal is to kick Enterich's ass then?"   He asked quietly.   "Don't think I'm not annoyed that you didn't trust any of us, I am.  But you're also correct, our track record isn't littered with instances of stealth, or restraint, so I do understand."

Cade's voice was unnaturally even, even though he was frowning.   it wasn't an angry scowl, more resignation, that they weren't done fighting weird shit, and disappointment.

"I don't blame you for Jason getting attacked, and I don't think anyone else should.  Jason's abilities have been displayed somewhat prominently.  It would be easy to view him as the most powerful of the Fellowship.  There's two ways to take a group down.  Pick off the weakest members first, though that can backfire by leaving a highly motivated group of stronger enemies, or You hit their big guns when they're isolated with enough force to take them down.   That seems to be Enterich's play.   The fact he was operating based on old data, that might have actually saved Jason's life, I mean if they'd been smart, they'd have shot you from both sides.  The time you used your shield openly, wasn't it only in one direction?  They'd probably thought that."

He shook his head.  "What it comes down to now, is whether or not people can trust you.   You've admitted to seeing to your own interests first.  I don't think that's news to anyone here.   The fact you're telling all of us this now, well you either trust us, or your family is actually in danger."

" I may just be the muscle, I leave the really heavy thinking to those of you who are better at it, but I choose to trust you, Marissa.   Not because of our relationship, though I admit, I could be seen as biased because of it.   I trust everyone here, many of you I've grown up with.  It hasn't been all sunshine and roses, but we all have to get past the past.   That will be easier for some than others, but it needs to happen.   Going forward, we, the Fellowship, are in this together.  You said he's a part of the Dark, so clearly, we didn't actually defeat the Dark itself, just a piece.  That means it's going to keeping coming after all of us.   Together we can beat it, separate, we won't.  If there's something I can do to help you, to help any of the Fellowship, then tell me what it is, and I'll do it."
 
Cade finally stopped speaking, having simply let the words flow, not trying to reorganize his thoughts, it was probably better this way.   Those were his honest thoughts on the matter.   He wasn't going to treat her any differently, though he wasn't so sure everyone else was going to feel the way he did about it.
 

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"Ho," Marissa chuckled as she wrapped her arms around her bae.  She squeezed him gently in a show of appreciation for his speaking up.  He'd honestly shared his thoughts and not all of it was positive, and she was completely okay with that.  She looked up at him.  "Slow down there, cowboy.  We don't even know where Enterich is."

"Look," she let him go and addressed the group once again.  "I'm more than self-aware when it comes to how self-serving I am, I can afford to be, I have goals and aspirations plus we're wealthy and I'm attractive, and have way more going for me than any of you."  She shrugged nonchalantly and didn't seem in the slightest way to be in intentionally trying to insult any of them, but in her typical way, she managed to do so with aplomb.  "And that's okay.  I don't want you to feel that I think less of you simply because you're 'lesser'.  If you want to know if I can be trusted, the answer is 'no', because my definition of trust is a lot different than yours.  You can trust me to always do what needs to be done, be it lie, cheat, manipulate, and not leave several bodies and police cold cases in my wake while I do it.  You can trust that I won't do anything to intentionally harm any of you unless there is simply no way to get out of using you as bait or leverage, providing I'm certain you'll survive the hazard.  Information, people, places, opportunity, the system; these are my weapons and the enemy isn't playing fair so neither will I."

"I didn't believe in this," with both hands she pointed to the floor, encapsulating everyone present in a single gesture.  "In us, until I saw us doing it.  We were there, together, fighting that thing and we were winning and for a moment I had the clarity to realize that maybe this was actually possible.  That we could actually do this... fight back and win, especially after all the hurt this thing has heaped onto us."

"I was going to try to warn you, Jason." She addressed the silent, slender wallflower.  "Even with Anette and Taggart supposedly handling your protection I figured Enterich would try something.  With everything happening so fast and one fiasco after another it just didn't happen... I thought I'd have more time and he wouldn't acct this soon, I have to live with my inaction almost costing you your life.  While I can't guarantee that I won't intentionally put you in danger again, but I can say you won't be blindsided by it like you were today."  It seemed that was the closest as apologies came when it was the Queen of Mean dealing them out.

"As far as Enterich goes, he has payback coming," she chuckled menacingly at the thought.  "But he's not our priority.  We don't have enough information to even begin looking for him.  Revenge is going to happen, but we need to be smart about it and not allow it to sidetrack us," Jason noted the subtle glare she gave him.  "We don't even know if he can be destroyed.  For now I think our focus should be on Site B, Cassie's father, and trying to solve the mystery of Enterich and the Library of Shadows should be our side pieces."

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"Enterich didn't want me dead because of my power."

Jason had stood silently, his eyes on Marissa as she'd spoken, then tracking Cade as he'd voiced his opinions, then once more tracking their hostess during her follow-up.  Now he spoke, his soft voice falling across the silence following Marissa's words as the jade ice of his stare once more settled on Cade.  "Your analysis is simplistic.  In terms of physical threat, perhaps I am the most dangerous person here."  He shrugged.  "Both my power and my capacity for violence contribute to that.  But Enterich is a manipulator.  He finds weak spots - fears for the most part, from the sounds of it - and pushes on them."  He indicated Marissa with one hand, still looking at Cade.  "Enterich fights using influence and cunning, on exploiting the psychological weakness of those he needs to use or destroy.  Marissa, logically, is his greatest rival amongst us.  Cassandra is a greater threat to a hidden hand or conspiracy than I am.  Even Sean, were he so inclined, could be a greater threat to Crossroads - whom Enterich seems to be working with or for - than I could be.  He could unravel their corporate structure and lay all their secrets bare in moments."  Jason held up the can of Coke in his hand, condensation forming on the side as he cooled it once more to fridge-temperatures. 

"As for me?  Power-wise, I am limited in such a struggle.  My greatest strength there is my intellect - the ability to analyse and plan.  And even that is useless without data with which to operate.  So again, asking rhetorically - why me?  Why not our Eyes?  Or our Face?"  he indicated Cassie and Marissa.  "A further puzzle: he sent human flunkies to kill me rather than attend to me himself - why?  He's a creature of the Dark.  A demon of fear, according to Coyote.  If he really wanted me dead, why not deal with me personally?"

"Maybe he can't."  Sean said thoughtfully, staring at Jason.  "I mean, he might have underestimated you and figured his puppets would do the job, but perhaps he didn't do it himself because, well, fear demon."  He gestured to Jason.  "No fear, no power.  Maybe he figures he'd have an easier time of it without you in the picture."

"That was my thought."  Jase nodded slightly.  "But I also consider he might have a three-fold goal.  Eliminate me, certainly.  But secondarily isolate and expose Marissa."  His eyes met the brunette's.  "If I had died, he'd have had you at his mercy.  Potentially his greatest rival in the game of influence - neutered.  You'd have either done his bidding further, or he'd have made sure everyone else here found out you were responsible for my death.  Which would bring about the third goal: destroy the Fellowship."  He paused, eyes cutting over to Cassandra.  "He may, or may not know how good Cassie's abilities are.  Perhaps they factored into the equation too.  Either way, I think this was a chess game move.  My injury - and your part in it - is enough to place huge strain on our bond as a group."

"I have made mistakes that have placed strains on that bond too."  He went on calmly.  "The morning after I attacked Liam, Lona said something that stayed with me: that the worst thing about that entire situation is that when she had a problem, I didn't ask her how she wanted to handle it.  Instead I simply went and hospitalised her attacker.  Marissa said something similar a day or two later - that I didn't stop to think of my friends, but instead just went to gratify my thirst for vengeance."  He studied Marissa, his cool green eyes revealing little if anything of what was going on behind them.  "You were right.  And Lona had a point.  I may not seem like I pay attention or listen to such concerns, but I do.  My attacking Liam the way I did might not have placed anyone in the Fellowship in physical danger, but I did put everyone in moral difficulty and maybe legal danger."  He shrugged.  "So I resolved not to make that mistake again.  Not to act unilaterally and take important decisions out of the hands of my friends."

"I don't fault your pragmatism.  You say we can trust you to do what you see as necessary.  I agree, and hold a similar view.  You say that you won't willfully put us in danger unless you are 'certain' we can survive it.  The logical flaw there is simple: what if you are wrong, Marissa?  What if your calculation of our ability to survive misses a decimal point?"  He slowly shook his head.  "No. You don't get to make the decision about our being put at risk for us.  You said earlier that you don't trust us to handle your business, and that's fair - but the moment Enterich demanded details on us, the moment you were aware that forces were in play against us - that was the moment it became our business, not just yours"  He glanced at everyone present, slowly scanning faces before returning to Marissa's.  "I propose a different accord, one we all need to abide by, which should address your earlier concern that Devin and I would start kicking in doors and breaking faces, or Cassie would start being loud."  The corner of his lips twitched wryly. 

"It is a door that swings two ways:  firstly, if any one of us comes to the Fellowship with a problem, the default attitude is to be 'how can we help you?' rather than 'I shall take care of it my way'.  And the other side of the agreement is that any business involving outside interest in other members of the Fellowship is the Fellowship's business.  We can't afford for this to happen again.  And personally, I am not prepared to take the risk again.  Without an agreement in that vein on the table, I will walk away and compartmentalise my life from those I cannot trust.  I don't need allies, or even associates, who think they have a right to shove me under a bus because it suits their purpose and they think I can survive it.  You want me to play as bait, you get my consent first."  This last was delivered without any particular rancor or hostility, a simple matter-of-fact statement as his eyes, gleaming in his tanned scarred face,  rested on Marissa as he took a drink of Coke.

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21 minutes ago, Bannon said:

"I don't fault your pragmatism.  You say we can trust you to do what you see as necessary.  I agree, and hold a similar view.  You say that you won't willfully put us in danger unless you are 'certain' we can survive it.  The logical flaw there is simple: what if you are wrong, Marissa?  What if your calculation of our ability to survive misses a decimal point?"  He slowly shook his head.  "No. You don't get to make the decision about our being put at risk for us.  You said earlier that you don't trust us to handle your business, and that's fair - but the moment Enterich demanded details on us, the moment you were aware that forces were in play against us - that was the moment it became our business, not just yours"

"Then I'm wrong, Jason." Marissa said flatly, shrugging.  "We're at war Jason.  We can't always control the outcome and sometimes we have to put our faith in the people around us and their abilities.  I know it's hard for you to grasp, Jason, because you don't know what it's like to be wrong, but for the rest of us sitting down in class who don't remember that article we saw in the dentist's office six years ago about the silver crested wabbajack are most likely not getting those points towards their grade."  She seemed to be keeping her cool, despite this was usually the point where the two of them would devolve into an argument.  "'What if I'm wrong' is something I live with everyday so it's no surprise you actually consider that, what with you thinking you control every situation and every outcome with a cold stare, arms crossed on your chest and a simple 'this is how it's going to be' attitude."

"What if I'm wrong and he kills my parents anyways?  What if I'm wrong and he just kills me instead?  What if I'm wrong and he finds out I told Annette and Taggart?"  She shrugged, looking from one hand to another as she gave each example.  "My last several days has been nothing but walking on eggshells and pondering 'what if I'm wrong', so please, spare me which end of your ass you pulled that logic from."

"And I do get to make that decision, Jason, because I did and if I have to, I'll do it again.  I was in the wolves' den and I didn't have time to simply launch off texts of consent.  I went to Annette and Taggart because Dr. Cooks notes, which contained details details on all of you, happened to be the property of Branch-9."  The lovely brunette seemed unreasonably calm as she explained herself, while her words may have seemed harsh or blunt, she didn't in anyway seemed to be particularly angry or being cruel for cruelty's sake.  "I didn't need your permission to use their resources and risk letting you guys know so that you get my parents killed and offer Devin and me nothing but a stoic glare and empty apology before you all just went on about your day.  You're smart Jason, we all know you are, but in the really-real-world where everyone isn't a psychopath and we have feelings, and emotions, and social skills, we do things like call the police, call the FBI, call the U.S. Marshals, or go to the local underground secret military base and you address professional enforcement officials.  You don't go to the psycho down the street and hope for the best."  She pointed out the window towards the street to accent her statement.  "I'm willing to take risks, Jason and be wrong, because all I have is average intelligence, an above-average body, and I'm surrounded by people who have consistently displayed an inability to provide me with the level of competency that I required in my time of need, so I outsourced.  If a situation like this arises in the future, I will assess competency at that point and make a decision I feel is best to direct the outcome in a way I consider favorable."

52 minutes ago, Bannon said:

"It is a door that swings two ways:  firstly, if any one of us comes to the Fellowship with a problem, the default attitude is to be 'how can we help you?' rather than 'I shall take care of it my way'.  And the other side of the agreement is that any business involving outside interest in other members of the Fellowship is the Fellowship's business.  We can't afford for this to happen again.  And personally, I am not prepared to take the risk again.  Without an agreement in that vein on the table, I will walk away and compartmentalize my life from those I cannot trust.  I don't need allies, or even associates, who think they have a right to shove me under a bus because it suits their purpose and they think I can survive it.  You want me to play as bait, you get my consent first."  This last was delivered without any particular rancor or hostility, a simple matter-of-fact statement as his eyes, gleaming in his tanned scarred face,  rested on Marissa as he took a drink of Coke.

"I've already expressed the extent to which I can be trusted," she seemed distracted for a moment as she noticed the polish on one of her nails was chipped.  With a disgusted expression at the imperfection in her usually flawless appearance, she sighed and shook it away, pressing on.  "No situation can be perfectly accounted for.  I've already said I'd warn you to the best of my ability, but frankly I'm not trusting any of you with things as grave as my family's lives, simply because you're part of the club.  Those were my parents, my call, not yours.  I am not some variable to be controlled."

"You're seeking to promote people who can't do the job simply because they work for the company instead of seeking to hire those more competent and capable who don't work for the company."  She smirked.  "I mean, okay.  You guys feel free to do as you please, but unlike Jason I can't control every scenario or it's outcome simply by standing there and telling people how it's going to be and if I don't get my way I'll shut them out because I don't get what it's like to be a flawed, scared, normal human being.  I made a call and if I have to I'll make the same or other calls too if that's what the situation demands at that time.  You wanna hate me?  Hate me.  You wanna compartmentalize me out of your life?  Feel free.  After all, there are only so many Radiants and our numbers have already dwindled by five in three months, so if you think turning your back on your limited allies is the intelligent thing to do, by all means, I won't stop you."  She addressed everyone holding her arms out as if inviting a challenge.  "I wasn't put here to live up to your standards, nor you, mine.  So do whatever you feel is best, the war will still be here tomorrow."

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"Well, that ends the discussion so far as I am concerned."  Jason replied, unruffled and, to all appearances, unsurprised by Marissa's blunt refusal.  As indeed he was.  He looked over at the group's blonde seer.  "Out of deference to Cassandra, who insisted I attend, I will remain until everyone has finished having their say."

And with that he lapsed into silence, his eyes moving from Cassie to the wall opposite the counter on which he leaned, only the faint movement of his breathing and an occasional sip from the Coke can disturbing his stillness.

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"Well," Marissa shrugged.  "Since the discussion is over, you're all welcome to leave.  Good talk."

"I will see you all at the meeting later, for which there will be snacks, sodas and pizza.  Now, if you'll all excuse me I have to go get ready.  I'm hoping to try and look halfway decent tonight despite how I'm feeling," she padded from the kitchen and from there they heard her swiftly step up the stairs.  Her voice was muffled from the top of the stairs when she she called down.  "See yourselves out, if you don't mind."

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Kat's head sunk into her hands, and she screamed internally as the host of the meeting went on her dramatic exit. The petite French girl wished really hard she wouldn't have checked the group chat today. This is a lot to take in. An agent of the Dark had information on her, which meant the fight wasn't over, which probably meant more morbid horrors to throw hands with, which meant... This is bad.

"Well, that was a shit-show." Her quiet voice, muffled by her hands, was a spiteful mixture of anger and fear. The whole affair didn't feel quite as a knife in the back, Kat being a fresh arrival in town, but it still hurt, and scared her, her imagination fueled by fresh, gore memories of a previous, recent, other shit-show she would do anything to avoid the likes of. She raised her head, looking around for some - hopefully - helpful advice. "What do we do about it?"

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Cassandra took a deep breath, held it while imagining it was a sponge for all the frustration and fear and anger in her body...then expelled it with a bit more force than a simple exhalation. It was just a mind trick, but in that moment it did feel like she could think a little more clearly. She hoped.

"Okay, so I may be in the minority here, but I actually think that mostly went pretty well," Cassie said. "Obviously Jase and Marissa are both incredibly, superhumanly stubborn and seem committed to pissing each other off simply by existing...but given that? Not bad. Not bad at all."

She looked around the room and let out another cleansing breath. God, it had been tense for a second there.

"As for what to do now, I think trying to push harder tonight isn't going to lead to anything good...though, Devin, you're the expert here so please correct me if I'm wrong. It feels to me like Marissa needs to deal with some feelings right now, and Jase probably isn't the one to help her do that. And Jase...she's not going to be able to deal with your whole...thing...until that happens. So she'll need some space."

"For what it's worth, she's right though. We're going to need each other. It's going to be messy, and frustrating and we're going to have to really work at it...but it's still true. If one thing like Enterich got in while the Tree was stuck in the world, then more probably have as well." Cass closed her eyes for a moment.

"I already know how this plays out for me. If I don't miss my guess, we're almost at the part where he uses my dad to try to rope me into something like he did with Marissa. And I have to say, even knowing what I know, I'm not super sure what I'm going to do about it. So if I seem sympathetic towards Marissa right now...it's because I am. He could have done that to me. He could have, but he picked her, and even God may not know why."

Cassie looked back the way Marissa had gone and reached absently up to brush her bangs out of her eyes. "I should talk to her."

Edited by Cassandra Allen

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"If you want to be the frog that carries the scorpion, that is your choice."  Jase's voice was conversationally calm.  "I offered to move past what has already been done, and proposed to try and ensure it doesn't happen again.  She refused to consider the proposal, and reiterated her position that she will do as she sees fit, when she sees fit, even if it affects our lives."  He finished the last of the Coke and tossed the can into the trash, a touch of TK ensuring it crumpled mid-flight and landed squarely in the receptacle. 

"I also took her story at face value, as a sign of good faith. I voiced no doubts that she was telling the truth, even though some doubts could logically be thrown on her motives given her words to me yesterday.  To remind you:  she believes I am a violent animal who will abuse her friend."  he indicated Autumn.  "She flat out told me she doesn't trust my stated intent - why should I trust hers?  Of the two of us, one of us has been lucky to survive gunshot wounds due to the other.  She can say she attempted to dissuade Enterich.  We have only her word for that - if she truly believes me to be a threat then a manipulated assassin's bullet takes care of that nicely."  He shrugged.  "But I have no evidence beyond her accusation yesterday to support that theory, so despite my doubts I proceeded - and will continue to proceed - as if all she said was true.  That doesn't change the fact she will do it again if she has to, by her own admission."

His head tilted to one side, cold eyes regarding Cassandra.  "If all it takes for us to backstab each other is a threat to family members, if all Enterich or anyone like him needs to do is apply pressure and we fold like wet cardboard, perhaps there is no Fellowship after all."  He let that hang in the air for a moment.  "That wasn't a threat, or a declaration, to clarify.  Merely an observation."

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