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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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Devin

"Yes."  she answered simply, and instantly.  "We will need more than just us, though."  She drew her other long leg up onto the bench, wriggling a little to get comfortable and slipping an arm through Devin's as she leaned lightly against him.  "And I think you know that, too."  Devin grunted non-committedly, wondering what she wore for perfume.  Something light - maybe it was just the shampoo Annette had provided her or something.

"Jason is Teulu.  He likely finds humans as difficult as they find him, for all his experience with them - his mother did him a disservice leaving him with no knowledge, no guidance and expecting him to somehow cope."  Ellie remarked quietly.  "But he is not my main concern at this time.  You are."

"We do feel emotional pain, Devin.  It doesn't manifest the same way, and doesn't have the same causes, but we feel it.  Loss of a loved one can cause us grief, abandonment by our Pride can cause us isolation, betrayal causes anger.  Romantic rejection does not bother us overmuch, unless it's from-"  she hesitated.  "A special someone.  Is it the girl you spoke to at the burial?"

"Tawny, yeah."  Devin said the name almost bitterly.

"Were you lovers before?  Betrothed?"

"Well, no.  Friends.  Best friends, like, since I moved to this craphole."

"And she was taken by the dark one, and you went and saved her."  Ellie nodded approvingly.  "She was of your Pride - you did the right thing.  Your friend is alive because of you."  Her head tilted slightly.  "I am curious:  do you see her as less of a friend - less worthy of your friendship - because she does not return your romantic feelings?"

 

Cassandra

"Time's up."  To her credit, Leila had at least waited until Cassandra had made it to the reception, gotten a drink of sparkling apple juice, and was considering the catered buffet before pouncing.  Cassie half-turned, seeing her editor and arch-frenemy standing next to her, likewise considering the food on display but with one eye on the blonde reporter.  "Today's the day, Allen.  I want my answers."  Her tone softened barely perceptibly.  "I know Charlie was one of your in-club of whatever-the-fuck.  Devin LaDouche standing up and speaking at his funeral announced that loud and clear.  But here's the thing:  I'm the editor, you're a reporter sitting on a humungo humdinger of a story."  She took a sip of her Coke.  "So let's talk."

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“What?  No,” his voice cracked a bit as he replied to her question.  “Of course not.  Ellie I might be mad at her, but I don’t love her any less.  I’m not even mad she’s dating Jacob, in fact I’m happy she’s happy.  I’m mad because when I went to save her was when I finally realized how blind I was to how much I really cared about her and that I was ready to throw in the towel and give us a chance if she was, y’know?”

“I mean, I can take rejection,” he scoffed.  “I’m almost as good as Cade at this point.  I get things were/are/have been messed up.  If she just told me that she wasn’t ready, or that it wasn’t a good time I would have been okay with that.  Hell, even if she said she wanted to see how things went with Jacob at Homecoming before deciding, I would have been okay with that, too.”  He sighed, letting his head fall back to gaze up at the water shimmering on the glass above them.

Ellie held his arm; he wasn’t sure if Teulu did subtly but her scooting closer and holding him seemed like she was trying to get close to her ‘crush’ without him realizing it under façade of concerned hot-bodied-illegal-alien-with- a-thirst-for-Jauntsen.  He knew how she felt about him, but he was certainly not going to rebound from Lona to Tawny to giving a hot alien sex machine a baby.  He may have been constantly horny since his first time with Lona, but he wasn’t desperate enough to make himself a dad just for a rebound slide.

“She didn’t though,” he said to the ceiling.  “She went off on me.  Telling me I was immature and self-centered and selfish.”  He snorted and scoffed at the same time, adding a ‘pfft’ huff for good measure.  “Can you believe it, Ellie?  Me, selfish!  I risked my life to save hers.  I let Sean and the others hang out with me.  I lied so Jason wouldn’t get felony charges.  If she was a friend and she truly cared and appreciated the sacrifices I made to rescue her, then she wouldn’t have treated me like she did.  So, Jacob can protect her now.  I can't be around someone who thinks of me that way.”

“And speaking of,” Devin shifted hi weight, so he was facing Ellie a bit better.  “It’s getting tiring listening to everyone talk like Jason is the victim.  Poor Jason, mommy left him, now he gets to act out and treat the populace like his verbal and telekinetic punching bag.  Woe is him.”  He shook his head and huffed.  “I don’t buy it.  Teulu or not, Jason doesn’t get exonerated for everything he does because mommy didn’t hug him enough.  He broke a person into pieces because he wasn’t man enough to look the guy in the eyes and punch him in the jaw.  I don’t know what the Teulu call that, but on Earth, we call that a coward.  I’m not feeling sorry for him.  Not after how he treated Cora, or what he did to Liam, and especially for what he’s done to my sister.”

He paused his tirade for a moment.  Glistening white danced across her cheek as she looked up at him, making her hair sparkle and eyes twinkle in the reflected light.  “Wow,” he said softly, his train of thought moving at the speed of Devin.  “You really have gorgeous eyes, El."

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Marissa caught a glimpse Charlie's mother and father trying to talk out of earshot from the rest of the guests and it didn’t look like they were very pleased with one another.  Silent bickering was something her own parents excelled at and somewhere down in what passed for her soul, she knew it was about Charlie.  They were already at each other’s throats about the divorce and him upgrading Charlie’s mom to a newer, blonder and bustier model, but with Charlie’s death looming over their heads now she assumed what was going on: blame.

She didn’t disturb them as the hissed and spat in the shadows where their guests wouldn’t see, but it appeared as if Lucius blamed Charlie’s mother if for no better reason than it happened at her house while she wasn’t home.  They didn’t know the truth, of course, that it wasn’t the fault of either of them, plus on that evening no one, not even the Fellowship could have stopped Not-Cody from claiming his victory over the Light.  This seemed like their fate, however.  To let Charlie’s parents, go one hating each other for the rest of their days as his mother carried the burden of not being there for her son while his father blamed his mother for the same.  As far as people went, their lives were ruined.  Now no amount of tears, prayers or upgraded mistresses would ever bring their son, Charlie, back.

Leaving them to their disagreements, ruined lives and son, recently turned candle, the Queen of Mean slipped a champagne flute from one of the trays and stepped off to mingle.  She wasn’t allowed to drink, of course, but Lucius had the event catered and Marissa did pass for a teenager on worse days.  Having distracting beauty and a natural talent for always fitting in and looking like she belonged were certainly a blessing as the caterers didn’t bother questioning whether she was old enough.  Not that it did anything for her with the advent of her powers activating, but still, the buzz was nice while it lasted, and she liked the taste.

She’d had few side conversations with people she knew and tucked a select few of the phone numbers the wait staff had slipped her into her clutch and by the time she was on her second glass of champagne someone caught her eye.  Jacob Crocker was certainly a yummy looking specimen of teenage manhood, but she’d decided that he was off the menu.  Not because Tawny was dating him, or that he was Autumn’s close friend, but because she was too good for him and he possessed a small measure of altruism that made her wretch when she thought about it.

Still, he was pretty, and a was a family friend of Autumn’s.  That complicated matters between Marissa and Jacob because Autumn was her best friend and Jacob despised Marissa with every fiber of his being.  With a sigh, she sipped her bubbly and approached him.  The two guy he was talking with wisely left at her approach as the small parts of their brains sensed evil.

Noticing her approach, he braced for the impending storm with a relaxing breath to temper his will.  “Jacob, hello.”

“What do you want?”  The two of them were not friends, had little to nothing in common and she and her brother, Devin had tortured Autumn at school for the better part of the last three years.  When it came to dealing with either of the Diabolic Duo that were the Jauntsen twins, his words as short as his patience with them.

“To talk,” the tone of her reply was borderline flirtatious.  He raised his brows as if to ask ‘about what’ with his expression.  “You don’t like me, I know.  Fact remains though that I’m not going anywhere.  Autumn is my friend; you are Autumn’s friends as well.  I’m trying to get to know you a little better and show you that I’m not as much of a monster as you believe me to be.  The last thing any of us need is you and I at each other’s throats and complicating Autumn’s life. God knows we have stress in our lives without petty rivalries adding to the mix.  I’m not trying to be a pest, but this is my third attempt to try and steal you all to myself for a bit.  If you don’t want me wasting your time then simply say so, and I will never speak to you again,” she raised her hand up, palm facing him.  “I swear.”

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On 12/1/2021 at 9:33 PM, Jaunt said:

He paused his tirade for a moment.  Glistening white danced across her cheek as she looked up at him, making her hair sparkle and eyes twinkle in the reflected light.  “Wow,” he said softly, his train of thought moving at the speed of Devin.  “You really have gorgeous eyes, El."

She slowly blinked, her prismatic eyes like grey jewels as they gazed into his.  "Aelwen."  she said softly, almost breathing it, adding  "That is my name:  Aelwen, of the Blaith, out of Rhoswen by Indra."  She shifted slightly, lightly shrugging a shoulder.  "Ellie is a convenient shortening that the guards at the place you call Site B labelled on me.  I do not mind it, but I wanted you to know my name."

"It's pretty."  Devin acknowledged.  "The other part is like your surname? Family and stuff?"

"Yes."  Ellie - or Aelwen - curved her lips fractionally in a smile.  "Blaith-"  she pronounced it 'bl-eye-the', curiously "-is my clan.  Rhoswen is my mother, Indra is my father."  She leaned in and kissed his cheek, being tall enough she didn't need to lean up much to do so.  "I am glad you like my eyes, but not so glad that you are angry and in pain, Devin.  I would help you, if you would not consider it an insult?"

"Help me?"  Lost as he was contemplating her shining eyes and enviably clear complexion (Though she had a small scar running just under the line of her jaw, he noted from this close vantage.  Like someone had tried to cut her there.)  Devin couldn't help but wonder what she had in mind.  For all she was hot and seemingly totally into him, she was also an alien from a warrior culture who might think tracking down and murdering people for upsetting her bae was romantic.

"Yes." she replied.  "Human reactions are confusing to me.  I do not know context for people's actions and words here.  I might have insight into Jason's actions, but I do not know why this Tawny 'went off on you', or why she thinks you are immature and selfish for telling her your heart.  You are young, yes.  And inexperienced, as all young people are, myself included.  Human or Teulu does not matter - youth is youth.  Maybe she was also being immature?  Regardless, I want to help, however I can do so."

Autumn

Her dad had gone to talk to a few of the other guests.  Lucius was well connected with the local realty business scene and, as the beer and champagne flowed, some of the quiet conversations were naturally turning to other topics once the initial expressions of sorrow were out of the way.  Autumn and Dana, neither terribly interested in such things, had drifted away from the business chatter and circulating, occasionally exchanging words with those they knew in the rarified crowd when Autumn spotted Gar Bannon by himself near one of the buffet tables, soberly dressed in black and with a Coke in one hand.  A shared look with her mom saw both Keane women start moving through the throng, Autumn catching Gar's eye and smiling as he raised a hand in greeting.

"Hi."  he said as they came close enough, his hazel eyes somber despite the genuine smile as Autumn gave him a hug.  "How're you both holding up?"

"Better than Hannah, I'm wagering."  Dana murmured, casting a sympathetic glance towards Charlie's mom before looking back at Gar. "How about you?"

"Feeling lucky."  he said simply, a flicker of sad guilt at the admission crossing his expressive features.  Dana nodded, her own expression reflecting a similar feeling.  "Jase is about somewhere."  He shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck.  "I'm trying not to cling to him like a limpet, but I feel like I'm on edge whenever he's out of my sight these last couple days."  The older Bannon sighed.  "You know I actually looked in on him while he was sleeping last night?  Like he was a baby again or something.  I just wanted to check he was... you know, okay?"

"He's always going to be your baby."  Dana told Gar softly, smiling warmly at him.  Her smile turned a little mischievous.  "Even is he is, well, Jason."  She placed an arm around her daughter's shoulders for a quick squeeze.  "Just like I'm always going to worry about Autumn."

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“Oh, she was certainly being immature,” Devin chuckled, but it was hollow and empty, seemingly out of habit instead there being any mirth behind the expression.  “I sort of envy you and Jase at the moment, you know?”

She craned her head slightly, narrowing her vision in ponderance of what Devin could mean.  “Why would you envy us?”

“You don’t feel fear,” his reply was swift enough that it had to have been chambered and ready to fire before she even asked.  “I mean… a life free of anxiety.  You guys don’t know how good you have it.  Love sucks, and when we feel it, the last thing we want to do is lose that or those we love.  No fear of loss means never having to love, because you can’t truly love someone without fearing one day having to go through life without them.”  He chuckled again, shaking his head he leaned forward and rest his elbows on his knees again.  “We’re a mess Aelwen.  An unadulterated, honest to god, mess.”

He stared at the water for a moment, offering the crystalline pool a sigh before moving on.  “Your stuff is at Site B, isn’t it?  Plus we could use an actual soldier with us.  The Fellowship can’t function without their abilities, me included we’ve no training in tactics or combat.  You’d be a big help, but I can’t ask you to risk your life for us.  If you want in, I certainly won’t turn you away and I’m sure Cassie’s dad would certainly appreciate it”.

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"Time's up."  To her credit, Leila had at least waited until Cassandra had made it to the reception, gotten a drink of sparkling apple juice, and was considering the catered buffet before pouncing.  Cassie half-turned, seeing her editor and arch-frenemy standing next to her, likewise considering the food on display but with one eye on the blonde reporter.  "Today's the day, Allen.  I want my answers."  Her tone softened barely perceptibly.  "I know Charlie was one of your in-club of whatever-the-fuck.  Devin LaDouche standing up and speaking at his funeral announced that loud and clear.  But here's the thing:  I'm the editor, you're a reporter sitting on a humungo humdinger of a story."  She took a sip of her Coke.  "So let's talk."

 

Cassandra let out a breath and nodded. She then looked around and got a Coke for herself.

"Okay," she said. "Come on, lets get a little distance." Cassie started leading Leila away from the others at the reception then.

Leila followed but couldn't resist a snipe, "They'll still find my body, Allen. Dogs are really good at that."

"Yeah, but the tub of lye I set up in advance is a little farther over so..." Cass paused and looked around to verify that no one else was lingering around in earshot. At least not to the best of her ability to tell.

"Okay. You want answers...and I want to give answers. So it's AMA time. Ask me anything. And trust me, don't ask me to just 'summarize it' because...it's a lot. I think I know you well enough to know there's something you're really interested in, out of all of this. Instead of me trying to guess, just ask what's on your mind. I'll tell you. Even if it's not the answer you expect or...probably want to hear."

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Devin

"You're right that we don't fear loss.  But it's not as simple as saying that means we cannot love.  When we do love, we love utterly, and fearlessly.  We kill and die for those we love without hesitation, on instinct."  Aelwen replied softly.  "We also accept that nothing is permanent, that the beauty of the rose lies in the fact that it will one day be gone.  Even the mountains, even the sunset, even the dance of the stars will not last forever.  One day, everything will end."  Her lips quirked in a small smile.  "Optimally, a day very far in the future."  She gave a small sigh and rested her head on his shoulder.  "So it is not that we do not care for those close to us, or do not feel rage at those that would harm or take them from us.  We accept that we cannot control everything, that one day we will know the pain of loss."  She gave his arm a slight squeeze.  "My mother's mother told me that pain is the price of life and love, that all have to pay it, and so long as the joy outweighs the pain it is a worthwhile price to pay."

"And yes, I will be glad to help with Site B.  Even if they did not have my equipment, even if the opening to the Void was not there, it would be an honor to fight alongside Radiants against their enemies."  She gave him a small, teasing glance.  "Even young, untrained, fractious and quarreling Radiants.  Major Taggart has shown me some of your warriors weapons - they are effective, and I have been practicing with them."  She slowly straightened up from leaning on him.  "You all faced a dark entity and won, a dark entity that was once one of the gods of my people.  Do not underestimate your Pride, Devin.  You are all formidable, with powers or without."  Standing, she bent down and kissed his cheek again, the scent of her hair lingering as she straightened up once more and stepped away.

"And now I am going to go and sample some more of the food and drink here."  she announced, raising her arms over her head and stretching in a distractingly feline fashion before eying him.  "If you are done with your solitude, I would welcome your company.  If not I will see you later, for certain."

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Teulu were certainly confusing.  They weren't capable of experiencing fear, but they were... but not... it was too much for him to even try to wrap his head around.  She didn't get humans, never would and no amount of waxing poetic about a rose's beauty would make her understand what blue looked like.   "no, you go on ahead," he resigned solemnly as he reclined back on the bench.  "There's nothing in there for me and I'm not particularly hungry at the moment.  I'm just gonna collect my thoughts and probably go talk to Ms. Giles about something and then peace out."

She sighed, not wanting that to be the answer she heard.  "As you say, then.  I will be on my way."

A part of him did want to go with her, to spend some time and try to escape from the gloom hovering over his shoulders and the gloam smothering his radiance.  Yet he stayed.  It wasn't about him and his wants anymore, it was about the path that he had chosen and if the Fellowship couldn't take it seriously, then he would.  Cassie's father was running out of time and he didn't have time for happiness and flirting.  There was work to do.

Quietly he sat there, alone in the light of the sun that did nothing to warm him or comfort his troubled soul.  The soft lapping of the water along the edge of the pool was comforting, almost hypnotic, as he stared off into the abyss and silently hoped that nothing on the other side was looking back.

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Kat

She didn't really want to be here.

Okay, that wasn't completely fair.  She felt she should be here, so there was an element of her own choice in the matter of her being present.  But she was keeping her telepathic gift tightly buttoned up right now, because the last thing the town of Shelly needed to see was the new girl, who'd barely known Charlie, breaking down and spazzing out at the reception for his funeral-goers.  And it wasn't easy, either.  She'd gotten used to randomly sampling the emotional landscape around her, to feeling the bright lights of people's minds, to being plugged in to the world in a way that had been impossible before coming to Shelly, before her gift had awakened.  But the emotional landscape right now was largely mournful, with sharp jagged edges of grief that cut and flayed at her self-control if she wandered too close to some of those present.

Additionally, there were the other emotional landmines, like the various Fellowship parents, worrying and fretting, even her own dad.  And the hostility between the woman she understood to be Charlie's mom and his dad.   A bitterness infecting the members of the group, souring the overall mental dynamic.  The Jauntsen twins shared dark mood, Sean's pensive aura... it was a mess for a telepath.  So she was doing the only sane thing right now - mentally stuffing her fingers in her ears and re-focusing on the world through her normal senses.  Time to find someone to talk to, before she got unfocused again and ended up sitting in a corner crying as the world's woes poured into the radio receiver of her brain.

Ah, there. Sean, talking to some kid she vaguely recalled... Garfield?  Gary?  Gareth?  The one who'd sat with Marissa in study hall the day before.  Regardless, it was a conversation involving at least one person she knew in this crowd of strangers.

"Hey guys."  She didn't have to force the smile she gave Sean as she butted into the conversation.  It was somewhat of a relief to latch onto a familiar friendly face.  She gave Gareth a smile and a nod as well.  "Hi.  I'm Kat."

"Garret." he smiled back.  "I've seen you around.  Nice to meet you."

"Same."  Kat rocked a little on her toes and heels, looking from one guy to the other, waiting for them to carry on talking.


Cade

He'd been chatting a little with some of the other guests, mostly people he knew from mowing lawns on the weekends, when his mom found him.  Miyako was looking a little frazzled, though admittedly only to someone who knew her well.  She apologised to the adults he'd been speaking to as she appropriated her son, tugging him aside with a hand on his arm.

"Do you know where Haruka is?"  she asked, glancing around in the crowd, lips thinning a little.  "I'm due on shift at the hospital in less than an hour, and I wanted to get her dropped off at Jolene's parents."  Being as the two girls were thick as thieves, Jolene's mom was the go-to babysitter when Miyako had a shift to cover and Ian was, as usual, busy being sheriff.  Of course, Cade was more than happy to help out in this too, but Miyako had been reasonably firm that a sixteen year old boy not have to always be responsible for that task.

"I saw her talking to Jolene, actually."  Cade recalled after a moment, eyes narrowed in thought.  "In the large lounge area to the left of the front door?"

"She's not there now."  Miyako shook her head.  "Be a hero and help me find her, would you?  The two of them are likely exploring this place.  I'll check the downstairs - could you check upstairs?"  Cade's mom leaned a little closer.  "I just hope to heaven that she remembers she's not supposed to gossip about all the strangeness with her friend."  Miyako muttered.

"Haruka's a kid, but she's not dumb, mom."  Cade tried to be reassuring, though admittedly it was hard.  Sure, Haruka wasn't dumb, but you didn't have to be dumb to have poor judgement, or to be an excited eleven year old with a huge cool secret you desperately wanted to share.  His kid sister was about as sensible as a well-adjusted eleven year old could get, a thought which didn't overly reassure him when he thought about some of the silly shit he'd done when eleven.  Haruka was smarter than he was, though.  Right?  It'd be fine.  "I'll go find her."

Lucius Cole's mansion really was over the top, he mused to himself as he loped up the stairs and started checking the rooms at the top.  An upstairs reading room / library, glass-doored bookshelves filled with what looked like hard-bound collections of literature which he wondered somewhat cynically if Lucius had ever read more than a couple of.  A locked door, probably a study or private area.  And bedrooms.  So many bedrooms.  Seriously, for a divorced man with a mistress and only one child, why the heck had Lucius felt the need to build this place?  He stopped for a moment as he heard voices behind one partly-open door.  Thinking it might be the two girls, he paused and listened, hoping that he'd been right and Haruka wasn't blabbing everything.

"...this isn't a matter of what we want, Misti."  a male voice Cade recognised as his father rumbled quietly.  "It's a matter of what's practically possible.  Miyako suspects, and so does Cade."

"Oh?  I thought you'd put those suspicions to bed."  The twin's mother sounded a little drunk, judging by the tone of her voice and the faint throaty chuckle that accompanied her words.  "Speaking of beds..."  there was a faint squeak of a mattress.  "Lucius has some very comfortable ones."

"Christ, not here."  His dad replied with hushed urgency.  "Are you out of your mind?"

"Relax."  Misti drawled the word out.  "I'm teasing you.  You're so tense, sheriff."  Her tone became suggestive.  "You know, I know some great ways to get rid of tension."

"This isn't smart, Misti.  I thought we were going to be smart about this."

She made an exasperated noise.  "You haven't had the week I've had, Ian.  My kids are in open revolt.  Carl isn't backing me up - he says to let things calm down. to loosen my grip.  I need a good, hard, dirty, ball-slapping fucking from a real man right now.  Come on... I'll let you handcuff me again."

 

Marissa

On 12/4/2021 at 2:58 AM, Marissa Jauntsen said:

“What do you want?”  The two of them were not friends, had little to nothing in common and she and her brother, Devin had tortured Autumn at school for the better part of the last three years.  When it came to dealing with either of the Diabolic Duo that were the Jauntsen twins, his words as short as his patience with them.

“To talk,” the tone of her reply was borderline flirtatious.  He raised his brows as if to ask ‘about what’ with his expression.  “You don’t like me, I know.  Fact remains though that I’m not going anywhere.  Autumn is my friend; you are Autumn’s friends as well.  I’m trying to get to know you a little better and show you that I’m not as much of a monster as you believe me to be.  The last thing any of us need is you and I at each other’s throats and complicating Autumn’s life. God knows we have stress in our lives without petty rivalries adding to the mix.  I’m not trying to be a pest, but this is my third attempt to try and steal you all to myself for a bit.  If you don’t want me wasting your time then simply say so, and I will never speak to you again,” she raised her hand up, palm facing him.  “I swear.”

He studied her for a moment, then shrugged.  "Alright.  If you say you want to make peace and talk, we can talk."  he allowed.  "I don't want to put Autumn in the middle like some kind of tug of war, and you two do seem to be getting along... so."

"So."  Marissa agreed, smiling as she nodded, rewarded with a slight smile in turn from the tall warden's son.

"So."  He glanced around, then looked back at her.  "Small talk, or do we skip straight to 'what the hell is going on in the world lately?'"

"Small talk for now."  Marissa decided after a moment's affected pause to think.

"I'm lousy at that."  Jacob made a sour expression.

"Most boys are."  She smiled at him, her dark eyes on his face.  "It's a good skill to have, though.  Just pick something that's on your mind and go with it."

"Right."  he gestured with his glass of soda.  "Is this place for real, or what?" he said, indicating the mansion around them.  "It's sort of Las Vegas hotel meets the Kardashians."

"Uncomfortable with luxury?"  she asked with a grin, taking a slow sip of her champagne.  Jacob considered that.

"I guess.  It just seems a bit phony to me." he said after a moment's thought.  "Like, off somehow.  Out of place. Or..." he went on, glancing around more thoughtfully.  "Maybe it's just that I feel out of place here.  I dunno."

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"Me too," said said with a disarming smile.  It was a half-truth, as the luxury and opulence was something she felt quite at home in, but she didn't really know Charlie all that well at all, and even less so after he ghosted her at breakfast, and didn't really feel right being at his funeral when she really just wanted to be somewhere else.  "I think for separate reasons," she admitted to him, "But I get it."

"Speaking of 'getting it'," she took him by the arm, lacing her through his and led him away from others who might over hear them.  He thought it strange, and certainly unexpected that she'd lock arms with him and lead him away like they were a couple or something, but he silently conceded to allow this to go as far as it needed to in order to see what fresh brand of crazy she was bringing to the table.  Once she felt they were far enough from prying ears she continued what she was saying.  "I find it highly unlikely that you haven't tried figuring out how my brother and I went from torturing Autumn and the others last year, and over the summer we're all now besties, hanging out all the time and stopping kidnappers like a dysfunctional Scooby Gang.  I also know you and Autumn talk, so, I'm curious, what's she told you about all of us?  I'd hate to waste words on things you already know."

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"I know most of the big stuff, I guess?"  Jacob hazarded, lowering his voice after glancing around to make sure nobody was too near.  "That Cody was possessed by something that's haunted Shelly for ages, that he killed Charlie and wanted to kill you guys because of your Shine.  That he, and whatever was in him, is dead.  That you all have powers - but Autumn was pretty close-mouthed about everyones gifts except her own:  I guess she felt it wasn't her place to tell other people's business, which I totally get.  Jase told me some of what he could do in the same sit-down.  I know there's more than she's had a chance to tell me - stuff about Marias Medical Center, and why Jason got shot, and that you guys have got some powerful enemies and more weird stuff going on." 

"Additionally, Tawny hinted to me she had some powers too, last night.  And that's about it.  "Jacob shrugged, plainly not liking the depths of his own ignorance.  "I'm not totally clueless, but I'm a long ways from being on the inside of what's going on."

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Marissa's face scrunched up in confusion more and more as he explained things until finally when he was finished she shook her head, looking completely flabbergasted.  "Cody, powers... Jacob what're you talking about?  I was talking about Jason's surprise birthday party.  What do you mean 'Tawny might have powers too'?"

"What?"  Jacob looked perplexed as the thought of Marissa possibly 'not in the know' suddenly gripped him.  He'd possibly spilled secrets to who was possibly the worst person in the world to tell a secret to, aside from Cassie, of course.  "I thought... because you all were hanging out... b-birthday?"  Flustered he tried to make sense of his thoughts as the convincing brunette continued to look at him like he's gone mad.

After a few seconds that felt like an eternity to him her expression broke into a smile then finally a chuckle.  She tapped his arm, reassuringly messaging his arm.  "Jacob," she was still chuckling.  "I'm messing with you."  He sighed in relief, and contemplated a homicide.

"That's not funny," he was obviously irritated.  "What is your problem, why are you always messing with people?"

"I couldn't help it," she giggled.  "You just sort of blurted it all out, and the look on your face was priceless."  He shook his head, not buying a bit of it.  "Okay, okay, I'm sorry.  Sounds like you got the Cliff's Notes, yes.  I find it unfortunate that your childhood friend hasn't trusted you with more," she gave him a once over, appraising the handsome childhood friend of her bestie.  Her inner manipulator couldn't help but try and pull what strings he could to yank him towards seeing her in the best possible light while painting all those not her as untrustworthy.  After all, Marissa Jauntsen was angelic beacon of trustworthiness.  "What exactly happened between you two?"

Before he could reply she waved her hands as if her question to him wasn't important.  "Look, never mind that."  She sighed, looking into his eyes.  "Jacob, I was horrible to Autumn and the others.  I know that.  Working with the others against Not-Cody was the catalyst I needed to wake up.  I know you have no reason to trust me, and that's fair, totally fair, so all I'm asking for is a chance.  Give me a little time, like they did, and you'll see that I'm different.  So can we stop being at each others throats and at the very least be allied with the potential for possible friendship?"

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Cade's mind lurched to a complete stop.    God.Fucking.Dammit.  Cade thought the words, a scowl on his face that would intimidate nearly anyone, as he processed what he heard.   It was a bombshell and landmine all in one, and beyond his internal reaction of shock, he hoped fervently that he was the only one who'd heard that.   

Carefully, quietly, he left and continued his search for his Sister, and when he didn't find her upstairs, he head back downstairs, and outside, looking for her quietly, still unnerved by what he'd overheard.   "This really sucks." He was still scowling, even as he searched for his sister.  He couldn't believe that of all the people he could have an affair with, it was with Marissa and Devin's mom.   What this would do when it got out, well he knew it was going to be bad, and end at least two marriages. It was good that he wasn't near anyone, as he muttered quietly.  "Fuck."

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Marissa

He mulled that over for a moment, honest brown eyes studying her before he replied.  "Sure.  You and your brother and me haven't exactly seen eye to eye over the years, but from the sounds of it you - all of you - are going through changes.  And not the cringey sort of changes when the adults try to sit you down and talk to you about stuff - I mean real, life-altering changes."  Jacob shrugged.  "So, if Autumn's going to give you guys a chance - and you've been waaay shittier to her than to me - then I guess I can give you a chance too."

"About for her not telling me more..."  He shrugged.  "I can sort of understand that.  We were both raised with stories about the Hidden Enemy making people do sick things, and mysterious murders and disappearances, but we thought those were just Crocker / Kavanagh family legends, spook stories, you know?  And suddenly she wakes up in Wonderland with a bunch of people who are all people who bullied her, or she avoided, or just plain didn't know before.  I guess she wanted to make sense of it herself before trying to explain it to me - I know that's what I'd have felt like doing."  He sipped his soda, glancing around briefly to make sure they were still alone.  "Anyway, she managed to tell me some of this before class yesterday, with a promise of more catching up later, so I'm not going to go too hard on her over it."

"Anyway."  he finished, looking back at Marissa with a rueful smile and offering her a hand.  "Yeah.  Let's try the friendly thing out."

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Jason

He'd found a spot in the garden, a bench under an arbor facing the large patio and the French windows, where he could sit in the weak September sunlight and watch the gathering and, more importantly, be alone.  The others were all with family, or circulating with acquaintances, processing and expressing their grief, their connection to one another through their shared humanity.  He...  he had no humanity to share.

Not that he had no feeling about what had happened to Charlie.  As at the graveside, there was a sense he could have done better, that he had been lax in not checking up on the absentees.  Sean had also not turned up to the group training session that weekend - what if Cody had gone after him while he was alone and vulnerable?  At least Jason had checked in on Sean that evening, after dropping Autumn off at home.  He'd not done that for Charlie.  Not that it would have mattered to Charlie - he had died a day before.  But still, perhaps the discovery would have spared Hannah Fuhrman the horror that had awaited her.  Perhaps a rescue mounted sooner would have spared Sophia more torment.  Perhaps Jacob would not have been attacked or Tawny taken, if he or someone else had checked on Charlie after the shapeshifter had failed to answer his phone.  Perhaps, perhaps... perhaps.

There was no real guilt, merely a sense of a lesson learned.  As with the attempt on his own life, the experiences he survived were enhancing the likelihood that he would survive future such encounters.  Next time someone did not answer texts, he would track them down.  Next time he was stopped on the side of the road, even if it was by someone appearing legitimate, he would be on his guard, a forcefield a mere whisper of a thought away.  Never again would he take his surroundings for granted, or assume a friendly face meant friendly intent.

He felt Courtney before he saw her, his awareness of people's Shine picking her out as she emerged from the dining room onto the patio.  Most of those present glimmered to his awareness, pinpricks of silver against the velvet of night, but amongst them were brighter lights, and amongst them were the stars that denoted those with true Radiance.  Her tinted hair, colour-enhanced to appear deeper red rather than the strawberry blonde that was her natural shade, was drawn back in a simple-looking twist on the back of her head that, from what Jason understood, was neither simple nor easy to do.  She appeared, at first glance, to be immaculate - crimson lipstick unsmeared, eyeshadow blended just so.  But as her honey-brown eyes rested on him and she hesitated a moment, then made her way across the lawn towards where he sat, Jase picked out minor details that betrayed the cracks in the facade.  Her eyes were reddened, her nose a little red under the makeup, her manicured fingernails pressed into her palms.

"Not hanging out with Autumn?" she said by way of greeting as she sat next to him.

"Not hanging out with Chet?" he riposted.  The glamorous redhead made a face.

"I'm not hanging out with Chet, period."  she admitted.  "Been avoiding his ass all week.  And as for hanging out with others... well, it's a little noisy."  She tapped the side of her head, then indicated the gathering.  "Grief like this feels like..." She took a deep breath.  "Like sharp knives."  

He nodded slightly, studying her profile for a moment, then relented a little.  "Autumn is with her family.  They are still adjusting to me somewhat."  he told her.  "I see no reason to accentuate my... strangeness in this sort of setting."

"Well, yeah.  You're pretty strange at the best of times." Courtney smiled wryly, her eyes turning to him.  "I guess you don't feel grief.  I'm feeling nothing from you right now - just like a still pool."

"I register the lack of Charlie in my life."  Jason explained, gazing at the house again.  "I wasn't as close to him as Cade, or Sean.  We only really associated at the weekly gaming table before all of this started.  But he did try to reach out to me.  He tried to communicate, to understand.  That made an impression.  There was more to him than I got a chance to discover, and I... resent that being the case."

She studied him, noting how the scar loaned an additional hardness to the angles of his features and the cold jade of his eyes.  "I just knew him as the theater nerd kid."  she admitted.  "There wasn't much going on in his surface thoughts most of the time that I cared about - but he didn't usually think bad shit about anyone either.  He was one of those nauseating people who try to see the best in people."  Her wry smile took the criticism out of her words.

"Nauseating?"  Jase raised an eyebrow.

"Naive, then."  Courtney allowed, shrugging.  "They think people are like them - decent underneath it all if given a chance to change."  Jason made a noncommittal grunt.  "I guess you don't share that - of course, I have to guess."  She reached out as if to tap his head, then lowered her hand as his eyes fixed on her hand, then locked onto her gaze, his attitude one of sudden stillness.  "No getting inside there, is there."

"I don't think people change."  Jase said softly, his eyes on her face.  "They become more what they are.  They might show you more of one side of themselves or less of another, but that is a change of behaviour, not a change of nature."

"Wow."  Courtney blinked, glancing away.  "That's pretty harsh, when you think about it.  I mean, I'm trying to stop being an unholy bitch to Sean and the rest of you.  We're on the same side now, mostly.  How do you account for that?"

"That you've learned facts, absorbed data which necessitates a change in behaviour."  Jase replied, his gaze still on her.  "You've learned that your previous path was an unwise one, that we have more in common with you than you first thought.  That you are less alone than you first thought."  He shrugged.  "There's likely also an element of practical self-interest.  It would be foolish for you to perpetuate dumb rivalries over high school matters in light of the very real, deadly enemies that we have in common."

"Doesn't stop some people, though.  Sean is avoiding me still."  Courtney's lips twisted ruefully.

"You, more than anyone else, made his life hell."  Jason shrugged.  "It is hard to blame him for carrying a certain level of rancor.  For all his intelligence, he's an emotional creature.  I think he will come around, though.  My hypothesis about nature versus behaviour stands:  You remain the same at your core - just with different behaviours expressing that.  Arawn didn't make Cody a monster.  He already was a would-be rapist and a torturer.  I am as I have always been, but now people see it more clearly."

"Hmmph."  Courtney frowned, scrutinising him.  "I think your hypothesis is overly simplistic."

"It might be."  Jason nodded slowly in agreement.  "Behaviourism is a new field of study for me."

"It doesn't allow for change - for hope that people can fundamentally change."  She argued, pursing her lips slightly.

"I don't deal in hope, Courtney."  His answer was flat and to the point.  "A change in behaviour is not a change in nature.  A lion is no less a lion simply because it doesn't eat a goat.  It's just a lion that chooses not to eat the goat."

"Which are you in this analogy?"

"Which do you think I am?"  He answered levelly, his gaze on hers.  She repressed a shiver, remembering when he'd first met her eyes, a couple weeks ago, and reminded herself that he was someone else's boyfriend right now.  What made it harder was she wasn't sure if he was flirting or not, because she couldn't read him.  All there was to go on was the unflinching, expressionless gaze.

"Not very comforting for the goat, knowing that the lion might choose differently someday."  she managed a smile.

"Depends whether the goat believes the lion is a creature of whimsy or not.  The lion might have good, solid reasons not to eat it."  His lips twitched very slightly.  "At least three, in fact."

Courtney looked away, taking a deep breath.  There was something about meeting Jase's gaze that sucked the air out of one's lungs, or so it felt.  Especially when the topic was being devoured, an analogy that her mind naturally devolved into something completely sexual.  "I haven't forgotten that you promised to help me with my problem, you know." she reminded him.

"Nor have I."  he replied.  "Perhaps this Saturday afternoon, if you're free?"

"Can I bring Kat?" she asked immediately.  "I...  think someone else should be there."

That was good for a raised eyebrow.  "I'm not going to hurt you, Courtney."

She laughed, a soft throaty chuckle.  "Oh, it's not because of anything you might do.  I'm not sure I trust myself - nothing unique to you:  you're yummy and all, but I'd be inclined to jump on any of you Fellowship guys.  And I don't want to give Autumn any reason to hate me.  If Kat's there, I'll be able to behave where you're concerned."

"That's acceptable, yes."  He nodded agreement.  "And if she can't make it, then rest assured I won't let you jump on me."

"Pff.  I've heard that before."  she teased, then glanced up as Cade came into view, a distracted frown on his features as he approached.

"Hey, guys." he greeted them with a preoccupied air.  "Was wondering if you'd seen Haruka?  My mom's looking for her and she's snuck off with Jolene."

"Ah..."  Courtney's eyes went unfocused for a brief moment as though she were staring a long way off.  "I can feel her down toward the koi pond.  Thataway."  she pointed down the path away from the arbor.

"Thanks, Court."  Cade gave her a grateful smile, though the cloud remained over his expression as he headed down the path in the direction she'd pointed.  The redhead stared after him, her expression distracted.

"What?"  Jase asked.

"He's in a bad mood."  she said, raising her hands in a 'peace' gesture.  "I'm not reading his thoughts, just receiving emotions.  He's pissed, and confused, and hurt.  I wonder why.  He's usually almost as calm as you."

"Curious."  Jason frowned at the tall athlete's retreating back.  "A fight with Marissa?"

"No idea.  And I'm not prying.  As far as I'm concerned, getting mixed up in other people's relationships is bad news."  Courtney shook her head.  "Instead, I'm going to go and wheedle some champagne from a waiter and see what Kat's up to on Saturday."

Jason nodded, watching her as she stood, smoothing down her skirt, and walked off, leaving him alone with his thoughts once more.

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Ugh, he was insufferable.  She was pretty sure Autumn could slaughter his whole family, be standing there with the bloodied murder weapon and he'd forgive her under the guise of it all being some misunderstanding.  His loyalty was admirable, sure, but Marissa didn't do loyalty.  Frankly, she didn't do betrayal either.  In order for there to be betrayal there had to be trust and the Fellowship was quite clear that there was positively no trust between them.  If Jason could play games with Marissa's emotions and help himself to her friends, there was no reason Marissa couldn't help herself to Autumn's.

"Music to my ears," she smiled, daintily accepting his hand.  "So, look, Jacob I don't want to come on too strong, but," she sighed while smiling sympathetically.  Jacob hated himself for being attracted to her.  His eyes traced her bare shoulders and the way the black fabric of her dress mingled perfectly with her smooth alabaster skin.  He hung on her every word, clung to every syllable.  Her voice enchanted him like every melody was for him and him alone.

To Marissa's credit, it wasn't all her fault.  He would have desired her anyway, even passively she wrapped men around her finger with her impossible beauty, but driven by her spiteful passions and having little mastery of her abilities, everything about her that was more than human, more than desirable, rose to the surface and back handed poor Jacob.  She gently let go of his hand, and casually sipped her champagne.  "To be brutally honest, Jacob, you're in the middle of a scenario where all of your friends have super human abilities and are off saving the world and fighting demons... and... frankly you're the only normal human among us.  I've totally seen this on Vampire Diaries.  Jacob, you're Matt.  He spent eight seasons pining after Elena, his childhood friend, while all she did was play vampire games and trade brother to sleep with."

She rest her palm on his chest with more familiarity in her gentle touch than she should have had in such a short amount of time with her new friend.  "What I'm trying to say is, that all of this will be overwhelming and waiting days and weeks for your 'friends' to get their acts together before they feel you're ready to learn things will most likely get you killed at some point."  Her eyes traced him up and down.  "And I'd really hate for that to happen.  Soooo, if there's something you want to know or want to talk about things that are probably way over both our heads I'm not going to turn you away.  You deserve the truth, and let's face it, I have a lot karma to burn off."

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Jacob glanced down at the hand Marissa had laid on his chest, feeling his pulse quicken at the contact.  She really was astonishingly beautiful up-close, with her long lashes framing dark eyes that drew a guy into their depths as she looked up at him.  He found his gaze following the curve of her lips as she spoke, found himself wondering what it would feel like to run his fingers through her long, glossy dark hair-

Wait, that's not right...  Tawny.  I'm with Tawny.

Marissa was right in her estimation of Jacob, at least as far as it went.  He was a 'good' person - cut from a similar cloth to Cade, in fact: well-balanced and decent, with a code of behaviour instilled by the examples of his father and Autumn's grandfather, a not-quite-frontier mentality that the measure of a man, or woman's, character was more important than anything else: social status, wealth or power, even the law of the land.  Laws, after all, changed and shifted with the whims of politicians and societies.  But right and wrong never changed.  Or something like that, anyway - Jacob didn't really think about the philosophy so much as live it.

But now there was a discordance set up between how he was reacting to Marissa's touch and nearness, and what she was saying, and what he was feeling.  An off-key harmonic, a feeling that something was not quite right here.  He didn't trust her, at all.  He'd seen far too much of her reign of terror to so easily dismiss it from just a few smooth words... and yet... Her touch was bliss, her voice the murmur of an inviting sensual angel, so much so that it took Jacob a few moments to parse what it was she was saying so persuasively.  He blinked, shaking his head almost unconsciously  This isn't right...  I'm not this 'Matt' guy... I'm not pining after Autumn...  We both moved on. And she had good reasons not to tell anyone before...  Is Marissa coming on to me?  Why?  She's dating Cade, isn't she?  And I'm dating -

"Tawny!"  he blurted out as the blonde slice of wholesome farmgirl approached them then, her cornflower blue eyes reddened from crying but still lovely, her gaze noting the hand on Jacob's chest and looking curiously at Marissa as she moved to stand next to him.  There was a rush of mingled emotions from the tall young man - relief, guilt, concern for Tawny - as Marissa retracted her hand and he stepped back a half pace.  "We were just talking about, you know, all the stuff that's been going on."  he told the blonde girl, resting a hand on the small of her back in a half-embrace.  "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." Tawny nodded, giving him a brave smile before smiling at Marissa in turn.  "And yeah, I bet there's plenty to cover.  I felt like freaking out when I first got sat down by these guys and given the scoop.  I thought-"  and she lowered her voice, leaning in closer to them both.  "I thought the powers were the weirdest, scariest part of all this.  But monsters?  That... other place?"  she shivered, leaning closer to Jacob. 

"I hate it." she admitted quietly then.  "I hate all of this. I wish I could go back to the start of the summer and do it over."  She smiled slightly, slipping her arm around Jacob's and squeezing a little.  "Not completely, perhaps.  But a lot of it."

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"I think we all would," Marissa said calmly to Tawny.  She whole heartedly agreed with the lovely blonde, and while she and Tawny had no pending issues personally, Marissa couldn't help but hold a slight grudge for her after the way she treated her brother after he risked his life to save her.  She knew her brother was infuriating sometimes, but there were ways to handle the differences between Devin and her and Tawny, she felt, over reacted in the extreme.  Of course, her brother did too, still was as a matter of fact, but no matter how close she and Tawny were, Devin was Marissa's brother and she'd always choose him over her.

"But I don't think you have to worry about that 'other place'." She gestured towards Jacob while keeping her amiable expression on Tawny.  "I'm sure Jacob here will be more than willing to throw himself in the way of any monster his frail human frame can't hope to harm, and die heroically even, if it would keep you safe.  Isn't that right Mat-, uh, Jacob?"  She looked to Jacob, letting her hypnotic stare burrow back down into his heart and... other places.

"Just remember to thank him for his sacrifice," her wicked grin pursed into razorblade-like thinness, which Tawny recognized from a hundred paces after years in the Jauntsen household with the Twins.  "It'd be more than my brother got."

She let the knife plunge as deep as it would go into her blonde counterpart's heart.  Tawny was already an emotional wreck and Marissa knew she still harbored mega-feels for Devin, and until the bastion of innocence and her ass-hat brother fixed themselves, they were fair game on being called out for the idiots they were.  After years of knowing Tawny, the Queen of Mean knew exactly where to plunge the dagger of guilt and leave her with her burdens.  Given enough abuse, Tawny's pure soul would have her believing everything was her fault in no time at all, possibly even blaming herself for the reason all kitten eventually become cats and then later, die.  "Well, I doubt you two have had any time to spend together that didn't involve a hospital bed, so I'll leave you two to catch up.  Also you two look adorable together, I'm really happy for you both."

She looked to Tawny, tapping her shoulder playfully.  "I'm so glad you've broke out of your shell and boyfriended-up.  I'm so proud," she teased before looking back to Jacob.  "Offer stands, to both of you.  If you want to talk, I'm here.  Things are messed up, I've not slept in days without nightmares, so, a phone call or texts to vent might do us all some good, I don't know... anyways, I'll leave you two to be... newly in lust with one another."

She tipped back, swallowing the last of her champagne and setting the flute down in a gesture that caused her to have to lean around Jacob, letting him be intoxicated by the scent of her perfume, hair and wafting evil.  Turning to walk away she winked at Tawny, smiling and mouthing something silently to indicate she approved of the blonde's tasted in men, it was the closest Marissa came to offering high-fives and generally only when it came to hot guys.  She left them alone to wonder and also to be alone.  If Jacob was who Tawny chose, then Devin would have to live with that, but as an outside observer to their drama Marissa didn't see any reason she couldn't have a little fun while they made their decisions.

Away from most of the others she slid her phone out from the small clutch she carried and tapped a text out to her brother.  "Annette." was all it said.

Devin slid his phone from his jacket pocket when it chimed and looked at the message.  Silently he stood and with purpose to his stride left the poolside to meet up with his sister.

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Sean, Kat, Garret
 

On 11/26/2021 at 5:34 PM, Marissa Jauntsen said:

“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.

"I got you, Garret," Sean said. He rolled his large turquoise and jade eyes as his sister made her exit, but his gaze hadn't actually left Marissa ('s backside) until she turned out of sight around a doorway. She might have been Marissa, and all that entailed, but she was still implausibly gorgeous. He gave his head a little shake then turned to Garret, offering him a friendly grin. "I'd like that."

And he did. Thrust into such luxury, dressed in his ill-fitting clothes, Sean had felt supremely discomfited and out of place, which had been exacerbating his glumness. It was only politeness, not wanting to cause a scene, which was preventing him from just leaving. I should see about getting some fitted dress clothes when we go get my Homecoming outfit. If I can afford it. The pins and needles in his leg at least had dulled down to a faint tingling.

Talking about D&D and gaming was an excellent distraction, especially as his own campaign had neglected due to circumstances and the upwelling of weird and danger. It had been one of the reasons he had offered to sub in for Sophia in her game while she recovered. The need to get back to his own welled up, if for nothing else, to give Charlie a proper send off via his player-character, he - they - hadn't been able to give him before Cody had found him. Sean's eyes flicked back to where he'd last seen Marissa, a pensive frown crossing his face.

Did Marissa introduce Garret to me for that reason?

"So, introducing new supplements and rules, how to do that depends a great deal on your campaign - if you are adding them in after start - the story you want tell, and what your players are expecting, dude. Hope you had a session zero?"

Garret nodded animatedly. "Of course!"

"Good man. If you're going to make some big additions, it's a good idea to dedicate a portion of a session going over them, and given them a chance to make changes to their characters. They don't always have to have an in game reason for them. Comic-book rules, just make the change and don't acknowledge it. Though of course, you can also use them as plot hooks."

"Okay, yeah, I got that, but what about..."

A freshman, Garret was still one of the few boys in school who were Sean's height or shorter, and he probably weighed less. Sean had noticed his apparent ease talking with Marissa in Study Hall, and if anything, Garret seemed even more comfortable talking with him, his eyes hardly ever straying. Few guys who knew about him and weren't his friends did so were as easy with him, even if they didn't realize it. It could have been the topic, or just being on the bottom of the social hierarchy and not having anywhere lower to go. Sean wished he'd learned that lesson as a freshman.

"... use any house rules? I go with Improved Standard Array, max HP, max base damage crits, then roll the extra dice. And I usually give out an extra feat and a skill or two, so players have the opportunity to pick things that are interesting or fun, rather than just trying to optimize. I've have a bunch of other modifications are made. 5e is great system to introduce your players to TTRPGs, but it doesn't have that many supplements yet and sometimes it's too streamlined. I've stolen stuff from previous editions, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, from all over. I've practically got the entire Trove downloaded."

"My friends prefer to roll stats," Garret admitted. Sean opened his mouth and Garret smiled wryly. "Yeah, I know they - or Danny, at least - cheats. I take it into account. I like the max HP and max crits though. It sucks all around getting a crit and doing less damage than a normal hit. Could I get a link to the Trove?"

Sean pulled out his phone. "I'll do you one better and give you a link to my gaming books folder on my server. Way faster to look up online and to download."

"Cool. Thanks, Sean."

"No probs. Rules and supplements aside, there's always the rule of cool to consider. And the rule of consequences. Don't be afraid of failure, on your side, or your players. Use it a springboard for..." He had made failure not being an end condition as a core component of his video game. And autosaving, so no save scumming. You had to live with your mistakes, or start over.

Sean might have looked like a girl - a particularly well-endowed one, he couldn't help but notice - he might have sounded liked a girl, but he talked like a guy. Very different, to be sure, but not nearly as intimidating as Marissa. It was pretty much like talking with Ronnie and Danny. Well, Sean was a lot less aggravating then Danny, truthfully.

"Hey, look, Garret. I'm taking over Sophia's game for a week or two, to give her time to recover. Running it tonight, actually. You can come, if you like, see how I run things, and maybe run a couple of monsters or NPCs for me, as a sort of deputy DM. How's that? I can pick you up after supper, if you don't have a ride."

"Really? Sure, that'd be great! I've heard, I mean, your games must be at least as good as Mercer's on Critical Role-"

"Dude!" Sean's nose scrunched up in protest, but he stifled a snort of laughter. "Not every DM has to be like Mercer. And I'm sure you know, not all players are voice and screen actors. Besides, I already learned my lesson streaming on Twitch. No thanks." His grin widened playfully. "That said, I do do voices."

On 12/11/2021 at 10:00 PM, GDP_ST said:

"Hey guys."  She didn't have to force the smile she gave Sean as she butted into the conversation.  It was somewhat of a relief to latch onto a familiar friendly face.  She gave Gareth a smile and a nod as well.  "Hi.  I'm Kat."

"Garret." he smiled back.  "I've seen you around.  Nice to meet you."

"Same."  Kat rocked a little on her toes and heels, looking from one guy to the other, waiting for them to carry on talking.

A tension in Sean's shoulders he hadn't noticed had eased with the gaming talk, the back and forth on the pros and cons of various game mechanics and campaign design. But when he saw Kat, he felt himself standing straighter, his smile growing even wider, warmer. The echoes of his emotions washed over the slight redhead. Melancholy, now subdued, engagement with the conversation he was having with the boy little bigger than her, his pleasure at seeing her, desire, tentative, but growing bolder, a hint of mischievousness.

"Hey, Kat!" Sean said enthusiastically. "We were just talking about gaming. D&D? Did you play, back in France?"

Sean was honestly curious. Kat seemed interested in video games, it seemed like there was a good chance she was interested in role-players games too. But what he was really thinking about what was he should show her the sketches Devin had drawn of him in potential Homecoming Gear - Epic, maybe even Legendary - or if he should hold off and surprise her with it.

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Marissa and Devin

Annette wasn't too hard to find - at least for the Twins.  The elegant Director of the Project was present under the auspices of the Marias Medical Center's board of directors, just another well-wisher from the great and good of Shelly turned out to give their condolences to the bereaved family.  Some of those present knew her real role and purpose, though did not acknowledge it openly.  The various parents of the Fellowship members who were introduced to her in passing were careful to keep recognition off their faces and any conversation banal and light.

When she saw the Twins approaching, to her credit Annette didn't miss a beat or flicker an eyelid, smiling to those she'd been talking with as she extracted herself from the small knot of people with consummate poise and moved away, ostensibly to refresh her drink or powder her nose or whatever diplomacy she'd substituted for "Excuse me, a couple of superhuman teenagers seem to want an important conversation about something with me."  Briefly making eye contact with each twin, she wandered through a couple of larger reception rooms and out of the French windows onto a patio at the side of the opulent mansion - one which, due to it's distance from the buffet and drinks, was deserted, at least currently.

As the Twins approached, she sat down in an ornate wrought-iron chair at a marble-topped patio table, her drink in hand and a curious expression in her dark eyes.  "You both have a serious look."  she said quietly after a beat, setting her drink down and folding her hands over one another.  "Given your mother's dislike for the Project currently, I figured out here was probably a better place to talk.  What's on your minds?"

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"More than we have time for at this party," Marissa's reply was factual but laced just the right measure topical sarcasm that is served as a decent enough icebreaker.  Annette quickly took inventory of their body language.  Marissa was almost impossible to read, but thankfully she spoke first and her tone told Annette more than words she could have used.  Marissa was frustrated, bored, angry and, as always, spiteful.  "The Fellowship has completely lost all trust in me thanks to my trusting the Project to protect Jason, so, thanks for that.  Our parents fight constantly, and we're probably off to a boarding school, oh, and Autumn thinks I can teach her to walk in heels in one evening despite her having all the poise and grace of a epileptic gorilla being tased."

"Coincidentally, also the name of her sex tape," Devin tossed in.

"So, there's that." Marissa smirked at her brother.  "The short version."

Devin was edgy, more twitchy than the energetic teleporter usually was.  He seemed confused, distracted and lost in uncomfortable in his own skin.  His mind was everywhere but in the moment, which would not have seemed to out of the ordinary for him, except she could tell that this time, he seemed to have a specific topic on his mind, Annette just didn't know it was Tawny that he was an emotional wreck over.

"We're not listening to our parents," Devin's tone was blunt and devoid of any manner of greeting.  "So, we're going to need training and resources to take on whatever is out there and aligned with the Dark.  You and Taggart can provide that."

"While I appreciate your commitment, both of you, that puts the Project in a very dangerous position," she was attempting diplomacy first.

"And we understand that," Marissa cut in.  "But with or without you we will be fighting this fight.  You built a secret military base under a hospital, you've spied on the community, you've made people 'disappear', covered up crimes and God only knows what else.  I'm not judging, we understand why, but we find it hard to believe that after all that you're afraid of one loud Karen with opiate addiction and amazing hair.  We're not trying to corner you into a commitment, Ms. Giles, only making you aware that we've given this a lot of thought."

"The world needs us, Annette," Devin calmly said, sliding his hands into his pockets.  "Not the other way around.  We're bigger than our parents, the petty squabble of us being minors, and certainly whether or not we are ready to accept this.  It's already been dropped in our lap.  We already lost Charlie because we weren't prepared, it's not happening again.  If we step quietly away, no one will notice nor care, but at what cost in innocent lives?  Doing the exact opposite of what parents tell us is pretty the mission, nay, the duty, of every teenager on the planet.  We consider ourselves patriots on that front."

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Annette nodded slowly.  "We're in a position to help each other."  she agreed, eyes studying each twin in turn.  "More than you realise, in fact.  The Project has been compromised."  She unfolded her hands and picked up her drink, fixing Marissa with a meaningful look.  "After your last meeting with Enterich, I had Taggart give orders for a covert protection detail to be put on you, your family and the Bannons."

"Covert detail?  Bodyguards?"  Marissa asked, a frown creasing her perfect brow.  Annette nodded.

"Not that Devin is easy to tail anywhere, but yes - Branch 9 special operations personnel were supposed to be watching out for you and Jason, particularly at or near your homes."

"Yeah.  How'd that work out?"  Devin snarked, remembering Jase's blood all over his hands as he flexed his fingers in his pockets.  Marissa, however, had started to realise where Annette was going with this.

"The order was rescinded."  Annette said, calmly enough, though her dark eyes narrowed.  "According to the log, by Taggart himself."

"But Taggart didn't do it, did he?"  Marissa asked rhetorically, then sighed, rolling her eyes as Annette shook her head.  "Shit."  she huffed.

"More or less my words."  Annette agreed.  "I don't believe for a second Taggart would have done it - and more to the point, that day he couldn't have done it.  The log showed that the rescindment order was given from inside the Project compound on a day Taggart was up at Bulwark."  She looked down at her glass, shaking her head.  "I don't know if it was that presence Mister Cassidy struggled with whilst you were rescuing Etienne the other week, or if there's actually a physical agent - or agents - that have infiltrated the compound and somehow know Taggart's codes.  But the operation was carefully coordinated.  The detail was called off literally two hours before the attempt on Mr Bannon's life."

"So the situation is, I've inherited Directorship over a project which might well be infiltrated by Klein's people - some of whom might not even know they are if the brainwashing data you recovered from the Site C mainframe can be relied on.  I trust Taggart, one or two others, and you lot."  She sighed, spreading her hands.  "If I do nothing, it's only a matter of time before the Project is completely back under Klein's control.  So yes, I'll help you in any way I can.  But I'll need the gifts of several of you to help me clean house if I'm going to help you the way you need."

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"I'm in," Devin didn't need convincing one way or the other.  He was the picture of bored and whether he was saving the world alone or squashing spy drama with the Fellowship, at least he was doing something.  Anything to keep his mind off not being friends with Tawny anymore.

"But it totally better involve us and dinner."  He never stopped making passes at her, and Annette smiled and rolled her eyes in the usual 'here we go' fashion.  "Me taking us anywhere in the world you want to go, you in the shortest dress you can find.  I know I could use a weekend getaway."

Marissa scoffed at her brother, accenting it with a snort.  "She's way out of your league, dumb ass, when are you going to wake up?  Also, twice your age.  She would destroy you."

"Maybe," he shrugged casually, keeping his suave composure.  "Perhaps that's what I need?  An intelligent, mature woman to make a man out of me."

All Annette could do was shake her head and softly chuckle to herself.  "Could we not talk about me as if I wasn't present?"  She asked with just enough mirth in her voice to let them know that she wasn't offended, she just wanted to get back to the problem they were facing.  "While I ever so enjoy being the object of your teenage lust, Devin, there are no dress purchases, short or otherwise, nor any dinner plans, until this problem is resolved."

"Rain check, got it." He looked at his sister and offered her a victorious smile.  "It wasn't a 'no'." He said to her.

"Well, we can't go probing the minds of everyone at The Project," Marissa offered, adding her own shrug to the mixture while simultaneously rolling her eyes at her brother.  "I'm sure the Fellowship would find some moral objection to it."

"Like the fact that it's immoral, perhaps?"  Annette pitched her logic with a hint of sarcasm.

"So people get a quick mind peek, what's the big deal?  We've all given up freedoms and dreams to do this.  We've given up the rest of our normal high school years and beyond to battle demons and cults.  Lilly sacrificed her dreams of competing in the Olympics, Jason's being targeted by hit squads every other day-"

"-yeah, but he's a dick, so I kind of see that one as more of inevitably than as a result of us being godlings." Marissa interjected.

"Fair." Devin tilted his head towards his shoulder as he shrugged.  "Plus, if they're brainwashed into believing they're doing the right thing, it might not register them as a guilty party.  I don't know.  I'm not sure how telepathy works."

"Perhaps," Marissa raised a finger in thought.  "What if we set up a mock operation to goad them into rescinding orders again?  Or have Cassie do her 'into the past' thing?  We have options, I'm afraid we've just never planned a sting before," she scrunched up her face apologetically.  "Sorry.  We'll help any way we can though, just name it."

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"No need to apologise."  Annette smiled, though her eyes were fixed on her glass in a slight frown of thought for a moment before they raised to regard the twins.  "I'm not exactly a spymaster myself.  My work with Aeon has mostly been in the area of investigation of phenomena, diplomacy and the like.  What I'm really concerned about is that, due to our involvement with the Project over such a long time, it's possible Branch Nine and the Society might have taken in new members who are working for whoever is paying Klein's bills.  How far does the rot go?"  Her lips drew into a tight line as she considered that.

"Maybe start with the Project."  Devin suggested.  "Worry about the other stuff once we've made the center secure?"

"Build on that."  Marissa agreed.  "Whatever change we find in the couch cushions while we clean up your place we can then use."

"Yes." Annette conceded. "That would be the sensible path.  As for figuring out who's dirty, I think this should be a group endeavor.  Telepathy might not be the answer, but we can start with getting Mister Cassidy to go through our logs and security feeds.  If anyone can follow the data trail, it would be him.  Miss Allen's gift might also be useful.  Meanwhile, I will get Major Taggart to put together a training and protection detail that are not part of the Project, Aeon or Branch Nine.  I'm sure he knows some people."  She tapped her fingers on the table in thought.  "I'll be having a talk with Mister Bannon later, too.  I'll let him know the situation, and how it was my fault those marshals were able to get close to him."  She gave Marissa an apologetic smile.  "I can't say that it will fix all your interpersonal issues with him, but the blame for that particular snafu shouldn't rest on your shoulders - you trusted me and I wasn't able to deliver.  I'm sorry."  

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Marissa shrugged.  "It's no big deal.  They made their choice, but thank you anyways.  It's nice to know someone can say it, and besides, lessons learned, right?  As we work together we'll find ways that work and ways that don't.  It's how teams get their vibe."

"About Taggart," Devin interjected.

"Yes," Annette nodded with a polite smile that bordered on sadistic.  "He's still incredibly pissed about his car being sent to Winnipeg."

"Wyoming!" He corrected.  "See, this why he's so mad, because you guys are blowing it way out of proportion."

"Devin could talk to Cassie about this, just so we don't blindside her later with it."  Marissa added.  "I can speak with Sean.  At the very least, to let them know their talents might be needed in the foreseeable future."

"Why do I have to talk to Cassie?"  Devin asked his sister.

"Because, lame-ass,"  She smirked and leaned in to tease her brother.  "She wants to snog you."

"You think?"  Devin managed his first, honest grin in several hours.

"Oh yeah," Marissa chuckled.  "It's in her body language, her eyes, every time you're near her she just lights right up.  I'll bet her cherry cola chap stick is just dying to meet you, so... you're the logical choice for the mission.  Meanwhile, Sean is small and awkward and easily put off by my intimidating poise."  She checked her makeup and hair in a nearby reflection on glass.  "Plus, I love seeing nerds squirm."

Devin didn't seem to need much more convincing, he was already on his way to look for Cassie by the time Marissa had looked away from her reflection.  Annette grinned and stepped to meet Marissa, looking at her through the reflection in the glass pane.  "Cassie's not a snogger, is she?"

"Got me." Marissa shrugged, smiling evilly.  "I have no idea what flavor chap stick she uses either, probably regular because she's boring and has only ever kissed skater burn-outs.  My idiot brother, however, doesn't need to know that.  He's guided by his most immediate want, and right now that is getting over Tawny, and the best way for him to do that, is to get into someone else."

"It's art the way you turn caring into a malicious act, Marissa."  Annette chuckled and shook her head.  "It's nice to see you looking out for him at least."

"Always," she said with a sigh as she watched him walk away.  They were still fighting and had spent the last few days doing nothing but yelling and screaming at each other back home.  Still, through all the confusion of the last few days she knew on things was true in all the lies of Shelly.  "He's my brother."

"I can tell something is off," she added.  "Most times I'd at least half consider his cheesy attempts as coming onto me."

"Seriously," Marissa looked at her doubtfully.

"I said half-consider." She grinned at Marissa's almost accusatory look of Annette possibly going after her brother.  "He's quite charming, your brother, but his routine attempt at winning my affects a moment ago seemed... I don't know, lazy?  Half-hearted?  Like he wasn't even trying."

"Oh, you didn't hear?  Oh, wow, okay," Marissa lit up as her 'share the gossip' flip was switched in he brain.  "So, get this... apparently my brother is in love with Tawny and when he spilled his heart to her, after saving her from a hell dimension... so..." Marissa took Anette by the arm and proceeded to lure her away with promises of gossip for days.

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