Escapism: 3.3

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Father:

“I’m sorry, Father. She got away from us.” Marcus stared at the ground as he spoke, apparently unable to bring himself to look upon his father’s face.

“I see,” he replied, his voice even, deciding to let the boy stew in his remorse for the time being. “Can you tell me how she got away?”

Marcus nodded, his body slumping slightly in his seat as he began to recite the events of the night passed.

“She had a friend,” He mumbled. “We never saw them, but they were blasting the building with something. Lara says it was like some kind of air cannon. She’s not doing too well. It popped one of her ear drums. Samson took the girl hostage, but she got the drop on him, punched his ribs in, damn near killed him. Lara blasted her out the window and she ran. She was off the street before I caught up. The hunter says her scent just disappears up into the air. Nothing he can do.” His recitation over, the boy slumped back in his chair, ashamed. A younger sister stepped forward and placed a hand on his shoulder, reassuring.

Father sat in thought for a moment, his fingers tented together against his lips. The rest of his children were there as well, the boys and girls of the New York branch, all staring towards either him or Marcus. Some of the newer ones were apprehensive. The older ones seemed merely ashamed. He suppressed a smile. His children didn’t like disappointing him.

On the whole, however, Father was not disappointed. His children had lost the girl, that was true. But by the sound of it, they had found him a much more intriguing possibility than a lone teenager with super strength. An outsider who could make blasts of air like Lara’s; someone who could whisk a wounded girl off the face of the earth and up into the sky. Either power had potential, and if it was the same person, then all the better. If it was a child, then that meant a new potential member of his family, and if it was an adult, then it was good that they had brought him in. Better to deal with dangerous people himself.

He made his decision after a time, and raised his head towards his shamed son.

“I am not angry, Marcus,” he said, his voice gentle. “I know you did what you could.”

There was a collective sigh around the room from his assembled children, some relieved, some grateful. Marcus nodded, still refusing to look towards his father. A drop of liquid trailed down from the boy’s eye, traveling along his downturned nose, before falling to the floor. Father sighed. He didn’t like his children crying for him. There was no helping it. He used his power, shaping it into a bubble around himself, and pressing it out into the room at large.

The effect was immediate. His children began to smile, the residual fear fading slowly from their faces, the harsh lines fading from their cheeks as the tension drained away. Marcus shuddered in his seat, drawing in a sharp breath as his mind was wrenched off its tracks. He raised his tear stained face towards his father, and let out a small laugh, quiet, joyous.

“T-thank you, Father.” Marcus murmured, absent the shame of his prior moments, his tone drawn back to the calm lightness of his euphoria. “I-I don’t deserve it.”

Father shook his head in a single, small movement, and allowed himself a smile. He stood from his seat and crossed the distance to his wayward son. The boy gazed up at him, his expression one of purest wonderment. He placed a hand on either of Marcus’ cheeks, and gently brought the boy’s head forwards, resting his forehead against his stomach. Marcus giggled.

“No crying, little one.” He murmured, one hand rising to stroke the boy’s hair. “You know your father hates it when you cry.” Marcus nodded, taking another sharp breath through his nose as his body slowly reoriented away from his earlier remorse.

Father chuckled lightly to himself at that.

“That’s my boy.” They all stood like that for a long time, the father simply letting his children bask in the warmth of his light, none of them daring to move, lest their wondrous moment be broken. As an added gift, he reached his touch out into Marcus’ form, and began to slowly mend the fractured bones of the boy’s hand.

The magnanimous father allowed his children to warm themselves for a time, before withdrawing his light back into himself. His family gazed at him from every corner of the room, still basking in the slowly receding joy of his presence.

“Now,” he murmured, glancing around his assembled young until he found a face that caught his fancy, and gesturing her forwards. “Can you take me to your big brother and sister so that I can heal them?”

The girl nodded, her face splitting into a wide grin as she stepped forward. He held out a hand, and she took it with her own, leading him from the room.

He healed his two broken children first, before retiring with the girl that he had chosen. He remembered her face from the day that he had shaped it. Elise. The name that he had given her made him smile as he recalled it. He let her bask in him for a time after, before setting out on his new mission, refreshed.

Family was such a beautiful thing.


Casper:

The boy sat cross legged on the floor, his hands held together in his lap, trying to bring his thoughts to a calm. Even with his eyes closed, his power told him that the old witch was there, just a few feet away, her mind just a touch amused. That did not help. He didn’t like being laughed at, even in other people’s minds. Even without her input, calm would have been a tall order. He had too many thoughts surging together in the back of his mind, most of them too large and too recent to be so easily put aside. He sat like that in silence for what felt like an hour, before he sighed.

“Are you sure there isn’t another way?” He asked, trying to keep his tone from a whine.

“Not if you keep refusing to tell me your power.” Freja answered, her tone neutral, despite her growing amusement. Not for the first time, he tried to shrink his bubble tight enough around himself to exclude her. Nothing. It was wrapped as close in as it would go. “If you wanna find out if you have magic, you need to access your spells, and that means meditating.” She allowed herself a chuckle at that. “It’s okay to take as long as you like. I charge by the hour, after all.”

Casper groaned.

“Calm is haaaard, though,” he grumbled. “I don’t even know what I’m aiming for!”

“You’ll know it when you find it,” she replied after only a moment’s hesitation. “Trust me. It just takes a little time to make it click in your head. Gets easier after the first time, when you know what you’re looking for.” She paused for a moment, then shrugged. “Here, I’ll show you.”

Casper opened his eyes, watching as the older woman set herself creakily down on the mat, mirroring his pose, and closed her eyes.

“First thing you do is clear your mind,” she murmured, repeating her earlier explanation almost verbatim. “And not in that hollywood bullshit way. Really clear it. You take your problems, you look at each of them, you let yourself feel them, and you accept them so that you can stop focusing on them. They’re still there, and they’re gonna be there to piss you off later, but for now, you just accept them and move on.”

As she spoke, Casper began to feel the older woman’s emotions shift. The humor died away, and something else rose in its place. Casper had often felt emotions lurking in the background of people’s minds. Annoyances they held suppressed, feelings of sadness they were refusing to let themselves feel. As Casper watched, Freja began to unpack them within herself. For a moment, she was angry, almost dangerously so; some powerful force of repressed emotion rising in her mind, it was a slow process, the calm coming gradually as the anger burned itself out and she once more took on that semblance of calm. It wasn’t the same as before. She was still a little angered, but that feeling slowly began to fade. Her face twitched.

“It feels like shit, to be honest,” she muttered. “It’s usually easier to just force our bad feelings down. But if you’re a mage, then they clog you up, stop you being clear. To get past them, you have to let yourself feel them. You have to look at them, you have to accept them, and you have to let them run their course.”

Casper felt something else arise from the background of his teacher’s mind. It was sadness, this time. It felt… fainter, faded in a way that was hard for Casper to put into words. Like a scar from an old wound. It too swelled within her mind, before, just as had done with the anger, it began to slowly fade as she let it fall beside her. She took a deep breath.

“If it helps,” she murmured. “I try to imagine it like a ball. All that shit in your brain messes with the ball, gives it sharp edges and pointy spikes. That’s all the crap that’s left over once you’ve let yourself feel it all. So, once I’ve done what I can to let my feelings go by, I try to massage the ball-”

In spite of himself, Casper snickered.

“Shut the fuck up or I’ll set you on fire.” Freja grumbled, her face setting momentarily back into a scowl. “You take your time with it. You imagine that silver orb inside your mind, and you slowly shape it back into a perfect sphere, and if you don’t lie to yourself, and you don’t go too fast with it, then once you’re done, you’ll be calm.”

It took time, Casper noted, Freja slowly working through whatever problems she held inside her mind, before slowly bringing what remained back to calm. After about five minutes, however, Casper was entranced. Freja was calm. Not just calm in the everyday sense, as his previous understanding of the word had allowed. She was almost empty. If he’d had to put a word to it, he’d have called it tired.

“Ah,” she murmured, more to herself than to him at this point. “There it is. When you get to the end, you’ll be able to sort of see it, like a light inside your brain. It’s… hard to describe, really, but you’ll know it when you feel it.”

Casper hesitated, uncertain, then spoke, his voice quiet.

“C-can you stay like that for a while?” He asked. “I… I think it might help me look for it.”

He had expected refusal, or at least some confusion from her. Instead, she merely grunted at the request.

“Sure. Whatever. Just give it another go, okay?”

He nodded, then closed his eyes.

The process was… difficult, to say the least. None of what the old witch had said was in any way soothing to him. But it had helped him know what to do, at least. He thought of his parents, and grimaced. It made him angry. It made him very, very angry. The big problem with letting go as Freja had instructed him was that it really wasn’t something he wanted to do. He wanted to be angry with them, and he wanted to stay angry with them. It felt right to hate. He felt his breathing begin to hasten, his heart beating faster in his chest.

“It’s okay,” he heard the old woman say quietly. He opened his eyes, and saw that she was looking at him, her expression calm. “You can hold onto this feeling forever, if you have to. But you need to let it go for now. It’ll still be there when you get back. I promise.”

He took a few long, deep breaths, his chest shaking slightly in his hate, and nodded.

He doubted he could have done it on his own. Set his feelings down like that. In the end, he used the old woman as an anchor, distancing himself with her calm, before gradually allowing the betrayal to slip between his fingers. He put it down, and tried to let the feelings run their course.

A little part of him felt like he’d failed himself in that moment. Like he was letting them both off easy. He did his best not to dwell. Under his teacher’s guidance, he carried on.

Author’s Note: Okay, so, I’ll be interested to see what you guys make of this one. It’s probably one of my stranger chapters done thus far. As always, input is appreciated. 

Just a lil disclaimer. Freja’s lesson isn’t a real meditation technique, as far as I’m aware. It might not even be healthy, like, at all. It’s just a thing I do sometimes when I need to clear my head. I’d be interested to see what you make of it. 

EDIT: Having looked at it, what they’re doing is actually very similar to mindfulness meditation. Being aware of one’s own feelings and their causes and attempting to avoid dwelling on them.

Kay. That’s all I had to say. Bai!

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Mistakes: 1.6

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Tasha:

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

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

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

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

‘Junior classroom one.’

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

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

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

The second floor was decorated much like the first, the hallways lined with doors and plaques. It was, however, far more densely populated than the one below. The room beyond the stairway opened out briefly into a fairly spacious communal room of sorts, littered with comfortable looking arm chairs and tables bearing vases of somewhat droopy looking flowers.

Scattered throughout the room were around fifteen people. A few boys, perhaps a little older than Tasha, were playing a card game between themselves of a sort that she did not recognize. Tasha imagined by the look of frustration on the right hand boy’s face, that the one on the left was probably winning. A trio of twenty-somethings stood by a window, chatting amiably as they took turns puffing cigarette smoke out into the street. There were others, ranging from their early teens to what Tasha would have assumed to be their mid thirties. Stepping out of the landing that housed the stairs up to the third floor, Tasha noticed how the quiet conversation all around seemed to hush slightly. One or two sets of eyes turned towards her briefly, before returning to their prior activities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Marcus:

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

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

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

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

“Sorry,” he muttered. “I forgot.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, I know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How bad’s it gonna get?”

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

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

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

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