Hunt: 8.3

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“You told him it was Bigfoot?” James asked as they climbed back inside the car. “Why?”

“It’s easier that way, trust me,” Finch replied. “No way was I going to convince him he was hallucinating. Easier to just tell him something no-one will believe. You let a guy go around with a story about how he found a monster in the lake, and people pay attention. Not much, but some. But if you let him go around saying his boat got spooked by Bigfoot? No-one cares. Everyone’s seen Bigfoot.”

James shrugged.

“Makes sense, I guess.”

His phone pinged from his pocket. He glanced down at it.

‘You have a friend request from: Cody Turner.’

He snickered. The other boy’s crush had been fairly obvious. It felt better than he’d thought it would. Cody’s friend request had come before they’d even left the parking lot.

You’re supposed to wait a while, dude. Make ‘em think you’re not too keen.

He flicked the screen.

‘Congratulations! You are now friends with Cody Turner.’

He put the phone back down, and tried to turn his mind back to the conversation at hand. It didn’t work. There was a buzzing in his brain. He found he couldn’t focus for more than a word or two at once.

“Can you let me out here?” he asked, cutting off his companion mid-word. “I gotta go clear my head.”

To his credit, Finch didn’t waste time informing him that it was late, or that he couldn’t go out alone in the rain.

“You know where the motel is?” he asked.

“Yeah,” James lied. It couldn’t be too hard to find.

Finch nodded, then pulled the car over, and let James out into the rain.

For a couple minutes, he just stood there and let himself be drenched. It wasn’t like the cold bothered him at all. Then, he stepped off the street, and began walking the few hundred yards toward the Rockford treeline.

He felt weird; really weird, and the why was hard to get a handle on.

This was it, wasn’t it? His first mission. Helping people for real, just like his grandparents did.

And Cody was cute. He wasn’t super lean and muscly, like Caleb was, nor did he put butterflies in James’ stomach the way that Charlie had-

James put that thought on hold, and made himself step back. No thinking about that right now.

Cody was cute, in a goofball sort of way. There had been a warmth to hanging out with him. So why did the aftermath feel so melancholy?

He sloshed through the last deep puddle to the tree-line, and allowed himself to drift upwards a few inches off the ground. He should be able to fly fully once he was out of town.

He floated down into the depths, then up into the sky.

There was something unique about flying through clouds, especially in the rain. Like swimming through thick mist, or maybe showering in fog. He closed his eyes.

He could see Charlie’s face against his eyelids. He didn’t allow himself to look away.

“Hey, man,” he murmured. “Been a while.”

It had been, too. The memories had been coming less and less of late, a bit less painful every time.

“I met a boy today. He’s pretty cute. Bet you’d be jealous,” he snickered at himself. “Who am I kidding? You’d have probably found a girl by now. Maybe Nailah? Nah. She’s too cool for you.”

He smiled at that, unsure whether he was forcing it or not. He opened his eyes, then floated up above the storm clouds. Charlie’s image stayed with him, even after he let the rest of the world return.

“I got my first big mission,” he said. “Whole town’s been getting rained on for weeks. Plus, there’s a monster in the lake.”

He raised his arm, a few loose tendrils of his power stretching out to sweep a momentary hole through the cloudbank, carving a line through which to see.

Rockford looked so small from here. He wondered if he could be bigger than it was if he transformed. He remembered Charlie teasing him.

“I wanna believe you’re doing okay out there,” he said. “I wanna believe you’re still alive.”

He could have sworn the image shrugged at that.

James gazed down at the town for what felt like hours. When he touched the ground again, he felt empty.

He tracked down his room in Rockford’s sole motel, and sat on a corner of the bed, uncomfortably alone.

Cody Turner, 5:58 A.M:

Cody tapped the off button on his alarm clock two minutes before it was set to go off. He was already dressed and ready. The cutie had said he was coming to the diner again today. Therefore, to Cody’s masterful reasoning, he had to get the rest of his day out the way as early as possible to free himself up for Pretty Boy. Or James. Nah. Pretty Boy felt better in his head.

He picked the wire-box off his desk, and pried it open. Cool. Everything still looked fine. He slipped the box into a pocket of his swim-trunks. He glanced back at the alarm clock. 6:02. He really should get moving if he wanted to be back before the breakfast rush. He grabbed his rain jacket -he didn’t bother to check if it was still raining outside, of course it would be- off the hook on his door, and set off.

Honestly, Cody found he didn’t didn’t mind the morning rain. It brought a kind of clarity to the early morning; all fresh earth smells and bracing early winter chills, just refreshing enough to stop a workout from becoming draining. It was just a shame the water made it so hard to bring a sketchbook out here. He’d have loved the chance to draw some of the scenery when it was waterlo-

His train of thought was interrupted at one of the town’s two intersections when a passing truck gave him a facefull of the nearest puddle.

There were drawbacks.

… Nope. He wasn’t gonna let it dampen his spirits. Today would be awesome, and there would be no caveats. He wondered if Pretty Boy liked the rain? Cody was pretty sure it made for better snuggling…

He shook the distraction from his mind. Whether Pretty Boy was an active snuggler was neither here nor there. For now. He resumed his path toward the lake, a few dozen yards of sodden grass and a thinning line of trees between him and his destination.

When he’d passed the tree-line, he pulled the wire-box back out of his pocket, checking stupidly around him for observers as he did so. There was no-one around. Not that it would have mattered if there was. Nothing wrong with a local kid going swimming in the lake, even if he was carrying a weird box made of munted wire and plastic.

He was actually pretty proud of that. The wire strips had been his sister Lisa’s idea. Back when she’d first started helping him learn his magic. Small, cheap, easily disposable objects, perfect for an amateur enchanter. It made for better practice material than the random crap around his house. At least, it did after he ran out of pencils to render perma-sharp.

The box had been his idea, though. And it was a good one. As it turned out, enchanting, or, at least, his particular kind of enchanting, made it stupidly hard to put different spells together in a single object. You either had to be ridiculously good at it, or magically jacked up enough that you could put in all the enchantments at once.

Cody had solved this issue.

With a glue gun.

He flipped open the plastic casing for what had to be the third time, and once again individually checked that each and every one of the thirty six strips of enchanted copper wire was properly adhered to the sides of the container. If one of them broke off while he was under water… well, so far, it hadn’t done worse than scald his tongue, but still.

He pulled his shirt off over his head, and wrapped it up inside his jacket, before quickly checking his phone to see the time. Nearly six twenty-

A message pinged up on the screen.

‘Hey. It’s James, from last night. You around? I thought I’d come by for breakfast if you’re free. I could sorta use the company.’

Cody grinned, a surge of yesterday’s unusual warmth tingling down his spine once more.

‘Sure thing!’ he texted back. ‘I’m at the lake right now, but I’ll be back in twenty minutes, max. Try the pancakes.’

It took more effort than he was proud of not to add a smiley face.

He stowed his phone in the folds of his jacket, grasped the wire-box tightly in his hand, and charged face first into the lake.

The water was cold. Freezing, really; full of the early morning chill from the spill of rain. It was murky, too, loose soil and grit, algae and who knew what else stirred up by the constant downpour. Cody shuddered as it hit him, almost but not quite enough to dispel the warmth of his looming not-quite-date with the potentially heterosexual Mr. Pretty Boy.

Right, time to test out those enchantments. He exhaled what breath he had in a calm and unhurried manner, then, only a little bit praying that it would work this time, sucked in a teaspoonful of water.

A momentary rush of heat in his mouth, then a chill, then the taste of stale oxygen on his tongue.

Right. Awesome. He tried again, a bigger drag this time. The same process, a warmth, a chill, a rush of faintly musty air. Enough of it this time that some had to be expelled, pushing harmlessly out between his lips like he’d been trying for.

Cody hardly dared to believe it. He’d done it. It had worked.

I, Cody Turner, by the power of human genius and the might of crazy glue, have learned to breathe in lakes!

He pumped his fist in a furious but silent subaquatic celebration.

This was just the start. Sure. The start was basically just Aquaman, but from there, the sky was the fucken’ limit.

Plus, Aquaman’s hot now!

It would do. He was content.

It was maybe Cody’s fault what happened in the next few minutes. In his jubilation, he managed to momentarily forget the date with Pretty Boy, lost in the thrill of swimming without having to come up for air. Even the weird taste of it wasn’t so bad after a while. He wound up trying to swim a lap of the thing, pushing through the water with all the energy he could spend. He felt like he had tons of it to spare.

He made it all the way out to the middle before the danger became apparent. More specifically, before he realized he wasn’t alone.

He was down in the depths, a solid forty or so feet below the water’s surface, sifting through lake rocks and more than a few discarded beer cans for something that’d make a good memento. Then he saw it; a shape in the water to the side, half-visible in the murk, distinguished from the rest only by a momentary movement. He jerked his head towards it, and it vanished, but not quite fast enough to stop him catching a glimpse.

It looked human. It looked webbed.


To his extraordinary Darwinian credit, Cody Turner did not wait to see what the thing had been before he fled.

Fitness was a survival trait in Rockford. Not because it was a cruel or unreasonable place to live. Simply because it was small. There was no local game shop. There were no drama clubs. There were only eleven other kids. To survive in Rockford, you had to either learn to be lonely, or get used to having fun outside.

Cody was fit. He was healthy. He exercised a lot. He was also a really solid swimmer.

The creature reached him before he made it halfway back to shore. Holy hell, the thing could swim. In Cody’s few, panic stricken glances behind himself so as to keep his heading pointed away from it, he got a better view, rubbery grey skin, dozens of fish-like fins sprouting from every inch of its form. Bloated, leering.

He knew he wouldn’t make it. He just wasn’t fast enough. He heard a crash behind him, let out a bubbled scream as the water bowled him over, then realized he was still alive.

He turned around, his breathing heavy, his heart churning madly in his chest.

The thing was gone.

Well, no. Not quite gone. It was still there. Just sorta… trapped. In a bubble, clawing madly at the walls as it tried to climb back into the lake around it. That wasn’t the surprising thing, though.

No, the surprise was floating in the water some four feet off to the side of it.

It was Pretty Boy; submerged in the middle of the lake, just as Cody was, dark hair flaring dramatically about him in the water as though he were about to call tsunamis from his palms.

Pretty Boy waved, gestured over at him, and began to speak.

Several bubbles escaped his lips, along with some unintelligible sound.

Cody stared.

Pretty Boy let out his best aquatic approximation of a groan, put a hand to his forehead, then raised a finger to the surface of the water. As Cody watched, the surface -still almost forty feet above them- began to dip.

It was like a fingertip. Like if God himself had waited for Pretty Boy to give the order, and was personally poking some oxygen down towards them. The dip deepened, stretched down further, further, and finally broke, the surface slapping firmly back into place above them and leaving a fifteen foot bubble of air behind. At Pretty Boy’s gestured command, the bubble drifted the final stretch, and slapped itself down around them.

Cody found himself sitting, wet, perplexed, and terrified, at the bottom of a lake, with a probable water demon and a cute boy who could apparently bend the fucking sky.

“So…” Pretty Boy said awkwardly, “You, uh. You’re magic too, hu-”

Cody cut him off.

“W-what the fuck is that thing!?” he asked, gesturing madly at the water monster.

Pretty Boy winced.

“Well… I mean… Would you believe me if I said it was Bigfoot?”

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Hunt: 8.2

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Chapter Fifteen: By the Light of Distant Moons.

“Don’t you understand?” whispered Ceros, his voice shaking with restrained yet unnameable emotion. “It’s you, Astra. It has always been you.”

He reached forward, placing a tentative hand on Astra’s well-muscled forearm. The lord of the Silvermanes gazed back at the sorcerer; stunned, for all his wisdom, if only for a single moment.

“Ceros,” the larger man murmured, a hitch in his breath. “I-I love-“

Ceros put a finger to his lips.

“Say it not, my friend,” he whispered, aware, not for the first time, of the fire that seemed to dance beneath his skin. He had not expected denying it to hurt him so. His voice cracked. “I’m sorry. I should not have spoken. You have oaths you must uphold. Your men have faith in-”

He in turn was silenced as Astra pulled him close. Their lips-


Cody Turner reflexively snapped his laptop shut as his mother poked her head through his bedroom door.

“Yeah, mom?”

“Can you man the counter for a sec? I’ve gotta run for food.”


Cody pulled himself out of bed as his mother took her leave, and grabbed his apron off the chair beside his desk. He took a quick look at his clothes. Kinda messy. Meh. He didn’t care enough to change. He slung the apron on and went downstairs, casting a disinterested glance out of the window as he went.

Yup. Still raining. He wasn’t surprised. The sound of it pattering against the walls and roof had become so omnipresent in the past few weeks as to fade from awareness unless directly focused on. He was starting to miss the sun.

He stepped down into the lower level of his home and glanced through the kitchen door into the diner proper. There were only two customers inside, neither of them strangers. Sheriff Pete was sitting with an older man whose face was mostly bushy beard and eyebrows. Cody knew the man, even if his name didn’t come readily to mind. He ran the fishing goods store. It was hard to find someone you didn’t recognize in Rockford, blessed as it was with a population in the low two hundreds.

He stepped inside.

“-not sure about this, Pete,” beard-guy was saying. His head snapped across to Cody as he opened the door, staring at him a second too long, before returning his gaze to his companion, his voice lowering a fraction. “That thing out there weren’t normal. We tell the feds about it and next thing you know, I’m gettin’ dragged off by men in rubber suits.”

To his credit, Sheriff Pete managed not to roll his eyes.

“Calm down, Bill. We’re going to get this figured out. But you’ve got to tell the agent what you think you saw-”

“Fuck off,” Bill growled. “I don’t think I saw it. I saw it, staring right up at me out of the water, plain as I’m seeing you right now.”

Cody leaned against the counter, trying to pretend he wasn’t listening.

Pete sighed.

“What’s your point, Bill?” he asked. “Maybe you did see it. I don’t know. Remember last time this happened? That girl who said she saw a demon in the reserve?”

Bill nodded, his expression darkening under all the hair.

“I remember. Saw her running home by the lake. Poor kid damn near pissed herself.”

Pete nodded.

“We found psilocybin in her water bottle, Bill. Her boyfriend spiked her camping gear. That’s all it was.”

Old Bill was already shaking his head.

“Shrooms wouldn’t make me see what I saw,” he muttered. “I’ve been on those longer’n you’ve been alive and I ain’t ever-”

“Christ,” Pete groaned. “Don’t tell me that!”

Cody tried to disguise his snicker as a yawn. Old Bill glared at him.

Where did the seventies touch you, Bill?

Both men fell quiet. Cody pulled a notebook out from under the counter, found a pen, and started doodling on an empty page.

This was the town of Rockford, Oregon, where nothing happened and the people were crazy. That was just what happened when you dumped a couple hundred people in the middle of nowhere with no-one to talk to and nothing to do. People just went batshit.

Cody was pretty sure he was the sanest kid in town. He blamed the internet for that.

The rain kept on tapping away against the windows as he drew, Pete and Bill sitting in stony silence across cups of rapidly cooling coffee. Cody helped himself to a cookie.

There was something about the sound of rain that made it easy to get lost in drawing. Cody must’ve spent half an hour just standing there, leaned against the counter as he did his line-work. It was coming together pretty well; the figure of a half-clad young woman in the arms of an over muscled monster, the two of them looking like escapees from a sixties horror flick or the mural on a hippy van.

The sky began to darken, the sun slowly starting to set behind the clouds. That was when Cody saw the car.

It was a dinky little thing, mud-brown, twin headlights picking cones of muted light out of the gloom as it slid from the trees into Rockford proper.

Cody snickered as it hit a pothole.

His attention only really piqued when the vehicle turned into the diner’s parking lot, pulling to a halt in one of the inch-deep puddles of mud and water that still technically qualified as a bay. Bill and Pete were watching too, Bill trying as hard as he could to pretend he wasn’t.

The first to exit the car was a tall man, mid thirties, wearing the kind of cheap suit and serious expression that a decade and a half of media had more or less coded the idea of ‘FBI’ into Cody’s brain. The second figure was a kid; androgynous, to this distance, sloshing through the ankle deep water with far less swagger than the man, their build concealed by a hoodie that soon hung heavy in the rain.

They arrived at the door, the older man holding it open while the kid stepped in past him. It was a boy, Cody saw. A cute one, too, faintly Asian facial features framed by curls of waterlogged black hair.

The boy stepped inside, saw Cody, and made a beeline for the counter while his companion moved behind him toward Sheriff Pete and Bill.

“Hey there, what can I-” Cody began.

“Do you have hot chocolate?” the boy interrupted. “Please. I need it.”

They were out of hot chocolate. The only stuff they had left was for the house, not the diner.

Cody looked the bedraggled boy up and down. He looked miserable.

But that was his hot chocolate.

“I’m afraid we-” he stopped as the cute boy brushed his bangs out of his eyes with a hand. “-don’t have any marshmallows,” he adjusted lamely. “… Is that okay?”

The boy smiled. “I’ll make it work. Thanks.”

Fricken’ hormones.

“I’ll be right back.”

By far the lamest thing about life in Rockford, thought Cody as he stepped through the door between the diner and the house, was the stunning lack of eligible boys.

In the entire town, there were eleven other kids within a few years of him in age. None of them were gay. Not even the cute ones.

No, he realized as he found the stove and started boiling up some water. Especially not the cute ones.

He’d have settled for bi. He’d have been over the goddamn moon. Just for a single other person to make out with. Just a little.

Cody hated being fourteen.

He opened up the cupboard, and found the hot chocolate box. It was the good stuff. The stuff that came in cartons of ten individual sachets. Just add water for the perfect, soul warming cup of cocoa. He opened the box.

There was a single sachet left.


He tore it open, poured it into a mug, and then went looking for marshmallows. Might as well go all in.

Bet he’s not even gay.

He returned to the diner to find the three adults now engaged in a muttered conversation of presumably great importance. Cody wondered if Bill had gotten to which drugs he was on yet. Pretty Boy himself was seated some way to the side, wedged into a window-booth that allowed a rain-splattered view of the surrounding town. All four streets of it.

Cody carried his cup of warm, marshmallow scented goodness over to the table, and reluctantly proffered it to the boy.

Pretty Boy took it, glanced down at the top of the mug, and gave Cody a smile.

“You found marshmallows.”

Cody grinned in spite of himself.

“Yeah. Just mini ones, but it’ll work, right?”

“Dude, what are you saying? Mini ones are better.” Pretty Boy lifted the mug to his face, gave the surface a few puffs, then took a sip. “Ohhh yeah, that’s better.” He glanced back up at Cody. “How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing,” Cody answered automatically. “On the house. Sorry it took so long. We uh. We didn’t have any real hot chocolate left so I had to go in back and-” he realized he was overexplaining and stopped himself. “…I’m Cody.”

Pretty Boy smiled again.


Cute name.

James went back to gazing at the phone beside his cocoa cup. Cody hovered awkwardly.

“… Need something?” James asked.

“No, no. Just… Mind if I sit with you?” Cody hoped his cheeks weren’t red. He gestured out the window. “It’s a small town. Not a lot of folks to talk to.”

The boy shrugged, then budged up a little way to the side. “Sure.”

Cody sat. Neither boy spoke.

The silence stretched just long enough to make Cody desperate.

“…So,” he muttered. “You know that thing, where you wanna talk, but it’s a total stranger and you have no idea what you’re supposed to say?”

James laughed. Then, without missing a beat, said:

“I like pop music. Top forties. Stuff with vocals you can sing along to. You?”

Wow. Kid was good at this.

“I like rock,” Cody said. “Songs from the seventies and eighties mostly. Kinda hard to get into new stuff when no one around you knows anything newer than The Killers.”

James grinned.

“No K-pop, then?”

“What’s K-pop?”

That had apparently been the wrong thing for him to say.

So passed the next hour or so of Cody’s life, huddled up in the warm with a cute boy at his side, watching a stream of music vids via James’ apparently indefatigable internet connection. Interrupted only briefly when Cody’s mother returned to man the counter. Occasionally, they sang along together in an undertone. The cutie had an awesome voice. Eventually, though, the grown ups’ meeting drew to a close. James’ agent-ey companion stood from his seat.

“Thank you, Mr. Bourn, Sheriff Milne. I think I have everything I need. Please don’t hesitate to contact me again if you remember any further details. James,” he called over his shoulder. “Grab your stuff, bud. We’re heading out.”

James shut his phone off mid-song, flicking it into his pocket and pulling himself to his feet.

Cody pulled himself upright to let him out, his heart sinking a little.

“Bye, James,” he said. “It was nice meeting you.”

“Yeah,” James grinned back. “It was cool. See you tomorrow, yeah?”

Cody’s brain stalled out for a second.


“Yeah. We’re staying in town for a couple weeks while the big guy figures out some stuff. You guys are open all day, right?”

Cody tried not to grin too hard.

“Yeah. Yeah, we are. Later, man.”

Cody watched the other boy and his perplexing agent friend depart, a kind of warm thrill running down his spine. He started slightly when his mother’s voice spoke up behind him.

“Cute kid,” she murmured. “He gay?”

“To be confirmed,” he answered. “Call it sixty percent.”

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Hunt: 8.1

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Casper Sullivan set the guitar on his lap and strummed a chord.

He winced. It was badly out of tune. No surprise, really. He hadn’t played it in, what? Eight months? Nine? He twisted a few of the keys, strummed again, twisted some more.


He started playing, plucking the bass-line to an old favorite from memory, trying not to think.

It felt weird being back in his old house; off-axis, sitting on a bed he hadn’t touched in almost a year, trying to ignore the thin coating of dust that lay over everything he owned. Used to own.

Why did none of it feel like his?

He kept playing. He’d been good at the guitar. Still was, apparently.

It didn’t take up much of his attention.

He cast a glance back toward the cardboard box beside the door, then once more looked about the room.

What was he supposed to want from here? The bookshelf full of stories he had half-memorized?  The trading cards he’d long-since replaced? The action figures once played with by a younger, happier kid?

None of it meant anything to him anymore.

He wasn’t even mad. It just felt weird.

He stopped the song midway, and let himself fall back against the bed, gazing at the ceiling.

‘Oh yeah. I remember putting up those stickers. Mom got so mad.’

He felt his lips crawling toward a smile, and put a stop to it. She wasn’t worth a smile.

The divorce had been finalized that morning. Splitting everything down the middle. It turned out that meant selling off the house.

It was kinda fitting that this would never be his room again.

Leave it to the kid who used to hide his bruises.

He snickered at himself.

‘I should learn to play some emo rock.’

The door creaked open an inch or so.

“Need something?” he asked.

“Just checking in,” Sarah murmured from outside. “I heard the guitar. You’re pretty good with that thing.”

He smiled.


A brief pause, then:

“Your dad’s here.”

Casper closed his eyes.

“I thought he was coming later on.”

“He was.” She hesitated for a moment. “He says he has something for you.”

He sighed.

“Great. Even more crap I don’t want.”

Sarah didn’t chide him for the jab. He was glad of that. She understood, on a level. She opened the door a little further, gazing at him through the crack.

“Want me to make him leave?”

“It’s fine.”

“Got everything you want to take?”

“Just this,” he gestured to the guitar. “Everything else feels weird-” he stopped himself as a thought occurred. “Hang on.”

He pushed himself off the bed, then crawled underneath it.

He could feel Sarah watching him from the doorway while he searched, but she said nothing. A minute or so later, he clambered back out, a moth eaten stuffy clutched in one hand.

It was an old thing, slightly tattered; one of its button eyes torn out whoever knew how long ago.

“Think Bex’d mind looking after Mr. Bearford?” he asked, his cheeks a little red. “I owe him a better home.”

A smile.

“She’s Bex. She won’t say no.”

Casper chuckled.

“Yeah. She’s cool like that.” He proffered the stuffy, and Sarah took it. Then, he hefted his guitar and slung it awkwardly against his back.

“Want me to stay up here?” Sarah asked as he stepped past her. “I’m here if you need it.”

“It’s fine,” he murmured. “It’s just dad.”

In spite of the words, he found himself hesitating at the top of the stairs.

It wasn’t fear. It wasn’t anger, either. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to feel anything at all for the old man lately. Just a dull, depressive kind of ache. Every time they spoke, he came away tired.

He took a deep breath, and stepped on down the staircase. Ray was standing by the door with a plastic wrapped box under one arm.

There was something strange about seeing his dad here now; his broad frame a size too large for the confines of the hallway. Once, he’d been imposing. Now, he just seemed big.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Hi, Casper.”

“Finally split up with Mom, huh?”

“Guess so.”

Casper opened his mouth to say something snide, but the words didn’t come. He didn’t know what to say.

“Feels weird being back, you know?” he murmured instead, gesturing at the house around them. “I don’t think I like the kid who used to live here.”

His father smiled. “I liked him.”

“You had a funny way of showing it,” came the reply before Casper could think to stop it. He winced. So did Ray. He hadn’t meant it as a jab.

Ray started to apologize. Casper cut him off.

“Why are you here, dad?” he asked. “I didn’t want to see you yet.”

Another apology. Casper didn’t acknowledge it. A moment’s quiet, then his father proffered the box from under his arm.

“Wanted to give you this,” Ray said. “And to say sorry. I feel like I’m doing that a lot today.”

“What for this time?” Casper asked, one eyebrow raised, not approaching to take the box.

The man shrugged.

“You said there’d be no point to coming home if there wasn’t a home to come back to. Then I went and broke it.”

In spite of himself, Casper snickered.

“Splitting up with Mom doesn’t make it broken. Hell, it might be part of how we fix it.”

His father frowned at that, the arm with the box lowering back down. A slight shake of the head.

“Why do you hate her so much?”

Casper leaned against the wall, arms folded, careful not to bump his guitar.

“You still care?” he asked.

“Of course I care,” Ray replied, almost offended. “She’s my wife.” A touch of regret, then he corrected. “Was my wife.”

More uncomfortable quiet.

“She wasn’t the one who hurt you, Casper. I was. Why won’t you let her see you?”

Casper gazed at the ground, his fingers tapping against his arms. It made him angry.

“I’m not that petty, Dad,” he answered eventually. “I get why you hurt me. I get why she wanted you to do it. There’s a big world out there, and if I didn’t have my powers, it’d probably already have stamped me flat. I get why you did it. I might even be able to forgive you for it one day.” He looked up to meet his father’s gaze. “But she lied.”

“But I lied-” Ray began. Casper cut him off.

“It’s not the same,” he said flatly. “You lied by acting like a psycho. Made me think you just went crazy on your family. I thought you were bipolar or something, I dunno. But Mom let me think she was on my side. I hate that.”

Ray didn’t answer that. He spent a dozen or so seconds just gazing at his son, then huffed a breath, and set the box down carefully on the hall table.

“I’ll get out of your hair,” he said tiredly. “Thanks for hearing me out.”

Casper rolled his eyes. “If there’s something you wanna say, say it.”

“Nope,” Ray replied, a small smile on his lips. “I know that look in your eye. Anything I said right now would just sound like I’m defending her. That’s not a trap I’m stepping in today.”

Casper snorted. 

“Would you be defending her, though?” he asked.

“Course I would,” Ray answered. “I owe her that much.” He gave his son another smile, then turned towards the door, tapping the box on the way out. “Enjoy your present. I’m sorry I couldn’t bribe you with it like I promised.”

Casper had just enough time to raise an eyebrow at that, before his father was gone. He approached the box and lifted a corner of the plastic.


It was a playstation.

He wrapped it back up again.

Now he felt bad. Great.

“You doing okay?” asked Sarah from the stairs.

“Yeah,” he muttered. “Yeah. I’m fine.” He shook his head, and heaved a sigh. “Think James is doing okay?”


James was reading romance stories with his headphones on when the car finally crossed the storm front. With the music playing and his eyes on the phone screen, he struggled to spot the difference. Then, his travel companion prodded him in the shoulder, and his soothing lo-fi was disrupted by one of his headphones being pulled to the side.

“Look alive, Kid. We’ve hit the hot spot.”

James scowled. He still hadn’t forgiven agent Finch for the basketball thing. But, he peeled his eyes from the screen all the same. He looked out the window. Sure enough, it was raining outside. According to the data he’d been given, it had been doing nothing else here for almost a month; a thirty-mile bubble of stormclouds that refused to move or let up with the constant downpour; all centred on some outpost town in Oregon.

It was the perfect test-run for him. A mid-scale magical event, big enough to cause some harm if no-one intervened, but small and isolated enough that it probably wouldn’t make the news if he screwed it up. What was one more crazy cabin guy who said he saw a teenager do magic? Not that it mattered. James didn’t plan on being sloppy.

He gazed out at the deluge, watching how the drops spattered in the vast puddles they’d formed among the treeline. He’d never realized a forest could have a flood.

“You said they had a witness after we set off,” he said. “Any chance I’ll get to talk to him?”

Finch shrugged.

“Not directly,” he replied. “You’ll be in the observation room while I talk to him. You can ask your questions through me, if I think they’re appropriate. There’s no way we can spin a kid working for the feds.”

James nodded at that. It seemed fair enough. He went back to staring out the window.

For ten minutes, neither spoke. He reached up to tug his headphones back into place.

“Wait up,” Finch murmured. “Before you go back to your yaoi fanfic or whatever, I want to know what you plan to do when we get there.”

“… It’s not yaoi,” James muttered, his face reddening.

“Don’t lie to me.” Finch chuckled. “I’ve been looking at the chapter titles.”

‘I hate you so much.’

Cheeks burning, James leaned towards the glove compartment, and fumbled for the fold-out map.

“Okay, fine,” he huffed. “So, my first thing is I want to deal with the lake.” He pointed at the blue blob circling around the town’s north-eastern perimeter. “If it takes on much more water, half the town’s gonna flood. So I figure if I go to the far side, back where it joins up with the nature reserve, I can dig a trench and start diverting the water into this river over here.” He trailed his finger along the map in demonstration. 

Finch grunted, quietly impressed.

“Smart move. What made you think of it?”

“Minecraft.” James shrugged. “After that, I wanna talk to this witness guy before I put a plan down.”

Finch inclined his head. 

“Okay. We can go with that.”

James nodded. Then, after a brief wait in case Finch planned to interrupt again, he went back to his story. He’d been up to chapter three.

Chapter Three: The Hawk and the Silvermane.

Ceros Firewind had known of the Silvermanes for most of his life. They were difficult to avoid, growing up in the outskirts of Mymaeria. They were the protectors of the wall, and among the gallant few who dared ride through the unfound lands. For Ceros, however, it was different. Their young lord, Astra of the platinum hand, had once been his closest friend.

Ceros had not seen him since they were boys, and in that one moment, it was clear just how time had changed him. 

The piercing blue of Astra’s eyes never used to hold such pain-

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Interlude arc: Hunt

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Special Response Team Lead; Nicholas Finch:

The single hardest task during an emergency was going to sleep. It was almost impossible. You walked out of the briefing with fire pumping through your veins. Enemies on the front. Civilians in trouble. Evacuations needed. And yet, two times out of three, your orders were to sleep. To be on call.

It made sense, in an abstract manner. If the response teams deployed everyone at once, there’d be no one well rested enough to take charge of the situation beyond the first twelve hours or so. Even combat forces needed sleep to be at their best.

Even so, Finch hated it. He’d been told to sleep when the elves attacked last year; only brought onto active work for the latter half of the event. Forcing the male to go to ground in central park. Helping the goblin teams dispose of the hunting birds in the aftermath.

He remembered every second of that supposed nap, eyes glued to his computer monitor, watching the updates come in. One confirmed kidnapping. Two. Three.

When the number hit five, he’d crushed his coffee cup.

There were some moments when agent Finch truly hated his job. This new assignment was one of them.

“A thirteen year old?” he asked, gazing at the image on his desk. “You want my team to take down a thirteen year old?”

The woman from the planning department shrugged.

“God no,” she replied. “Activating you against him would be a disaster. But we’re the government. We’re the ones who have to have a plan in place if everything goes to shit. And that’s what we want you to do. Figure out how to stop him if everything goes wrong.”

“He’s thirteen,” Finch replied, halfway between perplexed and insulted. “My team was trained for an inter-dimensional terror response, and you want us to come up with a kill plan for an adolescent civilian?

The woman frowned.

“Did you see his surname?”

He glanced at the file again, and swore.

“His dad’s my fucking boss.”

“We know,” came the response. “That’s part of why you’re being called in. Normally, we’d rely on one of the Toranagas for this. But clearly, they’re not the right people for the job.”

Nick let out an aggrieved sigh, a residual note of stubbornness telling him to keep on fighting, even if he knew he had to do it.

“What makes you think he’s even a threat?”

His opposite number shrugged.

“We don’t,” she replied. “We have every reason to hope that he will never become a problem. But we’ve identified some side factors that pose additional risk.” Nick glanced up at her, and she started listing off items on her fingers. “First, he was molested about a year ago. It was quite traumatic, if the latter reports are to be believed. He was also actively targeted during the elvish raid-” Nick felt a momentary pang of guilt at that. “- and has been the target of at least one other attempted kidnapping that we know of.”

He began to object, but the woman wasn’t done.

“We also have evidence that he made unshielded contact with Father on at least two, possibly three occasions.”

Finch fell silent at that, his objections dying in his throat. He might have kept on fighting if the list was simply trauma. That was what the therapists were for. But this was Father. He glanced at the image on his desk, and winced.

Short. Slender. Androgynous. The kid was exactly Father’s type.

“What level of contact?” he asked.

The woman laughed. Nick didn’t really see the joke.

“A few minutes of exposure at Mount Sinai hospital,” she murmured, digging out her phone and flicking at the screen. “The contact was minimal, and he had enough protective supervision to ensure his safety. The incident we know less about is this one. One of the Toranagas’ students uploaded it last week.”

She passed the phone across Finch’s desk, and he took it.

It was set to a youtube video, only thirty seconds long. He pressed play.

A few seconds of top down footage on an empty stretch of wall. Then a muffled thump, before the wall exploded outwards with a crash. The camera panned away from the wall for a moment, just long enough to catch the freshly made hole in the building opposite. A brief glimpse of the legs of whoever was holding the camera as they dropped the three or four storeys to ground level. A few seconds of incomprehensible shaking as the person crossed the gap, then the camera steadied, now focused on a bedraggled looking man, embedded in the side of a rusted heavy goods vehicle, blood trickling slowly from his temple.

Finch paused the video, and looked closer.

“… And we’re sure that’s Father?” he asked. “Man’s a shapeshifter after all. He could’ve-”

“The form’s consistent with what Father has looked like for the last few years,” came the response. “And there aren’t many other people in New York who could’ve survived the blast.”

He nodded, then resumed the feed.

A single arm reached out from behind the camera, took Father by the shoulder, then wrenched his body free of the broken chassis, his shields flaring faintly all the while. There was something very satisfying about seeing the bastard half-concussed.

A few more seconds of shakycam, then the feed settled on the hole in the factory wall, this time viewed from ground level.

At first, Nick struggled to make out the interior in the gloom; then James Toranaga floated forward, tourmaline mist rising from his eyes.

The sound quality was terrible. Finch couldn’t make out the first few words.

“-ever hurt my friend, I will hurt you. Got it?”

Finch fought down a grin.

“I like this kid.”

“Noted,” his opposite number replied with a smirk. “But the fact remains. He has had at least one meeting with Father in which there were no witnesses, and for which he had no protection. That, on its own, is enough to consider him compromised.”

Finch nodded.

“Can’t say I disagree,” he admitted, passing back the phone. “What are the parameters?”

“Complicated,” came the reply. “This boy attends school with some of the most important magical children in the country, and has the rough destructive potential of an M1 Abrams tank. You are advised to consider this a mission of national security. Your team is to figure out how to incapacitate him-” she raised a finger up between them. “-without pissing off his entire family.”

Nick gave her a slow nod.

“Okay,” he murmured. “What’s my cover?”


“But I don’t need a supervisor,” James complained, floating out of the elevator behind his father, and proceeding down a narrow hallway. “I’ve been training super hard!”

“It’s your first hunt,” Peter replied sternly. “Your mother would kill me if I let you go out there alone.” The next words held a trace of mirth: “You need an adult there to help look after you.”

James glowered.

“Like hell I do.”

“Language,” his dad rebuked.

“… Sorry.”

“Good.” They were silent for a minute or so then, before James felt a bracing hand on his shoulder. “Cheer up, squirt. You’ll like him, I promise. Finch is cool. He’s in spec-ops.”

In the past nine months, James Toranaga had had more than enough time to get used to the idea of his father being a secret government agent. And his grandparents. And most of his friends’ parents.

“So?” he asked, determined to remain annoyed. “That doesn’t make him cool. Just makes him one of your dorky work friends.”

Peter laughed at that.

“Ouch,” he murmured, feigning a wince. “Kitty has claws today.”

“I’m not a kitty,” James grumbled, stung. “I’m a fighter. I’m tough.”

“Really?” Peter asked. “Good. Then you can stop being such a grump and come say hi to your new supervisor.”

James spent a few moments searching for a way out of his dad’s trap, and failed to locate one. That was sneaky.

“…Fine,” he muttered.

Peter cocked an ear.

“Didn’t catch that. Sorry.”

James refused to grin.

“Fiiiiiiine,” he groaned.

“Good,” Peter murmured, reaching the end of the long corridor, and pushing a bar to open the heavy door. “We’re here.”

James flitted in over his father’s shoulder.

It was a gym. Or a warehouse. Or both. The place had to be six hundred feet from end to end, high ceilinged and half filled with exercise equipment, a dozen or so people working their way between machines.

James spotted a pool to the far side. And a basketball court. And a large, thickly matted area with a number of deep looking gouges in the walls. James floated over to a machine with a set of weights fitted to each of the hand bars. He counted the weight. Half a tonne.

“… Huh.”

Peter tapped him on the shoulder.

“He said he’d be over in the basketball court,” he said. “Come on. Don’t wanna keep him waiting.”


James couldn’t help but drift ahead while his father navigated the equipment on the floor. One of the weird things about moving around by air. It took far less time to get to a place.

He arrived a minute or so before the older man, therefore, and found the court surprisingly well populated. Four people, two to a side, currently battling it out towards the furthest hoop.

One of them, a fit man in what looked to be his early thirties, noticed his approach and turned to wave, allowing a lithe woman to dodge past him and dunk the ball.

“Hey!” he called. “You must be James. Come on down.”

The moment the man spoke, the game stopped, the other three turning as one to gaze at the boy above them. James floated forwards, raising a hand in automatic greeting.

“Hi. Agent Finch, right?”

“Yup,” the man replied with a grin. “Drop the ‘agent’, though, yeah? Just call me Finch.”

“Sure.” James touched down and shot a glance behind the agent. “And these guys?” he asked, gesturing to the other three. The lithe woman waved.

“Oh, right,” Finch replied. “Introducing special agents Mulaney-” he gestured to the lithe woman. “Conroy-” a tall man who looked like he did pushups in his sleep. “-And Sye.” He gestured to the least muscular member of the group, a slim figure whose gender James failed to immediately place. He noted the lightness of their stance, the skin just a touch too airbrushed to be normal, and, more tellingly, the single throwing knife strapped to the upper thigh.

‘Ah,’ he realized. ‘Goblin.’

“He or she?” he asked, gesturing across at Sye. “I know most of you guys use ‘he’, but-”

“I go with ‘she’,” the goblin answered. “Thanks for asking. Most people just get it wrong.”

James smiled back, not sure what else to say.

A second of awkward quiet, then Finch spoke up.

“So. You play basketball?”

“Used to,” James shrugged. “Stopped when I got my powers. Hard to play without my friends seeing how weak I am now.” He felt a pang of regret at that. He missed sports.

“Wanna play a game?”

James cast a dubious glance towards one of the hoops. It wasn’t even close to kid height.

“I don’t think I can shoot that high.”

“Then fly,” Finch shrugged. “We’re supposed to be seeing what you can do here anyway.”

“… You sure?”


The lithe woman picked up the ball, then tossed it across to James. He looked down at it.

“Uh. Ok. Sure.”

He took to the court, Finch taking up a position opposite him as the other three moved off toward the sidelines.

“You’re sure I’m allowed to fly?” he asked. It felt like cheating.

Finch grinned.


James reluctantly took to the air.

“Ready?” Finch asked. “We start in three, two-”

The agent vanished into thin air with a quiet pop.

‘Oh, crap, not this again.’

He darted to one side in the air, hoping to clear the space before-


Finch reappeared around half a foot to James’ side. He felt a hand slap the basketball from his grip as the man began to fall.

“Wha-Hey!” he yelped. “No fair!”

Finch ignored him, already sprinting across the court. James was quicker. He shot in to block it, his arms spreading wide in front of the hoop just as Finch leaped-

Only for the man to shove him to the side and dunk the ball.

Finch hit the ground, looked up at James, and grinned.

“Get dunked on, kid.”

James blinked. So this was what outrage felt like.

“Wanna go again?” Finch asked. “See if you can touch the ball before I score again?”

‘… So that’s how it’s gonna be, huh?’

James forced himself to take a breath before he spoke.

“Make a forcefield,” he muttered. “I don’t wanna break you.”

Finch snickered.

“Someone’s cocky. Alrighty, forcefield on-” a web of light flickered into place above his skin as he returned to his side of the court, the ball held lightly under his arm. “Ready to go on three, tw-”


Peter Toranaga caught up with his son just in time to see Agent Finch’s body slam into the gymnasium wall hard enough to crack the plaster. He watched as his son floated over, took the basketball off of his supervisor, and grumpily dumped it through the hoop.

He decided not to ask.

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Author’s Note:

Wow. Two months off and howdy gee do I feel rusty.

Also, yes. I took two months off. I really needed it. Thank you for being patient with me.