AN: I know this one’s a little late, but it’s also significantly longer than normal, so, you know. That.
Tasha felt a note of surprise as Caleb’s palm slammed into her jaw, the force of it sending a nasty crack echoing through her skull. He’d sidestepped her opening lunge far faster than she’d expected him to, lining up his counter before her fist had even finished its arc. It sent her stumbling.
His follow up came in the form of a kick to the stomach. Somehow, the guy managed to kick her hard enough to launch her whole body into the air. Tasha felt something inside her stomach churn painfully at the blow. Before she had time to come to terms with that, however, her body fell back once more to the ground, and she was distracted by the feeling of her back slamming against the surface of a factory workstation, before her momentum carried her off of it in a roll and she hit the floor, something jagged digging into her shoulder.
Okay. This hurts.
She shook herself. What the fuck was that? Three seconds in and she already was on her ass? No. This wasn’t happeni-
Before she could finish the thought, she heard the thump as Caleb landed lightly on his feet alongside her.
“Now, are you done calling me a cree-”
Caleb didn’t quite manage to finish the sentence before Tasha kicked at him, bringing her leg forwards as hard as she could towards his shins. The blow didn’t even come close.
Her enemy was in the air before her leg made it halfway to him, hopping over the attack as casually as if it were a skipping rope. She growled, then shoved herself up off the floor with her hands, before another blow caught her about the cheek like a sack of bricks. It hurt. But she was less surprised by it now. She didn’t flinch. Her opponent launched another, this time right for her face. She didn’t bother trying to dodge it. Instead, she crunched her stomach and slammed her head against his fist. She felt it as the impact sent ripples of pain echoing through her skull. She grit her teeth. Then, she heard something crack, and Caleb swore.
She watched, her vision a little blurred, as the boy backed off, his fist cradled in his other hand. He was glaring at her.
She grinned, trying to ignore the taste of blood on her tongue.
In the back of her mind, she was aware that James was shouting something. For the life of her, though, she couldn’t bring herself to care.
Across from her, the enemy was tending to his finger, his face scrunching up in pain as he shoved the dislocated digit back into its socket. Then he muttered something under his breath, and Tasha watched as an all too familiar light began to flicker momentarily over his skin. She swore.
So the fucker knows how to make force fields, huh?
Caleb took a breath, then stepped forward, more cautious now.
Tasha backed off a ways, and forced herself to think, trying to ignore the harsh pounding still echoing inside her head. This guy was too quick and too strong even before the shield. But if she couldn’t land a hit with her fists, then she’d need to use something better.
She glanced around, and after a moment, her eyes landed on the abandoned workstation against which she’d fallen. It was a sturdy thing, about six feet long by two wide; made from some kind of polished metal. She reached out to grab one corner of it, and tugged. It didn’t move. Looking down, she realized it was affixed to a base plate on the floor with a set of thick, rust covered bolts. She rolled her neck around on her shoulders. Time to put those new muscles to work.
Caleb realized what Tasha was planning just a second too late to stop her. He charged, only for her to give a single massive heave against the metal surface. There was a snap as the metal holding the thing to the floor broke away. Then, she planted her feet against the base plate of the thing, and swung the countertop around like an oversized baseball bat.
The countertop caught her foe mid-lunge with the most satisfying smack Tasha had ever heard. Caleb was sent arcing across the factory floor, his shield crackling frantically around him as it adjusted to the shock, before his body struck the far wall, and he fell to the floor with a thud.
“Batter up!” she yelled, feeling more energy coursing through her than she had in her entire life. “PLAY BALL!”
For the first few seconds, Caleb didn’t move, simply laying there on the ground, his face pressed against the floor. Then, just as she was beginning to wonder if she’d taken it too far, he began to rise.
Tasha noted with some satisfaction that her enemy wasn’t looking very good. His hair was matted to hell and back, and a fresh trail of blood flowed gently down from his nose. Neither of those compared to the look he was giving her, though. This wasn’t his previous scowl any more. This look was sullen; angry. She laughed.
Caleb gave no spoken response. Instead, the shield around him simply ceased its flickering, the last of its energy dying away as a glove of emerald fire blossomed into existence around his uninjured hand.
Tasha stopped laughing at that. Instead, she pulled her makeshift weapon back for another swing and waited as her adversary charged.
He made it five steps before whatever it was stopped him, some unseen force that seemed to strike everywhere at once, scattering loose detritus everywhere and knocking her foe off his feet. He landed awkwardly on his hands, the flame glove dissipating around his arm as fast as it had come, and looked around, angry.
“James,” he growled. “No interfe-”
He let out a little yelp as that same force scooped him up off the floor, and left him dangling by an ankle in the air.
Tasha almost laughed, before she felt something wrench the table from her hands, something dense and powerful pressing against her midsection as the metal was pulled free of her grip, before being launched across the room and striking the railing of the stairwell hard enough to bend it out of shape.
She glanced around, eyes wide. Was this James? No. Since when was he this powerful? Her eyes fell on the space where James had stood at the beginning of the fight, and saw that it was empty. She had time to be perplexed by the small pile of clothing that sat a few feet away from the spot, before she felt the force wrap itself around her middle, and she was hoisted into the air.
“The fuck!?” she shouted. “Who are you? What’s g-”
“JUST SHUSH!” James’ voice screeched, sounding for all the world like it was coming from the entire room at once. “What the heck was that!? Are you guys crazy?” Whatever force it was that held Tasha up gave her a shake, rocking her wildly from side to side.
“W-wha-?” she began, only to be cut off as the omnipresent voice continued its ranting.
“You hit my friend with a table,” James shouted. “A TABLE, Tasha! What the heck!? You could have killed him!”
Tasha opened her mouth to make some bewildered sort of defense, but again, James wasn’t done. The voice turned its attention to Caleb, still dangling helplessly by his foot.
“And don’t even get me started on YOU!” the voice growled. “You were gonna use fire on her? Really? That’s not cool!” The invisible pressure gave Caleb’s foot a shake, his whole body swinging limply from side to side as he hung there. In another circumstance, Tasha might have found it funny. “Fire burns people, Caleb!” Caleb didn’t bother to reply. He was too busy staring at something off to Tasha’s side, his jaw slack.
Confused, Tasha followed the boy’s gaze.
It took a moment or two for Tasha to catch sight of what had caught her former adversary’s gaze; a few more for her to figure out quite what it was she was seeing.
It was hovering, perhaps two or three feet above one of the factory work stations, its glow dim enough to allow the eye to easily wander past it. It looked like… some kind of blob. A collection of small, glowing blue spheres in a veil of shimmering mist. As James’ voice paused for breath, the shimmer seemed to grow brighter for a moment.
“… James?” Tasha asked, one eyebrow raised. “That you?”
The voice seemed to hesitate for a moment, the ranting coming to a halt as the blob shifted down, the topmost sphere lowering itself towards the rest.
“Uhh… kinda,” James’ voice replied, a touch quieter now. “Remember how I said I turned into a wind amoeba for a while? Well, uhh. It was this thing. I think my body kinda goes away if I push my powers far enough?”
“So,” she asked, “Can you uhh, put me down?” As she spoke, she reached down by her sides with her hands, trying to pinpoint the spot where she was being held and pry herself away. Nothing. The air just felt heavier there.
“… You promise to stop beating each other up?”
Tasha hesitated, then glanced at Caleb, and frowned.
“Only if he promises to tell us who the fuck he is.”
Caleb, for his part, was still staring, even as James lowered the pair of them to the ground, depositing Caleb on a table, and dropping Tasha on her butt with a thump. Upon touching the table top, he pulled himself slowly up into a sitting position.
“… And you’ve been this strong the whole time?” he asked, voice oddly hurt. “Why? Why didn’t you use this thing to beat me if you were able to? Why did you lie?”
“I wasn’t lying!” James protested, the faint shape of his form flaring brightly for a moment, before once more going dim. “It’s just-” he hesitated a second or two, before finishing with a sigh, his tone defensive. “It… It makes my clothes fall off, okay?”
For the first time in her life, Tasha had to actively resist the urge to grin.
“Shut up,” the blob muttered. “I didn’t ask you here to make fun of me… I didn’t ask you here to beat each other up for me, either.”
Tasha thought about that for a second, then shrugged.
“I do whatever I think’s right, dude,” she murmured. “Your friend’s a creep. I’m not sorry.”
The air around her made a ‘humph’ sound at that. Tasha got the sense that James was scowling.
“I’m not a creep,” Caleb grumbled, his tone bitter as he pulled a sleeve up to wipe the blood from his nose. “Look, you want the truth? Fine. If you’ve been this strong all along, then I might as well.” He let out a long sigh, then turned his gaze to the floor. “I’m a monster hunter, okay?”
“… Really?” Tasha asked, one eyebrow raised. “That’s the lie you’re going with?”
“Would you shut up?” Caleb asked, raising his hands to his face in frustration. “You asked for the truth, and I’m telling you. Can you stop being such a bitch about it?”
“You looking to get punched again?” she replied, one hand balling into a fist.
Caleb began to make a retort, but stopped short when another gust of wind hit him in the face, buffeting him a ways to the side. Tasha grinned, before one struck her as well.
“No fighting,” James repeated. “Monster hunter?”
Caleb glared at him for a moment, then let out a huff.
“Yeah. I move around a lot. Learned about my powers when I was a kid, started travelling, picked up a spell or two from some mages I met along the way.”
“What’s your power?” Tasha asked, a note of curiosity undercutting her annoyance. “You’re stronger than a normal kid should be. Faster, too. What gives?”
“Bit of everything,” Caleb grunted. “Little bit of super strength, little bit of speed, boosted reflexes, better senses. Nothing I’m really bad at, but I can’t rip steel tables off the floor.” He shot her a look, before returning his gaze to his hands. “Anyway. I moved around a bit. Got a gig helping an older guy track down a Hidebehind in Tennessee and figured I could do it as a job. It’s not like I had anything else going on. Turns out there’s some people around the place who’ll pay you to help them deal with whatever stuff they’re hunting. Like an apprentice for hire, I guess.”
As Caleb spoke, Tasha watched the little blob of James’ form begin to move, shifting away from atop its table and down into the cover of the stairwell. She watched, intrigued, as the glow surrounding him grew brighter, building from almost invisible, to about as intense as a lightbulb, before suddenly dying away. She caught a glimpse of scruffy black hair over a set of narrow shoulders, before the boy ducked a little further below the lip of the stairway. Without a word, she crossed to the pile of clothes on the floor, bundled them up, and tossed them in his direction. She allowed herself a chuckle when he peeked up, and the pants hit him in the face.
They were all silent for a minute or so as James got dressed. As the boy made his way back up the stairs, Caleb resumed.
“So I kinda caught you flying home one night and figured I’d say hi,” he murmured, gazing across at the boy as he crested the top of the stairwell. “Flight’s a pretty high level power, and I figured I-” he stopped mid word, his sentence catching oddly in his throat as he caught sight of James’ face. Following his gaze, Tasha could see why. She winced.
Whatever coverings James had been using to hide his purity marks, they must have fallen away when the boy transformed, because there they sat, plain as day on his cheek, right below the marks of pain across his eye. It surprised her just how angry seeing them on him made her. What must it be like, to have ‘rape victim’ written on his face like that? She pushed the thought aside.
For his part, James didn’t seem to have noticed a thing. He raised an eyebrow at Caleb.
“You okay, man? Kinda stopped at the good bit there.”
To his credit, Caleb rallied fast.
“Right,” he replied quickly. “Sorry. Just a weird thought. So, yeah. Flight’s a pretty high level power, and I thought I might as well come and introduce myself. Figured if I trained you a bit, you might be able to help me if you wanted. Be nice to have some company, you know?” He shot a glance at Tasha, his expression troubled. She felt her aggravation towards the guy lessen a fraction at that.
“Still doesn’t explain why you didn’t just tell him this up front,” she pointed out.
At that, Caleb only sighed.
“Look,” he muttered. “Would you believe I was just trying to look cool? You know, come off as this mysterious wizard guy who’s just really good in fights?” He looked away, presumably in an effort to hide the red now dusting his cheeks.
There was silence for a few moments at that, before James chuckled.
“Well, you sure screwed that one up.”
“I know. Sorry.”
“… Can we get onto why I actually asked Tasha here, now?”
Tasha raised an eyebrow at that.
“Sparring, right?” she murmured. “Kinda hard if we can’t go all out, you know.”
“No,” James replied, shaking his head. “I uhh. I really just wanted to ask you guys something.”
“Ask what?” said Caleb, leaning back a little on his hands; far more relaxed now that the focus was off of him.
“Advice,” James shrugged. “I was uh… Kinda thinking of… I want to tell my parents about my powers.”
Huh, Tasha thought. Interesting. She opened her mouth to speak, but Caleb beat her to it.
“Don’t,” he said flatly. “Bad idea. Trust me.”
“You’re on some pretty thin ice with the whole ‘trust’ thing, Caleb.”
Caleb ignored her.
“Seriously,” he continued. “Don’t do it. Nothing good will come of it. You’ll just get hurt.”
James frowned at that.
“Really?” he asked. “I mean, I get that they might freak out and stuff, but it’s not like they won’t get over it. They’re my parents. They love me.”
“Love’s delicate,” Caleb replied, a note of bitterness edging into his voice. “It goes away if you push it too hard. They’ll think you’re a freak.”
James didn’t answer that. He seemed stung.
For her part, Tasha grunted.
“Some parents, sure,” she agreed. “But I’ve heard some stuff about James’ folks. They sound pretty cool.”
“‘Pretty cool’ doesn’t cut it,” Caleb shot back. “Sure. There’s a chance he could tell em, and it’ll all be fine because they just love him that much. But there’s a way bigger chance that they’ll either kick him out, or call the guys from the government with the padded vans.”
Tasha snorted at that, and glanced at James. Now the kid just looked scared.
“Dude,” she replied. “That’s not how that works. The government doesn’t even get involved unless you’re dangerous.”
“He is dangerous!” Caleb shouted back. “He’s a fucking wind mage!”
At that, Tasha only growled, her frustration pushing back once more against her limited self-control.
“And that’s not big enough to get you taken in!” she retorted. “Trust me! I live with a dude who does this shit! The worst that happens is you get your name put on a list, and they pay someone to help you deal with your powers!”
“And how do we know that guy’s not a liar, huh?” he spat. “Some huge hypocrite who puts kids away in cells!”
“And how do I know you’re not just full of shit?” she shot back.
“Quiet!” James shouted, cutting the pair of them off. He was seated now, his arms wrapped around his knees. “Please. Quiet.”
“… Sorry.” Tasha muttered. Caleb said nothing.
“… I know it’s risky,” James mumbled. “A-and I know things could go wrong; but I hate lying to them, and now that things have calmed down, I’m kinda running out of reasons why I should.” He sniffed. “I came to you for advice, so would you please stop fighting?”
Tasha hesitated at that, then glanced at Caleb. He was still scowling down at the floor. She forced herself to take a breath.
“Why didn’t you go to Casper with this?”
“He doesn’t wanna talk about it,” James muttered. “I tried talking to him a few weeks back, about all the stuff that happened after he ran away. He just asked me to wait. Said he needed time. I tried again last week, but he just shut me down again. I think he kinda wants to forget about it all.”
Tasha chuckled humorlessly at that.
“Makes sense. Magic’s BS, anyways.”
“”Well I say don’t do it,” said Caleb quietly. “You don’t wanna see that look when your family stops loving you.”
James shifted his eyes to the ground, seeming almost ashamed.
Tasha considered her answer for a long few minutes. Family. What was family like, again? It was getting harder to remember every year. She groaned. It was hard enough to judge things when she had experience to go on. It was harder, giving advice in the dark like this. Then a thought occurred.
“… Fuck it.” Both James and Caleb glanced over at her as she pushed herself upright and trudged over to her bag.
“… What are you doing?” James asked, one eyebrow slightly raised.
“Getting advice from someone way better at this shit than me,” she replied as she pulled out her phone. Neither of the others spoke as she pulled up the contact and brought the phone to her ear; James simply gazing at her as Caleb continued to glower. Neither tried to stop her, though.
The phone rang into the quiet for a second or two, before the old man finally picked up on the other end of the line.
“Tasha,” he murmured. “Something wrong?”
“Hey,” she replied. “Nah. Nothing bad. I’ve got a friend here who kinda needs advice. I thought I’d hook him up with you since I kinda owe him a favor.”
On his end of the line, Hideyoshi grunted.
“Huh. How big of a favor, and what kind of advice?”
“He’s the kid who saved my ass with the Family before,” Tasha shrugged. “Wants some help on whether telling his folks about his powers will work out okay or not.”
“The kid who saved you, huh?” Hideyoshi murmured. “Interesting. How old and what kind of powers?”
Tasha glanced at James, still staring at her, and gave another shrug.
“Twelve, I think. Maybe eleven? He’s kinda small.” James scowled at her. She stuck out her tongue. “As for powers. You got flight, some wind magic, and some kinda third bullshit I can’t really describe. He’s pretty strong.”
For a few seconds, Hideyoshi didn’t answer. Tasha checked to make sure the call was still connected, before he finally responded.
“… Flight. Was this kid near Central Park around the time you fought the elf?”
Tasha raised an eyebrow at that, surprised.
“Uh, yeah,” she muttered. “Only reason I was fighting the dude was cuz he kept trying to shoot him out of the sky. How’d you know about that?”
James cocked his head to the side at that, his expression turning nervous.
“Oh, just a minor assignment that slipped my way. Supposed to track down a flying kid and tell him to keep his head down. Got himself noticed with all that lightning about.”
“Ah.” Tasha winced.
“Yeah. It’s nothing big. Can you hand me over to him? It sounds like we need a word.”
James watched, confused, as Tasha let the phone drop from her ear and stepped towards him.
“Well,” she grinned. “Good news is, I got you some advice. Bad news, you might wanna stop flying in public.” She finished making her way across to him, and held out the phone. “He wants to talk to you.”
James hesitated at that, uncertain. This felt dangerous, somehow, but for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why. He trusted Tasha, didn’t he? He shook himself, then, tremulously, he took the phone.
“Hello?” he asked, his voice small, even a touch squeaky.
“Ah,” replied a male voice on the other end of the line. “There you are. Right. Young man, my name is Hideyoshi Toranaga. I’m a contractor currently working with the Department of Metaphysical Affairs. I heard you wanted some help dealing with your family?”
For the longest time. James didn’t move. His thoughts, previously caught in a swirling mess inside his head, had suddenly been jammed.
“… Hello?” His grandfather spoke again, a note of irritation playing in his tone. “Kid, you still there? I’m waiting.”
Without really thinking, James hung up the phone, before letting it fall to his lap, and staring at the screen.