Casper made his way home that evening feeling heavy, the flurry of activity that had been the last twelve hours having drained him more than anything he could readily remember. The hunter had seen him back to his train line, and after a short ride from there, he had begun making his way slowly home under the dim orange light of the early evening sun.
The trip to Lewis’ apartment had… not been what he had expected, in any form. It confused him. He had expected the place to be austere, office like, in a vein with the workspaces of the detectives in old black and white movies. The true experience, by contrast, was almost pleasant. It had been an airy, open space, wide windows allowing light from the late afternoon sun in while he had talked to Lewis’ two young companions -he hadn’t gotten up the nerve to ask exactly what their relation was to one another, though he doubted that they were siblings, the older girl’s pale skin and slightly nordic accent offering evidence to the contrary, given the younger boy’s browned skin tone and slightly hispanic lilt.- They had been a nice pair, overall, and their perspective had been helpful, even allowing him to ask some questions he hadn’t dared ask Lewis. He had even enjoyed parts of the visit, feeling almost a touch of shame in acknowledging the fact. The hunter had, after all, kidnapped his friend, and it felt like almost a betrayal to be feeling grateful to him.
He turned the last corner onto his home street and paused briefly, his hand reaching into a pocket for what felt like the dozenth time that evening, reassuring himself that the small slip of paper was still there where he had left it. The paper bore, to his mind, the single most important piece of information he had managed to obtain from the whole encounter. It had taken him nearly half an hour to build up the courage to ask, but eventually, he had done so, mid way through a Smash Bros fight, setting down his controller with a sigh and asking, somewhat shakily:
“Is… is there a way to turn them off?” the other two glanced at him, their minds momentarily confused. The boy gestured questioningly at the game console before Casper elaborated. “M-my powers, sorry. I… I wanna be able to stop having them all the time, you know?” He took care to phrase it in a manner that didn’t reveal what he could do. Before departing to his office, Lewis had instructed the three of them in no uncertain terms that they weren’t to tell each other about what they could do, or to swap their names. Casper did his best to comply.
“Depends what you are,” the boy replied evenly. “Mage, you can probably get some help. Cross breed, maybe not.”
“Cross breed?” Casper asked, raising an eyebrow. “No idea what you’re saying, sorry.”
Behind the boy, the pale girl shrugged.
“Pretty simple, really,” she said, her voice quiet. “A cross breed’s someone who gets their power from a bunch of magical genetic stuff in their family,” She jerked a thumb behind herself towards the doorway Lewis had departed through. “Like, say, if you had a lycan for a mom, you might get a really good nose and be a bit faster and stronger, right? It’s a power that’s kinda built into your body a little bit, so you can’t really turn it off. Mages, though, when they get powers, they’re really just using spells they haven’t figured out how to control yet. If you’re like that, then you could probably figure out how to use it better; might help if you got a teacher.”
“Teacher?” Casper asked, eyes going wide, a not insubstantial part of his mind perking up immensely at the idea of getting to literally learn magic. “I… yeah. I definitely want that. Is there one in New York?”
“Sure,” the boy chipped in, grinning, a note of amusement playing in his mind at Casper’s largely suppressed reaction. “Depends if you’re cool with getting government registered or not. A government teacher’s cheaper, but if you’re hanging out with Lewis, then you’re probably not gonna like being in the system, right?”
Casper considered for a moment, then nodded.
“Y-yeah. I wanna keep it quiet. Is th-”
“Then it’s gonna be expensive,” the boy continued, cutting him off. “I can give you a number, but the guy charges a couple hundred bucks a session.”
Casper didn’t even hesitate.
“Yeah, I’d like the number.” Finally, he might actually have a use for the money Tasha had kept splitting with him. He’d mostly just been collecting it all up inside an old pillow case.
Casper tucked the paper a little deeper into his pocket, and resumed his walking. It was only a short way remaining to his house and, as he crossed close enough, he expanded out his power, sensing inside. He was glad that he did.
Almost immediately, he felt his father’s mind, standing in the kitchen, judging by the distance, his mother not too far away. Ray’s mind was angry, frustration and exhaustion seeping out from his consciousness in equal measure, tinted with not a small amount of defiance, a note of fear. Linda’s mind, on the other hand, was determined, her feelings focused. A note of remorse clung on underneath it all, but every time it began to swell, he could feel her pushing it back down. They were fighting.
Casper took a deep breath as he drew close, trying to calm himself as best he could. It was never good when his parents fought. He wondered in the back of his mind why his mother pushed his father as she did. What did she think there was to gain? He bit back another pang of fear as he reached the door, and tried the handle slowly; it shifted around quietly, absent the usual click forcing the mechanism to stop. It wasn’t locked. Great. That meant that if he was lucky, he might be able to sneak upstairs without drawing any attention to himself.
As slow as he dared, Casper twisted the handle down, then carefully pushed the door open, shrugging off his bag into his free hand so as to avoid having to open the door wide enough for it to creak. He slid himself inside, his bag clutched behind him, then began to close the door again. It was then that his parents’ words began to reach him, the first of them stopping him dead.
“This is your fault, you know,” she said quietly, her voice bitter. “If you’d just hit him hard enough the first time, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” The words were insincere, Casper knew, lacking any feeling behind them, intended more as a means of venting frustration than for honesty. Even so, they struck him hard enough to freeze him solid.
“You can fuck right off,” Ray replied, his voice louder, less restrained. “He was nine! You think I should have given him another black eye?”
Casper felt something cold swelling in his gut. He remembered that beating. It had been the first. He shuddered a little at the memory. What the hell was going on here?
“Honestly?” his mother retorted, her mind lit by a sudden flash of defensive anger. “Yeah, I think you should have given him two. I think you should have kept going till he manifested, or at least been man enough to admit that you were gonna be soft, and let my dad or someone else do it for you. If you’d done that, then maybe he wouldn’t have had to wait this long before we could start teaching him!”
“He doesn’t have powers, Linda!” Ray shouted, his frustration building to a peak. “I broke his fucking arm and it did nothing! When are you going to admit that he’s just a normal goddamn boy!?”
There it was. Understanding. Suddenly, everything clicked into place in Casper’s mind. He had wondered, in the months since his power had awakened, exactly why his father’s mind so often turned to regret when he looked at him, why his mother had felt no fear when Ray had first turned his fists on her. They had been trying to push him. They knew everything.
Casper felt sick. He felt wrong. His parents were still speaking, but he couldn’t bring himself to register the words. Without really thinking about it, without knowing exactly what he planned to do next, he turned back towards the still open front door, and slipped back outside, closing it silently behind himself.
He stood there for a long time, feeling the angry ebb and flow of his parents’ minds in the background of his thoughts as their argument continued. After a few minutes, he came to a decision. He needed time to think, and he needed to be away from his parents while he did it. In the previous months, he had allowed himself to believe that if he only understood the cause of his father’s actions, of his mother’s seemingly paradoxical lack of care for both him and herself, that he might be able to accept it all. In reality, though, he found that understanding was only bringing him anger. He considered the idea of just going up to his room, pretending he hadn’t heard anything, and almost gagged. No, he needed to be away from them for now. Just away.
He turned his gaze to the pavement a few feet away, where the architects had placed a small hole filled with soil in order to allow a tree to grow. He moved towards it, and began digging. It only took him a few seconds to find what he was looking for under the dirt. A small rock, a seam running almost invisibly along it. He lowered it to the ground, and struck it by the edge against the pavement, popping the seam open. A small object fell from the false stone and hit the ground with a clink. He picked it up. Tasha’s spare apartment key. She’d given it to him a month ago, just in case. Better than having nowhere to go.
He stood, digging around in his pocket for a moment for his phone, and pulling it out. He turned it back on, then pulled up his father’s number, opting for a text rather than having to hear the man’s voice again. He thought long and hard over what he wanted to say, but eventually got it down.
‘Not coming home tonight. Don’t wanna look at you right now.’
He only hesitated a moment before he hit send. Then, on the spur of the moment, he sent another.
‘I think I hate you.’
He lingered on the street for just long enough to feel the fear begin to overwhelm his parent’s minds, then he began to run. He made it two whole blocks before he started to cry.