Dissonance: 4.5

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Author’s Note: Hey guys! I know this one’s late again, but my explanation for that is that it’s a long chapter, with a bunch of stuff going on behind the scenes. Secondly, along with this chapter, as promised, I am uploading the first two of the playlists of stuff that James and Tasha enjoy. They’ll grow over time, probably, as I find more music I think they’d rock out to. If you guys have any suggestions on hearing them, you can feel free to shoot me your ideas. Here they are: Tasha’s Beatz and James’ Tunez.

James:

The boy was odd. That was the first thing that came to James’ mind upon seeing him. It was hard to pin down; nothing about him was particularly eye-catching in and of itself. Just another teenager, his shaggy brown hair cut perhaps a bit too long, wearing a faded shirt, a leather jacket that looked at least a size too big for him, and a pair of jeans that either badly needed replacing, or had possessed those tears in the knees since their purchase. James probably wouldn’t have looked twice at him if they’d passed one another in the street, but the older boy was still staring at him, standing on the curb across the road, unmoving. The stranger raised his hand in a wave, and James copied it, confused.

“Oi, bud,” Tasha asked from the other end of the line. “You still there? You went quiet.”

“Oh, right,” he muttered. “Sorry. There’s a guy outside being weird.”

“How weird?”

The boy outside smiled, turning his raised hand mid-wave to beckon to him. James raised an eyebrow at that, then shook his head. The older boy scowled.

“Pretty weird. Mind if I call you back?”

“Sure. Lemme know if you need backup.” The line went dead.

The stranger was moving again, glancing from side to side around the deserted street, before looking back at James. Then, he raised his hands to chest height, holding them about a foot apart from one another. Then, for the briefest moment, something appeared between them, like the flickering of flames through water. It was there for just a moment, before it faded from between the other boy’s fingers. James stared.

This boy was magic? Why was he here? How had he found him? Again, the boy beckoned him to come outside. Once more, he shook his head.

This time, the boy outside didn’t scowl. Instead, he grinned, shifted his shoulders briefly in an exaggerated shrug, and began walking forwards, making his way across the street. James watched him, perplexed. Was this someone from the Family? Had someone seen him flying?

James watched as the boy reached the gate that separated his house from the rest of the street, placing a hand on the latch before vaulting it in a single neat jump. Then the boy approached the front door, and glanced back at his window, still grinning. Then, he held out a hand, conjuring more of that odd, slightly off-coloured flame above his palm, and raised his other hand to knock on the door.

James felt the dread sinking into his stomach in an instant. This boy was going to show his parents magic? Without thinking, he brought his hands up at shoulder height, fingers splayed out, and slowly shook his head.

The boy grinned a little wider at that, the flame flickering out in his palm, and once more gestured for James to follow him.

He hesitated for what felt like the longest few seconds of his life at that, before reluctantly pressing his fingers against the window, and sliding it open.

“Hey there,” the stranger murmured as James clambered awkwardly down out of his window, not wanting to show this newcomer his flight unless he had to. “Name’s Caleb. Sup?”

He didn’t answer right away, lowering himself down from the second storey window bracket by his fingers, before dropping lightly to the ground, using his power just a little to soften the fall. Then, he turned towards the other boy, and found that he was angry.

“I don’t care who you are,” he growled. “If you go near my family again, I’ll-”

“Whoa, now,” Caleb chuckled, splaying his hands out casually in front of him. “Easy, tiger. I just wanted to have a talk. No one’s doing anything to anyone’s family. C’mon. Let’s go somewhere a little less likely to get us noticed.” With that, he turned, walked back towards the gate, and once more vaulted easily out into the street, leaving an angrily sputtering James to follow in his wake.

The strange boy guided them in silence through the evening dimmed streets, either not listening to or just flat out ignoring the three or four questions James attempted before he finally gave up, lapsing into a stony quiet as he let the boy guide him.

After a few minutes, they reached a skatepark, only a block or two from James’ house, the last of its occupants just heading off as the two of them arrived. Without a word, Caleb strode up the side of the concrete pit, before stepping over the edge to slide neatly down the curved wall and into the basin below, balanced on the balls of his feet.

“There we go,” Caleb murmured, shooting James a grin. “Now we can have a little bit of privacy.”

“Good,” he muttered, still furious. “Now why were you near my family, what the heck do you want from me, and who sent you here?” He felt his hands balling into fists by his sides, and only half-heartedly tried to keep himself calm.

For his part, the other boy shrugged.

“Like I said,” he chuckled. “I just wanted to talk. As for who we are. I’ve already told you my name. It’s Caleb. Now it’s my turn to ask a question. How are you so powerful, kid? Special training? Some kind of rit-” James didn’t let him finish. He dug into his power, extending his senses into the hands beyond his hands, and used one of them to punch the other boy in the face. The gust of air struck Caleb hard enough to send him staggering, collecting in the back of his jacket and pulling him off his feet like some strange kind of kite. James struck him again, and he heard the sharp crack as the older boy’s head bounced off the curved wall of the pit.

“I don’t care about your questions,” he spat, glaring at the newcomer as hard as he could. “I want to know who sent you, and why you came to my house. Was it the lightning guy? The Family?” He wasn’t sure if it was a smart move to name the Family. He didn’t care. If it was them, he had to know. He’d need make a counter move; get his family somewhere safe. He wasn’t sure what he’d do, but it would be something.

The strange boy gazed up at him from his spot against the wall, and it was with some satisfaction that James noted that, for just a moment, he looked scared. It was only a moment, though. He raised a hand to the back of his head, checking the point where his skull had met the concrete, and let out a low, quiet chuckle when he saw that his hand now bore a trace of blood.

“So,” he murmured, pushing himself upright against the concrete. “That’s how it is, huh?” He let out another quiet snicker, then continued. “Fine. Well, if you’re gonna try and threaten me, I’m gonna make damn sure you’re strong enough to follow through. Tell you what. You beat me now, and I’ll tell you everything you wanna know; but if you can’t, then I’m gonna make you sorry.”

James felt his eyes narrow. This was a challenge. He nodded.

Caleb wasted no time in answering before he launched himself at James, kicking off of the wall for some extra speed. He was fast, very fast, making it nearly halfway towards him before the next wind blast caught him around the chest, catching once more in the back of his jacket as it pulled him back. To James’ surprise, the larger boy didn’t try to fight the attack, simply letting his arms go limp as the jacket pulled at him, shrugging it off and letting the wind throw it out of the skate park and into the street beyond. He paused, recovered his balance, then charged again. James met him with yet another blast, dancing backwards a few steps for distance. Caleb took the blast head on, bracing his arms in front of his face to shield his eyes from the gale. The sheer weight of it forced him backwards a few paces, his feet dragging on the floor.

James prepared another blast, gathering the wind in the fist beyond his fist, before bringing it forwards against the other boy with all the might he dared. This time, Caleb changed tack. The moment James let the strike loose, he threw himself to the side, not quite fast enough. James almost felt it as the outer edge of the thing caught the other boy, buffeting his body through the air. It wasn’t enough. Hit or not, the other boy had avoided the lion’s share of the blow.

Caleb landed on beveled wall of the skate rink, hands and feet splayed apart to catch himself against it. Then, before gravity had a chance to take a hold of him, he pressed off once more, shooting himself at James like a bullet. James flinched back, the other boy missing him by a hair, and turned to face him, another strike charging between his astral fingers.

Caleb landed on the ground some feet away, and pushed himself to his feet. He was grinning.

“Your body clenches up when you’re about to throw a shot,” he murmured amiably. For the first time, James noticed something weird about how he spoke. “It makes it easier to dodge.” What was that accent? English? Canadian?

James pushed the thought aside, and threw another blast, taking the opportunity to once more make some distance from his all too agile foe.

Again, Caleb was moving before the shot even hit him. This time, however, he dodged better. The blast barely even grazed him as he threw himself out of its path. He hit the ground on his feet, then made his way for James at a dead sprint.

James began to ready another strike, but he already knew it wouldn’t be done before the older boy had time to reach him. He tried to dodge, shifting to the right, towards the middle of the pit, but to no avail. Caleb swerved mid-lunge to match his new trajectory, and when he came within a few feet of him, pushed himself into the air in a little hop.

James briefly felt the weight of it as the older boy crashed against his chest, his knees raised as they collided to pin his arms to his sides. Caleb bore him down to the ground and sat atop him, hardly even panting.

“You see?” He asked, laughing in the lighthearted, easy kind of way that should have been reserved for poking fun at friends. “You made your attacks too obvious, kid. You need more than just big old strong attacks, cuz eventually, people are gonna start thinking their way around them.” As he spoke, James watched the boy wipe his arm across his nose. It came away bloody. Then, Caleb gazed down at him merrily, seemingly just waiting for him to respond.

“… Aren’t you gonna make me sorry?” He asked, caught between confusion and the feeling of his own heart thudding away in his chest. “You know, for threatening you?”

“What?” Caleb asked, momentarily surprised as he ran his fingers through his wind-swept hair. “Oh, that,” he laughed. “Eh, maybe later. Wanna take another shot at me first, though? Maybe try something that isn’t just standing there and shooting me?”

James felt his eyebrow begin to raise. What was with this boy? Why was he helping him? Eventually, he decided to push those questions aside. Caleb had said his body went tense when he fired off his shots. Maybe he could…

“Dude, don’t do it when I’m on top of you. I could crush your chest with my knees right now.”

“Oh, come on!” He protested, indignant. “How’d you know? I wasn’t even tensing that time!”

“Nah,” Caleb replied, climbing off of him. “But you went all limp like someone trying really hard not to tense. It’s kind of a dead giveaway, kid.”

“Would you stop calling me that?” James pushed himself to his feet with a scowl, ignoring the hand the other boy offered to help him up. “You’re like, what, four years older than me?”

“Hey, if you want to stop being kid, then maybe you should give me a name.” Caleb grinned, ambling back a ways and crouching into some kind of stance.

“… James.”

“It’s nice to meet you, James,” Caleb grinned. “Now this time, try to come at me like you’ve really got a brain, okay?”

James glowered at the older boy, and they began.

The second time went even worse than the first. This time, instead of heavy strikes, he had opted for something lighter, quicker to charge and aim, like the flicks he’d used in helping Tasha escape. No use. The larger boy had simply barreled through them, arms held up once more to shield his face as he charged at James in a tackle. Without thinking, he’d taken to the air. He’d made it barely a few feet before the hand had caught the back of his hoodie, and he’d felt an arm wrap firmly around his chest.

“Gotta make sure you’re hitting hard enough to stop me, don’t you think?” Caleb asked, the laughter in his voice loud enough to set James’ blood to boil.

The third time, he had cloaked himself in a hurricane, wrapping the wind around himself and urging it to spin faster and faster by the second. It had drawn a wild laugh from his lips as he watched the older boy attempt to strike him, only to be pushed to the side by the gale. It didn’t last. Caleb had cloaked himself in some kind of shimmering veil of blue, before simply striding through the gale towards him.

“Congrats,” he murmured a minute later, a hand resting companionably on James’ shoulder. “You made me use a single spell. And in exchange, all it cost you was any ability to move, dodge, or take offensive action. Real good trade.”

“Shut up,” James muttered, a hand at his chin as he thought. “I’m trying to think, okay?”

“About a way you might be able to beat me?”

“… Shut up.”

Caleb snorted.

“Right. Well, while you think about that, James, I’m gonna take off home. I’ve kinda got places to be this evening.”

“Wait, you’re leaving?” James asked, trying to push away the strange sense of upset that met him at the idea. “But I was just getting close!”

“Sure you were,” Caleb chuckled. “Fine. Tell you what. I’ll come back in a few days. Call it Wednesday. See if you can figure out a way to win by then.”

“… You still haven’t told me who sent you to my place.”

Again, Caleb only chuckled.

“Yeah, I know. And you still haven’t beaten me yet.” He shot James a wink as he stepped towards the wall. “I’ll tell you this for free, though. I’m not with the Family, and I wasn’t gonna do anything to your folks. I just wanted a way to see how tough you were.” With that, he turned, grasped the lip of the skatepark wall with his hands, and vaulted himself upward. “Later, kid. Try and make it harder for me next time, kay?”

“Not a kid!” James shouted after him. He didn’t get a response.

He gazed after the departed boy in silence for a long while. His heart was still hammering like a bass drum inside his chest. He could barely feel the scrapes and scratches where his arms had hit the ground. Why did he feel so much… better?

After a few moments, he shook himself, and hastily made his way back home.


Caleb:

Caleb tried to ignore the shakes that wracked themselves through his fingers as he went to retrieve his jacket. Walking through that wind-wall had been enough to drain him dry. That kid was way too powerful to be worth it. In any other hunt, he’d have called for twenty three, and told her he was out of his depth, but he couldn’t do that now.

It had been a Hail Mary shot, approaching the boy in his home. Too stupid and thoughtless to be worth a damn as a plan, but if the pretty boy’s threat before had shown him anything, it was that he didn’t have time to waste playing it safe. He’d been hoping for some information; had known that they’d likely just leave him bloody. Against all probability, however, it had worked. The kid had either been scared of him potentially attacking his parents, or he was afraid of them finding out he had powers. In the first case, it meant he was stupid. In the second, he’d be easier to isolate. Judging by how new the boy seemed when it came to fighting, and how he never seemed to shift to other spells when his tactics had been questioned, it was beginning to look like the latter.

James was powerful, he was untrained, and he was alone. Caleb tried to wipe away his smile. He’d forgotten what hope felt like.

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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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Dissonance: 4.3

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

Casper:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freja nodded at that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“… Is this about me running away?”

“Yes.”

“… Did James tell you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you still in New York?”

“… Yeah.”

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

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

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

It was a long while before the older man answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The older woman sighed at that.

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

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

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

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

“… Okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“… Yeah?”

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

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

“… Sorry.”

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

“Sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Cas?” James asked. “You okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

“… I like you now.”

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

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

“I’ll make the call.” Said Peter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mel snorted. Casper grinned.

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

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

Father.

He began to run.

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Dissonance: 4.2

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

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

James:

“Hey.”

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

“Heeey.”

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

“Heeey! Get up. I want pancakes.”

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

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

“Hey. Paaancaaaakes.”

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

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

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

“… Worst sister.”

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

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

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

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

Five twenty five?

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

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

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

His marks were showing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James scowled at that.

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

That earned the boy a genuine laugh from his father.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you know about that, do you?”

“… Yeah. He told me.”

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

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

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

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

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

Peter nodded at that, conceding the point.

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

“… I don’t want to.”

“Why not?”

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

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

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

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

“… No.”

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

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

“Thank you.”

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

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

“I’m sorry.” He mumbled, ashamed.

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

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

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

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

Then, he went downstairs and made his sister pancakes.

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Escapism: 3.14

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Hey, guys. So, yeah. I’ve been a little late with the updates these last two weeks. I apologize for that. I had a little of my time devoted to a short story guest submission for a literary friend of mine called Revfitz. If you’d like to see the story I wrote for him, then here’s the link: https://revfitz.com/everybody-dies-rainy-days/ Also, while you’re there, you might wanna check out his book. It’s pretty cool. Anyways. I intend to upload another chapter before the end of this week to make up for my tardiness. So I hope it’s all good. Anyways. On with the story!

James:

James wasn’t sure exactly when he had begun to cry. Whether it had happened when the lightning bolt struck him, when the bird tore the gash in his leg, or at any of a dozen points in between. He didn’t much care. The problem was that the tears made it hard for him to see where he was going as he flew, his eyelids only barely staying open to begin with.

He would have raised an arm to wipe his eyes clear, but his body refused to obey, the limb hanging limp by his side, his fingers occasionally twitching as the remnants of the shock sent spasms wracking through his form.

He was blind; blind and immobile, flying aimlessly through the night, just waiting to be spotted. To this, he did the one thing he could think to do. He went up. He may not have been able to see well enough to find a landmark to guide him, but he could at least tell well enough which way was up. A part of him wandered what might happen if he fell from such a height, and the answer he came up with did nothing to help him calm.

Everything felt wrong; the lines in his body failing to match what he knew in his head that they should be. Everything felt too… big; like his skin had somehow been stretched to cover a body the size of a football field. Had his nerves been thrown off by the shock?

For what felt like the hundredth time, he tried to force himself to calm down, to focus. It barely helped. He couldn’t move, couldn’t see. He wanted to pace, to yell, to punch something, just for some way to vent his state out into the world around him. He tried to scream, and once more heard, from somewhere high above, as the winds took up the call, echoing his voice in a shrill, distorted burst, more stormwind than shout.

Then there was that. He’d barely noticed it in the panic of the attack, but now, it was getting clearer by the moment. His body might not be moving, but his powers were, the wind echoing his every attempt to move without him even giving it conscious thought. He hadn’t even known he could make the winds shout for him, but he wasn’t pleased by the discovery; it wasn’t a nice sound. Just to confirm that it was what he thought it was, he tried willing his hand up towards his face in a gentle slap.

The effect was immediate. The wind caught him hard enough to nearly knock him out of the sky, sent him reeling. In a few moments, however, he caught himself, the fear slowly starting to fade in the knowledge that at least he was able to figure stuff out.

Okay. So his powers were doing a thing. That wasn’t great, but at least it gave him an idea.

Tentatively, he began reaching out into the wind with his power, trying to extend it out consciously in the hope that if he could expand his control around it, then maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to pull it back inside himself again. Maybe that’d be enough to let him move his limbs again. Even if it didn’t, it still felt better to be trying something.

James extended further, the hands beyond his hands reaching out further and further by the second. It was the strangest feeling, trying to stretch his senses to fill a shape. As he expanded, he felt the wind brush against fingers that weren’t even there; fingers that he knew, rationally, had to be dozens of feet away from him by now. Yet he could still feel them.

He was almost there when he encountered the barrier, his powers extended until they felt nearly as big as his body did. Then, just as he was about to reach it, he felt something press against his perception, like a wall in the air; immobile. He tried to swear, and heard the skies above give some ghoulish reinterpretation of the sound. Had he not been in such a state, he doubted he would have tried what he did next. At the least, he doubted he’d have tried it while floating what had to be at least a mile above the ground. As it was, though, he didn’t have the capacity left to care.

He pulled his power back a little, closing them towards himself by what felt like a foot or so, before sending them out again and slamming them against the wall as hard as he could. He had honestly expected it to do nothing, the attempt had been more an act of raw frustration than an effort to be constructive; but then he felt the wall give.

It was slight, minute, even, but it was there. He pushed harder, and it fell back another inch. The wind around him let out a furious cry, and he pushed harder.

When the wall finally gave way, a lot of things changed at once.

It was the changes to his vision that he noticed first, the world around him shifting from a tear blurred darkness to a perfect, almost crystalline clarity. The dark surrounding him fell away. In its place, his world was flooded with a trillion tiny lines of pure, faintly glowing light, like stars given breadth. Everywhere he looked, there were more of them, flowing and shifting around one another, cascading across the sides of the buildings far below and dancing through the clouds that hovered over the distant bay.

For a few moments, he just stared, in awe. Then, he found his mind brought back to earth as his clothes began to fall away, his body no longer solid enough to hold them in place around him. It was the strangest feeling, some tiny part of him thought, having something fall through him like that. He felt his torso give way under the weight of his hoodie, the scarf wrapped around his face sliding free and drifting off, seeming to pull his head apart in the process. It made him want to shudder.

He looked down, noticed his clothes sloughing off around him, and ignored them. He was far more concerned for the moment with his own apparent loss of solidity. As his hoodie finally fell free of him, he stared down at the nothing where his chest should be. Then, slowly, something began to form, no longer disturbed by the passage of his clothes. They hung about where his ribs should have been, a few faint, bluish orbs surrounded by a shimmering membrane of what seemed like mist, pulsing slightly every time he tried to breathe. In that one stunned moment, he honestly thought he’d become an amoeba.

… What?

For a few seconds, he quite simply failed to take it in. His body was gone. He no longer seemed to be paralyzed, perhaps, but his body was gone. He stared down at the faint, amorphous blob that seemed now to make up his form, and tried the hardest he ever had not to panic. The weirdest thing was that he could still feel his hands, even though he could see quite clearly that they no longer existed. More out of shock than anything else, he tried to clap them.

A few dozen feet away, there was a loud crack as two huge gusts struck one another, the shockwave of it sending the light lines into momentary chaos. As they slowly began to settle again, he gaped.

He hadn’t noticed it before. He’d been too busy focusing on the dazzling lights and the absence of his limbs. Now, though, as the lines began to settle themselves around it, he could see.

So that was where his body had gone.

It was definitely his body, he thought. He could tell that much from the shapes it made as the light lines drew contours across its face. But that didn’t explain why it seemed to be a hundred feet tall and made of nothing but air. He looked down, and saw his legs, carving invisibly through the flow of light. He looked up, and saw his head high above. As he watched, the titan opened its mouth, and let out a high, hysterical sounding giggle, so much more like his own voice than it had been before. He’d been worried that he couldn’t see his chest, because he was inside his chest.

He kept laughing for a long while. Then, the shock began to fade, giving way to dread. He was too tired for panic now. Too drained. Instead, he just felt hopeless and sad. It was too big. He could feel it beginning to overload him, like an ache inside his brain. He could feel the wind against his skin, all hundred or so feet of it. He could see the lights stretching out to every corner of the horizon, and they blinded him; overwhelmed. Perhaps, if he wasn’t so tired, he’d have coped; but as it was, he just wanted it all to go away. It was too new, every sensation like ice on an exposed nerve.

He tried to close his eyes to block out the light, but nothing changed, for his new form had no eyes. He let out a whine, pulling the titan’s arms and legs in towards his chest, hoping, at the very least, to block out a little of the breeze. Absently, he noticed his hoodie fluttering below, caught by a gust inside his larger form’s foot. In another frame of mind, it might have made him laugh.

He wanted to be small. He wanted the world to go away for awhile; needed rest. He tried to pull it all back in, and watched as the body around him began to deform, bits of it shifting oddly as they shrunk. It helped, though. He no longer felt the vastness of the wind against him. He kept pulling, and his exhausted mind was almost happy when he met the wall. The same wall he’d found when he started this failed adventure. It gave him hope. He pulled harder.

James wasn’t sure how long it took to come back to himself. He just knew that after a time, he could no longer see the lights all around him. The world was dark. His eyes were finally closed. He took a moment to enjoy that, before opening them once more to make sure that he was back.

He had skin again; real skin. He uncurled himself from his ball, and felt something slip free of his foot, then glanced down, and saw his hoodie tumbling away below him.

In that moment, he realized two things. Firstly: he was naked. Secondly: his hoodie still had his phone in it.

He dove.

It wasn’t a hard chase, really. James was a fast flier, and the hoodie barely eluded him beyond the first second or so before he caught it. First, he checked desperately in the pocket for his phone, then he let out a loud sigh of relief, and put it on.

It took him nearly ten minutes to find his way home, floating in through his bedroom window and collapsing on his bed, stopping only to close the window on the way. He felt himself fading to sleep before his head even hit the pillow.

As his thoughts faded to grey, he found himself thinking of Tasha. He got as far as hoping she was okay before drowsiness took its hold and he slept.

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