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[Interlude:] Scholastic Endeavours


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Wednesday, 4th September

Saving the world ought to come with more fanfare than this.

That might not have been the thought running through every member of the unlikely Fellowship's head as they went about getting ready for the day, but it wouldn't have been surprising if more than a couple considered it as they brushed their teeth, staring at themselves in the mirror as if trying to see a world-saving badass rather than... well, themselves.  Most had scars and bruises still, remnants of the battle with Arawn/Cody that lingered despite the kick in the ass that Autumn's gift had given their healing.  Some were back to full health, others still ached in every joint and sinew from the stress they'd undergone.

And here they were, born to be kings, princes of the universe or some shit, being hassled by their parents to stop hogging the shower and get ready for school.  Discussing the merits of toast versus pancakes for breakfast.  Dealing with the fact that, in their parents eyes, most of them were kids in over their heads.  It manifested in different ways.  In the Jauntsen house there was frosty silence punctuated by pointed slamming of doors and drawers and the occasional sharp look and sharper word.  Autumn found that her dad was insisting on driving her to school before he headed to Great Falls for business, brooking no refusal - she could ride back on her bike this afternoon but she wasn't to go anywhere else but straight home.  Sean's parents were extra solicitous, asking how he was more than once and enquiring about his plans for the day.  Teresa Allen spontaneously hugged her daughter over breakfast, murmuring how proud she was of her in a voice that contained a wealth of fear as well as pride. 

Cassandra Pryor was driving Lilly in to school - her daughter had suffered severe night terrors for the second night in a row, had woken up screaming and crying, and the dark circles under her eyes were a testament to that.  Despite which, she was still insisting on going to school.  In the Alister home, Cade's dad had slept on the couch last night, and the shouting had gone on well past midnight.  As the two men of the house got ready for work and school, Miyako remained in the bedroom, the door locked.

And Gar Bannon, for his part, found he didn't know what to do or say.  "Be careful" was about the limit of it - his strange, baffling son didn't need any more than that, and that was the frustrating part of the whole thing.  Perhaps he'd talk to Hank, see if there was any practical measures he could take to help keep Jason safe that the boy wouldn't reject as overly restrictive.  It wasn't that Jase was defiant of Gar's parental authority so much as Gar wasn't sure how much authority he actually had, when push came to shove.  It was an ephemeral thing: governance with the consent of the governed, and all that would need to happen would be for Jason to decide a different direction, to say "No" and the authority would dissipate like fog in sunlight.  So far, things were working with just the two of them talking stuff over like adults, though, so that was something at least.

The halls and cafeteria of Shelly High were abuzz with rumors as the day got started.   Shelly was a small town, a lot of people either worked at or knew people who worked at the sheriff's department and medical center.  Sophia and Tawny had been kidnapped and then rescued by the odd assortment of friends.  There'd been some manner of weird serial killer, who'd killed Charlie Cole and Cody Sikes then kidnapped the girls for God-knew-what fate only for Devin to lead a daring rescue.  No, that wasn't right, whispered another gossip.  The serial killer had attacked Jacob in the woods - Autumn Keane and Jason Bannon had been seen helping the warden's son to safety.  No, Jacob and Bannon had fought over Autumn.  The serial killer had been killed by Cade Alister with a baseball bat.  The serial killer was on the run, being chased by the State police and Nathan Crocker.  The serial killer was someone in Shelly.  Someone had seen Devin disappear in a flash of purple light. Charlie had been found with Satanic scripture carved on his back.

And so on, and so on.  Rumors, half-truth, weird conglomerations of truth and sensationalism.  The halls of Shelly High were a swirling chaotic mess of conflicting information.

No doubt about it - today was going to be interesting.

 

Spoiler

Important, Please Read

These will be single-post vignettes, so if you need input from another person, collaborate in the IC channel, DMs or Google docs and set it up as one post.  Try to keep the events / conversations / posts in roughly chronological order - so if Cassie has a first period post then I don't want to see Sean jumping to lunch right away, but I won't object to him 'flashing back' to breakfast so long as that doesn't screw up events in Cassie's post.  Work with each other and keep it fun - I might throw in NPC related events if so inspired.

Time slots will be:
Pre-school / Breakfast - 0730
1st Period - 0815-0920
2nd Period - 0930-1035
3rd Period - 1045-1150
Lunch - 1200-1305
4th Period - 1315-1420
Study Hall - 1430-1535
Football Practice - 1545-1645

 

 

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Devin had barely said two words to his sister after the arguments from the night before.  Marissa and their mother were shouting at each other for a couple hours and when that was over the younger twin retired to the upstairs and started on her brother.  It was probably the loudest they’d been with each other since they were, ten?  Twelve, maybe?  They didn’t fight often but when they did it was obvious in the telling behavior that both seemed ‘off’ in some way.  The usual ‘synched’ nature by which they, as twins always seemed to move in, think in, talk in, just wasn’t there and they seemed like two totally different people let loose from a hive mind; confused and overwhelmed by the world around them, alone and exposed.

That was how Devin felt now, alone and exposed as he walked down the halls of the school towards his locker taking in the gossip about the week’s events.  He was a hero in one tale, Jason and Autumn were the hero in another and somewhere in it all he just stopped listening… or caring… he wasn’t sure which happened first but by the time he got to his locker he felt like the only person in the school, just alone and uncaring.

“Wow,” Courtney’s voice broke the melancholy silence and deepening void of his empty locker.  “So much hate and anger.  Are you going all darkside, Devin?  You would be so hot as a goth.  I will personally buy you your first pair of leather pants and mesh shirt, I swear to God.”

His shoulders slumped and he sighed, rolling his eyes as he turned to face her.  “What’re you talking about?”

She waved her palms in circles all around his space.  “This, dude, woah.  You are all kinds of out of whack.  What the hell happened?”  The lovely redhead meant his aura, the emotional state that she easily read from people that only her and an exceedingly rare few others could read.  She saw emotions like colors and waves of heat or coolness that wafted from an individual.  “Are you okay?  C’mon, it’s Courtney, talk to me.  I even have black eyeliner if you want to borrow it.”

“Nothing to talk about, I’m fine.” He lied with the select choice of words that told the listener everything was far from fine.  “And I don’t want any eyeliner, Christ.  My parents had a meltdown after the meeting last night.  Marissa and I are not to be involved in any thrilling heroics and can only,” he paused and looed around, noticing that they were really the only two in ear shot.  Still, he lowered his voice and leaned closer to her.  “Use the Project’s facilities to test our abilities to make sure there are not physical or mental drawbacks.”

Courtney raised an eyebrow and looked at him like he was delusional.  “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” she thinks we’re going to teleport to Fiji and get cancer from the trip or something, I don’t know.”  He turned back to his locker and began setting his things for the day inside.  “I don’t know, she’s crazy, hon.  Probably just looking for some way to turn royalties from us, who knows?”

“Shit.” She curled her nose pouted her lips a bit.  “Sorry, Deej.  Wish there was something I could do.  Hey, cuddle therapy later?”  She gleefully giggled in his ear.  “Always works for me.”

“I’m not sleeping with you, Courtney,” he smirked, shaking his head at her persistence.

She shrugged and backed away, grinning herself.  “Today.”  She corrected him.  “I’ll wear you down.”  She nudged him with her elbow.  “Kidding… kinda, but hey if you need someone to talk to, I’m here.  Where’s Em?”

“Dunno,” he shrugged, still placing his books in his locker.  “We’re not talking right now.”

“Oh, shit,” she took a step back and placed her fingertip on her chest to express her shock.  “God damn, what the hell is going on in this school?  You two are thick as thieves.”

“After the fight with our mom last night she came in and started on me.  We fought.”  He didn’t look at her but stopped his organizing of the day and shook his head.  “Like, really had it out.  We’ve only done it a few times in our lives, but we’re getting older.  The words are harsher, the buttons we’re going for are easier to press.  It was bad Courtney, I mean bad.”

“You want me to go talk with her?”  She showed more care and concern in her voice than usual.  With the excising of the tree and the cancer that it brought to Shelly, she’d felt like a haze had been lifted, a weight from her shoulders, so to speak.  She could think clearer, and generally had felt better about her mental health in the last forty-eight hours than she had in years.

“No, it’s fine,” finally he turned to face her, his tone was still barely more than a groan.  “She needs a day or so to calm down, I do too, I think.  Things are just,” just then another redhead approached.  Laurie Cassidy looked rather basic and plain by comparison to the fiery goddess of fashion and popularity that was Courtney Adams.  Her jeans didn’t stack up to the expensive skirt Courtney wore and her tee shirt was laughable in the presence of the designer red top Shelly’s second-hottest student was wearing… and she wasn’t even going to consider the designer push-up lingerie underneath it all that made every curve of her body pop and got her into all the college parties.  Devin offered the new arrival a nod to acknowledge her.  “Messed up, right now, you know?  Probably best to leave it be for now.”

“As you say,” the beautiful redhead said with an uncaring shrug.  She side-eyed Laurie and permitted herself an evil smirk at the sophomore’s expense.  “Seems someone wants to talk to you, so I think I’ll go find your sister and do the exact opposite of what you suggested.”

“Thaaanks,” he replied with a slow drawl.  “Appreciate that.”

“Cassidy,” Courtney smiled to Laurie after her acknowledgement and offered Devin a ‘mwah’ before strutting off.

“Adams.”  She shared her brother’s dislike of Courtney.  After years of bullying and torment from Shelly’s equivalent of aristocracy, she harbored no positive opinions of her fellow redhead.  Still, a part of her was anxious and even envious of the entitled little tart.  She was good friends with Devin and was an example of the sorts of women he hung around with.

Although she hated to admit it, over the last few weeks Laurie had found herself developing a small crush on Devin and despite knowing how ludicrous that sounded (even in her head), still, she knew what an attraction felt like, and this was it.  It sucked too.  Now she couldn’t help comparing herself to all the other women Devin hung around with and keep making comparisons of them to herself.  Courtney was beautiful and although lacking in kindness possessed a link with Devin on flirtation level that made her uncomfortable just listening to.  She knew they weren’t serious, but also knew she could never flirt with him, or any guy like they did, oh, and she was beautiful.  Tawny?  Although very down home like Laurie was also so beautiful and was so alive and had a connection with Devin on an emotional and personal level that seeing them together laughing and joking it was almost impossible to think they weren’t already dating.

Autumn, Lilly, Cassie… the list went on and Devin always around attractive women and no matter the forum was always carefree and unphased; always capable of being himself and owning a room.  He was handsome, charming, athletic (God was he athletic…) the list went on and, in the end, like most times she’d thought like this her brain eventually reminded her of the very simple truth: he was out of her league.  Men weren’t the only ones who went through dating anxiety when is came to those were attracted to being ‘better than’ or ‘out of their league’, and when it came to Devin, he was on a level she couldn’t hope to reach, and, in part, some of that anxiety was the fault of her own insecurities.  Laurie, however, wasn’t any of those things.  She wasn’t beautiful by the standards Devin surrounded himself with, she certainly did not have superpowers, save being invisible to the guys she was attracted to, and didn’t possess that connection to him that the other women in his life did.  Like his sister had pointed for the last several years: Laurie was a nobody.

A saving grace in her favor was: it was Devin.  Crush on him or not, attainable or not, Devin wanted to hook up with any woman who gave him more than half a second’s notice, making him not the sort of guy she should, or would want to date anyway.  It would end horribly so it was fortunate that he was so far out of her league.  Still… he was certainly good looking and being seen with him did wonders for her popularity at the school.  Win, win.  Hey, the Twins weren’t the only one’s who could play The Game at Shelly High.

“S’up, Red?”  Devin asked her.  He’d noticed the way she seemed lost in thought in as Courtney was walking away and felt she needed a jostling into the present.  He looked at Courtney as she walked away, her hips swaying in that practice manner Marissa taught her, and then looked back at Laurie.  “She’s trying.  I know that’s hard after all she’s done, but she’s trying.”

“What?”  She asked, suddenly realizing Devin was talking to her.  “Oh, no, I’m not thinking about that.  Still, it is kind of weird, her being decent to me and Sean now.  Her and Marissa are trying, so I’m willing to be civil.”

“I think Marissa is done with people for a while, so don’t expect too much.”

She couldn’t help but notice his dispirited tone.  “You okay?”

“Not really,” he shrugged, blowing off her question with an answer that just begged for more questions.  “But no amount of talking is going fix it.  IT’s one of those things you just have to ‘get through’, you know?”

“Yeah,” the sophomore nodded through pursed lips.  “I won’t interrupt your brooding for too long then,” she managed an awkward smile that seemed bolstered slightly by Devin finding that amusing and smiling along with her, though it was short lived.  “I just wanted to say thank you for the text last night.  Sean filed me in everything, but still, it felt nice to be included.  You guys have been really chill with me, letting me in on all the secrets and I appreciate it.”

“No sweat,” Devin offered her a compassionate smirk.  “I’m glad he filled you in too.  Secrets are like cancer around here and all those older and wiser than us seem to think they’re protecting us from ourselves by making sure we’re kept in the dark about things we need to know to protect them.  It makes no sense to me, honestly, but look, we’re all in this together so don’t ever hesitate to come to me if you need to, okay?”

“Thanks,” mentally she scolded her brain, absolutely forbidding it from making her cheeks redden, but it didn’t listen, and she could feel warmth flush her freckled features.  Why did he have to be the nicest jerk in the world?  “Um, probably not my business… but, uh… things were pretty heated in there last night.  You guys hash that out?  You all cool with each other again, or…” she used ‘or’ as some used ‘so’ as punctuation, hoping he would fill in and end her sentence for her.

“How many guys on the football team are you friends with?”  he asked.

“Uh,” taken off-guard by the question she simply shrugged out her first thought.  “None, I guess.  They’re all immature assholes.  Compounded that my brother and I are kinda on their shitlist at the moment hasn’t help my opinion of them much either.”

“But for an hour you’re legion.  Dedication and motivated towards victory because you’re a team.  Your personal issues are put aside because winning is more important than pettiness.”  He stated.  “That’s kinda EmJay and me with the Fellowship.  All of us were chosen to do a job, so we’ll be there, we’ll be legion, and we’ll win, because what’s at stake is more important than our differences.  That’s what a team is.”

She frowned.  That wasn’t exactly the answer she wanted, but she heard hope somewhere in all of that. “Sorry to hear that, but surprisingly deep coming from you.  I’m impressed.”

“Yeah,” he managed a smirk.  “I’m…”

“I know, I know,” she rolled her eyes, giggling.  “’All kinds of impressive’.  Legend in your own mind, more like.”  She managed a laugh, but noticed he didn’t do more than smile and seem to silently agree with her jokes.  He must have been in a bad place, she thought.  Devin was supposed to be the happy, go-lucky, comic relief… how bad were the issues with the Fellowship, she had to wonder.  “Hey, um… walk me to class?”

“Yeah, sure.” Her crush’s morose tone didn’t instill much confidence in his willingness.

“Come on,” Laurie huffed.  “Quit being so glum.  Walk with me, talk with me, and I’ll try to boost your popularity a bit.  Y’know, given what I have to work with and all…,” she shot him a smirk.

“Oh, well,” he swept his arm out for her to lead the way.  He seemed accommodating and open to the humor, but his voice and body language told her that his heart really want into it.  “By all means, lead the way.  Whatever I can do to repay such a kindness, do let me know.”

“Oh, I will, no worries.”  Freckled cheeks flushed as the enamored sophomore led Devin down the hall.  She did most of the talking while they talked and they did their best to ignore the inane rumors and hushed whispers of typical high school politics…

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Jason, 0720

He ran laps of the football field, pushing himself as he always did to move that little bit faster, to do that extra lap within the time he allotted for his run.  He wasn't the only runner who made a habit of getting in his daily laps at the school before breakfast - but he was the only one not a member of one of Shelly High's various athletics teams.  At his ground-eating lope he passed some girls hoping to make first line for the soccer team, encouraging each other, faces red and sweating as they jogged steadily around the field.  Then he smoothly overtook two of the football squad, his lean form cutting past them like a whippet past a couple of labradors.

He wasn't the fastest or most tireless athlete at Shelly High - before all the weirdness, that honour would likely have gone to a coin toss between Cade or Lilly.  Now it was likely Lilly, given the superhuman boost she had acquired to her physique.  But even with those titans of athleticism set aside, Autumn had more boundless energy, Devin, with his acrobats training, had more grace in motion.  If there was a word to describe Jason Bannon's athleticism, it would be tenacious.  There was a determined implacability in how he ran: sure-footed, fleet, focused on what he was doing as though running down quarry, a participant in a chase in which the outcome would be inevitable.

Other teenagers trained their bodies for all manner of reasons.  As a hobby - something they'd gotten into and enjoyed doing and so kept up.  Some trained to take part in prestigious competitions or win places on school teams.  Some were just active and energetic, always running, never seeing a river they didn't want to swim or a cliff they didn't want to climb to the top of.  Some were tired of being out of condition, weak or fat, picked on by others or wanting more self-respect.  And for some, it was their solace against the world, the place where they set the pace and the standards, and didn't have to worry about anyone else.  Jason, from early adolescence, had deliberately taken to training his body for the same reason he trained his mind - to sharpen it, to hone it so it would do the bidding of his Will when he desired it to.  To be slow, to be stupid, or to be oblivious was to be prey, some deep instinct had informed him early in his life - and having observed the piranha tank of school life, such an instinct was certainly accurate, even if the dangers were not necessarily mortal.

Now, though, his innate philosophy had been proven even more correct.  If he had been just a little less observant, a little slower in putting the clues together, he would be dead from yesterday's attempt on his life.  The only thing that had saved him was the suspicion roused by the marshal wearing gloves in summer.  And even then, he'd have died if not for others.  And today...

Today he'd been very alert on the drive to school.  Was very alert now, in fact.  Not jumpy, or paranoid, no.  Aware would be the best term to use.  He could almost feel people's eyes on him, almost hear the buzz of their whispers as he loped around the track.  More, he was very aware of...

Well, everything.

He felt more in tune with things, generally.  As he finished his run and stepped off the track, hands on his hips and breathing deeply, out of habit he let his third eye focus on the world around him.  As he'd thought, something had changed.  Before, he just had a vague sense of Radiance - emanating from every living thing, a warm golden light.  Now, he found he could look at a person and see their personal Radiance, that spark of life, soul, whatever one could call it.  Anima, perhaps.

Interesting.

Taking a moment as he put himself through slow stretches, he fell deeper into the semi-trance, extending this sixth sense out.  Before, that vague sense of Radiance had only extended outwards so far - perhaps a thousand meters.  Now...  he blinked, falling out of the trance and stumbling a step mid-stretch.  Looking around, he sat down on the grass and closed his eyes once more, focusing more intently.

A sea of candle flames spread out for kilometers around him.  Each one, he instinctively knew, was a person, each with that life spark.  Here and there brighter ones, their steady glow more intense, stood out from the flickering flames around them.  The Fellowship, it had to be.  Each of them was a small star, almost occluding the flames near them.  He narrowed his focus down, recalling when Cassie had shown him how she perceived the world.  Yes.  Insects, plants - motes of glowing plankton-sized lights in and around the brighter flames and the even more brilliant stars.  And there, in the center of Shelly... no flames, scant plankton.  The shadow left around the Old Town Hall.  Not as broodingly malevolent as once it had been, it was still an unsightly blotch to his new way of seeing.

This intrigued him.  Some of the others had manifested multiple categories of 'gift' - Cassie and Kat both having telepathy in addition to their main schticks. for example, and Autumn sharing Charlie's ability to sense living things at a distance - so it wasn't strange that he, too, was suddenly experiencing a new development.  It was very similar to Cassandra's initial manifestation of power - some manner of clairvoyance or ESP.  Something else to evaluate and explore, definitely.

For now, though, he stood up, finished his stretches as swiftly as was practical and, turning, headed for the showers.  Autumn had texted him saying she'd see him at breakfast, and teasingly poked him to bring coffee.  Mysteries of new abilities were all very well, but they could wait in the face of a freckled nose crinkling up in a smile and wide, blue eyes framed by red-gold fire.

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Spoiler

(Collab with Sean)



The grey of predawn was broken by a pale sun rising above the horizon, a faint breeze keeping the morning cool still. Despite the chill, Sean's rich red hair had already darkened with effort, sweat stains beginning to spread at the small of his back and the pits of his shirt.

Sean's huffing breath was the only sound beyond the rustling of the leaves behind the Barn as he strained to finish one last push-up. He could barely remember the last time he'd done a push-up, but he'd certainly been carrying less weight on his chest then.

Lilly had told him to just do as many as he comfortably could, and while having no illusions about how athletic he was - or nonathletic, rather - he didn't want to come across as a complete wuss. Slim arms trembling, he finished one more. Gasping, heavy chest heaving, Sean sat back on his heels and shook out his arms before grasping a water bottle and chugging it, wishing it was coffee or an energy drink. It was way too early to be this active. He looked up at the taller, far more physically gifted teen.

"I... lost... count. How many was that? Twenty-nine? Thirty?" He dumped some of the water on his head, brushing it through his damp hair with his fingers. "Just tell me whatever's next doesn't need my arms."

It had been another difficult night for Lilly. For the last couple of nights she had actually begun to dread falling asleep, because sleep did not offer the, restful, peaceful respite it usually did and instead would drag her back down into a pit of her fears which Mr. Enterich had so expertly drawn to the surface and magnified. Eventually though the long fingers of fatigue would grip Lilly and she and drag her back down until she inevitably would startle awake once again, heart racing, body covered in sweat, tears racing down her cheeks, or some combination there of.

Finally, early in the morning, she showered, packed her backpack, dressed and waited for her mother who, after she had instead on going to school today, relented but only if she drove Lilly herself. Begrudgingly, Lilly had agreed and eventually the pair had made there way into town to Sean's house, after Lilly had explained she had agreed to help him improve his fitness. Now she was here, at least physically, if not all together mentally. She was much more subdued as well, her usual smile gone for now, replaced with an almost passionless mask.

"Eleven." she stated simply as she brought her full attention back to the present and her friend. At Sean's frown she shook her head and raised her hand. "Relax. We all start somewhere, so don't concern yourself with what others can do or feel bad about where you are. You've already taken the biggest step, and that's deciding to address your personal fitness. So you run your own race and don't concern yourself with others." she reassured him before continuing, "The goal for now is to just get you functionally fit, so nothing crazy to worry about. Most of that will be simple circuit training. Essentially simple cardio and exercises in small reps, and no real equipment is even needed, so you can do it here or anywhere. And nothing I am gonna give you is gonna to destroy you, but it will be a workout."

"For example, Sprint here to there," Lilly said as she pointed a fence post a distance off, "and come back, plank for fifteen  seconds, then do fifteen squats, then sprint there and come back again, then fifteen crunches and fifteen push ups. That is one full circuit. Try to do the fifteen of each exercise, but if you can't, then don't kill yourself trying. Just move on to the next one and keep going. With time and reps you will do better and better."

Sean nodded his understanding, though with the distant look in his eyes as he recovered from his push-ups, Lilly at first wasn't sure if he had heard her. But he had, and was all for not needing any extra equipment and being able to to do the workout and exercises pretty much anywhere.

"Okay, I got it," he said, nodding again and steadying his ragged breathing. If he noticed Laurie giving him a long pointed look as she walked to the Corolla with their mother, he gave no sign of it. Sean looked up at Lilly, arching a put upon brow. "And I'm suppose to do this every day?"

Lilly lips curved minutely with wryness. "Well, sure, you can have a cheat day here or there, or a regular rest day, but yeah, pretty much every day, Sean. Look, how often do you write code, software, any kind?"

"Every day," Sean admitted. "Some, at least, barring any sort of exceptional circumstance."

"This is the same. You just need to make it into a routine. It'll get easier, you'll get better at it, and eventually, it'll just be a part of your day. But until then..." The superhuman athlete nodded towards the fence post. "... it starts as hard work. Now run."

Sean gave a shirt straining sigh. "I hate the running the most."

But gamely, he sprinted towards the post and back, and worked his way through the circuit. His form started out rather terrible, Lilly giving him suggestions and sometimes using a hand to correct him. He couldn't quite prevent himself from stiffening when she touched him, despite knowing she was helping him, especially when she was still working through her own troubles.

Asking her to demonstrate was way more enlightening, even if it was blindingly obvious he'd never be in Lilly's league no matter how much he worked at it. He wouldn't even reach Teagan's level, and maybe not Laurie's - not without out a lot of chemical aid and perhaps psionic cheating, perhaps.

But being able to see the bioelectric activity through Lilly's nervous system, that awareness seeming to expand to better understand the play of muscle and tendon, certainly helped. He had to adapt of course, his body just couldn't move the way Lilly's did, it was basic mechanics. But by the time he finished his circuit to Lilly's satisfaction, he didn't feel like a fish flopping around on land anymore.

He didn't push himself as much as he had at first, just getting the hang of the movements and exercises, keeping his sets balanced and planning on gradually increasing them. Still, when he was done, he was tired, and they were almost running late.

Sean barely had time to clean up a little, change his clothes, fill a thermos of coffee and offer Lilly one,, and grab a banana for breakfast before they had to go. Loose and leaden limbed, it took more effort than usual to climb up behind the wheel of his Grand Cherokee.

The pair of unlikely friends were quiet on the drive to school, Sean glancing at Lilly covertly from the corner of his eye as he pushed the speed limit. She'd been uncharacteristically somber this morning. He understood way, some, and felt another pang of guilt.

"I never thought you had abandoned us, Lilly," Sean said when the silence became too overbearing. "I just figured something came up that you believed needed your attention more. And I never thought you might have been in trouble, like, real trouble. I mean, you're... you. Even before all this..." 

He waved an encompassing hand, "it seemed like you could handle anything." Sean frowned in contemplation and self-recrimination. "But after Charlie, and now what happened with Jase, and Enterich, any of us are vulnerable. We - I - should have checked on you. Even to just say hi and see if you could make it to gaming. And I'm sorry for that." He exhaled tiredly. "Dunno if our weekly gaming sessions are even going to continue now, with everything that's going on."

Lilly, who had been looking out the passenger side window as they drove, turned to look at Sean for a moment. "What could've possibly just 'come up' that was more important than a battle against the Darkness for the soul of Shelly, or reality, or whatever, that I wouldn't call or text one of you to let you know what came up and why I wouldn't be there, and that I could handle by myself? Like, seriously dude."

Lilly let that question soak in for a moment and shook her head. "I'm not angry with you or the others. At least, I don't think I am, but right now I'm so worn out that almost don't know if I am coming or going, so who knows? It just... hurt. I mean, we all kinda thought the same about Charlie. None of us really checked up on him either, me included." she explained, adding, "But we also hadn't just heard about one of being killed right before either." Lilly sighed.

"Anyways..." Lilly said, refocuses her thoughts as best she could. "I believe you. It's fine. It was a mistake. They happen." she said to ease her friend's fears. "We just need to do better, all of us, me included. So don't worry about it. We'll do better."

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If people were talking Shelly’s Queen couldn’t hear them.  The sullen melody of music that played through her iPods all but drowned out those of lesser she status she passed by in the halls but she still noticed how they pointed, whispered and watched her as she walked past.  The battle with Not-Cody had placed a lot of things into perspective for the gorgeous starlet of the small Montana town and the fight with her mother last night had certainly cemented more and more of her changing ideas as she retreated to her bedroom last night wracked with anger.

She had argued with Devin last night too, she was certainly still mad at him, but regretted some of the things she’d said and knew that the two of them would need a few days to calm down.  She loved her brother and while he was never against her he was also never truly on her side either, always willing to give her the tough love she needed to crack the crystalline blur of her own spite and pettiness.  She loved him for it, but that didn’t make him any less of an asshole.

She swiftly keyed the combo to her locker using the school combo keys she and her brother bought of Amazon.  Students were not allowed to own them, obviously, but they were a hell of a time saver.  Benjamin Burnley continued to sing in her ears as she selected first few books and accessories, she’d need for the first few hours of classes as she hated making continuous stops to her locker.

“So,” Tammy slithered up to Marissa’s locker.  “Guess who stood down from the Cheersquad last night?  Katie’s mom called and told my mom that she’d decided that cheer leading might be a bit too dangerous for her and that leaves us an opening.  I thought I’d be the first one to tell you.”

Marissa plucked the iPod from her ear that closest to Tammy.  “What?”

With a sigh and a roll of her eyes Tammy repeated herself.  “Guess who stepped down from the cheersquad?”

“Katie did.”  Marissa said simply, having already known the answer.  “I spoke to her yesterday and she agreed to step down from performing any of the more complicated cheers.”

“Wait, what?”  Tammy sneered.

“In return, I get her spot on the squad, and she is still an honorary member of the squad, goes with us to all the games and is permitted to cheer the team on, in uniform I might add, keeps her accreditations in the chance she wants to attend a university later.”  The Ice Queen of Shelly’s voice was to monotone and matter-of-fact that it sent a chill down Tammy’s spine.  There was something off about Marissa today, her composure was on point but her words, her posture… her everything, just seemed hollow and empty.

“Um,” she pressed her palm into her chest, addressing herself as she spoke.  “I don’t recall agreeing to any of that.  If deals are going to be made, as the head of the cheer squad, I have a right to know and frankly, I say no way.  No offense, but if you want to cut deals, you should have come to me first.  We’re not-“

“Already done.”  Marissa replied with all the mirth of Wednesday Addams.  “I spoke with the principal and the coaches already.  They think it’s a great idea.  It shows the school is accommodating to students with special needs, allows Katie to keep participating in something she enjoys, and avoids any unfortunate lawsuits should she attempt to perform beyond her capabilities.”  She closed her locker, having slid the last few books she needed within her designer school bag, plucked the other iPod from her opposite ear and slipped them back in their charging case before dropping them right in the bag along with everything else.  “Oh, and she sits at the cheer table during lunch with us for the rest of the season.”

Tammy’s jaw dropped in abject horror at the notion of allowing Uggo-Katie sit with the cheer team at lunch times.  “Why are you doing this!?  She’s a fucking freak, Marissa and-“

“And what?”  The empty, icy glare in Marissa’s eyes carried the same weight of certain tall, lanky junior at their school who was fond of hay hooks and wonton violence.  She leaned towards Tammy causing the cheer leader press backwards into the lockers until she couldn’t press any further.  He head hazy, heavy almost as Marissa’s voice seemed to vibrate in her skull instilling her with doubt, worry and fear.  “I’m a freak too?  Because I don’t want the crown anymore?  Because I hang with nerds?  Katie is alone and surrounded by people that, no matter what, are always going to hate her.  I know what that’s like.  Now,” she slung her bag up over her shoulder and turned away.  Tammy was too shaken to notice he pinkish-violet shimmer the cascaded through Marissa’s eyes.  “I’ve something to go take care of.  If anything about that deal doesn’t strike you as acceptable, just pick a hill to die on and I’ll meet you there.”

With that Marissa was already on her way to meet up with Cade, leaving her mojo to swirl and stew in Tammy’s mind.

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Morning practice was cut short, The Coaching staff cutting the team loose just after seven fifteen.  It was hardly worth suiting up for, but he figured it had to be important if they were doing it.   He arranged to meet with Marissa and got a shower, changing back into regular clothing before  grabbing his pack to meet Marissa.  He got there a few minutes before he'd said to meet, so he stood waiting for her.   There'd been a part of him that had wondered if she'd come to school today, but it seemed he needn't have worried on that front.   Everywhere else, though, he wasn't sure of at all.


She approached, looking like a million bucks, as always.  In a black, knee-length pencil skirt with a white turtleneck black suede wedge-heeled ankle boots and her long hair kept from he face by a matching black hairband, Shelly's Queen of Mean looked fairly out of place amongst the other early gym-goers who were exiting the locker rooms and preparing for class.  This close to the gym, or the locker rooms, for that matter, were really not her preferred place to be this early in the morning, but thankfully she wasn't the one who had to be up at 6am doing push-ups and running back and forth on the field.


Still, she was a cheerleader now and would be representing their school at the Homecoming game, so she figured it was about time she got used to the various... smells.


She approached him, holding the straps of her bag that was slung over her shoulder in both hands.  "Hey," she said to him, her voice low and her overall demeanor seeming akin to a sloth on tranquilizers.


He smiled slightly at her greeting.   "Even when you're not feeling your best, you still manage to find time to look great Marissa."  It was a real compliment, not just idle flattery.  He drew closer to her, but didn't try to put his arm around her, seeing her so "sedate" seemed to be a warning in and of itself.   "I'm glad you're here today though.  The way things were going when I last saw you, I wasn't wholly sure."


His own mother had had serious words for both Cade and his father.  It was easily the most angry he'd ever seen his step-mother.
"Is there anything you'd like to do before class?"  He wanted to talk, but at the same time, somewhere public probably wasn't the best place, considering.   He silently wished he'd thought about that before having asked her to just meet him here.


"No."  She replied flatly.  Her phone vibrated and she slipped it from her bag and glanced at it before turning her perfectly shadowed eyes back upon him.  "Is there anything you'd like to do before class?"


He nodded.  "Yeah, there is, but thinking about it, here's probably not the best place to have that conversation.  Do you mind walking with me abit?  I figure there's nobody in the bleachers, we can have abit of privacy there."


"Sure," she said somberly as she ticked off a reply to whomever had texted her.


Following him to the bleachers it seemed like a typical morning of school as most they passed the other students save that today everyone was abuzz with rumors and whispers about all the daring-do and heroics the mundanes knew absolutely nothing about.  A part of her felt sickened in a sense, that she was superior to these people in every possible way and yet... she was tasked to save them.


Why?  They just just go on to fuck everything up all over again anyways.  yet, Coyote had assured her that there were reasons for everything and if she just held out for as long as possible, everything would make sense.  Doubtful, but aside from a funeral, she had nothing else going on this week.


As they arrived at the bleachers she refused to sit (not in her skirt).  Phone in hand she looked at him as he took a seat.  "So?"
The Direct approach it would be.   "So your brother outed the "truth" about our relationship to everyone.   Where does that leave the two of us?   Neither of us denied it, and while other things were certainly going on, you can bet that wasn't missed by Jason.   I'm not asking  because I want out.   I did enjoy what time we did get to spend together.   What I want is to know what you'd like to do about it, if anything.  I don't  need an answer this second, or expect one.  Maybe this seems a minor thing to be concerned with, but to me it isn't."


"I was actually looking forward to going to Homecoming with you, and was planning on actually asking you to go with me before this all blew up like it did."


"It's not your fault my brother is an asshole."  she inhaled deeply and relaxed a bit, still she showed no sign of real emotion or concern for anything he'd just said.  She wasn't mad or angry or even the slightest bit frustrated with Cade at all.  He'd seen her irritated and this was not that, this attitude was something else entirely.


"Jason doesn't concern me," she continued.  "Nor the others.  "We agreed 'until Homecoming' and it would look bad if the Quarterback got dumped just a few days after we started dating.  Who I fuck and fake-date is no one's business but mine and the person I'm fucking and fake-dating."


"I'll admit, I wasn't planning on attending Homecoming, but you reminded me that we had an agreement and I'll honor it."  She raised a hand to stem any forming retorts before they could begin.  "Do not tell me I 'don't have to do this if I don't want to' and all that nonsense.  I know.  If I didn't want to, I simply wouldn't.  So, yeah, Homecoming.  Sure."

Cade's smile grew, showing he was actually happy with that response.   "Cool then.   I'll do my best to make sure we both have fun."  She did have him pretty well figured out, he wasn't looking to force her into anything, but if she was game for it, then so was he.   She'd made it sound like a business deal, reminding him exactly where they stood.   He'd probably misread things before, certainly wasn't like he'd had alot of experience in this.

"So that gives me at least a small bit of peace of mind.   Is there anything I can do to return the favor?"   This calm and Sedate Marissa was a new thing, and while it was far more bearable than Raging Bitch mode, it was still concerning nonetheless.   Cade wanted to help her if he could.

"No."  She said after a small pause to consider his offer.  "I'm fine."

He knew she was anything but fine, but pressing his luck was a bad idea he felt.   "Okay, Marissa.  You know how to reach me if that changes, any time."   He got up, and offered her his hand.  "I can at least walk you to class today.  As for Lunch, I brought mine today, so if you'd like to eat together, we can."  It was his way of saying he'd like to eat with her today, more than he would like to sit at the same table he usually did with the Fellowship.

"Thank you, but I can see myself there," she said while glancing at her phone.  "There's still something I need to do and Courtney is blowing up my phone.  I'll see you in class."

Without a 'bye' or a kiss or... anything, she just walked away like the conversation was forgotten didn't really matter, or even happen.  His assumption was right, she was far from okay, but obviously wasn't in the mood to discuss it.  If she had lunch plans, she sure didn't share them before walking off.

Cade put his hand down, and watched her go, and could only wonder what else had happened after they'd all parted last night.   "Damn." he muttered softly once she was gone, and made his own way to class.

( Collaboration with Dave)

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( Collab w/ Dave)

Lilly stood at her locker, having parted ways with Sean as they each made their way to their lockers to get ready for class. The athletic brunette stood there, looking at the text books leaning against one another in her locker, and for a moment could not remember which she needed to grab. It had been a long night, one which she would not care to remember, and she was certainly tired for the lack of sleep for a few days now. She certainly could have stayed home today, but a small part of her was determined to not let Enterich 'win', as it were, and hide in bed all day.

Finally she remembered which books to grab and slipped them into her pack, closing the locker door with a sigh. As the door closed she caught sight of Marissa walking town the hall, strangely alone and... quiet? Subdued? Lilly managed a weary smile and a small, wave to Mari.

Lily's brunette counterpart, the evil to Lily's purity, the dark to her light, certainly appeared to care less today than she ever had previously.  Still, instead of just passing Lily by in the hall she opted to instead, narrow her eyes and then roll them in either frustration or irritation.

Marissa didn't wave back at the sheepish attempt Lily had made to greet her.  Instead she walked up to her and simply curled an eyebrow upward in her usual mocking appraisal.  Still, she said nothing.  Finally, she reached out and grabbed Lily by her arm and pulled her along, cueing her to follow.  "Wow."  She said lazily.  "You look like hell."

Lilly blinked in surprise as Marissa pulled on her arm, leading her by it. Be it the lack of sleep, the anxiety, mental fatigue or any other factors of combination of thing, Lilly's usual more friendly and diplomatic speech was nowhere to be found. "No shit. I haven't haven't slept, no real sleep, for days." she replied, her initial indignant tone quickly fading. "My head's still so messed up."

"Seeing my sarcasm and raising me sass," the evil brunette almost grinned, but she wasn't in the mood for it, not today.  "I like you better without sleep."

She led her into one of the female restrooms where a few of their classmates has chosen to get ready for classes in front of the large mirror.  There was a pause the two ladies entered, like it must be some manner of prank for Shelly High's star athlete and it's Goddess of Cruelty to be both be blessing their rest room at exactly the same time.  After a slight pause to allow them a moment to marvel at the blessing of their presence, Marissa tightened her jaw line and authoritatively demanded.  "Vacate plebs."

"Now," she demanded a forcefully a moment later and the two watched as lower classmates practically stumbled over one another to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, some letting their faces remain half finished of makeup, and filtered passed them in a hurried line that refused to make any more eye contact than was humanly possible.

"You didn't have to be mean to them," Lily added, he voice echoing slightly in the newly emptied school restroom acoustics.

She led her over to the mirror and set her bag on the surface by on one of the sinks.  "No, I didn't."  She admitted.  "Nor do you have to look like you just rolled out of bed without sleeping a wink for several night, yet here we are."  She produced some concealer, a soft brush and a neutral colored headband and without asking simply began dabbing the dark rings under Lily's eyes.  "People are always looking for weaknesses, Lily.  No matter how defeated we appear, always look like you're winning."

She dabbed away, prepping the concealment of her weariness with a light application.  "This might take a second,"  She said after a few moments of silence.  "It's not much but it will help, for today, anyway."

"Thanks." Lilly simply sighed in unfiltered sincerity. 

She was caught off guard by the random act of kindness from Mari, not because she could not be kind though, a Lilly had seen that Marissa could be kind and was kind, her her own way, more often than it seemed the others recognized. In this case it was simply so unexpected. Here she was in the bathroom with Mari doing her makeup to try to help her look better. Some would say it was just Mari protecting her own image by making sure those she was around looked their best, or at least 'good' as it were, and to be be fair, that probably was a small part of it, but in the moment it just felt more like a genuine act kindness shared between the two young women. 

Lilly glanced at the mirror and then did a double take. "That's.. You're really good." Lilly said as she leaned close to check her seemingly refreshed eyes. "I mean, I shouldn't be surprised. Just look at you, not that you need makeup though."

"More than you think," she replied coldly.  She still, for all intents and purposes was dealing with her own issues and wasn't much for going into soul-searching with Lily in the freshman bathroom.  "From the makeup to the work outs, beauty is not a maintenance-free gift.  Like athleticism, neglect it and it neglects you.  Still, my brother hasn't been getting much sleep either.  He's still randomly jaunting about the house in panicked fits in his sleep trying to escape whatever it was that chased him for hours in that... place.  I sympathize, I suppose.  It messed him up pretty bad, and Enterich has been in my head too, to a lighter degree, I suppose as most things that make you revile in horror probably turn me on."  Lily wasn't sure if that was humor or not, as Marissa's deadpan tone and expression were currently impossible to read.

She handed her the brush and slid the hairband to her.  "Fix yourself."  As Lily began grooming Marissa placed the other items back in her bag.  "I know it's just words, Lily, and I won't claim to understand what you went through, that's yours and yours alone to come to terms with, but everyday people are looking for weaknesses.  In you.  In me.  Your problems?  Twenty percent don't care, and eighty percent are glad they're yours, so no matter how bad it gets in your head always carry yourself like you're winning."

"Get a boyfriend or something," she added suddenly, allowing herself a devilish smirk as personal topics like who Lily was dating she knew would make the prudish athlete flush in all manner of roses.  "What about that guy you're going to homecoming with?  He might cheer you up.  Get you some, girl.  Can't say 'happiness' without saying 'penis'.

"Will?" Lilly asked as she stopped for a moment and turned from the mirror to Marissa, he cheeks flushed. "He's a decent guy I guess," she said with a shrug, "but there's just nothing there." Lilly turned back to the mirror as as she continued talking, "and besides, there's not exactly a line to date me, not after all rumors and crap that's been spread. I mean, yeah, they cheer me when i bring home a win on the football field, but it's like, I dunno, only because I'm useful to them. at least, that's part of what Enterich said, and to be honest, there's more than a little truth to it."

Lilly lowered her hand with the brush and looked at herself in the mirror for a moment, meeting her own gaze before shaking her head, not wanting to dwell on it if she could avoid it. "Anyways," she sighed, "there's only a people I have any interest in, and the girl's bathroom is not the place to be sharing it."

"Of course there is some truth to them, Lily," she rest her hip against the counter top, arms folded in constant appraisal of Lilly both physically and mentally.  She'd read all of her mother's books on psychology and scarily understood more of how the the mind worked than most young women her age ever should.  "If there wasn't then they wouldn't have any power over you."

She didn't didn't preach the topic, she knew Lilly was smart enough to understand how her own head worked.  She'd trained for the Olympics and more than anyone in Shelly knew the power of self-discipline and the mantra of 'just one more'.  Still, like Autumn, a handful of Lilly's were born from Marissa's cruel pranks and selfish desires.  "This, however, is high school, Lilly.  Popularity and public opinion are mercurial, at best.  I suppose a portion of that is my fault."  Lilly knew that probably as close to an apology as she was going to get.  "I can handle the rumors for you, I can squash the public option and fix your reputation by week's end."

"The rest is on you, girlfriend."  She was silent for a moment before narrowing her eyes and finally saying.  "You know what?  My afternoon schedule cleared up.  Jacob would rather play twenty questions instead of coming to have a burger with me, so why don't you fill his place.  Getting out might do you some good.  Talking, even if it's about nothing in particular, might help.  We will find Enterich, we will beat him, and we will show him why they name storms after women, but until that time comes we need to eat and talk shit about boys, so burger later?"

"Well then he sounds like a dumbass." Lilly said with a faint hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her lips for the first time all morning. "Sure. These last couple of weeks have been..." she said, her voice trailing off a bit as she thought about things, but then shook her head, as if she were tossing them from her mind. "Chillin' with you over burgers and fries sounds great."

Lilly looked at herself in the mirror and nodded. "And thanks for this too. What you said, the help, all of it. It really helps. Seriously."

"Idiocy is not something this town lack in," she dismissively shrugged.  "I'm friends with Jacob's friends and it's obvious he doesn't like me at all.  I figured us getting to know each other better might help to clear the air.  Oh, well.  We miss a hundred percent of the shots we don't take, and he blew his."

Lilly finished her hair and slid the band in place to keep her bangs out of her eyes.  Marissa drooped the brush back in her bag as her athletic counterpart handed it to her.  "I've only told you what you already know, but," she seemed to hesitant to express the next piece of her mind, but after a moment of hesitation she continued on.  "You're welcome."

She glanced at her phone and slid several messages aside.  "We're going to be late."

“What are you talking about? Marissa Jauntsen is never late, nor is she early. She arrives precisely when she means to.” Lilly said with a faint smile, looking for any sign of recognition of the quote she played off of from Marissa and then reached down, slung her bag over her shoulder and gave herself one last look over in the mirror with an exhale, as if she were steeling herself to step back out into a battle once more.

Lilly wanted to say a little more, but with time being an issue, she set it aside for not. At the moment, there other things she needed to try and focus on to make it through the school day and make up for her prior absence.

"Shall we?" Lilly asked as she walked over toward the door to open it for Marissa.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"And I mean it. Straight home," Ian Keane reiterated, cool blue eyes narrowed slightly against the morning sunlight as he regarded his still-sleepy daughter. The response was a grumbled assent punctuated by a soft huff as Autumn finished unstrapping her bike from the rack and lowered it down to the paved parking lot just behind her father's silver Range Rover. "No detours, no hanging around after hours," he added firmly, frowning a little as she sighed, tightening the ratchet straps on the crossbar down again. "And remember what I said about Jason coming by: Not past ten. And I want you to-"

"Text you when I-," the drowsy redhead nodded, her features scrunching up as she stifled a yawn with the back of her hand and rocked forward onto her toes, the bicycle frame bouncing lightly against her thigh. "Mm. When I get there. I will, Dad. I promise. Thanks for bringing me."

"You're welcome, sweetheart. Be careful today, all right?" Leaning in, he pressed a quick kiss to her temple, pushing the haphazard braid back over her shoulder and giving her a quick visual check-in for confirmation.

"Mhm, you, too. See you tomorrow?"

"See you tomorrow."

"Hey Dad?" Autumn asked, palms resting on the handlebars as she watched her father walk away and feeling, for some unknown reason, a vague apprehension. Nothing was going to happen today, probably. Not like yesterday, or the day before that. But, still...

"Hmm?" Pausing as he opened the driver's side door, Ian glanced back at his not-so-little girl, her features framed in a halo of copper flame as she smiled, freckled nose crinkling.

"Love you." He paused at that, at the simple, slightly embarrassed public admission of his teenaged daughter, and broke into a broad grin.

"Love you, too," her gratified father replied. With a quick jingle of keys as he waved, Ian ducked back into his new SUV and started the engine, then slowly made his way through the line of parents dropping off their kids near the front doors before disappearing, ostensibly on his way to meet a client in Helena.

The queue seemed longer today, Autumn noted, the Shelly natives no doubt keeping their offspring a little closer now amid the swirl of rumors surrounding Charlie and Cody and the sudden appearance- and subsequent disappearance- of a mysterious serial killer in their midst. And that was only a tiny part of the truth. If they knew the rest, how many of them would even have let their children leave the house? It was a small miracle her own folks were taking it so well, especially after finding out about Jason the night before. She'd half expected them to pack her off somewhere, or ban him from the property, or pull her out of school altogether- which would've completely made sense, all things considered, and they had had a few choice words when they'd gotten home after visiting the Bannon farm. Plus there was that godawful fucking meeting, and the picnic, and... Well, everything, basically. But, she admitted, rolling her bike up onto the sidewalk toward the row of upright racks near the entrance, they seemed to be trying, at least.

Rumor, gossip and snatches of conversation and laughter buzzed around her head as Autumn, still blinking sleep away, made her way to her locker and dumped her bag inside before scooping up her books for first period- Chemistry- the thought of which was good for some color in her cheeks and a slight increase in the spring in her step as she headed to the cafeteria. There was still time for breakfast, and Jase had promised to show up with a thermos of coffee. …After which they'd have Chemistry together in, she snorted to herself in abashed amusement, more ways than one. Had she mentioned that her parents were awesome and trying really hard? They really were, especially where Jase was concerned.

"Mornin', A-Rae." The familiar tone, the familiar nickname announced Jacob as he fell into step with her, book bag slung over one broad shoulder as he assessed her with a bright grin that belied the careful expression in his eyes. He was a morning person - not merely someone who woke up with a minimum of effort and fuss, like Jase, but rather someone who was at their most energetic and cheerful first thing in the day, barely even needing coffee. Ugh. "I was wondering if it'd be okay if I sat with and asked you something over breakfast?" he said, leaning conspiratorially closer as they walked through the halls. "Y'know. About all the... stuff going on. I tried to grill Bannon over it but he said there were unwritten rules about you guys telling each others friends and families." Jacob made a face. "Can't really argue with that, I guess. By the way," The warden's son nudged Autumn playfully. "Your new boyfriend is weird. Not bad weird." he went on hastily, shrugging. "Just weird."

Giving her tall, once-and-future friend a sidelong glance, the redhead chewed over that sentiment for a moment as they headed toward the cafeteria. 'Bad' was definitely a subjective kind of thing where Jason Bannon was concerned, because while the potential existed for him to be very, very bad indeed, he was choosing not to act on it; a couple of weeks ago she wouldn't have been able to maintain eye contact with him for more than half a second, and she was pretty sure her parents had some totally reasonable (if, in her opinion, inaccurate) misgivings about the fact that she was dating him. ...Well, in fairness, they probably had misgivings about her dating anyone who wasn't a known quantity, like Jacob. But that ship had sailed, and apparently docked in Tawny Harbor, and that was a good thing, right? That he was happy? Peering up at Jay, Autumn nodded at his assessment. That they both were happy, she amended silently, or at least as much as they could be with all this craziness hanging over their heads.

"He is, yeah," she admitted thoughtfully, one corner of her mouth curving upward as the pair of teens wove through the crowd to take their place in line. "Super weird. But interesting, and a lot of fun. He's-" She paused, her clear, sea-colored eyes narrowing speculatively as she glanced up at Jacob again. "Hey, listen," the earnest young woman began, smile fading by degrees. "Is it... Is this weird? Talking about, y'know. New boyfriends and stuff. Does it bother you?"

"A little?" he said with a wry tilt to his lips. "And, being honest, a week ago it'd have been worse. But all the weirdness, all the scary stuff... It really made me think about what's important." he went on in his straightforward, honest way. "And it's important that we're friends. We were friends before we sort of fell into dating, and though that ended sorta... messy-"

"Yeah." Autumn muttered as she nodded, grabbing a plate from the stack and slipping it onto her tray as she remembered how messy things had gotten.

"-yeah... but the point is, you're happy now. And so am I. And really, us being friends again is more important - to me anyway. And it's pretty plain from watching my friend with her new boyfriend that she's pretty damn into him. So I’m not gonna be a dick and pretend like it's not a part of your life, y'know? Even if he is weird." Jacob went on, grabbing a carton of OJ and a plate of eggs and hashbrowns as he followed her in the line.

"So you're good with being friends," she stated simply, eyes flicking up to his face again before glancing back at the food on offer. Grabbing a spoonful of fried apples and a waffle, Autumn pursed her lips and added a couple of strips of bacon to her plate. "Oooh, crap. Can you grab me a milk? Thanks," she added, grimacing as Jacob gave a rueful shake of his head and reached back along the line, a bemused server helpfully settling the red and white carton in his grasp. "Thank you!" she called down to the cafeteria worker, giving her an abashed little wave as she forged ahead, feeling the warmth rising in her cheeks as the rest of the line alternately snickered and rolled their eyes. "Thank you," the ruddy-faced redhead murmured more quietly, flashing her companion a quick smile.

"No problem," he replied easily. "And, yeah. I'm good with being friends." The handsome athlete paused for a moment, considering something as they cashed out and scanned the cafeteria for an empty seat. "Are you?"

Blinking up at her oldest friend, Autumn hesitated for a scant few seconds, astonishment writ plain across her features. "I mean... Yeah? That's been one of the worst parts of-" Gesturing with her free hand as she balanced her tray on the other, the red-haired teen waved in a sort of ill-defined circle, indicating something beyond the scope of words. "You know. This. It was just like, everything happening at once, and we weren't talking, and I guess I kind of missed that."

"Window seat." Jacob nodded towards an empty table and the two of them stepped smartly, trying to bag the decent spot before someone else did. "And yeah, same." he went on as they settled in across the table from one another, sliding their trays into place before sitting. "The worst part about it all was that suddenly, my friend wasn't around anymore. And when I saw you with Bannon at the Carousel..."

"Oh god..." Autumn went deep red under her dusting of freckles as she recalled exactly how she'd broken the news to Jacob. "Don't remind me!"

"No, listen." Jacob waved away her mortification. "It didn't bother me like I thought it should. Like, there was a teeny little phantom pang of jealousy, sure. But mostly I was kinda..." He waved a hand, glancing out the window as he wrestled with the awkwardness. "Glad. Like 'wow, she seems happy, that's awesome'." He glanced back at her, smiling a little. "Which is when I decided that, yeah, I'd see if I could be happy with Tawny. But also... it kinda pushed on me that you've changed some, and I missed it because I was too busy trying to remember when you were who you used to be rather than seeing who you are now."

"I'm different?" Autumn blinked, fork halfway to her mouth, considering. Her mom had said something similar, not too long ago. About how she'd changed somehow.

"Yeah, you are." Jacob grinned at his friend's confusion. "I dunno if it's the-" he dropped his voice "-Shine, or your new friends, or the things you've had to do. But you're different, A-Rae. It's a good difference, though. I think. Not pod-person, body-snatcher different."

"Mmm," she replied as she rested her cheek in the palm of her hand, a mouthful of waffle and butter and spiced apples delaying further discussion of the matter. It was a sober, thoughtful "mmm," a contemplative sound mirrored in the distant expression in her eyes as she likewise gazed out the window and watched the flocks of birds swirling between treetops arrayed across the manicured lawn. She didn't feel any different, but was she? The question reminded her of another conversation she'd had not that long ago, about the way it was easy to miss changes sometimes because you were the one living them moment to moment. Maybe that's what was happening with her. Hell, with everyone, all the time, but especially now.

"So." Taking a sip of milk, Autumn dismissed that thought for the consideration of her future self and turned her attention back to the familiar-yet-unfamiliar face of the young man seated across from her. "Change of subject," she announced, spearing another bite of cinnamon-spiced fruit and waffle goodness with her fork. "You said you wanted to talk about the, uh. Local news. Where should I start?"

"Well, I kinda know the stories, right? The family folklore about the Enemy, and some of the secret stuff that happened in Shelly before..." Jacob motioned with his fork before taking a shovel-load of bacon and eggs with it. "Sho." he said around the mouthful. "I guess what I want to know first is when: did the stories stop just being stories for you? How'd you get sucked into all this."

"Well, about-" Autumn made a show of checking a watch. "-two weeks ago, I walked into a door."

"Like the door you were talking about Monday night with our folks? The hell-place door?"

"Nope." Autumn smiled despite her flush of embarrassment. "That door over there. I wasn't paying attention and it swung back and caught me in the face, knocked me on my ass." Amidst the snickering, she outlined that first, strange meeting with Jase and Clara, how they'd checked on her, then performed miracles, then told her she was like them. And how, almost before she could check her progress, she'd ended up skipping class to go into the woods, nearly gotten eaten by a monster, and seen even more weird miracles - like Marissa Jauntsen hugging her and saying they should be friends. "That wasn't quite the craziest thing that I saw that day." she finished, swiping a section of waffle through some spiced apple residue on her plate and steadfastly refusing to think - overmuch - about Jason naked and covered in blood and fire. "But it definitely was the capstone on a day of 'what the fuck?'" she grinned self-deprecatingly.

"Jesus." Jacob breathed, sipping at his OJ. "So you and the super-friends-" "Fellowship." Autumn corrected, taking a gulp of milk.

"Right. You tracked down and fought the Enemy - I overheard that from the living room when you all were talking in the kitchen." Jacob admitted, toying with his drink. "So what I want to know is: What happens now? And is it true you can heal with a touch, or was that my concussion talking? What exactly can you all do?"

"So," she began tentatively, balancing her fork on one tine as she twirled it against her empty plate. "I'm not sure about the whole, 'fighting the Enemy,' thing. What I mean is, it might be bigger than just that one part we saw. And so, honestly, I'm not really sure what happens now. Like, there are still some things we need to do, to hopefully deal with it once and for all, but after that...?" Her voice trailed off, one shoulder twitching upward in a helpless shrug. "I wish I knew. Life sort of goes back to normal, I guess. For a given value of 'normal,'" she added, remembering the talk she'd had with her mom.

Jacob nodded, chewing a bite of greasy, salty hashbrown as he considered that for a moment. "Makes sense. I guess what 'normal' is does look different after all this."

"You are not kidding," his breakfast companion agreed ruefully, her lips curving into a faint grin. "As far as the, uh." Casting a surreptitious glance around, she leaned in slightly, resting her chin on her elbow. "The healing thing, yeah. It's..." She paused, her features scrunching into something like a grimace. "How can I say this? It's easier to take things apart than to put them back together. You were tricky," she admitted softly, studying her childhood friend's features with an odd mixture of feelings both sentimental and clinical, simultaneously assessing his current health and reflecting on how worried she'd been when they'd found him in the woods near Champion's Field. "Lots of swelling, bleeding on the brain. I'm just..." Exhaling sharply, Autumn glanced back down at her plate, shoving grim thoughts firmly aside. "I'm just glad you're okay."

"Makes two of us." Jacob replied softly, catching her eye. "Still, it's a hell of a gift you got. Gotta say, I'm a little jealous." he added with a grin. "Not about the fighting monsters and stuff, but, you know... Being super."

Autumn snorted at that, rolling her blue eyes expressively. "Puh-lease." She waved away the 'super' comment. "I'm not even sure how I feel about it from day to day. Sometimes it's scary as hell, and sometimes it's really cool."

"Only sometimes?" her friend asked, eyebrow raised skeptically.

"Okay, mostly more cool than scary, especially lately. I just..." Autumn gestured with her fingers. "I'm not sure what to do about having these… gifts. Not really. How is it going to change everyday life? Is it even going to? That sort of thing."

"I suppose so." Jacob mused, rubbing his chin in thought and looking like a younger version of his dad in that moment. "Maybe-" A tray was slid into place next to Autumn's.

"Morning." Jase said as he relaxed into the chair beside her, setting a thermos of coffee down between them as he poured syrup on his pancakes. His shaggy hair was damp from the showers after his run, a few beads of water here and there still on his skin as he regarded both his girlfriend and her friend with his usual air of composed faint curiousity on his scarred features.

"Morning," Autumn smiled, angling her chair to face both guys a little more comfortably as she nudged her boyfriend's knee companionably with her own. "You're just in time. We were just talking about terrifying super powers and how having them may, or may not, change the world as we know it. We started with mine," she added somewhat distractedly and then trailed off, her attention caught by the dark ends of Jason's hair as they clung to the nape of his neck. He'd just come from a shower... Had he gone running, maybe, and cleaned up after, or just taken his time getting to school? "So we didn't... Um..."

Autumn. Hey. Hey! You're staring.

Mhmm. She could almost smell his soap, or cologne, or whatever it was past the cloying sweetness of syrups and baked goods, that clean, vaguely herbal scent that made her want to lean over and breathe it in, or maybe just steal one of his shirts or something.

Seriously? her inner voice chided her. You. Are. At. School. Oh, for- Jesus fuck, Autumn, could you not-

"Autumn?" Blinking as the sound of her name broke through her reverie, she turned to peer blankly at Jacob as his fork struck the tray with a clatter. He dropped his face into his hand with a muffled, "Oh my God. I can't even," choking back an incredulous laugh at the expression on his best friend's face. Another moment passed as the slow realization- accompanied by an inexorable wave of bright crimson flooding her face- finally settled in.

"Oh my God," she echoed in a despairing hiss, resolutely not looking up at Jason's face as she very slowly, very deliberately, straightened in her seat. "Oh my God, I'm so- Oh my God. Um." Flailing verbally for some way out of the situation, some escape from the fact that she'd just had her face pressed against Jason Goddamn Bannon's shoulder at the breakfast table- in the cafeteria, of all places!- like some crazy person, and reminded suddenly that people had probably already heard about the way she'd enthusiastically greeted him at the picnic on Monday, Autumn grabbed at the thermos he'd brought as though it were a rope thrown to a shipwreck survivor adrift at sea. "Oh, look. Coffee!" she exclaimed, fumbling with the lid and swearing silently to herself as she poured a cup.

"So, guess we know what your super power is, huh?” Jacob asked Jase with a grin, giving Autumn a sly, teasing glance. The crimson-faced redhead glared at him and Jacob felt a short, sharp strike to his shin, hard enough to make him wince a little as Autumn glanced out of the window, sipping her coffee and pretending nothing had happened.

"Turning up with coffee." Jase replied with a slow, deadpan nod as he poured himself a cup, then offered the thermos to Jacob. "I'm good, thanks though." the warden's son said, holding his hand up forestallingly. "I want to be able to sit still in first period, which I won't if I'm wired." He explained with a smile. "If there's any left at lunchtime, I'll definitely take you up on it."

"If." Autumn agreed pleasantly, turning back from contemplating the panorama outside the window now that her face had cooled somewhat - only to freeze like a deer in delicious jade headlights as Jase leaned towards her this time. If she could have formed a coherent thought, it would likely have been 'If he kisses me here I'm going to end up climbing all over him at the breakfast table.' but all she was capable of was 'Umm...' as the olive toned, scarred face came closer still... and then his lips brushed her freckled cheek and a fresh wave of delighted pink spread from her hairline in sync with her smile.

"I'm psychokinetic." Jase explained to Jacob as he straightened up, cutting a forkful of pancakes and taking a mouthful, washed down by coffee as Autumn's friend mulled that over for a moment.

"So that's like telekinetic?"

"Same thing, pretty much." Jason allowed. "The devil is in the detail of the word. Telekinesis is one of the things I can do - moving things. But my control over kinetic energy goes down pretty far - I can control the motion of molecules - slowing them down or speeding them up."

"So that would mean... making things cooler or hotter?" Jacob hazarded, recalling some thermodynamics from Physics last year. Jason nodded. "But how does that work?" The young athlete asked, fascinated. "How do you do it?"

"Still working on figuring that out." Jason shrugged, taking another bite of his breakfast, syrup clinging to his lips as he ate. "I have theories, but no way to coherently test them yet. We can all feel the energy - Shine - that we tap into, and some of us can feel it in detail, but there's a ton of 'what if?' and 'don't know' still to clear up."

"There's other names for the energy, whatever it is," Autumn added, pouring the last bit of milk from her carton into her coffee. "Dawning Light's what the Blackfeet call it." Jacob nodded; his own trip to the reservation and subsequent talks with his father had given him at least a rudimentary framework, of sorts, to support what he'd been hearing over the last few days, which was more useful now that he had some direct experience. "But, yeah. For me, it's all about dealing with living things, or I guess," she frowned, teeth catching momentarily at her lower lip, "just life in general, and all the processes that go into that. People, animals... plants, even, to a certain extent. Healing is a part of that, but just a part. I'm hoping I can learn more on Saturday when I go in with Mom and Dad, maybe see what else I can do, or find better ways to do it. There's kind of a range of things that go into these... abilities, y'know? It's like how Jase can start a fire, or make a drink cold, or give people airplanes, or-" Inhaling as she caught sight of the pale line etched into her boyfriend's skin again, she gave a wan smile. "Or stop bullets."

"Bullets?" Jacob repeated, the deep furrow of a frown creasing his forehead as he put two and two together. "Hang on a minute. You mean-" He gestured toward the scar cresting Jason's cheek, a faded mark he'd assumed was a remnant of their fight with the Enemy. "That?"

"Yes." Jason inclined his head slowly, not at all self-conscious of the scar. "We have more mundane enemies. One of their... agents sent some people to kill me yesterday."

"Holy shit..." Jacob breathed, his eyes widening as he looked at the scar more carefully. "They shot you in the-"

"Side of the head." Jase finished, half-turning his head and lifting the hair a little so the other young man could see. "I can put up forcefields that blunt kinetic energy and disperse it. I was a little slow getting one up because I didn't see the attack coming until almost too late. It slowed the bullet enough for it to merely fracture my skull and glance off rather than drill right through." He let his hair fall back into place and went back to eating.

"Fuck." Jacob stated, blinking both at the evidence of the attack and at the matter-of-fact reporting of it, glancing at Autumn.

"If it hadn't been for Autumn, I'd likely be dead. And if it hadn't been for Devin, I'd probably have died before Autumn could save me." Jase agreed, his pale eyes examining Jacob. "The world contains more than monsters. There's humans who want to control, or contain us. Failing that, I believe they will try to destroy us."

"Sure you don't want any coffee?" Autumn chimed in, offering her friend both a sympathetic smile and her cup as he again declined with a polite shake of his head. "Suit yourself." Taking another sip, she nodded her agreement with Jason as she glanced in his direction, trying to focus on the subject matter at hand, and not to think about the fact that he'd actually kissed her for a change; even if it was only on the cheek, she could almost feel the phantom pressure of his lips against her skin, a faint tingle of memory. Not for real, obviously, but almost. Turning back to Jacob and more pressing (if less appealing) concerns, she pursed her lips, nose crinkling unhappily. "The whole situation is complicated, I guess, and to be honest I'm trying not to think too much about that right now. But it does kind of go with what we were talking about earlier... the 'what next?' stuff. Just having these powers might not change our lives much, but-"

Movement over Jay's shoulder caught Autumn's attention and her eyes followed, tracking the distant clatter of empty plates and trays being dropped off as increasing numbers of students pushed back their chairs and filtered out of the cafeteria in small groups. What time was it? she wondered, realizing she hadn't looked at her phone at all yet that morning. Sliding it from her pocket as, catching her air of urgency, Jacob glanced at his watch, the two childhood friends immediately came to the same conclusion: the first bell was about to ring.

"Crap," they muttered, almost in unison, and grinned. "Okay," Autumn laughed, simultaneously relieved not to be discussing assassins and hellscapes so early in the day and frustrated that they hadn't been able to finish talking. "We'll talk more later, yeah?"

"Yeah," the future FWP administrator agreed, smiling as the trio gathered up plates and bags. "Sounds good." With a quick check of his own phone and a brief wave, Jacob melted into the surging crowd.

Jason shoved the last mouthful of his breakfast into his mouth and stood as he washed it down with the last swallow of coffee in his cup. A tap on his arm brought him face to face with Autumn, who smiled up into his eyes as she proffered the other thermos cup lid.

"Thanks." the young redhead told her boyfriend, nose crinkling as he nodded, smiling back and screwing the cup into place. "Uh..." Autumn's eyes found the smear of syrup on his lower lip and locked onto it. "You've got a little something..." she murmured, suddenly once more keenly, painfully aware of his nearness as she lifted a hand to indicate the offending condiment.

Jase, hands full of book bag and thermos, licked his lower lip in a gesture that sent an electrical shiver down Autumn's spine. "Better?" he asked, glancing around to ensure he hadn't left anything behind as he stepped away from where he'd been sitting.

Fuck it.

Slender, strong hands gently cupped his jaw, Autumn's fingers playing over his smooth and scarred cheeks as she brought him round and down to face her, her mouth hungrily searching out his. The kiss was brief, her tongue gently playing over his lower lip, sucking gently before she let him go, gazing up at him with a smile. Someone, somewhere else in the cafeteria, wolf-whistled. Jase stared at her for a moment, taking in the pink cheeks, the blue eyes dark with desire, his senses afire with the sudden fierceness of her kiss.

"Thanks." he murmured, smiling slightly.

"Mmm. No problem." Autumn breathed back, stepping a pace away so as not to be tempted to go further. Later, though, she mentally promised herself. And him. "We'd, uh, better get to Chem."

"Right." Jase nodded, shoving his thermos in his bag and falling into step with her as they dropped off their trays and left the cafeteria together.

Edited by Vivi OOC
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Cassandra scarfed a breakfast bar and a glass of OJ (the OJ first because it tasted hella gross if you ate it AFTER the OJ) on her way out the door the morning of September 4th. There was a very specific reason why. She made good time on her bike and chained it to the fence of the bike enclosure rather than walking it in and picking a loop of metal in the concrete. It saved a couple of minutes. A couple of minutes, along with some more from skipping breakfast at school, that she could use to get started on an article for the paper before Leila came in.

The plan was foolproof. She even peeked in between the slats in the window to the 'newsroom,' while shading her eyes, and verified that Leila's bag wasn't on her desk. Cassie got her key out and let herself in and locked the door behind her and sat down and turned on her little Mac laptop, all ready and engaged and just bursting with news and stories to tell...

...and then had to delete her first paragraph. It sounded crazy her first try. How could it not?! It was talking about pretty crazy things. Cassandra tried another couple of drafts, but none got past midway through paragraph two. Okay, step back. What was the official story again? There'd been a murder at the old town hall, police were investigating? Right, well, a little boring but it was a solid starting spot.

Cass started typing...and then stopped. Unease fluttered in her fingertips. They felt tingly. A little numb. It didn't take much introspection to figure out why, because the answer was echoing in her brain.

If I do this..if I print this...then I'm spreading a false story to help cover up real events because some shadowy government agency wants me to.

If she did this, she was one of Them.

They were everywhere in conspiracy circles. Cassandra knew Them well, from when she'd been looking for something, anything, to explain what had happened to her dad. The government, both national and international. Globalist billionaire cohorts locking down world resources. Secret societies. If you went deep enough you could throw Satanists and aliens onto the pile. THEM. The ones pulling the wool over everyone's faces, to protect the status quo from the baleful eye of public scrutiny. Not caring who couldn't breathe because of it.

And if she thought about it, why did she feel a need to protect Aeon? Branch 9? Obviously not Crossroads, but...were they that different? Did she KNOW Aeon didn't have labs full of human subjects? It wasn't like they'd ever been given a full tour. Crossroads and Enterich and Cook had spun off of Aeon after the fact, but how much of their agenda was set before the breakup?

Shit. SHIT.

Click. "Cool. That is going straight to the spank bank."

Cassandra's agonizing was interrupted by the bored-sounding voice of Leila from off towards the little hallway that led to the bathrooms. She looked over, eyes wide.

Leila waved her phone at Cassie and laconically explained, "I think I managed to capture the exact moment when you realized what a hack you are. It was majestic."

And though Cassie had spent the entire semester coming up with internal excuses for Leila, she was way past her threshold right now. She spun in her seat and fixed the student editor with a stare that wouldn't have been completely out of place on Jase's face.

"What is your problem with me, Leila?" she asked, and though she was angry she didn't ask angrily. There was force behind the question, but not any attempt to threaten or intimidate. "You've been giving me nothing but shit all year...and not just like, editor-shit either. That thing with the camera was fucking uncalled for, and it's not the first time."

At this Leila rolled her eyes up to look at the ceiling and said, "Finally. Jesus. I thought you'd go the whole year." She went to her desk and sat atop it to return Cassandra's aggrieved stare.

"Alright, first and foremost, it's because you're pissing me off. Second it's because I don't trust you. Third...because it's fun. And don't worry...I will elaborate." Leila reached over to turn her computer monitor towards Cassandra, and tapped her mouse button.

Keynote popped up, with a slideshow on it. It was titled, 'X Things I Hate About Allen.' Leila shrugged. "It's a work in progress, but I'm not letting that stop me from doing this. So, slide one. How you're pissing me off."

"You're a fraud," she explained, moving the cursor over that line on the bullet points. "Everyone else in school seems like they forgot, but your freshman year you skipped like half your classes. You didn't give a shit about school, about journalism, about anything but getting high and falling off skateboards with your slacker boyband harem. Then your dad dies, which is...okay that's legit tragic...and you fall off the planet for most of that year, and then you show up...Cassandra the go-getter. Going to class and getting into activities and all that, and everyone buys into your redemption arc." She tapped between her eyes. "Except the ones who pay attention. You show up to class but you don't pay attention and your grades are kind of shit. You join the paper, but I have to constantly ride your ass to get you moving, and you never, ever, FUCKING EVER, talk to me about what the fuck you're doing."

She took a deep breath, visibly calming herself. "...which is fine. I don't have a horse in the trainwreck of your life, except for one thing. My grade for THIS is based on how well the WHOLE PAPER does. Which means you're in a position to fuck it up for me. That means I can't just ignore you, and that pisses me off."

Cassandra, more than a little taken aback, opened her mouth to try to respond but Leila cut her off with a scowl and a neck chopping motion. "Not done yet. You asked, so I'm gonna answer."

"Anyway, why I don't trust you is kind of...tangled up in there, but yeah. Whatever this big change you're marketing in yourself is, it's skin deep, Allen. You're still not taking any of this seriously. Which is, again, you know it's fine except now it's affecting me. Worst of all you're super deep in denial over it? Every time we talk you keep trying to talk like fucking Lois Lane or something and if you can't even be honest with yourself, what does that mean for everyone else? Uh...number...three? Yeah."

She moved the pointer down. "Right. It's fun. So, here's the thing. About ninety percent of school I don't care about either. It's literally just smoke and mirrors. Everything we do here will get crumpled up and smushed down and result in exactly one important thing. Our senior year GPA. That's all universities, or employers, will look at. Literally all. Nothing else matters. All the drama, all the...bylines, all the gossip...it's completely meaningless. We're all trapped in Plato's fucking Cave, Allen. Watching the shadow puppets. We may as well make the show entertaining." Leila lifted her hands and made funny gestures, as if a light was shining past them onto a wall. "If you weren't in a place you could hit my GPA, I would still give you shit, because why not? Besides, maybe it'll do you some good. I mean, if you can't keep it together when a high school girl pretending to be an editor gets on your case, how the fuck do you think you'll do with an actual editor?"

Cassie sat silently for a second, then asked the only question that still made sense.

"...you actually put together a Keynote for that?"

The final slide showed some clip art of a hand flipping the bird out of the screen. Leila looked at it and nodded.

"Yeah, I'm super pro at this job. It's like your annual review or some shit. 'Needs Improvement.'"

"That's oddly touching. Thanks, Leila. I mean, you know, eat shit? But also thanks."

The student editor snorted and sat down at her desk, pushing her monitor back around to face her. Then she said, "One more day, by the way."

Cassie nodded as she got back to work. For whatever weird reverse-psychological Jungian-Freudian archetype bullshit reason, Leila's tirade had not made her more angry. It had kind of...done the opposite? Somehow?

"I know," she replied. "I'm on it."

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Someone was shoving needles into her brain.

It didn't hurt - but she could feel the cold, sterile metal probing through the soft tissue, seeking the right spots for them to do their work. Auditory, droning tones rose and fell in the background, like a muted dentist's drill that changed pitch and speed radically. Lights, of different colours and intensities, flashed on and off in front of her eyes. Nearby, a voice was speaking, coldly clinical.

"At this time, roughly eighty percent of Leviathan's labour force, fifty percent of Leviathan paramilitary forces, and twenty percent of Leviathan field intelligence assets have undergone the procedure..."

She could remember who she was. Remember her friends back in France, remember her mother, remember the heated kisses she'd shared with Courtney and the terrifying battle against an antlered demonic being. But she could feel the emotional import of those things being stripped from her pre-frontal cortex under the weight of the droning, the lights, the chemical fog from the needle in her arm.

"...These are for the most part stable, but are of course observed..."

The speaker was right next to her, their voice in her ear. She could remember everything about being Kat Barras, but all of the old connections, the old emotional ties were being severed, cruelly ripped away. She existed now in order to serve Leviathan. To play her part in bringing in the Great Order. She would kill on command, steal, seduce, betray all trust placed in her, at the behest of her new masters.

She saw Courtney, tied to a chair, the white cloth covering her eyes complementing the white formal dress she was wearing. Bright red hair tumbled around pale shoulders, and Kat looked down at the knife in her hand as she walked, slowly, towards the bound girl. The knife came up, a crimson line was drawn across the throat she'd kissed adoringly not three days ago. More crimson fountained out, splashing over the white gown, washing around Kat's feet.

She felt no horror at her act. On the contrary, she felt calm. Those she served had ordained the action. The voice spoke up again from behind her.

"Hail the Great Beast."

Yes, Kat thought. Hail the Great Beast.

 

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Her alarm rang in the early morning. Kat sat in her bed, mouth open in a silent scream, bathed by the coral light of the sunrise peeking through the window. Her breath was heavy, and so felt the air in the room. She yanked aside the crumpled sheets, drenched in sweat, as the nightmare came back to her, her brains playing the video tape at a high speed. Suddenly, she didn't feel so good. The petite French girl rushed to the bathroom in her pajamas, her stomach all cramped up threatening to splatter gastric acid everywhere. She knelt there for a couple minutes, face looking down at the throne till the nausea disappeared.

Just a bad dream.

Fifteen minutes later, she was running down the stairs like teenagers do, in sports clothes, in a morose mood but "ready" for her morning torture.

Forty-five minutes later, her muscles feeling like limp rubber after the workout with her dad, Kat tore herself out of the shower with an effort of will and, getting dressed, made it downstairs just in time to say goodbye to her father as he headed out for work. Tess was in the kitchen, yawning and sleep-tousled as she poured herself a large mug of coffee. Seeing Kat slump into the chair at the breakfast table, she smiled wryly and poured a second mug, sliding it over to the petite girl.

"Thanks." Kat groaned as she stretched out her hand to get the cream and sugar. Tess shook her head, chuckling.

"Kudos for trying to keep up with your dad." she said, saluting Kat with her mug. "He invited me to go running with him once. Never again, girlfriend. I'm sticking to yoga and tennis." Concern warred with amusement on the lovely older woman's face as she sat down across from her boyfriend's daughter. "Seriously, though: you okay?"

The petite French girl took a long sip, and the mug remained on her lips for a while, the brown liquid reflecting the ceiling lights, olive onto her pale skin. "Nightmare," she told her mug, the sound of her voice, muffled and amplified at the same time, bouncing off the porcelain as if in a miniature stairwell. "Mixture of Brave New world and Silence of The Lambs, with white robes and knives to spice things up... kind of nightmare." She added, setting her coffee back on the table. "I..."

Her head had sunk into her hands. She could feel the welcome warmth of caffeinated liquid running down her oesophagus. "Leviathan..." She muttered for herself. The name felt familiar somehow. The overwhelmingly dark red flowing over bright white came back to her mind, and she shook her head in disgust, drowning the remnants of the nightmare in cream brown. "I'll be okay. I guess." She shot her Dad's girlfriend a half-smile.

Tess nodded a slightly dishevelled head, when her eyes caught sight of the kitchen clock. "Alright, honey. Eat up, don't wanna miss school."

 

8AM

Kat waved goodbye to her dark-haired friend as the car drove away, leaving her to another day at school. Her shoulders dropped as she turned toward the building. At least she didn't feel as banged up as the day before. She grabbed her earphones and made her way to the lockers, Anthony Kiedis taming her wandering thoughts enough for her not to get lost in the crowd of students roaming around the corridors, but not enough for her not to almost literally bump into Sean.

"Oh, hey, Sean!" She said, removing her earphones.

 

Spoiler

Thank you, Bannon, for the shot of adrenaline, it really helped!

 

Edited by Catherine 'Kat' Barras
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First Period: Chem Class
(Cassie, Autumn & Jase)

"Okay, settle down."  Ms Lafferty's voice rose over the hubbub as the bell rang signalling the start of the class.  There was a buzz in the air this morning, she noted, likely due to the drama of the last few days.  She herself had been shocked at hearing of the murder of Charlie Cole, and the kidnapping of two young women - all of whom were students of hers.  It just wasn't the sort of thing one expected in Shelly - at least in her limited experience of the last four years.  Her gaze was drawn to the trio currently settling into their seats at one of the front lab benches, two of whom hadn't been present at yesterday's class.  Nor had Marissa Jauntsen, for that matter.  An attack, break-room rumor had it.  Or rather, she corrected, staring at the pale new scar on Jason Bannon's right cheek, another attack.  Twice in two weeks the young man had been sent to the hospital, and when that was stacked next to the murder/kidnapping of Labor Day and other rumors she wondered what sort of place Shelly really was, under the idyllic surface.

"I'm reasonably sure most of you did the required reading last night regarding acids and bases."  she went on, her gaze moving away from Jason and sweeping over the rest of the class.  "So today we're going to do some practical experimentation, so you can see the principles in action."  She pointed to one of the lab-partner pairs.  "Will and Terry?  Could you come and help me with the equipment trolleys, please?  Each bench gets one tray - everyone gets a pair of gloves and goggles."

As her conscripted help doled out the equipment for the day's practical, she paused at the trio's table.  "Cassandra, you were here yesterday's lesson.  Help Autumn and Jase out - I'll give your bench a little more time to get things done."  Then again..., she mused as she met the impassive glittering stare of the tall lean youth say between the two girls, recalling that test in the first week, with it's too-advanced questions.  The one young Mister Bannon had aced.  "That is, if you need it."  she added, almost as an afterthought.  Or was it a challenge - she wasn't too sure herself.  She restrained herself from asking if he was okay - obviously he was, or he wouldn't be in school, right?  And anyway, what she really wanted to know was 'what happened?'  And that was crossing a line, wasn't it?  Saying nothing more, she moved away and headed over to Marissa and Cade Alister's bench, to give them the same extension.

"I... did not do the required reading last night," Autumn muttered, a guilty flush stealing into her cheeks as she glanced at Cass, gingerly accepting the offered PPE as the designated equipment carts made their rounds. " I didn't know there was any. Do you have any idea what we're supposed to be doing?" she whispered, blue eyes flicking briefly up to Jase's features, and then at the pretty blonde's.

"Okay," said Cassandra, putting her book on the desk. "So last time we talked about the pH scale, and how it's kind of backwards. More acid means it goes down. And it starts at seven instead of zero because scientists are kind of lame. And we talked about concentration and how to measure it, which I think is what we're supposed to be doing here. We should have some of that special paper...somewhere..."  She rummaged around on the desk until she spots a beaker with strips of litmus paper. "Here we go."  Then, "Yeah, it's going to be a boring one I think this time. Sorry. I was hoping for 'melting stuff in vats of acid,' but looks like that's not on the next test."

"It'll be fine."  Jase's murmured reassurance to Autumn was matter of fact as he pulled on his goggles, and positioned the beaker of litmus strips where they could all reach it, amusement glinting in his green eyes as he glanced at Cassie.  "Do you really want to melt stuff in acid?  Because if you do..."

"I mean, if it's a choice between that or watching paper turn colors..."  Cassie paused, as if recalling who she was talking to.  "But otherwise, not really?"  Then she looked at the beakers. "Maybe a little."

"Honestly," Autumn admitted, her nose crinkling slightly as she peered at the quirky young journalist through the lenses of her protective eyewear and tugged on her gloves, "I'll take boring all day long today. Bring on the colored paper."

Cassandra obligingly started setting up the beakers, carefully pouring fluids from labeled flasks into each one, then mixing water into each one in proportions specified on the handout they got. She chuckled on stirring them with the glass stick. "I like the little noise these make. It'd be kinda cool if you could make glass tougher so it didn't break, then use it for drumsticks." tink tink tink  "It's weird that our stomachs are full of this stuff."

"One pH hydrochloric acid, to be precise."  Jase opened his notebook, idly flipping a pencil around in his hand as he watched Cassie mix the solutions.  "This stuff's closer to lemon juice in strength."

"Well, it doesn't smell nearly as good," Cassie comments, wrinkling her nose.

"What's in your stomach is diluted, anyway," Autumn countered thoughtfully as she watched the eraser of Jase's pencil twitching back and forth, her toes skimming over the tile floor with every restless swing of her feet. "It's not concentrated enough to be dangerous. It is  kind of weird, though, to have it just sloshing and churning around inside us. Speaking of, did you get to eat breakfast this morning, Cass?" The redhead grinned a little, reaching over to grab some of the test strips if only to be doing something while the other half of Team Pluck set up the day's experiment.

"Technically yes," Cassandra replied evasively. "I did eat a thing. I was in kind of a rush though. Do you think hash browns go bad? I wonder if I could make a whole bunch of hash browns and just store them by the door so I can grab one as I go out."  Then she frowned. "Bacon'd get them though. He'd find a way. Hm."

Frowning as she regarded her friend more seriously, Autumn shifted a little in her seat. "They one-hundred percent would go bad, yeah. Maybe a box of Pop-Tarts or something? Packs of trail mix?"

Cass shrugged. "You gotta toast pop-tarts. Trail mix could work maybe." She stared at the beakers for a moment, then shook her head. "I'm going to have trouble focusing on this. Someone elbow me if I zone out."

Smoothly, Jason reached over and moved the flasks to in front of him.  "I've got it."  he told her in a quiet tone.  "You just make the notes.  Did you have trouble sleeping?  Is that why you were in a rush?"

"And since when do you have to toast Pop-Tarts?" the redhead asked skeptically, peering sidelong at Cassie as Jase rearranged the table. "You just rip open the package and eat them. I mean, sure, you can  toast them, but you don't have  to."

The face Cassandra makes at Autumn's suggestion is a mask of horror. "You do that? Really?"  Jase also paused, staring at Autumn for a moment's pause as he blinked, slowly.

"Anyway...uh...I slept mostly ok, I guess, but I just wanted to get to school early. I've only got another day before I have to have an article ready for the paper and I figured I could get some work done before Leila got in." Cassie rolled her eyes. "But she apparently has an apartment in the room somewhere."

Giving her boyfriend a quick, one-shouldered shrug accompanied by the arch of a copper brow, the red-haired savage gave him a defiant little smirk. And?  her expression seemed to say. "Oh, gross. And we've been so busy with the... uh... Extra-curricular stuff, you haven't had time to work on it." Nudging the pretty blonde a little with her shoulder, Autumn offered her a faint smile of encouragement. "Still, you've got 'til tomorrow. It's just the beginning of the year, no big deal. As long as it's not some crazy expose about Shelly's history, aliens, and human experimentation, I think you're good.  Just, like, do a fluff piece about the oceans being on fire and someone with cancer crowdfunding their chemotherapy. It'll be fine."

Cass winced at that. "So...what if it was?" she asked.  "Not saying it is. Just...what if it was?"  Jason turned his gaze on Cassandra this time, the corners of his eyes narrowing slightly as he examined her expression as though peering at her through a microscope.  

"Um. What?" It was Autumn's turn to look at her friend, all levity draining from her voice. "Even hypothetically, that's... Wow."

"I just...I know. Okay?" Cassandra said. "I know. It's dumb. I should just do what you're saying, write a stupid story about something dumb, because it's just a school paper and who gives a shit? That's exactly what Leila was saying." She pauses. "...I think. Anyway. I know. It's just...ugh, you know? Like...uuuuuuugh."

"Does Leila know anything?"  Jason asked.  And there was this to be said about his manner: it was very still, very calm.  A pool with no surface ripples.

"I mean..." Autumn began- and then paused, exhaling as Jase interjected.

Cassie shook her head. "I haven't told anyone anything.  But don't you think... I mean people have died over this. People will go to funerals, and never know why. The whole town has been at the center of this and no one's ever known, and that just feels wrong."

"That's not specifically what he asked, though," the redhead commented quietly, surreptitiously glancing over at their teacher and back again.  "Whether you told her or not, do you think she knows anything?"

"You guys, she thought this whole thing was a sex cult," Cassandra sighed. "She's totally clueless.  That, or a pretty good actress."

"Mmm," Autumn nodded, a tiny furrow appearing between her brows as she frowned, teeth catching at her lower lip.

Cassandra seemed to finally catch the mood and frowns. "Why? What makes you think she'd know something?"

Jason relaxed, though the only clue to this was a faint sense of animation returning to his expression.  "Or suspect.  There are rumors flying around - and a lot of us have been skipping classes.  How plugged in is Leila to the rumor network?"

"That's why she thought we were in a sex cult," agrees Cass. "She's plugged in enough to know we're in on something. But she doesn't really...care?" Cassandra wrinkles her nose again. "She actually wanted in, so...there's something we can throw into the acid right now."

"I mean," Autumn suggested with another shrug, resolutely not looking at her boyfriend as a faint pink flush crept up the sides of her face. "You could just write about a sex cult. I'm sure there's plenty of room for one."

Cassandra waggled a little glass stick. "Thought about it, but it turns out that is actually against the bylaws for the newspaper here. Buncha prudes."

"So, back to your other question..."  Jason started laying out strips of litmus paper in accordance with the worksheet's instructions.  "About it feeling wrong.  Do you mean you want to tell the story?"

"Hell yes," is her immediate reply. "After all the bullshit we've seen and gone through, and what this means for the world...of course I do. And, obviously I know no one will believe it except crazy people, and that'll make me seem crazy too. Like I said. I know. I've been thinking about this a lot.  But like, even more than I want to tell people, I don't want to lie about it. I don't want to cover it up.  Just pretend it didn't happen. Gaslight the planet into thinking nothing happened."

Peering over at the paper Jase was working from, Autumn squinted at the upside-down print and laid out her test strips in a mirror of what she could see from her side of the table, glancing at Cassie as she explained her feelings on the matter. "So is the issue how to do kind of both things, or...?"

Noting Autumn trying to decipher the worksheet, Jase gave her a small smile and turned it 180 degrees towards her.  "I think, sooner or later, the story will break itself."  he said quietly.  "I can't imagine all of this, statistically speaking, staying quiet forever."

"Not if Aeon has anything to say about it. Or Branch 9. They'll just...sit on it. Like they always have. I don't think any of this is really a big change from the way they see things. Just another development." Cassandra shakes her head. "It's just that I've been on the other end of this. I spent almost a year researching Crossroads and trying to get a straight story, and getting nothing but runarounds and lies and fake leads and... Now I feel like I'm being asked to participate in that."

"Well, yeah, because the people running Crossroads are working with Enterich. Or he's working with them. They can't get away with anything if people know about what they're up to." Tilting her head thoughtfully, Autumn mulled over that idea. "So, this article. Is it going to be just, like, tinfoil hat stuff, or are you giving them receipts? Because I mostly agree with you on the whole ethical issue, but is telling the whole truth going to help, or hurt?"

"Every answer you give will lead to more questions.  There won't be such a thing as only giving the high points of the story."  Jase added, his eyes flicking up to study Cassie.  "That will lead the world to our doors, for good or ill."

"Yeah," Cassie sighs, deflating. "And it'll read like science fiction anyway. Like I said. It's a dumb idea. I know." She picked up a litmus strip and dabbed it into a beaker. "It's just been bothering me, and...it's making writing this article really hard."

"Nnn-hnn," Autumn shook her head. "Not a dumb idea. Just not something I think you should have to decide on your own, and in only a couple of days. Like you said, it's a huge deal, and the worst-case scenarios for both arguments are fucking awful. Is there any way to write a lead-in, or..." Gesturing vaguely with a gloved hand, she made a face. "Like a filler article, or something? I mean, yeah, it probably will get out at some point, I just don't know if now's a good time. Or," she amended, "what a good time would look like for something like this."

"That's just it. When's a good time? The arguments aren't going to change." Cass shakes her head. "I don't know. I only ever started doing any of this because I wanted to find out the truth about how dad died. Now I know the truth. I don't know why any of this still matters to me. I should be done with it now. I don't owe anyone anything. Shit." She pulls the overexposed litmus strip back out and drops it in to the little sink at the edge of the desk.

"Your tone implies that it does still matter to you, even though you cannot find a logical reason why."  Jason made a couple of notes as he examined a strip of litmus paper, set it aside, and reached for another one to dip into a second flask, carrying the testing out with casual precision.  "Perhaps the only person you owe it to, then, is yourself?"

"Or... How about this?" Fiddling with her pencil as she squinted at the colored strips and the corresponding chart on the desk, Autumn pursed her lips. "Could this article tell the truth in a way that gets people to ask their own questions? Like, not naming names or pointing fingers, but looking at historical patterns and rumors, and letting people believe or not until you decide how to handle it?"  "Because people in Shelly... kind of know something's up. At least, some of the families do," she added quietly, considering what she knew of the Kavanagh history and wondering how these public revelations might change things. "Have for generations."

Cassandra opened her mouth to point out the problems with that, then closed it again. She looked off to one side, almost visibly thinking. "You know, at first I was going to say that would still attract attention," Cass says finally, "But...it's different. They wouldn't be asking how I knew, they'd be wanting to tell me things." Abruptly she reaches over to Jase's notebook and tears off one of the pages underneath the one he's working on now. Then says, "Jase, I need to borrow this for a second," as she took a pen out of her backpack and started scribbling on the note paper.

"Would you like all the compiled research I did into Shelly's history?"  Jason asked, unperturbed by the casual vandalism of his notebook.  "It's the stuff I presented - in condensed form - at that meeting in Bunnee's.  My notes have various statistical signifiers - pointing out that Shelly is unusual for many reasons, not least of which because it's so small despite being a natural crossroads in the roads and railways."

"That would save me a ton of time," Cassandra agreed. She sits up higher and looks at the notepaper, then nods and folds it up. "Okay, it passes the test. I think you saved my butt, Autumn. I owe you a...I don't know, a cheeseburger? What's the going rate for a butt these days?"

"And there's the interview with Laughing Joe, too, if you want to talk about the kind of mythical, cultural side of stuff, as well." Smiling sideways at the inquisitive blonde, she pretended to consider the question, tilting her head to and fro with a mock-sober expression before declaring, "Cheeseburger sounds good. After boarding school tomorrow?"

"Yeah, that's good. Also, are we still on for the skateboarding thing?"

"That's what I meant," Autumn laughed, discarding one of the blue litmus strips and grinning as she wrote down the result. "Yeah."

"Oh shit, boarding school," Cass laughs. "God, I get so tunnel visioned."

"I'll Google Drive the files over to you at lunch."  Jase told Cassie.  "Along with my summary."

"Mmm...maybe no summary. Just the raw research. I might get tempted to crib. Bad form." Cassie flashes Jase a smile. "Can't do ALL my work for me, ya know?"

He nodded, approval flashing a fin in his depthless jade eyes.  "Alright, then."  he replied with the faintest twitch of a smile as he glanced back down at his worksheet.

"And," Autumn added, "if it helps, we're gonna look into some old journals I got from my grandparents' house tonight, family stuff that goes back before Shelly was Shelly. It won't be useful for an article tomorrow, but maybe for this ongoing investigation you're doing? Y'know." Casting another sidelong glance at Cass, she nudged her friend again. "The lead-in for your Pulitzer."

The smile Cassandra turned on Autumn is quite the reversal from her earlier cloudy mood; a crepuscular ray shining through. "That would be both badass and awesome, much like yourself. I feel like...tying it to a family will make the whole thing kind of...resonate? Feel real? Not just some kind of 'I'm just asking questions' internet conspiracy bullshit kinda thing. That's definitely going to be something I have to watch out for.  Will you guys mind reading it over too? I feel like you'd be ok telling me where I fuck it up."

"Wait, seriously?" the expressive redhead squeaked softly, eyes widening at the suggestion. "You'd let me read it first? Holy shit, Cass, that's... Um, yes, definitely! Thank you!"

Jase's head tilted slightly as he studied Autumn's reaction, then glanced at Cassie.  "Of course.  I'd be happy to go over it."

"Hell yeah!"  Cassandra held up a hand for Autumn and Jase to high five.  "You guys are the best. Lets melt some shit for science."

"Ahem."  Ms Lafferty's cough brought the celebration to a standstill, as the teens looked around to see her standing at the end of their bench with a faintly disapproving expression.  "Melting... 'stuff' is not the objective here, Ms Allen." she admonished with a raised brow.  "Can I assume from the high-fiving that you've finished the experiment already, then?"

"We definitely made a breakthrough," Cass reported with a grin.

Conspicuously studying the paper in front of her, tapping the eraser end of her pencil on the tabletop, Autumn choked back a laugh.  "It's, uh. Still a work in progress, ma'am," she managed awkwardly.(edited)

"Cassandra apparently really likes science."  Jason said, as deadpan as only he could manage, only his friends spotting the sly glint of ancient humor in his eyes.  "We should be done soon, Ms Lafferty."

"Good."  The Chemistry teacher paused a moment longer, eyeing the suppressed smile on Autumn's face and the grin on Cassie's.  They were more informative than the blank poker face of the young man sitting across from them, but she decided to let it go this time.  "Carry on, then."  she added, turning and moving off along the rows of benches.

Spoiler

With thanks to Salmonmax and Vivi!

 

Edited by GDP_ST
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First Period: Chem Class
(Kat and Sean)

On 8/13/2021 at 2:45 PM, Catherine 'Kat' Barras said:

"Oh, hey, Sean!" She said, removing her earphones.

Hand on the combo-lock, Sean glanced over his shoulder at the accented voice penetrating the cacophony of the halls right before the bell rings. Tinny music came from the earbuds around her neck.

"Morning, Kat," Sean replied, trying to smile around a yawn. Strong, slender fingers spun the dial on the lock with habitual ease. There was a soft click, then Sean grunted as he gave the lock several vigorous tugs before it opened. It was the same lock he had used since grade seven. It spun easy, but stuck sometimes. Still stiff from his unaccustomed morning activity, he yanked open the dented, green locker door - his head, Chet's help. "Already got your books? Bell's 'bout to ring for Chem."

So saying, Sean reached up for the textbooks lined up neatly on the top shelf. He pulled out the thick chemistry textbook, but suddenly his slim hand seemed to lose all grip strength. The scarlet haired technophile gave a high pitched yelp as the corner of the textbook bounced off his prominent chest. His free hand flailed wildly as he tried to catch it, his other hand occupied with his thermos of coffee. Failing, he raised a knee to catch and slow the textbook's fall and give him another chance to collect it, but instead he ended up kicking it. The textbook slammed against the row of lockers, then slid along the linoleum for a few feet, before bumping into a pair of shoes.

Sean sighed, his face almost as red as his hair, giving his hand a betrayed glare as he shifted and stooped to collect his book. "Sorry," he muttered apologetically to the person the shoes belonged to, the , buxom beanpole Kimberly, who gave the more endowed boy a commiserating smirk. Sean straightened up and stuffed the textbook into the satchel on his hip, next to his laptop, and turned back to Kat, nodding down the hall towards Chem class. "Mornings, right?"

The petite French girl hid her smile behind her hand. "Mornings." She acknowledged. "I still need to get my books, I'll catch up." Turning around, she bounced off a rather large Senior, squealed, apologised and corrected her trajectory.

A couple minutes later, Kat and her Shelly Sherpa entered the classroom, the buxom boy leading her to his desk on the side as she waved at a couple familiar faces. Reaching out for a chair, she settled her textbook on the table and slumped into the chair, empty eyes over surly features. The name Leviathan had come back to her mind, but she still couldn't figure out when she'd heard it. It has to be recent, she thought, wrestling with the morning fog seeping through her thoughts in disorder. If it had been for her, she'd have had a whole gallon of coffee.

A voice brought her back to the land of the living, and she turned to Sean. "Wha?"

"Ms. Lafferty said page 57," Sean said quietly, sliding her a pair of protective goggles and a set of plastic gloves across the black composite of the desk. He hadn't done the assigned reading yesterday, but he had read the textbook at the beginning of the year and remembered what was written. "It's just litmus paper tests. Not hard. Did this in previous years science classes. Guess we have to wait till later in the semester before we get to do exothermic foam reactions I guess."

He nodded towards his thermos of coffee before slipping on the goggles over his eyes. The gloves went on with a snap. "Help yourself to some coffee if you like. I already probably had more than I should."

He rolled his slender shoulders, then tilted his head to one side, then the other, trying to work out the tightness, then started setting up the experiment, making sure he kept a proper distance between himself and the various flasks and beakers. There had been... incidents before where he had inadvertently knocked things over. He didn't want a repeat. These solutions weren't particularly dangerous, but why take chances? Last time, fire had been perilous close to being involved.

Kat stifled a yawn as she put on her PPE and Sean gave her a curious glance. "Didn't sleep well last night, Kat? The meetings didn't go well, sure, but they were still better than the Blight."

"Bad dreams," she replied, shrugging. She opened her book to page 57, giving it a quick read. Nothing new. She realised these second Junior year classes were going to bore her to death. "So we're just dipping paper into acid? That's pretty basic..." She gave him the side-eye. "Get it?"

Sean nodded at the mention of bad dreams. They all we certainly entitled to those, not just to due to the last few days, but the last few weeks. He'd had his own, but he tried to keep the inquisitive expression from his face. If Kat wanted to share, she would, if she didn't, she wouldn't.

"I do use chemistry puns," Sean admitted wryly. He turned from his review of the worksheet to arch a dark red brow at the slighter redhead. The corner of his lips twitched with the effort of keeping a straight face. "But only periodically."

He measured out the next substance in proportions according to the worksheet, gave it several brisk swirls with a glass mixing rod, then slid the flask over to Kat. A whirling tendril still reached halfway to the bottom of the yellow-tinted liquid still whirling in front of the girl. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate."

Kat gave the flask a funny look, wrinkled her nose, and, true to her earlier statement, grabbed a strip of litmus paper to dip it. "That's a mean-o acid." She said, comparing her strip to the scale, and noting the result.

"I've been meaning to ask." She bit her lip for a second, and glanced at her friend, wagging another piece of paper in his general direction. "What are you gonna wear for Homecoming?" After a short pause, "...Designer genes?"

Sean's pretty face scrunched as he groaned. If his genes were anything, they were defective, not designer. "That is just... just awful, Kat. Are you made of sodium and chloride?" He waggled his brows. "Because I feel a-salt-ed. Huh! Huh? How does that feel?"

The petite French girl wrinkled her nose once again, her lips stretched into an irrepressible smile. "That's... hm... humerus. You've got nerve!"

Sean blew her a raspberry then leaned over to see what Kat had written. "Horrible, just horrible. I concede to this punishment."  Mechanical pencil scritching on paper, he copied the results in his own notebook, chewing on a lower lip. "But for Homecoming, uh, y'know, with everything that's been happening, I hadn't actually given it much thought," Sean admitted. "I know, I know, bad sherpa, but I haven't gone to a dance or anything like Homecoming before. I figure I'm gonna go this weekend, get some dressy pants and coat, and a nice shirt, or something."

And hopefully have time to get them tailored to fit, if he even could find something on short notice in Great Falls. Really gotta talk to Devin 'bout this. Sean glanced instinctively around for the exasperating teleporter, though well aware he wasn't in the same class.

"Probably in black or dark blue, I guess? Erm, unless you've already got something picked out? And want to match more, but it isn't necessary. This is just Homecoming, not prom."

"I never went to a dance either, to be honest." She replied. "I'm thinking I'll wait till Friday before ransacking Great Falls." A coral lock slipped in front of her eyes, and she played with it for a while, leaning on her elbows. Dark blue, huh? she thought. That'd look great with his hair. Mine however... She glared at the lock she was fidgeting with, the color beginning to turn bland, a paler carrot. Emerald? Or a pastel green? Pastels look nice with my blonde. She shrugged.

"Okay." Kat said on a light tone. Maybe she'd ask Marissa. Although she couldn't forget the words exchanged at the Jauntsens' the day before, they didn't mean she couldn't make friends with the Evil Queen of Shelly.

Sean knew he was already pressing for time to get ready for Homecoming, and hearing his sister and other girls talk in passing through school, it was worse for girls. He considered which of the girls he knew who might be able to help Kat. Lona and Sara were gone, and he hadn't known Clara that much. Autumn, Cassandra? He glanced over to where they were sitting with Jase, giggling. Lilly? No, just like him, there was an obvious choice...

"Don't wait too long, like I'm doing," Sean suggested. "Might be slim pickings, this close to Homecoming. Maybe scrounge up a shopping sherpa. Tess, maybe, or... Marissa..."

Kat's pale brows rose up at the close echo of her thoughts, and Sean shrugged sheepishly in response. "I mean, if anyone can find you a dress and the right shoes on short notice-"

"I know Homecoming is next Friday, Mr. Cassidy," Ms. Lafferty said, her tone dry, as she passed by, checking on the progress of her students. "But please leave the talk of dresses and shoes for after class? Or at least, until you've finished the experiment?"

A twinkle the teacher's eyes and a bare curve of her lips eased the teasing reprimand. Sean was a great student, if perhaps occasionally distracted by his phone or class work not always on his laptop when the class didn't take much effort on his part.

"Yes, Ms. Lafferty," Sean muttered, ducking his head, focusing intently on his notes as faint colour rose to his pale cheeks. Kat glanced away to conceal her amusement.

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Lunch

The bell rang to herald the end of third period, Mr McRiley's voice rising above the sudden relaxed clamor of the dozen or so students in his AP Calculus class, reminding them all of the end of week test on Friday as Jase swung the strap of his satchel onto one shoulder and made his way out into the suddenly bustling halls, sidestepping the boisterous cluster of football players in their team jackets as they all-but charged past in the direction of the cafeteria.  One or two of them glanced his way, but nothing more as he headed in the other direction to his locker, his eyes and other senses taking careful note of the motion of the crowd ahead and around him despite the relaxed, straight-backed gait he moved with.  He had, after all, cause for caution.  Twice in two weeks he had been attacked, once here in school, and Chet had made clear that he and his clique had hostile intentions.  For all that it was unlikely Chet and Co would risk suspension or expulsion by attacking him openly on school grounds, Jase wasn't going to underestimate their capacity for stupidity.

He also wasn't going to passively take it next time some moron laid a hand on him.  But that was still a hypothetical issue - it could be that Chet was all hot air and no action.  At any rate, he was going to keep an eye out.

He spun the dial on his lock with practiced ease, swinging open the locker and switching out his morning's books with the ones he would need this afternoon before grabbing the plastic container with his lunch in from the top shelf where it sat, condensation forming on the sides.  He noted with satisfaction that it was still cold, the small amount of Shine he'd pushed into keeping it refrigerated dissipating as he released it from his power.  As impressive as flying or firenados were, being able to keep things warm or cool was definitely a more practically useful application of his gifts, and though it would take a small investment of his reserves to maintain for any longer than a few hours, that was enough to, say, keep his lunch chilled until he was ready to eat it.

A few minutes later, he was moving up the bleachers to the top row at the far end, his habitual perch when he wasn't lunching in the cafeteria.  Settling down, he extracted his laptop from his satchel, plugged in his earphones, and started up Rosetta Stone's German language course.  As the lesson introduction played, he messaged a PlopBox link to Cassie with all the data he'd collected about Shelly, then opened the Tupperware container and picked up a fork.  A brush of his power had the contents steaming and he set to, now and then pausing his chewing to mouth a phrase the recorded instructor was accentuating.  Even so absorbed, however, he frequently would glance up, taking in his surroundings and those in them with a calm, narrowed gaze, before again turning his attention to German grammar.

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Classes had gone pretty much normally for Cade.  He was working studying more, though between football and his other extracurricular activities, his progress was slow.  He knew he'd need to get with Sean for help with math again, Sean was patient at least with him, Math was his weakest subject still.

He didn't see anyone at first in the cafeteria, surmising that the others were doing their own thing, and that was fine, it happened more these days.   There was of course one mostly empty table that stood out.   Marissa was sitting there, and giving anyone and everyone a death glare a basilisk would be proud of.   The thing was, she wasn't alone.   There was someone there with her.  When Marissa turned her gaze on him, he hesitated for a moment.  She'd pretty flatly ignored his invitation to eat together earlier, and a part of him knew this could certainly blow up in his face in  a big way.  Still, he steeled himself and made his way to sit there with Marissa, and whoever else was brave enough to sit by her in her current mood.   He vaguely recognized the girl as one of the cheerleaders, Katie.  He didn't know her, but Marissa probably had her reasons.   Cade smiled as he approached, and asked quietly.   "Marissa, Katie, mind if I join you?"

Into the Lioness's den he went, again.

“Yes.”  Came Marissa’s swift reply.

“No.” Katie answered with a happy shake of her head.  Like most young people with Downs Syndrome, Katie was quite social and friendly, some would even argue that she was the perfect victim for someone like Marissa who enjoyed manipulating and harming people she viewed as ‘less than’ herself.  From Katie’s point of view however, she was sitting with the ‘prettiest girl in school’ and now her boyfriend wanted to sit with them too?  Even if she didn’t care about popularity, she certainly understood how it worked.

Marissa groaned and rolled her eyes.  “Katie, you don’t want him here bothering you.  He’s nobody.”

“He’s your boyfriend.”  She corrected the attitude laden diva.  “Rude.”  Day One and Katie was already starting to sound like Marissa.

Marissa sighed, realizing that she was beaten at ‘The Game’ because Katie had no idea there was a game being played.  “Right.” She conceded in a lazy tone.  “Forgot about that.”

“Besides,” Katie added.  “If he’s nobody than he can’t bother us.”

“Fine.” Marissa gave up.  “Fine.  Sit.  Whatever.”

“Hi,” Katie said with a smile that told Cade she already had a crush on him.  “I’m Katie.  This is-“

“He knows, Katie.”  Marissa tried to keep in her frustration.  It was obvious she wasn’t used to dealing calmly with people like Katie who were dealing with their hardships in life.  She did make a pointed effort to calm down and soften her tone.  “He knows.  ‘Boyfriend’, remember?”


Cade looked between the two of them for a moment, and shrugged inwardly.   He sat next to Marissa, because sitting next to Katie wouldn't have really been normal for him.  "Hope I'm not interrupting anything."  He said quietly.   It was almost a question and a statement.

"How are the two of you doing today?"    He thought about after he said it, and realized all he had was the likely correct assumption Marissa was in a bad place mentally, there was the chance he was wrong, but he didn't know, and he certainly didn't expect her to outright say anything about it.   He didn't  expect a real answer with Katie there, and it would have been rude to just come over and only speak to Marissa.

Something was going on, and he didn't think Marissa was doing this to be mean.   She could be that spiteful, but he wanted to believe in her.   So, here he was, braving the death glare, being a supportive boyfriend.


"I'm okay," Katie said politely.  "Marissa is dep-"

Marissa quickly cut her off by positioning herself to she could better look directly at Cade.  Her voice was low, but there was still rage in her eyes.  "What do you want?  Christ, Cade, I said I'm going to Homecoming.  You still get a date, you're still getting laid... what more could you possibly want from me?  You win, big guy."

"Um... should I go?"  Katie awkwardly asked.

"No, Katie, it's fine."  Her new friend said calmly.  "Because this morning, you sure as hell didn't care about me, all that was important to you was Homecoming.  Whether or not Cade was gonna get seen with Marissa on his arm and oh how happy I was gonna be.  I don't want to be happy two fucking weeks from now, Cade.  I want to be happy now, because I sure as hell don't know how anymore."

"I'm gonna go." Katie said in a bit of a whisper as she excused herself.

"But now," Marissa didn't even notice she'd left.  "Now you want to care?  How Cade?  Regale me with how you care, because you're more emotionally unavailable than I am.  So let's live this dating lie that you are blissfully okay with for two more weeks, but please... please do not insult my intelligence by trying to make believe for one second that you actually care about anything more than fishing, hanging out with your sister or shooting things with your gun."


Anger darkened Cade's features for the first time many had seen at the outburst from Marissa.   It wasn't just that she was doing it, but also that she did it in front of Katie.  Cade put down his fork.   Alot of people were suddenly being both very attentive to what was being said, and trying to look like they weren't.

"Fucking Christ, Marissa."  He met her own gaze, his own voice was low, but there was no mistaking the anger and annoyance in his voice, which matched hers in volume and tone.

  "Maybe I fucked up, but goddamn it's hard not to with you.   I never know what you're really thinking, and when I do ask, you give me some lame-ass canned response meant to put me at ease. "

The anger was still in his own eyes.   "News Flash, it often doesn't.  I'm not as intelligent as others, but goddamn even i can see when something's wrong.   You brush off my concerns as if they're groundless.   You want to face down everything alone.   Makes me feel like shit because to me it says you can't trust me enough to even tell me about it.   Maybe I can't really help with it, but goddamn, you can at least give me a chance to try."  the hurt in his eyes told the truth of this, he did care.

"Maybe my approach to things isn't what you expected,   Fine.  I'm not blameless in all this either.     If how much I do care about you hasn't actually been clear, fine, I'll own that one. "

His gaze hadn't wavered, and he spoke quietly.  "Now, We can continue putting on  a show that'll be talked about for awhile, or we can go somewhere and actually talk about what's wrong, and go from there, together."


"Hasn't actually been clear?"  She took in a deep breath and tried not to completely loose her shit.  "I have been all over you," she whispered softly.  "I tossed about every signal a girl could, I mean every Cade, because I freaking slept with you."

"I got fishing and movie night with your sister.  Not once did you show any concern for what I would have liked to have done.  A nice dinner, a movie in Great Falls, an evening out with just the two of us doing something that isn't fishing, or petting wolverines or having to dodge your sister while we try to make out."  She sighed again.  "Dear fucking God are you hot and a great lay, but... you can't help me."

"You're not equipped to deal with anything that isn't the afore mentioned fishing, your sister or playing with guns." she said matter-of-factly.  "I know you like me, I know you care, kinda... in your own way, but let's be honest, if it's not for sex or beating something up, really, what good are you?"

Clearly the show was going to continue.   "Yes, and I was openly honest about my own inexperience.  That pretty much includes catching signals too."   He frowned.  Having their sex-life on display was not something he'd wanted but it was out now.  The admission he made was gonna get around within minutes, but it was done now.

"Maybe next time I ask "What would you like to do, or would  you like to go do something together, you'll tell me something you'd rather do.  That's not me saying "Hey let's have sex" that's me actually asking if there's something you'd like to do together. Otherwise i have to just guess.  I took you fishing because yes, I enjoy it, and it's peaceful and relaxing. "

The last question stung.   "Those aren't where my worth lies. 
  Because even with everything you've said to me,  I'm still here.  I still want to talk, to try and actually help however I can.  Maybe all I can do ends up amounting to little, but neither of us will know unless we try."(edited)


"Jesus H. Christ you sound like one of those stupid videos they make watch in kindergarten."  She rubbed the bridge of her nose, a visible sign that she was getting more and more frustrated by the moment.  "My life is shit Cade.  My mother is a bitch, you guys are idiots, my brother is an asshole and the list just goes on.  I fucking hate my life, I fucking hate this town, I fucking hate this school, I fucking hate everything."

"Okay, Doctor Phil," she gestured to him and let her hand slap back down on the table in irritated expectancy.  "Discuss.  Impress me with whatever inane lunacy you can pull from your ass that'll make me feel better."

"I don't have to impress you Marissa.   I'm not trying to win your approval here.    Since you want to talk, let's do that.  You can always vent to me, because I've never betrayed anything you've told me in confidence."

"I can't fix your issues with your mom, or with anyone save possibly myself.   This town's the way it is, I think other things have something to do with that, and right now we really can't do anything there.  Hell everything here is probably stifling and limited for you.  I've always imagined it was so, since you're not from here.    You didn't grow up here, so you've got wider tastes than this place could ever offer.   I'd hoped to show you some of what this place did offer by taking you fishing.   Not the best first date idea, and I'll chalk that to my inexperience,  but  Nature is pretty much all we've got around here.   I knew you'd never enjoy going hunting. "

"Sure, it's all fucked up, it's not what you envisioned of your life, and nothing's ideal.   You aren't the only one who feels that way.   Having said that, there's part of the answer at least.  You are not alone.  You have other people you can talk to.  Other people who do want to help you.   Whether you want us or not.  We can't do a damn thing though if you don't give us a chance."  There was an earnestness in how he spoke.  He was trying to think up some ways to help, but he didn't see many.

"You do have a boyfriend who cares about you, regardless of how the relationship began.   I may not know exactly what I'm doing all the time, so I'm just going with honesty here.  I missed the cues, or misread them, so I'll ask you to forgive me for that.  But don't doubt my feelings for you."

"As great as sex and everything else with you is, that's not why I'm here.   It never was.   I'm here with you because I want to be, Marissa."


"Oh, shit," she sighed seeming exasperated.  "Okay, you big, beautiful and quasi-sentient lug.  Baby, I need you to pay attention, because you've obviously missed something, somewhere in the last week or so.  I don't have a boyfriend, Cadums.  We're not really dating.  Everyone in the Fellowship knows this isn't a real relationship, it never was."

"We had a deal, remember?"  She stared hard into his eyes, looking for something, anything working the controls behind them.  "We pretend to be dating and in return you get to fool around with me.  Okay, I admit, sex wasn't really in the game plan, but you had it, I wanted it, so there you go.  You're welcome."  She glanced around, making sure they hadn't attracted any unwanted attention and quietly continued on.  Waving her hand back and forth between them, she continued.  "This, what we have... it's not real, Cade.  I was using you because you're gorgeous and well chiseled.  Now, I'm trying to do you a favor and drag out appearances until Homecoming where I can enforce the 'Two-Week Rule of High School Dating'."


"Yes, Marissa, I'm aware, and I know that we're holding to it.  I'm saying it doesn't have to end after that.  So your brother outed us to the Fellowship, as you said he's an asshole, and thankfully this hasn't actually been an issue.   I'm saying that if you actually want a boyfriend who does care about more than how perfect your ass is, who's willing to actually be there for you,  Well you can have that.  That I would like to be that boyfriend.   That's what I mean when I say I care about you."

"It might be conceited, but maybe through Homecoming, we could stop pretending, and actually be a real couple.  We're already getting the whole first fight thing  out of the way.   You might enjoy it, and for at least a short time, hate this place and everything else abit less."(edited)


"Wow, way to sell yourself, gonna plug your only fans too?"  She sneered, not looking the least bit convinced.  "Do I look like I'm in any condition, mentally or emotionally, to even consider seriously dating you, or anyone for that matter?"

"I'm..." she took in a shallow breath, holding in any emotion that might be trying to escape and ruin her makeup.  "I'm defeated.  Okay?  You guys win.  I'm not a good fit for any of you.  I don't trust you, you don't trust me, and frankly I'm just done.  With you guys, my family, this town, all of it.  I don't want a boyfriend, Cade.  I want to be left alone.  You guys win.  Now go away."

"No, you're wrong, Marissa.  Setting aside me asking you out for real and you rejecting me, the Fellowship isn't out to defeat you.   We won last time because you were with us.   Because we were all together.   I do trust you, despite your warnings about it.  I trust your brother too.    You're friends with Autumn right?  Maybe not everyone's happy with you right now, but that will pass.   You want me to leave you alone,   I made that mistake earlier.  I don't want to do that again.  I'll sit here in silence until the bell rings, and eat my lunch, and you can eat yours.  We can do at least that much together."

"If you think that bothering me to the brink of madness will get me to date you for real, you're wasting your time."  Shelly's drama queen resigned to just shaking her head and waving him off.  "But whatever, do what you want.  We have to keep up appearances until Homecoming anyway."


Without another word she went back to her meal, opting switch which hand she held her fork in so she could operate her phone with the opposite hand and not have to look in her fake bae's direction.

[collab with Dave]

Edited by Cade
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  • 2 weeks later...

He was aware of them before they started up the bleachers toward him, though to be fair they were hardly being subtle.  Kieran and Todd - though without Chet or any others of the 'coup circle', as Jase wryly labelled them in the halls of his mind.  They'd stood down on the field for a few minutes, talking between themselves and eyeballing him - and also looking around with the air of those who were scoping out potential witnesses.  Finally, they appeared to make up their minds as to a course of action, and came clomping up the bleachers.  For his part, Jason internally sighed, then removed his earbuds and closed his laptop, setting it to one side and looking straight at the pair of seniors as they approached.

"We were looking for you in the lunch room."  Kieran said as he and Todd came to a stop, one level down.  "Chet wants an answer."

This again.  Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, Jase kept them on Kieran.  "An answer to what?"

"His terms."  Todd replied, fighting back the faint chill he felt as those cold eyes locked onto his.  "He wants to know if you've reconsidered."

"What are you two doing?"  Jase asked them, his tone somewhere between rhetorical and disdainfully curious.  The two seniors colored, Kieran's fists clenching slightly.  "No, seriously."  The lean genius held up a hand in a peaceable gesture.  "What do you hope to gain from this?  Chet's an idiot who will peak in college football, assuming this stupid high school capo shit he's play-acting at doesn't get him expelled.  If he's lucky, he'll scrape a degree in Business Studies and come back to run daddy's dealership.  And you two?  You've got a year of high school left - do you really want to spend it pissing into the wind over some dumb game about 'who runs the school'?  Because that's all it ever was: a game - children playing in a doll house."  He shook his head slowly, his glacial jade eyes never leaving the pair of them.  "You could be more than Chet's stooges, if you wanted to be."

His eyes locked on Kieran.  "And I know you feel there's some beef between you and me, over what happened on game night."  He shook his head slowly once more.  "There is nothing between you and me.  There is nothing between Stacy and me.  'We' - you, me, her -"  he gestured indicating the points of a triangle "- do not exist as a concept.  Take her out somewhere nice on Friday, or dump her, I don't care.  I've got bigger and better things to do, and I'm not interested in playing out some feud over nothing.  So, and I'm asking nicely, drop it. Drop this. Tell Chet he's on his own with his dumbass games, before he takes you down with him."

Silence met the tirade - the two seniors looking at each other at possibly the most words either had heard Bannon speak.  Finally, Kieran, some of the anger gone from his features to be replaced with sober contemplation, spoke up.  "So that's a 'no', then?" he asked with a faint smile.  Jase's head tilted slightly, assessing the other boy's expression for a moment.

"It's a no."  he confirmed with a nod, watching as Todd elbowed Kieran and jerked his head to indicate that it was time to go.

"See ya round."  Kieran said by way of parting as the two of them walked away.  Jason watched them go, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully as he analysed the exchange.  His first impulse, to simply refuse to comply, reiterate a threat to leave him and his alone, and then to respond with violence if violence was attempted, had come easily to him.  But it appeared that attempting reason, appealing to self interest, might have been the wiser course.

That is, if the rational behaviour lasted.  Maybe it wouldn't - perhaps they'd get back to Chet, then be browbeaten or shamed into falling in line once more.  He considered for a few moments longer, then shrugged and retrieved his laptop, putting his earbuds in once more. He would prefer not to have to defend himself from reckless children if he could avoid it - but neither was he going to run away or kowtow to those who were, frankly, his inferiors.  If they wouldn't listen to reason, then they'd learn in pain.  He'd rather the former, for all manner of reasons.

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Lunch
(Devin and Sean)

Sean shuffled into the cafeteria, cooler bag over his shoulder, his well-worn red sneakers heavy on the tiles. After just starting an exercise regimen with Lilly this morning, throwing himself into participating in gym class like he hadn't ever before had been stupid. He felt wrecked.

And famished. Breakfast had been quick and meager this morning, and while he usually brought lunch from home, today it didn't feel like enough. He decided to grab something from the cafeteria to make up for the calories he'd burned. Maybe some fries or onion rings. Note, if you're gonna be working out before school and actually running during phys. ed, pack a bigger lunch.

Slipping into line and ignoring the few snickers and looks he got, Sean caught sight of Devin. Recalling Devin's earlier offer of helping with Homecoming and Kat asking him about what he was wearing for it, Sean nodded to himself about asking if they could go this weekend. 

And I'm gonna need new athletic shoes. His mouth twisted into a self-deprecating frown as he glanced down. And some new sports bras. The Shefit was holding up, thanks to how customizable it was, but it was getting tight, and he'd outgrown his others.

Sean got his carton of fries, but when he looked around, there was no sign of Devin. He huffed, but if the teleporter had his phone - and was still at school or at least nearby - the technophile could track him down.

Sean found Devin already haunting his next period art class, hunched over one of the large tables. Sean was about to barge in after him, maybe see if he could surprise him, but didn't even finish the thought before reconsidering. After what happened to Jase, and everyone being on edge, that was a horrible idea.

Sean knocked on the door, and when Devin looked back over his shoulder, he waved. Devin seemed to sigh, then gave a nonplussed jerk of his head. Sean slipped in and took a seat next to other boy.

He started setting out his lunch, his movements stiff and tight. Devin glanced up from what he was working on and stared at the freak. Sean's rich scarlet hair was disheveled and half his pale face was reddened, textured marks from what his was hit with still visible.

"What happened to you?" Devin asked as he went back to his paper and pencils.

"All for One dodgeball," Sean admitted, stretching his jaw and unwrapping his sandwich. "Too many balls to the face." 

Devin's head came back up and Sean's eyes went straight down to his sandwich as soon as the words were out of his mouth, other half of his face doing its best to match the first. "Fuck. Can we pretend I just grunted instead?"

“It’s your world, Cassidy,” Devin said with an uninterested shrug.  He tilted his head a bit and looked at his current work, a dark and macabre piece that appeared to be Not-Cody standing atop a pile bones and baying at the sky as the broken Fellowship were all mutilated and dying at his feet.  While a bit dark for Sean’s tastes, one thing was still certain and that was that Devin was one hell of an artist.  It was hard to believe that the ex-bully turned world saver had any measurable talent besides being a dick, but Devin had proven to have so many layers.

“I’m just living in it.”  He finished before slashing his initials in the lower corner with a practiced stroke.  He picked up the art to place it in his portfolio and Sean could see the numerous other drawings he’d done, mostly of the Fellowship and the various times they’d all been hanging out together, but he couldn’t get a decent look before Devin had tucked his newest piece and closed his folder.  “So, what do you want?  Computer lab is down the hall.”

Sean peeled his eyes away from trying to get a better look at the other pieces in Devin's portfolio to stare at him in disbelief. He'd given a Jauntsen a straight line like that, and Devin hadn't even watched it roll pass his feet. More than anything else, that proved to Sean how hard Devin was having it at home after the not-far-from-disastrous meetings.

"I know where the computer lab is," Sean said with a roll of his eyes, expressive voice exasperated. He finished a bite of his roast beef sandwich, then ate a fry. He nudged the cardboard carton a bit more between him and Devin, a silent offer on a waft of fried oil, salt, and vinegar. 

"And it's our world, not mine, dude." There was particular poignancy on Sean's tone. They'd just gone to a different one, to defend this one, and save the girls. "We're all living in it. Sharing it. Trying to make our own way, our own place, in it."

Devin just stared, eyes dark and flat in the face of the feminine boy's inclusive sentiment. Sean squirmed uncomfortably under that silent gaze. Yes, he was certainly learning there layers to Devin, like onions and ogres, but he'd still been bullied by him for years. A terse Devin was some how worse than the verbose one.

"Erm, yeah, okay. I was talking some with Kat, first period, and stuff got 'round to Homecoming, and..." Sean snagged a pair of fries, scarfed one down, then shrugged one shoulder self-consciously and pointed vaguely towards Devin with the other. 

"Well, I dunno if you're grounded or whatnot. " Or how you could even be grounded... "But you mentioned helping with giving me a clue - okay, clues - about getting ready for Homecoming, and I was wondering if you'd have time for that this weekend? Not quite the last minute, but it's getting close. I barely have something appropriate for tomorrow, the funeral."

Devin was silent for a long moment.  His glare was judgmental, to the absolute least, as he silently assessed Shelly’s future chai boy.  Without a word he stood up, which Sean nearly flinched at as it meant Devin might just pop him between the eyes for whatever reason passed for ‘a good one’ in the floating limbo Devin called his mind.  Instead of whopping him though, he reached into his bag and pulled out a large yellow folder, the plastic kind designed for more durability, and it was stuffed to capacity with frayed edges of paper in a manner that looked like the contents were just tossed in after class and carried off.

With a ‘thump’, he sifted and sorted, his fingers walking along page edges as Sean made out that all of the drawings inside were either of Shelly High, the gymnasium in various states of decoration themes, or their assorted friends sketched out in a variety of styles.  “There we are,” he mumbled softly as he pinched a small stack of papers and laid them out on the drawing table.

It was Sean.  Six drawings of Sean on six different sheets that displayed him modeling six different styles.  Two were even a bit more feminine but tactfully still expressed that Sean identified as male (or so Devin assumed).  There was no mistaking it though, Sean could tell it was him, like Devin had captured everything about Sean’s feature from his dimples to his sometimes-lazy hairstyle, he even caught the curvature of his smirk and proportions of his breasts accurately.

“To say my sister is ‘controlling’ when she plans a gig would be the nicest way to put it,” he said to the technophile.  Like Sean, he was looking at the different sketches of Sean in his possible Homecoming outfit styles.  “She plans for everything, even what her guests are going to wear.”

Sean gave him a look at the ‘her guests’ comment.  “Best not to think too hard on it,” he replied.  “All of these are planned from currently existing fashion I stole from the internet.  It’s all designer labels, but don’t sweat the cost, we got you.”

“Devin, I can’t-” The thought of Devin spending money to pay for Sean’s Homecoming didn’t sit well with him.  Sure, the Jauntsens were rich, but that wasn’t an excuse to just let them always pay for everything.

“You won’t.” Devin said calmly.  “My sister still has a bag full of money in her closet she won for risking her neck for you ingrates.  She and I agreed that using that to cover any already unpaid Homecoming accessories for you guys would be a good start.  Also, that bag is supposed to go to you, so you can fix up your loft like you wanted and the Fellowship can all have a place to hang out all secret hideout-like.  Your dad is probably the only one in Shelly that could work magic with it, so, it’s for you guys.”

He swept his hand across the sketches.  “So?  Which one speaks to you?”

"I..." Sean pushed aside his lunch and set out the sketches in two rows of three, large eyes wide as they went from one to the next, his sandwich forgotten in his hand. "... wow."

Sean could sketch well enough, was better at technical drawings, was spectacular with digital art and animation. With the digital tools and software at his disposal, it was easy to keep proportions consistent across multiple pictures and poses. Devin had done all that, proportions and features perfectly replicated among three views per page, front, back, and 3/4 profile, all done freehand. Even the finest details, shading, and the impression of texture followed each contour flawlessly.

He flicked a disconcerting sidelong gaze towards Devin for a moment, wondering for a moment just how discerning and precise the Jaunting One's spatial sense was. Can he 'see' through clothing? Devin certainly seemed to be familiar with his build, because he was depicting it with uncanny accuracy, across multiple angles and viewpoints.

"When did you this?" Sean mused absently, leaning down to get a closer look at a finer detail, raised embroidery on a white outfit, more suggested by shading than drawn outright. Devin shrugged nonchalantly and Sean shook his head. If he had to do something like this by hand, it would take him a thousand years, and that for something not as good, just something he would be satisfied - enough - with.

He done work with styles and outfits of various aesthetics, for pictures for NPCs and PCs for his roleplaying games and for video games. Admittedly, they were usually more fantasy, sci-fi, or some mixture in nature. He tried them out on all sorts of physiques, to see how they looked, to check for clipping issues and the like. He hadn't ever played digital dress-up with himself. Devin caught a shift in Sean's expression, not quite epiphany, but at least a certain realization.

In the drawings, he looked good. Objectively, Sean could admit he had features and a figure that were considered attractive by the majority. But looking at Devin's drawings, that didn't mock or exaggerate or distort his appearance, but rendered it in true likeness and to advantage, this was one of the first times Sean was looking at himself and thought he was attractive.

The black double-breasted suit with a dark charcoal shirt was the most conservative, only the patterned turquoise and jade tie adding a pop of colour. With his hair clipped a bit shorter and neater than he typically wore it and the way the suit subdued his curves, it made him look about as androgynous as he ever would. Sean kind of wished he had it for the funeral tomorrow rather than a pair of slacks that barely fit from when he was twelve and a shirt burrowed from his dad.

Conversely, the dark red outfit seemed to emphasize everything rather than downplay them. It kind of reminded Sean of Travolta's suit from Saturday Night Fever, except for being burgundy with a bit of white instead of white with black, and much, much closer fitting, the collar open wide to reveal more than Sean had ever done publicly. And platform shoes had a distinct heel. If I wore that, let's see if Kat would notice Courtney at all! It was a brief, spiteful thought, but still made colour rise to Sean's face.

He rather liked the green checkered vest and pants, with the metallic sheen to the fabric, but couldn't help but think others would see a leprechaun with his hair and modest height, sure if he wore it, Devin would present him with a short-brimmed hat to go with it. The grey plaid suit was fine, neither wowing him nor displeasing him. The other style that seemed to embrace his feminine features was a fitted cream Nehru jacket with golden buttons and a salmon shirt, patterned with raised satiny white embroidery of dragons and other fantastical creatures. Sure, he liked graphic tees and hoodies, and it was more subtle, but he wasn't sure about it for his first, real suit.

The outfit his eyes kept gravitating back to was the dark blue one, the colour pretty much what he had in mind when talking with Kat during first period. It neither emphasized nor constrained, but simply acknowledged his pronounced hourglass figure. The mandarin collar and minimalist aesthetic with fine, subtle pinstripes and crisp edges evoked a masculine sensibility. The teal shirt seen through the deep, narrow V flattered his eyes, several buttons undone relieving the formality, while revealing a hint of pale cleavage, pairing his masculine identity to his feminine appearance. The smirk and swagger Devin had added to him gave Sean a brash self-assuredness rarely seen, except when talking about or playing video games or other technological areas.

Sean piled up the sketches, neatly squaring the sheets of paper, then tapped the one he left on top with a firm finger. "This one," Sean said in a mixture of diffidence and certainty. "I like this one."

"Good choice."

"Thank-you for this. Really." Sean's tone was genuine, no hedging or typical doubt he had for his former, long time tormentors, the Jauntsens. His jaw tightened as he added, waving a hand to include his home. "And for the other stuff, for The Barn."

It was much harder for him to accept the money to upgrade The Barn, and it had less to do with its provenance than who it was coming from. At least, it was not only that. The Jauntsens were loaded and it felt close to charity. He didn't need their charity. But the offer wasn't about him, it wasn't even really about the money, but about Devin and Marissa and how they felt they could contribute.

He did have ideas for additions and renovations for The Barn. A full kitchen for one. Some of the holographic tech if he could snag if from the project. There was still a lot of space that wasn't being used in the converted barn. It wasn't like the place was The Watchtower or The Batcave or whatever, but he did like hosting gaming nights, and having a place they could gather and just hang out or relax that they could call their own was certainly appealing.

"If you have some ideas for The Barn, I hope you'll share them, Devin. You don't, like, need a teleportation circle or something, do you, to make sure you don't interpose yourself with someone else when jaunting someplace people often frequent?"

Sean didn't really think it was the case that Devin needed an open place to 'land' as it were, but after too many gaming systems and movies, better to be safe than sorry. Held up stack of sketches and looked back and up at the taller boy. "Can I keep these?"

"You can make copies," Devin replied with a bit of no-nonsense in his tone that caught Sean off guard just slightly.  He sounded so serious, and so far hadn't made a single quip, joke, or tossed in an insult.

"It's my art," he explained.  "I'd like to keep the originals.  Just have them back to me by study hall, okay?  Don't worry about frayed edges and all that, I mean, look at this folder."  He held up the yellow folder and it was stuffed with papers that were no longer perfectly smooth.

"And, as long as we're spending that asshole's money on having a good time," he shrugged, referring to Enterich.  "I don't care what you do with the place.  Once I'm familiar with a place, my Seeker Sense accounts for some small variations in the environment, like people, or moved furniture, placing close to my intended target, so no.  No need for a teleportation circle... whatever the hell that is."

"So, you and Kat for Homecoming, huh?"  The fact that Devin wasn't trying to be funny, or had shown any signs of being close to a good mood, was unsettling.  "Just friends, or are you looking to impress her?  Maybe make it a little more?"

After recovering from Devin's quick rebuttal and offer to let him make copies, Sean gave him a curt nod. He could understand wanting to keep the originals. It was well beyond obsolete now, but Sean still had the first computer he had assembled himself. He opened his messenger bag and carefully slid in the sketches on top of his laptop to keep them flat and smooth.

His sister knows what a beholder is, but he doesn't know about teleportation circles... Devin's explanation about how his power worked had Sean wondering if Devin subconsciously tapped into something like the holographic principle of the universe to avoid any teleporting mishaps. He'd have to mention it Jase, see if it might fit their growing theory of neotic unity.

When Devin mentioned Kat and his intentions, Sean couldn't help but give him a sharp look. But he wasn't teasing, mocking, disparaging. Didn't even make a sarcastic or insulting comment. Just direct, almost serious. Sean wanted to look away to hide his thoughts, but that would just make them more obvious. Bitterness, doubt, tentative hope, failed nonchalance.

"I asked her to Homecoming as a friend, yeah," Sean admitted. "But I was thinking maybe if I can catch her attention some there, maybe she'd say yes to a real date, after." While I still have time... He'd asked a girl out once before, but it hadn't gone well. At all. And after all she'd gone through in the last few days, he wasn't even bitter about it anymore. Well, not much. He gestured negligently down at himself with the remnants of his sandwich, his tone and the curve of his mouth wry. "I don't have girls falling all over for this, but Kat doesn't seem off put by it. She's kinda kooky, but cute, and we got on well enough the few times we hung out..."

“Kat can’t even catch Kat’s attention, Sean.”  It was obviously a joke, but he delivered it so flatly that for a moment Sean considered that Devin might be serious.  “But I get what your saying.”

“Look, little bro,” Devin leaned one elbow onto the drawing desk and shifted his attention fully to Sean.  Maybe it was a slip of the tongue, maybe Devin didn’t notice it, but Sean did.  With no humor or harassment, he’d referred to Sean as his ‘bro’.  “Bit of advice, completely unasked for, I know, but here it is: you’ve already caught her attention.”

“Cassie agreed to go with me as friends, but she knows I think she’s beautiful and fun and that I’m attracted to her.” He said, ticking off fingers as he counted.

“Does she?  And, in fairness,” Sean interjected.  “You’re attracted to every g-“

“Aaaaand, furthermore,” he spoke over Sean’s observation like a F-150 over a line of empty aluminum cans.  “She likes me too.  She might not have a crush on me, but she’s attracted to me.  My point is, that a girl doesn’t agree to go out with a guy, even as friends, if there isn’t something already there.  It might fizzle into nothing, or it might be exactly what you’re hoping, but don’t fret over getting her attention, man.  You already have it.”

“Put worried, no-confidence Sean to bed for an evening and be the Sean who literally stood at the mouth of Hell and offered it a breath mint.”  He slapped Sean’s shoulder.  “You’re a good dude, Sean.  Kat would be a lunatic not to fall for you.  Doubly so once we get you the hook up for the dance.”

He inhaled, rather proud of himself at mentoring young Sean on his journey into large-breasted manhood.  Turning back to face his drawing table, something occurred to him.  "Oh, also, I think she's fucking Courtney, so you might wanna look into that.  I know you and C-Dawg are not exactly on good terms, so I thought you deserved to know where her lips had been lately."

Sean's face scrunched up in a scowl at the mention of Courtney. She might have more issues than National Geographic, but Sean still wasn't ready to forgive her, let alone forget all the shit she'd caused him. Still, he didn't have a right to gatekeep who Kat decided to associate with.

"I..." Sean coughed, then ate one last fry, leaving the few remaining as they had grown cold. "... suspected they've been spending time together." Admittedly, spending time together and spending time together wasn't the same thing. He hadn't really thought it had gone that far, or maybe hadn't wanted to think it had gone that far.

"I might be somewhat biased in what I think about it. About her." He pitched his voice into the haughty tone he used for self-absorbed, condescending noblewomen. "But I shall be magnanimous in overlooking Kat's error in judgement in regards to her associate."

Sean sighed and started to quickly consume the rest of his lunch after a glance at his phone, noticing how close it was to the bell ringing. "I don't get to pick Kat's friends. If we start turning into something more, well... I guess I'll - we'll - figure stuff out." The idea of getting along with Courtney was about as palatable as taking a cheese grater to his tits. It was possible he had a few of his own issues. He tapped his messenger bag. "Seriously, dude, thanks for this." He waved a hand, encompassing the general conversation. "And this."

Jason Bannon might have been his best friend, and they had talked some about relationships on the trip to Great Falls on Monday. But he couldn't quite picture a talk like the one he was having with Devin with Jase instead. Odd. Weird. A little sad. Some guilt that he didn't understand Jase as much as he thought he had.

"So, Saturday then? Sunday?" Sean asked. He gave Devin a sidelong glance. "Gotta say, you're a lot easier to talk with when you aren't stuffing me in a locker and putting on the-" Was it an act? "-being, uh, extra you."

"Or your error in judgement for your lack of association."  Devin flipped the script a bit.  "I know you don't like her, and I know why, but people can't heal and become better if we don't give them a chance.  My sister and I can talk from experience.  We're still making amends little by little."

"I just wasn't aware if you knew or not, and I didn't want you two to get close and then be blindsided later by Kat's choice of a side-piece.  You know, avoid the whole 'keeping secrets from me' drama."

He waved his hands about in a dramatization of an over-reaction.  He leaned forward and cupped Sean's cheeks in his hands.  "And the Fellowship doesn't deserve 'extra Devin' right now.  'Extra Devin' is a treat and you've been naughty and are in time out, but seriously," he let go and stood his full height in front of the smaller teen,  "If you need me, I'm always around, dude.  Just shoot me a text this weekend whenever you have time and we'll go get you the hook up.  Either day is fine."

Sean stood up as well, shooting a scowl up at Devin as he scrubbed his cheeks with the heels of his hands. He hadn't ever liked it when his mom did something similar, hated it when his grandmother had pinched his cheeks. He wasn't enthused by Devin taking the liberty, help notwithstanding.

"Cool. I'll aim for Saturday then, if nothing else comes up. With Shelly and stuff lately, who knows, right?" He cleaned up the detritus of lunch, brushing the table free of any crumbs. "'Preciate the offer, but gotta say, when a teleporter says he's always around, it can be a bit... ugh." 

Sean gave an ostentatious shudder and grin, before growing more somber. "On the Courtney front, I'll keep your words in mind. But you guys have been making amends. I'll waiting for her to make some steps that way before I think 'bout stretching out a hand, 'kay? The scars still hurt."

The warning bell rang. Sean bit into the crisp, sour Granny Smith apple he had kept out, holding in his mouth as he slung his messenger bag and cooler bag over his shoulder. He finished his bite of apple and started hustling for Biology. " Dammit! I'll seeya 'round, man."

"Gotta say, when a technophile with complete control over every phone, computer, and camera says I'll see you around, it can be a bit..." Devin drawled in fair imitation of Sean's previous comment.

"I'd never!" Sean smirked to himself, giving Devin the finger over his shoulder, around his apple, before slipping out into the hall starting to fill with students rushing for their next class. Almost never. Hardly ever. And a couple times I regret.

 

Spoiler

Thanks for the collab, Dave. Really appreciate it, greatly helps with urging me to post.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Lunch: Football Field

Lilly kept Marissa's advice to heart and for the next few periods did her best to hide her fatigue, mostly consisting of being conscious of her posture and general body language, and expression, which took a fair bit of concentration. It made her idly wonder if Marissa was always doing the same to project the proper 'face' to the outside world (which she probably was) and how much effort it took. The simple bit of advice gave Lilly more than a little bit of insight and actually some newfound respect and appreciation for the discipline Marissa much actually have. Huh. Who would've thought?

She did her best to focus on whatever class was at hand, but between her mental and physical fatigue, and thoughts drifting elsewhere, she found it somewhat difficult, even though she was outwardly hiding it. Mostly she was trying to make it through to lunch where Autumn could hopefully help.

There were, of course, the typical welcome backs and at least superficial concern for her missing the previous day from some other students ranging from various classmates, acquaintances, and friends to members of the football team who also brought her up to speed on recent developments on the team. 

When the lunch bell finally rang Lilly grabbed her bag and made the all too familiar trek down toward the athletic fields. In her time at Shelly High, she had probably spent as much time, if not more, down on the fields than in actual classrooms between her training and various practices so she found a certain degree of familiarity and comfort there. As she approached the bleachers, the smell of fresh cut grass greeted her nose and she allowed herself a faint smile, soaking it in. The smell had always been soothing to her, right down to her soul, and right now it was a welcomed comfort.

It was hot sitting on the grass next to the track, her face shaded from the midday sun only by the rectangular banner that advertised the PTO's annual Homecoming bake sale. Stupid hot, Autumn's weather app informed her grimly: 'So hot you can just lick your arm before doing a tequila shot.' Well, there wasn't any tequila, but the pink-cheeked post-PE redhead was feeling a little salty, if she was totally honest. Plucking at the collar of her bright yellow GSA t-shirt, she made a soft guttural sound that was half huff, half nonverbal grumble which nevertheless perfectly encapsulated the feeling of damp fabric sticking uncomfortably to one's skin. Of course, it had to be basically 90 degrees on the one day she had suggested Lilly meet her outside; so much for planning ahead. With a rueful little snort, Autumn straightened her legs and glanced up again, shielding her eyes against the cloudless brilliance of the late summer sky.

Nope. Not yet.

According to Jay, Lilly had been in Mr. Jelbert's class that morning, and Jase seemed convinced she really did need help. Maybe she'll show this time. It was an uncharitable thought, but there it was, ugly and honest. Nose crinkling as she made a face, the vibrant redhead downed another long swallow from her water bottle and tipped the last of the M&Ms out of their packet and into her free hand, cradling them distractedly. It could've been worse, of course. It could've been raining. ...Although then they would've just made different plans, so on second thought, no. Not really much of a consolation. Popping the few remaining chocolate candies into her mouth, Autumn gathered up the remains of her improvised lunch from the vending machine and got to her feet, idly brushing the grass from her bare legs.

"...Every turn I take, every trail I track, every path I make, every road hmhmm..." The quiet refrain faded into humming as she neared the vacant concession stand, tossing the plastic remnants of candy-coated chocolate and a pepperoni pizza Lunchable into the trash. Pacing, water bottle sloshing softly in her hand, she was about to dig her phone out of her shorts pocket to text Jase when the enviably athletic woman of the hour came into view near the entrance to the field. It was a start, at least, she conceded, raising a pale arm overhead in greeting.

Lilly raised an arm to return the greeting and shifted from a walk to a light jog to close the distance. She was grateful for Autumn being willing to meet and possibly help her, but she did not want to take up too much of the lunch period. As she drew near the redhead, she slowed back to a walk. "Hey." she said in greeting with whatever smile she could muster, dropping the facade she has been working to hold up all morning. Lilly was clearly not her usual self. She was much more subdued with her shoulders slumping a bit and her usual vibrancy gone. She looked truly worn down, a state that few, if any, could say they had ever saw her in.

"Thanks for seeing me. I didn't want to bother you, or anybody really, but I can't keep going on like this. Jase suggested I see you. Something about you could maybe help sooth mental and emotional traumas, I guess by helping the mind deal with it rather than forgetting." she said and this shrugged. "I.. I dunno." she sighed and then continued. "I dunno how your abilities work. I just hope you can help because I really need it right now. Enterich messed my head up bad." she admitted with more than a hint of defeat in her voice.

Nodding, Autumn chewed the inside of her lower lip for a moment as the... argument? Disagreement?... whatever from last night flickered briefly in the forefront of her mind. "Yeah," she sighed, the corner of her mouth curving upward in a crooked, rueful smile. "We did kinda talk about it. He seemed worried about you." Pause. "Well," she amended, the smile widening a little as she shook her head, one hand gesturing vaguely back and forth as her haphazard ponytail swayed sluggishly behind her. "Y'know. Jase-worried. Anyway." With the twitch of a shoulder in a quick shrug she refocused on the matter at hand, on the oddly diminished, small seeming figure before her- looking not at, or even through Lilly, but into her, tracing the threads of Radiance that made up the warp and weft of the dark-eyed girl's life; here the frayed edge of fatigue, there the near-invisible mending of an old injury long since healed. The gifted young athlete's present hurts, however, were visible to Autumn only in the physical accumulation of secondary ills they were generating. Whatever had happened to her on Monday, she wasn't bouncing back, which was... kind of weird. Unless, maybe Enterich had triggered some kind of issues Lilly already had, and-

-And it doesn't really matter right now, does it? Hell, we all probably need therapy at this point. Fucking focus, Autumn.

"Full disclosure," she added distractedly, blinking away the lingering traces of that other, stranger vision that was slowly becoming notably less strange with each passing day. "I'm not a hundred percent sure how this works, either. I did, however, spend about two hours last night on Wikipedia researching brain function in case you asked, so I'd at least be able to come up with something that sounded good. So." With another little half-shrug as if to say, 'that's that,' the energetic Girl Scout sat down on the edge of the bottom-most bleacher, pushing sweat-damp curls back from her face.

"Just sit on the grass here, that way if you, like, pass out or something you're good." Autumn's eyes widened suddenly, a flicker of panic on her freckled features as she hastily added, "Not that I'm expecting you to pass out! It'll be totally fine. Should be totally fine," the redhead continued quickly, visibly torn between complete honesty and a desire to reassure. "I've kind of done this before, just not this specifically. I mean, I haven't really sat down with somebody for the sole purpose of rewiring the way their brains work, so... y'know. If you start seeing sounds, or smelling burnt toast, or feeling any pain or numbness or anything like that, just, um. Maybe let me know."

Smooth, Autumn, she groaned internally. As if this isn't awkward enough.

"Hey, if I pass out then at least I end up getting some rest." Lilly weakly joked with a shrug as she took a seat on the grass where indicated with a relaxed sigh. The fact that she was even awake and relatively functional was a testament to her toughness, supernatural or otherwise. "And dude. You didn't need to study or whatever for my benefit. I just need some help.. your help. How it works isn't that big a deal I guess. I mean, I figured I would get through this on my own, one way or another, eventually, but I dunno how long that would be and I am tired of being on the sidelines or whatever." she sighed. Lilly turned and looked over her shoulder at Autumn, looking up to meet her gaze. "And you know, not matter if this works or not, thanks for even trying." she said with sincerity as she blinked away tears that her eyes were threatening to loose.

Fuck, Autumn swore internally, feeling that involuntary sting of sympathy behind her own eyelids in response as the other girl's shadow-ringed eyes looked up at her with a mixture of desperation, hope, and despair. Nope. Nuh uh. Not right now, we are so not doing this.

"It works," the redhead replied and exhaled slowly, gently but firmly placing her hands on either side of Lilly's head and turning her to face forward again as she got comfortable. "And the research wasn't just for your benefit. Admittedly, yeah, your whole..." She paused as she slid off Lilly's headband and set it aside, unsure how to refer to what had happened. "Situation did kind of give me some motivation, though. I've been kind of just guessing so far, going on instinct and the way it looks or, or feels to me, but that makes it hard to explain it to other people. Especially when we're still trying to figure out how we do what we do. Jase and Sean have this whole huge theory they're working on, which is great, but that's big-picture stuff, y'know? It'd be nice to know more about what I'm doing, that's all." Then, more quietly as she combed Lilly's hair back with her fingers, surreptitiously glancing up to watch as a pair of groundskeepers in stained shirts headed back toward the gate: "And, no problem. Any questions before I get started?"

"Questions? Not really. But so you know what you are dealing with here..." Lilly said and let out a long sigh. "It's like he pulled up all of my fears, and I mean all of them, even ones I thought I didn't have anymore, and ones I did not know I had. I mean, I guess I knew I had them, on some level, but not, like, consciously, if that makes sense. Anyways, he pulled them all up and, I dunno, magnified them to the point I couldn't think about anything else. I'm not even sure how I managed to drive home, honestly. I really don't remember anything from the last few days until yesterday afternoon." she explained as she began to slowly, idly rub her forearm to subconsciously comfort herself. 

"It finally started to, well, 'fade' is not the right word. I dunno. I got, or wrestled back some control, I guess. It took everything I had to just go to the meeting. But when I close my eyes or try to rest, it's like that pit of fears is just waiting to pull me back in. I've tried to sleep, but it's basically one long nightmare and sure as hell is not restful. Like, even right now I can feel them gnawing at my mind. They still pop into my head at the sight of certain people, or things, or when certain thoughts cross my mind. I have to... I don't even know how to describe dealing with it, but it's exhausting..." she said and shook her head, as if to try and shake out the undesirable thoughts, and then lowered her head in fatigue. "Oh! Sorry." she said, realizing her had lowered her head and lifting it back up again unto the position Autumn had indicated before. "And if that doesn't help you, then sorry for the TMI."

Autumn remained largely quiet while Lilly described, slowly and uncertainly, something of what she'd experienced during her private ordeal. Offering only the occasional mhmm of acknowledgement, she simply listened, comparing what she was hearing and what she'd seen on her initial assessment to what she'd read the night before about the physical effects of stress and fear. It was a little bit surreal, admittedly, hearing Lilly Pryor talk about being afraid of... well, pretty much anything. She was outgoing and popular, sort of like a more wholesome version of Marissa. They even had kind of a similar look, if she thought about it. But- Nobody's really got all their shit together, I guess. The red-haired teen squinted a little as her gaze flicked briefly up to the field and the indistinct figures in the bleachers on the opposite side. I sure as hell don't, she admitted ruefully to herself.

"Not TMI," she replied after a moment's relative silence, the distant laughter and raised voices of other students drifting past in the hot afternoon air. Lilly had obviously dealt with a lot, but if Autumn was totally honest with herself, it sounded like she'd gotten off pretty fucking easily, all things considered- no nightmare world, no knee-deep pools of clotted blood, no chance of imminent death by things that shouldn't exist. Maybe a part of the athletic brunette felt that way, too; guilt could be a total bitch, after all, and maybe that was one of the insecurities Enterich had preyed on. Regardless, that's not why the young vitakinetic was there, and it didn't really matter anyway. Lilly was Jase's friend, and part of the Fellowship, and she'd asked for help, and there was visible, tangible evidence of emotional trauma in her brain, so...

So.

"Seriously, you're good," the earnest redhead added, nudging the other girl's arm with her knee for emphasis. "The whole point of this is to try to repair the damage he did, and hopefully to help you process so you can function. Doesn't really matter whether talking about what happened is useful to me or not, because it's not about me. So," she continued, returning to practical matters, "basically I thought I'd just give you a French braid. Super simple, won't look like we're crazy sitting here, and your hair will already be done for practice later. I have to actually touch you to do this, so it was the best option I could think of. That cool?"

Lilly nodded and let out a long sigh, holding at a bay another of her fears and allowing herself the luxury of relaxing a little bit feeling somewhat comforted by the redhead's words and confident in her ability to help her. "Yeah. That's cool. Thanks."

"Okay." Exhaling, Autumn leaned forward slightly, sectioning off three even sections of Lilly's hair as she focused on the subtle hum of Radiance responding to her own. As with Marissa, there was that curious impression of potential, of a vast untapped wellspring that was so very different from most of the other members of the group- if the extraordinarily loose affiliation of teens could be called that anymore. That similarity gave the redhead a moment's pause; Lilly and Cade had been deemed to possess 'Hero-Shine.' Marissa and Cade were not, so far as Radiance was concerned, anything alike. And yet... this. Had something changed since that afternoon at the farm over a week ago? Was that even possible? she wondered, half-consciously weaving another layer of dark hair through her fingers in movements so familiar they might as well have been autonomic. Maybe their original assumptions had been wrong, but according to Jase's explanation she and Cade could collapse possible outcomes into the one they wanted, or something like that.

Cody Sikes had changed, she reminded herself as the warm ripples of her Shine lapped cautiously against the shores of the exhausted brunette's awareness. But he was manipulated by the Hunter, or at least by some twisted earthbound echo of him. If Lilly had also changed on a noetic level, how? Who changed her, if anyone- and if it wasn't because of some outside force, was it a conscious effort on her part, or some natural evolution? Was she even aware of it? Did it have anything to do with the week she was gone? With Enterich's interference? Could it happen spontaneously to someone else? They'd more or less established that Cody had chosen his path, awful and uncompromising as the result was, so did that also mean there were still choices to be made, options left open to them that could reshape the fundamental essence of who they were? Could they reproduce this change? ...Without the terrifyingly awful corruption, obviously. And if it was possible now, would that always be the case, or would they eventually-

The sound of an exuberant shout across the field brought her abruptly back to the present, the heat of the afternoon sun on her face matched only by the flush of shame that suffused it.

-Get around to fixing Lilly's mind before she fucking loses it completely? Yep. That'd be great.

Swearing internally, Autumn took a deep breath to re-center, grounding herself in the solidity of the well-worn dirt beneath her feet and the hard, sun-warmed metal she was sitting on. Why the hell were there so many questions lately, and why was there apparently never a good time to ask them? Sure, it was kind of exciting, thinking about the possibilities, but also frustrating. And of course it was all abstract, theoretical curiosity, too- and it wasn't as if she could get any kind of meaningful answers right now, anyway. Or at least not practical ones. And she was supposed to be in the middle of doing something ever-so-slightly more important. Ugh. Later. There was always Study Hall, or after school. Until then... Focus. Seriously.

As freckled fingers deftly braided the beleaguered teen's coffee-colored strands into a sleek plait, tendrils of Autumn's Shine likewise wove themselves along her neural pathways. She could feel... Frowning, the red-haired vitakinetic tried to define what she was feeling, exactly, through that near-tactile connection, that awareness of the other girl's essential vitality. There was trauma, for sure, but not like it had been with, say, Jason or Jacob, or even Sophia and Tawny. There was no physical injury, no hemorrhaging or fractures, but there was damage; a series of ominous bruise-like lesions, dark against the background luminosity of Lilly's intrinsic pattern.

What the hell...?

Probing further, tentatively exploring the boundaries of one of those strange contusions, Autumn cringed in revulsion and instinctive horror at the wrongness of it, at the weirdly organic pattern of its edges, livid filaments extending and expanding outward like occlusive spider webs or-

Oh. Oh, fuck. No, no no no nono.

It was all she could do not to physically recoil from the image that had sprung, unbidden, to mind, and for a moment her fingers froze: the gnarled roots of a dark and ancient tree, working their way inexorably into Lilly's psyche. That couldn't be what was happening, obviously, because the Tree itself was gone, and the spirit that tended it, or served it, or whatever. It was just too recent, too fresh not to make that comparison. It's fine, she reminded herself, swallowing despite the sudden dryness of her throat. She could almost smell the scent of iron, metallic and wet and old- It's like a, a... Her mental flailing for the name only made it worse, and eventually she gave in, falling back on the generic in desperation. Like one of those fucking inkblot tests or something. Just shapes.

Even so, they were ugly, and rather than showing any evidence of healing, the neurochemical markers all indicated a definitive downward spiral that could only spell more suffering. Cortisol and adrenaline levels were high enough that Autumn could feel a sort of sympathetic jolt through her attunement to Lilly, the phantom taste of something bitter lingering on the back of her tongue. No wonder she feels like a wreck, she grimaced mentally, scooting back on the metal bench seat to adjust her grasp on the three interwoven sections of hair looped over her fingers. It wasn't what she'd expected to find, poking around in the other girl's brain- but then, she reflected ruefully, having expectations at all was probably her first mistake.

Gently scintillating waves of sunset hues permeated the former Olympian hopeful's mind and enveloped the most deeply-affected areas, re-balancing the chemical activity of Lilly's amygdala, her hippocampus, and her prefrontal cortex even as that same restless energy eagerly redirected and restructured the delicate neural pathways, encouraging the growth of new connections. She wasn't sure how Enterich had done it, but somehow he'd managed to disrupt not only the instinctive, emotional center of Lilly's brain, but probably also her ability to regulate those emotional impulses or even distinguish between her fears and reality. For a moment, Autumn was implausibly happy not to be a mind-reader; the soft resonance of the brunette's Shine with her own, that ephemeral tether that thrummed with synchronous heartbeats, spoke volumes on its own.

[NOTE: This interaction is a work in progress, and this post will be updated when the collab with Lilly's player is complete. The current iteration is being posted here for the sake of continuity.]

Edited by Vivi OOC
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  • 1 month later...

Study Hall - Shelly High Library

The library at Shelly High School was as anomalously well-equipped and furnished as the rest of the school.  No expense had been spared, and the result was bright, airy and with numerous shelves laden with textbooks well up to college level as well as a broad selection of literature.  For the Fellowship, of course, this was somewhat of a mixed blessing.  Sure, it was cool to be able to look up anything, to have access to a language lab and computer lab, or even to have a chill place to hang out in during study hall.  But it was a reminder that the Project had invested in their school, their town, and to an extent them - and the other 'gifted' teenagers they knew of.  As the bell rang signalling study hall, they and the others in their study hall group filtered into the large room, chatting quietly.

Cassie plonked her books down and settled into a chair, blowing out a sigh just as the 'thunk' of another set of books hitting the table next to her caused her to look up into the smiling face of Beth.  "Hey." her BFF from a lifetime and two weeks ago chirped, sitting down and giving the blonde a friendly nudge with her shoulder.  "Lot on your mind?"

c8ioZIb.jpegLooking at Beth was a little like waking up from a deep dream, and suddenly realizing that there was a whole world that had nothing to do with everything you'd just been dealing with. Cassandra broke into a huge grin and twisted around to give her a hug, then let her go, still grinning.

"Holy shit, you have no idea," she said. "Leila just handed my ass to me, and I've gotten like five assignments so far, and...it's just a lot. Is graduating worth it? What if I just...quietly flunk out and write a novel?" Cassie clapped her hands once. "That's it. That's the plan. Will you write this novel with me, Beth?"

Beth snorted, smiling at Cassie's goofing.  "Okay, but no 'Fifty Shades' crap."  she grinned.  "And I'm not doing weird slash fiction with, like Captain Kirk and McCoy, or whatever."  She opened her well-organised and neatly written-in notebook, at least keeping up the pretext of working on something for her English Lit. class as they chatted.  "So..."  she said, clicking her pen open and side-eying Cassie.  "Since we can't talk about what's really going on till after Homecoming..." and here she paused, giving her friend a narrow look just to see if she could shake something loose, then sighed and went on.  "What's this I hear about you dating Devin Jauntsen?"

Cassandra rolled her eyes at that and shook her head. "Not dating. He's kind of a friend now and...I'm going to Homecoming with him. But not as a date. If that makes sense. As a friend."

She trailed off and said, "Jesus, no one's going to believe that, are they?"

"Nope."  Bethany's grin took on Cheshire Cat proportions as she pretended to poise her pen, reporter-like, to take notes.  "So, Miss Allen, when was it you realised this unrequited yearning for Devin Jauntsen's hard body against yours?"

"Right about when you started needing lessons for writing smut," Cassie shot back, laughing. "Well, whatever. People can believe what they want. After this year, it officially doesn't matter anymore." She jabbed a finger at Bethany. "And don't think I don't see what you're doing either. Using questions to keep me off balance so I don't ask questions. Like who are you going to Homecoming with?"

"Me?"  Bethany didn't quite squeak the question, but only because she was pitching her voice low so as not to attract attention from the supervising teacher, currently up at the computer lab door speaking with the librarian.  "Well... I dunno."  she admitted, toying with her pen as she stared at her notebook, her eyes focused on some inner list of prospectives.  "I mean... I was thinking Terry Cox might ask me."  she replied, mentioning a classmate whom Cassandra immediately called to mind - a youth with tousled dyed black hair and shapeless dark clothing.  Quiet, kept to himself, tall in a skinny way, was kind of 'goth' and got sent home as a freshman once for having black painted nails.   He and Bethany sat together sometimes in shared classes, now that Cass thought about it as she regarded her friend.

"Terry?" Cassandra considered that. "Huh! I didn't know he was your type. Wait a second, since when do you have a type?" She grinned and bumped Beth's shoulder with her own. "So...have you guys been out yet? Tell me all about it."

There was a little stab though. She'd been so focused on other things; the prison, the situation with powers and aliens and so on...was she missing out on being a high school kid? Would she have broken up with Dylan without all that? Would she have gone out with anyone else? And what was the situation with Devin? Dance buddies, or was there anything else?

For now, she was happy to try to keep the focus on Beth. She had no idea what the answers to any of those things were.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The petite French girl's eyes wandered across the room as she stood near the entrance, and stopped on a somewhat familiar blond mop a couple tables away from her. Her brow furrowed, then jumped as she recognised the hair's owner. He shared a class with her. Art, I think... He's kinda cute. She thought, a finger idly playing with a rebellious lock of hair.

"Hey... Andrew?" She approached him, ignoring the students' quiet buzz that usually distracted her.

The boy shot her an inquiring glance. "Hey."

"Mind if I sit here?" She pointed at the empty seat next to him.

Andrew Berk looked up from his math textbook at the petite French... exchange student?  Or was she living here?  Something about her dad working at Bulwark?  He didn't really know the details - which bugged him a bit because one of the only things Andrew liked more than music and performing arts was being plugged into who was who and who they were with.  Kat sat with Sean in Chemistry... and had been seen driving around Shelly with Courtney, and apparently there was a weird rumor about a sex cult going round that Cassidy, Courtney and others were part of...  Well, the best way to find out what was going on was to go to the source, so to speak.

"Sure!"  he nodded, clearing away some of his books that had been on the desk in front of Kat's indicated seat.  "Kat, right?" he asked.  "We have Art together?"

"We do!" She gave him a smile that was all dimples, setting her bag next to the chair. "I overheard your conversation with Ms. Sevy before lunch." She fumbled into her backpack and grabbed her English book, laying it down on the table and opening it to a random page.

"Are you a musician?" She asked, sitting down. 

"Huh?  Oh!  Yeah."  Andrew blinked, a little flustered at being put on the spot by the new girl but rallying with a smile.  "Yeah - don't ask me to sing."  he gave a self-deprecating grin.  "Puberty wasn't kind, y'know.  But I like to play - piano, violin and guitar mostly.  I stay away from brass and woodwinds 'cos they'll try to get me in the school marching band."  He made a face.  "I mean, not with those uniforms.  How about you?"

Kat grinned at the comment and rubbed the back of her head. "Erm, I play a bit of guitar. I was thinking about getting a bass, or finding a band... or both!" She marked a pause, realising she was being loud, and turned a page on her book. "That's why after hearing you and Ms. Sevy," she added, lower, after distractedly reading a couple lines, "I thought you might... know people?"

She glanced at him questioningly. He looks pretty nice from up close, thought a part of herself not so focused on the conversation at hand.

"Well, I know a guy who goes to college in Great Falls if you want to learn bass.  He gives out lessons for beer money."  Andrew muttered, taking out his phone.  "Dunno how busy he is, but I've got his number if you want.  As for a band..."  he paused, pondering. "What sort of music do you want to play?  I mean, there's not a huge selection of bands in Toole County: it's mostly country and rock'n'roll - you're not likely to find a progressive jazz band here or anything."

Edited by GDP_ST
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Across the room from Cassandra and Beth, by the back wall, Cade sat down next to Sean, who had graciously once again agreed to help him study in his weaker areas.   Cade wasn't dumb, but he wasn't a genius like Jason or Sean.   A lot of things came easily to him, and he quite liked history.   Mathematics, however, was a weakness, as was chemistry. Cade sighed.

"I wish I understood all of this a bit better on my own, that I didn't have to keep bothering you to help me with this Sean."   Cade was a bit preoccupied with what had happened at lunch, but it was done.   "Thanks for this though.   I've got to at least do decently academically to continue with everything else.  You've always been able to help me get it enough to do that."    There was no boasting, no mocking tone, The big Montana teenager meant it, and as far as guys went, Cade had always treated him normally.

"Not a problem, dude," the buxom boy said, glancing up from blithely typing on his laptop to flash Cade a quick grin. "Always happy to help a friend."

Sean had set himself up with a semi-circle of electronics on the table. Laptop in front of him, for the day's homework. Wacom Tablet between him and  Cade, set up to scrawl equations to help his big friend. And his phone on his other side, discretely keeping track of how ReGenesis was doing, occasionally replying to questions or comments, and sending out his own. Most people would be distracted, but bouncing from one thing to another kept Sean active and animated.

Sean TAed a computer class at Shelly High, but mathematics had always come so easily to him that, at first, trying to help Cade with it had been frustrating. Even if he didn't fault Cade not being as swift as he was with working through a problem, or not remembering a particular equation, Sean couldn't see how it wasn't obvious to Cade how to figure it out. It had taken him a while to understand Cade - and most people really - didn't see numbers and equations he way he did, which in part was why the logic and artistry in coding came so intuitively to him.

Through trial and error and online research, he'd learned how to teach Cade math, or at least various techniques to figure out what worked best for him, instead of just giving him the answers. Doing so had ended up helping him improve as a TA in Computer Applications too, when his fellow students weren't scoffing at or ignoring the oddest boy in school, anyway.

Sean flitted between his own homework and helping Cade with his. He'd broken down the bigger problems into smaller ones, with tiny hints along way, stepping stones for Cade to follow towards the overall solutions. Showing his work had always been tedious, but Sean could see how it helped a teacher see if a student understood how to find an answer.

Cade working at his deliberate pace, Sean noticed he was somewhat preoccupied. "You okay, man?"

"No, I'm not," Cade said quietly.  "I've been thinking about a lot of things.   Realizing some truths and my own failings."   He sighed.  "We've been friends a long time Sean.  I know you said not to get involved, but looking back on it, of everything you endured, I can't help feeling that I should have done more to help you out.  You've been a great friend to me, always there, and I haven't."   It was something that had bothered Cade for a long time.

"I am your friend, and I did what you asked, but I still feel I should have tried to stop it."  His voice was low, keeping the conversation between the two of them.  "You always help me, and I can't really think of too many times where I returned that favor."   He had put a stop to a some incidents over the years, ones he just couldn't ignore, but by and large, Sean had said he'd handle things, and Cade let him do it his way.   Cade had gone to him for help far more than the reverse.  He still was.

This was very uncharacteristic of Cade, he seldom admitted when something bothered him, especially like this, though over the years, Sean was perhaps the only one who knew that things did bother him.

Sean looked at Cade askance. He was a curious guy, but he didn't like prying into his friends' business, being of the opinion that if they wanted to share something, they would. Probably an outgrowth of his own stubbornness of not wanting to be seen as weak, as less than he was, finding it hard to ask for help, wanting to manage things on his own, if he could, even if he had friends willing and suited to help.

You know, if he wanted to inexpertly psychoanalyze himself. He was working on trying to improve himself that had nothing to do with these fantastic capabilities they had found in themselves.

"Cade, friendship isn't some ledger where we tally everything up and see if we're even," Sean said, his sweet voice somber. 

He shifted awkwardly in his seat, guiltily thinking about Jase for just a moment, unable to stop himself from wondering if with his... genetic wiring, that was exactly how Jase saw relationships, and if the ledger became too unbalanced... Sometimes, Sean worried he wasn't actually that good of a friend. 

"Those are business relationships. I'd be a real dick if I didn't help out a friend with something that was so easy for me. Long as neither side find the friendship completely one sided, that's the thing, right?" Sean took a deep, self-reflective breath, then planted an elbow on the table, chin resting in his hand. He began doodling on his tablet. "Making things unnecessarily harder on myself isn't on you, Cade. We're good."

He arched a wry brow at the much larger boy. "I'm one to talk, but you might try not bottling everything inside. Sometimes, let people see that something bothers you, see you angry or upset. In some cases, the squeaky wheel does get the grease, and that isn't always a bad thing."

On his tablet, he began doodling a quick football, with lines and numbers, and had to restart when his hand began to tremble, turning it into an indecipherable scrawl. "Let's see if relating a math problem to sports will help with retention."

Cade nodded.  "Yeah I know.   It's just how I've been raised y'know."  He smiled  "Still, you've been a great friend Sean, and if there is actually something I can help you with, just ask."

He turned his attention back to the math problem with a sports theme, and watched.  Once he was asked to solve the equation, he did so, in half the time that he would have done so normally.

"It's that easy?"  he asked quietly   Simply changing the approach had seemed to help, even if it did put a slightly heavier burden on Sean, forcing him to think that way.   "Why did we never think of this before?"

"You didn't play football before."   Sean answered him smartly. 

Cade chuckled.  "Yeah, guess I had to go full Jock..."

The next few problems saw a repeat of the first, Cade's ability to answer vastly improving if he could visualize it in some way using his sports knowledge.   Thankfully Cade played a variety of sports, so there was more options to pull from.

The clacking of Marissa's heels (hooves?) echoing in the hollow halls of the school announced her arrival yards before she actually entered the room.  Books clutched tightly to her chest, she stormed in like a she was ready to confront the world with a huff and fierce attitude.  "Maybe if you weren't such a colossal asshole."

"Says Mayor Bitch of Lazy Bitch Town."  Without missing a beat Devin strolled in behind her fuming and just as much on fire as his twin sister.

"Language," Ms. Forster addressed the two of them with stern look that almost begged them to test her, but there was the faintest hint of a smirk on her lips and a glint of amusement in her eyes. "I understand siblings fight, but there is a time and a place and this is neither... sit down, both of you."

Devin rolled his eyes and sighed, giving his books a disruptive toss on the table so they made as much noise as humanly possible.  Marissa spun her head so fast in an effort to ignore their being chastised that her hair whipped, and like her brother she sighed and found a table as far from him as she could from her brother and sat down.

"Sooo, for Homecoming, you and Maris-" Sean started to say to Cade, but as if her mere name was a summons, there came a clacking, a rapping, on the Study Hall floor. Sean glanced over his shoulder and shook his head minutely. He might bicker some with Laurie, he and Teagan had more or less ignored each other, but he didn't know any siblings who were as contentious and yet there for each other as the Jauntsens. "Hold that thought, Cade, gotta see Devin for a sec."

Sean leaned over and fished a stack of papers from his satchel on the chair next to him. With another sheet of paper folded over them to keep them together, Cade couldn't make out what there were, save for some bits of colour at the edges. Rolled up loosely in his hand, Sean hopped off his chair and headed over to where Devin slouched in his seat.

Noticing that Kat had come in while he'd been working with Cade, a wide grin spread across his face as he veered towards where she was sitting with Andrew, almost a skip on his step. He leaned in from behind her, and confirmed, "Dark Blue."

"Sean!" Kat almost squeaked, whirling around with an almost guilty expression on her face.

"Sorry, Kat," Sean apologized, believing he'd startled her. "Didn't mean to interrupt. I can show you later, if you want, 'less you want to keep it a surprise?" He gave Andrew a nod, the other boy once again wondering about Red-Head Sex Cults for a moment. "Andrew. I'll leave you two to it." Sean tilted his head towards Devin. "I was just passing by."

Sean sat down at the table across from Devin, laying his sketches flat and sliding them towards him, slim fingers smoothing the edges that had been crinkled by Jauntsen's casual care. "Here's your drawings back, man. Made some good copies with the Faculty printer. Thanks again. When I get around to DLC or expansions for ReGenesis, or a new game, can I fish you for some ideas or concept art?"

Cade couldn't help but notice the entrance of the twins, even as Sean had been about to ask about his homecoming plans with Marissa.   Watching Sean make the circuit from where Kat was sitting with Andrew, getting a surprised look for whatever he said, and then moving on to Devin.   He couldn't hear what was said, and he looked back over to Marissa.   She didn't even spare him a glance, and he sighed.   He'd fucked up twice already today, and he wondered if a third time would be the charm, or a total strikeout.

He didn't know what to say to Marissa, she'd already shot him down, so maybe it was best to just leave her be.   He turned back to his work, which he admit he probably wasn't going to be able to focus on.  He let out another sigh.

Edited by Sean Cassidy
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