Dissonance: 4.12

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Author’s Note: Well, this one should be interesting. Sorry it took so long. So. First up, here’s a link to the bonus chapter vote for this arc, and secondly, an awesome dude called Sharkerbob has done a dramatic read-through of one of my chapters. Both of those things are cool, especially Sharker. So, moving on, let’s do the chapter.

James:

“I don’t get why I have to meet them, though,” Casper grumbled, following grudgingly along in the other boy’s wake. James rolled his eyes.

“Cuz you need more friends, Casper,” he replied shortly, lowering his voice a little as they approached the table. “Just me isn’t enough. Besides, I’m tired of having to choose between you and them every day.” At that, he raised his voice again. “Hey, guys! This is Casper. He’s a doof. Can we friend him?”

The table was mostly empty today, most of the group having likely set off once again for a game. Charlie was there, though, along with Nailah. At James’ call, the two of them glanced up from the array of monster cards scattered across the tabletop. Charlie’s freckle dusted face split into a grin.

“Hey, James!” he called. “Hey, Casper. Give us like, two seconds, okay? I’m so close to a win here.”

Nailah snorted at that.

“Nope,” she murmured back, laying down a fresh card. “I cast ‘Barrel of Explodium’. That’s you out of life points. Again.”

“What? No,” Charlie protested. “That’s six damage. I had seven left. I know I did!”

James chuckled at that, tugging Casper in behind him as he sat.

“Don’t argue maths with Nai; she’ll just make you lose harder.”

Charlie shot him a scowl. He countered with the most innocent smile he could manage. Beside him, Casper sat down on the bench, frowning, eyes on the table.

James sighed, and prodded the older boy in the ribs.

“Oi. No clamming up for you.” When Casper didn’t respond, he turned his gaze to the others. “Casper runs a light deck. Keeps trying to beat me with just human soldiers and enchantments.”

“Well that’s lame,” Charlie replied, picking up James’ lead and thankfully running with it. “Humans are like, one/one monsters across the board, right? How can you win without any decent champions?”

For a few moments, the words hung dead in the air, Casper still frowning quietly down at the tabletop. James had to force himself not to roll his eyes. Nailah had just opened her mouth to speak, when Casper replied, his voice small.

“Didn’t you just try and beat fire with a forest deck?”

The words earned him a smile from Nailah, and a playful glare from Charlie.

“Hey,” he shot back. “Don’t you go dissing my green deck. I’ll take the whole world on with nothing but bunnies and tiger spells.”

“Say that after you beat me, kay?” Nailah countered. “My fire shall reign forever.”

“… I totally need to bring my deck sometime,” Casper murmured, giving the girl a small smile. “My humans will destroy you.”

“Foolish mortal,” Charlie countered as he gathered up his cards. “It takes more than mere men to counter the gods.” He gave James a nudge on the shoulder. “You bring your deck today?”

“Nope.” James shrugged. “I had some other stuff going on. Got kinda distracted. Sorry.”

“Wanna play with mine?” Charlie held up his freshly collected deck. “See if you can beat the fire queen?”

“Uh, sure.” James took the proffered deck, and shuffled around the table to sit across from Nailah. Charlie shifted a little to give him some room, then, out of nowhere, grabbed him by the shoulder, and gave him a noogie, ignoring both his outrage and his protests.

“You can do this, squire. I believe in you.”

“Hah!” Nailah cackled, apparently getting rather into her fire queen bit. “You expect me lose to the likes of him? He is but a child with a borrowed deck!”

James didn’t answer immediately, he was too busy fixing his hair. He shot Charlie a glare, and the taller boy smiled back, sunny as ever. He slung an arm around James’ shoulders, and leaned in to murmur a loud stage whisper into his ear.

“She is weak, young padawan. Her fire runs only on stolen power. You can unseat her, child. It is your destiny.”

James took a moment to respond to that. He wanted to be annoyed at the taller boy for messing up his hair, but it was hard. He found himself distracted for a moment by the weight of the arm over his shoulders, his attention somehow drawn to how close Charlie’s lips were to his ear. He felt his cheeks grow a little warm.

Nope.

He wrenched his mind away from that particular line of thought with all the force he could muster, and shook himself.

“Not a child,” he grumbled, managing a decent approximation of irritation as he ducked out from under the other boy’s arm. “I’m a grown up now. My dad even let me say the F word.”

“He let you say fuck?” Casper asked, grinning. “Wow, such a cool dad.”

“Yeah,” Nailah murmured, shooting him a wink. “I wish my dad let me say fuck. That’d be so ace.”

“… Shut up.”

“I guess I’ll have to stick with good ol’ Gee Willikers,” Casper continued. “Cuz I’m just not a real grown up yet.”

James glowered at him.

“Come on, guys,” Charlie cut in, his tone placating. “Don’t be mean. Saying the F word is very grown up.” James had just enough time to feel grateful, before the boy added a follow up. “I’m sure he’d be happy to demonstrate for us, too. Go on, James.”

“… What?” James looked into the other boy’s face at that, ready to protest. Charlie’s eyes were very blue under the auburn of his hair. He looked away.

“Swear,” Charlie murmured, humor teasing at the edges of his tone. “Say fuck, since you’re such a cool adult and all.”

“… I was only s’posed to say it once,” he muttered, glaring at his legs.

“Such an adult.”

“I hate all of you.”


The rest of the day passed largely uneventfully. James played cards with his friends, debated TV shows with Casper, and went to class. It was soothing, to an extent. Everything felt right again. All things in their place. He went home, did his homework, and played with Bex while Casper worked in the kitchen. When dinner came, he was honestly surprised. Turned out the other kid really knew how to cook. It was some kind of pasta, and it was delicious.

The only hiccup came when he and Casper moved to his room that evening, deciding to watch more shows while the other boy caught up on his school work.

He was sitting on the floor, muddling through an overlarge case of DVDs, when the other boy spoke, his voice quiet.

“So, Charlie’s kinda cool.”

James smiled to himself at that, still flicking through page after page of discs.

“I know, right?” he murmured. “It’s super cool you two are friends now. We do choir practice together, and he sings really we-”

“He’s cute, too,” Casper continued, his tone casual. “Don’t you think?”

James froze for a moment at that, his hands halting midway through tugging the right disc from its sleeve. It took his mind a few moments to wind back into motion.

“… What was that?” He glanced back at Casper. The boy was gazing at him, his expression calm.

“Charlie,” Casper repeated. “You think he’s cute.”

“… No I don’t,” James muttered, returning his gaze to the discs. “Don’t be dumb.”

“I’m not being dumb,” the other boy replied. “Empath, remember? Why’d you go all weird when he got close to you? Cuz it felt a like you were having sexy thou-”

“Can you not?” James asked, his voice caught between pleading and irritation. “Please? I felt weird for a couple seconds, that’s all. You don’t need to put any other stuff into it.” He pressed the button to open up the DVD player, and let out a huff. “… This is why being friends with you is weird. I never get to just deal with stuff on my own.”

For a few seconds, Casper didn’t respond. A part of James wondered if he’d hurt the other boy. He refused to look at him. When the older boy finally spoke, his voice was quiet.

“… You know there’s nothing wrong with liking boys, right?”

James let out an aggravated grunt at that.

“Of course I do,” he snapped. “I know there’s nothing wrong with it, but I don’t. Like. Boys.” He put as much emphasis as he could into the last few words, then shot his friend a scowl. Casper was still just sitting there, utterly calm. “Even if I did, I don’t want to deal with all the sexy stuff right now. It’s gross!”

For a few minutes, the two of them were quiet. James was angry. He wasn’t even all that sure why. He just knew that Casper was making him angry, with those stupid calm words and that stupid calm face. He glared at it.

After a long while, Casper sighed.

“Empathy sucks sometimes, you know?”

James didn’t answer. Instead, he just turned on the TV, and finished setting up the show. He got up, plopped himself down on the furthest edge of the bed from Casper that he could, and set his eyes to the screen, not really seeing it. Neither of them spoke.

He was still angry when, ten minutes later, his phone rang. He picked it up without bothering to look at the screen, and pressed it to his ear.

“Hello?”

“Hey, James. It’s Caleb.”

For the briefest moment, James felt a tiny flicker of relief undercut his rage. He’d been worried for a while there that Caleb might not want to speak to him.

“Hey,” he murmured, ignoring the way Casper’s gaze shifted across to him. “You uh… You doing okay?”

At the other end of the line, Caleb let out a tired laugh.

“No. Not really. I uh. I was hoping you could maybe come see me? I… Kinda wanted to explain some stuff.”

“Sure,” James replied, perplexed. “You got a time ready to do a meet up or-”

“I’m at the park near your place,” Caleb cut him off. “The one with the skateboards. Can you meet me? It’s kind of important.”

For a moment, James considered saying no. His parents were home. It was already getting dark. Then he glanced at Casper, felt another twinge of anger.

“Sure. Just give me a couple minutes. Kay?” He didn’t wait for a response before he hung up. He dropped the phone in his pocket, and stood up. The basketball sat in the far corner of the room, and he extended a hand, his power reaching out along with it to grasp the air inside the sphere. The practice bouts had helped a lot with his control, and now, the ball flew straight as he pulled it towards his hand, its movement quick, but steady.

“I’m going out,” he muttered behind himself. “I have some stuff to do.”

“… Stuff we’re allowed to talk about?” Casper asked, his tone a tad concerned.

“No,” James replied shortly. “Other stuff.”


It wasn’t too hard for James to get his parents to let him outside. They might be a little restrictive, but it was still early enough in the evening, and they knew he could defend himself. He promised to be back in an hour, and stepped outside, the ball tucked under an arm.

One short walk later, he found Caleb at the park, sitting alone on the lip of the skate rink. Without a word, he walked over, and sat himself alongside him.

Caleb didn’t look too good. There were shadows under his eyes, a trace of blood and dust still clinging to his clothes from yesterday’s fight. James didn’t ask about the fresher blood on his knuckles, nor the dried tears across his cheeks.

“… What’s up?” he asked, turning his gaze down into the skating pit. He absently tossed the basketball down into it, and watched the thing as it bounced.

“… I’ve been lying to you,” came the response, Caleb, like himself, opting to just watch the ball as it moved. “Wanted to say sorry I’m a shitty friend.”

James wanted to say the words were surprising, but they weren’t. He wasn’t an idiot.

“You mean you’re not a teenage monster hunter?” he asked, his voice deadpan.

Caleb chuckled.

“Actually, that’s the only thing I told you that was true. It’s the rest that was all BS. I am a monster hunter, but I wasn’t trying to train you.” James chanced a glance at the older boy. Caleb was still just watching the ball, his hands clasping together in his lap, still gently dripping blood. He returned his gaze to the ball, and gave it a little push with his wind to keep it bouncing.

“… What were you trying to do, then?”

At that, Caleb allowed himself another short chuckle, and closed his eyes.

“Honestly, I was planning to kill you.”

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Dissonance: 4.10

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James:

“I don’t know who did it,” he muttered, still glaring at the floor. “Just some guy in a bathroom.”

James hesitated for a moment, then began to raise his head towards his grandfather, before Hideyoshi stopped him short.

“Don’t,” the old man grunted. “Please don’t look at me right now.”

James considered that for a moment, before that sense of betrayal won over, and he looked the man in the eye.

For what it was worth, Hideyoshi didn’t flinch. His face was set and red, every muscle standing out in contrast beneath his skin. His eyes were wide. He looked back at his grandson, and James wasn’t even sure if he was seeing him.

Huh, he thought. So that’s what hatred looks like.

Hideyoshi held his gaze for a moment, then looked away.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath, just the tiniest touch of shame cutting through his voice. James watched as the man stepped away, rolling his head a little on his shoulders, his hands slowly unclenching once more from fists. It didn’t work.

“Fuck!” Hideyoshi bellowed, swinging an arm towards the nearest of the couches lining the training mat. James thought he saw a flash of something red dash forth from his grandfather’s hand, before the couch exploded, erupting with a whumpf in a plume of light and heat.

James stepped forwards towards the counter-top, and rested on his elbows against it, watching. How was this supposed to make him feel? What was any of this supposed to do? He watched as his grandfather raised his hands to his face and let out a loud, muffled scream against his palms.

The fire alarm went off.

Neither of them reacted much as the water began spraying from the ceiling, covering everything below in a layer of damp, faintly musty smelling fluid. It didn’t even manage to put out the fire.

From off to the side, James heard footsteps. Someone running. He glanced across, just in time to see Tasha emerge from the hallway, her expression panicked. She looked to Hideyoshi, still caught in whatever battle was raging on inside himself, then looked to James, and saw his face.

“Ah,” she grunted, her face going from adrenaline to scowl in an instant. “So I’m guessing he’s your granddad, then.”

“Yeah,” he muttered back as she began picking her way over to him, utterly ignoring the water beginning to soak its way through her clothes. “He didn’t take it well.”

In the corner of his eye, James watched as something else exploded. Another couch? No. That one looked like a table.

After a moment or two, Tasha reached him, leaning down on her elbows beside him on the counter.

They watched together in silence for a minute as Hideyoshi raged. Then, the old man slumped himself down in the smoldering remains of a chair, and held his head in his hands.

James felt a hand settle gently on his back, and glanced across. Tasha was gazing at him, that scowl still fixed quite firmly to her face. She jerked her head silently to Hideyoshi.

He took a breath, pushed himself back up from his place against the kitchen counter, and nodded.

However out of it Hideyoshi was, it seemed there was still a place somewhere inside him that was annoyed by the blaring of the fire alarm. Around the time that James made it halfway to him, he jerked a wrist in the direction of the ceiling, and the noise went quiet with a crack of snapping plastic.

The couch was still on fire as James moved towards the spot beside his grandpa, but he threw an absent gust of wind, and the flames died away a tad. Hideyoshi saw the boy approach, and the fire died down a deal further.

It should have felt awkward, James thought as he wrapped his arms around the older man’s chest, pressing a cheek against his ribs. It wasn’t, though. His grandfather was very warm in the present damp. The man was still for a moment, then James felt a hand come to rest atop his head, the fingers tussling at his hair.

“I hoped you’d never see me like that,” Hideyoshi muttered, mournful.

“I never wanted you to see this thing, either,” he replied, raising a finger to give his mark a flick. “Didn’t want you looking at me different.”

“… Sorry.”

James shook his head.

“Don’t,” he muttered, pulling back for a moment, before bringing his head forwards against his grandfather’s ribs in a gentle headbutt. “What matters is we’re family, right? We love each other.”

“… You promise you won’t be scared of me?” The hand atop his head gave his hair another ruffle.

“Only if you promise not to feel sorry for me.”

Hideyoshi let out a quiet chuckle.

“Guess we have a deal there.” He shot a glance around the room as the last of the water ran out, and laughed again. “Your grandma’s gonna be pissed. I kinda broke the living room.”

James smiled.

“Dibs not telling.”

“Little brat.” Hideyoshi leaned back a little in his seat, and let out a sigh. “Now then. Let’s have a talk about what to tell your Dad.”


“Are you sure this is okay?” James asked, climbing out of the car to rejoin his grandfather. “Like, one hundred percent?”

“Yes, James,” Hideyoshi sighed. “I’m sure. Peter’s already a high level mage, and your mother knows most of the important bits. As long as we keep the crime fighting to ourselves, there shouldn’t be a problem. Now come on. Let’s get it done.” The older man jerked a thumb behind his back towards James’ house across the street, and began to walk, fiddling momentarily with the electric lock on his car key as he went. James, after a moment’s hesitation, followed along in his wake. They passed the gate, and Hideyoshi tapped firmly on the door with his knuckles.

It took a few moments for anyone to answer. James shuffled his feet; his grandfather put his hands in his pockets. Then, with a series of small clicks, the door opened.

“Hi, Dad,” Peter murmured as his eyes fell on Hideyoshi. Then he saw his son. “James? I thought you went to the movies?”

“Yeah,” Hideyoshi nodded. “We met up. Some things happened. I found the flying kid you were looking for.”

Peter shot his son a glance at that, before giving Hideyoshi a glare.

“Flying kid?” he asked. “Not sure what you m-”

“Dad,” James muttered, his cheeks growing rather warm. “It’s me. I’m the flying kid.”

“… You’re what?”

At that, Hideyoshi chuckled.

“Just show him, James. It’s easier to explain it that way.”

James hesitated a moment, glancing around the empty street to make sure no one was watching, before lifting himself an inch or two above the ground. He stayed like that, hovering awkwardly above the porch, for a few seconds, before once more lowering himself to the ground.

“… I heard someone caught my picture when that lightning guy attacked?”

For a moment. Peter only stared, gazing down at his son, his expression utterly blank.

“… What.”


A few hours later, James lay on Casper’s bed, listening to the sounds emanating from the other boy’s game.

It hadn’t taken the older Toranagas long to banish James from the conversation, retiring to Peter’s study to hash out some kind of schedule, and leaving him once more to his own devices. Lacking anything else to do, he’d gravitated to Casper’s room, hearing the muted sound of his television through the crack beneath the door.

It was fun, at first, if a little quiet. Neither boy was much in the mood for talking.

“How’d the thing with Doctor Sharpe go?” James asked, staring absently at the ceiling above the bedspread. “She help you think about some stuff?”

“Kinda,” Casper agreed, his eyes on the television screen as he piloted his character across a field. James quietly regretted that they only had the one controller. “It was weird. Think it helped me sort some things, though. Like how weird it is when you all go Japanese on me.”

James chuckled.

“Hey. If you wanted me to teach you, I wouldn’t say no.”

“Not the point,” Casper murmured, rolling his eyes. They were silent for a time after that, before the older boy spoke again. “… Have you been avoiding me?”

“Just a little,” James replied, after only a moment’s hesitation. “You said you wanted some time so you could deal with stuff.”

The other boy didn’t reply to that at first. James glanced sideways at him, and saw his eyes still focused on the screen. Boss fight. James looked away again. A moment or two later, there was a sound of swiping metal, and the familiar trill of the game over music. Casper sighed.

“Is that why you didn’t tell me you keep sneaking out at night?” he asked, leaning back on his hands as he turned his gaze to James. “I have a radar brain, James. I notice sometimes when you start climbing out your window.”

James frowned at that. Not annoyed, really. He wasn’t entirely sure what this feeling was. The window exits had happened a few times early on; Caleb calling him out at night time, before they started organizing better excuses.

“Yeah,” he murmured. “It’s why I didn’t tell you. I had Tasha backing me up, and I was giving you a break.”

“… So you gonna tell me now?” Casper asked, his voice just a fraction too casual as he started back up his game.

James frowned a little harder at that. Why did it feel like he was being made a bad guy, here? It wasn’t like Casper hadn’t been acting funny too, the last few weeks.

“Depends,” he muttered. “You gonna tell me what happened after you ran away?” In the corner of his eye, Casper gave the tiniest of flinches. He hesitated for half a second, before adding: “You gonna tell me where you got that second phone?”

“… You mean the one your parents got me?” Casper asked, his tone wavering almost unnoticeably.

“No,” he murmured back. “The other one.”

He’d noticed it first about a week ago, how one or two times out of three, Casper’s phone would buzz instead of chime when he got a text, or how it would switch pockets when he wasn’t looking. At first, he’d just dismissed it. A mild inconsistency; not even enough to stick in the mind.

But then something obvious had happened.

They’d been making castles in the hall with Bex, when Casper’s phone had chimed; a message from James’ mom about what snacks he liked in his lunchbox. That hadn’t been the unusual part. That had come when James went upstairs to use the bathroom, only to hear a buzzing as he passed by Casper’s room. When he’d peeked in through the slightly open door, there’d been another phone charging on Casper’s bedside, identical to the first. When he’d gone to look, there’d been a single message on the screen:

‘Have a good day at school?’ from a sender by the name of ‘F’.

James waited a while for Casper to answer, and when no reply was forthcoming, he tried again.

“… You gonna tell me who F is?”

What followed felt like the longest silence of James’ life, before Casper simply sighed.

“No,” he muttered. “I guess I’m not.” He lowered the controller down between his knees, and once more turned his gaze to James. “Guess we’re keeping secrets now, huh?”

James returned his friend’s gaze and gave him a smile, a little sad.

“Yeah. I guess we are.” He pushed himself upright. “… Promise you’ll tell me if it gets you into trouble?”

Casper nodded.

“Only if you promise that, too.” He returned James that same saddened smile, but it had a crack in it. “We’re still friends, right?”

“… Yeah. We’re still friends.” James climbed to his feet and made his way towards the door, then stopped. “I told my dad about my magic,” he said quietly. “He’s cool with it. Just thought I should let you know.”

“… Thanks.”

With that, James exited the room, and closed the door behind him.

If he wanted time to breathe. He didn’t get it. Only a minute after he’d made it to his room, sitting himself down pensively on his bed, there was a creak from the door as his father edged his way inside. The silence this time was just awkward as the two of them gazed across at one another. Then, finally, Peter spoke.

“So I guess you’re a mage now, huh?”

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Dissonance: 4.6

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Casper:

“So…” Casper asked. “What happens now? You gonna ask me stuff about what happened, or…”

Doctor Sharpe shrugged, sidling across to the wall at the base of the staircase and leaning against it on her shoulder, placing her coffee cup on the floor.

“If that’s what you want me to do,” she murmured. Then sure. Pretty sure it’s not, though. I know I wouldn’t want to start there.” Behind her, Peter stepped inside and hung up his coat, before moving on past the two of them towards his office.

“I’ll be around if you need me,” he called behind himself. “But you’ll need to come in. I’m gonna have earphones on to give you some privacy.”

“Thanks,” Both Casper and the Doctor replied at once.

“So,” she asked, returning her gaze to him. “How’s living here working out for you? Peter seemed to think you were settling in pretty well.”

Casper gave the woman a shrug, resting his chin on his arms, themselves balanced on his knees.

“Yeah,” he answered. “It’s going good, I think. I feel safer here; that’s for sure.”

“That’s good,” she nodded. “And you’re settling in with the family well?”

“I think so. Bex is acting like I’ve lived here forever already,” he smiled. “Kid’s a hugger. Peter and Sarah have been really nice, too.”

“Well, that’s good to hear. And James?”

Casper hesitated a fraction of a second at that, but just a fraction. James had been being weird lately.

“Yeah. James is cool. He still won’t admit how lame some of his anime are.”

To that, the Doctor laughed.

“Oh, so he’s dragged you into them too, huh?”

“Maybe.” Casper grinned.

“So,” she murmured, her voice more casual now. “Everything’s good? You’re not having any problems?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “I think so, at least. I mean, what am I supposed to say? It’s not perfect, but I like that no one hits me?”

“Yeah,” Doctor Sharpe agreed. “I see your point. But there’s more to making sure you’re in a good place than just making sure you’re physically safe.” She hesitated for a moment there, then shrugged and lowered herself to the ground, sitting at the base of the stairwell in a squat. “Okay. Tell you what. You tell me the three biggest problems you have with staying here, and we can go from there to see if there’s any need to change things up a little.”

For a while, Casper didn’t answer, simply gazing down at her in thought.

“Problem?”

“… A little,” he muttered. “These are nice people. I don’t wanna complain, you know?”

“I get that,” came the reply. “But you’re staying with this family for at least the next couple of weeks. Probably months. That means that right now, these guys are acting as a foster family to you, even if it’s not official. So, I think it’s important to make sure you can make a place here.”

Doctor Sharpe picked up the coffee cup by her side, and brought it to her lips.

“Damn,” she sighed. “Empty. So, if your problems with staying here are small, then that’s great. It means good things, just teething pains. But if they’re big, then I think they need to be addressed, and I think you deserve to have some backup when it comes to addressing them, because it’s important that you’re able to speak your mind.” She shrugged. “So, what have you got for me?”

Again, he hesitated for a while before he spoke.

“… I don’t like all the Japanese,” he muttered, embarrassed.

“The Japanese?” the Doctor asked. “What do you mean?”

“… Everyone else here speaks Japanese like, really well, and I think they keep forgetting I can’t? So they’ll get like, halfway through a conversation at dinner, and I’ll just be sitting there like a lump because I don’t know what anyone’s saying.”

“… Yeah. I can see why that’d get to you.”

“It makes me feel dumb.” He shifted his gaze to his feet, hiding his cheeks behind his knees.

“That’s fair,” Natalie murmured. “And the second one?”

“… It feels rude to say.”

“Heh,” she chuckled. “I asked for this, Casper. If anyone, it’s me that’s being rude.”

Casper took a deep breath.

“The food’s weird,” he muttered. “Like, Peter works late, and Sarah went back to the university after James got a little better, and I don’t think she really knows how to cook anyway. So, like, all we eat at dinner are these store bought lasagne things? They’re kinda gross.” He paused. “Am… Am I allowed… I mean, I’m still furious with her, but… Am I allowed to say I miss my Mom’s cooking?”

“I think you’re allowed to say whatever you like,” came the reply after a moment. “And how would you want that problem to be fixed? Just better food?”

“No,” he grumbled. “That just sounds dumb. And I get it; they’re busy. But, like… I can cook. Mom taught me. So I was thinking… Maybe I could make dinner?”

“That sounds like a fair thing to ask.” Natalie nodded. “I could help you talk to them about it, if you like. I don’t see it being too big of a problem, as long as you prove you can do it safely and they keep a few of those dreaded store lasagnes in the freezer.” She shot him a small smile. “And your third problem?”

Casper considered this one for a while.

“Honestly, it’s kinda hard to think of anything else I have a problem with. I like it here. I’m happier.”

“Heh,” she chuckled. “A teenager without complaints. I should write a paper on you.”

Casper opened his mouth to snipe something back, but she raised a hand.

“Sorry. That was a bad one. I’ve had a long day.” She rubbed her eyes. “Okay. That sounds good so far. A couple problems settling in, but stuff we can fix. That’s good. How about your parents?”

“… What do you mean?”

“Well,” she murmured. “Where do you want to go from here? Do you plan on staying away from them forever? Do you want to try and fix things? How do you want this to resolve?”

Casper mulled the question over for a few moments, then gave the older woman a defeated shrug.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “To be honest, when I ran away… I wasn’t exactly planning on staying away forever. I just wanted to get away. I couldn’t stand being with them right then, you know?”

“Yeah,” she nodded. “I can get that.”

“But,” he sighed. “The more I stay away… The more I kinda wanna keep staying away. I mean, at first, I was angry. Like, really, really angry; just thinking about everything they did and just… All the fear.” He took a breath, spending a moment to try and let the anger pass before it had a chance to build, just as Freja had shown him. “But now, I don’t even know. It’s like… Like they just make me kinda sick?”

“Do you wanna talk to them?”

“… I dunno.”

“You know you don’t have to be scared anymore, right?” she asked. “You have the pow-”

“I’m not scared,” Casper snapped, once more trying to let his anger flow away from him. “I’m done with that shit. I know that if I went back, right now. I could call Peter, or Sarah, or you, and whatever they did, they’d be punished for it.” He reached down towards the stair below him, his knuckles rapping out an agitated staccato against the wood. “But I don’t want it to be like that. I fucking hate the idea that they’d only hold off of hurting me because they knew it could get them in trouble, you know?”

He lifted his gaze towards Natalie and was momentarily surprised. His vision was blurry. Was he crying? He wiped his eyes. She was moving forwards. Not far, but a little. When she reached the base of the steps, he felt her mind graze against the edge of his bubble. He shifted back. He didn’t want to feel her pity.

The two were silent for a time then, Natalie leaning carefully against the bannister while Casper dried the anger from his eyes.

“What would you say to them?” she asked. “If they were here.”

Casper sighed.

“I’d tell them I used to let myself go hungry at school,” he muttered, his voice tired. “Because grabbing my lunchbox meant being in the kitchen with them.”

In the corner of his eye, the Doctor nodded.

“… I’d tell Dad how much I hated it when he stopped being able to look me in the eye.” He allowed himself a hollow chuckle. “I’d tell Mom how I hate that she still can.” He hesitated. “…I’d tell her she’s disgusting… And him? I’d tell him he’s just a coward… More than anything, I’d tell them how badly I want to hate them.”

“Would you like to be able to say that to them, some day?”

“… Yeah,” he muttered. “To be honest… Yeah. I kinda would.”

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Bonus Chapter: Doctor Sharpe.

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Author’s Note: Oop! Nearly forgot to put the playlists in! Here we are! Casper’s Groovez and Bex’s Songz!


Doctor’s notes, Subject #24235. Samantha De-Lorrie. Session 2.

Notes and recommendations of attendant therapist, Natalie Sharpe:

  In the two weeks since her kidnapping during the elvish incursion, Samantha has been making positive steps with adjusting, both to her manifestation (Type two: Significantly enhanced internal and dermal durability, thermal resistance, mild strength increase) and to her experiences while in the elves’ captivity. Samantha has noted that the group sessions are particularly helpful in this. However, problems have been noted, including continual concerns over loss of dermal sensitivity. Next session not originally scheduled for another two days, but an earlier appointment was booked on short notice after the apparent manifestation of additional metaphysical abilities.

  Upgrade of classification from type two to type three manifestation is pending based on the findings of this session.

Transcript of audio-visual session recording taken down by supervisor Pearson is as follows:

A knock sounds at the office door. Doctor sharpe looks up from her case notes.

Doctor Sharpe: “Come in.”

The door opens. Samantha enters.

Doctor Sharpe: “Hello, Sam. How are you feeling today?

Samantha: “I’m uhh. I’m fine, I think. Sorry to come in at short notice like this.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It’s not a problem, Sam. I’m glad you told us so quickly. It was the right thing to do. Telling me promptly helps to minimize the potential for harm, and allows for you to reintegrate back into your life much more safely and easily. Now. Would you mind telling me exactly what happened?”

Samantha: “R-right. So I uh. I was studying. Trying to catch up on assignment work and stuff. C-can’t exactly ask my teachers for an extension on grounds of secret evil kidnapping, you know?”

Doctor Sharpe chuckles.

Doctor Sharpe: “I could actually provide you with a medical certificate to give to your professors, if you’d like. Nothing about evil kidnappings, per-se, but I could write up something analogous. There’s no need for you to be placed under extra stress after what you’ve been through.”

Samantha smiles.

Samantha: “Y-yeah. If you could, t-that’d be kinda great. Crunch time’s sorta the worst possible time for this to be happening, you know?”

Doctor Sharpe: “I do. So, you were studying?”

Samantha: “Right, yeah. So I was at my computer, trying to get out a couple hundred words on the fall of Carthage. Underlying factors and stuff. A-and I had some tea next to me; chamomile… it’s supposed to be good for stress.”

A pause.

Samantha: “A-anyway, I r-reached out to grab it, a-and it was cold. I guess I must’ve lost track of time or something.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It happens.”

Samantha: “Yeah. S-so I just kinda sighed and figured I’d drink it anyway, but when I try to, it’s hot.”

A pause. Doctor Sharpe makes a note in her pad.

Doctor Sharpe: “Your tea got hot?

Samantha: “Yeah. But I mean, like, really hot. Like, hotter than when I boiled it, hot.”

Doctor sharpe makes another note in her pad.

Doctor Sharpe: “I see. And then?”

Samantha: “Well, I mean, then I just kinda stared at it for a second, before I guess it must’ve superheated or something, because that’s when the mug exploded. Steam and pottery everywhere.”

Doctor Sharpe appears concerned.

Doctor Sharpe: “Oh. Oh dear. Are you okay? Did it burn you?”

Samantha: “No. I guess my other powers were good enough to save me there. No burns, no cuts. It ruined my laptop, though… I think I still have a couple shards in my hair.”

Note: Samantha’s manifestation was previously shown to allow her to withstand around five hundred degrees centigrade temperatures without sustaining damage, with skin durability slightly below that of unreinforced aluminium.

Doctor Sharpe nods a few times, before setting her pad aside and retrieving a hand recorder from her desk.

Doctor Sharpe: “One moment, Samantha.”

Doctor Sharpe activates the recorder.

Doctor Sharpe: “Patient name: Samantha De-Lorrie. Patient has displayed potential mid-level metaphysical ability; some form of touch based thermal manipulation. High priority testing required to determine whether this is a physical trait. If not, recommending immediate recategorization to type three due to conjunction with pre-existing type two traits. If metaphysical, I am recommending provision of basic metaphysical instruction to prevent possible dangerous incide-”

Samantha interrupts recording.

Samantha: “U-um… Doctor Sharpe? Uh… What’s a type three?”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe deactivates her recorder.

Doctor Sharpe: “Right. Fair question. This was going to have to be explained to you at some point. Well, basically, the government classifies superhuman abilities into three categories. We have type ones, like me, who are effectively able to use stored energy to cause some metaphysical effect to happen when we want it to.

Doctor Sharpe waves a free hand, demonstratively allowing a small burst of electrical energy to manifest between her fingers.

Doctor Sharpe: “In terms you’ve heard before, type ones are mages. We learn to cast spells, but our bodies are otherwise human.”

A pause. Samantha appears to be staring at Doctor Sharpe’s hand.

Doctor Sharpe: “Then we have what we thought you were: a type two. In the basest sense, these are people who tend to have advanced physical abilities because of the presence of magical genes in their DNA. In layman’s terms, they’re crossbreeds; people with superhuman abilities because they have non-human genetic ancestry. Based on the type and strength of the powers you manifested, we believe that in your case, one of your grandparents was probably some variant of golem. That would certainly explain the increased durability.”

A pause. Samantha continues staring for several seconds.

Doctor Sharpe: “As I said, however, I believe you should now be classified as a type three. Type threes are fairly simple. While a type one means a mage, and a type two means a crossbreed, a type three simply means both. You manifested a supernatural physical ability during your time in captivity, and have now demonstrated what seems to be a fairly straightforward case of an entry level enchantment. We’ll need to do some further testing to make sure, of course, but this does seem to be the most probable present diagnosis.”

A pause. Samantha remains silent, continuing to gaze at Doctor Sharpe from her seat.

Doctor Sharpe: “… I can see you’re going to need a moment. There’s a coffee machine in the hall. Would you like anything?”

Samantha nods, but remains otherwise unresponsive. Doctor Sharpe places the recorder into her pocket, then presses a button on her desk console.

Doctor Sharpe: “Leah? I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind heading into the hall and grabbing my patient a latte? She’s just had a bit of a shock.”

Doctor Sharpe thinks for a moment, then adds:

Doctor Sharpe: “In an insulated cup, please, Leah.”

A voice on the intercom replies in the affirmative, and both Samantha and Doctor Sharpe wait in silence. After a few minutes, Doctor Sharpe’s receptionist steps in, and passes Samantha a cup, before excusing herself again.

Doctor Sharpe: “Thank you, Leah.”

After a few seconds, Samantha takes a sip of her coffee.

Doctor Sharpe: “I know this may well feel a little too big to handle all at once.”

Samantha makes a single short chuckling noise, before once more falling silent.

Doctor Sharpe: “But I want you to bear in mind, this is something that’s entirely under your control. Once you’ve been provided some basic schooling, it should be easy enough to avoid accidentally activating your new power. From there, you will be free to either continue to pursue magic as a vocation, or to simply ignore it completely for as long as you like. This doesn’t need to be anything stressful. Remember that.”

Samantha slowly nods, and takes another sip of her coffee.

Doctor Sharpe: “Is there anything else that you’d like to discuss with me today?”

Samantha shakes her head.

Samantha: “I… I think I’ve had enough knowledge bombs for one day, thanks.”

Doctor Sharpe nods.

Doctor Sharpe: “I’ll organize the tests and have someone call you to arrange a time when you get home. Would you like to have someone see you home? You seem a little unsteady on your feet.”

Samantha nods.

Samantha: “Y-yeah. That… That’d be good. Thanks, doc.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s quite alright, Sam. Leah will have someone ready for you.”

Samantha chuckles as she pushes herself upright.

Samantha: “Yeah. Heh. I guess Leah’s awesome like that.”

Doctor Sharpe smiles.

Doctor Sharpe: “She is. Until next time, Sam.”

Samantha exits the room and Doctor Sharpe sighs.

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, that was a bad move. Longest goddamn day.”

Doctor Sharpe takes out her recorder, and resumes recording.

Doctor Sharpe: “Personal notes, patient number 24235, session two. No significant notes to record at the present time. Patient responded with shock to the nature of her manifested abilities. Response is not unusual. Magic is a word that tends to have that effect on people, as does the realization of partially non-human genetic backgrounds. It would have been preferable to present that information to her at a less stressful time, but given that she was likely under the impression that her touch randomly caused things to explode, I thought it best to provide her the full explanation to alleviate those concerns. Attempt may have backfired. Will observe closely to ensure this knowledge does not hamper her recovery in the coming weeks.”

End of recording.

Notes and recommendations of supervisor Pearson regarding case #24235:

No additional notes to record. Will observe further before material conclusions are drawn.

Report Concludes.


Doctor Sharpe:

Natalie sat back in her seat and let out a groan. It had been another long day. The last two weeks had been full of them. Ever since the incursion into New York and the only broadly explainable attacks by the birds, every department had been pressed to the grindstone, delivering press releases, constructing cover stories and, in her case, tending to the traumas of the dozens of victims they’d left behind.

In the back of her head, Natalie started counting the seconds. It would take around two minutes for someone to arrive and escort Samantha back to her home. Natalie waited for exactly two and a half minutes in the blessed quiet of her office, before pushing herself out of her chair and grabbing her empty cup. Then, she stepped towards the door. She needed coffee.

The day wasn’t even done.

“Clocking off early today, Leah,” she murmured as she passed the receptionist’s desk. “If I have any other emergency appointments, can you redirect them for me?”

“Sure thing, love,” she heard the older woman reply from behind her. “You got a hot date planned?”

“Heh,” she chuckled. “I wish.”

She swung the door closed behind her, and moved to the coffee machine. She placed the cup in the slot, punched in her code, and slid the coins into the slot, leaning her forehead against the surface of the machine while it poured, taking the few seconds she could to rest her eyes.

“Hello, Natalie,” came a voice from somewhere to her left. “Ready to go?”

She didn’t reply, holding up a hand blindly towards the speaker, silently telling him to wait. She held that point until the machine had finished making her coffee. Then, she picked up the cup in her free hand, raised it to her lips, and took a long drag.

“Okay,” she muttered, shaking herself. “I’m alive again. Ready when you are, Peter.”

She opened her eyes once more just in time to see Mr Toranaga grin.

“So,” he murmured, turning to stride back down the hallway towards the car park. “The rough days are universal, huh? Good to know.”

“Yeah,” she replied, falling into step behind him. “Those civilians you guys rescued took a pretty bad hit, you know?”

“I’m aware,” Peter replied. “You should have seen them when we first got there. One of the kids they’d picked up was mid-manifestation. Longest night of my life.”

“I heard about that,” Natalie nodded, pausing to take another long drag of her coffee. “Uncontrolled biokinesis, right? How’s he doing?”

“The doctors say they’ve removed the last of the tumors successfully,” came the grunted reply. “He’s been put in isolation while we formulate a training regime. His parents are taking it about as well as can be expected.”

“God,” she let out a humorless chuckle. “Those poor people.” They reached the door to the carpark, Peter stepping forwards to hold it open while she slipped out past him. “We are so lucky this whole thing didn’t make international news.”

“It did,” Peter groaned. “We had to crush the story. The higher ups are calling it the worst secrecy breach in three years. A major event, in a major city, with over a thousand anomalous avian predators released into the streets and four different cell phone recordings of lightning bolts rising out of Central Park; one of which caught a frame or two of something that honestly looks like a flying kid. It’s a clusterfuck.”

Peter’s voice was beginning to rise steadily as he vented.

“And that’s not even going into all the damage the female did on the bridge before she put one of our goblins in the hospital. Did you know she blew up a truck? She blew up a truck.”

“… Did you say a flying kid?”

“Yeah,” he muttered, raising his hands to his face. “I have a specialist looking into it. Frankly, that’s the biggest worry of all. An unknown party strong enough to be capable of unassisted flight? That’s a walking, breathing secrecy breach.”

Peter left Natalie to stew on that in silence as they made their way to his car and climbed inside. It was an effort, thinking on all the potential implications and risks, not to mention the addition of yet another dreaded layer of complexity. Eventually, she opted to set it aside.

“So,” she asked. “How’s Casper settling in? You’ve had him staying with you for, what, two weeks now?”

“Since the day after the attacks, yeah,” came the reply. “He’s doing okay. Still won’t tell us where he went or who he stayed with. Guess he doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble. Thanks for agreeing to talk to him, by the way.”

Natalie shook her head.

“It’d be better if it wasn’t me, you know,” she muttered. “I mean, his mom’s my supervisor, after all. I’m supposed to be an unbiased party.”

“His mom was your supervisor,” Peter corrected. “I had you reassigned to Pearson. Sorry, but it was probably gonna have to happen anyways, now that you’re in charge of giving therapy to the kid who lives with her son. Besides, he asked for you.”

“He did?”

“Yeah,” Peter replied. “Asked for the same woman who was helping James. Apparently he says good things about you.”

Natalie wasn’t sure how to feel about that. It was the oddest feeling, being told she gave good therapy.

“James won’t be there, will he?” she asked after a moment, reaching for a change of subject. “I’d prefer he not see me in any of his personal spaces, if possible.”

“Yeah,” said Peter. “He said he was going to catch a movie with a friend this evening. Should be out for the next couple of hours.”

“Good. I think that’s probably for the best.”

The two sat in silence for a moment, before Peter spoke again, oddly hesitant.

“Can-… Do you mind if I ask a question?” He asked, his eyes oddly focused on the dashboard as he started up the car.

“Of course,” she replied, one eyebrow raised. “Something wrong?”

“Wrong?” He laughed. “No. Uh. Just… Not sure how to phrase it.” He paused for a second. “So, a couple months ago, I started getting the sense that James might, uh…” he stopped again, seemingly struggling for words.

“… Might what?” Natalie probed, her raised eyebrow climbing further still.

“It’s-” he paused again, then grunted. “It was little stuff, you know? Looking a little too hard at the men on tv… Getting more excited than normal about his friend, Charlie. Small things.”

“Oh!” Natalie realized, instinctively locking her face into a neutral expression. “You think he’s gay?”

“I-” Peter let out a frustrated sigh. “I don’t know. I had the feeling he might be leaning that way, but then the rape happened, and I…” He trailed off, frowning at the road ahead.

“Have you spoken to him about it?”

“Hah!” Peter snorted. “God, no. I have enough trouble talking to the kid about the easy stuff. I wouldn’t even know where to start on that mess.”

“… Would it be a problem if he was gay?” Natalie once more made an effort to keep her tone neutral.

“Of course not,” he replied immediately, his tone a touch defensive. “That’s not the point. It’s just…” He stalled out again, his eyes set determinedly on the road.

“Don’t know how to ask?” She prompted.

Another sigh.

“No,” he grumbled. “It’s-… I’m worried about him is all. I mean, what if he really is gay, you know? His only experience with a man was painful as hell. Wouldn’t that, you know, make it harder for him?”

“Ah,” Natalie nodded, finally understanding. She allowed her face to slip out of its rigorously neutral expression, and gave him a smile. “I see. Well, yeah. I can see why you’re worried about it. I don’t think you need to be, though.”

“You don’t?” He finally allowed himself to glance across at her, his fingers relaxing a little on the steering wheel.

“No,” she murmured. “Your son is still a child, Peter. Whatever sexuality he has, I expect it’s still in the early stages. He might not have even discovered it himself, yet.” Now it was Peter’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “It happens,” she shrugged. “Some of us are late bloomers, after all. Besides, I expect he’s probably doing his best not to think about sex at all right now.” Peter opened his mouth to speak, but she raised a finger to quiet him.

“And yes, I expect he probably will have some problems to overcome when it comes to dealing with his sexuality in the future, but you need to realize, those are problems he’ll probably have to deal with regardless of whether he’s straight or gay or whatever. He’s a rape victim. There’s baggage attached to that, no matter what you end up liking. What’s important, and what I’d like you to remember, is that he has a loving family, some good friends, and-” she chuckled. “-A qualified therapist. He’s a strong kid. You can trust him to find his way, alright?”

“… Right,” Peter muttered. “Yeah. You’re right. Thanks.”

“It’s no problem, sir.”

They were silent the rest of the way to the Toranaga house. After a few minutes, Peter put the radio on. Natalie pulled out her phone and began checking her emails, taking the chance to finish her coffee before it grew cold.

The rest of the journey was undergone in silence, neither of the car’s occupants really feeling any need to talk to the other more than they already had. The house was quiet when they got there; almost empty, but for the sandy haired boy gazing quietly at her from his seat halfway up the staircase, his chin tucked up against his knees.

“You the doctor?” He asked, his voice calm.

“Yes,” she replied. “I’m Doctor Sharpe. Or you can call me Natalie. It’s nice to meet you, Casper.”

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Dissonance: 4.4

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Author’s Note: Hey guys, sorry about the late update again. There are reasons. I promise. As an apology, I am currently putting together playlists of some of the music that our main characters tend to enjoy, which some of you might hopefully get a kick out of. I’ll try and post the first of them with the next chapter. Next item on the list. The short story anthology that I’ve been linking to is concluding this week, with a couple more guest stories by TeowiMike Spivak, and Revfitz, who is the awesome fellow who got us all together for it. There is also this page, where, until monday, people can vote for the story they enjoyed the most out of the bunch, including my own submission: Rainy Days. I had hoped to continue uploading a single link with each chapter, but I kinda ran out of time. 

Anyways. On with the story!

Caleb:

Caleb followed the figures through the mall at a distance, keeping his eyes locked on the two adults of the group. Why were they so powerful? When he’d caught their scent the previous night, he’d thought that the scraps of power floating past his new familiar’s senses must have come from some dangerous mercenary commune, or perhaps a government garrison house. But no. It was a normal family, as far as he could tell. He watched, perplexed, as the little girl tugged on her father’s sleeve for attention. Just what the hell were these people?

The bird’s sense was limited; annoyingly so. He kept wishing that they could split up a little to allow him to get a sense of them separately, and perhaps determine where exactly all that power lay. As it stood, the four of them were keeping far too close to one another to allow him to get a decent read, their scents mingling so as to disguise the source of it all. All he knew was that they had power. It grated at him. He needed to get a better read if he wanted to be able to use this. Maybe if he could risk getting closer?

He followed behind them as they made their way into a game store, sticking close to the entrance and pretending to flick through a bargain bin while his bird took another sniff. The levels shifted slightly as the boy stepped away from the rest of his family to examine a rack of console games, a sizeable chunk of the power breaking away with him. Caleb’s eyes went wide. The kid? Really? He’d assumed that a power this vast would be divided among the two adults in some fashion, with the children possessing perhaps some small, underdeveloped fraction of that same potential, but no. The boy was a mountain. His familiar took another sniff, and he flinched.

There was another power now, passing close beside him, barely more than a foot away; big enough to dwarf him. He turned his head just enough to see the two teens moving past him into the store. The older of the two was a pretty boy, perhaps a year or so older than him, with his hand on the shoulder of a younger, freckled boy who looked way too tired. The younger boy was staring at him. He pretended to look away, watching them still in the corner of his eye.

Where was all this power coming from?

Caleb watched, hardly daring to move, as the older of the two newcomers leaned in to whisper something into the younger one’s ear, before letting go of his shoulder and pushing him gently forwards. As the two of them broke apart, Caleb noted the change with his newfound sense. The freckled one was normal, in a nominal sense, at least, with a power level around equal to his own, without encumbrance. That news didn’t calm him, though. It meant the older boy was another freak. Humans weren’t meant to be this powerful. It was the one thing he and his masters could agree on.

He watched as the sandy haired boy made his way towards the family, his face breaking into a tired smile as the other kids noticed his presence and rushed to meet him, their parents lingering a short way behind. The little girl threw her arms around the blond boy’s waist as they reached one another, giggling as he tussled at her hair. Caleb wasn’t even surprised now as he caught the girl’s scent. She was as strong as her brother. Maybe even stronger. The older newcomer made no such contact, moving off to the side, unnoticed.

He closed his eyes to listen as the two younger boys began to speak, murmuring quietly so as to force him to rely on his own enhanced hearing to make it out.

“Hey, Cas. You okay?”

“Yeah. I think so. Just tired.”

“You wanna talk about it later?”

“Later? Yeah. Right now, though, I just want to sleep.”

He frowned. Curious words, but nothing useful. The family was grouping up around the boy now, the girl clambering uninvited up onto his shoulders as they moved towards the exit. Caleb checked his watch with a sigh. His time was nearly up. He needed to check in with Twenty Three soon. He’d have to return to this later.

He felt a hand on his shoulder as he turned to take his leave. He glanced around. It was the pretty boy, power still flowing off of him like smoke.

“I don’t know who you are,” the stranger murmured, eyes fixed on his. “But if you do something to hurt my Casper, I want you to know, you’ll pay for it.”


James:

James set his eyes on the freshly repaired basketball and frowned, once more willing the air trapped inside the thing upwards. After a few moments, the ball complied, rising into the air a mite less jerkily this time than in his previous attempts, the first of which had almost destroyed his lightbulb. He grinned, extending his hands to it, and tried to will it ever so slowly towards him.

The ball jumped forwards at the order, streaking its way across his room and passing perfectly between his outstretched hands, before striking off of his face with a resounding snap, bowling him back against the mattress. He lay there for a moment, dazed, as the ball bounced its way happily across his bedroom floor. He brought a hand up to rub at the fresh red patch blossoming across his forehead.

“Oww,” he muttered, glaring at the ball. “Freaking ow.”

Then, he went back to practicing.

He’d rather be talking to Casper right now, figuring out what had been going on in the last half week or so of movement, or even just chilling with the guy over another bad anime box set. But no. Casper didn’t want to talk. The moment they’d gotten home, he’d just fallen down on the nearest couch and started snoring. Even after the guy had woken up, he’d been quiet. In the first brief moment James had managed to snag alone with him, he’d just asked for him to drop it.

“Look,” he’d said. “Can we not, right now? I don’t know about you, but I kinda just wanna forget the weird stuff for a while. Can you just, I dunno, gimme a few days?”

James scowled at the memory. He’d agreed, reluctantly; unable to think of a way to push the issue without acting like a jerk.

“Stupid doof,” he muttered. “Not like I might have stuff to say. I only got hit by lightning yesterday. It’s no big deal.” He gave his power another flick towards the basketball a mite more forcefully than he’d intended and winced as the shot sent it slamming off of his TV stand hard enough to make the device wobble dangerously on its perch, before he once more used his power to catch it.

“Hey,” Peter called from downstairs. “Are you okay up there? Did you break something?”

“No,” he called back, giving his best effort to force the frustration out of his tone. “Just fixing my basketball!”

“James,” came the aggrieved sounding reply. “Don’t throw that thing around in the house! You’ll break our stuff!”

“Sorry,” he grumbled.

He had to admit. This was a bad way to train. It was just unfortunate that it was also the least bad way he’d been able to think of. If there was one thing that his adventures over the last few days had taught him, it was that he needed to get better with his powers. He didn’t want to get sidelined by them again like he had last night.

He gazed at the ball, once more sitting motionless on his bedroom floor, and stewed.

It was perhaps half an hour later when his phone rang. His anger had just begun to fizzle out into boredom, and he was distracting himself by sending the air to rustle around the sides of the ball, trying to spin it like a top when the device at his bedside began to trill.

He glanced sideways at the screen, uncaring, and didn’t recognize the number. He shrugged, then picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Hey, James. It’s Tasha. You okay?”

“Oh!” James breathed, relief for yet another nugget of pent up stress flooding through him. “Hey, Tasha! I’m fine. Are you fine? Please be fine. That guy was throwing lightning bolts!”

“Dude,” Tasha chuckled. “Chill out. I’m cool. I just had to punch the guy till he stopped being bullshit. Easy problem. Saw you got hit. You doing okay?”

“I think so,” he muttered. “Kinda made some weird stuff happen. I’m pretty sure I turned into a wind amoeba for a while. Better now, though.”

“… You what?”

“It’s a long story. You sure you’re okay? You got that food and stuff I left you, right?”

“Oh, shit, that was you? I thought I just stole it from some random camper. Yeah. I got it. That salami was good stuff, man.”

James leaned back against his headboard and let his body relax as he listened to his friend talk, feeling the tightness in his chest finally release. Casper was okay. Tasha was okay. Everything was good. He glanced in his dresser mirror, and saw that he was grinning. Tasha was still talking, but he wasn’t entirely sure what about.

“Casper’s safe,” he interrupted absently. “My Mom talked him into staying at our place until we can fix things up with his stuff.”

“You serious?” Tasha asked. “Oh, crap, man, that’s awesome! Hey. Tell him thanks for looking after my dog!”

“He looked after your dog?”

“Well, either that or someone broke into my place, stole most of my cash and fed Maxie a bunch of old cereal packs, and Casper’s the only guy I gave a key to my place, so, you know.”

“You mean you went back to your place?” James asked, nervous. “But aren’t those guys still looking for you?”

“Eh, probably,” she replied. “But nah. I sent some random old dude to pick my stuff up for me. I’m staying at his place for a while.”

“… Okay,” James mumbled, picking himself up off of the bed and beginning to pace as his brain tried to sort through all the snippets of new information. “But, I mean, what if they track the dog, or, like, figure out where you went or-”

“Dude,” Tasha cut him off. “Trust me. It’s fine. The guys I’m staying with know their stuff. You can chill.”

“… You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“… Okay.” He forced himself to stop, balancing on the balls of his feet, and took a breath. “Yeah. Okay. I’m calm.”

“Cool,” she chuckled. “Oh! Yeah. Also, new information. Magic’s a thing.”

James raised an eyebrow at that, gazing momentarily at the phone.

“… And?”

“What do you mean, ‘and’?” She asked, a touch annoyed. “I drop a bomb like magic and that’s all you give me?”

“Heh,” James chuckled. “Tasha, I’m a flying twelve year old who controls the wind, and yesterday, I got hit by lightning. Either magic’s real, or I’m supposed to unite all four elements and take on the Fire Lord.”

“… Man, now I just wish you were the Avatar.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, suddenly melancholy. “I know. I wanna be the Avatar.”

He moved across to the window, leaning on his elbows against the sill as he gazed out at the street below. In the early evening gloom, it took him a moment to notice the other boy gazing back at him.

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