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Ep. VI Intermission: Fallout


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With their summary dismissal, Cade let out a sigh of resignation.  "Jason, I'm gonna address that last comment out of everything else that just happened first.   We're kids.   Young adults, but hell, we can't vote, we can't buy certain things, and a host of other stuff.   I'd wager to say most of us have had very regular mostly normal lives.   How exactly do you think normal people would react to a threat to their family from an entity obviously more powerful than themselves?  I get that we aren't normal in every way, and believe me the decision I made fighting against Cody is something I have to live with.   It may not have amounted to anything, but I shot him, another human, someone I did technically grow up with, with the intention of killing him.  I wanted to stop him before he could hurt another person I cared about."

"She didn't just fold.   Yes, she helped Enterich.   But Marissa fought back in the way that she could.  She actively sabotaged the aid she  provided.  She did go to experts, trying to get help to do this without getting us involved.  That was a calculated risk on her part that could have gotten her family hurt or killed.   Still, she made that choice.    If she'd told us, do you think all of us could have acted normally,  and not given anything away?  We're kids, Jason.  We fuck up, sometimes with serious consequences.   If it was any of us they'd come after, aside from you or Devin, I don't think the one who'd been attacked would even be alive.   We aren't trained soldiers with combat reflexes, or vast experience.   We've fought monsters a couple times, and a few people.   This could very well have been Enterich sending a message.   "I can get to any of you, you aren't safe at all."   Trying to make us afraid, to make us doubt.   I imagine the fear that shatters friendships and crushes morale is exactly what he probably finds most delicious or something.  Cassie just brought up a good point as well.  Who's to say it ends with Enterich?  What other entities are lurking out there that we don't even know their names?    We can't afford to be abandoning each other."

Cade's voice did betray some of the anger at how things shook out.  "Now I get being mad that she's making decisions that affect us without telling us.  I'm not happy about that either, but we can't really stop her from doing what she's going to do.   Cutting her off, leaving her alone, that's not your choice to make either, for anyone other than yourself.    Marissa can be infuriating, but so can everyone else.   Was there really no room for any sort of compromise?   Something that lets us all actually work towards the same goal?   Don't just say that it was your way, that your proposal was the compromise.  She'll never surrender complete control to anyone.   Would you?"   

The Teen Athlete once again went silent, giving Jason a chance to respond, or anyone else a chance to voice their thoughts on everything.  

 

Edited by Cade
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"Frog that carries the scorpion?"  Devin chuckled, but it wasn't the humored sort of chuckled, it was that obvious kind that people made while they told themselves they weren't going to make a scene.  "Implying that it's in my sister's nature to just stab everyone in the back?  Wow, dude.  Y'know... my sister's holier-than-thou schtick is an act.  You guys don't know her like I do, she's a scared, confused, sixteen year old like the rest of us and prone to emotional and irrational choices when backed into a corner, unlike some of us, she feels fear and if you've never experienced it before, I recommend you stay in your lane.  Like she said, Jason, you don't understand things like that.  Things like 'being wrong' or being afraid."

"Look, people, I'm livid she did what she did.  Positively pissed, but she's family and I love her and I also understand why she did what she did and I know if backed into a corner like that again, she'd do whatever she needed to to survive it so that she could get back to us and rally the troops against whatever it was... like she's trying to do now," he looked to Jason while he opened the fridge, offering him another Coke as he took one for himself.  "Surely with the collective IQs in the room you guys noticed that?"  He paused, a smug grin on his face.

"No?  Not surprising.  The frog and the scorpion line, regardless of everything else you say that's the truth of what you think and feel about my sister.  Regardless of why she did what she did, or who she ran to, or who she put into harms way, that's the truth of it: just a backstabbing bitch because it's in her nature, right?  I'm sure there's one or more of you besides him that think the same way and just aren't saying anything, that's fine, I don't blame you, I love her and she annoys the shit out of me all the time."  He set the extra Coke on the counter for anyone who wanted it.  "She's not as bad you think she is, and she had a point: there are very few of us and now, there seems to be one less, while I hate the outcome I'm glad at least one of us had the balls to get something done and actually made a decision that gleaned useful information.  Now we know what Enterich is and we know that Proteus is hiding things from us, like this library.  What did the rest of you do last week before Cody?  Snog your girlfriend?  Get stoned?  Sit in a computer chair while the rest of us practiced?  Fish?  Try and get in Laurie's pants?"  He looked to Kat and paused.  "...okay yeah, I can't even venture a guess.  Point is, she got more done last week than all of us combined."

He feigned shivers like he was excited for something.  "Already we're one down after guests show up and decide to insult my family in our own home.  Wow.  Can't wait to see what we have in store for the meeting.  I'm all giddy."  His can hissed as he popped the top and knocked it back.  "Tonight is going to be such a shit show.  I can't wait."

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"Again with that insistence that I 'don't know what it is to be wrong'.  I've been wrong.  I quite clearly stated that what I did regarding Liam was a mistake, and why."  Jason popped the tab on the second Coke, nodding at Devin and shrugging.  "I'm also possibly wrong regarding the scorpion analogy - I'm not immune to a certain level of resentment based on what happened to me and certain things she has said to me.  Certainly, you know her better than I do.  You are also, however, the one person present who she won't sacrifice, Devin.  And yes, I don't know what it's like to be frightened.  I'm not judging her for being afraid."

"Your assessment of what we did last week before fighting Cody is also lacking.  We fought off a direct attack from the Dark into our world.  Autumn and Cassandra uncovered what Cook was up to, and then we planned and executed a raid on a secret paramilitary underground research lab, with no fatalities, and rescuing several test subjects.  We found out the probable location of Cassie's father, investigated the mystery of Mr Black, uncovered the bracelets, opened dealings with the Project, trained our abilities, discovered that at Site B there is likely an alien spacecraft left by the Radiants of old, and incidentally also discovered the existence of Enterich - Cassie seeing that Air Force Captain muttering about him with her gift."  Jase studied the other youth, one corner of his lips twitching in a smile.  "And yes, also all that stuff you said."

"Look, Devin, I'm not jumping down Marissa's throat about what she had to do in the past.  It's done, I'm moving on.  And I agree that she uncovered valuable intelligence.  My contention is that she believes that she has the right to put us in harms way without our knowledge if she thinks it's necessary, as though she is the commander-in-chief and we are soldiers who signed up to serve, and that she has no need to modify her behaviour or agree even in principle that we should be involved in such decisions.  If I took that attitude, you'd be the first calling me out."  He indicated Devin with his can.  "Hell, man, you bitched me out because I injured those mercenaries in the Crossroads raid and 'encouraged' Charlie in being similarly violent by my example.  You've threatened to attack me because I dangled Cook by his pompous neck to let some air out of him.  If I'd gotten someone here shot by playing my own game and not warning anyone, then turned around and said I was right and would do it again, would we even be having a discussion about it?"

"Which brings me to Cade."  Emerald lasers fixed on the athlete's face.  "Same goes for you, with the highlighting of my point that my proposal was just that, not an edict.  I specifically said I couldn't function alongside someone 'without an agreement in that vein'.  Nobody proposed anything different.  No-one stepped forward and made a counter proposal.  Marissa refused point blank, repeated her initial position, and claimed she wasn't a variable to be controlled - which wasn't my objective.  There was no room for compromise, because she refused to even entertain the concept that her behaviour should be altered.  I don't want rigid guidelines signed in blood.  I just want some manner of agreement in principle that we shouldn't run around taking unilateral actions that will put each other in danger, so if it happens again at least there is an understanding that it's the last resort and there was literally no other option."

"To sum up:  Maybe my scorpion comment was out of line.  We did plenty of import last week, and saying otherwise to try and highlight Marissa's contribution doesn't change that.  I'm not taking the position that it's my way or the highway, merely that there has to be some basis of trust here.  And there seems to be an amazing double standard in expected behaviour."  He indicated everyone present with a sweep.  "Of every one of you here who wagged their finger and told me that I was wrong in what I did with Liam or Cook, that such actions won't fly, not one has told Marissa that she's out of line and she needs to change her approach."  He shrugged, taking a long pull from his can.  "Fascinating.  Why that is is best answered by yourselves, I'm sure."

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Kat  finished her coke, hopping to her feet to throw the can in the bin, mulling on her thoughts, then cleared her throat. "You know what? I don't really care about whatever feud you guys have going on. Unlike what I've heard about her, Marissa actually has been kinda nice to me since I arrived. I'm not saying her saying she'd throw any of us under the bus if she thought we'd dodge the wheels and duck the bumper is fine, hell, I hate the idea. But I don't even know what I would've done in her situation. She also said she'd be more communicative about it if it were to happen again, that's already something, right? And yes, her definition of trust sucks, absolutely, I realize that now that things have been said. But what can we do about it that would be helpful, uh?" She took a brief pause to moisten her lips, her annoyed stare going back and forth between Devin and Jason, to finally stick to the latter.

"You said it yourself,  Enterich's goal might be to put a huge strain on our bond as a group. Marissa said she was willing to be more communicative, and that's helpful. That's the opposite of compar- com- fuck, you get it. I don't care that people think you're some sort of monster snacking on hikers every Thursday afternoon as a ritual to summon the Dark Lord and send impending doom our way, you showed me different so far. You're... nice? Okay, that thing you got going on with your eyes, definitely creeping me out a bit, I mean, every time I wonder if I should stop moving, set myself on fire, run away or stare back, but I feel like I'd lose the contest anyway-" She stopped for a moment, blinking twice. "Where was I going... Ah..." She shrugged and exhaled, showing the stairs in a vague motion.

"Just... way to go, dude."

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
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"Well," Devin sighed, chuckling again.  "Yes Jason, and we did all that stuff together.  We supported each other and my sister was the only one left out there alone with no protection or cover because the people she wanted to go to was... this," he gestured to the collected group.  "I wouldn't trust us either, I might be pissed at her, but I understand why she didn't feel comfortable bringing the information to us, but you've obviously made up your mind.  I still don't think you actually understand what my sister was trying to convey which strikes me as surprising from a guy who strives to 'understand' things."

He rolled his shoulders as constant muscle fatigue and aches plagued him throughout the day.  He winced slightly as his shoulder tightened but didn't really let it bother him.  "We did something great yesterday, we saved a lot of people and that's all cool and dandy, but we are far from a team, further from friends, and lightyears from a family.  We all know The Dark isn't gone and at this rate it's not going to be our problem for very long.  Victory last night aside, I really don't think this is working out.  After the meeting tonight I think its best we just go our separate ways.  I signed up to be a part of a team and this just isn't it.  We all saw it last night: Jason is the only guy who can hurt these things, they were immune to everything else we threw at them so by and large the rest of us aren't necessary except to ride the bench while he blows everything up.  Sean to a lesser degree, but it's hard to count the guy who can't even be bothered to be a part of the team in the first place."

"I didn't sign up to be Jason's personal transport," he shook his head.  "And I certainly didn't sign on to be coldly dismissed and treated like a non-person simply because someone's black and white expectation of how things should be doesn't match mine.  That shit might have worked on Cora, dude, but Marissa and you are similar in stubbornness.  Cora cared, Marissa doesn’t.  She and I were doing fine for sixteen years before you guys came along.  Honestly guys, do you think you have contributed anything to her life in the last couple of months, that if taken away would be missed?  The Fellowship, everyone in this room… you’re already forgotten, dismissed and she’s moved on.”

He sipped his Coke and finally looked to Cassandra, who he’d not replied to yet.  “Marissa has been dealing with feelings ever since Jase told her he loved her and is now sleeping with her best friend.”  He raised a hand to stave off any possible barrage of how or why things were the way they were.  “I don’t care what other versions of the story are, I really, really don’t.  Every time she’s tried to talk to Jason she’s been cold shouldered by him.  She’s legit afraid of him and afraid for Autumn because Emjay feels that while Jason might say he’ll never hurt one of us, his actions in the past have proved that his judgment is clouded by a drive to kill anything that he perceives as wrong and unnecessary.  Where do you think my sister fits into all that?  She’s opinionated, aggressive, ambitious, her way of doing things is drastically different than his and if history has taught us anything: it’s that Jason will threaten or set on fire anything or anyone that doesn’t conform to how he feels things should be.”

“So, yeah, she’s working through some shit.  Like wondering which day her family is going to wake up and find her an effigy in the front yard.  He doesn’t feel fear.  He doesn’t know what it’s like to live with something like that, but after all his actions and his complete lack of credibility he feels ‘I would never do that’ is enough butter cover the entirety of my sisters emotional toast and put her worries to rest.”  He had a devious smirk on his lips as he looked to Jason.  “How’s that been working out for you?”

“Cade and Marissa aren’t actually dating, it’s a farce she constructed so that she could still be a part of things and hang out with us while Jason is around… and maybe a bit of an attempt to make him jealous until she realized that he just doesn’t care.  Cade’s a security blanket.  A little extra muscle at her side so that she can feel safe when she’s in and around spaces Jason is in.  Look, I know my sister and I have some karma coming our way, but her living like this is not healthy, so as she navigates the hell of her comeuppance, yuk it up if you’re so inclined.” He spun his hand in a sign of showmanship, encouraging people to take their pot-shot while they could.  “If you’re looking for a story, drop that in the school paper.”

“I told Em she was on her own with you guys,” he took another drink from his Coke and leaned in the doorway to the kitchen.  “She did it, it’s her storm to weather.  I’m not putting in any good words for her.  I’m not asking you to forgive her or begging you to accept her or what she did.  But the door swings both ways, if I’m not on her side, then I’m certainly not on yours either.  If it’s in her nature to just be backstabbing, well, that’s now your storm to weather, because if you think didn’t hear you, our Alexa can broadcast any room in this house and I know her, just because she left doesn’t mean she wasn’t listening to the people she invited into her home.  Your team is swiftly dwindling, so I recommend you guys locate the cancer and excise it, be it a person, a behavior, a procedure… something isn’t working for you guys, and I feel for you, I do, because the war doesn’t stop just because your army isn’t ready.  But hey, not my circus, not my monkeys.”  His phone played the 'Wicked' song as he fished it from his pocket and smiled wide as he leaned there reading the text.  "It's her.  I'm an asshole for ratting out her Alexa trick, apparently."

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"I've never threatened her, or anyone here, simply because they did or said something I didn't like."  Jason replied softly.  "Though I've certainly been threatened over such things.  And I just got done saying it doesn't have to be all my way.  And as for her trying to talk to me and my giving her the cold-shoulder - I have no idea what you mean.  First time she sought me out she warned me that it was suspicious that Lilly disappeared and reappeared, and then yesterday she warned me not to hurt Autumn.  Both times I listened until she was done.  But... this is going round and round."  He glanced at Cassie significantly. 

"And as I predicted, I'm the one that ended up being the real issue.  So be it:  I'm done repeating myself over and over.  I'm not excising anyone from my life, but I'm also not going to pretend I'm welcome where, it turns out, that has never been the case.  You all have my number, you all know where to find me, at least for now.  If you need me to, I'll show up.  If you come to talk with me, I'll sit and talk.  Want to hang out?  I'm down."  He shrugged at Devin, then leaned slightly towards the Alexa.  "Marissa included.  Until then, I have other uses for my time."

He pushed off from the counter he was leaning against, stepping over to Autumn and giving her a faint smile, then leaning down and kissing a freckled cheek.  "I'll wait in the car."  he told her in a murmur as her expressive blue eyes studied his face.  She nodded slowly, watching for a moment as he turned and left the room.

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Cassandra listened to it all spiral downward, and when Devin addressed her directly she watched him, nodding as he spoke. None of it was a shock exactly; she'd heard enough dribs and drabs to put the pieces together in hindsight...and it did put things in a perspective that made a kind of sense. An awkward adolescent sort of sense.

She shook her head as Jase left and said again, "All I'm saying is that I feel for her. I think she was wrong not to trust us, but I understand why she didn't. And I think turning our backs on her now is the worst thing we could do. If Enterich had dangled my dad in front of my face, and threatened to hurt him or kill him...and he easily could have...I don't know what I would have done. And it isn't really important, I guess, because it isn't about what I would have done anyway. It's about Marissa, who didn't feel like she had anyone to turn to."

Cassie shrugged. "I don't know if she'll ever feel like she can turn to us, and it honestly kind of hurts that she doesn't now. I always thought we had her back when it counted, but again...not about what I think."

She looked at Devin. "So...you know her. What does she need right now? Sympathetic ear? Space?"

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Posted (edited)

"She needs friends," Devin said with no hesitation in his voice.  "But, what do I know?  I don't have a one-thousand I.Q., or an icy-jade stare, so obviously I'm not qualified to tell you how to set personal standards for yourself, so I could be wrong."

"Stop coming to me for the answers guys." he sighed and shook his head.  "Either step up to the plate and figure your shit out, or don't.  Either way, stop wasting both hers, and your, time."  A moment later his phone vibrated, so he'd obviously turned the volume down, and he glanced at it, sighing again.  She'd sent him something, considering she was still listening through the homes monitoring network, but he clicked his phone off and tucked it back into his pocket.

"Well, feel free to hang out until the meeting.  We can head down into the basement.  Pizza is on the way, we have the consoles down there so we can get Smash or Mario Kart action going.  Your call guys.  Also, waiting out in the car or going home is an option too if you need to shower or just don't feel like being here.  Not my circus, so you guys just do what you feel, no one's feet are nailed to the floor."

Edited by Dave ST
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"Goddammit."  When Jason decided any further conversation wasn't worth his time, Cade ground his teeth.   Devin's words were true, but to have it just put out there like that, well he was annoyed by that as well.   

With Cassandra looking to go talk to her, Cade decided on a different approach, he'd give her space.   If she wanted to talk, he was a text or call away.  Devin had just outed their relationship as fake to everyone.   Going off on him for it wasn't going to do any good, so he just didn't actually respond to it.  He wouldn't lie if someone asked directly.   

"Thank God you didn't say mario party, things are already going far enough south.   We don't need that friendship breaking game involved.   I'm game for pretty much anything else though."   Cade tried to focus on the fact Devin had still made that invitation.   Great journeys starting with small steps and all.   "So Devin, who do you main in Smash?" As he waited for Devin to lead the way down, or see if anyone else was going to do anything, Cade pulled his phone. 

He typed out a text to Marissa and hit send, letting out a light sigh.

"Marissa, I just want to say that I'm here if you need me.   That said, I'm not charging up to your room, You didn't invite me up there.   I'm going to give you some space.   If you want to talk, hang out, anything, call me, I'll answer.   Alot got said today, and I meant what I said earlier.   I know I probably don't need to say this, but I will, Take care of yourself."

Even after he sent it, he felt it was kinda corny, but he meant it.   He wanted to ask about Homecoming, but thought that would be too much right now.   He'd make sure, later, they did still have some time.  He wanted to see that real, radiant smile again, and there wasn't much he wouldn't do to do so.
 

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Marissa tossed a sweater dress on her bed next to a skirt and top she'd already picked out, she craned her head to judge which of the two outfits she liked more.  The white sweater dress would go great with the knee-high suede boots she liked, but hadn't had the chance to wear yet, but the red skirt with the black half-turtleneck top would really make her hips and butt pop when she walked.  Then again... tight, like the sweater dress, really showed off her figure and it drove the uptight parent's of Montana out of their minds when they saw her out and about.

Decisions, decisions... she looked down at the bed as her screen lit up with a text from Cade.  "Alexa, mute the kitchen."  She scooped up her phone and read.

A slight smile crept across her face.  Cade was sweet, in his own adorable way, and tapped out a reply, biting her lower lip as her thumbs tapped away at her screen.  [[I'm not mad, Cade, it's okay.  If he wants to just 'decompartmentalize' (and then claim he's not, I guess?  I don't know...) people out of his life, that's on him.  I've school, college, saving the world and Homecoming on my plate.   Trust me, he won't notice the vacancy, so there's certainly no reason I should.  Thanks for checking up on me though, it was sweet of you. ❤️ 💋]]

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I have set the dominoes to falling.  How I love to watch the mindless patterns they make in spacetime, the primitive mindlessness of mortal frailty ripping and rending at the delicate traceries of the Tricksters 'Grand Design'.

Trapped here in this place by a power that does not let me fully withdraw into Overspace, I instead dislocate my lower consciousness...

I shi͡f̸t ̡it bac̕k͢ ͜a͘lon͟g ͡th̸e ͏va͝s͢t ҉f҉les̢hscape ̀o̕f̕ my t̛r͘u̧e̢ ̕body̴.͡  ̷I͜ ̡pr͝ee͢n ̷the ͝cònt͝inen̡ţàl̵ ̴s̨pan͞s͠ of̸ ͝my win͢gs̷.͠ W͏it͡h͘ hóo͏ks҉ ̶and ͝t̵o҉n͏g͘ue̶s̨ I ͠c҉l̵ea͘n th͢e ͏g̸re͝y͠ dr͝if͘t̵ o͟f̸ ͡èo͘ǹs f̨rom ͞th̶e͏ u͜p͠la͠n͞ds̕ ̶o̵f m̶y f̡a͘c҉įa͝l̢ ͜to̵p͏og͟raph͡y.  

F̵a͟r̷ be̕l͡ow̨,͞ ͝I ̕fee̴l ҉ţh͏e͘ c̕ir̸c͏u҉l̡át̷ory ̛ti̧d҉es̡ ͠a͡nd ͝puĺs͏e͏s̴,̶ ͜t̷he̶ ͡e͠b́b́ an͝d͝ flo͢w͡ of̡ ̛R̢a̧d̢ìan͏ce͢ ́o͢n̴ thi̡s ̨p͢a̴theti͞c di̕rt cl̛od I̡ occúpy ̀w͞it̛h̡ m͟y҉ p͏r̀e͝s̸e̷ņc͞e.͠ ͏ I peel͝ ̴b͏ack ͢my ҉man̶y ͞lid͟s,͞ ̀e̛xp͞o͘sing͏ ͡eyès ̀l̢i̢k͞e spinn͡įng̸ ocȩa͞ns ̛of̴ ͡bro̢ke̡n҉ ̵mir͠ŕors.͘ ̷ ̸I l͠oòk̴ dow͏n̵ u҉ṕon ͠a͘ ́w̷orl̵d ̶f̢i͏l̴led͞ ͞w͞ith̷ bri͟g͘h̷t ́s̛oųl̢s̵.͘
͝
̴Anḑ ̷I͠ b̀eģin ͡tǫ ̡dr͠ǫol̢.̴

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It was hard to see this whole event as anything more than a massive waste of time and energy as the group fragmented and the purpose for their gathering- rather than being focused and productive- dissipated like the scent of Marissa’s perfume on the air. Autumn had come expecting an argument, sure, particularly since Cassie had asked her to be there for moral support… But what was she even supposed to be supporting, exactly? There was a big speech, some finger-pointing, and a lot of verbal T-posing. No challenges, no curiosity, no actual fucking discussion, just… Ugh. It was amazing how quickly things had collapsed into chaos, even for this group, and a part of her wondered if that hadn’t been part of Marissa’s goal in dragging them all here to begin with.

“Wow. I mean, I don’t even know where to start,” the redhead admitted, her expression incredulous as she looked from Cassandra to Devin, and then to the few who remained.  How about, ‘Fuck this, fuck all of that, and fuck you?’  It was tempting to say exactly that as the warm flush of anger crept up the sides of her throat, flooding her cheeks with scarlet, but she bit the inside of her lip to hold back the torrent of invective she could feel welling up on her tongue. It would feel good to loose that furious tide, obviously- probably really good- but it wouldn’t actually help. Admittedly at this point, with Jason leaving them all to their own devices, Marissa brooding in her ivory tower, Devin locked in sarcastic asshole mode, Cassie being uncharacteristically timid, Cade playing the good soldier act again, Sean once more being the silent observer, and poor Kat dipping her toes into the piranha-infested waters of the Fellowship’s interpersonal drama, probably fucking nothing would help. Raking a hand back through her hair, pale fingers catching on the curls struggling to escape from her ponytail, Autumn exhaled slowly and counted to four.  “I’m tired,” she sighed. “I’m hungry, and this is fucking stupid, especially since we get to sit through this with our parents again in a little while. I just… I can’t. I’m sorry. So I’m gonna go upstairs, bang my head against a wall, and then go home and pretend anybody in this whole-ass house right now, me included, is anything close to sane.”

Without waiting for comment, the visibly frustrated teen suited action to word and headed up the stairs, focusing on the feeling of the wooden railing under her hand as she tried to calm down. Arriving in the hallway she’d seen only once before- taupe carpet, ivory walls, tastefully arranged artwork- Autumn paused for a moment at the top and briefly pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes. Just one day. One. Fucking. Day. That’s it. That’s all she really wanted. Just a pause, a break from the crazy- because now they didn’t just have to worry about people and forces outside the Fellowship threatening them, did they? But, whatever. If Marissa really had been working with Annette, it wouldn’t be hard to find out, and they could just… Deal with it then.

Later. Always later.

In the meantime, she had an obligation, and questions to ask. Personal issues aside, if she and Marissa were supposed to be friends, she was entitled to certain considerations, just as Jase was, or as Cassie would be. Dropping her hands to her sides, the red-haired teen glanced briefly at the framed panoramic print of Lake McDonald on the wall ahead of her. It was a beautiful photo, taken some time during the summer when the water reflected both the clear blue of the sky and the verdant green of the surrounding mountains, and it gave her a much-needed moment of peace before the conversation to come. She knew Devin’s room lay through the door immediately on her right, but her own horror at the idea of having her space invaded overrode any nascent curiosity about what was actually in there. Instead, she took a deep breath and turned down the hall, then paused outside the Mantis’s lair. She was alone, without allies, and unarmed, but it was fine. She’d done this before. Lifting her hand, she knocked on the door.

“Hey, it’s Autumn. You got a minute?”

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“Several,” she replied calmly.  “If you’ve come all the way up here, there is no doubt a conversation on how ‘my storming out never solves anything’ on the way.  You’re welcome in anytime, Autumn, you don’t need to knock like a stranger.”

Marissa’s room was every bit the ‘princess palace’ Autumn remembered.  White curtains, a huge four-post, queen-sized bed, that was home to numerous stuffed animals, a few looking quite old and well worn.  Her large vanity was just to the right as one entered, the makeup she owned was organized with care across its surface while various pictures were neatly framing the large mirror where the teen did put on her face each morning.  Her bed was just a few steps across from her door, and she stood at the foot of it still debating which outfit she going to wear.

“So,” she held up her sweaterdress in one hand, and her skirt and half-turtleneck up in her other by their respective hangers.  “Be honest, which do you think I should wear?  I love the sweaterdress and we’re kind of all secret agenty now, so I can totally pull of the Lana vibe, but there are some really hot military guys in the hospital playing at being orderlies or something, and this skirt and top will really get their attention, I know it.”

"It'll probably also get your parents' attention, too," Autumn pointed out as she stepped inside the veritable shrine to femininity. In flannel, denim, and old sneakers, the redhead felt distinctly out of place; but then, that would've been true anywhere in the Jauntsen home, probably. "The dress looks more... Hm." Frowning a little, she glanced from the gorgeous brunette to the outfits she was proposing. "Professional, maybe? And no. I'm not here to talk about you leaving. It's your house, and I'm going to need at least until tomorrow to stop screaming internally after-" Glancing back toward the door, she gestured vaguely in the direction of back there. "-After whatever that was. You and I have plenty of stuff to talk about, but not tonight. I think we can probably at least agree on the fact that it has been a whole day, and I'm kind of over it. So, for now... peace?"

"For now," she shrugged, dropping the skirt/turtleneck combo on the bed.  "Although, I don't know what you're expecting to change from now until then.  So," she strolled to and opened up the massive walk-in vault she called a 'closet' and proceeded to select a suitable belt and the the suede boots she had in mind for the sweaterdress.  Tan knee-highs that probably had a price tag on them that could pay for Autumn's first semester in college.  "What's on your mind?"

Honestly, I don't know what I'm expecting to change, either, Autumn grumbled internally, leaning back against the wall next to Marissa's makeup table instead of sitting in front of it, or on the edge of the bed. Some instinct in the back of her mind urged her not to stray too far from the door, despite the other girl's eerily calm demeanor. Sure, she'd said she didn't have to act like a stranger, but... wasn't she, really? "Well, for starters, you said you talked to Coyote, so I kind of wanted to know what's up with that. Like, how did you get in touch with him? What other stuff did he tell you, about Enterich and this Library, or whatever?" She paused for a moment, blue eyes studying the self-proclaimed Queen Bee's perfect profile as she emerged from the closet. It was hard to tell if Marissa was upset, offended, or just hiding everything behind that mask of hers. Or, realistically, whether she even cared at all to begin with.

Marissa placed three belts on her bed next to her selected outfit, all of varying thickness, and plucked up the outfit she wasn't planning on wearing and hung it back up in her closet as she spoke to her bestie.  "I shouted," she said simply.  "A lot."

She came out from her closet and addressed Autumn.  "Honestly, I had no idea how to get a hold of him, so I simply drove over to where everything started, the bridge Sara wanted to blow up, and just screamed his name and damned him for not having a cell phone, until..." she shrugged, obviously not able to accurately describe her thought.  "There he was."

"He told me a lot of things, like the only we're getting through this is together, all of us."  She peeled off her crop top, exposing a couple of gauze squares that each had dime-sized red stains from wounds that hadn't fully healed yet.  Puncture wounds from the various teeth that somehow, she survived instead of being torn apart.  "Coyote gave me a good cry, and I needed it.  He helped me realize that I was a part of the Fellowship, be it by choice or circumstance, and even I had my part to play in keeping Shelly, and all of you safe.  Aside from that, he only mentioned the library by name and hinted that one of our benefactors might what it is or its location."

She winced slightly as she faced her mirror and reached behind her, pulling at the tape of one of her bandages.

"Mmm," Autumn nodded. Most of those statements she wasn't touching with someone else's arm holding a 10-foot-pole; right now, anything to do with feelings, teamwork, friendship, cooperation, or even just being 'part of something' was off the table, as far as she was concerned. The Jauntsens had already made their stance clear and arguing about it right now wasn't going to change anybody's mind. Even later, as Marissa had pointed out, the result might be the same. And... In fairness, even Autumn had only sort of considered herself loosely attached to the Fellowship, rather than an actual member of the group, and even with admonitions that they needed to work together in the back of her mind, in the forefront were more immediate and pragmatic concerns. "So, if we really need him, yelling works, I guess. Good to know."

As she watched her implausibly beautiful BFF (?) grimace, a twinge of empathy twisted in Autumn's stomach. Neither of the Jauntsens had wanted help with their injuries after the fight, no matter how much she'd tried to convince them, but it was still hard to willingly let them walk away with the bare minimum of aid. "Looks like you're healing pretty quickly," the redhead added quietly. There wasn't any unusual redness or swelling that she could see, which was a good sign; if Marissa had wanted help now, the young vitakinetic wasn't sure she could do much about it, after giving Dale her life back. "It doesn't look like you've got any kind of infection or anything. How does it, um... How does it feel?"

"I was almost devoured by a demon, Autumn, and it tried to chew me," her voice got flat and showed a mild tone of annoyance.  With the last square peeled away she folded them up and tossed them in the small brass wastebasket alongside her vanity.  "How do you think it feels?  It hurts.  I scheduled an appointment with Branch-9 to run some tests, just to make sure there's nothing wrong with me."

She prepped more gauze, daubing the little squares with something that looked like Neosporin.  She offered two to Autumn while she pulled her long, dark hair up over her shoulders.  "Would you mind?"

Edited by Vivi OOC
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Kat was conflicted on how to react to what he just been said, or rather, to the whole situation. Apart from Sean - and even that might've been a stretch - she barely knew anyone in the room. The only thing she knew was that they lived through a quite shitty predicament the day just before, together - That has to count for something, right? she thought. And now everything was turning to shit. Shit. Why was this happening now? The room was flooded with this white-hot emotional white noise, a mixture of fearful and angry, unhealthy suspicion. And it worried her, as much as the others were concerned, for themselves, for each other. Even then, she wasn't that much scared by the hurting emotional landscape rocking like a tumultuous sea over her telepathic senses. It rather was the overwhelmingly violent, unceasing war the colors were waging-

Oh God, the bubbles are back!

"I need some air," she suddenly said as she rushed to the door.

Once outside, she gasped for air, flipping the damn switch off on the bubbles, and sat on the white walk. "It's gotta stop doing that..." She thought out loud, her voice hoarse as she fumbled her jeans for her smokes. She planted one between her lips, and a flick of will later, the air was quivering and the end smoldering red, the heat blast dissipating along the smoke as swiftly as it had appeared.

The petite French girl took a long draft, noticing the lean shape of Jason against his car, and got on her feet, approaching him. His mind felt like a freezing, impenetrable diamond, not letting anything out aside from its own existence and in a sense, it was soothing. Calm. Different.

"<Funny how things are quieter around you, uh?>" She smiled poorly at the statement, her agitation tangible in the message from her mind.

“Hadn’t considered it that way.” He replied after a micro-second pause at the ‘hearing’ of her thought-voice. A cigarette dangled between his index and middle fingers, the end glowing briefly as he lifted it to his lips and took a pull. That light reflected momentarily in the green ice of his stare as he studied the petite girl, the glimmer of ancient wry amusement in his expression . “Usually people are upset around me.”

She chuckled, exhaling a puff of amused smoke. "<That's what makes it funny. I still don't understand why.>" After a brief pause, she added. "<Why they're upset. Is it because of what you did, do, will or could do, or what you are?>" She took another long draft, looking at her feet. "<It's a fucking mess of emotions in their head - and in mine, for that matter. I get it, you're scary, but I too can burn someone alive.>" She waved her cigarette, looking back at him. "<I could freeze them, crush them under their own weight, blow their brains out with sound. And I'm much more mentally unstable.>" Amusement was starting to seep through the silent words. "<I should be much more scarier than they make you out to be. Everything about this is crazy. I'm crazy.>"

"You don't seem crazy to me. You act and speak, when you speak, in a consistent framework. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of psychosis in you. You merely seem unfocused." His lips quirked at one corner as he considered her words. "Perhaps it is it is simply that you have not yet acted in a way that upsets them." Twin streamers of smoke trailed from his nostrils as he spoke. "Emotional instability might make a person unpredictable, but it also makes them vulnerable in a way that their fellow human beings can understand, accept and adapt to - or exploit."

"<But not you. Empathy isn't your strong suit, right?>" Her unruly grey eyes locked onto his icy jade, and she tilted her head, her puff of smoke playing with the sunlight before dissipating in the slight breeze. "<You ever get curious of what it feels like?>"

"Sometimes." Lean shoulders shrugged as the unkempt-looking genius took another lungful of smoke. "For me, empathy becomes behaviourism. I study how people act and react, and attempt to analyse their behaviour by means of intellect. It has it's pros and cons - my own emotions or desires seldom colour my analysis, but then I also don't have direct experience of anything like fear. Regret becomes simply an acknowledgement of an action which leads to negative consequence. Shame is unknown, save perhaps vestigially - a sense of my own failing with a resolve to do better, but that tends to be more aligned with practical or tactical errors than moral failings."

"I am, mostly, a creature of primal urges- hunger, rage, will, aggression, desire - not nuanced emotionality. Do I envy you your finer emotions?" His lips quirked in amusement. "No. They seem largely inconvenient and self-sabotaging." He exhaled a soft plume of smoke, head tilting slightly as his brilliant, cold eyes dissected her. "Do I watch you all, in your fears and laughter and happiness and jealousy and wildly unpredictable hormonal moods, and wonder what it would feel like? Yes. It is an ongoing goal of mine to understand such things, even if I can never experience them."

The petite French girl pondered, her brows furrowing for a moment. The end of the cigarette sizzled as she drew on it. "<What if...>" She paused, trying to decrypt his features. "<What if I could help with that? Would you let me?>"

"Through telepathy?" Jase paused, radiating stillness as he considered. It seemed even the faint bluish smoke hanging in the air around him ceased it's motion in that moment. His eyes narrowed further, scrutinising Kat intently. "You could, perhaps, show me how such things feel to you..." he said slowly, musingly. "I still wouldn't experience them directly - but I might understand better. I might be able to draw better parallels with my own experiences. Right now I am a blind man being told what colour and shape is and then being expected to comprehend the concept of an abstract work of art - with someone frustratedly yelling at me and stamping their feet when their explanation contains no meaning to me." He snorted slightly, one hand waving the thought aside, his eyes never leaving Kat's face.

"Or, perhaps, such understanding could foster contempt. Certainly, a lot of baser human emotions seem very... petty, at least from the outside. Petty fears, petty envy, petty frustrations, petty cruelty, petty spite. It all seems so very... small." He said with the manner of one musing aloud as he considered her, his eyes seeming to stare into the back of her skull, giving Kat the unbearable urge to blink, look away, or shuffle her feet. There was no mockery or amusement, but there was an air of ageless, alien scrutiny in that almost reptilian emerald gaze, something Other looking out at the world from behind a human-seeming mask. "What do you think, Catherine?"

Kat looked down at her feet, her cheeks flushed with a soft pink at the mention of her full name. "Everyone's petty." She said, finally voicing her reply in a low, hoarse tone. "It's in the human nature to care when something affects them. You could call it a consequence of basic survival instincts meeting the comfort of the 21st century. Whether or not this pettiness leads to action, words, or nothing, is really up to the individual's temper." She raised her eyes once more, her composure barely intact. "But I don't know many people born with telepathy, in fact, nobody is. We all grow up learning how to decipher someone's emotions. Some are better at it than others. And we manage to do it because we have our own emotions to compare it to."

She took a deep breath. "What I'm saying is, I'm offering to help you getting a gauge, something to help you understand what it feels like. Telepathy isn't only about reading minds, Jason. It's also about sensing, experiencing someone else's emotions as your own. It nearly swallowed me whole in Great Falls. Five minutes ago, the kitchen was so full of them I just wanted- no, needed to run away."

She rubbed the back of her head, looking towards the Jauntsens', a bleak expression on her features. "Are you in?"

“How do you see it working?” Jase’s tone was one of clinical curiosity. “Do I need to let you into my mind, that manner of thing? If I open my window, will you be able to come in and roll in my bedsheets? So to speak.”

She chuckled at the thought. "Not really, it's the same as when I'm talking to you in there. If you refuse the... Link? You won't get the message. At least that's what I learned from Courtney." She rubbed the back of her head once more. "Picture it as a text chat where everything has spoiler tags, but you can send more than actual text. Images, concepts, feelings..." The pink on her cheeks, almost fleeting, suddenly reddened, and she shook her head to chase whatever she was thinking about away.

His head inclined slightly at the sudden deepening of the pink in her cheeks, but there was no expression other than that to indicate he'd even noted anything awry as he nodded slowly. "All right. Do you wish to try this experiment here and now, or some other time?" he asked, casting a glance at their surroundings, then back at the petite girl.

"Whenever is fine, really. It's not like people are able to stop feeling something on command." Kat pointed her chin at the Jauntsens'. "Right now it's still bubbling raw in there." She added, her head instinctively retracting between her shoulders. "Shock, confusion, anger, fear, suspicion, worry, it's like a fucking salad. Have your pick."

He considered that, his eyes following the indication she'd made with her head movement before returning to her features. "Perhaps later." he said with the air of one weighing an issue. "In a less volatile situation, one that would be easier for you. After all, you are out here because of that mess." He smiled, very faintly, but the crinkle at the edges of his eyes loaned the expression it's sincerity. "Also, given the nature of the experiment, perhaps one or two volunteers would be more acceptable ethically than simply eavesdropping. That way, perhaps all who take part can learn."

She slowly nodded and sighed. With a couple beers and a game of Truth or Dare, this could actually be a blast. "Okay, that sounds like a good idea." She offered him a genuine smile and added: "Thanks for listening!" She rubbed the butt of her cigarette against the ground and began heading towards the house, still without a clue on how to process the whole mess their situation was properly. Maybe there wasn't any correct way.

"Catherine." His voice was quiet, but stopped her for a moment as she turned and looked over her shoulder at the slender figure leaned against the muscle car. "Thank you, for talking."

Spoiler

Thank you, GDB, for the help. T'was a fun writing session!

 

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
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On 5/15/2021 at 10:48 PM, Marissa Jauntsen said:

"I was almost devoured by a demon, Autumn, and it tried to chew me," her voice got flat and showed a mild tone of annoyance.  With the last square peeled away she folded them up and tossed them in the small brass wastebasket alongside her vanity.  "How do you think it feels?  It hurts.  I scheduled an appointment with Branch-9 to run some tests, just to make sure there's nothing wrong with me."

She prepped more gauze, daubing the little squares with something that looked like Neosporin.  She offered two to Autumn while she pulled her long, dark hair up over her shoulders.  "Would you mind?"

Autumn's features, reflected in the vanity mirror, went rigid with exasperation as she plucked the squares of gauze from Marissa's hand. Just breathe, Autumn. Breathe. For a moment she hesitated, torn between the conflicting urges to tell her exactly what she thought and probably start another fight, or to just walk out of the twins' house and never look back. Devin had even been the one to say that none of them had added anything to the Jauntsens' lives that'd be missed if it was gone; well, that went both ways, didn't it? Would it really be that terrible to just say precisely what was on her mind and get it over with? Because after listening to everything downstairs, the redhead had plenty to say-

But that was the problem. There really was so much to be said, and so much emotion seething and roiling behind the words bubbling up in her brain, that if she started right now she might not be able to stop again. So...

Later. Right.

"Okay, look," she exhaled slowly, moderating her tone as much as possible as she focused on reapplying the fresh dressings to her friend's wounds. She could be reasonable. Totally reasonable. It was fine. "Last night sucked. We were all there, we all could've died, and I'm pretty sure everybody except Jase and your totally-not-a-boyfriend are still going to be having nightmares about it a month from now. I mean, I'm definitely gonna be asking my mom if her insurance covers therapy, because I probably need it at this point." There was a fleeting pause as she reached out, palm up. "Tape."  As the annoyed brunette dropped a small roll of medical tape into her waiting hand she picked up the thread of the conversation again, tearing off and applying the adhesive strips with a deftness born of frequent practice. "I also offered to help you and Devin the other night, and both of you blew me off, so I don't need the sarcasm when I'm trying to be nice. Seriously. I was asking how it felt because I wanted to know how you were healing, if you've had any other problems besides just pain. Like itching, or swelling, heat around the cuts and bite marks, anything unusual." Another pause, wide eyes narrowing slightly as the red-haired Girl Scout scrutinized her work. Holding the tape briefly between her lips, Autumn frowned, moving Marissa's shoulder to make sure the dressings weren't too taut to be comfortable. Satisfied, she leaned forward, carefully tossing the roll back onto the countertop. "You know. Because I kind of low-key felt bad that you were hurt, and I wanted to make sure you were okay. So pretty please, Marissa, for fuck's sake, could you drop the attitude for five minutes? Please," she repeated earnestly, catching the other girl's eyes in the mirror. "I'm trying, here."

 

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"She needs friends," Devin said with no hesitation in his voice.  "But, what do I know?  I don't have a one-thousand I.Q., or an icy-jade stare, so obviously I'm not qualified to tell you how to set personal standards for yourself, so I could be wrong."

"Stop coming to me for the answers guys." he sighed and shook his head.  "Either step up to the plate and figure your shit out, or don't.  Either way, stop wasting both hers, and your, time." 

Cassandra, who'd already started turning to go knock on Marissa's door, paused and looked back at him.

"Jesus Christ, Devin, you're her brother," Cassandra retorted. "Who the fuck else should I ask for advice for how to relate to her from? I mean, I don't know if you were aware of this or not, but your sister has the temperament of a wounded wolverine sometimes. And yes, she has reasons, and yes I am sympathetic, but I am also," she ticked off one finger, "A, wanting to approach her in a way that will not make things worse, and B, hoping to avoid losing some fingers!"

"But yeah. Sorry to waste your fucking time. And hers. You two clearly have it all fucking worked out. What a fucking shock she needs friends if this is how it goes."

She grimaced and worked her hands as if trying to shake water off of them. It felt awful feeling awful...like there was an actual goop clinging to her. Moments like this brought back fond memories of just hazing out with the skater crowd, making inane jokes and not giving a shit about anything.

"Anyway, enjoy the pizza. I am suddenly not in the mood. I'll talk to everyone later, I'm out."

There was a needle of guilt that threaded under the frustration and displaced anxiety that drove the outburst...this wasn't going to help Marissa, and it wouldn't help the Fellowship. But then again, she was not really fit company right now. She'd just make things worse if she stuck around. A little time to cool off was all she needed.

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Sean leaned back against the kitchen wall next to the patio door, arms crossed, mouth tight with anger and frustration, and a vague, but burgeoning sense of panic. Marissa had strutted away, Jase had gone the other way and left, Autumn following the former and Kat the later, and now Cassandra was on her way out too. They'd taken down Not-Cody, there should have been victory, maybe even a sense of bonding, and yet, since then, it was not much unraveling as being shredded to pieces.

He'd been quiet, not by intent, but attempting to see things from Marissa's perspective, and feeling like anything he really wanted to say would just be throwing gasoline on the flames. He tried imagining himself in her place, his family threatened and pressed to compromise his friends.  Sean wanted to believe he'd never would have betrayed them, not given them a warning before it was too late, not even by accident like Marissa said. The anger he felt certainly seemed to him like he wouldn't have. Jason had been shot - in the head! - as a result of Marissa's actions, because she didn't trust the Fellowship.

Yes, Sean was sure she hadn't meant for it to happen, but it couldn't simply be brushed away. How were the rest of them supposed to put any trust in Marissa after this, especially since she didn't put any in the rest of them? Yes, he would admit Jase had done some, er, dubious things, that Sean would admit privately he'd have been far more dubious about if Jase hadn't been a close friend, but he had never actually felt threatened, in real danger, by something Jase had done.

He did by Marissa. If she had had said his name instead of Jase's, and the Marshall's had pulled him over on the way to school...

And even more infuriating, Marissa had a point. Apart, they were easier prey for the Not-Cody's and Enterich's and who know what else was out there. Striking at Site B would be a lot harder without the Jauntsens. The feminine boy's lips writhed at the pure self-interest at the thought, but unable to deny it. He could just imagine Marissa's vicious smirk if she could have read that thought.

As Cassandra started to head out of the kitchen, Sean pushed himself off the wall and walked over, leaning on his forearms on the island as he looked up across it at Devin. "Marissa does need friends," Sean echoed Devin's earlier statement, "but that needs to be built up going both ways, dude. I'll admit, I haven't tried on my part. And right now, gotta tell you, I'm finding it hard wanting to even try. She thinks of us as losers and fuckups without any ambition. Has she even tried to find out what ours might be? She practically just said she'd do it-"

Voice rising as he got worked up, Sean bit off the rest of what he was going to say. What he heard wasn't exactly what she meant, probably, just as what she'd heard wasn't exactly what Jase had meant. Probably.

"Fuck. Feels like Enterich has pulled off a real Xanatos Gambit. Any which way your sister's encounter with him could have fallen out, seems like he'd benefit the most." Sean glanced up towards Marissa's room, then around the kitchen at the fracturing group. "For better or worse, Marissa and Jase are the strongest personalities in our dysfunctional group, and it seems Enterich has gotten them on opposite sides of the same intransigent - stubborn - coin. Whatever Marissa learned from her encounter with him, I think Enterich got more, he-hmm..."

Sean trailed off, eyes widening as a new, worrying thought occurred to him. There was at least one ancient entity mucking around with them, why not another? "Marissa said those asshole Marshals were threatening your family, then 'invited' her to a meeting with Enterich. You guys haven't said why you are in Witness Protection, don't know if you know why or if your parents have told you why, but you think there's any chance Enterich arranged that whole situation in some way?"

He scratched his head, fingers going briskly through his vibrant red hair, then nodded at Cassandra's back. "Cassie can see things, backward and forward. Seems like something that could fall into a Fear Demon's wheelhouse, to find out what they feared, what they fear for the future. Not saying Enterich can do the same exactly, like he knew what you - we - would become. But maybe he had an, I dunno, an inkling, and set up something that could be to his future benefit. There has to be something more than just using threats over whatever landed you all in Montana for Enterich to approach Marissa. With dirty Marshals in his pocket and who knows what else, if all he wanted was information on us, feels like there would be other ways to go about it."

Edited by Sean Cassidy
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"Fuck."  it was said quietly, even as now Cassie departed, and he turned to look back at Devin.   That was when Sean finally spoke, and made a certain amount of sense.  He got the reference and nodded.   "I never thought about any of it that way, but there is definitely some sense in thinking that way.     If Enterich was working with the Dark, or a part of it, agent of it, whatever.  If he could somehow know what we'd become, arranging it so we all end up here in one place definitely has certain benefits.   Work to sow the seeds, then reap the harvest once it's ready."

Cade paused for a moment, "But if he could know things like that, then why would he just need information about us?  How would he not have known he was being fed half-truths?   It seems like alot of work to gather everyone here, and keep people here.  So many have left, I can't imagine they'd just be allowed to leave with all the work put in with that approach.   It might be worth trying to get in touch with those from the Fellowship who left."

 

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Devin took a couple steps in chase of Cassie.  "Cass, wait.  All I was saying was...," but she was already gone.  He thought of following her but, like Jason and his sister, and even him at this point, it seemed like everyone needed a bit of time.  He sighed and fell back into the counter's edge, leaning there as he sighed in frustration.  “God dammit.”

"I already went there, guys."  Devin shook his head, raising a hand to halt further venture down that line of thought.  "According to Marissa, Coyote told her that he arranged for us to come out to Montana.  He needed us here, so he cooked up the whole issue that relocated us.  And yes, we know what it is: my dad is an idiot.  My dad is a genius with money and investments.  When he realized that the company, he was working for was embezzling money from their customers, he had the great idea to embezzle it from the company, but instead of giving it back the customers, he laundered it out of the states, set up untouchable accounts and essentially made the money disappear.  He got caught, he turned evidence on the company to save his ass, we got relocated to here... and then he made all the money reappear and invested back into the businesses of the very same customers whose money he stole... it's complicated."  He shook his head and waved away the numbers from his mind as they blocked the view of Cassie's butt in jeans walking out of his kitchen a few moments ago.

"I know she’s difficult, guys, but Marissa, like me doesn’t spell things out for people.  She’s expecting you to pay attention.  This morning when I got Jason’s text and said something had happened to him she had he keys and was following me out the door before I could even consider trying to stop her.  If Jason needed a hospital, what was I going to do?  Take him on the back of my bike?  Guilt, spite, dislike… regardless of her feeling for Jase, she was ready to drop everything and be there for him.”  Devin looked at the two that were left, he nodded in Sean’s direction.  “She’s already working on fixing the problems you have at school after the cheerleader uniform stunt.  You didn’t ask her to, and you don’t have to, she’s going to fix it because, try and keep up here: that’s what friends do.”

“What’s she been given lately?  Her and Autumn might be up there hating on each other right now, but it at least it’s something.  Relationships are built upon and improved by conflict and understanding… Autumn at least tries before she tells my sister to fuck right off.  You said it yourself, Sean, you’re not trying… so what do you expect?  My sister wants actions, not words.  She doesn’t want you to tell her you’re her friend… she just wants you to be her friend, dude.  She’s already got your back at school, bro.  You expect my sister to do all the work while you piss in her Cheerios?”  Devin chuckled and shook his head.  “That’s gonna be a hard check to cash there, buddy.  Let me know how it turns out.”

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“Am I not?”  Marissa replied with a dreadful calm in her voice.  “Did I not bleed for all of you?  Did I not give Enterich misleading information on all of you when my parents lives were at stake?  Did I not make concessions to reach out to Jason and speak with him at the training session and yesterday, even today?  Do I not consistently reach out to remind you about all the homecoming things I want to help you guys with?  Do I not wear a smile as my best friend fucks the guy who told me he loved me?”

She turned and faced Autumn, arching her back a bit to work out the tape on her skin.  “Autumn, I’m not mad, I’m tired.  I’ve dealt with quite a bit, from Sean not even being able to give me a proper greeting in my own house to knowing that Jason feels it’s just my nature to sell all of you out to save my own ass.  Even Cade’s only hanging around because I promised I’d fuck him again once I’m feeling better.  It’s obvious you guys don’t like me and that’s fine.  I can live with that, at least it’s the truth.”

She walked away from Autumn, heading over to her walk-in closet where she disappeared for a moment before walking to her bed with a shoebox in her hands.  “These are the shoes I was talking about, for Cassie.  They’ll look fantastic on her I’m sure, a modest heel too, to add that formality to her outfit, unlike mine which make me look like every dance is a reason to go clubbing.”  She offered a smile mingled with a light laugh that showed how truly emotionally detached she was about everything she’d just said.  “If you could get those to her, I’d appreciate it.”

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"No." Autumn's shoulders twitched upward in a shrug, the pitch of her voice rising in similarly fleeting fashion on the monosyllabic refusal. "If you want her to have them, and she wants to wear them, cool, but that's between you two. I'm not playing delivery girl so you guys can avoid each other. I asked for help with the whole walking-in-heels thing, and I'm still down for that after I've had a chance to process. But sis," she added, deliberately emphasizing a word she rarely had occasion to use. "I seriously I don't have it in me to talk about Homecoming and why people are pissed at each other today. I don't." She shook her head, the heavy ponytail of tenuously-bound copper curls swaying vigorously behind her.

"Maybe that's how you cope, but I can't just ignore what happened and pretend I'm okay with it. There's clearly stuff you're not okay with, either, and that's fine. We can deal with it like normal people: smoke out, talk shit, figure it the fuck out. Eat too much pizza and too much ice cream. Cry. Whatever." With a soft huff of frustration, the energetic redhead interlaced her fingers atop her hair for a moment, then let her arms fall again. "You already know I'm not good at this. So. As your friend... even if we don't like each other... that's my suggestion. No group discussion, no audience, no referee. You talk, I talk, we get fucked up and your brother tells everybody we're having some weird underwear pillow fight thing. You down?"

Edited by Vivi OOC
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“I’m not coping, Autumn,” the gorgeous brunette replied as she dropped the shoe box on her bed.  With a twist of her waist, she looked at her bandages in the mirror she began peeling off her clothing, heedless of Autumn’s presence.  One thing was certain, Marissa wasn’t shy.

“I’m legitimately sorry for what happened to Jason and as hard as it is for people to understand, I feel guilty as well.  But Jason isn’t capable of doing people the curtesy of caring so I no point extending that same curtesy to him.  The best I can do for him is to see that it doesn’t happen again.”  She slipped into expensive lingerie as she spoke to her best friend, a fancy white ensemble that would have served as better dental floss than underwear, never concerning herself once for how Autumn might feel about being in a room with a naked Marissa.  “I don’t understand why when Jason is uncaring and unfeeling everyone is okay with it, yet when I get that way, suddenly I’m ‘just coping’.”

She sighed as she slid over her sweaterdress and admired her tussled in her mirror with a glimmer of amusement in her cheeks as did so.  “I’m totally down with hanging out with you, Autumn.  Been down with it for days now, but you’ve had other priorities.”  She began brushing out her hair a bit and twisting it this way and that as if trying to decide on a hairstyle for the evening.  “We’ve been bust lately, I know.  Still are, I suppose, as it seems like we never have a spare moment.  Again, I’m not mad, I understand we’re all busy.  So instead of making plans, which I’ve tried to do and been blown off a dozen times, you just let me know when you’re ready and I’ll meet you wherever.  Okay?  That way I’m not interrupting anything you already have going on.  You’re my bes-… my only friend, Autumn.  Of course, I want to hang out.”

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Jase pinched out the glowing butt of his smoke, exhaling a final plume into the air, then glanced sideways as the Jauntsen manor's front door opened and Cassandra stormed out. The pretty blonde's face was a mixture of red and livid, her features set in a weary half-scowl that the usually detached young man analysed and classified as 'so done with all this shit right now'. Her gaze moved over him, her jaw tightening a little as she walked down the path and started to pass him, clearly intending to make her own way home. "Do you want a lift?" The question was simply and quietly asked as Cassandra drew abreast of him. "It's no trouble." he added, noting what he took for hesitation in her expression.

Cassandra was barely down the driveway before she realized that she'd overcommitted to this dramatic storm out. The Jauntsens weren't in the middle of nowhere by any means, but they weren't particularly close to her place. Or a bus stop. She'd probably have to hike all the way back to the town center before she had her bearings enough find a way home. Going back in now would be...just...no though. And calling her mom almost as bad. But hey, walking was exercise right? Cassie held onto that fragile resolve right up until Jase asked if she wanted a lift.  She nodded and went around to the passenger side, then let herself in.

"No Autumn?"  she asked.

"She'll be out in a bit." Jason gestured to the single bench seat in the back of the Charger as he opened the drivers side door and slid with his habitual boneless grace into the driver's seat. Green eyes glanced at Cassie, giving her the sensation of being analysed - but not wholly clinically. There was a glimmer of something else in the otherwise glacial expression. "I'd imagine she's trying to talk to Marissa." He paused for a moment, then his head tilted faintly in curiousity, the scar on his cheek showing starkly against the olive tone of his skin. "How are you?"

Cassie flapped a hand as she pushed in past the passenger side seat into the backseat area. "Still kinda mad. Kinda at Devin and Mari. Kind of at myself. I just...had this self-image, you know? Like I'm someone who can talk people down, or get people to think about things, or themselves, or...whatever. But I'm not. That's not me, and I should know that by now, but I keep doing this kind of thing."

He considered that, half-twisting in his chair to watch her as she settled into the back seat, absorbing her words and turning them over in the prism-like halls of his mind. "Sometimes our image of ourselves and our ability is coloured by what we desire. I am curious: why do you want to be that person? I can understand why a reporter would want to be able to draw people into talking to them, but I get the impression there is more to your desire than simple curiousity."

She shrugged, then said, "I guess because I can't fight, and still want to think I can get people to do what I want. So...can't threaten or force people, so I need to be able to persuade them.  Annnnd I guess if I'm blisteringly honest, maybe because I secretly think I'm the hero of my own story, and I need to be able to make things happen. So...ego."

"Interesting." Just that. No judgement, no amusement. Just a faintly thoughtful subharmonic to the young genius's tone. He straightened up, his eyes finding her in the rear view mirror. "Threatening or forcing people isn't an ideal solution. I rarely do either for that reason. I actually like your approach, Cassandra. Use of reason, of logic, rather than leverage, would yield better results if you are dealing with the same people long-term." He sighed slightly, relaxing in his seat. "The downside is that human beings are largely dictated to by their fear, or their desire, or their ego-" he smiled faintly at her "- unless they make an effort to adhere to principle. Reasoning only sometimes reaches the unreasonable.  For what it's worth, I don't think you should give up. Even if people are frustrating, they can sometimes be rewarding too."

"I'm not giving up. Just...tactical retreat for now." She waved a hand and turned so she was lying across the back seat rather than sitting up in it. "When I'm mad I tend to switch from the 'reason and logic' approach to the 'threaten and force' approach. I'm still bad at it, but I don't want to lose friends over it."  Jason absorbed that without apparent reaction, falling silent then as the two of them sat in the car, the lazy afternoon sunlight outside making golden patterns on the walls of the large house.

"For what it's worth, I still think I was right to have us come here," Cassie says after a moment of pause. "Even you. It might seem like we didn't accomplish anything, but sometimes gestures like this mean more than you think. Especially with someone like Mari." She hesitates just a second and adds, "And Devin."

"Personally, I do believe it was a benefit for me to come here." he replied calmly, his pale eyes glinting with hints of frost. "I found out exactly what they think and feel about me. The mask was removed, and now I can cease to be confused by all the apparent contradictions. They were never really my friends - I was merely convenient, until I wasn't."

"I think it's more complicated than that," Cassandra says. "I think they're just...really bad at having friends, you know? They don't have much practice. And they probably feel like it makes them...I don't know. Weak or vulnerable or something."

"Really?" To his credit, or perhaps as a result of his natural reserve, Jase's tone was more rhetorical than genuinely incredulous. "They see me as a mad dog who not only can't be trusted judgement-wise, but cannot be trusted intent-wise either. Marissa is apparently legitimately afraid that I will kill her or Autumn for a wrong word or action. I am described as 'threatening or setting on fire anything or anyone' that does not conform to my standards. She tells me that we are friends, even after my mistakenly kissing her after misreading her cues, and then goes to seek out Cade to feel safe around me because apparently I terrify her." His tone remained dreadfully calm throughout the recounting. "In her own words, I am an abuser and the sort of person who torments helpless animals. And finally, my word once given has no credibility." He smiled, a thin cold smile, his voice taking a sarcastic tone. "Because yes, I am the one with a penchant for lies, tormenting people, and bullying others."

"And yet, one of us was shot in the face as a result of the other one deciding not to warn them." He stared out of the window of the car, his features unreadable. "I am bad at being a friend, Cassie. Naturally bad at it. But I try to rise beyond that."

"Because you're not afraid of having friends," Cassandra replies gently. "You just haven't had them before."

"As for the rest..." she shakes her head. "I don't know. Obviously there's issues, but it all seems to me like it comes from that basic fear. I just don't know how to help with that."

"Nor do I." Jase's tone lost the frozen edge as he sighed and leaned his head back against the seat. "I just know that humans almost inevitably try to drive away, contain or destroy what they fear."

"Or...or...they grow past their fear. It can happen. It's just not easy."

He considered that, eyes crinkling at the edges in a slight smile. "Yes. Like Autumn did."

Cassie nods. "Like most of us did, truth be told. About one thing or another. And in the end, Devin and Marissa did go with us to the Dark. There's something there. It's just...without an emergency, without something to make it personal, they kind of slip back into their old habits."

"I can't really do anything about that. I have people who actually enjoy my company, who think me trustworthy, who like me - the real me, not the mask I have worn for most of school. Which is an interesting experience, and one I enjoy. Why should I concern myself with those who do not like me?"

"Concerning yourself with people who don't like you is how people start to like you," Cassandra points out. "No one likes anyone right out of the gate." She shrugs. "But I get it. They've had every chance. If you want to give up on them, I wouldn't hold it against you."

"Perhaps I should exchange 'do not like' with 'actively dislike'. But yes, you also have a point." Jason's eyes smiled faintly again at her. "I am not 'giving up' so much as tactically withdrawing. Their opinions will mature and change, or they will not. I cannot control that, only my response to it."

"Yeah," Cass agreed. "I just don't know what to do. Nothing feels like the wrong idea, but...maybe that's where we are. Anyway. Thanks for coming. Thanks for giving it a chance."

"You asked me to." He inclined his head to her. "Despite my reluctance, it would have been unfriendly to refuse you."

Cassandra absorbed that with a moment of quiet, then said, "We still have to figure out what to do about Enterich."

"First, we have to survive the parental meeting." Jason's tone was dryly amused. "One catastrophe at a time."  Cass frowned a little at that, but didn't offer argument for once.  They let the silence fill the space between them, the blonde reporter relaxing on the back seat, the odd young man gazing seemingly idly out of the window, each musing on their private thoughts as they waited.

Edited by GDP_ST
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  • 2 weeks later...
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Pointing out that Jase not really being capable of caring had more to do with biology than courtesy- or reminding Marissa that the "other priorities" she'd mentioned basically consisted of everyone trying not to go crazy or get murdered- wasn't going to get her anywhere, Autumn conceded with an inward sigh. And since Marissa seemed more than capable of shifting a given conversation to her benefit, even a simple, straightforward statement about any of the topics she'd raised could be twisted and transformed in the beautiful socialite's flawlessly-manicured hands as she moulded truth and fiction like a sculptor with so much clay. It didn't help that no matter how much she claimed to not want to talk about him, Shelly High's teen queen kept adeptly turning the subject back to Jason Bannon, almost as if she were daring the redhead to contradict her, or to bring him up herself.

Is she? Autumn wondered, copper brows arrowing together briefly in a frown. Marissa could be low-key trying to pick a fight, or to restart the conversation/argument from the training session, or to figure out whether Autumn was going to completely bail on her. Or... none of those things. Or all of them.

"If you're going for Lana, try putting your hair up, maybe? The way you just had it. Draws attention to your eyes, I think," she noted as Marissa tested out various hairstyles in the mirror, having averted her eyes politely as she'd finished changing clothes. Even if neither of them was embarrassed, it still felt weird to just watch. It would've been easy to hate the girl for her wealth, her beauty, the sheer enormity of her presence; it was easier to hate her for her personality, though, her best friend acknowledged with a mixture of guilt and resentment. In moments like this, when Marissa was being honest, that seemed unfair. Maybe she really did consider Autumn her only friend. And that just made it harder to tell if the girl she'd seen behind the mask at that sleepover was the real Mari, or if the selfish, self-centered Mantis was. But after the attack that morning, Cassie's revelations, Dale's recovery, and this absolute shitshow of a "meeting," it was kind of hard to find the energy to care. Even being angry had mostly subsided into impotent frustration, and obviously, Marissa felt more or less the same way. Or didn't feel. Or whatever. Hell, maybe they were all... not coping. Maybe that was okay.

Or, maybe it was better to just keep moving forward, even if it meant some things got left behind.

"And, yeah," she agreed finally, half-consciously reaching for the drawstring of her hoodie before she caught herself and sighed; that was gonna be hard to get used to. "Yeah, I'll text you. I was thinking of doing a thing this weekend, like a camping trip for everybody, but..." With a rueful half-smile tugging at one corner of her mouth, the restless red-haired girl shrugged again. "I guess we'll see. Anyway." She glanced toward the window, through which the late afternoon sunlight filtered in a hazy golden glow. "You need to get ready, and my ride's waiting, so... See you at the next catastrophe." The crooked smile faded, replaced with a slightly more genuine, if taut one, as Autumn gave a quick wave and headed back downstairs.

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On 5/24/2021 at 4:53 PM, Jaunt said:

“She’s already working on fixing the problems you have at school after the cheerleader uniform stunt.  You didn’t ask her to, and you don’t have to, she’s going to fix it because, try and keep up here: that’s what friends do.”

“What’s she been given lately?  Her and Autumn might be up there hating on each other right now, but it at least it’s something.  Relationships are built upon and improved by conflict and understanding… Autumn at least tries before she tells my sister to fuck right off.  You said it yourself, Sean, you’re not trying… so what do you expect?  My sister wants actions, not words.  She doesn’t want you to tell her you’re her friend… she just wants you to be her friend, dude.  She’s already got your back at school, bro.  You expect my sister to do all the work while you piss in her Cheerios?”  Devin chuckled and shook his head.  “That’s gonna be a hard check to cash there, buddy.  Let me know how it turns out.”

"Well, I... did not know that," Sean admitted in a drawn out, nonplussed tone, a hand on his hip. "'Bout her helping me at school with the cheerleader uniform thing, I mean." 

He turned to look out the patio doors, his pale cheeks pinking faintly. He'd noticed looks at school, irate or disgusted, but they weren't much more than the usual and he hadn't connected it to him wearing a cheerleader's uniform for a few hours. Embarrassing for bit, for him - and he certainly hadn't cared for the skirt - it hadn't occurred to him it would have affronted anyone else, beyond people seeing the over-endowed feminine looking individual who identified himself as a guy in a skirt for the first time.

It wasn't fair! He had God-Damned psionic powers, had fought other-dimensional monstrosities - and won! - and still had to deal with this shit! He hadn't even seen it coming, but Marissa had and was already doing something about it. And he had treated Marissa poorly, in her own home. He could say Marissa was doing it for her own benefit. Having to be in proximity to the rest of the Fellowship, she wanted to upgrade their social standing to something worthy of being in her presence, so her own didn't suffer. Or to make it feel like they owed her. Whatever her reasons, she was making an effort. And he wasn't.

He let his uncanny eyes linger on the workout and gymnastic equipment beyond the patio doors for a moment. He had followed Devin and Autumn outside, though he had slipped back in before they had turned around when the door bell had rung. If he couldn't bring himself to ask Jase or Cade to help him exercise and get into better, or at least healthier, shape, he could never bring himself to ask Devin. He had had a vague notion of asking Autumn, but inadvertently eavesdropping on the two of them, it seemed almost perverse that it sounded like Marissa would actually be the better one to ask. 

Ugh! No way!

Sean's slender shoulders tightened, then slumped as he turned back to Devin. "You might be..." He sucked in a breath, his nose scrunching up as he grimaced and corrected himself. "You're... right, dude." Anything else was an excuse. Maybe a valid excuse - her actions had led to his best friend being shot multiple times, come on! - but excuses nonetheless. Also... making nice, Marissa might be less inclined towards urging an accident his way, however unintentional. As though dragged out of him, Sean added with a glance up towards the second floor, "I think I owe your sister an apology. A thanks, too, I suppose..."

Marissa looked at the door to her room as Autumn, giving a bit of an eye roll at the audacity of Autumn giving her fashion advice… before she looked back to the mirror and put her hair back up the way she had it and gave it her best duck-face to adequately appraise the style.  She permitted herself an approving smirk as she side-eyed the door once again.

“Don’t tell me that,” Devin said while nudging his head towards the upstairs.  “Tell her.  It’s been a rough weekend, for everyone.  We’re all still a bit on edge and we’re not really at a point where we know how to handle each other… I know you’ve had a shit time in your life, given,” he motioned to Sean as a whole and his combination of feminine and masculine qualities.  “All of that.  We haven’t been the best people, but we’re trying, dude.  We both are… it might not always look like it, but we are.  Cut us some slack, yeah?  Now, if you feel you owe her something… don’t talk about it, go handle your business.”

Sean passed Autumn on the stairs, instinctively turning sideways to give her more, a rueful expression crossing his face as he stopped. The staircase at the Jauntsen Residence was more than wide enough for two to walk abreast. Autumn tilted her head questioningly and Sean sighed. "Don't you hate it when a Jauntsen has a valid point?"

Marissa had slid into her boots, put her hair up and was now working on her eye make-up as a painter might meticulously add every color with one graceful brushstroke after another.  The knock on her door distracted her from he reflection in the mirror.  Devin wouldn’t have bothered knocking, his entrance would have been a theatrical number complete with some of ‘s’up ho’.

She sighed, a bit annoyed at the interruption (but then again, she was always annoyed).  “Enter.”

As Sean entered her eyes narrowed in suspicion as to the reason for his visit.  IT seemed largely out place for him to dare venture into the lair of the beast as in the past he seemed to treat Marissa like she was two Not-Cody’s, a swift kick to the junk, and one pants-ing worth of embarrassment all wrapped into one and better left avoided.  She turned in her chair to face Sean, crossing a suede sheathed leg over her knee to give him her full attention.  “Admitedly I was expecting Cade, or even Cass,” she huffed and rolled her eyes.  “Alright unknown quantity let’s hear it.  If you’re here to file a complaint about something I’ve done to betray you or your family… the line forms at the bottom of the pool.  I’ll be with you as soon as possible. By ‘soon’, I mean ‘never’, by ‘as possible’ I mean ‘I won’t bother’.”

A smirk curved Marissa's maroon lips as despite himself and his habitual thoughts about Devin's twin, she caught Sean's eyes flick from her own to her crossing legs and back, clearly disappointed in himself, but not regretting the sight. He slowly raised his hands in surrender. At least she isn't petting a white cat...

"No complaints, I swear." Mouth pursed as though he'd just bitten into a lemon suggested more that he did still have complaints, but they weren't for here, not for this moment. "Not here, not now, anyway," he admitted wryly. 

Letting his hands fall to his sides, his eyes slid from hers once more, to glance around the room. He had entered with his eyes down initially, as though in case he might have caught a look at something he shouldn't have. He had expected Marissa's room to look like something belonging to a Twitch or TikTok Thot, probably messy, maybe with some strategically place brand name accessories scattered about to show off on her streams. Instead, it was pristine, and very, very Disney Princess. It could probably cause cavities.

He straightened his shoulders and strained for every fraction of an inch of his modest height, meeting her eyes once more. "I came to... to apologize," he said, forcing it out in a rush. "Devin mentioned, sort of, what your doing for me at school. I didn't know, but thanks for that. And while you were not an ungracious host, I was an ungracious guest. Whatever else you did, intentional or not, that's the truth." 

A deep inhalation. Of all people, her?! At least she ain't Courtney! "I'm sorry for how I acted today and towards you, when it seems you've been trying help me, in  your way. If there's a favour I can do you in turn, just ask. Er..." His jaw tightened in an uneasy grin at what he had just offered and to who. "Please don't make it too embarrassing or painful please."

Marissa listened, even giving him a look that dared the young man to judge her choice of bedroom decorations.  Throughout the bookshelves in her room, ended by a cute plushie animal of some sort, were all manner of novels.  The Shannara Chronicles, the Wheel of Time series, All manner of R.A. Salvatore novels, all the Percy Jackson books and even the Shadow Hunters series all lined her walls on high shelves, well outside his reach, and even she needed to tippy toe to reach them.  While she never claimed to be a nerd, she possessed a serious love for high fantasy and supernatural romance literature.

“Sean,” she started.  Her voice was soft and calm now, devoid of the initial defensive sarcasm she was quickly becoming known for.  “Look, don’t worry about it, okay?  It’s not like I was the greatest to you in the past, so for what it’s worth, I understand.  Does it irritate me?  Sure, a bit, but only because you are surrounded by people who were willing to die with you and you still seem to refuse to let yourself trust us, at all.”

“You don’t owe me any favors,” she said plainly.  “We’re supposed to be friends, right?  I know, I suck at this whole friends thing, I don’t trust easily, I’m defensive, opinionated, gorgeous,” she waved her hand in a gesture to swat away all her words.  “We both know I could go on, the point is, you don’t owe me anything for helping you with the school thing.  According to the internet, friends are supposed to get one another’s backs, right?”

“I know it’s easy to think I’m some ice queen who would slit my mothers throat to be the next Kardashian.  That’s simply not true, well, maybe her hammies or something, I don’t know… again, the point is, Sean is that I have limits to my cruelty.  I’m mean, yes.  However, there are lows that even I will not stoop to, for example: destroying someone’s life simply because they are gay, or fat, or a particular ethnicity… or are a transvestite, to name a few.”  She smirked at him and winked.  “This town is full of closeminded bigots and religious bible thumpers who have spent their lives making yours a living hell.”

“Marissa,” Sean interjected.  “You and Devin made my life a living hell.”

“Well, certainly,” she admitted freely with almost a tone defensive pride.  “But we didn’t’ single you out, is my point and it wasn’t because of who you were, we just needed you and others to remember that we were better than you because we were more popular… and prettier… with money.”

“I… can’t,” Sean tried to formulate a response to that, but Marissa wasn’t infallible as it was just hard to grasp how she could grasp it.  “You know you almost pushed Connie Vasquez to commit suicide last year, right?”

“Of course, but it wasn’t because she was fat or gay, which she obviously is,” the lovely brunette pointed out.

“Wait,” Sean interjected.  “Connie’s a lesbian?”

“Duh,” she rolled her eyes at Sean.  “Sean, you can only get so big and to the point where no man is going to want you that you’re eventually forced to try your own brand.  Don’t you pay attention to anything at school?  I did it because she bumped my shoulder in the hallway and didn’t say she was sorry, so rude.”  She scoffed and accompanied an eyeroll with a disgusted shake of her head.  “I digress… what I’m trying to say is that we’re friends now, maybe not particularly good ones, but friends.  That means Devin and I have your back.  You don’t have to worry about bullies anymore or dealing with the crap this town shovels at you.  You want to wear women’s clothes, I’m all for it, help yourself to my closet, whatever Tawny hasn’t looted and pillaged you’re welcome to give it a go, I support you.”

She stood from the chair she was sitting in and approached him, her heels making her even taller than her usual five-foot eight height.  Autumn had hit the target though, between the sweaterdress, the thigh high suede boots that left only a few inches of leg visible, and her hair up, she looked like some Bond girl… or villain.  Looking down at him she cupped his cheeks in her hands and held his head to face up to her in a usual show of jovial friendliness and familiarity.  “So, stop being an asshole, kay?”

Several quotes about riding tigers and what could happen when trying to get off them ran through Sean's head. Marissa was a tiger. And she certainly didn't have man-hands - she lacked the skintone, but with the sweaterdress and boots, he couldn't help but think, Lana. Thank the Gods he was wearing loose jeans. It was a testament to her charm and presence that he hadn't flinched away when she'd cupped his face, having grown reserved with physical contact and affection as he'd developed, but he slipped free now. Easier to talk and he was starting to get a crink in his neck with her so close, is all. Really. 

Why did all his friends have to be taller than him?

"I'll try," Sean drawled. "I've been burned too many times to not be wary. Like you, I don't trust easily either. It's gonna take me a bit to get used to the nicer sides of you."

"Bitch." Friendly smirk. "All my sides are my good sides."

Sean snorted, but it wasn't in denial of her claim. "If I have to stop being an asshole, you have to stop being a bitch." Marissa's eyes narrowed and Sean blushed, taking a step back. "I mean, you aren't being a bitch now, at this moment, not really, not towards me, anyway. I meant, in general, turn down the dial, some, on the bitch meter. It'll help make this friends thing go smoother."

Marissa didn't precisely harrumph, but she gave the impression she did without making an sound. He considered mentioning Jase, but thought better of it. All things considered, this had gone much better than he imagined it would.

"Right. Anyways. Not sure 'bout raiding your closet," Sean remarked dryly, "we don't exactly have the same body type, but maybe I'll ask for some fashion tips some time."

He might still think of himself as a guy, but he had grown to accept his appearance. Could even take pride in it, at times. Losing the 'bet' to his sister had been a way to force himself to see what it was like to present himself another way and show that he accepted what he looked like to others.

Marissa shrugged nonchalantly, smirk widening a trifle. "Depends how much attention you want, Sean."

"Not that much," Sean assured her. Though imagine the looks at Homecoming... Would Kat prefer something like that? I have more than Courtney to- He shook the idle thought away and held out his hand. "Pass me your phone." An imperiously arched brow. "Please?"

Marissa snatched her phone from her vanity and handed to the boy. Sean stared at it, his multi-hued eyes almost seeming to glow and after a long moment, he gave a self-satisfied nod and handed it back to Marissa. "There. You have an app called Elbows now."

"Elbows?"

"Gets you to the front of the line, online, when something new and in limited quality drops. It only lets you get one, though."

Marissa studied him, phone in hand tapping her thigh. "I said you didn't owe me a favour."

"It wasn't a favour," Sean replied, rocking on his heels, hands stuffed in the pockets of his hoodie. "I have the same app on my phone. Wrote it before all this psionic and terror mojo. Just thought you'd like it."

“Very cool,” she nodded her head while looking at the screen of her phone.  “Thank you.”  She leaned down and he found her lips pressed to his cheek in a soft kiss to show her appreciation.

She turned to inspect her lipstick in her mirror, looking back at Sean through his reflection.  “But no go on the ‘stop being a bitch’.  It’s sort of my thing.  I’m willing to offer you a ‘less of a bitch’ deal, but only when I’m not fuming angry at the lot of you because I know somewhere out there is a tree tirelessly producing oxygen for you and I feel you all owe it an apology.”

She sat back down, setting her phone on the vanity’s surface and returned to doing her eyes.  “The offer doesn’t extend to your bestie, however…” she added as she carefully applied her eyeliner.

Sean's mouth opened to protest on Jase's behalf, but closed it before voicing a word. Marissa wasn't going to budge on this and he knew Jason, at least well enough, that he most definitely wasn't right now either. Lips pressed into a tight, crooked line, he nodded as he lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Fair enough, that's between you and Jase. I'll take deal with the condition I can be a bit of a butthole when you are being more rather than less of a bitch. Unwarranted, of course."

"Acceptable," Marissa murmured, not turning away from inspecting her efforts at touching up her applied glamour.

"Done and done." There was silent pause that discomfited Sean while seeming to not affect Marissa in the least, but he didn't really have more to say. "Later then. Guess I'll see you this evening. Hopefully it won't be as bad."

"Hope." There was something suspiciously like a grunt. "Don't be absurd. Good-bye, Sean."

Sean turned to go, but right before he slipped out her bedroom door, he added softly, "Real or not, try not to hurt Cade too much, 'kay?"

He closed the door behind him with a gentle click before Marissa could respond, and hustled down the stairs. Faced the tigress in her den and came out with all limbs and protuberances intact. Huzzah. After that, how bad could Site B be? He gave Devin a short wave as he sauntered pass the kitchen.

"Later, man. Your sister and I are good now. I think. Hit me up if you want a copy of ReGenesis, and I'll hook you up."

Then he was out on the veranda and shuffling towards his car. On the way, he pulled out the card Max had handed to him and flicked it against his palm. He had a call to make before the meeting between the Fellowship, the Parents, and the Project. With a bit more positivity, he was planning with success at Site B.

 

Spoiler

Written in conjunction with Dave, but really, I think Marissa just wanted more attention before Autumn takes with back with Jase and her ice cream. :P 

 

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Thanks to Vivi and Smax for the collaboration.

The Charger's engine started up as Autumn exited the Jauntsen's home, her footsteps crunching on the driveway's gravel as the redhead saw Cassie sit up in the back seat and the passenger door swing open as if of it's own accord at her approach. She got in without a word, and after a sideways measuring glance of his pale eyes, Jason merely nodded, as if in understanding, and put the car in gear. "I'll drop Cassandra off first." he said softly as the gleaming black muscle car rolled out of the Jauntsen's property and turned onto the road into town.

"Hey, thanks for the ride," Cassandra said. "I've really gotta get a car one of these days. You guys all live too far apart."

"No problem." Jason's laconic reply was accompanied by his habitual here-and-gone-again smile as his eyes found Cass in the mirror briefly before once more glancing at Autumn, studying her once more for a long moment before returning to the road. "Are you okay?" he asked her, his tone soft.

"Mm," she nodded, nose crinkling unhappily at the warm, watered-down taste of the soda she'd left in the car. "Mostly." Giving the Effing Boyfriend a brief sidelong glance, she leaned down to shove the half-full paper cup into the crumpled bag at her feet. "Tired. Angry. Frustrated. Disappointed. Worried. So, nothing new. It'd just be nice to have a chance to process the last Awful Thing before the next one shows up. That's all."

"People can be a pain," Cassandra sighs. "Compared to destroying an ancient devil-tree that was sucking the life force of a whole town, that's probably not that big a deal." She rests her head against the window then, flattening out a puff of blonde hair. "I'm worried about Enterich though. There's no way he'd stop at Marissa...and now that her cover's blown, who knows what he'll do to her?  Not to mention Klein has my dad brainwashed at that fucking prison, and if that's not a playground for Enterich, I don't know what is," she added, and kicked the back of the seat ahead of her.  On seeing Autumn glance back at her from the kick, Cassie winced. "Sorry."

"Your father was moved to Site B. Crossroads is separate, if I'm remembering correctly." Jase's tone left little room for doubt as he paused the car at an intersection for a moment. "But given there seems to be a connection, Site B is going to be our next stop." "And as for Marissa being in danger..." he shrugged as the lights changed, leaving whatever his thoughts on that were unspoken as he pressed down the gas.

"Marissa, her parents..." Cassandra shook her head. "I just don't know what to do about it. Enterich isn't like this other thing we fought. I mean, he looks human...maybe he can just...die or something?"

"I've never seen him," Autumn shrugged, glancing briefly at Cassie through the side window and then back at the familiar scenery as it rolled past. "But if gods, or... whatever are real, maybe he can't. We need to know more before we can start worrying about how to deal with him."

"Alright, how do we learn more? I'm pretty sure we won't get far googling him," Cassandra griped. "You think Mr Mysterious Alien would know anything? Assuming we can find him again..."

"Didn't Marissa say she was working with Annette?" Leaning her head against the seat, Autumn closed her eyes, relaxing into the reassuring rumble of the engine.

"Yeah, but..." Cassandra trailed off, finding it hard to put her misgivings into words. It felt like maybe Marissa would have been given false info, and then passed it on? But that was just dumb. They needed to consider every source. "Yeah...should definitely ask Annette, yeah."

"She claims she called on Coyote, and he told her what Enterich was." Jase offered as he drove. "If that wasn't a line, then she knows how to contact him and it might be useful to someone else."(edited)

"Oh, not just called on," the redhead added. "She went out to a bridge Sara apparently wanted to blow up, and just started screaming his name and stuff, and he showed up out of nowhere. So, maybe that would work, I guess?" Her eyes opened again and she glanced back at Cassie, and then over at Jase. "But Annette, at least, probably has a cell phone, and we'll be at Marias later."

"...maybe I'll start with her," Cass says. "I haven't quite gotten to the point I'm ready to scream off a random bridge."

"I am," the red-haired girl in the front seat quipped ruefully.

"Oh, well, let me know when you go," replied Cassandra with a grin. "Maybe Coyote will show up and I can hijack him."  Jason glanced at both girls, amusement flashing a fin in the glacial depths of his gaze, but said nothing.

"Seriously, the only reason my internal screaming isn't external screaming right now is because I'm in a car with two other people." Sighing as the remnants of her smile faded, she turned her attention back to the passage of the trees and power lines and buildings outside the window. "Changing the subject. Both of you are coming to this meeting thing tonight, yeah?"

"Yeah." Cassandra bonked her head gently on the window again. "And I get you, Autumn. Hell, I stormed out of there. And that was just from Devin. You went and talked to Marissa, which must have been...so much worse."

"I'll be coming. Despite my better judgement." Jason replied dryly. "I will be there to listen, not talk, however. Unless directly spoken to."

"Wonder if the Jauntsens will be there..."  Cassie mused aloud.

Autumn nodded again, slowly exhaling. "Definitely. Their parents are the ones who wanted to do it. And... it kind of makes sense? I'm just worried it'll be a repeat of- well," she cut herself off, lifting one hand in a vague, all-encompassing gesture.

"Yeah. Well...with the other parents around, I don't think they can really get away with it."  Cass said with a tinge of hope in her tone.  The redhead pressed her lips together in a thin line, but stayed quiet.

"Logically, it would make no sense for them to air everything again in front of relative outsiders." Jase shrugged. "This meeting is purely to bring the parents up to speed so they can feel as though they have some control over a situation where that control is tenuous at best." He glanced at both girls again, then looked back at the road. "Kicking off a civil war at the PTA meeting is not in anyone's interest - hence why I'll be doing a minimum of talking."

He paused for a long, significant moment, then said, in a tone dry enough to mix a martini with: "Logically."

Cassandra shrugged. "I'm not a hundred percent sure everyone's clear on that purpose though. I have a feeling we'll have more than one person who sees this as a chance to take charge.  So that'll be fun."

"Of course they will." Jase's lips quirked. "I find listening, nodding noncommittedly, then doing as I please is generally the best way to deal with that."

"You would," the freckled girl in the passenger seat agreed with a little shake of her head. "And speaking of doing what we please..." Adjusting her seatbelt slightly so she could turn to face the plucky blonde more fully, Autumn hesitated for a moment. "I did hear a little bit about Enterich from someone else. It's not much, but it is something."

"Oh yeah?" asked Cassandra, lifting an eyebrow. "What'cha got then?"

"Nothing that needs sharing right now," the red-haired girl replied breezily, flashing her inquisitive friend a brief but bright smile. "Because there isn't time to dig into it, and we can't do anything about it at the moment, and I know it'll drive you crazy. Consider this my revenge for the whole 'moral support' thing you dragged me into."

"Oh come on!" Cassandra protested. "I don't deserve that! You walked into this with your eyes open! You could have said no!" She hesitated, then said, "Jase! You've got my back on this, right?!"  The eerie young man's eyes glanced back at Cassie, then at his girlfriend, and though his features were composed that curious, wry, silent laughter robbed his gaze of its usual cold impassivity. Slowly, he tilted his head as though listening to her, then nodded blankly before returning his attention to the road.  "See? Jase says you have to tell me."

"Jase said nothing at all," came the quick reply, accompanied by a broad grin. "And I will tell you," Autumn added slightly more seriously. "I promise. If it was super-important, or something we could deal with right now, I wouldn't be giving you a hard time. I want to hear what Ms. Giles has to say, because- regardless of what happened today- we do need to figure out how to deal with this guy. We knew that before, just..." Glancing at the quiet young man in the driver's seat, her amber-flecked features tightened. "Just now it's more of a priority. So."

"He's expressive," retorted Cassandra. "And taciturn. He said it with his face." She sighed and sat back. "Fine. You're the worst, but fine. You're the broccoli of friends, but fine."

"I'll be broccoli," the worst-possible-vegetable-given-human-form conceded over her shoulder as she shifted back around. "Kind of an acquired taste, but it's good for you."

"I guess it could work, if Jase was a baked potato," Cass decided. "Broccoli with potatoes is not so bad."

"Broccoli is fine on its own," Autumn protested, but her friend was already continuing the menu presentation.

"Get some cheese sauce on there. Bacon sprinkles."  Cass paused.  "...is anyone else hungry? I didn't have any pizza."

"Did you really want to wait around for it?" Autumn peered into the backseat through the side mirror.

"I was originally going to, but my plans changed."  Cass shrugged.

"We can hit the drive-thru if you want to pick something up." The Effing Potato offered Cass, though his eyebrow was still raised slightly at the turn the conversation had taken. "We did before we came over.""

"I can get something at home. I'm good. Thanks though."

"No problem." Jase nodded as he turned off the main road and down the side street toward's Cassie's home. His lips twitched in a faint smile as he glanced at Autumn, then. "So... Broccoli is fine on it's own, hmm?"

"It is," she insisted stubbornly, her cheeks going pink under the freckles scattered across her skin. "Nobody thinks it's weird to just have a potato, either."

"Uh-huh." Was all he replied, but the silent laughter in his gaze was back again as he pulled the Charger up to the curb outside Cassie's home. Killing the engine, he slid out of the car and tilted the seat forward so that the blonde reporter could clamber out.

"Alright, thanks again guys. Seeya tonight!"

"See ya, Cass," Autumn called out the window.

She slid out on the driver's side door, then waved through the windscreen as she stepped around and onto the kerb. She watched as Jase slid back behind the wheel and the Charger drove off, then went into her house, laughing to herself under her breath as she went.

There was little conversation on the drive out to the Keane home.  Neither teen seemed to need to talk about anything, at least for now, and the banter they'd shared with their friend had dissipated some of the excess tension.  Pale, bronze dusted fingers found slender tanned ones almost automatically as Autumn's other hand flicked on the MP3 player, Wardruna filling the car and accompanying the rumble of the Charger's V8.  It was relaxed, the two of them driving through the late afternoon, now and then casting glances at each other.  Perhaps each felt what Autumn had felt on that drive out to the Reservation - that urge to keep driving together, to see what was beyond the horizon together.  But if they did, neither dwelt on it overmuch.

As she opened the passenger door, hearing the barking of the dogs from inside the house, Autumn leaned over to give Jase a brief kiss, their lips brushing each others.  A pause, as their eyes met and they felt it, that electricity, even in this quiet moment, and the brief kiss became a lingering second kiss before they parted for real.  Smiling faintly, her freckled cheeks pink, Autumn closed the passenger side door and headed up the front steps to the porch.  At the door, she stopped and cast a glance back over her shoulder, only to find Jason's eyes on her, the gaze anything but cold.  And then the front door opened, and her mom was hugging her and the dogs were barking, and the Charger turned and headed back down the track.

 

Spoiler

GM's Note:

Meeting at the Jauntsens is now over.  I'm about to put up a GM post setting the scene for the Marias Meeting.  Decide what your PC is doing in the couple of hrs between the two events and then include it if you want to in your 'arrival' post.

Let's try to keep this moving relatively swiftly, please.  I'll get the introductory post up right after this one.

 

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XP Awards:

Base earnable XP is 1-3.  Bonuses for good RP and active participation are applicable.  If you feel you've fulfilled any Aspirations that I did not take into account, DM me. :)

Autumn:  5 XP - Good writing and active participation.  Proactive character development - seeing Autumn stepping forward and taking a moral stance re. the marshals as well as uncovering useful information by doing so was good RP.

Jauntsens:  5 XP each - Good writing and active participation.  Proactive character development as well as driving story and drama.  We get to see the Twins in all their complex, confusing and frustrating glory.

Cassie:  4 XP - Good writing, with some nice collaboration.  I'd like to see a little more proactiveness, but there was some good character insights and development too.

Sean:  3 XP - Good writing.  Not particularly proactive, and tonally a little all over the place as a result.  Sean ICly gives the impression of not really caring about anything except as it pertains to himself and his own issues, which if it was deliberate and written as such would be fine and and good insight into the character.  But as it's a result of the player distractedly letting stuff slide until it's last minute or too late, I'm not awarding points for it.

Cade: 3 XP - Some decent writing and effort put in.  I'm finding it hard to get a read on Cade as a moral/ethical figure - which is a shame, because he could potentially occupy the Captain America spot half-way between Devin's 'Daredevil' and Jason's 'Punisher' for the Fellowdudes.  That, or indeed any position, means taking and holding to a stance, however, rather than 'going along to get along', which is what Cade seems to be doing most of the time.

Kat:  3 XP - Not as much participation as I would've liked to see.  Some excellent writing. collabing and interesting glimpses of insight into the character, but I'd really love to see more Kat.  MOAR!

Jase: 5 XP.
 

 

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