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Ep. VI Intermission: Fallout


GDP_ST
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Fallout.

 Tuesday, 3rd September, 0600

 The soft chime from his phone sounding in the stillness of the bedroom found Jason already awake, his eyes resting on the plain white of the ceiling as he lay in bed, hands folded over his stomach in repose.  A thought brought the slim rectangle of electronics to hang above his head, and his eyes fixed on the text that popped up as he swiped the screen lock off.

*// Had a hell of a night.  Barely slept from thinking about everything.  Hard to process, you know?  I’d call, but ‘rents are already up.  How are you?

His lips curved in a slight smile at the accompanying photograph, a pair of slightly bleary deep blue eyes, framed by tousled red hair that lay across the pillow, peeked at him from the warm snuggle of a blanket as Autumn smiled out of the screen.  He tapped out a reply.

*// I’m okay.  We can talk at school.  Want me to give you a ride in?

The reply was swift.

*// Dad is insisting on driving me. Ugh.  But I might be able to convince him to let you drive me home.  See you at breakfast?

He processed that - yes, it made sense that Autumn’s parents would be in a protective mindset right now, seeking to reassure themselves that they could do what they saw as their duty and keep their girl safe.  The fact that it was a comfortable illusion, that she was more qualified to protect herself, was likely less relevant to both them and her.  Human beings, he had come to realise, needed a certain degree of illusion.  Not self-deception so much as the knowledge they were doing the best they could do and that would be enough.  Not for the first time he wondered what that would feel like, to have that refuge from merciless objective reality.  He tapped out another reply.

*// I’ll bring a flask of coffee we can share.

Another ping.

*// I’d settle for shower n00dz  [blush emoji]

He made a soft amused sound, briefly tempted to call her bluff and then examining whether or not it was, in fact, a joke.  It could be half-serious flirtation, after all.

*// For now, this will have to do.

And he snapped a photo of his own, sending the image of green eyes and the faint dimple of a smile whirring away into the electronic ether, before setting the phone aside and slipping out of bed.

His father was sitting at the table eating as Jase silently padded into the kitchen twenty minutes later.  Gar Bannon was clear-eyed and clean-shaven, dressed for a day's work on the farm, and as he noticed his son turned and gave Jase a smile.  They’d spoken briefly last night when Jason had returned from the fight with the creature Cody had become, but other than simply stating that the fight was done and that they had won, Jase hadn’t been very forthcoming with details.  Gar wasn’t sure what to make of that - did his son not have any need to speak about it?  Probably.  There was likely no impulse to unburden, to share the load.  And indeed, pragmatically, Jase might reason that providing details would simply distress his father.  Gar wasn’t quite willing to leave it at that, though.

“There’s some batter left if you want some waffles.”  he said, causing his son to smile faintly as he moved to the large coffee pot.

“I’ll be having breakfast at school today.  But thanks.”  Jason answered as he filled a thermos, then poured himself a mug. Gar studied his seemingly unruffled child as Jase took the seat across from him.  

“Jase?”  Pale green eyes flicked from the plate to the older man’s face, and Gar plunged onward.  “Look, I know you don’t… process stuff like everyone else.  But I do, and at some point I want to know what happened last night.”

“Why?”  The slender youth’s head tilted slightly.  Gar snorted, gesturing towards him.

“Because I’m your dad.  Because I want to know what goes on in your life.  Because I want to be a part of that, even if it’s just listening and asking questions.  About half a dozen other reasons - pick as many as you like.”

Jason was silent for a moment, his attitude one of consideration as he scrutinised his father before he nodded slowly.  “I was trying to spare you uncomfortable details and future worry.”

“I’m going to worry anyway, kiddo.”  Gar said earnestly, reaching for the syrup jug and pouring some over his plate.  “I might as well have some facts to worry about rather than imaginings.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to make some sense out of it all, and who knows?  Maybe it’ll be useful to have your old man in the know.”

Jase considered that as he ate, nodding slowly once more.  “That makes sense.”  He glanced at the clock on the wall.  “I don’t have time right now, though.”

“Sure, sure.  But soon, okay?”  Gar said in a manner that was not quite an instruction, and not quite a plea.  Jason focused on him for a moment, eyes on his father’s face as he drank from the mug in his hand.

“Sure.  Tonight, after the meeting, I can answer any questions you still have.”  he suggested.  Feeling somewhat relieved, Gar nodded in return as his son got to his feet, downing the rest of the coffee in his mug.  “Got to check on my hothouse.  See you after school, dad.”  he said with a faint smile as he shouldered his satchel and headed out the door.

= = = = = = =

As the distant figure loped from the big barn to the vehicle barn, Marshall lowered his binoculars and keyed his radio.  

“There he is.”  he said from behind the wheel of the unremarkable sedan.  He’d stolen it from a motel parking lot somewhere down the interstate and driven it back last night.  It was a disposable vehicle meant to be dumped after the hit, much as the revolver he had in his coat was with it’s serial numbers removed.  A high-power LED police signal light had been mounted above the dashboard, it’s cord plugged into the cigarette lighter socket.

 “You sure that heap you have there can catch him?”  Dale was not an early morning person. Never had been, in all their time working as partners.  He could hear the tension in her voice, though, that had nothing to do with lack of sleep and everything to do with the task ahead.  Neither of them liked this - a fact which was oddly comforting to Marshall.  It meant that he still had a soul, after all.  Though not enough of one to refuse Enterich.  The mere thought of that filled the federal agent’s mind with fear.  He didn't know why he was so afraid of the man - he just knew that even the hard-bitten Dale was just as scared.

 “He doesn’t drive like the Dukes of Hazzard.”  he replied waspishly.  “Kid won’t have a chance to get away.  You just make sure you’re in position.”

 A double-click answered him, and he started his car up as the black gleaming shape of the Charger rolled down the dirt drive to the road, turned left, and headed towards Shelly.  He wasn’t headed over to the redhead’s place, then.  That was good, very good.  Enterich had left no doubt that he wanted this job done today, whatever it took.  Killing one teenager, however allegedly dangerous, was bad enough.  Killing two, and one of them a girl, felt even worse.

 A calmly rational, objectively moral corner of his mind, a remnant of the decent law enforcement agent he’d once been, informed him that murder was murder, and putting numbers and arbitrary lines on it was just so much bullshit.  He ignored it.

 He caught up with the Charger a mile down the road, pulling up a half-length behind the other car and triggering the signal light.  The plan was for either the kid to compliantly pull over, thinking this was some manner of official stop, or for him to try and escape, in which case Dale, not far ahead, would be ready. 

= = = = = = =

 Jason’s eyes narrowed as the blue and red flare of the signal lights appeared in his mirrors.  It wasn’t a sheriff department vehicle - they didn’t have unmarked cars - which meant either this was a State cop or perhaps some Federal official.  Given the murder-kidnapping, the presence of either in Shelly town limits was not unusual, but why would either be pulling him over first thing in the morning on the way to school?

 Which left another option: perhaps this was no legitimate law enforcement stop.  It could only be a limited number of other things, though.  Crossroads, the people behind the subversion of the Project, would be the most likely to attempt something like this.  They had resources, and mercenaries.  Perhaps it was some other agency, or a new player on the field.

 For a moment he considered gunning the gas pedal and attempting to evade.  He could likely outrun the sedan, but then he would not find out who was behind the wheel.  So instead he slowed, pulling the Charger to one side of the road and coming to a gradual stop, giving every appearance of complying with the request to pull over.  He killed the engine and watched with pale green eyes as the sedan passed and came to a halt ahead of him. 

= = = = = = =

 “He’s stopped.”  Marshall said into his radio as he pulled the car over.

 “You know what to do.”  Dale’s tone was blunt.  “Headed your way.”

 “Right.”  Marshall sighed, checking the revolver in his pocket before getting out of the car and walking back towards the driver’s side of the Charger. 

= = = = = = =

 Lanky build, late twenties to early thirties.  Light brown hair.  Wearing a shirt and jacket, no tie.  Handsome enough, but not in a way that was easily identifiable or distinguishable.  Could be a cop.  Could be something else.

 All of these assessments ran through Jason’s brain almost simultaneously as he wound down the window a fraction, watching the man approach, smiling and giving a short wave with his left hand as he reached into his jacket with his right hand, presumably to pull out some ID.

 His gloved hands.

 The youth’s glacial eyes narrowed a fraction of a second before Dylan Marshall pulled the revolver from his pocket and fired three shots at point blank range.  The first was aimed at the head, and even as the kid’s head snapped sideways with a spray of blood the killer was firing twice more into the torso.  Marshall stood for a moment, heart racing, then turned away and tried not to hurl.  This was the first time he’d shot anyone.  Hell, it was the first time he’d discharged a weapon off a range.

 He was still facing away from the car when Dale rolled up half a minute later in their own car.  The blonde woman’s hard stare fell on her partner’s pale face as she approached, and she rolled her eyes.  “Job done, then?”

 Marshall nodded, gesturing towards the Charger wordlessly.  Dale imagined he was probably feeling pretty terrible right about now.  She could sympathise later, though.  Right now, they had to make sure it was done and their tracks were covered.  “You check?”

 “Fuck, no.  I put one in the side of his head and two more in his chest, Dale.  You can see the fucking blood.”  Marshall almost lost his stomach at that, and took deep breaths.  Dale sighed and moved to the Charger’s door, leaning in to look.  There was blood, all right, matting the side of the kid’s head and covering his face as he lay slumped in his seat, a matching spreading stain on the grey t-shirt over the ribs.  The marshal leaned in further, reaching to feel for a pulse…  And then she froze as she saw it under the mask of blood: a slitted green eye.  Open, alive.

 Watching her.

 Then the Bannon kid’s lips pulled back from his teeth as he straightened, both eyes gleaming with cold malice as he turned to look at her more fully.  Her eyes widened in shock, and she opened her mouth to yell a warning even as she pulled back from the window and scrabbled for her own gun.  Then something hit her square in the chest so hard she felt the hot popping as a rib give way, driving the breath from her lungs in an explosive wheeze and catapulting her across the asphalt to land with a bone-rattling thud several meters away.

 “Mary?” Marshall half-turned in shock as he watched the athletically built woman flung across the road, then whirled towards the car as the driver’s door opened and Jason Bannon pulled himself upright.

 Jase had had an instant to react, and had almost failed to erect the barrier of force that had saved his life.  The first bullet had been slowed by the half-raised barrier, but had still grazed his head badly as he’d jerked his head aside, flooding his mind with white-hot pain and almost breaking his concentration.  In that split second of pain and confusion, the second bullet had lodged between his ribs, again with most of it’s force stolen by the barrier.  Fortunately his will had not wavered, and the third bullet had been stopped completely.  He was in pain, and losing blood, but he was alive.

 He was swaying slightly, canting to the left as he stood, dizzy from pain and the head wound, but his gaze was focused as it came to rest on Marshall’s face.  His grin was fading, but there was still an air of unholy amusement in his expression as he stepped towards Marshall, his face a blood-covered mess from which twin flames of green hell blazed.

 “Fuck!”  Marshall raised the revolver and fired.  One, two, three, and then the click of an empty chamber.  The bullets stopped dead in the air inches from the Bannon kid’s face and torso.  With another curse, the older man threw the empty gun at the kid’s head and reached for his own automatic.  Right now, the last thing on his mind was worrying about ballistic matches.

 Something grabbed his arm, stopping it from reaching his shoulder holster, then wrenched it out and around his back, as though a power-lifter were putting him in an ungentle armlock.  He felt his shoulder creak under the strain, and gave a short yell of agony.

 Five shots rang out, and Marshall looked up to see Dale, up on one knee, face pale from pain as she aimed and pumped five bullets at the Bannon kid.  Once more, the slugs stopped in mid-air, hanging there along with the nickel-plated revolver.  The kid’s eyes swivelled to lock onto Marshall’s partner as Dale’s automatic was pulled from her hand and flung aside.

 “I only need one of you.” he said in a voice that, despite being slurred from pain and concussion was too calm, and Dale screamed as her gun-hand caught fire, skin crisping and blackening as she held it up before eyes made wide from disbelief and searing pain.  She screamed again, frantically flailing to extinguish the fire as it began to creep up her arm.  The sickening scent of burned flesh filled the air, Dale rolling to get her jacket off and smother the flames, but to no avail. The jacket flared into actinic bright light, falling to ashes in seconds as Dale’s other hand also caught fire.

 “Mary!”  Her partner stared in disbelief, the sick feeling in his stomach growing.  The flame was under control, he realised in a flash of terrified insight.  That it wasn’t even up past Dale’s elbows yet was down to the fact that Bannon wanted to make her suffer.  He cast a glance at the youth, who was watching Dale burn with a detached air belied by the implacable hardness in his eyes.  Enterich hadn’t exaggerated - if anything he'd underplayed the threat: Jason Bannon was a monster, beyond human comprehension.  Dale was now thrashing around on her back, wailing hopelessly in agony, and Marshall forced himself to speak past the bile rising in his throat.    “Stop it!.”  He managed through gritted teeth, Dale’s screams taking on a raw-throated rasp.  Jase tilted his blood-covered head as if considering something, then nodded.

 “Yes.  Two sources would be better than one.” he murmured to himself, words slurring a little. And like that the fires winked out - one moment Dale’s forearms were shrouded in golden flames, the next moment black and red horrors ending in claws, without even a wisp of smoke rising from the ruined flesh.  The blonde woman sobbed and then lay still, passing out from the pain.  Marshall felt a tug inside his jacket, and his gun and badge wallet were pulled out by invisible hands, flying across the intervening space to his captor.

 “You don’t know what sort of trouble you’re buying-”  Marshall attempted to bluster, but even to his ears the words sounded… thin.  Pathetic in the face of a force that could stop bullets and control flame.  He felt something grab his throat, lifting him onto his toes and choking off further words.

 You attacked me, mister… U.S. Marshal?”  Jason’s eyes widened a little.  “I doubt this is official law enforcement business, Marshal.. Marshall?”  His lips twitched at that.  “If this is real, I imagine you’ve heard all the jokes.”  He turned his gaze back to the man, squinting against the pain and the spinning of his head.  Even speaking clearly was an effort right now, his words coming with slow deliberation.  “Tempting and justifiable as it would be to burn you both to death by increments, that doesn’t serve my purposes.  We’re going to have a long talk about trouble, and who is in it.  And now, lights out…”

 Marshall opened his mouth, but something hit him hard just behind the ear, and he fell forward into darkness.

 Jason leaned back against the Charger, relaxing as both his attackers lapsed into unconsciousness.  His head spun, a searing pain centering around his temple and left side of his face, and his ribs were on fire, though he wasn’t feeling any particular shortness of breath.  Raising a hand to the side of his head, he felt the edges of a gash from there down across his cheek, the fresh pain from the touch causing a surge of nausea which he ruthlessly fought down.  He looked around.  Two unconscious marshals, guns, three cars…  And he was wounded and needed looking at.  He couldn’t deal with all of this alone.

 Fortunately, he didn’t have to.  Fighting back another wave of dizziness, the lean psychokinetic pulled out his phone and began, with some slow deliberateness to counter the difficulty he was having, to tap out a message. 

-----Tuesday, 09/03/2019; 07:18-----

<<<To: Devin Jauntsen; Autumn Keane>>>

[From: Jason Bannon] Been attacked.  2 gunmen, neutralised.  Head wound, bleeding.  Need you both.  Road into town from my place, two miles down.  Be careful.

 As he went to hit ‘send’, Jase realised he’d ended up sitting, slumped back against his car.  He tilted his head back, feeling the bodywork against the back of his skull, and sighed softly as he closed his eyes, his last conscious thought that he wasn't even sure he'd hit the send button as darkness claimed him...

Spoiler

Welcome to Tuesday!  This thread is open for anyone who has finished their wrap post for Ep VI. 

 Feel free to post your character getting ready and going to school, or perhaps your character's parents are keeping them home that day - you decide.  For those not involved with more serious matters, the day will progress in a series of time segment vignettes - pre-school at home, breakfast at school, first and second periods, lunch, etc. until the evening Not-PTA Meeting at the Medical Center.  We are currently in the first segment.

A word about timetabling:  The cafeteria at Shelly High serves breakfast from 0730 to 0815.  Classes start at 0815.  So the pre-school segment is any time up to 0730.  Your character can always have breakfast at home and arrive at school in time for class, or spend the pre-school segment arriving early at school to work out or run around the track.  The timetabling is just there to provide a framework of what is going on in the world around you.

 

Edited by GDP_ST
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Everyone had herd it at least one in their lives: 'you think it hurts now, wait until tomorrow'!  Well, screw those people, Devin had thought all through the morning as every bruise and small injury he'd endured the night before was alight in throbbing pain.  Every movement caused a wince, standing was a chore, walking hurt, sitting for some respite form the pain was an exercise in masochism because all it did was remind him that the moment he stood, it would all flare up again.  It had taken him ten minutes to put his pants on, another five for his shoes and somewhere in the neighborhood of 'I'm so done with today, already' to realize that he was already running late.

His sister was no different.  Today, the Queen of Mean had discarded all semblance of regality as she leaned against the island in the kitchen lazily sipping her coffee as he entered the kitchen on foot.  Teleporting was too painful for him at the moment and he was taking it easy.  Chucks, loose-fitting jeans and a faded t-shirt earned her a second glance but when he realized she was wearing zero in the way of makeup, he couldn't help but wonder if he was actually dead and never survived the fight.  Perhaps this was his purgatory... to live with normalcy for all eternity.  "Uh, Emjay... the hell happened to your face?"

"Blow me, Cocksmear," she grumbled from over her mug, glaring at him from narrowed dagger slits that currently hid her eyes behind them.

"Marissa," their father, who was stirring up some scrambled eggs on the stone while their mother was  at the table on her phone, scrolling through websites centered around normal people suddenly acquiring abnormal abilities.  "Don't call your brother a cocksmear."

"Thank you," Devin said while opening the fridge and grabbing the orange juice.  Carl slid some scrambled eggs off from the pan and onto one of the plates waiting behind Marissa.  They already had the toast and a couple slices of bacon and were just waiting for the final touch.  What was it about finding out your children were super heroes that made parents finally want to parent?  "It's about time I get the respect a god deserves around this place."

His father slapped him in the back of the head.  "Shut up, cocksmear."  Marissa choked on a laugh, spurting up coffee bubbles onto her nose.  "Eat your breakfast."

"Marissa, sweetie, I'm not finding anything on the internet."  Misti approached her daughter, phone in one hand while her other took her daughter's arm and began turning it over, inspecting it along the forearm and wrist where the night before Marissa had numerous minor abrasions and lacerations.  "Perhaps this resistance you have to things is also accelerating your healing?  You look eighty percent better than last night, most of your minor injuries are fading away... this is amazing.  I just can't believe any of this."  She glanced up at her daughter, sans makeup and horrid choice in attire for the day and sighed with a shrug.  "Well, forty percent better, at any rate."

"Yeah, well," Marissa sipped her coffee again, "Everything hurts.  Muscle aches, head hurts, I can tell the wounds are fading, but it still feels like I got ran over by a damn truck."

"Amen to that," Devin grumbled, fork in hand and eggs in mouth.  His phone began playing 'ki ki ki, ma ma ma' from Friday the 13th and with a smirk he glanced at the screen.  His fork hit his plate without a word and began moving with purpose out of the kitchen to get his coat and keys.

"What?"  Marissa asked, knowing her twin better than anyone.  "What is it?"  She walked away from her mother and chased after him.

"Is everything alright?"  Misti asked.

"It's Jason."  Was all Devin said as his keys rattled and he tucked his phone in his pocket.

"What, he finally kill someone?"  Marissa mused with a sarcastic smirk because it was way to early for murder to be happening.  Right?

Her brother looked at his phone again, then back to her.  He tapped out a reply, supposedly to Jason, while he spoke to his sister.  "Possibly.  He used the word 'neutralized' so... in Bannon speak they're in several pieces and he's pro/conning which stumps to have sex with first... or they're chained up in his basement slowly turning over a spit roast while he masturbates with a pile of his own feces."  He chuckled and shrugged, faking a confident smile.  "You know how crazy people are."

"I'm going."  She said sternly as her pocket vibrated.

"Fine."  He blew her off.  "Meet me there."

Marissa grabbed her keys and and left after her brother, checking her phone once her parents were out of view.  *// He's hurt.  Go get Autumn, I'll pin the location so you can find us easier.

She silently cursed while she was both driving and texting her parents to assure them Devin was just being an ass and making fun of Jason while also texting Autumn... *// Jason needs you.  He's hurt.  On my way to get you, send me a pin.

Spoiler

Autumn doesn't have a ride and her dad was dropping her off at school.  Devin teleporting or warping himself or others around the school isn't the best of ideas, so I'm sending Marissa to come collect Autumn and provide her a means of getting there.  No big production, aside from Marissa not wearing any makeup and looking an ordinary teenager for once, they're not going to have much to talk about, just focus on getting Autumn to Jason.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Even with the help of a little bit (okay, a lot) of self-medication, sleep had eluded Autumn for most of the night. They'd struck a blow against the Dark, eliminating a very real threat under circumstances which, a few weeks ago, would have seemed anything but. Sitting in her tree house, wreathed in smoke and silence, it had still all felt kind of unbelievable. Like a bad trip, or a nightmare she was just waking up from... Except that it'd be more accurate to say that the nightmare itself was a kind of waking-up, an uncomfortable realization that the reality she'd known had been just a comfortable illusion. Was it normal to have an existential crisis at sixteen? Probably. For a given value of "normal," anyway, which also included things like alternate dimensions and aliens and old legends proving true. Apart from Jacob and the dogs, in fact, almost no one in the Keane house had slept soundly that night; there were too many questions, too many things left unresolved.

Still... As the crisp, cool chime that heralded a text message confirmed, some uncertainty wasn't necessarily a bad thing. A soft knock on the door frame drew Autumn's attention away from the image of bemused green eyes to the groggy, unshaven smile of her father. "Morning, sweetheart. I didn't think you'd be awake yet." He paused for a moment, noting the phone already in her hands. "You said breakfast starts at 7:30?"

"Mhmm," she hummed, stifling a yawn with her arm and squirming comfortably under the quilt. It was, she had to admit, kind of weird having her dad around, but weird in a good way. Unfamiliar, but not unwelcome. "Morning, Dad. Anybody in the shower?"

"Not yet, but you should probably hurry if you want to sneak in there before your mom."

"Yeahhhh..." A long stretch, a sleepy smile, and a resigned sigh brought her upright, pushing a tangle of copper curls back out of her face as she sat amongst the blankets. "Probably."  

As she stood under the warm spray a few minutes later, hair slathered generously in the thick conditioner Marissa had recommended, Autumn's thoughts slowly shifted from the events of the night before to a rough outline of the day ahead. Riding in with her dad. Coffee and breakfast with Jase at school. Going to classes and going through the motions of whatever passed for a "normal" day now, with two fewer students- ones who hadn't just moved to Canada or wherever, but who really really wouldn't be coming back, ever. That was... Well, it was a thing, anyway. Talking to Marissa during Study Hall about Homecoming, maybe. The meeting at the medical center... Ugh. Not looking forward to that. She grimaced at the prospect of being trapped in a room with a bunch of people all trying to talk over each other as she carefully rinsed the fragrant masque from the heavy mass of uncoiled curls, combing her fingers through them again and again until the water ran clear.

"Autumn?" her mother's voice called out above the sound of the torrent. "Leave some hot water for me, please. Going down to put the coffee on, now, so don't be too long."

"Sorry!" she yelled back, quickly scrubbing away the remnants of sleep from her skin. "Just a minute!" True to her word, the young redhead was bundled in towels and padding back across the landing shortly thereafter, just as Dana came up the stairs. "Morning," she greeted the still-sleepy vet with a smile, eyes flicking downward as she paused to make sure she wasn't dripping on the floor. "Oh, hey! Is Jay up?"

"Not yet." Dana shook her head, returning the smile with one of her own as she took in her daughter's sudden shift in demeanor, the pink cheeks still flushed and rosy from the shower; there'd been a time when talking about Jacob Crocker had elicited that response on its own. "Why don't you go check on him? Once you're presentable, of course," she teased gently, planting a quick kiss on the girl's freckled forehead as she headed in to get ready for work.

Autumn was just about to remark that he'd seen her in a lot less than towels before so it wasn't really a big deal, but caught herself- that was not a conversation she wanted to start this early in the day. Instead, she busied herself with getting dressed, giving herself a quick once-over in the mirror as she toweled off and marveled briefly at the fading pink lines on her skin. Within another day or two, they'd likely be completely healed, vanishing as if the whole thing had never happened. The old scars still lingered, though, faint white traces marking out memories of adventures and mishaps. That was interesting- certainly something to think about. Maybe one of the brainier members of the Fellowship would have a theory about why that was so. Leaving her rather sad-looking hoodie on the chair next to the closet, she slipped on a well-worn flannel over the typical Autumn uniform of jeans and t-shirt instead and skipped briskly down the stairs in her sock feet.

Her mother had been mostly right: Jacob wasn't really up and about, but he was awake, sitting up in the guest room and talking quietly with Nathan. Someone had made him oatmeal, which the ravenous young man devoured as she checked in; there didn't seem to be any lingering effects, apart from the residual discomfort of being thrown around by a creature with inhuman strength. Even so, the general consensus was that taking a day to rest and get checked out by an actual doctor wouldn't be a bad idea. There was more to be said, as always, but it would have to wait. Giving both the Crockers quick hugs and quicker apologies, Autumn promised to call during lunch, and to let them know what happened at the not-PTA meeting later. For now, there were dogs to take out for a run around the yard, and breakfast to get to.

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

 

It was just after seven when Ian's silver Range Rover pulled out of the drive, Autumn already fiddling with the controls on the dashboard of the new-ish SUV. "Do you have Spotify on this?"  He blinked at her, momentarily distracted from the road and thoughts of how to address what had happened yesterday, and in that brief pause she'd already located the green icon on the console display. "Oh, yeah, cool. Can I link my account, so we have stuff to listen to on the way?" Almost before he'd gotten out a slightly-bewildered 'sure,' the animated young woman was tapping contentedly away at her phone, and within moments the folksy sound of a mellow guitar thrummed through the air, accompanied by a clear, male voice he didn't quite recognize, but which felt somehow familiar.  "Oooh, this one's good," she nodded, apparently satisfied at the algorithm's selection.

"So," he began, glancing at her from the corner of his eye as she hummed along, murmuring bits of the lyrics here and there. "Are you-" His not-so-little-anymore girl turned, blue eyes expectant, and he cleared his throat, reaching for the travel mug of coffee he'd brought. "How're you holding up?"

"I'm... okay, I think," she replied, weighing her words carefully as she spoke them. "Like... It's nice to not have this thing hanging over my head, you know? I feel like I have room to breathe."

"Even though your friend is gone?" The surprise registered clearly in his voice, and another cursory glance in Autumn's direction found her watching the trees roll lazily past the open window as the breeze ruffled strands of her still-damp ponytail.

"Charlie wasn't my friend." She frowned into the mirror, a little twinge of guilt twisting in her chest. "I know it sounds-"  Maybe don't say ''shitty,' or 'fucking' in front of your Dad. Just a thought.  "It sounds awful. But he really wasn't. It sucks that he died, but I barely knew him, so it's just..." Exhaling, she looked over at Ian, brow furrowing slightly as she searched for the words. "I feel like I don't feel as bad as I should, and that makes me feel bad. I care that he's gone, but it's not personal, I guess. Not like with Grandpa," she finished more quietly, peering at her father's profile while he drove. "You know?"

"Mhmm." Ian nodded, his gaze on the road and morning traffic ahead.

"Like, the whole thing with Cody upsets me because I feel like, I don't know. Like we could've done something differently, and instead of dying in a fire as some monster in a nightmare hellscape, he could've just gotten therapy or gone to jail, or whatever. I mean, yeah, it was his choices that put him there, but could our choices have changed anything?" They sat in silence for a few moments, and then, abruptly: "He was like us."

"Like you?" That warranted another quick glance at the passenger side as he tried to maintain some semblance of a neutral expression. "You mean, with the- the powers?"

"Yeah." Autumn went back to watching the landscape slip past them, twisting a lock of red-gold hair around her fingers contemplatively as Marissa's words at the hospital came back to her. "He was like us, and turned into this awful, evil thing. So... If one of us makes the wrong choice, like he did, could the others bring us back? Or will we end up like him?"

A crisp, vaguely frosty note interrupted then, saving Ian from another uncomfortable discussion so close on the heels of the one from last night, and the energetic teen felt herself smiling in spite of the tone of the conversation. She swiped away the lock screen and tapped the notification-

//Been attacked.  2 gunmen, neutralised.  Head wound, bleeding.  Need you both.  Road into town from my place, two miles down.  Be careful.//

"Sweetheart?" She could hear her dad talking, but he sounded so far away as she read the message again, his voice distant and distorted like the sound of someone underwater. Or maybe she was the one under the waves, drowning in shock and sinking with the sudden weight in her gut as the words swam before her eyes. "Is everything okay?"

"No," she managed, then shook her head. No. No, everything is not okay at all. Just don't... Don't fucking cry right now. Okay? Don't, Autumn. Don't cry, and don't panic. Just go. Just fucking go. "Dad, you've gotta turn around. We have to go get Jase."

"Okay." He had a dozen questions, the foremost of those being 'Why?' But the note of fear in his daughter's voice, the desperation in her bright blue eyes as she whirled to look at him, tugged at his heart and sent a pang of worry lancing through his chest. "Okay," he repeated, checking the mirrors and taking a deep breath, steeling himself for whatever they were about to find. "We will. Just tell me where to go, all right?"

She nodded, a choked sound of assent narrowly escaping the rapid constriction of her throat as she blinked back tears. NO. NO CRYING. CRYING IS NOT HELPFUL, AUTUMN RAE. "Umm. You can-" Struggling to regain control of her breathing, Autumn forced herself to inhale, counting silently to four and defying the upwelling of panic surging within her. She exhaled, focusing on the sensation of the breeze from the window, the feeling of the upholstered seat beneath her, the weight of the phone in her hand and the sense of her own body in space. It was fine. She was fine. Jason was fine. Everything was fine. "You can turn up there, by Bunnees." Clutching the phone in a white-knuckled death grip, the terrified redhead gestured toward an intersection that led out of town toward the Bannon and Heath farms. "He said- ohh, god," she breathed, shaking her head to clear it. "Um. He said he was attacked, and they had guns, and-"

Her father's eyes widened, hands tightening on the steering wheel. Guns. Were they still there? Was it safe to even go? he wondered. And then: Was it a random attack, or did the Bannon boy do something? Almost immediately, he felt guilty for even considering it, but... There was definitely something strange about him, even without the whole crazy powers thing, and he'd heard a few rumors while he'd been home. The bit about his dad being involved in a militia, of course, but maybe it was more than that.

The distraught girl's voice wavered dangerously, and she swallowed, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes. "And he actually asked for help, which means it's gotta be bad, and-"

There was another chime, this one different from the first, and both Ian and Autumn glanced anxiously at the screen.

//Jason needs you.  He's hurt.  On my way to get you, send me a pin.//

"It's, uh. Marissa," she explained, grateful for something else to focus on for just a moment or two as she started tapping out a reply with trembling fingers. "I guess she heard, too. I need to text her back. Gonna see if she'll meet us there."

[Just got a txt from him, omw there now w my dad. Meet us there, please? Not sure exactly where he is. Trying not to freak out.]

Even after pressing 'send,' Autumn kept typing away as the SUV headed out toward the edge of town, sending a string of increasingly worried texts to Jason's phone that remained unread.

Edited by Autumn Keane
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"Just got a txt from him, omw there now w my dad. Meet us there, please? Not sure exactly where he is. Trying not to freak out." Marissa's console spoke to her as he silently cursed to herself and made a three point turn in some random Montanan mouth-breather's drive way and sped on back in the direction her brother flew off in on his motorcycle.

Devin's wheels laid a patch of black as he squealed to a halt.  With a few seconds he was off his bike and running to Jason.  "Hey, I know you," was all he said as he leapt over Marshal Marshall, and knelt down at Jason's side where he was leaning against his Charger.  Bloody and wheezing and slumped over, Devin did the only thing that came to his mind first...

He slapped him.  Jason opened his pain strewn, weary eyes and glanced up to see Devin.  He managed bloody smile.  "Dawg, what is it about you that makes people wanna be all up in your guts?"  Devin huffed, using his limited knowledge of basic (very basic) first aid to take a look at his friend.  Prevent further harm, prevent infection, save life... the three core fundamentals of first aid and here was Devin using them for the first time on freaking gunshot wounds.

"S'car," Jason wheezed and coughed.  "Chicks dig the car."

"Very funny," the bruised teleporter-on-hiatus looked at his friend and gave him a sarcastic look.  "Shut up, dickhead.  I'm trying to save your life before my sister shows up and vetoes the idea, and considering I already have blood on my seventy dollar jeans, I'm just saying... things aren't looking good for you my man."

Jason was trying hard not to laugh.  He knew what Devin was doing: keeping his attention on him, not what he was doing as he tore open Jason's shirt and began to inspect the wounds.  His world was getting hazy.  He was losing blood, not fatal amounts, yet, but it was surprising how much a single hole in the torso could just pump out until there you were... getting drowsy and watching your breathing increase.  Devin pulled his own shirt off and with a tug it ripped and provided him with rags with which to apply pressure to his head and try to clean the area around his ribs to see the wound better.  "Dude... I know this hurts.  I can see the bullet bro, but if I pop it out of there, you could bleed to death."  Jason winced as Devin placed the rags on his head and applied pressure, while wrapping around the remains of his shirt and tying it tightly.  It wasn't pretty, but he didn't have a lot to work with.

Marissa, thankfully, squealed to a halt directly behind her brother's Ducati.  She slid open her phone and popped a pin at her location for Autumn to follow.  Her door swung open and like her brother made a mad dash to the scene... only to stop at the Marshalls who were lying on the ground in what science would later quantify as a metric fuck-ton of pain and oodles of regret.  She knelt down beside and Marshall Marshal and cocked her head smiling.  She patted him on the chest and said, "See?  Should have called.  S'wahtcha get."

"Em!  Emjay," Devin called for his sister, trying to lie Jason down and keep his head turned up to the blood had to fight gravity.  "Help me out, Jason isn't looking good."

"Nooooooope," her lips popped on the 'pe'.  She stood from Marshal and walked to his partner, smirking evilly at the sight of her roasted little giblet arms.  "Sounds like an Autumn problem, oh, brother dearest.  She wanted him, so she gets all the drama and bullshit that goes with his psycho ass."  She turned to face her brother, opening her arms wide to indicate the mess.  "I mean, fuck Deej, we just saved the world.  Like just, just saved it... what?  Twelve hours ago, if that?  He couldn't go twelve God forsaken hours without pissing off or attempting to murder someone?  I mean, what the fuck, dude!  Like we don't have lives!?  Are we even going to address just how inconsiderate of him this whole fucking mess is?"  She waved at the bleeding telekinetic.  "Hi, by the way."

"Keep them open dude, look at me,"  Devin glared into Jason's emerald eyes, seeing the way his wounds were fading the light behind them.  He smiled and chuckled with fading confidence, slapping Jason's cheek a few times to rekindle his attention.  "Bro, believe it or not, she doesn't want to see you like this.  This is her playing hard to get."

"What?"  Marissa huffed, looking up from Marshal Dale at the sound of her brother possibly talking shit about her.  She looked back at Marshal Dale, smirking.  Silently she started treating her for shock, which, thankfully wasn't too hard.  "Wow.  Bet when you woke up this morning you weren't thinking about this cluster fuck right here, were you?  Noooo, of course not."

"Tourniquet!" He shot back.  "I need, and don't have a tourniquet.  He's bleeding pretty bad."

She grunted and rolled her eyes at how Jason's problems were, once again, inconveniencing her.  "Get my gym bag!  It's in my trunk!  There's towels in there."

"Go get it, then!  I have my hands full!"  He yelled.

"No!" She shook her head and yelled back while she elevated Marshal Dale's legs.  "I'm busy too!  Let Autumn go get it!  It's her fucking boyfriend.  You think if you brought Lona home ODing on heroin, and don't look at me like that's a stretch, that I'd make it my problem?  Her dumb ass wants to OD let her fucking OD... Jason can't go twelve hours without trying to kill people, chances are he prolly had this coming!  Have we even stopped to consider what he did to provoke them?"

"You're such a bitch!"  Devin gently rest Jason's head on his hoodie, which was also, like Devin's hands, sticky and crimson.  He dashed off to Marissa's trunk to get her gym bag, pissed but realizing that for all her faults she made sure the trunk was popped by the time he got there and sure enough, there were three towels, one for the work out, one for her and one for her hair... like clockwork.

"Fuck you," she yelled back.  "You deal with him while I, once again, play accomplice to, and once again, cover up a Jason-Fucking-Bannon crime scene.  Yaaay..." she sarcastically clapped like she was happy then stopped, looking suddenly ashamed as she looked down at Marshal Dale.  "Sorry, that was insensitive of me."  She looked to her brother, who was now making copious use of the white gym towels.  "So, remind me again just how lucky we are to call him a pal?"

"Not now, EmJay," Devin grunted, his hands working swiftly and meticulously to save Jason's life.  "I've got shit to do and you're seriously pissing me off right now."  He didn't listen for a reply from her, if she even offered one.  Problem was, she wasn't wrong.  Besides not having all the facts, this was beginning to be a common problem for Jason: leaving bodies mangled in the streets.  Still, they tried to off him in his car, he could tell that, at least.  It was his life or theirs so Devin wasn't questioning the choices made.  Marissa though, she just had that irritating way of whispering dissention in his ears and she was hardly, if ever, wrong.  He tapped Jason again, getting his attention.  "Bro, I can't wait, okay?  If Autumn doesn't get here soon, dude... I have to get you help.  Jason!" He smacked him again, keeping the teens eyes focused as best he could as they lazily started closing.  "Jason... she has a minute... you?  maybe thirty seconds.  You come first bro, I don't think she'll be pissed about that... stay with me..."

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"Dunno... why dey sho'... me."  Jase's voice was slurring, his pronunciation sloppy - a worrying contrast to his usual precise, crystal clear diction.  The light behind his eyes, usually fiercely bright and intense, guttered like a match flame in a high wind as his half-lidded gaze tried to focus on Devin.  "Jus'... walk up an'... drew gun.  N'er see 'em... before."

"You just got one of them faces, Jaybee."  Devin said chattily, trying to keep the mind behind the dimming eyes engaged as he wrapped a terrycloth turban around Jason's head, staunching as much of the bleeding as he could.  The pain made Jason draw in breath in a hiss, momentarily jolting his thoughts into focus.

"ID says... marshals."  Jase tried to tap the wallet on his lap, but his hand wasn't obeying instructions, instead just twitching and flopping.  "Used cop light.  Pulled me over."  His voice started weakening further, his eyelids slipping lower.  "Be... careful."

"I will.  Yeah.  Being careful is top of my list."  Devin replied almost manically.  "Right after 'living long and prospering', so you don't need to tell me to do that."  He busied himself ripping up another section of towel to put as a compress over the chest wound, then realised there'd been no answer to his repartee.  He swore and looked up.  "Jaybee?"

Jason's eyes slipped shut, as the sound of a Range Rover drew nearer...

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Cassandra awoke to the sound of silence. Not dragging herself up and out of dreams full of disturbing images, clawing her way to wakefulness. No, she was simply awake, with all the abruptness of being dunked in cold water. For a minute she lay still, trying to chase the fleeing shadows that she'd been immersed in. Trying to...climb a mountain under a funnel cloud, avoiding the sight of some terrible presence above?

She jumpscared when her alarm suddenly went off, blaring that it was time to WAKE UP NOW PLEASE THANK YOU. She had to get up and cross her room to the dresser to turn it off...an arrangement Cassie had set up by choice so she couldn't just slap snooze. By the time peace was restored, whatever fragments of dream that had clung to her consciousness were well and truly gone. And then Bacon, having heard the alarm, was tapping his paws on her door and making that weird little huffy growly noise he did...not quite barking, but letting her know that HE knew it was time to get up.

So Cass let it go and stalked out to grab a quick shower, giving her dog a quick cuddle along the way.

A knock on the bathroom door came as Cassie was still playing with the temperature mix of the water though. Her mom called in, "Cass? How're you feeling today?"

"I'm okay," she called back, grimacing as the water turned a little cold. Better a little hot than a little cold...oh ow, but not that hot, Jesus...

Teresa replied a second later, "I'm just... If you need a day off or something, to rest...you can do that is all I'm saying. It'd be okay."

That brought Cassandra up short, and she looked at the door, legitimately wondering if her mother had been replaced by some kind of simulacra. What the... "It's...I'm really okay, mom," she called again over the sound of the water hitting the shower floor. "I'm actually looking forward to things going back to normal, you know?"

Another pause, then, "Okay, hon. I have to head in a little early today, but I left some breakfast out for you. Eat it. I'm serious. And if anything happens, if you change your mind and need to come home, you can call me up and I'll fix things with the office. All right?"

Good enough. The water wasn't perfect, but it would be good enough. Cassie stepped under the spray and gasped as it felt like it was going to burn her for a second...then seemed to cool off a little as her body got used to it. "Mom," she laughed, "I said back to normal. Shouldn't you be asking if I got my homework done?"

"Maybe there's a new normal," Teresa said. "Be good, hon, I love you."

"Love you too," Cass answered automatically. She fished the dwindling bar of soap out of its little divot and wrapped a washcloth around it. Her mom's concern was touching, and even welcome, but it felt weird too. Like a tug of war when the other team all just let go right as you were about to give a big yank...and instead just went flying back onto your butt.

A few minutes later and she was hurrying out to the kitchen, a little behind schedule. Her hair was still wet and lank against her head because there wasn't time to properly dry it. Breakfast was...well shit. Eggs, and a couple of strips of bacon? Bacon himself was sitting just at the kitchen's island where the plate was, looking very tense and alert. Cassie tossed him a strip, and he snapped it out of the air and happily munched on it, wagging his tail fiercely. The eggs she more or less just swallowed whole since they were fried and soft and she had no time for niceties. Probably no time to bike either...the bus again today, it seemed...

It wasn't until Cassandra was on the bus that she realized she'd forgotten to stuff her little binder of folders into her backpack. Hopefully she wouldn't need those notes today. Looking out the bus window it felt plausible that she wouldn't. It was sunny, and comfortable, and for the first time in a long time she felt like...nothing was hanging over her head. No huge disaster, no looming shadow. Ding dong, the witch was dead, and now Oz and its population of little teenage people could just get on with whatever the hell they did all day. The presence or lack of notes was a tiny thing next to that.

She closed her eyes contentedly and just let the freedom to not worry sink in...then stuck her earbuds in and queued up a playlist for the rest of the trip to school.

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The Allistair family sat around the table in the dining room eating breakfast.  It was early, six thirty-five.   Most families probably wouldn't be up yet, but Each of them had something going.    It would have been normal ten years ago, before Ian had become the sheriff, but following that, it had become a very rare occurence.   After the previous night, Ian knew that he'd be busy, but he'd promised Miyakko privately to make more time for the family.   This was a small part of it.  

It was very good, grits, scrambled eggs, toast and sausage,  along with fresh fruit, though no one spoke at first.   Cade broke the silence.   "I've got practice this morning."   His dad looked at him and nodded.   "Football, so they finally got you to join."   He smiled at him.   "I thought you were gonna say no."    

"I figure I can give it a try."  Cade answered.

"Don't neglect your studies Cade.   I know you've got alot of other extracurricular activities, and that's fine.   But you can't afford to fail in school."   

Cade sighed.  "Yeah, Dad, I get it, keep the grades up or no sports."   To be fair, Cade's grades weren't amazing, he wasn't a genius, but he got by.   It helped that Sean was a genius,  and they'd studied together often.  Still, things had changed, and Cade wanted to not have to rely on his friends as much.   One more resolution he'd made to himself, to do better in school.  He didn't expect straight A's, but he wanted to get further from the eligibility border than he was.  The only "real" subject he did well in was History, he'd always enjoyed that class.   Biology was another he was better than borderline on, but the rest, not so much.  Chemistry wasn't his strong point, and neither was Trigonometry.  Those were the ones he needed Sean's help with most.

Cade and Haruka were the first to finish, and he took her dishes.   "Go get ready, unless you want to ride the bus."   She did, and instead, he washed the dishes, and went to grab his school backpack. Miyakko surprised him, given how mad she'd been the night before by hugging him, "Have a good day today, Cade."    She came out ready to go, and it was just before seven.   Cade brought Haruka to school and then head on to practice.   Some of the team he knew.   They ran track or played baseball with him.  It was this that was part of the reason he agreed to give this a try.  His friends had asked him to do it as well.   Seeing him come out ready to practice, Dylan and Mike both smiled.  They ran track with him, and he nodded.  They were both wide receivers, and Dylan played baseball as well.   

The coach came up, and looked to Cade.   "So, I know you've got an arm, but that's with a baseball.   I want you to do some throwing exercises with Dylan and Michael."  The two of them were all smiles, and Cade nodded. "Sure thing Coach."  He looked to where there were a half dozen footballs on the ground and started walking to it, with the two of them walking to either side.   "We're just gonna run some basic routes Cade, just get the ball near us, we'll do the rest."

Cade nodded.  "Got it."   Truth was, since this had first come up, and even before, Cade had practiced throwing a football.  He'd hung up a tire, and was reliably able to put the football through the center, even when he was on the move.

The two explained the routes they were going to run while all three of them stretched, and then took their positions.   Cade yelled "Hut!" and off Dylan ran, at the exact moment he needed to, Cade let fly with the football, a perfect spiral that seemingly drilled into Dylan's chest exactly where he told Cade to throw.   Again he yelled "Hut!" and Mike took off, with a repeat performance from Cade.   The two brought the balls back, and both looked amazed and happy.  "Christ, Cade, that almost hurt.   I know I said drill it in, but damn."   Mike chuckled.   "let's run these abit more, then I want to see if you can hit longer throws."  

Cade nodded and smiled back to his teammates.   "Sure."   This was basics and fundamentals, but that was how you began.   Even as the rest of the team was running through regular exercises, the coach was watching his new quarterback.   "Kid's got a canon."   The offensive coach nodded.  "He sure does, If he's got that kind of aim under pressure..."  He trailed off.   "Yeah, this is gonna be a great season."  It was right around seven fifteen, and they still had thirty minutes of practice.

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The trio of gleaming black vehicles- Jase's Charger, Marissa's Mercedes, and Devin's Ducati- were a strange, incongruous sight next to the unassuming sedan and the one that looked, at first glance, like some kind of law-enforcement thing. But Autumn didn't waste time trying to figure out which branch it might belong to, because as soon as her dad's SUV approached the impromptu parking area, she clicked off the seatbelt, flung open the passenger door despite her father's shout of protest and the sudden, jarring application of the brakes. She saw-

-Marissa, standing over someone (?) near the side of the road.

-Devin, shirtless and kneeling next to the driver's side of the predatory beast Jason was going to have to let her drive when her grades went up... Because that was the deal, right?

-Combat boots. ...He wore those everywhere, which was kind of crazy considering how quietly he moved around, but they were super practical. It was one of those little quirks she appreciated about him, the fact that he didn't really care about all the superfluous stuff.

-Long, slender fingers, relaxed in a graceful curve where his hand lay on the ground. ...The same fingers that felt so warm twined in hers, that faint current of something running between them.

-Bright white towels stained red. So very, very red. Vivid as the roses he cultivated in the barn, fragrant blooms with velvet petals and dark thorns, their sanguine hue blooming here, instead, on the thick cloth pressed to Jason's chest, wound tight around his head.

And then father and Range Rover and school were forgotten. She could feel the shift, the tactile crunch of the gravel underfoot as she sprinted across the road heedless of traffic, the sting of the rocks through her well-worn jeans as she hit her knees next to Devin. Even without seeing the wounds, the second she touched the unconscious telekinetic she could feel them, raw and brutal and life-stealing. The injury to his skull was the worst, the most immediately dangerous, but there was a fucking bullet in his chest, a weird alien otherness to the lump of metal she could only really feel by the shape of the pain around it.

"All right, so... the one is fortunately-" Fortunately?! Jesus fuck, Autumn, how is anything about this fortunate?!- " just buried in the muscle between his ribs. Didn't hit his heart, or lungs, or..." Oh, Jesus. Oh, god, oh fuck. "Fuck," she swore. "Fuck, fuck, fuck. Um..." Okay. Okay okay okay. Think, Autumn. Focus. Running a trembling hand back over her hair, the ashen-faced redhead frantically tried to process what to do first, but her thoughts were racing too fast to keep hold of for longer than a moment. There was a vague sense that other people were also hurt nearby- one of them badly- but if those were the gunmen he'd mentioned in his text, well. Fuck them. They can wait.

"Okay." Exhaling, she took hold of the makeshift terrycloth turban wound around Jason's brow. "Skull first. Right. Um, Devin." She glanced at the blood-smeared gymnast on her right, his handsome features a mask of concentration. "Keep pressure on his chest for me right now, please and thank you. I'm gonna need your help with that in a minute." She drew in another deep breath, gingerly peeling back the saturated towel as a quiet, choked sound escaped her throat at the sight beneath. No. No, no, no nonono. Fucking- You know, just no. Just fucking no. "We are definitely gonna need to talk about this whole head trauma thing," Autumn muttered shakily, her fingers slipping around the bloody line of her boyfriend's jaw. The fact that he'd survived at all was almost incomprehensible, as was the reason he'd been attacked in the first place, but they could deal with that later. Extending her senses, she let the faint icy ripples of his Shine intersect and resonate with her own, providing clarity as the young vitakinetic traced the jagged edges of the fracture with her power and painstakingly rejoined each fragment of splintered bone. She could feel the tiny flickers at the core of his cells, their vital energy responding to hers as she coaxed shrieking nerves and ruptured blood vessels together, weaving the visceral fabric of his flesh and life back into a coherent whole.

As Ian watched, circling around his daughter to take in the horror of the scene before him, he saw her clear blue eyes go distant, darkening slightly with the expansion of her pupils. It was almost, he thought, like she was seeing something he couldn't, something beyond the frighteningly still form of the young man he'd just shared coffee with at the kitchen table the night before. He'd seen what Jason Bannon could do then, but this... This was someone's life, not manipulating kinetic energy, or however the boy had described it. That's not how the world worked.

"I'm calling an ambulance," he announced tersely, grabbing the cell phone from his pocket and raking a fingertip over the screen. "This is-"

"Crazy?" Devin supplied helpfully, leaning forward to keep his weight on the bullet wound. "Yep. And it's probably going to get a whole lot crazier. 911's not a bad idea, though." Jerking his head in the direction of his sister and the two Marshals, the athletic teen glanced briefly up at the elder Keane. "Those guys're gonna need it."

Blinking, the older man looked from his daughter over to where Shelly's dressed-down beauty queen was grumbling at the two prone figures. "Shit," he sighed, and pressed the button to dial.

Edited by Autumn Keane
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He never dreamed.

Perhaps it was a function of his mind, the way he'd trained and expanded on his already-prodigious mental gifts to harness even his subconscious, that area of the hominid mind where every experience, every sight, sound and smell was stored in one large databank, seldom accessed by most, those impressions and the unprocessed emotions they sparked only emerging in chaotic dreams that spoke of depths under the surface.  For him, there were no emotions unprocessed, no memories that he could not access consciously.  He could walk through a room and, ten years later, close his eyes and be back there once more, recalling the smell of the floor wash and the cologne and old cigarette smoke, looking around and recalling the spines of every book on the shelf he had glanced at.

So Jason Bannon didn't dream.  He remembered, with his mind in a curious state of REM sleep, lucidly wandering the halls of his mind palace, reliving experiences as his body rested.  But not now.  The damage to his body and mind demanded more than that and so he floated in black nothingness, a faltering heartbeat from oblivion, unaware and removed from his friends struggle to save his life.  And then... the blackness he'd sank into faded away, leaving him in the Atrium, the central chamber of his mental realm, the garden of icons which represented those closest to him.  The sunlight from overhead, normally clear, warm and bright, flickered and darkened now and then, red and black streaks permeating the radiance as the darkness which sought to claim him fully fought against the warm flood of power that inexorably pulled him out of its grasp.

He couldn't move from here, could barely even look around right now, his minds eye turning as if through tar to take in the garden.  The edges of everything looked fuzzy, and then too sharp, and then resolved themselves, the landscape quivering underfoot as things began to settle.  And as his consciousness and sense of self began to resume normal service he became dimly aware of pain, though not aware enough to wake up just yet.

= = = = = = =

Sheriff Ian Alister had literally just settled into his chair in his office when the 911 call had come in.  Jason Bannon, shot and wounded, with two unidentified shooters, both also down.  As he raced from the sheriff department building and jumped into his Range Rover he wondered if this was perhaps some payback for the teens raid on the Crossroads hidden facility?  Should he warn Cade?  The Cassidy boy said he'd wiped all the security footage, though, so it was unlikely anyone could have zeroed in on one of the teens who'd attacked that facility this fast.

Maybe his drug dealing caught up with him.  Perhaps he's pissed off the wrong people.  God knew it was more than possible - Bannon was acerbic and dismissive of authority.  Still, Alister reasoned, he was Cade's comrade in arms, and the Sheriff had taken an oath to protect and serve.  As he gunned the engine of his car and peeled off down the street, flipping the siren on, he was aware of the radio chatter indicating that ambulances and paramedics were on the way from Marias.

= = = = = = =

"Who was it?"

Annette's voice was crisp and authoritative, not betraying her shock or anger at the new the watch officer had just dropped across her desk whilst she'd been drinking her morning tea and getting caught up on things.  Her dark eyes, however, were narrowed dangerously as she looked up at the Air Force lieutenant.

"Unknown as yet."  the officer responded.  "Two shooters, both down.  Looks like the kid likely disabled them.  We intercepted the 911 call two minutes ago, and given the mention of a Person of Interest I thought-"

"Yes, thank you."  Annette nodded, tapping her fingers for a moment.  It was irritating to not know more, but that was hardly the fault of the man in front of her.  "Get Major Taggart in here as soon as he can, please.  And notify our personnel in the hospital.  I want all eyes and hands on deck."

As the watch officer saluted and left, Annette repressed the urge to swear like a Malay pirate.  Though she'd only known them briefly, the Aeon representative felt a strong sense of personal accountability and almost big-sisterly protectiveness for the unusual and astonishing teens.  Someone was going to have a bad day as a result of this, she grimly resolved as she lifted her phone and started to make some calls.  Enough was enough.  Branch 9 and her own people needed to stop with the territorial pissing match and start looking into how they could best work together with the Fellowship.

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"Mr. Keane," Marissa approached Ian, Autumn's father.  On his phone he was trying to remain as calm as possible as he directed the dispatch to their location.  She saw that he was on the phone, but any situation demanded it's fair share of multitasking, this was it.  He leaned the phone from her ear to signify that he was splitting his attention.  "Do you have any blankets in your car?  Maybe something you didn't unpack from the picnic last night?"  He noted how calm she was, practically unphased by the sight, having missed the conversation between her and her brother moments before, but she was unnaturally composed, like an oracle wading through the fruits of her own warnings.

Devin leaned in lowering his heat to pop into Autumn's field of vision.  "Hey," he prodded her for attention.  "You're doing great, Granola.  He's going to be fine," his words were a soothing mixture of positive reinforcement and distraction in the hopes of calming her down.  "Okay?  If we can stop his bleeding, his body can do the rest.  You got this, girl.  Focus on what you have to do, not what's happening around you, it's what's always worked for me.  We got this."  He continued to press on the wound, not too hard as to not force the bullet through the tissue further, but enough to make sure the flow of blood was halted.  "Plus, I have my shirt off, so that means I have to charge you by the minute for this lovely scene you are being allowed to behold, so... y'know, there's incentive."

"Sure." Autumn said calmly, her lips brandishing the slightest hint of a smile.  Still she seemed like she was blind, her focused on nothing but Jason's body, unblinking yet still seeing the whole of the scene around her.  "Put it on my account for next time you do something stupid and you're the one down here bleeding."

"That all I gotta do to get you to feel me up?" He replied in typical Devin-level sarcasm.  "Pfft."

"You're, uh, Marissa, right?"  Ian asked her while tucking his phone in his jacket and popping the hatch with his key fob.  "I think we have a few back here, might have dog hair on them, they're mostly used for the keeping them from shedding on the seats when we-"

"They'll do." She said without looking in his direction.  She scooped up the blankets and carried them over to the Marshals.

Ian followed, not sure how he could help but willing to accept instruction.  "You don't seem particularly phased by any of this."  He looked at the two bodies.  "Um, h-how can I help?"

"Mr. Keane, between secret societies lead by demons, talking saber-toothed tigers, adopting a three thousand calorie a day diet, Autumn's hair regiment, and an interdimensional pus demon that lived in Viscera World," she cocked her head and offered him an unimpressed look.  "I've seen my fair share of nightmare fuel.  This?  This is just another Tuesday in Shelly."  She handed him a blanket and nodded towards Marshal Marshall.   "Cover them up, keep them warm.  Jason will need one too with the amount of blood he's lost."

"You two seem to know a lot about this stuff," Ian pointed out while trying to cover the Marshal.

She mingled a scoff with a chuckle as tried to cover Dale without tampering with her injuries too much.  She silently cursed as the thought of knowing she couldn't do anything for them, shock was not something that was easy to treat on an unconscious patient and she'd done what she could.  "Twenty-one day First Aid class.  My mom made my brother and I attend when we were... eleven, I think?"  She turned to her brother, "Hey was it eleven we took that course?"

"Yeah," he nodded, speaking up so she could hear him.  "It was right before Christmas and right before we turned twelve in February."

"Riiiight," she nodded in recollection.  "Some big role involving a hospital drama... our characters wouldn't have been involved with any of the hospital stuff, just the kids of one of the characters who was a doctor.  Didn't stop mom though... three weeks of first aid classes, as research.  Which reminds me, my CPR card is expired."

"Em!" Devin shouted for his sister, looking away from Jason to address her.  "Call Annette, or text her.  Let her know what's happened.  Maybe she can help."

"On it!" she yelled back, winking at Ian for the punctuation of their conversation while she slid her phone out of her back pocket to begin scrolling for Annette's number.  She pressed the button on her phone and waited there with a third and final puffed up blanket coiled under her arm.  "Hi... Ms. Giles?  Marissa."  She confidently introduced herself on the SeanTech Jailbroke phone she was carrying.  "Jason's been shot.  I don't know!  He probably just stoically glared at them until they just lost their shit and took aim, Lord knows I've wanted to strangle him a few times myself.  No, no, Autumn is here, she's a freakin' rockstar.  She's all over it, but we have two others in shock and I can't treat them and Autumn can't really leave Jason and... we're a bit in over our heads here."  Her voice almost showed signs of breaking at those last few words, thinking of Jason and seeing how he was hurt badly was almost enough make her humanity rise the surface.  Still, she remained composed, the quality that kept her reputation as Shelly's Ice Queen secured and pressed on.  It was difficult for the next words to pass her lips, and she hated saying them, but she couldn't see any other option.  "Ms. Giles, we need help."

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Laurie padded silently downstairs on fuzzy bunny slippered feet, summoned by the smell of banana chaffles, bacon, and coffee after her morning shower. She'd slept fitfully, her eyes still felt a bit grainy, but feeling anxious and wired, she'd gotten up early to get ready for school and morning football practice. She might just be the kicker, but the coached still insisted for fairness sake. She wasn't even sure she could bring herself to go to school today after last night.

She might have gotten up early, but not as early as her brother it seemed. She found him puttering stiffly around the kitchen, nibbling on a quarter of bacon-laden, three-cheese banana chaffle grilled cheese, and sipping from a big mug of coffee. Judging by how much was left in the pot, it was far from his first. His eyes were sunken and ringed by dark bags. Collecting her own life saving mug of hot brown morning potion, Laurie glanced around the kitchen.

Sean must've made enough food to feed at least half again as many as lived in the house. The waffle-maker dinged and Sean fished out the pair of perfectly browned chaffles, adding them to the stack kept warm in the oven, along with the other half of the grilled cheese and a pan of bacon. She cocked her head, then looked down. She could hear the soft whir and thump of the dryer in the basement. Sean had done at least one load of laundry. He'd been busy.

Laurie sat down at the kitchen table, inhaling the rich nectar of life before savoring her first sip of coffee in the morning. There were place settings already set out for her and their parents. Sean's plate held a few crumbs and dabs of cheese from the other quarter of chaffle grilled cheese he'd eaten, along with a sliced apple and sectioned orange.

"You sleep at all?" she asked, her voice low in the house, more from habit than necessity. When she'd gone to take her shower, she'd heard mom and dad still talking. She was pretty sure they hadn't gone to sleep at all.

"Some," Sean said, and Laurie took it to mean barely. He took the other half of the grilled cheese he'd made out of the oven, showing it to his sister balanced on a spatula and arching a questioning brow. He slid it onto her plate, scrunching up his nose as she began drowning it in maple syrup. Syrup on waffles, sure, but on a grilled cheese? Ugh, especially when he already put a bit in the batter. And she ate it with a knife and fork! "Philistine. You want another? Or just more chaffles? Eggs?" 

"'Nosher pwease!" Laurie said around a mouthful, point at her plate with her knife. "We've got two-a-day practice."

Sean nodded, finished off his quarter of grilled cheese, took another sip of coffee, then fished out two more chaffles, buttered them, then started on preparing his sister a full banana chaffle grilled cheese sandwich. Grating some more sharp cheddar, monterey jack, and provolone, trying to lose himself in the mundane activity, as he'd been since the wee hours of the morning. He glanced over at his phone sitting on the counter. 26 sales for ReGenesis, mostly European. He hadn't thought about localizing the game yet. Honestly, he hadn't expected to be done before graduation, really. It would take some research, but afterwords, tasking a semi-autonomous program, he should be able to get it done. For some languages anyway. Could talk to Jase about--

"Mom talked to dad and me," Laurie commented.

Sean grunted. He knuckled his back, stretching. He'd gotten off lighter than most of his friends, and Autumn's help notwithstanding, he was still sore, if not at bad as before his scant bit of troubled sleep. He really did need to get in better shape. Some at least, last night proved that. All he'd really done was run, fall down, and dive out of the way. Jase's teasing/not-teasing aside, he wasn't fat - except where most girls wouldn't mind some extra, curvy padding. What he was, was lacking muscle tone and even meager athleticism.

Teagan had tried a few years ago, but she'd been a bitch about it, pushing him hard and he'd resisted through sheer contrariness. Jase or Cade wouldn't judge him if he asked for help, Jase would even approved in his understated way, but what worked for them wouldn't really work for him and seeing the disparity would just make him feel disheartened. And his pride wouldn't let him ask his younger sister for help, despite her getting taller, and more athletic as she practiced for the football team.

YouTube maybe, or there might be someone else he could ask for help...

"I'm really sorry 'bout Charlie, Sean."

"I don't want to talk about it," Sean muttered. He reclaimed his sister's plate, flipping the grilled cheese onto it, then slid the plate towards her as he sat down across from her at the kitchen table. He stared blankly down at his mug of coffee, spinning it in his hands as Laurie profaned the chaffle sandwich with syrup.

If Charlie wasn't his best friend, he'd still be a good one. A player in his games since the beginning. His loss hurt. That they hadn't been able to do anything to stop it before it was too late hurt even more. But what hurt the most was the shame he felt that he wasn't the one who'd been killed, been torn to pieces, the sense of relief he was still alive. Which seemed perverse, since he was the one who's life was ticking away faster than anyone else's.

Into the leaden silence, Carolyn and Jack joined their children. Sean went to get up, to make his parents breakfast, but his father clapped him on a slender shoulder, gently, but firmly, forcing him back into his seat.

"Stay seated, Sean. Finish your breakfast. You've done enough, we'll take care of the rest."

Carolyn went to the coffee pot, pouring a cup for her husband and for herself, then started brewing a new pot. Jack took over breakfast duties, murmuring with his wife, starting to cook some eggs for the both of them as Carolyn started putting things away and cleaning dishes. Despite seeming having not slept at all, only a bit of redness about their eyes, the elder Cassidys appeared to be less affected by lack of sleep than their children.

Over her mug of coffee, Carolyn watched her children. Laurie shoveled food in her mouth the way Teagan had when she'd had one of her bigger growth spurts and had really started working out, staring at her brother almost angrily. Sean looked sullen and resigned, absently eating apple and orange slices, glancing from his near empty plate to his phone and back.

"I think you two should stay home today," Carolyn suggested. "Missing one day so early in the year, and considering yesterday and Cha - and what happened, I'm sure everyone will understand."

"No!" the siblings said in sharp unison.

Laurie hadn't been sure at first, but as soon as her mother suggested it, it was the last thing she wanted to do. "Coach has us on two-a-day practice this week and I'm not going to let them say the girl can't keep up!"

"I... just need something... normal," Sean said over his sister. He gave a bark of bitter laughter. "Whatever 'normal' means now. If I stay home, I'm just going to seethe and wallow and think too much 'bout last night. I don't need - want - that."

Their mother gave them a wan smile. "If that's what you want, kids. But if you change your mind, give me a call, and I'll authorize you guys leaving early."

She wasn't under any delusions that both of them had never skipped a class before, but she wanted to cover her bases. And if it let her know where her kids were, all the better. After last night, she and Jack had really considered insisting on Sean and Laurie having tracking apps on their phones, but it was a battle they knew they wouldn't win. With what Sean could do, and even before his... abilities, they couldn't have gotten away with it anyway.

"We won't," Sean and Laurie claimed again in unusual synchronicity.

Carolyn sighed. Jack grunted. Talk about the kitchen turned to feigned normalcy, asking about football practice, the launch of Sean's new game - Carolyn had helped her son set up the business for his indy game studio Intersectional Interactive when he had developed Annwn - and what they wanted for supper. The meeting tonight and anything smacking of it was studiously, if obviously, avoided.

Sean took his load of laundry from the dryer and brought it back to The Barn, shrugging into his freshly cleaned hoodie with the tree on it, tucking the loaner from Autumn under his arm. Laurie got her gym back and practice uniform and the siblings met up at Sean's SUV, who them drove them to school. A bit of the feigned normalcy turned real as Laurie reached for the radio, her other hand slapping Sean's away when he went to stop her. He sat back, flashing her a taunting smirk, as with a thought, he simply took control. His car, his rules, but it never stopped Laurie from trying to claim dominion over the radio.

She huffed and folded her arms as Sean synched his phone to the SUV, listening to a playthrough of his game that was already streaming on Twitch. The Twitch Streamer... wasn't good, even Sean admitted that despite earnestly wanting to hear the early reactions to his game. It didn't help that the Streamer had a really thick accent, Scandinavian, Swedish maybe?

29 units sold. Laurie bolted out of the Grand Cherokee almost before it came to a complete stop, running for the field to join Cade and the rest of the football team, her gymbag bouncing on her shoulder. Sean followed more slowly, watching and listening to the Twitch Stream, hoping a more talented Streamer would start streaming ReGenesis in the next few days.

Not wanting to go inside yet, Sean took a seat at the far end of the bleachers at the top, letting the fading chill of morning wash over him. Shelly High might be surprisingly well funded for a small rural town in Montana, but it still had shit coffee. Sean took a pull from the thermos he'd brought from home.

Another day. Still alive.

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11 hours ago, Marissa Jauntsen said:

"Hi... Ms. Giles?  Marissa."  She confidently introduced herself on the SeanTech Jailbroke phone she was carrying.  "Jason's been shot.  I don't know!  He probably just stoically glared at them until they just lost their shit and took aim, Lord knows I've wanted to strangle him a few times myself.  No, no, Autumn is here, she's a freakin' rockstar.  She's all over it, but we have two others in shock and I can't treat them and Autumn can't really leave Jason and... we're a bit in over our heads here."  Her voice almost showed signs of breaking at those last few words, thinking of Jason and seeing how he was hurt badly was almost enough make her humanity rise the surface.  Still, she remained composed, the quality that kept her reputation as Shelly's Ice Queen secured and pressed on.  It was difficult for the next words to pass her lips, and she hated saying them, but she couldn't see any other option.  "Ms. Giles, we need help."

"I understand, Marissa."  Annette's voice was a mixture of reassurance and crisp efficiency as she held her personal phone to her ear, waving at her assistant to get their attention.  "We're making preparations now - the attackers will be under our eyes... and so will Jason as soon as he arrives here.  We'll make sure only Project staff are attending him - he'll have the best care, and we'll liase with the Sheriff to keep things under control."  She paused a second, thinking.  "In fact, the redoubtable Sheriff Alister is probably already on his way to you.  Work with him, dear.  We'll help in any way we can."

As she hung up, she looked at Taggart grimly.  "I want the attackers I.D'd and their entire life story on my desk as soon as you have them under guard, Major.  We need to find out if the other young people are at risk."  Taggart nodded, then looked over at the slender blonde young woman calmly sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in Annette's office, watching the bustling Project staff coming and going with detached interest.  Though the eyes were grey rather than green, the Major was keenly reminded of Jason Bannon as Ellie - if that was really her name - turned her gaze on him, one brow arching slightly as she (possibly) attempted to discern the reason for his looking at her.  Or perhaps she was figuring out how to kill him with the nameplate on Annette's desk - Taggart was reasonably certain either was likely.

"The genome sequence test we're running on Jason Bannon's DNA is almost complete."  Taggart told Annette, looking at the tablet in his hand.  "If the results are as we suspect, what do you want to-?"

"He's not to be treated any differently than he was before."  Annette said firmly.  "At least until we have a quiet moment to speak to him about it."

"Right."  Taggart nodded, before turning and heading back to the command center.

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"That all I gotta do to get you to feel me up?" He replied in typical Devin-level sarcasm.  "Pfft."

"Not sure a near-death experience is worth it," Autumn murmured distractedly as the bleeding from the lurid gash across Jason's face slowed to a trickle, then finally stopped altogether. A final chain of tiny crimson droplets oozed out, dark and glistening as pomegranate seeds as the lacerated flesh across his cheekbone sealed completely, leaving in its place a pale line graven into the warm olive of his skin- a permanent reminder of how close he'd come to oblivion that morning. It was an odd experience, she realized distantly, like watching the wound being inflicted in reverse. She was less concerned with how it looked, though, and more focused on the fact that it had healed neatly and quickly so that she could move on to the next life-threatening injury. The swelling on his brain was likewise slowly draining away, the damage caused by the kinetic impact and fragmentation of bone dissipating; she could sense the shift in his breathing and the growing strength of his heartbeat thrumming- or so it felt- through her own veins. He hadn't yet started stirring, though, which was both a blessing and a cause for worry. On the one hand, it meant he wouldn't feel the part that came next, and it would give his body time to recover more naturally, albeit with some help from the accelerated healing her powers afforded. On the other...

It's fine, Autumn, she reminded herself as something in her chest tightened uncomfortably. Worry about keeping him alive first.

"Okay." Huffing softly as she exhaled, the redhead used her forearm to push the loose hair back from her forehead, squinting a little into the sunlight and taking stock of what the others were doing. She could see Marissa and her father doing something with blankets off to the side and set her jaw, lips compressing briefly into a taut line. She didn't have time to worry about them; this was her priority right now. Her freckled fingers trembled, slick with the blood that masked Jase's still, impassive features. "Okay. We need to get that bullet out. If I heal him now, the skin and muscle will just close up around it. You up for this?" she asked, lines of worry etched around the corners of her eyes as she glanced up at Devin. "If not, I can do it, I'm just..." She hesitated. "Just trying not to do more damage in the process."

The weary teleporter took a deep breath, rolling his shoulders as if in preparation for some great feat of athleticism rather than simply removing a small lump of metal from a few inches away. "You kidding?" he quipped, managing a crooked grin. "I mean, I dunno if you should be asking that with your boyfriend right here, but I'm flattered, Granola. Really. We'll talk, 'kay?"

"'Kay," she replied, smiling faintly in spite of herself. "If you can pull it out, I can take care of the rest. We just need to be quick about it. Ready?" From the corner of her eye, she could see Devin's head bob in a brisk nod. "Do it."

With a grimace and a low, pained groan of effort, Autumn's erstwhile tormentor concentrated on the shape, the position of the bullet relative to himself, one fist clenching reflexively in the torn and bloodied remnants of the towel under his palm. She could sense the exhaustion rolling off him in waves as she watched Jason's eyelids for signs of movement, could feel the physical vibration of his arm against her as he pushed through the discomfort and fatigue. It should've been such an easy thing for him, no more strenuous than snatching a penny from a table; in truth, she'd been more concerned about his ability to deal with the visceral aspects of the injury than the actual removal of the near-fatal projectile, but it seemed she'd had her expectations in the wrong order. The red-haired girl was just about to tell him to stop as something shifted almost imperceptibly in the prone young man's expression, but then-

"Got it," Devin gasped triumphantly, followed immediately by a soft shimmer of faded violet as the misshapen bit of lead hit the pavement nearby with a faint metallic sound. "Holy balls," he breathed. "That sucked."

With a hiss of relief and anxiety, Autumn pushed away the towel, her palm resting near the neat hole that had come so perilously close to his heart. If the bullet had gone just a little deeper... Shaking her head, she focused on the current problem rather than what could have happened, her power knitting the torn muscle fibre and delicate nerves together once more in a stabilizing tapestry of interconnected energy and tissue that helped strengthen the whole. As the last layer of skin- paler than the flesh around it- drew the small circular wound closed, Ian and Marissa glanced up at the sound of approaching sirens.

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Shelly's Teen Queen o' Mean left the mercifully unconscious marshals (though not without some fantasies involving a baseball bat and ten minutes alone with each of them) and hustled over to the trunk of her Mercedes, reaching in and fishing out some bottles of water from her gym bag.  Long dark hair swaying, she hurried past the still-bemused Ian Keane, who was wearing the expression she'd come to closely associate with parents and adults generally who found themselves thrust into the world of the Weird.  It was the look Gar Bannon had worn at the Marias Medical Center when monsters and lasers had been flying around everywhere, best translated as 'What the hell is this, exactly?!'

Count yourself lucky, buddy.  This is 'just' a shooting - no monsters are trying to eat your face.  This is easy mode in Shelly.  Marissa snarked to herself as she moved over to where her brother and Autumn knelt by the prone Jason.  Devin was staring at the blood-smeared chunk of metal he'd pulled out of his friend, and despite herself Marissa found her gaze following her twin's.  Yup, that was a bullet.  Yup, that had been in Ja-...  in Jas-... in his chest.  Almost brusquely, she thrust a bottle of water into her brother's hands, forcing her voice to remain crisp, bordering on sharp.

"Here, clean your hands off."  she said to both teens, turning and offering her bestie a bottle as well.  Autumn's freckled features were pale, her ocean-hued eyes fixed on the reclining boy's face, and the expression of mingled hope/grief/shock in those eyes was almost enough to make Marissa lose it as the redhead knelt there, mutely accepting the bottled water with a nod.  Marissa ruthlessly steeled herself as she untucked the last blanket from under her arm and stepped around Autumn, knowing that she was going to see-

He looked dead at first glance.  The blood was caking the side of his head, soaked into his t-shirt and Devin's hoodie where it was cushioning the back of Jase's skull.  The perpetually shaggy hair, which had grown over the summer to almost neck length, that he annoyingly only bothered to comb and otherwise left alone, was matted with dark wet stickiness.  Marissa forced herself to look at his chest, to note the rise and fall of his breathing, ignoring the freshly scarred patch over his heart.  He wasn't dead, see? she told herself.  Nothing to worry about.  He was fine.  Just fine.  Yay for Team Fellowship.

She fought down the urge to go back over and tapdance on Dale's throat.  She wanted to be wearing proper reinforced heels for that.

"Let's clean away some of this blood."  she muttered to Autumn, crouching by Jason's head and taking the last bottle of water, un-stoppering it and pouring some over his face.  As some of the half-dried blood was rinsed away, the scar across his cheek came into view.  It wasn't much - a faint line paler than the surrounding skin by a few shades.  No real sign that it had been done by a bullet - it even looked sort of rakish with Jason's cheekbones; still, Marissa was glad she hadn't looked at the 'Before' picture.  Her imagination of what it must have been was going to be bad enough.

The steady stream of water caused Jase to stir, his eyelids flickering, and Marissa immediately halted, setting the bottle aside and, flapping the blanket open, draped it over the lean shape lying on the ground before standing back up, dusting off her hands and looking around.  "Okay."  she said with the air of one checking off a list.  "Crazies one and two over there are as comfortable as they need to be until the paramedics get here.  Big Chief Crazy here looks like he's going to be fine - yet again."  she added with a tone that suggested she found that to be an annoyance, as the Sheriff's car rounded the bend, his siren blaring.

=  =  =  =  =  =  =

There had been no discussion on the matter - Autumn wasn't leaving Jason's side, at least for now.  So it was that she rode in the ambulance with the paramedics and her unconscious boyfriend, her father following along behind as the Sheriff set deputies to safeguard the vehicles by the side of the road.  By unspoken agreement, Devin rode with Marissa, a spare blanket wrapped around him both for warmth and to protect the Mercedes upholstery.  The two marshals were likewise shipped to Marias - Dale on a gurney, still unconscious, her hands twisted charred claws, and the recovering Marshall cuffed in the back of the Sheriff's Range Rover once the paramedics had checked him at the scene.

"Hey, I want a phone call."  Marshall mumbled from the back seat.  "I'm a federal agent - you'd better have a good reason for cuffing me-"

"Mister."  Sheriff Alister's blue eyes were cold enough to give Jason Bannon's glare a run for its money as the former Marine met his prisoner's eyes in the rear view mirror.  "I had a day yesterday, today looks like it's going to be similarly shitty thanks to you, and right now the best right you can exercise would be the right to remain silent, hear me?"

"Look,"  Marshall tried again, pressing his face to the safety grille.  "You don't know what he is, what he can do.  I saw it.  He stopped bullets, man.  He set my partner on fire!"

"That so?"  the Sheriff said, turning off the main road and heading down a side street as they neared the hospital.  "That'd be a helluva thing to see, now wouldn't it just?"

Marshall realised they were no longer following the ambulance, instead heading down a sloping slip road that circled around behind the hospital.  "Hey, where are we going?"

"Ever hear of a service entrance?"  Alister replied, pulling into the underground parking garage and rolling his car towards the loading dock with the freight elevator at one end.  "This is like that, only for dirtbags."

The freight elevator doors rolled up, and the wide-eyed Marshal Marshall saw five serious looking dudes wearing military fatigues and carrying guns.  The sheriff half-turned in his seat, looking at him whilst jerking a thumb at the soldiers.  "These boys want a word with you, son.  You're their problem now.  Might be that your partner got off light after all." he told the astonished man as the Project security personnel approached...

Spoiler

ST- Note:

We are now in the cafeteria time segment of the day: 0730 - 0815, with first period starting at 0815.

Jason, Autumn, Devin, Marissa and Ian Keane are at the hospital.  The Project is working overtime to keep things low-key, but there's a slim chance passers by might see Devin's bike or Jase's car on the side of the road on the way to school, with deputies standing around.  Anyone with gossipy friends might hear something is going on, but not what.

Devin and Marissa will be allowed to leave hospital when they wish to.  Ditto Autumn and Ian.  They will all be given supplies to clean up with if they wish to stick around.

 

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The antiseptic scent of the hospital was becoming entirely too familiar. As she sat in one of the room's two chairs- this one pulled up alongside the bed where Jase's chest rose and fell beneath the blanket with reassuring regularity- Autumn sighed and tapped the second entry in her contacts list under his name. While Devin and Marissa were busy handling the Fellowship side of things, there was still another call to be made. She wasn't even sure if Gar would be home, but much as she'd preferred to tell Devin about Tawny in person, the sad-eyed father of her new boyfriend might want to hear the news from someone he actually knew. He could be outside working, or on his way to Great Falls to get supplies or parts, or... A sudden chill rippled up her spine as the connection to the land line was made, and the house phone on the other end began to ring. What if they'd gone to Jase's house, too? "Fuck," she muttered, glancing out into the hall where her dad was busy conferring with one of the deputies. Or maybe, just maybe, the sheriff already called, and he's on his way. Just... see if he answers, and then start worrying if he doesn't.

The phone rang several times, then several more, and Autumn was just recalling when she'd first called the home of the slender youth currently unconscious beside her, how the phone had rung for what seemed forever as she waited on tenderhooks for him to pick it up... click "Bannon Farm?" The by-now-familiar soft-spoken voice, deep but not particularly resonant, of Jason's father picking up.

"Hey, Mr- uh, Gar." Leaning forward slightly in her seat, the redhead couldn't suppress the soft sigh of relief as he answered the call. "It's Autumn." There was a moment's hesitation, even as she watched the flicker of the younger Bannon's eyelashes. "So, first, um. Jase's fine," she began. "But he is here at the medical center. Resting, right now."

There was a long moment of silence as the man on the other end collected his thoughts. Finally, the sound of a deep, slightly unsteady intake of breath came over the line. "What happened, Autumn?"

"He-" Fuck, how much can I say right now? Swallowing hard, she exhaled and slouched backward again, sliding down in the seat in a passable imitation of pre-party Bannon as she stared up at the acoustic ceiling tiles. "He was attacked on the way to school." Her eyes stung, the pinprick patterns overhead swimming until she squeezed them shut and forced the words as calmly as she could past the tightness in her throat. "They, um. They shot him. Only two of the bullets actually hit. It looks like he fought back, and the two that attacked him are here somewhere, in custody. He's sleeping, now. He's fine," she stressed, her voice wavering slightly with suppressed emotion. "Seriously. He's fine."

Another male voice spoke up from the background - Hank, Autumn realised as she recognised the harsher, gruffer growl of the Bannon's friend. "Jase was shot. Autumn's with him, and says he's fine." Gar replied to the unheard question, then returned to speaking with his son's girlfriend. "Okay, we're on our way down." Though he sounded stoic, Autumn could detect the note of concern in the older Bannon's voice. "Do either of you need anything?"

"Ummm," she blinked, focusing on the question as she sat upright again, unable to really get comfortable surrounded by the smell of cleaning chemicals and gleaming tile and the general atmosphere of sterility. "He's gonna want clean clothes, I think. Something comfortable." She paused for a moment longer, considering. "Some kind of breakfast, maybe? And... Coffee. Please. And-" She swallowed again, and exhaled. "And I'm sorry to worry you. I just thought it might be better if you heard it from somebody you knew. ...You know?"

"I do." Gar's voice was steadying now, losing its earlier tremor. "If you say he's fine, then I'm not too worried." The vote of confidence was heartfelt. "We'll grab some things and be down right away. And Autumn...? Thank you."

"Yeah," The smile in her voice was audible across the distance of the phone connection. "I'll see you guys when you get here." She tapped the red icon on the screen, ending the call with a near-inaudible click. "Hey," she murmured, resting her cheek against the edge of the thin hospital mattress, her gaze tracing the shape of his profile silhouetted against the morning light filtering through the blinds. "If you can hear me in there, your dad and Hank are on their way, so just... Just rest, okay?" Shifting her weight to nudge the chair a little closer, the redhead folded her arms across her chest, wishing idly she'd had her hoodie as her own eyes drifted shut.

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Smell was the first thing to come back. Sensitive nostrils twitched, picking up an astringent antiseptic odor, immediately identifiable as a hospital room, a faint scent of his own blood, along with some manner of cleaning solution on his skin. A puff of warm citrus and juniper. Autumn. The beep of a heart and vitals monitor was next, the distant sounds of people talking, phones ringing, a tannoy. Nearby, someone breathing, the rustle of fabric. Then he became aware of warmth, the sun on his face, the sticky patches where the monitor trodes were attached to his chest, the tickle of hair on his bare arm.

Jason opened his eyes, slowly, squinting slightly against the light. The acoustic tiles on the ceiling met his gaze, then he glanced around without moving his head whilst he took stock of how bad he felt. Private room, not the ICU. Good. That meant Autumn and Devin had been able to extract the bullet and treat his wounds. His head felt fine, his thoughts clear. There was a slight itch in his chest and at the side of his head, which he knew from experience was a sign that the accelerated healing Autumn had triggered was still at work. His throat was dry, and he was hungry - another sign of artificially sped-up healing - and he felt a little weak, probably as a result of blood loss. Turning his head, he saw the tumble of fiery copper curls resting against the edge of his mattress, Autumn sitting in a chair with her head leaning against the bed, eyes closed and arms folded across her chest.

Silently, the normally cold-eyed genius studied her for a long moment, taking in the glint of pale lashes brushing against her cheek, the dusting of bronze freckles that accented the ivory skin, the tilt of her nose and the soft rose of her lips. Unwilling to break the stillness of this reverie, he merely watched her, green eyes glimmering with warmth as they caught the sunlight streaming through the half-open blinds.

= = = = = =

The faint hum of an electronic vibration elicited a soft, short grumble of displeasure from the drowsing redhead as she shifted in the chair, pressing her cheek against the lightweight cotton blanket. Just let me sleep a little longer, her dream self mumbled, frowning a little at the uncomfortable contours of her bed and burying herself deeper under the blankets, clutching them possessively to her chest. A few moments later, there was another buzz; she scowled, fumbling about in the ocean of quilts for the alarm that shouldn't be going off yet. It was too early. ...Or too late? Either way, it wasn't time to be up. Either way, school wasn't for... Hmm, she hummed in both worlds, frowning a little as she tried to remember when she was supposed to go to class. It probably wasn't for hours yet, was it? No, because her dad was supposed to take her, and-

Her phone vibrated again, still in her hand as she protested the intrusion with a quiet, unhappy groan. She sat up in bed this time, blinking into the patterns of light and shadow that rippled around the edges of the room. What time was it? She was supposed to have coffee with Jase, wasn't she? Or breakfast. Was that today? Movement nearby tugged at her attention, banishing thoughts of time and classes and linearity. A pair of ageless, luminous green eyes regarded her from the darkness, as fathomless and deadly as the draconic creature to whom they belonged, but as Autumn's breath caught in her throat, the gleaming hoard surrounding him flickered into brilliant life with the light of an unseen flame. There was no treasure there, she realized with mute horror. Not gold, not silver, not glittering gems, but brass, and the metallic scent of blood.

Buzz.

Another notification brought her fully awake, wide-eyed as she jerked upward suddenly. "Jesus fucking-" Autumn froze mid-swear as she caught sight of Jase, head tilted slightly and pale jade eyes alert. "Oh my gosh. You're awake! Are you-"  Her voice broke even as her cheeks flushed with the realization that he'd been watching her. But he was awake, awake and alive, and all the ominous remnants of her dream vanished in the wake of that knowledge. "Are you okay?" she breathed, then made a face. "I mean, how do you feel?" Her eyes moved over his features, drinking in the sight of him as a traveler in the desert might an oasis as she held tight to her phone and the arm of the chair to keep herself in place.

"I feel good." The reply held a dry rasp that altered the normally quiet notes of Jase's voice to a hoarse whisper. He moistened his lips with his tongue, and swallowed slightly. "Bit weak." His gaze turned contemplative. "Glad to be alive." He shifted his arm, extending his hand towards her palm-up atop the blanket covering him as his eyes held hers. "Are you okay?" he asked softly, studying her posture, noting the tension in her arms and face.

"Am now," Autumn nodded, allowing herself a small smile as she reached out, freckled fingers brushing across his palm before lacing slowly through his. The sense of relief at that simple contact, at the mere fact that he really was okay, was nearly overwhelming. She wanted to throw her arms around him, cover his face in kisses and hold him until the sterile chill of the hospital disappeared, but awareness of the fact that it was a hospital, and he was recovering from being very-nearly-dead, restrained her enthusiasm. At least for the moment. "Do you want me to get you some water, or something? Are you thirsty?"

He nodded, the edges of his eyes crinkling in a smile as Autumn gave his hand a gentle squeeze then stood, extricating herself from the chair and looking around the room. It didn't look like anyone had brought any water or cups yet, which considering the somewhat hectic nature of the last half-hour or so was understandable. "I'll be right back." she promised the youth in the bed, before turning and slipping out of the room, leaving the door ajar behind her as she went. 

In the waiting area beyond, her dad sat a few seats away from the door, looking somewhat uncomfortable. Opposite him, against the other wall of the small private waiting area, Devin lounged in his seat with the blanket thrown idly around his shoulders, casually alternating between watching his phone and watching his twin. Marissa was pacing a few feet away from her brother, her impatience evident in her stance and stride as she tapped at her phone's touchscreen intently. All three glanced at Autumn as she exited the room.

"He's awake." she announced quietly, her relief still obvious on her features. "He's fine." the redhead said then, as much to hear herself say it as to reassure those waiting. Moving past them and up the corridor she added "I'm going to get him some water." As she headed the ten or so feet towards the nursing station, she didn't fail to notice the two men wearing hospital security uniforms that were guarding this lobby. They seemed tougher, harder than one might otherwise expect from rentacops, and she was sure she recognised them as two of the soldiers who'd accompanied her and Cassie with Taggart that fateful day - had it only been last Tuesday?!  One week ago?  Putting that from her mind, and somewhat reassured that the teens and her dad weren't alone here, Autumn went to get the water.

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The Fellowship... they also seemed tougher, harder than one might expect from the typical youths of Shelly, Montana.  Neither of the twins particularly worried, not after the loss of Charlie and the nightmare they battled the night before and... well, just Shelly in general.  Marissa offered Autumn a silent nod in acknowledgement and watched as she walked off down the hall to to get his water.  Together the twins walked into Jason's hospital room and took their first looks at the recovering telekinetic.  Jason's eye followed them as they walked in.  Devin rolled his shoulders and pulled his blanket tighter around him as the cold of the hospital offended his delicate Californian comfort level.  Marissa tapped out one last text on her phone before sliding her phone into a back pocket on jeans that were baggy.  It was the first time he'd ever seen her as just a plain, young, teenage woman without the mask and costume that made up her daily regalia as Shelly's glamourous Ice Queen.  He could decide which version was lovelier.

"You owe me a shirt," Devin quipped as he leaned against the footboard of Jason's bed and injured young man knew that was the closest the 'bro' was going to get to an 'I'm glad you're safe' sentiment.  "Pants are a freebie, I'm throwing those in because they were old."

His sister approached Jason, she was almost predatory in her silence without the loud clack of her heels to betray her position.  His her typical disapproving look and unimpressed expression she gave him a once over to see that they didn't need amputate anything in order to save anything else, and when satisfied her lips relaxed into a slight smile.  She bent over him and pressed her lips to his forehead, a short, gentle kiss and although she wasn't wearing any makeup she wiped it away with her thumb afterwards.  "You look like shit," she chastised him, finally.  "But I'm glad you're safe."

"Aww," Devin taunted her and she offered him a reply of a single digit and unamused expression.  "Dude, don't do that shit again, I'm serious."

"Yes, I know," Jason smirked sarcastically.  "Because this was in my itinerary right next to 'learn Mongolian' and 'order more of the good coffee'.  Nice to know you care, though."

"Oh, we don't," Marissa was quick to correct him.  "But we lost Charlie already and..." she inhaled and exhaled in a rare moment of her shattered composure.  As always she was swift to recover and the cracks in her social exterior mended.  With those mended cracks, like clockwork, a bitchstorm was  in the forecast to blow away any remnant of her feelings.  "Well, frankly, I don't have time to be ordering a ton of funerary skirts.  It's bad enough your name has to be in every conversation that takes place in this town, do you have to steal someone's funeral thunder too?  Christ, give someone else a day for a change, Lord knows he earned it."

"Yep, she missed you." Devin smirked.

His sister's faced scrunched up as she shot her brother a look that said a number of insulting things.  "No.  I didn't.  And piss off, go get shirt or something."

"I am," he smirked.  "I'm waiting on that hot nurse to comeback with one of those disposable scrubs tops they have around here.  "I think she's a first year learner-doctor-thingie, whatever they call those.  Wish me luck."

Edited by Dave ST
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"Good luck."  The corners of Jason's eyes crinkled slightly at his friend before he turned his gaze on Marissa, his air one of understated contemplation, like he was trying to understand something.  Her raspberry lip balm and scented body lotion tickled his keen sense of smell, and the press of her lips on his forehead and the following caress had been warm, completely at odds with her flippant bitchy attitude after the kiss.  He couldn't decipher her, he really couldn't.  Devin he could understand: the patterns of behaviour were all contiguous with one another.  Marissa, though... She spoke like she hated him, but wanted him to talk to her at the Labor Day picnic, and had sought him out at the training session the day before that.  She didn't date, and had rebuffed his (admittedly) clumsy and pushy overture... but then she was on Cade's arm the next day.  She scolded him for getting hurt like it was attention-seeking behaviour, right after a sign of physical affection.

Devin, the young Teulu mused, might be right when he said that Marissa liked him, but didn't know how to approach that.  Or Devin might be right when it came to a shorter, more pithy phrase he'd used once or twice:  'Bitches be cray'.  Or Devin might be right on both counts.

"Where are the two who tried to kill me?"  he said after the few moments that had passed while he cogitated on the confusing brunette.

"Chick with the crispy claws is somewhere in the ICU."  Devin said, watching Jason warily.  "I heard the paramedics say she was in shock.  The dude you knocked out, though... I dunno where he is.  The sheriff drove off with him- Whoa, slow your roll!"  he admonished as Jase began to sit up.  Marissa laid a hand on Jason's shoulder and pushed him back down with surprising, though gentle, strength.  "Dude!  After yesterday I just about burst something pulling that bullet out of you.  Now Granola's juju might have put you out of danger, but there's plenty of time to rest before you go and commit a war crime or two."

"ID said he was a U.S marshal." Jase tried to sit up again, but Marissa's palm on his shoulder was enough to foil his efforts.  "He might be able to pull some strings and get-"

"He won't."  said a calm voice from the doorway.  All three teens looked to see a tall blonde girl, who appeared to be roughly their age and was dressed in a simple sundress and sandals, enter the room with a straight-backed casual grace  Her sparkling grey eyes regarded the three of them, moving from face to face before settling on the youth in the bed.  Her full lips quirked and her eyes narrowed as she considered him, then she looked directly at Devin.  "Annette says the would-be killer is in her custody.  She will be getting answers from him."  she told the teleporter, pointing down at the floor with one finger as she approached him, her gaze traveling down his exposed torso under the blanket before lifting once more to study his face as she came to stand before him.  "I am glad to see you are well, Devin."  she said softly, a faint smile curving her lips.

"Uh, hello?"  Marissa said from where she stood by the bed.  Autumn, coming back into the room with a jug and a glass for Jase, paused at the door for a second as she took in the scene.  Marissa lifted her hand from Jase's shoulder as her bestie returned and stepped away, gesturing to Autumn to go ahead.  "Don't mind me, AyRae.  Jase was about to go and look to start round two with the assassins - I was just making sure he didn't pop a stitch or whatever.  Now..."  she said as Autumn, somewhat nonplussed, nevertheless moved to perch on the edge of Jason's bed and pour him some water.  "Who the hell is this?"  she demanded, looking from her brother to the tall, graceful blonde who was looking at Devin like he was a steak on the grill.

"I am called Ellie."  The blonde replied, half-turning away from Devin to study Marissa with a discomfortingly direct stare.  "And you are Devin's twin, Marissa.  It is an honor to meet you."  She glanced then at the boy in the bed and the redhead holding the cup so he could drink from it.  "It is an honor to meet all of you."  she added, returning her gaze to Marissa.

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'Ellie.' This is the girl Devin was talking about. There was no essential physical resemblance to Jason Bannon; something about the willowy blonde's upright bearing, however, the intent quality of her gaze, and the slightly formal, concise manner of her speech suggested some level of kinship belied by their superficial differences. Were these things somehow common to all the Teulu? Some weird facet of being (if what Jase had said was true) designed and engineered for certain traits and behaviors? If so, she reflected, wide eyes narrowing thoughtfully as she considered the beautiful stranger, that'd be pretty incredible.

At least as incredible as Marissa resting her hand on Jason's shoulder- a fact Autumn noted and set aside for later. Her tolerance for repeated crises was already being tested, and there was no point deliberately courting another one today.

"It's good to meet you, too, Ellie," she replied in answer to the newcomer's general greeting, the redhead's polite 'meeting a new person' smile growing a little as Jase's fingers brushed hers around the cup of water. ...And then it widened further, an impish light gleaming in the thalassic depths of her eyes as she added, "Especially since Devin was so excited talking about you and how awesome you were. I'm Autumn, by the way."

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"Hey," Devin smiled big as his eyes fell on Ellie.  He seemed genuinely happy to see her and approached the lovely blonde alien.  "'Well' is a relative term, everything hurts.  We got beat up pretty bad, but we made it.  What're you doin here?  I was planning on coming to see you after school today.  And yeah, totally true, I talked you up, like... a lot.  In the bed there, that's Jase.  He's not much of a people person, even when he's not going out of his way to ruin my shirts, and I think Cassie and Sean are on the way, so you'll get to meet them soon, too."

"Yeeeaaah," Marissa's  head cocked slightly to put her brother in her sights.  "Deej?  The hell?"

"Oh!" He suddenly remembered that he hadn't really explained much aside from an introduction.  "This is the girl I was telling you about.  The Teulu from the void who helped me and gave me the bracelet when I was hunted in the Upside Down Thunder school.  She followed me here for sex, duh.  I mean look ant me, right?"  He gave Ellie a quick appraisal.  "Speaking of traveling... uh, I think this is all she has for clothing, Em, you think maybe you could do something with her later?  Maybe you and the girls hook her up with more than one outfit?  We're not sure how long it's going to take to get her home, so, she's kinda gonna need some sisters to lean on while she's here."

"Well, she appears to be the culmination of how 'boring' evolved', but I suppose the Fellowdiva's and I probably have more than a few cast off lying around."  Marissa shrugged.  "But I'm going to need more than good faith to go on... what's her story?  Why is she here?"  She looked to Ellie, realizing she was addressing the wrong person.  "Why are you here?"

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"After saving Devin in the Blight, I put my bracelet on him to protect him from its energies so I could take him home."  Ellie explained, lifting her leanly-muscled left forearm to show a familiar coppery-gold band around her wrist.  "He then disappeared - which is when I realised he must be a Radiant."

"A what now?"  Autumn asked, even as Marissa interjected "Wait, take him home?"

"Those who can fully draw on the Radiance - what Annette tells me you call 'Shine'."  Ellie explained to Autumn, her gaze studying the way the redhead was sat comfortably close to Jason on the bed's edge.  "Beings of power.  And yes, my original intent was to take Devin to my home.  He is brave, has wit, and is handsome."  she said as she switched her gaze to Marissa.  "He would be a fine catch, whether for myself or for some other female.  That is changed now, of course.  He is a Radiant, not merely human."  She shrugged artlessly, indicating them all.  "Like yourselves, he is superior."

"See?  Superior."  Devin grinned broadly, winking at Jase and Autumn.  Jase smiled very slightly, and Autumn just rolled her eyes at the teleporter, the pale fingers of one hand lightly toying with the ends of Jase's now-clean hair where it brushed his neck.

"Great."  Marissa said through pursed lips.  It was uncertain whether she was trying not to scowl or smirk.  "Now my idiot brother has a groupie from...  Where are you from, exactly?"

"We commonly call it El."  The slender blonde replied, her gaze unwavering.  "Though the old name for it is Teir fa Thunn.  It is where the Radiants of old placed us when they discovered our creation by two of their number."

"The Trickster and the Huntsman."  Jason's quiet voice replied.  Ellie glanced at him appraisingly, and nodded.

"So, you know something of our history."  she stated, considering him.  

"Some of it."  Jase replied, shrugging.  "Its all new to me still."  Grey eyes locked with green for a long moment before Ellie nodded, slowly, then looked at Devin.

"So you were telling the truth."  she said quietly to the teleporter, glancing at Jase once more.  "Interesting."

"Ahem."  Marissa interrupted.  "Eyes off my bestie's boy toy, Ellie.  You've still not covered why you're still here."

"Without my bracelet, I was lost."  Ellie returned her gaze to Marissa as though the odd interlude had never happened.  "I wandered through the Blight until I came to an opening.  I emerged into a place inhabited by many of your warriors - whom Annette tells me are mercenaries - called 'Site B'.  I decided to allow them to capture me, figuring that they would treat me as an attractive human female and not a Teulu warrior.  They were studying the entrance to the Blight, and other things too.  Technology that I recognised as being of Radiant origin.  As expected, the males they had guarding me were fools.  I escaped, though I had to leave my equipment behind, and homed in on the call of my bracelet which Devin was still wearing.  I found Devin yesterday, before your great battle.  Annette has been offering me shelter whilst I tell her what I saw of the interior of Site B."  She paused then, looking down at the simple sundress she was wearing, then at the clothing of the two girls present.

"This dress seemed appropriate for the end of summer festival yesterday, but I find what you are both wearing to be more practical."   she noted, tilting her head to one side and examining the brunette and the redhead intently.  "If, as Devin asks, you can assist, you would have my gratitude.  This dress has no pockets."  She made a small micro-expression of disapproval.  "Do human females not like pockets?"

Edited by GDP_ST
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El. Ellie herself. Teir fa Thunn. The Blight- a term which, like the Dark, seemed capitalized even in casual speech. Site B. The bracelets, and how they, from Coyote- the Trickster, she reminded herself- ended up with the Blackfeet, and thus her grandfather, and then the Fellowship. Not-Cody. The Huntsman. Gods. The Teulu themselves, and the gunmen. There were so many questions, so many coincidences that just... couldn't be all coincidences, right? But now wasn't the time for that. Now, she was just happy no one else had vanished into the darkness, literally or metaphorically.

"Oh, we like pockets," Autumn replied, lifting the cup back to Jase's lips as she watched him watching the otherworldly beauty, studying his expression for some sign of what was going on behind those cool green eyes. He seemed... interested? ...But that was all, and not interested interested as far as she could tell, the curious young woman noted with a twinge of what felt suspiciously like relief. "It's just that most of the companies that make clothes don't like giving them to us. And just women, too. Guys can have all the pockets they want, but we're supposed to carry purses," the redhead grumbled contemptuously. "It's supposed to look nicer, or something, but I don't want to spend extra money for a giant pocket on a strap that's just gonna get caught on literally everything I walk past, and I don't care what it looks like. I want pockets in my jeans, real ones, not those stupid fake ones you can't even fit your whole hand in. I just want to be able to carry my chapstick, my wallet, my knife and my phone. That's it. It's not even complicated, and if you're gonna go to the trouble of stitching on a little half-sized pocket for looks, you might as well give me the whole damn thing. Ugh," she exhaled in frustration, the terminal subvocalization less a linguistic part of the rant and more an instinctual expression of annoyance with the subject.

"Anyway," Autumn continued, resolutely ignoring the flicker of amusement in her boyfriend's eyes as they shifted to observe the faint bloom of rose coloring her cheeks. "I don't think my jeans would fit you," she observed, her tone conspicuously less heated as the pocket controversy was abandoned for the moment. "Marissa's might, though. Or we could always hit Goodwill before the meeting, or something, because honestly, I have so, so many questions, but I also don't want to be rude." She paused for a moment, half-consciously tucking a lock of Jason's hair behind his ear as she turned back to him. "Speaking of clothes, I called your dad while you were asleep. He's bringing some for you. Probably something to eat, too. I thought you might be a little hungry." Her eyes caught on the neat, pale line that, oddly, seemed to accentuate the angle of his cheekbone, and the tip of her tongue darted out to moisten suddenly dry lips; if they'd been even a couple of minutes later, mundane issues like wanting a glass of water or something for breakfast wouldn't have even mattered. "I'll hang out until I get that coffee you promised." A faint smile tugged briefly at the corners of Autumn's mouth and she leaned forward, pressing a brief kiss to his temple. "Also..." Straightening, the inquisitive teen set the empty cup on the nearby table, her nose crinkling slightly at the sweet, fruity scent that clung to him. "Why do you smell like a Jolly Rancher?"

Edited by Autumn Keane
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Practice in and of itself had gone well.  Cade hadn't missed a single throw, but at the same time, none had been made under pressure.   Throws like that were simple, the real test would be to keep it up with some pressure.   Still both Mike and Dylan were really impressed.  "If I hadn't had pads on I'd probably have all kinds of bruises.  You've got a regular canon there Cade.   You throw like that every time we'll be set."   Dylan was happy, and Mike took up after him.  "Lilly was all kinds of impressive, but seriously man, you're something else.   She had something to prove, and I bet you do too.  If you hold up under pressure, you could easily end up scouted."

Cade had simply smiled.   "So long as we win, and no one gets hurt."   Dylan chuckled.  "Man it's football, people always get hurt.   The key is to keep it to a minimum, and yeah, Winning State will be pretty damn awesome."  Mike looked at him.  "Don't think your exhibition didn't go unnoted, they stopped running drills near the end just to watch you throw to us."   

"It's just practice guys, and my first one."   

"Yeah, maybe, but you didn't miss.   Even when we changed the routes, you hit us perfectly, no over or under throwing.   Shit man, I actually tried to see if I could trip you up at the end, but you put it right in the center of my chest."  Mike admitted, with abit of chagrin.

"I thought those last couple were abit off.    Figured you were getting tired, doing all that running."   Cade replied with a knowing smirk.   Mike was on the track team, so running was nothing to him.  "That's all we wide receivers have to do, Run, and Catch.   Running a dozen or so routes ain't gonna wear me out."   

The trio rejoined the rest of the team as they head in to shower and change, getting ready to actually start the schoolday.

 

Class was just about to start as Cade sat in his desk.  He'd run abit late after practice, and pulled out his phone to check his messages, before the bell rang.   Reading what had happened, he railed against remaining there, but in truth, there wasn't really anything for him to do or accomplish by leaving and going to the hospital.   He shot off a quick reply, and the bell rang, he quickly put away his phone, putting it on silent mode.  It wasn't a lack of care that let him sit there, he was worried, but all the same, there just wasn't anything he could do.  So he sat there as classes began. 
 

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Posted (edited)

Unnoticed, some of the eyes watching the new quarterback putting the wide receivers through their paces were not so much impressed as sullen with resentment.  On the benches by the side of the field, Chet, Kieran and a gaggle of the other seniors, all of them three year veterans of the team, were regarding the tall handsome Adonis with something very close to hate.

"Guy sticks his dick in Marissa Jauntsen and suddenly he's tearing up the field and walkin' round like his shit don't stink."  Chet muttered.  "Big deal - like that's an achievement."

"Got a good arm, though."  Kieran grudgingly admitted, then as Chet glowered at him hastily went on.  "I thought he was a baseball fag.  What's he doing straying from his lane?"

"Guess he figured he's more likely to get scouted round here playing football."  Chet replied, watching as Cade sent another impossibly high, fast and accurate pass straight into Dylan's arms.  "Doesn't matter why.  We just got rid of the fucking glamazon and now we've got this poster boy.  QB is supposed to lead the team off the field as well.  Can you imagine him at a tailgate party?"  There were some smirks at that.

"'Hey, guys.  This punch tastes funny and someone should tell the girls to cover up.  My dad would be mad if he found out.'"  Kieran said in a passable Droopy Dog voice.  Chuckles broke out.

"It's funny, but it ain't funny."  Chet said sharply, a scowl replacing his laugh.  "We've got a chance in front of us to take the school - Cade playing at being quarterback could fuck it up, especially since we know who's pulling his strings."

"The ones attached to his cock, anyway."  Another wit put in.

"Right."  Chet nodded agreement.  "The Jauntsens are on the outs.  There's just the two of them, and we've got Courtney and her clique backing us up.  Wait and see - we'll have Titboy adjusting our grades and Bannon giving us weed to leave him and his ladyboy friend alone."  The nods greeting this pronouncement were... less than enthusiastic, not least amongst those who'd been with Chet yesterday in the woods when he'd confronted Shelly High's drug kingpin.  Privately, at least a couple of the seniors were convinced that Cody had disappeared over the summer because of Jason Fucking Bannon, and that the rumors of him having drug cartel connections were true.  And they'd heard from Chet himself about the hayhook incident.  And Chet himself had been laid out by Devin in Bunnee's over some argument or other.  Not to mention Marissa was a stone cold razor-sharp bitch who none of them secretly wanted to cross, even if Chet was confident she'd lost her grip on the school.  Privately, some of them believed that their fearless leader was simply talking a big game when it came to putting the Jauntsens and Bannon in their place.  Some levels of crazy were best left undisturbed.

"Yeah, right." Kieran said, not wanting to have that argument with Chet right now.  "So what do we do about Alister?"  Chet's brow furrowed in thought as he watched Cade throw another pass, then it came to him.

"I've got it."  he said with a grin, motioning the others to lean close.  "It'll take some practice to pull it off right, but here's the plan..."

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With an elbow braced on a knee, other foot bouncing in anticipation, Sean watched IrønBjørn's Stream of ReGenesis, flipping back to his video game's page on Steam and Epic and the marketplace page for Intersectional Interactive's direct site. Only 7 sales on II, but not unexpected. He would have sold it exclusively on his own site so he could keep a full cut of each sale, but the digital distribution sites simply had a far greater reach, their cuts worth the extra sales. Huh, Annwn has two recent sales. Cool-

Sean jumped to his feet in shock when Devin's text popped up on his phone, his thermos bouncing down the aluminum bleachers with a metallic ting-tang.

"Crapfuck!" he cursed as he chased after his thermos down the bleachers, trying not to fall into a full tumble, sending back his own text with a though rather than his fingers.

Chet, Kieran and his fellow cronies snickered at Sean scrambling down the bleachers, his hoodie not hiding the animated bobbling beneath it. Bets were taken whether the abnormally, over-endowed boy would trip and fall, unable to see his feet, and break himself on the bleachers or give himself a black eye. Packing up and getting ready to leave the field, Laurie heard them mocking her brother and scowled.

Looking as though she was taking one last kick, she shifted her aim slightly, making it look she'd fumbled it and sending the football towards Chet and the sniggering seniors. She missed - she'd been aiming for Chet's stupid face - but got close enough to make Kieran duck.

"Watch it, Cassidy!" Kieran growled heatedly at Titboy's smug, uppity sister, though he moderated his tone, slightly, when Cade looked back over his shoulder. "Might be dangerous on the field in a real game, if someone were to get through when you're prepping for a kick."

"Get the ball, Cassidy and get ready for class," the football coach called out tiredly. First Lilly, now Laurelei Cassidy. The ladies were sure talented, he had to admit that, though the Cassidy girl still needed a lot more practice and conditioning, but he still wasn't sure having girls on the team was worth the trouble.

Sean barely noticed, giving his sister and the football hooligans a sharp glance as he hustled towards the student parking lot in something between a quick walk and a slow jog. As the bell for first class rang, he sent Cassie a text while looking around at things only he could see, the fireflies of electromagnetic communication signals. They were always around him, many and more, he couldn't pay attention to them all the time, not even to a tiny fraction of them. It would be like paying attention to several conversations at once.

Still, if he hadn't been so involved with his own, personal projects, he could have done something to alert himself and the Fellowship, if certain keywords popped up on pertinent communication networks. He couldn't write the programs on the fly, but might be able to voodoo some virtual agents to keep ears out and to update him while he did work on the programs. It should work, though he wasn't entirely sure he could tap into the Project's network without them noticing something amiss, eventually. He might have to rely on the psionic semi-autonomous AI program there.

Sean jumped on the running board of his car and climbed in behind the wheel. He eased out of the parking spot and drove out of the lot, slowing when he caught sight of Cassie waving between some other cars. Neither slowing nor hastening her pace, the blond proto-journalist hopped onto the running board of the passenger side of the off-road ready Grand Cherokee Trailblazer - the rugged vehicle not something Cassie expected from the intersexed technophile for all he seemed inordinately proud of it - just as it came level with her and swung herself into the seat.

"Hey." The red copper haired boy gave Cassandra a tired grin, though his turquoise-and-jade eyes were grave before he turned them back forward and pulled out of the parking lot. "We couldn't even get a single day off after saving Shelly from the Dark, eh? You need to stop anywhere before we head to Marias?"

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On 3/24/2021 at 12:45 AM, Autumn Keane said:

"Also..." Straightening, the inquisitive teen set the empty cup on the nearby table, her nose crinkling slightly at the sweet, fruity scent that clung to him. "Why do you smell like a Jolly Rancher?"

"Oh, that's uh," she produced and wiggled a stick of raspberry lip balm in her fingers.  "My fault.  I gave him a 'glad you're not dead' peck on the forehead."  A small part of Marissa felt bad for Jason.  Not long ago, personal drama aside, he was a being whose strength, passion and willingness to walk through life alone if it meant living by his own rules made him borderline admirable.  He possessed such rare qualities that it made him almost magnetic, attracting Marissa's attention like a moth to flame that made her her just desire to know more and more about the enigma that was Jason Bannon.  The last few days however, had shown her a different side of him.  They were inseparable, every minute of every day.  Her hands through his hair, pour his drinks, holding his cup, catering and tending to his every need... and he just lapped it up.  It was sad to see that he turned out to be just another boy who wanted a mommy.  Although it couldn't be said for Jason, Marissa felt like, perhaps she dodged a bullet.

Marissa hadn't seen Cade since the battle last night, and hadn't been alone with him since they'd had sex the day before.  It was probably for the best, since lately everything with him was one argument after another as he meandered about like a whipped dog.  She fumed internally at Cade's text that he wouldn't be showing up to see if Jase was okay.  It was nice to know that if she were shot in the face she couldn't count on him to make an appearance, if only for a few moments, at least.  Give him enough rope, she  thought silently to herself as she read on, rolling her eyes in frustration that Cassie and Sean were on the way.  Great.  That's all they needed was an aspiring young reporter alone in a room with a freaking alien and the local gamer nerd whose muffin top was starting to out do his cup-size.  It wasn't  that she didn't like them, but she'd rather be chilling with them than sifting through more drama.  One day off.  Can we get just one?  Day?  Off?

"Cassie and Sean are on their way," she delivered with a smile and cheerful tone.  "I think I'm too sober to deal with Cassie's energy at eight in the morning, but, she and Sean are worried so they'll be here soon."  She looked to Ellie and raised her brows, appraising the alien blonde.  "Okay, yeah, foot stomping Autumn on the clothes thing... you're not wearing my clothes Ms. Way-Too-Much-To-Unpack-Right-Now.  I'd volunteer to take you to the Goodwill, but Autumn has a better chance of knowing where it is than I do.  Be glad to help you with your hair and makeup though, because... dear god, girl, where's your dignity?"

Her gaze fell upon her brother, her face losing diplomacy and settling on mild disappointment.  "Okay, so, bum-chic and makeover aside... why is she still here?  She has a bracelet, right?  Just send her home."

"Doesn't work like that, Maricifent," her brother fused Disney token evil queen together with his sister's name with practiced sarcasm.  "I don't know where her world is.  Even if I did, I'm in no condition to send her back there, I could barely remove a bullet from Jason's side and I could see that.  You want me to try hopping an innocent girl across dimensions on nothing but a hunch and small description?  She'd be paste."

"I've no desire to be paste." Ellie offered.

"Fine.  Whatever," Marissa conceded, still not a hundred percent how her brothers powers even worked, let alone how they were possible.  "But you better be alright soon, I need to go to Milan to get shoes for Homecoming.  Annette turned me on to this amazing place there, I've been dying to check it out."

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Tuesday, 3rd September, 05:00

She turned around in her sheets. It wasn't that she hadn't had any sleep.  In fact, some might say she had slept a decent amount. Eight hours can be considered a decent amount. No, that bird outside her window was just really loud. Although she was feeling much less tired than the evening before, she wished she'd have had just a tiny bit more of heavy, dreamless sleep. Well, actually, a lot more. No gore. No fear. No violence. Relaxing nothingness. Kat sighed and yanked the sheets aside. That simple gesture caused her to rethink her whole attitude, her left arm immediately protesting against such a harsh treatment. Now that she thought about it, the bloody thing was indeed covered in bruises and small, itching scratches yet to have fully healed. And not just the bloody arm. Rolling around in bones, dirt and blood did have its downsides. She glanced at the pajamas thrown to the floor last evening, and shivered at the thought of having to put clothes on. Now that she was sitting, she was indeed feeling like shit.

05:30

She carefully stepped down the stairs, bare feet not taking any risks on the way down. She had elected a simple skirt and a very ample T-shirt as wise choices, and while she was pretty happy with the latter, she now regretted the former, wishing she wasn't actually wearing any top and resisting the urge to scratch herself all over, as the fabric brushed against her maltreated skin at her every motion.

Her father was waiting for her in the kitchen. "Hey, baby girl." He took a glance at his watch. "Feeling better?"

She stared at him for an instant, her lips a tight pout. "Yes. And no." She rubbed the back of her head, sluggish, then grabbed the soft bread, butter and jam and sat at the kitchen table. A minute later her father joined her, setting a hot chocolate mug in front of her. Kat's shoulders dropped. "Smooth." She took a deep breath, and then began talking. Emptying her bag.

It was not the concise, accurate debriefing he would have expected from a soldier under his command, no. It wasn't a grand, glorious tale portraying friendship, courage and heroic deeds either, no. It was the crude, horrid truth about everything his daughter had seen, lived and felt after she had left the car, the afternoon before.

"Fuck..." He muttered under his breath.

07:00

The skirt, and especially the very ample shirt, joined the pajamas on the floor as the petite French girl slipped under her sheets, while her father called the school off. Cocoa helping, she closed her eyes, falling into a dark, yearned for sleep.

08:11

Bzzzzt

Bzzzzt

08:13

Bzzzzt

08:14

Bzzzzt

Bzzz-Bzzzzt

Bzzt

Sigh

08:15

Bzzzzzzzzt

"All fucking right! Got it! Great." She grabbed her phone and unlocked it. Her sleepy eyes, deciphering the characters on the screen, grew wider with surprise. She took a minute to consider what she was going to do. Her fingers fluttered accross the digital keyboard.

She sat in her bed, gathering her thoughts. Skirt was good. Ample T-shirt wasn't. What about a tank top? Surely it wouldn't be as bad right? And on the go makeup. She definitely was not going out looking like a zombie on a bad day.

08:20

She stepped outside and closed the main door, taking a deep breath of fresh morning air. The dark knee-high boots she'd ordered a week ago with Tess, along with the coral red skirt, did a pretty good job at hiding most of her legs, a long black vest completing the outfit over a black tank top. She grimaced and closed her eyes, dark circles barely concealed under a faint layer of peach and foundation, taking a moment to appreciate the sun. Then, she entered the street, and began walking towards Maria's Medical Center.

"Who the hell invented clothes anyway?" She muttered to herself, pulling her pack from the pocket of her vest and grabbing a cigarette. A flick of will, and the end began glowing red. She took a long draft and winced, scratching her damn left arm. She then realized she hadn't even touched her hair.

This is going to be a long ass walk.

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"Oh." Autumn blinked as Marissa explained, in her typical off-hand fashion, why her lip balm was on Jase's forehead. Math was not the energetic redhead's strongest subject (as evidenced by her less-than-stellar Chem performance since the start of the semester), and calculating exactly why someone who was openly contemptuous and admittedly fearful of Jason Bannon would kiss him in celebration of his well-being was well beyond her current capability. It made more sense in the opposite direction; he was in love with Marissa, despite her rejection, so of course he'd be fine with the gesture. That... stung, a little, she realized, remembering that the gorgeous brunette hadn't brushed off his flirtation at the Carousel. ...And then a little knot of shame coiled in the pit of her stomach, tighter and more uncomfortable than whatever that stupid, completely trivial other feeling was. He could be fucking dead right now, instead of sitting more or less comfortably in a hospital room with the scent of raspberry lip gloss on his face. What difference did it make where it came from? At least he was here. Literally every other issue was less important at the moment. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Close call, right?" A part of the exhausted Girl Scout felt like she should make some effort to laugh, or smile, or do something to make things feel less awkward, less serious, but she just... couldn't.

Instead, she took a deep breath and focused on the rest of what Mari had said, which was one hundred percent more relevant to the current situation: Cassie and Sean were on their way. The elder Bannon and Hank Graskle were also on their way. This room's about to get crowded, she sighed inwardly, sliding off the edge of the hospital bed and getting to her feet. "'Kay then, I'm gonna let my dad know what's going on. Before we have any other witnesses to ruin your reputation," the earnest young woman added, approaching the twins. "Thank you. Both of you," she emphasized with a pointed look at Marissa, her ocean blue eyes guileless and alert despite the faint shadows under them.

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It felt weird leaving school so quickly after arriving. Not bad, just weird. No, the bad feelings were reserved for why she was leaving school.

She was quiet in the car with Sean, lost in her own thoughts. What kind of maniac would be shooting Jase in broad daylight at his own house? After all this with the Dark, with powers, dealing with the mysterious alien Coyote, to think it could still just end. Out of nowhere, for what must surely be some kind of idiot reason that only made sense to the mentally infirm. Someone Jase had cut off from their weed maybe? Or a new dealer/supplier looking to take out some competition?

This was Shelley though, Cassie thought with a snort. Breaking Bad it wasn't.

Fortunately it was a short drive to the medical center. A steadily growing pressure inside her head pushed Cassandra to jog ahead of Sean once there, and burst in the door to the room Jase was in.

"Hey guys, I came as soon as I could. Is Jase okay?? I mean, I know the text said he was, but..." She trailed off on seeing the tall woman standing in the room with everyone else in there. There was something about her that tugged her recognition; a kind of 'Jaseness' in how she turned to look the instant the door opened and the 'ready' posture she kept. Not much resemblance otherwise though. Cousin maybe?

"Ah, hey...I do not know you," Cassie said. "Um, I'm Cassandra. Hi." She offered her hand to Ellie.

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"Hi."  The tall blonde glanced at the hand for an instant before seeming to remember something and taking it, her grey eyes coming back up to meet Cassie's gaze with a stare that, yes, was all too familiar.  "I do not know you either - but I have heard of you.  I am called Ellie."  She considered the more petite blonde as their hands parted, her head tilting slightly to one side.  "I see now why Devin wants to go to this Homecoming with you.  You are very beautiful."  she added as Sean entered the room, hustling over to speak with Jason after hastily nodding in greeting to the others.

For Cassie, quite aside from the sincere compliment to process there was also the word choices Ellie had employed, something the curious girl's journalistic instincts picked up on.  'I am called Ellie' not 'I am Ellie'.  'This Homecoming'?  And of course, there was the composed stance and the eyes, an intense gaze in an impassive face.  It was a look of interest, but neither welcoming nor hostile.  A predator's stare, missing little.

Again, she was struck by how very much that stare reminded her of the lean young man currently sat up in the bed, relaying what had happened to Sean in a quiet voice as his pale eyes watched the rest of the room's occupants.  Even though Bannon now and then showed flashes of warmth or wry humor, back before they'd become friends - and that was a weird thought to process also, wasn't it? - he'd looked at her in a very similar way.  Just... watchful.  Measuring.

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Devin offered the the redhead a quiet 'no problem', comfortingly rubbing her shoulder while she was near them.  His smile told her that he had her back anytime she needed it.

"No need to thank us," Marissa's voice was a soft series of whispered, treating Jason like he was asleep when he wasn't.  "After last night, this was a cake walk.  Together, we can handle anything.  Things are just going to get weirder around here, I have a feeling.  We have to stick together."  In typical bestie fashion she hugged Autumn, letting the fragrance of her body lotion and lip balm adopt the energetic redhead's orbit as she stepped out to speak with her dad.

"Speaking of," she backhanded her brother's arm.  "We need to get going and at least get to school at some point.  We still need to change to get you your bike, so with the crowd, it might be a good time to vacate.  So," she looked to Ellie and Cassie and saw an opportunity to be, well, her.  "Say goodbye to your girlfriend or, girlfriends... or however the three of you are working this out."  With that she stepped out of the room, surprisingly devoid of her usual clacking heels, her soft-soled Chucks were virtually silent on the hospitals floors.

"She's right," he said looking to Ellie.  "I do have to get to school, but after I'll come visit you and we can get you those clothes we were talking about, okay?  Sorry I can't sty longer."

Ellie nodded in agreement of clothes shopping.  The concept of a 'makeover' didn't sit well with her, as she felt she was fine how she was and what could they possibly make her into?  "I understand.  Later then, I look forward to seeing you again, Devin."

"Hey," he said softly to Cassie as he moved in behind her on his way out.  He leaned over her shoulder slightly, to talk in her ear, and the way he placed his hand on her hip in passing seemed far more than friendly.  "Hell of a morning, huh?  I'll get you spun up later, I know you have ten thousand questions."  His words were a tickle on her neck, dancing along her until it finally sent a faint chill down her spine.  "Call you later, okay?"  The way he slid his hand across her lower back, letting his fingertips glide all the way across so as to not have to stop touching her until the last possible moment.  The shiver down her spine became a jolt of electricity that woke up a few sleeping parts of her brain.  She hadn't ever really had a crush on a guy before, but... Devin (of all people) was certainly making a strong argument for candidacy.

"Jase, we're heading out,"  Devin pointed at his friend, and as always, he was loud.  "Only shots I wanna hear about are the Jell-O ones you're doing from the cleavage of these hot nurses, alright?"  Just then an attractive nurse was passing by the door and she smirked at the young mans statement.  He noticed and pointed to her, smirking.  "Yeah, I'm talking about you.  You know I am.  She gets it!  Later peeps." He stepped out with his hand in the air to bid farewell to everyone.

"He's incorrigible." Jason said as shirtless Devin faded off into the hospital halls.

"Yet," Ellie pointed out.  "The body language of the females he's addressed so far have all shown signs of their attraction to him.  There is something to be said for boldness."

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Cassandra shook her head and worked her shoulders, trying to clear away the heebie jeebies. As always, Devin was mixing creepy and hot together and it was just super weird.

"That's not hard," she observed sardonically. "We're teenagers. We're attracted to practically everyone. Puberty is a cruel mistress. Devin is just...Devin. Lets talk about..." here Cassie hesitated, because she wanted to talk about Ellie, but that wasn't why she was here. Not this time. "...Jase."

That brought her back with a shock to her friend, momentarily startled out of her head by a stranger in the room. Cassie went to Jason's side and gave him a look up and down, then smiled a wobbly smile.

"That text scared the shit out of me," said Cass reprovingly, "You look...better than I was afraid you'd be." Here she looked up and over at Autumn, giving her friend a respectful nod, then hunkered down near Jase. "What the hell happened though? Who would want you dead? I know you're not exactly Mr Popular around school, but I don't think Chet's hiring assassins."

"They flagged me down just a couple miles down the road from my house."  Jase replied calmly, jade eyes narrowing slightly as he considered her.  "Cop lights on the dash.  Pleasant, clean-cut looking man.  I thought he'd most likely be a Fed, given the kidnapping report yesterday.  Perhaps someone a little curious about the cover story, doing some digging."  He paused, taking a sip of water, then went on.  "Outside chance, I thought he'd be ATF, doing the whole 'we're watching your dad and his friends' schtick."

Cassie frowns at that. "What the... And then what? Did they say anything?"

The lean young man shook his head, his hair brushing against the new pale scar line on his cheek.  "Not a word.  He approached, smiling and waving.  Then reached into his jacket like he was going for ID.  Then I noticed he was wearing gloves on a warm morning."  He paused another moment.  "I had my forcefield just forming when the first shot was fired.  I was jerking my head away on reflex, and the field slowed the bullet enough that it hit me hard, but then deflected down across my cheek.  Second shot was right on the heels of the first, and I felt that go into my ribs."  Sitting up in bed, and bare chested, it was plain to see the puckered, pale mark when the impact had taken place.  "I managed to stay conscious, and the field stopped the third bullet.  I played dead and tried not to pass out, hoping he wouldn't check me.  Then I heard another car pull up and the woman speak to him, asking if he'd made sure, and I knew I wasn't going to get away with playing dead."

"Jesus Christ, Jase," Cassandra breathed, wide-eyed.

"Yes."  Jason nodded, his expression composed.  "So I went on the offensive.  Obviously the male wasn't used to such work - he sounded distraught.  While he was looking away, she reached in to check my pulse, and I attacked."

"So...we don't know anything about them or why they attacked you?"

"The man had a U.S Marshal ID.  Not sure if it's genuine or not.  The woman's jacket got burned...  So perhaps she was also a marshal, or posing as one."  He thought for a moment, replaying the scene.  "They seemed to handle their firearms professionally.  Like cops.  The man who shot me put one in my head and two in my chest as fast as three finger snaps."

That set Cassie back on her heels. "I mean...maybe someone from the prison? Enterich is still a thing, but I didn't think he wanted anyone dead. But he doesn't have authority over US Marshals. And Marshals wouldn't just assassinate a kid either. There has to be something else going on."

Jase tilted his head slightly, regarding her.  "Wasn't Enterich responsible for the Air Force captain feeding a child to the Tree? It's plain he's able to influence people."

"Yeah..." she looks down, the memory looming large again. "But that Air Force guy was a wreck by that time." Cassie took a deep breath. "I can do the same thing with them that I did for that house though. I can follow them back in time, see what they did, where they went, who they talked to. We don't need them to say a word."

"We don't know that Enterich didn't make the captain a wreck, push him down the path until he was capable of human sacrifice."  Jason said reasonably, his eyes narrowing a little as he assessed Cassie's proposal.  "But... yes.  If you think it likely you can 'see' what happened, have a go."  He considered.  "It's interesting, the way your powers interact with space-time, diving down into this theorised subquantum universe where all space is one point and time is just another direction to glance in.  Makes me wonder if perhaps Devin, who can physically move through that singular point, could perhaps also move in time."

"Anyway."  he shrugged, getting comfortable, pale eyes watching her.  "I would appreciate knowing whatever you find out, of course."

"So, I'd have to follow you back to where you met them," Cassandra says. "Then I can jump over to them. Otherwise I have to over to them, and I don't know if the hospital would let me in to see them unless we explain everything to Annette..." She shrugs at that. "Under the circumstances, I feel like we shouldn't count on them until we know for sure who sent these guys and why."

"That seems prudent."  Jason considered.  "Though if Annette or the Project were behind the attack on me-"

"They are not."  Ellie said firmly from where she'd been listening at the end of the bed.  "At least, Annette and the one called Taggart are not.  They were furious and shocked, and their men guard this room and the male assassin, down below.  I do not know where the female is - I overheard Taggart say she was in something called an I See You."

"Damn, Jase. You must have fucked them up pretty good," Cassandra said, impressed despite herself. She glanced at Ellie. "It means Intensive Care Unit. It's like...emergency life support, kind of. Anyway, are you okay with me tracking back your timeline up to that point?"

"Of course."  Jase nodded, faint curiousity in his eyes.  "Whenever you are ready."

Cassandra closed her eyes for a second...then sucked in a deep breath, like the first half of a jumpscared scream. Her eyelids drifted open and the eyes beneath were rolled back so far that only whites showed. She looked blindly off to one side, seeing things only she could see. Her hands tightened on the armrest of Jase's chair as she wobbled, her balance shifting unconsciously as she moved around in the past...

Then she flinched, at the gunshots, her face crumpling up to see her friend hurt...and she looked away from his vengeance, quickly pushing the vision backwards...leaping from Jase to the man, Marshall... She calmed down a bit then and said, "They were staking out your farm...watching everyone. Joking around, but they were tense. They kept talking about how they didn't want to do it, but then just went back to planning it all out, step by step." A pause and she added, "Enterich. It was him. I'm going to see if I can see..." Cassandra swayed again, time and space swirling in her eyes... Then, genuinely startled. "What the fuck?"

"What is it?"  she couldn't see Jase, but his calm voice reached her anyway.

"Oh my god," Cassie whispers, and tears start rolling down from the corners of her blank eyes. "That's not fucking possible." She turns her head then to 'stare' at Jason, and even though she's clearly not seeing him, the feeling of being looked at was sudden and intense. "It's Marissa. She was there. Sunday, just before Enterich told Marshall and Dale to kill you, she met with him. Marshall wasn't in there with them so I can't tell what they said, but Enterich gave him a big, heavy bag and told him to give it to her..." The words came tumbling out, faster and faster, a terrible litany as inevitable as gravity pulling more tears down her face. "Marshall started to say no, but Enterich...threatened him, kind of...and Marshall backed right down. He has something on them. They're afraid of him."

Jason was still.  Utterly, completely still.  Not a flicker of an eyelid, not a twitch of a jaw muscle betrayed anything as he listened to Cassandra.  But somehow, there was a terrible coldness accompanying that stillness, gathering in the jade ice of his eyes.

Cassandra's face reddened, and she pushed it forward slightly, straining against something. She fought, then...shook her head. With a gasp, her eyes rolled back down, and she managed to relax, though was breathing hard. "Shit. I lost it. I tried to switch over to Enterich, but it was stretched too thin."

"Jase...we have to talk to her before we do anything," Cassandra said. "It looks bad but I didn't see very much about her. We don't have all the facts."

"She tried to steer us away from going after Enterich."  Was it the imagination, or was the air in the hospital room actually getting colder as Jason spoke, each word sliding into place like frozen crystal.  "Sunday afternoon, at the meeting in the barn."

"So we put this in front of her," Cassandra insisted shakily. "We hear what she has to say. I can make sure it's true." She put a hand on Jase's forearm.

The psychokinetic was icy cold to the touch.

"Please don't do anything until then. Don't make me telling you into something dangerous, okay?"

"Hey, guys?" Autumn's voice carried into the room as she rounded the corner, her phone in hand. There was a note of uncertainty there, echoed in the furrow between her brows. "Did you guys see this text from Marissa, earlier? She mentioned that guy, Enterich, from the ritual thing. Apparently the guys who wanted to, um..." Hesitating briefly, she glanced at Jase and forged ahead. "...to kill you, were working for him."

Cassandra looked up, her eyes still teary and red. "Autumn...you should probably sit down. I'm guessing Marissa didn't text the whole story."

"I mean," she replied, blinking at the seer. "It's in the group chat, but I was here, and not on my phone, so..."

Cass shook her head. "I did a reading of one of the assassins. She was working for Enterich too. Marissa. I don't know what she was doing exactly, but...it paid pretty well, from how heavy the bag was." Cassie got up and sat down on the bed. Spying a box of tissues on the end table, she reached out and snagged it, then immediately grabbed three or four tissues out at once.

"Go ahead and talk to her, if you want."  Jason's voice was cold, clinical, as condensation started to form a coating of frost on the water jug nearby.  "She will lie, and dance around the truth, and know we know better, and dare anyone to do anything about it.  And even if he was not part of her scheme, Devin will back her, protect her.  Just.  Like.  Always."  There was a crack from the jug as the water in it froze solid on the last word, and the breath of the teens present fogged in the air.

"She can't lie to me, Jase! Just...we have to give her a chance! She was with us at the Tree! This can't be what she wanted. I can't believe that."

The redhead took a deep breath, counting slowly to four, and then exhaled, raking a hand back over the unruly curls framing her face. "And she just left. Right." There was a moment's pause, then- "Hi, Sean," she stated quietly, and walked over to the side of the bed with an air of resignation.

"Cassie, would you mind explaining the highlights for me?"

Cassandra took a deep breath and nodded.

"Thanks," Autumn smiled faintly, idly rubbing her arms against the chill.(edited)

Jason remained silent, staring at nothing in particular, eyes narrowed as his minds eye replayed past events.  Ellie, too, remained silent, watching the lean youth in the bed intently, more than curiosity in her grey eyes.(edited)

"They were US Marshals. Real ones. The woman's last name was Dale, and the guy was...actually Marshall." She took another tissue, then put the box out on the bed. "Last Sunday, Enterich had a meeting with Marissa that he finished out by having Marshall give her a big bag of almost-definitely money. Not five minutes after she left, Enterich called Marshals Dale and Marshall into his office and told them to kill Jase. Marshall resisted, and Enterich put him in his place with like...a sentence."

"Then they staked out the farm, planned out what they'd do...and then they did it." Cassandra wiped her nose.

"Mhmm." Autumn nodded, wide blue eyes clear and attentive as Cassie explained what she'd seen, one hand snaking over to rest on the cool flesh of Jason's arm. She flinched at the sensation, glancing at his profile, then back to the blonde clairvoyant.(edited)

"Enterich told them what to expect from Jase too. Not in a lot of detail, but they knew he was telekinetic, and dangerous. They hated it. Marshall especially. It was giving him nightmares...but he didn't hesitate when the time came. I don't know what the fuck this Enterich had on them, but..." she shakes her head.

"All right. Well, then they deserved what they got," the red-haired girl nodded. "At minimum. And they're here, somewhere, so it's not like the information's getting out. That's a plus."

Cassie nods numbly. "I can try again," she said softly. "Maybe go back farther, or jump onto Enterich's timeline..."

"Do you think that would help?" Autumn asked curiously. "I mean, I don't know how all that works for you. But if the problem is Enterich, then he's the one we need to deal with. If he pushed these marshals, he might've done the same for Marissa."

"She wasn't acting afraid of him. But maybe that's just because she wasn't telling him 'no,'" Cassandra shrugged.

"Pushed her with money."  Jason said too softly.  "And considering the evidence, I can see Marissa perhaps wanting to be rid of me."  He turned his cold eyes on Autumn.  "She thinks I would hurt you - she said as much to me yesterday at the Carousel.  Said I have a history of violence and abuse, and I am sick."

"I could have sworn she had a thing for you though. Am I insane? Was that just in my...fanfic of us?" Cassie looks at Autumn.

"Why would she-?" Autumn frowned at Jase's comment, and shook her head. "Wait, no... She did say on Sunday that she was worried, because you scared her. So maybe..." Glancing up at Cassie, she shrugged. "She said she used to be interested, but wasn't anymore because I stole her ice cream, or something. Anyway, it was a whole thing, and not really relevant. Listen," she added, regarding Jase levelly. "I don't think you would. None of that is true, so ignore it."

"Of course it is not true," replied Jason. "But that isn't relevant - what matters is that she believes it's true.  And then two people try to kill me after she meets with their boss."

"Does she believe it, though? She kissed you earlier. She said in the text that those two were with Enterich."

"We can't just jump to conclusions," Cassandra stresses. "We HAVE to hear her side of this."

"Holy fuck," Autumn sighed, sitting back down on the edge of the mattress.

"Perhaps she is simply insane."  Jason suggested with a shrug.  "Her actions haven't made sense to me since last week."

"I mean, maybe," the red-haired vitakinetic breathed, catching her lower lip pensively between her teeth.

"Is this a teenage girl versus teenage boy thing though? Because that's a whole different level of crazy than we'd be talking about."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean...just, a lot of Mari's issues seem to me to be just...an insecure, antisocial teenager being insecure and antisocial, you know? But this thing with Enterich is way past that. And now the situation with Jase...that's not just schoolyard bullshit anymore. I just think we have to be sure."

"You're right." Autumn nodded, slowly. "So we talk to her. We find out what happened, and exactly why and how she's involved in someone trying to kill Jase." She paused for a moment, taking another deep breath and letting it out in a rush. "And, worst case scenario, there's about 3 and a half million acres of open wilderness in Montana."

"Jesus," Cassandra sighed and covered her eyes.

The chill permeating the room began to slowly lift, warmth gradually seeping back into the lean young man's skin as he re-established some manner of equilibrium.  "If we act against Marissa, we must consider that we will have to act against Devin.  I want to avoid that.  I was starting to consider him a friend."  he said softly.

Cass nodded at that. "I still can't believe it. I saw it with my own eyes and I still can't. Even if she didn't have anything to do with him trying to kill Jase, this is Enterich. It's not like we didn't know what kind of guy he was."

"I said worst. Look, I'm tired and freaked out," she scowled, raking a hand back through her hair. "She's supposed to be my best friend. I want  to trust that she's not working with somebody who's trying to kill us."

"We didn't know about Enterich before the meeting on Sunday afternoon."  Jason's tone was thoughtful.  "Maybe, just maybe, she was involved with something else.  I want to allow for that possibility."

"Yeah. Me too. I mean, I don't think I'd call her my best friend, but...I thought we understood each other."

Autumn shrugged at that and glanced out the window.

"So."  Jase looked at Cassie.  "Go ahead, talk with her.  Get her side, verify she's telling the truth.  Until then, I'll be keeping my distance from her.  For everybody's good."

"Shit," Cassie muttered, but she nodded. "Okay. I'll talk to her. Autumn, do you want to be there too?"

"Yes, but no," she sighed. "I do want to know what she has to say, because I think you're right about being fair. There could be a lot going on, and none of this makes sense right now. But on the other hand I also know if she starts talking shit, I'm gonna lose mine. ...So, tentatively yes?"

Cassandra nodded. "Okay. Full disclosure, I'd feel better having some backup. Marissa can be scary to deal with one on one. Strict confidence on that."

"Fair," the redhead conceded.

Jase reached over and gently took Autumn's hand, letting his fingers twine in hers.

"All right." With a quick glance at Jase and a brief squeeze of his hand, Autumn nodded at Cassie. "So, you talk to her, figure out what you need to know. I'll back you up."

"I'll call you or text you when I have the details," Cassie agrees. Then, reading the room, she gets to her feet and says, "I'll...we'll leave you guys alone. Jase, I'm glad you're okay."

"I mean, she told us who they were working for," Autumn added, "She had to know we'd ask, right?"

"Yeah. And it follows I'd be the one to push her on it."

Autumn nodded again, chewing at her lower lip. "Yeah. Yeah, it does." As an afterthought, she added, "Oh, don't forget. Meeting tonight."

Cassie can't help but utter a short, sharp laugh at that. "Shit, that's going to be an awkward one."

"Right?" The redhead grinned crookedly, shaking her head. "See you at school?"

Ellie pushed off from where she was leaning and nodded to the teens present.  "I will keep my own counsel about what has been discussed here."  she said softly.  "But you should know that Taggart has listening devices here."

"Seeya." Cassandra goes over to where Sean is busying himself and says, "C'mon man. We should go." Then she pauses and grimaces. "Maybe next time lead with that."

"I thought you understood where you were."  The taller blonde shrugged.

"Yeah, well, I didn't come in here thinking I'd be...fuck, whatever. It's done now."

"Honestly, I don't even care at this point," Autumn laughed quietly. "Voyeurism is way down on the list of my worries this week."

Ellie gave the redhead a slight smile, then nodded to Jason.  "It is a terrible thing for a Pride to be riven.  I hope the resolution is swift."

"No, I just...I didn't want to tip off anyone about any of this. This is Fellowship business, you know? But yeah. Alright, c'mon Sean."

She gives Sean a chance to say his well wishes and goodbyes, then hauls him out to give Jase and Autumn some time.

Nodding agreement, Sean rose and followed Cassandra from the room, Ellie leaving on their heels before turning and walking away down a side corridor.

"Hey, Ellie? Do you work for Taggert? What's your deal, anyway?"

She stopped, half-turning with that same predatory grace and regarding the journalist.  "I am a visitor."  she said simply.

"Visitor. Like, from what, the Aeon Project? Government?" Cassandra presses. "You know a lot about what's going on here."

"I am currently living below."  Ellie replied.  "Since yesterday, as a guest of Annette, who is doing so as a favor to Devin.  I keep my eyes and ears open."

"You remind me a lot of Jase. Are you related?"

There was a pause as the grey eyes focused on her, then the girl shrugged.  "Perhaps closer related to him than yourself.  But he is not my family."

"Right," Cassie said, then shook her head. "And now I nod like I understand what you mean and walk off, making a mental note to follow up about it later, except no. I'm not playing riddles with you. All of this..." she waved a hand at Jase's door, "...is very personal, and very painful, and you saw and heard some deeply messed up shit and you're acting like you've heard it all before. So I'm being a hundred and ten percent serious now, because I am fully overloaded on bullshit today. Who are you, and why are you here?"

"I have not heard it all before."  Ellie responded, turning more fully now to face Cassandra.  "How you perceive my behaviour is therefore in error.  However...  I am called Ellie.  I am here because I am stuck here, and Devin has agreed to help me get home.  I am stuck here because I saved Devin's life in the Void, and in so doing lost my means to navigate home.  I blundered out, was captured by some men, escaped from where they were holding me, made my way here, and so here I am, answering rude questions with far more patience than they warrant."

"You know, I don't have to ask," Cassandra retorted. "I can just go look. So I'm sorry if this sounds rude to you, but as far as I know you're this complete and total stranger, wedging your way in out of nowhere in the middle of a really really stressful moment, and every time, up until now, I even tried to ask you anything you just wiggled away without saying anything. So thank you for at least trying to actually say something this time. Even if I don't completely understand your answer...it is at least an answer."

She thought, then said, "You rescued Devin, wait. Wait, wait, no he did say something about meeting someone in the Dark world... The bracelet, right?"

"Yes."  Ellie nodded, holding up her wrist.  "He has returned it to me now."

She let out a breath. "Wow...okay. I'm sorry then. Thanks for helping him. How did you wind up in there anyway? And how did you get out? Devin just about blew up his brain getting us in there."

"There are holes that lead to the Void.  I entered one at my home, and exited at the place you call Site B."  Ellie explained.  "For those that know how, navigation is possible between such places.  Without my bracelet, I was lucky to find an exit."  She glanced down the corridor in the direction she'd been headed, then looked back at Cassie.  "You likely have more questions.  You seem like one with endless questions."  she commented with a faint quirk of her lips.  "For now, though, I have to go."

Cassandra hesitated, then nodded. "Okay. Yeah, thanks. Maybe we can pick this up again later." She watched Ellie turn and start to leave, then asked Sean, "So...can I bum another ride off of you?"

"Hmm, huh? What?" Sean muttered, wrenching his eyes off the taller blonde to look at Cassandra. He'd taken a step or three back when she'd been grilling Ellie and Sean really hoped Cassie hadn't noticed the expression on his face when she'd asked Ellie if she and Jase were related.

"Yeah, sure, of course. Wherever you need to go, Cassie," Sean assured her, "Just, gimme a sec? Ellie!"

He took two quick steps after Ellie before she had completely turned around. She spun back with a smooth economy of motion to eye the buxom figure with cool appraisal. Sean dropped his raised hand, fingers curling into a contrite fist behind his back.

"Can I ask one quick question of my own before we part ways?" Barely waiting for a minute nod, Sean continued, "These holes in the Void, can you teach us how to find them and pass through them?"

She studied him for a long minute, considering his question - he hoped at least, given what he knew of the species.  She might have been thinking anything, and the intersexed young man realised just how much he'd gotten used to subconsciously reading Jase's little cues and tiny expressions, how very 'human' Jason was by comparison, at least as far as his friends were concerned. Socialisation?  Cultural difference?  Or did his oldest friend simply make an effort where Sean was concerned, whereas Ellie didn't care to put him at ease.

"I cannot."  Ellie said finally.  "My equipment has instruments which can detect them, but that is in the possession of the men at Site B.  The scientists of my home know of ways to find them, but I am no scientist.  Just a scout."

Sean's pretty face scrunched up in disappointment, but he nodded his acceptance of Ellie's answer. Considering what the fallout could be with Marissa, or even other circumstances, he would have liked knowing he - they - had another way of escaping the Void - if they ever ended up there - that didn't solely rely on Devin.

It also might have been another way to infiltrate Site B.

"Fair 'nough," Sean replied with no acrimony. "If we liberate your equipment from Site B, would you consider that a fair trade to shown how it works?" He grinned ruefully. "Sorry, that's two questions, now."

"Devin has already offered his aid, so I was not aware a trade was required."  Ellie said, her eyes narrowing a little.  "However...  I will consider it."

Fucking Devin! But there wasn't any real anger in the thought, only exasperation at the non-furry Nightcrawler messing things up without even trying or being there.

"Fair 'nough," Sean repeated. "I guess we'll see you 'round. Later."

Minimal expression he couldn't read nearly as well as he could Jase's, Sean assumed a mutual dismissal, nodded a farewell, and stepped back to join Cassie.

"Where do you need an Uber to, Cass? School, or somewhere else?"

Cassandra thought, then said, "My place. If I need to go anywhere from there today, I can bike it.Thanks, man."

They set off then; that night's meeting suddenly looming large and uncomfortable in the new light it was cast in.

Edited by Cassandra Allen
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