Dissonance: 4.3

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Author’s Note: Alrighty, guys. Once more, I am linking to the ongoing one shot anthology thing being run by Revfitz. This week, the story I’m linking to is called Curse of The Magi and it’s written by Walter. Now that that’s been said, ON WITH THE STORY!!

Casper:

Casper held the toothbrush under the tap for a second, then lifted it to his mouth. It was the third time he’d brushed his teeth that morning. The first two had been to get rid of the lingering taste of vomit. This one was in hopes of chasing away the memory of Father’s lips. He ran the brush over his tongue, forcing the minty foam in between his taste buds in an attempt to force everything else out. It didn’t work. He brushed harder.

He heard a knock on the bathroom door behind him, then heard Mel’s voice speaking through it.

“Casper? Freja went out and picked up some clean clothes for you. I’m leaving them by the door.”

“Thank you.” He replied, his words muffled by the foam coating the inside of his mouth as he stepped towards the door.

For a brief moment, he felt Mel’s mind inside his bubble before she stepped away. The woman was practically radiating concern. He felt a pang of guilt at that. He must have been quite the sight when he’d turned up on her doorstep the night before, his ragged clothes covered in a mixture of bile, dirt and his own blood. She’d ushered him up to the apartment above the shop and sat him down on her couch before setting off to get Freja. He’d been asleep by the time either of them got back.

Casper sighed. He still wasn’t sure how he was going to explain this to them.

He opened the door a crack, saw the neatly folded shirt and pants sitting just outside, and grabbed them. He got halfway through taking off his current shirt before deciding he needed a shower. He hoped Mel wouldn’t mind.

He stepped out of the bathroom twenty minutes later cleaner than he had been in days, the soiled remnants of his old clothes held in a loose bundle under one arm.

Mel and Freja were waiting for him outside, sitting at Mel’s small breakfast table, a pot of tea between them. Both women turned to look at him as he stepped through the door.

“… Thanks for the clothes,” he mumbled. “… And for letting me sleep here.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Freja murmured. “Are you gonna tell us what happened?”

“I…” He paused, trying to think through the events of the last day enough to even make sense of them for himself, let alone anyone else. “Honestly, I don’t know.” Freja raised an eyebrow at that. Mel opened her mouth to speak, but he clarified before she got a word out. “I mean. I sorta know what happened; it just doesn’t make any sense, you know?”

Neither Mel nor Freja said anything at that; they simply gazed at him, waiting for him to continue. After a moment’s awkward silence, he sighed, stepping over to the couch on which he’d spent the night asleep and planting himself on the arm of it so that he was facing them. He spent a moment looking for an appropriate place to deposit his old clothes that wouldn’t seem rude, before Mel flicked a finger and the entire foul smelling bundle pulled itself from his hands, wrapped itself into a tight ball, and launched itself into the kitchen, where it landed in a bin with a clang. On any other day, Casper would have been impressed. Today, however, he barely even noticed.

Instead, he took a long breath, and began to speak. He told his teachers about the birds, about the strangers he’d found following him, and their mutual flight from the swarm. He told them about the attack on the bridge; he tried to play off his trick with the grenade as more of a lucky shot than anything related to his power. Through all of it, the two women just listened; Mel occasionally nodding, Freja impassive. He left out his encounter with Father, however. It was too… embarrassing? No. That wasn’t quite the word. Whatever it was, it wasn’t something he wanted to share with a pair of near-strangers. Instead, he simply said that the agent had healed him before he ran. Neither of them questioned it.

“So, yeah,” he murmured as his tale drew to a close. “I came here cuz… well, it was the only place I could think of that might be safe to spend the night with all the stuff going on. Sorry.”

Freja nodded at that.

“Fair call,” she murmured. “So, you got caught up in that mess with the elves, huh? We heard about that. You’re lucky you got away. Far as I can tell, most of the other victims were found unconscious in a cavern below central park.”

“Elves?” Casper asked. He dimly recalled Father making some mention of them the day before. But couldn’t remember any explanation. “What does them being elves have to do with it?”

“Because that’s what elves do,” Freja grunted. “Hop across the border to our world every couple months to kidnap people with magical potential. It’s rare that they target cities, though. Too many people who can fight back.”

“You should be safe now, though.” Mel added. “Word is that the last of them was captured last night. The birds have been rounded up, too.”

Casper spent a few moments trying to absorb that new piece of information. He didn’t succeed. Superpowered interdimensional kidnappers was too much to take in when he was still so tired. Instead, he set the idea aside for later.

“… Is there a phone I can borrow?” He asked. “I need to call some people. Kinda promised a friend I’d let him know I’m okay.” Mel nodded, pulling a battered looking flip phone from her pocket and tossing it across to him. “Thanks.”

He dialed the number by memory, watching Freja take her leave as the line connected. The person on the other end didn’t speak.

“Hey, James,” he murmured, trying to push some of the tiredness out of his voice. “It’s Cas. Are you there? I… I could really use someone to talk to right now.”

“James isn’t here right now, Casper,” Replied a man’s voice. “This is his father.”

“Oh.” He mumbled. “Uh, hi, Mr Toranaga. Can uhh… Can you tell me when he’s gonna be back?”

“Oh, he’s home,” the older man replied. “He’s downstairs. I’ll take you to him in a minute. I just wanted to ask you a few things first, okay?”

“… Is this about me running away?”

“Yes.”

“… Did James tell you?”

“No, your dad did. He’s very worried about y-”

“I don’t care if he’s worried.” Casper grumbled. “He deserves to be.” He didn’t have the energy to be truly angry. He settled for disappointed. Couldn’t the universe just let him talk to his friend for a bit without making things all complicated?

“… Yeah, I can understand that,” there was a deep sigh on the other end of the line. “Doesn’t stop it being true, though.” The reaction caught Casper off guard. He’d been expecting judgement.

“… How much did he tell you?” He asked.

“That he hurt you,” came the reply. “That it’s his fault you ran away.”

“… Well,” Casper muttered. “He’s not wrong.”

“Are you still in New York?”

“… Yeah.”

“Good. In that case, I’m going to give you a phone number for a place that will make sure you’re housed and fed while all of this is sorted out, okay?”

Casper was silent for a few seconds at that, trying to force his exhausted brain to think through the implications of the idea.

“… Is there a nice way of saying I don’t trust you?” He asked.

It was a long while before the older man answered.

“That stings, Casper,” he said quietly. “I haven’t done anything to earn that from you.”

“Sorry,” Casper lied. “But it’s true. How do I know I won’t go there and find my parents waiting for me? I’d rather just handle it myself.”

“Oh come on,” Mr Toranaga replied, annoyed. “That’s just dumb. You’re a thirteen year old boy. You know you can’t do it all on your own.”

“I’m not on my own,” he snapped back, irritated. He could feel Mel’s eyes watching him from across the room. He didn’t look at her. This was his business. “I’m staying at a friend’s place. I’m handling it fine!”

He heard the other man begin to retort, before being cut off by another voice, too quiet for him to make out the words. The two seemed to argue back and forth for a few moments, before there was a rustling noise, and a woman’s voice spoke into the line. It was one he recognized; James’ mom.

“Hey, Casper,” she started, sounding almost as tired as he felt. “I’m sorry about Peter. He gets stupid about stuff he cares about.”

Casper forced himself not to groan. Great. Another adult to deal with. All he wanted was to speak to his friend. Was that so hard?

“Look,” he pleaded, raising his fingers to pinch the bridge of his nose. “If I let you give me the number, will you just let me talk to James?”

The older woman sighed at that.

“Okay,” she said, her tone calm. “That was sort of rude, but I’m gonna let it slide because we both know you’re not having the best time right now. I get it. You probably feel really ganged up on and you’re worried we want to send you back to your parents and maybe a hundred other things I haven’t thought of. But this is a conversation you need to have with someone, because running away just isn’t enough of an answer on its own. Would it help if I brought James up here to join us? Give you someone you know for sure is on your side?”

“… Yeah,” he muttered. “Yeah. Do that, please.”

There was another quiet exchange on the other end of the line, before Sarah’s voice came back.

“Right. Peter’s just getting him. I’m gonna put you on speakerphone, okay? It’ll be just you, me and James. Peter will be here too, but he’s going to be being quiet just in case he starts being dumb again.”

“… Okay.”

Once again, the phone line rustled, then he heard a thump, and what sounded like the distant blaring of a television.

“Hey, Casper,” murmured James’ voice into the following quiet. “You doing okay?” It was a surprising relief, hearing that. Casper felt himself sag slightly in his seat, muscles that he hadn’t even realized were clenched suddenly going loose once more.

“Heh,” he chuckled. “God. I hope I am. It’s good to hear from you, bud.”

“Good to hear from you too,” the other boy replied. “I was worried, you know?”

“Yeah. Sorry.” Casper leaned back in his seat, letting himself fall back off of the arm of the couch and into the cushions. “I’ve had a long couple of days.”

Before James had a chance to respond, Sarah cleared her throat.

“Anyway,” she murmured. “Back to the big issue here, alright? Casper. I know you don’t trust us, but I want to ask you something about that, okay?”

“… Yeah?”

“Is there any reason I’d be on your parents’ side here?” She asked. “I like you, Casper. You’re a nice kid, you’re kind to Bex, and from what I’ve heard, you’ve been helping James deal with some of the things that happened to him that he doesn’t feel comfortable bringing to us. Your parents, on the other hand, are two people I’ve never met, who apparently abuse their son. So, again, why in God’s name do you think either one of us would not be on your side?”

Casper opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. He could think of no real counter there.

“… Sorry.”

“Okay,” Sarah murmured. “Moving on. I’ve been thinking it over, and I have an idea that I’d like you to think about, okay?”

“Sure.”

“Right,” she continued. “So, you don’t really trust the number we were going to give you. That’s okay. But the fact remains, we need to get you to a place where everyone can be sure that you’re getting all of the things you need, and where you’re around people you can trust. So hear me out. What if Peter and I called your parents, and told them that you were going to be staying at our house until we can get everything sorted out that needs to be sorted out? That way, we can be sure that you’re safe and secure and are even able to go to the same school as normal.”

“That’s a thing we can do?” James asked excitedly. “You promise?”

“Depends if Linda and Ray are willing to agree to it,” Peter spoke up. “But if they’re given a choice between him staying with us and living on the streets, I’m pretty sure they’ll agree to it.”

“Well, Casper?” Sarah asked. “What do you think?”

Casper didn’t answer. He was busy thinking. It sounded like a good plan; a really good plan. Almost too good to be true, if he was honest, but he wanted to be sure.

“Cas?” James asked. “You okay?”

“Do you promise my parents won’t be allowed to come near me till I say so?” He asked, his voice quiet.

“… No,” Sarah replied. “Only your parents can promise that.”

“We can promise they won’t be allowed inside our house until you say so, though.” Peter interjected. “If they do, I’ll have to punch your dad in the face again.”

“You punched my dad?” Casper asked, surprised.

“He’d just told me he was beating his kid. What was I supposed to do?”

“… I like you now.”

“Peter,” Sarah chided. “Shush. You’re being quiet now, remember? Well, Casper? Is that everything? Now’s the time to ask.”

“If my parents agree to it all,” Casper muttered. “Then sure… But only if they promise to stay away from me.”

“I’ll make the call.” Said Peter.

From their end of the line, Casper thought he heard a door swing closed, the distant sounds of the tv shutting off in its wake. For the next few minutes, no one spoke, all three of them simply waiting for the verdict, breath bated. Then, the door opened again, and Peter spoke.

“Well, they agreed to it,” he murmured. “Not sure if Ray wants to hug me or kill me right now, but they agreed.”

Casper let out that stored up breath in a long, low sigh.

“So,” he mumbled, somehow even more exhausted than he had been a moment ago. “If I’m at the GameStop near your house in an hour, can we meet up there?”

“We’ll be there,” Sarah murmured. “James, too.”

“Yup!” James agreed brightly. “Holy heck, it feels so much better knowing you’re okay!”

“Heh,” Casper chuckled. He really needed to teach James some real swear words. “Yeah. It does. See you there.” With that, he hung up, leaned his head back against the couch cushions, and closed his eyes. Why did everything feel so much lighter now?

“So,” Mel’s voice asked. “You have a place to go now?”

“Yeah,” he replied exhaustedly. “I do. Thanks for all your help, Mel. How much do I owe you guys for the clothes? Cuz I’m pretty sure there’s, like, three thousand dollars in those pants you threw in the garbage.”

Mel snorted. Casper grinned.

Fifteen minutes later, he bid his teacher goodbye and made his way down the narrow steps that led from her apartment to the Rose Bouquet. The store was almost empty when he stepped inside, in spite of the veritable crowds of people making their way along the pavement outside. He gave Freja a wave on his way by and received a curt nod in return. Apart from the two of them, there was only one other person in the place, a well dressed boy who looked perhaps a year or two older than Casper himself, perusing what looked like a collection of birthstones on one of the shelves. Casper glanced casually at them as he passed, wondering what had the older boy’s interest. That was when he felt it.

He had his bubble wrapped in close around himself, too tired willingly take on too much of the emotions of those around him. Because of this, he only felt the other boy’s mind touch his own when they came within a few feet of one another. Casper didn’t recognize the boy’s face at all; but he recognized the feel of his mind immediately. Calm, collected, and just a little bit kind.

Father.

He began to run.

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Dissonance: 4.2

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Author’s Note: Finally catching up on my chapter backlog. Yaaaaaay.

Okay, this week, I am once more linking to the story collab being hosted by Revfitz. This time around, we have Angel, by Megajoule. Now that all of that’s been said, on with the chapter!

James:

“Hey.”

James grumbled something, buried his face in his pillow, and let out a snore.

“Heeey.”

Something cold prodded the back of his skull, pushing his head a fraction of an inch to the side and forcing him just a little more awake. Then, his barely conscious mind registered the voice.

“Heeey! Get up. I want pancakes.”

“Noooo,” he mumbled, his voice muffled by the pillow still wedged against his face. “Go away, Bex. I wanna sleep.”

For a few seconds, the world was quiet, and for once, he thought it might have worked. Then he felt himself being prodded again.

“Hey. Paaancaaaakes.”

“Lemme sleep!” He groaned, irritated, finally turning his head towards his sister and forcing his eyes open. “I’m tired!”

“But I want pancakes!” Bex whined, frowning down at him in that way that told him a fight was imminent if he failed to comply. “If you don’t make em, then I’ll do it!”

He gazed up at her for a moment, then sighed.

“… Worst sister.”

He pushed himself upright, his arms aching slightly as he moved, then glanced down.

“… Can you at least go outside while I get dressed?”

At that, Bex grinned, hopped her way out of his room, and closed the door.

James yawned, then rubbed his eyes. How early was it? He checked his clock.

Five twenty five?

“Beeeeex,” he whined. “It’s not even six yet. TV time doesn’t start for an hour!”

“Pancakes.” The girl replied through the door. “Now!”

James rolled his eyes. Then, without really thinking about it, pulled himself into the air. It was easier than going to the effort of standing up on his own. Still rubbing his knuckles against his eyelids, he floated to his closet, taking a moment to orient himself so he was upright, and grabbed the first pair of pajama pants that caught his eye. He pulled them on and stretched, before checking himself briefly in the mirror.

His marks were showing.

James raised a finger to his cheek, curious. He hadn’t taken the skin patch off, had he? Then, he remembered last night, and the momentary loss of his body. He grabbed himself a fresh one, then regretfully lowered himself to his feet, before mooching over to the bedroom door and stepping out to greet his sister.

She was grinning. Of course she was grinning. She loved Saturday mornings. It was her favorite time of the week. It bugged him. He couldn’t wait for her to be his age, and actually need sleep like a real person. He reached out, placed a finger against the smaller girl’s head, and flicked her in the temple, ignoring the outraged squeak he got in response.

“No going in my room, remember?” He muttered by way of explanation before stomping past her towards the stairs.

“Says you!” She whispered after him, way too loud.

“Says Mom,” He replied, a touch quieter. “Now shush. You’re gonna wake the big people.”

“Too late,” Came a groan from the doorway across the landing. “James. Much coffee. Soon, please.”

“I hate Saturdays,” he grumbled, before calling back. “Yes, Dad.”

“Thank you,” The voice called back with a yawn. “And tell Bex no TV till she’s made her bed.”

James looked at his sister, one eyebrow raised. She scowled at him, turning on her heel and stalking off in the direction of her room. He snickered after her, before making his way down the stairs towards the kitchen.

He set some water boiling on the stove, before opening up the fridge and digging around inside it for a minute or so until he had all the ingredients he needed. Eggs, flour, milk, butter… whisk? He checked the baking drawer for the whisk. Then he checked the utensil drawer, just in case it had been put in the wrong place. Nope. No whisk. Upstairs, he heard a door slam, followed by the stomping of a tiny pair of feet down the stairs.

“I’m gonna check it’s done before you get any pancakes.” He called into the hallway. Bex didn’t dignify the words with a response as she stomped off towards the TV room. He shook his head with a sigh.

His continued search for a whisk was disrupted by the sound of the water boiling on the stove, so he put his mixing bowl down and made his parents their morning coffee. So much work. Being the older one sucked.

As the coffee brewed, he thought of Tasha. He hoped she was okay. She should be fine, he reasoned. After all, the last he’d seen of her, she’d already been launching that lightning guy into a tree. He doubted the fight could have lasted much longer after that. Still, though, who was that guy?

The coffee made, he stifled another yawn, before carefully making his way upstairs with the two cups held carefully aloft. He found himself spilling it from time to time.

“Mom, Dad,” he called through the crack in the doorway. “Coffee.”

“Thanks, kiddo,” came his father’s voice, sounding a little more awake now than it had been. “Come on in.”

James nudged the door open with his foot, then sidled his way inside, ready to avert his eyes at a moment’s notice lest he be faced with the terrible fate of catching one of his parents changing. His caution, however, turned out to be unneeded. Peter lay in the bed, a large shirt draped over his form and the covers pulled up around his waist, a book balanced on his lap. Sarah’s place in the bed was empty; a fact that probably had to do with the sounds of the shower running in the room’s en-suite.

“Can we get Bex to sleep longer on weekends?” he asked, moving forward to place one of the mugs on his mother’s side table, before moving the second across to his father. “I wanted to sleep in today.”

“Heh,” Peter chuckled. “I got used to it after a while.” He took the coffee gratefully and took a sip. “You were just the same at her age. All cuddles and story times and never turning off. You just have to muscle your way through it, I’m afraid. Sorry.” He gave his son a wink.

James scowled at that.

“Easy for you to say,” he grumbled, turning back towards the door. “You’re not the ones she asks for pancakes every time.”

That earned the boy a genuine laugh from his father.

“Then learn to say no.” Peter chuckled. He took another long slurp of his coffee, then his tone grew more serious. “So. I wanted to talk to you about that friend of yours. Casper.”

James stopped mid-stride, his hand on the door handle. Something in his father’s tone made it clear this was more than just asking about a new friend. Had they made an error somewhere? Slipped up on something?

“… What about him?” He asked, doing his best to keep his tone level.

“He ran away from home two nights ago.” Peter murmured. “His parents are terrified.”

“… Maybe they shouldn’t have been hurting him, then.” James muttered bitterly. He regretted the words even as he spoke them, trying to figure out whether that was something he’d been allowed to let slip or not. He couldn’t bring himself not to say them, though. They were the truth.

Behind him, he heard his father take another sip of his coffee.

“So you know about that, do you?”

“… Yeah. He told me.”

“… Did he tell you he was running away?”

James hesitated for a long time at that, then sighed.

“Only after he did it. He said he was gonna break his phone afterwards. Didn’t want to be followed.” He chanced a glance back to his dad. Peter was gazing at him over the rim of his cup; calm, unblinking.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” There was no accusation in the words, but still, James felt blamed. He had his answer ready, though. Again, he went with the truth.

“Why should I have?” He asked. “I mean, the school was probably gonna tell you anyway, so it’s not like I knew anything you didn’t.”

Peter nodded at that, conceding the point.

“Fair,” he murmured. “But sometimes, we have more information about things than we think we do. For example, now that we know he spoke to you last, we know he might try to speak to you again. That means we have a chance for an adult to talk to him and make sure he’s safe.” He took another slow sip of his coffee, then continued. “Give me your phone, James.”

“… I don’t want to.”

“Why not?”

“… I don’t want Casper to go back there.” James wanted to look away from his father then. He didn’t, though. This was too important. It mattered. Even so, it hurt to see the sorrow flash momentarily across the older man’s face.

“James,” Peter sighed, setting his coffee down on the side table and climbing to his feet. “You know me. I’m your father. I’ve been your father for twelve years. Less than one month ago, I saw someone hurt my son, and the sight of it nearly broke me. Do you really think I’d send your friend back to someone who hurts him against his will?” He took a step forward.

“… No.” James admitted. He wished he could think of a counter to that, but he couldn’t. The words made him feel small. Now, even more than before, he wanted to look away. He forced himself to hold the man’s gaze. He wasn’t sure why.

“And do you know how to make sure he has everything he needs?” Peter asked. “Clean clothes, somewhere to sleep, food that won’t make him sick?” He took another few steps forward, already halfway towards his son. James couldn’t look at him any more. He dropped his gaze to the floor.

“… No.”

“Then I’d like to borrow your phone, please.” In the periphery of his vision, he saw the older man’s pajama clad legs step into view. Peter extended a hand level with James’ chest; palm up, waiting.

In all his life, he couldn’t remember ever feeling smaller than when he dipped his hand into his hoodie pocket and pulled out his phone. His father plucked it from his hand, then, in a much quieter tone, murmured:

“Thank you.”

“… Are you angry at me?” He asked, still not looking at his father.

“No,” replied Peter in that same quiet, sad voice. “Honestly? I’m mostly proud. You were trying to keep your friend safe, even from me. That’s very brave.” James didn’t move as the older man pulled him into a hug. “I’m just sad because you thought you couldn’t trust me.”

“I’m sorry.” He mumbled, ashamed.

“Don’t be,” the arms around his shoulders gave him a squeeze. “Love you, buddy.”

“… Yeah,” James muttered, raising his arms to return the hug. “Love you too.”

“Good,” Peter let him go. “Now, go make your sister some pancakes before she starts complaining, kay?”

A part of him wanted to return his father’s teasing, but he honestly couldn’t find the words. He turned around, stepped back out onto the landing, and took a deep breath.

Then, he went downstairs and made his sister pancakes.

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Dissonance: 4.1

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter:

Author’s Note: Alrighty. Again, apologies for the late publication. I’m starting to sound like a broken record on that. Today, as well as starting arc number four, we are also continuing the linkthroughs into Revfitz’ ‘Everybody Dies’ collaboration. This time around, we have 1953 by A.M. Thorne. That said, on with the chapter!

Caleb:

The goblins moved in fast and low; four of them, each with blades held at the ready. He watched from his perch above them as they moved to surround the small flock that had gathered itself on the rooftop, occasionally squawking at one another, their cries oddly warped.

Caleb grunted. It made sense that the government would want to contain the hunting birds quickly. Now that the things were without a beastmaster, they’d probably resort to attacking at random, and that wouldn’t do anything to help the already fragile balance of secrecy. He allowed himself a grim chuckle at that idea. How in the hell they were going to explain away the events of the last few days was anyone’s guess. For now, though, that wasn’t a concern. He just needed to catch some birds.

Below him, the goblins fanned out, blades at the ready, just a second from their ambush. Caleb couldn’t help but grin when he cast his first spell, a simple noise maker, loud enough to send the flock fluttering free of its roost. He crouched down, peering over the lip of his rooftop, and watched the goblins scrambling to dispatch them all before they fled. He grinned a little wider. They didn’t even manage half.

The birds took to the air, and he readied his second spell, pinpointing a trio of the creatures whose trajectory should bring them just inside his range. He waited a moment, aimed, and took his shot.

The first flew true, and he felt his mind link itself to that of the hawk, seeing it seem to spasm for a moment in the air before resuming its flight. The same was true of the second. The third, however, went wide, the bird changing course in the half a second it took for the spell to connect. He cursed quietly to himself, then returned his attention to the two he’d managed. He needed to be quick, subjugate them in the few moments he had before they left his range once more and the connection severed. He pushed at their minds and felt resistance, the tiny minds scrabbling against him like claws digging into his brain. He grit his teeth and pushed harder.

It wasn’t too difficult to remove the birds from the swarm. He just flew them up high enough for the evening gloom to hide them, before guiding them straight back down towards him. He stooped down, picked up the pet carrier he’d been provided for the purpose, and opened the latch. He flew the first one, a robust looking male, down into the carrier and was about to do the same for the female when he felt the creature’s senses finally kick into gear inside his mind, his spell connecting up the last of the links between them.

It was a very strange feeling. He’d dealt with enhanced senses for most of his life, but what this bird could smell… It was overwhelming. Like the smell of grease when he was hungry, but a hundred, even a thousand times more intense, and it was everywhere. In the shock of it, he took a few seconds to even realize that the second bird hadn’t landed in the carrier, missing the entrance by at least a foot. He shook himself.

“Wow,” he muttered. “You guys are intense. No wonder the boss wants you so bad.” The birds, of course, said nothing, the male standing stiff as a board on the thinly padded floor of the carrier, the female sitting on the ground by his feet, staring off into nothing. He gazed down at it for a moment, considering; then he swung the carrier entry closed, and flicked the locks into place. “Screw it. What the boss doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Always wanted a familiar.”

He bade the hawk to flutter up onto his arm, its talons digging painfully into his forearm as it settled. He grunted. That was the one problem with the leashing spell, it didn’t exactly afford finesse in the things he took command of. This close to, he could smell himself through the hawk’s unnaturally powerful senses, that incredible hunger piercing once more into his mind at the scent. He laughed. The bird thought he smelled delicious?

“… Yeah. I’m keeping you,” he smiled. “You’re weird. Like me.” With that, he stooped, setting the pet carrier down on the ground beside him, and raised his hand towards its head. For a moment, a part of him thought he shouldn’t do it. The spell took too much energy, and his supply was limited enough already. It would make the next few days harder, having to wait for the trickle the overseers allowed him to replenish his reserves. He pushed the doubt to the back of his mind. Screw the overseers. They didn’t own him. No one did. He held the hawk very still, not even allowing it to breathe as he pressed his fingertip against its beak. The transition worked better that way. Then, he let off his spell, and felt the energy leak out of his body, practically draining him dry. The hawk shifted, the space around it warping and hollowing; becoming abstracted. He felt its talons recede from around his arm, followed by a sensation like a hundred marbles rolling across his skin towards his shoulder. When it stopped, the hawk was gone.

Caleb took a moment to admire his new tattoo, pulling back his sleeve to examine the hundred or so stylized feathers now etched in black all along the skin of his arm, running from the base of his wrist to well up along his torso.

“I should have been an artist,” he murmured. “You look awesome on me.”

The self admiration was disrupted rather when his phone rang, jerking him back into reality in the most unpleasant manner possible.

It was his boss on the line. He knew that immediately, because he’d assigned her the most annoyingly bad song he could find as a ringtone. It was still better than actually listening to her talk.

He pulled the phone from his pocket and, with a sigh, lifted it to his ear.

“Caleb here.”

The boss was on good form today. He almost missed the tiny note of irritation in her tone as she spoke.

“Asset Thirteen, have you obtained your targets?”

“One of them,” he lied brightly, slipping into an irish lilt as he spoke; that accent always seemed to annoy her the most. “Male. Seems healthy. Tried for a female too, but she got awa-”

“That’s fine,” she cut him off, her tone bored. “Another asset has managed to obtain a female. Transport the package two blocks west of your current position. Your handoff point is a woman in a purple scarf. You have six minutes.” Then the line went dead.

He gazed at the phone for a moment, then slid it back into his pocket with a shrug. It was a shame. He hadn’t even had a chance to start being really annoying yet. He rolled his sleeve back down to cover his new tattoo, and picked up the pet carrier, its solitary occupant still standing stiff as a board inside it. Then, he crossed to the edge of the rooftop, and glanced down. The goblins were long gone, but it was a solid six storey drop to get down to ground level, and he didn’t have the magic left over to shield himself from the fall. He glanced back at the fire escape behind him. No. Too easy. He wanted to be moving right now.

‘Welp,’ Caleb grinned. ‘Guess it’s time for some mad parkour skills.’

He crossed to the westernmost side of the rooftop, his eyes falling upon an ugly four-storey building on the other side of the street. Perfect. He backed up a few paces, braced himself, and threw himself into a full sprint before launching his body over the edge.

There was something unnaturally thrilling about the sensation of free-fall; a sense of speed and a rushing of wind that seemed to make a few moments last a good deal longer than they should. He watched the roads shoot along beneath him, then turned his eyes to the rooftop he had targeted. He’d gotten it just right. He angled himself backwards slightly in the air, holding the pet carrier out to the side, before hitting the rooftop at the very edge, the soles of his feet striking the exact point where roof met wall. He allowed his legs to bend slowly into the impact, absorbing the force of the fall while his own forward momentum carried him forwards into a roll. He tucked low, holding his body in a ball and letting his speed push him onward, before springing back to his feet and setting off for the next building along. It felt good. Going fast always helped to soothe.

It was over all too quickly, though. A few short jumps and a brief run, and it was over. He was out of levels to drop. He found an alleyway to descend to ground level in, and finished the trip at a brisk walk, his eyes peeled for the hand-off asset.

She didn’t take him too long to find; a brown haired young woman in a thick coat standing against a lamppost, a purple travelling scarf wrapped tight around her shoulders. He recognized her. The same woman he’d been assigned to ever since his deployment to the Americas. He shook his head. She couldn’t be that cold. It was still summer.

“Hey, babe!” He called, giving her a wave as he jogged the last of the distance between them. “What’s a cutie like you doing alone on a night like this?”

The woman turned, got her hand halfway up to return the wave, then aborted the attempt with a snort as his words reached her.

“Wow. Such a smooth talker. You ever flirt with girls your own age, Thirteen, or am I just special?”

“What can I say?” Caleb shrugged. “Girls my age don’t do it for me. Not enough boob.” He raised his free hand to the air in front of his chest and made a few squeezing motions with his fingers. “Besides. Maybe I just save it for the best girls.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she chuckled. “Give me the package, kiddo.  I wanna look it over before the deadline hits.”

“Sure, whatever.” Caleb held the carrier out to her and she took it, peering through the bars at the solitary occupant.

“… You’ve been free-running again, haven’t you?” She sighed.

“What makes you say that?” He asked, trying to keep his voice playful. “I promised to stop that last time, remember?”

“So then why does the capture look so beaten up?” She replied, pivoting the cage to show him the interior, the hawk inside now rather bedraggled after its assortment of falls. “And while we’re on the subject, you’ve gone and given it catatonia again. You need to get better with capture spells, Thirteen.”

“Can you please stop calling me that?” He groaned. “It’s Caleb, okay? Why do you even care? It’s not like it matters as long as they get the package, right?”

“It matters, Thirteen,” she ignored his long sigh at her use of the word. “Because if I can finally teach you to start cooperating, then maybe they’ll start treating you a little better. Don’t you want that? You know they give the good assets better food, right? Maybe you can even get a decent bed every once in a while.”

He gave his response to that with a huff.

“Yeah, no.” he replied, not looking at her. “Call me stupid, but I’d rather be Caleb.”

He couldn’t bring himself to look at her in the moments that followed, just glaring at his feet. After a few seconds, her phone rang. Her voice was cold as she answered.

“This is asset Twenty Three. I have received the package. Delivery will proceed as planned.” There was a short beep as the line disconnected.

They stood there in the dark for at least a minute, him staring at the floor, able to see her gazing at him in the corner of his eye.

When she finally spoke, her tone was soft.

“Are you gonna walk me home tonight? You know I like the company.”

He opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out. He shook his head.

In his peripheral vision, he saw her step forwards for a hug. He didn’t back away. He tried not to blush too hard as she pulled him close. Enhanced senses sucked sometimes; they made it harder to ignore how nice she smelled.

“Hey,” she murmured. “Don’t sulk at me. You know I only said it cuz I care.”

“… That mean I finally get to cop a feel?” He asked, only mostly joking.

“Dream on, kiddo,” She flicked his nose with a fingernail. “Get back to your place soon, okay? Curfew’s in an hour tonight.”

“I will. Thanks.” With that, he broke away, turning quickly so she wouldn’t see the red on his cheeks. Probably not fast enough. He hated being fifteen; hated it with all his might. “Later, Twenty Three.”

“Later, Thirteen.”

In spite of his promise, he didn’t head back to his cage straight away that night. Instead, he dawdled. He had a brand new familiar to test out, after all.

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Interlude 3

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Author’s note: 

Hey guys. I know this one’s kinda late. My aplogies for that. I was planning out the next arc. But, that said. I intend to have the next chapter up by Tuesday, so, yay for that. Now, just like last time, and the time before, I’m putting a link in this chapter to the short story display that I, along with some other writers have contributed to. This one is called Cybercelestial, and it’s written by Shaeor.

Alrighty. Hope you all enjoy the chapter.

Tasha tugged at the binding around her knuckles with her free hand. It felt weird, having everything bound up so tightly, but at least the hand wasn’t throbbing with every shift of her weight anymore. She was glad of that. She had enough aches to deal with already, the bruises of the previous night still far from healed.

She turned her attention back to Hideyoshi a few dozen feet away, handing off their captive to the guards that now lined the edges of the park. Couldn’t he hurry up?

Her leg was sore, the spot where the bullet had struck bone ached like all hell. She grit her teeth and stomped over to a tree, looking to take some weight off of the damn thing. When she got close enough, she pivoted on her heel, throwing her shoulder against the trunk of it in an attempt to lean on it. The moment the freshly relocated joint hit the surface, she regretted it, lines of pain darting out into her torso. She swore, pushed herself away, and slumped down onto the ground on her backside, trying to ignore the myriad complaints in every bruised joint and tendon in her body.

She just wanted to be comfortable for five god damned seconds. She lay down on her back, hoping against hope that the soft grass would provide just a moment of relief. No luck. Now her back hurt. She shifted. Now it was her ribs. She took a deep breath, closed her good eye, and tried to wait it out. It didn’t help. She just became more aware of the itching, uncomfortable soreness under her other eyelid.

She only became aware of Hideyoshi’s return when she heard his voice above her.

“Ready to go?” He said, his tone businesslike.

“… Fuck off.” She muttered, shifting once more on the ground, and again, regretting it. “Just leave me alone and let me sleep.”

“You’re sleeping here?” He asked. “Isn’t that a little too uncomfortable?”

“No shit, asshat.” She replied, her tone bitter.

He chuckled at that. If she thought she could have hurt the man right then, she’d have punched him.

“Wouldn’t you rather use a bed for that?” He asked. “I’m sure you’d find it easier.”

That was a little too much to take. She opened her eyes, felt the scratching in the swollen one redouble, and glared at him.

“You’re a real asshole, you know that?” She shot at him. “Yeah, a bed would be better. Thanks for the tip, genius. I wish I had one, but since I don’t, then grass it is!”

To his credit, the old man’s smile dropped a fraction at that.

“… Homeless?”

“Fuck off.”

They stared at one another for a long few seconds, before the old man brought a tired hand to his face, rubbing momentarily at his eyes.

“Look,” he muttered. “It’s late. I’m tired. You’re beat to hell… You want some pie? I could use some pie right now.”

Tasha glared at him for another second in silence, before a quiet grumble from her stomach forced her hand.

“… Yeah. Pie’s good.”

Hideyoshi nodded, then extended a hand. For a moment, she thought he was offering to help her up, but then she felt herself begin to lift away from the ground beneath her, weightless. She opened her mouth to object, but the man preempted her, his tone gruff.

“I’ll put you down if you want, kid. But honestly, I can’t imagine walking’s very comfortable right now, seeing how stiffly you’ve been moving.”

“… I’ll walk.”

Hideyoshi shrugged, and she felt her weight return to her, dropping down onto her feet with a grunt. With that, the old man turned away and began to walk, Tasha grudgingly falling into step behind him. They were outside the bounds of the park before either of them spoke again.

“So,” Hideyoshi started, not looking back at her. “How’d you get hurt that badly anyway? Those bruises can’t all be from tonight. They’re too old.”

“Eh,” Tasha grunted. “I get into fights sometimes. That a problem?”

“No,” the older man allowed. “But you have super strength. I’m just trying to figure out who you could have been fighting to get hurt that badly. Can’t imagine a homeless girl having that many enem-”

“I’m not homeless,” she replied irritably. “Not anymore, anyways. I just… It’s not safe to go home right now.”

“Family trouble?” Hideyoshi asked.

Tasha let out a short laugh at that.

“No. I wish it was that. Then I could just beat them up and be done with it. I tried to save some kids from a prostitution thing… Kinda got myself tied to a chair. Think I broke a guy’s ribs when I escaped.”

The old man actually turned to look at her at that, an appraising look in his eye.

“These kids,” he asked. “I’m guessing disturbingly beautiful and far too happy about what’s happening to them?”

“… Yeah. How’d you know?”

“Because that’s the only child prostitution ring that currently operates in New York,” he shrugged. “They ran all the others out of town. Surprised you got away from them. They’re dangerous people.”

“I got lucky,” Tasha sighed. “God. It feels weird having a gun in your face, you know?”

“Yeah,” Hideyoshi chuckled. “I know the feeling. Nothing as small as a gun, but the same principle. Looking death in the face is an odd sensation.”

They stopped at a set of streetlights, the old man leaning against the metal post while they waited for the traffic to clear.

“So,” Tasha asked, doing her best to keep her tone free of judgement for now. “If you know about those assholes. I gotta ask, why are they still there? I don’t know what the hell you are, but you’re tough. Why haven’t you done anything?”

“Fair question,” he murmured. “To be honest, I’d like to. I have grandchildren in this city and that place disgusts me, but the honest fact is that fighting a group like the Family is complicated. My main reason, frankly, is that the man in charge of that place is one of maybe seven people on this earth that I doubt I’m powerful enough to kill.”

“Only seven?” Tasha asked drily. “Sorry, dude. I’m not buying that. You’re tough, sure, but I’m not buying you’re that tough.”

Hideyoshi shot her a grin.

“Choose to believe it or choose not to, your decision. Regardless, that’s my reason. They’re complicated, and you’re in over your head.”

Tasha grunted.

“Okay, fine. What about those government guys you were with, then? Why aren’t they doing something? Pretty sure what they’re doing is super illegal, so why is it still happening?”

“… Honest answer?” Hideyoshi sighed. “He’s too valuable.” He glanced sidelong at her, then gave his eyes another rub. “Alright, so, six years ago, a giant fucking space dragon tried to attack the planet. Don’t laugh. That’s what happened. It was very old, very dangerous, and we literally had to kill it with nuclear weapons and human sacrifices. That’s not the important part. The important part is that when it got close enough to Earth, other monsters started coming out of the woodwork. Monsters so big and violent that we had to raise full sized armies to take them down. My wife and I led the goblins against the Hydra, a friend of mine from Egypt trapped the Minotaur, the twins of Norway slew the Behemoth, and Father killed the Crow. You see? He’s too useful. He’s tough enough to kill demigods, and that earns him amnesty, no matter how many kids he fucks. I hate it, but it’s true. They won’t touch him.”

“… Well that’s bull,” Tasha grumbled eventually. “Bunch of cowards.”

“Well,” Hideyoshi chuckled. “I can’t disagree there. But I hope you at least catch my point. This is a task far too great in scope for you to take on. You’re not strong enough. You’d just wind up getting yourself killed.

“So I’m too weak.” Tasha didn’t put any emphasis on the words. She was too tired to really care. “Fine. So how do I get stronger, then?”

Hideyoshi snorted.

“Wow. And here I was thinking I’d need to convince you to let me train you. You want to get stronger? Easy enough. I can do that, if you like. We can start tomorrow, if you’re tough enough for it.”

Tasha gazed at the man for a few moments, then shrugged.

“Yeah, sure. Better than doing nothing and waiting all day. Pie first, though.”

With another tired chuckle, Hideyoshi nodded.

“Yeah. Pie first.”

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Bonus chapter: Ray Sullivan.

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Author’s Note: Okay, here’s our first bonus chapter of the set. Hope you all enjoy it. Last time, I provided a link to a different story I wrote as a guest on Revfitz’s site, and I’m going to continue that by this time linking to the next story in the sequence. This one’s called scourge, and it’s written by Re’sheet Schultz.

Ray:

Ray rubbed his eyes wearily, trying to force out the ache that had been building up behind them for hours now. It didn’t help that the park around him was so dimly lit, forcing him to strain his eyes as he searched, following the thin trail of light thrown out by his torch. He shook his head, and told himself to focus. He didn’t have time to be tired right now. It barely helped.

He hadn’t slept the night before. Nor had Linda. It would have been odd if they had, after receiving those two soul destroying messages from their son.

‘I think I hate you.’

Ray pushed the memory from his mind. He’d lost count of how many times those words had floated up in his brain in the last twenty four hours. The first few dozen had engendered pain. By now, though, they were familiar enough to him that they only managed to induce a dull ache, like a bruise where his lungs should be.

They had, of course, done what they could to find him, calling the school, calling his phone, driving endlessly up and down along each of the routes they knew he walked well into the early hours of the morning. The search had netted them nothing. Casper hadn’t even read the texts they’d sent.

They had barely spoken a word to one another while they worked. Ray wasn’t sure how his wife felt, but for him, it hurt to even look at her right now.

Then, they’d received the alert from work. Elves were loose in the city. People with magic in their blood were being hunted in the streets, and their son was nowhere to be found. Ray’s knuckles still ached from the force with which he’d punched the wall in the aftermath of that news. He’d only stopped when he felt Linda’s hand on his shoulder, and turned to see the look in her eyes.

“Do that later,” she’d said, her tone cold. “For now, we focus on the problem.”

It had taken him a few minutes to force himself to focus; then they had gone to work. Ray called in, liasing with the other department heads about the present approaches to the issue. No one had made mention of his absence for the earlier parts of the morning. There were bigger concerns to deal with for now.

The goblins had been called in, and were reinforcing the government teams in tracking and retrieving the civilians, before escorting them to a secured facility. Ray had assigned himself to guard the safe house, quietly hoping that Casper might be among those escorted there. Linda, for her part, had been placed in the rapid response team, one of the few dozen people in new york with powerful enough magic to make a difference against the elves. Neither had had any luck. The day had wore on, and there had been no word of their son.

When word had come of the death of the Female, Ray been far from reassured. The news had been sent in by Father, after all, and the knowledge of New York now playing host to a nigh unstoppable pedophile was far from reassuring. Linda had abandoned the response team when the male went to ground, presumably searching the city in whatever manner her all too rational mind could conjure. He, on the other hand, had joined the search party in the dim hope that Casper might still be among those kidnapped by the elves. It was the strangest thing, he thought, to find himself actually hoping that his son had been captured, because at least then he could be saved.

He shifted his torch once more across the path and saw nothing, his tired eyes barely even managing to follow the beam through the dark. In the distance, however, he caught sight of another light coming towards him. He turned his light on the figure holding it, and had to strain his eyes for a moment before he recognized them. His search partner was his opposite number: Peter Toranaga, head of interspecies relations. They’d split up some time ago in the attempt to cover more ground, unconcerned by the weaker agents’ need for safety in numbers.

“Anything?” Peter asked as the two of them passed within earshot of one another.

“Nothing,” Ray replied, too tired to really be frustrated. “Can’t see a thing in this light.”

Toranaga grunted at that, then shifted his torch slightly, throwing the beam over Ray’s face, no doubt catching sight of the bags underneath his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, before the radio at his hip buzzed to life, an older man’s voice speaking through it.

“This is the specialist. I’ve found him. Looks like he’s trying to nab some civilian that got caught in the cordon. Going in now. Directors, close on the south-west block. Other units, hang clear.”

Without a word, the two men set off towards the south at a sprint, Peter giving his radio two short clicks in acknowledgement.

They weren’t far off from it, in the end, a three minute sprint at most, but it was still long since over by the time either one of them arrived. Ray focused on keeping the hope buried inside his chest. If he focused too much on the chance of finding his son, it could get in the way. He crushed it.

Eventually, they came upon a small clearing, catching sight as they approached of the three figures it held. A short, elderly man in a trenchcoat that was perhaps half a size too large for him, standing watch over another, younger looking man who lay prone, a bruised looking young woman sitting on the grass some way away, rummaging through a bag she held clenched between her knees.

The man waved as they approached, the girl simply eyeing them distrustfully.

“Directors,” The specialist called amicably. “Target subdued. Ready for interrogation if you are, Peter.”

Peter nodded, casting his eye momentarily towards the girl.

“The civilian okay?” He asked. “She looks a little beaten up.”

The specialist shrugged.

“A few aches and pains,” he murmured, allowing himself a chuckle. “Her own fault. She refused to stay out of the fight after I got there. Wound up doing most of the work herself.”

That earned the girl another glance from the two directors. She glared back stonily, fishing in the bag with her less damaged arm, pulling out what looked like a chunk of salami and pushing it awkwardly into her mouth with a palm.

“The girl did it?” Ray asked, surprised. “She’s a kid.”

“Yes,” the older man allowed, his tone amused. “A feisty kid, though. Super strength, at a guess. Broke her hand taking down his barriers, but just kept on punching him.”

“Dad,” Peter grumbled. “You’ve already got an apprentice. Stop being so pleased with this.”

That caught Ray’s attention, turning his gaze back towards the specialist for a moment. So this was Hideyoshi Toranaga, then. Huh. Shorter than expected. He pushed the thought from his mind, and turned his attention to the elf, only half aware of the other men as they began to bicker.

The elf wasn’t paying any attention either, gazing up at the clouds high above, his eyes glassy, tears occasionally trickling down his cheeks, lost. Ray looked away. Sympathy wasn’t what he needed to feel right now.

“Shall we get on with this?” He asked abruptly, breaking up whatever argument the other two were having. “The sooner we get the information we need, the sooner we can pull those people out of wherever they’re being kept and start putting all of this bullshit to rest.”

The two Toranagas glanced at him, and the younger one gave him a nod.

“Fair point,” he admitted. “Let’s get this over with. Ray, can you call in the capture? This shouldn’t take too long.”

Ray nodded, stepping away from the other two, and briefly pulling out his radio and conveying what he needed to, before clicking it back off with a sigh. He glanced back towards the girl, still glaring darkly towards his erstwhile companions as she chewed. She looked pretty bloodied. Probably best to make sure she was okay. He made a few tentative steps towards her, trying to work through what he was supposed to say after something like this. He opened his mouth as he approached, but she beat him to it.

“Fuck off, dude,” she grumbled. “Whatever you’re gonna say, I don’t wanna hear it. I’ve had a hell of a day.”

Ray chuckled at that. There was nothing else he could think to do.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Me too. Me too.”

With that, he turned away from her, and sat down, watching the interrogation for lack of anything else to do. After a few seconds, he found his eyes glazing it over, not really seeing it. God, he was tired.

He was brought out of his reverie briefly when something hit him in the shoulder with a thunk. He looked down. It was an apple. He glanced up at the girl, and saw that she had another just like it held in her good hand. She met his gaze, and gave him a shrug, before taking a bite.

He let out a breath, gave her a nod, and picked up the apple, biting down. It was something to do, at least.

He ate slowly, trying to ration what little distraction he had while he waited for the others to extract the information, but it didn’t work. He’d long since run out of bites when Peter turned around and gave him a nod.

“Got it,” he called. “You coming? I’ve already called for a retrieval crew. We can take it from here.”

“No.” Ray replied, pulling himself to his feet. “I’m accompanying. I want to assess the damage in person here.”

Peter nodded, waiting for Ray to reach him before setting turning back towards the trees and setting off at a walk. Behind them, he was dimly aware of Hideyoshi pulling the elf up over his shoulder and calling the girl to follow, saying something about teaching her to make a splint for her hand before leading her off towards the cordon.

It was a long walk, and they did it in silence, Ray trying with every step to keep himself detached. He couldn’t risk putting all his hopes on this, not if he wanted to keep on moving afterwards.

After a few minutes, Peter spoke into the quiet.

“So, what’s wrong, Ray? You look exhausted. Something wrong?”

Ray shook his head automatically.

“It’s fine. Just tired. Nothing you need to worry about.”

“… Huh,” the other director replied. “… Let me rephrase, then. You came on an elf hunt while barely even conscious, and you look like you’ve been told you have a week to live. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“… Family troubles.” Ray admitted, giving his head a little shake. He was too tired for this. “Don’t worry about it.”

Peter thought about that for a moment, then shrugged.

“Fine. I won’t pry.”

Ray grunted at that, and went back to staring at the path ahead of them, his mind settling back into its malaise. Then, for a moment, those words floated once more in front of his eyes.

‘I think I hate you.’

He chuckled angrily at himself, then, on impulse, said out loud the words he’d been thinking all day. For years, really.

“I’m a terrible father.”

He said it plainly, without emphasis. It was surprising how little the words stung, in the end.

“Huh,” Peter muttered after a moment. “… So it’s something about your kid, then? You’re Casper’s dad, right? He’s friends with my son.”

“Your son?” Ray asked without inflection. “I didn’t know.”

“They met at school a week or two ago,” Peter supplied. “He’s come over a few times.”

“Oh,” Ray murmured. “So that’s where he’s been going. He didn’t tell me. I figured he just didn’t want to talk to me.”

“… What’s wrong?” Peter asked, his tone changing now to what seemed like genuine concern. “Has something happened?”

Ray laughed at that, a single burst of humorless sound. “Something” was such an understatement.

“I tried to help him manifest,” he muttered, hating himself. “First few times, I thought I’d been soft; that I just hadn’t made him scared enough to make it happen. So I kept trying.” He paused there for a moment, the park ground in front of him momentarily giving way to the image of his son huddled against the wall, tears streaming down his face as he cradled his arm, the mark of pain steadily flowing into place across his cheek. He didn’t push this one away, instead forcing himself to look at it long and hard. Peter was silent beside him; either judging or waiting, he couldn’t tell. He forced himself to continue. “… He ran away from home last night.”

There was a long silence after that, before Peter swore quietly to himself.

“Christ, Ray. I thought you were better than that.”

Ray let out a huff, feeling a sudden touch of anger towards the other man.

“Don’t give me that,” he muttered. “I know it’s shit, but you know as well as I do that powers need stress to manifest. They’re always going to be traumatic. Surely it’s better to do it yourself, and give the kid as much help as they need in the aftermath. Yeah, I’m a crap dad, but I wasn’t wrong for trying to make it easier.” For a moment, he remembered his own father doing much the same. Afterwards, he’d been given ice cream.

“You say that,” the other man replied angrily. “But the way I see it, you just drove your kid out of his home. Powers aren’t worth that, Ray.”

Ray grunted.

“Wouldn’t have expected that, coming from you. You’re a Toranaga, after all. Are you really telling me Japan’s foremost wizarding line doesn’t help their children manifest? I waited until Casper was nine. How old were you, huh?”

The strike caught him in the cheek, sent him stumbling. There was less force to it than he might have thought. He righted himself, and met the other man’s glare.

“… That was the wrong road to take with me, Ray,” said Peter, his voice cold. “But fine. You want your answer? I was seven.” They stared at one another for a long moment. “Do you know what a faun is, Ray?”

Ray brought a finger to his lip, felt a trace of blood, and nodded.

“Yeah,” he replied evenly. “I know what a f-”

“Not the modern faun,” Peter cut him off. “Not C.S. Lewis. I’m talking about the old myths. The tricksters and the monsters. Pan and the Satyrs. Those myths come from somewhere, Ray; and one day, my parents went out and caught one.”

Ray cocked an eyebrow at that, confused, but Peter didn’t seem to notice.

“Turns out, they have a defense mechanism,” he continued bitterly. “And it’s a good one. They generate fear. That’s all. Just fear. So my parents caught one, chained it to a wall, and locked me in a room with it.”

It took a moment for the implications of Peter’s words to sink in.

“… Ah.” He said, for lack of anything better.

“They knew it had worked after three hours, when I started begging them to let me out. In turkish. Powers aren’t worth it, Ray. It’s just child abuse.”

“… I disagree,” Ray grumbled after a long quiet. “We need them. They keep us safe.”

Peter sighed, his shoulders sagging slightly.

“Well, you’re not wrong,” he murmured. “But that doesn’t make it better.” He took a deep breath, then shook his head. “We’ll find your son, Ray, but I think we both know you’ll need to spend your whole life making this up to him.”

“Yeah. I know.”

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