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Episode VI Side-Fic [Lilly]: Tartarus

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Posted (edited)

The following takes place during the Labor Day celebration...

Lilly watched the exchange between Marissa and the adults at the table and sighed to herself. Things were clearly not well between Marissa and Jase, and did have a point, even if it was not brought up in the most tactful of ways. 'It's often not what you, but how you say it.' appeared to be a lesson that Marissa had never learned, or was choosing to ignore for any number of reasons. In the end, just Lilly and Hank were let at 'Camp Bannon' as it were as Lilly watched Marissa walk off.

"She means well, even if she does not show it in the best of ways. I think she's just not used to caring about people so she gets a bit overly protective or something. I dunno." Lilly said to Hank.

"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Hank responded, to which Lilly nodded.

"Yeah. I know. We all have issues. I just hope we can get some of them worked out before it's too late." she replied.

"You mean like you and throwing your tryouts?" Hank asked.

"Yeah, that's one, at least." Lilly said, lifting up her sunglasses to sit on her forehead, holding her hair back and out of her face. "I just didn't know how to tell them. I mean, yeah, it's been weeks since we started getting these... abilities, but it's still happened really fast, you know?" she said, almost looking for some agreement. "And before I knew it, it was time to leave for the tryouts and I still didn't know how to talk to them. It's like, I didn't want to disappoint them for giving up or whatever."

"But you didn't give up, did you? I don't know too much about you, but from what I do know it's pretty clear that you're no quitter." Hank said as his calm, some might say cold or calculating, eyes looked her over.

"Yeah, I guess, but I couldn't tell my parents that I am dropping a dream I've had, and worked so hard toward, for years because it's nowhere near a level playing field anymore because I can... because of what I can do , you know, now. It's cheating." Lilly said and then added, "Or at least it is to me." with a shrug.

"Probably not a fair competition, no."  Hank drawled, shrugging.  "Cheating might be a strong word - there's people at the top of their game who can go into a competition pretty much guaranteed to win.  Are they cheating because they started with an edge, then worked hard to improve it?  Like that Phelps guy, the swimmer who won all those gold medals.  I read that the dude was something of a freak of nature even before all his hard work.  Something about his bones or some shit.  I dunno.  For what it's worth, I agree that you did the right thing not competing.  If it was a life-or-death matter, then things would be different - screw the other guy.  But in a sport?"  He shrugged his shoulders again.  "I think you made the right call."

"Thanks." Lilly said, finding at least some solace in his evaluation of her choice. "But yeah, I tanked them because I didn't know how to talk to my mom and dad about everything. I knew I should, and I even wanted to, but I didn't know how to or where to start. I didn't want to disappoint them, which I guess I did anyways, though they took it better than I expected when I finally did."

"But that is totally different from tell them about the other stuff. I mean, my dad is a Lt. Col. and head of base security. His reaction... Like, I don't think he is in on anything that's been going on, but I suppose there is a slight chance that he could be. I dunno. And even if he is not, I really, really, really doubt he would be on board with, uh, our plans for the evening, and I don't what to have to defy him. I tell myself that it is best to just do what we planed and then ask for forgiveness later rather than permission now, but even that doesn't sit too well with me. Sometimes you just got to suck it up, I guess." Lilly said with a shrug.

"Part of growing up."  Hank took a swig from his beer, then gave Lilly a serious look.  "And kid, some advice from one who knows.  Don't go tellin' all and sundry who your daddy is and what he does.  People who know, know.  People who don't, don't need to.  Hell, even some of those who do know don't need to.  Now sure, I'm just friendly ol' Hank, your buddy's dad's buddy.  But there's people with no sense of humor who'd pitch a shit fit if they knew you were talking to me, let alone talking about who your dad is.  When you're dealing with O5's and base security issues, there's no such thing as innocent conversation.  You could cost your father his clearance, get him transferred to some career-killing out of the way posting where it doesn't matter what his big-mouthed daughter says."

He sighed.  "Look, I'm not being a hardass for the hell of it.  You're still a kid, but with all this secret conspiracy stuff you've got to grow up fast.  Grown-ups rules.  People get killed or get their lives ruined for this shit.  Like little Miss Sunshine there threatening to burn down the village if people won't play her games.  Pretty sure she's just blowing air because she's pissed Jase shacked up with Red - if she was really scared of him she'd run a mile, not sit down across from him, eat lunch and talk shit, let alone want him to talk to her.  But if she gets pissy enough to actually start trying to blow things up in the press - that's escalation.  And she won't control where the shrapnel lands."

"As for your problem?"  He sighed again, checking his bottle and finding it empty.  With a grunt, he tossed it into the trash, then fixed Lilly with a stare.  "Think on this - if you die tonight, your folks will never know what happened to you.  They'll never know how dangerous things are here.  And you won't be able to help them after the fact."  He spread his hands.  "Don't they deserve to know?  No matter how hard it is?"

"And if he forbids me to go? Or even worse, goes sticking his nose into things and draws the attention of the wrong people? Because of his position he has a much greater chance of doing so. I mean, he's a very smart guy, but judgment has a way of being clouded when it comes to family and I don't think he'd take well to his little girl being experimented on." Lilly said, shaking her head. 

"And even if he is cool and takes and well and all of that, I'm not so sure I even want to bring my parents into this. I 'm not sure any of us should, to be honest. Telling them changes things and, I dunno, exposes them... pulls them into something so much bigger... ugh. The whole thing is just a big damned mess." Lilly groaned in frustration as she lifted her hand to run her fingers through her hair, but found the sunglasses that she had forgotten about on her forehead, which she promptly pulled off and tossed onto the table.

Lilly closed her eyes and ran her fingers through her hair, pushing it back from her face as she sighed. Her brow then furrowed for a moment and she looked up at Hank.

"And Mr. Graskle, My father already told talked to me about security and all of that. I don't go telling everybody who my dad is and what he does. I know better than that. I told you to give you a better since of my situation, and only because you are a marine, since 'there's no such thing as a former marine', right? And you are 'in the know' with us and, on top of all of that, Jase seems to trust you and, for whatever reason, he's always seemed to been a pretty good judge of character."

"But I do honestly appreciate you looking out for me though." she  said as she looked up at him. "There's just not many people I can to about all this. Like, there are some things I wanted to ask my dad, but it would have seemed really odd, so I didn't" she sighed.

"Dunno about Jase being a good judge of character."  Hank snorted with a smile.  "Look, Lilly.  I'm not sayin' you don't have reasons for keeping this from your parents.  Seems you have thought about it.  I don't agree with your reasons, but it's not my parents or my life.  You think none of the other dads or moms are going to try and forbid these kids from going?  You think that'll stop them?  The way Jase tells it, you guys have a duty.  You are literally the only ones who can do what needs done.  You can't control what your dad does."  He pointed at her.  "You can only control what you do, and trust that if you give him the right information he'll make the right choice and not be a dumbass.  You know:  treat him like an adult."

"And if you can't trust him to be that way... Maybe you're right in a practical sense not to tell him.  But it's still not right in a moral sense, kid."  Hank sighed.  "Or at least, I don't think so.  Look.  If I had all the answers to all of life's hard questions I wouldn't be living alone in the woods."  He grinned wryly.

"Treat him like an adult? But he's my dad." Lilly said with a roll of her eyes and a small grin peeking through, which faded quickly. "No seriously. I get what you are saying. I do. I just... I dunno." she sighed.

Lilly picked up her sunglasses and fiddled with them a bit idly, looking down at the them for a moment as she thought to herself.

"I'm gonna go with them tonight. That's non-negotiable." Lilly said with conviction. "I just don't want to have to do it in defiance of my parents. And yeah, I guess that is a bit selfish, probably in several ways. Call duty or whatever, but I'm gonna be there for my friends and do what needs to be done."

Lilly looked up at Hank, regarding him as she chewed on the corner of her bottom lip for a moment before speaking again.

"But even that kinda bring up other stuff. Like... I assume you have seen some action on deployments. I mean, you got that look and demeanor. It's that or a front, and I doubt Jase would be big on somebody frontin' like that. So, like, if it's okay, and you don't might talking about it, like, in generalities or whatever, not anything about any actual specifics or operation stuff, do you mind if I ask you question about it?" she asked, somewhat pensively.

When she mentioned action and deployments, Hank's expression of jovial, folksy humour altered somewhat, the grin fading away to a smile as his eyes took on a wary expression she knew well.  Her dad used to get a similar look when she was a little girl, whenever father-daughter conversations strayed towards active service he'd seen, before gently and deftly changing the subject or insinuating that some topics were better saved for when she was older.  Hank's eyes were flintier and more guarded, and the teen suddenly got an intense feeling that the hard, calculating look in the dark eyes was closer to the 'real' Hank, not at all softened by however many years he'd been out of the Corps.  It wasn't a mean stare, or cruel.  But there was a clinical coldness to the look that reminded Lilly keenly of Jase, measuring and weighing her in some balance.

But the smile was still on his lips as he shrugged, eyes not wavering from hers.  Whatever calculation was performed behind the rough-hewn features was evidently in her favor, for when he spoke his tone was calm.  "Generalities, perhaps I can help with, for someone standing shoulder to shoulder with a kid who's practically my nephew.  So have at it, Lilly.  I don't mind you asking the questions, so long as you don't mind me picking and choosing which ones I answer."

"Well, there's really only one, really. Or to start, I guess." Lilly said as she fiddled with her sunglasses again, looking down at them as she worked to give a voice to her concerns. Screw it, just ask.

"How do you handle the fear?" she asked, looking back up at Hank again. "I mean, it's always got to be there right? Because you know that you are heading into mortal danger. And, like I said, I'm going to be there tonight and do my part, regardless, but how do you handle it?"

"Like, what you and Mr. Bannon saw was bad enough. But we're going into the lion's den, to pick a fight on it's turf. I'm not sure if the others have thought much about what we're going to do. You know, like really thought it through... or maybe they have and they just try not to think about it... or maybe it is just the 'invulnerability of youth' or whatever. Hell, maybe I am overthinking it. I dunno. It just seems... I dunno." Lilly sighed, looking back down at the sunglasses she was fidgeting with in her hands.

"You're overthinking it, alright."  Hank held up a knife.  "Pie?"  At Lilly's mute nod, he cut a slice, plated it, and slid it across the table to her.

"First thing you've got to realise is that most of the people you're in the shit with are just as scared as you are.  You think Marissa's not even more tightly wound than normal?  Shit - her being a raging bitch just now could be at least fifty percent cope.  That Cassie girl?  She focusing on her mom to push her personal fears out of the spotlight.  Pretty sure same applies to all of you.  Well, almost all."  he amended with a shrug.

"Soldiers drill to counteract the effects of fear and panic.  They're still scared, but they've done the actions over and over so much in training that the body knows what to do even while the brain is flipping out.  You don't have that luxury, not really.  So you're going to have to be more intuitive about it."  Hank leaned back and fished himself out another beer.

"Talk about your fear to your friends.  They ain't gonna laugh at you.  It doesn't need to be a group therapy session: just bring it up over a drink or in a quiet moment during a card game.  Fear is worse when everyone thinks they're the only one feeling it.  Dark jokes are good, too.  Gallows humor, they call it.  Sitting with some guys I knew waiting for the green light, the talk would raise the hairs on your head.  Laughter kills fear."

"Sounds a bit..."

"Sociopathic?"  Hank grinned mirthlessly.  "Yeah.  A bit.  Fluffy sensitive feelings don't win battles or wars, though.  Being able to drive down the fear, to face it and laugh at it, and then focus on what you are doing in the moment: that's what keeps you alive longer.  Final piece of advice, though..."  He raised a finger.  "Right before the action starts, take a moment and breathe deep, in and out, nice and slow.  Your heart will be racing - slow it down, steady your nerves.  It helps prevent the panic from too much adrenaline at the wrong moment."

Lilly slowly pressed the tines of the fork into the edge of the slice of pie as she watched the crust flake and crumble beneath the pressure and thought about what Hank said until the fork finally separated the narrow corner from the rest of the slice.

"I understand what you are saying. I'm sure it'll help." she said with a nod as she slipped the pie-clad fork into her mouth and tasted it, letting the flavors roll over her tongue, picking up on small nuances that most would miss. "We'll just have to play it by ear, kinda like a busted play in football." she added through the corner of her mouth with another nod. as she thought about it. 

"Like you said, we don't have the benefit of training and repetition to develop muscle memory, as it were. The thing we do have though, is each other. We've know each other for years, and some of us all of our lives, so as long as we can stay together, unified in task and purpose, the team will be greater than the sum of it's parts." Lilly said as she broke off another piece of pie with the side of the fork.

"Though that also... I mean, I have another question, but I totally understand if you don't want to ans-" Lilly said, stopping herself mid sentence. She had already soured Hank's at least somewhat jovial mood somewhat, and did not want to do anymore damage for the time being. "You know what? Nevermind." she said, shaking her head with a pleasant, if subtly forced, smile.

"So now I have, what? ..a few hours to figure out how and where to tell my parents about me and this stuff, sneak out of needed, and finish my prep?" she thought aloud and took another bite of the pie. "Do you have any advice on any that, or anything else for that matter?" she asked, looking up from the pie to Hank.

"Everything's easier with backup.  Teamwork has many uses."  Hank pointed out.  "Getting grounded shouldn't slow down a girl who has a friend who can teleport.  Demonstration of strange powers is a good way to cut through the disbelief.  Corroboration from a second source helps add weight to what you tell them."  He smirked.  "High school teens can arrange a party under the parents radar with less notice than a few hours.  Technically, this ain't much different."

Lilly could not help but grin a little at Hank's comment. "Actually, throwing together a party under their noses is kinda how all of this started in the first place." she mused and took another, larger bite of the pie. "But I see what you saying." she sighed with a nod. "So I guess I need to go find them and figure out how to tell them and who is free to help. I'd be lying if I said I was looking forward to it, but I guess it will also be a weight lifted from my shoulders too, and they might help tonight too." she added, nodding to herself as she stood up and finished the pie with a couple of rather un-ladylike bites before tossing the paper plate and plastic fork into the trash. 

"Thanks Mr. Graskle, for the pie and the advice. It's really helped." she said to Hank with a wave and strode off back into the crowd to find her parents or any of the Fellowship who might be able to help with her 'talk'.

Edited by Lilly Pryor
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"Ahh, Lilly!"  The athlete, wandering through the crowd, turned to see Charlie's dad, Lucius Cole, looking dapper in his Labor Day white shirt and slacks as he waved to catch her eye and then beckoned her over.  She hesitated momentarily, loyalty conflicting with good manners.  She knew Charlie was pissed at his dad for leaving his mom and hooking up with... what was her name, again?  And, frankly, Lilly found the whole thing sort of skeevy in any case.  But manners at least dictated a 'hello' and besides, Lucius was a benefactor to local athletic teams - he'd even bought the school a brand new coach for riding in style to away games.  It couldn't hurt to let him be seen shaking her hand and then make her excuses and duck out.

"Hey Mr Cole."  she said, giving him a bright, polite smile as she altered her course to come to a halt in front of him and the dude with him, who was dressed in what Lilly classed as 'business casual' -  jacket and shirt with no tie, slacks, shoes.  No concessions to Labor Day, the man looked like he'd just stepped away from a desk to come and hang out in the fresh air.  Later on, Lilly would try to remember the colour of his shirt, or his jacket.  She would be able to remember his face, but the only word that could come to mind to describe him was... nondescript.  A face with no memorable features, a man between thirty-five and fifty-five years of age, a man with hair-coloured hair and a blandly pleasant expression.  He was pale, she would recall that much.  Pallid, even.  And she would recall the moment his eyes changed.  Oh yes, she would remember that.  But right now, all she could see was a blank suit, perhaps an accountant or some businessman associate of Lucius's.

"Hugo, this is Shelly's resident star quarterback, Lilly Pryor."  Lucius told the stranger in a tone that suggested that it was he, Lucius Cole, that had discovered her.  'Borrowed glory' her dad called it sometimes - that moment when people tried to snatch a ray or two of the light that shone on another for themselves.  Lilly understood it well enough: in high school, if you couldn't be somebody then the next best thing was to be able to claim to be with somebody, or at least to know somebody.  She found it sort of silly and cringey... but then, she was the star athlete.  It was one reason she kind of liked hanging out with the Nerd Herd, back before all this weirdness started.  They didn't really care about that sort of thing.  Sure, they'd come and cheer her on in games - even Jason, that most notorious of anti-socialites, would come to watch.  But they came because it was her, and she was one of them.  Not as some kind of 'see and be seen to be seen' social climbing exercise.  That shit was bad enough when kids did it.  From grown-ass adults, it was a lot worse.  "Lilly, this is my business partner, Mr Enterich."  Lucius went on as though presenting her to royalty as a gift.  

"A pleasure."  Mr Enterich said, offering Lilly a hand to shake, his expression one of patient goodwill worn by a man who had been introduced to many people today and was putting up with it for the sake of appearances.  As Lilly took his hand, only dimly noting how cool his touch was on such a warm day, the bland smile faded momentarily and the unremarkable brown eyes focused on hers.  "A real pleasure."  he said with more feeling, his smile now seeming more genuine than before.  "A quarterback..? You must forgive me, Miss Pryor.  I understand that not many young ladies play football."  he remarked with a keen attentiveness as Lucius stepped away, apologising for the ringing of his phone before he took the call.  "Very noteworthy, to have a female quarterback.  How did such a thing come about?"

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Lilly noted Mr Enterich's cool, almost clammy hand as she shook it, but it he very well could have been holding a cold beverage and just recently put it down, so it was not all that strange. She smiled and nodded as Mr. Cole stepped away to take his call, leaving her with his business partner.

"Oh, there's no special story or anything. Coach Meyers saw me at track practices and he said he was impressed, so he floated the idea of me trying out for the football team. I mean, as you can see, Shelly high does not have a huge student body to draw talent from so Coach thought out of the box a little by trying to recruit me." Lilly explained with a small, polite smile and shrug of her shoulders as she lifted her sunglasses to let them set on on her head.

"I was resistant at first, but, I dunno, I know my dad loves football so I guess I finally decided to do it a bit for him too. We would already watch the games together on Sunday and I think he takes a bit of pride saying his daughter is the quarterback. And he loves doing drills with me at home." she mused, almost laughing at the end with a playful roll of her eyes.

"Coach Meyers kept at me, and when I finally agreed there was the stuff one would expect, like concern about 'a girl' getting hurt and, of course, no boy wants to be shown up by a girl, especially at such a 'manly' sport as football." she said, making air quotes with her fingers, "but I am pretty tough, can run faster than any boy on the field and have a good arm, so it took some time, but they've mostly came around. The boosters got behind the idea too, and they sell these "Throw Like A Girl" shirts at the game to help raise money for the team. No surprise that my dad bought several and sent them to the rest of his family. And, of course, I hear the other teams joking on the field about the team needing a girl quarterback, but my play shuts them up pretty quick." Lilly said with a bit of a rare, prideful grin.

Lilly glanced over at Mr. Cole through the crowd and chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, wondering when he would be back. She did not want to be rude, but she had other, more important things to do and not all that long to do them. She was not some novelty to be shown off to Mr Enterich and entertain him while Mr. Cole took his calls. Turning her attention back to Mr Enterich, she shrugged.

"Anyways, this year more girls tried out and several made it too, so that's really cool, and it sure makes the locker room a lot less lonely. And it's not a bad thing to have a college application too. I mean, I have no illusions that I would be playing on a college level, but it is still something that makes you stand out in the admissions process, which doesn't hurt."


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"Come now."  Mr Enterich's smile was thin and wry, his dark eyes on her face.  "False humility, Miss Pryor?  I think we are both aware that your performance on the college level would be as embarrassing for the opposition as it is here in high school.  And yet you have this fascinating adherence to the concept of 'good sportsmanship'..."  His head tilted slightly, his eyes widening as some import or thought occurred to him.  "If that is indeed what it is.  I ask you - is it good sportsmanship to deliberately throw a competition, Lilly?  Or is it something more base?"

"It's been fun, hasn't it?  Being the girl who can compete with the boys.  Being the girl who can beat the boys.  Fun... and lonely, too, I imagine.  Lonely enough to make you doubt your femininity, perhaps.  You play the game, you lead them to victory, and then at the end of the day your team-mates go off to enjoy the fruits of victory, with their dates on their arms, free to slip away to a secluded spot and fumble in each other's clothing as Billie Eilish sings and you... you are alone, are you not?"

Lilly was frozen, her mouth partly opened to argue, to shoot back a quip, to point out the flaws, to ask him what the hell he knew about it.  But she was held by those eyes, noting how they shone despite their dark brown hue.  How they seemed to gleam with a cold light from within, light that moved...

"And it's the same even away from the field.  Your other friends... your special friends.  All growing up, all pairing off.  You go away to disappoint your parents at the Olympic tryouts and then come back to find that, it seems, everyone has someone.  Even Jase has someone.  And tonight you all go into hell together.  Brave young heroes, off to fight the monsters in the Dark.  But you're not even sure you're one of them anymore, are you?  Who is your friend there, Lilly?  Where was Sean when you turned up to the adorable little training session?  He wasn't there.  Jase looked at and talked to you like you were a stranger.  Devin and Marissa were... Devin and Marissa.  Cassandra talked to you a bit, didn't she?  Welcomed you back, gave you the lowdown - how she loves to gossip, after all."  The cold lights in Enterich's eyes were spinning slightly now, fractured slivers of reflections, like circles made of broken mirror shards in which Lilly could see herself reflected over and over again, lots of tiny solitary Lillys, spinning into infinity...

"And what do you really bring to them?  Your fears?  Your sense of inadequacy?  Devin can step through space.  Jason can call down fire and ice.  You watched them at play, practice fighting and realised that you could not even begin to come close.  They can heal, see the future, be one with the machine - you can run really fast and lift weights."  The scorn in Enterich's voice matched Lilly's own inner doubts - so much so that for a moment she wondered if she'd simply voiced them aloud.  "They're going to depend on you, right up until the point they realise that they don't need you, Lilly.  Right up to the point where one or two of them die and they realise that the vaunted quarterback cannot lead them to any sort of victory.  And you will see that realisation in their eyes - those that still somewhat believe in you, anyway - and you will watch them all die, helpless as you scream in self-hate and terror."

Enterich's voice had taken on a rasping growl on the last sentence, his eyes now bright circles of broken mirrored glass that wheeled and shifted slowly as Lilly stared into them.  She wasn't even really conscious of what he was saying anymore.  The words ran together into a wash of doubt and fears made manifest.  She was insignificant, really.  A phony.  She had let down her dad at the trials and would let down the coach when she asked to be moved to a less important position on the team, and she would let down her friends.  No-one would miss her.  She had no special person to hold her, to take comfort in like the others all did.  Even amongst the weird outsiders, she was alone.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Lilly stared at the man as he spoke, her eyes slowly growing ever wider as his words burrowed into her mind, finding that deep, down place where she buried her fears. A few had come near the surface when she had spoken with Hank, but they too had been sinking back into the depths, only to be dragged back into the light by Mr. Enterich. How he could know of the other things, the fears she had kept buried and never expressed to anybody, was not even a concern to her as the rest of the crowed seemed to fall away, darkened and desaturated into the background leaving just her and Mr. Enterich.

"Wha-" was all she managed to stammer before she seemed to choke on her own words. She could call plays over the sounds of the crowds and the other teams' shouting on the field, but now her voice had left her, seeming much to the amusement of Mr. Enterich.

She tried to lift her hands to cover her mouth, her face, but she couldn't. Her prodigious strength was stripped from her, Leaving her arms feeling like they were made of lead, while beneath her feet the ground began to feel like quicksand, making her feel ever smaller... weak... insignificant. Somehow she managed to stagger back a step from Mr. Enterich, her legs weak and shaky, but the space seemed to provide a hint of breathing room.

She had to get away. Get away from him, from the crowd, from their eyes. She could see it now, how they looked at her and secretly judged her. Sure, they liked the football team winning, and if that meant they had to tolerate her for a couple of years, then they would, and once she had graduated, if she would even graduate, then they could stop giving her polite, forced smiles and fake support, because that is all they did... tolerate her... humor her. Nobody wanted here there, not really, but the backwater, redneck hicks were so obsessed with their stupid teenage football game, then they would bit their tongues for now and deal with the girl who acted like boy and probably wanted to be a boy. Who hadn't heard the steroid rumors?

She had to get away.

Forcing another backwards step, Lilly backed away a little more, only this time, instead of her foot finding more quicksand, she found solid ground. Wet, slippery, solid ground causing he foot to slip, sending her landing on her backside. A few people looked over, curious at what had happened, but could only see Lilly scrambling back to her feet and walk away briskly, on the verge of running, pushing her way through the people.

Once she slipped past the outermost picnickers she scanned the area off to the horizon searching for some bastion of safety or escape route. The faded blue paint of her rusty, '57 Chevy pickup caught her eye almost instantly, even through the blurry wetness that was begging to set in. She found some more strength in her legs and propelled herself toward the tuck. Sliding to a stop beside the pickup, Lilly swung open the door and hopped in here she fumbled in the pockets of her short overalls for her keys and finally fished them out, stuck them in the ignition and brought the truck to life. With a jerk of the stick and a stomp of the gas pedal, the engine revved and the truck sped away.

And the truck pulled on the road the usual rattling and bouncing was even more noticeable due to due to the silence coming from the old speakers of what passed for the sounds system in the pickup. Lilly glanced down at the tape deck through her blurriness encroaching her vision. She reached down and twisted with the volume knob to no avail. She ejected the tape and shoved it back in, but it has no effect. Lilly needed the music, or anything else for that matter, to try and distract her, to keep her from dwelling on the thoughts that were swelling in her head, breaking her down bit by bit, moment by moment.

Frantically she fiddled the virtually antique tape deck, her panic frustration growing by the second, even resorting to hitting it with her fist, but nothing changed the unending silence that poured from the speakers which only made her own sobs and sniffles that much more pronounced.

The lack of perpetually blaring 80's rock and metal made the silence more intense and made the cab of the truck feel even smaller, making her feel even more alone... or more alone than usual if she were honest with herself. Ever since she and her friends got their abilities it seems like they drifted farther and farther from her. Was it because she simply was not on their level and was, instead, more like dead weight to them? When they can red minds and teleport across the world and conjure ice and fire... what use was she to them? Even tonight, what could she really do? Punch The Dark in the face? No. That was ridiculous. The best she could hope for would be to take a hit for one of her friends, to die protecting the actually useful ones. Her abilities were nowhere on par with theirs. Fully exerting to lift a plough is nothing compared to Jase casually lifting his entire car with his mind just to tinker with it. So really, what good was she to them? They would give forced smiles and talk to her when she approached them, but when was the last one of her 'friends' called her to even hang out? She hear of them getting together for things, hanging out a Jase's, or the Jauntsen's, or wherever. But that was the thing. She always heard about later... The more she thought about them, the more Mr. Enterich's words seemed to ring true.

The rest of the drive, even the day for that matter, all seemed to blur together. The silence of the drive back to the base made her feel even more isolated and alone and allowed her mind to dwell ever more intensely on Mr. Enterich's words, so that by the time she managed to reach the front gate of the base, she was a sobbing mess with tear streaked cheeks. She could remember the surprised and concern on the guard's face, parking by the shack, sitting in a little waiting room all alone, always alone as a guard made a call...

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Ever so slowly Lilly managed to claw back some degree of control over herself and fought to open her eyes. She noticed that sitting beside her bed was her mother, holding her hand with both of her own, her eyes closed tight nd her head down as if in prayer. The same mother she had lied to and made waste precious vacation days because she could not be honest with her, or anything even approaching honesty. Time, money, effort wasted because of her own shortcomings. The thoughts brought tears to her eyes once again as she shut them tight, like she was trying to hide from the truth.

"Lilly?" her mother asked in a soft tone tinged heavily with concern. "Honey?" she asked again with her concern growing, but all Lilly could manage was a weak nod. A moment later she could feel her mother's arms around her in a tight, some might say smothering, hug. She could feel the small convulsions of her mother's chest as she tried to silently hide her sobs from her daughter, which only made Lilly feel even worse. She wrapped her arms around her mother, resting her forehead against  her mother's neck as she tried to bury her face. 

"I'm sorry." is all she could sob out, which was immediately met by a soft, tender, "Shhhhhhh" as she felt her mother's hand rest on the back of her head, holding her daughter close. "It's okay, honey. We don't know what happened, but right now all that matters is that you are alright. We can talk about the rest later, whenever you are up to it. Are you okay?" her mother replied, turning her head to kiss to the top of her daughter's head in concern.

Lilly nodded weakly, her teary eyes still shut tight. 

"I'm not hurt." she said, trying to assuage some of her mother's fears. "Not physically, anyway." added without thinking.

How much had passed Lilly was unsure of, but it certainly felt like she spent weeks, or even months, engulfed with the questions and sceneries that Mr. Enterich had posed to her, always coming seeming to find the truth of his words, that she was just a ball of inadequacy hidden behind some facade of morals and athletic perfection and her friends simply humored.

Her memory was fuzzy in places, especially after speaking to that... guy. She fought to remember where she was right before meeting him, which was strange to her, as even she, and her teachers, had noticed a marked improvement in her memory. In a way it was like the fears and other thoughts were fighting to hold her back as she strained against them as her eyes shut tighter and her brow furrowed, which even her mother noticed in their embrace.

"Lilly? Is something wrong?" Cassandra asked her daughter, pulling her head away a bit to turn and look at her Lilly. "Whatever it is, you do not have to face it alone. Your father and I love you and are here for you." she said to her daughter. The sincere words were strangely reassuring to Lilly. The fears and thoughts of inadequacy that had engulfed Lilly were beginning to recede achingly slowly as she was reassured. 

Then she remembered where she had been just before her world came crashing down; she was talking to Hank Graskle about fear, of all things.

'First thing you've got to realize is that most of the people you're in the shit with are just as scared as you are.' 

Her friends were just as scared as she was. Her friends were... 

Her friends...

"Oh shit!" Lilly said, releasing her mother and sitting straight up as she wiped the tears from her face. "What time is it?" she asked as her eyes began scouring the room, looking for her phone frantically.

"I'm not sure. Five thirty or so. Why?" her mother replied, quite confused.

"I.. I got a thing I need to do. It's hard to explain." Lilly said back as she finally found her phone. Then the words of Hank hit her again.

'Think on this - if you die tonight, your folks will never know what happened to you.  They'll never know how dangerous things are here.  And you won't be able to help them after the fact. Don't they deserve to know?  No matter how hard it is?'

Mentally Lilly cursed at herself and could not help but begin to fall back into the pit she was barely starting to claw her way out of as she realized yet another thing she had failed to do, and now there really was not time to do. At least not well.

"I ne-"was all Lilly got out before her mother cut her off. 

"You are in no shape to go anywhere right now." said her mother, her voice taking a more firm tone.

"You don't understand. I.." Lilly stopped speaking as she looked down at her phone in a bit of horror, her eyes transfixed on the date shown on the lock screen.

"Oh my god! It's Tuesday?" she asked in shock. "They went t- I was suppos- I failed them... again." she murmmured as her shoulders slumped and she closed her eyes. "Who knows how many survived."

"Survived? What are you talking about? Some big thingy in your D&D game?" Cassandra asked.

"No it's not that. It more.. serious." Lilly sighed as she looked down at her phone through blurry eyes and unlocked it.

"Lilly. I don't think you need to be concerned with that right now." said her mother as she reached for Lilly's phone, only for her daughter to move it away.

"No!" she barked at her mother. "This is serious. Like, life and death serious and I was not there to help protect them." Lilly half-explained to her other as she began to look through her phone.

She had, indeed, missed the fight. She was not there for her friends, again, even if it meant she would not be coming back. She was a failure once more.

Bleary eyed she flipped through the group text messages. At least it seemed they had survived, which was a relief to Lilly, but she could not help but think about it confirmed what the man, Mr... Enterich? had said to her. Then she came to the most recent text, one from Devin, along with a voicemail from him not that long ago, 

"Hey, Lills. Haven't heard from you since Sunday, just worried. Hey, uh, look, if you get this, we're uh, meeting up at Marias tonight, seven o'clock. Everyone's a little worried, so, uh, don't be a stranger, yeah? Bring your mom and dad, it's kind of a confession thing... letting all parents know what's up. Neutral ground, no secrets or judgments. Hope to, uh-, hope to see you."

She had to tell her parents now if she was going to go on with this, with her friends, no matter how useless she might seem.

"Mom, you need to get Dad and we need to go to the hospital."

Cassandra Pryor's eyes widened considerably.

"No. It's not what you think. I'm not hurt or pregnant or anything. It's... there are some things you need to hear."


Lilly sighed. This was it. The point of no return. If she told them everything and took them to the meeting, then they would be exposed and a part of what she had fallen into. But at least they would know. After everything she had done, they deserved that much at the very least.

"Come on. I'll show you." Lilly say, flipping the covered off of her bare legs and slipping to her feet.

"Lilly. What are you doing?" her mother asked as she hopped to her feet, trying to keep up with Lilly as she made her way briskly to the garage, passing her father who was downstairs on the phone. He hung up the phone and followed the pair in confusion and a bit of concern and relief for his old child. "Lilly. What are you doing?" he asked as she walked into the garage.

Lilly had went to garage looking for something else, but there she found her pickup. One of her parents must have backed it in for her. Regardless of how it got there, it ought to do the trick. 

"I'm not like other people." she said as she walked to the back of her truck, squatted down and reached under the truck with one arm and stood up, lifting the back wheels of the truck several feet off of the ground. Her parents stood there, staring, their minds trying to understand what they were seeing. 

"My truck is over a ton and a half." she said with a sigh, lowering the truck back down. "I am not like other people, not anymore. And there are others too, and what I can do is nothing compared to what they can do." Lilly set the truck down and walks toward her parents, her hand filthy from the undercarriage of the truck. "I know it's a lot to take in, and this is just the surface. I.. We were supposed to do something last night, something big that was gonna save a lot of people. I guess they managed to do it, without me, but there is still a meeting tonight with these other people. It's for us and our parents, to ask and answer questions."

"What? You're? Huh?" Cassandra asked, still confused by it all. 

"And where is this special meeting supposed to take place?" her father asked. 

"At the medical center. Well, kinda. We just need to go and you'll see." Lilly sighed.

"Lilly, this is... and awful lot and it does not make any sense. You're asking us to-" her father said, somewhat more calm, at least outwardly, than his wife, before Lilly cut him off.

"I know! I know it's a lot. They might even know what happened to me yesterday. I dunno, but you just have to believe me. Please." she said, ended with a plea as she looked to her father, letting him look into her bleary eyes.

William Pryor looked deed into his daughter's eyes and then down at her hand before bringing his gaze to meet her once more.

"Okay." he said calmly, almost emotionless.

"Bill? What?" his wife asked in surprise as she took his hand.

"We'll go. And then afterwards we are going to have a long talk, little lady." he clarified for his wife though he spoke to Lilly, his voce calm and controlled.

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