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[Interlude:] In Memoriam


GDP_ST
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Thursday, 5th September

It wasn't raining.

Odd that it wasn't, at least to some of those attending the Shelly Cemetery to pay their respects to the departed Charlie Cole.  Funerals should happen with the sky itself mourning, the rain helping to hide tears.  They should only take place on dreary Fall days, not with a blue sky and the ebbing warmth of summer playing it's radiance over the brasswork on the coffin.  Of course, the wiser heads knew that death was rarely convenient, and this - the violent murder of one little more than a child - was downright tragic.  Perhaps the warm sunshine was more appropriate, given how Charlie had died at the hands of the Dark.  As though the sun's rays purified him on his journey from this world.

Coyote watched from a distance, his hands thrust into the pockets of his black jacket, ageless and remote sorrow in the dark forests of his gaze.  It looked as though most of the town had turned out - Charlie had been well-liked, getting on with most of his peers, and even those who weren't necessarily his friends lingered around the edges of the cemetery, beholden to witness by curiousity and a strange sense that this fate could have befallen any of them.  The dead boy's estranged father and mother stood on opposite sides of the coffin each with their own circle of support, each pale and stricken-looking, their eyes on the dark polished wood.

The Ancient breathed in slowly, feeling the slow dissipation of the miasma that hung over the minds and souls of Shelly's populace.  Some might have believed that the second death of Arawn, and the banishment of the Tree, would be all that was necessary to heal the blight on this town's soul.  Not so, the Trickster knew.  This was the final seal on the defeat of the dark, corrupt force that had infected Shelly since before history began.  This simple, sapient act of coming together to grieve, to pay respects to the fallen.  Not just Charlie Cole, but the thousands over the centuries who'd fallen prey to the Dark's avatar.  The town was burying more than just one murdered child, coming together like this - it was burying all of them.

Perhaps now healing could begin, and the scars could start to mend.  Not just in the town itself, either.  Coyote's eyes, preternaturally sharp, sought out the familiar faces of the Fellowship in the gathering, as the priest wound down the eulogy to the accompaniment of the quiet sobs of relatives and close friends.  Some close friends of the departed, some more distant - but they were all here.  The Trickster grunted, huddling in his jacket as though to ward off a chill, though the late summer air was warm.  The cold was from within, he knew.

"Not long." he murmured to himself, almost absently, watching the future unfold beyond his ability to control or steer it in the dynamics of the Fellowship and what waited for them.  "Make better mistakes than we did..." he whispered to them, a plea more than an instruction.  Or perhaps a prayer?  He wasn't sure.  He had rolled the dice, and that had taken most of what he had left.  All he could do now was watch, and hope.

After millenia of life, steering the course of bloodlines and nations in perhaps the best trick he'd ever played, wouldn't it be hilarious if the trick was as much on himself as those he'd intended it for?

 

Spoiler

Feel free to post a reaction to what's going on.  The Fellowship are not part of the service - so no graveside speeches to the multitudes are on the order of service.  But you are all present, in one capacity or another.  The whole town is.

For the sensitives (those with Psi) there is a notable lifting of the dark miasma over Shelly this morning.  The normies can feel it subconsciously - the air is less oppressive and fearful, even given the tragedy of the occasion.  Shelly is becoming less of a Stephen King horror town daily, the Radiance slowly purifying.

After the reactions, if people are going to meet up or try and get people together, talk it over OOCly - perhaps use the Social media thread to ping people rather than write posts running around to gather them all. 

 

Edited by GDP_ST
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He wished it was raining.  All those in attendance kept commenting on how gorgeous the days was and how God had cleared the skies so Charlie’s soul could find its way to heaven and all that nonsense.  They kept saying how tragic it was and how such a bright light had been taken from the world far too soon.  Okay, that part he could agree with.  Charlie’s passing was too soon, and funerals weren’t for the departed, they were those left behind.

Guilt ate away at his insides as he stood there, listening to the speaker, who obviously knew nothing about Charlie aside from what his parents had written on a few index cards.  He hated that the most.  Devin barely knew Charlie and yet still seemed to know more about him than this guy who was stammering and stuttering between kind words in a vain attempt to make parallels to bible verses and God’s word.  It felt so disingenuous to Charlie’s memory.

As stood, the sun in his face, he couldn’t recall where he was that night when was murdered.  No matter how hard he thought about it, he just couldn’t remember.  Was he with Tawny?  At home drawing?  The more he thought about it, less clear the events leading up to Charlie’s death became.  He had tried to fill in the blanks so many times that now he didn’t know which his memories were accurate anymore and that just made him feel even more guilty for not being there.  Logically he knew if he had been there, he’d more than likely be dead too, but he was grieving and felt like being there, even if he’d died too, would have been better than not being there at all.

As the preacher preached, and the people cried, one by one he watched family and friends say a few words in remembrance, paralyzed by his guilt that he should have been there.  He should have had Charlies back, they all should have, but how could they have known?  That wasn’t what he wanted to tell himself.  It was logical and there was no way any of them could have predicted that Charlie would be hurt; this wasn’t their fault.  Inside though, he didn’t want to accept that answer either, not after last night.  His fight with Tawny had left his world as bleak and dark, full of hopelessness and the harsh reality that dreams don’t come true.  The angst and rage of teenage depression knew no bounds.

Tawny had come to the funeral, too.  Not far from him she stood silently next to Sophie.  They’d been released from the hospital earlier that morning and as the whole would say, repeatedly for the next several weeks, they were so brave and courageous to drop everything and come to Charlie’s funeral so soon after all that had happened to them.  Yeah, because they did so much, right?  A war was raging across the cosmos, Devin now had the scars and bruises to prove it, but it was Tawny and Sophie and who were so brave because they managed to get kidnapped, cry and pass out.  Great job ladies.

She hadn’t put any effort into her appearance today, just a black summer-style dress that went to her knees and her long, blonde hair was worn loose over her shoulders brushed, but that was about it.  Even while fuming mad at her Devin entertained more hot blonde goth fantasies than was healthy for any teenager, which he mentally blamed on her for looking so goddammed amazing.  The poet in him blamed this perfect day on her, telling himself the world could never weep when a heart as warm and a smile as bright as hers could still bringing joy and warmth into the world.  God, even mad at her she was still able to captivate and mesmerize him.  It wasn’t fair.  Nothing was fair, though, right?  Life wasn’t fair.  People weren’t fair.  That’s why it was futile to waste time trying to make things better for everyone and he just needed to worry about himself.  No one else cared, but since that was the case, he knew there was still a world to save, and he’d do it alone if he had to.

He shook his mind from Tawny and straightened his jacket a bit as the last speaker finished. Devin stepped forward, approaching Charlie’s parents and silently asked them if he might go next.  They both nodded, Charlie’s father seemed puzzled, knowing that Devin wasn’t apart of Charlie’s close friends.  Still, neither saw the harm in it.

He cleared his throat and again adjusted his jacket.  The Jauntsens appeared at a formal event the way it was intended, not in jeans and boots like most of the mouth-breathing, ham-fisted residents of Shelly who showed up.  Like everything in this small town, the Jauntsens made this funeral look good, classy, even.

He stood and addressed those assembled.  “I’m uh, Devin Jauntsen, although most of you know that already.  I’ve never really lost anyone before, and this sort of thing is a new experience for me.”

He took in a deep breath and sighed before continuing.  “I’ve heard it said a lot today, that these services aren’t for the departed, that they’re for us.  So, let’s make this about us for a moment.”  Charlie’s father took a soft step, as if to ask Devin to not speak anymore and step down, fearing he might ruin the service in accordance with his reputation.  Charlie’s mother, however, pinched the sleeve of his elbow, signaling to let the boy talk.

“Look I, uh, I don’t really feel like I deserve to be here.” He chuckled half-heartedly.  “In case some of you aren’t in the know, I picked on Charlie at school, a lot.  For years I made his life at school difficult, and yet this summer he and I and some others all came together and started hanging out,” he looked shocked, like the thought of hanging out with Charlie was still something his mind couldn’t process.  “None of us expected to become friends, but here we are, friends mourning a friend.”

“Long and short of it, Charlie had every right and opportunity to call me out.  To hate me with every fiber of his being, but… he didn’t.  No matter what he was always in the moment and treated me like he wanted to be treated.  He was kind, forgiving, respectful and he showed me how much of a better person he was, than I am.  He set a bar that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to live up to.”

Devin coughed into his hand, as he choked on those last few words.  The moisture lining his eyes wasn’t acting or some prank.  “It was like the past was never as important to him as the present.  Now.  What was happening then and there in that moment was all that mattered to him and if I was trying to not be a jerk, he made a bigger effort to see the person I was trying to be instead of the person I was, and sometimes still am.”  He swallowed down the lump in his throat and stared at the coffin, closed because there was nothing more than a bucket of memories after Not-Cody got done with him.  “I never had the chance to tell him that I considered him a friend after all our hang outs and debates and even our disagreements.  He was great guy and he shined brightly enough that he burned some of our darkness away before he left us.”  He looked to Charlie’s parents offered them a soft smile that pleaded of some measure of forgiveness and knew the Fellowship would get the reference.  “He was a great guy, and I couldn’t be sorrier for your loss.”

He stepped to the casket and his next words weren’t for the gathered, but for Charlie, wherever he might have been.  “I’m sorry I wasn’t there, Chuck.  See you on the other side, bro.”

Clearing his throat, he composed himself before walking back to where his parents and sister were waiting for him in black within the sea of black that comprised all of those Charlie knew in life.  His parents and sister hugged him gently.

“Well said, son.” Carl haled him tightly with one arm, trying to comfort him as well as he was able.

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Marissa was overjoyed that it wasn’t raining.  The cloudless sky and slight, worm breeze made her even more photogenic in the stunning dress she’d purchased just for this one event and her heels weren’t digging into damp, muddy ground and threatening to break her ankle with every step.  It was no surprise that the Jauntsens turned up like it was a fashion of show, but unlike the residents of Shelly, they possessed style and class, money and refinement.  Devin and her father, Carl, were in black suits.  Three-piece Panama-style to best match the summer season.  Clean shaven, with product in their hair and a well-cut suit, the two men looked great as single women and students, and some not-so-single women and students, would attest to in their DMs later all over Shelly’s social media circuit.

Those same DMs would contain mostly spite and vitriol hidden carefully in back-handed compliments towards the Jauntsen women.  Misti had decided on a knee-length leather pencil skirt with a blouse and suit jacket that complimented the ensemble perfectly.  Marissa specially ordered an off-the-shoulder sweater dress, similar to the one she wore the evening before, that hugged her body so tightly in may as well had been brushed on using paints mixed from the jealousy and envy of the assembled onlookers.  Her makeup was impeccably flawless, with her trademark dark maroon lips.  She’d opted for her hair up in a tight bun, to better show off the curves of her bare shoulders.

Marissa wasn’t really feeling the funeral.  That’s not to say she didn’t mourn for Charlie, she did.  His death was a tragedy and served as a stark reminder to the Fellowship that the stakes they were playing for were very real and the price they paid could be the ultimate one.  Still, she didn’t know Charlie, not like Devin did.  Devin and Charlie has actually talked, shared a joke or two; had at least bonded on some level.  The one, and only, time Marissa had tried to bond with him (she did find him kind of attractive) he’d just simply stopped talking to her all together, resulting in her leaving their breakfast date in a confused and very frustrated state of mind about him.  He passed on shortly after and they’d never had a chance to resolve their issues, and now they never would.  Unlike Devin, she didn’t see that a negative.  It wasn’t her fault he ghosted her in the middle of their breakfast date.  His loss, not hers.

Although still fighting with him, she hugged her brother as he returned from his kind words.  When Charlie’s mother looked at her, as if to ask if she had anything to add, Marissa replied with a rather heartless, “I’m good.” With a dismissive raise of her hand and a stiff frown.  She’d already cried her tears over Charlie’s loss and had ample time to recall how he’d behaved and frankly, she was already over it.  It was tragic and sad, yes… but she didn’t know him at all.  The whole service felt like one big stranger telling her their grandparent had passed; all she could do was say she was sorry for their loss and get on with her life.  She knew her brother was sincere, she, on the other hand, could have mustered a kind word to save her life right now.  What would she say?  “He was weird, awkward and mercilessly sliced people apart under the responsible guidance of Jason Bannon without any compassion.  He’ll be missed.”  She didn’t want to lie though.  He wouldn’t be missed.  Here she was, at his funeral, already having moved on and thoroughly bored.  Maybe if he hadn’t ghosted her, he wouldn’t be one right now.

That was unfair.  She breathed in and slowly and softly sighed, trying to clear those sorts of thoughts from her head.  Charlie was a decent guy, she guessed, and she knew that her anger towards the Fellowship and her brother were just making her spiteful for the sake of spite, and why did Tawny show up without any makeup on?  She thought she taught the girl better than that.

After a few more words from other people began to clear out for the gathering of free food and pointless conversation hosted at Mr. Cole’s home.  No one wanted to be in Mrs. Cole’s kitchen once they discovered how Charlie’s body was found.  She was considering moving since the event, finding it hard to even be in that room of her house now.  Way to go, Charlie.  It had to be in the kitchen, right?  Not the guest bathroom, or the attic?  Some room no one ever goes into.  Even now, she couldn’t help but chastise him.

The twins were walking away from the service when Tawny approached them.  Her complexion still carrying the palette of weariness and near-death tirelessly.  “Devin?”  She asked, noticing the way he didn’t even bother looking at her.  “I-I was hoping we could talk.”

“Well, hold on to that,” Devin said softly, not wanting to let their drama spill into the services.  “Because it’s all you have left.”  He turned to walk off then paused, turning back to her with his finger bobbing as a thought hit him.  “And Jacob.  Go talk to him.  Let him tell you how none of this is your fault and I’m just immature and a waste of your time.  Let him be your hero, because after fighting and bleeding and almost dying to save you, it’s obviously not me.  Just pray he’s there the next time Darkness comes calling.”

“You know he can’t hurt them,” tears began to well up in her eyes as the guy who had been her best friend for years, her first love, her love still, now spoke to her like she wasn’t even a person anymore.

“Sounds like a you problem.”  He walked off without another word and before he had to listen to any of her excuses or apologies or accusations.

Marissa was an expert on cruel but watching this made her visibly wince.  She’d never seen Devin so callous and cruel except to those who undoubtably deserved it, like Chet’s cousin when he black mailed her earlier that year.  She would never admit that she had romanticized about Devin and Tawny finally getting their chance to be together.  Whether it worked out or not, no one could deny that as far as couples went, they were an adorable pairing.  That dream was going up in flames quickly, like Autumn in a weed field quickly.

“He hates me.” The blonde’s tearing eyes met Marissa’s and all she could do was exhale softly and put on a faux smile.

“Give him time,” she said, not really believing herself.  As a fellow Jauntsen twin, she knew how proficient they were at holding, and enforcing, grudges.  “We’ve all been through a lot.  I’m not trying to minimize anything you’ve been through, but we’ve gone and are going through quite a bit too.  We’re all a mess.”

Wiping the tears from her eyes with a tissue she’d been given at the service, it barely helped.  “Are we?”

“Yeah, we’re fine.” Marissa deciphered the code of the unasked question of Tawny wondering if Devin hated her, did that mean she hated her too?  “As long as I’m not some gateway for you to see or repair things with my brother.  This one is between you two, I’ not getting in the middle of it.”  They both knew that was a lie, but still traumatized blonde Marissa had called a neighbor and friend for years threw her arms around her.  Marissa managed a genuine smile, her first in days as holding Tawny reminded her that she was still alive because of what she and her brother and the others accomplished together.  The world was certainly falling apart if her line of thought was to suddenly act as a voice of reason.

Swiftly she caught up to her brother.  Neither stopped, they just walked as she talked.  “That was shitty, and you know damn well it was.”

“What do you care?”  He shot back, never even taking his eyes off the path that led to their car.  “Just one more body on the pile as you climb to the top, right?”

“Fuck,” she huffed, pausing for effect.  “Off.”

Edited by Dave ST
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He didn't feel nothing.

When compared to the emotional, mercurial Jauntsens, to his warmly passionate girlfriend, even to the very humanly logical Sean and Cassandra, it was easy to glance at the unperturbed, grave features of Jason Bannon as he studied all the graveside mourners and assume him to be untouched by this moment.  It was not the case, but only those that knew him would understand that he did register the loss of Charlie, that his perfect recall was replaying every moment spent in the other teen's company.  Every word, every inflection, every smile and laugh from every gaming session or movie hangout at Sean's house flickered before his mind's eye like a movie reel.  He'd never been close to Charlie - never really had the chance to be.  Most of their association had been with the mask that Jase had worn for the last eight years between him and the world.  He'd spent the most time with Sean, and the other young genius might have perceived more to Bannon just from proximity, whereas Charlie had spent at most a few hours a week in his company.

Only after the summer break, when everything had gotten weird, had Charlie ever really interacted with Jase, and despite the chilling, off-putting manner of the lanky teen, Charlie had tried several times to understand.  Perhaps he, like Autumn, could have been a bridge to Jase understanding the strangely erratic behaviour of those around him.  And now he was gone, murdered, his spirit devoured by a for-real monster.  Jason didn't grieve, but he did register the loss, did regret the waste and the weakening of his circle.  As when he'd heard the news of Charlie's murder, he acknowledged that he should have checked on his friend when he'd not answered his calls, should have driven over there and knocked on the door the way he'd done when Sean hadn't turned up.  Perhaps if he had, Charlie would be alive.  Or perhaps not.  There was no logical way to know the truth of that; the only truth Jason knew was that he'd left his friend alone with their girlfriend for a weekend, and now they were dead.

That was another thing, too.  Charlie, next to him, had possessed perhaps the most combat-capable power set, and yet was dead.  He must have been taken completely unawares, perhaps frozen for a moment from fear or indecision.  The parallel was not lost on the young Teulu.  He, too, had almost been killed without even understanding what was happening.  And yet he had survived, and Charlie was dead.  Luck, perhaps - his assailants had been mortal human beings, Charlie's an undying elder wraith.  How would he, Jason, have fared if Cody/Arawn had come to the farmhouse that night, or even upon him and Autumn the prior night in the woods?  Pride told him that he would not have died easily... but perhaps that was merely pride, or his instinct to fight speaking, and not logic.

He listened as Devin said a few words, head cocked.  The male Jauntsen seemed utterly sincere, entirely at odds with his usual flippancy.  Why should he not be, though?  Devin likely felt as responsible as Jase did for not checking on Charlie, or not doing something sooner - he just lacked Bannon's detachment from the immediacy of grief.  A wry internal observer wondered if such words would have been said if the rogue marshal's bullets had placed him in the ground next to Charlie.  It was hard to know with the Jauntsens, though he was reasonably certain Devin at least would not have wanted him murdered.

Green eyes sought the pale, freckled face of his girlfriend next, standing nearby his father and himself with her own family, the Keanes and the Crockers both having turned up together, the adults likely feeling a mixture of relief that it was not their child in the ground, and - very humanly - guilt for even thinking such a thing.  The idea prompted Jason to look at his own father, sober and grave in his dark suit, his eyes fixed on the coffin.  Was his dad also experiencing that sensation?  Probably.  Likely most of the parents were, just like most of the other children would be glad it wasn't them.  As the service ended, and the knots of people broke up, Jase gave his father a brief one-armed hug, prompting the burlier older man to respond with a rough bear hug of his own.

"You okay?" Gar looked into his son's face, noting again the pale scar of the assassin's bullet.  He didn't know why he asked - of course Jason was likely okay.  Gar, on the other hand, really wanted a drink.

"I'm fine."  the lanky youth reassured his dad calmly, frozen jade eyes intent on the older man's face.  "Are you?"

"Need a drink.  Will settle for a coffee though." Gar replied, quirking a smile.  Father and son turned, heading away from the grave in step, taking their time and each deep in thought.

Edited by GDP_ST
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Cade stood with his family, listening through everything, all the words said to mourn his friend, who'd been taken from them by a malevolent force who'd possessed another child from the town, and forced yet more children to take that child's life to halt the spread of the evil that was growing here.

It was so surreal, but Cade knew it to be true, he'd fought the horrors, alongside the fellowship.  He'd seen the other world, had seen the horrors there, and had attacked Cody with the intention to take his life.   There was a part of them that wouldn't let that go.

He listened as Devin spoke, and allowed the ghost of smile to curl his lips.  What Devin had said was completely true, and Cade envied the ease with which Devin expressed his feelings, letting go of the facade he wore the rest of the time, and was just honest.  It was refreshing, and he made a mental note to thank him for that later.   

Everyone was there, standing with their families, and he felt a hand on his back small, gentle,almost like it wasn't there.  That was his mother's, and he looked down, and she was trying to hold back her tears.   Seeing one of her son's friends being lowered into the ground, after learning that this really could have happened to any of the children, that she could have lost her own son, it was very hard for Miyakko.  her other hand was wrapped around Haruka's shoulders, and his sister held her mother's hand.   

He felt a larger hand squeeze his right shoulder, and knew that was his Father.   Never one for a public display of affection, Some of the same thoughts were going through Ian's mind.   He'd known about his son's activities since the hospital attack, and still, he hadn't stopped him.  He could have lost his son, any number of them could have died, and there was nothing he with his training, his skill, could have done to prevent it.   He felt the gaze of some in the crowd, knowing they sought answers for how this happened, why he as Sheriff hadn't prevented it.  He couldn't have, to hear the kids tell of it.  Even they didn't know until it had happened, long after anyone could have saved his life.

Cade reached up and squeezed his dad's hand reassuringly, before dropping it to his side.   They would keep fighting, keep training, and keep Living.  The Fellowship had lost one of their own, and each mourned Charlie in their own way.   Outwardly, Cade's face had returned to an imperturbable neutral mask, even if inwardly, he cursed his inability to protect his friend.  If anyone bothered to look, they'd see the hint of resolve in his eyes.  "Nobody Else."  He said softly, so much that Even Ian had only barely heard it.   Cade knew he didn't really have powers like the rest of them, but that wasn't going to stop him from doing whatever he could do to stand alongside his friends.

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She was neither wroth nor ravaged by grief. The petite French girl watched, distant, and listened, attentive to the grieving family and friends of the departed. She felt rather calm, and truth be told, still a tad bitter. Kat had not been given much time to create any other sort of bond with Charlie than that of two teens sharing a similar, stressful situation - with its lot of perils, as the past days had shown. Today was a testimony to that very fact.

However, no matter how little she knew him, he was - had been - she mentally corrected, one of them, and that itself justified the faint, but creeping sadness she could sense growing inside, fueled by the aching maelstrom of feelings twirling around the coffin, very much in contrast with the actual weather. The least she could do was to stand here, today, next to his, her friends.

She winced and sucked on her own cheek, wrestling for control over her restless self. If she had to name one very unpleasant thing to her, it would have been to stand still. Her enhanced emotional radar was not helping at all. Fortunately, Devin's kind words provided her with a welcome, but barely adequate distraction. She swallowed, the saliva barely making its way past the now tight lump in her throat.

Her distraught eyes stopped on a familiar face. Courtney was standing slightly apart from the bulk of the small crowd, humid eyes over the thin cherry line of her lips. Whether it was the ambiance, enhanced by their senses, or actual grief, both telepaths were holding it together, but Kat wasn't far from losing it, growing paler by the minute. The petite French girl squeezed her father's hand. "I'm... not feeling so good," she whispered with an unsteady voice.

Josh squeezed her hand back, and they both turned away from the burial toward their car, one leaning on the stalwart frame of the other.

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It was hard not to be caught up in the emotional current of the service, to be aware in a very tactile way of the swelling tides of grief and hurt through the squeeze of her father's arm around her shoulder and the gentle pressure of her mother's cool fingers laced through her own. She could feel the sting of tears pricking at her eyes, the taut ache in her throat, the knot coiling in her stomach; all normal physiological responses to seeing Charlie's mother, pale and drawn, teetering on the verge of collapse, and to hearing the sound of quiet sobbing and murmured prayers among the onlookers. Intuitive empathy, her scary-smart boyfriend called it. But these weren't, Autumn knew, her own feelings, generated from some place of deep friendship and rapport with Charlie Cole because that... hadn't really been a thing, had it? She could probably count the number of facts she knew about him on one hand, even after several years of living in the same town: his parents were separated, he did something with the drama club, he had just started dating Sophia, and he was- had been, she corrected with a mental wince- touched by the Dawning Light. Or Radiance, or Shine, or... what-the-fuck-ever. And, really, if it hadn't been for that last part, she and Charlie probably wouldn't have ever really interacted at all. It was weird, and kind of uncomfortable actually thinking about it, but standing there looking at the huge spray of flowers on the lacquered casket as Devin spoke, the redhead didn't feel any overwhelming sorrow, or pain, or any of the things she was absolutely sure she was supposed to be feeling at a funeral.

What she felt, instead, was the warmth of the sunlight on her face, and the reassuring presence of her family, Nathan and Jacob included, and, maybe... Maybe a little guilt, for not feeling more? Because as much as it sucked that Charlie was gone, a part of her kept insisting that they were all still here. Tawny and Sophia were still here. They'd survived to bury him, and that was important. And... There had been other families who'd grieved, and wondered, and lost over the years, the names of which were scattered throughout the journals she'd inherited. Was Charlie Cole any different from those others swallowed up by the Dark? The image of a small white shoe, forlorn and forgotten in the corner of a basement, flickered briefly through her mind's eye, and despite the weather, Autumn couldn't help but shiver a little. Dana's grip on her daughter's hand tightened briefly in response, a tactile check-in that the young vitakinetic returned in kind: Are you okay? ... Yeah, I'm fine, went the unspoken exchange, both women watching with red-rimmed eyes as Hannah Fuhrman struggled to keep her composure and Lucius Cole attempted a polite smile, taut as piano wire as he murmured his thanks to someone offering condolences. And there was that twinge of guilt again, because she was fine. They'd never know what happened to their son, and he'd never finish the school production he was working on, and they were- all of them- changed after what had happened...

...And as she and her parents trudged quietly away from the gravesite she caught sight of the Jauntsens in the little parking area, and Gar and Jase heading back, and a few of the others mixed in- probably on their way to the reception, to talk about shared memories and convey regrets. She wasn't sure she wanted to deal with all of that, the awkward conversations and teary reminiscing about someone who had equal space in her memory as an awkwardly artsy guy and a monstrous biological weapon against the Darkness. But all that wasn't really for her benefit, anyway; the sun was shining, and she was alive, and there was always coffee at these things and she was kind of hungry and that was... fine.

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The funeral was weird for Cassandra. For one, it was only her...second? Third if you counted the one she'd been practically a baby for way back when. She didn't count it because she had no real memory of it. So second. Why did that make it weird? She wasn't sure, it just felt weird. Everything felt off, like a room where all the furniture had been shifted two inches to the left since the last time you were there. Nothing was quite right. She felt hyperaware of the feeling of her clothes on her, and snippets of whispered conversations kept leaping up out of the buzz at her, like crazy fish trying to escape a net. And yet, when service was about to start her mom had to nudge her elbow to get her attention. Cass was lost in the weeds.

She hadn't even KNOWN him. Not really. Why did that make it feel worse, somehow? Maybe because now she never would? Okay, sure, but...were you supposed to grieve for people you hadn't bonded with? Could you grieve for the potential of a friendship? Was what she was feeling grief?

Cassie had grieved before, not even that long ago. Her dad, back when she'd thought he was dead. This wasn't like that. That had been a howling abyss in her heart that had expanded like a black hole gobbling stars, threatening to hollow her out. There were still radioactive places in her memories that she couldn't walk for fear of feeling echoes of that time, right after his funeral. This wasn't like that. It was...tighter. More focused. Something in her skin, not deep inside. It made her feel prickly, embarrassed. It was a sour, sullen emotion, stern-faced. Reprimanding.

So she knew this one after all. Hello, guilt, my old friend.

The service went on, Cass barely hearing it. The moment she identified what the feeling was, it seemed to rear up and whip off its mask. Immediately Cassandra realized why this was happening.

When we went to fight the Dark, he was already gone. When we made our plans, talked it through...when we pulled together and got ourselves through it, he was dead. The Dark just creeped in, grabbed him, and took him out. And we barely even noticed.

She took a deep, shuddering breath. It got worse.

It was my job to see things coming. I was supposed to be the 'eyes.' But I was all tunnel-visioned on the fight. I didn't even TRY using my abilities before it happened. We all just assumed the Dark would wait for us to come attack it. But it's worse for me, because I didn't have to assume. I could have checked us all, every day. It might not have been perfect...the future is kind of hard to work out sometimes...but I could have saved him. At least maybe I could have.

And what could she do with this now? Shrug and call it a lesson learned? Is that what Jase would do? Was that what she wanted? What would Devin do? Sink deeper into misanthropy, playing victim and aggressor at the same time; trying to have his social cake and eat it too? Autumn? Cade?

She felt her mother lean towards her a little and put an arm around her shoulders, and Cass realized she had tears coming down her eyes. After a moment of hesitation, she let herself slump against her mother's shoulder. It made her feel a little childish, but...she was a little childish, wasn't she? And that had cost one of her friends his life. And it had cost the Fellowship one of their friends.

Then she realized her mom was humming something, some old song Cass barely remembered. She sat up a little, and Teresa moved her arm to give her some space.

"You doing okay?" she asked softly.

Cassandra nodded. "Yeah." She was surprised at how dry her mouth and throat were. "I'm...going to get some water. Then...then lets go. Okay? Ugh, is it too soon? I just don't..."

Teresa leaned forward to give her daughter a hug. "It's totally all right. Plenty of people have already left. You've been here for a little while. I didn't want to interrupt you."

So Cassie went to the little table at the back of the place, where a few pitchers had been set up with cups nearby. The questions she had were still there, but they didn't have to be answered right away, she thought. All she could do now was try to grow up, so it wouldn't happen again...and when she did, she could remember Charlie and what he meant to her. Just because he was dead didn't mean all of his light had to leave the world.
 

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Sean's stomach churned, and it wasn't just hunger after still being in the process of turning his new morning workout into a habit. He stood in a knot with his family, his father's hand a firm pressure on his shoulder, his mother and sister standing on Jack's other side, both in dark dresses with wan faces. His left leg tingled with pins and needles up to his hip, as though it was asleep, and his hands were balled into fists. The sun beat down, hot, remorseless, almost accusatory in the clear blue sky. His slacks, years old, were tight across the hips and under the black button-down he'd borrowed from his dad - the sleeves rolled up several times so they didn't cover his hands - there were trickles of sweat, back and front.

Sean's jaw was clenched, eyes squinted to slits in the effort of retaining a stoic expression, but it was obviously a thin façade. With all his issues, plus a father who endured everything with blue-collar aplomb, Sean had learned early not to cry in public, and ingrained as it was, it was still a near thing. He's shed his tears in private. As a boy who looked like a girl, and had only grown more so with puberty, growing more curvaceous than most, he'd suffered.

But he hadn't ever suffered much in the way of actual loss. The Cassidys were a small family in Toole County.  Now anyway, generations past, there had been many more. Sean had an uncle on his dad's side he'd never met and knew next to nothing about, and his mom had a sister who visited once a year with his two cousins. His mom's parents had passed away before he'd been born and he could barely remember his grandmother on his dad's side. The only funeral he'd gone to was his grandfather's, when he'd been ten. But his grandfather had been going senile for a few years before, and his passing had, in some ways, been a relief.

Charlie's death hurt. A link ripped out of the small circle of friends Sean had been surprised and blessed with finding himself with. Charlie had been there when he'd first started DMing RPGs. Always interested in the story and developing his character, Sean could always rely on Charlie to engage with any plot hook he laid out to get things going when the game started to wonder or go completely off-track. With his interest and training in drama, Charlie had helped Sean expand his storyteller's voice, as well as how better to structure the narratives of his games and campaigns, even if it was to go against convention.

Now Charlie's life story was cut short. As were all the stories of the lives he might have played on stage or on the screen, all the characters he might have played in their shared games. It wasn't one life, one friend, gone, but the multitude he could have been. With learning about their powers, and the secrets buried in Shelly, an unconscious part of Sean had still seen it as a game, fighting monsters with psionic powers, where bad things could happen, but they weren't ever final.

Until they were. Life wasn't a game, but both eventually ended. They had found the Dark, but one of them had lost before they had even fought. It wasn't fair,

Coiled through the hurt and loss was a nauseating shameful guilt. Not-Cody could have taken any one of them, and the result likely would have the same - one of the Radiant going dark under terror and violence. Forcing himself to look at it logically, with his lifespan cut dramatically and uncertainly short with an equally uncertain recourse, if one of them had to be sacrificed to the Darkness, it should have been him. But shortened life or not, Sean was relieved, relieved, it hadn't been him. He wouldn't wish it on any of his friends, but he wasn't ready to die yet either. And it felt wrong, it felt perverse, to be standing here, watching Charlie's casket being lowered into the ground and covered with dirt and being grateful he wasn't one the in it.

Devin spoke and more guilt piled up on Sean's hunched shoulders. He just couldn't bring himself to. What if he broke down in front of everyone? Charlie certainly deserved it, especially as the embarrassment would be only in Sean's own mind. And even if it wasn't, so what? But what if they saw his guilt, his relief, that he was still alive when Charlie wasn't? No. 

With the service coming to a close, the Cassidys went to pay their respects to Charlie's parents. Eyes downcast, he murmured a few awkward words of condolence with Charlie's father - Lucius Cole had never been comfortable around his son's intersexed friend. Sean was more at ease with Hannah Fuhrman, who'd always been kind to him when he'd gone over to Charlie's place, to just hang out before gaming or working on something for school. His mouth dry, voice ragged, Sean didn't even hear his parents' or Laurie's words.

The Cassidys ambled disconsolately towards the parking lot. Sean took a deep, scratchy breath to collect himself, giving his leg a surreptitious shake every other step, trying to jostle it awake. His mother stepped up beside him, giving her odd son a one-armed hug.

"How are you doing, hon?" Carolyn asked sympathetically.

"Fine," Sean claimed, then immediately amended, "Not good. It cou-" ld have been me. "I'll be okay. I just need some time, mom."

His mother gave him a look like she could read his thoughts. It didn't help that Sean knew there were people who could read thoughts. "It's not wrong that you're still alive, Sean. And it's not wrong to be grateful that you are." She smiled sadly at his sullen frown of disagreement. She nodded towards her Corolla. "You want to come with us? We can come back for your car later, or tomorrow."

"No. No, it's okay," Sean assured her, reluctantly stepping out of her embrace, making a small flicking gesture towards the dark green Grand Cherokee parked a ways down the other lane of the lot. "I'll drive myself. I... need a bit of time alone. I'll meet you guys at the reception."

Jack and Carolyn watched their son shuffled down the lot towards his vehicle. Laurie watched him too, then her parents. "I'll go with him."

Before she'd taken a step after her brother, she was stopped by the outstretched arm of her father. "Give him this, Laurie, time to work things out after the service. We'll catch up at the reception, and if he needs us for more, we'll be there for him at home. He might fight monsters for real - and God knows I wish never expected to say that - but the ones inside are just as dangerous. And in the end, no matter how much support you offer, those ones, you have to fight alone."

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Lucius Cole's house may or may not have been quite as beautiful as the Jauntsen mansion, but as Lucius was a leading local businessman, as well as the owner and manager of the country club, it was certainly a contender for being as impressive, with a sprawling acreage adjoining the country club itself, a stables (population one horse, a gift for Susanna which delighted her and which she doted on daily.  Lucius himself didn't ride.), a large heated pool in a conservatory-style glass extension, and all the extras.  In fact, the only thing holding it back was the sheer excess on display.  The Jauntsen's tastes ran to expensive-but-classy - their gardens were well-maintained without being ostentatiously vulgar, and the same could be said for the decor inside.  Lucius's place, which he'd built and moved into since separating from his wife, had all the hallmarks of being decorated by his trophy girlfriend, who had an eye for expense but not so much taste.  It was very much nouveau riche, stopping just short of utterly carnivalesque.

That said, today at least there was an air of solemnity over the grounds.  For all of Lucius's faults - and he had many - he had loved his only son.  The reception was understated rather than showy or lavish, floral arrangements from well-wishers as far away as the state capital the only counterpoint to the somber dark colours worn by those gathered to say farewell to Charlie, to eat the admittedly plentiful and fine catering provided and sip their drinks.  His friends, business partners, even business rivals had turned out to pay their respects and condolences - most were parents themselves, and all could relate to the nightmare of a child lost in such a fashion.  Likewise, Hannah's relatives and friends were there, rallying around her, providing insulation for the grieving woman, letting her know that she was not alone in the world.  All of Shelly had been invited, in fact, and most it seemed had turned up, clustered in knots of quiet conversation which now and then broke up and reformed in different patterns as the guests and mourners circulated.

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The home of Lucius Cole was a bittersweet environment for the Jauntsen family.  Back in Malibu their mansion rivaled Lucius’ opulence dollar for dollar, save for Misti having a bit more flair for class than Susanna.  The girl’s (Misti saw her as just Lucius’ mid-life crisis waiting to melt down) immaturity and excitement towards spending Lucius's money never endeared her much the older Jauntsen parents, Marissa found she had a few things in common with her and Devin just fantasized about doing naughty things with her.  As far as people went though, Susanna herself wasn’t all the impressive or very well liked, tolerated would have been the more apt term, considering she was simply an accessory to Lucius.

Still, the place took them back to their old lifestyle, the one that the witness protection program wouldn’t let them return to.  They were permitted to be rich, successful even, but they had to be humbler in their displays, as to not draw too much attention to themselves.  Car was still getting flak from their handlers of their case after bought the twins their vehicles for their sixteenth birthdays.  Oh how they all wished things could go back to how they were before so they go back to being Kardashian Stupid with their money.

They were back in their element, and it showed.  Mist and Carl had begun socializing, talking everything from business investments to local law enforcement issues within the county.  Misti, despite being a behavioral therapist, knew more about the school district than a majority of those who ran it and was quickly embroiled with several local parents about all the possible opportunities for children in the upcoming years and how they could better protect the students from tragedies like this happening in the future.  It was hard to tell if she was campaigning or just socializing, to be honest.

Devin had separated himself away from everyone.  It seemed obvious he wasn’t in the mood to speak to anyone, but it didn’t seem to be the funeral that had brought it on, something was wrong with him and his usual comic relief, flippantly humorous attitude seemed to have been transformed into an almost Bond-villain-like poise and hardened stare.  Even Marissa was leaving him alone.  Sure, they were fighting, they always did, but she knew there something eating away at him but hadn’t yet decided to brave him and ask what it was.

Marissa slithered throughout the assembled high schoolers who’d attended.  She made her rounds, seeing to it that she was seen and properly praised for not only how stunning she looked but on her impeccable taste in fashion.  After a few short conversations with those that mattered (in the realm of high school politics, anyway) eventually finding who she was looking for: Garret.

He was hanging out with Ronnie and Danny, his two only friends.  Ronnie was a freshman who exemplified the stereotype of ninety-pound weakling and had been in love Marissa since she arrived three years ago to Shelly yet seemed incapable of actually talking to her.  Danny was simply a detestable human being with no manners and fewer traits that identified him as an actual human being, everyone at School simply called him ‘Chub’, and if he cared, he didn’t seem to show it.  He knew every piece of nerd trivia there was to know (whether he was right or not was irrelevant) and over all possessed no qualities that were likeable.  He was Ronnie’s only friend though, besides Garret, and where Ronnie went, he dragged ‘The Chub’ with him.  Garret didn’t really care for Danny, but he made up the third in their gaming group.

“Hey,” she said to Garret softly as she approached.  She reached out and gently tugged at his elbow to get his attention.  “Do you have a few minutes?”

Ronnie looked on like Garret had been selected by the gods for some grand quest, to have Marissa speak to him would allow him to die a happy and fulfilled man.  Ronnie didn’t really shoot for the stars.  “Pshh,” The Chub snorted as Garret stepped away to speak with Marissa.  “I don’t what the hype is.  She’s not even all that pretty.  All I can say, dude, is that you better get on the ball and ask her out yourself, Ron, or I’m taking her to Homecoming.”

“Dude, Marissa would date you if you were the last man on Earth.”  Ronnie laughed.  “She amazing.  A goddess.  I wouldn’t even know how to talk to her.”  He snapped himself from his idol worship for a moment and craned his head.  “I wonder what she wants Garret for?”

“I’m tellin’ ya, she not all that.”  Chub wheezed.  “Look don’t tell anyone this, but I totally got to second base with her.”

“When?”  Ronnie looked at his friend in absolute disbelief.

“At a party.”  He shrugged, with no follow-up.

“We don’t go to parties, Danny,” Ronnie di his best to keep his voice down.  He knew Chub was lying, he always lied, but he never directly called him out on it.

“It was at a cousins house, okay?  You weren’t there.  She was and we totally got busy.”  He stuck to his guns, but Ronnie still seemed unconvinced.

“Whatever, dude.”  His friend just shook his head.

Garret nodded and stepped away with Marissa, leaving his friends to wonder what was going on.  “What’s up?”  He asked.  He honestly didn’t expect her to approach him outside of school.  They weren’t friends (were they?) and she was miles higher in the social strata than he and… well… he hung out with a guy named ‘The Chub’, well… that pretty much said it all.

“Sean is here,” she explained, tipping her glass to sip disappointingly non-alcoholic cider from a champagne flute.  “I thought maybe, instead of just putting in a good word, you’d like to meet him.  I’ll handle the introductions and you nerds can do what you nerds do.  Because I have no idea what to tell him, to be frank.”

“Yeah,” Garret’s expression lit up with anticipation.  Sean’s intellect and status within Shelly rather small gaming community was neigh legendary, he’d even ran games for the college gamers down in Great Falls and got awesome reviews.  While it didn’t impress Marissa at all, Garret saw Sean as the sort of DM who could help him improve his own games ten-fold and maybe even invite him to join his own campaign one day.  “Th-that’s awesome, yeah… thanks!”

“Least I could do,” her voice sounded of dismissal as she walked off with the expectation for him to follow.  “It’s… been a week, as the saying goes.  You haven’t been completely repugnant, so I thought it best to repay decency with decency.”

“Don’t you mean kindness?”  He followed along, slowing only to meet Marissa’s glare that told him to consider the likely hood of her and the world kindness being used together outside the current conversation.  He nodded sheepishly.  “Decency, right… got it.”

He wasn’t sure he’d ever be used to the way every eye in the room seemed to be on him whenever he was walking with or around Marissa.  It seemed like everyone knew who she was, but just had to look in her direction, like they were drawn to her, even some of the adults he noticed, gave her lustful stares, or looked on at her a bit longer than seemed proper.  What was it about her that drove people mad?  Awkward as it was, he pressed on through the house with her until they spotted Sean, near his parents and sister, Laurie, seemingly bored while their parents discussed something they were in no way interested in.

“Sean,” Marissa approached and caught his attention with his name.  She glanced for a moment to Laurie.  “Cassie is several paces ahead of you girl, if you’re going to get my brother you need that crush of yours into gear and step up your game.”

There wasn’t a hue of red that accurately described Laurie’s cheeks the moment Marissa went for the throat but the way she visibly shirked away and took a more defensive posture, told them Marissa wasn’t wrong.  She rarely was about these sorts of things, and that just made it more infuriating.  “I don’t’ have a crush on your brother.”

Marissa’s glare was akin to an icepick slowly turning back and forth as it entered the skin.  She knew the truth, and as tough as Laurie was, Marissa was tougher today as she practically begged Laurie to keep denying something that was totally obvious.  “Liar.”

“What do you want, harpy?”  Laurie finally huffed, folding her arms under her chest and glaring back, thoroughly annoyed.  “And why is Garret with you?”

“Hi Laurie,” Garret awkwardly waved like a kid caught in a fight between his parents and not quite knowing what to do or say.

“Hi Garret,” Laurie answered, her monotone voice devoid of any tone as her eye never left the target of her current irritation, Marissa.

“Well,” she looked away from Laurie, she was five minutes ago anyways, and to Sean.  “This is Garret,” she gestured to her guest.

“I gathered that, but thanks.” Sean nodded to Garret and tried to hide his sarcastic smile from Marissa by sipping his drink.

“Like you, he’s dedicated his life to saving himself for… well, death, probably by playing your nerd games.  So, in the spirit of the preservations of your virginity, I thought you might be able to help him out with…” she realized she had no idea what Garret could possible want from Sean.  “Well, whatever you nerds sit around snorting and grunting about in your own unwashed emanations.  Garret, Sean Cassidy.  Enjoy.”  She presented Sean like Garret had just won him on the Price is Right.

“Thanks, Marissa.” Garret smiled.  “I uh, I can probably take it from here, but hey, my virginity thanks you too.  This is a big step for me.”  Marissa’s eyes narrowed as she did not find his sarcasm one-eighty the least bit amusing.  “Just the other night I was watching Space Jam, and Lola Bunny… in that skirt?  I felt temptation but then I focused on the Holy Trinity, DMG, Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual and I felt safe again.”  He sarcastically laughed awkwardly.  “Away temptress!  And I was safe once more…”  In a huff Marissa just turned and walked away, leaving them to whatever.  Once she out of ear shot Garret regained his poise and said matter-of-factly, “Seriously though, Lola Bunny is so hot.  R34 for days.”

"Ew," Laurie offered while scrunching up her face.

“Preach on, Brother Garret,” Sean joked, raising his glass in a mock toast.  “Nice work, not a lot of people can handle Marissa all that well.”

“Eh,” he shrugged.  “She’s confusing Ay Ef, but what’s she going to do?  Make me less popular?”

Sean laughed at the logic, he was right, Garret was so far down on the chain that short of getting him busted for murder, Marissa couldn’t make him any less popular, it was a humbling lesson in the old saying about people with nothing to lose.  “So, what did you want to talk about?”

“Oh, well, mostly some 5e stuff, I got a few of the newer supplements and I wanted to incorporate them into my campaign, but I’m not sure how.  I was hoping you-“

“Aaaand that’s my cue,” Laurie smiled and walked off, saying her farewells with a polite raise of her glass.

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Devin

The male Jauntsen twin wasn't really seeing the surroundings, or those nearby, save on the rare occasion some contemporary of his from school decided to approach him in his brooding solitude, and then the unsmiling young man would raise his eyes, focus his gaze from whatever bleak internal vistas they were gazing upon, and stare at them - and then said contemporaries would decide to go elsewhere for chatter and gossip.  Still, he decided to wander a bit further afield than the main rooms where all the food and drink were.  Less chance of interruption, less chance of his mother deciding to wheel him out like some accessory or toy in some adult version of show-and-tell one-upmanship: "Oh, we're thinking Brown or Yale..." Both twins hated that shit, hated the way Misty seemed to have planned out their futures with no input from them, but Marissa at least was capable of playing the game, of hiding how pissed off it made her.  Right now, Devin was pretty sure he'd act out just to see the look on his mom's face, and things were bad enough at home without that.

He found himself in the pool area, the glass of the conservatory refracting prisms of rainbow light over the white tiled floor around the pool, over the dark green of the broad-leafed bushes in their planters that lined the place.  The chatter of the reception was far away, distant and sporadic, and the young teleporter barely registered his own soft sigh as he sank onto a bench, staring unseeing at the ripples on the water's surface.

It was thus that Ellie found him, perhaps ten minutes later.  The strange, aloof blonde stepped into the conservatory with that characteristic light step and deliberate grace, her gleaming grey eyes resting on the stony-faced youth for a moment as she regarded him, head tilting slightly, then closing the door behind her and approaching Devin where he sat.  It seemed Annette had found her some alternate clothing, at least.  The alien girl wore an almost-businesslike black suit - slacks and jacket, with a white shirt open at the throat.  On anyone else it would make them look like a bureaucrat or government agent, but Ellie's long golden hair was worn loose, cascading around and softening the feline angles of her face.   The soft-soled shoes she'd evidently selected for herself (because in no way would Annette have countenanced sneakers with that suit) were nearly silent on the floor as she came to a stop a respectful ten feet away.

"I heard your words at the burial."  she told him in her quiet, firm voice, glancing around semi-curiously at the pool-room before returning her shining gaze to his face, undaunted by his stony expression.  "They were good words.  Can I sit with you?"

"Why?"  Devin's question wasn't meant harshly, but his mood affected his tone as he looked up at the tall girl.

"Because I want to."  Ellie shrugged.  "And perhaps you have things you want to speak of.  Perhaps not.  Either way, I want to sit with you, if you will allow it."

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Under different circumstances Devin would have already made a million and one secret agents jokes.  Similar to Ellie he opted for the suit look and there would be talk at school at how handsome Devin was and how he cleaned up nicely.  Half the girls as school already had a crush him and if what those bearded guys said about a sharped dressed man was true, he could very well be facing a whole list of stalkers come the next school day.

Still, from his crisp suit to his purple silk tie, there were no clothes that could make the man this evening, and his manners seemed wanting in practice as well.

He motioned to the numerous benches poolside, his eyes reflecting the shimmering glimmer of the water’s surface.  “Not my house.  It’s free country, if you want to sit, sit.  Not like I could stop you anyways, aren’t you guys like great warriors or something?”

“Proficient.” She corrected him.  “War is necessary, but it is never great.  Do you wish to share what is troubles you?”

“Earth problems.”  He said.  “Not really something Teulu are capable of understanding.”

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Devin

"Perhaps.  Perhaps not."  Ellie seated herself next to Devin, half-turning to face the curt youth, her posture a mixture of coiled poise and relaxation as she bent one knee up on the bench, resting her hands atop that and her chin on her hands, regarding him soberly up close.  "Your people are in some ways very confusing: twisting and turning, biting at yourselves as much as your foes, saying things you may or may not mean depending on moods which change hour to hour, it seems - and regretting and punishing yourselves for things that are outside your control.  That is," she went on calmly "when not blaming others for your own failings."

"Yeah, I get it.  Rub it in.  Your people's way is better." Devin rolled his eyes, shooting Ellie a glare.  Unruffled, she met his gaze, her manner still collected.

"I did not say that, nor was that my hidden intent.  I said your kind are confusing - it was not a judgement of merit or worth."  Her gaze was faintly luminous, the grey catching hints of the prismatic refraction of the sunlight from outside the glass walls.  "As for understanding...  I do not have your shades or nuance of feeling, Devin Jauntsen.  But the feelings I have burn deep, and I comprehend pain when I see it."  There was no pity or sympathy in her expression or tone, but there was... concern?  A note of warmth, perhaps.  And curiousity, a drive to understand, all glimmering in the eyes that studied his face.  She reached over and placed a hand on his.  "Your pain matters to me.  I want to help if I can."

"Why?"  he found himself saying for the second time in five minutes.  She was hard to look away from, he had to give her that.  There was something entirely artless about her beauty, perhaps something that came from utter self-possession, or the deliberate grace with which she moved and spoke.  It was hard to put his finger on.

"It's a Teulu thing."  she answered with a faint crinkling of the corners of her eyes and the merest hint of a smile as she bantered his own deflection back at him, her hand slipping from where it covered his and returning to her own knee as she regarded him.  "Hard to explain to humans."

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"Yeah," he mused, but never smiled.  "A lot of that going around."

"But you've never felt this, Ellie.  You never will."  The afternoon sun sent glittering light across the whole room and the shine danced and glimmered across his face.  "Comprehension and recognition are not the same.  You comprehend physical pain, sure, you've felt it, you can relate to it.  Emotional pain?  All of those nuances that you don't understand that make us humans, human.  Trying to explain how I feel to you, and why would be like you being blind and me trying to explain the color blue."

"You may know what color is," he shrugged and glanced at her, trying not to look for too long as she was incredibly hard to look away from.  "But having never seen one, you have no reference.  My weakness is, Ellie, that I love.  I love too much and I'm competitive and when I'm not getting what I want or feel I've earned, I see it as not fair.  I did the work, I put in the hours, I almost died... all Jacob did properly was get a concussion.  Big fucking hero there."

"But I'm immature, I guess," he chuckled dryly and devoid of emotional inflection.  "Immature Devin, always cracking jokes and not taking anything seriously.  Obviously too immature and stupid to 'get the girl'."  He sighed, leaning over, resting his elbows on his knees as he stared out over the water.  "So, I'll shed my immaturity.  They want serious, no-nonsense Devin, then the world can have him.  I'll handle Site B, with or without the Fellowship, because let's face it, Jason is a genius, but he's not a leader.  His handling of Cora is the prime example of that."

"Cora?"  Ellie asked, craning her head to signify her curiosity.  "I do not know Cora."

"Before your time," he smiled at her, but she could see the vacancy in it.  It lacked that light and mirth that made Devin... Devin.  "The rest seem to feel as if they need any form of leadership or oversight, so... that's going to end in tears, and I don't have time for that.  Cassie's dad doesn't have time for that."  He grinned looked at her, a faint glimmer of the man she knew seemed to peek from behind his eyes for just a moment when he asked her: "You wanna come?"

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