Dissonance: 4.6

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Casper:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To that, the Doctor laughed.

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

“Maybe.” Casper grinned.

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

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

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

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

“Problem?”

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

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

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

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

Again, he hesitated for a while before he spoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“… It feels rude to say.”

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

Casper took a deep breath.

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

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

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

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

Casper considered this one for a while.

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

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

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

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

“… What do you mean?”

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

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

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

“Yeah,” she nodded. “I can get that.”

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

“Do you wanna talk to them?”

“… I dunno.”

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

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

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

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

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

Casper sighed.

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

In the corner of his eye, the Doctor nodded.

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

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

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

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Bonus Chapter: Doctor Sharpe.

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


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

Notes and recommendations of attendant therapist, Natalie Sharpe:

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

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

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

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

Doctor Sharpe: “Come in.”

The door opens. Samantha enters.

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

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

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

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

Doctor Sharpe chuckles.

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

Samantha smiles.

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

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

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

A pause.

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

Doctor Sharpe: “It happens.”

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

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

Doctor Sharpe: “Your tea got hot?

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

Doctor sharpe makes another note in her pad.

Doctor Sharpe: “I see. And then?”

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

Doctor Sharpe appears concerned.

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

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

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

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

Doctor Sharpe: “One moment, Samantha.”

Doctor Sharpe activates the recorder.

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

Samantha interrupts recording.

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

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe deactivates her recorder.

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

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

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

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

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

A pause. Samantha continues staring for several seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor Sharpe thinks for a moment, then adds:

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

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

Doctor Sharpe: “Thank you, Leah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samantha shakes her head.

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

Doctor Sharpe nods.

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

Samantha nods.

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

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

Samantha chuckles as she pushes herself upright.

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

Doctor Sharpe smiles.

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

Samantha exits the room and Doctor Sharpe sighs.

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

Doctor Sharpe takes out her recorder, and resumes recording.

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

End of recording.

Notes and recommendations of supervisor Pearson regarding case #24235:

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

Report Concludes.


Doctor Sharpe:

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

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

The day wasn’t even done.

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

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

“Heh,” she chuckled. “I wish.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It did,” Peter groaned. “We had to crush the story. The higher ups are calling it the worst secrecy breach in three years. A major event, in a major city, with over a thousand anomalous avian predators released into the streets and four different cell phone recordings of lightning bolts rising out of Central Park; one of which caught a frame or two of something that honestly looks like a flying kid. It’s a clusterfuck.” Peter’s voice was beginning to rise steadily as he vented. “And that’s not even going into all the damage the female did on the bridge before she put one of our goblins in the hospital. Did you know she blew up a truck? She blew up a truck.”

“… Did you say a flying kid?”

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

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

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

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

Natalie shook her head.

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

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

“He did?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you spoken to him about it?”

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

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

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

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

Another sigh.

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

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

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

“No,” she murmured. “Your son is still a child, Peter. Whatever sexuality he has, I expect it’s still in the early stages. He might not have even discovered it himself, yet.” Now it was Peter’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “It happens,” she shrugged. “Some of us are late bloomers, after all. Besides, I expect he’s probably doing his best not to think about sex at all right now.” Peter opened his mouth to speak, but she raised a finger to quiet him. “And yes, I expect he probably will have some problems to overcome when it comes to dealing with his sexuality in the future, but you need to realize, those are problems he’ll probably have to deal with regardless of whether he’s straight or gay or whatever. He’s a rape victim. There’s baggage attached to that, no matter what you end up liking. What’s important, and what I’d like you to remember, is that he has a loving family, some good friends, and-” she chuckled. “-A qualified therapist. He’s a strong kid. You can trust him to find his way, alright?”

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

“It’s no problem, sir.”

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

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

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

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

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Dissonance: 4.4

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

Anyways. On with the story!

Caleb:

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

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

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

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

Where was all this power coming from?

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

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

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

“Hey, Cas. You okay?”

“Yeah. I think so. Just tired.”

“You wanna talk about it later?”

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

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

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

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


James:

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

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

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

Then, he went back to practicing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry.” He grumbled.

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

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

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

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

“Hello?”

“Hey, James. It’s Tasha. You okay?”

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

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

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

“… You what?”

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

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

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

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

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

“He looked after your dog?”

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

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

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

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

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

“… You sure?”

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

“… And?”

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

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

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

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

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

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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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