Mistakes: 1.6

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Tasha:

Tasha gazed at the squarish, slightly run down apartment block before her, then glanced down at the address on her phone screen. Well, it was the right place alright. It always amazed her how completely unassuming places where bad things happened looked. She shrugged, squared her shoulders, and stepped inside.

Tasha glanced down to check the address on her phone screen. Well, it was certainly the right place. She looked around, casting her eyes once more over the richly decorated interior of the foyer. She, like most people, had built up a set of expectations in her life about what places where crimes happened were supposed to look like, sex crimes in particular. Whatever that expectation was for Tasha, this was not it. A rich, velveteen carpet covered the floors in a deep, nut brown, lined by walls of a gentle cream color. The whole place put Tasha more in mind of high-end business space or some fancy hotel than homes.

The foyer branched off into two corridors, the right one terminating in a staircase, the left continuing around to the presumable end of the building, before making a right turn, beyond which she couldn’t see.

‘Second floor, fourth window,’ she reminded herself with a shrug, making for the stairs, before something caught at the corner of her eye. She turned to glance back. It was a plaque on one of the doors that lined the halls, the lettering picked out in solid black against smooth, reflective bronze.

‘Junior classroom one.’

There were a few occasional snatches of sound from the other side of the door. Curious, Tasha pressed her ear against the surface.

“-kay, kids,” a woman’s voice spoke, loud and clear, even through the thick door frame. “So, if you find the area of a rectangle by multiplying the width and the length, then can anyone tell me how you find the area of a trian- hey, Drew, pay attention please. If you get last place in the test again and have to spend another week helping make the dinner, the other kids might die from how gross your food is.” There was a snatch of what sounded like children’s laughter, presumably at Drew’s expense.

Tasha pulled her ear away, frowning. Was this place some kind of school? She shook herself, and returned her attention to the stairway. She made her way over, grasped the old wooden bannister in her hand, and made her way up the stairs, attempting, for what it was worth, to distribute her weight somewhat to quiet her movements; an attempt that failed spectacularly with every creak of the old, semi rotted staircase.

The second floor was decorated much like the first, the hallways lined with doors and plaques. It was, however, far more densely populated than the one below. The room beyond the stairway opened out briefly into a fairly spacious communal room of sorts, littered with comfortable looking arm chairs and tables bearing vases of somewhat droopy looking flowers. Scattered throughout the room were around fifteen people. A few boys, perhaps a little older than Tasha, were playing a card game between themselves of a sort that she did not recognize. Tasha imagined by the look of frustration on the right hand boy’s face, that the one on the left was probably winning. A trio of twenty-somethings stood by a window, chatting amiably as they took turns puffing cigarette smoke out into the street. There were others, ranging from their early teens to what Tasha would have assumed to be their mid thirties. Stepping out of the landing that housed the stairs up to the third floor, Tasha noticed how the quiet conversation all around seemed to hush slightly. One or two sets of eyes turned towards her briefly, before returning to their prior activities.

Tasha pretended not to notice, held her head straight forwards, and took another step, continuing through into the hallway. She felt their eyes following her until the right turn mercifully removed her from their view.

Casper had said the sense was coming from the fourth window on the second floor. Tasha left the quiet inhabitants of the room behind and moved through the corridor, turning to the right and continuing to the door which, to her best estimate, corresponded with the window Casper had specified. She tried the door, and found it locked.

“Excuse me, miss,” said a soft, male voice from behind her. “You seem lost. Can I help you with something?” Had it been her first time investigating a place, it may have been enough to make her jump. As it was, however, she was more experienced than that, and so turned to face the speaker quite calmly. It was one of the twenty somethings that had been smoking by the window. He wore a polite smile, accentuated by a gentle looking face framed nicely by a shock of hazelnut brown hair. He was not alone. Behind him stood the rest of the people from the waiting room, each eyeing her coolly. In spite of herself, Tasha found it slightly unnerving. She hadn’t even heard them approach.

“Nah,” she answered with a shrug and a small smile. “Not lost, just new. I just moved in here last week, nice to meet you.” She held out a hand, which the young man shook.

“You don’t live here,” he replied, that gentle smile still affixed to his face. “You sure you’re not lost?” When Tasha tried to withdraw her hand, he refused to let go, gripping perhaps twice as hard as he reasonably should have been. A threat? Tasha grinned. She liked it when people tried to threaten her.

“Yeah, I’m sure.” She replied, giving the man’s hand a firm squeeze. “Thanks, though.” He winced for a moment, letting in a sharp puff of breath, before once more shifting back to that strange serenity. Tasha cocked her head, confused, then began to gradually tighten her grip. The man ignored it.

“Too ugly to be one of ours,” said one of the boys who had been playing cards from behind the man. “Too old to be a new sist-” He was silenced by one of the others, a woman in her early twenties, placing a hand on his shoulder. Tasha might have been offended by the comment, but she had to admit, now that she had a chance to look, everyone around her was, indeed, quite startlingly attractive.

“One more time,” the kindly voiced man smiled, still utterly ignoring the no doubt excruciating pain emanating up from his hand. “What are you really doing here, because this definitely is not your home.”

Tasha had no response. These people unnerved her. She gripped the man’s hand tighter still, more just because it felt good to be doing something than because she thought it might achieve anything. There was a sharp snap as one of the bones in his palm gave out under the pressure, his hand contorting slightly under hers. Almost as one, the young man and his companions turned their eyes down towards his broken hand, then back towards her.

“I think you should go now, miss,” he said, no longer smiling. “You really shouldn’t be here.”

Tasha may have argued the point, secure in the knowledge that these people posed little real threat to her, but was stopped when one of the older men behind the group’s apparent speaker shifted his weight, and she caught a glimpse of the gun handle under his jacket.

“… Fine,” she muttered angrily, glaring at the group at large. “I’m gone. Later.” She released the man’s broken hand, turned back in the direction of the staircase, and began walking, the group parting around her as she went.

Tasha kept her head pointed straight ahead as she made her way back the way she came, letting herself glance back only once. They were all still watching her, standing as a group at the corner-point of the corridor. She waited until she hit the staircase and was out of their sight before she allowed herself to start running.


Marcus:

The group watched the strange girl take her leave, maintaining their facade by mutual agreement until she was well out of sight, before, as one, moving into a blur of action.

“Who the heck was that?” Asked Alistair, his young face twisting in confusion, still gazing after the departed intruder.

“No one good,” murmured Samson, reaching down to gently swat the boy’s face. “And what are the rules about speaking in front of intruders? You let the adults handle it, don’t you.”

Alistair shifted his gaze to the floor, his cheeks flushing red with embarrassment.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “I forgot.”

Samson opened his mouth to deliver a final reprimand, but Marcus beat him to it.

“It’s alright, Alistair,” he murmured, ruffling the youth’s hair affectionately with his undamaged left hand. “Just be thankful you had your big sister here to stop you saying anything stupid, okay?”

Alistair inclined his head towards Isabella and mumbled a few incomprehensible words of thanks before shuffling off in the direction of his room.

With the misbehavior suitably reprimanded, Marcus made his way back across the corridor, his brothers and sisters following close behind him, and rapped his undamaged hand a few times against the door that the stranger had attempted to open.

“Elise?” He called. “You catch any of that?”

There was a brief fumbling noise at the other side of the door, before it swung inwards to reveal Elise, her brow furrowed in concern, the skin pulling into wrinkles that cast unfortunate shadows on her otherwise pleasant, slightly browned skin.

“Yeah,” the girl muttered. “W-who was that? Why was she trying to get into my room?”

“I was kinda hoping you could tell us, sis,” Marcus murmured, attempting to make his voice as soothing as possible. “Have you run into anyone or said anything that might make people want to snoop around here? I promise I won’t be mad, kay?”

The adolescent shook her head shakily, her face still twisted in that unsightly worry.

“You’re sure?” He asked. “Never said something in front of your regulars, no one heard you talking to someone on the street, nothing?”

“I-I haven’t said anything to anyone about anything,” she mumbled. “P-promise.”

Marcus sighed. That was a shame. If it wasn’t anything to do with Elise, then that meant he didn’t have any leads to go on, but it couldn’t be helped, he knew his sister wouldn’t lie to him.

“I see,” he said quietly, crouching slightly and pulling the girl into a brief hug. “It’s gonna be perfectly fine, Elise. She probably just chose your room at random cuz she needed to pretend she had a reason to be here.” The girl nodded, but did not seem overly reassured. Marcus sighed. “Isabella, can you stay with Elise for a bit? I think she could use some company right now.” His sister nodded once, before stepping forwards, taking the girl gently by the shoulder, and guiding her back inside her room.

“Right, you lot,” Samson rumbled, his voice still drawing his younger siblings’ attention despite his age. “You guys go back to doing your own thing. Remember, just because we had an intruder doesn’t mean you might not still have customers to take. I need to patch up Marcus’ hand before the pain comes back.”

The others gave their assent, nodding and murmuring amongst themselves about the strangeness that had just occurred as they made their way back to the showroom, leaving Marcus and Samson alone in the empty corridor. The two were still for a moment, before the older man grasped Marcus by the shoulders, and began steering him gently but firmly towards the infirmary.

They were about halfway along the corridor, before Samson broke the uncomfortable silence.

“You really shouldn’t have used the painkiller, you know.” The older man commented, his voice low in case someone else should hear. “You’re supposed to use it for emergencies only, not to intimidate teenagers. It draws attention.”

“I know,” Marcus grumbled. “I messed up, okay? She was crushing my hand and it hurt and I was trying really hard to keep my cool. I did it without thinking. Sorry.”

“It happens,” Samson murmured, not unkindly, giving his young leader a small nod in acknowledgement of his contrition. “But you’re the leader now. You need to learn to think a little more before you use Father’s gifts, okay?”

“Yeah, I know.”

The pair were silent once more until they reached the infirmary. Samson sat Marcus down on the thin medical bed, and set about resetting the split bone before the pain had a chance to kick back in. Marcus was becoming slowly aware of the dull ache building gradually in his hand. He sighed. This was going to hurt a lot.

“You were too gentle with Alistair,” Samson muttered as he set about bandaging the wounded extremity. “If you don’t hammer the point home, he’ll never learn not to make such simple mistakes.”

Marcus groaned, resisting the urge to roll his eyes until Samson looked away.

“I’m not you, okay?” He replied, forcing his voice to sound even. “I know that you liked to reinforce every lesson you taught, but you’re not the leader any more, Samson, I am, and I don’t want to lead that way.”

The older man grunted, eyes still focused on his task.

“You sure that’s all it is?” He asked. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were a little soft on our little brother. I know you prefer them young and pretty, and I know how often you’ve been sharing his bed lately. You sure you’re not getting a little too involved?” Underneath the usual gruffness, Marcus could have sworn he heard a note of hurt in the older man’s voice.

“Now now,” he replied, working to keep the note of amusement out of his tone. “Don’t be jealous, Samson, it’s not like that. You know as well as I do that Alistair still finds his male customers a little… painful. He asked me to help him work on that, okay? I promise, I haven’t forgotten you, oh glorious leader.” He allowed a touch of humor into the last few words to soften his teasing.

“Little brat,” Samson grumbled, a mild blush coloring his cheeks. “That’s not what this is about and you know it.”

“You sure?” Marcus grinned, raising his uninjured arm and grasping one of his companion’s hands. “We can always ask one of the girls to help you out. I could probably even manage a little quickie right now if you’re feeling neglected, oh mighty Samson.” He lowered his face, resting his forehead lightly against the other man’s stomach.

“No thanks,” Samson murmured, pushing him gently upright. “I don’t want your teeth anywhere near me when that painkiller wears off.”

Marcus grimaced. The ache in his hand was indeed getting worse and worse by the second.

“How bad’s it gonna get?”

“You’ve never broken anything before, have you?” Samson asked, giving him a contemplative look. Marcus shook his head, and the older man sighed. “It’s going to be pretty bad. Want me to stay with you, little brother?”

Marcus was about to shake his head, when the first wave of genuine pain hit him. He grit his teeth against it, letting out a little groan as his hand began to pulse with what felt like fire. Wordlessly, Samson sat down beside him on the bed, one large hand moving to stroke the younger man’s back.

“D-don’t call me little brother,” he managed weakly. “I’m the leader now, okay? Don’t you forget it.”

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Mistakes: 1.5

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James:

“Soo… You gonna come down or what?” As she spoke, Tasha took a step or two back, before launching herself into the air and neatly vaulting the wire fence once more. She landed in a crouch in the alleyway and rocked back onto her rear, one arm coming to rest on one of her knees as she gazed up at him.

James glanced down at the ground, still dozens of feet below him, and swallowed.

“I uhh… I haven’t figured out how yet. I’m… kinda stuck.”

“Oh, new power?” Tasha asked with a grin. “I gotcha. Want me to get you down?”

James hesitated, then shook his head with a sigh.

“No thanks. I need to learn this for myself.”

The girl nodded, shrugged, and pulled out her phone, her fingers beginning to tap rapidly at the screen.

“If you say so,” she murmured. “You have fun with that.”

Getting back down to earth was not a particularly challenging endeavor for James now that he seemed to have mastered the power’s “On switch,” and over the next two minutes or so, he was able to slowly float himself back down to the ground, landing with a soft thud on the hard concrete. Tasha looked up briefly at the noise as his shoes made contact.

“Oh, cool, you’re down,” she grinned. “About time, our third guy’s nearly here.”

“Third guy?”

Tasha nodded, her eyes lighting up excitably.

“Yeah! There’s someone else I know who has powers too, and he’s coming to say hi! So anyway, what’s your name?”

James hesitated for a moment, not entirely sure of whether he should trust this strange girl, before eventually giving his response.

“… Ryan. I’m Ryan.”

“Cool!” Tasha replied, almost before he’d finished speaking. “So you can fly, huh? That’s really cool! How fast can you go? Can you carry things? Do you get cold if you go up too high?”

“I… I really haven’t gotten that far yet,” James admitted. “I… kinda only started flying last night. I don’t even know what’s going on.”

“Ooohh,” Tasha nodded. “Well, I guess that explains why you were practicing in some random school alley. I’d have chosen somewhere indoors, you know?”

“Yeah, I know,” James admitted with a small sigh. “But I was kinda worried about hidden cameras. What if someone saw me, you know?”

The girl snorted, prodding him gently in the side with a finger.

“So you’d rather practice out in the open where anyone could walk past? You know some alleyways have cameras too, right?”

James gulped, eyes shifting around rapidly and scanning the walls of the alleyway for anything electronic.

“Don’t worry,” Tasha cut him off. “This alley’s fine. I already checked. Wow, you have no idea about any of this stuff, do you?”

James opened his mouth to respond, only to be cut off by a new voice at the end of the alleyway.

“Tasha, what’s going on? What’s HE doing here?”

The speaker was a boy; at least, that’s what James would have guessed. The boy was around his own height, and dressed in the same black slacks and scratchy polyester blazer that made up the uniform of James’ school. His face, however, was obscured by a thick scarf, wrapped tightly around almost the whole of his head. He had an arm raised, a finger pointing directly at James.

Tasha grinned.

“Hey Cas!” She called with a wave, one arm pulling a protesting James in against her side in a sort of hug. “This is Ryan! He can fly!”

“Uhh, hi,” James raised a hand awkwardly. “Nice to meet you, Cas… Wait a second… Casper?!”

“Tashaaa!” The newcomer moaned, his voice muffled slightly by the scarf, but becoming more recognizeable by the second. “I told you before! Don’t use my name when I’m wearing the scarf! Keeping my identity secret’s the whole point!”

“What’s the point?” Tasha grumbled. “You know my name and face, and Ryan’s. It’s only fair.”

“Casper?” James repeated. “You have powers too? Seriously?”

“Yeah, you say that, Tasha,” the boy grumbled, uncoiling the scarf from around his face to reveal the sandy haired, freckled face of James’ newest friend. “But it really helps when other people aren’t being honest with you. That kid’s name is James. He’s in the year below me.”

Tasha groaned, prodding James in the side with a free finger.

“Hey, that was not cool, kid.”

“Yeah, okay, sorry,” James muttered, rolling his eyes, before a realization struck him. “Hang on a second. Casper was joking the other day that he and this other kid fight crime together.”

“Shut up,” Casper interrupted, raising a hand once again to point at James.

“So I have to ask,” James continued, unabashed. “Do you fight nazis-”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Casper continued, the volume of his voice rising steadily.

“-that live in space?” James finished, shooting a sideways glance at Tasha who, for her part, was giving Casper a sly sort of look.

“You kidding?” She replied with an evil smile. “We are all about fighting space nazis, it’s pretty much all we ever do. What else has he told you? Has he told you about the spandex? Or the giant robot fights? Or that we color code our costumes?”

“This is why I never introduce you to my friends, Tasha!” Casper snapped, his face growing redder and redder by the second.

“Jeez, Casper,” James grinned. “I haven’t even gotten to the cyborg puppies ye-”

“So you can fly, huh?” Casper practically shouted. “That’s really interesting, James. Tell me more!”

“Wait,” Tasha snorted. “Puppy cyborgs? Casper, you are such a little kid sometimes.”

“Not talking about that now!” Casper replied angrily. “New superpowers, remember?”

“Not really much to tell,” James replied with a shrug. “I woke up last night sort of hovering above my bed, decided I needed to figure out how to use it so I wouldn’t just start flying by accident at school, and here I am.”

“Wow,” Tasha murmured. “You weren’t kidding. You’re super new at this.”

Casper, for his part, looked thoughtful.

“Well, that does kinda explain a few things.” He said quietly. “No wonder you’ve felt so weird lately.”

“Casper,” Tasha interjected, her voice suddenly harsh. “Don’t ask. If he wants to tell us, he will, okay?”

“Hey!” Casper replied angrily. “I wasn’t gonna ask! That’d be super rude!”

James gazed between the two, utterly confused.

“Uhh, what are you guys talking about?” He asked.

The others were silent for a few moments, glancing between one another awkwardly, before Tasha spoke with a small sigh, lifting her arm off of his shoulder and taking a step away.

“Look, James, as far as we can tell, it looks like powers get activated when something really bad happens to you. I know something really bad was happening when I got my super strength, and from what Casper’s said, what was going on with him was super shitty. So I’m guessing something bad happened to you recently, too.”

James felt something heavy drop into his stomach. He swallowed, his throat feeling as if there was something caught in it, and nodded, staring intently at the floor.

Casper, looking more than a little uncomfortable, raised a hand in some gesture of placation.

“James, it’s okay. We get it, trust me. No one’s gonna ask, and you don’t have to tell unless you want to, okay?”

James nodded, just a little relieved.

“Thanks,” he murmured. “I… I’d rather keep it to myself, you know?”

“Yeah,” Casper replied emphatically. “We do, trust me.” There was silence between the three for a time, before Casper seemed to decide to push forwards. “So, you can fly? That’s neat. How far have you gotten?”

“Well I can get off the ground,” James answered glumly. “And I’m pretty sure I can land, but really, that’s about it right now. I kinda don’t want to test it too much in case I get stuck too high up in the air and can’t get down, or it suddenly stops working for some reason and I fall, you know?.”

“Yeah, no, you’re right,” Tasha agreed, moving to lean casually against a wall. “That used to happen to me when I first got my powers. I’d get really tired, and then my arms’d just give out after a while.”

“I got headaches,” Casper supplied. “It’d build up really slowly, just a little at first, then a lot, and then my power would just stop and my head would hurt for a while and I’d be tired, but it was good. I liked that it used to go quiet.”

“That stops, though,” Tasha continued. “After a while, your powers start to last longer and longer. I can only make mine stop working if I really go all out now.”

“Well, that’s all fine for you guys,” James said quietly, mulling it all over. “But for me, if my powers stop, I’ll be in mid air when it happens.”

“My advice?” Tasha suggested, shoving her hands in her pockets. “Stay close to the ground at first. Try and spend as long as you can maybe an inch or two in the air and see how long you last.”

“I’d guess around twenty minutes at first,” Casper supplied. “Your stamina kind of builds up pretty quickly, though.”

James didn’t respond. He was busy taking everything in. Experimentally, he tried to fly again, the process somewhat smoother now that he knew what he was doing. He allowed himself to drift upwards a few inches, then slowly began to lower himself back down. It took a few tries, but eventually, he found an equilibrium, hovering perhaps half an inch off the ground. If he let his feet hang, it was barely even noticeable. The others watched with interest for the first minute or so, then seemed to get bored.

“So,” Tasha spoke up, her tone businesslike. “You said you found something, right, Cas? What is it?”

Immediately, Casper’s face fell.

“Right,” he muttered worriedly. “I almost forgot. Stupid, sorry. I… I think… ugh, the thing is, I don’t know exactly what I found. It… I’m pretty sure it was sex, but it felt kinda… one sided.”

Tasha raised an eyebrow.

“What, you mean like someone touching themselves? You know that’s not a bad thing, right, Casper?”

“No,” Casper groaned. “Like, there were definitely two of them, but one of them… one of them didn’t seem into it at all.”

Tasha snorted.

“Again, Cas, being lame at sex isn’t a crime.”

“Uhh,” James interjected, a little confused. “What are you guys talking about?”

“Casper has emotion sensing powers,” Tasha explained with a shrug. “He finds bad people for me to rob. I kinda live alone, so I need the money.”

“That’s…” James trailed off, before eventually just shaking his head. “…I don’t even know how to feel about that.”

“Look, it’s better than letting her go after just anyone, okay?” Casper replied, his tone defensive. “Anyway, no, it’s not just that this guy was lame. The person he was with felt… young. Like, younger than me, I think. And… and they were just bored, you know? Not scared or anything, just really, really bored.”

James stared at the other boy, a sick feeling welling up in his gut.

“Well that can’t be right,” Tasha murmured, sounding confused. “Are you sure it was a kid?”

“As sure as I can be,” Casper muttered, shifting his eyes to the floor. “But the fact that they were just bored makes me think this was an ongoing thing and James, if you’re going to be that upset by all this, can you stand a little further away? I’m trying really hard not to feel it, but you’re kind of loud.”

James felt his eyes go wide. Of course Casper could feel his emotions. Instinctively, he pulled back, trying to step away, and finding his body scooting backwards through the air, stopping only when his back made contact with the wire fence at the end.

“C-can you still feel me?” He asked, his heart thumping uncomfortably hard against his rib-cage.

“No, you’re fine,” Casper said quietly. “…Sorry. I wouldn’t have said anything, but… it kinda felt like I was prying on something private.”

“Y-yeah,” James answered, feeling himself begin to calm a little. “T-thanks for telling me.”

“… Anyway,” Tasha broke the momentary uncomfortable silence. “You found a kid who you think is being used for sex often enough to just be bored by it… Anything else to go on?”

“Not really,” Casper shrugged. “I only found it this morning, and I… didn’t want to get too close. Can you… I dunno, take a look?”

“Yeah,” Tasha nodded. “Probably better if you stay away from it until we know more. Can you text me the address?”

“Sure,” he answered. “I’ll take James home, kay?”

“Yup,” Tasha replied, pushing off of the wall and making her way out of the alleyway with a wave. “You guys probably have some stuff to talk about. I’ll leave you to it.”

With that, the two boys were left alone, staring at one another across the length of the empty alleyway. For the longest time, neither spoke.

“So…” Casper started. “Umm… are we still friends?”

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Mistakes: 1.4

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James:

“James, Bex.” Sarah’s voice called from the kitchen. “Breakfast’s up in five. Finish getting ready!”

“Kay!” James shouted back, his head turning momentarily towards his bedroom door, before returning his attention to the mirrored door of his closet. He watched himself closely, holding onto the handle as firmly as he could. “Okay,” he mumbled under his breath. “Now then. Fly. Go on.” He tried to will himself upwards off the ground. Nothing. He groaned, then tried again, thinking of air and floating things and just about anything he thought might help. In spite of this, his feet remained very firmly planted to the ground.

“James,” Sarah called once more. “Grub’s up! C’mon, we’re gonna be late!”

James sighed, returning his attention to the door.

“Coming!” He shouted back, letting go of the dresser handle and taking a step towards his door. He let out a little yelp of surprise as his foot came down on nothing but air. He tipped forwards, a feeling disorientingly similar to falling, and threw out his arms to stabilize himself. He wobbled slightly for a few moments, before righting himself. “O-okay,” he muttered. “So that wasn’t a dream. I really am flying right now. Good to know.” He reached behind himself, grasping for the handle of his cabinet and using it to push himself back down onto the ground. “Now I just need to figure out how to land.”

“James!” Came Sarah’s voice again. “Last warning! Come eat your breakfast or I’m coming in there to drag you out here myself!”

“Right, sorry,” James replied with a small sigh, making his way through the door towards the kitchen. “Be right there.”


Casper:

Casper made his way to the school by a roundabout route that morning, the same as he had done the morning before and all the mornings of the last school week, taking a different route each time. He figured he may as well use his morning commute to try and find bad people for Tasha. It wasn’t a task he relished in any particular fashion, searching specifically for pockets of negative emotion. Quite the opposite, in fact. But he had made a promise, and Tasha didn’t really like to be kept waiting.

Casper extended his power out with a groan, feeling his personal bubble of awareness expand to it’s maximum range. Immediately, he felt minds colliding with his psyche by the dozen, from the thankfully neutral emotions of most early morning commuters, to the many spots of varied color littered all throughout the nearby buildings. He had been prepared for it, had known it was coming, and still the wave of input threatened to overwhelm him. He held on tight, letting the storm front of it break over him. He let out a small sigh of relief as it began to subside, his mind acclimating slowly to the influx. With a concentrated effort, he slowly began trying to filter out the neutral emotions from the crowd, letting them fade to white noise in his mind. It helped, in a way, having a backdrop of calm, almost bored people all around; it gave him something to anchor himself to. That done, Casper resumed his journey towards the school, his attention focused on the buildings that littered his side of the street. Cafe’s, alleyways, and apartment buildings.

The method wasn’t perfect. Even at his maximum range, Casper couldn’t fit whole multi-story buildings within his perception, but it functioned well enough for the first three stories or so. This was simply the fastest way of searching he’d come up with thus far.

The first three blocks or so were largely uneventful, littered with the occasional spot of misery or fear, but nothing of the sort that he thought might indicate a crime. The lack of activity wasn’t too much of a surprise to him. It usually took him days of searching like this to find a lead. He began to hum slightly to himself as he walked, trying to stave off the ever present boredom of the morning commuters in some small way, not that it really helped at all.

It was after about twenty minutes of this, that something finally caught Casper’s attention. A mind, male, if he’d had to guess by the color of it, although guessing like that wasn’t exactly perfect. He’d thought Tasha was a boy the first time he felt her mind. The feelings Casper got from this man were an odd mix. Pleasure, power, that strange, icky sort of warmth that adults seemed to feel when they liked someone. All of it seemed to be tinged by something else that Casper couldn’t quite define. He glanced up at the source, a second story window on a nearby apartment complex. The window was closed, the curtains drawn. He’d felt that sort of feeling before, once or twice, and the reason for it was relatively easy for him to discern. What caught his attention, however, was the other mind in the space, located perhaps half a foot beneath the first, and presumably the object of their attentions.

Casper almost dismissed it at first, pushing it into the back of his mind along with the commuters. It seemed just as bored as they were. He spared a small chuckle at the first mind’s apparent inability to satisfy, and was about to move on, when a small facet of the second mind caught his attention. Immediately, he pulled his power back from the room, feeling a little sick, and glanced around, searching for the address of the building. He looked back towards the window, noting the spacing of it for future reference. He dug his phone out of his pocket and began typing in a text.

‘Tasha, come see me after school, okay? I’ve found one. It’s urgent.’

The response came within a minute.

‘Good job, Cas! I knew you could do it!’

Casper looked at the phone screen blankly for a few moments, not sure how to take that, then he shook himself. He pocketed his phone and began pulling his power back towards himself as best he could. He spared the window one last glance before he set off, feeling himself shudder ever so slightly in disgust.

He set off towards school at a jog, not wanting to be late.


James:

James struggled to keep his mind on classes that day. He found his thoughts floating back every few moments to the idea of flight, at once both incredibly scary and the coolest thing he’d ever experienced.

One small thing niggled at him, and it was something he found hard to dismiss. He’d never heard of anyone with powers before, flight or otherwise. It seemed ridiculous to think he might be the only one; an almost laughable idea, in fact. But if he wasn’t the first, then why hadn’t he ever heard of anyone else who could do things? Where were they all? What had happened to them? Over the day, James looked at the problem from every angle he could think of and every time, he came to the same conclusion. He needed to keep this a secret.

The biggest problem with that, of course, was control. James was acutely aware that he had yet to activate this strange new power willingly, and that meant he could possibly just start floating up into the air without a moment’s notice, which wasn’t the sort of thing he expected to keep secret. He needed to practice, and to do it in a place where neither his parents, nor anyone else, for that matter, would be likely to see. That, unfortunately, ruled out his house. His father had never really mastered the delicate art of knocking before entering his children’s rooms. James sighed. He supposed he’d just have to find a place, then.

At lunch, he went to his locker and retrieved his phone, sending his parents a quick message.

‘I got invited to go see a movie with friends after school. Can I take a bus home?’

He lay the phone down and set about retrieving his lunch while he waited for the reply. It didn’t take his mother long.

‘Of course, sweetie. You have fun and make sure to get home safe.’

James read the message with a small sigh, wondering how hard it had been for his mother to send it, then pushed the idea out of his mind. There was nothing he could do to fix that particular problem at the moment anyway.

He placed his phone back in his bag and went off to eat his lunch, deciding to track down Casper again and make sure he had something to eat today. He found him without too much issue, but the other boy seemed just as preoccupied as he felt, staring up at the clouds, unblinking. They sat together in silence, content for the moment not to pry, and picked at the contents of James’ lunchbox. Casper had apparently forgotten his again.

Later, after school had ended, James set off. He had a few locations in mind, a few that might make good practice spots. The closest he could think of, however, was a small alleyway on the back end of the school campus. Some architectural misstep in the surrounding cityscape had led to the buildings around it being packed just a little too closely together, making it harder to fit roads in between them. Fortunately, that meant that this particular alleyway was distanced somewhat from the bustle of the main city streets.

James approached the edge of the alleyway quietly, grasping onto the links of the thick, interlocking wire fence that separated the school from the outside world, and climbing them with relative ease. He plopped himself unceremoniously down on the hard concrete floor of the alleyway, and set to work, digging in his bag for the thick, winter jumper that his mother made him keep in there constantly. He wrapped one sleeve around his waist and made a simple knot, before looping the other sleeve through the wire links of the fence. He gave it a few tugs, satisfying himself that he was well and truly tethered to the ground, before setting to work attempting to fly.

It was slow work, and James was at it for a solid ten minutes before anything interesting happened. After a few dozen failed attempts, he tried to remember what he’d done that morning, thinking of how he’d tried to walk, then found himself hoisted into the air. He folded his arms for a moment, it wasn’t much to go on. Well, he decided with a shrug, he might as well give it a go. Closing his eyes, James began trying to replicate the feel of the morning’s event, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in simulation of walking. The effect was immediate, James felt a momentary hard jolt against his midsection, a great tightness around his waist, then there was a tearing sound, and the pressure lessened slightly. He opened his eyes, only a little surprised to find himself in the air. What was more shocking, however, was how high up he was. He hung, suspended, perhaps twenty feet up in the air. It looked like the jumper hadn’t been sturdy enough to tether him down. Belatedly, he realized that the pressure against his midsection was his jumper sleeve, the knot pulled tight around him by the force of his separation from the ground. He began trying to loosen it, cursing a little under his breath. How was he going to explain the damaged clothing to his mother?

“H-hey,” came a voice from below, stopping James in his tracks. “A-are you… flying?” He spun in the air, turning to face the source of the sound, before realizing how exposed his face was, and slapping his hands up to cover it with a yelp. The speaker was a girl, a few years older than him, by the looks of it, every inch of exposed skin covered by a mottled pattern of bruises and sunburn.

“N-no!” He squeaked between his fingers. “I-I’m practicing a magic trick!”

The girl, surprisingly, laughed.

“Nah, that’s bull,” she chuckled. “You’re totally flying. That’s cool though, I promise I won’t tell.”

“B-but I’m not flying!” James protested. “R-really! I-It’s f-for a play!”

The girl laughed a little harder at that.

“Kid,” she chortled. “Did anyone ever tell you you’re a terrible liar? It’s okay, though, you don’t need to worry. I’m special too, you know.”

This proclamation caught James off guard. He hadn’t been sure what to expect, but it hadn’t been that.

“S-special?” He asked. “H-how?”

The girl shrugged, squaring her shoulders, before crouching down momentarily and launching herself across the alleyway towards the fence in a standing leap. A leap that carried her at least thirty feet. The girl had probably been aiming to land on top of the fence in a crouch, but her foot caught on the top of it, and she tripped, toppling off the fence with a squeal and landing with a thud in the grass on the other side. James stared at the girl, wide eyed as she stood up, blushing a furious red with embarrassment, and dusted herself off.

“My name’s Tasha,” she muttered, somewhat deflated. “I have super strength, and if you ever tell anyone what just happened, I’ll thump you.”

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Mistakes: 1.3

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Author’s note: So I won’t normally be doing this, but here I think it’s important. This chapter contains a scene you may find very hard to read. I know that I found it hard to write. If you have read this far, then you already know that this story deals with child abuse and molestation. This chapter explores that further and while it is not, to my mind, tasteless or crass, some of you may find reading it a difficult experience.

James:

James exited the school building with a yawn. It had been a tiring day. A good day, to be sure, but a tiring one. He glanced sidelong at Casper walking alongside him. The other boy had come to find him the moment classes ended, picking up their conversation where they’d left off at lunch without missing a beat.

“So, how’re you getting home?” He asked, gesturing to the parking lot. “My parents usually come to pick me up, you?”

“Meh,” Casper shrugged. “I walk home. It’s not too far to my place, and there’s some stuff I like to do on the way home.”

“Oh yeah?” James replied, curious. “What sort of stuff?”

“Fighting crime,” Casper replied, totally straight faced. “Me and this other kid I know. We find evildoers and beat them up and stuff.”

James snorted, shaking his head slightly. He was rapidly coming to the conclusion that his new friend might actually be a massive dork.

“Like superheroes?” He asked. “That sounds fun. Do you have an evil league you get to fight? Or maybe one super smart rich guy with way too much free time.”

“Space Nazis,” the freckly boy replied immediately. “They’re like regular Nazis, but they live in spaaaace!” He raised his hands to shoulder level, wiggling his fingers for dramatic emphasis.

“Does living in space make them extra evil?”

“Absolutely,” came the reply. “These ones steal puppies!”

James let out an exaggerated gasp, raising a hand to his mouth in feigned shock.

“Oh no! That’s SUPER evil!”

“That’s not all, though,” Casper continued, his grin growing wider. “Every puppy they steal gets experimented on and added to their secret legion of puppy cyborgs. They’re gonna use them to take over the earth!”

James let out a high pitched little giggle at the sudden, vivid mental image.

“Okay, stop it!” He said, giving the other boy a gentle shove. “I gotta go, my parents are waiting.” He pointed a finger to the parking lot where, sure enough, his mother’s car sat waiting for him. “This was fun, though. See you tomorrow, Casper!”

“Yeah,” came the shouted reply from behind him as he set off towards the car at a jog. “See you tomorrow, James!” He waved behind himself in Casper’s general direction, before reaching the car door and yanking it open with a sharp tug.

“Hi Mom,” He greeted as he climbed inside the car, catching sight of each of his family in turn. “Hi Dad. Hey Bex! I had the best day today!”

The response this proclamation received was not as expected. Sarah gazed at him, eyes transfixed for a few moments, before reaching out and yanking the boy forwards into a tight hug.

“That’s good to hear,” she murmured, her words masked by a slight sniffle. “I was so worried.”

Peter, for his part, gave his son a few brief pats on the head, smiling down at him.

“That’s my boy.” He said quietly.

“Uhh,” Rebecca muttered from her seat, glancing around. “Mom? Dad? Why are you being weird?”

James felt a slight twinge, a momentary regret for making his mother sad. He pushed it aside, prying himself free of his mother’s grip.

“It was really cool!” He continued proudly, determined to reassure his mother that everything was fine. “I got to talk to all my friends and handed in all my homework and then I made friends with another boy called Casper who talks about space Nazis!”

Peter chuckled slightly at his son’s words. Sarah, for her part, nodded along, rubbing at her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket as she listened.

“What’s a space Nazi?” Rebecca asked, prodding her brother in the side.

“It’s like a regular Nazi,” James replied, turning to his sister with a grin. “But it’s a Nazi that lives in space! They have evil puppy robots!”

Rebecca gazed at her brother for a few moments, before crossing her arms and scowling at him.

“I don’t get it,” she muttered. “Your friends are weird.”

James prodded his sister in the side and she yelped, giving him a look of utmost betrayal. He stuck out his tongue at her and she replied in kind.

“Now now,” Sarah chided with a wet little chuckle. “Be nice, kids.”

“So,” Peter asked, his tone casual. “You gonna come back to school again tomorrow?”

James stopped for a moment, glancing first at his father, then briefly at his mother.

“Well…” He said, his voice small. “I mean… I wanna. But, if it makes you sad, I-I guess I can stay ho-“

“No!” Sarah cut him off, shaking her head vehemently. “No, if you’re having fun and it’s making you happy, then that’s all I need to hear! I’ll be fine, sweetie, I promise.”

“… You sure?” James asked, gazing up at his mother uncertainly.

“Yeah,” she replied, giving him a brief nod. “I’ll be fine.” Without looking at her, Peter placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder, his fingers tightening to give her a little squeeze.

The three of them gazed between each other for a few moments, James feeling uncertain whether he should be feeling happy or sad right now. The moment broke when Rebecca, apparently deciding she was being ignored, chose to capitalize on James’ lack of attention by launching herself across the seat at his unprotected side, roaring a battle cry and poking him fiercely between the ribs with every chance she got. The boy yelped in surprise and the tiniest amount of pain, before making his counterattack, playfully wrestling his sister back into her seat. Peter and Sarah only laughed.

The car was about halfway home, stuck at a set of traffic lights, when James spoke again, deciding to air a topic he had been debating with himself all day.

“Uhh…” He cleared his throat quietly, drawing his parents’ attention in an instant. “I umm… I was… K-kinda hoping… m-maybe I could try sleeping in my own bed again tonight?”

Almost immediately, the light atmosphere within the car dropped, both adults turning to look at him with very different, but equally serious expressions.

“Are you sure?” Peter asked, his voice set in a tense sort of calm. “We can go as slow with this as you need to, you know?” Sarah nodded, her expression set in stone, before returning her eyes to the road.

James hesitated, uncertain, but eventually nodded.

“I… I had a really good day today. F-felt more normal than I have in a long time and… and I think maybe it’s enough… You know?”

“Sure I do,” Peter murmured, his tone low. “Of course you can, James.”

“You know where our room is,” Sarah added quietly, still not turning her eyes from the road. “Come in anytime if you can’t sleep. I don’t care if you wake us up.”

James nodded, relieved.

“Yeah. I will. Thanks Mom. Thanks, Dad.”

Casper:

Casper grunted slightly as he thought back over the events of his day, slowly trudging his way home along the slightly less crowded city streets.

James was a confusing one; that was certain. His emotions seemed just as stable and happy as any other kid for the most part, but Casper couldn’t help but notice the strange flicker of fear the boy felt every time a teacher had passed his desk. Further than that, though, he’d felt James’ parents once again as they picked him up from school, and had received possibly the strangest influx of mixed emotions he had ever felt. Anxiety, relief, a moment of what felt like pride from the father and a stab of guilt from the mother. Casper shook his head. Every new piece of context he got, it just made the puzzle seem harder to figure out, somehow.

“Why didn’t these damn powers come with a manual?” He grumbled, his feet starting to stomp slightly as he trudged his way home in the afternoon sun.

James:

“Shh!” The stranger said urgently, his voice halfway between a whisper and a command. “It’s okay! I’m not gonna hurt you!”

“But you ARE hurting me!” The boy yelled, trying to pull away with all his might. “Let go!” The hands grasping his wrists only tightened their grip as he struggled.

“It’s okay!” The man replied, his voice taking on a tone of false sounding reassurance. “You’ll see. It’ll be fine! Just hold still.”

The boy groaned and fought as a hand grasped him by the back of the head, forcing his face down onto the grimy surface of the bathroom wash station. His nostrils filled with the stinging aromas of industrial hand soaps and grease. Despite every effort, his vision started to blur as water began slowly building around his eyes.

“No, let me go!” He yelled hoarsely, trying to lift his head, only for it to be pushed back down even harder than before. “Please!”

The assailant did not respond, but for a few small grunts of effort as he pulled at something outside of the boy’s field of view.

The next thing James felt was pain. He let out a single, ragged scream.

“Shhh now…” Said the stranger quietly, his voice catching occasionally with exertion. “It’ll… stop hurting… in a minute.”


James awoke in tears, his body rolled tight as he could into a little ball. The boy was so out of it that, for the first few moments, he completely failed to notice how his body hung, suspended, almost three feet above his bed. Instead, he focused inward, trying to bring himself to some semblance of calm.

“Just a dream,” he whispered to himself in the silence, tears still streaming down his face. “Just a dream. Just a dream.”

Only when sufficiently calm did James open his eyes, noting with a small yelp how far away the covers of his bed seemed. He uncurled himself, stretching out and grasping for the tangled sheets below, just an inch or two out of his reach. Panic rising, he began moving, almost swimming, trying to pull himself through the air towards his bed.

“Come on,” he muttered to himself, trying and failing to quell his rising terror. “Just… a little closer. Gotta get… back… down.”

All at once, gravity seemed to reassert itself. James fell back to the bed with a soft thud, landing awkwardly on one shoulder. He bounced, his body going base over apex, before coming to rest on his back. He lay there for a long while, staring up at his ceiling with glassy eyes as he tried and failed to absorb the shock.

“What’s happening to me?” He asked quietly of the empty room.

Peter:

Peter had never been a deep sleeper, even before his parents’ training had instilled vigilance in him. As such, the faint creak of the bedroom door slowly swinging open, its hinges allowed to rust on purpose so as to always alert him to an entry, was enough to rouse him immediately. Peter moved slowly, feigning sleep, reaching an arm under his pillow and finding the grip of his gun. He heard the soft sound of footsteps approaching as the intruder drew nearer and felt his body drawing tense in response, like a coiled spring. Taking a firmer grip on his pistol with his right hand, Peter moved his left to gently prod Sarah awake beside him. She roused with just the tiniest shudder, coming to alertness near instantaneously.

There was a minute shift of weight as the newcomer reached the bed, their breathing heavy and, perplexingly, dropped down onto the mattress. Peter allowed his eyes to open a crack and glanced down at the newcomer in the darkness. Hard to make out. He began to slowly pull his gun free of the pillow, ready to confront whoever this new assailant was.

The stranger made a small sniffling noise, their small form coming into sharper focus as they began to crawl up along the bed sheets. Recognizing the intruder, Peter immediately let his grip on the gun relax, pushing it back deep into its hiding place.

“Hey James,” he murmured, his voice quiet. “You okay, little buddy?”

The boy didn’t respond, shifting up to his father’s side and laying himself down, silent but for the occasional quivering breath. Peter let out a small sigh, reaching out and pulling his son in close, letting James’ head rest against his chest. He felt the child’s hands reach up around him in return, the boy pulling himself in tighter.

“Couldn’t sleep?” He asked, moving his hand to slowly stroke the boy’s pyjama clad back. Again, no response. He felt James’ arms tighten around him, the boy practically clinging on to him. “Okay,” he answered quietly. “It’s okay. Wanna talk about it?”

James shook his head, the movement producing a slight rustling noise as his hair shifted against the bed. Peter gave a small nod, shifting slightly to hold his son more comfortably, one arm dropping back to the mattress as the other draped over James’ shoulders.

“I see,” he murmured, allowing his eyes to close once more. “That’s okay. Go to sleep, buddy. It’s gonna be fine, alright?” Against his chest, he felt James give a small nod, his breathing beginning to settle just a little. “That’s right,” he said gently as the boy began to slowly drift off to sleep. “There we go.” Under the covers, Peter felt his wife’s hand find his own, wrapping around his fingers and giving them a squeeze. He squeezed back, slowly trying to clear his head enough to fall back once more to sleep.

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Mistakes: 1.2

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“Are you sure you want to do this?” Sarah asked quietly, gazing back at her son in the rear view mirror. “We can always wait a few more days, you know.”

Before she’d even finished talking, the boy was shaking his head, arms folding defensively.

“Yeah, I know, mom,” James replied. “But I really wanna get back there. I’m sick and tired of just staying at home all day. I wanna see my friends. Please? You said I could.”

From his spot in the side seat, Peter raised a placating hand.

“No one’s stopping you, James,” he murmured. “We just want to be sure you’re ready.”

“Well I am, ok?” The boy replied with a hint of impatience. “Can I go now? I wanna say hi to Charlie before class starts.”

Sarah sighed, glad at least to see her son acting a little more energetic today.

“Do you have your phone?” She asked, turning in her seat to face him. James nodded.

“Yup. And it’s fully charged.”

“Lunchbox?”

Another nod.

“Schoolbooks?”

“Mom,” James grumbled, shooting an impatient glance out of the window. “I have everything, I promise.”

Sarah chuckled.

“Alright, sweetie,” she murmured, reaching out to pull the boy into a hug. “Have a nice day.”

“I will,” James replied, grinning. He pulled back from the hug after a few moments to open the car door, hopping down onto the pavement with a light thud. “See ya later!”

The door slammed closed behind the boy and the two parents watched, smiling out of the window at their son as he made his way up the steps to the school building.

“Well done,” Peter said gently, still holding the smile fixed in place as James ascended the last of the steps. “Now just hold the smile till he moves out of sight, okay?”

“Yeah,” Sarah replied, her voice tense. “I know. Can’t let him know how hard this is.”

As James reached the top of the steps, he turned, glancing back at his parents and giving them a wave. Peter and Sarah waved back, smiling as best they could. The deception seemed to work, and James turned back away from them, stepping in through the wide double door.

The moment James was out of sight, Sarah lifted her hands to her face, covering her mouth before letting out a muffled noise somewhere between a scream and a primal groan.

Peter placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder, attempting to reassure her as best he could.

“It’s okay,” he said quietly. “He’ll be fine. There’ll be teachers around him the whole day and we’ll be here to pick him and Bex up the moment classes finish. It’s going to be fine.”

Even as he spoke the words, Peter was trying desperately to believe them himself. Even knowing them to be true, it was not easy.

Sarah, head still buried in her hands, nodded slowly.

“I hate this,” she whispered, her voice coming out slightly muffled. “Watching him cry in his sleep. Having to pretend I’m totally fine when it feels like I’m breaking inside. I hate it.”

“I know,” Peter replied, reaching out to wrap an arm around Sarah’s shoulders. “Me too.”

“You know what the worst part is, though?” She continued, leaning in against her husband’s chest. “The worst part is having to apply that fucking makeup every morning. Having to look at those damn markings for ten minutes and pretend that it isn’t bothering me at all.”

“I know,” Peter answered, slowly rubbing Sarah’s back in comfort. “If you want, I can take over makeup duty for a while.”

In spite of herself, Sarah let out a choked little chuckle, leaning backwards a little and removing her hands from her face to gaze across at her husband with slightly wet eyes.

“Oh please,” she rebuked gently. “As if you know the first thing about makeup.”

“What if I do?” Peter replied with the very smallest of smiles. “I’ll have you know it takes a lot of work to look this perfect.” He gestured to his face playfully.

“As if!” Sarah snorted. “You don’t need makeup. You have that perfect Asian face thing going on. You’ll look twenty right up until you turn forty, and then you’ll look like an old man forever.”

“Oh, so it’s an Asian thing, is it?” Peter grinned. “I take offense at that, racist.”

Sarah chuckled, adopting her best deep south accent.

“Sorry partner. All you Japs look the same to me. Yessir!”

The two gazed at one another in silence for a moment or two before both, near simultaneously, began to laugh.

“What was that voice?” Peter asked, prodding his wife gently in the shoulder. “That was terrible!”

“Sorry!” Sarah chuckled. “Guess I never spent enough time working on my stereotypes.”

After a few moments, the levity died away, the interior of the car falling slowly back to still silence.

“Thanks for being here today,” Sarah murmured eventually. “I don’t think I could have done this on my own.”

“Can’t say I blame you,” Peter answered. “It’s not as if I would have been able to focus at work today anyway.”

“Still,” said Sarah, giving her husband a small squeeze before pulling back and setting her attention to starting up the car. “Thank you.”

Casper:

Casper arrived at the school early, as had become his habit in recent months. Arriving early meant that the emotions all around him would build up gradually, allowing him to slowly acclimatize to each new arrival rather than being overwhelmed in having to deal with them all at once. At the same time, arriving earlier made it easier for him to find a mind to focus on in order to help drown out the others. It was easier focusing on just one set of emotions. Doing so made it possible to discern his own feelings from the jumble.

He sat on the steps as the first of the other students began to arrive, slowly opening his power out and allowing their minds to brush against his. He ignored most of them as best he could, identifying each mind by feel before continuing his search for one that might make a good shelter for the day.

In the months that Casper had been taking refuge in the emotions of others, he had found three or four minds that he preferred over the rest. These were the minds that tended to be the steadiest or the happiest, rendering them both more comfortable to focus on and somewhat less distracting. These were also students whose schedules placed them close to him throughout the day, preventing the necessity of finding someone new as they moved away.

Casper’s attention was drawn for a moment by the arrival of a mind he hadn’t felt recently. A boy from the year below him; James, if he remembered it right. Despite never having spoken, Casper liked this boy. His mind had almost always been calm and cheerful, a trait that had led him to take refuge there a number of times and which was also what drew his attention now. Something was strange about James today, beyond the anxiety he seemed to be feeling. He felt… different somehow, more serious. Had something happened to the boy?

Curious, he glanced over to the spot where he felt the other boy’s emotions emanating from. He found James with relative ease. He was sitting in the back seat of a car, talking to an Asian looking man and a blonde lady who Casper took to be his parents. As he watched, the boy’s emotions shifted, moving from anxious excitement, to defensiveness, through irritation and then back into the same anxious excitement, tinted now with a small touch of relief. Had he just won an argument?

Confused, Casper expanded his power out slightly further, attempting to gain some sense of context from the minds of James’ parents. He reached out, brushing his mind against theirs for the briefest of moments. Almost instinctively, he recoiled, pulling his power back from the pair. He stared at them both as they waved their son goodbye. Both adults were anxious on a scale that he struggled to even find the words for.

Casper shook his head, trying to clear it of the sudden surge of emotion, before returning his attention to James. The boy’s emotions shifting slightly towards excitement as he encountered a cluster of his friends inside the school building. His curiosity piqued, Casper made his way inside the school, resolving to observe the strange boy further through the day.

James:

Being back at school was, for James, an almost incomprehensible relief.

For the first time in what felt like an age, no one was looking at him strangely, aside, perhaps, from one or two teachers, perhaps noticing how he tried to keep his distance from them. It wasn’t really something he could help. Adults made him nervous.

James’ friends, however, didn’t seem to notice a thing, and he relaxed into their presence like a warm bath, chatting about tv and football and books at every opportunity. It felt normal. It felt right. He found himself smiling again without having to make an effort. It was nice.

James sat on the outskirts of the school oval at lunchtime, eating an apple as he watched his friends play some undefinable ball game they’d devised between themselves, one bearing a passing resemblance to both dodgeball and rugby. They’d invited him to join, but he’d declined, cautious of the delicate layer of makeup covering the marks on his face. James had instead elected to watch, sitting with his back to a wall. It felt safer knowing there was no one behind him. He took a bite of his apple, munching on it slowly as he soaked in the rays of the early afternoon sun. He’d missed this.

“Hey,” came an unfamiliar male voice from somewhere to James’ right. “Can I sit with you?”

James turned his head, his eyes falling on a sandy haired, freckly boy who he vaguely recognized as being from the year above him.

“Sure,” he shrugged, shifting to the side by a foot or so in invitation. “Plenty of room.”

The other boy took a step forward, his form slumping down beside James without ceremony. The two sat silently together for a few minutes, watching the game. James took another bite of his apple.

“Why aren’t you joining in?” The unknown boy asked, his voice mild, one hand gesturing to the other children moving in clusters around the ball.

“Didn’t feel like it today,” James lied with a shrug, only a touch regretful. In honesty, he’d have liked nothing better than to be playing ball with the others. He took another bite of his apple.

“Huh,” the freckly boy replied after a few moments, staring at the ball. “That’s kinda weird. I usually see you out there running with the others.”

“I didn’t know there was anyone watching,” James muttered, glancing sideways at the newcomer. “That’s kinda weird too.”

“Meh,” The pale boy shrugged. “Just saw you playing every now and again is all.” He grinned, casting James a mischievous look. “Or maybe I should say I’ve been watching from the shadows for years. For fate determined us to be star crossed millennia ago, when I was just a boy, and I have kept this form for years, waiting for you to arrive.”

“I think maybe you watch too many crummy romance movies.” James replied with a snort.

“Nah,” The freckled boy chuckled. “Mostly just anime, really.”

“Yeah?” James asked, interested. “Me too. My grandparents keep giving me boxes of them so I won’t forget my Japanese.”

“You speak Japanese?”

“Yup,” James replied proudly. “Ojiisan and Obaasan come from there, so they wanted me to learn it early.”

“Oji-” the other boy began, one eyebrow raised, before James cut him off.

“My grandparents,” he supplied. “Sorry.”

The two were silent for a few minutes, watching the game. The quiet was broken by a small grumble from the sandy haired boy’s stomach. James glanced at him, head slightly cocked to one side.

“Don’t you have your lunch with you?” He asked mildly.

“Uh… No,” the pale boy replied awkwardly, his eyes dropping to the grass between his knees as he began picking at a stray root. “I uhh… forgot to grab it on my way to school.”

James shrugged, one hand moving to his own bright red lunchbox by his side and digging around in it for a moment, before producing a small, plastic wrapped package.

“I have a spare sandwich if you want it,” he offered. “I’m not gonna eat it.”

The freckled boy shook his head awkwardly for a few moments, his face flushing slightly in embarrassment.

“N-no thanks,” he mumbled. “I’m okay.”

James gazed at the other boy for a few moments, before very deliberately placing the sandwich on the ground between them.

“Well, I’m not gonna touch it,” he said with a shrug. “So I guess it’ll just sit there till someone comes and cleans it up.” That done, he returned his attention to the game, watching the newcomer out of the corner of his eye.

After a few moments, the sandy haired boy picked up the sandwich, carefully avoiding looking at James the whole time. He held the package between his knees as he unwrapped it, looking almost as if he was trying to shield it from James’ sight. The boy took a bite, chewing for a moment or two, then swallowing.

“T-thanks.” Came the quiet mutter, sounding almost ashamed.

“S’okay,” James replied, smiling. “I’m James, what’s your name?”

“Casper,” the boy said quietly. “I’m Casper.”

“Nice to meet you, Casper,” said James, grinning. “So, what sort of anime do you like?”

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