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WEIRDER STUFF

Episode VI Intermission: Coffee and Fireflies


Autumn Keane
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The trip up to the Bannon Farm was without incident.

 

It always seemed to be that way, Autumn couldn't help but muse as she sat behind her parents in the back of their car.  Whatever fears or excitement were intertwined with her visits to the lonely farmhouse atop the rise in the land overlooking Shelly, the actual getting there was uneventful.  No thunder and lightning casting the Bannon home into stark relief against the grey sky, no portents such as crows lining the telephone wires watching, waiting for something to need their services - whether as psychopomps or as carrion disposal.  It was to all appearances a normal, if slightly shabby, house on an unremarkable plot of mostly disused farmland, the porch light on, a welcoming island of golden radiance in the dusk.

 

The Keanes were following Gar's jeep as it turned off the road and headed up the dirt and gravel track, though more than once Ian and Dana would cast a glance at the mirrors, at the sleek black Charger following them in turn, its dimmed headlights the baleful eyes of some beast carved from the gloom of the coming night.  As they rolled to a stop alongside Gar's vehicle, the Charger turned and followed a smaller dirt track to behind the house, over to the smaller of the two barns.

 

"Come on up."  Gar told Autumn and her family warmly as they exited their car, waving them to follow as he led the way up onto the porch and round to the side door which, Autumn knew, led to the kitchen.  "Jase will be a minute or two putting his car away, so we can at least get comfortable."

 

The kitchen was much as Autumn recalled it.  Decent-sized, clean, and maintained, saucepans on hanging racks, every surface wiped, every knife put away in the block.  Two plates with their cutlery were stacked by the sink, two glasses beside them the only signs of recent use.  A fair-sized table, large enough for six, with chairs occupied one half of the floor space next to a long, low window the sill of which was covered in small plant pots containing various herbs.  A three-row bookshelf on one wall contained a variety of recipe books, and all the usual kitchen appliances and gadgets were present, including a filter coffee pot.  It was to this Gar headed after flicking the lights on, smiling over one shoulder at the Keanes as he got five mugs down from the cupboard.

 

"Go ahead, grab a seat.  I'll get the coffee started - unless anyone wants something else?"  he offered, pausing a moment to regard the three of them.

 

Ian made to raise his hand out of habit, but his wife gently pressed his arm down again, shaking her head. "No, ah, coffee's great, thank you," Dana replied smoothly, eyes wide as she silently implored him not  to ask the maybe-recovering-alcoholic for a beer. He stared at her for a moment, then- Oh, shit. They'd talked about this at the field the day before, hadn't they? About Gar Bannon apparently sobering up recently? Grimacing in mute comprehension the keen-eyed entrepreneur nodded, sinking into one of the nearby chairs. "Wait 'til we get home," she murmured, giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze before letting her hand slip away again. 

 

"Sounds ah-mazing," his daughter enthused, visibly cheered at the prospect of real coffee after gamely giving the medical center's commercial brew one more try. She paced restlessly behind her parents, fidgeting with a loose strand of serpentine copper snaking over her shoulder as Dana likewise took a seat at the table. "The Bannons seriously have the best coffee. I don't know what kind of voodoo they do on it, but... ugh," she sighed rapturously, grinning across at Gar as he busied himself with the coffee pot. "So good." 

 

"So I've heard." With a bemused eye, the pretty vet watched as Autumn roamed the kitchen, very obviously trying not to be too obvious about the fact that she was waiting for Jase to finish up outside. "You have a lovely home," she continued, both of the elder Keanes giving the kitchen a quick appraisal- or, at least, Dana's was quick, little more than a polite, cursory scan that noted the overall impression of tidiness she wouldn't have expected from a pair of bachelors. Ian, on the other hand, assessed the window frames, the fixtures and fittings, the smoothness of the ceiling and the level of the floor underfoot with a sharp, professional eye.

 

"It is nice, yeah," he nodded agreeably, leaning back to get a better, broader view of the room. "Looks pretty solid. Old farmhouses like this usually have good bones. You guys done any kind of reno work or improvements?"

 

"Bits and pieces, over the years."  Gar replied, nodding at the window that ran along the wall next to the table.  "Couple years ago, storm took out that window good, so we got the whole thing rebuilt, new frame and all.  Had to fix the plumbing after that, too.  Re-roofed the north side last year.  We've been lucky:  Jack Cassidy helped us out at just over cost.  Oh, and there's all the shelves we had put in."

 

"Shelves?"  Ian asked curiously.  Gar smiled, motioning to Autumn's dad to step over to the doorway that led to the rest of the house as he flicked the light switch in the hallway outside.  "My God."  Ian's tone was surprised enough to cause Dana to likewise get up and peer over her husband's shoulder.  Trailing behind, Autumn smiled, knowing already what they were going to see.

 

Bookshelves.  Lining the staircase, lining the walls of the hall, floor to ceiling with only an occasional break here and there for electrical outlets.  Shelves packed tight with books of all shapes and sizes and subjects, in no particular order but nevertheless tidily stored.  It was like looking into a library from the kitchen doorway.

 

"We did the lounge, the dining room, and the upstairs hall.  Jase's own room, too."  Gar admitted, shrugging at the Keanes with a smile.  "They're mostly his, truth be told.  He's... uh... a reader."

 

"Has he read all of them?"  Ian asked with a faint hush to his voice.  There was something almost daunting about the filled shelving, that weight of knowledge, surely more than one person could reasonably work through and comprehend, especially a teenage boy.

 

"Most of them."  Jason's voice intruded on the reverie from a few feet behind the party clustered in the kitchen doorway.  True to form, he'd padded up behind them silently and was watching them, head tilted slightly, green eyes gleaming.  "Recently I've had more important things to do, so I got a little behind."

 

"'Most of them,' he says," the realtor repeated wonderingly, momentarily setting aside fatherly concerns about Jason Bannon having 'more important things to do.' Dealing with interdimensional monsters and aliens and government agencies and... and... whatever else fell under the general heading of 'Insanity' in his 43 years of experience was, Ian Keane decided, a reasonable excuse for not keeping up with the Genius Overachiever's Book Club. It probably had nothing at all to do with Jason being sixteen or so years old, dating his energetic, impressionable, also sixteen-year-old daughter. Maybe. Hopefully. "Well," he added dryly, interrupting his own train of thought and glancing over his shoulder at the young woman in question. "If you're going to be tutoring her anyway, maybe some of that will rub off on Autumn. We've tried getting her to read more, but she's always treated it more like a punishment than anything."

 

Before the girl herself could protest, Dana spoke up, a hint of fond mischief in her warm hazel eyes as she regarded her daughter. "Which is odd, considering this afternoon we got an Amazon delivery of a copy of-" 

 

"Oh, good!" Autumn chimed in abruptly, a sudden flush of warmth and high, vivid rose blooming beneath her skin. "I was waiting for that. I'll, uh, get it when we get home. Thanks." Fuck, she swore internally. I can't believe I forgot about-

 

"What?" her mother asked innocently, considering first the impassive, inscrutable boyfriend and then her furiously blushing child with a knowing smirk that tugged at one corner of her mouth, one elegant eyebrow arching skyward. "Sweetheart, you're sixteen. There's nothing wrong with wanting to learn more about-"

 

"Mom!" the horrified redhead all but hissed, as Dana, laughing, relented.

 

"All right, all right." Pulling Autumn close, the grinning veterinarian held her in a one-armed hug for a long moment, kissing the top of her dishevelled hair and giving a quick wink to a thoroughly bewildered Ian, who seemed visibly torn between asking what was going on and talking about the built-ins again. "Let's focus on Jase's collection then. Did he inherit this love of books from you, Gar, or is that something he gets from his mother's side of the family?"

 

There was the slightest pause as Autumn and Gar both thought about Jason's mother's 'side of the family', then Gar leaned a shoulder comfortably against the wall and shrugged.  "Bit of both, maybe?"  He said with a smile as he glanced at his son speculatively.  "I like to read, but if I had to nail it down, I'd say he got his hunger for knowledge mostly from his mother.  She'd read everything from history and philosophy to current affairs, always seeking to understand more than she did.  I'd find her with her head in my biochemistry textbooks and journals, even - Jase is kinda like that... only turned up to eleven."

 

The elder Bannon gestured at the bookshelves lining the hall.  "Other than our favorites which get kept, that's a rotating population of books.  Most of those you see there Jase only got and read in the last year or so.  When he's done, we donate them to charity or libraries, then go out and buy second hand books from the same places."  He shrugged at Ian and Dana's expressions, grinning self-deprecatingly.  "I guess it's a bit strange, yeah?"

 

"Everyone's got their own strangeness.  It's better than having muddy boots trip you up when you walk in the house."  Ian smiled slightly.  His wife nodded, nudging Autumn as the younger redhead's freckled features flushed pink.

 

"Or having a teenager who apparently cannot study or do homework without loud music and dancing around her bedroom."  Dana added slyly.  Autumn reddened further, then cleared her throat and stepped out from under the maternal arm.

 

"So, hey!  Coffee smells great.  Why don't I go and help Jase with it?"  she asked brightly, noticing that the silent, green-eyed Effing One was drifting over to the coffee pot as it finished filling.  Without waiting for the go ahead, she moved up next to him, brushing his hip with hers as she smiled sideways up at his impassive features.  He flashed her a small smile in return, passing over the cream and sugar as they floated from the fridge to his hands.

 

"Pretty sure my parents are gonna try to trade me for you," she mused, adding a spoonful of sugar to her mug and slightly less to Dana and Ian's as she turned, watching the adults over her shoulder for a moment. "If they ever see how clean your room is, I'm done for."

 

Ian sighed, craning his neck slightly to peer back into the kitchen from whence they'd come, watching the two teens busy themselves with filling mugs and murmuring to each other. He could see the shape of his daughter's smile in profile as she cast a brief glance up at her more reserved beau, but there was something more than just the normal paternal wariness behind his eyes as he considered not only his little girl's immediate happiness, but her future, as well. Even without weird powers, Jason himself really was a little strange- too grown-up by half, too attentive, too inquisitive, too... Different. Not bad, per se, if his treatment of Autumn and his response to the Jauntsens' acrimony was any indication, but... He glanced again at the book-lined walls and exhaled again, as Dana peered up at him. 

 

"Keep sighing like that and they'll put you to work at one of those wind farms." Sparing a faint smile for her husband, Dana turned back to Gar and nodded. "And donating books back once you've read them sounds like a practical way to manage things, especially if you're that voracious a reader. Otherwise they'd just take over the house." She hesitated then, wondering if it was all right to ask why he'd used the past-tense when referring to Jason's mother, and why neither of the teens had mentioned her at all. There had been rumors, of course... But those rumors had also painted Jase as a drug-running criminal mastermind and Gareth as a drunken wreck; neither of those, as far as she could tell in the moment, seemed accurate. "It really is an impressive collection," she added, electing to err on the side of caution for now. "And that coffee really does smell amazing. Now that we've had a chance to relax a little after that godawful meeting, I could definitely use a cup."

 

"Coffee's up!"  Autumn announced as if in answer to Dana's words, her and Jason bringing the prepared mugs over to the kitchen table as the adults drifted back from their contemplation of the unusual decor.  Seats were taken, appreciative inhales were made, coffee was sipped.

 

"Wow."  Dana looked down at her cup, then at her husband.  "That's-"

 

"Really good."  Ian confirmed, relaxing somewhat into his chair as he finished his wife's thought.  "I mean, it hardly needs sugar."

 

"Right?"  Autumn hmm'd happily as she took another sip from her mug.  "I could live here just for the coffee."  Gar chuckled, shaking his head.

 

"Jase again."  he gestured to his strange son.  "He's finicky about food and drink in the home - though I've seen him down three corndogs and five portions of deep fried ice cream at fairs."

 

"Ugh, five?"  Autumn made a face, her nose wrinkling as she grinned at her boyfriend.  "I feel sick after two."  Jase smiled faintly back at her, his green eyes tightening at the corners as he returned her amused glance over his own mug of coffee, emblazoned with the phrase 'I run entirely on coffee, sarcasm and inappropriate thoughts.'  There was a moment or two of comfortable, contemplative silence as everyone relaxed, mugs in hand.

 

"So..."  Gar said after the moment had passed, leaning his elbows on the table's wooden surface as he cradled his mug in both hands, looking at Autumn's parents sympathetically.  "How're you guys holding up after the recent revelations?  Better than I did when everything first broke on me, I bet."

 

"After yesterday, I think most of it was..." Ian started to sigh again, but caught himself, casting a surreptitious glance at the auburn-haired woman beside him as she took another slow sip of coffee. "It was a little easier to swallow, but I’m definitely going to need some time to digest it all, if you take my meaning."

 

"Mmm," Dana agreed, setting her mug down as she nodded. A pair of delicate parallel lines appeared between her brows as she focused on the table in front of her, and Autumn had a sudden vision of herself, years hence, frowning in that same, thoughtful way. "I had a bit of an advantage over Ian," she admitted, her teeth catching at the inside of her cheek as her voice tightened. "Dad talked about old family legends and things, the Enemy, Blackfoot myths, crazy local stories and superstitions my whole life." Slender fingers, curled around the reassuring warmth of the cup in her hand, drummed idly against its side. "I didn't believe him, of course. And then he died." Her lips thinned into the ghost of a smile as she looked up, swallowing the taste of the bitterness that lingered on her tongue in defiance of the sweet black brew. "And then last week Autumn came home with letters he'd written, that he'd locked up in an office we'd never been able to open, and yesterday I found out that it wasn't-" Drawing in a deep, shuddering breath, Dana steadied herself as Autumn leaned over, resting her cheek against her mother's arm. "That it wasn't so crazy. I mean, I have a rose made of ice in my freezer that your son just pulled out of nothing and nowhere while we sat at my dining room table."

 

"That-" Autumn cut in, then paused, straightening as she studied her mother's face; Dana was struggling, but holding together, and the younger redhead pursed her lips. Her wide, sea-colored eyes were uncharacteristically serious as she weighed her options, and made her choice. "It wasn't just the letters. There are journals in there... Tons of them, some of them going back before Shelly was Shelly. I was thinking of bringing them up to the house and... if it's okay..." Glancing across at her inscrutable, inquisitive boyfriend, she tried not to think too far ahead, to just ask. What was the worst that could happen? "I thought Jase might want to come by tomorrow, after school, and help me go through them. Maybe we could see if there's anything else in there that might help."

 

Her parents exchanged a glance with each other, then looked at Jason, then at Autumn, who tried not to flush under the scrutiny.  Dana looked back at her husband, frowning slightly at the doubtful hesitation on Ian's face.  He didn't like the idea, that much was obvious, but couldn't frame a refusal out of thin air.

 

"I'd be happy to help."  Jason put in calmly, his gaze showing a flicker of interest.  "Primary sources from people who were aware of the Enemy going back as far as your family does locally?  It might prove very useful."

 

"I..."  Ian started, then paused as he regarded the glacial eyes of the young man across the table from him.  "Before we agree to anything" he said cautiously but firmly, holding a hand up slightly as Autumn shifted in her seat.  "I think we should discuss something that was brought up in the meeting."

 

"Liam Day."  Jase replied, his gaze unwavering as he nodded.  Ian nodded in return.  "Of course.  What would you like to know?"

 

"Your side of things."  Ian said.  Dana nodded slightly, her eyes on Autumn's face for a moment before shifting her attention to the composed youth.  Gar remained silent, his expression tense.

 

"Liam attacked Lona Wilson, sought to rape her."  Jase said, matter-of-factly.  "It suits some to frame her account of events in doubt, but I saw the bruises and scratches she suffered.  She was expressing reluctance to go to the police, possibly because she just wanted to forget about it, or possibly because she felt she wouldn't be believed and it would be drama she didn't need.  Whatever her reasons, I knew that Liam Day had a reputation for spiking drinks and generally trying to prey on girls as young as sophomores when he himself graduated last year.  His attack on my friend made me angry."

 

"I don't pretend what I did was heroic, or justice.  What I did was vengeance, or perhaps punishment.  I wanted to hurt him badly enough that he would never contemplate such an action again, to make him feel as helpless and afraid as he made Lona.  Did I go too far?"  He paused, considering, his pale eyes distant for a moment as he thought.  "I think so, in retrospect, yes.  I would not handle such a thing in the same way again - not out of any consideration for a rapist, but simply because it alarmed and disturbed my friends, and placed them in a difficult position."

 

For several long moments, silence reigned over the cozy farmhouse kitchen as those present weighed the grave import of that declaration. There was different, after all, and there was distant, and then there was the remote, almost inhuman way in which Jason Bannon had reflected on and described Liam Day’s brutalization. Even Dana, who had begun to develop a sort of nascent fondness for the quiet, quick-witted young genius, felt an icy frisson skitter up her spine on delicate legs; there was no regret in his voice, no remorse in his expression, no sense at all that he gave any thought to the living human target of his wrath. By most accounts- even ones not laced with enough venom to make the local rattlesnake population jealous- the Day boy was unlikely to ever walk, or even speak again. Strange or not, what kind of teenager could do that and apparently feel nothing? Wordlessly, she turned again to her daughter, and only then was the stillness broken as Autumn’s head fell forward onto the table with a quiet, despairing groan.

 

He’d told the truth, of course. The young redhead couldn’t fault him for that, even as she buried her face in her arms and grit her teeth, choking back a scream of impotent frustration. It was the way he’d told it, calmly and conversationally in that infuriatingly rational, quintessentially ‘Jason Fucking Bannon’ manner. That’s not how human beings- at least not ones that weren’t fundamentally broken in some way- dealt with trauma. But he’s not human, is he? No. And he never will be, Autumn. You might as well be dating a wolf... A wild thing that’s only civilized for as long as he wants to be. And that, too, was a truth she couldn’t fault him for, however impossible it made him.

 

Ian was still trying to process Jason’s callousness toward another person- not to mention his tacit rejection of civil authority- when Autumn groaned and half-collapsed onto the table, and the movement jarred something loose in the paternal mechanism of his brain. Liam Day had been targeting sophomores last year, apart from Lona Wilson… Last year…

 

“Autumn.” The utterance of her name was tense, terse, thick with a sudden anxious worry he refused to put words to just yet. “Last year, did-“ Exhaling again, he took a drink of coffee and, not for the last time, wished it were something a little stronger. “Did he ever, I mean-“

 

“Liam?” She lifted her head, her face flushed from being pressed into her forearms and silently venting her frustrations into the table, and peered at her father as if he’d just asked her about the chemical composition of rocket fuel. “Oh, god, no. He’s always been gross, but he never touched me.” One shoulder twitched upward in an indolent shrug as Autumn sat up again, turning from Ian back to the creamy swirls of caffeinated salvation in her half-full cup. 

 

“I-“ Ian hesitated again, then shook his head, idly rubbing the bridge of his nose. “All right. We can… talk about that later, I guess. For now just- just let me clarify, Jason. You attacked Liam Day. You didn't go to the police... Regardless of what he had or hadn't done, you used these powers of yours to ruin his life, and that… That doesn’t bother you?”

 

"Interesting turn of phrase:  'regardless of what he had or hadn't done'.  As if my actions took place in a vacuum, as if there was no context, no cause or effect."  Jase's tone was mild, but his eyes narrowed faintly.  "It was not 'regardless of what he did'.  It was entirely based on what he did.  I didn't walk out at random and attack a target of opportunity to satisfy some urge - Liam did.  Unfortunately for him, his target was my friend."

 

"But it doesn't bother you."  Ian repeated, a not-quite-a-question.  Jason looked at Autumn for a long moment, a flicker of something in his gaze, then at Dana, his head tilting slightly as he absorbed her expression, then at Ian, meeting the older man's eyes.

 

"I handled it poorly.  Would I handle things differently, in retrospect?  Yes, as I have said.  Do I feel any empathy or remorse for Liam Day?  No. His actions defined him as my enemy."  he said with slow precision.  He glanced at his father's taut expression.  "We may as well put all the cards on the table." he stated, looking back at the Keanes.  "You would likely find out sooner or later, and I don't want secrets or omissions between us."  His eyes rested on Autumn for a moment.  "Whatever the truth costs me."

 

"I'm not human, you see."  He nodded towards the Keanes’ daughter, her eyes wide as she gazed at him then at her parents.  "Autumn knows this, and Devin.  It's possible, indeed likely that the Project suspect it."  He smiled faintly at the blankly incredulous expressions on Dana and Ian's faces.  "I know, I look like a normal young adult, but I'm genetically a little further removed from homo sapiens than they are from homo neanderthalensis."

 

Dana looked sideways at Gar, who was watching intently.  "Is this a joke?"  Jason's dad shook his head.

 

"No joke.  But he definitely gets that from his mothers side of the family."  Gar said softly.  "I only found out about it myself the other day."

 

"So what are you?"  Ian asked, skepticism warring with wariness in his expression and body language.  Oddly, Autumn answered.

 

"An offshoot hominid race designed and deliberately evolved for fearlessness, heightened intelligence and aggression, pragmatism, and similar traits that further survival and propagation."  she recited, smiling faintly at the surprise that flickered for a second in his gaze.  "Yeah.  I remembered." she told him, blinking back a moist feeling in her blue eyes.  This was it.  Any moment now, her parents would drag her out of there, forbid her from seeing him…

Edited by Autumn Keane
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"Designed by who?"  Dana asked.

"The Ancients, or Precursors if we use Devin's term.  Two of them, Coyote and Arawn, wanted weapons against the Darkness, a long time ago.  Before Arawn got corrupted or their vessel got stuck here, if I'm any judge.  So they used humans as the base, and then used their technology, or perhaps their powers - who knows - to genetically engineer a warrior race.  The other Precursors found out and didn't approve, from what I gather, and sealed the new race away in another dimension."  Jason took a sip of his coffee.  "Glossing over the unimportant details, my mother escaped that place and came here, met my father, and the usual thing happened.  So no, I'm not an alien."

"Fearlessness, aggression and pragmatism..."  Dana mused, feeling those prickles down her spine again.  "Traits of a psychopath."

"I thought I was, for a long time."  Jason nodded.  "There are differences, though.  I'm capable of in-group loyalty: like a wolf to his pack, or a lion to his pride.  The good of those I care about is important to me.  More to the point, I am capable of caring about others, fiercely so."  He sighed softly.  "But I am incapable of intuitive empathy, of remorse, of fear or pity."  He looked at Autumn's parents.  "I always wondered how I would broach the subject with the two of you, whether it would become necessary, how you would react.  In case you were wondering, none of you have anything to fear from me.  I... care about Autumn.  A great deal.  She is more special to me than perhaps even she realises - because she has always sought to understand me, always helped me to understand her.  And you have been nothing but kind to me."

For a moment, he looked as though he would say more, but he fell silent instead, taking a drink from the mug in his hand, the pale cold pools of his eyes glimmering with some undefined feeling.

"Jesus Christ," Ian muttered, shaking his head as he leaned on the table, chin in hand. He sat like that for a moment, scrutinizing the faces of the others assembled and studying, in particular, the aloof countenance of the young man opposite him. Maybe, he allowed, what Jason had said was the real, honest-to-god truth. It wouldn't necessarily be the strangest thing he'd heard so far that day, what with talk of spaceships and ancient gods and dark spirits, and Autumn certainly seemed convinced; she, at least, was easy enough for the canny broker to read. Even if it were true, though, where did that leave them: at the mercy of a young man who was, by his own admission, a minor variation on the theme of psychopathy? 

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to that,” he admitted, nudging the handle of his mug where it sat on the table, turning the near-empty cup in a slow, irregular circle. “I really don’t. You’re telling me you’re part of some near-human warrior race that can’t feel fear or regret, that can't empathize with other people, that’s designed on a genetic level to be more aggressive… But we don’t have any reason to be afraid of you? I’m not trying to be the asshole, here, but where’s the boundary between this in-group loyalty, and Liam Day? You’re dating my daughter, for crying out loud, and sure, you care about her, but... What happens when you two-?“

“Dad.” Autumn cut in, frowning worriedly, “Just… Just listen for a sec, okay? Anybody, anybody can do terrible things, really awful stuff. And…” she hesitated for a moment, remembering Cassie’s face as the seer had described the fate of the young boy in the basement of the Old Town Hall. Her stomach twisted and she swallowed hard before adding, a little more quietly, “And they do. Just regular people. All the time, even here in Shelly. Maybe they’re sick, or had too much to drink, or had a bad day at work, or.. or they’re just broken inside, somehow. Being human- or not- doesn’t make them any better or worse, any more or less dangerous. The marshals who shot Jase were regular people,” she continued, the openly expressive teen’s eyes bright and liquid with emotion. “Not psychopaths, not Teulu, not special. And they shot him in the head, tried to kill him,  just because somebody else told them to and they were scared.”

“Sweetheart,” Ian began, but Autumn shook her head, her loose ponytail swaying exuberantly as the elastic band that constrained it struggled to remain in place. 

“Jase is always going to be Jase,” she insisted, her gaze fixed on her father’s. “Not panicky, not defensive, not violent for no reason. As far as I know, he's never hurt anybody who didn't earn it. He may be more like a wolf, or a lion, than a dog or a housecat, but he’s not some crazy rabid animal just waiting for a chance to bite somebody. Trust me,” the redhead added soberly, only a faint tremor of emotion underscoring her words. “I may not ever know everything there is to know about him, or even close to it, but I'm sure about the last part. Because not only would I not be dating him otherwise, but I’m pretty sure the meeting earlier would’ve been smaller than it was."

As she took a long, deliberate sip of coffee, Dana held up a slender hand in wordless interruption. “Before we go any further down this road, there are other things I want to talk about. We can discuss dating and morality once I’m satisfied we’ve dealt with more immediate concerns. All right?” she asked, eyebrows raised in maternal challenge as she gazed intently at both her husband and daughter.

“Fine,” Ian sighed in frustration, leaning back in his chair as a chastened and somewhat abashed Autumn nodded, cupping the still-warm mug in both hands to steady them.

“Good,” she replied briskly, the emphasis on that single syllable a stone lid closing with sepulchral finality. “Then, now that we’ve finished with the Inquisition for a little while, Gar, what would you like to know about us?”

"Oh... uh..."  Gar fumbled for a moment, torn between gratitude towards the slim vet for the change of topic and being out of practice with making normal polite conversation.  Jason didn't really do small talk and Hank's was a mixture of laconic hmm's and grunts along with the occasional expletive-laden wry observation.  Jason's dad took a breath.  "Uh, okay.  First up, anyone want a top-up on their coffee?" he hazarded, getting to his feet and heading over to the pot.

Dana smiled at him, holding out her mug as he came back.  "Please, and thank you.  It's wonderful."

"Specialty place in Great Falls.  I've got their business card around here someplace if you want to check it out."  Gar said as he poured for Dana, then Autumn.  Ian hesitated for a moment, obviously uncomfortable sitting across from the laser-green stare of his daughter's boyfriend, but good coffee was good coffee, and he could foresee the evening being troublesome enough without his being pointlessly rude.  Autumn was definitely digging her heels in over her pet alien, and he was experienced enough with Dana's moods to know that, whilst she was concerned, she was not guaranteed to be on his side if there was a parent/daughter set-to.  He nodded to Gar, pushing his mug forwards and mouthing his thanks.  It was good coffee, after all.

"So..."  Gar said as he settled down into his chair once more.  "I guess the big question comes from the obvious: how'd you two meet?"  He smiled faintly.  "I know the Kavanaghs go back generations here, and Ian sounds like an East-coast man."  He tilted his head curiously.  "College sweethearts?"  he ventured, sipping from his mug.

"Yeah, actually," Ian nodded, visibly relaxing as the subject shifted from supernatural, existential, and potentially ecclesiastical worries to something normal, something familiar. Eyeing his wife’s profile for a moment, the thought surfaced, between ruminative sips of coffee, that perhaps he was wrong about the familiarity. There were subtle differences in her features, in her bearing, suggestions of time’s relentless march and the shifting tides of emotion that he hadn’t noticed before. She looked more like Caroline, he realized, even as Autumn- watching Jason with the avid intensity of a child trying to suss out a stage magician’s secrets- looked more like her than he remembered from his last visit. Everything seemed to be changing around him, on macroscopic and microscopic levels. Was he also changing? he wondered. What would his college-aged self think of the man he’d become? It was an uncomfortable thought; even so, there was a hint of expectation in Dana’s eyes as she turned and looked at him, resting her chin on her hand in a way that remained etched in his memory, somehow unchanged and unchanging, even as the memory of the habitual gesture unraveled the patient weaving of the years. "At least, she was in college at the time,” he added quietly, the pale slate-blue of his eyes warming slightly at the thought.

“It’s a boring story,” Dana remarked, although the subtle quirk at the corner of her mouth and the soft wash of pale rose beneath her skin belied her feeling on the matter.

“It’s a gross story,” their daughter muttered emphatically into her mug as she braced her elbow on the table, cheek firmly ensconced in palm. 

Ignoring the pointed criticism from his female audience, Ian tilted his cup toward their host, wordlessly refocusing on the question Gar had asked. “I was 22, I’d finished my brokerage licensing six months prior, and I didn’t have a job yet. I was running out of money, and it was cold.”

“It was February,” Dana reminded him teasingly, watching him as she lifted her mug to her lips.

“February is cold in New York,” he replied, somewhat defensively.

Laughing, his wife seized on the opening he’d provided, shaking her head in robust denial as she wagged a finger in his direction. “Oh, no. I distinctly remember you telling Mom you didn’t know what cold was until you moved here.”

“That was just-” he began, visibly affronted, then checked himself. “I was just trying to make conversation, and I was nervous and didn't know what to talk about besides the weather. Your mother could be terrifying.” This last admission was uttered softly, soberly, as if the canny entrepreneur were imparting some secret in great confidence.

“Must be hereditary.” Autumn’s eyes were wide and guileless over the rim of her mug as she tipped it up to her lips, attentively studying the titles of the cookbooks on the shelves. Ian choked back a startled laugh as the Keane matriarch levelled sharp, unamused glares at both of her charges.

“Anyway,” her father continued with a grin, helpfully warding off any immediate maternal retaliation even as his wife's scowl confirmed his point. “It is cold in New York. It’s just a different kind of cold here. Sort of a-“

“Ian Michael Keane, so help me, if you say it’s a dry cold you are walking home, mister.” The threat was undermined somewhat by a tremor of laughter in Dana’s voice as she mock-glowered at him, then sighed and shook her head again, eyes sparkling as she turned back to Gar. “I’m so sorry. I can’t take him anywhere.”

The older Bannon smiled at Dana, his usual air of sad-eyed stoicism lifting for a moment as he threw a wryly sympathetic glance at Ian.  "We moved here from the Northwest - I know what you mean about the winters here.  But on the upside, at least there's a spring, and the summers aren't all clouds, rain and mosquitoes and last more than one week a year."  He glanced at his son, who was silent, watching and listening as he always did when people he was interested in were... being people, his eyes shifting from face to face as he studied their reactions, analysed their words and tone.

Those eyes drifted over to meet Autumn's gaze, catching the guileless redhead staring at him avidly, and a faint arch of one eyebrow and twitch of his lips betrayed Jason's smile as Autumn's cheeks turned pink, though neither teen dropped or shifted their gaze for the longest moment.

She only looked away, finally, with bronze-flecked cheeks glowing to match her hair, when Ian cleared his throat in that vaguely disapproving paternal way- the auditory equivalent of The Look his wife had perfected.  Swiping away the wildflower-strewn lock screen on her phone, Autumn distracted herself from those observant green eyes by tapping out a pair of messages while her father continued.

To Cass: [Hey! Totally short notice, I know, but are you still down for the skateboarding thing this week?]

To Lilly Pryor: [Hi. I don't know if you have my number already, but this is Autumn Keane. Anyway, if you're gonna be around, next time we're all at the Bannons' or whatever I have something for you.]

"...finally got an interview. They weren't a big firm, but the way I saw it, it was at least a foot in the door, right? So there I am, on a Tuesday morning at the beginning of February, standing on the sidewalk outside this little coffee shop. And I'm just- you know, you stop for a second, you don't have a mirror, so you just use a window to make sure you look half-decent. I'd just gotten a haircut the day before, so it still felt weird, and I was just checking, you know? Was my hair sticking up? Was my tie straight? That kind of thing."

Almost before she could set the phone back on the table, it vibrated in her hand. That was fast, she mused, wondering which of the girls had been so quick on the draw.

From Cade Allister: //Hey autumn, I spoke with Ms. Giles, and got the same deal you were told, I can go help with the cats as long as I get my parents' permission.   I don't know when you're planning to go, or ask your own folks, but as I'd said, I'd like to be there to help, even if all I can do is provide moral support, and keep him calm.  Maybe we can coordinate this for later in the week?//

Chapters, my guy, the redhead sighed to herself, pursing her lips as she turned over possible responses in her head. It sort of made sense for Cade to tag along, at least insofar as he seemed to be good with animals in a weird Dr. Dolittle kind of way, although it was hard to know what he could do while the smilodon was unconscious and- hopefully- getting its natural hardware untangled from whatever Klein's scientists had added artificially. Also, the idea of hanging out with Marissa's fake boyfriend was kind of-

Bzzzt

Another notification. Glancing somewhat guiltily up at the adults, Autumn slid her chair back from the table, scooping up her coffee as she murmured a quick, "Sorry," at the interruption and retreated to the periphery of the room. 

From Cass: //Yeah! Thats just the distraction i need right now! What day is good 4 u?//

Hmm. That was a good question. In theory, tomorrow afternoon was supposed to be spent going over her family journals with Jase, but now that her family knew about the whole Teulu thing, about the fact that he wasn't human... A knot of anxiety twisted uncomfortably in the pit of her stomach, warring with the near-ambrosial warmth of the Bannons' coffee.

"...So anyway," Ian continued, nodding at his daughter in acknowledgement, "it gets cloudy for a second and I can see through the glass, and there's this girl on the other side." Dana shook her head, smiling at the memory as she took another sip from her mug. "And she's just..." The cool, distant blue of the businessman's eyes warmed, his expression softening. "Just wow. Really, really just... Freckles, gorgeous eyes, and the cutest nose-"

"Ian," his wife admonished him firmly, but without rancor, as the older redhead's rosy cheeks demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that Autumn came by her blushes honestly. The girl herself, pacing idly around the edge of the kitchen as she remained glued to her phone, gave a soft ugh of protest and glanced briefly heavenward. 

Gross.

"All right, all right. So there's this totally adorable girl, and the worst part- the absolute worst," Ian grimaced, "is that she's making faces back at me. I was so embarrassed I could've walked into traffic."

Bzzzt

The sound of Dana's laughter filled the kitchen, then, interrupted only by her vehement protests. "Ian Keane, you know good and well I wasn't-"

"Let me finish," he interjected, grinning as he held up a hand to forestall further comments from his furiously blushing bride. "So as I was saying, I was horrified. How long had she been sitting there making fun of me, knowing I couldn't see her? I'd been nervous before, about the interview, but after that..."

From Lilly Pryor: //Do you think we could meet up some time before? I think I need your help.//

Autumn's brows knit together in a frown as she paused mid-step, head tilted slightly. What in the world would Lilly Pryor need her help for? It wasn't like they'd ever been more than tenuous acquaintances, at best, and after the way she'd acted on Sunday... With another soft, almost inaudible ugh, the outdoorsy teen tried to imagine happier, more pleasant things, like the smell of wood smoke, sunlight filtering down through the canopy of leaves overhead, the sound of the creek running over the rocks along the bank, and slow-burning kisses from a boyfriend with smoldering jade eyes... 

Okay, maybe not that much happier, she reflected wryly, turning away from the table as the tell-tale sensation of warmth crept inexorably up the sides of her face. But at least the thought itself was distraction enough. Taking a long sip from the swirling mixture of tan and ivory in her mug, Autumn peered at her screen and began thumbing through responses to the texts she'd gotten, proceeding in the order in which they'd been received. 

To Cade Allister: [Um, sure? It'll probably be this weekend, I can text you when I have more info. I'm aiming for Saturday, but it depends on when my dad can be here.]

Her parents, despite the revelations of the last couple of days, were being very- almost conspicuously- chill. She wondered if seeing what their daughter was capable of- beyond tinkering with a patch of grass- would change that. Using her powers on a living thing... Only one way to find out, I guess. In spite of herself, the young redhead grinned as she tabbed over to the conversation with the plucky blonde journalist. The idea of learning how to skateboard from Cassie had been kind of a spur-of-the-moment thought, just something new to try, but being able to just hang out with somebody and 'do activities' without any expectation seemed more and more appealing by the day.

To Cass: [Yes! Okay. Um, Thursday, maybe? I know there's other stuff going on, but would be nice to just not think about it.]

And then, since the Amazonian athlete hadn't given her anything else to go on yet... What kind of help? With what? Jesus, Jase was more forthcoming than this. At least he would- Grimacing, Autumn mentally applied the brakes to that train of thought. It wasn't constructive or kind, and if Enterich really had screwed with her, maybe Lilly wasn't feeling like herself. It's not like the Girl Scout had any historical evidence to compare it to, after all. 

To Lilly Pryor: [Um, maybe? Like, at school, or...?]

"...that she wasn't actually teasing me. I guess I had some-"

"Spinach," Dana clarified, still grinning as she cast a surreptitious glance over at her daughter, pacing the kitchen with her face buried in her phone. Idly, she wondered what had the girl so fascinated, when any other time she'd be fixated on the laconic young man across the table. Did it have something to do with the discussion about his mother, or the argument...? Hm

"Some spinach in my teeth, yeah," Ian conceded sheepishly. "Probably from the omelette, earlier. I finally got it, and I guess she could tell from the look on my face, because she just started laughing, and scribbled something on a napkin. And when she held it up to the glass, it just said, 'Good luck!' with this little smiley face. And then I had to actually, genuinely run, because I was about to be late for the interview," he concluded with a shrug.

Gar chuckled, glancing at the grinning Dana.  "Hey, at least you told him, right?"  he quipped, causing Dana to snort from restrained laughter as she leaned fondly against her husband.

"He was totally cute checking himself out in the glass, though."  Dana confirmed, taking a drink from her mug.  "Spinach and all.  My friends all thought so too."

"Yeah, yeah."  Ian mock grumbled, smiling a little.  "Laugh it up.  So anyway, later on..."

Unobtrusively, Jason slid out of his chair as the adults talked and moved over to the fridge, ostensibly to get a cold bottle of water to drink, but it was largely a convenient pretext for him to lean against the kitchen counter and watch Autumn as she paced, chewing adorably on her lower lip as she considered the screen of her phone.  He wondered, idly, who she was texting, what was being said - but that was largely just so he had a context for the flickers of expression in her wide blue eyes and eminently watchable features rather than from any real interest in what others were saying.  Now and then he glanced towards the kitchen table, regarding his father sitting with the Keanes, listening to them talking about how they met.

He found the story interesting, for more than one reason.  It was an insight into the younger people Autumn's parents had once been.  It was a story about meeting and bonding with another person.  It was... normal, and wholesome in some way that he felt was positive, but was still working on defining why, exactly.  It was curious - he assumed that most couples had a 'first meeting' story, but it had never mattered to him before.  Jack and Carolyn Cassidy, for instance.  A working, stable marriage with three kids, he'd often considered the Cassidys as a good example of how to 'family'.  How had they met?  Would he, in years to come, sit around a table and share the story of how he'd met Autumn - by walking into the girl's bathroom and scaring her silly?  It occurred to him that he already had shared that tale, with Dana, who'd found the anecdote wryly amusing.  So, was his and Autumn's random encounter a 'meet cute'?  He'd have to ask...

From:  Lilly Pryor: / Jase said I should talk to you about getting help with the... nightmares... I've had the last couple of days..//
...

From:  Lilly Pryor: // I dunno. Ask him. He just said you could help.//

The screen, with the messages still on it, was held up in front of his face as he lowered the bottle of water from his lips.  Jason gazed at the exchange between Lilly and Autumn, then at Autumn's face, then back at the messages again, his brow furrowing slightly as he tried to work out what was amiss.  Because something was amiss.  Autumn wasn't flushed or angry-looking, but she seemed to be expecting something from him as she stared hard at his face.  Jason's nascent relationship radar detected the blip, but couldn't for the life of him work out what it was.

"That seems correct..."  he said softly, shifting his brilliant emerald stare from the phone's screen to Autumn's gaze.  "She complained of having night terrors, and I suggested you might be able to help, due to your gift."  He tilted his head to one side.  "Was I wrong?"

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Exhaling, Autumn ticked off a count of four in her head, resolutely holding her ground despite the intense laser-focus of those bright green eyes- eyes that sometimes felt like a slow-motion dissection in progress, and sometimes like the heat of a blast furnace directed at her face. It's fine, she reminded herself. He doesn't get the nuanced stuff, right? He's still learning how this works, so just... Just... explain the situation.  "Wrong in the sense of being inaccurate?" she began, glancing over at the table and trying to keep her voice low. "No. Well, maybe." The redhead frowned and lowered her phone, considering the fact that Tawny and Sophia were the only ones she'd helped in that way, and they couldn't be sure the effects were permanent yet, or even stable. "Probably. In the sense that you volunteered me for something without saying anything to me about it, though? Yeah. Yeah, that's kind of wrong."

 

"Oh."  Just that, as he considered.  "I did stress to her that I wasn't volunteering you."  he remarked, thinking.  "Merely that you were possibly a solution and she may wish to seek you out."  He paused, considering the taut unhappy expression on Autumn's face.  "I didn't consider that you might feel obligated to help."  He studied her in that intent way of his.  "Is that why you are upset?  That I didn't suggest it to you first?" he asked, eyes narrowing in thought.

 

Sighing, Autumn tucked her phone away in her back pocket and dragged a hand back through the rebellious coils of copper atop her head, fingers buried amidst the loosening strands that were gradually working their way free of her ponytail. It felt too easy, this simple, straightforward process of acknowledgement and apology. And, sure, it was nice not to argue, or have to go through a lot of stupid drama and misunderstandings and all that, but... It kind of just seemed clinical. ...Which, yeah, made sense considering the lack of intuitive empathy, and she definitely didn't hate the fact that he listened and took her seriously when she had a problem. Is it always going to be like this, though? she wondered. Like, if they dated for a long time, would it eventually get easier for him, or for her, to speak the other's metaphorical language? 

 

"I just," she murmured, peering up at him as if eye contact alone could convey emotional nuance and content. "I don't mind helping, if I can. I just want to be the one who decides if and when and how I do it. Like with the marshal. I did that because I wanted to," the expressive redhead insisted, leaning in a little more as the sound of the adult voices in the background quieted a bit. "I made that choice on my own, for my own reasons. Look, I get that Lilly's your friend, but honestly, I barely know her at all and she hasn't said a single word to me since she disappeared for her competition or whatever. Not one, Jase. Not when we were all here at the farm, not at the picnic. Nothing. Maybe she feels awkward because I'm dating you now." With a shrug, she dismissed the thought. "Honestly don't know, and mostly don't care. That's a Lilly problem. The Autumn problem is that I don't want other people, even my friend or boyfriend, offering me up. Tell me what's going on, or what your suggestion is, and let me decide." Wide blue eyes, their depths flecked with glimmers of gold and green and shadowed with grey, searched Jason's angular features. "Does that make sense?"

 

"It does."  he said, his eyes never leaving hers as his hand came up to brush at a coppery curl that lay against her freckled ivory cheek.  "I apologise.  I didn't think of it as offering you up, but I can see why it might feel that way."

 

"As for Lilly...  She expressed that she didn't feel comfortable necessarily approaching you, that you seemed distant to her."  He pondered for a moment.  "I don't understand why she hasn't spoken to you before now either.  I pointed out that so far as I knew, you had no problem with her, and you were willing to heal the hands of the person who shot me, so I doubted there was any level of animosity that would prevent you from at least considering helping her."  He hesitated at the change in Autumn's expression, his own eyes blinking in momentary confusion.  "I... shouldn't have said that either, should I?"  he asked slowly, realising that there was another blip appearing on the threat radar.

 

For a moment, one that felt to her as if it stretched on interminably, Autumn didn't respond. She simply stared back at him, eyes wide and incredulous as her pupils shrank to tiny islands lost amidst a turbulent grey sea of anger and confusion. Why would he do that? Anyone else might have gotten off with the excuse that they just didn't think, but Jason?  He had reasons for everything he did, it was all a conscious, considered choice. Wasn't it? "No," she managed finally, exhaling the single syllable on one long, shuddering breath. "No, you shouldn't, and I'm not sure why you thought it was a good idea. Not only is it none of Lilly fucking Pryor's goddamned business," she hissed through clenched teeth, "or anybody else's, it's not your place to tell people about what I do, or don't do. Especially not when I deliberately didn't fucking tell anybody, my fucking parents included, because the millisecond it gets out that I healed her and she talked, unless Enterich is gone, she's probably dead," the redhead seethed, her inner voice's screams of frustration reaching a piercing crescendo as she railed against the impenetrable, inscrutable inhumanness of her boyfriend. "I thought we had an agreement, an, an..." Her free hand twitched, fingers flexing in a restrained motion that- in different circumstances- would have been an outflung arm reaching for the words she couldn't quite find. 

 

"An understanding," she whispered sharply up at him, a liquid, shimmering veil of emotion welling up in her eyes. This was stupid, and Autumn knew it. It might even be unfair, all things considered, when earlier that morning he'd nearly died. And getting angry wasn't going to help- it was rarely productive, even with normal people who had normal brains in normal arguments. If anything, history seemed to suggest that directing emotional outbursts at Jason Fucking Bannon tended to go badly for whatever unlucky, intemperate idiot was doing the emoting. And yet, despite knowing that, there was nothing she could do to stop it. "We don't tell other people's stories. Not unless we have to. Did you really think I needed a goddamned character reference that fucking badly?"

 

"It wasn't about giving you a 'character reference'."  he replied calmly, though not without a tightening at the edges of his eyes.  "It was about convincing Lilly to seek help.  She was the victim of a supernatural attack on her psyche, one that shattered her confidence and courage, leaving emotional scars even I could detect."  He kept his gaze on Autumn's, his tone level and quiet as, nearby, their parents chuckled at some quip.

 

"To reiterate:  I shouldn't have approached her without talking to you first.  I placed you on the spot, and in your words, offered you up.  That was thoughtless of me.  I didn't, however, tell her any details about who shot me, or that she talked, the extent of the damage to her hands or indeed anything about the situation other than the fact that you healed them."  He paused for a moment, considering.  "Ideally, were I able to do it over, I would have approached you first on the matter and then let you decide how to approach Lilly.  I tried to resolve the situation and persuade Lilly of the wisdom of seeking help as efficiently as was prudent, but I didn't stop to consider your feelings on the matter."  His lips twitched in a slight frown.  "I didn't mean to cause offence."

 

Everything was wrong. The whole day- not just these last few minutes of tense, quiet argument, or even the last few hours of finger-pointing and venom-spitting- had gone completely sideways and upside-down and awful. They'd barely made it out of the hellscape of Arawn's blighted nightmare world the night before, and then, somehow, all the bad things that hadn't already happened the previous week all fell together in one godforsaken day; she might have laughed at the ridiculousness of it all if she weren't already furious and exasperated and about to cry from the sheer overwhelming amount of what-the-actual-fuck. It wasn't even about Lilly, or Marissa, or any one specific thing, it was just-

 

"If you had just- uggghhhh," Autumn groaned, the soft subvocalization little more than a low, throaty exhalation as she pressed her hand over her eyes, blocking out the sight of her boyfriend, his kitchen, and their families for a moment. Yes. 'If he had.' But he didn't, that inner Autumn grudgingly pointed out. He didn't, and unless he's thrown together a time machine in the last few days, he can't. So...

 

So...?

 

So, deal with it.

 

The redhead's arm fell limply back to her side. 

 

"- the worst interview of my life. I'm not even kidding," Ian swore cheerfully, leaning back in his chair with one hand held aloft and the other resting on his heart. "I was totally unprepared, totally out of my depth, and to make things even worse, it wasn't even for a paid position. They wanted a damn intern." With a rueful chuckle, the native New Yorker tipped back his mug, draining the last of the coffee within. "So when I slunk out of there, I thought, 'I wonder if that cute redhead and her friends are still up at that coffee shop?' And," he added, shrugging slightly as he smiled at his wife, a hint of boyishness lingering around his eyes, "I guess I hadn't used up all my luck yet that day, because they were."

 

"I need some air," Autumn announced suddenly, turning away from her boyfriend and the maybe-annoyed, maybe-thoughtful expression suggested by the subtle narrowing of his pale eyes. Was he angry? Disappointed? Offended? Did any of those descriptions even apply to him? It was hard to tell, and she didn't really feel like adding another entry to her 'Bannon For Dummies' notes at the moment, or listening to the story of how her parents hooked up a hundred years ago. If nothing else, she could ask him once she'd calmed down enough to deal with conversation again, but for now... She needed to move, to walk under the stars in all their glittering, indifferent glory, to do something with the restrained energy and emotion practically vibrating along every nerve and sinew. "Just headed outside for a minute," she explained, setting her coffee cup on the counter and offering the adults what she hoped might pass for a smile. "Back in a bit."

 

"Oh..?  Okay."  Ian looked round from the conversation, smiling in slight bemusement as Autumn headed for the door.  Dana, with her more sensitive maternal antennae, frowned very slightly as she scrutinised her daughter and the silent, still figure leaning against the kitchen counter.  Autumn was already stepping out of the back door onto the porch that ran around the farmhouse, however, and Jason was watching her leave with only a faint tilt of his head to mark any expression before his gaze shifted unerringly to meet the older redhead's.  Not human, the thought came unbidden to Dana as she met that depthless, intent pale stare, and though she was almost immediately ashamed of the atavistic chill that prickled the back of her neck.  At least she knew, now, why the strange young man was so strange.  And there was a curious quality to that knowledge, as though believing him to be perhaps autistic or just 'different' had made him less threatening whereas, now, she knew his oddness marked him as a predator.  Not in the sense of behaviour, as humans might refer to other humans as 'predatory'.  But as a function of his nature, like a wolf, or a big cat, perhaps?

 

A cat, Dana decided as she studied that impassive, scarred face with it's lambent green eyes that saw much and gave back little.  You couldn't be certain what was going on behind that gaze - all you could go off was how he acted.  Oddly, thinking of him as an intelligent two-legged predatory animal helped, as though that was somehow easier to process than 'genetically engineered alien warrior'.

 

"So how did you meet your wife?"  Dana heard her own voice say, then caught herself and looked at Gar wide-eyed.  She'd asked the question innocently, almost autonomically, as a way to distract herself from the silent youth across the room.  "Oh... I'm sorry-!"

 

"No, it's fine."  Gar interrupted her, raising a hand slightly.  "Seriously.  It's... Not as sore a point as it used to be.  We've..."  he cast a glance over at Jason.  "We've actually been back in touch recently."

 

"Really?"  Dana also glanced at Jason, who was silent, unmoving... unmoved, even.

 

"Yeah." Gar smiled a little.  "So I don't mind telling the story.  It was in college - we had a couple classes together and she was eye-catching, but aloof from everyone.  She didn't hang out with girlfriends or boys, didn't laugh or smile.  She just showed up, did the work, asked questions - good ones most of the time - then left to go God-knows where."

 

Jason stirred, whatever contemplations that had been going on in his head obviously done with for now, and as he watched his father smile faintly as he told the tale, he silently thanked Dana for providing the additional distraction.  Quietly, unobtrusively, he slipped out of the kitchen door after Autumn.

 

"...So my friend ran a ju-jitsu class on campus, and I was getting pretty good at it, helping out with the teaching.  So when the gorgeous blonde from class showed up wanting to learn I was naturally assigned to coach her like any other beginner..."

 

His father's voice fell away behind him as Jason stepped, soft-footed, into the late summer night, letting his eyes adjust as he glanced around, looking for his girlfriend.

 

The evening air was blessedly cool on her flushed skin as Autumn jogged quickly down the handful of wooden steps leading from the wraparound porch to the lawn, her gaze sweeping across the dark sea of overgrown fields as she circled around the side of the house. The moon, nearly half-full, glowed pale over the southwest horizon like the heavy-lidded eye of some distant celestial observer- seeing all, revealing little- and for the redhead who instinctively sought its position against the deepening darkness of the night sky, that was... mostly fine. Better an uncaring universe than an actively malevolent one, after all, even if the events of recent weeks had given her a growing sense of uncertainty about which they actually lived in.

 

'I need some air,' she'd said. Space to move, room to breathe. And wandering through the unfamiliar environs rendered stranger still by the faint moonlight, Autumn found precisely that. Sure, she'd been to the Bannon farm before, but the presence of others and preoccupation with the days' activities had always been something of a distraction. Now, with some distance between herself and any other humans- or near-humans, for that matter- it was easier to think. 

 

...Or, more to the point, easier not to think. Not to think about walking nightmares, near-death experiences, conspiracies, school, alien gods, or even just sort-of-alien geniuses who said and did stupid, infuriating things because their mental calculus didn't provide for emotional variables or normal human expectations. Ugh.

 

Wincing a little as she tugged the elastic band from her hair, Autumn gingerly rubbed her scalp where the ponytail holder had been pulled free of an unruly snarl of curls. "Ow," she hissed sharply, running her fingers carefully through the tangled locks as she navigated the shadowy yard. The barn that housed Jason's miniature Eden loomed as a massive black shape nearby, along with the smaller one for the Bannons' vehicles and machinery, and, further on, a pair of gnarled trees whose leafy boughs stretched out in silhouette against the distant star-flecked sky. Rolling the elastic band onto her wrist, the redhead shifted course and, hands thrust into her jeans pockets, wandered toward them. Probably fruit trees? she guessed as she approached, given that they were near-ish to the farmhouse, though in the dark it was impossible to tell what kind. Running her hand lightly over the trunk of the larger one, she could feel the faint hum of energy there beneath the bark, the not-quite-vibration of healthy arboreal life intersecting with her own, the tenuous barrier separating them, and smiled a little, despite her frustration. 

 

On impulse, the energetic redhead glanced up into the boughs overhead and, with a little jump, grabbed hold of one of the low-hanging branches. It was a good tree, she knew, with an instinct born of a youth spent clambering into- and falling out of- many like it. Kicking her feet up against the trunk for leverage, she hauled herself up onto the limb and sat astride it, legs swinging as she leaned back against the solidity of the living wood behind her and closed her eyes, letting the scents and sounds of the summer evening carry her away from herself for a moment.

 

It had taken him a few minutes to work out where she'd gone.  Jason had silently circled the porch in the gloom, letting his eyes get used to the darkness, and had seen no sign of her in the immediate environs of the farmhouse .  So he'd stopped for a moment, thinking, then had drifted around to the rear of the house, pale eyes searching for movement near the barns or-  Yes. There was a lithe shape currently scrambling up into the apple tree that grew out of the uncut grass just beyond the vegetable patch.  It seemed very Autumn-like: that restless burst of energy, fueled by her irritation, driving her to activity, any activity.  Motion, warmth and energy where he was stillness, cool and contained.

 

He pondered that contrast as he silently padded through the night toward her, his fingertips brushing the ends of the long grass, his eyes on the shape now relaxing against the trunk, legs idly dangling down.  He could pick out the faint glints of copper in her tumbling hair in the moonlight, and mused that their natures weren't so easily defined as opposite - after all, in the right (or wrong) circumstances he could be furious, searing heat without limitation or conscience.  She occupied the middle ground between the binary of his own nature, but there was more to the two of them than a simple balancing act, wasn't there?  He stopped a few metres away from the tree, silently studying the lines of her upturned face, glowing ivory in the pale light of the half moon.

 

Yes.  Yes there was.  There was attraction, desire, a sense of enjoyment of one another's company.  He took pleasure in her smile... and her being upset left him with a sense of disquiet that was faint, but profound.  He recalled his words to her in the hospital earlier that day:  "You matter to me"  True words, spoken sincerely.  She mattered to him - her happiness mattered to him.  It occurred to the detached young near-human that his life was richer, more textured for having her in it.

 

Could she understand that?  Did he even fully understand it?

 

Perhaps she still thought he had feelings for Marissa, it occurred to him as he watched her profile.  After all, they had gotten together with the understanding that it was possible Marissa would decide she wanted him after all...  But the lean youth realised he no longer even felt conflicted about that possibility, as he had perhaps 24 hours ago.  He didn't want Marissa Jauntsen, for all her imperious beauty and grace, for all her pride and calculating nature.  Once, yes, he'd found her admirable, if confusing, but that time was days in the past now.  She might not be his enemy, she might even become a friend again, but when compared with the warm passionate energy kindled by the tousle-haired, freckle-faced redhead in the tree Marissa seemed a cold, distant star indeed.  Perhaps too similar to himself - in that respect anyway.  But Autumn... she created something else within the searing core of his being.  A desire for warmth, and to warm in turn.

 

He focused, tiny motes of golden-orange light beginning to form in the air in front of him as he gently fed energy into the molecules and atoms there.  A balancing act - heat that would warm rather than burn, fire that wouldn't ignite whatever it touched.  The motes swirled in the air before him, growing in number and brightness - hundreds, then thousands of them.

 

In theory, it was similar to the firenado he had called down on Arawn/Cody.  But the heat was diffuse, the individual motes of fire contained rather than blending into a roaring, terrible, destructive inferno.  Instead of that, there was a swarm of literal fire-flies, their radiance flickering and dancing in the night as he cast them out and up, into and around the branches of the tree, letting them dance there like a galaxy's worth of golden stars around his girlfriend.

 

The subtle swirls of color behind Autumn's closed eyelids brightened as she sat there amid the leaves, vaguely aware of the progress of an ant ticklishly exploring her bare forearm. Her whole world, it seemed, had shrunk from the contemplation of her own exasperations and worries to simple sensation: the rough texture of the bark through her t-shirt, the hint of a cool breeze whispering across her face, the weight of her feet swinging lazily beneath her, the occasional soft call of a night bird seeking its mate. Flickers of warm sunlight filtered through the deep, drowsy currents in which her mind had been drifting, drawing her back toward awareness. And it was warm, she realized, eyes flying open as she straightened suddenly and-

 

-immediately froze, wide-eyed at the luminous points of incandescent gold whirling in incomprehensible constellations through the night air around her.  "Oh, holy fuck," she thought/gasped simultaneously, reflexively tightening the grip of her thighs on either side of the branch beneath her as the world contracted in shock. Smothering the instinctive flare of panic at being encircled by a shower of sparks, she sat perfectly still for a long moment, clutching the tree limb, barely breathing. "What the hell...?" she whispered finally, when the crown of the apple tree didn't erupt into flames and no pinpricks of scorching heat seared her skin. Tentatively raising a hand, the awestruck redhead trailed her fingertips through the scintillating, swirling display, leaving the tiny, flickering lights to eddy and spiral in the wake of her movement. Whatever they were, they didn't seem dangerous, and though she could feel faint traces of residual heat, they weren't actually hot.  "They're like... little stars," she murmured, a broad, childlike smile slowly curving her lips as she shifted on the branch, steadying herself to gaze up into the glimmering lights weaving through the darkness. It wasn't the weirdest thing she'd seen lately, not by a long shot- but it was among the coolest.

 

Leaning forward, Autumn pushed her hair behind her ears and turned this way and that, trying to take in the contrast of brilliant orange and gold against the velvet shadows beyond; as a sudden thought struck, she fished her cell phone from her pocket and straightened again, snapping a quick photo of the incredible phenomenon. "Where did you come from?" she wondered aloud, as she might have asked a stray dog that found its way to her doorstep.

 

As if in answer, the dancing motes of golden flame swirled and spread out, some remaining near the wonder-struck girl as the rest created their shifting, scintillating constellation centered around the tree in which she sat.  The light they cast was less concentrated now, and Autumn could make out a lean figure quietly moving through the grass below the branch she was perched on.  He gazed up at her, golden sparks reflected in the green depths of his eyes as the fiery motes swirled over his head, striking glints of dark and light bronze and from his skin and hair.

 

"You like them?" he asked quietly, studying her expression with that intent way of his, head tilted slightly as he took in her reaction.  "I wanted to show you...  how you make me feel.  When you smile at me.  When you fought for me.  When you held me, a week and a lifetime ago, just over there on the porch bench."  His eyes left her face for a moment, glancing at the slowly moving miniature starfield he had called into being before his gaze fixed on her again.  "Wonder.  Joy.  Warmth.  You give those things to me, just by being in my life."  He paused, trying to gauge her expression.

 

It was kind of unfair, honestly, if she thought about it- and, for just a few seconds, she did, looking down at him looking up at her. Cheating, a little rebellious part of her mind, still fully dedicated to being annoyed with him, asserted hotly. After all, even if a normal human boyfriend might still have upset her for exactly the same reason, he wouldn't have been able to conjure up a scene like this or utter those words without stuttering and making it sound like total cringe. Jason meant it, though, she knew, just as he'd meant he didn't care if the marshals lived or died, that he struggled with relating to people, and that he loved Marissa Jauntsen. And that... was also kind of unfair, wasn't it? One day she'd have to explain to him that it was possible for normal human women to misunderstand those sorts of comments or thoughtful gestures, especially when combined with his characteristically straightforward delivery and the near-hypnotic pull of those green eyes. Some future girlfriend- not her, of course- could easily get the wrong idea, and so one day she'd need to warn him.

 

Just... not today, she decided, ignoring the accompanying little twinge of guilt for the sensation of warmth his gaze kindled within her.

 

"First, I don't like them," Autumn clarified, carefully slipping her phone back into her jeans pocket. "I love them," she enthused quietly, that giddy, guileless smile returning for a moment. "I mean, just... Wow." The last syllable was a soft, almost reverent exhalation as she leaned back against the trunk of the tree, lifting her gaze to watch the silent dance of the miniature candle flames flickering and flaring around them. "You know?" Glancing back down at the tall wiry form of her boyfriend for confirmation, she grinned in spite of herself, shaking her head in disbelief. "Every time you use your powers for something new, I keep thinking, 'That's amazing. I don't think he could possibly do anything any more amazing than that.' And then," she shrugged with a quiet huff of laughter, "you do."

 

He smiled slightly, a crinkling of the edges of his eyes emphasising the pleased glow of the reflected fireflies as his lips curved for a moment.  He glanced around at the field of stars circling the tree under which he stood and in which Autumn sat, and then raised his face once more to her, head tilting in curiousity.  "And second?"

 

"Second," she sighed, swinging her leg over the branch to face him directly, "apology accepted. I mean, you didn't really have to go quite this far," the redhead added with a bemused grin, a flash of humor in her eyes captured by the twinkling of the airborne embers around them. "But." Bracing her palms atop the limb on either side of her hips, feet swinging in a half-conscious expression of the energy that animated her, Autumn leaned forward slightly, meeting his gaze as the weight of her hair tumbled forward over her shoulders. "I appreciate it. So, thanks for that. For this," she amended. "Just, y'know. Please try not to just decide things on my behalf in the future, unless you have to. Like, I'm bleeding to death and need a transfusion or I'll die, or something."

 

Edited by Autumn Keane
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"I will keep it in mind."  he replied, with a nod of his head to further accentuate his acceptance of her words, though his eyes never left her face.  "Though I can't make any promises about going too far when making amends." he added, a gleam of humor flashing a fin in the calm pools of his gaze.  The smile spread from his eyes then, to a slight curve of his lips once more as he studied the vibrant copper-tressed girl on the branch, taking in how the golden sparks of light shone on the freckled ivory of her skin, highlighting the deeper rose of her lips and the darkness of her eyes in the half-light.

"So..."  he began, the word a slow, low murmur.  "I was wondering if you'd like to come down here and make out under the fireflies for awhile."

And there it was again, that completely unfiltered, unashamed interest  that'd make somebody a fortune if they could ever figure out how to bottle and sell it to lonely people. Pheromones, she remembered distantly, dizzily, as she gazed down into the depthless, ageless green-gold eyes glittering up at her, except that this time there was no crackling campfire to blame for the rush of heat blooming bright beneath her skin. She'd never really thought of herself as fickle, before, but what other excuse was there for going from spitting mad to being ready to literally fall into his arms in a few minutes' time?

Well, other-Autumn reminded her with scrupulous, nigh-unassailable logic. He did apologize.

Mhmm.

Aaand, he meant it, or he wouldn't have-

-wouldn't have said it, right. Thanks.

"Think you can concentrate enough to keep from burning the whole tree down?" she heard herself say, feeling her own lips curve in a mischievous, answering grin as her attention shifted from the brilliant gold-flecked lambency of her boyfriend's gaze to the shape of his mouth.

The smile on that mouth was barely a hint at the edges, but the gleam of mirth in the Effing BF's eyes deepened as he paused for a moment, as if in consideration.  Of course, he knew that the firefly effect was contained - none of the sparks could transfer heat:  even if he lost concentration or passed out, they would simply fade away after a time.  But he understood the mischief, the playfulness in Autumn's question, and so responded in kind.

"Only one way for you to find out for sure."  he answered, lips twitching in his own version of an answering grin, his tone teasing.

"You're so right," she replied, a sudden impish gleam brightening the twilight seas of her eyes in the dim light; she might've forgiven him, but there was something to be said for occasionally, metaphorically, playing with fire. "So, let's see..." Autumn murmured, the slow to-and-fro swing of her feet more deliberate as she swayed a little from side to side, hmming to herself. "We... ask the question first, which we've done. We can't really do much background research to see what kind of results other people have gotten, since there's no real precedent, but we need to come up with a hypothesis. We could just establish what stimuli are likely to make you lose concentration, though, along with the temperature of these lights, and compare that to the amount of heat needed to burn green wood..." Tilting her head in a passable Bannon imitation, she regarded the lean young man whose kisses alone, in her mind, could spark a wildfire. "Or, if science isn't really your thing, we could go hiking instead?"

"I was thinking of a more practical experiment.  A field trial, if you will."  Jase riposted, and then Autumn could feel herself being lifted carefully, but firmly off the branch and down into his arms with such smoothness she barely had time to laugh before she became aware of his arms around her, and his lean body against hers, and his lips right there coming down to meet hers in a firm, possessive kiss.  For a few moments longer, the giggles continued as their lips met, and then her own arms came up and around his neck as the giggles became sighs.  He was kissing her with barely restrained and poorly concealed passion, his mouth moving slowly against hers as his hands slid down her back to her hips.  His teeth grazed her lower lip, drawing a small gasp from her before he broke the kiss, his eyes meeting hers from a mere few inches away.

"Still want to go hiking?"  he asked, his voice hoarse with the edge of desire as they stood in the waist-high grass under the spreading branches of the apple tree, the golden fireflies winking and flickering overhead.

"Mhmm," came the almost immediate response, a drowsy, languid hum as Autumn rocked forward onto her toes, the fingers of one hand toying idly with a lock of dark hair at the nape of Jason's neck. "I even wore the t-shirt." The clean, quintessentially Jase scent she'd come to associate with him surrounded her, and, breathing it in, she leaned closer, unable to resist the temptation it posed. Definitely need to find a way to market this, she mused, if only to make a detergent she could wash her sheets in. And that thought led to another- that there might be more effective ways to make her bedsheets smell like this- and the liquid warmth rushing through her veins glowed with renewed heat.

The tip of her nose brushed his; from this close, amid the shifting embers of the miniature galaxies spinning slowly above them in the darkness, his eyes were primeval forests rather than crystalline pools, their depths unexplored and only hinted at in stray firefly-flashes of sunlit gold. It would be easy to get lost there, she knew, just as surely as it would be possible to drown in the remote, icy waters within which that unknowable, ancient awareness swam. Whether warm and lush or glacial and unforgiving, there were no illusions in Jason Bannon's eyes, even considering all the enchantment and wonder he could summon up, and that he had done so for her. That meant something, didn't it? Maybe, yeah. It even alleviated that sense of unfairness a little because even though his thoughts were completely beyond her, his feelings, at least, were easier to understand. 

"Later, though," she murmured after a moment, her breath a tremulous whisper against his lips. Her palms slid down over his shoulders, his forearms, to clasp his hands in her own and, taking a step back she gently pulled him down with her into the tall, fragrant grass.

Citrus and juniper mingled with the warm underlying scent of her skin and hair and the grass and earth beneath them as Jason willingly accepted Autumn's unspoken, yet insistent plea to join her in her makeshift bower.  Their hands parted, his sliding up to her shoulder, trailing the backs of his curled fingers up the sides of her neck to gently bury themselves in her Titian mane of hair as they kissed again, and then again, each kiss a fresh spark that blazed as brightly in their young bodies as the faux-fireflies did overhead, and with far more incendiary a result.  Autumn’s hands slid under his arms and around him, pulling him close, pressing her body to his and his to hers as though trying to eliminate all wasted space between them, even hooking one leg over his as she gave out a soft whimper at the intensity of liquid desire his kisses evoked.

There was a sense of comfortable rightness, however urgent the floods of hormones were that cascaded through the two of them.  This love-play was a curious mixture of languor and passion, as though they each, after the trials of the day, craved the close delights of intimacy more than the raw pleasure of carnality.  That said, Autumn did not protest at the feel of Jason's hand slipping under her shirt and his fingers gently caressing her flesh, nor did he balk at the way her hips moved with slow deliberateness against the rigidity in the front of his jeans.  But there was an unhurried, exploratory joy in these caresses and touches, for all the flashes of lightning they caused to tingle up and down the spines of the entangled teenagers.

It was a voice calling their names that brought them, slowly, back to the realm of earthly, mundane things from their rapture in each other.  Autumn uttered a soft groan as she recognised her mom's voice, coming closer as it called out again "Autumn?  Jase?"

"To be continued?"  Jase murmured huskily, studying her kiss-reddened lips and desire-drowsy eyes.

"Definitely," she breathed, gazing up into the shadows of his features, illuminated now and then by the dim, dreamlike glow of the winking fireflies. It was almost too perfect to be real, with the warmth of their entwined limbs chasing away the faint chill on the evening breeze, and the soft choruses of birds and insects in the distance, and the red-haired girl squirmed slightly in her boyfriend's embrace as she reached toward him, adding one more layer of sensation to the memory she was working to build. The dark, tousled strands of his hair slid through her fingers as Autumn pulled him close one last time, hurriedly pressing her lips to his in a brief, fierce kiss before scrambling up to her feet, brushing bits of broken vegetation from her jeans. 

"Over here, Mom!" Holding one arm aloft as she called out, Autumn reached down with the other, offering Jason a hand up as much to touch him again- to feel the texture of his skin and the strong, certain hum of his life beneath- as to help him stand.

"So I can see."  Dana's expression, clearly visible to her daughter as she approached within the illumination of the spread-out cloud of glowing motes, showed more clearly than her tone that she knew exactly what they had been up to.  Amusement, exasperation and concern warred on the pretty veterinarian's features as she studied the pair of them, particularly their flushed faces and the strands of grass in their hair.  "It's getting close to leaving time, especially as you have school tomorrow, so I left your dad and Gar chatting on the front porch while I came looking for you."  she added with a wry quirk of her lips.  "I think he's seen enough of you two canoodling for one week - possibly for the year."

As she spoke, she glanced at the slowly swirling field of golden stars overhead, just within arm's reach, and despite the maternal pseudo-disapproval in her voice couldn't quite keep the wonder out of her gaze.  Shaking her head slowly, she looked back at the two teens, noting that they were still holding hands.  Huffing quietly, she shook her head again, plainly incapable of even-ing right now.  "Let's get going, Autumn Rae.  You'll see Jason again tomorrow."  she not-quite commanded, gesturing for the two of them to follow her.

Getting caught making out by her mom seemed a little less mortifying this time, thankfully, than when she'd found them on the porch. Or the living room. Or at the Labor Day picnic. A little. And though she could still feel the hot prickle of embarrassment creeping up the sides of her throat and over her cheeks, at least Dana hadn't actually seen anything- especially not where the young Teulu genius's hands had been. Or hers, for that matter, she realized, trying with some success not to grin in the midst of maternal scrutiny. Giving Jason's hand a quick squeeze before reluctantly letting her fingers slip free, Autumn sighed, a full-body exhalation that was as much movement as sound. "I know, I know," she grumbled in answer, falling in a few steps behind Dana and rolling the elastic band off her wrist, looping her unruly mane into a loose half-ponytail as they left the fairy-tale scene behind. And then, overcome by a sudden sense of deja-vu, she stopped, reached back, and grabbed his hand again. 

We thought the same thing last night, was the unspoken worry that wove her pale, freckled fingers once more through his longer, still faintly tanned ones. "Think you can bring coffee? To share, I mean. At breakfast. Since this morning got..." She swallowed uncertainly, then glanced up at Jase, her eyes tracing the faint line etched into his skin- near-invisible in the pale moonlight, but graven indelibly in her awareness of him. "Y'know," she finished lamely, grimacing a little.

"Busy?"  Jase asked rhetorically, quietly, his own expression sober as he nodded, his fingers gently tightening around Autumn's.  He'd never really considered his mortality before - in that, it could be said, he was similar to most human teenage males.  And though the remembrance of that experience of nearly dying did not fill him with fear, he keenly recalled the blackness he'd fallen into, the cusp of oblivion that would have ended all further experience, all existence of 'Jason Bannon'.  And, too, would have precluded kissing his girlfriend under a field of fireflies, or sharing coffee with her in the morning.

"I'll bring coffee for us both."  he assured her as they made their way across the field with Dana, the older redhead pretending she wasn't listening in.  Behind them, the fireflies winked out, slowly, returning their surroundings to their normal moonlit mystery.  "And I'll see you at breakfast after my run."

Autumn smiled at him as they ambled, still hand in hand, around the side of the farmhouse in Dana's wake to where Ian and Gar were waiting.  Both older men's eyes immediately picked up on the held hands, but neither teen appeared to care as they stepped up onto the porch.

"Thanks for having us over, Gar."  Ian turned to the stockier form of Jase's dad, offering a hand, his tone warmer than it had been earlier that night.

"No problem."  The elder Bannon smiled back as he took the proffered hand, then gently shook Dana's in turn.  "We'll have to do it again - only perhaps with more barbecuing and less earth-shattering revelation."

"Oooh, barbecue would be awesome," Autumn enthused, releasing Jase's hand as, without preamble, she stepped forward and hugged his father, choosing artless action over just standing there uncomfortably while everyone sort of looked at each other. "This weekend, maybe? And thanks for the coffee," she murmured gratefully, smiling as the momentarily baffled man quickly recovered and looped an arm around his son's earnest young girlfriend in response. "Was nice to see you again, even if the meeting sucked. Have a good night, Mr Ba- Gar," the younger redhead amended, grinning somewhat abashedly as she withdrew. "And," she added, thrusting her hands into the pockets of her jeans to stop herself from reaching out again and slipping her arms around the tall, spare form of the young man who stood by, quietly watching the farewells. "'Night, Jase. See you in the morning." 

"Come on, you," Ian sighed, draping an arm affectionately around his daughter's shoulders and tugging her firmly away. "We still have plenty left to talk about and I'm sure the Bannons might want to get to bed sometime soon. Goodnight, Gar, Jason, and thanks again."

"Goodnight," Dana echoed, smiling faintly as she drew Jase into another of her quick, nigh-unavoidable hugs as the young Teulu went still for a brief moment, blinking in- Autumn’s Bannonology study suggested- what passed for surprise. "And I haven't forgotten what you said when I asked about hurting Autumn," she assured him quietly, regarding the strange, inhuman young man with a sober, searching gaze before offering both men a brief wave and following after her family.

"Bye!" Autumn's voice rang out one last time in the night, a pale arm flashing up as she turned back, briefly, before clambering up into the Jeep and vanishing from sight.

"Nice people."  Gar commented to his son as the two of them stood on the porch, watching as the Jeep reversed, turned, and headed off slowly down the track towards the road.  Jase, characteristically silent, offered no disagreement as he gazed after the vehicle's tail lights, storing in his mind the face that had smiled out of the rear window at him before the Jeep had disappeared into the night.  The Keanes were nice people, that was undeniable.  As with the Cassidys, he found himself liking them, even in the face of Ian's suspicion, concern and paternal protectiveness which, he noted, didn't stop the man from being civil, even friendly at times.  Gar gently clapped his son on the shoulder and turned to go indoors, leaving the lean young psychokinetic out on the porch, listening to the distant sounds of the Jeep and the occasional night bird call.

He stayed there for some minutes more, alone with his thoughts, before turning and heading inside.

Spoiler

Thanks to Vivi for the collab!

 

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