Escapism: 3.1

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Author’s note: Hey, guys. Sorry for the late update. I was kinda busy figuring out how I wanted the magic system to work, along with a bunch of other stuff. I decided to slip the Tuva bonus chapter a little further into this arc because I think it works better after this one gets going. So, yeah. Kay, enjoy!

James:

The two figures descended together in silence, the smaller one coming to a stop some ten or so feet above the grassy ground of the park, before the larger one finally allowed herself to let go, falling the short distance to the soft earth and opting to simply collapse there rather than bother trying to catch herself.

Neither one of them spoke for a time, James gazing at the ground, too lost in his own thoughts to really know what to say while his companion took a number of long, deep breaths against the floor. In the end, it was Tasha who broke the silence.

“That. Fucking. SUCKED.” She said loudly, emphasizing every word with all the energy she seemed able to muster. “Word of advice: Never do something that’ll wind up getting you tied to a chair, kay, bud? It’s really not fun.” Tasha opened her eyes at that, craning her neck slightly to shoot the boy a grin. He didn’t reply. He didn’t really know what to say. “Oi,” she murmured. “What’s up, little guy? You doing okay?”

“I… I dunno.” He said honestly, glancing across at her. “I’m… Kinda waiting for myself to freak out.”

“It’ll happen,” Tasha laughed. “Don’t worry. You’ll be on your way home, and it’ll hit you like a train, all at once. You’ll start shaking your hands and going ‘Holy shit, what did I just do!?’ and then you’ll calm yourself down a bit, and you’ll start feeling either really hungry, or like, super extra horny.”

James snorted at that.

“Why horny?” He asked, chuckling. “I think maybe that’s just a you thing.”

“Maybe,” Tasha shrugged, grinning. “Or maybe you’ll get home and start jacking like craz-” James didn’t hear the rest of that sentence, because he had already brought his hands up to cover his ears. She scowled at him, then very deliberately raised a hand in front of her, clenched her fingers into a fist, and started moving it from side to side.

“… You are the grossest person alive and I hate you.” James said, hands still pressed to his ears. Tasha stuck out her tongue. “… Whatever,” he grumbled, lowering one hand from his ear to his pocket and tugging free a small cylindrical wad bound up with a rubber band. “I figure you can’t really go home right now and you’re gonna be kinda weak for a couple days, so I bought this along for you.” He tossed it down towards her and she caught it, fumbling it slightly in her still stiff hands. “The money you gave me last night. Figured you could pay me back later or something, you know?”

Tasha glanced down at the money for a moment, then back up at him, and nodded, her expression slightly pained.

“Thanks, man,” she sighed. “Guess beggars can’t really be choosers, huh?”

James nodded, relieved. He’d been expecting that to be a bit more of a struggle.

“Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m paying you back for this, you hear me? Oh, gimme your number. I’ll buy a phone tomorrow and call you and Casper with it, kay?” She frowned suddenly. “Actually, can you call him now? The little guy went and did something really stupid trying to save me earlier. I wanna make sure he’s okay.”

James nodded, digging out his phone and quickly tapping in the number and calling it, pausing brieflly to read out his number for the older girl. It only rang for a few seconds before Casper answered, his voice oddly croaky.

“Hey, man. Good to hear from you. Did you do it?”

“Yeah,” James replied, trying not to use any names in case, god forbid, someone was listening. “I did it. We’re fine. You okay? You don’t sound too good.”

“Y-yeah,” came the reply, accompanied by what James thought might have been a sniffle. “I’m fine. Look… I kinda ran away from home… I’m gonna smash my phone after this. Not sure if they can follow it. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay with you guys first, you know?”

James was silent for a few moments, unsure how he was even supposed to react to something like that. He glanced down at Tasha, who was looking up at him, clearly curious. He gave her a half hearted thumbs up, before eventually settling for the basics.

“We’re fine,” he murmured. “I Promise.” He hesitated for a moment, then added: “ Is… is this cuz of your dad? Did he try to hurt you ag-”

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Casper cut him off. “Look, I’m fine, okay? Just… Can I ask you something weird?”

“Uh, sure?” Said James, caught a little back footed. “What’s up?”

“That… the thing… The thing that made you get… You know…” Casper was silent for a time on the other end of the line, before he finally let all the words tumble out at once. “Was it your parents? Did they do something bad?”

“What?” James asked, disgusted, his tone earning him a confused look from Tasha, which he ignored. “No! Of course not! They had nothing to do with it!”

“Good,” came the reply almost immediately, the tone probably intended to be soothing, but missing the mark a tad. “I didn’t think they had. They’ve been too worried about you since it happened. I just… I needed to make sure.”

James considered that for a time, his disgust slowly beginning to fade, before something in the way Casper had spoken clicked in his head.

“… Is that why he hit you?” He asked, his voice very quiet.

“… Yeah,” Casper replied eventually, making a sound that James thought could have been an attempt at clearing his nose. “Yeah, it is. I… I just wanted to make sure your parents didn’t… You know.”

“No,” James replied, almost immediately. “They didn’t do anything. It…” He faltered for a moment, having to steel himself a little to say the words out loud. “It was a stranger in a bathroom… and he wasn’t hitting me.” In the corner of his eye, he saw Tasha curse under her breath at his words. He closed his eyes. It hurt less to admit than he had thought it would, but it still wasn’t fun.

“… Yeah,” the other boy muttered evenly. “That’s what I figured. Sorry.”

James opened his mouth to reassure the other boy, however empty the words might be, but the line was dead. Casper had already hung up. He let out a frustrated little sigh as he returned his phone to his pocket. He turned to Tasha.

“He ran away from home cuz his parents are dicks,” he said, making no effort to keep the bitterness from his voice. “He says he’s fine.”

Tasha nodded, her face set.

“Right,” she murmured. “When you see him again, figure out a way to bring him over to me. I can take care of him.”

James simply nodded, not looking at her as he turned to leave.

“Oi,” she called after him, pulling him briefly to a halt. “You’re not weak, okay?” The statement confused him, and he glanced back at her. She had pulled herself to her feet, apparently ignoring the pain in her limbs. She was looking up at him, her expression hard, almost angry. Her fingers were clenched into fists by her sides, the muscles in her arms standing out against the strain. “What you told us doesn’t change things, you got that? You saved my ass tonight, and that makes you strong. Whatever else that asshole did to you, you’re strong, like me. Don’t you forget it.”

James wouldn’t have expected the words to strike him as hard as they did, hitting him like a punch in the gut. He gazed down at her for a moment, feeling something crack inside him, and refused to let it show. He willed his face to remain controlled, forcing it into a hard, set scowl, just the same as hers, before he finally nodded.

“Yeah. Thanks.” Without another word, he left, rising into the skies and out of her sight.

He made his way home at full speed, trying to let the exhilarating feeling of being up in the air distract him for a time. It worked, if only a little. Whatever bitterness there was to the past few minutes, at least it was done with now. Tasha’s words had helped, surprisingly enough. As he traveled, he waited for the panic of the last hour to hit him, just as she’d said it would, but for some reason, it never came. When he arrived back in his room, he was calm; not happy, but calm.

He went downstairs, found his parents, and gave them a hug, his eyes determinedly dry.

That night, for the first time, the nightmares did not come for him. That night, he slept soundly.

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Catharsis. 2.12

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James:

James gazed out of his window into the evening sky, his hands resting gently against the windowsill. A part of him, if he was honest, had wanted to do nothing, to just go home and pretend nothing had ever happened, but he just couldn’t quite bring himself to just leave it. It went against the grain. Eventually, he had come to a decision. He would try to help, but if there was nothing he could do, or if it looked like it might go badly for him, he would leave.

He stepped back from the window for a moment, taking a second to change. Dark clothing, as before. He chose a hoodie, pulling the hood down over his face and pulling the string ties to bunch the fabric up over his face, leaving him just enough room to see. He took a breath. His parents were downstairs, watching a movie. Not much chance of either of them moving for the next hour or so. Bex was in bed, a story read to her, and a glass of water already set up by her bedside. If he was going to leave, now was the time. He returned to the window and pulled it open, then breathed deep again.

One… Two… Three.

James threw himself through the window, squeezing his eyes shut as if diving into a freezing pool. As before, he willed himself upwards as fast as his power could carry him. By the time he had the drive to will his eyes open, the streets were but tiny lines below him, illuminated by the sparse lights of cars and streetlights. He felt that momentary thrill, that giddy high of pure, positive vertigo, and pushed it from his mind. More important things at hand. He turned himself towards the place the text had specified, then pushed himself into the gloom at speed.

As before, it was not a long journey, two or three minutes, at most. He suspected he could have gone faster, but he was wary of pushing too far, running out of power in midair. The idea made him shudder. He floated some three hundred feet or so above the building, surveying the area from on high to assure himself that his plan would work.

There was a degree of traffic along the small street, but it was night, and far enough from the central districts that flow was relatively small. He allowed himself to hope that no one would notice, before choosing an alleyway opposite his target, and descending into it as fast as he dared. He didn’t allow himself to touch the ground. The text had warned that these people tracked by smell, and he had reasoned that his best defense was to stay high up enough that they would be left without a scent to follow. He hovered against a brick wall, hugging himself tight against the building’s shadow.

‘Corner room closest to traffic light.’ The text had said. James’ eyes fell upon a window, the curtains inside drawn against his view. He took another deep, steadying breath, and began to muster his power.

His plan was not the best, he had to admit. It had dozens of things that could easily go wrong, even if his newfound ability was strong enough to do what he wanted it to. More of them floated to the surface of his mind as he tried to focus. What if Tasha was too wounded to move? What if the drugs hadn’t worn off? What if his plan worked too well, and he hurt her? He did his best to ignore them. If it failed, he told himself, then at least he had tried. If it got too dangerous, he could leave with a clear conscience. He tried to believe it.

James extended his reach beyond himself, just as he had done the night before, feeling the strands of the light evening breeze beneath fingers that, to his newfound sense, were feeling less and less like fingers by the second. He extended further, collecting the strands and drawing them together in his grasp, letting them flow together, strengthening. When he felt he had enough, he drew them all together, bundling them up together tightly into a single imaginary fist, before pushing it forth against the building’s wall with all his might.

The result was not as he had hoped for.


Tasha:

Pain, everywhere.

That woman, Lara, the others had called her, had not gone easy. She had laid into Tasha with her own bat across every inch of her body while the soft voiced man delivered bullshit line after bullshit line.

‘They didn’t want to hurt her. She’d left them no choice.’ As if she gave a fuck. She’d done her best to tune him out after a time. In the hours that had followed, as the feeling slowly began to seep back into her nerves, she had slowly began to become aware of the pain, a dull, powerful ache across every inch of herself. She wanted to move, offer an insult, or at least do something to prove to them that they hadn’t beaten her, but she knew that the moment she did, not only would she lose the element of surprise, but the pain would become far worse. She had tested it with a few small flexes of her arms, and had barely managed to suppress the groan of pain as her battered muscles tugged along bruised, bloodied skin.

The one called Marcus had gone to bed, declaring something about seeing to the children as he took his leave. Lara and Samson had remained, Lara sitting on the floor with her back against the wall, the bat resting along her knees and a smug grin on her oh so punchable face. Of her captors, Lara had seemed the only one to actively enjoy the beating they had given her. Samson had seemed indifferent, passively watching with his gun at his hip, a pose he had held ever since, and Marcus had been almost apologetic, but Lara had enjoyed it. Tasha was grateful for that, in a way. Marcus confused her, Samson made her angry, but only Lara had done enough to really let Tasha hate her.

No one spoke. No one moved. It seemed like these two were content to watch her, unwavering, until their so called “Father” came to take her. For her part, however, Tasha was planning. Samson had the gun at his hip. That meant he would take at least half a second or so to raise it and point it at her. If she could move fast enough, then she could throw the chair at him before he had time to fire. If she could manage that, then she’d only have to deal with Lara. She just needed a single moment of distraction. That was the problem. Nothing was happening. Nothing had been happening for hours, besides the growing ache in every inch of her body. She needed to be alert, ready to capitalize on any distraction the moment it happened, but trying to keep herself that focused for so long was exhausting. She found her attention beginning to drift, a small part of her mind conjuring a scenario of what she was going to do to Lara when she got out of here. The ideas it presented were attractive, and she found more and more of her focus drawn towards it, figuring out what she’d break, what she’d say. That was when it struck.

It all happened so fast that Tasha barely had time to register what was happening, let alone try to make sense of it. There was a sudden, violent cracking sound, easily the loudest thing Tasha had ever heard, and at precisely the same time, the window imploded, shards of glass catching in the curtains and tearing them free, peppering the inside of the room with a hail of jagged shards. Tasha felt a few new tears emerge along the skin of her arms and face as she was thrown back in her chair, landing painfully on the ground. The room went dark, the solitary light bulb that hung from the ceiling exploding in the sudden wave of force. She brought up her hands by instinct, breaking her bonds with ease in some attempt to catch herself.

As she tried to work through the surprise, her ears ringing shrilly in the aftershock, a voice inside Tasha’s mind told her to move, to act. This was her chance. She had to take it. She reached down her hands grasping the edges of her chair to arm herself, but before she had a chance to go any further, a form stepped into view above her. In the sudden gloom, it was difficult to make out the face, but the shape of the gun aimed at her was unmistakable. She thought he might have said something, a command of some sort, but the ringing in her ears was too loud for her to make it out. The gun, however, sent a very clear message. Very slowly, she drew her hands back away from the chair. The gun jerked, gesturing her up, so she rose, her every muscle protesting angrily, to her feet. Lara stood at the window, a hand pressed to her ear. It was hard to tell, but Tasha could have sworn she was shouting something.

Whatever she was saying, it probably didn’t work, as another invisible wave struck her about the face. It was not as strong as the first, not by a long shot, but it was enough to make the woman stumble. She turned her gaze towards Tasha for a moment, her expression furious, before another wave struck her from behind, sending her off balance just in time for a third to knock her off her feet.

Tasha felt a hand grab her by the collar, and looked around. Samson had his gun against her cheek. He pulled her along with him, stepping around Lara’s form as she woozily pushed herself upright, a small trail of blood dripping down from her ears. The ringing had begun to subside a little, and Tasha was able to make out Samson’s words just fine as he shouted calmly out into the street.

“Keep attacking and I shoot her.”

Nothing happened. The ringing slowly died away to a low buzz as the two of them stood staring out at the empty street.

“Good,” Samson said eventually. “Now, show yourself, or I will shoot her. I swear to God.”

Again, nothing happened. Tasha glanced at her captor out of the corner of her eye. He was bleeding, a small shard of glass embedded in the flesh of his cheek, but he was calm, his eyes slowly roaming the darkened street. After a few moments, he pushed her to the side, shoving her against the window frame, his expression not changing in the slightest.

“You have to the count of five. Four, three,”

He still wasn’t looking at her. Tasha had an idea. A very stupid one, but one that, she hoped, would be enough to save her life.

Moving as fast as her aching arm was able, she swung her hand upwards, slapping her palm towards Samson’s wrist with all the force she could muster. Samson, still focused on scanning the street below, never saw it coming.

Tasha felt her hand connect, wrapping her fingers around the larger man’s wrist and forcefully wrenching the gun to the side, pointing it away from her, into the street. He squeezed the trigger, just a moment too late, firing off a loud, echoing shot into the wall of a nearby building. Tasha absently hoped there was no one inside as she reached out with her other hand, grabbed the gun, and wrenched it from his grip. He resisted, but not enough. She lowered her hand to his chest and, her back still braced against the window bracket, shoved him hard enough to launch him into the wall. She felt a few of his ribs crack under her fingers.

For a moment, Tasha contemplated leaving through the window, but then she realized, she had the gun. She had her strength, she had a gun, and Lara was doing only slightly better than her. With the surge of adrenaline pumping through her system, she couldn’t even really feel the pain in her muscles right now. She had promised to tear this place to the ground. Time to make good on that. She turned, grinning widely, back towards the more hated of her captors, just in time to see her finally rise to her feet.

Tasha raised the gun, but Lara was quicker. She opened her mouth, and Tasha felt something grasp her, pushing every inch of her backwards out of the open window. She let out a surprised yelp as she fell. Then, she felt the strangest thing beneath her. It was like wind, but stronger, much stronger, pressing her upwards, slowing her fall. She hit the ground on her back, nowhere near as hard as she should have done, and pushed herself to her feet. Before she had a chance to choose a direction, Lara peaked her head out of the window, her mouth already open as she exposed herself. Apparently she had started firing before she even left cover, because a chunk of the wall connected to the window split, the brickwork cracking away and sending out a fine plume of dust. Before Tasha had a chance to fire, the shot hit her. It was less focused now, and further away, but it still struck her dead on, knocking her off her feet once more. She landed on her knees, began slowly forcing her way to her feet, expecting a shot to the back, but none came. She turned, glanced up at the window. Lara had her arms braced against her face, seemingly trying to ward off some invisible force as it struck at her again and again, sending her hair frizzing out in every direction as she tried and failed to line up another shot. Tasha took the opportunity, and began to run.

Tasha ran a long way. She wasn’t sure if it was minutes, or an hour. All she knew was that by the end, the adrenaline had worn off, leaving her every muscle aching and screaming for her to stop. She ignored the pain, and kept running, gasping for breath with every other step. It took almost everything she had to keep going, her head lowering towards the ground, staring at her feet as she simply willed her feet to press forwards.

The first gust of wind was ignored, registered and written off as merely another trial for her aching body to overcome. The second, however, was stronger, sending her stumbling against a wall. She looked up, trying to identify the source. It took her a few moments to recognize it.

A figure, floating in the air to her left, a dozen or so feet above the road that divided the street. Small, child sized, dressed in thick, dark clothing that concealed their face almost completely. Tasha allowed herself an exhausted grin.

“Hey man, you here to give me a hand?”

The figure raised a hand, beckoning, and Tasha took a deep breath, building up the last of her strength, before she pushed herself away from the wall and launched herself up into the air. It was a relatively short distance for her, and yet she barely made it, her arms wrapping around the small form with what little strength remained and clinging tight. The moment they were connected, James took off into the sky, fast as he could go.

Author’s Note: Hey guys. This marks the end of our second arc, Catharsis. Over the next few days, I intend to publish a couple of bonus chapters, one prior to the interlude, one after, and then we will be ready to begin our third arc, which I believe will be called Escapism. Thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoyed, see you next time.

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Catharsis: 2.11

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Tasha:

Her captor had deposited her in a chair, her body slumped uncomfortably against the rigid wooden frame, before taking his leave, abandoning her to these three perverts. Tasha recognized each of them. The woman with the force breath was talking in a low voice to the man with the broken hand while the older man with the gun busied himself doing something behind her back.

“Why are you doing that?” The younger man asked. “It’s not like she can move, and when that drug wears off, it’s not like a few cable ties will hold her.”

“They’re not supposed to hold her down.” The larger man grunted from behind Tasha, making her wish she had enough control to at least look at him so she could see how she was being tied. “They’re just supposed to make a noise if she breaks out of them. I’m keeping watch, and if I get distracted by something, these should stop her getting the drop on me. I hear a peep out of her, I shoot her.”

The force breath woman nodded.

“Makes sense,” she murmured, stepping forwards to peer into Tasha’s eyes. “Can she hear us?”

“Should do,” the broken handed one replied with a shrug. “Lewis said the drug just paralyzed. She’s perfectly aware.”

“Good,” the woman said. Without warning, she brought her hand sideways in a wide sweep, striking Tasha across the jaw. Numb as she was, she didn’t even feel it. Did they not realize her nerves just weren’t working? That being said, the strike disoriented, throwing her mind out of order for a moment. It made her angry. Very, very angry. The woman stood straight again, massaging her fingers with her other hand. “Might as well get some work in while we wait for it to wear off.”

“Yeah,” broken hand agreed. “Best if the punishment’s done with before she’s able to scream. I don’t want the kids having to listen to that.”

“Good call,” Force breath nodded. “Where’d you put her bat, Samson?”

“Careful,” the older man replied, standing from his position behind her and moving to lean against the wall beside a window with its curtains drawn, a hand drifting under his jacket to unholster his gun and holding it casually pointed towards the floor. “If you hurt her too much, Father won’t be able to heal her. You’ll be in trouble, then.”

“Yeah yeah,” she replied. “Stop your fussing. I know when to stop. So, where is it?”

Samson shrugged, jerking a thumb towards some point behind Tasha.

“Storage closet. End of the hall.”

The woman took her leave and the two men waited in silence, both simply gazing at Tasha coolly. She tried to move again, but failed. This was hell. This was absolutely hell.


Casper:

Lewis led him out of the building, taking a left down the street, apparently headed towards the nearby subway terminal.

“So,” he murmured evenly. “I’m betting you have questions, so go ahead, hit me.”

Casper shrugged. As much as he hated to admit it, he’d done all he could for Tasha at the moment. He may as well make use of the chance to learn some things.

“Well,” he said. “Big one first, I guess. Why doesn’t the whole world know about us?”

Lewis laughed as though he’d said something deeply funny.

“Truth is, they used to,” he replied. “Back before science got big and all the governments had so much control. The world used to be full of monsters and wizards and all sorts of stuff in between.” He paused for a moment, glancing back at Casper, who nodded, more to show his interest than anything else. “But that stopped being a thing over time. It used to be that the mages and monster hunters barely managed to keep all the bad stuff away, but then we started learning and inventing useful stuff, like guns, and suddenly the monsters weren’t so hard to fight any more. We started managing to keep them back a bit better, so the people being kept safe eventually stopped believing all the stories about monsters and magic and all the rest of it. Truth is, most of the governments active at the time liked that people were starting to forget. Less people knowing about magic and stuff means less people trying to mess with something powerful and getting everyone around them in trouble. So, most of them started trying to help everyone ignore it all.”

“So there really is a cover up?” Casper asked, uncertain.

“Only sort of,” Lewis grunted. “You get punished for telling normal people without a good reason, sure, but it’s usually a slap on the wrist, basically the same as a parking ticket, really.”

Casper considered this as Lewis led him down a set of stairs and into the crowded subway terminal, a small part of him wondering where he was being taken, the rest focused elsewhere.

“… I don’t get it,” he admitted eventually. “If it’s just a slap on the wrist, then why don’t we have superheroes turning up all over the place? People finding out they have powers and putting on costumes to go fight crime.”

“Well,” Lewis replied after a moment. “A couple things there. First, sometimes, that does happen. First gens like you getting ice breath or whatever and figuring they’re the chosen ones. They don’t usually last long. The moment they do anything big enough to get noticed, the government figures out where they are, someone way better at using powers brings them in  and everything gets made to look like a really well done hoax. A youtube video becomes a really cool CGI short film, a photo becomes part of an online scavenger hunt. It’s pretty easy to do, really, they just have to make the explanation sound more reasonable than a person in a costume who can literally breathe ice. Same goes for some of the stuff that’s just too common to hide. Magic effects like the purity marks get explained away by a dude in a lab coat pretending it’s just natural biology.”

Casper swallowed at that, unsure he liked where the conversation was headed, a small part of him surprised by the revelation that something as mundane as purity marks actually had some magical component.

“… What happens to the guy with ice breath, then?” He asked, his voice quivering just a little.

“Depends what he did,” Lewis grunted. “If he broke the secret to a few dozen people, he might get fined a few hundred bucks. If he hurt anyone, he might get a bit of jail time. Thing is, first gens get treated pretty evenly when they’re taken in. Suddenly developing superpowers can be enough to make you start acting real stupid, even make you a bit delusional. So it kinda gets treated like temporary insanity.” Casper nodded at that, relieved. “Different story for people who know about all this before, of course,” the hunter continued. “That’s why you don’t see people like me pulling superhero stuff. Vigilantism is a crime in this world just as much as it is in the normal one, and using powers to do it is treated a lot like using a gun to do it.” Again, Casper nodded. That made sense.

The two stopped talking a few moments as Lewis guided Casper onto a train car and they sat down, utterly ignored by those around them.

“So… I’m guessing a lot of people with powers wind up in gangs and stuff, right?” Casper asked, trying to think of a way to phrase it better and failing.

“Some of us,” Lewis replied evenly. “Depends what sort of person they are and what they can do. It comes in all flavors. Some of us set up shops, join the government, or start using our powers to do normal jobs in easier ways without attracting attention. Some of us have a bit less choice than that.” The hunter smiled at that, and it looked genuine, but under it, Casper felt a swell of bitterness from him.

“… What’s that mean?” He asked cautiously.

The hunter shrugged.

“Some of us have powers that are just too useful not to be used. Me, for example. I’m a tracker, a good one, too. I can find anything as long as I have its scent. My mom was like that, too. She was pretty well known for it. So when she died, I suddenly had a lot of people wanting the same services from me. A lot of the time, that was from people you can’t say no to easily. So I started taking jobs, and I told them that if anyone tried to make me work for them exclusively, I’d put a lighter up my nose and kill my power.” He gave Casper a hard look, before continuing. “Problem with that is, I have to be useful to everyone at least some of the time, or what’s to stop them just getting rid of me to stop the others having access? So sometimes I have to take jobs I really don’t want to do, like helping the Family track down some teenager.”

Casper wasn’t sure what to say to that. The hunter’s feelings weren’t giving him much to go on, either. Lewis’ emotions were cold. He wasn’t pleading, nor was he fishing for forgiveness, so why was he offering any explanation at all?

“… Why tell me this?” Casper asked eventually. “It doesn’t feel like something you’d just tell someone, so why tell me?”

Lewis shrugged, leaning back in his seat and gazing stonily at him across the train car.

“Because you’re the same as me,” he said dryly. “You’ve got the potential to be a tracker, and unlike me, your power probably wouldn’t be so easy to get rid of, so I’m giving you a warning. Keep quiet about it, or someone might force you to do things you really don’t like. Don’t even tell the government, if you can avoid it. They’re no better than the criminals, sometimes.”

Again, Casper wasn’t sure what to say. Something in the back of his mind told him that ‘thank you’ was a bad choice. Eventually, he settled on:

“Where are you taking me?”

“My place,” Lewis replied, shrugging. “I thought you might wanna talk to some kids your own age about all this. Help sort it all out in your head.”

Casper nodded, staring quietly at the floor, unsure of what to say once more.


James:

‘James. Come see me.’

He glanced briefly at the message as he unpacked his bag and shrugged. Maybe Casper was nervous again about what had happened at school.

“Hey, Mom?” He called into the hallway, opening his bedroom door. “Casper says he wants to meet up with me. Is it okay if I go to the mall for a bit?”

There was a momentary hesitation before Sarah’s voice replied from the living room on the floor below.

“Sure, sweetie. You want a ride? I was just about to go pick up Bex, anyways.” Her acting was good, James almost failed to notice the tightness in her voice.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Please. Should I call you when I’m done?”

“Yeah.” Said Sarah, her head poking out into the stairwell. “If you could. Just tell me when you want to go, kay?”

James nodded, stepping briefly back into his room to change out of his school clothes, then headed down the stairs, flicking Casper a quick text in response.

‘Sure. Meet up at the GameStop near my place?’

He tracked down his mother and the two of them loaded into the car, spending most of the three minute journey to the mall in silence.

“You sure are spending a lot of time with Casper lately,” Sarah murmured, eyes on the road. “You do remember you have other friends, right?”

“Yeah,” James replied with a chuckle. “I do. He’s just goofier than they are.”

“…He’s a nice boy.” She said after a moment, apparently more to herself than to him.

“Yeah,” he smiled. “He is.”

The rest of the trip passed in silence, Sarah depositing him at the entrance to the mall with another hug, and staying long enough to watch him step inside. He made his way to the GameStop and waited there for a few minutes, eventually taking out his phone and loading up a game to pass the time on. The game had just reached the opening screen when the text alert pinged. He closed the game for a moment to check the text. It was from a number he didn’t recognize, and only contained a single line of text, an address he didn’t know off the top of his head.

He gazed at the message for a few moments, confused, before the phone pinged again and another text emerged. His eyes drifted down to it, perplexed, then went wide. He felt his legs begin to shake a little, allowing his weight to shift down to the floor as he stared at the screen. This was not good. Not even a little. Forcing himself to be calm as best he could, he re-read the message, hoping against hope that he had somehow just read it wrong.

‘Tasha kidnapped, using her phone. Second floor. Corner room closest to traffic light. They track by smell. She’s drugged. Wait an hour.’

He felt the panic begin to rise in his gut, and forced himself to breathe deep, shutting off the phone and closing his eyes.

Okay… Now what?

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Catharsis: 2.8

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James:

’32 pounds.’ James sighed as he stepped off the scales. His new state had remained aggravatingly constant since Casper’s departure the previous evening, to the degree that he had struggled slightly even to do simple things, like opening the bathroom door with its unfortunate tendency to jam against the frame, the wood slightly misshapen and warped in the years since its installation.

It was being weak, more than being light, that felt the strangest to him. His school uniform felt heavy against his skin, the light cotton shirt weighing down on him like a thick fleece. At breakfast, he’d fumbled with his cutlery a few times, not expecting the extra effort required to lift it. Most troubling of all, he had tried, while getting dressed, to lift his school bag, and had found he could barely stand under it, the loose collection of textbooks and gear weighing on his legs as though he were trying to lift a whole other person. He had redressed the balance with his power, lifting most of the weight with his flight so that the extra effort was expressed as pressure against his shoulders rather than as strain on his legs. It was an easy fix, but he wasn’t at all pleased to be left so reliant on his powers in his daily life.

He tried to let those frustrations slip from his mind on the way to school, staring out of the window as Bex babbled on in the seat to his left, only half paying attention. In his mind, he was reaching out, his power extending out into the air surrounding the car, apparently unhindered by the glass partition of the window. He played, experimented in his way, making little gusts and dervishes play out and dissipate overhead. He flicked a tree, and watched as the shock sent dozens of loose leaves spiraling out from the canopy. He played with the breeze beneath them, shifting the wind to keep the pieces airborne. They passed a hot dog stand and he could swear, even with the window closed, he could smell the grease saturating the air around it.

Casper was waiting for him at the school doors, skipping anxiously on the balls of his feet as his eyes scanned the crowd, his hands fiddling at the cuffs of his blazer. Even from a distance, James could tell something was wrong. The boy was pale, his eyes wide and glassy. He quickened his pace towards him.

“Hey, Cas. What’s wro-”

He was cut off mid sentence as the taller boy grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him into a tight hug, burying his face against his shoulder and squeezing. A few people glanced their way, before turning their attention back to their own matters.

“Help,” the boy whispered urgently in his ear, his eyes wet. “Please, help.”

James stalled for a moment, a few gears in his head slipping on their tracks, before he righted himself, a sort of focus settling into him that drove the confusion aside.

“Come on,” he murmured, pulling back slightly and grabbing Casper’s hand. “Let’s go somewhere quiet, kay?”

He tugged at his friend’s hand, guiding him out of the throng of students, towards a more deserted section of the campus. The school was dotted with small segments of grass, breaking up the brickwork of the flooring, each lined with benches and flowerbeds. These spaces went largely unused day to day, serving more as a statement of the school’s wealth, that it could afford decorative space in a place as cramped as New York, but they served well when people needed a little privacy. James pulled Casper along to one of the benches, and sat him down against it, where he gazed at the floor, face white, playing with his hands.

“Now,” he asked. “What’s wrong, bud? Tell me everything.”

Casper took a deep breath, then another, then began to speak. James listened, and tried his best to remain calm; he didn’t want to be contributing to his friend’s panic. Casper told him everything, refusing eye contact, hands determinedly fiddling with themselves throughout. He told James about the man, about their conversation and about the thinly veiled threat at the end of it all.

After that, both were silent for a time, James trying to quell his rising fear and managing to force himself to a tense sort of calm, Casper still determinedly avoiding looking at him.

“… Do you think they know about me?” James asked, forcing his voice to remain level.

Casper shook his head.

“Don’t think so,” he mumbled. “Not sure… I don’t even know how they found out about me, but I figure if they knew about you, then the guy would’ve talked to you too, right?”

James nodded. “Yeah, you’re right about that, I think.”

Casper took another deep breath, then swallowed. “… What am I gonna do?”

“… I think…” James hesitated, then shook himself. “I think we can fix this.”

For the first time since he’d started talking, Casper looked at him. His eyes were still wide, his face streaked with a few thin trails of tears.

“…How?”

James took a moment to martial his thoughts, then began speaking, his tone one of forced reassurance.

“Well, that guy said he didn’t want to hurt you, right? And that means he’s probably not gonna tell the people who sent him anything about you, cuz he knows they might wanna hurt you for getting in his way.” Casper nodded mechanically, his expression unchanged. James took that as his cue to continue. “And it sounds like he didn’t know anything about your power, cuz if he did, he’d have talked to you different, right?” Another nod, slightly more human now. “And that means that no matter what, at the moment, the only person in trouble here is Tasha, right? And that’s okay, because she wanted it that way, right?”

Casper sniffled, his knuckles going white as his hands clenched against one another.

“R-right,” he mumbled, letting out a shaky sigh. “I-yeah… Right…You’re right, thanks.”

James smiled, a fraction of the tension leaving him upon seeing his reasoning stand to someone else’s eye.

“What you need right now,” he continued. “Is more information. Tasha needs to know more so that she can keep you out of it better. You need to find out how this guy found you, and you need to find a way to make sure it never happens again, right?” Again, Casper nodded, a little less shaky now. “So all we need to do is figure out how to get this guy talking without you looking like you’re involved.” Casper swallowed, a moments distaste crossing his features, but nodded once again.

“I think we can do that,” he muttered. “Tasha used me as a lie detector once, a few months ago… We didn’t do it again, because it was… it was bad… But I could… I mean… I could do it over the phone or something, right? Hide inside a building?”

James nodded. “Sounds like an idea. Next thing you need to do, then, is talk to Tasha. Make a plan, okay?”

“Right,” Casper agreed, his panic seemingly settled to a more tolerable degree of nerves. “Okay, we can do this. Thanks, James.”

“It’s okay,” James replied, resting a hand on the other boy’s shoulder. “You helped me out last night, right?”

James had not been expecting Casper to hug him, and let out a little stuttering sound in surprise as the taller boy’s arms wrapped around his shoulders, pulling him close. It was… uncomfortable, in a way, but he allowed it without complaint, figuring it was just what his friend needed in that moment. After a few seconds, Casper let him go with a mumbled apology, his face slightly red. James remained silent, unsure of what to say, eventually settling for a small smile and a shake of the head.

“Please don’t make hugs a regular thing, okay?” He said quietly. “Especially now that I’m too weak to push you off.”

“Right… sorry.” Casper replied, still a little red. “Only when I’m being followed by criminals, promise.”

James chuckled.

“C’mon. We better get to class.”


Two hours later, Tasha:

“Are you kidding?” Tasha asked, fingers clenching on the phone casing hard enough that she was having to force herself not to crush it by accident. “Dude, next time that happens, you tell them everything about me!”

Casper went quiet on the other end of the line, cut off mid sentence. After a few tense seconds, he spoke, his voice sad.

“But I don’t wanna get you hurt cuz of me.”

“Yeah,” Tasha replied, her voice fierce. “Well I don’t want you getting hurt for me either. Difference is, you’re still a kid! Casper, If I get hurt cuz someone forced you to talk about me, then that’s just someone else being a dick. If you get yourself hurt for me, then I’m the shitty hero who let some kid take a bullet for her, you get me?”

Casper didn’t reply, either agreeing, or biting his tongue, Tasha wasn’t sure which.

“Look,” she sighed. “I’m the one who got herself into this. I don’t wanna drag you in too, same for James. You’re too young for it, kay?”

“… Kay.” There was an emotion in Casper’s response that she couldn’t place. She ignored it. For the moment, he was listening, and that was all that mattered.

“Now, you said James said something about a plan?” She asked. “Some kinda ambush interrogation thing?”

“… Yeah,” the boy answered eventually. “… We figured he’d probably follow me home and stuff till he found you, and I could use my power from somewhere hidden to-”

“We’re not doing that,” she cut him off. “We don’t know how he found you in the first place, so even if you’re hiding the whole time, it’s dangerous for you. No.”

“… Ok,” Came the reply after a second. This time, Tasha had no difficulty identifying the emotion behind the word. Relief. She didn’t blame him.

The line was quiet on both sides for over a minute, Tasha thinking, Casper waiting in silence. Eventually, she spoke up, her tone commanding.

“I want you to tell me what he looks like, and what he sounds like. You will walk home today by that cafe we went to last Thursday. After that, I want you to forget this ever happened, and if you ever feel him near you again, I want you to ignore the hell out of him, okay?”

“… Okay.”

Tasha closed her eyes and let out a sigh, staying quiet for a minute or so as he described the man in question.

“Good,” she murmured once he was done. “Thank you. I’m sorry this got to you, Cas. I’ll deal with it, I promise.” Casper began to reply, but she had hung up before he was more than a word in.

She placed the phone back in her pocket, stood from her seat on the couch, and tested her leg. Still pretty stiff. She’d be walking with a limp for a few days, at least. Well, that would certainly make this trickier.

Tasha pushed that trouble from her mind as she made her way into her apartments junk cluttered kitchen, grabbing Maxie’s lead from the sideboard where she had left it. She found a change of clothes, tracked down her wayward dog, and took the guy out for a walk. Thinking was easier in the open air, and Maxie liked spending time outside. It was a win-win, even if she had to hobble.

Tasha found a hot dog stand on her way to the park, and ordered two covered in cheap cheese and grease. She devoured the first enthusiastically, before pulling the sausage from the second for Maxie, and consuming the bun on its own. When finally at the park, she propped herself up against a tree, grabbed a stick from the ground, and tossed it for her companion to chase. Unfortunately for him, she had quite the arm. She passed hours this way, throwing the stick again and again, watching the other park goers come and go with their own pastimes, her mind gradually working through to its conclusion. By midday, she had a plan.

She played with Maxie for another hour, before making her way home to prepare. She changed to a darker set of clothes, ate a more substantial meal, and watched a movie on her phone until it was finally time to make her move. Tasha gave Maxie a scratch behind the ears, before making her way out of the apartment. She crossed the city with time to spare, and waited in an alleyway beside the cafe she had specified, concealed as best she could in she shadows cast by the buildings on either side, largely hidden from the passing crowd.

It wasn’t very long before Casper passed her spot, eyes forward, not looking at her.

“It’s gonna be fine,” she murmured gently as he walked by. He gave no sign that he had noticed the words, besides briefly jerking a thumb behind himself towards the crowd.

“Thanks.” Tasha answered simply as he moved out of earshot. Then, she waited.

The plan was simple. Wait till the guy passed, then snag him, step out into the street, grab his wrist as if he were a lifelong friend, then pull him into the alleway and make damn sure he never went after Casper again. It was simple, it was straightforward, and it failed utterly.

The man caught her eye perhaps half a minute after Casper had passed her, brown jacket, bad stubble, bad hat, just as described, his hands in his pockets. She waited for him to pass her, then stepped out into the daylight, smiling a wide, friendly sort of smile. She moved in behind him, and reached for his wrist. Tasha knew it had gone wrong the moment her fingers clamped down around his arm as, with a quick, simple movement, his free hand moved from his pocket and shifted alongside her own. She felt a small pain, a tiny prick as something sharp and slim pierced the skin of her wrist for the briefest of moments before being withdrawn.

“Little bit of advice,” the man murmured, shifting in close beside her as he walked. “You need to wash more often. I could smell you from the other end of the street.”

Oh. Shit.

Tasha gritted her teeth in frustration, and tried to exert some control of the situation by squeezing his wrist a little harder in her grip. Nothing. She glanced down. Her hand hadn’t moved, her fingers felt numb, as if they weren’t even there.

Tasha opened her mouth to scream, perhaps incite the crowd, anything, really, but found that her vocal cords were utterly still. She narrowed her eyes, mouthed a swearword at him, and then felt her body going limp. He slipped in under her, catching her under a shoulder with one hand, and held her upright as her legs began to sag. The adrenaline began to pump through her, and she fought with all her might, desperately trying to will her body to move away from him, to escape or fight back. Anything. One of her legs kicked weakly.

“I am sorry about this,” the hunter murmured. “But hey, at least the family doesn’t want you dead. Small mercies, right?”

She felt something terrible sink into the pit of her stomach as the man began to pull her away, shifting his grip to carry her after a few yards.

Some distance away, Casper grit his teeth, blinked a few times to rid his eyes of the sudden tears, and pulled out his phone. The text he typed in was brief, simple, and the only thing he could think to say.

‘James. Come see me.’

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Catharsis: 2.5

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AN: Quick note. The results of the January bonus chapter vote are now in, and the winner was Bex. That chapter will be published in the next little while or so. I expect to have the February chapter vote set up by the end of today. Just to reiterate, the vote is now open to anyone, not just people who follow the story, though I do encourage you to follow. That’s all for now. Hope you enjoy the chapter.

James:

In spite of his better judgement, James dawdled somewhat on his return home, glorying in the feel of the night air all around him, the utter freedom of weightlessness. Floating high above the city lights, he could almost feel the wind all around him, the way it flowed and eddied, the currents changing from altitude to altitude. He closed his eyes to focus on the feeling, a smile touching his lips. It felt like reaching beyond himself, trying to extend his hands further than the reach of his arms. With this new reach, he imagined he could shape the very winds themselves, feel them move and sway at his fingertips. He chuckled to himself, imagining the wind at play, and, just for the hell of it, he tried brushing his imaginary hands against one of the currents. It moved, shifted away from him, the current changing at his suggestion. He grinned, enjoying his own pretense, until he felt the current brush against his form. He opened his eyes wide, staring at nothing, before, experimentally, he tried again. He reached out, nudged the wind with the hand beyond his hand, and again, felt the current change against him. Again, in the spirit of the experiment, he slapped himself with it. He let out a small shriek as the torrent of wind sent his body tumbling, base over apex. It wasn’t long before James Toranaga righted himself, stared at his hands, and began to laugh.

“So darn cool!” He said gleefully. “I need to fly more often. I need to fly WAY more often!”

James spent a few more moments soaking in the excitement, before pivoting in the air, and making for his home as fast as his power would allow.

Despite his glee, James approached his house with a degree of care, checking his window from a distance, just in case either of his parents might be poking their heads in through the doorway. Unfounded concerns, it would seem. The room was empty, his television paused mid scene. He floated inside. Was Casper off somewhere dealing with his parents? Had the other boy needed to go home? He dropped to the floor, and strode towards the door, trying to figure out a way of weedling the info out of his mother. He stepped out into the hallway, only to immediately come face to face with Casper, who was hurriedly pulling his fly back up. Ah, toilet, right. He opened his mouth to speak, but Casper shook his head and raised a finger to his lips, his other hand reaching out to gently push James back into his room, before stepping in after him and closing the door. The moment the door was closed, Casper’s external calm dissolved.

“How’d it go?” He asked hurriedly. “Did it work? Is Tasha okay? Why’re you so hyped all of a sudden?”

“Yeah, Tasha’s fine.” James grinned. “And I found something super cool. The coolest. Maybe even the most cool thing!”

“Yeah, I noticed it was cool.” Casper chuckled, his nerves seeming to ease a fraction. “You’re practically giving me a sugar rush over there. What happened?”

“New power,” James exclaimed, as loudly as he dared. “I got a new power and I was controlling the wind and it was awesome!”

“Great,” Casper replied, deadpan. “But I meant what happened with Tasha. You know, my friend? The one who got shot?”

“Oh,” he muttered, his excitement faltering for a moment. He sat on the bed, trying to force himself to calm. “Right. Sorry. Uhh, Tasha’s fine. We got her home, pretty sure no one saw us, and she said she was gonna go yank the bullet out. Her place is kind of a mess, and she seemed okay enough to joke with me about her boobs.”

“You were joking about her boobs?” Casper asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” James nodded. “I was trying to figure out what’s so cool about em.”

“About Tasha’s boobs?”

“No, just in general.”

“Are you kidding? Boobs are awesome.”

“Meh,” James grunted. “You’re older.”

“Not THAT much older.”

“Can you stop talking about boobs? Point is, Tasha’s fine.”

“Kay, good.” Casper murmured. Then he grinned. “Okay, NOW you can tell me about your awesome new wind powers.”

“… No.” James replied, folding his arms. “I just don’t feel like you’re really interested.”

“Oh, come on!” the other boy said playfully. “Did I hurt your feelings? Am I just a great big meanie?”

“Yes.” He folded his arms, gazing pointedly at the wall a few feet to the side of his friend and forcing back a smile. “Yes you are.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” Casper teased, dipping into a mock bow. “Here, I’m now paying full attention to you and all of the awesome things you have to say. That better, baby boo?” The boy stepped forwards, then turned, and slumped down on the bed beside him.

“No,” James scowled, still refusing to look at the other boy, partly because he was barely managing to wrestle the grin off of his face. “But fine. I will tell you about my awesome wind pow-”

The pillow hit him in the side of the head, bowling him backwards against the sheets and eliciting a cry of outrage. He glared over at Casper. The boy was holding the weapon on his lap, an innocent smile tugging at his lips.

“You okay, dude?” Casper asked, his concerned tone undershot slightly by the mischievous note he was making no attempt whatsoever to hide. “That came right out of nowhere. Of course, I had nothing to do with it cuz I’m just such a caring frien-”

James dipped into his newfound power to flick the other boy on the nose, as hard as he dared. Casper stopped mid-sentence as the gust of air hit his face, forcing its way into his mouth and puffing out his cheeks and pressing his hair out in every conceivable direction. It was, without a doubt, the funniest thing James had ever seen. He would have tried to keep his laughter quiet, except that he was struggling to make any noise at all. He was laughing so hard that he couldn’t breathe.

“… You’re a dead man.” Casper murmured. Before James had a chance to recover from his giggles, let alone enough time to utter a response, Casper launched himself at him, wrapping his arms around him and picking him up. James, still giggling, tried to push the other boy off, but to no avail. Casper grappled firmly around James’ midsection, and pulled himself off the bed, hoisting him up into the air… Then he stopped. “… Are you doing that?”

“Doing what?” James asked, the humor of the moment shifting to a slight confusion.

“Are you flying or something?” The freckled boy asked. “Cuz you’re really light. Like, really, really light.”

“Umm… no,” James replied, uncertain. “I’m not flying right now. You sure you’re not just kinda strong?”

“No, dude, I’m serious,” said Casper, shifting his grip to hold James with one arm, a hand braced against his stomach. Demonstratively, he extended the hand holding James up towards the ceiling. “See? You’re light enough I can hold you above my head with one hand. It’s not even hard. Have you weighed yourself since you started flying?”

“Yeah,” said James, worried. “I did it this morning. I came in at like, eighty two pounds. Kinda light, I guess, but that’s just cuz I’m short.”

“Scales in your bathroom?” Casper asked. Without waiting for an answer, he lowered James down from the ceiling, tucked him under an arm, and made his way towards the door.

“Yeah, they are… Are you gonna put me down?”

“Nope.” Casper proceeded out the door, through the short hallway, across the landing, and into the bathroom, carrying James under his arm the whole way. Once there, he slid the door shut with his heel, dumped James on the scales, and waited for the spring to stop compensating. Eventually, the dial stopped spinning, and the two boys stared at the number on the small plate.

“Okay,” James murmured. “So, I’ve lost a bit of weight. That’s a little weird.”

“James,” Casper whispered. “That’s not ‘a bit of weight’ you’ve lost, that’s fifty pounds. You weigh less than a four year old.”

“Okay, fine,” James admitted. “It’s a lot weird. Nothing I can’t fake, though. I’ll just sorta do… this.” He tapped into his flight, using it to press himself downwards against the scales. Immediately, the weight displayed began to shift, from thirty pounds to forty, then fifty, sixty. His legs felt the weight, as if he had a whole other person on his back. Seventy pounds, eighty. His knees started to shake slightly under the strain. “Okay,” he said, his voice a little tight. “Small problem. This is really heavy.”

“Wait,” Casper said, tilting his head slightly. “You can’t lift your own bodyweight? I guess you must’ve got weaker as well as lighter, huh? Hang on, try and lift me. See if it’s just you.”

James eased up on the pressure against the scales, and nodded, slightly out of breath. He stepped off the scales, positioned himself behind the other boy, wrapped his arms around his middle, and pulled. Nothing. He pulled harder, pushing all of his might into lifting the other boy, his teeth beginning to clench at the effort. Casper didn’t budge.

“… Are you really trying?” Casper asked. “Cuz if you are, then that’s just sad.”

James didn’t answer. After a few more seconds, he gave up, his breathing heavy.

“Okay,” he panted, leaning himself against the wall. “So, ultra cool windy powers. But I’m lighter and weaker than my own little sister. Hiding this is gonna be a chore.”

“How so?” Casper asked, curious.

“… Bex wrestles a lot.” James admitted, embarrassed. “She’s gonna kick my butt and I’m gonna have to pretend to pretend to lose.”

Casper snorted. “That’s adorable. Your sister’s gonna love it.”

“… Shut up.”

Their experiment done, the two made their way back to James’ room, ostensibly returning their attention to the television. In truth, James’ focus was elsewhere, the events of the evening tumbling through his head in an attempt at order. Casper doubtless felt the confusion, but kept his eyes fixed on the tv screen, waiting. Eventually, James spoke into the quiet, his knees hugged in tight against his chest.

“Hey, Cas?”

“Yeah?”

“I… I kinda wanna help Tasha. Those guys who hurt her… the ones who are hurting kids… I wanna help with that.”

“… You sure?” In the corner of his eye, he saw the other boy turn slightly to face him.

“… No.” James sighed. “Not even a little. But I don’t like thinking about… about stuff like that happening. I wanna make it stop.”

“… Kay.”

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