COLLABORATION WRITING ROGUE | In Between

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Several Posts a Day
My Usual Online Time
8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Writing Levels
Prestige
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Primarily Prefer Female
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Probably a mix. When I GM I tend to prefer mostly aggressive, but with input from my players. I like to offer ideas and receive them. I don't like when people just take the reins and run with it though...especially in a 1x1.
Favorite Genres
Political intrigue, fantasy, futuristic, sci fi lite, superheroes, historical fiction, alternate universes. Smittings of romance, but only as side plot.
Genre You DON'T Like
Anime. Ever. Just not my jam.

Smut. Romance as a main plot. Horror. Grimdark.
#1

DarinValore

129% of people exaggerate.
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Male
#2
Title: What is Mawwige?!
Collab: Elle Joyner Elle Joyner

The door to the wooden cabin creaked open as Deckard pushed it with his foot, his arms full of wood and a chilled breeze at his back. Once inside, he gently kicked the door shut and started for the fireplace watching each and every step he took. In just over a year and a half, he’d gone from ducking traps and tripwires in abandoned warehouse to dodging HotWheels and Lincoln Logs in a the small cabin in the middle of nowhere he now called home with Penny, Travis, and Zoey..

The Deckling was six now and every bit as handsome a kid as Deckard dreamt his kid would be. Unfortunately for him, the boy seemed to also inherit his mother’s stubbornness, but it wasn’t anything he and Penny couldn’t tackle together. Despite her own personal struggles that she’d been dealing with since Keegan’s death, she’d been a better mom than Alys ever would have been.

Stooping down, he stacked the wood safely to the side and dropped in a couple of pieces to the dwindling flame. It took only a few moments for it to roar to life again providing enough heat for their dwelling. Clapping his hands together, he cleaned off the dirt as he stood to his feet, “That’s done,” he spoke to himself as he turned, “Penny, anything else we need?” he called out to her.

“Yeah…” Stepping cautiously over a tower of megablocks, she frowned softly, brushing a smudge of dirt from Deck's nose, her voice lowering, just slightly… She knew it didn't matter. Not if Travis really wanted to eavesdrop, but it wasn't a subject she wanted to voice at full volume, “We need to talk…”

“Uh oh,” Deckard mumbled, “Okay, that’s never good. Everything alright?”

With a smirk, one Penny couldn't quite help, she nodded, “More or less. Just… Travis… he asked me something today, and I think it's something worth discussing…”

“Oh,” he stated, “Okay, then let’s chat,” he finished with a shrug.

Moving to the small kitchenette, Penny pulled herself onto the countertop, clearing her throat as she considered the best approach, “So… basically… he asked why we weren't… you know… Why you and I aren't…”

Whatever she was trying to say, Deck wasn’t grasping it, “You and I aren’t…..what?” He smirked in confusion.

“Married, Deck. He wanted to know why we weren't married. And I… I didn't really know what to answer, honestly…”

“Married?” Deck repeated to make sure he heard her correctly, “Really? He asked that? I wonder where he got that from.”

“Yup.” She answered, fingers raking through her hair, “And hell...sorry… heck if I know. I kinda just told him I'd get back to him on it.”

“Well, I think we’re good as we are,” Deck shrugged again, “I was married to Alys and that didn’t make her keep her vows. I like what we’ve got, Penny. Why would we need to change it?”

Rubbing the back of her neck, Penny shrugged, “I mean… I'm not saying I disagree. But… but he asked for a reason, you know? We can't just dismiss that. What… what if he doesn't feel like we're a family? It's kinda hard to… at least from my experience, when there's no tie… no connection.”

“No connection?” Deck stepped closer to Penny. Positioning himself between her legs, he placed his hands on her thighs, “I’ve never felt more connected to someone than I do with you and the kids. You all are my family and I don’t need some legal document that isn’t even recognized by the law to tell me that.”

“...But he might.” Reaching out, she looped her arms over his shoulders, “...I’m not goin’ anywhere, either way, Big Guy… you know that. But it got me thinking… you know? Like... how my life might’ve changed if just one of my mom’s paramours stuck around… If one of them showed the initiative… The security in that.”

“There’s no security in it, Penny. Trust me. I’ve been there,” he tried to reason.

“...You really think I’d break that vow, Deck?” She asked, not with irritation or bitterness - it was a genuine question, one she’d never actually had to consider before, “You think I’d leave?”

“Of course not,” he sighed, “It’s just-” he glanced over her shoulder to Travis’ room, “It’s a big deal, and I don’t know what I’d do, what we’d do, if you ever felt so trapped that you left.”

“Trapped?” Looking at him, her expression softened, and shaking her head, she curled her fingers through the hair at his nape, “...Where am I gonna go, Big Guy? What’s gonna change between us, with a ring on my finger?”

“I thought the same thing about Alys, Penny. But one thing changed with me and she jumped ship,” he shook his head, “I know you’re not Alys, but the thought still plagues me. What if something changes again? Will you still love me?”

“Deck… Baby. Let’s reflect on this for a second or two…” She bit back a grin as she considered his question, “...We met and I got shot. Few days later, found out your ex-wife wasn’t only still around, but was in the same facility we ended up in… Then got half killed by the bitch, while my apparently living father watched. Shortly after that, we found out your kiddo wasn’t just alive, but being held captive by my boss’s evil twin brother. Then… we lost Keegan and Rogue, and had to go on the run. Do you really think… anything could come up… that’s gonna make me stop loving you?”

Shaking his head, Deckard spoke up again, “Those are all outside things, Penny. What if something changes with me,” he pressed his hand against his chest, “What if I change? I couldn’t handle another set of broken vows.”

“Like what?” She asked, with an amused chuckle, “You gonna grow a third eye? Sprout new arms? Deck… I literally dare you to try and tell me one thing you could ever do or change that would make me stop loving you.”

A smirk teased at the corner of his lip, “Could snap like Alys. Would you love me then?” he teased.

“Yeah, no dice, Deck… Can’t use that one, cause you’re already crazy. You’re with me, remember?” She asked, with a small shrug and an easy smile.

“You got me there,” he nodded with a slight grin. After a sigh, Deckard continued, “Is it important to you, Penny?”

“You're important to me, Deck. You and our family. I… I'm tired of losing and maybe I just… maybe I need something good to come out of all this. Maybe. I dunno. Last thing I wanna do is rope you into anything, but if you're askin’ me if I would… if I want to, hell… yeah, I kinda do.”

Deckard studied her for a moment as he chewed on her words, “If it’s important to you, then we’ll do it. I trust you, Penny, and I love you. If this’ll make you happy, if this’ll ease Travis’ mind, then we’ll do it.”

Blinking, Penny sat back a litte, but somehow, she found she wasn’t as surprised, after the initial shock, as she expected. Maybe because there’d been so many surprises in their lives already.... Or maybe because she knew he’d get there, eventually… “I can’t think of anything I’d rather have than an honest to God family, Deck.”

“Then it’s done, future Mrs. Hallows,” he smirked, “But does it have to be a big thing?”

Laughing softly, Penny looped her arms over his shoulders again and pulled him in, “...Far as I’m concerned, no. Hell, no. I’m not one for fancy shindigs… and all our friends are… well, they couldn’t be there. So what’s the point?”

“Good. Did the big wedding thing once...not again,” he shook his head, “Think we should let Travis know, or you think he already knows?” a smirk spread across his lips, “Can’t really hide anything from him.”

“I’ve been working with him on not listening in. He’s trying… as far as I can tell. But this time around…” Biting her lip, she looked over Deck’s shoulder to where they’d left him to play on his own, “I’d be very surprised if he was able to resist. Still… He likes it when we say things out loud, even if he’s heard them, already.”

“Still getting used to that,” Deck raised his brow, “our son’s a telepath. Still getting used to the ‘son’ part, too,” he smirked, “It’s all so new.”

“For you and me, both, Deck. I never thought I’d be here, period. Not with you, not with Travis. It’s surreal… but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.” A sigh escaped, content and soft, as she slipped off the counter and curled her fingers through his, “C’mon. Let’s go tell him the news.”

“Okay,” he took in a nervous breath and turned to see Travis trying his best to focus on his toys. The boy wore a grin from ear to ear, and Deckard had to turn his head to hide his short chuckle...what good it did, “Travis,” he started, and the boy looked up from his toys, his eyes big, “Penny and I have something to tell you.”

Putting down his car, he shifted and folded his hands in his lap before leaning up eagerly, “What?” He asked with the same excitement that threatened to spill from within.

Looking at him, Penny grinned. He was trying, anyway… but maybe this was just too big a thing to as a kid his age not to listen in on. Maybe it was too much to expect from him, and really, who could be mad at that fact… “Remember that thing you asked me about, Trav? A few days ago?”

His eyes brightened and he nodded, “About you and Daddy being married.”

“Mhm…” She noted, with a sly grin. He was a little eavesdropper, but she wasn’t gonna make it that easy for him, “...Well, it’s about that.”

“”Okay,” he unfolded his hands and used them to further his lean toward Penny, “Tell me...tell me!”

“Hmm….” Looking to Deck, her brow rose, and her smile continued to curve slyly, “I dunno. Should we?”

“Oh, please. Oh, please. Oh, please!” Travis begged as he looked to his dad.

Deckard pressed his lips tightly together and shrugged, “I don’t know, maybe it should just be a surprise.”

“Daaaaaaddy!” Travis whined as he looked to Penny and stuck out his bottom lip, “Please?”

“Hmm..” Grinning, she leaned up against Deckard’s side with a small shrug, “...He is pretty cute when he whines. I guess we could tell him.”

“I guess,” Deckard agreed with a shrug, “Travis, Penny and I, we’re going to get-”

Before he could finish his sentence, Travis launched forward with a squeal and threw his small arms around Penny’s waist. Deck couldn’t help the joy he felt bubbling up inside to see his son so excited over the concept of his dad marrying Penny. This was all he ever really wanted...a family.

Travis looked up from his embrace, his cheek pressed against Penny’s stomach, “Then you’ll be my mommy!”

Laughing, Penny bent down, to scoop Travis up into a tighter hug, “...I will always be your mom, Trav. No matter what. But yeah… We… we’re gonna make this family legit. If… if that’s okay with you?”

“You already know what I’m gonna say, silly!” Travis replied, again throwing his arms around her as best he could now swept up in his mother’s arms.

Eyes damp, Penny shook her head and hugged him tightly, leaning back against Deck with a small smile, “Good. That’s what we’ll do, then, Little Peanut. That’s what we’ll do…”

Deckard wrapped his arms around his family and pressed a kiss against Penny’s head, “We’ll be a family. All four of us.”
 
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#3
Tick Tick
Collab: Elle Joyner Elle Joyner

   
The clock was ticking and his ears were still ringing. He was in silence, knew he was in silence, but the world still felt like it was tilting underneath his feet. Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t see the faces.


Dorien took another breath, taking his glasses off before running his hands over his face. He leaned in the doorway of the nearly barren room, the frame of the door taking his weight. This place wasn’t particularly welcoming, made of cold concrete, the fluorescent lighting flickering, and long-dried graffiti on the walls. He couldn’t even say it was home, because this was never home to him. Home was his little sister, who should be sleeping soundly in her bed by now. He flicked his eyes to the clock, slipping his glasses back on. Oh, she should definitely be asleep now, as late as it was.


He took another breath, clenching and unclenching his hands. Anything to forget the feel of metal in his hands, to forget the feeling of pulling a trigger and feeling the jolt of a shot. He felt unclean, in a way he didn’t think he could wash off. He didn’t particularly want to face the others, to face his mentor, but he would have to eventually.


With that in mind, he stood, removing himself from the doorframe, and turned to move back into the hallway.


“I oughta put a hole through that Goddamn head of yours, Aster… But I swear, it ain’t worth it cause you got nothin’ up there but air!” A door slammed open, exposing the hallway to the sounds of the television set inside, the last few minutes of a basketball game ticking down as the announcer’s voice grew more and more frantic. The blonde girl was shoved, less than politely from the frame and into the opposite wall, and a second figure stalked out after her, eyes narrowed. Calvin Saint John was a deceptively small man - barely cresting taller than five-foot-seven, with dark eyes and a bald head, and manners that could use some work. But he was a secondary, and that gave him credit where it was due...


“Sixteen hundred bucks, you stupid bitch! I just lost sixteen hundred bucks cause of you… Gimme a reason. Gimme one mother f--” Looking up, Calvin paused, eyes narrowed as he caught sight of the intrusion, and jaw tensed, he rose to his full height, as the blonde shrank, slid down the wall and to the floor, cradling her elbow, “‘Sup Huntsman?” Calvin noted, with a nod.


Dorien flicked his gaze over both the girl and Calvin. The girl caught his attention first. She was young, younger than him for sure. Maybe a touch older than Jamie. He took another breath in then exhaled as he took in Calvin. He recognized the man with ease. Secondaries were never hard to miss, or at least that’s what Alastor had always told him. They had weight and they like to throw it around when they got the chance. Calvin’s all but slamming the girl into the wall made his jaw clench just a touch. He could say something, should say something, but there was a problem. He both did and did not report to Calvin. Alastor Grey just so happened to ally himself with the group for now, but he was ultimately a lone wolf. Everyone knew that you didn’t cross Alastor Grey and you didn’t mess with what was his. Dorien hoped that applied here too.

“Sup, yourself,” Dorien answered, tone polite and as respectful as he could manage. Here went nothing. “What’s this I hear about sixteen hundred bucks?” His gaze flicked briefly to Aster, but he didn’t let it stray again from Calvin. This guy was the focus for now. No need to get her dragged in further than she already was.


“Hell, man.” Hands rubbing his head, Calvin swore and shook his head, “This bitch, right? She goes to me… her boy Dane got it straight word of mouth from sideline coach, Bulls gonna throw the game tonight, cause they made some dumbass deal about next season’s picks, right? So I put my money down. The hell you wanna bet, they go and win the damn thing and now I’m out sixteen hundred, cause of this hot air balloon, here.” He kicked out his foot and Aster flinched as it grazed her hip, “She gonna work for it, though… That’s for damn sure.”


Dorien refrained from pursing his lips. That’s what this was about. That’s what warranted flinging this girl into the wall. Another breath, in and out. He really hoped Jamie was fast asleep at this point, and intended to stay that way. He had a sinking feeling he’d be out a lot later than he already intended.


“Well, you know what they say about word of mouth, yeah?” he commented, voice a lot smoother than he expected. His heart was beating wildly in his chest. He was praying the guy would buy this. Either Calvin would pretend he knew what he was talking about, or he’d risk making himself look dumb. He had to hope the man had just enough pride to choose the first option. “I’m sure she’ll pay for it, but uh,” he cleared his throat, “I heard there was something going on early in the morning tomorrow. The old gas station, off of Main. Might not totally make up your losses, but it could be a start.” Some sort of weapons deal was what he’d heard. Hopefully, that was just enough bait to get Calvin to ease up.


“Hell, man… For real?” Calvin straightened again, jamming his hands into the pocket of his hoodie, “Good lookin’ out, yo. You uh…” Looking to Aster, he smirked, “I’ma’ go look into this, but uh… you want a go, she all yours, man. Ain’t no damn good to me, spent waste of time and cash.”


“For real,” Dorien answered, giving him a slightly awkward smile. His skin crawled at the suggestion, but he didn’t let the smile falter. He knew the gang thought he was weird, thought he was awkward. Thought it was strange that Alastor Grey, of all people, would find something worth the trouble in him. Still, he didn’t need to let on just how out of place he was, or why he was here at all. His being a mutant was less of a problem; gangbangers took out the rejected and broken for a reason, and with mutants fitting that description pretty well, they were a huge part of gangs as they were. His power, on the other hand...


“Thanks for the suggestion,” he answered, giving Calvin a wave. “And good luck.”


“Yeah, boy.” Knuckles bounced off his chest and flashing his fingers, he took off down the hall in the opposite direction. When he’d disappeared from view, Aster pusher herself to her feet, eyes narrowing.


“You think about touching me and I’ll snap you like a pencil…”


Dorien couldn’t help the concerned, wide-eyed look that slid over his face as Calvin all but ran off. Yup, that was a bucket of crazy he wasn’t diving in.


He was halfway to offering his hand to Aster to help her up when her words clicked in his head, and he instead raised them in surrender. “Like the old school wooden pencils, or the plastic mechanical ones?” he asked. “Not that it really matters, I guess, but the distinction means something.”


“I…” Blinking, Aster looked at the man, and her expression melted into pure confusion, “...You… What? What the hell sort of question is that? What’s it matter what kinda… The wooden kind. Why… who snaps a plastic pencil?”


“Somebody bored, I guess?” Dorien answered. So was finding shards of blue plastic pencils absolutely everywhere, especially in school hallways, not a normal thing? Was this a thing he needed to be concerned about? Was snapping pencils some sort of warning sign? Good god, he was too young and too much of a mess to be a single father to his teenage sister. “I don’t know. Guess I was trying to figure out how violently I would be snapped.” That sounded weird. Oh, that definitely sounded weird. Why was his brain like this?


“...You get hit in the head or something?” She asked, rubbing the back of her neck uncomfortably. But despite his oddball behavior, he hadn’t tried anything… hadn’t even looked like he wanted to try anything, and that, well… that had to be the strangest thing she’d ever encountered…


“Thanks… I guess. For uh… gettin’ Cal off my back.”


“Nope. It’s all natural.” He was cringing at himself, way deep down. Not even that deep down. Dorien’s face was one of vague regret at the words coming from his mouth. So much for confidence and all that. The slightly pained expression dissipated quickly enough as she thanked him, though. “No problem. So, uh, was that actually what happened or…?” He trailed off. Part of him wondered if Calvin was trying to save face. In a truly terrible way, but then again, he’d been caught in the process of flinging someone around and probably hadn’t expected to be.


“Does it matter if it was? You think Cal’s gonna admit it was his fault? You think he’s just gonna apologize and offer me a hug?” Shaking her head, she sighed, “I really hope that wherever you sent him, it was legit, cause if it ain’t… he’s gonna be more pissed than when he left…” Rubbing her elbow, she frowned, “And he ain’t gonna take it out on Alastor Grey’s protege…”


“No,” Dorien agreed. Not by a long shot. Suck up his pride and pretend it never happened, and maybe be marginally nicer for 3 minutes was what Cal would do, if he even pretended he had an ounce of decency. “Lucky for us, I have it on good authority.” One of few perks, he supposed, with what he could do. He’d like to think it was on good authority, anyway. It was rude to speak ill of the dead, and if the dead weren’t half as clever as they claimed, then they were dead with no good reason. “Right…” he muttered solemnly. Alastor Grey and the protege, with all the subtlety of fireworks locked in a china cabinet full of gasoline. Living the dream...


He caught sight of her rubbing her elbow. “Are you alright, by the way?” That should’ve been a first priority. Damn it.


“Yeah…” Turning her arm, she shrugged, glancing at the small scrape, “Had worse. Who the hell are you, for real? You… you don’t belong here.” Looking him over, she shook her head, “I dunno how they don’t see it, but it’s clear as a bell you ain’t like them.”


“Really? What tipped you off?” Dorien gave her a small smile. He shrugged lightly, shaking his head before pushing his round glasses up the bridge up his nose . “I’m here because I’m useful.” He had a theory that they’d tolerate him, so long as Alastor Grey was himself, and Dorien continued to have the tendency to make them money. He couldn’t afford to test it, though. Not with Jamie in school. As for the other questions, well, he might have avoided those. Concern still showed on his face as she said she’d had worse, despite his best efforts.


A ghost of a smile twitched at the corner of Aster’s mouth, and she shook her head, “Don’t take offense to this, but uh… you’re kind of a nerd.” Straightening, she adjusted the hat she wore, smoothed out her shirt, “Can I give you some advice… what’s it they call you… Huntsman? Just… just, you know… for the fish outta water?”


“A nerd?” he questioned, pausing as he fought back a smile. “You know, I think I might have heard that once, or twice, or twenty times.” From more than one person, to be sure. “Dorien. Please, call me Dorien.” Huntsman was the single most pretentious name he could think of, and he was far from forgiving Alastor for it. Sure, he understood the purpose, but as soon as anyone listened to him for more than five minutes, no one was going to be afraid of him. No nickname in the world could save him. “But sure. Go ahead.”


“Dorien… right. I'm Aster. Like the flower.” At his acceptance, she looked up and sharp blue eyes cut in him with a fierceness, “Get out. Just… get out, fast as you can. This place… these people. You might think you got it. You don't got it. They're gonna take a wrecking ball into your life… if you don't escape.”


Dorien’s eyes widened at first before his face softened into a sad, knowing smile. “Wish I could. I know I’m in over my head, knew from the very first day. But...the wrecking ball smashing into my life? It’ll be so much bigger if I leave,” he said, shaking his head. “And Grey...it’ll take him a while, longer than it would otherwise, but he’ll find me.” As for what he’d do, Dorien didn’t really want to know. He’d seen the man do some horrible things, and even all of them combined couldn’t compare to the horror he knew he’d face if he ever left and was found again. “But thank you, Aster. If you get the chance, maybe take your own advice?”


“Hm…” It was a soft sound, nearly a laugh, but far too miserable to denote humor, “Think… think if I could, Fish, I'd be standin’ here, lettin’ some miniature clown with an attitude shove me around? If you're in over your head, I can't even see the surface, anymore. We're both screwed, huh?”


“I did say if you got the chance,”
Dorien said a little sheepishly. His lips quirked up in the start of a smile at the nickname before choking on a laugh. Miniature clown with an attitude… Oh, he was definitely going to have trouble looking Calvin in the eye now. “Guess we are.”


“Well, at least we ain’t alone, huh?”
The small smile warmed, and shaking her head, Aster uncurled her arms, holding out a delicate hand, “...It’s good to meet you, Fish. Try to stay alive, yeah?”


“At least,” he agreed. “Good to meet you too, Aster. I’ll do my best.” He’d started to reach out to shake her hand in his, but just before their hands met, he stopped. “I’m not about to be a very broken pencil, am I?”


With a grin, she shook her head, “...Nah, Fish. You’re good.” Looking up at him, she shook her head, “I dunno that I could take you, to be fair. Calvin’s a hell of a lot easier to give a beat down to, you know?”


With that bit of reaffirmation, he took her hand in his with a smile. “I can imagine. He hasn’t got as far to fall as I do, though. I think you’ve got a fair shot, at least,” he reassured.


“Good to know… just in case.” With a wink, she gave his hand a shake, before returning hers to her side, “Anyway… my ride just stormed off to find a bunch of illegal guns or some crap like that, so… I should probably start walkin’. I’ll see you around.”


“Just in case,” Dorien agreed. His eyes widened a little before wincing. He did feel a little bad, that he’d sent her ride off like that. Then again, who knows what would have happened if he didn’t. “You sure you don’t need a lift? Or at least a walking buddy?” It was probably more likely they’d be walking buddies. He wouldn’t trust that hunk of junk he called a car with his life, let alone someone else’s.


“A walkin’ buddy? Fish… you are either… more out of your element than I even realized, or you’re just the smoothest operator around these parts. But what the hell… it’s cold, and you can loan me that jacket you stole from the 1980s…”



“And how is that?” He made a slightly insulted face at the comment about his jacket. “It was worn in the early 90s too. I think…” Still, he forked it over without much complaint before joining her at her side. He knew he’d end up being late for that meeting with Alastor Grey, and he’d definitely be paying for it. But right now, he figured that was a consequence he could handle.


“You… ain’t helpin’ justify your fashion choices, sugarplum.”
Sliding it on, Aster’s lip curved slightly, and heading down the hall, she made for the door leading out to the back alley, “So… how did a guy like you end up workin’ for a schmuck like Grey, anyway?”


“I can try, though.” Dorien shoved his hands into his pockets as he followed along beside her. He made a noise that was something like a sigh before shaking his head. “A lot of things. Mostly just...making a lot of bad choices for the sake of one good one. And you? How’d you end up in the same group as Pennywise Jr.?” He jabbed a thumb behind him, as if meant to clarify he meant Calvin.


“Oh… Thought I detected the whole ‘hell is paved with good intentions’ vibe from you.” Looking him over, she shook her head, “Wish I could say the same. I mule for them sometimes… It sucks, they’re dicks, but I make enough money to stay on my feet… stay of the streets. Usually they keep their hands to themselves, cause they’re scared of what I can do…”


“Guess I’m an open book,” he shrugged. Road to hell and good intentions indeed. A small frown crossed his face, more at the ‘mule’ and ‘usually keep their hands to themselves’ bits than anything else. His attention was quickly drawn to something else, though. “And what is it that you can do?” He was wary of asking, but they way it sounded… It sounded a bit like how he mentioned his own powers now and then.


“Fancy term for it is hyper-degradation of the cellular structure. Means I can talk to cells, and tell them to die…” Her eyes stayed forward, unmoving, and her shoulders bounced in a small shrug, “Had a brief chat with the cells of one of Lucky Leon’s enforcers… when he tried to get handsy a few weeks back. Word spreads. Not sure Calvin likes you too much, given he offered a ride on the angry-go-round, here…”


“Shit,” Dorien said despite himself, before he could remember he had long since made it a point to curse less. “So that’s what happened to him. I heard something went down, but I could never get a straight answer as to what had happened.” He relaxed the tiniest bit, though. She was like him, with something in his genetic code that made all of the world hate him. “Sounds like there’s more to worry about than being snapped.” He chuckled a little. “Most people don’t like me too much. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but,” he paused, looking around conspiratorially before leaning in slightly with a hand close to his mouth and whispering, “I’m a little weird.”


“You don’t gotta worry, Fish.”
She answered, shoving her hands into the pocket of his jacket with a small smirk, “I like you. You’re honest. You got this whole… good guy in the wrong place feel. You’re weird as hell, but that’s okay. That’s why I’m gonna risk soundin’ like a broken record and tell you again, you gotta find a way to get out. These people… you don’t grow on them. They grow on you, if you catch what I mean. What does Grey have on you, anyway?”


“One point for the ‘likes Dorien’ squad,” he chuckled. He seemed to pause, considering this. “Like a fungus?” he offered. Something gross, that ate away at what it was attached to. Yeah, that was probably what she was going for. His humor was short lived, though. “I’ll try, but,” he huffed a bitter laugh, “haven’t got much else I can do. Like I said, I’m here because I’m useful, and I’ve got nowhere to run.” He shook his head. “What doesn’t he have on me is a better question. He likes getting in people’s heads, figuring out what makes them tick, what makes them do the things they do. He figured me out, and I can’t back out without it causing problems.”


“Like a… I retract my previous statement. You’re weirder than weird.” But he was amusing. Or at least, he was good at using humor to defuse. She imagined that was probably just part of what charmed him to Alastor, “I know the feeling… Before, I had an out. Maybe not an efficient one, considering they could just shoot me if they wanted, but at least I was just smugglin’ crap for them over district borders. But once word gets around, back to him what I can do?” Biting her cheek, she shook her head, “Doesn’t matter, though. Ain’t like I got half the sense to walk away, anyhow. What sort of problems he gonna cause you?”


That earned her another laugh from Dorien, but he didn’t respond for a while. He looked up at the sky, taking in the stars for a few moments, before sighing again. “You ask a lot of questions.” It wasn’t a complaint, though. Just a statement. “Everything I’ve got going for me? He’ll wreck it. He, Christ, he’s the reason I have it. The roof over my head, that hunk of junk shaped like a car, my sister out of that foster care mess, every legal document on me that was forged.” He shook his head. “And he’d just be teasing, then. Just getting started. He knows why I got into this mess, and he’ll gladly remind me of it.” And that reason? Jamie. It would be too kind, too naive to ever think Alastor would just put a bullet through his skull. He’d put it through Jamie’s first, or better yet, her spine. “I’m in a house of cards, and all he has to do is flick one of them.”


The color leached momentarily from Aster’s cheeks, and pausing, she looked over at him, “...Foster care.” Raking her fingers through her hair, she breathed in, deeply, concentrating on each slow inhalation as her mind bore down on the rest of his words, tying to them, focusing on them, “...God. He’s such a bastard. I’m sorry, Fish. That’s crap. It really is, and I wish there was something I could do to help.” Her hands drove back into pockets, a frown lining her lips, “...I’d take him out, myself, if I wasn’t so damn afraid of where I‘d end up.”


“Yeah…” It took a lot to even breathe the word. “I wasn’t there long, in foster care, but uh, it made its mark.” A hand came out of his pocket, to clutch his other arm. It was too much like a shield, too much like trying to hide or protect something, for his experience to have been good. “It’s fine,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t. Don’t feel bad for me, or make threats like that. It’s not worth it. Besides, not like I can work retail anyway. I go anywhere but a gas station and the scanners catch me.” If nothing else, the fact Jamie had what she did was worth it to him.


“...Spent my whole damn life there, till now.” She muttered, “...The home was the easiest part for me. It was where they put me that was the real fun…” Swallowing, she shifted, uncomfortably, “Anyway. Kinda figured that was why he pulled you in. Had a little cellular pow-wow when you shook my hands and confirmed it. What’s he got you doin’?”


Dorien glanced over at her, sorrow in his face. “Sorry…” A lot of things he was sorry for at the moment, like bringing it up at all, and the fact she had to go through it. His face lightened a little at the change in subject. “Oh, so you’re learning all my secrets now? Touch my hands, and suddenly my mysterious charm is gone,” he teased. He then sobered, swallowing. “He makes me hunt them down. His marks, his targets, his victims, it’s all the same thing. But he makes me find them. And he makes me the messenger.”


“I mean… Not all your charm. Just tells me what’s goin’ on inside you. Doesn’t tell me squat about the kind of person you are… But you are a pretty open book.”


As he continued, her expression shifted and the playfulness fell away as she shook her head, “Huntsman…” She breathed, swearing softly under her breath, “Hell. I thought you were some hacker nerd or something. Don’t think ‘sorry’ quite covers it, does it?”


“Ah, so I do have some charm. I was beginning to worry.” The crack of a joke fell a little short as he shook his head as well. “No, I wouldn’t be that lucky. Hell, I wish I was good at computers. It’d save me a lot of trouble.” He shrugged. “No, it really doesn’t, but it’s fine. Pays the bills.” He took a breath. “But yeah, that’s why I’m Huntsman. I feel like ‘Alastor’s Plaything’ is more suitable, though.”


With a dry laugh, Aster shook her head, “Don’t give him ideas. He’s twisted enough.” Rubbing her arms, the chill bone deep at the thought, she sighed, “God. This thing just gets worse and worse, the longer I’m in it. Can’t just boost cars and sell drugs anymore, can they? Gangs… Gotta revolutionize.”


“Tell me about it,”
Dorien agreed. He knew a bit better than most just how twisted Alastor could be. At least, he was the only one alive that could talk about it, anyway. “It’s a changing world out there. New problems, new opportunities.” Ew. Okay yep, he needed to not spend as much time around Alastor. That sounded entirely too much like something he’d say. The grimace on his face agreed with him.


“...You sure you don’t want me to kill him for you?” She asked, with a small smirk that vaguely suggested she wasn’t entirely serious. Not entirely, anyway, “Doesn’t take much, long as I concentrate…”


“Nah,” he said, shaking his head, though he didn’t miss the smirk. “Most of it isn’t directed at me, anyway. Ask me again in a few years, and maybe I’ll reconsider.” He gave her a smile, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes.


With a laugh, Aster shook her head, “You think I’m gonna be around in a few years, Fish? Let’s be real. I’d be in the bay this afternoon, if you hadn’t given Cal something else for his tiny brain to think about for a little while.”


“God, I hope so,” he answered. Maybe that was a little too honest, but she was fun to talk to, questions and all. Wasn’t like he had real friends anymore either. “You know, I’m starting to think Calvin’s the real goldfish around here. Small, one track mind, and I swear he made this face at me when he saw me.” Dorien pinched his lips lips together, mimicking a fish face.


The laugh that exploded from Aster was utterly genuine, and she couldn’t remember really, the last time she’d ever laughed that way at anything. It almost made her mad to think that Alastor had his grips in the poor guy, because he didn’t belong there. He didn’t deserve to get tangled up in that sort of mess…


“You know what, Fish? I’m gonna fight like hell to stick around, just cause you’re so damn funny…”


Dorien couldn’t help the grin that spread over his face as she laughed. “I look forward to it, Flower Girl,” he added, trying the nickname out. Just to see how she reacted. He lowered his voice again to a whisper. “What do you wanna bet Calvin will do the fish face again when he sees I’m in one piece?”


“Oh ho… Better than the names most of those jokers back there call me.” She said, with a smirk, “Pretty sure Cal’s gonna cry when he sees you’re in one piece. Pretty sure if he sic’d me on you, he’s scared out of his mind of you. Probably was hopin’ you’d try something. Gotta admit, I’m still kinda surprised you didn’t. But like I said… you ain’t like those guys.”


Dorien knew better than to ask what sort of names they called her. He had a pretty good idea, or at least, a few good guesses. He chose to focus on the other piece of conversation instead. “He’s got no reason to be scared of me. Not really,” he commented. The real muscle to be afraid of was Alastor. Then again, Calvin might have seen Grey in action. The sight was something to behold, at least. “Unless, of course, he has something to hide.” He left that on an eerie note before shrugging. “I’m glad you think so.” He himself wasn’t so sure. After all, those people grew on you, in the worst kind of way. Aster said it herself. And he’d been here far longer than was probably healthy as it was already.


“Cal? He’s got more to hide than terrorists in an airport. He’s been skimmin’ off the top for years. You didn’t hear that from me, though.” She held a finger to her lips and grinning, “But yeah… I’m pretty sure he’s scared of you anyway. Alastor… he’s got this way of making people overthink everything. He pulled you in and everyone wants to know why. What makes you so special, you know?”


Dorien barked a laugh, grinning with eyes crinkled at the corners. “You know, for someone who says I’m weird for what I say, you say some pretty interesting things too,” he commented. He seemed to consider this. “That’s fair. Honestly, anyone with half a brain would be scared of Alastor and everything tied to him, so maybe I won’t judge the guy too harshly for that. But everything else is fair game.”


He nodded in agreement at Alastor making people overthink things. Alastor loved that bit. Loved that he could keep people on their toes just by doing something a little different. As for what made him special, Dorien was well aware of what that was. “Makes sense though, I guess.”


“But hey, don’t you worry about Cal…” She smiled faintly, and gave a shrug, “I can handle that weasel if it comes down to it. I’m little, but I’m scrappy.” She mused, looking up at him with emphasis, “Just maybe keep your eyes open though, alright? You’re kind of a nerd, but I like you enough, and it’d kinda suck if you weren’t around…”


“Of that, I have no doubt,”
Dorien grinned back at her. He then nodded again. “Will do. Eyes wide open,” he said with a mock salute. He then very gently bumped her side with his own. “Don’t tell me I’m already growing on you.”


Chuckling, Aster shook her head, “Like uh… how’d you put it earlier? Like fungus.” Fact of the matter was, there just weren’t many people, period, in her life that she wouldn’t like to identify on a morgue slab somewhere. She’d been so wrapped up in creeps and pigs and psychos that it felt surreal, almost, to meet someone at least halfway decent.


“Alright, Fish. Bad news…” Pausing, she gestured up to the rundown brownstone they’d come out in front of. Across the face of the building a sign read something about the building being condemned, and there didn’t appear a window left that wasn’t boarded up or broken, more graffiti than stone lining the facade, “This is me. So…”


“Okay, but is like actual fungus, or is it because I’m a fun guy?” Dorien looked like he was trying really, really hard not to laugh at his genuinely terrible joke, and was mostly succeeding. He felt as though his smile were threatening to crack open his face at this point, though.


He looked up at the building, taking in the sign, graffiti, and boarded windows. Part of him wanted to offer his own place, but he was still a touch wary. He liked Aster, but there definitely needed to be a breather between first meetings with gang members and inviting them into his home where his sister was. There was also the fact that the roof over his own head came with strings attached, and he didn’t plan on getting Aster tangled in those particular knots.


“Right. In any case,” he started, turning to face her a little more fully. “I look forward to seeing you around, Flower Girl.” He extended his hand to her first this time, as a farewell.


“Ouch, Fish. Ouch… C’mon. You… you’re better than that joke.” She smiled, regardless, and when he extended a hand, she reached out to take it, “I’ll be around. I hope, anyway.” Giving his hand a shake, she turned to the building and started towards the stoop. It occurred to her about halfway that she still had his jacket on…


With a smirk, she continued on anyway, slipping inside. Leverage was a powerful motivator… or whatever the hell Alastor always said.


Dorien cackled, the dam finally breaking in that regard. As soon as she let go, he gave a wave and a pleased “Goodbye.” He then turned, his hands shoved back into his pockets as he headed back towards the gang’s rendezvous. He was going to be terribly late, but maybe after all was said and done, Alastor would hear him out. Walking another gang member home would win him enough points that he’d get out of the worst of it, hopefully.


About halfway back, as he went to reach for the mint tin in his jacket pocket, he realized he hadn’t gotten his jacket back. Whoops. He shook his head. Next time, then.

In the meantime, it was time to brace himself to at last see Alastor Grey.
 
Roleplay Invitations
Not Taking RP Invites at this Time
Posting Speed
Several Posts a Day
My Usual Online Time
8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Writing Levels
Prestige
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Primarily Prefer Female
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Probably a mix. When I GM I tend to prefer mostly aggressive, but with input from my players. I like to offer ideas and receive them. I don't like when people just take the reins and run with it though...especially in a 1x1.
Favorite Genres
Political intrigue, fantasy, futuristic, sci fi lite, superheroes, historical fiction, alternate universes. Smittings of romance, but only as side plot.
Genre You DON'T Like
Anime. Ever. Just not my jam.

Smut. Romance as a main plot. Horror. Grimdark.
#4
As Above, So Below
A collab with WingWong WingWong

  
Helona was perched quietly in an upper level of the dilapidated building, which had fallen into disrepair but not yet into ruin. Largely empty with broken windows and a few spots of overgrowth on the lower levels, it was a perfect hideaway for those that wished to left alone. As it happened, Helona wanted to be left alone.

She poked gently at the pieces of her left hearing aid, which had been damaged two nights before during an altercation with someone hoping to make a quick buck. She’d gotten out fine, with a few minor scrapes, bruises, and both her hearing aids. The problem was at some point during the struggle, it had gotten stepped on. The delicate tech wasn’t meant for such abuse, and so now she was left with only one ear to hear out of. Of course it had to be the one for her bad ear, too.

It didn’t matter now, though. Maybe she’d find someone that could take a look at it, or maybe she could trade for a new one. A mismatched pair was far better than half a pair, anyway. Sliding the earpiece back into her jacket pocket, she briefly rechecked her rifle, which she’d pulled out of her large duffle bag on her way up. The last thing she needed was another person catching her off-guard and taking things she couldn’t afford to lose. Noting the last time she’d ate (yesterday morning,) she resolved to go looking for food today. Yesterday had been a lucky break, especially after losing half of her already terrible hearing. Maybe she’d get another, and find some place willing to hire an old soldier with said terrible hearing and a bad knee. She looked out the window, scanning over the ground below.

Shouts erupted from the street, as several figures burst from one of the many gutted warehouses. Three men and a woman, two of which were carrying large crates, pursued by a throng of men in sleek black uniforms. As they ran the woman tripped and something odd occurred, her body vanishing briefly for a moment, before it reappeared, knee half trapped in the asphalt, “Logan!” The woman screamed, and one of them stopped. Spinning back, he raced to her side, crouching down at their pursuers closed in.

Helona’s brow furrowed, watching as the figures emerged. She picked up her rifle, settling it on the window ledge like she was getting ready to shoot, before looking through the scope to see more clearly. She couldn’t help but be a little impressed. It was smart, going for the warehouses. Either it became a stockpile or it could help a lot of people at once. There was clearly some level of organization here, too. She blinked, at seeing the woman trip, disappear, and then reappear. What the shit-. She shook off the thought as soon as it came. She’d seen plenty of mutants over the years after being on the streets. They surprised her every time, with what each of them could do.

She saw the men closing in on the woman who’d gotten trapped and the man who’d turned back to help her. Carefully, she turned down her own hearing aid, before training her gaze through her scope again. She was somewhere between a crouch and laying down, rifle trained on a specific spot. She watched through her scope, taking a calming breath even as her heart began to pound. She watched how fast they moved, took a moment to focus on the wind, and adjusted accordingly. She was dead silent. She’d end up losing her hiding spot, if she took a shot. She had two shots, maybe three, before she needed to move. Still, she couldn’t just leave it alone. She considered what a shame it was, with their fancy uniforms, that they lacked the most important part. Helmets. A few more moments, she waited. Between heartbeats, lungs empty. A little further, a little further…

She pulled the trigger, bullet rocketing for the temple of the man closest to the pair on the ground. The sound would reach them long after the bullet did.

The man, Logan, had begun to tug at the girl jammed into the ground, but the uniformed figures were near enough now and all he could do was shield himself around her. The other men had turned back as well, and frantically, looked between each other, before the shot rang out and one of their pursuers dropped with a sudden stillness.

The others froze, and silence fell, as both mutant and mankind alike stared in shock at the dead man. Eyes moved skyward from both parties, searching, desperately searching…

Helona took another breath, eerily still for a long time as they stilled in the street. She waited, planning on spacing out her shots. She wanted to make them count. Under her breath though, she cursed the mutants, “Move, damnit.” She was trying to buy them time, create a diversion, to give them enough to work with so that they could get out. Yet, there they were, gawking. If they were going to give her stationary targets, though, might as well make the most of it. She pulled the trigger again, aiming for the next closest of the men in black, only just barely visible from below due to her awkward crouch.

When the second man went down, cries of anger rose up from the men in uniform, while the mutants continued to stare in shock and confusion. Finally, the young man bending over the woman stuck in the concrete managed to wrench her free, and all four rose to their feet. As the uniformed men backed off towards cover, the mutants moved in the opposite direction, heading towards the building the shots rang out from.

As the men in uniform ducked away for cover, Helona slipped away from the window, careful not to give too much of herself away. She needed to go, before one of them got brave, or before police arrived. She re-adjusted her hearing aid, hoping she didn’t have to carry too much conversation even with the settings changed. If she had to shoot again after all, she’d rather not wreck what was left of her hearing. Pulling the hood of her jacket over her head, she slung her bag over her shoulder. She then took off in a sprint, her figure visible in the windows from below. She slid around the corner. Then she launched herself down the staircase to the bottom floor, knee protesting the impact the entire way.

As Helona reached the bottom floor, the four figures appeared in the stairwell. The boxes had been discarded somewhere, and the two men who had been carrying them took up the back of the pack, while the other two lead. At her arrival, they came to a halt, and for a moment, tense silence filtered through the small space, before the young woman spoke, her voice slightly shaken, “...Y-you’re the one who was shooting?” She asked.

Helona swore under her breath, seeing figures at the bottom of the stairwell. She’d braced for a fight, clutching her rifle in both hands. It took a few seconds for her to recognize them as the mutants she’d helped. Despite this recognition, she didn’t untense. Not yet, when they could still have people on their trail. She was quiet for a few beats, practically staring as she tried to use her one half functioning hearing aid and lip-reading to tell what the woman asked. “I am,” she answered simply, sniper rifle still clutched in hand.

“Thank you…” The girl breathed, an for a moment, her eyes clouded, as if they had filled with tears. The man beside her reached out to touch her arm, before nodding to Helona.

“...You saved our asses out there, Lady. Not usually guards in these warehouses, but someone tipped them off.” A brow raised, as he frowned softly, “What were you doin’ up there, anyway? Weird place to be hanging out… armed.”

Helona nodded in acknowledgement before her attention shifted to the man beside the woman. Another few beats, with her trying to lip-read to piece together exactly what was being said. “Trying to find a place to sleep,” she said bluntly. Then she shrugged. “Don’t have much choice but to be armed. People don’t like me very much these days.” Nevermind the fact she kept her rifle with her specifically for instances like this. For the moments she could help. It was what she had left, at this point.

“Can’t see why they wouldn’t like you…” The man teased, with a small smirk, “Not like you take potshots at them from broke down warehouses…” He looked behind her, up the stairs, giving his head a shake, “But for real...What’do they have against you?”

The girl beside him tightened her grip on his hand, “...Lo… We gotta get moving. Time’s gettin’ tight.” She murmured, and the man frowned.

“Right… Hey. Listen. You uh… you need a meal or something? Place to sleep for the night? Least we can do.”

A wry smile crept onto Helona’s face under her hood. “Probably the fact I’ve pulled a stunt like that more than once,” she answered. The more she talked, the more it revealed the Southern accent that wasn’t exactly native to the area. Her eyes flicked between the two of them, mentally taking notes on their interaction. She paused, considering. It was the best offer she’d gotten in a while. She was in desperate need of a shower, but she wasn’t about to get demanding, either. Not with a potential meal and halfway safe place to sleep on the line. “...I won’t say no to that.”

“Right… Come on, then. It’s kind of a hike.” He looked to his watch, then the girl beside him, a brow raised, “You gonna make it?”

“...If we go now, and we move quick.” She answered, before looking to Helona, “Hope you’re as fast on your feet as you are the trigger, lady.”

“Roll out, then.” With a nod, the one called Logan started for the exist, waving for them to follow along.

Helona tilted her head, intrigued by their conversation. What did he mean by ‘make it?’ Pursing her lips, she kept her question to herself. It was possible she’d find out regardless. In any case, whatever it was, it was urgent enough that they wanted to get back to....wherever they needed to be before then.

“I like to think so,” she answered, tentatively bracing more weight on her bad knee. It protested with arcs of pain shooting up her leg. Fantastic. She winced before following behind them, favoring her left leg a little despite keeping pace.

They moved swiftly, the four… but there was a sense, even as they picked up the pace, of foreboding. Roughly twenty minutes into the excursion, they left the street level through an old subway access, but at the bottom of the stairs, the woman halted and hissed a soft swear word.

“Not gonna make it, Lo.” One of the other two men stated.

Swearing as well, Logan looked to the girl, “We're here, Anya. We're here, love.” Setting down their crates, one of the men gestured to his, nodding to Helona.

“Have a seat. Gonna be a little while…”

With an agonizing cry, the woman suddenly dropped to her hands and knees and grimacing, Logan looked away, running his hands over his face. Her body began to distort, like static on a television screen, as she flickered in and out of focus.

“Go ahead and get back, Mack. You and Tom. I'll take the other crate when it's over.”

Hesitation crossed their faces, but looking back and forth, the men nodded to each other, “Right. Be safe, brother.” And collecting one of the crates, they disappeared along the tunnel.

Dropping onto the crate, he rubbed the back of his neck, before clenching his fists, his eyes drifting up to the ceiling, away from the woman on the ground.

After a long while of not encountering any pursuants, Helona had hesitantly pulled her hood back. While her rifle was still in hand, her grip wasn’t nearly as wary or alert, and eventually, she reconnected the strap that could go around it to carry it on her shoulder. She’d tried to discreetly turn up her hearing aid, but found even with it turned up, it only helped so much. She’d need to find a replacement soon.

She looked over at the two men, a little confused, before it was drawn back to the woman as she fell to her hands and knees. Wincing in sympathy, she said nothing. With a small wave as the two men left, she stayed behind with Logan and the flickering woman. After another beat of silence, she spoke.

“...How long does this usually last?” she asked, concern creeping into her eyes.

“Depends…” He answered with a small frown, “Sometimes a few minutes… Sometimes up to an hour. I'm sorry… I'd have sent you ahead with the guys but I'll have to vouch for you. I'm Logan, by the way. And that's Anastasia. Anya…”

Helona’s own frown deepened. She shook her head, waving off the apology. “It’s alright. Don’t have anywhere else to be,” she joked dryly. She gave him a small smile. “Helona,” she introduced, extending a hand to him. She glanced back to the woman as he trailed off. “...And there’s nothing we can do to help her?”

“Nice to meet you, Helona.” He tried to smile, but as his eyes shifted to Anya, the expression shifted again, “Too dangerous. For her and us. Could phase through… internal organs… bones… Could get stuck, fused. She can't control it in this state, sort of like when someone has a seizure.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” she answered. A small grimace passed over her face. “Noted,” she stated simply, shaking her head. She couldn’t help but think of a mutant that had been in her old apartment building before the raid. Turning into lava sounded cool right up until they couldn’t control it and ended up burning through...well, everything.

Staring at his hands, he frowned deeply, “She never has any peace. Happens off and on all day… All night. And I can't do anything but watch. Sometimes, I'm pretty sure it's my penance…”

She looked over at him, raising an eyebrow. “Your penance? For what?” she asked, head tilted.

“Few years back, I… I made a stupid choice. I tried to protect someone, and I went to the wrong person to get it done. People… people got hurt.” Rubbing his brow, he shrugged, “...All I wanted was to keep someone safe that I loved… and I screwed up. Now all I wanna do is protect someone I love, and I literally can’t do anything.”

Helona watched him carefully for as long as he spoke. “Sometimes…” she started, sighing softly, “we make terrible decisions because we love someone. We might even know it’s not a good decision, but at that moment, it seems like the best one or the only one.” She fell silent, eyes looking past Logan, before she shook her head. “I know I’ve made plenty of mistakes like that. I just wanted someone safe, but I lost sight of the other things that were important.” She gestured towards Anya with her hand. “And I think...the fact you’re sticking around and that you’re there for her when she needs you is probably more than enough to her. Just my guess, though.”

Glancing over at the woman, Logan smiled faintly, a little dryly, “Where were you when I was about to make that decision all those years ago? Could've used that wisdom. Or a smack upside my head.” Brushing his palms over his lap, he sighed, “Who were you protecting?”

“On the streets, probably, taking more potshots from warehouses,” Helona joked lightly, shaking her head. “Trust me, you probably would’ve gotten both the advice and the smack.” Her smile fell a little, turning more somber. “My son. He...he’s probably a little older than you,” she answered. She shook her head again. “Kept seeing things I couldn’t protect him from, kept finding people that would want to hurt him for who and what he was. Went about trying to fix that the wrong way.”

“He a mutant? Your son?” Logan asked, a brow raised, “Sometimes I think we get in our own way, you know. Make things more difficult than we need to, trying to make them better.”

“He is,” Helona nodded. She snorted, a wry smile finding its way back onto her face. “Ain’t that the truth.” She glanced away, into the darkness of the underground tunnels, before shaking her head and facing Logan once again. “There were times he needed a mother, and he got a drill a sergeant instead,” she admitted in a near whisper.

“I'm sure he appreciated both, Ma'am.” Logan said, with a small nod, “As someone who didn't have either growin’ up, I can say that with some assurity.” Looking to Anya, he frowned, “Slowing down. Shouldn't be long.”

Helona was silent a long while. “...I hope so,” she said eventually. She looked back over to him, even as he looked to Anya, her brow furrowing and her frown deepening. She didn’t get the chance to say anything, though, as he changed the topic. Looking to Anya, she agreed that it did look like it was slowing down, compared to the wild static her form had been before.

“Thanks for waiting with me.” Logan said, with a small smirk, “You're pretty alright… Some kinda secret sniper mom or something. Think they'll like you in the underground.”

“No problem,” she assured him before snorting. “Yeah, something like that.” She raised her brows, looking thoroughly amused. “It’s starting to sound like you’re planning to keep me,” she commented.

Chuckling, he shrugged, “We got a habit of picking up strays. I was one, before I moved up the field. Anya here found me in a gutter, bullet in me. Patched me up and pulled me in. And we just … built.” As Anya's phasing began to level off, the woman dropped to sit, and Logan rose, moving to her side. “In and out, baby. I'm right here…” She dropped to his shoulder and his hand reached around her, brushing her back with her palm, “Easy now… Take your time.”

“Sounds like a nice place,” Helona said, small smile still on her lips. And it did. She wasn’t sure if staying was on the table for her, though. Somewhere, her son was still out there. She could’ve sworn she was close. Then again, she’d popped up in Maryland after hearing things that sounded suspiciously like Nick, and found he’d been long gone.

She looked away as Logan crouched down beside Anya, feeling a little like she was intruding on something private.

Pushing upright after a moment, Logan helped Anya stand. She was a little shaky, grimacing slightly, and Logan looked from Helona to Anya, then to the crate with a small frown.

“Helona? Could you just give her an arm for a bit? I'll get the crate…”

“Of course,” Helona answered, nodding and stepping forward. She extended an arm towards Anya, to offer a steadying hand to the young woman.

Looking to Logan with a brow raised, Anya nevertheless took hold of Helona’s arm, holding tightly enough to balance herself, without taking too much weight to the woman. Logan lifted the crate, meanwhile, and hefting it up, nodded down the tunnel, “Go on thataway for about half a mile, there’s a door to the right once we hit the tracks… That’ll take us the right way.”

Helona shifted closer, making sure Anya was steady on her feet. She looked over to Logan, nodding after he spoke. “Right,” she murmured. They weren’t kidding about it being a hike. It was hidden away, though, and hopefully safe because of that. “Ready when you are,” she told Anya.

Anya gave a nod and started forward, as Logan took up the rear with the crate in tow. It was a good walk to the first marker, then after that another shorter distance along the abandoned line to the second door. Outside the door, Logan set the crate down and gave a series of knocks, before pressing a code into a box by the door. After a moment or two, it opened and a large man stood on the other side.

“Boys said you’d be behind them. Everything alright?” The man asked, looking to the woman.

“This is Helona. Rett in his office?” Logan asked.

The man nodded, stepping aside, “I’ll take the supplies. You guys go ahead. Anya… need an arm home?” He asked, and the young woman nodded, barely, exhaustion overtaking her features.

“I’ll be home soon, baby.” Logan murmured, bending to kiss the top of her head, “Get some rest.” As the behemoth of a man took the crate from Logan under one arm, and gesture Anya to his other, Logan nodded to Helona, “Ready?”

Helona’s knee was nearly screaming in protest at the long walk. God, she needed a new brace. It had been getting close to about time to replace it five years ago. Now it was wearing out entirely. Still, despite favoring it a little more as they walked, she said nothing and didn’t slow her pace. The sooner they got where they were going, the sooner she could sit down.

She watched with curiosity as Logan knocked and punched in the code. She mentally prepared herself, for whatever she might find, but was ultimately unprepared for the absolute giant of a man on the other side of the door. Her eyes widened slightly, gaze flicking over him quickly, trying to assess. On the list of people she could easily fight, he was not. She mentally made a note to not piss him off if she could help it, but then again, that had never stopped her before.

Still, after the initial surprise, her expression receded back into something stony. She had a feeling she might need to plead her own case, to whoever Rett was, since Logan asked for him specifically.

“Ready,” she answered. Ready as she’d ever be.

Giving a nod, Logan watched Anya for another moment, as Kristoff led her away, before gesturing Helona down the pathway, towards and building a short distance off. He was careful to knock first, before pushing open the door. Inside, a man rose from behind his desk. A brow rose, as the man took in the sight of the woman beside Logan, before he came around the desk, nodding to the chair.

“Helona… This is Everett Munroe. Rett? Helona. She saved our asses from some RIEF rejects, today.”

Helona looked around her as they walked, occasionally craning her head to take in the Underground with no small amount of intrigue. Soon enough, though, she found herself at the door beside Logan. Walking in behind the younger man, she quickly assessed the other in front of her. After a moment that made her look a little like she was sizing up Munroe, a train of thought hit her. She could only imagine how she looked to him. Dirt and grime on her face, dressed like a homeless vigilante, with a long-range rifle and a giant duffle bag slung over her shoulder. She was sure she made quite the first impression.

“Good to meet you,” she greeted, stepping forward and extending a hand to Munroe. A flicker of a smile crossed over her face at hearing Logan call their pursuers RIEF rejects, but otherwise was quite serious looking.

Eyes shifting from Logan, to Helona, to the rifle, back to Logan, Munroe gave a firm nod, “Then I owe you a great deal of thanks. Logan dies out there and I lose my right hand… Have to do a hell of a lot more work.” With a small smirk, he gestured to the couch a distance from his desk, “Have a seat. Can I get either of you anything? Tea? Something to eat? Logan?”

“I’m fine, but I did promise Helona here something to eat…”

Helona raised an eyebrow. Logan had said he’d risen up in the ranks, though she hadn’t quite imagined he was his leader’s right hand. It seemed to her he’d done quite well for himself. “I won’t say no to something to eat,” she admitted. It took her a moment, but she soon made her way to the couch and sat down. Settling her stuff at her feet, she gave a small sigh of relief as she was able to take weight off her knee.

Moving to a small refrigerator beneath the bookshelf that also housed a keurig unit, Munroe opened it and pulled out a small handful of items - yogurt, an apple, an orange, and two tupperwares that appeared to contain macaroni in a white sauce and mashed potatoes, “Alright… You’ve got a selection here. Mac n cheese or Mashed potatoes and gravy?” He asked, a brow raised as he noticed the small sigh.

“Munroe’s mac n cheese is pretty legendary.” Logan added, sitting across from Helona with a smirk.

“The mac n’ cheese has been vouched for. Might as well,” Helona relented with a mild shrug, arms held to either side. Despite her faint smile and the fact she was sitting, her knee didn’t quite relent. It was aching, in the way it did when she’d been on it far too much without the proper support. In the way it would when it threatened to buckle underneath her. Fantastic. She tried to settle, hoping the ache would fade. Last thing she needed was to collapse when she stood up again.

As Munroe popped one container back into the fridge and set the other in the microwave above the fridge, his eyes flickered over to Helona, brow raised lightly, “So. Tell me a little about yourself, Helona. How'd you end up where you were?”

“Do you mean long-term, or how I got where I was today?” Helona asked after a moment. “Because long-term... “ she paused, considering exactly what she was willing to say at the moment. “A few years ago, RIEF raided my building. My landlord was an Archivist for a branch of Rogue, and they offered a safe-place for mutants and their families. They got reported, with people saying there was ‘suspicious activity’ in the building,” she explained with a shrug. “I was never sure how much they knew, so I stayed on the move.”

“As for today, I climbed into the upper levels of an old warehouse hoping to avoid some of the groups on the streets,” she added, fingers grazing over her left ear. She was only half aware she was doing it, still unused to not wearing her hearing aid.

“We got caught up in a warehouse, some guards hanging around on their smoke break. Lower level jerks… Unarmed, thank God. Anya had a phase slip and got stuck. They got pretty close to catching us and Helona here started takin’ em out from the warehouse. Hell of a shot.”

“Is that your ability, then? The accuracy?” Munroe asked, brow quirked.

“My ability...?” Helona echoed, head tilted. She furrowed her brow, processing this for a few beats of silence. The phrasing… “I’m not a mutant, if that’s what you’re asking.” It was, technically, her ability. It wasn’t what they seemed to be asking after, though.

“You’re not?” A brow lifting again, higher this time, Munroe glanced to Logan briefly, before looking back to Helona, “Well, excuse my surprise… It’s just rare that we have anyone down here who isn’t.” He chuckled lightly, shaking his head, “Not that I mind, of course. Just so used to our downtrod being of the mutant variety.” Pulling the container from the microwave, he grabbed a fork and brought it over, setting it before her with a nod, “Well, for what it’s worth, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. Thank you. Truly. We owe you.”

Helona shook her head. She raised her own brow, taking note of the brief exchange between Logan and Munroe at her admission. “I can imagine,” she commented. She’d met plenty of mutants on the streets over the past few years, and each of their stories seemed a little worse than the last. “It’s rough out there for me as it is, and it’s definitely worse for them.” She gave the man a small smile as he set the food in front of her. “Not a problem. Not like I was going to just let them get hurt if I could help,” she said, jabbing a thumb towards Logan before picking up the fork and the bowl of mac n’ cheese. “And thank you, for this.” With that, she took a bite of what was in the container.

“Most people don’t think that way.” Munroe stated simply, settling into a chair. He drummed his fingers on the arms, considering something for a moment, “Hell, even most mutants have a selfish streak these days. You put yourself on the line for my people, and I don’t take things like that for granted. I’m assuming Logan brought you here because you don’t have a place to go? Somewhere safer than an abandoned warehouse?”

“Guess old habits die hard,” Helona said dryly. Her eyes closed as she took the bite, savoring the mac n’ cheese. Oh, this was so much better than crushed granola bars and a cold but otherwise untouched burger. “The mac n’ cheese is definitely legendary,” she added, smirking as she glanced at Logan. “...No. Not anywhere safer,” she admitted. Even the safety of that was probably debatable.

With a grin, Logan nodded briefly at her summary of the meal, before Munroe chuckled, bowing his head in appreciation, “Thanks.” Though he imagined anything would taste better than what she was undoubtedly used to, if she had been living on the streets for a while, now.

“Well… It’s unconventional, but I’m nothing if not a visionary. You saved my kids, Helona, and if you want it, there’s a place for you, here. So long as you’re willing to do your part, go through the process with us, that is.”

Helona pursed her lips. “...Would I be given time to consider this?” she asked after a moment. “I have...a reason to keep moving.” Nick was still out there, somewhere, after all. She had to try to keep looking. Then again, it had been five years. Maybe being stationary and looking that way would be a better idea.

“Of course.” Chuckling, Munroe nodded, “We’re not weird mole people, and we won’t kill you for knowing our location. You’re free to go, if you’d prefer. You’re also free to stay as long as you’d like. Whatever you decide, no sense making a hasty choice. If you want, you may stay the night in the guest room upstairs, here. Think it over.”

“That sounds exactly like something weird mole people would say,” Helona snorted despite herself, a half smile on her lips. She sobered up quickly enough, though, as she nodded. “I think staying until I make a decision sounds like the best idea.”

“Damn…” Munroe muttered, looking to Logan again with a cockeyed grin, “She knows our secret, now. We must kill her…”

“Aw. That’s unfortunate, sir. Should I inform the mole-cook?” Logan quipped back with a grin.

Chuckling, Munroe looked back to Helona and nodded, “Well then, that’s that. I can show you your room, now, if you’d like to get settled in?”

Helona choked on a laugh, shaking her head at their antics. “Oh no, not the mole-cook,” she deadpanned. “That sounds alright with me,” she answered, having finished the food in the tupperware container in record time. She moved to stand, about to reach over to grab her belongings, only for her still-aching knee to buckle on the second step. She stumbled heavily, hissing curses as she just managed to catch herself with a hand on the edge of the couch. Grimacing, she slowly managed to set her foot under her again.

Frowning, Munroe rose, and leaned to help as she stumbled. Even as she caught herself, he didn’t sit again, and moving around the coffee table, he held out his arm, “...Looks like you need to get weight off that thing. Logan, can you check med supply, see if we’ve got some Ibuprofen and an ice pack?”

“Sure thing, Rett.” Rising, Logan nodded, before he crossed the room and slipped out the office door.

“Alright to walk up the stairs, or would you prefer the couch for now?”

Helona sucked in a deep breath, eyes closing for a moment as she braced herself. It couldn’t have waited five minutes to do that. Nope, of course not, she wouldn’t be so lucky. She glanced up as Logan slid out the door before focusing on standing on her own feet again. One arm slightly raised for balance, she gingerly set her foot down and ever so slowly started to straighten up. She’d have to walk with a limp until she could readjust, but it would do.

“I think if I get up the stairs, I’ll be fine,” she said, rolling her shoulders as she took another deep breath.

“Come on…” Offering his arm again, Munroe nodded, “I’ll help you get up there. How’d it happen? Your knee?” He asked, as he started for the small door that led to the stairwell, “Not recent, is it? We’ve got a healer on deck…”

This time, Helona took the help he offered. She held onto his arm, steadying herself as she took a step, the favor in her left leg far more noticeable now. “No, not recent,” she said, huffing a dry laugh. Definitely not recent. “Bomb shrapnel,” she added, by of explanation as they started for the stairwell door.

“...Wow. Bomb shrapnel?” Chuckling dryly, not with humor, but understanding, Munroe pulled open the door and carefully helped her to the first step, “You sound like you’ve lived one hell of a life so far, Helona.”

“God, have I ever,” Helona snorted, shaking her head. She glanced over at him briefly before focusing on making it up the stairs. With one hand braced on Munroe’s arm and the other on the stairwell rail, she stepped up bit by bit, trying to work with her faulty knee.

Frowning slightly, Munroe looked into the narrow well, then to Helona as she struggled with those first few stairs, “Are you by any chance one of those women who will beat a man mercilessly for suggesting that I could just… carry you up? Hypothetically, of course.”

“I don’t know about mercilessly,” she remarked. She worked her jaw as she glanced up the staircase. How much was her sense of pride really worth at this point? She took a breath, running the hand that had previously been braced on the railing over her face. “...Alright. Go for it,” she said eventually, shaking her head. “Just put me down at the top.”

Nodding faintly, not hesitating, both for the sake of her pride and because he was half afraid she'd collapse anyway, he slid his arms below her knees and scooped her up, turning slightly sideways to maneuver them both up the stairs. As the top, now with a little apprehension, he set her down gingerly, still keeping her weight braced over his shoulder, “There. Not so bad.”

Helona bit back another curse as he scooped her up, bracing one arm around his shoulder as he carried her up the stairs. She set her good leg down first to give herself a leg to stand on. Then, carefully, she lowered her other leg. Knee still bent, she managed to stand well enough on her own that she unwrapped her arm from his shoulder. She turned to look at him, giving him a pointed look that could’ve said ‘so you say.’. “It’s not usually that bad,” she admitted after a moment, gently testing how much of her own weight she thought her knee could stand to take. Then again, her ‘usually’ was based on when she wasn’t constantly on the run, had a halfway decent knee brace, and had an actual chance to do her physical therapy the way she needed to.

“Maybe we can't heal it… but you stick around and I bet we'll find some ways to strengthen it. Something tells me you're tougher than you look, Helona. I hope you decide to stay.” Gesturing to the two doors down the narrow hall, he smiled, “Bathroom's on the left, bedroom on the right. Should be some soap… Shampoo… Towels. Cabinet has a fresh toothbrush and if you need to borrow something to wear, I can sort that out for you.”

“Thanks,” Helona said softly in reply, a small smile on her lips. She wasn’t totally opposed to the idea of staying. Like she’d said though, she had a reason to keep moving. She’d definitely have to think it over, and see what options she had. “Right. Thank you,” she said again with a nod as she turned to face him. “I think I’m alright for now, clothes-wise.” Though it dawned on her that her bag, as well as her rifle, was still downstairs. “Though...those are downstairs.” She sent him a sheepish smile. She could worry about that later, though, if she needed to.

“Right, right. I’ll bring them up and put them outside the door.” Munroe said, with a small chuckle, “And drop off that Ibuprofen. Is there anything else you need?” He asked, edging towards the stairs again.

Helona shook her head again. “No, I think I’m good,” she assured him as he started to inch back towards the stairs. She gave him a grateful smile and a small wave.

Nodding, Munroe gave a return wave before he turned to head back down, “Welcome to the Underground, Helona!” He called, as he disappeared into the stairwell.

Smile fading slightly as he walked down the stairwell, Helona ran a hand through her hair, ending up freeing some of it from her ponytail. Well, at least the food and bed situation has been solved. She glanced around, taking in her surroundings. Then, with a limp in her gait, she made her way towards the bathroom. It looked like she had plenty to consider. Welcome to the Underground, indeed.
 

Mobley Eats

Consume. Smother your doubts. Be fulfilled.
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#5
Rogue Was Gone | Interactions: Nemesis, Nadia, and Drunk Asshole Elle Joyner Elle Joyner | Location: Diner


Rogue was gone.

There was no question about it. What it was, what it was meant to be was irrevocably shattered by the untimely loss of Keegan Hull… but his death had only been the start. It didn’t surprise her, really, that Yul had been partially responsible for the shift in power. He had always been hard on them… hard on everyone - and it was like the man’s life dream to take over… to turn Rogue into what he had envisioned from the start. The cleanout came pretty swiftly… anyone unwilling to take to the views of this new regime.

Nadia had hung on as long as she could, but in the end it was too much for her, too, and she’d gone her own way, too. And it was a cold, quick reminder how brutal the world outside really was. With everything in chaos, changing swiftly… there wasn’t much she could do but find a small place of employment that would be willing to take someone in her boat, and what sufficed as a roof over head.

The diner was twenty-four hours, and her shift was the last on the clock. She would’ve thought that no one… almost no one in their right mind, period, would come in to eat pancakes or crappy french onion soup at 2AM, yet somehow, she usually managed to make enough to get by, and that, she supposed, made the schedule worth while…

Then there were those nights… that just…

Sucked.

Four times. Four times in one night, Nadia had her backside smacked by some drunk idiot at the countertop. The first time, she’d chalked up to a slip of the hand. The second time, she knew was intentional, but she’d given him a pass. The third time, she asked him not to do it again and fourth time, well…

The fourth time, she’d dislocated his thumb on the counter front and told him it was time for him to leave. She’d expected him to get the hint, and yet… when she returned from the kitchen with a tray full of glasses and felt that less than subtle whack, it took every ounce of strength and energy not to drown him with the water running through his body…

Nem couldn’t fathom how overwhelming the world was in size. In life. And yet, his mind’s eye could only take in a few souls around him at a time. It was a quant thought. Frustrating to most, but fascinating and amazing to him. He was only human. He’d never be anything more and refused to once again be anything less, and with that humanity came its finite qualities. There was magic in not knowing, in lacking omnipotence. It allowed him to have something to look forward to the next day. A new fact to learn. A fresh perspective to experience. A new personality to commit to heart.

But, if the monk was being perfectly honest with himself, he could have lived contently without listening to this man’s actions. The invasive and insistent touches, forced upon a woman laboring away to establish a living for herself...No soul deserved this treatment. And yet, even as this swirled in his mind like a steaming pool of tar, his expression remained serene, seated a mere few stools away from the harasser in question.

He didn’t have money for a meal. Of course he didn’t. But the fact that this wonderful establishment allowed the presence of mutants was an undeniable incentive to enter. To gain his breath and merely...sit. Recuperating--that was what he was doing when the fourth smack happened.

In the next moment, Nem’s staff cleared the distance between them and pinned that same hand to the counter, the very tip of it preventing the man from escaping. “Please,” Nem said, his pale eyes soft with pleading, “The touches are unwanted, my friend. Should you not refrain from repeating such an act?”

Startled by the sudden interruption, Nadia nearly lost her hold on the tray, which she set down as she stepped back, a mixture of shock and confusion stealing over the expression of the handsy-idiot at the counter. He turned his stool towards the man, and without rising, looking up, spit out a snort of a laugh.

“...Mind your own business, Mr. Magoo, would ya?”

“Pretty sure I asked you once already, to pay up and get out.” Nadia continued, eyes narrowing at the man, “We really gonna have a problem, here?”

Shifting back, he rose and staggering for a moment, looked between Nadia and the intruder, and with a smirk, swung a fist at the latter.

The trouble...always seemed to follow Nem, no matter where his feet took him. He almost wanted to ask why this was such a reoccurring fact, but then remembered that trouble often followed the purest of heart. He almost smiled at the memory, missing that day and meeting with a bittersweet fondness.

But, of course, he couldn’t reminisce at the moment. The name Mr. Magoo confused Nem and had him wondering if the man was addressing him or someone else, and the sloppy punch that followed weeded a sigh out of him. It was the ripple in wind pressure as that beefy fist neared his face, warning him of the strike to come. It would be easy to avoid it, terribly so.

And thus, Nem took the hit, his head snapping in the same direction the force was administered. It was all muscle memory now, redirecting the brute strength of an attack, and when his gaze snapped back to the man in less than a second, he continued unphased, “Sir, please. Allow reason and compassion into your heart. Violence is a means of denial, never an answer.”

Nadia’s expression shifted as the man swung, from irritation to pure anger, and she nearly launched on the creep then and there. It was the words that immediately followed that threw her… Her, but not the idiot. He started forward again, and her hand shot out, “Walk away, while you still have legs that work.”

“Bitch…” Hand snapping up, he grabbed her wrist, “Don’t you know your place? Seen and not heard, Legs. All I need to do is watch you walk.”

“Last warning.” Nadia hissed, “Let go.”

“I advise you to heed her warning,” Nem said, suddenly appearing extremely close to the man. By extremely close, it meant being perched on his shoulder, one foot balancing him comfortably while the other was tucked behind the opposite knee, crouching. The staff laid horizontally in his lap. “Something in her tone promises an imminent downfall. Yours.”

The man flailed. Flailing… sober, was never really a great idea when you had an entire human on your shoulders. Flailing drunk… was a major disaster. It took him about six seconds to fall, toppling like a tree to the floor of the diner, landing hard.

Staring, Nadia stepped back, “...He wasn’t wrong about that downfall.”

Nem blinked as he felt the man fall, hopping off just before he hit the ground. Dear oh dear… “I...Yes, but that is not the kind of downfall I was referring to,” he said, apology coloring his features. He hoped the poor man didn’t hit his head or anything.

Bending down, Nadia neared the man, eyes narrowing, “...I’m gonna give you… one very last chance to preserve some dignity. Stand up. Go to the door. And leave.” Stepping back, she watched as the man struggled upright, pushed himself to his feet, and with red, patchy cheeks, he hobbled towards the exit.

Watching him go, Nadia pinched the bridge of her nose, “Hell... Man, thank you.” Turning to the man with the staff, she looked him over curiously, “That was some crazy move, there.”

Nem was tempted to stop the man, to provide a comfort of sorts, a lasting word of wisdom, but judging by the pace of his steps, his retreat was hasty. Stopping him now would just counteract any growth he could garner from this experience. Thus, the monk settled for looking in Nadia’s general direction and bowing. “Gratitude is always appreciated, ma’am, and I will gladly give back my own for your assistance.” However, a light laugh escaped him at her latter comment. “It is merely balance. Your bravery is what deserves praise.”

“Did you just...Oh, honey. You just ma’am me? You ain’t been in the world a whole long time, have ya?” With a chuckle, Nadia shook her head, “Creeps like that ain’t exactly what goes bump in the night for me. Easy to be brave when the guy can’t stand on his own two feet without fallin’ over. Anyway.. Not many people left in the world who’d jump in the way you did. Can I get you somethin’? Coffee… pie? On the house?”

Nem blinked, unsure of how to react. Did he...say something offensive? Or was that merely a jest on the woman’s part? It sounded that way in her tone, so he decided to trust his instincts and settle for another smile. “Apologies. I suppose your title shall be Brave Soul until I’m told otherwise, yes? Though, it would be socially unacceptable not to properly introduce myself.” In one motion, his stance erected and he rested a hand over his heart. “Tah-shi de-leh, I am Nemesis, but you are welcome to call me Nem.”

And then the woman’s offer registered...and the monk had no idea how to respond. On the house...Oh dear. Another American slang phrase blindsided him...Ah, he made yet another horrid pun. That was happening quite often recently. Regardless, he nodded and said evenly, “A...pie? That is indeed an American pastry, yes? If so, then I choose this generous offer.”

With a grin, Nadia nodded, “Brave Soul. That’s pretty tight… but you can call me Nadia. It’s nice to meet you, Nem.” Nemesis. It was… a hell of an intense name, but this day and age, that wasn’t surprising. When he agreed to the offer, she smiled, “Cool. There’s a stool behind you… About seven… eight steps. I’ll go grab a slice.”

“Nadia,” Nem echoed thoughtfully, “The...French variation of the Russian Nadya, meaning hope. I can understand this name origin.” Although he had no use for the direction, the monk was still warmed by the number of steps Nadia mentioned and followed them strictly, coming upon a stool with relative ease and seating himself. His fingers skimmed the counters with a feather’s touch; he hadn’t had a chance to map out everything’s texture within the diner yet, so he would take the opportunity to do so now. The practice brought him a small comfort, painting a loose picture in his mind’s eye and peeling away at least some of the eternal darkness.

A brow rose as she stepped behind the counter, looking at the man with a small smirk, “If that’s some kinda pick up line, you’re too damn smart for me, Nem, cause I don’t know anything about name origins.” Opening the glass case beneath the counter, she crouched down, watching him for a moment, “We got cherry, apple, lemon and… peanut butter. What’s callin’ to ya?”

Nem paused briefly in his mapping to mull over Nadia’s comment. Picking up...lines. Another slang phrase. At this rate, he could tell that Nadia used many of them, agonizing over each one she presented would be an unwise use of his energy. He needed to spare as much as he could. “Intelligence is not measured by the quantity of facts your mind holds. All of our minds are unique and invaluable. If not, having every single mind in the world think alike would be…” he shrugged, “Incredibly boring.”

The flavors that Nadia listed made the hungry knots in Nem’s stomach tighten, reminded of how long it had been since he’d eaten. His brow furrowed as a hum reverberated on the back of his tongue. “I’m...attempting to listen now,” he said, “but their voices are...faint. Hard to hear. Even harder to decipher. Perhaps you can help me translate, Nadia?” There might’ve been a joke behind the monk’s words, but nothing about his expression nor voice gave it away.

Continuing to look up at him, Nadia shook her head with a small, amused smile, “Boring. Yeah… that’s for sure. You ain’t any of that, are ya?” Reaching in, she pulled out all four of the pies, and as if it were a completely normal request, she produced four plates, cutting a slice of eat and setting them in front of the man, “...Cherry’s far left… Lemon next to that, then Peanut Butter and on your right, Pretty-eyes, Apple.” Reaching out, she touched his hand, easing it to the side just slightly, “Fork’s right there.”

Nem merely grinned, neither denying nor accepting that notion. It was a matter of opinion what one considered boring or not, and thus not his place to be the judge of it. It was no one’s place to do so. The smile widened a tad at Nadia’s patience, allowing the guidance and curling his fingers around the fork. “Ah...I understand now,” he said, awe entering his voice, “It seems that the...Peanut Butter responded happily to your announcement, thus,” carefully, he reached for the mentioned slice and pulled it forward, “I shall return swiftly, yes?”

He was already standing up, the plate in hand.

Straightening, Nadia watched, slightly perplexed as he rose to his feet, staring after him, “...Yeah, sure. Just uh… Do whatcha gotta do…”

Nem nodded and casually strolled out of the diner, staff tapping away to make sure the path ahead was clear. The monk stood out front, palming about at the walls with his free hand and once a minute or so of this passed, he laid the staff down, took a moment to prepare himself, and latched onto the nearest ridge, crawling up to the roof.

A few seconds passed.

And then he was back down, feet meeting the ground with a soft thud and an empty plate in his hands. He gathered his staff and waltzed back inside, sitting back down across from Nadia. There was the tiniest bit of pie left on his chin, but it did nothing to dim the satisfaction radiating from him. “There, I have fulfilled American customs, yes?”

Perplexed didn’t begin to cover it. When she watched what he’d done, there was no part of her mind that could wrap around what he’d done, and when he came back in and sat down, she stared at him with just the tiniest hint of concern, “...Pretty… Did… did you just climb up on the roof to eat a piece of pie? What.. custom?”

Whatever triumph Nem felt dwindled into uncertainty, catching Nadia’s bewilderment. “I...oh dear…” A hint of pink flooded his visage. “I assumed that, when you mentioned on the house… Am I incorrect? I am, aren’t I?”

“Oh… oh man…” The laugh that escaped Nadia carried through the diner in a way that made her ultimately glad that Nem was the only patron crazy enough to be out that early in the morning, and covering her mouth with her hands, she shook her head, “...On the house just means you don’t gotta pay for it, honey. But that… right there, I think, just made my night. And when I tell you, it’s been a hell of a night, you’ll understand how much I appreciate it.” Reaching for a napkin, she gingerly reached out, “You just got a little… here.” Wiping the bit that was on his chin, she tossed the napkin in the bin behind her, “You sure as hell ain’t boring. That’s confirmed.”

Nem couldn’t help but flinch back at the sudden loud noise, the organ in his chest jumping ever so slightly. It was rather troublesome having sensitive senses, even from a sound as joyous as laughter, but there was no denying the nerves it inspired. However, he refused to let Nadia take note of this and allowed the infectious quality of the sound take him over, giggling lightly as well. “I… Goodness, I always manage to fail wondrously with American customs.” His features softened serenely. “At least I was capable of producing a joyous reaction from you, Nadia. There is victory found in humility as well...though even I view that as a difficult anecdote to swallow…”

He didn’t even bat an eyelash as she cleaned his chin, smile merely brightening at the kind gesture. He bowed again. “A flattering deduction, Nadia. You are proving to be wonderful company as well.”

“Hey, don’t we all? If humility was easy, we’d have a hell of a lot less problems in the world. But if pride ain’t the thing that takes us all down, hm?” Shifting back, her smile softened, and she gave a shrug, despite knowing he couldn’t see it, “Well, hell, Nem. I’m here for the next three hours, and it ain’t exactly wall-to-wall customers. So, stick around long as you want. There’s more pie, and you can even eat it at the counter, this time, if you want.”

As Nem listened to her, a wave of pride washed over him, though he had just met this woman. It didn’t matter if he knew her for months, years, or minutes, listening to such things escape another’s mouth never failed to restore some more of his faith in the world today. It was a challenge to maintain grasp upon it, especially nowadays, but he fought his hardest to do so. “Exactly. As pride makes one artificial, humility makes another real. Although,” another chuckle escaped, stroking his temple, right next to his milky blue eyes, “Determining which realities matter is of another question to be answered at another time, yes?”

Slowly, with seemingly endless patience, he folded both arms onto the counter, the trajectory of his gaze just a few inches too high to be locking with Nadia’s. “My feet take me where I am needed or when the soul of another beckons for an assistance that their mouths cannot bear to utter.” Another pause, somewhat lengthy, but not as long as it seemed. “Something about the soul before me fits this criteria. Strangely so,” he muttered.

It was fascinating, listening to him talk. Incredible, really. The only person she’d ever heard come half so close to that level of interesting was Oz, and that kid had been high more than he was low… He was precious, but translating what he said was a challenge and a half. Nem, she could understand, even if what he was saying wasn’t something ordinary people said…

“...You tellin’ me you see souls, Nem? Cause I’ve met a lot of people who can do some crazy things. But that’s the first time I’ve heard that particular one.”

“Well, I...feel souls, rather than see them,” he said, “It is not exactly my...mutant ability, as one says, but I was raised in a heavily spiritual temple and sensing the turmoil lurking within another’s soul was tantamount to our own training.”

“...Damn.” Straightening, Nadia frowned softly, “That's pretty deep there.” Looking around, she leaned closer, lowering her voice, “You should be careful, Nem. About using that M word in public. You're safe with me, but it's not that way out there…”

Nem’s hand flew up to his lips, as if trying to yank those words back into his lungs, to reverse his fallacy. “I...yes, you are correct, Nadia. My apologies. I have not been in this country for very long, but...I have heard many worrisome tales. Of prejudice and hatred towards that term...And it sickens me,” he said.

“It's stupid is what it is…” She muttered bitterly, “Didn't ask to be this way… didn't do anything wrong, but we're still treated like nutjob criminals… And now… Damn. Sorry. Just… Ain't right. At all.”

“Do not apologize,” Nem insisted gently, “You are repressing so much. It is clear in the agitated vibrato of your aura, Nadia. And I agree...it is not right. Err, well,” his eyes squinted, before attempting to mimic unsurely, “It...ain’t right, yes?”

“Hey, now. Don't come down to my level, Pretty. Most people talk fancy like you? Their words don't mean a damn thing. But I like what you gotta say...” Looking at the remaining pies, she pulled over the apple and grabbing a fork of her own, took a small bite, “Thing is, I used to be able to do something about it, all the mess. Used to be able to help… but that's gone now. Just… feel aimless.”

“What do you mean by gone?” Nem asked. The nickname Nadia had bestowed upon him was just now registering, though he didn’t mind it at all. It was rather nice. Surface level generosity was an element of socializing that he rarely came by, so he’d accept it readily. “The aimlessness… I understand that such a sentiment inspires unease or frustration.” It was a feeling that once plagued him, still did, at least a little. “But having no aim does not always take away your ability to act, yes? Sometimes,” he gestured to the general area around him, “Wandering in the dark can lead you to something marvelous. I’ve met you, have I not?”

“...I was a part of something. An organization… Our leader was killed, and it fell apart.” Breathing in, she shook her head and pushed the plate aside, not all too surprised to find her appetite diminished just as quickly as it appeared. He continued, however, and leaning on her elbows, chin resting on her palms, she studied him, “Marvelous, huh? Yeah… Maybe you’re right. And I ain’t done. Not by a long shot. Just isn’t easy… facing off against the world when you don’t have your crew behind you, anymore. At any rate… you know more about wandering in the dark, than I do, and you seem to handle it like a champ. Glad we met, too, Nem.”

“You’ve seen many hardships,” Nem said, features softening in sympathy. He had a vague hunch as to which organization she was referring to, if her mutant status and the fire burning behind her soul was anything to go by. However, he decided not to take the chance of bringing it up. Not right now.

Slowly, his fingers slid across the counter, measuring out how long the scrape from Nadia’s plate lasted and it’s general trajectory, before finding the edge and pulling it over. It rested between them, before he pushed it closer to her. “Yes, marvelous. Unless you can fabricate a term of greater joy. And I admire your perseverance, my friend, but...I believe this shall be the first time that I disagree you. You have faced this problem on your own, but I can assure you that this will not last. Not for long, I hope.”

Looking down at the plate, Nadia bit at the edge of her lip, fighting a small smile as she shook her head, “...Whoever you are, Nem… you’re without a doubt the most interesting man I’ve ever run into. And hell, you know what… marvelous works just fine for me, too. But this… this problem? It’s not exactly a fun walk… Ain’t somethin’ I’d ask anyone to jump into.”

Nem smiled faintly. “I am as you are. Only human. And sometimes, being human...points us, guides us in directions we cannot predict. Whether it be a meaning to fulfill or,” he looked in her direction knowingly, “another human being to encounter. And if my being human has brought me to meeting you, then I am, as Americans say, jumping head first into this. Of course…” His fingers formed that gesture of perfect balance again, doubt pulling at his features, “If, and only if, I am allowed to, dear Nadia.”

Straightening up, Nadia smiled faintly, intrigue lining features he couldn't take in. She met blind eyes despite their lack of sight and nodded, “I ain't gonna stop you, Pretty.” Reaching for her fork again, with a small shake of her head she looked up at him again with a hooded gaze, “Something tells me, beneath all that philosophy and wisdom, you're pretty stubborn, anyhow. But hey… even if we can't change the world, I'm short on friends, and I could really use one of those right now.”

Smile widening, Nem pressed both hands into a prayer and bowed. “Wonderful. I’m certain that this friendship shall be a cherished connection. I am grateful, dear Nadia.” Then, a flicker of playfulness pulled at his features. “And yes. I was known once for my stubbornness, but only when I cannot ignore obvious signs sent my way.”

“Obvious signs, hm?” Her own lip twitching into a smile, she shook her head, “Here I thought I was good at hiding my pathetic desperation. Damn. Guess I'm not as mysterious as I thought. Either way, thanks, Nem. I'm glad you showed up tonight…”

“There is absolutely nothing pathetic about what I sense from your spirit, Nadia. Be sure to remember this, yes?” His fingers fell back to the counter, back to mapping out his surroundings. Something told him that this would not be his only visit to the diner. He smiled again. “As am I. The world itself is awaiting change, but I can at least assure you that this meeting has already changed mine for the better.”

“You know what, Nem? I don’t normally put much stock in that sort of philosophical mentality,but I gotta say… you sold me. I’ll try to remember it, best I can.” Leaning forward on her elbows, she chuckled lightly, “...Changed mine, too… Guess I can’t be too pissed off at that butt-grabbin’ perv…”

Nem gave pause, brow furrowing. “No...you should be quite the pissed off,” he said simply.

“Why? Got a friend out of it…” With a small shrug, she tapped her fingertips on the countertop, “Besides… what good’s it do to be angry at someone else’s ignorance, right? World’s got enough hate and anger in it to waste time addin’ to a full pot. Had a Great Aunt growin’ up, taught me when I was little you can either hold on to something… let it eat away at you. Or you can give it up to the wind, and find better things to pay mind.”

Nem’s brow arched in pleasant surprise. Well, not exactly surprise, but pride. In a woman that he had just met. It had been quite some time since someone had shared wisdom of their own, not even since he left his home in Tibet, and it was a refreshing change of pace. “Your aunt is a very wise woman. I’m grateful that you’re willing to pass her words down to me; I, myself, will be sure to remember that.”

The monk paused once more, his thoughts roaming over questions, only then to question those questions itself. And yet, his curiosity was peaked and he wished to know more about his new friend. “I do not suppose you have anymore sacred lessons to share from other family members?” he asked cautiously.

Laughing dryly, Nadia shook her head, “...Only thing the rest of my family taught me was how to leave or disappoint. Or how to get into trouble. And unfortunately, it took me longer than I like to admit to figure out which advice I should be following. Any wisdom I got that Aunt Della didn’t lay down for me came from mistakes I made. Ah, except I did have a cousin once who taught me the right way to eat a cupcake. That’s somethin’ right? How about you, Pretty? Your family bestow all that wisdom on you, or you pick it up on your own?”

“I see...well, I can wholly reassure you, Nadia, that each mistake has done nothing but shape the person you are today. And that person is a treasure, yes? We all stumble, but it is a mere step taken before we can sprint.” However, he couldn’t help but tilt his head like a puppy at the cupcake bit, somewhat curious. That was an American pastry, if he recalled correctly, and one that he wouldn’t mind trying one day. “There is a proper way? You must teach me this one day, dear friend.”

Of course, it was only natural for Nadia to ask him a similar question in return and he was never one for withholding information from a friend. His fingers stopped roaming, taking a moment to think. “The...thoughts I have were indeed bestowed upon me. Yes. My teachers were wonderful instructors in the essence of discipline,” he said.

“Treasure, huh?” Smiling faintly, she shook her head, “You gonna make me blush, Pretty. And I tell you what… that’s an accomplishment, cause I ain’t easily flattered.” With a chuckle, she nodded, “I’ll show you that little trick and more, long as you keep comin’ back here. I’ve got a treasure trove of them.”

Shifting as he continued, she leaned into her hands again, elbows propped up, “Discipline. Can’t say I was ever real good at that. Better now than I was, but…. That’s a hell of a thing.”

Nem’s lips almost pursed. Flattery was not the term he’d use, as giving out such a thing seemed...shallow to him. But, of course, he knew that Nadia only meant well and was likely jesting with him; thus, he overlooked it quickly and the serene expression made an instant comeback. “Then it seems that I have much to celebrate. Achievements and treasure abound, and all I must do is return? You speak as if this is a condition, rather than a gift, Nadia. I’d be honored to come back whenever I can.”

He heard her voice draw a tad closer, a sign that she was at least somewhat interested. Again, he found himself surprised, but in the best way possible. Most people he met stopped delving once he brought up discipline. “Discipline is not exactly...easy to learn, so I do not blame you. Some of the methods my teachers taught me were a bit extreme, but helpful, nonetheless.”

He sat forward as well, fingers following the motion of his story as he continued in a slightly hushed tone, “You see, Nadia, I had this one practice called Jin Shen Shu. Skill of Light Body. Everyday, my teacher would make me wear a heavy bag of sorts and walk around the rim of this...large cauldron filled with water, so to speak. Each day, they would remove more and more of the water, making it more difficult to maintain balance.” He chuckled lightly, a sense of nostalgia seeping into his features. “My classmates absolutely abhorred it, but I always found it to be strangely...calming? I suppose? I definitely excelled in that practice better than others.”

Laughing softly, Nadia shook her head, “Oh, no… See. That wouldn’t have worked for me, at all. I try to avoid water until absolutely necessary. Ironic as hell, considering my abilities… but this mess up here on my head? Mm, nope. Me and water, we are not friends. Still… sounds cool. What else they teach you? Maybe I’ll learn something for once.”

“If you are ever curious to try any of these techniques, I’ll be glad to teach you anytime. Another one is called Bao Shu Gong, Ringing Round a Tree. You basically...wrap one arm around a tree and pull with all of your strength. You must maintain this until you are exhausted and repeat every day. The first step of mastery occurs when one can shake leaves loose of the tree and it ends when you are able to uproot it,” he said, a hint of excitement in his tone. He didn’t realize how much he missed talking about home and his training until now. He then ticked off a few more on this fingers, “There is also...Striking with Foot, Diamond Finger, Iron Crotch, One Finger of Chan Meditation...many of these, yes?”

However, Nadia’s first bit about her evasion of water finally clicked and his brow pinched. “What do you mean your head is a mess? Water is...the basis of life itself. If anything could cleanse a mess, it would be water, no?”

“Uproot… Damn, Pretty. You tellin’ me you can uproot a tree with one arm? Pretty sure I can’t even do that with a backhoe. That’s discipline, alright. Impressive.” He went on, and a brow rose, particularly higher at some of the mentions, but as she opened her mouth to inquire, his inquiry expelled and chuckling dryly, Nadia shook her head.

“Water may be the basis of life, honey, but unless you wanna see me lookin’ like I stuck a fork in an electrical socket, it’s better I keep clear till I really need to. Curls, Nem. I got a mess of curls… Just… all up in here.”

“With enough effort, yes, but I have not quite mastered it yet,” Nem said with a sheepish shrug. He was somewhat ashamed to admit that he hadn’t trained as frequently as he used to before his travels, but he missed the regiment deeply. Hopefully, in due time, he could realign his schedule and fall back into routine. However, his milky eyes widened a tad at the image, not exactly loving the idea of his new friend being electrocuted… “I...I see...So you have curls.” Slowly, he held a hand up. “May I?”

“Well, you’re a step above the rest of us, anyway. I dunno anybody with that much discipline, and I lived with some pretty uptight people for a while there. You got half the attitude they had, too. Maybe I’ll have you show me a thing or two one of these days…” He held a hand up and she shifted, smiling dryly, “...Knock yourself out, Pretty. Erhm… uh… I mean, go ahead. Just don’t get lost in there.”

Nadia was right to correct herself because Nem briefly wondered if she meant that literally. Granted, he would’ve done so with some reluctance, but he was glad to hear that it was merely more American slang. He nodded, chuckling somewhat. “Do not worry. I cannot be more lost than a man wandering the dark, yes?” Gently, he reached forward, feeling nothing but air until his fingertips met the skin of her forehead. Then he moved up to her hair, taking in the texture with a feather light touch. It was...different from his own. Different from any hair he’d ever felt before. And he liked it. “Wow...this is...a new feeling, I must admit,” he said, “But not an unwelcome one. Your curls are wonderful, Nadia.”

Watching him curiously, Nadia shook her head lightly, careful not to disturb the exploration - largely because she could imagine how important it was to a man like him, and half because, hell, it wasn’t that bad, all around… “Just hell to manage. But thanks, Pretty.” Biting the edge of her lip, she continued, “...How’s it work? Seeing like that…? Through touch? I always wondered.”

Still feeling her hair, Nem hummed in response to her question. “It’s...rather difficult to explain,” he admitted, “With touch, it requires boundless patience, memory, and imagination. To register every last shift and change, to formulate the image in one’s mind...It is tough at first, but a skill I have grown to appreciate deeply.” By this point, he was finally done exploring Nadia’s hair. His lands lowered, but instead of letting them fall back to the counter, they hovered near her face. This time, some doubt pierced the comfort he had established around the woman; he had asked of this with previous individuals and some of their reactions proved to be...understandably negative. “May I...again? I am just curious. But, of course, you are more than welcome to deny this, I just…” he trailed off unsurely.

“I can’t imagine… I wouldn’t do so hot without my eyes. But I guess you figure it out, right? Same as anything you don’t have anymore.” He shifted, and she anticipated the question before he’d asked, a subtle smile forming, “I can see you. Only fair you get the same rights...Go right ahead.”

“Thank you,” Nem said, allowing a grateful smile to tug at his lips. He reached forward again, this time with an even gentler touch than before, and placed his fingertips upon her forehead again. He took in every feature carefully, smoothing down the expanse of her eyebrows, rounding out and down to her cheeks, then pausing. The shortest pause. And he was moving once again, inwards to the bridge of her nose and falling down, skimming over her lips and coming to a stop at her chin. He pulled away slowly. “There, I now have a clear image of your face.” His fingers folded over one another. “I had never known it to be possible, but it seems that one’s beauty can indeed exist inside and out.”

Nadia didn’t move a muscle as his fingertips explored her features… It was an oddly tranquil experience, serene, watching as he puzzled it out, his own features altering just slightly. When he pulled away, she smiled and sinking back a bit, she raked fingers through her hair, pushing it back a bit, “...I coulda told ya that, Nem. I’m lookin’ atcha, ain’t I?”

An amused laugh escaped Nem, one hand coming up to cup his own cheek. “I am unsure of how true that observation is, dear Nadia. The image I have of myself is rather...fuzzy, I suppose. I do not remember much.”

“Hmm… Should I describe you, then?” She asked, with a bit of a grin, “I may not paint a perfect picture, but a man ought to know how he looks. Only fair.”

This undoubtedly caught Nem’s intrigue and his posture erected ever so slightly. “I...never thought to ask another to detail my features. But I have faith in your words and honesty. Please do?”

“A’ight. Let’s give this a shot. But uh… I gotta warn you, I’m probably gonna make you sound like a snack. I got this thing about describing stuff like food.” With a thought, she pushed aside the plates of pies and hoisted herself up onto the counter, swinging her legs around the other side, so she could face him better, “So… First thing first, you got skin kinda like the caramel they drizzle on the apple pie. Maybe closer to honey. Ain’t exactly top notch lighting in this joint. Black hair, shorter on the sides, with a little wisp up top. Square jaw, broad in bridge of the nose.. Ain’t wide set, or a button nose, but something in between. Full lips, precious little bow at the top there.” Wrinkling her nose, she leaned in just slightly, “Eyes are where it’s at though, Pretty. Color’s a little washed, I’m guessing from your condition, but… damn… They ain’t one color. More like… You got all kinds, and the light just plays with it. You got blue and grey and green… deeper set, which gives you kind of a wise look, and hell if I ain’t a little jealous of those eyelashes.”

What Nem expected to hear was a brief and casual description of his face. However, instead, he received a deep analysis, one akin to someone with the eye of an artist. He blinked in the midst of her talking, blatantly caught off guard, but still absorbing her every word. There were so many things he had forgotten about himself. And so many things had changed too. He remembered his general skin complexion, but never once heard someone compare it to honey, and he confused his eye color for brown at some point in the past. Once Nadia was done, Nem found himself speechless for a moment, just allowing himself to gather his wits, before expelling a cross between a sigh and laugh in disbelief. “That was...quite impressive Nadia. And incredibly helpful. I am grateful, truly. But, I can assure that you have no need for envy, my friend. I know what I’ve felt and...despite my condition, as Americans say, I am not blind.” He...truly hoped he said that correctly.

Leaning back on her hands, Nadia shook her head, giving him a little nudge with her foot, “You know… For some kinda monk or whatever you are, you're pretty smooth.”

It happened before he even thought to do so. Instincts took over and Nem caught the foot that was about to nudge him, his grasp gentle but firm. He blinked. “Ah...my apologies.” Releasing her with a sheepish smile, he then proceeded to run his fingers down his arms, confusion bubbling up to the surface. “Smooth? I’m...not certain that I fully understand, dear Nadia,” he said.

Blinking, Nadia stared at him slightly wide eyed, “Yeesh… reflexes. You teach me that, Pretty and I'm never gonna need to worry about handsy jackasses like our friend tonight…” Setting her foot down, she laughed softly as he continued, “It's a turn of phrase. Means you're a smooth talker… what you say, makes a girl feel damn good about herself.”

“That is an interesting phrase. I suppose I can understand its origins and uses, but it is still rather odd to hear.” He shrugged calmly. “I’m glad that my honesty inspires something positive within you, my friend. I can only hope that I can do the same for anyone else I come across in my lifetime. It is...the least that I can do.”

“Least you can do, huh?” A brow lifted again at the statement, and for a moment she studied his expression with curiosity, “Not usually something someone says unless they got a reason to feel like they owe the world something. What could you possibly have done to need that kinda repayment?”

At her question, his features sombered and he shied away from her ever so slightly. “If I could, I’d gladly pay with my life for redemption. I have committed...very sinful things, Nadia.”

“You and me both, Pretty. Hell… don't suppose that's a good enough offer for some folks. But listen… past is past. Who you are now? That's where it's at. Don't let history take up too much room in your heart… Gets real easy to forget how to move forward.”

“I hope nothing more than for you to move forward and accept your past as such, but…” Nem heaved a tired sigh before crossing his legs, balancing on the stool. “I am not allowed to move forward, dear Nadia. This is my gift and curse. A punishment that I have received with humility and open arms.” Regardless, he shot her a soft smile. “But I always appreciate the genuine sentiment behind your words, yes?”

Punishment. It was an odd way to put it. She knew from a personal experiences that there were consequences for the actions one chose, but she’d never quite heard someone talk about it as though it were something dished out, like a prison sentence…

“Still workin’ on the forward part… but I’ll get there eventually. How long a sentence you give yourself there, Nem?”

Nem’s answer came naturally and without a hint of hesitation. “For as long as I breathe, of course.”

“It’s admirable…” She stated softly, “I mean, I feel for you… that you gotta live the rest of your life with that weight on your shoulders, but hell… not a lot of people in the world would hold themselves to that kinda standard. You’re alright, Nem. You really are…”

He wasn’t alright, but he hoped he would be someday. Nem’s hands rested against either thigh, faded gaze straying up in thought. “You are as well, Nadia. It’s an honor to be in the presence of your strength.”

“Hell, Pretty… I’m the one who’s honored…” She returned, with a soft smile, before she pulled the plate of apple pie closer to her… “To new friends, yeah?”

New friends. It was wonderful to hear, especially so to have it confirmed from Nadia. He formed the prayer once more, fingertips resting against the center of his forehead as he bowed again. “To new friends,” he said.
 
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#6
From the Pan, Into the Fire
Interaction: Aster Elle Joyner Elle Joyner

   


A small kid stood at the doorway. He couldn’t have been older than 15, with 13 or 14 being most likely. His face was dirty, smudged with what was presumably grime and a little bit of paint. Baggy clothes hung off his form, like they were made for someone much larger than he was and the way they hung suggested it wasn’t even intentional.


He’d wandered into the building at Alastor Grey’s request. He give him a simple task. Find Aster, and bring her to him. He’d be rewarded quite nicely. The kid was already dreaming, of what could possibly be waiting in store for him after he brought the woman inside back. But first, he had to bring her there.


“Hello?” he called out, rapping his knuckles on Aster’s door.


Aster answered quickly, pulling the door opened with a half-absent minded approach. She was in the process, it seemed, of reading something, and glancing up at the sight of the kid on the other side, a brow rose, “You ain’t Regina Pinch… What’s up, kid?”


“Alastor Grey wants to see you,” the kid said point blank with a winning smile. He had no clue what kind of news he was really giving Aster, how terrifying it was. He was largely oblivious to the horrors of Grey, though maybe in a few years, he’d stop looking up to the man and see him for the horror that he was. In the meantime, here he was.


Those words weren’t words that Aster had ever wanted to hear. Not in a million years. Paling slightly, she stepped back and for a second or two, she considered closing the door on the poor kid’s face, but no doubt he’d have hell to pay if he didn’t show up with her…


“...Peachy.” She muttered, reaching behind the door to grab a familiar jean jacket, slipping it on over her shoulders, “Lead the way, half pint.”


The kid gave her a wide smile before turning on heel and leading the way back out. He checked behind him periodically, making sure she was still there, as he made the trek back to the gang’s rendezvous point. The building was as dreary in the sun as it was in the dark, cold concrete and graffiti the main attributes of the outside.


The kid reached the door and opened it, waiting for Aster to follow his lead.


She had never, in her life, wanted so badly to turn and run. There was nothing ideal about any of this, and if she had half an ounce of common sense, that’s exactly what she would’ve done. Instead, with a breath she started across the threshold, still following the little tater tot to what was undoubtedly, certain doom.


He slipped inside, making his way through the halls with ease. He passed a few other gang members but did little in the way of greeting them. He had a mission to do. Surely they could understand that, couldn’t they? He was trusted with very important business, and he wasn’t going to fail Alastor.


He slipped into another room, and there he stood. There was another figure with him, carrying on conversation in a low voice. However, as soon as he saw the child enter the room, he waved off the other man, promising to speak with him later. He turned, revealing his face to Aster. He was older, long grey hair and well-kept beard only one sign of his age. Anyone who assumed that because of his age, he was weak, however, was always in for a nasty surprise.


Alastor Grey, with his pallid blue-green eyes, seemed to stare into the soul of anyone who came near. In this moment, that was Aster. He gave her a smile, but it lacked warmth, and there was no crinkle at the corner of his eyes that showed true mirth. When there was happiness there, it was best to get far away from him.


“Aster, what a pleasure. Please, come in,” he greeted, waving her towards the metal table and chairs before him. His gaze skimmed over all of her, clinical and cold. It flicked over her once before returning to the jean jacket that was on her frame. His gaze lingered there, eyes narrowing slightly. He definitely recognized it, definitely knew the source. He had a feeling, that if he searched the pockets, he’d find a large number of mints and a few old receipts that his beloved protege was just absent-minded enough to keep forgetting to throw away. He said nothing of this, though, merely continuing to smile.


He waved over the boy, leaning over to whisper something into his ear. After a moment, the boy’s face lit up and Alastor waved him off. The boy followed suit, dashing out of the room with glee.


Stepping forward, Aster swallowed, hands knotted in front of her with what she hoped didn’t appear to be a complete and utter nervous breakdown. There was one reason and one reason alone that Alastor Grey would be interested in the company of a gangster’s mule… and it had nothing to do with her impeccable delivery services…


“Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Grey. What can I do ya for?” She asked, trying her hardest to keep her voice as even as humanly possible, and failing miserably.


Alastor intended to wait until Aster was sitting down before he even considered scooting out his chair. It was a friendly reminder, of who held the power here. Just in case there were any...mishaps.


“What can you do for me? My, getting right down to business, are we?” he asked, head tilted slightly. “While I can certainly appreciate that, since small talk is...distracting, I’d actually like to talk just a moment. It’s come to my attention that we don’t know each other very well. So, Miss Aster, what you can do for me is tell me a bit about yourself.” His smile didn’t waver at all as he spoke, but there was something a touch unsettling in it. Maybe it was the generally predatory way he moved, or the way he kept flicking his gaze back to that jacket.

In either case, he seemed to be doing his best at being hospitable, but still sent up all the warning signs that screamed ”Get out!”


Arms pulling across her chest, wrapping around her, Aster frowned softly. Hell. Hell, hell, hell. He knew. If there was anyone in the world Aster had never intended to reveal herself to, it was the man standing across from her, and she wasn’t stupid enough to think he’d brought her by for a friendly chat.


Slowly, she moved to a chair and sank into it, knees bouncing with nerves she tried and failed to conceal, “...Kind of a broad subject there. What… what exactly do you wanna know?”


Alastor stayed standing a few moments longer, letting her settle into the chair. “I’m just...well, I’m in the dark about you, Aster. That, I will admit, is my own fault. I haven’t been paying close enough attention, haven’t been taking care of my own the way I need to. I intend on amending that particular mistake right now, though.” That cold smile stayed precisely where it was, though he seemed to realize it for a split second, and suddenly, it reached his eyes.


“There’s a lot of questions I’d like to ask, Aster, but first, let me ask this one. What is the thing you want most in the world? Your biggest dream? What do you want more than anything?” he asked, and then slowly and carefully slid into his chair. The expression on his face was far more genuine now. It was concerned and intrigued and borderline truly affectionate. It was soft at the corners. If it weren’t for the cold smile before, it would look as if it belonged there. It would have been as if that were the only version of Alastor there was.


He was a mercurial little bastard, that was for damn sure. She watched everything with cautious eyes, noting the way the smile twisted, changed, filtered in light, the way he sank into the seat and his entire demeanor shifted… warmed. And yet despite knowing there wasn’t an ounce of honesty to the man, that his integrity was about as legit as a Ming vase sold in a dollar store, there was something in the way his eyes bore into her that made her terrified not to answer with absolute transparency.


“...A home.” she murmured softly, and her gaze dropped for a moment as the words spilled out, “Somewhere I belong. Somewhere… where people take care of each other, and not for some convoluted motive or cause they want something. Somewhere safe.”


Alastor seemed to consider this, lips pursed and leaning back just a touch. His face turned a touch somber. “Something not easily made, nor easily bought. A wise choice,” he stated, clearly a little impressed with her choice, “but hard to live with, isn’t it? Hard to find specifically because it’s not easily made.” He looked down, hands splayed out on the tabletop, as if he were a touch sheepish. “I’m sorry, that this has not been that for you. Truly.”


“I’d like to offer you the chance for it, though. For something more, for something that isn’t full of strings. Something with purpose,”
he said softly, raising his face back to look at her, hands now palms up, as if to bare himself to her. “But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? I’m not here for some sales pitch today. I want to know you, Aster. You deserve that much. You deserve to have the faces you’re working with be real people that know you and care for you. It sounds strange, I know, to hear that from me. I can only imagine exactly how it sounds, given my reputation. There is value in safety and trust, though.”


“So, I’d like to ask if I may, what brought you here to begin with?” Alastor asked, head tilted. While still curious, his face was much softer now, having settled into something for more caring and concerned than he showed most people.


“Here? Hell…” Rubbing her forehead, she shrugged, “Desperation? I dunno. I just… no one else wanted me, so I took what I could get.” The words fell out of her like ball bearings, and it was all she could do not to bite off her tongue. He was good. He was too good. Despite knowing the man lived and breathed lies and trouble, she wanted to believe him...


“It gave me more security than out there on the… on the street. Got a roof over my head… Something's always better than nothing, even if it's crap.”



Sympathy settled into his face. “A woman of your capability and potential...and no one wanted you?” His tone had a touch of disbelief, and if it seemed a bit more genuine, it was because it was genuine. He could never fully understand the hatred of those with such incredible abilities. He was in awe of them, absolutely fascinated by them. He was of the belief that power, true power, should never be shunned, but nurtured and raised instead. That it should be disciplined.


Then again, it was this hatred and fear of the unknown and powerful that pushed her within his reach. It also gave him something to work with.


“It’s true, something is better than nothing, but...you do know you deserve better, don’t you? That you deserve more than living in a hovel because it’s a roof over your head,” Alastor stated.


“You askin’ me to move in with you, Mr. Grey? Cause no offense, but I think you might be a little too old for me.”
It was a risk, the words, she knew it before she spoke them… This was his world, but Aster was who she was and changing that seemed out of her nature.


There was a flicker of surprise on Alastor’s face before he cracked a smile, chuckling under his breath. “No offense taken, because I know I’m definitely too old for you,” he shot back. He did always enjoy working with people that had a sense of humor. It brightened things up a bit after living in a world paid for in blood.


“Nothing like that,” he assured, shaking his head. “Though, if at the end of this conversation you find you’re considering what I have to say, I’d be happy to offer you a different roof than my own.”


His smile dimmed just a little as he cleared his throat. “I’ve heard a few rumors lately. Some of them with little real value, some of them gossip, and them some of them...involving a few missing pieces on the body of one of Lucky Leon’s enforcers. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about that, too.” He looked her in the eye, his smile small but still present.


Swallowing hard, Aster visibly flinched. There it was. She'd known it was coming, yet somehow, it still caught her off guard. Damn her inability to adapt. To… to go with the flow. If she'd just given the guy what he wanted, what they always wanted, she wouldn't be in this mess…


“Sounds to me like maybe you already know something about it.” Looking up, she tried and failed to meet the man's eye, “The bastard couldn't just keep his hands to himself…”


“I know a few things, but you know how rumors are. I’d rather get the truth directly from the source,” Alastor admitted. As she struggled to meet his eyes, the sympathy returned to his face. “If you think I’m going to punish you for making a few pieces that enforcer thought was very important rot off, you’re mistaken. I know how these things are, what some people think they’re entitled to. I’m also in the business of making those very same people wish every bone in their hand wasn’t shattered after they do things they shouldn’t.”


“I wasn’t lying when I said you were capable and had potential, Miss Aster. I see it plain as day. It’s why I’m absolutely floored that this is where you’ve ended up,” he added, sliding his fingertips over the surface of the cold metal table. “I’d just like to know a bit more about the exact nature of your ability.”


“Hard to rise to any potential, when the world keeps kicking you in the teeth.”
Even now… This, here, it didn't feel like upward momentum and she knew it. This was potential for disaster… for ruin.


Yet what could she do?


“I can speak to cells. Like… like you and l are talkin’ now. In my head, I can ask them things… things about a person. About them physically. I… if I concentrate hard enough, if I really push it, I can ask the cell to shut down… sometimes, I can kill it.”


“That’s true,” Alastor agreed, “Wouldn’t you like to get more than just your head above water, though? To get in a place where, when the world tries to give it another go at you, you’re able to tackle it head on?”


He took a moment, to sit back in his chair as she started to describe it. Fascination was written in his eyes as she described it. So, it was a bit more than something as simple as decay. It was more complex than that, and the decay...was just a potential outcome. Incredible.


“And you can ask them anything? Are there limits?”



“I haven't tested it a whole lot. Not exactly something people volunteer themselves for…”
Running her fingers through her hair, she shrugged, “Haven't come across too many opportunities to use it at all…”


“I see,” Alastor nodded, looking undeterred as he considered this. “And if you were given the chance to test it, to find your limits and boundaries, would you be willing to take it?”


“Depends.” Her eyes rose, and this time, she did meet his gaze. Fear was a strong emotion, but Aster had been afraid a lot in her life and she'd survived it, “Are you gonna stop BSing me and tell me what you want from me?”


Something flickered over Alastor’s face and he smiled again. “What I want is the chance to give you what you want most in the world. In exchange, you leave behind being a regular drug mule and work for me, in a very specific group of people like you. And, in case you’re wondering, there is nothing I have said today since you have walked into this room that was bullshit. I have meant every word I said to you.”


“But you don’t believe me, do you?” he asked, sitting back. “Because I have a reputation. Because I wear masks in this business, and twist words how I like. Because people are scared of me. I think someone in your position knows very well exactly what people do to you when they’re scared. They twist your image, twist your words, tell rumors and give just enough half-formed, out of context, so-called evidence to prove them. They make you a monster, because that’s easier to deal with than just a man.”


“You said what you wanted most was a home, people that genuinely care for you,” Alastor said looking back down at the table as he slid his fingertips over the metal once again. He took a breath. “Once upon a time, I would have scoffed at you. I had chances for those things, took what I had for granted, and brushed it off. But now? Now, you and I want the same things. What I want from you is to give that a chance. Just consider it.” He looked back up at her now, eyes searching her face.


“...And in exchange, I give you what…?” Still looking at him, her expression shifted to cautious curiosity, “You do have a rep, Mr. Grey… And it's well earned, I think. I won't sit here and lie and say I'm not tempted as hell. But I know the sort of things I can do… And I can't think of any reason a man like you would want someone like me unless… unless you want me to hurt people for you.”


For a moment, Grey was almost pleased with himself. He’d tempted her, gotten her to the fence. Anyone on the fence could be reasoned with and swayed. The problem was that there was always a ‘but’. Always something holding them back. And what was holding her back? Yeah, that would be a problem to get around. How could he spin this? He could he show her it was worth it?


“You aren’t wrong. When I first found out about your abilities, it’s true that was why I wanted you on my side. I can’t lie there. I am, after all, in the business of consequences and pain,” Alastor conceded with a nod. “But you said there’s more to your powers than just the decay. You speak to cells through your ability and learn from them. You can gather information. That is immensely valuable, even without the ability to harm that comes with it. It’s possible, yes, that I would ask you to hurt people.”


Being truthful in deals like this was important, Alastor found. People believed you when you spoke the truth and were honest in what could be asked of them. He wouldn’t totally mislead her; it’s true that was an option on the table. But perhaps...he could give her a reason that it’s not as terrible an idea as it seems.


“You mentioned the world kicking you in the teeth. Who do you think made it that way? It wasn’t always this way. The world doesn’t naturally come for the throat of everyone like you,” Alastor began. “The scanners, the laws, the drones, RIEF, and the way it all seems to keep kicking you when you’re down? That’s man-made. Implemented by men in offices with a view and cushy chairs that make a mockery of what real power is, which is what you have. Everything I ask of you would be a stepping stone to making a safe haven, a world beyond those laws that want to deny you everything you want. And I can give you everything you want, with your help. A good roof over your head, food in your belly, a way to circumvent every obstacle that the law puts in your way. I’d give you people you can count on, people you can trust, that are working to a similar goal as you. All for the price of working for me.”


He wasn't denying it. Somehow, she'd almost expected him to. It threw her. His honesty. She knew what it felt like, falling into a trap and yet she couldn't find a way to keep her feet free…


A thought occurred to her in that moment. She wasn't even sure why, but it struck with such clarity… Such distinctiveness, “...One condition.”


Alastor let his shoulders relax just a touch. Nearly sold...Just a few details left. He tilted his head curiously, brow quirked. “And what is that?” he asked, a soft smile on his face.


“Dorien.” Looking up at him, her jaw tightened, determined… inflexible, “I want you to promise you'll leave his sister the hell alone. I'm not dumb enough to think you'll cut ties on him completely, but she is not your leverage anymore. You want me, that's what I cost.”


For a moment, Alastor nearly thought she would ask him to cut Dorien loose, and a refusal was on the tip of his tongue before Aster surprised him. His gaze flicked back down to that jean jacket on her frame, the one he knew all too well. Interesting...he didn’t get surprised often, but he could definitely work with this. There were other ways to remind Dorien exactly what was at stake...


“You, for the price of Jamie Willis,” Alastor mused, taking just a few more moments to consider and reconfigure a few pieces of the puzzle. Then he nodded, slowly and almost imperceptibly, but he nodded. “ I promise that I will not harm Jamie, Dorien’s sister, for the sake of leverage against him. If I betray this by laying a hand, weapon, or ordering that any hand or weapon be used against her, I understand this deal is forfeit.” He raised his hand, as if he were swearing an oath. Then, he reached the same hand over to offer a handshake to Aster. “I’m impressed. You drive a hard bargain, Miss Aster.”


“Yeah, well… I grew up in an orphanage. You learn to negotiate pretty young.”
She eyed his hand and her heart beat faster. If she shook it, it was as good as binding. He'd hold it against her like a contract…


Breathing in, Aster learned forward, grasping the man's hand and giving it a shake, “Deal.”


With the devil.
 

CloudyBlueDay

obvious cryptic
Roleplay Invitations
Group Roleplays, One on One Roleplays, Chat Roleplays, Not Taking RP Invites at this Time, Private Convo Roleplays
Posting Speed
A Few Posts a Week, One Post a Week
My Usual Online Time
I check as often as I can.
Writing Levels
Intermediate, Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female, No Preferences
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Both.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy, Realistic/Modern, Magic, Scifi, Romance
Genre You DON'T Like
I am generally not a huge fan of RPing Fandom, but it can depend.
#7
Anticlimactic
with Elle Joyner Elle Joyner and WingWong WingWong
tw || slight gore/injuries

Well, this was certainly one way to go.

He’d done something good! Used his powers to push someone out of the way of an oncoming car. And what did he get for it? Beaten to a bloody pulp in an alleyway, left for dead. Finn had experienced a lot of pain. He’d brushed death too many times to count. But to die like this… not in some heroic fight, not on some badass mission, not like he’d always dreamed, it was a little depressing. A lot depressing.

Ribs were definitely broken. Arm was floppy in a way it shouldn’t be. Face was swollen, blue, aching. It hurt to breathe. Yeah, he probably deserved this. For leaving them. For being too scared to go back. When they found out, would they be sad? Would they ever even find out? Maybe he wasn’t gonna die at all. Just lay here, lay here and bask in the hurt, until he had to get up and start all over again.

Finn was tired.

It had been three hours since they’d found him passed out in the alley… Gretchen had been the one to call it in, having seen the incident unfold. She hadn’t been able to get to him fast enough to stop the attackers, but she’d done he damndest to get the kid down to the Underground before he succumbed to his injuries. He’d been patched up well enough, but their resident healer was out on a call, and so it fell upon Logan to sit by the bedside, and keep watch to make sure he woke in as much comfort as possible till the man returned.

Finn. How long had it been since he’d seen him? Since he’d seen any of the old gang. Apart from Nick, there was no one in the Underground he could call a familiar face, and a part of Logan Graham preferred it that way. The memories still clung, even now, even after he’d let it all go… let it wash away, and looking at Finn he couldn’t help but wonder what everyone else was up to… If they were in as bad a shape. If they were even alive…

He woke with a labored inhale, the ache of his wounds settling in rather quickly. It was almost hard to open his eyes given the swelling, but the plushness of the surface he lay atop of felt very out of place, and with a grunt, Finn forced himself to look around despite the pounding headache. A hospital? Infirmary? “...Logan?” He croaked, squinting at the familiar face, unsure if his mind was playing tricks on him. With a sudden jolt, Finn sat upright, cringing instantly at the sudden movement. “Is this Rogue?” He yelped.

Sitting up a little, Logan’s brow rose as Finn shifted, and frowning slightly, he gave a small shake of his head, “...Nah, Finn. Not Rogue. How you feelin’? We got you patched up, but you took a hell of a beating. Won’t be long before our healer gets back… For now, just try not to move around, too much.”

With a wince Finn sunk back down, cringing at every movement. “Don’t need to remind me.” He wheezed, every part of him screaming in protest at his movements, eyes squeezing shut. “Not Rogue… than what is this place?”

“It’s called Lusus Naturae… The Underground. Sort of a Rogue away from Rogue. I came into it a few years ago… Wound up in not too different a situation from you, you know? Face down in the gutter with a bullet in my side. Got brought here, and well… it stuck. Didn’t expect to find you out there on your own, though…”

Biting the inside of his cheek, Finn looked at Logan again. Same, but different. A little older, maybe, hopefully a little wiser. “It’s a recent development.” Finn muttered. “Glad to see you’re alright. You.. haven’t been in contact, then? With the rest?”

“...Nah. Kinda figured it was… it was better I stayed away. I dunno… Didn’t exactly leave on good terms.” Giving a shrug, he leaned back in his chair, “I’ve made my peace with it, but for a while there, it hurt. Course… I had a pretty good reason to go. You’re probably the last one I’d figure would cut ties...” It wasn’t an accusation, so much as just a statement of surprise, but it wasn’t subtle in the least.

Anger flashed across Finn’s face, mingling with the pain. “Again. Thanks for the reminder.” He hissed. “Yeah. You did have a pretty good reason to go. Heard Fran punched a wall. Broke her hand and everything.” It was a little bit cruel to slap that onto Logan, but he felt it was deserved. Finn didn’t want to hear comments about him being the last person expected to leave when Logan wasn’t so different at all.

“She had every right to be angry. I made a stupid decision based on my feelings, instead of relying on logic and trust.” He eyed Finn, and for a moment, the corner of his lip twitched up faintly, “Emotional choices rarely do you any good in the end, but hey… maybe that’s just me. Anyway, I can’t be mad at myself anymore, however Fran feels. I spent the last year or so down here, doin’ good for people, and I… well, I found a family. It’s not much, but it’s home.”

Taking slow and concentrated breaths to try and upset his broken bones and bruised pride as little as possible, Finn grumbled. “Well. Glad I managed to stumble upon a success story.” He spat bitterly. “If you’re wondering, I don’t know anything about where she is. Where any of them are. Don’t ask.”

“Didn't plan to… I'm not looking for a reunion.” Sitting up, Logan crossed his arms over his chest with a shrug, “I did hear about Keegan. And I'm sorry. I thought by leaving I could buy him some time… It's crap, the way he went down. The way it all went down.” Shaking his head, he pinched the bridge of his nose, “Anyway… you did a decent thing today, Finn. Saving that man. Sorry you ended up here.”

Finn flinched at the mention of Keegan, guilt swirling and bubbling up in his chest. This trip down memory lane wasn’t doing him any services, and Finn tried to push himself up again, only to fall back on the bed weakly. “It’s just my luck.” He said softly. “When’s your healer get here?”

“He's on his way. Probably an hour… maybe less.” Folding his hands behind his head, Logan shrugged, “Got a half decent system down here… but we're still building. The people here… most of them can't survive up there. Either got some kinda factor that gives them away, or hell, they're just too well known. But the guy who runs it? He's pretty cool. Keeps it so no one knows we even exist.”

“That sounds really great, Logan. Fantastic.” Finn muttered, sarcasm rolling off of him waves. “But I’m not looking for anywhere to stay. I just need.. just gotta get healed, and I’ll be out of your hair. That’s all. Sorry you had to deal with me.” His jaw was tight, which hurt like hell considered it was bruised like nobody’s business, so Finn was forced to slacken his features and lay still, helpless.

“Damn.” Shaking his head, Logan straightened, planting his feet, “Doin’ you a world of good? All that pissy bitterness? Keeping you on your feet? Do what you need to, to survive. But that ain't the way to stay alive. Don't recall sayin’ you bein’ here was a burden on anyone, but it'd maybe be decent if you'd stop verbally stabbing me for everything I say…”

“Not my fault you’re so damn…” Finn bit back his rude response, letting out a huff. “Doesn’t matter. Don’t you have your own people who need healing? Or helping? I’m not worth the time.” It had come out a little too quickly for Finn to stop it, teeth gnashing. Once more he tried to sit up, this time letting out a shocked gasp at the attack of pain. Never mind.

“So damn what? I've heard it all, Finn. Not gonna shock me.” Chuckling, Logan shrugged, “And you are our people. All mutant kind is. That's our purpose down here. To protect and care for those of us who fall on hard time. Been awhile since I see someone fell hard as you.” Shifting, Logan reached to a bed a little ways away and grabbed a pillow from it, “Here. Put this behind you. You got a cracked rib and the pressure will help.”

“I haven’t.. f-fallen…” Finn protested through clenched teeth, gasping for air. Weakly, he adjusted himself atop the pillow, wincing at first but quickly relaxing, the new position offering him some release. “I w-was gonna say.. obnoxious. But I’m just… a-angry.” Ow. Ow ow ow. Was it his ribs, his face, or his hurting ego? He had beaten himself up so many times over so many things all the hurt had sort of blended together.

“Heh… Obnoxious. That's actually my girl's favorite…” Shaking his head, he raked his fingers through his hair, “Anger isn't all bad, Finn. Sometimes, it can be clarifying. But the thing about it is, you gotta be able to figure out what you're so mad at, to make any sense of it all. Sounds to me like you got some soul searchin’ to do…”

Face flushed red beneath the blue and purple, Finn let out a long sigh, trying to calm himself, allow himself to lay still. When he didn’t move as much, the pain dulled to a quiet throb. “I know what I’m mad at. What if I can’t get rid of it?”

“Get rid of it? Nah, Finn. It's not that easy… Gotta find a way to see through it… to what you really want. The answers there. I'm sure of it. But you ain't gonna find it today… and you're supposed to be resting, anyhow.”

“...Right.” He mumbled, a little hopelessly. Settling into the bed, Finn allowed his eyes to fall closed. “There’s… no one from Rogue here, right? No one other than you?”

“Nick's here, too. He ended up here a few months after his mom…” Logan answered, with a small shrug, “Think he's around, somewhere, today.”

Though Finn tensed, there was a certain fondness that crept into his expression at the sound of the man’s name. “Does he… does he know I’m here?” Finn murmured cautiously. If Nick knew, he’d tell… it couldn’t happen. He had to get out of here, but he couldn’t move a damn inch.

“Not yet. I didn’t tell him.” Smiling faintly, he sat back, “But he’s bound to find out soon, enough. It’s not exactly Hong Kong down here. Word travels pretty fast. “You don’t need to worry, though, Finn. Nobody’s workin’ against you...not hereabouts, anyway.”

“He can’t know. They can’t know…” His fists balled at his sides, breathing becoming somewhat panicky. “...I need to go.”

“...What are you so afraid of? Nick isn’t gonna sell you out, Finn. Hell knows why you left, and hell knows why you’d wanna stay hidden, but he ain’t gonna tell anybody you’re here. We can’t force you to stay, but in your condition? I’m pretty sure you won’t get to the door before you pass out again… and honestly? The nurse who asked me to watch you? She’d kick me in the teeth if I let that happen.”

Finn shivered, eyes squeezing shut. He wasn’t afraid of Nick. He was afraid of himself… of crumbling the moment he saw him, of crying like a little baby about wanting to go back home… He couldn’t face his family ever again. Not after what he’d done to them. Not after all the promises he’d broken… he couldn’t. He was alone now, and it had to stay that way. “Sounds like a cruel nurse.” He whispered.

“Who? Moira? Nah… She’s a gem. She just cares about her patients. But she’ll make me a patient if I let you get hurt when I told her I’d watch you until she got back with Jim.” Chuckling, Logan shrugged, “Her bedside manner is better than mine, anyway.”

Finn sighed lightly, the tiniest of smiles on his lips. “I would hope so, man. You kinda suck at this.”

“Woah, hey now…” Grinning faintly, Logan shook her head, “I like to think I’m doing exceptionally well, considering my experience…”

“And what an experience that is,” said a voice at the door. Nick leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed, as he smiled fondly at the two men in the room. “And yeah, Logan, maybe don’t quit your dayjob for nursing,” he added teasingly.

At the new voice Finn flinched, staring up at the familiar figure. “...Nick,” Finn said softly, his expression flickering between happiness and remorse as he took in his presence. He probably looked pathetic like this, wrapped up and bruised, and he couldn’t help but wonder what Nick even thought of him at this point, the coward that left his family.

“Oi! You stay outta this, Nick. I’ve got fantastic bedside manner… Ask your mom.” He added the last part with a smirk and a wink, before turning back to Finn.

Nick send Finn an easy smile. “Hey, Finn,” he greeted, before he flipped Logan off with an eyeroll. “Where are the bruises, Logan?” he asked. “Because the only bedside manner my mom would show you is her handing your ass back to you so badly you end up on one of these beds.”

Finn’s brows furrowed, watching the two men banter with a confused look on his face. He tried to sit up a little straighter but ceased his movement quite quickly. “Your mom sounds a little mean there, Nick..” It was a very weak willed attempt at a joke, one that was barey accompanied by any full tone. “But maybe that explains where you get your sense of humor from.”

Laughing both at Nick, and Finn’s addition, Logan nodded, “Helona? She’s a beast. Never seen anyone take down Munroe as fast as she did during Initiations. Flipped him on his back like a champ…”

“She’s perfectly harmless,” Nick commented, though it was so fiercely at odds with what Logan had just said. “Mostly harmless. Kind of.” He laughed a little nervously, shaking his head. “She’s definitely where I get some of my humor, but now I’m just a little hurt, Finn,” he said, a tiny pout on his face as he placed a hand over his heart. He shook his head. “Logan, you have no idea how much money I would pay for the chance to see her flip him like that. I can’t believe I missed it, honestly,” he chuckled.

“Only a little hurt?” Finn echoed, still plagued by a look of utter confusion. Why wasn’t Nick yelling at him, or asking him for an explanation or.. something other than just joking around, like nothing had changed? “...Who’s Munroe?”

“My boss. He runs this joint.” Logan answered, rising to his feet and gesturing Nick to the chair if he wanted it, “Well, runs it when Nick’s mom isn’t here… cause we all know Helona wears the pants…”

“Of course. I never intended for my humor to be mean,” Nick replied, a sliver of a smile breaking through his pout. “Besides, it’s not very good to be mean to your conscience.” With that, he grinned at Finn, for the sake of old jokes they’d had before it had all changed. He waved off Logan’s offer, shaking his head, though he did walk further into the room. He didn’t want the chair at the moment. He threw his head back with a laugh. “She wears them very well, too. I’m waiting for the day they stop making moon eyes at each other though, honestly,” he added. “Don’t give her ideas about running the place.”

Finn’s weak smile flickered, the comment hitting him in a very sore place in his heart. Despite his better judgement, as Nick moved further into the room, Finn pushed himself upright and slowly swung his legs off the bed, wobbling to his feet as he grabbed Nick by the collar to pull him into a hug. It hurt like fire, but he didn’t even care.

“Ha! So I’m not the only one who sees the moon eyes? Hell, should just get hitched and run it together, already.” As Finn rose, Logan shifted, ready to catch him if he faltered, but he was already tugging Nick into a hug and with a smirk, Logan shrugged, “I just got an angsty glare and ‘where am I’... I see how it goes.”

Nick noticed the flicker and he was about to ask if Finn was okay when the other man stood. He moved to catch him, to guide him back to the bed, only to be tugged into a hug. He froze in surprise for a moment before carefully returning it. He wrapped his arms around Finn, careful not to squeeze too tightly for the bruises he was sure Finn had. “Hey, brother,” he greeted softly. “I’ve got you.” And honestly, how could anyone say they could face down a real life Flash and try to recruit him together without becoming a bit like brothers?

“Oh, you’re definitely not the only one who noticed the moon eyes. You can cut the tension with a knife,” Nick chuckled, shaking his head as he stayed exactly where he was, holding Finn. “And that,” he added, looking over at Logan with a large grin, “is because he knows he can’t out-edge me.”

Brother. Finn trembled against Nick, slumping almost helplessly against him, too weak to hold himself fully upright. There was still a soft smile on his face throughout the grimaces of pain, the jokes that Logan and Nick shared leaving him with the tiniest huffs of laughter. He had no strength to reply or joke back, a little too busy clinging onto Nick and consciousness itself. “You’re the least edgy person alive, shower ghost.” Finn whispered.

“Yeah… a real edgelord, Hug Dealer…” Logan said, with an eye roll. Grinning, he shook his head, “I’ll give you two a minute to catch up. Gonna see where the healer’s at, now…”

Nick gently rubbed Finn’s back as the other man slumped into him further. He stayed there for a little while before snorting at Finn’s words, then quickly whirling his head around to face Logan as well. “Now you two are double-teaming me, telling me I’m not edgy. I’m so edgy, guys. I worked so hard, and I got so far,” he huffed, trying not to smile, “but in the end, it doesn’t even matter, because now I’ve got two of you telling me this.” He stuck his tongue out at Logan, nodding as he moved to find where the healer was.

“Alright, Finn, buddy, we should probably get you back into bed, or Moira’s going to kick Logan’s ass and then mine,” Nick warned softly.

Finn giggled at the reference of the song, although it was more a raspy wheeze. He wouldn’t protest at being lead back to the bed, but he feared that if he let go of Nick, he’d topple right over. Gripping onto the fabric of the man’s shirt tightly, Finn nodded. “I’d be real sad to hear both your asses got kicked.” He mumbled tiredly. “I.. n-need… some help with that, though.”

Nick smiled at hearing the wheezy laugh. “Oh, me too. I like my ass unkicked, thank you,” he joked lightly. “That’s alright. I’ll guide you back over,” he assured, carefully changing where he held Finn in their hug so that he could help support the other man’s weight as they walked back to the bed. “Just hold onto me, alright?”

Wrapping an arm around his own aching middle, Finn had the other around Nick, carefully taking each step back to the bed. Just hold on. He hadn’t been able to let go, frankly, and he wasn’t sure he was ever going to be able too. With a grunt Finn sunk back down onto the bed, leaning back, grateful for the relief of being off his feet even if every breath was labored. “...I’m not staying, Nick.” He murmured.

Nick carefully guided him back until Finn was able to sink back onto the bed. He sighed, more resigned than anything else. “I figured, honestly,” he said after a moment. “Nothing I can do or say to change your mind?”

Inhaling, regretting that inhale, a hand falling over his chest as his eyes fluttered shut, Finn shook his head wordlessly.

“Okay,” Nick said after a moment. He slid into the chair Logan had vacated earlier, taking a breath. “Can I at least say something? Two things, really, though one is more asking something of you.”

Swallowing through a dry throat, Finn nodded weakly, prepared for either some very kind wishes that would make him feel even guiltier, or for Nick to bite his head off. It didn’t really matter at this point, because he somehow knew how to feel bad about everything anyway.

“For the first thing… If you don’t want to stick around, I can’t make you. If you never want to get involved with Rogue or anything even remotely like Rogue again, I can’t blame you. Just...if you change your mind about the underground, please know you’ll always have a place here. I’ll vouch for you,” Nick said, after a taking a breath. “And if you ever think you could see yourself with Rogue again, I know it’ll take some time for some of them to come around again. The thing is, though, you were a Rogue for far longer than I was, and that counts for something. You’re family, even if you’ve upset some of the others. I’ll vouch for you there, too.”

Finn couldn’t find the courage to look at Nick as he spoke, chin turned in the other direction, trying hard not to let any emotion fall through the cracks. “..Thanks, Nick.” He finally murmured. Endlessly kind. Endlessly caring. He didn’t deserve an ounce of it… not after the way he’d left them all in the dust. How could Nick still be so intent on helping him?

“I’m sorry that I’m not braver.” He mumbled solemnly. Not brave enough to own up to his mistakes, not brave enough to go back, not brave enough to look Nick in the eye.

“No problem,” Nick answered with a warm smile. He tilted his head. “Braver? You’ve struck it out on your own for how many years now again?” he asked with a raised eyebrow. “I think you’re plenty brave, Finn. You’ve got nothing to apologize for there. It’s okay to try to distance yourself sometimes, to figure things out.” He’d rested a hand on top of Finn’s wrist reassuringly before pulling it away. “As for the second thing… could you maybe stay in touch with me? Doesn’t have to be anything serious or even regular. Just an update now and then. A way to chat and keep tabs on each other, because Finn, my heart can only take so much worrying,” he joked lightly.

“Hey… so…” In the doorway, Logan cleared his throat as he returned, looking slightly sheepish. Rubbing the back of his neck, he shrugged, “Healer’s back. Didn’t wanna interrupt, but I figured I’d let you know… I can ask him to wait..?”

“No,” Finn said quickly, deftly trying to avoid Nick’s second request. Not to mention how terribly his entire body was hurting. “Send him in. Please.” Did he feel bad for dodging Nick? Awful. But he couldn’t.. couldn’t hold on like that.

“No, let’s not make him wait,” Nick said quickly, shaking his head. Reunions aside, he hadn’t missed that Finn looked awful. He probably felt even worse. He stood from the chair, whispering a soft “Take care of yourself, Finn.” Then, he stepped way from the bed so that the healer could do his job.

Nodding, Logan slipped out again, and a moment later, another man appeared - a swarthy man, tall and thin, with shortly cropped hair. He approached, and sank into the chair beside the bed, looking Finn over with a small frown, “Tell me where you’ve got the most pain… I’ll work from there, on.”

Watching as the two familiar faces left with a growing frown, Finn turned his attention to the new man. “Ribs.” He whispered, every breath still stinging with pain. He hoped this man could heal him quickly.

Nodding, the man leaned forward, “Lay back, please. It won’t take long… Little pinch, maybe some discomfort. Bones are a little harder to knit than skin and muscle.” Laying his hand flat over Finn’s ribs, he breathed in and let his eyes close, as warmth cascaded from his fingers in a soft, glowing light, “I’m Jim, by the way. You know Nick and Logan, I see.”

Finn exhaled as the warmth of the man’s powers settled in on him, finally offering some relief after the initial discomfort. “Finn.” He murmured. “They’re old friends.”

“Right, right… I was part of Rogue, in Dallas. One of the last to hold on…” He chuckled dryly, shaking his head, “There you are. Should feel better, now. What else ya got?”

“...Oh.” Finn said softly. Couldn’t avoid Rogue… no matter how hard he tried. “My face is in sore need of cleaning up.” He muttered. “And then maybe this. If it isn’t too much.” He raised his left arm, which had been put in a cast, but was definitely sprained or something that hurt like hell. “I was… Miami branch. Before it blew up.”

“Hold out your arm…” He nodded towards it, before reaching out his palms, gingerly laying them over the cast, “I had a friend at Miami… didn’t make it out. Seems we lost more than we gained, sometimes. But that’s the name of it, isn’t it? When you’re the scum of the earth.” With a dry, weary smile, he released a second wave of the warm light, “But at least there’s some folks out there still tryin’ to do right by us. You catch Replay’s broadcast today, Logan?” He asked, glancing over his shoulder.

Logan gave a small smirk and a nod, “She’s not messin’ around with that list she got from the RIEF roster. Nailed those creeps right to the wall of shame.”

A solemn expression crept over Finn as he nodded in respect. So many had been lost… and so many since. He never understood why… why mutants were so awfully hated, but that was just… how it was. Even if it hurt like hell. And hurt so many others. Holding out his arm for Jim, Finn’s eyes widened at the mention of Replay and it took him by such surprise that he began to cough from the sharp intake of breath.

“S-sorry.” He whispered “Did she… mention an… Astroboy? In today’s broadcast?”

“Oh, yeah. Every now and then she does, in fact. She’s pretty pissed at him, whoever he is…” A brow rose, his eyes shifting to Finn, “...Why? You know him?”

Finn’s gaze fluttered down. “...Nah. Just know he deserves it.”

Nick gave a low whistle at the mention of Replay’s broadcast. Yeah, that one was a doozy. He’d caught part of it earlier in the day. He usually made it a point to check in with Penny when he could. They hadn’t been too terribly close in Rogue days, though he liked to think they were slowly making up for lost time there. He couldn’t help furrowing his brow, though, at the mention of Astroboy. He could’ve sworn he’d heard her call someone that before in Rogue. He was pretty sure it was… He flicked his eyes to Finn. Yeah, that’d be about right.

“I didn’t get the whole broadcast. Came in late. What did I miss?” Nick asked.

“She named a few more former RIEF agents… Her usual Kaiden-rant, which was pretty damn searing this time… She’s gettin’ bolder, that’s for sure. Doesn’t seem to care about his whole plan to redeem Mutant kind or whatever BS he’s spouting with his new job. Oh, and then the Astroboy callout.” Logan noted…

“Something about gettin’ his ass home before she finds him herself and kicks it there.” Jim noted, with a small grin.

Another startled cough erupted from Finn. If he didn’t die out in the wild he’d definitely die by Penny’s hand. “S-sounds like this A-astroboy guy really messed something up.” He wheezed. “At least s-someone’s blowing the w-whistle on Kaiden..”

Nick couldn’t help the sympathetic grimace on his face at that particular threat. Yeah, that definitely sounded about right. “Honestly. After everything Kaiden’s done, he definitely doesn’t deserve to get off scot-free from that. I’m glad she’s doing it.”

“Same… But hell, if it doesn’t feel like he is anyway. The fact that anyone’s even listening to the guy is what’s really scary. After all he did to both mutants and humans. He’s a sick son of a bitch..” Logan’s gaze darkened, his fingers balling tightly, “But smart…”

“Always been smart…” Jim noted, nodding, “Aright, Finn… All set here. You should be good.”

Sitting up, wiggling his fingers and taking in the renewed sensation, Finn smiled gratefully at Jim. “Thank you…” There was a swirling anger in the pit of his stomach that always rose at the mention of Kaiden, and it still shocked him that the man was slowly rising to power saying the opposite of everything he’d done. He glanced at the men before him. “So… am I discharged?”

“Far as I’m concerned, yeah… Logan?” Looking behind him, Jim eyed Logan, who gave a small, short nod.

“He’s good to go if that’s what he wants…”

“He’s definitely smart,” Nick agreed, though he wore a deep frown at the mention of Kaiden Hull. The entire situation involving him was a mess, and yet, that mess just seemed to get worse and worse. He raised an eyebrow at Finn. He’d said he wasn’t staying, but he hadn’t imagined he’d leave immediately. Then again, maybe leaving immediately was better than getting attached, in Finn’s mind.

Rubbing his wrist tenderly, Finn swung his legs off the edge of the bed, surprised with the renewed feeling Jim had imbued him with. Quite nice, at least in the physical level. He looked between the three men, with a deeply sad yet wistful gaze. He was sorry to go. This was surely a warm place, if they’d made their home here. But he wasn’t due for a home right now.

“Wanna… walk me out?” Finn said softly, nodding to Nick.

“Yeah, sure,” Nick said slowly after a moment, almost tentatively. He was hesitant to do so, to see Finn go. It had been so long since he’d seen him last, and there was no telling when he’d see him again. He offered a hand to Finn anyway to help him up, casting a still slightly concerned glance to both Logan and Jim. If he wanted to go, they couldn’t make him stay…

He took Nick’s hand, pulling himself up with a grunt. Finn could sense the worry in the room, but it didn’t matter. He had to leave. With one, grateful and firm nod to the other two men, he walked beside Nick.

“I know that… you want to say something that’ll make me change my mind.” He spoke softly. “But I’ll be alright. Don’t worry too much, okay?”

Nick walked alongside Finn, keeping pace as he walked him out. He sighed, not arguing with what he’d said. He did want to say something. Something that could at least maybe make him think about it.

“Too late. I’m already worrying. I’m gonna worry in my sleep, and I’ll have a permanent worrying face,” he teased lightly. “...Just… are you sure?”

The answer was no, definitely not. He wasn’t sure. He hadn’t been sure of anything in a long time, and Nick’s puppy dog eyes didn’t make anything easier. Finn’s jaw tightened as he looked ahead, into the dark unknown, the cruelty that he was throwing himself into.

“Yeah, man.” He said with a somber nod. “I’m sure.”

Nick drug a hand over his face, some point between exasperated and resigned. He walked in silence for a long time, right up until they reached the door that opened up to the Underground. “Just...take care of yourself. Please,” he said at last, biting his lip before pulling Finn into another hug. ”Please.”

Finn sunk into the hug more than he meant too, gripping Nick tightly and enjoying the embrace of another. It had been a long time since he’d hugged anyone. Since he’d seen anyone who actually cared. “I will.” He murmured, knowing nothing else would soothe the man. Finn forced himself to pull away.

“See you around.” Was all he offered, accompanied by a shell light hearted and lopsided grin Finn had once worn. Be saluted Nick, and turned around on his heel, forcing himself not to spare one glance back.
 
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Roleplay Invitations
Not Taking RP Invites at this Time
Posting Speed
Several Posts a Day
My Usual Online Time
8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Writing Levels
Prestige
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Primarily Prefer Female
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Probably a mix. When I GM I tend to prefer mostly aggressive, but with input from my players. I like to offer ideas and receive them. I don't like when people just take the reins and run with it though...especially in a 1x1.
Favorite Genres
Political intrigue, fantasy, futuristic, sci fi lite, superheroes, historical fiction, alternate universes. Smittings of romance, but only as side plot.
Genre You DON'T Like
Anime. Ever. Just not my jam.

Smut. Romance as a main plot. Horror. Grimdark.
#8
Deal with the Devil
A collab with WingWong WingWong

  
The next few days would be quite eventful for Aster. The signs of the deal were small at first, little changes here and there. The gangster that had originally been calling on her no longer made contact. There was a notification that any and all outstanding debts to Aster’s landlord had been dealt with.

Then there was a packet of information about a different apartment complex and a notice that, if she agreed to the conditions set, would enable her to move out of her current residence to the new apartment in a few days. The boy that had originally come to fetch Aster was a more frequent face, as if just checking in on her.

Things were changing.

Aster had never anticipated getting into the metaphorical bed with Alastor Grey. In fact, if she’d been pressed about it, she probably would’ve laughed at whoever suggested it… and then quite possibly hit them upside their ignorant head. But somehow, the guy had found her out, found what made her tick… found her weakness, and here she was…

The apartment was ridiculous enough… The idea of moving somewhere other than the laughable wreck she lived now, but the fact that he’d managed to cut her ties to Leon and his crew was outstanding. And all she’d had to do was sell her damn soul.

But at least it wasn’t a total loss. She’d done some good, and if that was the last good she ever did, well… it was something.

Dorien rubbed at his face tiredly. Under his eyes, the skin was darker and puffy, noting a lack of sleep and general stress. A lot of things were going on, most of them related to Alastor, but the one that definitely wasn’t was Jamie. Of all the things he’d expected to happen today, Jamie getting into a fight was not one of them. Of course, Dorien got the call that there had been an issue today with his sister, and so here he was, walking to the school to have a meeting taking place in less than an hour with a principal to find out whose face Jamie had cracked open.

He passed by Aster’s current place, briefly considering stopping by and saying hello, but decided against it. He probably shouldn’t load his problems onto her right now. She had plenty to deal with, he was sure. Still, he lingered a little while, while he came to that decision.

Her world was turning upside down, but that didn't necessarily mean it stopped. She'd run out of toothpaste and that wasn't something Alastor was going to replace… At least to her knowledge.

Grabbing Dorien's jacket, which she'd grown considerably too accustomed to wearing, and slipped out of her apartment and out onto the street. She was surprised to find a familiar face as she let the door close behind her, brow raised, “Dorien?”

Dorien had started walking again by the time she stepped out on the street, but he stopped and turned to face her when she called his name. His eyes flicked briefly to the jacket before back up to her face. “So that’s where that went,” he said, though something in his tone suggested he’d known exactly where it had gone. “Hey Aster,” he greeted with a small wave.

He could only imagine how he looked. If he looked even half as tired as he felt, then he was in bad shape. One problem at a time, though. One problem at a time, and that eerie sort of smile Alastor had the last few days, the one he had when when he was plotting, was just going to have to be a problem for another time.

“What? This old thing? Pretty sure I dunno what you're talkin’ about.” Giving the collar a tug she smirked, but it was shortly lived as she took in the sight of the man, “You look like hell, Fish. Alright?”

“Uh-huh, sure,” Dorien replied with a smile. He had a feeling the jacket was forfeit at this point. He gave Aster a thumbs up. “Good. The whole ‘rose up from the underworld’ look was what I was going for. Real classy. Real dug up.” He felt dug up, that was for sure. “How’ve you been?”

“Yeah. It's super attractive.” She teased, chuckling softly, “I've uh… I've been.” Biting her lip, she shoved her hands into the pocket of the jacket, a brow raised, “You hear the super news? We're gonna be co-workers.”

“Oh good. I feel super attractive. Good to know dead men are what’s in these days,” Dorien snorted before quickly sobering at the news. His heart felt like it stopped for a moment. “You didn’t,” he breathed, but he already knew. She did. That smile? That eerie, happy, plotting smile of Alastor’s? It made sense now. “Aster, when I said take your own advice I get out, I didn’t mean jumping into my particular circle of hell instead,” he said, sighing as he shook his head. There wasn’t judgement there, though. He knew. Alastor Grey, when he wanted something, knew how to get it. “How did he get to you?” he asked.

“...Found out about… you know. I guess being able to rot people's limbs off is his kink. Anyway… It's fine. I… I can deal.” She couldn't, but she didn't want it to be too apparent how terrified she was, “Got the impression he was giving me an offer I wasn't supposed to refuse. But uh… could be worse. Get a swanky new apartment, apparently. Maybe we'll be neighbors.”

“I think blood in general is more his style,” Dorien said, the joking tone not quite covering how serious he was. He shook his head. “Alastor doesn’t make you do anything before you make a deal. He’ll make you regret it, makes sure you know you’re missing out, lures you in after the fact. But before the deal’s made, he doesn’t touch you,” he added. Too late now, though. “Oh yeah. Part of the package deal. We’ll be in the same area, for sure.”

“We made a deal.” She stated softly, “I think I actually surprised the old bastard. Not sure a lot of folks have the brass to negotiate with him.” Glancing back at her apartment building, she frowned, “Can't say I'm exactly disappointed I'm leaving this place, though…”

“Really?” Dorien asked, a little surprised. He knew Alastor could be negotiated with, in theory. He just never really felt like he was in the position for it. “What did you ask for?” He looked up at the building too. “Can’t say I blame you for that, either.”

Biting her cheek, she turned her eyes forward, giving a small shrug, “...Your sister.” Clearing her throat, she breathed in, “I didn’t think I had much of a chance of convincing him to let you go, so I made him promise he’ leave your sister out of it. Got his word. She’s not his leverage anymore, Fish.”

Dorien swore the world stopped in that moment. She bargained with Alastor. She bargained with Alastor for his sister. She didn’t have to do that. Didn’t at all have to do that. “How did he word it?” he asked, sounding a little like he was trying not to let himself get choked up. He had to ask, because he had to know. Had to know that Alastor truly wouldn’t hurt Jamie directly.

“Gave his word he wouldn't lay a hand or weapon on her for leverage… Wouldn't order anyone else too, either.” Aster answered, uneasily. She'd known he'd be emotional over the deal, but she could only pray she'd done the right thing.

Dorien covered his mouth with one hand, eyes closing behind his glasses. He shakily exhaled. “Second time talking to you, and you’re already trying to make me cry,” he said with a laugh, voice shaky. He sniffed. “Thank you. Thank you, so much. How can I…?” He could he repay her, for what she just gave so his sister was safe? There were other ways Alastor could hurt her, could hurt him, but with those options off the table… Alastor not directly hurting Jamie meant the world.

“Hey, don't worry about it…” Aster smiled faintly, giving his arm a pat, “I'd've given my left ear when I was little, to have someone care about me the way you do your sister. Didn't need to spend weeks talkin’ to you to know that. And it's like I said, Fish… you're a nice guy. Besides…” biting her lip, her smile widened, “I did kinda steal your jacket. So we'll call it square.”

“Thank you,” Dorien said again as she patted his arms. He chuckled softly. “Please don’t Van Gogh yourself, Flower Girl.” He then snorted. “Yeah, you kinda did. About that...can I at least get my mints back? I feel like the jacket might no longer be mine at this point anyway,” he added.

Grinning, she reached into the pocket and held out the small tin with an innocent shrug, “I still don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, but it’s weird you leave mints in other people’s jackets. Where you headed, anyway, Fish?”

“I’m the mint Santa. I leave mints in your pockets instead of candy in stockings. I’m not very well known, you see, but people always thank me when they find that extra mint in their pockets,” Dorien laughed. He seemed to sober a little at the question. “I’m uh, I’m going to the school. Got a call a while ago, and...well, from the way it sounds, Jamie split somebody’s face open when she clocked him.” He sighed, rubbing his temple. “So I’m on my way to have a super fun conversation with the principal.”

“Ho.. Mint Santa. That… wow. I forgot how much of a nerd you were…” Giving him a nudge with her shoulder, she listened as he continued, frowning slightly, “Ouch. Need uh… Morale support for the walk? I was just headed out to pick up toothpaste, but I’m half tempted to make Alastor buy it for me when he gives me my new pad…”

Dorien chuckled, shaking his head. “Sure, I won’t say no to the company,” he said, having slipped the mint tin into the pocket of his jeans. “Good luck with that. Alastor is a lot of things, but he’s not much of an errand boy.”

“No… I don’t imagine he is. Kind of my job, now, I guess.” Biting her lip, she slid her hands into her pockets, “What’s it like, Fish? Be honest. Working for him… I kinda figured out the ‘it sucks’ part on my own, but… but really. How much am I gonna hate this?”

“All of our jobs, really. One of us in particular though,” Dorien admitted. Yeah, that was mostly Tommy’s role. The innocent face that’s more stabby than most would think he is. He took a breath. How to describe it… “Sometimes, it’s not bad. It feels...cohesive, sometimes. He puts value in us, because without us, his job would be a lot harder. He makes sure to give credit where credit is due.” As for how much she’d hate it? “You’re definitely going to hate it, though. Good moments aside, he’s...he’s a cruel bastard, and he takes some amount of pleasure in it. He likes for others to…’join the fun’, if you will.”

“Not rocket science, figuring out what he wants from me.” Rubbing her arms, she lowered her gaze a moment, kicking a chunk of broken concrete out of her path, “...He’s gonna ask me to hurt people, isn’t he? Maybe worse. It’s weird, I… I never thought I’d sink lower than a drug mule. Yet, here we are…”

Dorien nodded at that in agreement. That was probably a given, with the fact they were all involved with Alastor Grey now. “He’s going to, yes,” he added, rubbing at his own hands as if he were trying to wipe something off of them. “Like I said, I didn’t expect you to jump ship for my particular circle of hell. But hey, the roof going over your head is pretty nice.”

“Downpayment… One soul.” Smiling dryly, weakly, she looked over at him, “...How many, Dorien? How many has he asked you to… to… you know?” Biting her lip, she turned her eyes away again. She didn’t expect an answer. Not really. Wasn’t entirely sure she wanted one…

He laughed weakly, knowing there was far more truth there than he’d like to admit. He stared past her, as if trying to steel himself. As if maybe the blow would be less if he couldn’t see her reaction. “To kill? Not many. I can count it on one hand. To hurt? Better left unsaid.” To be fair, he had a hand in hurting every single one of them. No one can be hurt if they can’t be found, after all... Dorien avoided looking her in the eye, though. He knew that all of this was the price he had to pay. It didn’t mean he liked it though.

Swallowing, Aster continued to keep her eyes ahead, listening as he answered… surprised, really, that he answered. When he trailed off, she considered those words for a moment, before slipping a hand from her pocket, reaching over to cover one of his, “He’s despicable, Fish. And someday, when we get free of this mess, we’ll wash our hands of all of it.”

Dorien looked over at her, the expression on his face a mix of emotions. He was surprised, though, to find her hand on his. He couldn’t help the sad smile that formed on his face. “God, I hope so,” he murmured.

He shook his head. “We should probably start walking,” he commented. They had a little bit of a trek ahead of them.

Hand returning to her pocket, Aster smiled faintly, nodding, “Lead the way.” Pulling the opposite hand free, she produced a bright orange lollipop and with a grin, she pulled the plastic covering free, tossing it into a trashbin as they wandered past. Popping it into her mouth, she avoided his gaze, pointedly, “So what’s she like? Your sister? When she isn’t crackin’ skulls in school, I mean…”

He glanced back down at his hand after she pulled it away, looking at it like it were some strange attachment to his own body instead of his actual hand. After a moment, he seemed to shake it off, looking back up at her as he started to walk. He squinted as she unwrapped a lollipop- orange, his favorite- that he knew had been in his jacket at some point. He shook his head, trying not to grin, as she popped in her mouth.

“She’s...a little like you, I think. I think you’d like her, at least. She’s been trying to figure stuff out for a while,” Dorien started to explain. “After Mom and Dad, well, stopped being around, I think it did a number on her. I’m still not sure she’s used to how things have changed. Then again, I can’t blame her. She’s smart, though. So, so very smart. She used to want to be a chemist. I think her interest in science has skipped around a bit, but she still wants to be a scientist. Wants to be the next big name in history.”

“Ouch. Damn, Fish. Did you just sisterzone me? That… that actually hurts. Right here…” Tapping her chest, she grinned, shaking her head. But as he continue, she shook her head faintly and the smile shifted, faded slightly, “...Parents are overrated. I didn’t have and I turned out pretty… well, I’m alright, I guess. But hey, science? That’s pretty cool. She’s gotta be smart if she understand any of that. A nerd, just like her big bro…”

Dorien laughed. “I’ll say this. I think you’d get along, if nothing else.” He seemed to consider the parent comment, pausing for a moment. “As the disaster of a single father to a teenage girl, I agree. Still, she misses them a lot.” It seemed to go unspoken that Dorien did too. “She’s definitely a nerd. Big time nerd. Marie Curie was her childhood hero.”

“...I’m choosing to believe that ‘if nothing else’ means no, on the sisterzoning front.” Eyeing him, she smirked, “If only to preserve some pride in this whole situation, here.”

A small sigh escaped her, and with a nod, she went on, “I guess it’s easier to miss someone you’ve met. Known. Loved. It’s easier for me. I was two went I wound up in the system. Never had anyone to tie myself to. But it makes it harder… down the line, connecting. Used to think it was damn near impossible.” Giving a shrug, her hands slipped into her pockets again, “Marie Cure, hm? And who was your childhood hero, Fish?”

“No to sisterzoning. For now. If you start breaking faces, I might have to reconsider,” Dorien warned jokingly. He nodded. “I can imagine. But hey, we’re doing a pretty good job connecting right now,’ he said, gently bumping her with his side. “Ohhh no, no, you’re not listening to me nerd out. My reputation will never recover. You’ll never be able to look at me the same way again.”

Turning around to face him, Aster walked backwards, shaking her head, “Oh no, you don’t. I gave you back your mints. You owe me at least one cornball nerding out, and I want all the details. C’mon, Fish. You show me yours, I’ll show you mine…”

“But can you handle it? Can you handle to full nerd spiel? Can you handle me ruining all chances of looking like a halfway normal, undweeb-ish human being?” Dorien grinned at her before giving her a wide eyed look. “Oh? And what’s yours? What are you showing me, Aster? What childhood aspirations did you have, Aster?”

“I hate to break it to you, Dorien… But uh…” Looking him up and down, she grinned, “...You’ve always been a nerd to me. I mean, hell if the rest of you don’t know it, but your brain is definitely in on it…” Raking her fingers through her hair, her smile grew sly and she shook her head, “Down boy. You go first…”

“I’m wounded!” Dorien insisted, gasping as he clutched a hand to his chest dramatically. “You mean you never thought I was cool?” he sniffed, trying to fight the twitch at the corners of his lips that threatened to make him break character. A confused look crossed his face. “What’s that mean?” he asked before blowing a raspberry at her. “Tsiolkovsky, hands down. He was inspired by a science fiction writer, tried to write his own fiction, and ended up writing the papers and making the calculations that would eventually send a craft into space. Which, I should add, are still viable today. That said, Benjamin Banneker is a close second. And yours?”

“Cool? Fish… Sweetie. You’re a stud, I promise, but cool?” Shaking her head, she grinned, “And don’t worry your head about what it means. Not sure you could handle that.” But as he continued, it was her turn to be confused, “I’m not even sure I know who those people are, but the way you talk about it makes me kinda pissed I never got much in the way of schooling…” Turning back around again, walking forwards, she tucked her hands into her pockets with a shrug, “Honestly? It’s kinda lame, and compared to yours, I sound like I’m five… but… I was pretty into the Ninja Turtles. It’s this super retro show… legit turtles, but they’re superpowered by this crazy ooze. They fought crime, and ate pizza… It was corny, but I dunno… I guess it appealed to something in me.”

“Now I’m really wounded,” Dorien insisted with a small pout. He furrowed his brow as he considered trying to figure out what she meant by that before she carried on. “Our parents...kind of made it a point, to show us all these great historic figures growing up, as a reminder that no matter what stands in our way, we can be great. I don’t think they imagined that being a mutant was going to be one of my obstacles, though.” He shook his head before his face lit up. He had to nearly bite his tongue to stop from spewing the words ‘neetle teetles!’ Yeah, Jamie was definitely rubbing off on him. “Yeah, I remember that show. I used to watch it too. Which was your favorite one?”

“Hell, I don't think anybody actually expects being a mutant to be one of their obstacles. And I definitely don't think anybody wishes it on their kids. I try not to wonder about it, but I do sometimes. If that's why they gave me up. If it had something to do with the gene.” The brief uneasiness in her expression shifted, as he continued and a wide smile, “I was always pretty partial to Raphael. I guess I kind of had a thing for bad boys. Kind of still do. Let me guess, you liked Leonardo. He was always the smart one...”

“That’s true,” Dorien admitted. He gave a small sympathetic smile. “For what it’s worth, I think your parents are missing out on something great,” he said before grinning. “It was always a tie for Donatello and Michelangelo, actually.”

Her eyes flicker over to him, and for a moment something foreign shifted inside the gaze, as she studied him, “You might be the first person who's ever said that to me, Fish. But thanks… Nice to know I'm not a waste of space to everyone.” Biting her lip, her smile grew, “The fighter and the party boy. Somehow, that's both surprising and adorable. Wasn't completely sure about you, till just now…”…

“Clearly no one else has had to watch you eat their own lollipop in front of them after blackmailing you with mints to learn about your childhood hero,” Dorien joked. They also probably didn’t have her bargain for their sister’s safety, but that was another thing. “True bonding happens through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Though, if I can tell you a secret,” he lowered his voice, “I might favor Donatello a tiny, tiny bit. And you weren’t sure about me because of what?”

“Hey… my jacket, my lollipop. Finders keepers, and all that. Man… I am five.” Laughing, she shook her head before exhaling, considering his question, “People aren't nice. They aren't good. Not in my world, anyway. But you're different. At least you seemed that way when I met you. So… I kinda hinged that whole deal with Alastor on a prayer I wasn't crazy… Turns out it pretty worthwhile.” With a shrug, she looked at him again, “Even if your taste in Ninja Turtles is embarrassing. Raphael is obviously the best.”

Dorien laughed as well, shaking his head. “You will be missed, lollipop. Your sacrifice will be remembered,” he said softly, hand to his chest as if he were saying something heartfelt for a eulogy. The quirk at the corner of his lip gave away how close he was to laughing again, though. “I dunno, I still think you’re crazy, but we’re going to be in the crazy pit together now. Also, rude. Donnie is doing his best, so excuse you.” He blew another raspberry.

“Donatello is the Aquaman of the Turtles and you know it… He’s nobody’s favorite.” The laugh escaped again, brighter… lighter this time, and she shook her head, “Oh my God. We’re both five. What is this...Crazy pit, for real.” Pulling the lollipop free, she gave it a little twirl in his direction, “You can still have it, if you’re really that broken up about it.”

“Woah, woah. In this house, we leave Aquaman alone, because I like living without the fear of flying vengeful sharks, thank you very much,” Dorien warned. “I’ve been told that ‘kook is contagious’, so I think we’re both effectively doomed here.” He narrowed his eyes, seeming to really deeply consider it. “You’re gonna pull a Charlie Brown on me,” he said slowly after a moment, referring to how Lucy repeatedly pulled the football away last second.

“Who has a fear of flying vengeful sharks??” She asked, with a shake of her head, “Honestly… flying?” As he continued, she grinned, “If it’s contagious, we can take everybody else down with us. And hell, maybe then we can get out of this crap deal with Grey. Get out of this miserable city.”

He contemplated it. He actually contemplated it. Whether he was playing with her or not, she was floored, and the grin spread as she shook her head, “...I might. Or I might not… Question is, Fish… You man enough to find out?”

“When they launch out of the water, they look like they’re flying, okay? I do not need 7 tons of fish face coming after me,” Dorien protested. “Invite everyone to a party in the crazy pit and then blow that popsicle stand,” he offered, grinning as well. Maybe one day…

That truly was the question. He was a man who’d had half a cupcake ripped out of his mouth once by his own sister, and nothing would ever live up to the shock he felt watching that unfold. Having his own lollipop ripped out of his grasp might be a close second though, if it happened. He was on the fence. Was he going to go for the lollipop? Yes. Yes he was.

He rushed forward, hoping to bite the lollipop between his teeth.

She didn’t move. She thought about. Really thought about it… but the outcome of moving wasn’t half as funny as the actual result of his desperation. She was… once again, utterly floored. And it was so worth it. Staring at him, the smile grew gradually, before she burst into laughter, half crumpling into him, bracing a hand on his shoulder to keep herself from doubling over.

“I cannot believe… that you just… actually… did that. I… wow. Fish. I am… I dunno if I’m impressed. Or… or what this emotion is. But my God… Wow.”

Dorien smiled at her with the lollipop between his teeth. He’d honestly expected her to move it, just because she could. The smiled turned a little sheepish as the embarrassment hit, a few seconds too late. Aster’s reaction was infinitely worth the heat in his face, though.

“So it seems,” he started, taking the lollipop from between his teeth and helping steady Aster with his free hand, “that this is my lollipop now.” He then popped it back in his mouth. No remorse. He couldn’t help the massive grin at her reaction as she braced a hand on his shoulder.

Shaking her head, she looked up at him, and stepping back, clapped her hands in applause, before a sly smirk spread across her lips, “Course… you ultimately fell for my trap.” Biting her lip she turned back to the path ahead of them, “Cause now, the way I see it, you owe me dinner. Also… where the hell is this school? Montana?”

Dorien flung his hands up, as if exasperated. “Alright, you know what, fair. Dinner is on me,” he said. “And, if you weren’t so distracting,” he added, pulling the lollipop to teasingly wave it at her like she’d been a naughty child, “we would have gotten there sooner. It’s the next street over.” He pointed out the turn they’d have to take before reaching the school.

“Better be ready, Fish. I may live in a condemned craphole… but I'm no cheap date.” Grinning, she gave him a nudge. As they rounded the bend, she hesitated briefly, “This school… Scanners?”

“Clearly. You’re upgrading from that to a slightly nicer craphole,” Dorien teased. Did he have enough stuff to cook at home? Not like he really had a lot of options for actual buying food when it came to restaurants, anyway. He shook his head at her question. “Doesn’t have them. They have bigger problems most of the time. They would’ve caught me a long time ago if that weren’t the case.”

“Maybe my new place will actually have a kitchen… then I can pay it forward.” Nodding, the brief wall of uneasiness fell, “Good news. Want me to wait out here?”

“If we are in the same building, it should,” Dorien commented. “You can, or you can come in. I’ll be honest, I kind of want to know how the other kid looks.”

“Morale support beam it is…” She nodded, giving his arm a pat, “Deep breath and let's go.”

“Thank you,” he said softly before sighing. His demeanor seemed to shift a little as he started up the stairs to the door. He had to look like he was competent in front of the principal, like he was every bit the father figure and responsible older brother that would be taken seriously. He reached the final step, holding open the door for Aster to slip inside.

Entering the building, Aster fought off a shiver. There were several places she wasn't terribly fond of going, and these sorts of educational marvels was one… Twice, the people she'd been homed with had tried to send her to school and both times, Aster found herself very nearly discovered by those damnable scanners…

Those buildings too poorly funded to afford them weren't any less of a misery. But Dorien needed a friend and she could at the very least provide that…

“Lead the way, Fish.”

Dorien slipped through the door after her, tensing on reflex as he passed through the doors. There’d been far too many times he’d nearly outed himself as a mutant by passing through doors and not noticing scanners until he had nearly gone through them. He stayed close to Aster as he walked, leading the way to the principal’s office.

Just outside the office, sitting in chairs, were two teenagers. They sat as far apart as possible, and occasionally, they glowered at the other from their spot. There was a woman nearby, presumably a teacher or assistant principal, keeping an eye on the both of them. At seeing Dorien and Aster, she slipped away to attend to something else.

The first of the two kids was a girl with a halo of dark curly hair, piercing eyes, and a rich skin tone that matched her brother’s. There was a deep split in her bottom lip, which had started to swell, and a bruise blossoming on her right cheek.

The second had a shock of short blonde hair and freckled skin. He also had a black eye that was steadily growing darker, a dried trail of red under his nose from where it had bled, and a swollen bruise on his own cheek. Comparing the two of them, it felt fair to say that one of them had come out of the fight on top, as far as injuries go.

The girl turned as Dorien and Aster approached and gave her older brother a sheepish smile. “Hey, Dori.” She tilted her head slightly at seeing Aster with him, eyes narrowing with intrigue.

Aster had been in her share of fights. She'd lost a few, come out on top in most… she was scrappy and fast and had something to say, and she didn't mess around. She could almost visualize what had happened between the two… and she wasn't entirely convinced his sister was out of line…

The girl looked to her and Aster offered a small smile and a wink.

Dorien took a deep breath as he took in both his sister’s appearance and that of the boy who made it a point to sit very far away from her. He resisted the urge to rub his temples. Thankfully, Jamie seemed to be mostly alright, though he had a feeling the boy’s parents would be very upset. One problem at a time.

“Hey, Jamie,” he greeted, but left it at that. Jamie seemed to wilt a little, knowing she wasn’t going to weasel out of this one very easily at all. She did give Aster a slightly confused look after receiving the smile and wink, before looking up at Dorien as he spoke again. “What happened?”

Before she had the chance to answer, the principal stepped out his door. “Mr. Willis. So glad you could join us,” he commented, seeming a little peeved already with the fact that the boy’s guardian was currently nowhere to be found. His gaze slid right over Aster, not considering her presence to be very monumental at all. “Would you like to join me in my office?” Something in his tone suggested that this meeting would be between him and Dorien alone.

“God speed, Fish.” Aster offered, with a flash of a sympathetic smile. She didn't envy him. Not in the least bit…

Sinking into an empty chair, her eyes shifted subtly between the two teens, before moving back to Dorien, “I'll hold down the fort.”

Dorien gave her a stressed smile and mouthed the words ‘Thank you’ once again in return before following the principal into his office, revealing that he’d hid his lollipop behind his back after snatching it out of his mouth a few moments earlier when they’d approached the office. He was careful to not let it stick to anything, and he really hoped he could keep this up. The office door closed behind him with a thunk.

There were a few beats of silence, with the two beaten up teens on either side of Aster. It was soon broken by Jamie herself. “So… what’s this about?” she asked, eyeing Aster curiously. “I’d ask if you were his girlfriend, but I know I’d hear him gush about you at least two years in advance before he even thought about that. So, who are you?”

Looking to Jamie, Aster’s smile didn’t fade, and chuckling, she shook her head, “Just a friend. We work together… Well, we will. I just started. Dorien got me out of a scrap with an ex, but that’s not a show and tell story. He’s a good guy, your brother. Cares a lot about you.” Her eyes flickered to the boy in the other chair, before returning to her. There was no judgment, but just the slightest hint of what might’ve been amusement.

Jamie’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, glancing at the denim jacket on Aster’s torso. She distinctly remembered that he’d stopped wearing his own jacket not all that long ago, and when asked, Dorien had insisted it would turn up eventually. It definitely did. “Uh-huh,” she said after a while. “Sounds like Dori.” At the last bit, her eyes moved off of Aster, looking away with some amount of guilt in her eyes. “I know,” she said softly. God, he was going to be so disappointed when that meeting was over with, and she was going to get dragged into the absolute longest conversation about it, too. Hopefully expulsion wasn’t on the table. It couldn’t come to that.

The boy had grumbled something in response to both Jamie and Aster, his words unintelligible but his tone clearly snide. Jamie very nearly launched out of her chair, the look on her face severe. “You wanna say that again so I can hear you, phlegm-wad?” she challenged, leaning in her chair. The boy quieted down again quickly, but not without a nasty side-eye thrown at Jamie.

“Oi. Sit.” Aster remarked with a small wiggle of her finger to Jamie, “You wanna throw down, join the wrestling team, Nemo. And you…” Point that same finger to the boy, Aster’s eyes narrowed and the warmth dissipated, “You wanna make smart ass remarks, be man enough to say it so the rest of the room can hear it, otherwise, shut your mouth. One of these days, you’re gonna end up mouthin’ off to the wrong person, and they ain’t gonna hit like a sixteen year old girl. And judging from the way you look like mincemeat and Jamie here clearly came out on top, the same can’t be said for you… so it ain’t recommended.”

Jamie was caught off guard enough by being called Nemo that she didn’t respond, settling for making an intensely confused face as she sank back into her chair. “Nemo?” she muttered under her breath. “And who does that make you? Marlin?” She grinned as Aster got onto the boy as well, silently pleased. So much for the tough boy attitude he’d given her earlier.

The boy said nothing, his black eye tender enough that he didn’t feel like picking another fight today.

“What’s up with the two of you, anyway?” She asked, as she leaned back in her chair a little, not entirely oblivious to what Jamie had muttered, “What the hell do kids your age have to fight about?”

“People talking sh-crap about something they know nothing about,” Jamie answered, giving the boy another pointed look. She didn’t elaborate beyond that, knowing that question would be asked again by Dorien at some point. She knew, absolutely knew, how disappointed he was going to be. How many times had he told her it didn’t bother him? Yet here she was, sucker punching a guy for it, despite the guy definitely deserving it.

A brow rose at the expression Jamie flashed the kid, and she shook her head with a sigh, “Told you… that mouth is gonna get you into trouble, Kid. You think it’s worth it? Talkin’ smack about people, what? So you can feel better about your own sorry life? Promise you, it’s gonna kick you in the teeth one of these days, and it won’t feel so good, then.”

“It’s not like I’m even wrong, though,” the boy squawked indignantly. “All I said is that anyone would’ve taken one good look at your awkward, dweeby drop-out brother and refused to hire him, so that the only way he could get money is selling himself on street corners. Only problem with that is that he wouldn’t get nearly enough to put that nice roof over your head,” the kid snarled, partly out of latent hostility from getting sucker punched multiple times.

Jamie was up in a flash, all but hurtling herself over Aster to grip the front of the kid’s shirt. “He’s worth ten of you. Don’t get jealous because your mother doesn’t love you,” she spat in return before shoving him back and settling into her seat again. The look on the boy’s face looked as if Jamie’s words had struck him harder than her currently split knuckles had.

Reaching out, Aster tried her hardest to block Jamie (really… she tried…), but the girl launched faster than she expected. Graciously, it was a short lived tussle, but left an unsatisfactory feeling in Aster’s gut.

“Did you come out this stupid… or did you have to work for it, kid? You gonna embarrass yourself, spittin’ drama you know nothing about. And if I thought it was worth it, I’d drop you myself, right now, for bein’ such a damn shame waste of oxygen. But I promise… promise my patience is not eternal, and you’re beginning to test it. You’re gonna go ahead and apologize to Jamie here, for being such an irritating, obnoxious, noisy little dick… and then, you’re gonna go ahead and keep your tongue behind your teeth… before I feel inclined to pry it out of your head.”

Jamie’s hands shook as she flexed them. She’d so wanted to drive her fist into the other side of that kid’s face, but she knew she was on thin ice as it was. She didn’t need the principal or Dorien popping out the door to see the guy with a second black eye. She took a shaky breath, trying to calm down and steady herself after seeing red.

The kid in question murmured a soft “Sorry” before shutting up entirely. The comment about his mother seemed to have done the trick, but the threat Aster delivered earned her a wide-eyed gaze.

“Of course, I understand, sir. I’ll definitely have a talk with her,” Dorien’s voice sounded through the hallway as he stepped backwards out the office door and gave the man before him a final wave. He turned to face the three in the hallway and blinked. “Is it just me, or is it a lot more tense in here now?”

Looking up at Dorien, Aster smiled faintly, thinly, and shook her head, “Tense? Nah. Junior here was just apologizing to Jamie like a proper gentleman… All good on our end.”

Dorien looked between the three of them, with Aster’s thin smile, the kid’s frightened silence, and Jamie’s shaking hands and murder face. Yeah, he wasn’t convinced.

“Right,” he said slowly. “I think it’s time for us to start heading back anyway.” Jamie didn’t need much prompting, more than happy to leave that snotwad of a human being behind.

Rising, Aster nodded, “Sounds like a plan…” Whether or not he still needed the morale support, Aster wasn’t entirely sure. She knew he’d likely have a hell of a night with his spitfire sister, but if the way she’d looked earlier was any indication, Aster had a pretty good idea that she’d learned her lesson already…

“Quick question. Do I owe you food tonight, or is it a raincheck type of deal?” Dorien asked, turning to walk backwards as he popped the orange lollipop back into his mouth with a sly sort of smile. If his focus were less on Aster, he would have noticed the wide-eyed look on Jamie’s face. She intended on watching her brother and Aster a lot more closely. She knew her brother well enough to know something was going on, and that denim jacket might be a little involved in it. Since when had Dorien ever offered food, food that he likely intended to cook, to someone she had never met before?

With a grin, Aster shook her head, “You got family stuff, Fish. Take care of that, yeah? Besides… I still need toothpaste, and our mutual friend ain’t gonna provide it. We can raincheck.” Stepping forward, without batting an eye, and not remotely oblivious to the second pair of eyes on them, she reached around behind Dorien and into the right pocket, grabbing the small tin of mints, plucking it free.

Giving it a wiggle, she smirked up at him, “...But I’m keeping these, in case you try to wuss out. See you around, Fish.” Looking to Jamie, she nodded, “Nemo…” and with another wave of the tin, before tucking it into the pocket of the jacket, she started off to the doors.

“Good luck, and have a good night. See you around,” Dorien replied with a wave and a smile. He froze in surprise as she approached, not exactly sure what Aster was doing, until she stepped back with the mints in hand. Jamie started laughing as Aster walked out the door, and Dorien called after her.

“Oh, come on!”
 

DarinValore

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#9
Emergency Hug...ish
Collab: Elle Joyner Elle Joyner

“Daddy!” Travis yelled as he slid around the corner of the cabin and into his dad’s workspace, a second slower set of steps followed, “Daddy!”

Looking up from his workbench, Deckard lifted the goggles from his eyes and placed the sander aside, “Travis,” he smiled, “What is it, son?” When Zoey rounded the corner, he smiled again, “Zoey.”

She nodded, her hands folded behind her back, “Hello, Deckard.”

“Daddy, you still working on mommy’s surprise?” Travis asked eagerly, leaning onto his toes in hopes of stealing a greater sight of the work in progress.

“Ya,” Deck replied as he peeled the leather gloves from his hands, “I think it looks great so far.”

“It’s,” Zoey hummed, “It’s not straight.”

“What?” Deckard looked over the beam he was sanding, “It’s super straight.”

“No. No, it’s not,” she said matter-of-factly.

“I measured it three times, marked it twice,” he started as he pulled the level out and laid it across the wood, “If this thing isn’t straight,” he started as he watched the bubble settle, “Then my name’s not-” the bubble settled just a hair outside of the lines, “Son of a…”

“Your name’s not what?” Zoey looked on with curiosity.

“What?” Deckard asked, disturbed with the fact that he’d triple checked it, and it was still not straight.

“You said if it wasn’t level, your name’s not…. What?” she replied.

“It was an expression,” Travis interrupted, “Daddy didn’t mean that his name wasn’t something. He was just saying it.”

“Well, what’s the point of saying something just to say something?” Zoey asked confusion in her eyes.

Deckard shrugged and looked to Travis. He nicknamed his own son the Zoey-Whisperer cause the boy had a way with Zoey that he just didn’t understand. He always assumed it was because Travis could read her mind, but Travis had told him that hers was the only mind he could not read. It was too fast, too busy.

“Come on, Zoey,” he turned to the door, “I’ll explain it to you. Leave Daddy alone so he can fix the ben- I mean...surprise for mommy,” he smiled sheepishly up at his dad.

You try. That’s all that matters. Deck thought, knowing his son was listening in. Travis’ smile widened, and when he thought the children were gone, Deckard turned to his project, “Now how am I going to fix this?” The words had barely escaped his lips when he felt a tiny body slam against his side. It was Travis.

“Don’t worry, Daddy. Mommy will love it anyway, cause you made it. You don’t need to be sad like Rose,” he said before tearing away and chasing a walking Zoey.

“Rose,” Deck sighed. The girl had been a mess since Finn walked out. Deck was going to give that boy a word or two the next time he saw him.

Peeling the goggles from his head, he stepped out of the workshop and started toward the front of the cabin where Rose tended to sulk. When she was in sight, he called out to her, “Rose. Hey, what you doing?”

Looking up from the book she was reading, Rose frowned softly. It had been nine-hundred and ten days since they left Florida, and everyday was as difficult to power through as the last. But she had not given up. She would not give up… not ever. Because Finn Westfall had made her a promise, and he was going to keep it, some day. She trained, she studied, she changed… she grew.

But that did not make her heart hurt, any less.

“Hey, Deck. Just reading…” The frown morphed slightly, softened into a small, weary smile, “How’s the project?”

“Turns out it’s not straight,” he smiled and plopped down beside her, “Children. They’re funny little creatures.”

Chuckling softly, Rose nodded, “...Zoey gotcha again, did she? You should know never to let that little girl into the shop if you want to finish anything.” Setting down her book, she turned to look out at the workshop across the yard, “What’s up? You’ve got that ‘I had an idea’ look going on...”

“Well,” he sighed, “It’s no secret Finn’s been a real douche bag. It’s also no secret how it’s affected you,” he offered her a sympathetic glance, “But we need to do something to get your mind off of it more than just a book. Something that’ll keep you busy.”

“Deck…” Looking up at him, Rose smiled delicately, “He's not… you don't have to… You know I'm not mad at him.” Her eyes trailed down to the book and she swallowed, nodding, “But a distraction doesn't sound half bad. What… what did you have in mind?”

“Well, with the way that everything is..Rogue gone, and RIEF on the hunt, the truth of it all is that Penny and I may not always be here. You’ll need to know how to protect yourself..and Travis and Zoey...should anything happen to us,” Deck answered.

“...Don’t talk like that, Deck.” Setting the book aside, Rose frowned softly, “You know that I would never leave Travis and Zoey on their own if something happened. But you also know you and Penny are way too tough for those bastards to take down. If you want me to learn to take care of myself, that’s fine… Just don’t go killing yourself off in your head, yeah?”

“Sure,” he smiled, “Whichever way you want to look at it,” he leaned back and then cracked his neck, “You’ll know how to defend yourself and teach Finn a lesson if he ever wonders, mistakenly, here.”

Shaking her head, she rose to her feet, a small, amused smile on her lips, “...Tempting, I won’t lie. So, how do we start…?”

“By getting up,” he started as he stood to his feet, “stretches’ll help, too. Don’t want to pull any muscles.”

“Don’t you need to have muscles, to pull them?” She asked, with a small chuckle. But with a nod, she pulled her arm across her chest, stretching out her shoulders. As she switched sides, she bit the inside of her cheek, “You really think they’ll ever find us here, Deck?”

“We’d be foolish to think they never will,” he admitted, “Still, doesn’t mean we stop living our lives and hoping they don’t,” pulling his arm over his head, he continued with a sigh, “I wish I didn’t have to bring up Travis like this...fearing for his future, wondering if tomorrow would be the day. It’s why I try to make life as normal as I can here.”

A sigh escaped, as Rose nodded, “Yeah… I guess you’re right. We can’t lose sight of what’s out there just because it feels safe. But you two do a great job, Deck. You and Penny. Especially considering where they came from… what he and Zo went through. Pretty normal, all things aside.” Rolling her neck, she looked upwards, then down again, “Penny went over a few thing with me, too, you know… You two think so alike sometimes, it’s scary.”

“We’re survivalists,” he answered, “We’ve seen the worst in people in our own ways and have had to fight to make it to this day. You’re a survivalist, too, Rose. You had to be to endure Harper’s bullshit,” Deck leaned forward and touched his toes, counted to ten and then straightened, “It’s good that Penny’s showing you things. The more you know, the better armed you’ll be. You’ll be ready to face off against Travis in no time,” he said smirking.

“Ouch! Come on… I'd like to think even without training I could probably take on a ten year old b-- you know what? Just… Don't say anything!” With a chuckle, she resumed stretched, before she stepped off the porch and into the yard, “Please try to remember I'm small and pathetic? Penny almost broke me as is…”

“Penny’s not that big either, she’s just ferocious so I get to be a little more aggressive. Don’t worry, if I can train Travis without crushing him, I can train you,” he spoke as he joined her in the yard and put his hands up palms toward Rose, “Alright, show me what Penny’s taught you.”

Looking up, anxiety crossing her eyes, hands raised defensively, “...When did you get so tall? Gosh.” Breathing in, she nodded and squaring her hips, rooted herself, swinging with a left hook into his palm.
 
Roleplay Invitations
Not Taking RP Invites at this Time
Posting Speed
Several Posts a Day
My Usual Online Time
8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Writing Levels
Prestige
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Primarily Prefer Female
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Probably a mix. When I GM I tend to prefer mostly aggressive, but with input from my players. I like to offer ideas and receive them. I don't like when people just take the reins and run with it though...especially in a 1x1.
Favorite Genres
Political intrigue, fantasy, futuristic, sci fi lite, superheroes, historical fiction, alternate universes. Smittings of romance, but only as side plot.
Genre You DON'T Like
Anime. Ever. Just not my jam.

Smut. Romance as a main plot. Horror. Grimdark.
#10
Trypto-Fam
A collab with KatSea KatSea

  Her hands were shaking like maracas in a Mariachi band, and all Georgie could think was how Doctor Charmichael would call it “Turkey Time”. There wasn’t, of course, enough tryptophan in turkey to stave off the bad shakes, but it helped make her laugh, and any time she was laughing was better than the alternative.

She’d walked four blocks before she found an open drug store… This time of night, it was hard to find anything, and all the scaries out made it all the worse to be wandering around. Eventually, though, the Walgreens with the open side appeared like a bright and shining beacon, and heading inside through the sliding glass doors, she shrugged up the hood of her sweatshirt, and started down the vitamin aisle.

She hated stealing. Abhorred it, really. But the money that the good doctor had left her with was long gone, and she was running out of options… The trembling intensified, as her eyes skimmed shelf after shelf, desperately looking for the pills that would, with hope, get into her system fast enough…

“Dad...dad...I told you it’s just some medication I need to pick up...it’s not like I’m popping pills to get high.” Peter grumbled into his cellphone, resting the device into the crook of his neck as he scrambled through the countless bottles on the shelf. He had already picked up his prescription, an SSRI. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Good for the treatment of panic attacks not attributed to the use of a variety of other drugs. It wasn’t like he had taken lysergic acid diethylamide and had a post traumatic flashback to the intake. It had occurred more frequently than usual, and Peter figured it had been due to increased stress around his neighborhood. Slightly more dangerous, and he hadn’t really been able to connect to Rogue, considering the circumstances. Levi was busy with his child. Now as he considered it, medication wouldn’t be horrific. He trusted himself not to pop.

Then again, genetics was always a cruel mistress.

“You do not need medication, Peter.” Ibraham’s voice seemed to echo, Peter barely having time to register his father’s voice. Having gripped the correct vitamins from the shelf, he knew that he may have been experiencing a deficiency. Being locked up in his apartment all day hunching over his desk was bound to make vitamin D a difficult thing to keep in heavy supply.

“I’ll call you back.” Peter bounced his ear against the hang up button, a pleasant beep greeting him as the call was disconnected. Sliding the device down into his jean pocket, he found that his eyes flurried over to a...jittery woman. Peter’s brow rose.

“Miss, are you alright?” Peter recognized the trembling a little too well, the brief illusion of a headache clouding his senses. He shook it off.

She jumped. She couldn’t help it. She was so scared already… Stealing was a crime, and she didn’t like the idea of jail, not in the slightest, oh no, but scared and jittery and well… She jumped, and as she did, the bottled she’d been holding in her hand bounced OUT of her hand and smacked into about nine(hundred) other bottles, sending a catastrophic avalanche of vitamins and pills skittering around the aisle.

Paling, breath catching, she slapped her shaking hands over her mouth, muttering behind her fingers, “Oh no, oh no, oh no…”

Peter’s first instinct was to reach his hands into a gesture of peace, the woman’s hop sending fear down his spine. A collusion occurred moments later, sending a cascade of pill bottles onto the pharmacy’s tile floor. “Hey, hey, it’s okay.” Peter found his words without thought, astonishment flooding his features as calm entered his being. He kneeled down without hesitation, clearing the bottles from the floor and placing them back neatly onto the shelf. Orderly. Any trembling in Peter’s body melted away as he made sure each and every bottle was placed back into it’s correct slot of space.

“See, not a problem.” He made his way back to his feet, inspecting the young woman with a curious and worried gaze. “Ma’am, are you okay?”

“...J...just… jitters.” She chattered, watching wide-eyed and confused as he scooped to start collecting the mess she’d made and right it. It didn’t seem right… He wasn’t responsible. She was. The lady who peered behind the cash register at them seemed to think so, too, because she was shooting Georgie such a nasty look… but all the same…

“P...please. I..I ca...can do…” A wave of dizziness caught her and tumbling slightly, she caught the edge of the shelf as her knees threatened to give way.

This woman had to have been an addict. Peter could pinpoint it immediately, yet there were a few signs that appeared to be missing. She was shaking, stammering, clearly not in her correct mind. He couldn’t detect other symptoms, particularly physical ailments.

His examination snapped out of existence as the woman stumbled, keeping her balance meerly by chance. Peter extended his arms towards her, despite his anxiety flaring up. He gently clasped the woman by her shoulders, allowing her to balance. He found that stammers stuck in his throat. “H-hey. You need h-help.”

“O..oh.” Looking up with wide eyes, she managed a conscious, if not weary smile, “Y...you got j...jitters t...too!” Gesturing then, to the shelves, a frown covered the smile, “T...t..tryp…” Why was it always so hard to remember when she couldn't find it on her own, “Tryp...to… Th… The stuff in m...milk!”

“Y-yeah.” Peter breathed, brow tightly knit in concern as she tried to stammer out a response. Try...Tryptophan. His eyes lightened in understanding, although he was confused about how this woman could have had such a deficency to this extreme. Anxiety and depression were common, he knew that, but to the point of…

He blinked. “Tryptophan. Got it. Hold on to me?” Peter asked of her gently, placing his prescription and vitamins on the nearby shelf. He wracked his brain thoroughly to see if he could determine any other items. There was no readily available meat…

Milk. Chocolate. Both things he could get here. He began to scramble through his pockets with his free hand, he supported her and plucked his wallet from his jacket. “Actually...Do you think you can stand by yourself just for a little bit? I promise I will be very quick.”

Laughing softly, Georgie gave a nod, but regretted it, as the room spun a little more and wobbly already, she had to hold tighter to the poor good Samaritan beside her, “Oof… m...maybe… just not so fa.. Oh!” Pointing, suddenly, she exclaimed, “There! Forgot how to spell it for a sec, but it's right there.” With a free hand, she gestured to the bottle of 500mg Tryptophan supplements.

“O-oh, g-good eye,” Peter complemented, grinning sheepishly as his fingers clutched the bottle. He supposed he had gotten a brief brain disconnect, cursing the Gunner family curse of everyone eventually royally descending into foolishness. “Okay...come on over.” He kept a gentle grip upon the woman as he feebly hobbled over to the counter, flipping his wallet open and blindly pulling out a wad of cash. He turned the bottle over to the woman, popping open the cap.

Staring, eyes somehow managing to widen further, Georgie shook her head, “Y...you didn't h..have t...to…” But she fell quiet as the woman behind the counter continued to stare at her, darkly. Taking the bottle, she emptied a handful into her palm, roughly ten pills and two at a time, began popping them down her throat, “T...ta...takes a l...little...t...time to k...kick...in.”

“I figured.” Peter blinked at her dosage. “And it’s fine. Don’t…” Realizing it may have taken her some time to fully digest the effect, Peter let go of her and peeked his head down under the counter. As he figured, there was a candy section, chocolate bars and a variety of colored Tic Tacs supplying the self. He grasped a Hershey’s bar, plopping it onto the counter and once again paying. “If that doesn’t work fast enough, rub some chocolate against your gums. You'll absorb the effect faster.”

Blinking, she took the chocolate like he'd handed her a bar of gold and without a word, Georgie threw her arms around his shoulders, a small feat for a pint sized earthquake, hugging him briefly. Stepped away, she clutched the counter with one hand and held the chocolate to her heart, “Are y….you...y...ou a d...doctor?”

Peter couldn’t find oxygen. His throat clenched at the feeling of her arms around his shoulders. A hug. From this stranger who he had assisted. Is this a test or something? Is she gonna grow a halo? Peter wanted to laugh at the thought, but found that nothing came out. He swallowed and gently pat her back in return. “N-no. I-im not. I-Im hoping to be,” He clarified, smiling, but knowing that couldn’t be possible. He didn’t have proper education. He just knew this because of the time he spent looking for his answers. “W-why dont we get you to somewhere you can sit down?”

“Y...you re...remind me… of m...my doct...doctor. Well, n...not m...mine. J...just he… he t...took care of m...me f...for a w..w.hile.” Blinking, she gave a small, hesitant nod, “G...good i...idea.” Her eyes had shifted again to the young woman behind the counter, now shooting daggers at both of them, “I...I'm G...G...Georgie, b...by the way. Georgina C...Cass.”

“Oh. Thank you?” Peter questioned, assuming that she had meant that in a good light. He was very aware that these shops tended to have an area to check your blood pressure, and along with it a chair or two. Surely enough, as Peter guided the young woman gently along the aile, his eyes peeked up and he noted the area in question. He took his time getting her to her seat, not wanting her to stumble behind. He leaned against the wall after gesturing for her to sit down, his own eyes peeking down to his medication. “Georgie? Nice to meet you. I’m Peter. Peter Gunner. I’m glad I was here to help out. I don’t think the cashier was taking particularly kind to your situation.” His brow rose in the woman’s general direction.

“M...most people d...don't.” She answered honestly, and without bitterness, as a small smile formed on her lips again, “S'okay. I kn...know what I l...look like. It… it's m...my Ser...serotonin l..levels. Th...they get r...real l...low somet...times.”

“You needed help.” Peter shrugged, as if his actions were a simple and expected response. “I figured, you just needed some tryphotan to even out the levels. That makes sense. If your levels are too low it...it would explain the ‘jitters.’ Believe it or not, I can sympathize.” He raised his SSRI prescription. Prozac. Anti-Depressant. Perhaps his father had been right, considering the severity Peter carried around with the drug. Not so much the affect, more of the brand. But if it helped, so be it. “I get jitters a lot too, believe it or not.”

“A...anxiety…” She murmured softly, an odd look coming over her. She could. She shouldn't… Not considering her levels… but she wanted to. God, did she want to. He was so nice, and helpful, and someone that good didn't deserve to feel bad…

“W...want s...some of m...my chocolate?”

“Yeah...I suppose that’s one way to put it.” Peter claimed, attempting to be nonchalant about the matter. In reality he was quite embarrassed, having these symptoms. He just knew that this would most likely ease her, and he supposed sympathizing and empathizing with someone with a similar case could be healthy for the both of them. “Hmm? N-no no. You keep it, it’ll help you in the long run.”

“It's the worst…” Georgie mused. Sometimes, most of the time really, it was hard for her to remember where she'd come from. All she knew was it had something to do with all that, and she never wanted to go back. Itching the innermost part of her forearm, she held out a hand, “Thanks f...for all your h...help.”

“At the very least, it’s curable. Even just for a temporary time.” His eyes flickered down to her extended hand, curiosity blossoming along his visage. Slowly he took it in his own, giving it a gentle shake. “As I’ve said, it’s not a problem. You needed help. D...do you think you can get yourself home okay?”

It was a subtle nudge. Just subtle. The tiniest little dose. Just enough that, with hope, she could alleviate some of the debilitating anxiety he felt… Curable. It certainly was…

Blinking at his question, she retracted her hand and with a small laugh, she shrugged, “Oh for sure! Gettin’ home's easy peasy when you don't have one!”

Peter felt a wave of warmth wash through him. It stung pleasantly along his chest, but he couldn’t determine what had caused this rush of pleasant emotion. It...it was like lying in the field with Levi in the afternoon. Feeling the wind flutter past him, the warmth of the sun basking him in a coat of comfort and security.

That couldn’t be right. Despite the sudden rush of good emotion, his color began to fade. She moved away from him in the next moment, her following words seeming to evacuate any pleasant feeling from his body.

“You...you don’t have any place to stay?”

“I mean… there's always a place to stay!” She said, with a small grin, “Sometimes the shelters aren't so nice, but they got cots and… s...showers. J...just gotta t...time it r...right and no one b...bothers you.”

“Um…” Peter bit his lip, recalling the brief time he had experienced when he was without a proper home, knowing how difficult it was before he found a Rogue facility. He rubbed the back of his neck, his mind not properly providing him a working filter as he asked “Do you need some place to stay tonight?”

Blinking, Georgie sat up a little, “...Y...you mean w...with…” It wasn't the first time a scrap of kindness fell on her at random. Idly, she always wondered if it had to do with the endorphins she put out, and there was a small part of her that felt a twinge of regret about it every time. She wasn't manipulative. Not on purpose, anyway… And she hated to think that if she just resisted the pull to help, maybe they could, too…

But there was also a part of her that loathed the idea of being out on the streets, or dealing with the scaries in the shelter…

“W...with you?”

“Er...yeah...I don’t see why not.” Peter shrugged, although he felt anxiety begin to flare up again. She didn’t appear to be a danger, and rather radiated...well, positivity? He supposed he could detail her atmosphere as radiant. She had smiled about not living in a proper home, something that unnerved Peter. No one should have to navigate the world without a little help. Besides, he had been to a shelter once or twice. He knew the comfort of a proper bed and a personal shower. “I don’t want you to have to get the jitters again out on the street, you know?”

Chuckling gently, Georgie looked him over with a curious, searching gaze. He really did remind her of the doctor…

“N...no. T...that wouldn't be g...good.” Especially since despite what she called them, she knew well enough they weren't just simple jitters, “O...okay. But only if you're sure…?”

“I’m sure. I don’t think I can let you go without a home in good conscience.” What was he saying? How long was he going to let this woman stay at his home? Until she could get back on her feet? He knew that he needed to let his doors open for her though, or else be flooded by guilt and the full acceptance that he had let this woman, prone to possible tremors and a variety of other probable symptoms, roam the town alone. “Besides, I dont think you are a serial killer. There isn’t any harm.”

“Oh! Gosh, no. Doctors said I was p..perfectly harmless, in fact!” She added with a big grin, “That's r...real nice of you Pete. T...thanks. I… don't know a whole lot but I.. I c...can t..try and make it up to y… you.”

“No no, I trust you on that.” He claimed, a small smile gracing his lips. He felt amusement creep up to the corners of his mouth. “Just don’t get into trouble or destroy the apartment. That’s all I ask.”

“Oh goodness. I… I don't think I'd kn...know how to do any of that. I was in a building that blew up once, b...but I didn't d...do it. And I never w...would.” For a split second, she looked confused, fingers dragging through her hair, “At least I th...think that happened… I forget sometimes.”

“You…” Peter blinked. Exploding building? That...he did recall, however, a few years back about a similar incident. His shoulders tensed. Not as unlikely as I thought it would be “Oh. Oh dear. M-may I ask what happened? If um, you haven’t forgotten.”

“It…” Frowning softly, she tried to drag the memories out, tried to bring the details back to life, “It happened when… when the world went wrong. The hospital… something got loose and… and caused a whole mess of trouble. And it… well, it blew up.” Rubbing the back of her neck, she shrugged, “Lots of people got hurt…”

Hospital. Most likely for the tryptophan deficiency. A hospital collapsing, however...he swallowed. He didn’t know whether or not to accept what she had said, but at this point it didn’t matter. He had already opened his doors to her. “I’m sorry. Um...I promise that won’t happen at the apartment. We...we can probably head out.”

“Okay!” Georgie chirped, and the brightness stole over the brief cloud of confusion and she pushed upright, probably a little faster than she should have. Idly itching her wrist, she smiled, “You should p...probably lead the way.”

Peter wasn’t sure if he should be questioning his choice. It was far too late to decline, and she seemed harmless. Perhaps a little...eccentric, but harmless. She had brightened up as quickly as she had dimmed, hopping to her feet and sending Peter’s heart into his throat. “Careful, careful. Come on, then.”

Catching his arm, Georgie gave him a crooked grin, “Whoops. Yep. All good… Lead on, Pete!”
 

CloudyBlueDay

obvious cryptic
Roleplay Invitations
Group Roleplays, One on One Roleplays, Chat Roleplays, Not Taking RP Invites at this Time, Private Convo Roleplays
Posting Speed
A Few Posts a Week, One Post a Week
My Usual Online Time
I check as often as I can.
Writing Levels
Intermediate, Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female, No Preferences
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Both.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy, Realistic/Modern, Magic, Scifi, Romance
Genre You DON'T Like
I am generally not a huge fan of RPing Fandom, but it can depend.
#11
Closing Up Shop
with Elle Joyner Elle Joyner

It was long since dark. The main act had ended, and with that, the circus was closed for the day. People filtered out the exits, leaving those that worked within the circus to clean up, close up, and herd those lingering customers away.

With a freshly bleeding lash across her cheek from the show, Emiko moved towards the smaller game like acts that were placed strategically around the circus, checking for any audience members who hadn’t left yet. This was the large portion of all the cruelty in the circus, and Em was often forced to shift to scare away some drunkards. There were always those with a taste for the crueler activities left in Aras’ tent, and Emiko stepped inside.

“Circus is closed.” She snarled.

Thwock

The solid sound of a fist hitting flesh echoed through the tent, followed by another uproar from the small crowd still gathered - still hoping for their shot. As the behemoth of a man whaled into Aras’s stomach, the younger man barely moved, barely ebbed, and a sly smirk spread on his split lip as he looked up at the man with a shake of his head, “Looks like the show’s over there, SheHulk… but thanks for playing…”

With a growl, the large man bore down again, and side stepping this time, Aras smacked out his hand, the side of it colliding with the back of the fool’s neck. He dropped, hard to the dirt, and the crowd stilled…

Finally, a groan escaped the unconscious figure, and cracking his neck, Aras waved the onlookers away. Murmurs, threats, promises of return… they eventually all filtered out through the tent flaps, and as the bulk of a man was carted off by two stagehands, Aras moved to the bucket by the edge of the ring, grabbing a towel to wipe off.

Emiko watched quietly, lip trapped under her teeth in apprehension. She didn’t need to be scared for Aras, and she knew that well enough, but it was still disgusting to watch all those with a hunger to hurt. As the tent emptied, Em moved forward, stepping up near Aras as she looked him over, blue eyes taking in his presence. “It was busy today.” She murmured softly, a hand coming up to wipe the blood off her cheek. “Are you alright?”

A brow rose as Aras lowered the towel from his face, and taking her in, he frowned softly, “...I’m fine. First guy nicked me, before I had a chance to power up. What happened?” He asked, gesturing to his cheek, where she had a gash on her own.

Gaze falling down, Emiko shrugged. “New part of the act. The crowd likes to see her bring out the whip.” She leaned against the edge of the ring, staring ahead. “I don’t know why they all want blood so badly. It’s…” Sick. Terrible. Disgusting. She didn’t even need to say anything. Emiko shivered.

Shaking his head, Aras grabbed another towel from the bucket, and dipping it into the water, he rung it out, before bringing it up to her cheek to gingerly wipe away the blood, “Because they’re the animals, Em… and she’s a bitch. Told me today she wants me to give it two full minutes before I activate, so the crowd can see some action… get their money’s worth. Bastard had a school ring on…”

She cringed at first, the cut stinging at his touch, but the coolness of the water quickly calmed the pain and she allowed him to continue to dab at the wound. Her fists balled at her sides. “I’m sorry, Aras.” Emiko murmured, shaking her head. “If I could… If I could do anything..” But she couldn’t. It was rare that the Ringleader even let Emiko walk out and about without the pretense of some chore or duty. Everyone knew that no one was her toy like Emiko was, but in the moments she was offered freedom, she preferred to spend it with him and the others. “It’s not fair.”

“What, you mean like turn into an elephant and step on her big, fat head?” Aras asked, with a small smirk, wincing a bit as his lip seeped, “Nah, Em. You need to keep your head down. We all do.” Swinging the towel over his shoulder, he cracked his knuckles, shaking them out, “Best chance we got of surviving, right?”

A quiet giggle erupted out of Emiko at his joke, though it faded quickly at seeing him wince. “I’m not a fat head,” She protested weakly, though there was still a bit of a sad smile on her lips. “I.. guess so.” She murmured. Emiko couldn’t ever even see a life where she escaped. Surviving seemed to be the only thing out there. She nudged his arm gently, waiting for him to be ready to walk back to the sleeping quarters with her.

“Not you…” He said, with a small laugh, “Dáskalos tou thiríou. She’s the fathead, Em.” Tossing the rag back into the bucket, he started to unwind the tape from his bruised, cracked knuckles, following Em to the tent exit, “So what were you tonight, anyway? Lions, tigers and bears, again?”

“Oh.” Em said, another grin flickering onto her face. “Right.Dáskalos tou thiríou.” She echoed, even if she checked around them carefully before uttering it. “I.. think so. The usual. I think I was a peacock, too. I saw the feathers afterwards.” She wasn’t often aware of what the Ringleader concocted for her shows. Out of the pocket of her ill-fitting nightgown she brought out a peacock feather. “Isn’t it pretty?”

Looking at the feather, Aras nodded faintly, “It’s beautiful, Em. Sorry I missed it…” It was a pretty dumb thing to say, considering he missed all her shows, but he said it, anyway, “Had a few peacocks here, tonight, too, but they weren’t half as pretty as you probably were.” He added, with a grin, “Catch that last guy? Pretty sure Madam Fathead hired him from the Russian Gulags…”

“Not really a show you need to see, Aras.” She said softly with a shrug, giggling again at his comment. His jokes never failed to bring a smile to her face, and she twirled the feather in her hands as they walked, his compliment bringing a pleased hint of color to her cheeks. “I don’t doubt it. And shhh… don’t say Madam Fathead anymore.” She grinned up at him, the tent where all performers slept coming into view . “She might hear you…”

Inside was somewhat quiet; most were still wrapping up their shows or cleaning up. Instantly spotting the two girls she was looking for, Emiko skipped forth towards Kaya and Mollie, the two contrasting girls taking off their glittering makeup together in the mirror. “Emmy!” Kaya cooed, and Emiko excitedly presented her with the feather, to which Kaya marveled at, while Mollie chuckled, waving Aras over. “Oh, beautiful. But here, I think it’d look much better on you.” She tucked the feather behind Emiko’s ear. “You feelin’ alright, Aras?” Mollie called.

“Yeah, Emmy?” He said, with a sly grin, “What’s she gonna do? Beat me up?” But he felt quiet anyway, and as they entered the tent, he brushed his fingers through his hair and approached the others alongside her. Tugging over a chair, he flipped it backwards and sat down, arms braced over the back bar, “About the same as usual, Mol. Nothin’ that won’t heal, though. You?”

Emiko sat down at Kaya’s feet, arms crossed as the older girl’s hands weaved through her unruly hair, expertly pulling it into a braid. Mollie wiped away the last of the glittering blue eyeshadow with a makeup wipe, smiling coyly at Aras. “You know, livin’ the high life. Creating rings of fire for Em to jump through never gets old. Did you hear that the Ringleader’s planning on Paris next?”

“Rings of fire, and whips… What will she think of next, our lovely patroness?” Shaking his head, he turned his eyes to the mirror, and frowned slightly at the bruise forming over his right brow, “Paris, huh? Spectacular. Think she’ll give us all a holiday and let us explore the city? I’d say I’d kill a man for a day off, but hell… she might take it seriously and put it in the act.”

While Mollie chuckled, Kaya frowned at Aras, and then at Emiko for laughing at the joke as well. The fiery redheads gaze followed Aras’, and she shook her head, reaching down and pulling out a small first aid kit, opening it and beckoning him to move his chair closer. “Nah. No holiday. But I hear just being in the city is something else. Always dreamed of it.” Emiko looked up between Aras and Mollie curiously. “Maybe we’ll have a view of the eiffel tower.” Kaya murmured.

Shifting his chair forward, Aras glanced to Emiko, and nodded, “We’ll see it all. Gonna find a way. Can’t be in a place like that and see the inside of a tent. Hell with that. Between the four us, we’ll figure out a way to take in the sights.” Sitting straighter, his eyes shifted to Mollie, “You know they’re just gonna mess is all up again, tomorrow, Mol. Don’t you get tired of wastin’ supplies?”

Emiko’s eyes sparkled, but Kaya seemed to be angered by this topic, shooting Aras another look with a shake of the head, perhaps for the fact that he was giving Emiko what she believed to be false hope. “Hell yeah.” Mollie said, despite Kaya’s scrutinous gaze. She gave the woman a nudge, and Kaya grumbled. “We’ll figure it out. Oh, Em, it’s the city of love. You’ve never seen anything like it.” Mollie grinned, before rolling her eyes at Aras. “Ain’t a waste, hun. Gonna make it feel better for tonight, and that’s what counts. Now bring your pretty little pout here.”

“Yes, Mom…” Aras mused, with a grin, before his eyes flickered over to Kaya, “You scowl like that, you’re gonna get wrinkles, Kay. C’mon… you gotta admit it, the idea of being is Paris and not seeing at least something? It’s crap. It’s just not gonna fly. And what’s she gonna do? Fire us?”

“Yeah, Kay.” Emiko chirped, which lead Kaya to jokingly and lightly tug at Em’s hair. “Ooooow.” Em whined. “You know getting fired is the best option.” Kaya said, gaze steely. “It’s not worth the risk.” “Kay, when did you get so salty?” Mollie jabbed. “We’re not even there yet… no need to get upset. But if you’re gonna stay in, hell, me n’ Aras might just have a night on the town.” “And me too.” Emiko interrupted. “Of course you too, Emmy.”

“Wouldn’t leave you behind, Mikrí kyría.” Pointing a finger at Kaya, he smirked, unable to help but find amusement in her irritation, “You either, Kay… if you change that bleak outlook of yours.” Looking to Mollie, he nodded, “...Do your worst, Doc.”

Kaya sighed, shaking her head as she finished up Emiko’s braid and slid the feather in, lovingly brushing her thumb across Emiko’s cheek. “All prettied up, Em. Go to sleep like this, and you’ll have luxurious waves in the morning.” Excitedly, Em stood to admire herself in the mirror, admire looking upon her rarely tamed hair and ignoring the gash upon her cheek. Mollie smiled fondly as she began to clean any cuts that peppered Aras’ face and bandage whatever needed bandaging. “You’re next, Emmy. Putting a bandage on that cut. Where else did she nick you?” Emiko’s smile dimmed, and she shrugged off the shoulder of her nightgown to reveal a few more lashes. Kaya’s gaze darkened.

“She’s already a Lioness…” Aras said, with a smirk, “Tomorrow, she’ll look like one…” He quieted, as Mollie worked, and there was nearly no reaction from the man - so accustomed to the routine by now that he hardly noticed the poking and prodding. Eyes narrowed slightly, as Emiko revealed her shoulder, and straightening, he frowned, “Skýla...” He spat, “She’s out of her damn mind…”

“And you want to know what will happen if we go prancing around Paris?” Kaya hissed. Mollie shook her head, looking down sadly. “Kaya.. don’t scare her like that.” “No, she needs to know the truth. Em, don’t you ever anger her like that. This is just for the sake of the show… Imagine what she’ll do as punishment. I don’t ever want you to be hurt by her anymore than you already are. Do you hear me?” Em nodded silently.

“Enough, Kaya.” Aras muttered, without looking at her, “You think any of us really need to be reminded of the lengths she’ll go? You think any of us really need the warning? Hell, Kaya… We’re just tryin’ to make light of it, for once.” Running his fingers through his hair, he sighed, “No one’s gonna get hurt in Paris, Em. Alright?”

Em’s gaze flickered worriedly between the two, unsure of who to listen too. “..I’m not a kid anymore.” She finally muttered, jaw tense. “I didn’t say you were. I just don’t want to see you h-” “I already am hurt.” Emiko interrupted Kaya, nostrils flaring. Mollie cringed. “Emmy, dear. Let me bandage your cuts.” “It doesn’t matter. I’m just gonna shift tomorrow and they’ll rip.” Defiantly, Emiko turned to Aras, despite Kaya’s growing scowl. “You’ll take me to Paris… right?”

“Anytime, Mikrí kyría...” He said, with a nod, pointedly avoiding Kaya’s gaze, “But you need to let Mollie patch you up, alright? You’ve gotta sleep… and you’re not gonna, with open gashes like that. Trust me, I know.” He chuckled dryly, an attempt at humor that tanked almost as soon as it left his mouth.

Hurt flashed across Emiko’s face at Aras’ weak attempt at a joke, perhaps one of the rare times where it failed to make her laugh. Mollie winced, but turned her attention to Emiko, beckoning the girl forth. Kaya stood, arms crossed as she left the tent with a huff.

Watching Kaya walk away, Aras frowned softly, “Sorry, Mol… Didn’t mean to set her off.” Looking to Emiko’s injuries, his fists balled, “...Someone ought to take a whip to her…” He muttered, and his eyes fell to his hands, “What I wouldn’t give…”

Mollie shook her head, dismissing Aras’ apology as she tended to Emiko’s wounds, the younger girl fighting harshly not to flinch at her caring touch. “She’s been a little heated lately. Funny, considering I’m supposed to be the hot head.. I’ll talk to her later. Don’t worry yourself too much.” Emiko stayed silent, fingers combing through the braid that Kaya had done. “And don’t get wrapped up in that idea, either. She’s not worth anything.”

“Ain’t about what she’s worth, Mol.” He continued, unrolling his fists, eyeing the bruises with contempt, “When’s enough gonna be enough? Everything we’ve done, and the crowd never thins, and she still thinks she needs to add more shock value, more danger. What’s she gonna do next? Fire wasn’t enough. Whips won’t be, either…” His eyes rose, shifting from Mollie to Emiko, “Whatever Kaya says, she doesn’t need excuses to punish us.”

Emiko growled, teeth gnashing, as Mollie’s gaze took on a fire beneath the sadness. “We’ll just take it day by day. Patch up every wound, until we find a way out.” Mollie muttered, winding the last of the bandages along Emiko’s shoulder. “Damn… I don’t have anymore.” Emiko sniffed, dragging her arm across her face. “It’s fine. It’s enough. It’ll be enough.”

“A way out…” Aras glanced down at his hands again and gave a small frown, “Yeah… we’ll find one.” Looking up again, he shook his head and rising, moved to the bunk he normally occupied. He pulled off the pillow case and holding it between his fists, ripped the edge free, holding it out to Mollie, “It’s not enough, Em.”

Emiko looked up at Aras in shock, wetness pooling in her eyes. Before Mollie could even begin to start using the pillow case to wrap up the rest of Emiko’s wounds, the young girl stood to wrap her arms around his middle, burying her face in his shirt. Mollie smiled at the sight, offering Aras an appreciative nod from behind.

Min klais, Mikri kyria…” Aras breathed out, and he looped his arms around her shoulders to hug her tightly, as he met Mollie’s glance with a shake of his head, “You don’t let her break you, you hear me? That’s what she wants, Emmy. And you can’t let her have that. We’ve been at this too long. You, me, Mol and Kaya. We’ve been doing this thing too damn long to fall apart, now…” Stepping back, he reached out and cupping her chin, lifted her face to meet her eyes, “And she is not worth a single tear, you hear me? She’s not.”

Sniffling, nodding, and meeting his gaze with renewed intensity, Emiko wiped at her eyes. “She’s not worth a single tear.” Emiko echoed, and took that sentence to heart, yet still she couldn’t find the strength to let go just yet, and leaned against him once more.

Pulling her close again, Aras smiled faintly, shaking his head, “...Damn, Em. You’re gonna give me some reputation around here as a softy, or somethin’...” Rubbing her back, careful to avoid where the gashes were, he sighed, “I’m gonna show you Paris… Somehow. Okay? So chin up…”

“But you are a softy…” Emiko said, with a small smile, nodding along to his words and finally pulling away, inhaling deeply. “Okay… I believe you, Aras. We’ll see Paris.” Mollie, meanwhile, had leaned her chin in her hand, watching the two fondly. “Let’s finish fixing you up, Em, so you can get to bed.” She called. Emiko returned to her seat in front of Mollie, her gaze still radiating thankfulness towards Aras.

Nodding to Mollie with a small shrug, almost as if to say ‘what are ya gonna do’, Aras moved to his bunk and sank down, running his hands through his hair again with a deep sigh, “We should all go to bed… Hell of night.”

Mollie patted Emiko on the shoulder to signal she was done, and gave the woman a hug as well. “Get some rest, dear. You’ll feel better in the morning… don’t animals heal faster than humans?” She teased, lightly pinching the girl’s unharmed cheek. “Night, Mol… Night, Aras.” Emiko called.

“Night Em…” Aras mumbled, flopping back onto his pillow, arm over his eyes.
 
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KatSea

Edgepeasant
Roleplay Invitations
Group Roleplays, One on One Roleplays
Posting Speed
Several Posts a Day
My Usual Online Time
Generally online in the afternoon eastern time
Writing Levels
Give-No-Fucks, Adaptable
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
More passive but am decently comfortable with leading.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy, mystery, magical, modern,
Genre You DON'T Like
Dystopian, Survival stories,
#12
Collab: A Ray of Sunshine, Georgie Elle Joyner Elle Joyner

Dear Levi,

It’s been five days since I have invited a gentle young woman into my home. I have mentioned to you briefly of her, a woman who has clearly shown signs of certain chemical deficiencies. She does not have a home beyond my own, and despite the initial worry, I have found she makes for a good companion. I have had to handle one seizure due to a tryptophan deficiency. You may recognize this as a serotonin high, or you may not. Either way, if you are unfamiliar with this, tryptophan is something found in protein based items. Meat, mainly turkey. Milk. Soy products. Chocolate. To put it simply, it keeps the chemical balance in check. A lack of this chemical leads to three major things. Depression. Anxiety, and in Georgina’s case, seizures. Luckily she has not suffered one since, and I make sure that she is properly fed and supplemented. Other than that, she is doing well. She has taken hostage of many of my sweaters, sweatshirts, and many of my woolen blankets. It is alright, in retrospect. I think she’s happy. She keeps me happy, as well, oddly enough.

But, onto another matter, I have been having trouble remembering to take my medication. Ibraham, God bless his soul, is not content with me on the drug. He does not take me for an addict, but I think he does not find this, nor the therapy necessary. You know him as well as I do, he is minimally outdated. I do not mind, but it has only been a few days and with no sign to indicate the medication has taken its full affect. I have not had an attack since Thursday, when there was a possible threat in the building. During this attack, I had injured my arm briefly. I wish to inform you that injury has healed, and there is no reason for you to come up to visit me. I know you and your wife have been busy with Eliza, and you should not have to travel to see me for the time being.

Be sure to video chat with me later? I know letters have been our methodology since we were children, but this method of communication is rather slow. Besides, I would like you to meet Georgie. She is a sweet woman, to say the least.

I promise to visit soon. I miss my niece, as well as my sister in law. Tell Daisy I wish her the best, and make sure Lizzy knows I am going to be visiting in due time. I miss you severely.

Love Pete.


Peter’s arm seized in pain as the pencil dropped to the desk. He whimpered briefly, skimming his free hand along side of it. “Ah. Experimentation always proved to be a cruel maid.” It had been six in the morning, plenty of free time for him to clean the apartment before his guest awoke.

His eyes skimmed the letter. Medication. Right. He was supposed to take some. He grimaced. Drowsiness, anxiety, ah the irony of that symptom. One weird day and I feel like I shouldn’t continue. Grumbling, Peter got up from his living room desk, raking his hand through his scraggly hair.

“Okay. Breakfast it is.”

“And that's how he met his foul, sticky end!” Georgie sat on the floor of Peter's apartment, a worn down shoe held over her head, eyes staring down at something on the carpet. As Peter walked into the room, she perked up, grinning broadly, “You had a spider… I tried to ask him nicely to leave, but he wasn't having it.”

“You...you are awake?” Peter questioned, staring down at his attire and realizing, despite the fact he had been awake for a good thirty minutes, he was in no shape for the day. A baggy, much too large t-shirt depicting a sleeping Pikachu hung from his torso. His oversized sweatpants draped over his feet, dragging lazily along the tile. His features squished, eyes narrowed as he inspected the shoe with weary intention. “Oh, thank you, noble spider slayer.” Peter smiled and passed by her, his fingers lacing through her hair as he ruffled her locks. “Milk and french toast sound good for breakfast?”

“Oh yes! I couldn't sleep! Felt itchy, so I got up and I was gonna make cookies but then I remembered I dunno how to bake and then I saw the spider and he was obstinate about leaving and I had to smush him and oh! French toast sounds fancy! Don't go to any trouble… Did you sleep okay? You look real tired…” Somewhere in the middle of her rambling, she rose to her feet, and the length of his sweater dropped halfway to her knees, her hands swallowed up by the sleeves, as she tucked her hair back over her ear, “Can I help you cook? Promise I'm a real good listener!”

“Itchy? Did you take your tablets?” Peter questioned with a perked brow as the young woman continued to ramble about the pesky, eight legged intruder. “A fair and brave soldier.” Peter confirmed, brushing stray locks from his vision. “Medication leads to weird dreams. I am not too insistent on taking them again this morning.” He confirmed, leading her to the small kitchenette that was attached to the living room. Scrambling through the cabinets blindly, his gaze was once again drawn to her and his oversized sweater. “You seem cozy.” He commented, a pleased smile growing along his lips.

Once he had grabbed the pre-made pastry, he began to tear carefully into the plastic. He had made a brief grocery run the night before, making sure he was stocked up on all the essentials. Particularly for his guest. He supposed working odd jobs around town served him well. “We are just going to put it in the pan with some butter. Not much else we can do. Oh, if you’d like I have some cinnamon and whip cream you can grab.” He motioned to the cabinet and to the fridge with his thumb.

Eyeing him a moment, Georgie's expression fell oddly thoughtful, a curious thing, as she watched him work. Nightmares. No one liked those. And if wasn't sleeping, that would only make his anxiety worse.

“Oh, oh yes! I took some!” It wasn't that sort of itchy anyhow, and with that thought, a brilliant notion came over her and a grin spilled to her features. Biting her lip, she passed by him, and as she did, she just barely brushed the back of his knuckles with her own, opening the cabinet a moment later, “I'm very comfy by the way! Thank you so much for the sweater…”

“Good! Good. I want to make sure you keep a decent uptake. Keep yourself healthy.” Peter evaluated her with a click glance. “You look bright and cheery. That’s a good sign.” He returned to the task at hand, placing the toast into the pan and readjusting his shirt. His arm tensed again briefly, although it vanished the moment Georgie accidentally brushed her hand against his. A familiar emotion shot through his veins like magma. He felt the warmth again, draped over his shoulders and seeping into his chest. He hadn’t felt this since Levi had made them both a batch of mac n cheese for the first time in years. Levi wasn’t the best chef around, yet there was something miraculous about that particular batch. He had been wrapped in blankets, forced underneath his brother’s shoulder as he tried to steal a quick taste before it was ready.

His shoulders tensed. This doesn’t feel right. “Oh, no problem. I have plenty to go around.” He promised her, keeping his suspicions down. “Besides, anything to see a smile on your face. It’s my job to keep my guest happy.” He drummed his fingers against the counter. “You are feeling alright, right?”

“Me? Peachy keen, Pete!” Georgie hummed, flashing a radiant smile, “How about you? You feel any better?” She wasn't manipulative. She wasn't trying to be, but there was a thrill in it… in knowing she could help. Sometimes, it was a little dangerous, but that hasn't stopped her yet…

“Now that you mention it, I am feeling a lot better.” Peter’s brow knitted together. He didn’t think it was the medication kicking in. Each time she brushed against him, whether it be at the nearby Walgreens or even in his own home...he had a slight, pleasant jitter. It didn’t feel wrong. It just felt...unnatural. Specific. A rush.

“Oh, good!” She answered, as if it were the most natural thing in the universe to say after his response, “Where'd you say the whipped cream was?”

“Fridge.” Peter answered absentmindedly, focus no longer concentrated upon his work. “Georgie, it’s weird...everytime you brush by me...It’s like I feel better. Weird, right?”

Peering into the fridge, she frowned softly in concentration, “Hmm… Not weird. I'm doing it on purpose… Ah! Here it is…” Appearing around the fridge door, she grinned, “I don't like seeing you sad… not when you've been so nice to me.”

“Doing...what on purpose?” Peter asked, in near horror. Low tryptophan levels. Insane dosages. Oh...No no no. Did I just- “G-g-georgie are you raising my serotonin levels?”

Blinking, she considered the question for a moment, before she nodded, “Mmyep. Just… just a little bit. But it's not risky… not for you, anyway… And long as I fill back up, I'm fine!”

“Georgie…” Peter blinked, once, then again, pieces starting to connect back together. What she said about the hospital was entirely possible. RIEF...Horror overtook Peter’s visage and he slid the pan off the counter, approaching her and gently placing his hands on her shoulder. “What you are doing is very dangerous. One, for your tryptophan levels. My guess is that your chemical imbalance comes from over usage of your abilities. I...I know the feeling. Believe me I do. But you can’t be giving people shots of serotonin. People...people aren’t kind about this sort of thing. If I wasn’t...wasn’t like you…” He shuddered at the thought. “Look. Giving away your ability to random strangers...even to someone you think you know, it’s very dangerous.”

Staring up at him, the smile edged away a little, “B...but I wanna help? People get real sad… and I can… I can make that go away. What happened to me four years ago, Pete… it was a gift. I… I don't remember everything, but I remember enough to know I was in a bad place. I got… I got scars, and I don't even know where they came from. Memories I can't understand. All I know is I woke up and I felt free from all the stuff that hurt. And I can't keep that to myself. It's not right.”

A gift. Four years ago. Peter’s form slacked, his grip falling from her shoulders. “Oh. Oh my God.” He raked his fingers roughly through his hair. “Georgie. I understand...these powers, they are a gift. A wonderful, truly wonderful gift. But you have to understand...I’ve seen what they’ve done to you already. And...people aren’t always welcoming. To people like us.” His arm seized up again.

“I… I usually try to keep it a secret. But you've been so nice.” Reaching out, she touched a hand to his arm, delicately, “P...people like us? You… you, too?”

“Y-yeah.” Peter’s head hung between the two of them, his breathing somewhat uneven. He should have been able to trust her, knowing that she had an ability. Yet there was still fear within him, churning in his stomach. “I can take away pain.”

Biting the inner part of her lower lip, her hands rose to cup his cheeks and leaning in, she pressed a kiss to the top of his head, before releasing him, “Silly Pete… that's not a secret. I already knew that…”

Peter froze, nearly leaning into the touch against his cheeks. It was comforting, and he realized it had nothing to do with chemical imbalance. Red soon over took his features, consuming his pale visage like a wildfire in a dry forest. “O-o-oh.” Scarlet, he tried to hide himself in the crook of his elbow. “I need a moment.” Breathing in, then out again, Peter unveiled his eyes and tried again. “N-nerve disconnection. I mean. S-s-simply put. Pain blockage.”

“Oh… Oh wow!” If she noticed the blush at all, she showed no indication of it, and why should she, really. “That sounds really cool.” Eyes widening she shook her head, “Just think of all the people we could help together, Petey. Like a superhero team!”

“Last person I helped...er, with my powers I mean, it didn’t go very well.” Peter admitted, sheepishly. He clamped his hand to the back of his neck, eyes continued to be glued to the ground. The checkered pattern of the tile was beginning to look very interesting now that he thought about it. “We just have to be really, really careful okay? There are people who want to hurt...well, people who have similiar abilites. People like us.”

“Those nasty guys… the ones who started all this. Who hurt all those people.” She nodded faintly, “I know. I know. It's just… I can't fix myself. This… this gift? It made it so I wasn't afraid anymore. Not like before. It made my mind clear… And… and if I can't pass that on, I don't feel like I deserve it. But I'll be careful. I will. For you, Pete.” Grinning, she stepped back, “If it makes you feel better, I gotta let it out, or I get loopy.” Itching her brow, she shrugged, “Don't get the jitters till I run outta juice…”

“That’s all I ask.” He managed, his voice drowning in a feeble request. “I told you I couldn’t let go out there alone in good conscience. Know, considering I see you as a friend, I cannot let you get hurt in good conscience. You can administer dosages, but it has to be supervised. And you need to remember to take your tablets. Drink your milk. Have a good balance as you go. Okay?” Hesitantly, he reached up to pat her head. “Just be sure not to try and secretly dose me.”

“...Not even if… if you're havin’ a really bad day?” She asked, with a small note of concern. She was no good at taking care of herself, but she's always been more comfortable taking care of others, anyway.

“Ask my permission, first.” He requested gently, clearing his throat as he gently pressed his knuckles to his neck. “I want to monitor how much you give off. I don’t need you to...to have the jitters again because I’m having a bad day.”

“O...oh.” Nodding, she smiled faintly, “Okay. I… I think I can do that. N...no one's ever… I've never had anyone look out for me like that. That's kinda cool.” It was very cool, and she didn't need endorphins to feel that rush, “But same goes for you, buddy.” She stated, pointing a finger at him with a little wiggle, “Gotta be careful… and tell me when… when it's real bad.”

“I’m glad I can be there to help out. It was scary seeing you when you had those tremors. I don’t want to see you go through it again.” Peter bit he inside of his cheek. “Um...I suppose I can try that. It might be a little obvious I uh…” Sheepish, Peter tapped his shoes together. “Get a little stressed. A little crabby.”

Laughing softly, she shook her head, “I dunno if I can picture you crabby. But I'll take your word for it.” Looking to the abandoned breakfast items, she grinned, “Now… please explain, before I go crazy... what in the world makes it French?”

“You’d be surprised. I go without a hug for a week and I get real crabby.” He claimed, light hearted and with a returning smile. He returned the pan to the stove top, biting his lip. “Oh! Yes, yes. Well you see similar recipes have been used since the Roman Empire, if you can believe it. It’s most commonly referred as French due to English settlers. You see they would use old bread to make something very similar to this because food was scarce in the seventeen-...I’m rambling aren’t I?”

Moving closer to watch, Georgie, as slyly as she could, snaked her arms around his middle, in a gentle hug, like it was a perfectly ordinary thing to do. Quietly, she listened to his explanation, “I like rambling. Stuff no one ever said before always gets said when people ramble. Keep goin’.”

Peter eyes darted down to his stomach, where Georgie has secured herself. As if...as if this was a normal, domestic action. Peter hesitantly placed his hand upon her arm, managing to maneuver the pan with his good hand. “Oh. I suppose I won’t be crabby for another week, then. But to continue, the French initially called it pain perdu, which translates quite literally to lost bread. Traditionally the qualifications for French toast is bread that’s been coated in egg and milk before being fried. I’m not incredibly talented at this, so store bought bread will have to do.” He moved the pan aside, and without moving his body an incredible amount, he was able to reach up to the upper cabinet and pull out two plates.

“Mission accomplished.” She whispered, cheerfully, before falling silent again. As he explained the process, her eyes widened in amazement at the wealth of knowledge he possessed, “Your brain must be enormous!” She stated, and releasing her hold on him, she beamed, smelled really really good…”

“I didn’t have much to do as a kid besides read and look up random trivia.” Peter replied, chuckling at her seeming amazement. He grabbed the whip cream from the counter and shook it steadily before plopping a hefty amount onto both pieces of toast. He got the cinnamon next, being sure to be cautious with how much he applied. “You want any chocolate chips on yours?”

“That doesn't sound so bad. I… I dunno what I did. Can't remember.” Eyes widening, she watched as the breakfast grew into something one might find on the menu of an ice cream joint, “Chocolate… yes! Definitely yes, please.” Grinning, she nodded fervently, “Should be called Happy Toast…”

“I’m...sorry about that.” Peter frowned briefly, before doing as she requested and rolled on to the tips of his toes to reach up high enough in the cabinet. He plucked the bag of chocolate chips from its rightful space, making sure to give her a generous amount. “My older brother used to make this sort of stuff when I was a kid. We used to put some crazy things. Sometimes peanut butter. Sometimes crackers.” He gestured to his small kitchenette table. “Make yourself cozy.”

“You don't have to be sorry. You didn't make me forget.” She said with a chuckle, “Just… just my brain. Got all screwy. I got trouble remembering what's… what's real and what isn't, sometimes.” Scratching the tip of her nose, she shrugged, “No biggie.”

Moving to the table, she curled her feet beneath her, eyes still regarding the french toast in awe, “It's like a masterpiece…”

“Well, if it’ll help, I’ll get a journal.” He suggested, placing his plate across from her before shuffling through some silverware. Getting two forks and knives, he placed them beside her plate before going to sit. “I don’t actually eat breakfast all that much, so this is somewhat of a treat. Dig in and tell me if I’ve done alright.”

“...A… a journal?” A brow lifted, and as she started to cut the behemoth of a breakfast, she didn't look up, staring into the puddle of chocolate and cinnamon and whipped cream and toast, “Could you teach me to write?”

“Teach you to…” Peter stopped short. He didnt realize this woman had forgotten so much. He figured it could have been due to an overwhelming amount of chemical imbalance, but forgetting how to write…”of course. I’d love to. It’s one of my favorite activities, believe it or not.”

“I… I know my letters and stuff, just can't… The way they go together gets confusing sometimes. We had like… crafts and stuff in the hospital, but mostly I did painting. It's different when there's no rules to follow. But I'd like to write… A journal might help me keep track of stuff.”

“That’s perfectly okay.” Peter attempted to reassure, gaining some excitement from the prospect of teaching her how to write letters, journal entries, utter nonsense. “How about this, if I teach you writing could you teach me painting?”

“OH! Yes, definitely! That's…” Pausing, she felt her cheeks redden as a thought came to her, “I… it'll take a long time for you to teach me, though…” She was his guest, and that word had a pretty definitive timeline… “No matter! We can fit in a few lessons, maybe. I… I'm a fast learner!”

“Hey...we can take our time you know?” Peter bit his lip. He wasn’t sure how long she was going to stay with him. Well. As long as she needed. “Besides, I suck at anything artistic. You are gonna need a few eternities to show me how to paint well.”

Giggling softly, she shook her head, “I can't stay here forever Silly Pete. You'd run out of chocolate chips, so fast!”

“That’s why I work and get money. So I can keep chocolate chips and sweaters in heavy supply.” Peter began to cut through his toast, watching the whip cream cascade onto the plate. “You know you can stay here as long as you need, right? It’s not like I am going to kick you out.”

Blinking, her eyes shifted and looking up at him, she frowned, “Y...you mean it? I… Pete. That's super nice. I wouldn't wanna…” but she wasn't quite sure she knew the word for whatever it felt like to stay somewhere you didn't really deserve to be, “Wow, Pete. You… you're the best. Honest.”

“Of course I mean it. I wouldn’t dream of forcing you out. As I said. I see you as a friend. Im not going to discard you.” Peter waved his hand dismissively. “It’s nothing, Georgie. It’s honestly my pleasure.”

Breathing in, eyes filling up rather suddenly, Georgie gave a small, weak shake of her head… Discarded. That word hurt, more than she really could comprehend, “I… I'm not really sure the last time I had one of those, Pete. A friend. A real one, anyway.? Hair folding in a curtain around her face, unconsciously, she itched at the inner part of her elbow.

“Oh...Um…” Peter began to feel flustered, clearing his throat in order to allow words manifest. “Well...You deserve a friend. You do. I am glad I got the honor.” He pressed his hand over his heart.

“I… thanks, Pete.” Drying her eyes with a swipe of her sleeves, she smiled, “You deserve a friend, too. And hey… with me around, you'll never have to worry about crankiness cause you don't get hugged enough!”

“I haven’t had a friend in a long while whose been generous with hugs.” Noticing that she was wiping her eyes, he reached a hand out to her. “H-hey, don’t cry. This...this is a good thing. A really good thing.”

Biting her lip, she nodded, “I know… I… I just really don't wanna mess it up.” Rubbing the back of her neck, she shrugged, “Which… which is why I should probably tell you… the… the hospital. It's not exactly what you're probably thinking…”

“The hospital. I assume for your chemical imbalance.” Peter finished for her, head tilting curiously. “Georgie we’ve known each other for a few days. If you aren’t comfortable with sharing you do not have to until later along the road.”

“It… I lost some of it, from the medicine… from the explosion, but I know whatever I was there for, it wasn't… it wasn't the sort of hospital you get let out of.” Looking at her hands, she swallowed, “I don't want you to find out from someone else and think… think I lied. But usually when… when I tell people, they don't wanna be around me anymore…”

Mental? That would make sense. Depression is a side effect of a major imbalance. Peter found himself holding his breath. “I don’t think that will happen, Georgie. I promise.”

“E...even if… if it's the kinda place that's got a lot of scary folks in it?” Looking up, she fidgeted anxiously, “It's okay… if you… if you don't. I understand.”

“There’s a lot of places that have scary people. Trust me. You definitely aren’t one of them, either. So that’s a bonus.” He offered her a reassuring smile, frowning as he tapped his fork against the table. “As I’ve said before. You are my friend. I’m not going to discard you”

Grinning again, Georgie pushed back her chair and around the other side of the able, dropped down to loop her arms around his shoulders again, “You are the best person I have ever… ever met. And I have met… a lot of people.”

Another hug, another wave of emotion. This wasn’t artifical. He felt genuine, natural joy radiate from his being. He slowly reached up to touch her arm reassuringly, but any shade of color was robbed from his demeanor at her words. “I...Thank...thank you. You are high up there, yourself.” He hesitantly reached up to poke her nose with his thumb

Wrinkling her nose, Georgie shook her head, “Me? I'm fluff and nonsense, Silly Pete.” Pushing to her feet again, she returned to her chair and curling up in it again, returned to her breakfast, feeling endlessly lighter with that weight lifted. With any luck, the mystery of her past didn't house any other dark secrets she wasn't aware of, “Oh no!” She suddenly gasped, looking up again, “What if that spider had a family??”

“Fluff and nonsense is something in high demand.” He reassured her, watching her return to her seat. He rested his chin in his hands, eyeing her up and down. “Um...don’t worry about it. Spiders are independent creatures.”

“You… you sure?” But he was super smart. Of course he was sure. He had to be. Nodding, she turned back to her meal, and with a bite, the nerves dissipated and a smile returned to her lips.

“Absolutely positive.”

God was merciful enough to make it so. A herd of calculating, familial spiders would be too much for Peter’s stillbeating heart.
 
Roleplay Invitations
Not Taking RP Invites at this Time
Posting Speed
Several Posts a Day
My Usual Online Time
8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Writing Levels
Prestige
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Primarily Prefer Female
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Probably a mix. When I GM I tend to prefer mostly aggressive, but with input from my players. I like to offer ideas and receive them. I don't like when people just take the reins and run with it though...especially in a 1x1.
Favorite Genres
Political intrigue, fantasy, futuristic, sci fi lite, superheroes, historical fiction, alternate universes. Smittings of romance, but only as side plot.
Genre You DON'T Like
Anime. Ever. Just not my jam.

Smut. Romance as a main plot. Horror. Grimdark.
#13
A Sneaky Excursion
A collab with CloudyBlueDay CloudyBlueDay

  
He’d planned it well enough… but Aras was still nervous as he sneaked from where they were setting up the tents, back to where the girls were undoubtedly getting ready for the show. There was a small window of time… small... but it was just enough, as long as nothing went wrong, and he was determined to make it work.

If things went well… if they managed to do this, he could show them the tower and be back in time for the show, without busting a sweat…

Flipping back the tent flap he leaned inside and in a hushed whisper, called out for Mollie, “Psst! Mol… Come on. Get Em… and Kaya, if she’s comin’... We got maybe an hour… two tops, so hurry!”

In the middle of doing her hair, Mollie flashed Aras a look that had half excitement, half nervousness. Still, she smirked at him, tying off the bun and heading off to grab Em, who voiced a quiet protest before Mollie shushed her. “We’re not bringing Kaya. I think she forgot to have fun…” Em’s mouth fell open, and she gaped at Aras. “You don’t mean…”

“Oh, I mean…” Grinning, Aras nodded, “It won’t be up close and personal… not yet, anyway… But I did some exploring yesterday, and I think I figured out… well, it’s better if you just follow. But we gotta move fast. We’re on a tight schedule…” Waving them out of the tent, he smirked, starting off down the path he’d marked.

With a grin that stretched from ear to ear, Emiko excitedly rushed after Aras, only leaving Mollie to glance around with worry before setting after them. “Are we going to see the Eiffel Tower?” Emiko exclaimed, keeping at Aras’ side.

“We are, Em…” Grabbing her hand, he tugged her to the right, glancing over his shoulder to make sure that Mollie was still following. It was another good, long trek down a road, before he pulled them into an alleyway, and gestured to the fire escape attached to a Victorian brownstone, “...Up you go, quick, now… And careful. It’s slippery at the top.”

Although it was against her better judgement, Mollie couldn’t stop the warm smile that grew as Aras took Emiko’s hand. The girl deserved nothing more than to see the world, and the fact that Aras was doing everything in his power to give that to her warmed her heart. Emiko was beaming, and carefully but quickly rushed up the stairs of the fire escape, leaving Mollie to let a hand linger on Aras’ shoulder as she pressed a ginger kiss to his cheek before following Emiko up.

With a crooked grin, Aras shook his head and once they’d made it far enough up, followed after them, climbing onto the roof of the building to overlook what was, indeed, a spectacular view, and there, at the center of it all, the Eiffel Tower, gleaming and bright and magnificent, “...There you go, Em. Close as I can get you, Mikrí kyría.”

Blown away by the view, Emiko sunk onto the floor of the roof just to take it all in, stare with her mouth agape. “Wow.” She mumbled, enraptured by the sight of it, Mollie as well, eyes shimmering with excitement. “We should have taken Kaya.” She murmured. “It’s amazing.”

“I… I didn’t think she’d wanna come, honestly.” He rubbed his arms, feeling slightly awkward for a moment, before he allowed his smile to return at the awestruck looks on their faces, “It’s beautiful, right? I was pretty floored by it all…”

Emiko had no other words, completely absorbed in the view. Mollie only nodded, a smile so deeply etched into her features she hoped it would never go away. “It’s stunning.” She murmured, glancing down at Em as the wind rustled the young girl’s wild hair. “I’ll never forget it. Doubt she will, either.”

“Can’t stay long…” He echoed again, slinging an arm around Mollie’s shoulder with a small chuckle, “I timed it… We got another…” Looking at his watch, he shrugged, “...Seven minutes. Before we gotta head back.” Looking to Em, his smiled, “...Next time, we’ll bring Kaya.”

“It’s not enough.” Emiko mumbled, chin resting in the palm of her hands, sighing wistfully. Mollie rolled her eyes. “She’s going to be sorry she missed it. Oh, how I’ll brag. I’ll brag endlessly.” Mollie placed a hand on her head dramatically.

“I know, Emmy. But it's better than nothing, right?” Someday, he was gonna get them out for good… get them free, and then they'd really see the world…

Looking to Mollie, Aras laughed softly, “Poor Kaya. She'll be mad enough without the bragging, don't you think?”

Emiko nodded, still unable to rip her gaze away. She started trying to squint, to look at every little person, take in every little thing. “Oh, of course… but I love to set her off, and she knows it.” Mollie said through a lopsided grin. Emiko looked back at Aras for the first time, eyes sparkling, though narrowed with determination. “How many minutes now?”

“When she kicks your backside, Mol… you're gonna know why.” Aras said, with a small grin, before turning his attention back to Em, “About four, Emmy. Take it in… one more time.”

Mollie chuckled, rolling her eyes. Emiko’s lips curved upwards in a smirk. “I will.” She said, feathers sprouting, talons growing, and soon a small falcon replaced the young girl and dove off the edge of the roof to savor her last four minutes.

“Oh! Geez… Em…” Rubbing his brow, Aras half-laughed, half-groaned, “She's gonna kill me, Mol… one of these days.”

Mollie first squeaked at the sudden transformation, but it morphed into a small giggle, scooping up Emiko’s oversized dress. “At least she didn’t rip her clothes.” Mollie said through another laugh. “I love that girl too much for my own heart to take.”

Shaking his head, Aras pinched the bridge of his nose, fighting back another laugh, “Just warn me when she’s comin’ back down, so I can turn around, alright? Someone’s gotta make that girl a suit that changes with her, or something…”

Mollie snorted. “You’re tellin’ me.” She sighed softly, flashing him a smirk. Squinting, she thought she could make out the bird swooping low, a little too low to the streets. “It really is beautiful.” Mollie hummed.

“Yeah…” Aras nodded, dropping his hand to watch. A small frown touched his lips, and he shook his head, “I’m worried about her, Mol. She’s… she’s strong, but hell… she cares so much. That sort of heart… in a world like this? She’s gonna break, and I don’t know… I don’t know how to help her.”

A deep sigh fell out of Mollie, a frown growing to match Aras’. “Don’t need to tell me twice, hun.” She muttered. “You been tryin’. We’ve all been tryin’. Kaya’s getting overprotective… she’s sick of watching the Ringleader get more and more twisted each show. Says she wants her to start throwin’ ice at Em. And she always… she always stops controlling the poor thing when she makes us hurt her. Makes her feel it all.” Her jaw was tight with anger.

Breathing in, Aras shook his head, “...I’m gonna stop her.” He muttered, watching Em’s path as she soared overhead, “...I don’t care what it costs. I’m sick of it. This whole mess.” Eyes narrowing slightly, his fists curled, “I didn’t know how bad it was. But I’m going to make it stop.”

“Now you listen here, Aras.” Mollie said, gently but firmly, stepping towards him to poke his chest. “I know you think you can solve everything with your fists, but this ain’t one of those times. Don’t do anything… don’t do anything that will make it worse for her… for us.” She shook her head, glancing up. “About time for you to turn around, now.”

“...I’m not gonna let this keep going, Mollie. Till what? Till she decides that killing one of us will bring in a bigger crowd?? No… Something’s gotta give, and if I can’t solve it with words, what else do I have? She’s not invulner--” Looking up, he swallowed, falling quiet, and with a nod, turned his back.

Emiko landed, and Mollie tossed her the dress, shielding her eyes as the girl reformed. In what was once her beak, now dropping to her hand, was a white pastry bag. “I got you guys something,” Emiko squeaked excitedly, handing Mollie the bag as she allowed a smile to replace the frown she had worn for Aras. “Oh my…” Mollie gushed. “And how did you get this, young lady?” Emiko smirked and looked away innocently.

Turning back around, Aras shook his head, forcing a smile as he gestured to the fire escape, “Come on… We need to start heading back. We can eat it on the way…” His gaze shifted to Mollie, a quiet request not to mention anything they’d just discussed, before the smile returned, “I didn’t know Paris grew Pastry Trees… Imagine that.”

Nodding, Emiko started forth for the fire escape. Mollie nodded to Aras once the young girl’s back was turned, but she didn’t really even need to be asked. “Oh yeah. The biggest pastry trees.” Emiko said mischievously. “Make sure to save some for Kaya!”

As he climbed down after them, Aras glanced to his watch, frowning softly… seven minutes had been pushing it… He knew it, but he’d seen the look on Em’s face and he couldn’t, in good conscience, ruin that… “We better hurry…” He stated, trying to sound nonchalant, “Gotta get ready for the show.”

“Of course we will, Emmy. But let’s get goin’ now, alright?” Mollie urged Em along, even though she was trying to eat a pastry while speed walking. The red head glanced to Aras, noting his false nonchalance, and she bit her lip with worry.

They’d make it. They had to make it. The window was small, but he’d timed it right, and there was no reason to worry… Yet worry clawed at him, anyway, and he could feel the weight of it speeding time up, dragging down his feet. They were so close. Just another block, more…

Emiko stashed the bag of pastries in a bush outside, hoping to retrieve it later. Mollie kept a hand on the girl’s back, keeping her moving, keeping her in check. But it was already too late. At the entrance stood Kaya, on her knees, posture rigid, and behind her was The Ringleader, awaiting their arrival, lips upturned in a sick smile. “Oh dear.” She said coldly, a hand on Kaya’s shoulder. “Where were you, lovelies?”

The swear left his mouth in a breath, and unconsciously, Aras stepped in front of the girls, straightening to his full height, “...We went for a walk. Clear our heads, before the show. Was a long trip and we didn’t wanna be stiff…” Briefly, his eyes flickered to Kaya, “It was my idea.” He stated simply.

The Ringleader chuckled, tutting at him. “Oh, I know it was your idea, Aras. But you know better… you all know better. So it seems I’ll have to drill that into you somehow.” She sighed, as if it were a chore for her, before snapping her fingers, bringing all three of them to a forceful kneel before her. “Any suggestions, Aras? What will really help you remember never to disobey me again?”

Jaw clenched, Aras glared, with defiance, up at her, but kept his mouth shut… He wouldn’t play. He would not play the sick bitch’s games. This was on him. He already knew that. He wouldn’t make it worse by putting ideas into her head that she could twist and turn.

“Oh, no. Oh no no no.” The Ringleader shook her head. “Leaving it to my discretion, hm? I thought you were a little more imaginative than that.” An idea came to the Ringleader and curling her index finger, she repositioned the quartet, beckoning Emiko forth as she placed Mollie and Kaya on either side of the girl. Aras was made to stand facing the scene, facing the Ringleader. “Pick. Fire or ice?” She asked him sweetly. “If you don’t pick… well, I’d just be tempted to use both.”

“Stop it…” He growled, watching as Em was pulled forward, his eyes burning with fury, with tears, “Stop it! You know this was me! Leave her alone! Just… just… please. I’ll… I’ll do anything. I’ll take whatever punishment you see fit. Just please… don’t…”

As Aras protested, the Ringleader’s smile only grew. Em was unable to move, unable to emote, but her eyes were filled with terror as Mollie and Kaya silently struggled. “What a brave boy. But you won’t learn otherwise… taking the beating only fuels you, darling. Now pick. Fire or ice?”

His eyes flickered wildly between the three, a tear escaping as he balled his fists, tighty, “...I won’t activate. Tonight. I… I’ll take it in full! The crowd? They’ll love it! You know they will! Please… please. Just let me do this…?”

The Ringleader paced, hands behind her back as she paused in front of Aras, taking him in, mulling over his offer fully. “That’s quite tempting, Aras.” She hummed, moving away from him, walking over to Emiko to cup her hand across the girl’s cheek, thumb brushing over the almost fully healed cut. “But will it really leave that lasting effect? Besides… I want you functional, for the next day, for all the coming shows… it simply isn’t a fully thought out business plan.” She swept Emiko’s hair behind her ear. “Fire or ice. It’s a simple question.”

“No!” Aras growled again, his body jerking as he fought against the pull, “No, you have to do this! Oh God… Em… please…” Squeezing his eyes shut, he shook with emotion. There was no choice… there was no way to choose that wouldn’t be agonizing. But Kaya had done nothing wrong. She was innocent, in every way, and he wouldn’t put this on her, “...Fire.” He breathed, with a pure hatred, “Fire, you sick bitch.”

Mollie’s eyes widened beneath the control of the Ringleader, and was harshly forced to her feet, shaking hands pulled forward towards Emiko. “An interesting choice.” The Ringleader hummed, only fueled by his anger, removing her hand from Emiko’s face to drum it along her own cheeks. “Now… where to strike. The crowd loves an animal with scars, but we don’t mar too much of that pretty fur..”

“I’m done playing your game, you psycho…” He hissed, the tears streaming freely now, “I won’t pick.” Watching Mollie, he shook his head. They’d never forgive him. He’d never forgive himself… He’d just wanted to give them something good, something decent… and he’d ruined it, “I’m done.”

“Shame. It’s a fun game.” The Ringleader said cooly. “Ah.. I know. Don’t worry, Em, my star… it’ll only hurt a while. But even if this was Aras’ idea… you should have known better. Perhaps I was even going to reward you for such a job well done, but now, well. I will make sure that every time your friends even think of doing something like that again, they will look upon this scar, and know the consequences.”

Forcing Emiko to rise and hold her arm out, Mollie took position. With a flick of the Ringleader’s wrist, fire erupted in a blast from Mollie’s fingertips, scalding Emiko’s upper arm and shoulder.

Gritting his teeth, Aras shut his eyes, but it did no good… not against the sound… the smell… the horrible sinking feeling in his stomach. It was clarifying, that pain, that agony of knowing he had caused this. Because in that overwhelming weight of guilt, he felt purpose, too… His eyes opened, blazed, as he stared at the ringleader, a quiet promise behind them. She could toy with them… but the first chance he got, he would take her down. And it would be no game…

Once the Ringleader thought the attack on Emiko was sufficient, the fire stopped, and the Ringleader allowed Emiko to crumble to the floor, shaking, biting her lip fiercely so as not to let out a sob, even though her entire being screamed with pain. “Darling…” The Ringleader cooed, enveloping Emiko, who was too weak to stop it, raking her fingers through her hair soothingly. “You understand I had too. You can cry, darling, I know it hurts.” Shivering and sniffling, Emiko inhaled, voice broken.

“You’re not worth a single tear.” She muttered, and shocked by this, the Ringleader let go of Emiko, the girl falling to the floor as the Ringleader walked away. Once she was far enough, her hold on Kaya, Mollie and Aras dissipated.

Despite the hold releasing, Aras remained frozen in place. His eyes clouded over, distant, watching the wake of the ringleader, hands trembling at his sides. He wanted to speak, to say something… anything, but there was nothing to say… An apology was worthless. With a sharp sniff, he wiped his cheeks dry, eyes shifting skyward.

Trembling, unable to move, Mollie and Kaya rushed to hold Emiko, the young girl incapable of holding her tears in any longer as she collapsed upon Kaya, Mollie hesitantly standing at her side, staring at her own hands in horror, because they had betrayed her. Kaya whispered sweet nothings, gently rubbing Emiko’s back, careful to avoid the newly agitated flesh, but caught eyes with Aras, her gaze soft and forgiving, silently asking him to come stand by them.

Shaking his head, Aras looked back to the tent and fists tight enough to turn his knuckles nearly white as his hair, he breathed in, and without a word, started for the opening, following in the direction the horrible woman had gone.

“Aras!” Mollie cried, fists clenched as well, trying to stop her own tremors. Kaya continued her gentle comforts upon Emiko, who sobbed into her shirt. “Don’t you dare.” Mollie growled.

“Don’t what!?” He spun, eyes narrowed as he fought to control the quake in his voice, “Someone has to do something! This isn’t gonna stop! It’s never going to stop! And she can’t just keep getting away with it because we’re all afraid to stand up to her!”

“We’re not afraid!” Mollie shouted. “We’re trying to stay alive, Aras, to stay unharmed. She’s going to hurt you… please. Haven’t we all hurt enough?” Emiko’s crying slowed, and she pushed herself away from Kaya to look up at Aras, lip trembling.

Unharmed? Unharmed!? Look at her, Mollie! Look at what… at what I did to her!?” Knees buckling, Aras his the ground with a sob, and a fist pounded into the dirt with enough force to leave a small crater-like dent, “What are we staying alive for…?”

Rising, Mollie moved to Aras, wrapping her arms around him as she knelt beside him. “You didn’t do this.” She murmured. “That fire came out of my hands and I.. I still.. I still didn’t do this, either.” It took a lot of effort for her to say so, and as Mollie spoke, Emiko attempted to rise to follow her. Kaya held Emiko close, supporting her weight as they moved to all crowd around Aras. “We’re staying alive for this. For family.” Mollie murmured.

“...Family.” Breathing out, Aras clung to Mollie, tighter than he meant to, forcing himself to loosen his grip, to control the trembling limbs, “...Lypámai, mikrí kyría, parakaló pistépste me. Den íthela poté na sas vlápso.” His hand reached out, curling around Emiko’s, as the tears rolled again, down his pale cheeks.

Emiko nodded, the arm that had been burned tucked carefully into her, her other hand tightening around Aras’ as she crashed against him, resting her cheek against his chest, curling within his lap. “I know.” She whispered, closing her eyes, letting her breathing calm as Mollie and Kaya hugged them all tightly.

“...I’ll make it right…” He whispered, burying his face into her hair, “I swear to you all, I’ll make it right. I don’t know how… but I… I will. I will find a way.” Breathing out, he straightened, “...Now… Go on. Y-you have to get ready. D-don’t give her another reason…”

Emiko didn’t move as he straightened, instead clinging tighter. “Please.” She whispered. “Please don’t…”

Resting his chin to her crown, his eyes closed, voice dropping to a whisper, “...I have to, Emmy. You have to know, I have to… Whether it was my fault, my hand, my doing… it doesn’t matter. I’m responsible, and I… I have to take that responsibility. And I will.”

“You’re not responsible.” She murmured through trembles, through hot tears. “Please, Aras… no more. Please… I don’t want you to be hurt.” She gripped the fabric of his shirt, shaking her head. “Please…”

“I’m already hurt, Em.” He murmured, “She knows that… Watching this? Seeing her hurt you like that? There’s nothing worse that she could do. Nothing worse anyone could do…” Shifting, he straightened, “I’ll make it right.”

“She just wants you to come after her so she can put you in the ground!” Emiko yelped, tugging further at his shirt. “She wants this! All of it! Please! It won’t make anything right… it won’t!”

“I’m…” With a sigh, he shook his head, “I’m not going after her, Em. I’m not. I… I can’t. Not now. She’s prepared for it, and like you said. It’s what she wants.” Taking her hands, he gently pried her away from his shirt, giving them a squeeze, “...But I need to do something…”

Ignoring the twinges of pain, Emiko held his hands tightly, still reverently shaking her head, stuck on repeat. Mollie moved back towards them, having given them some air, and gently placed her hands on Em’s shoulders. “We have to go, sweetheart.” She whispered, and Em continued to shake her head, gripping Aras’ hands and squeezing tighter.

“Em…” With a frown, Aras pulled a hand free, and reaching up, cupped her cheek gingerly, “You have to go… It’s gonna be okay. It’s all gonna be okay. Please… just…go. Before it gets worse…”

Sniffling, Emiko steeled herself, nodding weakly before she stood, allowing Mollie to pull her away, already having pulled some bandages from her kit to wrap them around Emiko’s burns. Emiko craned her neck back to look at Aras, even as Mollie pulled her out of view.

Aras didn’t look, however, as he turned and started for the arcade tent. The Ringmaster wanted a show… she was going to get one…




[greek translation| I'm sorry, little lady, please believe me. I never meant to hurt you.]
 

CloudyBlueDay

obvious cryptic
Roleplay Invitations
Group Roleplays, One on One Roleplays, Chat Roleplays, Not Taking RP Invites at this Time, Private Convo Roleplays
Posting Speed
A Few Posts a Week, One Post a Week
My Usual Online Time
I check as often as I can.
Writing Levels
Intermediate, Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female, No Preferences
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Both.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy, Realistic/Modern, Magic, Scifi, Romance
Genre You DON'T Like
I am generally not a huge fan of RPing Fandom, but it can depend.
#14
Stealing From A Princess, Huh?
with Elle Joyner Elle Joyner


Deep in the forests of Maryland was a small cottage nestled among the woods. Locked with only a measly padlock, it seemed the inhabitant wasn’t quite worried about it being found. It was surrounded by fruitful crops, and every plant seemed to lean eerily towards the cottage, almost as if more important than the sun. Inside was a treasure trove of small oddities.

First, a strange amount of little alcoves and beds sized for many an animal, and many animals there were. The house was filled with pet sized doors, allowing them to come and go as they pleased. Squirrels, rabbits, birds, that was just the start of the number of animals that lazed about the cottage. Second, the plants, growing in tangles all along every piece of furniture and climbing up the ceilings, peeking in through every crack in the walls and making just as much a home inside as the animals. Thirdly, the tech, mounds of played with machinery on the desk near the kitchen and everywhere else there was any space left. There seemed to be some complex systems running through the house, allowing running water and heating.

And then, there were the treasures. Strange but valuable looking things, hidden all around the bedroom, pieces of gold, crumpled up paper bills, strange jewels and necklaces and all sorts of interesting fineries. None of it looked like it quite belonged, but it was still in possession.

Quite a strange home indeed.

It was Alibaba’s cave. And Grace was gonna score…

She’d sat for approximately nine minutes behind the bush, waiting… and finally, the owner wandered off. It took another six minutes for her to break the code on the padlock (and she’d only had to rewind those six minutes four times). With the door propped open (she’d made that mistake, once), Grace made her way inside, and on tiptoes, the mouse of a girl began perusing… Whatever Snow White princess lived here, they weren’t exactly keen on keeping out their wildlife friends, but the animals weren’t anything new. What she wanted, she found, rather unexpectedly out in the open, all around the bedroom.

“...Oh. Damn. Motherload.” She whispered, inching into the room.

The moment the lock had been toyed with Oliver had known it - he only ever opened it via his powers, and anything otherwise immediately sent alarms to his phone. Hardly ever someone came to his part of the woods, and he cared little for the idea an all out security system … but Oliver did not take such things lightly, and instead of barrelling back as quickly as he’d come… he took a moment to put out a signal to his friends in the forest. He was well acquainted with most of the animals - and had helped, fed, and cared for many. When in danger, they tended to come.

And come they did. Oliver parked his truck well enough away to have the jump on the intruder. All his valuables were gifts from the animals, things lost that had been found. They were his source of earthly income more than they were “precious.” The reason he cared for them was simply because they had been gifts - as well as the fact he didn’t quite appreciate anyone who tried to ransack another’s home.

So he didn’t feel so bad about the army of small woodland animals that filtered into the cottage before him, swarming the floors and painfully climbing up the thief's legs and arms in a strangely coordinated and aggressive fashion, long before Oliver had even made his own entrance.

She’d had a dream like it, once… Being suddenly and inexplicably attacked by woodland creatures. Oddly enough, she’d dreamed of it more than once. The reality, as it turns out, was a lot stranger, and not remotely as amusing. The hardest part about manipulating time was that you had to know what time it was that you wanted to go back to, and so Grace always, always wore a watch, but when you had squirrels and chipmunks and rats (ohmy) climbing their way up your tiny, flailing limbs, it was a little difficult to guess beyond half-past-the-freckle.

Words exploded from the young woman that were not remotely lady-like, and she stumbled back, wiggling her arms and legs back and forth, “Get off! Get off!”

It seemed to be just one woman. One very small woman. Well she had guts, that was for sure. Oliver ignored her cries as they resounded through his home, and did nothing in the way of calling the animals off. Instead, he allowed more to filter in; two large elk stalked through the doorway and with their great antlers pinned the intruder to the wall, the small animals still crawling and clinging onto Grace. Now with her sufficiently secured, Oliver stepped inside his own bedroom. His animal menagerie did not end there. Behind him stood a large black bear.

”I don’t appreciate people coming into our home.” The electronic voice of his phone spurred to life from his pocket, speaking to the thief without having to move his lips. ”You must have been sorely lost, dear.”

There were definitely… not… moments like this in her dream. If she’d known she was robbing Dr. Doolittle from hell, she might’ve reconsidered. Might’ve…

“What in the everloving HELL are you!?” She shrieked, and while she couldn’t exactly flail, pinned to the wall by Bambi’s devil cousins, “Is that… do you have… is that a FRICKIN’ BEAR!? OH Holy Loving God… You’ve gotta be….” She dissolved into swearing again, but there was a edge of anxiety behind it, now.

Listening to her shriek with worry was both exhilarating and worrying. She didn’t sound exactly like a pro criminal, nor a RIEF agent. Oliver would have had half a mind to give her the benefit of the doubt.. But she had intentionally broken into his home, messed with the padlock, crept into the room where his valuables were kept. Brows knitting together with uncertainty, Oliver nodded his head, and the squirming smaller woodland creatures began to recede. The elk kept the small girl pinned in place, and the bear stood warily beside him. Oliver laid a hand on its head, stroking it between the ears lovingly.

”I am only a man.” Oliver’s phone replied quaintly. ”A man with a conscience, in fact… so while I could feed you to Mama here, I won’t.” He patted the bear’s head. He was only bluffing.. For the most part. ”Plead your case.”

“Plead my… What the hell, Stephen Hawkins! There’s a bear! What am I supposed to say?” Wiggling her wrist, she tried, tried so desperately, to see the time on the face. How much had passed? How long had it been since he’d shown up? How far would she even need to roll… Why in God’s name were deer so frickin’ heavy when they looked so fragile and delicate!

“Oh my God… I’m gonna get eaten by a bear. Of all the damned scenarios those frickin’ idiots told me about… of COURSE it would be the bear… Son of … Please… Just… I just wanted… I needed to… I just…” Her voice rose slightly, as panic started to sift in, “I just needed some cash… I needed to eat, okay?!”

At the girl’s pleas, Oliver’s hardy stance softened. He shifted, a hand still resting atop the bear’s head. ”You are not going to be eaten by a bear.” Oliver stated matter of factly. Scenarios? Who was she talking about? Maybe this was a ploy.. But she did look thin…

”That’s all it was? You were looking for food?”

“Easy for you to say…” She muttered darkly, “You’re the one who’s BFFs with the bear.” Eyes narrowing briefly, she squirmed a little, “And no, Snow Frickin White. I was lookin’ for cash… or jewels… to trade… for food…”

Oliver frowned. She wasn’t the purest of souls, but she was a soul. A soul undeserving of any wrath. He’d caught her gaze falling to the watch… so in the next instant two squirrels had clambered up her arm and yanked it off her wrist. Once that was done, the watch was deposited in Oliver’s hand. The elk took a step back from the girl, still threateningly close enough to put her back in her place if necessary, but enough to let her breathe.

”And if I give you enough to get you on your way? I don’t want to hurt you. But you know the location of my home… that’s dangerous for me.”

“No! Woah, hey! That… that’s mine!” The panic rose as the tiny little pinprick claws dug in and divested her of the watch, and heat rose in her cheeks, pale skin warming to red. But a moment later, her wrists were freed and as the animals stepped back, Grace blinked, staring at the stranger, rubbing where the watch had been, “...P...please just… just be careful with it. I… I ain’t gonna tell anyone where you live. Got no one to tell, anyhow. I was just…” With a shrug, she lowered her gaze, “...It’s been awhile since I ate.”

She seemed attached to the watch. Oliver held it with care. He had every intention to give it back.. In due time. All in due time. He had no desire to make this girl suffer anymore than she already had. ”Then how about this.” Oliver proposed, and now the elk stepped a good few more paces back. The bear was still docile and calm beneath Oliver’s hand. ”I will cook you dinner. And send you on your way with plenty enough to keep you afloat. And you will forget this place ever existed.”

Looking up at him, wide brown eyes suspicious, cautious, she frowned, and reaching up, tucked a strand of jade-green behind a heavily pierced ear, “...Y...yeah. I… Hell, consider it already forgotten. Don’t tend to stay in the same place long, anyhow.”

Oliver nodded. The elk stepped away entirely, and made their way out of the room. The bear looked up at Oliver curiously, before stalking over to the girl. She playfully pushed her snout into the girl’s palm. A fluttering smile came upon Oliver. ”She likes you.”

As the bear started forward it took everything within Grace not to scream and climb the walls faster than the squirrels had climbed her. Frozen in place, she stared, horrified as her hand was snubbed by the beast and swallowing, she nodded, “Likes… like… we’re chill homeslice buddies, or like… she wants to sprinkle me with a little special sauce and chow down?”

Oliver grinned. ”Chill homeslice buddies.” The phone voice echoed, and the bear promptly curled up beside Oliver’s bed with a happy yawn, her duties complete. ”Come with me. Once we are done, once I send you on your way, I will give the watch back.” He stepped outside of the bedroom and into the kitchen. There was a basket of eggs on the counter as well as an abundance of home grown vegetables in the fridge. He gestured to the small kitchen table, offering her a seat as he set to chopping and dicing vegetables. There were many watchful eyes of the animals remaining, all on Grace, but they all seemed to keep their distance. ”My name is Oliver.”

Following him, she found a seat, and flipping it around, she sank onto it, legs curved on either side of the back, arms resting across the beam, chin to her arms, “...G...Grace. But everyone calls me Flicker. How do you do that? That phone thing? That’s pretty wicked.”

”I don’t speak only with animals. Technology as well. I don’t have a voice of my own… that’s the price.” Oliver kept his head bowed over the vegetables, chopping and dicing them before turning the stove on and throwing butter into the warming pan. ”Why do they call you Flicker?”

“Hang on… You… I… you… Speak... to.” Sitting up, Grace’s eyes widened slightly, “You speak to… Oh, alright. That’s cool. That’s… cool.” Of course, it was a touch hypocritical on her end, considering what she could do still… not exactly the answer she was expecting, “I uh… I half don’t remember anymore. Something about how I like shiny things, you know?”

His eyes narrowed, though if he could have chuckled, he would have. Hm. Maybe his phone had such capabilities. ”Right. I see.” He threw the vegetables into the pan first. Once they were sufficiently cooked, then came the eggs. ”And how did you come to find yourself without any means to feed yourself?”

Raking her fingers through her hair, Grace shrugged her narrow shoulders, “I uh… I travel a lot. Sometimes, I get lucky, I have a good trip. Other times, not so much. It’s just… just one of those times. I get by. I survive… I do what I gotta. It’s no big whatever… What about you? You uh… you ain’t some kinda wacky serial killer out here in the boons, are ya? The… you know… animal chattin’ kind?”

Oliver stirred the scrambled eggs in the pan, the pleasant smell wafting about the cottage and coming to his nose. ”I should hope not.” Next, he was pulling out an plate and placing the food. He divided the portions quite unevenly, and handed her the plate with the largest amount of food, as well as a fork and knife. ”This is just the place where I belong. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

When he put the plate in front of her, Grace didn’t wait till he’d said her namesake. She grabbed the fork and began to shovel in the eggs, barely taking time to taste them, before she’d pulled in the next bite. It hurt, to eat so fast, but the warm, fresh food… it hurt more to slow down. Forcing herself to take a breath, she sat back like a nut-filled chipmunk, “Sorry…”

Swallowing, she took another bite, slowly, this time, “...Can’t say I get it, there, Pal. I try to avoid stickin’ around anywhere, too long. So the uh... Critters. They your pets or something?”

Watching her eat with a growing frown, Oliver felt guilt twist at his heart. It was sorrowful to watch her eat, and it was clear it had been quite some time since she’d done so. The watch in his pocket was suddenly quite heavy. Wordlessly, he pushed his own plate towards her.

”I have no pets. The animals come and go as they please. I care for them to the best of my ability, and in return, they offer me company and often carry out favors. Some, even, bring me gifts. Like the things you planned to steal, yes?”

Looking at the second plate, Grace hesitated only a moment, before she pulled it forward, and dove into it, the pain in her stomach lessening for the first time in… Hell, how long had it been? How long could a person go without eating? There were those pretzels… in the bar back in Westminster…

Did that even count as food?

“...Favors. You… you got squirrels… and deer… who do you favors? That… That’s either the coolest thing I ever heard, or I just tried to rob a crazy person. Either way, thanks. For the uh…” Gesturing with the fork, her cheeks reddened a little, “...Sorry… for breaking in. Normally, I try to hit places that uh... aren’t so remote. Figure they won’t miss as much. Just got kinda desperate, I guess.”

A smile graced his lips as he watched her blush. Well, at least she was apologetic. That was good. ”I understand. There was a time in my life where I was in a similar position as you. It can be trying. There were times when I wanted to stoop very low… it is hard to refrain.” Oliver said with a sage nod. ”I can make more food, if you like. And if you so wish, you can stay the night.”

“Aw, geez, look, Oliver, was it? You… you don’t gotta do that.” It wasn’t in her to feel bad. Not when she had too much to worry about. Not when she had her own problems. What happened to other people, that was for them to deal with, and it was none of her business or her responsibility to figure out how they did that. But this guy… She was gonna rob him, and here he was, offering her food and a place to stay and it was just…

Guilt sucked. It just sucked.

“I was gonna take your stuff. W...why would you do that? Help me out like that? People… people don’t do that sort of thing, anymore.”

Oliver frowned, bringing up his hand to drum his fingers against the table. ”That’s particularly why I live here…” His phone chirped, but Oliver looked down sadly. His eyes swam with hurt, jaw tensing. He was no stranger to the cruelties of the world. No stranger at all. And this girl seemed to have experienced it as well. ”I believe in second chances, Grace. And I believe in kindness. So I urge you to stay the night, until I can assemble a proper care package for you to take on your journey.” He’d been lost once too.

“You… you a hundred percent legit you ain’t a serial killer? Man, I really… just really don’t wanna get mauled by a bear, or worse… those… those damn squirrel.” Rubbing her wrist, she frowned, “It wouldn’t totally suck not to sleep in a tree or the back of someone’s truck or whatever.”

He smiled at her warmly. ”I am one hundred percent legit. You will take the bed. I will make up my couch.” Oliver stood and took both their empty plates to the sink. It was strange how much he saw of himself in her.. Perhaps a scary amount. The first years of his adulthood had been spent in a similar fashion.. On the run. Hiding, traveling, never quite knowing home. It had taken some time to get used to the idea of creating a safe place for himself. To feel safe at all. But it had come, with time.. And if he could have given his younger self a good meal, a warm place to stay… it would have meant the world.

”Shall I make more food? Anything else?”

“Wh… No. Hell, no.” Sitting up a little, Grace shook her head in defiance, “It’s bad enough you gonna drown me in guilt over here, makin’ me feel like crap for stealin’ from probably the nicest damn guy since Jesus, but I ain’t about to make you sack out on the couch. I’m like… five-foot-two on a good day. Trust me, a couch is wicked better than a branch.” Biting the edge of her thumbnail, she frowned, “I...I wouldn’t say no to more…”

Oliver shook his head feverently, already warming up the pan once more and cutting more vegetables. He stayed silent for a moment, thinking over her words, before putting down the knife and turning to face her. He laid a hand on her shoulder, gaze serious. ”I did my fair share of running and hiding. I know what position you are in. Please take the bed. It’s only one night.. Do not drown in guilt. Please.”

Rubbing her arm, Grace gave a small shrug, “Tell you what… We’ll rock, paper, scissors for it, huh? But you gotta swear you ain’t gonna cheat. Fair and square… That’s the deal, or I go find a bush to curl up under, tonight. Don’t think I won’t… I’m small enough, dang it.”

Oliver raised an eyebrow, dropping his hand from her shoulder. ”How… how does one cheat at rock paper scissors?” Another smile fluttered upon his visage, and he lightly rolled his eyes. It had been quite some time since he’d enjoyed any human company. She wasn’t as bad as he had imagined her to be. Especially since he’d found her… robbing him. Oliver tentatively held up a fist, urging her to count them off.

“I dunno, dude. You talk to animals… What the hell do I know about anything, anymore?” She grinned, and shifting, held her arm out, resting a fist against her palm, “Ready? Rock… Paper… Scissors… Shoot.” Her hand shot out, but her eyes flickered briefly to the clock on the wall, and her fist remained clenched on rock.

He was a little too focused on the game at hand to follow her gaze. Oliver’s hand bounced in accordance, trying to recall the times he had played this as a child in the orphanage, and flattened out his fist to meet hers with paper. He grinned. ”So…. I win. You get the bed.”

“Wh… dude.” Staring at him, Grace pointed a finger, “That’s… A’ight. I see you. I see how you roll. Okay. Tryin’ to be cute.” Shaking her head, she smirked, “Fine, Doolittle. You squeeze all… what’re you… seven… eight feet… on that couch. I ain’t gonna fight you.”

”Good… because I would win.” Oliver stated with a shrug. ”Isn’t this nice? You get to sleep with mama bear guarding your bed. She can get cuddly.” With a smile, he turned back to the counter top and returned to dicing vegetables.

“...Y...you’re jokin’ right?” She asked, and she paled a little as she straightened, “That… that was a joke? A little… messed up humor? Right? Oliver? Right…?”

Oliver didn’t reply, focused very intently on his work dicing vegetables, the smile stuck on his lips.

“A’ight… that’s cool. I… I like a… a nice cuddle… Or… Aw, man…” Rubbing her forehead, she grimaced, “This is how I die.”

Oliver rolled his eyes, a little amused by her worried ramblings. Still, he kept his gaze focused on his work, until his gaze strayed to look at her once more and… his hand slipped, the knife grazing his finger painfully as he jumped back with a wordless wince.

She caught the sudden wince, and without meaning to, her eyes moved to the clock as she pushed out of her chair. Three seconds. That was as far back as she dared to go. It would have to be enough, “Eyes on that knifework, Doolittle.” She chirped, before he’d turned around again.

Raising an eyebrow, Oliver stared at the knife with a strange feeling rattling around inside him. He put it down, and blinked at her. ”Weren’t you just sitting?”

Swearing, Grace dropped back into the seat, but far too late to save the moment. Palms rubbing her face, she shook her head, “...Aw. Hell.”

He turned to face her fully, confusion washing over his features. ”Is it… your ability?” He said cautiously. ”Teleportation?”

“Tele…por…” Laughing, softly, Grace shook her head, “Nah, man. It uh…” Sitting back, she blew a breath through her lips, “It’s a little complicated to explain. I uh… Wasn’t exactly completely forthright about that whole Flicker thing. I can manipulate time. Just… little bits of it.”

Oliver’s eyes widened in shock. ”Manipulate time?” The computerized voice didn’t betray a single ounce of the surprise that was coursing through him. ”That is… something.” Something indeed. Dangerous… powerful. There were bad people who would do anything to get their hands on someone like that. Someone who could change little mistakes like that… what he wouldn’t give to be able to just change one little thing. Oliver’s postured stiffened.

Despite the monotone voice, she could see the look in his eyes and a frown came to her features as she pushed back in the chair a little. She knew the look. She’d seen it in just about every damn soul she told… The wheels moving, gears shifting, “Three seconds. That’s as far back as I go. I ain’t a time machine.”

”Three seconds can mean so much.” Oliver announced quickly, rubbing the back of his head. His eyes darted around the room, brows knitted in thought. ”It’s a terrifying amount of time, if you ask me.”

“...You’re tellin’ me. You know how much it sucks… Havin’ that sort of power on hand? Knowing one choice over another could change somebody’s life?” Picking at the edge of her nail, she shrugged, “I ain’t a gypsy cause I like the change in scenery.”

Oliver frowned, looking down at his feet. ”Aren’t there organizations? Places others like you can keep you safe? No one can live on the run forever.” He couldn’t imagine carrying such a burden. Powers.. They were a very fickle thing. A very powerful fickle thing. This small girl could alter the course of history, and no one would ever even know it. It was a horrifying thought.

“There were… Not a fat lot of good they do, now.” Shaking her head, she shifted, “Besides, it’s… the world… it ain’t black and white. Ain’t nobody all good or all bad. And you put something like that in front of someone desperate enough, they throw their morals down a drain pipe for it.” Breathing in, she shrugged, “But hell, I’ve gotta pretty good at running. I was a blonde when I left home.”

He tried to smile, but it didn’t quite stay. ”I have never changed my hair color, but I think I can say that green suits you well.” The phone chirped, though his eyes were still cast downward. ”I tried to run for a little while. It didn’t stick. It takes a lot of bravery that I’m not sure I have.” He longed to believe the world was black and white… he did. But it wasn’t like that, not at all.

Laughing dryly, she shrugged, “Thanks. Figure a guy so in touch with nature would appreciate it.” Biting the inside of her cheek, she studied him a moment, shaking her head, “Yeah? And what’re you runnin’ from, Oliver?”

Leaning against the counter top, Oliver brought his gaze up to lock it with hers. ”The past.” His phone announced plainly.

“Ain’t we all…” She muttered, with just the barest trace of bitterness, “Time’s a bitch… ain’t it?”

”Very much so.” He responded, and turned back to the cutting board. He held the knife up, examining it. ”Why did you turn it back now?”

Leaning back in the chair, she smirked faintly, brow raised, “You were checkin’ me out, Doolittle. Cut yourself.”

With a smirk Oliver shook his head. ”I was not checking you out.” He protested. ”You turned back time because I cut my finger?”

“Sure you weren’t…” Hooking her ankles, she nodded, “Yeah… I figured you… you been so wicked nice, you know. Didn’t seem right, lettin’ you take one like that. Usually I remember to stay in one place, but hell, I’m sleepin’ with a bear tonight, you got me a flustered.”

”Been so wicked nice…” He allowed the phone to echo her vocabulary. The more they talked, the more he was smoothening the voice to text software. He hadn’t seen anyone in a very long time. It was quite rusty. ”I can ask the bear to leave, you know. Perhaps you would prefer a rabbit.”

A brow lifted, and she shook her head, “Don’t you make fun of that, now. I grew up in Boston… It’s in my DNA.” As he continued, she laughed again, hands clasped behind her head, “Nah, man. It’ll be alright. I don’t mind the company…”

”If you’re sure. You can have any woodland animal you like. Deer. Maybe a fox. I don’t think you would like a squirrel, though.” His expression betrayed his cheekiness when his phone did not, and he grinned at her.

“...Any woodland animal, you say?” Giving him a teasing smirk, she leaned back further, before a laugh cut across, and she eased forward to lean against the chair rail again, “Seriously, though. Who sleeps with a deer?”

”Well, I do. On occasion.” He replied with a shrug, taking care to put the knife down this time before looking at her, one brow raised. ”Will you do it again? Laugh.” It was an odd question, but he meant it quite sincerely.

“Don’t get a lot of that around here, do you?” Rising, Grace crossed the kitchen and cautiously, pulled herself up on the counter opposite the cutting board, looking him over more closely, “How long you been alone, Oliver?”

He straightened uncomfortably as she moved towards him, feeling scrutinized beneath her gaze. He hadn’t been alone. He’d had the things that understood him more than any other person in the world… the forest. The trees, the plants, the animals, the tech. But Oliver knew what she meant. ”Years.”

“...Damn.” Breathing out, Grace shook her head. Years. Out in the woods. Only company the animals… And she’d just popped in like an obnoxious aunt who won’t give back the house key, “You uh… you wanna hear it again, you gotta tell a joke somethin’... Make it a good one, I’m pretty picky.”

Oliver blinked up at her, trying to wrack his brain for a joke. The animals didn’t quite care for jokes. He had not met anyone that cared for jokes in a very long time. ”How did Noah see the animals in the ark at night?”

Leaning forward, elbows on her thighs, Grace shook her head, “How?”

He hoped the joke would land, a slight bit of color rushing to his cheeks. ”Flood lighting.”

It took a minute, silence filling the gap, but as she caught it, a small snort escaped, and burying her face behind her hands, Grace laughed, “Oh no! That… that was so wicked bad…”

”Wicked bad.” He echoed again, smiling pleasantly at her reaction. Once she had finished laughing, Oliver played it back on his phone. ”I am looking for one of my own. A laugh. I like yours. Might steal it.”

“Careful, now, Doolittle. Owner of this here cabin doesn't abide none of that stealin’.” She teased, grinning, “But I guess I owe you one.”

”I think you do.” He replied curtly. ”Even, now?”

“Not really sure, to tell you the truth…” Glancing at him, she frowned in thought, “Still feels a little uneven to me…”

He looked innocently up at the ceiling. ”You are probably right. You’re sleeping in my bed. Maybe I should collect a few more laughs.”

“Only cause you changed the terms on me.” She protested, “I ain't tryin’ to kick you out of your own bed.”

”I know. But I’m sticking by it. Winner gets to pick, right?” Oliver swallowed, and trying to shoo away the worry, retrieved her watch from his pocket. ”Did someone give this to you?” It felt wrong to have taken it from her.

“Maybe in your rulebook…” But the amusement in her gaze shifted, as he held out her watch. Reaching for it, she slipped it back on, hands nearly shaking to get the clasp latched, “S...sorta. It's a promise.”

Watching with softening eyes as her hand shook, he reached out without hesitation to help her clasp it back on. ”A promise?”

Staring at the watchface, she tapped a nail against the glass, “To never let someone else get hurt on my watch…” She muttered softly.

Oliver stared at the watch a moment longer than necessary. Trying to wrap his head around a promise like that, with powers like hers. Cautiously, he pulled down his shirt to reveal a tattoo over his heart, the name Duncan in scratchy cursive, alongside a pendant that hung around his neck. ”Me too.”

Looking up, Grace blinked, sniffing back emotions she hadn't entertained for a long time, “Duncan. He… he why you stay out here by yourself?”

He thought on that question a while. He wasn't sure it had a yes or no answer. Oliver liked the forest.. It was his home. Everyone tried to tell him it was fit for a crazy person… he wasn’t crazy. He wasn’t. He wasn’t.

”No.” Oliver said, shaking his head lightly. ”But he would have liked it here.”

Nodding, Grace's gaze fell, “Sometimes, three seconds just ain't enough…”

Oliver sighed. It held not a drop of a voice, and was only air. It was strange, and he knew it was, but he couldn’t think of any other way to express himself. ”Afraid so.” He said, and brought his hand carefully to tap the glass of her watch. ”I am sorry I took your promise.”

“It's all good…” looking up, Grace smiled faintly, “Promise lives up here…” She tapped her temple for emphasis, “Besides… squirrels are the ones who took it. And I kinda had it comin’. Sorry about uh…” Gesturing to where the tattoo lay, her eyes diverted, “You know.”

He nodded, smiling lightly. ”Well, I was the one who told the squirrels to do it, but you can think whatever you like.” Oliver followed her gesture, and he took in a deep breath. ”He would be happy to see you get a night that isn’t in a tree. Even if he might call me stupid.”

“Sounds like he was a pretty smart guy…” She mused faintly, running circles with her fingertip over the watch face, “Probably would've approved of the bear…”

Oliver grinned, and glancing around the room, he suddenly remembered he’d been in the middle of making her a second portion. ”He probably would have. Are you still hungry?”

“Yeah… kind of.” Chuckling, she looked up again, “I could help. I'm not exactly an Iron Chef or anything, but I can crack an egg.”

The smirk still stayed on his lips, and if he could have he would have laughed. ”Then be my guest, Gordon Ramsay. Crack an egg.” He gathered the rest of the vegetables and threw them into the pan, gesturing to the bowl of eggs. They were of course from his own chickens, hidden in the backyard of the cottage.

Hopping off the counter, Grace moved to the bowl and taking out the eggs, started to crack them one at a time into the empty vessel, “So… where’s a guy who lives out in the middle of the woods with a bunch of animals learn to cook, anyway? You tell me you gettin’ your recipes from groundhogs or something?”

Stirring the vegetables around in the pan, Oliver quirked a brow at her. ”Experimentation.” He said, watching her crack the eggs. ”As well as the desire for something to do. The groundhogs don’t have a palette like I do.”

“Oh ho… You callin’ them unsophisticated? I’m tellin’.” Grinning, she looked over at him, “Best I can do is a hot pocket or cold pop tarts. My Gram would twist my neck for what I kept in my pantry, back when I had a place…” Rubbing her neck, she looked back to the eggs, “She was a great cook.”

”You can tell them whatever you like, and I will just say you’re giving me rave reviews.” Oliver joked, though his expression sombered at the mention of her grandmother. ”I’m sorry. I hope I am standing up well enough to her cooking.”

“Oh… You… you’re a sneak is what you are.” She looked over at him with a shake of her head, “Uncool, Oliver. Uncool.” The teasing smirk faded a little as he went on and handing him the bowl of cracked eggs, she shrugged, “Nothin’ to be sorry for. You do just fine. I think she’d approve, if I knew where the hell she was.”

He sighed through his teeth, vaguely reminiscent of a laugh. Taking the bowl of eggs, he poured it into the pan atop the vegetables and began to mix it around. Then pepper, then salt. ”I see. Maybe one day you’ll make your way back to her and tell her all about my cooking.”

“Oh, no. No, I wouldn’t do that to ya, Oliver.” Grinning again, she shook her head with a small laugh, “My Grams, she just wants me to find a good, nice boy who can cook… Settle down and pop out booger factories. She’d hunt you down and drag you back to Boston hogtied to a stake. Trust me, she’s worse than a bear…”

”Booger factories..” His phone echoed, and Oliver shook his head with a bright grin. Now he really wished he could laugh at that. ”I would feel terrible for that poor snake. I guess you will just have to tell her I’m a terrible cook, then. Even if Mama bear isn’t as mean as you think she is, I doubt your grandmother is worse.”

“I once watched the woman hit someone so hard with her purse they went through a window…” A brow lifted as she recalled to mind the memory, shaking her head with a dry laugh, “She’s terrifying. It’s probably too late for you, anyway. Knowing her, she got some grandma GPS that alerts her whenever I’m around a half decent guy. Probably already revved up her scooter and she’s truckin’ it all the way down here from Bean Town… You probably wanna run… in like six days or so.”

The picture of a little old grandma chucking someone through a window amused Oliver so much a series of wispy laughs fell out of him, amusement wracking his features. The very thought of a frail old woman scootering around in search of her misfit daughter was just too much. Once the strange laughter had died down, his phone piped up again. ”I am glad I pass for half decent. But I have no plans to go anywhere.”

Looking to him, Grace smirked, “...Hey, now. You told me you didn’t have a laugh. Might not be groundbreaking or anything, but I just heard one, clear as a bell there. And that’s your funeral, bud. Just duck when she starts swinging… that handbag of hers, I swear she packs bricks in it.”

A flush of embarrassment falling on Oliver’s cheeks, he shook his head. ”I try not to laugh like that. It scares people.” The eggs had finished cooking so Oliver plated them, comically sprinkling a garnish of parsley on top, this time making himself a plate, which he fully intended to eat. He sat down at the table once more. ”Bring it on, I suppose. I can handle it.”

“A tough guy… A’ight. I ain’t mad at that.” Moving back to the table, she took a seat and this time, did not pounce on the meal with quite so much enthusiasm, “You shouldn’t care so much what people think, Oliver. People are stupid and mean. You know how many folks I’ve seen move to the other side of the subway, when I sit next to them, just cause I ain’t conventional lookin’. I like your laugh. Like… like the wind laughing or some poetic crap.”

Oliver smiled lightly, scratching the back of his head, watching her eat the food with a little less starved vigor. He did the same, tucking into the meal. ”Like the wind laughing. Very poetic.” He had always been a little too affected by what people thought of him. Duncan not so much. They had balanced each other out well enough, but in his absence… simply put, Oliver felt more comfortable in the woods. ”People are awfully stupid and mean. It’s why I prefer the bear.”

“I mean… I’m no Shakespeare or anything, but I got my moments.” Smiling faintly, she shook her head, taking another bite, fighting the urge to shovel it in, “They ain’t all bad, though, I guess. I met one or two I didn’t mind so much. Easier, though, when you don’t stay anywhere too long… Or when your company’s more interested in hiding nuts for the winter.”

Tentatively, Oliver chuckled airily again. It felt nice to do so. ”I can speak to the animals without the help of a device. To them I have a voice. They understand me in ways I believe you cannot.” He shrugged helplessly, bending down to stroke a kitten which had entangled itself between his legs. ”They know me. This is their home as much as the forest is. They are the only family I have. How could I leave?”

Pushing her plate aside, Grace slipped out of her chair and sat cross legged on the floor, holding out a hand to the kitten, with a shake of her head, “...I don’t blame you, Oliver. And I don’t blame them. I ain’t had a home in a long time… definitely not one nice as this. Sometimes it’s better to make your own family. Blood ain’t everything…”

He watched with soft eyes as the kitten purred against Grace. ”I have no blood. I never did. The animals are all I have. The animals, the plants, the tech. This earth and not much else.” He pulled out the pendant from beneath his shirt and fingered it gingerly. ”I do wonder sometimes if there’s something I’m missing. But I think everyone does.”

“Ah… So… Duncan. He wasn’t…” Scritching the kitten between its ears, she chuckled, “I thought brother, maybe. Hard to tell. I was never close with mine… He took of when I was little. Didn’t… didn’t get along with my dad all too much. Wrote me a few times, but then he got wrapped up in some pretty crusade and fell off the face of the planet.”

”No.. Duncan was… my earth, for a time.” Oliver stated somberly. ”I wanted it to be forever. It was not. Family is a fickle thing. You cannot control those who should be closest to you, no matter how much you try.” His gaze fell on the empty plate. ”I am an orphan. Abandoned at birth. I’m not sure which is a greater evil. To have a parent you know that does not stay, or to have a parent that never stayed at all. It all hurts the same in the end.”

“I wish my dad had been the one to leave, instead.” She muttered, pulling the kitten into her lap, “Things would’ve been different if…” Clearing her throat, she looked up and shrugged, “I am sorry… about your friend. I… I know I don’t know you, but you seem like a pretty cool guy, Oliver, and like someone who deserve better than the crap life threw at you.”

”’Things would have been different if’ is a question I ask myself a lot. It’s of no use.” Oliver sighed, shaking his head. His fists clenched beneath the table, but it was hard to stay in turmoil when the kitten was radiating nothing but happiness. ”You as well, Grace. You as well.” Sucking in air, he allowed himself to smile again. ”I believe Maisy, as I’ve deemed her, quite likes your company.”

“She’s pretty cute…” Grace murmured, smiling faintly, running a tattooed knuckled over the kitten’s chin, her eyes shifted back up to Oliver, “I got trouble not askin’ if… given I can actually find out the answer, sometimes, you know? It’s hard… Controlling it. The… the urge to just… bounce around time. Shift everything to where I want. How I want. Took me a hell of a long time before I learned the world’ll find some way to screw it up, anyhow.” Chuckling, she let out a slow sigh, “Anyway. I learned how to adapt, just like you, I guess. We do a’ight, don’t we? We make it work…”

He nodded in understanding, watching her happily as she stroked the kitten. ”I am a homebody at heart. But it takes time to find the strength to settle. The world gives you peace at times… you have to hold on and defend it.” Oliver rapped his knuckles against the table to fill the silence. ”We make it work. All life is is learning to control.” He sighed, and stood. ”I’ll go set up the bed for you. And find some blankets for my date with the couch.”

...Defend it… Control it…

The words resonated with Grace in a way that drew a shiver down her spine. How many times had she said something so similar to herself and yet she always ended up in the same old mess, time and time again.

“Yeah. Sounds good…” She noted, rising to her feet and taking Maisy with her. “Need any help, or should I just wait?”

He could see the shift in her demeanor, the discomfort those words brought. It was hard to defend and control when you had nothing to fight for… he had been aimless for a long time, until he realized there was an entire population that did not have a voice. Nor opposable thumbs.

”Come along.” He said simply, guiding her through the cottage. Opening the closet produced a small squirrel who had been interrupted from her nap atop the plush blankets and sheets Oliver had stored away. It quickly rehomed itself in Oliver’s pants pocket, as he pulled out an extra blanket and dusted it off. ”Things fall into place.” He offered her quietly, not content to allow her to stir aimlessly over her words. ”No matter the strife. Things fall into place… sometimes you cannot fight against it. But you can fight for it.”

“Careful there, Doolittle…” She mused, holding out her arm to take the blankets, “I’m gonna start to think you’re wise or somethin’... All this smart talk.” Her eyes flickered to the squirrel and she grinned slightly, “...For a man with a squirrel in his pants.”

Another voiceless laugh fell out of him as he handed her the blankets. ”And what’s wrong with you thinking that?” He teased, poking her lightly in the shoulder as he delivered a small pat atop Maisy’s head.

Grinning, she shrugged, “Yeah, you right… Smart is sexy. I got a t-shirt, says so. Ain’t mine, but… hey. Nobody has to know that, right?” With a wink, she shifted the kitten to her shoulder, and shuffled the blankets into both arms, “For real though… Thanks. Been awhile since someone spit wisdom at me that actually… you know… helps.”

Oliver smirked with a roll of his eyes, leading her to the couch and helping her to lay the blanket across it. It would be a tight fit for a man of his stature, but it didn’t bother him much at all. ”Of course. I would have liked such advice at the time when I was in your position.”

“Speaking of positions…” She looked at the couch, a frown pulling at the corner of her mouth, “You’re jokin’ right? You own a full length mirror? Cause uh… I think the bear would fit better on this here couch.”

”I am not joking,” Oliver said with a firmness in his stance, even though a smile flickered on his face. ”I insist you take the bed. It’s for one night, and you have many longer ones ahead of you.”

Giving him a look, she turned and without a word, dropped onto the couch, keeping hold of Maisy on her shoulder, so she wouldn’t slip, “...And what if I just refuse to move, hmm? I’ve been told I’m pretty damn stubborn.”

A brow rose as Oliver watched her flop onto the couch, and the smile continued to tug at the edge of his lips. There was a beat where he didn’t move, gaze locked on her, before he bent down and easily scooped her into his arms, holding her securely as he turned around and deposited her onto the bed instead.

“Woah!” With a squeak, she flopped back, and sitting up, narrowed her eyes at him, “Oy! No fair.” Her pout didn’t last long, however, as she laughed up at him, “Fine. Whatever. But if you’re a wrinkled pretzel tomorrow, I don’t wanna hear squat about it.” Patting the edge of the mattress for Maisy her expression shifted, softened, “Hey, Oliver?”

A few more airy laughs fell out of him, the pout on her face just a little too comical. Maisy was quick to follow, and curled up right beside Grace, He reached a hand into his pocket and out came the squirrel, who nestled itself once more in the crook of his arm. ”Yes, Grace?”

Curling up beside Maisy, her fingers tickling down the kitten’s speckled belly, she shrugged, “Just… thanks. For all this. You uh… you might just be the nicest guy I ever tried to rob.” Looking over at him, she grinned, slyly, “Though oddly enough, not the first one who had a bear…”

Oliver smirked, glancing over at the bear still peacefully asleep at the foot of the bed. ”Maybe I know that bear. I should send a letter.” His phone chirped, and Oliver took a step back, cradling the little squirrel. ”I imagine you’ll be heading in some other direction… but if you ever find yourself in the area again, don’t hesitate to drop by. I will be right here.”

“Yeah… I’ll definitely keep that in mind. I try not to come to the same area twice, if I can avoid it… but… hell, never really had a reason to come back, before.” Looking down to Maisy again, she grinned, “I meant her, of course.”

”Of course. Of course.” Oliver stated with a very serious nod. ”Sometimes it is good to have a place to fall back on. I’m sure that day will come.” Oliver stepped towards the door, offering Grace one last warm smile. ”I’ll let you rest. Good night, Grace.”

Whatever Oliver said, however, was lost on the young woman, because somewhere between her last statement and his, she had already drifted off.

Oliver’s expression softened as he realized she’d already fallen asleep, as had the kitten curled beside her. With a gentle smile Oliver lifted the covers onto her, and closed the door behind him, allowing her to sleep in peace.




Grace woke with a start, a gasp caught in her throat, that she swiftly smothered with both of her hands. Maisy woke as well, with a small, startled mewl, but after rolling onto her back with a deep yawn, she was out again, and the ivy-haired woman ran fingers through the mess of jagged waved, swearing softly under her breath.

For a second or two, she waited.. Waited to hear footsteps, to hear any indication that she’d been overheard, but the silence lingered and exhaling, she swung her legs over the edge of the bed. For a moment, a split second, her thoughts revolved around the bear, sleeping just a short distance from her feet, but the beast didn’t budge when she stood up, and on tiptoe, she made her way to the door, peeling it open and slipping out.

Oliver had not heard her strangled awakening, because he was a little too busy in the kitchen. He’d woken up early, he always did, but this time with a little more purpose… and an awful crick in his neck and ache in his back. Grace was still sound asleep, luckily, so he decided to take this time and make something out of it. Like a good breakfast.

He’d already done eggs, so it was time for something new - pancakes. He’d found an old recipe in a magazine (and yes maybe he had dabbled in beekeeping for a time, enough to give him some wonderfully home made honey) and it worked well enough for the times when he felt up to cooking it. Now was that time.

Plenty of animals had gathered in the cottage this morning, usually because when Oliver cooked up a storm he usually had leftovers to share. A deer poked its head curiously to try and get a view of the stove, and Oliver continuously had to shove her snout away. His little closet dwelling squirrel stuck close, burrowing its way into his breast pocket, while there were many more lofting about the place and hiding themselves in the nooks and crannies.

A background hum of music filled the kitchen of the cottage, Oliver’s foot tapping and fingers drumming to the smooth tune as he flipped pancakes expertly.

As she continued to tiptoe through the hall and towards the kitchen, she could hear the music, and pausing in the doorway, she leaned against the frame, quiet as a mouse, to watch the man inside, and his mini-cooking-dance. It was… cute as a damn kitten, and hell if she wasn’t just the tiniest bit sorry this was probably the last time she’d see the guy.

“Mornin’, Sunshine.” She chimed softly, stepping in and raking her hair back from her face, “Smells great…”

At her voice Oliver flinched, at first startled, but a smile quickly grew on his cheeks. He adjusted his posture to stand a little hardier, the foot tapping ceasing. ”Good morning,” His phone chirped, and turning around rapidly he shoved the deer’s snout away from the stove again. ”Food is almost done. Oh!” He turned around and handed her a mug, within it a drink of delicious smelling spices. ”Chai.” He announced, pleased.

Eyes drifting from the stove to the mug, a brow rose, and crossing the room, she plucked up the mug, frigid fingers curved around it, savoring both the warmth and aroma, “...Okay. That’s it. I’m keepin’ you. Hell, I’ll dress in fur and wear a bushy tail if I gotta… What even…” Smelling the tea, inhaling deeply, her eyes fluttered closed before she dropped back into the chair with a sigh, “...Last hot drink I had was a bottle of water someone left on their dash, too long…”

”Keeping me?” Oliver said with a smirk, clicking his tongue. He was glad to see her excited.. That was the point. He knew he couldn’t exactly ask her to move in, but to give her a good send off… well, that was the least he could do. Especially seeing as she’d tried to rob him. Oliver frowned at her description of the last hot drink, and he shook his head. ”That’s a shame. This is going to leave a better memory.” He promised, and turned back to the stove, plating one last pancake atop the ever growing stack, and offering one to the nosy deer beside him, brought the stack to the table, brimming with pride. Alright, maybe he was a little excited. It had been… so long since he’d cooked for someone. So long.

Biting her lip as he put the plate down on the table, a grin rose and she shook her head, “Now you’re just showin’ off. But please… don’t stop. It’s working.” Looking up at him, she laughed, “How long have you been up?”

Continuing to smirk pridefully, Oliver brought out the utensils, the butter, his honey, as well as a mug of chai for himself. The cherry on top - diced fruit from his own garden in a scrumptious looking bowl. ”A few hours or so. I’m an early riser.”

“...I’m pretty small, you know. I could just… curl up under the table. You’d never know I was here, ‘cept when you gotta feed me.” Grinning, she plucked up a plate and shaking her head, breathed in again, “...It’s so damn pretty, I don’t wanna touch it…”

”But it’s all meant to be touched. And devoured.” He replied quickly, taking a sip of his tea but not moving an inch, waiting for her to dive in first. Oliver didn’t know how to say it.. to allow her to stay. It was awkward enough to offer it… especially when he knew she’d refuse. He waited patiently for her to take a bite.

“Well, if you insist.” She plucked up her fork, and didn’t hesitate, plunging it into the stack and cutting off a chunk, she took a bite. In that moment, if a Mack truck sped through the wall of the cabin and ran over her, crushing her into powder… she could not have cared less. The pancakes were transportative, and she was in heaven. Making a sound that was somewhere near a purr, she shut her eyes and shaking her head, said nothing as she savored the bite with every ounce of energy she possessed.

The expression that fell upon her face was near mirrored in Oliver’s. He was elated to see her in absolute heaven, and with a satisfied huff, Oliver sat back in his chair, his goal accomplished. ”My work here is done.” He announced pleasantly, and after a good moment just watching her face fill with pure enjoyment, Oliver dug into his own stack of pancakes.

“OH, oh, no…” She wiggled her fork at him with a shake of her head, “You ain’t done. You… sir, you gonna cook these for me every damn time I find myself in this state, here.” Returning to her plate, she took another bite, then another, perfectly content to let silence fall as she enjoyed… thoroughly enjoyed the breakfast. Only when she’d finished did she push the plate back and with a small sigh, glance over to her host, “...Seriously. You should have a cooking show. The deer can be part of it. People’ll eat it up.”

Oliver snorted, once more a strange sounding thing, but a snort nonetheless. He reached for the bowl of fresh cut fruit only to find the deer once more picking around the table. Angrily Oliver swatted her away, placing the fruits farther in the whole table. It looked as if he was yelling at the deer. Just.. silently. ”Pesky.” Oliver announced, shaking his head. ”I have no plans for a cooking show. But for the wary, thieving visitor, perhaps.”

“It’s either a testament to how good you cook, or a testament to how crazy I’m becoming… that uh…” Eyeing the deer, she shook her head, “This ain’t even weird for me, anymore. Deer and squirrels and crap, walkin’ around…” Eyes shifting to his, she smiled, “You askin’ me to come back, Ollie?”

He’d successfully shooed the deer away, and Ollie rested his chin in his palm, elbow to the table, roaming her gaze. Her eyes were pretty. Oliver swallowed and glanced away. ”I’m not asking you to leave, is all.”

“Oh… ah. Damn.” Fiddling with one of the rings on her fingers, Grace considered his words for a moment. It wasn’t exactly what she’d expected him to say, and really, considering how she’d ended up there in the first place, not something she deserved…

“...That’s… I… I’m pretty sure this is the first time in my life I didn’t know what to say.”

Oliver looked down, drumming his fingers against the table awkwardly. His squirrel friend peeked out from his breast pocket, looking curiously at Grace. Oliver scratched his own cheek, trying to find anywhere to look except at her. ”I don’t..” The computerized voice trailed off. It was rare Oliver started a thought without finishing it. Duncan was probably rolling in his grave. ”Who knows what will happen to you out there?”

Blinking, Grace bit the inside of her cheek, taking in his words with what could only be detailed as a reserved expression. She was lost. No one… not anyone, for a long… really long time… had ever shown real, genuine concern for her. Least of all a man she’d tried to rob… And she wasn’t remotely sure why, but it put a ball of nerves in her stomach the size of a grapefruit.

Attachments were dangerous. Risky. Scary.

“You’re sweet as hell, Ollie. But you don’t gotta worry about me. I’ve been doin’ this… a whole hell of a long time. And I… I dunno that my baggage would fit up in here.” Looking up at him, she smiled dryly, “I um… I don’t like to talk about it, too much. But… but there’s kind of a reason I move around so much, and if… if I ever brought that down on you?”

Oliver sighed. He nodded sadly. The answer had been expected, but it still strangely hurt. ”I won’t pry.” He said, allowing the squirrel to climb into his palms as he stroked it lightly. ”I didn’t expect you’d say yes, frankly. But my door is always open. That is if you don’t try to rob it.” A smile twitched at his lips. ”Also, next time, don’t mess with the lock. It sends an alarm off immediately. Just knock.”

“...You know what’s funny, Oliver? You ain’t the first person who ever asked me to stick around… Most of the time it was just… you know… someone lookin’ to make the wrong kinda friend. But this is probably the first time, I think I actually regret not being able to say yes. And you can bet, sure as hell, I will be back. Cause uh… Those pancakes were wicked, and I’m not gonna be able to live my life without havin’ more.” Rubbing her knuckles down her arm, she laughed faintly, “Promise I won’t break in, next time. I mean… it’s kinda fun, and I’m pretty good at it, but uh… I’ll just knock.”

He smiled at her again. A small bit of color rose to his cheeks, and he tried to hide it by diverting his gaze. ”If you’re looking for a travel companion, you could always take Maisy with you.” He was only half joking. A look of recognition came upon his face as he jumped up and pulled out a backpack from the corner. ”I tried to give you all my non perishables. I frankly don’t have a lot, since most everything I grow, but I did my best.” He also patted the smaller front pocket. ”And a little to give you a head start.”

Blinking, Grace shook her head and rising to her feet, she took the backpack and set it on the floor by her feet, “You ever been to one of those fancy churches, Ollie? With all the stained glass… Always got pictures of Angels… up in the sky, floatin’ in the clouds all that jazz? I used to think that’s how it was, you know? But it ain’t that way…” Biting her lip, she shook her head and shifting, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, giving him a tight hug, “Angels live in cabins in the woods… and they got a hell of a lot of weird, but super cool friends.”

Releasing him, she stepped back, “You hold onto Maisy. She’ll miss the hell out of me, and it gives me another reason to come back.”

The hug took him by surprise, even when it shouldn’t have, and it took him longer than necessary to return it, patting her on the back. It was almost hard to let her go. He wished she would just… he wished her safety. That was all. More than anything. There had been a few stragglers that had graced his home, some good, some bad. He had all watched them go back out into the world, the cruel, awful world.

”I am no angel.” He responded, expression meek. ”Please do… come back. In one piece?”

Picking up the backpack again, shouldering it, surprised… then not surprised at all by the weight of it, she reached out and gave him a nudge in the chin with her knuckles, before tapping the watch on her wrist, “...I don’t make promises I can’t keep.” Turning to the door, she shrugged, and glancing behind her, she smiled, “Promise I’ll be back.”

His smile flickered dangerously, getting harder to keep up by the second. She couldn’t have even said it, just to give him peace of mind? He was filled with worry, so much worry. The moment he’d stepped out into the world, every damn time he stepped into the world, it put him down and stepped on him. To watch her go.. It scared him. It scared him the same way it did every time. But he could do nothing except offer her a smile, at least for the pleasant time they had shared together, and pray for the best.

”Stay safe.” He said with a nod. As if saying it would make it true. He could only hope.
 
Roleplay Invitations
Not Taking RP Invites at this Time
Posting Speed
Several Posts a Day
My Usual Online Time
8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Writing Levels
Prestige
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Primarily Prefer Female
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Probably a mix. When I GM I tend to prefer mostly aggressive, but with input from my players. I like to offer ideas and receive them. I don't like when people just take the reins and run with it though...especially in a 1x1.
Favorite Genres
Political intrigue, fantasy, futuristic, sci fi lite, superheroes, historical fiction, alternate universes. Smittings of romance, but only as side plot.
Genre You DON'T Like
Anime. Ever. Just not my jam.

Smut. Romance as a main plot. Horror. Grimdark.
#15
Sweaters and Subways and Snakes, oh my!
A collab with KatSea KatSea

  
Peter Gunner was by far and large the nicest person that Georgiana had ever come across, but he was also a man plagued by perpetual leanness, and the chill that normally came with a lack of body fat, and having a roommate who constantly hijacked all of his warm and cozy sweaters was a bane (however adorable he said she was). And so she had determined to buy her own pile of her own warm, snuggly woolen-wear. Trouble was, she had no money, but true to his Saint-like qualities, Pete had offered to pay and they'd taken a train downtown to the shopping district that afternoon.

Three fuzzy, enormous wads of fabric stuck out of the bags at her feet. There might've been more, but Georgie was afraid too much time out in public wouldn't be good for Pete's anxiety, and she was eager to get home. Sitting on the subway, knees bouncing with excitement, Georgie could hardly stand to wait for the ride back. She fully intended to spend hours trying them all on… there was a pink one, a grey one and her favorite… A bright, sunny yellow one, all of them far too big (she insisted this made them cozier) but all too perfect.

As the subway doors closed with a whoosh and new passengers flooded into empty spaces, a man sat on the opposite bench, and with a jolt, the train started forward again, “My, oh my…” the man mused, with a smile filled with silver and dark, tarnished bronze, “Aren't we a pretty little thing”

“Oh! Why thank you, sir!” Georgie chimed with a bright smile, and grinning wider, the man leaned forward, eyes taking her in.

“You're welcome, pretty lady. Where you headed?”

Peters head found residence along the subway trains window, his breathing regular and at peace as his eyes fluttered closed. Not to say that the shopping adventure with his friend hadn’t proved to be enjoyable, indeed he did find that his endorphins were naturally boosted. He felt drained, however, from the social interaction and movement from shop to shop. She had successfully chosen three, large, oversized sweaters which he had happily promised he’d pay for. For himself, he had gotten a few button up shirts, a small blazer, and for Georgie’s specific stealing escapades, a fuzzy purple blanket. Now he felt exhaustion flutter behind his eyelids, and he was ready to recline on his couch and enjoy his friends company.

“Hmm?” Peter slurred sleepily as his eyes fluttered opened, viewing the man leaning over and firing words at his friend. “Whose asking?” He questioned, hand instinctively traveling to Georgie’s shoulder.

A brow rose from the man, and shifting back, ever so slightly, his gaze flickered to Peter, “Didn’t mean to make eyes at your girl there, my good man.” He stated simply, though there was an indication of dishonesty in his words.

“Not my girl, per say.” Peter mumbled, trying not to let nerves get the better of him. “You seem to have intentions that are not wholesome and I’d prefer if you’d consider any action you may try and take towards her.”

“Not your girl, hm?” With a smirk, the man leaned forward again, and his eyes drifted back to Georgie, “My actions ain’t unwholesome, promise. I just wanna have a nice chat with you, that’s all. You wanna chat, sweetheart?”

Looking between Peter and the man, oblivious to the tension that traced a line between them, she grinned, “I do like chatting! What should we talk about?”

“Georgie…” Peter muttered, his hand remaining firmly upon her shoulder. “Be careful now.” He whispered to her, biting his lip as he kept his concentration on the man. His arm began to twitch and he kept it firmly by his side

“Careful?” Georgie asked, confusion reflecting in her gaze, “About chatting?”

“Yeah, man. Nothin’ wrong with a little chat. Why don't you slide on over here, pretty girl… and we can have a conversation?” He patted his lap, sitting back with an even smirk.

“O...oh…” blinking, Georgie shifted a little, “B...but I can hear you just fine from here.”

“Perhaps you should find someone else to harass.” Peter snapped lowly, eyes locked firmly to the man ahead of him. He found that his shoulders began to shake, but he knew Georgie’s safety was more important than his nerves. “Perhaps we should move, dear.”

“Dear?” The man questioned, “Thought you said she wasn't your girl? She can choose for herself where she wants to go...”

Georgie's lips folded in a rare frown as she shifted closer to Pete, “I think I'd prefer to stay here, thanks.”

“She’s a woman of her own, thank you.” Peter grumbled, finding his arm sneaking around her shoulders protectively. There wasn’t necessarily an affection in his touch. He meant it to be gentle, but he knew there was a chance that he needed to move in front of her. He glanced down at her, frowning. “You sure?”

“A woman like that… on her own? That’s a damn shame is what it is.” Reaching out, the man’s fingertips brushed the edge of her knee, “Whatcha say, pretty girl? You want a real man to take care of you?”

Shifting her leg away, Georgie bit the inside of her cheek, “...Pete takes good care of me, thanks. I said I’d rather stay here.”
Peter squirmed, his own hand reaching to shove the man’s off her knee. “I don’t think she appreciates the unwarranted gestures, thank you sir. I recommend you back off.” He found himself shifting slightly in front of her, demeanor calm but eyes hardened. He didn’t want to admit how scared he was, but he knew he needed to stand his ground.

Looking Peter over, the man laughed coolly, “Or what? What’re you gonna do about it, huh?”

Her fingers slipped to curl around Pete’s free hand, and shuffling closer, still, Georgie’s frown deepened, “If it’s alright, I’d think I’m done chatting…”

“Good…” The man grinned and his hand shot out again, grabbing her wrist, giving a little tug, “I hate small talk… C’mere.”

Squeezing her hand and making sure that his grip around her was still secure, he began to shuffle her form behind him. In a swift and unconscious movement, Peter’s fingers latched around the stranger’s wrist, his nails digging dangerously into his skin. “Do you value your hand?”

The stranger’s eyes narrowed, darkened, “...The hell you think you’re doin’, Toothpick? You wanna start something with me?”

Shifting without protest, Georgie’s eyes filled with concern, “...Pete…”

“You think about touching her again, I’ll be the one finishing it.” Peter stated, cold, calm, collected. His grip didn’t budge from his wrist. “Get lost, creep.”

Shifting, the man adjusted his position, rising to his full height, “Yeah? Let’s go, then. I’ll kick your ass, then tap hers…” He said, with a smarmy grin.

Peter felt an unfamiliar emotion boil in his veins. Complete and utter rage. Whatever exhaustion or fear melted away from him, his immediate response to rise to his feet. However, he remained sitting down, fists clenched. “Why don’t you go settle your urges by going away and screwing yourself instead?” He challenged cooly, desperately attempting to calm himself. His hand began to twitch in Georgie’s. “Believe me, mister, I don’t want to leave you without an organ to screw with.”

For the first time, the man pulled against Peter’s hold, eyes narrowing, “You gonna sit there like a limp dick and make threats, pal, or you gonna stand up and let me embarrass you in front of that little fox, huh?”

Georgie’s grip tightened, trembling lightly, “...Pete, please don’t…”

Feeling Georgie’s hand trembling in his sent some clarity into Peter’s head. His expression lightened. “Fox...huh.” Slowly, Peter unraveled himself from Georgie, standing up to the man. He was surprised to see the man towered him by an inch, but with a smile Peter realized the advantage in his situation. Staring down, as if sheepish, he shook his head.

The strike to the man’s groin came harder than Peter thought it would. His knee collided with the man, shooting responding pain up Peter’s leg. However, he kept a calm and composed face as he removed the grip from the man’s hand, shoving him back down to his seat. “How’s that for limp dick, you sick fuck?”

The man wheezed, toppling into the seat, hands cupped over his groin as he doubled into himself. Reaching up, Georgie’s hand snaked around Peter’s and she stood, too, “Are you okay??” She asked him, eyes nearly overflowing, “Let’s go, Pete. Please?”

Peter’s face engulfed in warmth. The rage was beginning to die down into a puff of smoke, but he found that the trembling remained. He stood, motionless and wided eyes as he stared down at the man. Guilt picked at his brain, but he knew that he needed to do that. It hurt him to do so, but that man was going to continue to get grabby. He barely noticed Georgie’s hand in his own. “I'm sorry.” He breathed, his hands blindly reaching to grab their bags. Squeezing her hand tight and firm, he kept her in front of him and began to usher them further down the subway car. Thoughts swirled in his mind. Ugly, gruesome thoughts.

Breathing became a burden.

“Sorry…?” She whispered, and as they moved along the subway, her grip on his hand tightened, “Pete… I know I don’t know a lot, but that guy… he wasn’t so nice, was he? If… if you hadn’t… you know…” Looking over at him, she shook her head, “Please don’t say sorry. Are you okay?”

His vision was blurred, although he couldn’t determine what the source of the fogginess was. Oh. No no no. He was careful not to dig into the palm of her hand and keep his footing. “He...creep. A creep. Common. In subways.” He said with each new found breath, shaking his head rapidly. He couldn’t believe he had done that. He had never hurt someone like that before. He had always heard stories from Levi about how to take someone down in a fight. Aim for the balls Pete aim for the nuts! peter grimaced. “I’m. Sorry. I didn’t. Just move you. Away. Are, are you...o...okay?”

Her expression shifted as she looked at him, and her heart synched as an uneasy realization came over her. His words were staggered, his breathing tight… and she could feel the tremble of his hand in her own. She’d promised. She had promised. She told him that she would never, ever do it without asking…

But weren’t there always exceptions in emergencies?

Pausing, drawing him to a halt with her, her fingers curved into his, tighter, unrelenting, and without looking at him, afraid to see his expression, she released a moderate dose.

Peter felt the rush course through his veins. Hugging Georgie for the first time. Having Levi ask him to do the honors for him at his wedding. Peters hand loosened from hers, scared for her to give out any more.

“G-Georgie. P-please.”

“...You need it!” She protested, and for the first time since she had met the man, there was the tiniest trace of fire in her voice, “And don’t… don’t say I shouldn’t, because I’m not going to let you fall apart on this train full of people, just cause you’re afraid I’ll get jitters!”

“I don’t want you to get another seizure!” He protested in return, his heart hammering against his chest mercilessly. He lowered his voice, raking his hands through his hair. “I’m...I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have raised my voice. I shouldn’t have done what I did. I’m sorry.”

Reaching up, she cupped his cheeks with her palms, meeting his eyes with that same fierceness, “I’m not sorry you did it… I’m not. He was mean, and he said such terrible things to you… Please, please… stop saying you’re sorry.”

“He made me so angry. I thought he was going to end up hurting you.” He cupped one hand over hers, nestling into her touch as he managed to find a soothing power within her. Not an artificial rush. “Okay. Okay. Okay.” He exhaled slowly through his mouth. “I gotta admit. That groin hit might have been a little...um...out of my comfort zone. I don’t usually go around doing that.”

Laughing weakly, she shook her head, “It was… incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. Would… would you teach me that? So I could… if I ever had to… Well… no, nevermind… I don’t think I ever could.” Cheeks flushed, she bit her lip, “Thank you, Pete. F...for standing up for me…”

“You should at least learn something’s in case I’m not there.” He reassured her, trying to offer her a little smile. His eyes darted down.”it’s not a problem. I would do it all over again if I had to. Trust me.”

“...W...why wouldn’t you be there?” She asked, as if it were a perfectly natural assumption that he would always be there, and in her mind, it seemed pretty simple. Her fingers curled back into his, and she gave his hand a squeeze, “...I… I really liked shopping with you, Pete. But I… would really like to go home, now?”

“I…” His tongue felt like cotton at her words. He shook his head dismissively. “I’ll be with you. Trust me. But if there’s ever a time when you feel like you...you need to be alone, I want to make sure you can handle what comes your way. Okay?” He nodded, the feeling of her hand in his oddly soothing. “Yes. I’ll get you home. Promise”

Breathing in, she nodded, “Yes, please…”
 
Roleplay Invitations
Group Roleplays, One on One Roleplays, Chat Roleplays, Not Taking RP Invites at this Time, Private Convo Roleplays
Posting Speed
A Few Posts a Week, One Post a Week
My Usual Online Time
I check as often as I can.
Writing Levels
Intermediate, Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female, No Preferences
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Both.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy, Realistic/Modern, Magic, Scifi, Romance
Genre You DON'T Like
I am generally not a huge fan of RPing Fandom, but it can depend.
#16
In Them Thar Hills
with Elle Joyner Elle Joyner

It was cold. That was probably the absolutely only thing that Leon missed about Florida. Shrugging on a sweater, he glanced over his shoulder to wear Ket slept, smiling faintly at the sight of her, curled up beneath the covers. Slept. His Ket. It was a small miracle, and one he had Luna Usher to thank for… If she hadn’t found a way to reengineer the chip in Ket’s mind to balance out her amygdala, she would never have had any peace.


Peace. What a funny word. The world was in ruin. Rogue was gone. RIEF was gone. There were all sorts of struggles now, for new mutants and old alike. But in his own little corner of the world, Leon had peace.


Pulling a piece of paper from a drawer near the bedroom door, he scribbled a note for Ket, letting her know he was heading into town for breakfast. Teodora would stay in bed till nine - their little girl was a champion sleeper - and he fancied surprising her with pastries from the little bakery down the mountain.


Outside, he climbed into the truck and started up the engine, cranking the heat to max. As he rolled down the hill, he contemplated what the rest of the day might hold. It was odd, still, even after two years… the sense of freedom. Of being able to plan a full day, or sit and do nothing. Something he’d never change… not for anything. Even if it terrified him on a constant basis that someone might take it all away…


Rounding the bend that would lead the way into town, Leon suddenly slammed on the brakes. At first, he thought he’d imagined it… that it was just a dead deer or a big raccoon. But his mind was sharp… focused. And he new what he’d seen. Pulling over, swearing softly, he pulled open the glovebox and sliding the Sig Sauer into the back of his jeans, he climbed out of the driver’s side door, heading back up the hill where he’d seen the body.


Upon closer inspection, Leon swore and moving closer, crouched down beside him. There was something eerily familiar about the figures, though Leon couldn’t quite place what it was. Fingers pressing to the small gap between chin and neck, he felt for a pulse, breathing out a sigh of relief when he found one, steady, but slow. Danish were going to have to wait.


Scooping him up, he made his way back to the truck and with a u-turn, he drove back up the hill towards their cabin. Swinging the man over his shoulder, he turned the knob with his free hand and kicked the door open with his foot, “Ket! Ket! I need you down here, quick!”


Laying the man on the couch, he stepped back, rubbing his hands over his face. “Hell…”


It was no secret Finn wasn’t in the best shape. His supplies and cash reserve had run dry, and he’d thought he could last a little longer. Scrounging for food in dumpsters was not Finn’s idea of a good meal, but he had no other choice. Coupled with the cold, the lack of any proper nourishment, and no place warm to stay… he’d found his vision blurring and blackening before he had a chance to do anything else.


It was painfully familiar, this way of living. Even waking up in the warmth… rescued. He swore, just for a second, he could see Laila’s worried face, golden locks framing blue eyes, and he thought he could hear her gentle reassurances, mixed with Harper’s anger in the background. But it wasn’t Harper… Harper was dead. And so was Laila. This voice was different.


Finn forced his eyes to crack open, a groan falling out of him as he shifted, shivering. His head was pounding, and he could barely make out the figure in front of him, but he was too weak to even lift a hand, and trying to sit up left him flopping back down again. “Who…” He managed weakly, attempting to crane his neck to get a better view.


“Easy there, bud…” Leon’s words were soft enough, but there was an edge of concern behind them, a wariness the man couldn’t afford to live without. Ket had come down sometime shortly after he’d called her, and had gone to the kitchen to make a cup of tea for poor guy, but Leon stayed, watchful, his gun still tucked into his waistband, gaze watchful.


“Found you passed out on the side of the road. How you feelin’?”


The warmth of the place was beginning to thaw the ice in his bones, and Finn finally forced himself to sit upright, cradling his head weakly. Now he looked fully up at the man before him, registering that cautious gaze long before the face finally clicked. “Leon…” Finn said, blinking in surprise. Passed out on the road… elegant. “Feeling like shit.” Every time he hit rock bottom, he found another basement. A part of him had almost wished Leon had left him in the snow.


“...Ah. Thought I recognized you.” Rubbing the back of his neck, Leon almost felt momentarily guilty for the gun behind his back. Still… nowadays there was no telling. He needed to protect them… his family, “Ket’s gettin’ some tea. Should help warm you up. When’s the last time you ate?”


As if on cue Finn’s stomach growled painfully. A hand clutched it, and Finn avoided Leon’s gaze, angry with himself for getting that weak. What if it hadn’t been Leon? Someone far worse could have picked him up. Ket. Finn had never actually seen her. At least Leon was living a nice life. Better off than he, that was for sure.


“Too long.” Finn replied quietly. “You’ve been here all these years?”


“Just about. Had a scare a while back, when Ket set off a sensor… before they started pulling them out of stores and such. But it’s pretty quiet up this way, and folks are less inclined to ask questions. Hang tight a sec… I’ll tell Ket to throw something together for you” He rose and slipped out of the room momentarily, and when he returned, he set the Sig safely in a drawer near the front hallway, before resuming his position in the chair opposite the couch, “Heard you took off… right after everything went down. What’ve you been up to?”


Finn swallowed past the dry lump in his throat, rubbing his hands over his face, trying to stop his teeth from chattering. “Thanks..” He muttered. Weak, helpless, all over again… stupid. Couldn’t even take care of himself, let alone anyone else. With tired eyes Finn stared ahead, trying to process the question, find a sufficient answer. “I… Just… wandering.”


“Wandering…” Nodding, Leon sank back in his chair, with a small, resigned sigh, “Hell, isn’t it? All this. The running. The hiding. You ever wonder, Finn, what life would’ve been like for us, if Kaiden Hull had never been born? What the world might look like?” Chuckling, dryly, he shook his head, “God, what a mess.”


“Do I ever wonder?” Finn echoed incredulously. “I think about it every day. Every minute.” Kaiden Hull… the thought of the man made his stomach churn. All the evils he’d committed. “I can’t go back… I left them. I don’t have a purpose anymore… or even a home.” Finn shook his head. He was tired, out of motivation. Aimless. He barely felt deserving of another breath of air. Finn’s posture hunched helplessly. He needed to get out of here… before he fucked something up for Leon and his family too.


“Why’d you leave? It’s not like anyone told you to… Not like you even had to. Hell, to be honest, from what I heard about you, you were the last person I figured would skip out the way you did. I mean, I get it, don’t get me wrong. Took six months before I stopped thinking about running… Just to keep Ket and Teo safe. But…” Shaking his head, she shrugged, “I dunno anything, except I wish I’d killed that bastard in the sewers, the day he stabbed me.”


Finn chuckled weakly. Yeah, he’d been asking himself that question a lot. Usually the only answer he could come up with was that he was a coward. A huge one… and he felt he’d done them so awfully wrong there was no point in returning. “I got scared. Like I always do.” Finn whispered. “Seems like you’ve got an idea of who’s to blame for all of this. Mostly just blame myself.” He said with a shrug.


“Way I see it, unless you helped Kaiden plan and exact any of this, you don’t have an ounce of guilt. That man ruins lives. Tried to ruin mine and Ket’s. Kinda figured someone would’ve put him down by now.” Pushing himself upright, he held out a hand to Finn, “Come on. Ket ought to be done by now. Let’s get some food in you, before you pass out again.”


Finn thought on Leon’s words. He could see the truth and the anger behind them. Kaiden had taken everything from him… Finn largely thought it was himself who had stripped his life of joy, but it’d all started when… he shook his head, clearing the image away. Every life Kaiden touched was ruined. His included. He stuck his hand out to Leon’s, using it to pull himself up. It took Finn a moment to firmly plant his feet on the ground, starting out with a shaky wobble, but he eventually righted himself and followed Leon to the kitchen.


Looking up from the stove, Ket frowned softly at the sight of the blonde, and a brow rose. She recognized him pretty easily. Even so far removed from the life she’d led before Teo… even so far removed from those horrible, awful days, she recognized the kid she’d nearly…


Shaking her head, she brought a plate of eggs and pork roll to the table, setting them beside a cup of tea. Leon sat as Finn did, and Ket stood behind him, running her fingers through her husband’s hair, “...I’m going to get Teo up and dressed.” She murmured softly, before, with a kiss to his crown, she nodded to Finn and left the room.


Looking after her, Leon shook his head, “You never got to meet her, did you? Teodora? You were gone pretty fast…That was a fallout I don’t mind forgetting about.”


Her face had haunted his nightmares long enough for Finn to recognize her quickly. even though she hadn’t used her powers as intended, that soft plea, the touch to his head, the tentacles shooting out. The thought of it still made him shiver with discomfort and he stared, frozen and wide eyed as she pressed a kiss to Leon’s forehead, nodded to him, and left.


He gaped at Leon, speechless, trying to figure out how to talk again. Teodora… their child. They had a child. Finn thought about Deckard and Penny.. Travis. “N-no.. No, Leon, I shouldn’t. I should go. You’ve done enough already.” Didn’t need to make anymore connections, didn’t need to make anyone else worry about him, but his gaze travelled to the food on the table and his gut twisted again.


“Sit.” Leon said plainly, shaking his head, “You’d be stupid to walk out the door without eating. You wanna run again after that, be my guest. Hell. I guess I don’t blame you. I think he’s more than willing to let go of his mistakes… If only because that’d be too big a blow to his ego, but I dunno that Kaiden’s completely forgotten how close you folks came to screwing everything up for him. But he ain’t gonna show up at my doorstep in the next half hour.”


Without much resistance past that, Finn collapsed into the chair at the table, digging into the food. It was almost just as painful to eat after such a long time of nothing but scraps, and he ate faster than his stomach probably enjoyed, but at that point he was too hungry to care. About halfway through Finn paused, looking back up at Leon. “And if he comes in the next hour?”


“Then maybe I’ll get the chance to do what I should’ve done years ago. But he ain’t going to, so quit worrying. Kaiden’s not interested in that sort of hunt anymore, Finn. You and me, and the others. We’re small fish compared to what he’s after, now. Maybe he’d waste the energy getting rid of us if we were in front of his face, but face it… We don’t fit into his political game. The guy won’t run the risk of bumping off potential voters…”


Finn looked down, holding the warm mug of tea in his hands, trying to will it to spread that warmth faster. “You think he’ll do it?” He mumbled. “Rise to power like that… take over the world.”


“I think there’s enough idiots in the world that he could, sure.” With a shrug, Leon leaned back in his chair, “Trouble is, people buy into it… this crap that he wants to fight for our rights… Give us back our place in society. I don’t put it past him to rise higher than he ever has…”


The thought terrified Finn. Kaiden in control… of everything. He’d already done so much bad with just RIEF under his thumb, and he’d even dismantled it because it wasn’t big enough. Clearing his plate of any trace of a crumb, Finn met eyes with Leon. “Who’s going to do it?” He whispered. “Who’s going to stop him?”


“Hell if I know, Finn…” Shaking his head, he steepled his hands behind his head, “Pretty twisted to know that man could be the mind behind the leader of this country, someday…”


The color from Finn’s face drained. Kaiden Hull, leader of the country? The thought sent a shiver down his spine. The man who had ruined countless lives and was going to ruin so many more. It couldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen, it couldn't happen, it couldn’t…


Something in his mind clicked.


“Pretty twisted.” Finn echoed absentmindedly, gaze far off. “Thank you for the food… for pullin’ me off the road. Safe to say you won’t tell anyone I was here?”


“Who’m I gonna tell?” Leon asked, with a small smirk. At that moment, Ket slid back into the kitchen, arms looped around a little girl who clung to her mother’s side with an unrelenting grip. She was a picture of beauty, even at such a young age, with crystal clear eyes, bright blue and long, dark hair. Ket turned her eyes from Finn, with what appeared to be a small sense of embarrassment, fishing around in the fridge for a cup of juice for Teodora.


“Listen, Finn. Just… take care of yourself out there, okay? People… people were pretty broken up about you disappearing the way you did. I’d hate to think how they’d take it to know you didn’t make it out there.Try to stay on your feet, yeah?”


Finn ripped his gaze from Leon to look upon little Teodora. “She looks just like you.” He murmured, head spinning. If Kaiden became powerful, she’d be growing up under his reign. Growing up in a world of darkness and hatred, at least, more so than it was already. He shook his head at Leon’s words, trying not to think about the pain his friends were going through… how angry they must be. And how just moments ago, Finn would have been content to let himself fade away in the snow, and be gone… forever.


“I’ll do my best.” He murmured quietly, head bowed. “You do the same. Good luck, Leon.” Finn caught Ket’s gaze, and nodded as well.


“Good luck, Finn.” Leon rose and moved to Ket’s side, looping an arm around her middle and pressing a kiss to Teo’s cheek, “...Good luck.”
 
Roleplay Invitations
Group Roleplays, One on One Roleplays
Posting Speed
Several Posts a Day
My Usual Online Time
Generally online in the afternoon eastern time
Writing Levels
Give-No-Fucks, Adaptable
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
More passive but am decently comfortable with leading.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy, mystery, magical, modern,
Genre You DON'T Like
Dystopian, Survival stories,
#17
Collab: Sick Burn, Dude, Georige Elle Joyner Elle Joyner

Cookies.

She dreamed about them. She dreamed about making them. Dreamed that she knew how to make them. And she knew the moment that she woke up that it had to be real. It just had to be real. Her mind was so focused, so completely focused on the task that there was no way that anything could go wrong. Even at two in the morning, nothing could go wrong.

She tiptoed through the steps, as quiet as a church mouse, certain not to wake Peter from where he slept on the couch, and somehow, by some miracle, she managed to everything right…

All she had to do was take the cookies out of the oven - those perfect, chocolately, warm, gooey cookies. And somehow, in her excitement… in the thrill of success, she’d forgotten that hot things were hot. And so she’d grabbed that pan without thinking, and nearly seared a hole in her palm.

The squeak escaped her mouth before she bit her knuckles to keep from making any more noise, and as she curled her hand into the sleeve of her sweater, she grabbed a towel to rescue the baked goods before they burned, and set them on the stove. Then, tears in her eyes, she moved to the sink to run her hand under water.

...Cold water. Someone once told her cold water helped a burn… Or at least, she thought she remembered that…

Peter dreamt that his whole family had powers. Levi could change colors or objects. He changed the whole home to purple. His mother could shapeshift, but she would only do so with bizarre horns and a tail. His father. He could read at the speed of light. Absorb information. It wasn’t a particularly good dream when they started to decay. When they were pulled away by people he couldn’t recognize. Odd blurs. Levi bled purple. Someone had struck his throat. He didn’t stop bleeding until Peter jolted up on his couch.

He panted heavily. Medication was working, as to be expected. Odd dreams. Weird...weird dreams. He inspected the area around him, expecting to see Georgie hanging upside down from the ceiling. Expecting to wake up again. Nothing happened. He exhaled, rubbing his brow as he pulled his covers closer to him. He didn’t think he was going to be able to go back to sleep after that.

A faint, quick squeal broke his thoughts. Eyes heavy, Peter found himself on his feet within a matter of seconds. He slowly hobbled towards the noises now hearing the sound of running water. He rubbed the sand from his eyelids. “Georgie, sweetie?” He called out, unsure if it was her in the kitchenette.

Like she had in the store, Georgie nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of Peter’s voice behind her, and swinging around, she balled her fist up, holding her burnt hand behind her back, “Pete!” She cried softly, her voice slightly higher than normal as she bit back the pain in her hand, “OH! Oh, no. I… I didn’t wake you up, did I?”

Peter tensed as he approached, the sight of her fist catching him off guard. Slowly, he placed his hand over her knuckles and lowered her fist. “Easy there, Georgie. You can’t give a man a heart attack this early in the morning.” He offered her a gentle smile, although he could sense there was something wrong by the tone of her voice. “No. Prozacs doing its job a little too well. I heard you in here...you okay? You sounded a little...distressed.”

“Sorry…” She whispered, “I didn’t mean…” Gritting her teeth, her eyes stinging, she shook her head, “I didn’t mean to wake you… I’m o...okay.” Gesturing with her free hand, she pointed to the tray on the stove and flashed a strained smile, “S...surprise…”

“No, it wasn’t you sweetie. Weird dreams is all.” He confirmed, brow furrowing as he could sense there was something...not right. “You look strained? Are you sure you are okay?” Despite his concern, his eyes flickered over to the tray. Cookies. Georgie had made cookies at two a.m. in the morning. Despite himself, he let a weary smile grow on his features. “Not a bad idea, George. But...you don’t seem like yourself.”

“S...sorry…” She breathed in shakily, “I… I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep well, tonight. Had… had a dream I could make them, and I think… I got a little overexcited.” Biting her lip, she swallowed, “...W...weird dreams? Sorry. You… you said… weird dreams?”

“Hey don’t apologize. We’ve got breakfast for tomorrow morning.” He reaches over to ruffle her hair, although he took the opportunity to attempt and get a feel for her nervous system. The color drained from his features as he could sense a massive flare up. “Prozac sometimes has that side effect. Sweetie, why are you holding your hand behind your back?”

“...I… wh…” Blinking, she looked up at him, eyes bright, “...Oh… N...no reason? I just… it was wet, and I didn’t want to drip. Side effects? Are… are you alright? I could… if you need me to? I’ve got enough in me…”

“I can feel a flare up.” Peter claimed, his hand traveling down gently to meet her shoulder. “And no, I do not need a dose. Thank you. But I think I may need to do some of my own magic. Did you hurt yourself?”

“...Please don’t be mad.” She whispered again, and her eyes filled as she lowered her gaze, “I just… I forgot… about the… I mean, I didn’t forget about the heat, but I didn’t remember… and I…” Swallowing, she held her hand out, shaking, and opened her palm.

Peter bit the inside of his cheek, skimming his fingers along her cheek as he guided her gaze to meet his. “Hey. I’m not mad. I promise I’m not mad. It’s really early in the morning. The best of us forget thermodynamics from time to time.” His eyes flickered down to her outstretched hand. His heart threatened to crack down the middle. Second degree, it looked like. She had done the right thing by rinsing. It most likely needed more water. But the blister hadn’t broken. That was good

He gently hovered his hand over hers, his fingertips barely skimming over her palm. He closed his eyes, focusing intently on shutting down her pain. A sharp, fiery pain ignited in his own palm and he nodded his success. “That should last for a little bit. We need to rinse your hand more. Then I’ll help clean and wrap it up.”

Breathing in sharply, she reached out with her other hand to touch his wrist, “...Pe...Pete. You shouldn’t… It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t…” Shaking her head, she sighed, “...I don’t want you to hurt yourself for me, Pete.”

“Second degree burn. Hurts like hell, I know, Georgie. I’ve had them before. Cooking stuff is surprisingly hard in the morning, you know?” He shook his head, keeping a gentle touch over her wounded palm. “Hey, you risk jitters for me, this is nothing.” He his back a grimace as the pain flurred into what felt like thousands of tiny, heated pitchforks. He leaned over and, still keeping a hold on her, turned on the sink. “Let’s just cool it down, okay? It’ll make it feel a lot better”

“It's not nothing. I don't need to feel it to know that it hurts you, Pete.” Looking up, she shook her head, “It's different, and you know it. What I do… it… it doesn't hurt me.” Flattening a palm on his arm, she frowned, “You can't protect me from everything… You shouldn't have to.”

Peter gently ushered her hand under the cold stream of water, a frown present along his features. “It has a chance to. B-besides, you are my friend. If I dare say you are probably one of the greatest friends I could ever have and I...can’t let you hurt in good conscience.”

“Y...your words are backwards and… and unfair.” She muttered, and for a moment, she resisted his pull on her arm, before letting him guide it under the cold water, “We can't both win, and we want to… but I don't want to lose more than anything. I hate… I hate seeing you hurt.”

“How do you think most scientists convince others that their theories are correct?” He mumbled with a little smirk, but feeling the rejection in is movement caused him to reconsider. His expression softened, glancing down at her injured hand. “The same goes for you, Georgie. Why do you think I did what I did?”

“But I'm… I'm used to it. My brain's mush and fluff. It's all broken up inside. I can take the hurt… It doesn't bother me half as much as it does with you.” They were at an impasse. She knew it. But she had no intentions of backing down. Not when for the first time in a while her thoughts were so lucid. So clear.

“Georgiana.” He claimed slowly, biting his lip at the use of her first name. With his free hand, he cupped the side of her head, staring at her with visible concern. “I felt what you felt. Especially with your state of being, I can’t risk any harm on you, okay? I care too much about you”.

“Circles. We're… we're going in circles, and I don't like this dance.” Rubbing her forehead with her free hand, she turned to look up at him again, “You… you make me safe, and warm. You watch over me. You make the noise stop, and I can… I can remember stuff. Stuff like… like cookies and who… who I was. And if that goes away…?”

“You...you are saying that like I’m going to disappear.” Peter frowned as his grip loosened, but he knew better than to let go of her pain. “Georgie, I am not going to. Taking away your pain is not going to make this vanish. Okay? I’m not going anywhere.”

“You…. you will if… if I keep doing stupid stuff.” She muttered, her eyes lowering, “I’m… I’m a mess, and I don’t know how not to be.” Tears stung, and she blinked hard, "I just want… I want to be right. I want to be… normal.”

“No. Sweetheart I…” words became difficult to utter. Slowly he turned off the sink, going to grab nearby paper towels and wrapping them around her hand. After this, he gently pulled her into an embrace, careful to maintain her pain. “You are perfectly right, Georgie. It’s just a little bump of the road. Besides, normal is vastly overrated. I can promise you, you are better than that. You are okay, Georgie. I’m not going anywhere.”

Burrowing into his chest, Georgie quaked with a soft sob as she wrapped her free arm around him, “...Please don’t. I… I don’t wanna go back… back to feeling the way I did before. I can’t. I… I wanna remember stuff, not forget. Even… even remembering the bad stuff is better than…” Swallowing, she pushed back and dried her eyes with the sleeve of his sweater, another one she’d willfully stolen, “Let go for a little while? The… the burn. Please? Just… it’s okay to let it hurt.”

“You aren’t going to. I promise. I promise. I’m here. You wouldn’t have to go back ever again if I can stand it.” He laced his fingers through her hair reassuringly, and much like she did with him, he placed a gentle kiss to the top of her head.

There was a piece of him that threatened to break as she pulled back, visibly crying at this point. “I...I...Georgie I can’t...I can’t stand to see you in pain. I can’t.

“...But it’s a feeling, Pete.” She whispered, and her free hand curved into his, “And I… I went so long not feeling anything. And I don’t like it. It scares me… that I could ever go back to that. I never wanna go back. Not even in… in my head. Always too much or nothing. Too big or… or not there at all. I need the middle. This… you… you’re my middle. And I wanna feel.”

Peter found that his hand finally slipped from her wrist, the pain vanishing from his hand as soon as it had arrived. He placed his free hand over his eyes, exhaling heavily as he attempted to find some form of forgiveness within him. “I...I...Okay. Okay.” His throat clenched, and slowly he managed to peek at her, staring down at her hand. “I...I should wrap it up better”.

“Doesn’t… doesn’t feel so bad.” She smiled softly, and the light of it reached her eyes, “But you… you could, if it makes you feel better.” She knew it wouldn’t. Not really. She knew what would, but she couldn’t have him hurting. No matter what he said…

He nodded his confirmation, stepping away from her. “I got some gauze in the bathroom. It’s mostly to prevent the blister from opening up. You should continue using cold water, as well. No ice.” He informed her, cheeks inflamed. He turned from her to make his way to the small bathroom, scrambling through the cabinets until he found what he was looking for. Returning back as quickly as he could, he found Georgie back at the sink. “Are you sure you feel okay? I got some ibuprofen as well if it hurts too bad.”

“N...no.” She said, with a small twitch of her jaw, “No. I… I don’t wanna take anything. It’s okay. It… it’s really not so bad.” Biting her lip, she held out her free hand to him, “You can check, if… if you don’t believe me.”

“Okay.” Slowly, Peter took her hand in his and double checked how her nerves were reacting. He grimaced and let go. “If you insist. May I see your damaged hand, please? I promise I’ll be very careful.”

Biting her lip, Georgie looked at her hand, at the sleeve draped over it and swallowing, she breathed in, before pulling it back, up over her elbow, holding her arm out.

Peter didn’t think he could lose any more breath tonight. The visible, yet very faint, scars running up and down her arm sent shivers down his back. Track marks. Peter didn’t dare question her, eyes stinging as he focused on bandaging her burn and only her burn. “Just tell me if I’m hurting you, okay?”

Her hands shook, but it wasn’t from pain, or jitters… His eyes, she’d watched them, and she knew he saw them. You could hardly miss them. Tears burned again, as she stared at her arm, his question falling away,, “...D...do you know what they are?” She asked in whisper.

“I do.” He couldn’t stand to lie to her, his teeth sinking in deeply into his bottom lip. “Track marks. Needles.” He finished wrapping her hand, taking the hem of her sweater and carefully pulled it back over her arm.

“...Oh.” It was breathed, almost a sigh, as disappointment coursed through her. Some part of her had wanted, desperately wanted them to be something, anything else. The part of her that suspected, the part of her mind that was still whole and functioning and had somehow known wasn’t surprised. But the other part… the part that held onto the idea that she wasn’t who she suspected…

“...Th...that means I…” Trailing off, she blinked, “I can’t remember it…”

“You can’t remember getting these scars?” Peter questioned, horrified. He figured...either the chemical imbalance or possible drugs that she had ingested could have messed up her memories. Drugs with chemical imbalances...it made horrific sense to him. “I’m. I’m sorry Georgie. I can’t be sure if they are or not.” That was a lie, but he didn’t want to expose the truth in his words.

“I know what they are… I think I always did.” Rubbing her arm, she turned away, and frustration itched at the back of her mind, “I hate them. I hate everything about them. Wh...what they mean. The way people look at me. The way you…” Covering her eyes with her hand, she slumped down the counter, to the floor, “...Why do I have to be this way? I don’t… I don’t wanna be anymore. Nothing makes sense.”

“Georgie don’t say that. Please don’t.” Peter Slowly unraveled her sleeve, pushing it down just so he could see one of the first scars. Entire body trembling, he kissed the scar closest to her wrist. “We all have our struggles. We all done things we wished we hadn’t. These aren’t scars of ugliness. It just means you’ve overcome your struggles. The person you are, despite these scars, despite the memory loss, I couldn’t be prouder of my friend.”

He lowered her arm carefully, skimming his thumb along her wrist cautiously. “I know things are confusing. But you are a very, very strong person. Please don’t tell me you don’t want to be. I don’t know how I could handle this without you. Things will clear in due time. I promise.”

His lips skimmed the scar and Georgie’s breath caught, and for a moment, her mind was a fog of feelings she couldn’t sort, couldn’t comprehend. How could anything good come out of something so ugly? She had seen people with scars like these… seen them on the streets. They were cold and angry and dark. They weren’t good inside, and all she wanted was to be good inside.

But Pete looked at her, and she didn’t feel cold or angry or dark.

Tears dry, Muppet… Just need to remember that eventually, even the bad stuff goes away…

The words were clear as a bell, even if she couldn’t remember the person who said them, even if she couldn’t see their face or hear their voice…

With a small sniff, she eased forward and her head dropped to his chest, “...You got a broken one, Pete. S...s’okay if you… you wanna return it.”

Peter held her close and tight as she dropped into his torso, his eyes stinging helplessly. He attempted to hum a soothing tune to her, tracing shapes along her back with her thumb. “I wouldn’t give you up for the world.”

“I’m so scared, Pete.” She whispered, curling closer to him, “I’m so scared of… of remembering it all. Of finding out I’m a bigger mess than I thought… W...what if… what if I’m not a good person? What if I’m not...who you think I am?”

“Please don’t be scared, Georgie.” He rested his chin upon her head, squeezing her reassuringly. “I know there are gaps. I know there is anxiety about what could have been. But from what I’ve seen...I feel like I know you. I know the genuine you. I have faith that you...you are you. And that’s all that matters.”

The words repeated back in the cadence she had said them reflected with such a profound sense of warmth in Georgie, for a moment it felt as though she had dosed herself, and sitting up, she stared at him, smiling faintly, damp eyes brightening, “...You know you’re the best person on the planet, Petey?”

Peter blinked, sheepish and meek, shaking his head as he stared into her glazed over eyes. His hand was tempted to hover over her cheek, just in case any more tears fell. “I...I don’t know about that, George.”

“I do. It’s the only thing that’s ever felt completely clear. The minute I met you, Pete, I knew it. Cause… cause no one’s like you. Not anyone.” Her fingers curled into his and she dropped her gaze again, looking down at his hand, “The whole entire planet, Pete. True story.”

His gaze followed hers, applying a gentle squeeze to her hand. “I’m just doing what I would do for any friend. You mean a lot to me, after all. And besides, it’s a little hard for me to compete with you for being the best human being.”

“Ha!” She laughed and looking up at him, shook her head, “You are… such a dummy, sometimes, for being such a smarty pants. I’m not… I’m not, Pete. But I wanna be better, and you… you show me how to be and that’s important. It is. Cause I never… I never ever wanted to, before.”

“A-a dummy?” Peter questioned, fire in his cheeks as he chuckled sheepishly. “Well, you aren’t the first one to say that. But...I’m being very honest.” He scanned her, eyes landing to meet with hers. “I think you have a similar effect on me, sunshine. You make me feel like a better person. I...I think we are good for each other, you know? And I promise, if you ever, ever feel like you need help. I’m here”.

“Sunshine…” She breathed, and her eyes fluttered closed as she curled into the crook of his neck, “I like that… cause… cause the endorphins. We can help each other, Pete. I think that’s what we’re… we’re meant to do, you know? Help each other.”

“I’d be content with staying like this.” He admitted, cautiously and hesitantly cupping the back of her head as she nestled into his neck. His arm remained looped around her waist. “It’s pretty late. You should probably head back to bed, sunshine.”

“Don’t wanna…” She whispered, curling closer to him, “I like it here. I like being right here, in this right now… and I don’t want it to go away. Not ever…” Leaning back, she grinned, “Sleep is for the weak, Silly Pete!”

“You know…” He mused, eyes fluttering closed in his weary content. “We...we don’t have to unravel to go to sleep.” His cheeks ignited into a fiery pink, swallowing down his nerves. He chuckled weakily. “We are going to be rather cranky tomorrow morning.”

“Oh.” Blinking, Georgie leaned back and smiled, “I didn’t think about that… If… I guess… I guess that would work...” Itching the tip of her nose, she looked marginally concerned for a moment, “You’re all pink, Pete. You okay?”

“We can stay awake if you’d like.” He confirmed for her, although felt the cheek grow exponentially worse. He buried his head in the crook of her neck. “I-I’m Fine.”

“N...no. I… I am a little sleepy.” She murmured, tipping her head to the side a little, “You sure? You feel kinda warm. You...you’re not getting sick, are you?”

“I’m...I’m not sick.” He grumbled is reassurance, unsure of how he could further hide himself. He took a set of deep breaths. “I don’t know why I’m so red right now.”

Sitting back a little, she looked at him, curiously, “...Sometimes, people get red when they’re mad. But… you… you’re not… At least, I don’t think.” Rubbing the back of her neck, she laughed faintly, “I’m bad at this. Maybe it’s from the burn?”

“I’m not mad at all.” He claimed, realizing he could no longer hide in her sweater as she shifted back. He popped back up, clearing his throat as the red remained. He sheepishly stared down at his lap, wondering how his sweatpants could be interesting enough to distract him. “I don’t think it’s that either.”

Peter could only kick at the thoughts swarming his head. He found his jaw had dropped, lips slack as he entered a wordless gape. Levis thrown my mind in the freaking gutter. Slowly he nodded, trying to calm his features. With a higher than normal pitch he said “S-sure.”

Making a small face, confusion pulling at her features for a second or two, she rose to her feet and held out her hand to him, “C’mon, Silly. I think you’re sleepier than I am…”

“Me too.” He whispered, mostly to himself as he took her hand and pulled himself up. He swallowed. “Are you sure you are comfortable with this?”

“With what?” She asked, and a brow rose as she looked up at him.

“Me sleeping next to you?” He inquired meekly, voice less than a whisper. “That’s not going to be uncomfortable is it?”

“Why would it be uncomfortable, Pete?” She asked, and a brow rose.

“Er, well, um, how do I say this…” He swallowed hard, never quite so flustered in his entire life time as a young man. “Sometimes people aren’t comfortable with the opposite sex sleeping beside them."

“That’s silly…” She chirped, before the realization struck that she was probably missing one of those important things most people knew, “Oh… unless. Is… does… does that mean something different, Pete?”

“Um…” Peter was surprised his body hadn’t collapsed onto itself like an embarrassed, bright red black hole. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Sometimes men and women do romantic actions in the bedroom. Sometimes people are uncomfortable because of that.”

“...Wh… what…” Racking her brain, Georgie tried to concentrate, but she wasn’t entirely sure the words he’d said connected anywhere. They seemed familiar, and she knew they had to mean something if he was saying them, but in the end, they were just bits and pieces of floating sound, “...R...romantic? I dunno what… what that is?”

“Oh...oh God.” Peter breathed, unsure of what his answer should be in this moment. He shouldnt have to be graphic about what romantic intimacy. “Well, romantic interactions tend to happen between two people who are very intimate with each other and have deep emotional attatchment. So, they express it with reproductive actions.” Peter attempted to explain, his heat still filling his cheeks.

“OH!...You mean to say as in sex, Pete?” She asked, with a small smile, “I’m dumb. I’m not clueless... You are real pink.”

“I am not!” He protested weakly, hiding his head in his hands as he let out a laugh. “Im sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” She asked, with a small laugh, “Honestly, Pete. I know you’re not gonna try anything funny. You… you kinda broke that guy on the subway’s… ya know… just to keep me safe. I might not know a lot, but I know the good ones from the bad… Or… I dunno… sometimes, I can tell. But with you, I definitely can tell.”

“I know. I just...Felt a little awkward there.” Peter cleared his throat. “So...we are all good to just...cuddle? I guess?”

“I mean… you don’t want to…” A brow rose, as she looked up at him again, “Right?”

“I want to sleep next to you.” He claimed with a bright blush. “Are cuddles okay?”

Reaching out, she took his hand and nodded, “Of course. Gotta… gotta keep you healthy, right? And cuddles are like… extra long hugs.”

“Yes.” Peter concluded with a smile and lead her to the bedroom, his cheeks beginning to cool down. Extra long hugs suited him just fine.
 
Roleplay Invitations
Group Roleplays, One on One Roleplays, Chat Roleplays, Not Taking RP Invites at this Time, Private Convo Roleplays
Posting Speed
A Few Posts a Week, One Post a Week
My Usual Online Time
I check as often as I can.
Writing Levels
Intermediate, Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Female, No Preferences
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Both.
Favorite Genres
Fantasy, Realistic/Modern, Magic, Scifi, Romance
Genre You DON'T Like
I am generally not a huge fan of RPing Fandom, but it can depend.
#18
ashes ashes we all fall down
with Elle Joyner Elle Joyner
tw: death/injury


It was a smooth performance. Emiko jumped through hoops, spun, danced beneath the pictures of water and fire that Mollie and Kaya so elegantly twisted. The Ringleader pushed their powers farther, trying to up the vivid imagery, trying to elicit more from the less than impressed crowd by the same old show. Moving their strings like puppets, the fire grew larger, harsher, and the audience began to feel it's sweltering heat. She was choreographing on the fly, behind the stage growing red with anger, wrists flicking, hands flying, as the dance became more chaotic. Her grip on Emiko slipped, and the girl in the form of a tiger yelped as the flames reached an intensity that she had never seen, yowling with worry as it climbed and threatened to lick at her skin.

The Ringleader liked the reactions of fear and wonderment that fell from the crowd as the fire burned brighter. She let go of Kaya to spin the fire all across the room, leaving the waterbender to gaze around wildly, losing balance on the platform that the Ringleader had been so carefully balancing her on top of. The inferno grew, brightened, brightened so much Emiko couldn’t see, couldn’t see as Kaya fell.

From the arcade, mid-pummeling from a weenie looking highschool boy with terrible teeth and too many bright red freckles, Aras could hear the sudden intensity from the big top, and his heart clenched in his chest as he considered what it could mean. He knew that the audience had been growing bored of the stale performances - knew that the ringleader would want to up her game…

But the screams were building, growing, and they weren’t the sort of mild shock and awe that normally came from even a stellar act. Suddenly swinging a hard right, he took the young man to the dirt and jumping over him, leapt the ring and raced from the arcade tent towards the big top, sprinting as fast as his feet would carry him.

The big tent was a madhouse. Fire had caught the fabric and was steadily growing, allowing smoke waft into the air as people trampled over each other to escape. Inside were a few morbid visitors, crowding around to see the pool of blood that grew around a cold body. Protected by a prowling, snarling tiger from any tempted onlookers, the fire raged on.

His heart stopped… and his eyes moved frantically around the tent, as horror grew in his stomach. Kaya… unmoving… broken… like a lifeless doll… Em, surrounded, fighting… Mollie… control lost…

“Get out!” He roared, his voice broken, cracking beneath the abject grief, as he shoved through the crowd, “Get out!” Moving forward, he breathed in, “...Em! Em! Come on! We need to go!” The fire climbed higher into the tent canopy overhead, and caught the support beams, spiraling down the central poles… His heart continued to splinter as he stared at Kaya…

“Emiko! Now!”

The Ringleader has turned coat, more concerned for her own safety. Mollie had been left, hands blazing nonstop, tears streaming as she continued her fiery assault on the tent, with intent to burn it all down, down to the ground. Emiko hissed and snarled, letting out a roar that sounded too much like a whine as she pushed her enormous muzzle into Aras’s chest, beckoning him to climb on.

Grimacing, his eyes moved desperately to Mollie… her expression fixed, glazed… Kaya.. God… Looking down, he nodded, and without a word, without hesitation, swung a leg over her back, “GO!”

Sprinting away, leaving Mollie’s anguished cries behind them, fire licking at Emiko’s paws and legs, letting out huffs and growls as she did her best to weave, to keep Aras on her and above the flames. As Emiko ran, a beam splintered and fell in front of them, the great tiger skidding to a halt roughly on her burnt pads.

Swearing, Aras held up his arm to block the flames, “Hang on, Em!” And clambering off her back, he focused his energy into strengthening muscle and skin, moving towards the beam. With a solid jab of his foot, he caught the beam at the center, splintering the wood and creating a path way, “Move, Em! Go through! I’m right behind you!”

Panting heavily, the tiger shook its great head, refusing to leave Aras behind despite the smoke that was flooding the tent, leading Emiko to take in long, raspy breaths, the fur on her arms and legs already reduced to singed wisps. She pushed her snout into him once more, waiting for him to climb back on.

“Damnit! Em! I can take it… I'm right here! With you!” Coughing into his elbow, he shook his head, “But you can't run as fast with me on your back! I'm fine! Just please go!!”

Emiko stared at him, breathing loudly, ears perked. Despite the chaos around them, despite everything, Emiko sat down, watching him intently, waiting for him to climb on again before she would even move.

“God! How are you so stubborn!!” He swore again, but didn't argue, returning to her side, “I swear to God, you don't make it out I'll never forgive myself!” Climbing onto her back again, he hung on tightly, “Move!”

With a mix between a huff and a snort, Emiko bounded out if the tent, ignoring the flames and the burning sensation that seemed awfully familiar at this point. At some point, they made it out of the tent, even though it felt like eons to Emiko, slowing to a halt as exhaustion overtook her, breathing in the fresh air and collapsing in the grass, the cool ground a great relief on her singed paws.

Rolling off her back, Aras stumbled to his hands and knees, breathing in the cool, fresh air in gasps, as the smoke choked out of his lungs. The painful feeling of burning in his chest eventually eased, but the ache in his stomach, in his heart didn’t. Kaya... Mol..

Tears burned nearly cold against his hot skin, and pushing himself to sit up, he looked back at the inferno, “...Oh God…”

Emiko had no strength to shift back, tongue lolling as she pulled her head into Aras’ lap, eyes closed, nuzzling him as a string of whines fell out of her. The pain she felt on a physical level didn’t even match the ache in her heart. Kaya was dead. She had seen her once brilliant brown eyes turn cold and gray. Mollie had been reduced to an agonized mess, fueled by rage and grief, and the Ringleader, the cause of it all, had scampered away, unharmed.

As much as she could in the form of a tiger, Emiko cried, sniffing and whining and pawing at Aras, consumed by nothing but pure grief.

Curling around her, Aras shushed her, his fingers trailing gently along her fur covered head as tears tracked his cheeks. Brushing them off with his shoulder, he shook his head, “Come on… We gotta keep moving. We… we can’t just sit here. Cops’ll come, soon.”

Struggling to stand, Emiko looked up at him, a whine still resounding low in her throat. She glanced around them, suddenly struck with the idea that they could go… they could go anywhere. Emiko tilted her head and let out a low growl, as if to ask, where?

“Just… let’s just get off the street. Come on…” Starting forward, he headed towards the section of the road that was veiled in the shadow of the buildings, moving swiftly, but not so fast that Em would have trouble keeping up. The adrenaline running through him still kept the pain from registering, but he knew he had some burns on his arms, and coupled with the beating he’d taken earlier in the arcade, he was sure it wouldn’t take long for it all to catch up. Still, he moved… and didn’t stop until he’d found a dark alley between two abandoned buildings, gesturing for Em to go inside, first. “I know you’re tired, Emmy… But you gotta try to shift back… We can’t go much further with you lookin’ like that…”

Unbuttoning his shirt, he slid it off, and with a frown, held it out to her, “...Just try…”

Padding beside him slowly, gaze trained on the ground. In an instant, everything she’d ever known had been burned away. At least Aras was by her side… but Kaya’s cold eyes would never leave her, and Mollie’s raged filled screams…

Summoning the last remainder of her energy, the fur receded into Emiko’s frizzy hair, now tinted a strange orange. Burns sweltered on her hands, her arms, legs and feet, and cringing, Emiko coiled into herself, slipping into his shirt. “The Ringleader made her do it.” Emiko whispered brokenly, shuddering.

Gently, carefully, Aras pulled her close and wrapped his arm around her, shaking his head as for a moment, his throat tightened and words became impossible to say. Somehow, however unrealistic it was to walk around that way, it had been easier when she was shifted… Seeing her this way, hearing the broken sound of her voice was too much.

Breathing in, exhaling shakily, he nodded, “You don’t have to explain. I… I already guessed, Em. I-I am so sorry…”

Em sniffed, hiccuped, bringing her throbbing arms around him, burying her face in his chest. “She’s gone.” She muttered, fighting against the tears that were already falling. “She’s gone and we left Mollie… we left her all alone… Kaya’s dead… Kaya’s dead…” As she spoke her voice lost volume and descended into sobs, shaking her head in a futile effort to convince herself it wasn’t true.

“Shh…” Burying his cheek against her crown, he brought a hand up to smooth her smoke-scented hair, “I know... I know, Em. But we can’t… we can’t fall apart, right now. We have to keep moving. Before… before she finds us.” Straightening, he looked her over, “We gotta go, Em…”

How could they not fall apart? When she had lost her sisters in such a cruel way, how could could she not spiral, not beat her fists on the ground and ask why this had to keep happening to her. To all of them. Why Kaya had to lose her life in such a grotesque way, why they had to leave her awry limbs splayed on the floor and why Em couldn’t ever see her again. Why Mollie had to be bent against her will, to kill her best friend, forced to burn everything to the ground.

Em shuddered, and looked up at him with bleary eyes, nodding.

Taking her hand, Aras started for the alley exit, trying to keep his legs from shaking as he walked. He didn’t make it far, before pausing again, a hand covering his eyes, pinching them shut, “I… I don’t know where to go, Em. I…” Swearing, he shook his head, “I dunno where to go.”

Her hand was blistered and red but she held his anyway, desperate for a lifeline. She didn’t know that her heart could sink any further than it already had. Hearing his words broke the last part of her that was even holding together. Aras, always the man with a plan and if he didn’t have one, he had the gall to make one. But he was lost, searching, uncertain, and Emiko looked up at him in horror, with fading hope. “No,” She mumbled, voice cracking. “No… no, there’s… we can… we’ll…” Her voice teetered on the edge of a sob again, and Emiko shook her head.

“Hey… hey.” Frowning, hand falling from his face, Aras grabbed her again, pulling her into another gentle embrace, “We're gonna be okay, Emiko. I promise. We're gonna be fine. We'll figure it out. We'll find the path. I just… I just need to think…”

Looking past her, he frowned softly. He could see movement in the shadow, no doubt more escaped circus folk, stragglers who had gotten caught up inside, “We need to find somewhere to hide… until the mess dies down. Somewhere to rest…”

At the movement in the dark Emiko flinched, clutching him tighter, trying to push her fear away. “Somewhere to rest.” She echoed, taking his hand again, pulling him away, just desperate to go… go. Anywhere.

They had no money… no sense of direction… no allies. Their only home was burning, and they were in a strange city, alone. This, undoubtedly, was exactly what the Ringleader had always planned for them. A sense of impossibility…

But for Emiko at his side, Aras might have felt like giving up. Yet he owed her more than that. He would not abandon her when she had lost so much. His mind filtered back to the only other time they had been out on their own, and looking around, Aras nodded, “I have an idea. Come on…”

Taking her hand, he led her along, moving quickly down the street. The third alley he peeked into gave him what he was looking for and tugging Em along, he gestured to the fire escape that led up to the roof. There was no sense of thrill or excitement as there had been when they'd gone to see the Eiffel Tower, but when they'd reached the roof, it was quiet and calm. There was a clothes rack, and grabbing a skirt and a button-down, he slid into the latter, handing the skirt to Emiko.

“We'll wait here a few hours…” He murmured, using the sheets hanging to dry to build something of a comfortable nest for her, before he moved to the edge of the building, dropping down to sit, head falling into his palms. The weight was getting to him… the emotional exhaustion. He felt spent. Empty. Cold. And all he wanted was to go back just a few hours… go back and save Kaya. Mollie. He had failed them. And no doubt, he'd find a way to fail Em, too.

She remembered the feeling of wonderment. Of Mollie and Aras behind her, urging her further up, she remembered the feeling of gliding across a beautiful sky to take in every breath close up. Now there was a hole in her heart where that feeling of happiness had been, and a solemn silence had taken over Emiko as she followed him up, up, farther away from everything she had ever known.

Pulling a sheet from the makeshift nest, she sat down on the edge with him and draped it over them both. Leaning her head against his shoulder, Emiko stared into the darkness.

“I’m sorry, Em…” He whispered, wrapping an arm around her, breathing out softly, “...I... I failed you. I failed them. I promised I’d protect you, and I didn’t. I should have stopped her. I should have stopped her when she… that night we saw the tower. If I had, none of this would’ve happened…”

Emiko muttered something under her breath in Japanese, before looking up at him sharply. “Stop that.” She snapped. The fire that had burned them now burned in her eyes. “Just stop. It’s not heroic, what you’re doing. You’re being stupid. You did your best… you always did your best… and there was nothing you could have done.” Shaking her head bitterly, she looked back out into the night. “The only thing you have to promise me now… is that you’ll stay by my side.”

Blinking, Aras looked down at her, frowning softly, “...You… you’ve grown, Em.” Breathing out, he turned his gaze away, “...I can’t… I can’t tell you I promise that, Em. You know that I… I would never leave you. You know that. But I’m not gonna make you a promise when anything could happen. I won’t do that to you. We all promised… that we’d stick together. That we’d be together, and look… look what happened. But I can promise that I’m not going anywhere on my own. This world… will have to pry me away…”

There was an anger that flashed across her face at his first words, a tenseness in her posture, threatening to pull away. But he continued to speak and she soothed, trying to cling onto the promise that he at least thought he could make. “Are we going to go back for Mollie?” She murmured.

“...I...I dunno, Em. She…” Frowning, he lowered his gaze to the streets below. Over the edges of the buildings, he could still see the vaporous glow of flames… orange against the black sky, “She wasn’t… it was like she wasn’t there anymore. When I came for you. I dunno how much of Mollie there’ll be if we go back. But if that’s what you want, then we… we can try to find her.”

“We have too,” Emiko said, voice rising. “It’s the Ringleader’s fault… if we go back for Mollie, she’ll be okay… she was scared. How can we just leave her like that?” Her voice broke, and Emiko shivered.

“N-not saying I wanna leave her, Em.” He murmured, the exhaustion and emotional toll suddenly overwhelming “But I… I don’t wanna risk getting caught again. We… we’re free. If we turn back, and she’s there?? If she gets ahold of us again? She won’t let go twice. You know she won’t.” Rubbing his forehead, pain pinching between his brows, he shook his head, “Whatever you want… I’ll do it. Just… just think for a minute, please?”

Emiko paused, taking in a deep breath, holding up her hands and looking at the angry flesh, and the scar on her shoulder. “...Alright.” She murmured, defeated. “We have to look. But only… only when we know it’s safe.”

“They’ll put out the fires… We can see it from here. Once… once it goes dark, we can go back and see if there’s anyone.” Reaching down, he gingerly cupped her arm, looking at the burns, “We need to treat this. Before it gets infected…”

She nodded, glad to at least have some semblance of a plan. Her jaw tightened as he looked over her burns, flinching. “And how do you suggest we do that?” Emiko muttered. “I’ve survived a burn before. It doesn’t matter.”

“Don’t say that.” He muttered, with a frown, “Don’t. It matters. I don’t… I don’t wanna lose you, too, Em.” Rising, he looked around the rooftop. There wasn’t much, besides the clothesline and a broken antenna, “Stay here… I’ll see if I can get in through a window, into one of the apartments.”

Her hand shot out, grabbing his wrist before he could go, fighting back the twinges of pain that were now sinking in as the adrenaline wore off. “Either you stay here, or I’m coming with you.” Emiko said softly.

“Hey…” Shaking his head with a small smile, Aras knelt down in front of her, looking up to meet her eyes, “I’m not gonna leave you, Em. How bout… I go down, and you give me ten minutes. And if I’m not back, you can come after me and rescue my ass, yeah?”

Swallowing nervously, Emiko nodded, crossing her arms. “You don’t need to kneel down to talk to me.” She muttered. “Ten minutes… come back quickly.”

With a chuckle, he reached up and pinched her chin with his fingers, “I dunno, Em… You are pretty fierce all the sudden… Mia vasílissa.” Rising, he nodded, “Ten minutes. I’ll be back.” Turning, he headed for the fire escape and disappeared over the edge.

Her cheeks reddened as he pinched her chin, turning away despite the small smile that grew on her face. Watching him go, Emiko waited until he was fully out of sight to return to the makeshift nest of sheets, curling up only to realize she had no way to track the time.

He wasn’t gone long, however - ten minutes wasn’t even necessary. The first window he’d found that was open had led into a powder room, and inside, he’d found a cabinet with a large first aid kit and several towels. He took what he needed from the kit and dumped the rest, filling the container with water from the sink, before sliding back out onto the fire escape. He carefully made his way to the roof again and found Emiko curled, up, crouching down by her side, “...Alright. Got what we needed. You ready? This probably won’t feel too good, but we need to clean you up.”

Emiko looked back at him with bleary eyes, trying hard not to let the pain show in her expression or words, but failing miserably. She remembered how Mollie had tried desperately hard to take care of the burn on her shoulder, the burn of her own doing, and it was strange to have anyone but her looking over her wounds. She nodded silently, holding out her hands first, staring at the blisters as she tried to hold back any further tears.

He was no Mollie. He knew that. She’d always been better at this part… He was over emotional, and his temper got him caught up… But he had to try. He knew that, too. He had to, or Emiko wasn’t going to make it. Carefully, dipping a towel into the water, he took hold of her arm, and concentrating on the worst of the burns, he laid the damp cloth against it, letting the cool water seep in. He focused, keeping quiet, until he’d cleaned both arms, and her legs, bandaged them loosely, then with another wet towel, he looked up to her and cupping her chin, washed the soot and dirt from her face, “Ah…” He murmured, with a small smirk, “There she is.”

As he gently dabbed the wet cloth against her burns Emiko held a cry of pain tight in her throat, biting her lip and looking away, trying desperately hard to be strong, to be strong like they all wanted her to be. When the cloth came to her face, she couldn’t hold the tears that fell as quickly as he wiped them away, mingling with the dirt that he cleaned from her cheeks. At his comment that cry was finally ripped from her chest, and she thrust her arms around him, sobbing into his shoulder.

Scooping her close, Aras breathed out, and arms looping tightly around her shoulders, he hugged her, “...It’s alright. I know… God, Em. I know. Let it go… let it out. I’m here…” Eyes closed against the flood of tears he felt building, he shook his head, “...I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Helplessly she grabbed at the back of his shirt, clinging on tight, sobbing so harshly that it shook her entire being. In one moment, in one fatal moment, everything had been taken from her. Everything. And it felt worse than the burns, worse than the ache of her lungs. Nothing had ever hurt like this, and she didn’t know how she was supposed to hold herself together, when the two women who had damn well raised her were lost to the cruelties they never deserved. None of them did.

With his own emotions spilling over, Aras brushed his hand through her hair, gently smoothed it down, his other hand rubbing her back, trying to sooth pain he knew he couldn’t ease away. He couldn’t speak, for the cloying lump in his throat, but he was pretty sure there wasn’t much he could say, anyway…

She didn’t know how long she cried, but it didn’t really feel like enough. It would never feel like enough. Finally the tears ran dry and Emiko curled into a fetal position against him, feeling ever so small, and so lost. “We’re gonna find her,” Emiko whispered. “And we’ll be okay again.”

Shifting, so he could lean back into the little nest of sheets, he pulled one over Em’s legs, and held her to his chest with a small nod, “We’ll be okay…” He agreed, softly… “We will. Now try to rest, alright? I’ll keep you safe.”

Emiko nodded against him, eyes fluttering closed as she sunk into his safe warmth. “I know you will.” She murmured, knowing that she would promise to do the same as darkness overtook her and she fell asleep in his arms.

As she slept, Aras did what he promised. He watched over her. He kept her safe. He didn’t move, didn’t ebb… he wouldn’t, until dawn touched the horizon in soft pink hues, and giving her a gentle nudge, he shook her awake, “...Fire’s out, Em. W-we can go back now, if you still want…”

Blinking the sleep out of her eyes, Emiko looked up at him, shifting in his lap. “Y...yeah.” Emiko said, nodding as she moved, standing up on shaky legs, the burns still aching but considerably less after they had been wrapped and cared for. “We should go back.”

Aras rose as well, stretching out a kink in his shoulder, surveying his own arm, with a small frown. It was scorched, but hadn't blistered, and the red had died to a subtle pink. He could feel the bruises elsewhere, but those were nothing new. Looking at Emiko, he gestured to the fire escape, “How you feel?”

Gaze falling to his own arm, Emiko winced. “I-I should have helped you clean that.” She whispered, glancing over her own bandages palms and legs. “Better. Thanks to you.”

Laughing softly, Aras waved off her words, “I'm a fast healer. It's really no big deal. As long as you're alright. You want my shoes for a bit? Kind of a far walk in bare feet…” he noted, starting down the ladder.

“I.. think they’re too big, Aras.” Emiko said with a soft chuckle, shaking her head. “I’ll live. Animals do it all the time.” She touched his arm. “Can I at least help you wrap it up?”

“True…” He said with a sheepish smirk, looking down at his boat-like feet. With a shake of his head, he touched down to the alley, nodding, “We'll see if there's anyone back at the tents… then we can check for supplies. Shouldn't hang around too long, though.”

“Okay…” She said softly, climbing down slow, careful with every step and gentle on her wounds. Once Emiko touched the ground, she moved close to Aras, walking beside him. It still hadn’t settled in.. the fact that she was free. “I can’t believe it’s all just… gone.” Emiko whispered.

“We'll figure it out…” He murmured quietly, “What to do next.” He wasn't even sure if she was concerned about it, but he was, for sure. He was terrified. How long had it been since he'd had such freedom?

“Stay close, okay? We'll be there in a little while… Don't know what it'll look like, but there's bound to be cops poking around.”

Emiko was concerned, but not half as much as she should have been. In her mind, if they found Mollie, everything would be right. Her family would be back together, or at least, what was left of it, and after that it didn’t matter. Mollie surely would have lingered close to wait for them, and Emiko held herself firmly, refusing to lose hope. She nodded to Aras, though her gaze was set straight ahead, already searching for that familiar bundle of red hair.

He wanted to tell her not to get her hopes up. He wanted so badly to get her past that need to find them… because in his heart he knew the chances of it were so slim. So very slim. But he couldn’t bring himself to crush her that way, to break the last straw that was holding her in place. His hand wound around hers as they neared the place where the fire had raged, and slowing, he looked around, trying to find a secure path that wasn’t swarming with people.

“Mollie?” Emiko called, holding Aras’ hand as tightly as the bandages around her palm would allow. “Mollie!” She had to be here. She had too. And if she wasn’t, well, she was probably looking for them someone else. “What if she went into the city looking for us?”

“...I-it’s possible, Em…” He agreed, with as much conviction as he could push into the words. But he knew… he knew the likelihood. If she’d made it out, it wasn’t the same Mollie. No. He’d seen the look in her eyes - the absolute snap from reality. From rationality. The Ringleader had broken her…

And she would not be looking for him and Em… She would be looking for…

“...Em… We can’t stay here. She’s gonna come back. The Ringleader. We have to keep moving…”

“But Mollie’s looking for us.” Emiko said harshly, voice cracking midway. “And we have to make sure we check, because what if we just missed her?” Mollie had to be here… if not here, she had to be close… Emiko refused to give up on her, despite the brokenness that had been in her eyes. How could she let go of her sister when she needed them most?

“...Emiko.” Taking her by the shoulders, Aras shook his head, “Look at me. Listen. Mollie’s gone. I’m sorry. She’s just… she’s gone. And we cannot stay here! If she comes back… she’ll get… she’ll get her hooks in you again. I can’t let that… I won’t let that happen. Please.”

“No,” Emiko breathed, looking up at him with a fury in her eyes, perhaps a little like Mollie’s. “Don’t you dare… she can’t be gone… she can’t be.” She refused to believe it. Refused to let that truth settle in on her. “The Ringleader’s not here, not right now. We have to look for her. We have too.” Slipping out of his grasp, Emiko marched forth.

“Emmy!” Grappling for her hand again, Aras swore softly, “Listen to me! What do you think happened last night!? You were there. You saw it! You saw her! Do you really think she just walked away from that the same?? Do you think that our Mollie… our Mollie is still out there? If you can say yes… without an ounce of doubt, then I will go with you to find her, right now! But you have to be able to say it…”

She opened her mouth to protest, to argue, but nothing came out. “She… she has to be.” Emiko whispered, trembling. “She has to be, Aras, I can’t…” How could she have lost them both in one split second? “I can’t have lost Mollie too.” Emiko mumbled.

“I don’t… I don’t know, Em.” He answered honestly, and pulling her close, he enveloped her into a hug, “...I want to tell you she’s out there and we’ll find her and it’ll be okay. But I just don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what’s gonna happen next…” Stepping back, he shook his head, “I’m gonna do… everything I can to find her. I promise.”

Emiko had no tears left. She fell into his embrace but silently, as if admitting defeat, her entire being stiff. If Aras had no hope, why should she? As he stepped back she looked at him, the last vestige of faith dying in her eyes. “What do we even do?” She murmured. “What are we supposed to do if they’re both… gone?”

“We keep going…” He answered, without hesitating, “It’s what they’d want, Em. It’s what we’d want for them, if the positions were reversed. We keep going, and we fight to survive. We stay together and we live.” Giving her hands a squeeze, his eyes rose to hers, “...Okay?”

She stared at him blankly, nodding, trying to meet his eyes with anything other than vacancy, but unable to do so. “Okay.” Emiko echoed, shoulders drooped, and if she had a tail right now, it’d be between her legs.

“Hey.” Reaching out, he tipped her chin up with his fingertips, “...Dóse mas éna chamógelo, Mikrí Kyría. You know I’m no good without a smile, Em…” Giving her cheek a brush with his thumb, he let his hand fall to his side, “Come on. We need to keep going…” Where, he had no real idea.

A weak, pained smile fluttered against her lips, but dropped the moment his hand fell from her face. Keep going. That was what they needed to do yet she didn’t even know what it meant anymore. With a bowed head Emiko waited for Aras to step forward, following him slowly.

Aras frowned softly as the smile flickered and fell just as quickly, and reaching down, he took her hand gently, leading her from the carnage of the burned down circus grounds, “We need to figure out a way to get some cash or something. Not gonna get far without that. And we’re gonna have to get something to eat. You… you hungry at all?”

As Aras lead her away, Emiko looked back, watching the wreckage of the circus fade from sight. The rest of his words fell on deaf ears and she looked back at him, blinking, as a hand went to her stomach. “I’m alright for now.” Emiko murmured. “I don’t know how we’re going to make money.” She had barely any skills to her name, barely any idea what life was like outside the captivity of the Circus. How was she supposed to survive? How were they?

Shaking his head, Aras shrugged, “Don’t worry about it. I can figure something out. Hell… just need to find a place lookin’ for a fighter, you know? If I can get in, win a few rounds, I can get us something decent… Like… like some fancy chicken or something. Whatever you want, Em. We’re gonna do alright…”

“N-no,” Emiko said, tone rising, tugging on his wrist despite the protest of her angered skin. “No more fighting… no more shows. No more… it only leads to bad things. Please, Aras, promise me you won’t.” Her eyes shone as she looked at him, fighting a quiver in her voice. “We’ll find some other way…”

Blinking, Aras frowned softly, looking as thought he might argue, but the look in her eye calmed the storm and breathing out, he nodded, smiling dryly, “...Guess I’ll just have to find some sophisticated, lonely old woman and become a… what’s the male version of a trophy wife?” He teased, softly.

She forced a flickering smile, nodding. “Y-yeah. Something like that. Don’t know what it’s called, but it probably exists.” Emiko looked down. “Maybe we can.. ah… uh…” Her brows furrowed in thought, trying to recall what her elder siblings used to do to put food on the table. They begged, and did any odd job they could, and sometimes even stole. “I don’t know.” She murmured.

“Hey…” Reaching out, he gingerly gripped her shoulder, “...You don’t have to know right now, Em. We’re gonna get through today, and then tomorrow. One at a time, okay? We’re pretty smart, and if we put our heads together, we’ll make this work. Just gotta trust me... You hear?”

“You make it sound so easy, Aras.” Emiko murmured, still trembling lightly. “But I’ve never… I’ve never done this. Been… been free. I’ve never had a chance to make a choice, and what if I… don’t even know how too?” She bit her lip, looking at the city before them. “I’m scared.”

“You…” Stepping closer, he took her face in his hands, smiling down at her with a shake of his head, “You are the strongest person I know, Emiko. And the most stubborn. Scared is okay. Scared is good. Keeps you on your toes, keeps you awake. Aware. And you won’t be taken advantage of, long as you got a little fear in you. But you never let fear stop you before. And you’ve always… always inspired me to do the same.” Leaning in, he kissed the crown of her head, “You’re a queen, remember? You’ll get through this. You will.”

Her own hand reached up to curl around his, trying to take in his words, to make them true. To believe them with every fibre of her being. A sad chuckle fell out of her mouth as he called her a queen, shaking her head, eyes fluttering closed. “It’s because I always had you.” She mumbled, shaking her head. “I had you… and Mol… and Kaya…” Emiko sniffled. “We’ll get through this. For them.”

Pulling back, he opened his mouth the say something else, when he expression suddenly shifted, and uneasiness stealing over him, “Get behind me, Em…” ahead of them, a small crowd of men had begun to approach. As they encircled, Aras pulled Em behind him, eyes narrowing, “How can we help you, folks?”

“Hm.” From the crowd, a man stepped forward, vaguely familiar. Aras recalled seeing him in the sea of faces the night prior, during his fight with the freckled redhead… and sure enough, bruises dappling his orange-pocked skin, he was there was well, “You re the strong man… aren't ya. Circus ain't lookin’ so hot. But we got a business proposition for ya.”

Holding the hem of Aras’ shirt she stepped gingerly behind him, fear shining in her eyes as they were surrounded. “Leave us alone.” Emiko snarled, staring down the man that had stepped forward with an angry gaze. But for the brief moment that Emiko held a fire, it disappeared upon realizing that when she tried to shift, it started and stopped, the familiar sensation of tugging skin and cracking bones too much on her weary body. She gripped Aras tighter.

“I’m not interested…” Aras answered as calmly as he could. He could feel Em’s grip tighten, and he stepped slightly to the side, to block her from view of the man in charge, “But thanks. I’m sure it was a great offer.”

“You seem to be under the impression we were giving you a choice… I’m sorry if you were mistaken by that notion. Probably my fault. You’re gonna come with us, Strong Man. And you’re gonna come without a fuss… Or we’re gonna take that pretty little thing you got tucked behind your back… and we’re gonna take turns makin’ her real uncomfortable, if you catch my drift.”

Frowning deeper, Aras reached back, a hand on Em’s arm, “You’re not gonna touch her…”

“...Then we’re agreed? You’ll come quietly?”

“...Em.” Aras murmured softly, “Em… can you shift?”

A whimper resounded low in Emiko’s throat as the men made their threats. She had to fight. She couldn’t let them take him. She couldn’t… Pushing past a noise of pain Emiko tried to force a shift, her form rippling and changing, but never able to fully form. “Aras,” She croaked weakly, staring up at him with wide eyes. “I can’t!”

His eyes closed as her desperate words his hit ears, heart seizing painfully in his chest. She couldn’t shift. She couldn’t shift, and even fully activated, he could never fight that many off at once… “...If I come with you, you’ll leave her alone?” He asked, voice shifting, losing its energy.

“...Won’t even give her a glance. She can just… go on her merry way.”

“No!” Emiko cried, shaking her head, gripping him tightly. “No! No.. you can’t take him, please! Please…” She tried to shift again, begging an animal to rip its way out of her, but the pain was too great, her body too weak, and all her attempts had her trembling, falling limply against him. “No…” She repeated over and over again, refusing to believe this was happening, refusing to let go.

Shifting, Aras opened his eyes and turning, looked down at Em with a shake of his head, “...Do you know why Mollie did what she did, Em? After Kaya? Because Mollie would do anything for any of us… because Mollie loves us.” Cupping her face, he frowned, “...And I love you, Em. I’m not gonna let them hurt you. No one’s gonna hurt you. So I’m gonna go with these men… and then I’m gonna find you. I swear, Em. I’m gonna find you. But you can’t fight. Please… Because you know what they’ll do… and I can’t…. I can’t bear that. We’re gonna find Mollie. Together, Em. You and me. This? This is just another show, okay? Just another show… but pretty soon, we’ll be free for real… and we’re gonna find her.”

“You can’t,” Emiko sobbed, still trying to force the shift, every nerve in her body pulsing. “You can’t leave me too… Aras…” Tears streamed freely down her face. She couldn’t shift… she couldn’t shift and it was going to be her fault that he got taken. Hiccuping, she wrapped her arms around his middle, embracing him in a deep hug.

Breathing deep, to hold himself together, Aras looped his arms around her and his lips brushed her crown as he shook his head, “...Akrivós gia lígo, i mikrí mou kyría... I will come back and find you.” Pulling back, he shook his head, “I promise.”

She tried to reach for him as he pulled away, but her bandaged hands only met thin air. Her world was crashing in front of her. Everything… decimated. Right before her, Aras was being taken, and she couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it. “Aras…” She echoed, trembling, tears still falling. “I love you. S'agapó.

“I know…” He nodded firmly, eyes burning, as he stepped back, towards the edge of the crowd, “Be strong, Emiko. Mia ypóschesi eínai mia ypóschesi...” With another breath, he turned to the men… “We walk away from her… or you get a fight. Understood?”

With a smirk, the man in charge shrugged, and with a wave, urged the crowd to depart, “Fine with me, brother. Let’s go.”

She had to stand and watch. Watch as her brother was being taken from her. As he walked away and she couldn’t do anything to stop it. She knew he was trying to be strong, but Emiko could see the sting of tears in his eyes. “Perímene. Na eísai asfalís. S'agapó.” She echoed, fists tightened, trying one more fruitless time to shift, the pain bringing her to her knees as they walked away. “S’agapó!”

Turning with the men, his heart too weak to watch her hit the pavement, he grit his hands into fists, “...S’agapó…” He whispered, feeling his heart shatter in his chest, as the men led him off down the street.

Aras faded from sight, and Emiko was left on the floor, shaking as she cried, as she watched the last of her family fade from sight. Where would she go? How would she survive? How would she find him? They had barely had a plan together. On her own…

Somehow, she would find him. Somehow, they would find Mollie. Rising on shaky feet, Emiko walked, alone.
 
Roleplay Invitations
Not Taking RP Invites at this Time
Posting Speed
Several Posts a Day
My Usual Online Time
8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Writing Levels
Prestige
Genders You Prefer Playing
Male, Primarily Prefer Female
Playing Style- Passive or Aggressive
Probably a mix. When I GM I tend to prefer mostly aggressive, but with input from my players. I like to offer ideas and receive them. I don't like when people just take the reins and run with it though...especially in a 1x1.
Favorite Genres
Political intrigue, fantasy, futuristic, sci fi lite, superheroes, historical fiction, alternate universes. Smittings of romance, but only as side plot.
Genre You DON'T Like
Anime. Ever. Just not my jam.

Smut. Romance as a main plot. Horror. Grimdark.
#19
Jitters
A collab with KatSea KatSea

  
“Levi when you gonna come over and actually do this with me, you know, the proper way?” It was four in the afternoon, Peter’s singular hour in the day to try and attempt a video chat with his brother. It had taken him a few weeks to truly figure out how to work the computer’s settings, but once he did he made sure to answer the call every other day. His violin was slung lazily along his shoulder, bow effortlessly skimming against the strings. On the other sign of the screen, Levi, with an unkept beard and dejected eyes, yawned.

“Maybe you should come down here yourself. Lizzie has been making it difficult to get around very often, besides, she’s been keeping me up for a few days. Not to mention Daisy’s morning sickness…” Levi brought his own bow along his instrument, brow furrowing. “I don’t don’t want to see you, you know? It has just been ridiculously busy for the last few months. Hell, years now.” Levi drummed his thumb against the neck of the cello. “Maybe we can schedule for next month? You can come on down and introduce that new friend you keep talking about. We need the company, anyway.” Levi frowned, running his hand through his now scraggly hair. “Oh, shit, Peter. I think Im gonna have to cut this short…” His head swung back down towards the hallway, where mischievous giggling filled the air. “Ah I’m sorry bro. Call you in a bit?”

“Sure.” Peter reached out miserably to the computer, hanging up without another word. He frowned. He shouldn’t have felt upset about this. Levi had a life outside of him. As he had for years. And yet…

“I should go check to see if Georgie’s taken her pills.” He mused, closing the laptop and placing his violin back into it’s case. “Georgie?” He called out into the living room, removing himself from the comfort of his bedroom.

The jitters had come unexpectedly. She'd only dosed maybe once or twice that day. And she knew the schedule, knew she'd gone off a little, but the mailman had looked so down and with all that rain outside…

She'd downed a glass of milk, but she could feel it coming… knew it was gonna be bad. Hands quaked as she tried to reach where they kept her pills, but pressing up on her toes shot fire through her feet and her chest tightened as panic raced along her spine. She could hear him call, hear the tone of his voice and she wanted to tell him she was fine…

But she wasn't fine. She wasn't…

With a crash, the glass fell from her hand and Georgie went with it, eyes rolling back into her head as she dropped to the floor.

Peter heard the shattering before he could hear the thud. His eyes widened in concern and he had already visualized what had occurred. “Shit shit shit.” He mumbled under his breath, skidding to a stop in the kitchen at the sight of Georgie convulsing on the floor. He knew what to do, not to move her around and to let her body do what it needed. However, he noticed she was dangerously close to shattered glass as she shook. Trembling himself, he kneeled beside her and moved her as little as he could, making sure her arm was out of the way of the glass. He laid her down gently, praying under his breath.

They were brief, and when they subsided, there was always the knowledge. The knowing was the worst part. Rolling onto her side, breathing in and out rapidly, she squeezed her eyes shut, her fists balled tightly…

The tremors ceased. Her breathing was erratic, as to be expected, but what came next wasn’t something Peter was anticipating. He knew better than to pull her into an embrace. She could fuss or freak out, especially after a seizure. Instead he ran his hand soothingly up and down her arm, breath caught in his throat as he waited for her pain to subside

“...P...Pete?” Her voice squeaked out, as she unclenched her fists, shaking hands flattening against the floor.

“I’m here.” He replies gently, slowly taking her by the shoulders and sitting her up, but allowing her to rest her weight against him. “It’s alright. It’s alright.”

“...D...don’t let… don’t let go.” She breathed, curling into him with a small grimace, “...Please don’t let go.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” He replied gently, keeping her against him as he inspected her. He fell silent for a moment, deciding the best thing for now was just to hold her. He gently pressed her head into his shoulder. “You are okay. It’s going to be alright.”

“I’m s...sorry. I… I o….over...overdid it t...today.” She whispered, a tear squeezing out as she curved into his hold, “...I d….didn’t… didn’t m...mean to. F...feel like… I….k...keep s...saying that.”

“It’s okay. It’s okay. Don’t apologize.” He reassured her, biting his lip as his theory had been confirmed. He should have figured she over did it today. He hadn’t double checked on her to make sure she took her tablets. “I should have made sure you took your medications. Do...do you want me to set you up on the couch? I can get you wrapped up in blankets and make sure your cozy.”

“N...no,” Shaking her head, she frowned, “D...don’t blame yourself. P...please. I...I’m an ad...adult, Pete. I…. shouldn’t n….need you… to w...watch me… ever… s….second. G...god. I… hate this… s...so much.” Swivling her face into his chest, she bit back a sob, “...C...couch. P...please.”

“It’s okay. It’s okay.” He replied gently, rocking her back and forth as she struggled with her words. He slowly began to gather her in his arms, and once he had a good grip on her, he lifted her up from the floor and made his way to his feet. He stepped over the glass cautiously and brought her back into the living room. Hobbling cautiously to the couch, he placed her down so she could lay. He grabbed the blanket from the side of the couch arm, draping it over her. He made sure her pillow was properly fluffed underneath her. “I’m going to go clean up, okay? I’ll be really quick.”

...He was fading away. She couldn’t see it, but she could feel it… What she was doing to him. The strain of what she was putting him through. He was the only one who’d lasted this long, and she couldn’t imagine why. He called her his friend, but what kind of friend put so much weight on someone else? What kind of friend was such a burden?

As he walked off to clean up the broken glass - another mess she’d left for him - Georgie peeled herself free from the blanket, and silently, she padded across the floor of the living room, to the front door. Slowly, she turned the knob and with a soft click, she pulled the door open and slipped out.

Peter hummed gently as he got the broom to clean up the mess. Comfort flooded through his system as he cleaned and organized the kitchen. Once he was done cleaning up the glass, he made sure the milk was removed from the kitchen tile.

He made no haste to return back to Georgie, but was surprised to see that she was gone. Panic invaded him and his eyes went wide. “Georgie?!”

She got about halfway down the hallway when she heard him call out, and it took everything in her not to completely fall apart, then and there. Unfortunately, it also occurred to her, before she’d pressed the button on the elevator callbox, that she’d left the door wide open…

She couldn’t even run away properly…

Peter rushed out of the room, demeanor pale and concerned. “Georgie?” He called out again, making his way down the hall and spotting her by the elevator. “W-wait! W-what are you doing?”

“No…. no, no, no..” Whispering to herself, Georgie pressed the button, but it was too late. He was already out in the hall, and the moment he called out to her, she could feel her resolve cracking, tears burning, springing to her eyes, “...Pete, please. P...please. D...don’t…”

Peter took a step back once he had approached her, his hand pressed firmly over his stomach as nausea began to overwhelm his core. “A-are you running away? I...I understand I-if you w-want to be a-a-alone but…”

“...I can’t s...stay.” She breathed, her palm flattening over the button, “Pete, I c...can’t. Don’t you s...see what I’m d...doing to you? Don’t you g...get… what’s h...happening? I’m gonna w….wreck you.”

“You aren’t doing anything wrong.” Peter protested, once again approaching her. “In the short time you’ve been around, I feel like...like my life has improved. Your my friend and I refuse to let you go out there alone with nowhere to go. I can’t let you live out on the streets, again. I can’t.”

“Y...you have… ...you have t...to take c...care of me. All the t...time. Wh...what kinda l...life is that?” Looking at him, she regretted it the moment she tipped her head, hating herself for the way he looked back.

“A good one.” He mumbled, taking one step forward. “It’s not a burden. And I don’t see this as if I am babysitting you all day long. I don’t. You are my friend and roommate. I can’t imagine my apartment without you. You are not a burden.”

“...I… I f….feel like… a b...burden. Every day, y...you p...put aside… so much… and wh...what do I g...give back? J...jitters and b....busted glass and s...s...stupid m...mistakes.”

“You give me smiles, laughter, fuzzy sweaters and pencils. You give me someone to sleep with at night so I don’t have to be alone. You make each day a little brighter.” He slowly made his way in front of her, reaching his hand out for hers. He gave her room to reject him. “All those little things...those are nothing in the grand scheme. They are just little things.”

Looking up at him, she sniffed and her jaw tightened as she fought the tremble in her lip, “...I...I am n...never gonna be wh….whole, P...Pete. I… am n...never gonna be… anything b...but this m...mess. Y...you deserve a… p… princess. S...someone s...smart and p...put t...together. N...not j...jagged pieces. Not c...crooked lines.”

His hand dropped back to his side, his lip quivering as he hit down on it. “I don’t want that. I don’t need that. I need you. I refuse to classify you as a mess. To call you broken. You...you are whole to me. There may be a few scars and a few patches that need stitching...but they make you you. I wouldn’t ask for anything more than you.”

With a staggered breath, her eyes fell, her hands shaking as she clasped them in front of her, “...I d...don’t wa...want to g….go. B...but if I s...stay… I… I’m g...gonna r...ruin you. I… I d...don’t know how n...not to.”

“Does it look like I’m falling apart at the seams?” He plucked at his sweater as evidence, shaking his head. “No. Georgie. You are not going to be hurting me in such a way. Trust me, you leaving is going to hurt me a lot more than you think it is.”

“H...how c...could that h… hurt more than… th...than this? Than w...watching me f...fall apart… every day?” Her eyes shifted, hooded by lashes as she looked up at him, “I d...don’t understand…”

“If you fall apart on the streets...I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I wouldn’t. But...I...I want to be there for you, Georgie. I want to help you when you feel like you can’t stand in your own. It has been my pleasure to keep you at my home. It has been my pleasure to watch over you.”

“Y...you… you’re a… a paradox.” She whispered, shaking her head, “M...make no s...sense. You… you’re smart but you… you d...don’t think. You don’t… you…” Her control crumbled, and breathing out, she stepped forward and crashed into him, arms wrapped tightly around his waist, “...Wh...who w…wants a mes….mess?”

“I do.” Peter promised under his breath, wrapping his arms firmly around her. He found himself trembling, but he forced himself to inhale and exhale as usual. He held her quietly for a few moments, pulling away to brush stray hair from her face. “You make my life so much brighter, Georgie. You have no idea how much you mean to me.”

“Y...you mean e...everything t...to me, P...Pete.” She continued softly, “Y… you do. I… I d...don’t want to...go...I don’t.”

“Then please, don’t.” He asked of her, his voice low and nearly inaudible. He squeezed her gently and stroked her hair in a soothing motion. “You mean the world to me too, George.”

“I… I ne...need you to p..promise me s...something, Pete.” Looking up, she met his eyes with that rare sense of impermeableness, “If...if I’m g...gonna s...stay”

“What do you need of me?” He asked softly, staring down at her with a caring gaze. He felt a shot of anxiety infiltrate his bloodstream

“Y… you need to p...promise me y… you won’t l...lose y...you… t...taking care of m..me.” She whispered, firmly as she could.

“I could never do such a thing.” Peter vowed, nodding. “I will promise. I will keep this promise. N-now come on. You deserve to be wrapped back up in blankets.”

Her fingers curled around his, and slowly, she nodded, “Y...yeah. O...okay. But you… you gotta s...stay w...with me. Y… you deserve it t...too.”

“You think I wouldn’t take you up on blankets and snuggles? You must be out of your mind.” He teased her, a gentle smirk playing at the corners of his lips. He gently tugged her hand. “You wanna use your own two feet or should I sweep them out from under you?”

“I d...did come o...out of a m...mental...hospital, P...Pete.” She remarked, with the ghost of a smile on her lips. He continued, and she blinked, and the smile warmed, as she shook her head, “T...too l...late.”

“Too late?” He questioned with a blink before finding heat exploding across his cheeks. Oh. Oh. Oh. Peter cleared his throat and without another word gathered her into his arms. “Away we go.”

She’d been dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. She knew it now. She could see it, in the clarity being near him gave her. She’d assumed that she was hurting him, that she was going to make things worse for him, but Pete wasn’t a pushover. He wasn’t going to wallow in misery. He cared about her, and it was high time she let him…

As they returned to the couch, despite being held, she gestured for him to sit first, “P...please.”

“You sure?” He questioned, adjusting her cautiously in his arms as he slowly brought himself to sit on the couch. He pulled the blanket back over to them, draping it over her shoulders and making sure she was snuggly but comfortably wrapped up. “There. Cozy.” He bit his lip as his eyes moved over to the seat next to him. “I uh...I should probably put you down…”

Shaking her head, Georgie pulled her knees in and sank her head down onto his shoulder, “N...nope. L...like it here. Here is b...best.”

“O-okay. If you feel comfortable here.” He wished to confirm, brushing his fingers through her hair absentmindedly. “You promise you are feeling okay? Can I get you milk or chocolate, anything?”

Shaking her head, she leaned back to tap the very tip of his nose with her finger, “N...nope. N...no moving. This is b...better… than milk or choc...chocolate. Or even ch...chocolate milk.”

He nestled into her touch, chuckling as he leaned against the back of the couch. “Even better than chocolate breakfast?”He questioned, slowly melting into his seat and feeling his breathing reach a serene level of being.

“Better than chocolate a...anything…” She stated, matter of factly, with a firm, unyielding nod, “Better than anything, anything.”

“Anything?” He questioned, perplexed. “Anything at all?” His brow rose as he poked his thumb to her cheek. “There are a lot of lovable things out there, you know.”

“Hmm…” For a moment, just a moment, she feigned concentration, before with a grin, she shook her head, “Yep. Anything at all.”

“Out of everything, every experience, every molecule, every little piece of matter that is in existence...this is the best?” He nudged his nose against hers, brow wiggling as his eyes meet her. He grinned widely. “Just...sitting here, is the best human experience one can get?”

“...No… Silly, Pete.” She whispered, smiling more gently, “...Sitting here with you is…”

“Hmm.” He mused, his smile nearly uncontainable. His eyes attempted to cross in an attempt to fulfill his nickname. Straightening, he claimed. “Wanna know a secret? The feeling...is incredibly mutual.”

“...Hmm…” She hummed, voice still soft, as she shrugged, “...You like sitting here with you, too?”

“I mean if I did I feel like my life would be complete and I could just allow myself to be eternally absorbed into the couch.” Peter brushed back his hair, slicking it down until it bounced back mercilessly into his eyes. “No. I think one of my favorite things to do in a day is sit and just...talk with you. There’s nothing quite like it.”

“E...even though… even though I’m a great big mess? She asked, with a small, teasing lilt of a smile on her lips.

“You are a lovable, not mess.” He claimed, ruffling her hair affectionately. His hand traced down to cup her cheek as his head tilted innocently. “But yes. I am being completely honest. Its the thing that, when I wake up each morning, I get pleasant jitters just thinking about it.”

“...P...pleasant… jitters?” A brow lifted, and she leaned gingerly into his palm, “...L...like a dose, b...but… but real?”

“A genuine rush.” He reassured her, brushing his thumb gently along her skin. “It feels like, er, well, you know when your clothes come fresh out of the dryer and it’s all warm and fuzzy?” He found that pink invaded his cheeks. “T-that’s what it feels like.”

“Like… like when it’s all dark… and there’s a storm… and the… the water hits the window and you’re warm and snuggled up under a blanket?”

“Just...just like that.” Peter claimed, realization hitting him sharp and fast. “Georgie...did you just remember something?”

Blinking, she shook her head, “...I...I think… I don’t know, but I think so? It… it comes to me, sometimes. It just comes to me. J...just when.. When I’m with you, though.”

“Thats...thats good. Thats really good.” He claimed with a brightened demeanor. Smiling, he placed his hands on her shoulders. “See, told you we are good for each other. Has trying to write in the journal helped?”

“N...not a lot. But I like it, anyway.” Since he’d been teaching her to write, she had kept up with the journal, jotting notes here and there, thoughts… Memories were harder to come by, but when they did come up, she never wanted to let them go, “...I always knew you were good for me, Pete… J...just not sure about th..the other way ‘round.”

“Good! Im sure it’ll help in one way or another, and if not it still at least acts as a way to document.” His hands dropped to his side slowly, and with a brief shake of his head he replied, no hesitation present within his voice. “You are very good for me, Georgie. Trust me on that.”

“M...maybe you’re going crazy.” She teased, softly, “...Maybe it’s contagious…”

“It’s not unpleasant.” He retorted with a smirk, resting his forehead to hers. “I rather like it, to be honest.”

Trying to meet his eyes, Georgie made a face, before letting them fall closed, instead, breathing in softly, “...Y….yeah?”

“Cross my heart, it’s true.” He vowed in a breath, comfortably nestled into her. His eyes began to close as well. “It makes me feel…bright. Warm.”

“...Sunshine.” She whispered, “Like sunshine.”

“Yeah...just...just like sunshine.” A smile grew at his lips. “You are my sunshine, afterall.”

Eyes opening, she looked at him curiously, “...Y...yours, hm?”

“Grammatically speaking, I am not suggesting I am maintaining ownership.” He corrected himself, although his voice was at ease. If not a little weary. “You are the one who brings the sunlight into my window, poetically speaking. You...you make the world brighter.”

“...Oh…” Softly, her shoulders bounced in a gentle shrug, “...I… It sounded okay the other way, too…”

He chuckled. “Mm. If you are certain about it, Georgie.” There remained uncertainty in his head, but it didn’t revolve around her staying. It revolves around the feelings threatening to boil straight out of his chest. He...he had a hard time identifying what they were.

“I dunno… where I come from… or… or who my family is, if I even have one... or half the other stuff in my life before coming here. B...but the only thing… that makes any sense at all, that ever has, is that I just feel… safe… with you. I feel happy… with you. So… so I dunno… what else… to be certain about, but that.”

“I’m glad I could make you feel safe and happy. That’s all I ever wanted, when you came to the apartment. That’s all I ever hoped I could provide for you.” He stared down at his lap, realizing his face was engulfed in heat once again. “Is it so odd, to feel so strongly about someone in such a short period of time?”

“Odd…?” She leaned back, just slightly, tucking her hair back behind her ears. The sleeves of his sweater rolled back to her elbows, and she didn’t bother to roll them down again, far too engaged to be concerned with the scars, “I dunno the first thing about what’s normal, and you’re askin’ me about odd?”

“I...Er, well, I’ve just never developed such a complex state of emotions for a person in two months.” He admitted, rubbing the back of his neck with a light shrug. His free hand gently traced down her arm. “I just...it feels like I’ve known you for a long while. Even though it hasn’t been. Not that this is a bad thing I just...I feel very...strong emotions. Towards you.”

“...Strong… emotions?” Goosebumps formed along her arms, but she didn’t move, “...g...good emotions? I...I hope?”

“Of course good ones. I don’t think I would have asked you to come back to the apartment if they weren’t.” His eyebrow raised but a smile soon replaced the puzzled look upon his demeanor. “Yes. Good emotions. You feel like a part of the family, you know?”

“...F...family?” She asked, and a small, tender smile formed, “...T...th...that’s good. L... like a sister…?”

Peter almost choked on the air he was breathing, holding back a gasp of unexpected coughing. He patted his chest once, calmed his lungs, and found that the only color apparent in his form now was red. “E-er. I um...I’m not sure if uh...sister is the way to describe it.”

Blinking, Georgie shifted, raking her fingers through her hair, “...Like… y...your… mom?” Her voice carried just the tiniest edge of uneasiness.

“N-no. A-ah...I should rephrase.” Peter stuck his face in his hands and grumbled to himself about keeping his mouth shut about certain feelings. “Um...I...I don’t know how I can say it, to be frank with you.”

“Words… are tricky.” She said, with a firm nod, “I have trouble with words, all the time. ‘Cept you… you’re supposed to be the brain of this operation… If you can’t think how to say stuff, we might be in trouble.”

“I think my brain is having a little glitch.” He teased, managing to retrieve his head from his hands. He rested his chin on the couch, eyes fluttering. “I think the best way to say it is that, well, I feel like you are an important factor in my life. Like family. Except, er, this is a new one, you know?”

“N...new family?” Sitting back a little, she bit the edge of her lip, “...I… I think your analogy is broken, Pete.”

“M-me too.” He laughed in spite of himself, his cheeks burning like a wildfire. He cleared his throat “I think I’m losing my eloquence.”

“M...maybe it can’t be said?” She suggested, with a small bob of her shoulders, “Maybe you just… have to feel it, and let it be...what it is?”

“There’s a way to say it, I think. I just need to figure out what it is.” He confirmed, offering her a shy and reserved smile. “I’ll figure it out someday.”

Tapping his nose, Georgie grinned, “Always with the words, you smart boys. This is why sometimes I’m glad I’m broken and fluffy up here…” She tapped her temple.

“Words, words, words.” He quoted, waving his hand in a dramatic flare before rolling his eyes and tapping the other side of her temple. “You are improving immensely and you know it.”

“Ha… improving.” Sticking out her tongue, she shook her head, “I'm half stuffed animal and you know it, Mister. S'why I'm so good at snuggling.”

“The only way you are a stuffed animal is by how warm and fuzzy your soul is.” He protested with a pout, using one arm around her shoulder to secure her into him. He rested his cheek on her head. “But you are right about the snuggling thing.”

“Warm and fuzzy soul…” Laughing softly, she curved into his hold, tucking neatly into the crook of his form. Subtly, her fingers eased into his, and she drew his arm tighter around her, like a blanket, “Wanna know a secret, Pete?”

“I’ll keep it close to my heart and my lips will be sealed.” He promised, drawing his free hand along his lips. Having been so at ease, he found it difficult to keep his eyes open and trained on her.

“You're my sunshine…” She whispered, with a small smile, “If I could dose myself… and tell you w...what it felt like, it'd feel like this. Like every minute I spend with you.”

“I’m yours?” He questioned, a pleasant smiling infecting his features. He squeezed her shoulders gently. “I...I’m glad I could make you feel like this. The feeling is mutual. I...I know exactly what you mean. Every time you dose me it’s...it feels like this.”

“If you wanna be…” she breathed, giving his hand a soft squeeze.

“Of course I do.” He squeezed her hand in reply. “I wouldn’t ask for anything more in the world than to be your sunshine.”

“Good…” Tipping her head back, she looked up at him with a bright smile, “Cause I think… I think I kinda need you.”

“If it makes any consolation...I think I need you too.” He swallowed, heat once again making a reappearance. “Er…”

“Y...you're pink again, Petey…” She noted, with affection.

“Is that bad?” He questioned, nestling into her shoulder and grumbling incoherently

“I don't think so…?” The fingers of her free hand hovered for a moment, before cascading gently through his hair, “It's kinda cute.”

“C-cute?” He stammered, the heat continuing to cascade down to his neck. He squirmed lightly to hide. “O-oh. Thanks?”

Biting her lip, Georgie smiled as an idea struck her, and wiggling her fingers, she grasped for the blanket, before pulling it up and over them like a very small tent, “There… the world's gone, Pete. Just me, now. Nothing scary. Don't need to hide…”

Peter peaked his head from his hiding space, eyes flickering from her to the blankets. A soft laugh escaped him, although it was brief. “I think I was hiding my shame from you, sunshine.”

“Sh...shame? What do you have to be ashamed of, Pete?” She asked, with a gentle smile.

He pointed to his very red cheeks, chest trembling as he contained some embarrassed laughter. “You...you make me like this a lot of the time, you know?”

“I… I do?” A brow rose, and she sat back ever so slightly, “O...oh no. Do… do I embarrass you, Pete? P...people say that to me a lot, so it's okay if… if that's why…”

“T-that’s the thing, Georgie. I don’t think it’s embarrassment. I don’t know what it is.” He brushed the back of his hand along his cheek, his knuckles gathering some of his external heat. “It’s just...er, there.”

“Cause of…” Biting her lip, she traced her knuckles along the opposite cheek, “Cause of the… the strong emotions?”

“Y-yes. I believe that’s what it is.” Peter confessed, and while he grew brighter, he instinctively nudged into her touch. He swallowed.

“You shouldn't… you shouldn't be ashamed of that, Pete. I'm not.” Meeting his eyes, she smiled, flattening her palm to his cheek, “There's nothing wrong in it…”

“I’m not ashamed I just...can’t control the blush.” He admitted, poking his own flustered cheek and almost turning away from her. “Y-you sure? I...I’m just in an odd turmoil, at the moment”

“Does it feel wrong?” She asked plainly, giving a small shrug.

“No. Just...new.” He replied, unsure of how to explain his emotions. He ran his fingers down his arm. “It’s rather pleasant actually.”

“So… let's review. It doesn't feel wrong… feels pleasant, in fact… and you look really, really adorable all pink like that… I'm gonna ask, one more time.” Hands holding up her chin in a mock display of formality, she studied him, “Why hide?”

“Um...I think I might look silly.” He tried to hide the honest fact that he was absolutely horrified of what his feelings may have been. It had only been a few months and...he steepled his fingers before hiding half of his demeanor.

“...You're afraid of looking silly? In front of me?” Her grin widened, and without a word, Georgie scrambled off his lap and rose to her feet, holding out a hand, “Come with me.”

“Y-yeah.” He stuttered, staring down at his lap and feeling his entire face begin to sting. “Hmm?” He questioned as she stood, confusion overcoming his features. Without hesitation he grabbed her hand. “Where are you taking me sunshine?”

“Shh…” yanking him up, she tugged him to the door, “No questions!” She led him out into the hall and down past the other apartment doors, to the stairwell at the end. Inside, she have a nudge towards the stairs, and climbed up, never releasing his hand. At the top was a hatch door, which was generally propped open by a shim for anyone who needed access to the roof. Pushing it open, she gestured Pete out into the chilly afternoon air, following after him.

The roof was empty, a square space, surrounded by three feet concrete barriers. At the center was a transformer box and two HVAC units. Taking his hand again, Georgie led him to the center of the rooftop and extending her hands overhead, spun in a slow circle and as she did, she shouted out as loud as her tiny voice could go.

“My name is Georgie Cass and Pete Gunner is the best thing that's ever happened to me!”

Coming full circle, she grinned at him, “Now who looks silly?”

His brow rose as she took him from his apartment down to the stairwell. Despite it being four in the afternoon, the hallways were surprisingly quiet. Their footsteps echoed along the hall, bouncing across the paper thin walls.

“You aren’t going to toss me off the roof, are you?” He asked gently, eyes widening as his fears were confirmed and she led him up to the buildings roof. She had lead him to the middle of the roof, where the wind had began to beat against the warmth of his face. He held himself by his middle with one arm, making sure his sweater was firmly clutched to him.

“G-Georgie w-...” he was cut off by her proclamation, warmth and tremors trickling seamlessly into his chest. He blinked. Once. Twice. He found himself speechless, thoughts coming to a stop in his foggy mind.

Biting her lip, Georgie pulled down her sleeves and cupped them around her chilled fingers, giving a small, innocent shrug, “...You never have to be afraid of looking silly around me, Pete. Not ever.”

“You really are something else, sunshine.” He mused, gathering his bearings as he cupped his hands over his elbows and prayed to provide himself some much needed heat. He smiled brightly at her and exhaled. “Alright. No more shame.”

“Now…” holding out her arms, Georgie beamed, slyly, “Dance with me.”

“D-dance?” Peter questioned, near horror flooding his eyes. He hasn’t danced since he was a child. That was more Levi’s girl-scheme route, and Peter wasn’t sure how much he knew besides a three step waltz. “Um...you sure?” He held out his hand hesitantly.

“Yes.” She answered, without hesitation. Her fingers curved into his, her hand on his shoulder… it felt familiar. It felt like a memory, and her feet, however bare and cold, seemed to move in proper order, even without music, “I… I think I like dancing…”

“Another memory?” Peter questioned, complying with her wishes and placing his hand upon her waist. He glanced down at her feet, beginning to recall the steps he had conducted as a child. He began to hum a familiar melody, allowing her to lead for the moment. “Am I doing alright?”

“I… think it might just be, yeah…” As her eyes fell closed, she could almost visualize it… a mirrored room, bars lining the walls… the smell of polished oak floors and music playing in the background. Her heart picked up pace as the images filtered in, clear as a bell… A little girl in the mirror, a reflection of pink tulle and a mess of brown curls, wild and bright eyes of blue… She could hear someone calling out… telling her it was time to leave. Time to…

To go home…

Eyes snapping open, she met his gaze with sharp clarity, “...I think I just…” her grip on his hand tightened, “Pete, I think I just remembered my mom…”

“Sunshine that’s...that’s wonderful.” He claimed with a blink, his grip loosening upon hers as his eyes glazed over. “What, what do you remember about her? Name? Looks?”

“J...just her voice… It… I'm not even sure if it's real. But… but it was a… a room. With mirrors and… and I was little. I could see myself… and I heard her call me. Tell me it was time to go h...home.” Breathing out, Georgie shook her head, “Th...this… I…” Swallowing, she cleared her throat, “Probably just… just my imagination.”

“W-wait, dancing and mirrored rooms...that sounds like a dancing studio. This...this memory could be legitimate.” Thoughts raced through his skull, eyes meeting hers with a hardened expression. “I don’t...I’m not sure if that’s just an illusion, Georgie.”

“...It… it's okay.” She stated softly, “It's okay if it is. I'm okay. Let's… can we just… I don't wanna talk about that anymore.” Lowering her gaze, she shrugged, “It's… it's better if it's not real.”

“O-okay.” Peter frowned uncertainty, slowly taking the opportunity to take her by the hand and twirl her around, bringing her back into him after a moment. “Do you want to stay here or head back, sunshine?”

Smiling, slightly strained, but growing brighter as he twisted her in a spin, she swung into him and curled her arms around his waist, “Depends…”

“On?” He cooed gently, although there was still the biting worry that plagued his mind. He tried to shove it to the side and merely smirked down at her

“On whether or not you still feel silly…” looking up at him, her smile softened, “Cause I'm willing to lose a toe or two if I gotta… to get you feelin’ better.”

“I can’t have you losing toes, we can’t exactly dance if you do.” He claimed with a raised brow. “Besides, I think both of us are starting to turn a little bit blue…” to prove his point, he shuddered and retracted his hands into his sleeves.

“Hmm…” Biting her lip, she shook her head, shivering down to her bare feet, “You didn't say you're feeling better, Petey. I gotta hear it…”

“I am feeling better.” he blinked, now realizing she had no shoes on. Oh no. That would not do. Slowly he plucked off his shoes and slid them over to her, brow raising. “Come on, I don’t need you to lose your toes.”

“Oof, Pete.” Wrinkling her nose, she shook her head, with a laugh, “I dunno if you noticed, but… You're a little bit bigger than me. I uh… don't think they'll fit. We can go back in, though…”

“Um, er.” He laughed uncertaintly. “I mean, it will at least cover your feet for the meantime. Although, I keep forgetting how uh...adorably smaller you are.” He shook his head and gently tugged at her hand. “Alright. We can make our way down.”

Taking his hand, she grinned, “Oak trees and wildflowers… You and me.” Her fingers curled into his, laced through, as she started for the hatch again, “Hey, Pete?”

“Yes, Georgie?” He questioned, finding that he was gently swaying their hands as they walked. His eyes remained glued to their mutual grasp, a wave of comfort flooding him. He didn’t want to let go for a long while.

“You… you think…” biting the inside of her cheek, she considered the question for a moment, “Do you think… they wanted me? M...my family?”

“Who wouldn’t want you?” He answered without a second thought, a smile greeting her gently. He brought the back of her hand to his lips, nuzzling into her knuckles. “I imagine they wanted you, very very much.”

Blinking, Georgie looked to him curiously, a brow lifting, “Then… then m...maybe…” But she trailed off, letting out a sigh, “No… nevermind. Better to not…” Giving him a glance again, she grinned, “You're a good dancer, Petey.”

Peter decided not to pick at this topic, sensing that she was beginning to tense. He began to lead her down the stairs, knowing he couldn't keep her outside for much longer. “You too, Georgie. We should do it more often, you know?”

“Anytime.” She agreed, the brightness returning to her smile. The warmth of the hallway cut into her toes and fingers, making them tingle, and shivering, she eased closer to Peter, “By the way… forgot to say it, but… well, you know how earlier you were talkin’ about...things, and you didn't have the words and all?”

“Yes, I remember very vividly.” He smirked, although any snark that began to pull at his lips eased into nonexistence. “Why do you ask? Do you think you’ve come up with a way to express the new feeling?”

“More just…” biting her lip, she shrugged, “I know how you feel.”

“You...do...do you feel the same way?” He questioned, the slightest trace of fear slipping into his tone.

“I… I don't know.” Chuckling softly, she tucked her hair back behind her ear, “It's… it confuses me. Cause I… I don't know the words. How to… to put them… the right way. It's like… my heart and my brain, they don't know what to say to each other.”

“Mine doesn’t either.” He mumbled a confession, his thumb sliding across her knuckles gently. “It just feels like my heart doesn’t know when to stop its thudding. It’s...it’s not a bad feeling.”

“N...no. Not bad. I… I've just never… it's hard to sort it all. Feels like everything is gonna pop… but I want it to? If… hmm. That probably doesn't make sense.”

“N-no. I know exactly what you mean.” He nodded, surprised at how similar her symptoms were to his. He squeezed her hand. “I...I have a hypothesis about what this is.”

Blinking, she looked over at him, “Do you? You are the smart one…”

“Um...it’s just weird to express into words and I don’t want to misinterpret what’s going on.”

“You’d probably do a better job than me…” She was currently between spontaneous combustion, and some terrible plague or another.

“Are you blushing?” He questioned, checking her forehead for a possible fever. “Er, I think um, I think our strong emotions are...er...not platonic, per say.”

“...You’re using big words again, Petey…” She murmured softly, looking up at him with a small grin.

“I’m using big words because I’m scared to say what I mean.” He swallowed, grinning sheepishly.

“...You never have to be afraid with me, Pete. I never use the right words, and you always understand what I’m trying to say.” Her fingers laced through his, her eyes trained on their entwined hands.

“Do you feel romantic feelings towards me?” He asked in a whisper, eyes glued to the ground in muscle tensing fear.

“O...oh.” Blinking she looked up again, and a small, soft laugh escaped, “...Is that what… Oh, that’s so much less scary than I thought. Is that… well, I already knew that.”

“What?” Peter questioned, eyes wide and mouth dropped in a gape. His head tilted, a single exhale escaping him. “Huh. I...Huh. You...you do?”

“...Y...yeah, Pete. I…” Rubbing the back of her neck, she shrugged, “I kinda thought you knew.”

“I...I did not.” Peter rubbed his brow, biting his lip and shaking his head. “I was actually afraid you...you weren’t. You know?”

“Afraid I wasn’t…?” A brow rose in slight confusion.

“I...I thought there was a possibility you were going to reject me.” He claimed, embarrassment layering in his voice.

“What??” Staring at him with what could only be muted shock, Georgie shook her head fiercely, “No...no, no… Pete. I… Why would I ever…” Clutching his hands, she pulled them to her forehead and rested against the knuckles, “...Sometimes, you really are such a dummy.”

“Misplaced fear.” He claimed softly, resting his head against his wrists. “I shouldn’t have. It was foolish. But I have romantic feelings towards you and I was fearful. It was foolish.”

“...I am a little scary.” She breathed, giving his hands a squeeze. Her eyes opened, looking at him over his knuckles, “...Is… is that why… why you wouldn’t let me leave?”

“I meant it when I said you were my sunshine. I couldn’t stand to watch you go where you could end up hurt.” He steadied his breathing and peaked up at her. “That’s also why I was sort of hesitant about, er, cuddling with you for the first time.”

“...Because… because of the things people do when they… cause of the you know… Did you w...want...” Her cheeks colored, now, and biting her lip, she smiled faintly, “You don’t have to be scared of that, either, Pete. I trust you. And I know… I know you’d never... I don’t know a lot about anything. But I know that I don’t have to be afraid of whatever happens when I’m with you.”

“Y-yeah.” He stammered, noticing she shared his current skin pigment. His thumbs skimmed along her skin and he struggled to find the correct words to say. “I only ever wish to make you feel safe, and having accomplished as such I feel great joy. I...I care about you very much.”

“Honestly, Pete? I don’t think I’ve ever felt so safe. You make everything so much brighter and clearer, and I don’t feel so lost or scared…” Her hand covered his, gently, and she met his eyes, “I care about you, too… very much.”

“I’m glad I could provide you such a safe atmosphere.” He slowly kissed her forehead, lingering there longer than he had intended to. He sighed softly. “Sunshine.”

Closing her eyes, with felt oddly hot all the sudden, she curled into him, nodding slowly, “...I hope… I hope that I… I can be… that for you, you know? Someday… when I’m not so foggy.”

“That’s where you are wrong. You already provide such a thing for me.” He pulled away from her briefly, eyes darting down the hall. “I assume we have cuddling to resume, Georgie.”

“Mmm…” Nodding faintly, Georgie released one of his hands, gesturing down the hall, “After you, my Silly Pete.”

“I like the sound of that.” Chuckling, he lead them back into the apartment and closed the door behind them. He swiftly let go of her hand and covered her up, from shoulder to toe with the blanket. “There. Gotta cure the cold toes.”

Curling into the blankets, Georgie patted the space beside her, “Not quite… but we’re definitely getting there. Just need you…”

“If you insist.” Peter plopped contently next to her, keeping one arm slouched around the couch and leaning his head on her shoulder. He sighed in content.

With a small sigh of her own, Georgie shifted and pooled herself against him, letting her eyes fall closed, “...Gonna… gonna just… lay here for a little while… kay?”

“I was hoping you would.” Peter confessed and fully embraced her warmth against him, eyes fluttering in his content. “I think...I think I want to live the rest of my life like this.”

“Hm…” Sighing softly, Georgie curled her head in the crook of his neck, “...I think… I like the sound of that, Peter Gunner.”
 
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#20
Fishion Impossible
Interactions: Dorien, Alastor, Tommy, McKearney, and Aster Elle Joyner Elle Joyner

   
It was too soon. Aster was relatively sure that A.) Alastor Grey was out of his damn mind and B.) wanted her dead in the ground. Because it was too damn soon. The very thought of a mission made her want to vomit out her guts. The idea that she was actually being green lit for one was madness, and it took every ounce of courage, strength, resolve for her to even show up. The alternative, she was sure, would be far messier… but hell if it wasn’t tempting.


Her knee bounced… quaked with anxiety as she waited for her part in the little task-at-hand, her fingers knotting and unknotting together, twitching nervously. She’d had to leave the jacket at home. A part of her hated how it had become something of a security blanket over the last two weeks. She felt a connection to Dorien that she couldn’t explain. It was inherent. An instant reassurance, and it scared the hell out of her. But if it wasn’t a comfort, too… Yet a stylish jean jacket wasn’t exactly appropriate attire for something of this caliber.


Chewing on her thumbnail, her eyes flickered to the clock on the wall…


Almost show time.


Tommy was there first. He was the boy that helped to start it all, by fetching Aster that day just over two weeks ago for Mr. Grey. His clothes fit a little better this time around, though they were still a little large. Part of it seemed to be his build, which was altogether skeletal and boney in nature. He seemed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at this particular hour of the evening. Despite his angular features, his face was boyishly soft at the edges and he gave Aster a wave.


“Hello, Miss Aster,” he greeted cheerfully, as if somehow unaware of what exactly would be happening tonight.


Then there was Dorien. He was dressed simply and warmly, mostly in black, though this hoodie was old if the fading at the sleeves was anything to go by. He pushed up his round, silver rimmed glasses by the bridge before seeing Aster and smiling.


“Hey, Flower Girl,” he greeted, though a little more somber. He knew what was happening tonight, and he was a little distracted by the humming in his bones and the back of his head that was screaming ‘Find them! Find them!


At last, there was Alastor. His appearance was unchanged, the same as ever. He was silent as he slipped into the room for the game plan. He’d allowed Aster time to settle in, to get attached to new conditions. In the meantime, he’d had Dorien locate their target for tonight. Now, he had to remind Aster of the price to pay. He was silent for a good few moments more, simply taking in his small crew. With this crew, though, he could do incredible things.


Miss Aster. God.


Her eyes flickered to Tommy and she tried to smile at the boy, but just the sight of him always made her chest hurt. He was too young. Too small. Too fragile to be taken advantage of by someone like Grey. They all were… but hell if they could get out of it, now. And a small part of her, a twisted part of her brain she could never quite tame didn’t even want to.


Her eyes flickered to Dorien when he entered and she returned the smile this time, strained, and she nodded her head, “Fish…”


And then the man of the hour arrived and her heart cinched up into her throat. She couldn’t look at him, but she was pretty sure his eyes were on her, and swallowing, trying to force down the lump, she tipped her head, “...So… Walk me through it?”


Alastor smiled briefly at the three before him, a small part of him also pleased that Aster spoke to him first. Good. An ability to take initiative was always favorable, especially if he was ever to build something more in this group than just fear.


“It’s relatively simple,” he started, staying standing even after Dorien had taken a seat. “We have a client that has had...a few mishaps with our target. Unpaid debts and generally cutting corners where corners shouldn’t be cut. We’re simply there to collect on the debt we’ve reminded him of before. It should be quick and clean, in and out, if all goes well. That said, be prepared for a fight.” He didn’t need to mention the exact nature of the man’s debts or what he might take if money wasn’t suitable. Only that there was a job to be done. After all, every good relationship had a bit of trust, and this was the perfect time to start building it with his newest crewmate.


“Dorien will get us there, Tommy will get us in, and you are currently on standby, Aster. I want you to get a feel for what we’re doing tonight. Consider this your training period,” Alastor continued. “All you need to worry about is one thing. Don’t let him escape. We’ll handle the rest tonight.” He grinned with teeth bared, and it looked more like an animal’s snarl than something human. Soon, it would be time to collect that debt.


Don’t let him escape...


No pressure. She was sure. Looking between the three, Aster nodded weakly, and her hands still knotted together, she pushed herself up to her feet, “Right. Sounds like a fun evening for all. We ready to get out of here?” ...She wasn’t.


She wasn’t remotely ready.


Dorien took a breath. Despite the insistant tug on him, he really didn’t want to seek out this target. They’d gone to see him before, to give the warning. This time, they happened to be all out of warnings. He then stood. “Ready as I’ll ever be,” he commented, giving her a reassuring smile. This should be over quickly enough. In and out.


Alastor nodded, starting to move towards the door before seeming to remember something. “Oh, and I almost forgot. You’ll see Dorien’s eventually, but for now… Tommy, show her who you are.” He then slipped out the door, with the unspoken demand that they follow him.


Tommy grinned at Aster, still soft, childish, and innocent. Then the world seemed to shift a little, and the details of his appearance changed. He was not so soft or so sweet. That innocent doe-eyed smile was crueler, tilted into a near smirk. He looked a bit older than he had before. Still young, but not as young or naive as he’d made her perceive him. Oh, how he loved shaping the world to his whim. How better than to do that when you manipulated perceptions, and the world suddenly saw you as so small and sweet? Tommy had a short answer for that; there was nothing better than that. No one could say no to his sweet face, after all. And that was how they were going to pay their dear new friend a visit. They’d just walk through the door.


It should've surprised her more, watching Tommy grotesquely transform from Beaver Cleaver to… well… to Guy with a Cleaver. Yet somehow, she was all out of shock. The world never stopped kicking them when they were down. Eyes shifting from the little snotrag back to Dorien and shaking her head, she sighed, “Fantastic.”


The remark came without a trace of sincerity, and her eyes rolled as she started for the door. Hell if she just wanted to get this over and done with all the more, now.


“Yeah,” Dorien said, casting a look over at Aster. He then lowered his voice. “I tend to keep my distance from him,” he added. Which he did. The way Tommy used his powers never stopped creeping him out, because while he knew the kid’s morality was closer to Alastor’s, sometimes that sweet smile caught him off-guard too. It took a lot to remember that Tommy was never as he seemed.


Dorien followed along, trailing the back of the pack of what was now a group of four, as they walked through the building to their ride that was waiting just outside.


If her enthusiasm had been lacking before, it was absolutely gone by the time Aster followed their fearless leader outside. She felt like throwing up again, and not just because of the nerves, but because it occurred to her in the moment Tommy began to shift, not only how easy it was for someone to get one over on her… but how much Alastor had appeared to delight in the idea. All she wanted was to crawl into bed with a box of Reese’s Pieces and watch reruns of bad 1980s flicks, and pretend this entire disaster never happened.


“Let’s get this over with…” She half muttered to herself.


Dorien gave her a sympathetic smile, though he doubted she’d see it with him currently tailing the group. Still, it couldn’t be easy, with only knowing the bare bones of what she was about to walk into. He supposed it was time to see if she really still thought he didn’t belong here, with Grey. He’d been here years already. What if it was too late to turn back now?

This was what was on his mind as they all slid into the black, nondescript car. Something that would end up parked away from the building where law enforcement wouldn’t look first. The ride passed in relative silence, however uneasy it may have been for the passengers. The main exception to that was Alastor, who seemed perfectly at ease even as the others psyched themselves up for what was to come.


Aster’s expression as she sat in the car shifted… hardened. If she was going to do this… if she was going to make this work, and not fall apart completely, then she needed to be completely and absolutely focused. Memories flickered in… memories that made her stomach twist into knots and her chest tightened. This wasn’t where she wanted to be. This wasn’t what she wanted to do…


By the time they arrived at the building, she felt nothing of the nerves, of the anxiety that had started to creep in. Aster was focus. She was ready for whatever game Alastor Grey wanted to play. If this was how she was going to make it through this mess… if this was how she was going to survive, so be it. She’d survive. She always did.


The car pulled into a parking lot a little ways off from the condo. One by one, the members of Alastor’s crew slid out from the vehicle to face the building in front of them. Dorien dropped back as Tommy took the lead. Alastor calmly checked the ammo of his gun as he crossed the parking lot, metallic clicks sounding through the air before he holstered his weapon once again. Better to be ready, though he had intentions to use other weapons before he raised the gun.


Dorien’s bones were all but humming. His powers knew he was close, knew that who he’d tracked down was just inside, completely unaware. It tugged him forward, despite his desire to stay put.


Tommy strode up to the doors, careful to not leave the group with him too far behind. His appearance shifted a bit once again. He was once again doe-eyed and innocent looking, though there seemed to be an added urge to just look away from him. He wasn’t important. He wasn’t noteworthy. All was well. Tommy continued to the door, the others close behind, and simply slipped right through. Even as scanners went off, anyone that happened to look Tommy’s way had their gaze slide right over him. The effect would last until the boy passed by. So he stood still in the lobby, completely still. They had a limited time frame, because sooner or later, the police would arrive. The plan was to be out before that even happened. In the meantime, Tommy would make sure there wasn’t any extra havoc following them.


Time seemed to pass more swiftly, once they had walked through the doors. In her mind, she tried to go over the notion of what she was about to do. It wasn’t like it was the first time… it wasn’t even the worst thing she’d done. Not by a long shot. All she had to do was scare a man into following through with something he’d already agreed to… A little intimidation never hurt anyone, right?


What the hell did a soul cost nowadays, anyway?


The police would take their time - the scanners weren’t what they used to be, with RIEF in a ditch, and more mutants than ever swarming the streets around the world. They wouldn’t jump the gun to rush to the apartment, and with hope, their quartet would be in and out, done with their errand before it became something they needed to worry about.


The door to the apartment was the last obstacle, and that was handled swiftly enough with a sturdy knock. When it opened, the man on the other side met their appearance with what could only be described as pure shock, followed by what was a moderate attempt to appear amiable.


“Ah… d...didn’t think you’d be stopping by, tonight. Damn…” A nervous laugh escaped, as he kept one hand on the door, almost like he were weighing the consequences of slamming it on them.


“Sounds like you haven’t done a whole lot of thinking, period… We’re here to collect. Let’s not make this more uncomfortable than necessary, yeah?”


Alastor rested his hand on the door, gripping it around the edge as a warning and to keep it open. The door wouldn’t be closing on the group tonight. The man had his chance before now to deal with the problem. Now they were about to be his problem. He couldn’t help but wear a slightly pleased smile as Aster took a bit of initiative, directing said look at Aster form the corner of his eye. She seemed eager. Whether it was to do the task at hand or to get it over with didn’t matter, ultimately. The cooperation was a good enough start.


“I find that hard to believe,” Alastor told the man, leaning in just a touch further in the doorway, though his cold smile was ever present. “I told you we’d be dropping by again, to check and make sure you’re not trying to skip out on anything. You heard her. It’s time to pay your debts. How about we have a civil conversation about this though, inside your home?” He tilted his head, his words more a command than a request.


Dorien hung back for the moment, watching the scene unfold. Once the door opened, his head started buzzing. His ears popped and then suddenly, there was peace. The tug at his bones had stopped. He stood before the target now, and his powers eased at finding his target at last. Now, hopefully the guy would cooperate.


The look Alastor gave her sent an uncomfortable chill down her spine. She didn't want it. The value. The pride. And yet, she couldn't help the tiny twinge of validation. What a fine friggin line it was between sanities…


“C...course. Right. That… that was tonight. Just slipped my mind is all. You… you got some new help? She's a beaut, sir. Heh. C...come on in.” He stepped back far enough to allow them entry, and with an uneasy sensation trickling into her stomach, Aster inched over the line, across the threshold.


The movement came before she could anticipate it. The man's hand shot out and curved painfully tight around her wrist as he yanked, nearly pulling her off her feet. He spun her back the way she'd come and another arm clamped tightly around her neck. So much for civility.


“N-now let's not do anything r-regrettable!” The man hissed, his eyes finding Alastor, “I'd hate to break your shiny new toy…”


Dorien furrowed his brow at the question about Aster. Something felt off about that. False amiable personality aside, that wasn’t something that was typical conversation for them. He started to reach out to grab Aster by the wrist, to let Alastor go first, because any one of them being alone in a room with their target made him anxious. The idea of Alastor alone with him made him anxious because he’d end up pitying the man inside instead.


But he was too late. His fingers hadn’t quite grazed her wrist when their target grabbed her and pulled her inside. Alarm flashed over his face as he looked over at Alastor.


The man in question seemed unfazed, however. He had started to pull the door open wider to walk inside when Aster moved and then his mark lunged forward. Slowly, carefully, he lowered his hand from the door. He tilted his head, squinting at the man before him. “And how do you imagine you’d break her? I’m curious,” he questioned. “In fact, why don’t you show me?”


Alastor stood with his hands at his sides, calm and relaxed. He made no move for the gun in its holster nor for Aster herself. She was one of them now, however inexperienced. He needed to know exactly what he was working with. He wanted to know if she could get out of this on her own.


The man’s grip tightened on her neck, and Aster grimaced, her eyes narrowing at Alastor’s baiting. Was he for real, right now? Hell of an initiation… She’d heard of throwing someone into the deep end, but this was ridiculous. The man sputtered, wildly, words that were nearly incomprehensible, and Aster raised a hand, touching his arm.


“I’ll do it, Grey! I’ll crush her goddamn thro-AUGH!” The scream escaped, as Aster drove a spike of intense pain through his arm, the cells on fire beneath his skin. His hand slipped away, and she shoved him backwards, stumbling back towards the door, eyes still glaring, but stinging with tears as she rubbed her neck.


Dorien moved for her first, meaning to gently pull her back from where their target could grab her again. That was too close to something going wrong, no matter the games Alastor liked to play.


Alastor cast another look at her, seeming to take note of the way she rubbed her throat. There was a reason people knew not to touch what was his. He made sure they remembered. So, as soon as she was safely behind him with Dorien, he stepped into the room.


He wore a grin that was menacing in the way it was directed at the man in front of him. There was no mercy in that smile. None at all.


“It seems that you have a problem with sticky fingers, McKearney,” Alastor commented, reaching into his pocket. “It got you into this mess, and now they’ve made you an even bigger mess. You are a thief. The things that make a thief don’t necessarily make a killer.” He paused just a moment. “That’s the difference between you and I. I’m going to do you a favor, though, that I think fixes both problems here. For every second that you held her throat, I’m going to take one of those sticky fingers off your hands.” He seemed to chuckle to himself, as he pulled a blade from his pocket and flicked it open. “For your sake, I hope you have some left to call the paramedics with.”


The worst drove a spike of terror through Aster, as she gripped tightly to Dorien’s arm. The threat Alastor issued made her stomach churn, and the thought of seeing it… watching it happen sent acid burning up her esophagus. She wanted to tell him to stop, to beg him not to, and she might have, if her throat wasn’t throbbing already… if she wasn’t half terrified that he’d turn the threat on her instead.


Turning away, breathing in tightly, her eyes burning worse than before, she dropped her head to Dorien’s shoulder.


“It’s alright,” Dorien assured Aster, pulling her closer to him in a hug. “You don’t have to watch.” He held her close, rubbing soothing circles on her back. He himself looked away, not keen on watching his mentor at work.


The deed was done rather quickly, as soon as Alastor restrained McKearney. Alastor let go of McKearney once was done, a few digits missing from both of the other man’s hands. He quickly went through the apartment, searching for anything of value. His client expected the debt to be repaid, one way or another. Hopefully said client wouldn’t mind a few blood stains. He was sure he could clean it from most of the valuables he gathered anyway. Once he was sure that he had enough to ensure his client’s satisfaction, he washed his hands and the knife calmly in the sink. Then he made his way to the door, leaving McKearney to bleed.


Hearing it was almost as bad as seeing it, and Aster wasn’t entirely convinced she wasn’t going to pass out. Her grip on Dorien tightened, almost bruising, and she burrowed so deeply into his chest, she might as well have been an artery. When it was over she didn’t dare look. She knew if she did, she wouldn’t be able to pull herself together. As it was, she felt nausea spike, and shaking, she pulled away only far enough to look up at Dorien, not even certain what the next move was… Did they leave? Was she going to have to sit in the car and listen to Alastor recount the mess... ? It felt like worse torture than losing her fingers.


Dorien clutched her tightly, gently swaying back and forth in the hopes of helping. He knew things hadn’t gone to plan tonight. Alastor was pissed, but it seemed he was more pissed at their target than anyone on his team, so all would be well tonight. He knew that things hadn’t gone well, because Alastor had told him beforehand that he’d wanted Dorien to at least help doling out punishment and collecting debt tonight. That hadn’t happened at all.


Alastor returned to the pair at the door, concern seeming to cross his face in a mockery of the monster that had been in the condo just a few moments before. “Are you alright? It’s not swelling, is it?” he asked Aster softly, gently. Things had taken a turn, and while he was sure of McKearney’s bluff, Aster likely hadn’t been. That was enough to shake his newest recruit, it seemed.


Aster nearly jumped when Alastor addressed her, and yanking her eyes away from Dorien, she looked to the older man with a shake of her head, swallowing painfully, “It’s fine. It… I’ll be fine.” The concern, somehow, was worse than anger might’ve been. She didn’t want a man like Alastor Grey having concern for her well being… Not when he’d just carved the fingers off a complete stranger in front of her, “...We done here?”


The slightest flicker of hurt flashed through Alastor’s eyes, but it was gone as soon as it came. This was her first night. This was natural, and she’d come around eventually. After all, Dorien had. It had taken years, but it had happened all the same.


“Very well,” Alastor said after a moment, leaning back and taking a step away from the pair. “Yes, we’re done tonight.” His face seemed to freeze over again, the momentary softness and concern for Aster gone. She wouldn’t take help from him yet, so he wouldn’t push it onto her. In the meantime, they still had other things they could put focus on. “We’re heading back.”

Dorien stood there a while longer, not planning to let go of Aster until she let go first. He remembered his first night on the job vividly, despite how much he wanted to forget it, and he could imagine what Aster felt very well right now.


Still shaking, Aster finally released her grip on Dorien and stepped back, breathing in deeply, forcing herself to breathe out again, even and steady. She needed to pull herself together. She needed to pull herself together, until she could get somewhere where she could deal with the emotions…


For now, pushing them deeply down inside her, she looked to Dorien and nodded, “Let’s go…”


Alastor took the lead once again as he made his way towards to lobby to relieve Tommy of his duty so they could leave before the police finally showed.

Dorien stayed behind with Aster, sticking close even as she pulled away. He wasn’t sure how good an offer it was, what he had in mind. He just knew that the first night he’d worked with Alastor, he hadn’t wanted to be alone. As soon as Jamie had come home that night, he’d just laid there, hugging her, reminding himself that whatever he was asked was worth it if Jamie was okay. Tonight, he planned on being there for Aster, so long as she wanted him around.


“So,” he began, “I think I still owe you that raincheck on dinner. Jamie is out at a friend’s place for the night, so if you just...want to stop by for food for a while, I’m free.” He ended up shoving his hands into his pockets, a little anxious about actually offering food after that ordeal.


Blinking, Aster glanced over to him, not entirely sure she’d heard him right at first. The offer was startling, if only because she’d been pretty sure the only way she was going to get through the night at all was by buckling down on her feelings and refusing… utterly refusing… to let them show. Yet Dorien saw through, and she had no doubt in her mind that’s what spurred him to invite her over.


Rubbing her neck, she opened her mouth to turn him down, but the words that came out weren’t what she intended, at all, “...Sure… Sounds… sounds good.” And maybe that was the simple truth of it. Despite what she was used to, despite what her default methods were, she didn’t wanna be alone.


Not through this…


Dorien smiled at her, a little tentatively given what she’d been through. Hopefully he’d be able to help take her mind off it for a while, or at least make sure she wasn’t left alone with a mind putting that on replay. “Any dinner preferences?” he asked.


They made their way to the lobby, where Tommy caught sight of them and started to follow along as well. They passed through, going through the doors once again, and exiting into the parking lot to head home.


Nothing with the word finger in it… She very nearly said, but caught herself on the dark slip of humor. She didn’t wanna make light of it, no matter how much it might seem like a satisfactory thing to do. No… She needed to feel this. To feel it, to understand it. Because this was what she’d made of her life, and she was going to have to get used to it…


“I’m not picky, Fish…” She said, instead, biting the inside of her cheek, “Surprise me.”


“Alright, but when you get something weird, know you asked for the surprise,” Dorien warned teasingly, trying to regain his sense of humor. He was always a little more off after work nights like this. Still, he could do his best. It was how he tended to deal with these things anyway. He’d have to root around in the fridge, see what he had, but he didn’t plan on busting out anything crazy tonight. Tonight was a comfort food night.


The other’s piled into the car, settling into the seats, even as the alarms from the scanners continued to blare. Once Tommy was out of the building, it seemed to devolve into chaos inside.


It was a chaos that Aster couldn’t have cared less about. What was going on in her mind was far worse, she was sure. She had gotten herself into this, and now, she was going to have to find a way to handle it. This was her life. She had no doubt that Dorien and his sister were worth it, but hell if she didn’t wish there’d been another way to protect them both from this hell…


Sitting in the back of the car, she stared out the window and fought off the trembling discomfort, fought off the stinging behind her eyes, trying desperately to ignore the vision of severed fingers that clung to her brain… The drive seemed eternal, but eventually, they returned, and she was so grateful when she could slip out of the car and breath in just a momentary breath of fresh air…


It occurred to her a moment later, however, that the night might not even be over. If Alastor had other plans, there was a good chance she was going to lose it right then and there in the parking lot, before she’d even made it to her apartment, “...That uh… that it for the night?” She asked, uneasily.


“That’s it for the night,” Alastor assured, rolling down his window to answer Aster as Dorien climbed out of the car. This was, thankfully, both his and Aster’s stop for the night. “Get some sleep. I’ll call on you when I need you.” And with that, Dorien having shut the door behind him, Alastor Grey drove off into the night with Tommy in the back seat.


Dorien blinked before looking over Aster. “So, I guess you get to see where the nerd cave is,” he smiled sheepishly.


Looking to Dorien, Aster managed a small, weary smile at his words, nodding faintly, “Hell, yeah, Fish. Tell me you’ve got posters all over the place of terrible superheroes like Donatello and Aquaman.” Starting for the apartment complex, she tucked her hands into her pockets, frowning softly. The words hung on her lips, but she didn’t wanna talk about it… couldn’t talk about it. No. As far as she was concerned, the evening had rebooted the moment she’d gotten out of the car… even if the man’s screamed were still echoing in her head.


“I do, but they’re actually fantastic,” Dorien replied. “The entire apartment is just Donatello themed, for the best Ninja Turtle.” He walked with her towards the complex, fishing out his keys so that he could unlock his door once he reached it. Jiggling the keys in the lock after finally reaching his door, he slipped inside and turned on the lights, holding the door open for Aster.


A laugh escaped at his words, and breathing in, Aster shook her head, “Somehow, I honestly don’t even doubt that, Fish.” At the door, she paused for a moment, and the smile faded just slightly as she forced away another memory… they created friction in her mind, but she didn’t need to cling to them. And hell if he wasn’t providing a much needed distraction. Stepping across the threshold, her fingertips glanced across her throat, slightly blotchy with stippled purple… It would fade. She’d never held bruises for long…


“Damn…” Looking around, she glanced back at him with a small sigh of disappointment, “...I really thought you were legit for a minute there.”


“Would you prefer that it was Donatello themed?” Dorien asked with a chuckle. He kicked off his shoes, leaving them at the door. The living room was fairly small, attached to a kitchen and dining area of about equal size. The other side had a hallway that led to two rooms, one of them Dorien’s and the other Jamie’s. The apartment itself was cozy and comfortable, looking like it was very lived in. Books were sprawled across tables, a laptop resting on the dining area table. A decent sized TV on one wall, with blankets and pillows thrown haphazardly about on the couch. There was a stray sock on the floor and set next to the door was also Jamie’s backpack.


On the walls and other available surfaces were pictures too. Some of them more recent, with Dorien and Jamie posing in plenty of pictures. There were older ones as well, where the siblings were younger. There were even those that must have been taken some time ago. A woman with a head full of long braids and an older man with short but extremely curly hair made appearances. In one, in a smaller frame, a young Dorien with glasses almost as big as his face held his tiny baby sister, wearing a sort of awed smile as he looked down at the bundle in his arms.


Elsewhere, there was a large canvas, slight marks in pencil on it, propped up against the wall. There was a kit of paints and brushes near it, clearly part of the set. Where Dorien had expected to find the tower of old dishes in the sink, however, he found it empty with a Post-It on the fridge that said “Did dishes!”


He glanced over at Aster as he moved to rescue the lone wolf sock from its place on the floor and straighten up the table a little. “Do you need an ice pack for that?” he asked. He’d had his fair share of bruises and they’d never been fun to deal with.


It was a home.


Despite the fact that there was little else apart from a few pictures and odds and ends that separated it from an average apartment, it was impossible to miss the nuances. This was a home. What a home ought to look like…. Feel like.


Taking a note from Dorien, she slipped her shoes off and left them by the door, and crossing the room, she moved for the display of pictures, carefully plucking up a few of the frames that sat on surfaces. At the picture of Dorien with a baby Jamie, her smile widened, and she shook her head… Glancing up at Dorien’s question, “Hm? Oh, nah… I’m good. It’ll probably be gone within a few hours. I’ve had plenty worse.”


Setting the frame down, she raked her fingers through her hair, and moving into the kitchen area, leaned up against the counter, “...You want a hand?”


Dorien smiled faintly as she picked up the picture of him and Jamie when she was a baby. He gave her a sympathetic look, even as she declined the ice pack. Having taken care of the sock by flinging it into Jamie’s room and straightened the tables and couch a little bit more, he followed into the kitchen. He passed by a stack of canvases propped up against the wall, each of them painted to at least some degree. The one on top was the most visible, with what appeared to be a figure in water, sinking into the depths even with one hand stretched upward.


The kitchen was a little bit of a mess too, though it was more food based than the one in the living room area was. “If you want to help, I won’t say no,” Dorien answered. “It’ll help me figure out what to make, if nothing else.” He had a feeling anything with a lot of chopping was probably off-limits tonight.


“I'm not exactly the female incarnation of Bobby Flay, but just point me around and I can at least gather stuff for you. Or… I dunno… stand here and look pretty. Whatever works.” Her eyes shuffled to the canvas a biting her lip, she studied the visible work, “You or Jamie?”


Dorien barked a laugh at that. “Well, hey, you’re already doing pretty good at wandering around and looking pretty,” he commented, before he could bite his tongue. Friends totally complimented each other on appearances. Absolutely. Gotta build that self-esteem up with friends. He wandered around the kitchen, taking mental notes of what he had before getting started. He might have a good idea for what to make…


He looked over at the canvas at her question. “Me. You can look through them if you want. I don’t mind,” he added. “Jamie keeps trying to convince me to hang them up, but makes me feel awkward. It’s not even like anyone would see them. It just feels different putting them on walls.”


“Damn, Fish. Alright… Boy's got a little game, after all. I can appreciate that.” Her cheeks didn't color, but her smile grew at the compliment, and shaking her head, she crossed to the paintings, leafing through them carefully.


“Hell… Fish. These are...they're beautiful. Jamie's right. These deserve to be on a wall…”


“Did you ever have a doubt?” Dorien grinned at her before his head disappeared into the fridge. He eventually emerged with a small armful of items.


Just under the top canvas was a painting of autumn trees. A path shadowed and cast in red and orange light from the leaves above it. Another was a painting of the night sky, trees painted in black in front of it. Under that was one of a bird with a yellow belly tangled in red string, the yarn trailing out of the picture. One of a raining street at night, neon light reflecting off puddles. One of a face, geometric shapes creating the features, before the paint faded out. Another of a pair of hands, with what looked like an imprint in blue and grey around the wrists. One of a girl that resembled Jamie very closely in a snow-filled scene. All of them were detailed and striking to look at.


Dorien looked a little sheepish as she complimented his art, ducking his head as he set a few cans down on the counter. “Thank you. And...I’ll think about it.”


Mesmerising… that was truly the only word for the paintings, and looking through the again, she could half envision him standing before the easel in some cabin somewhere, free from Alastor… free, period. If he didn't hand them, she'd break in and do it herself…


Straightening, she crossed to large canvas near the paint, “What's this gonna be?”


“That...is going to be a head,” Dorien stated, not really elaborating on what was going to be going on with said head. “You’ll see when it’s done,” he added as a promise.

He gathered a few other ingredients and a large pot to start cooking in. He turned on the stove before starting to get to work. Cooking was something that had become a little therapeutic for him. It was relaxing for him, and a distraction from less than savory things in other parts of his life. He could cook even when he didn’t have muse for painting. It was also why he had often baked a crap ton of cookies at 3 am on multiple occasions as well. No one really seemed to mind when he showed up with a plateful, though.


“Hmm…” A little cabin in the woods. With a real fireplace, the kind you needed real wood for. And a dog… a german shepherd or border collie or something, curled up on the hearth rug. She could see it so clearly in her mind that it nearly hurt… “Hell of a talent, Fish.”


Returning to the kitchen, Aster pulled herself up on the surface of the counter, watching while he worked with a quiet fascination. Painting and cooking… Not exactly skills she expected someone in his position to possess. Just went to show how anyone could rise above their circumstances.


“So, whatcha makin’?”


“Thank you,” Dorien replied with a small smile, oblivious to what exactly Aster was thinking. He’d started dumping a few things into the pot, starting the process of cooking what was admittedly an easy meal. “Have you ever heard of a burrito bowl?” he asked, looking over at her.


“Um… Hi.” Extending a hand to him as if she were first meeting him, Aster grinned, “My name is Aster and I live for Mexican food. If that’s what you’re making, I’m probably just gonna have to move in here. You’ll fit on the couch, right?”


Dorien through his head back in a laugh. “Hello, Aster. I’m Dorien and about 90% of what I know how to cook is Mexican food or at least inspired by it. The other 10% is pasta.” He shook his head at her. “You’d kick me out of my own bed for burrito bowl, Flower Girl?”


“I mean…” Giving him a once over, Aster grinned a little mischievously, her shoulders bouncing in a shrug, “You’re welcome to stay, but uh… I tend to toss and turn.”


A nervous sort of chuckle came out of his mouth. “So you’d still end up kicking me out of my bed, one way or another? I see how it is,” Dorien commented. “When I sleep on couches, I tend to not make nearly as much Mexican, though.”


“Wow. Demanding. Fine… You can stay in the dang bed, and I’ll keep my feet to myself. I make no promises otherwise. But I expect Mexican food at least… every night. Possibly twice a day, when the occasion calls for it. And none of that fast food nonsense made from horsemeat and sawdust. That’s a laugh and we all know it.”


Dorien sputtered at the implication. A little flustered, he tried his usual tactic of handling things, which was bad humor. “I’m hearing that you’re an octopus when you sleep,” he said with a grin. “I’m trying to decide if I find it hard to believe or not that you’re a snuggler, Aster.” He shook his head at her as the pan sizzled. “Of course. Every night.” He then wheezed, shoulders shaking as it dissolved into laughter. “Aw, come on. You mean Taco Bell, aka Toxic Hell, is not suitable Mexican food?”


“Gotta say, Fish...you… are super cute when you blush. And what's so surprising about that, huh? Just cause I'm part cactus… Way to judge.” Reaching out, she nudged him with her foot, grinning.


“Aww, honey. I'm not even sure Taco Bell classifies as food, period. That's more like… something you eat when you're having one of those existential life crisis moments and need an adrenaline rush…”


Dorien continued to chuckle a little nervously, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “Maybe it’s the fact you threatened to snap me like a pencil when we first met,” he teased. His eyes flicked down briefly as she nudged him. “Nice tattoo,” he commented when he saw the inked design.


He then choked on a laugh. “It’s edible, but that doesn’t make it food,” he wheezed. “Or it’s when you hate yourself and your intestines too.”


“Oi… Snapping is a form of snuggling, or… I dunno. Something. Some people find that appealing. You know what? I’m rolling away from that one, cause… Wow.” Blinking, she glanced down at her foot, and shaking her head, looked back up at him, “Damn. Spotted the ink. See… Now you know my deep, dark inner secrets. I gotta kill you.” With an exaggerated sigh, she frowned, “I will try to make it clean and painless, if I can… Not like eating Taco Bell.”


“Affectionate snappage,” Dorien snorted before laughing harder. “Yeah maybe stepping back from that one is a good idea.” He shook his head, running one hand over his face as he grinned. “Stepping back from finding snapping appealing is a very good idea.”


He laughed soundlessly. “Wait, wait, what if we make it even? You show your ink, I show you mine. No need to threaten me, with or without Taco Bell.”


“Oh… that’s an appealing offer…” A brow rose and she sat back, “A’ight… But that little smudge down there, that’s not all I have, so… You wanna see the rest, you gotta pay up, buddy.” Grinning, she nodded, “Let’s see it, and I’ll refrain from summoning the death squad.”


“I have ice cream in the freezer, if that’s suitable payment,” Dorien offered, before wiggling his eyebrows. “It’s cookie dough.” He looked over at her. “You have a death squad for a cute little bird and a birdcage? I’m almost scared to know what would happen if I’d seen the others instead.”


He took a moment, pausing in his cooking, which was thankfully almost done, to roll up his sleeve. On his forearm was the solar system, stretching from wrist to elbow. It had been done in black ink, highlighted in white to make it pop against his skin.


“Hey, now. It’s deep and meaningful, you brat. Not cute.” She made a face, but there was no indication in it that she was remotely serious, and as he rolled up his sleeve, it was forgotten almost immediately. Reaching out, she took his arm in her hand and with her other, traced the curves of the planets with a small, slightly impressed nod, “Sweet… Maybe I need to start calling you Spaceman, instead.” Looking up at him, she grinned, “Nah. Fish works so much better. Ice cream, huh? I guess it’s a satisfactory trade.”


Hopping off the counter, she pulled her collar aside to show the inked lines that ran from the edge of her right collar bone, to her shoulder, and further down - a roughly sketched dandelion flower, the bits of fluff floating off in varying directions, “Got this done a few years ago… Kind of just like the cage, you know? A reminder that no matter what, I can be free whenever I want. Nobody owns me.”


Then pausing to straight her collar, she pulled up the edge of her shirt to show the upper ledge of her outer-left rib cage, and in scribbled cursive, the words ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.


“This was my first… had it done after I got out of the system.”


“Of course, deep and meaningful and very cute,” Dorien replied, nodding sagely. His breath caught in his throat as he felt her fingers trace over the planets inked into his arm. “I won’t object to Spaceman.” He then laughed, shaking his head as he rolled down his sleeve.


He smiled as he watched her show off her tattoos. He couldn’t help the sympathetic look as she mentioned the foster care system. He recalled that stricken look from when he’d first brought it up when they met, though that made sense.


“I like them,” he said simply, looking back up at her face when she was done. “Sometimes you need the reminder, too.” He tapped his own ribcage, showing he was referring to that tattoo of hers. After tonight, he figured it couldn’t hurt to remind her that she’d get through this. She was strong. She could handle it, even if it meant breaking down every now and then.


“Yours are so deep, and I just like space,” he added with a laugh.


Laughing, Aster shook her head, “Tattoos don’t always have to be deep, Fish. Hell, maybe I’ll go get myself a rocket one of these days. Just for you.” She wrinkled her nose up at him, chuckling again, “Besides, who you talkin’ to right now, Picaso? Who needs heartfelt ink when you got a canvas load of feelings right there? When do I get one? You gonna draw me like one of your French girls?”


“Aww, I’m touched. A rocket, just for me?” he asked. Dorien was about to reply to the comment about his paintings when the last question hit him. He choked on another laugh, having to brace himself with one hand on the counter as he buried his face in the other. He stayed like that for a while, one time seeming to almost catch his breath before dissolving into laughter all over again. He finally managed to halfway compose himself, lifting his head to look at her and revealing a flushed face. “If you lay like that on the counter, I’ll consider it.”


His laughter contagious, Aster found herself dissolving into it, and as he went on, she shook her head, reaching up to give one of his flushed cheeks a ginger pinch, “Don’t tempt me, Fish. You haven’t learned by now that I never say no to a dare…”


Dorien flushed further as she reached up to pinch his cheek. “You know what, I’m not taking you up on that,” he replied with one last amused huff of laughter. “Because I’m starting to figure that part out.”


With a couple of stirs and a topping of cheese, the food was done and ready to be served.


Her laughter echoed again as she shook her head, lowering her hand back to her side, “Wise choice, Fish. Wise choice…” She wasn’t entirely sure though, why it made her so momentarily uneasy to think what she might’ve done if he had... It was painfully clear to her the line was blurring, and she needed to be careful. God, did she need to be careful… or she was going to regret it. Everything got weird when the line was crossed, and she wasn’t going to let that happen to her again…


Looking to the food again, she grinned, “Damn, Fish. That… you wanna save some talent for the rest of us, hmm? Painting, sketching, cooking, and you’re a stud? Anything you can’t do?”


He nodded in agreement. A wise choice indeed. His face was burning and his heart was doing weird things in his chest.


“Uh, don’t put me near an instrument, unless you want your ears to bleed,” Dorien offered, cringing a little at the idea. Yeah, don’t let him near any sort of instrument. How his mother hadn’t lost her mind when he was little, he had no idea.


“So I’m not gettin’ serenaded, any time soon? I guess I can deal with that… As long as there’s Mexican food.” Grinning, she nodded to the cabinets, “Tell me where the plates are, I can make myself useful.”


“Afraid not. I know you’re super disappointed by the prospect, but I promise, you’d be more disappointed if I did do it,” Dorien chuckled. He pointed over to the cabinet next to the microwave. “They’re in there.”


Nodding, Aster crossed to the cabinets and fishing out a pair of plates, set them down on the counter, “Don’t feel too bad. I can’t play anything, either. Wasn’t exactly in the budget at the old home, you know? Though you put me in front of a mic in a karaoke bar and throw on something from the 80s…? Nothing can stop me…”


“That’s fair,” Dorien conceded before grinning. “Good to know. I’ll have to make plans for that one night,” he teased before scooping a spoonful to put on Aster’s plate. “Tell me when, Flower Girl.”


“Oh no…” She wiggled a finger at him, and taking her plate, grinned as she brought it to the small table, settling into a chair, “You… you are gonna need to earn that one, Fish. I don’t mortify myself in front of just anyone, you know.” Taking a bite, she paused, and sinking deeper into the chair, swore softly, hand covering her mouth, “This… is no Taco Bell, Fish.”


“Interesting words from the woman who offered to be my French girl just a few moments ago,” Dorien teased. “What would it take to earn a karaoke night?” he asked, just out of curiosity, as he made his own plate and joined her at the table.


He grinned at her reaction. “Thank you. My goal in life is to make better food than meat goo,” he added. “So is the lollipop debt considered paid in full?”


“Because there's nothing remotely mortifying about this…” She said, with a general, but obvious gesture to her form, “Whereas singing in front of people, well, hell, if I drank, I'd say I'd need to be way less sober for that. You wanna earn that, well… hmm. Gonna have to save me from a burning building or something, Fish.”


With a smirk, she returned to her plate, “The lollipop debt, on the other hand, I think we can call that square. Mints are in my fantastically fashionable jean jacket, though… and I didn't want that tainted by tonight's little outing, so…”


Thinking about those words, her gaze flickered down and her chest gave a pang that was nearly enough to unseat her enjoyment of the spectacular plate before her. Damn Alastor…


Dorien laughed at that. “Fair enough,” he answered before digging into his own food. He looked up at Aster, about to respond to the bit about the mints only to see how the expression on her face changed as she mentioned the night.


“If you want to talk about it, I’m here,” he said softly. “If you don’t, that’s fine. I just...I get it. I remember the first night he had me with him, and I didn’t want to be alone after. I get it.”.


“...Is… is it always this intense?” She asked, after a moment, mulling over whether or not it was even something she wanted an answer to. It was… God, it was easier letting it be. Leaving it tucked away, inside…


“I dunno what I was expecting… And I know the guy wasn't exactly charming, but… I wasn't expecting it, is all…”


“Not always,” Dorien answered, as honestly as he could. “It’s typically not...that intense or bloody, actually. A lot of the time, they comply. Sometimes they don’t, but he, uh, doesn’t usually go that far unless it’s really bad. “


“The guy put his hands on you and threatened you, and that changed things,” he said after taking a breath. “Alastor...considers us his. Threaten one of us, and he takes it personally.” Personally was probably putting it lightly, but he imagined she got the picture.


“Damn. Not… not exactly how I pictured him. It's like… The thug equivalent of dad sitting on the front porch with the shotgun.” Rubbing her fingers, grimacing, she shook her head, “I'm all for taking care of your own, I just… I've never… I mean, I've seen some stuff… Done stuff. But that… that was something else.”


Dorien couldn’t help the awkward, nervous laugh that spilled out of him at hearing that. “You...have no idea,” he said, shaking his head. The dad thing...Alastor took it to different levels all around. He didn’t ask what she’d seen, what she’d done. If she wanted to say, she would in her own time. “Yeah, that’s Alastor for you.”


Looking up, Aster smiled faintly, “So you're saying I shouldn't bring boys over past curfew or anything??” It was scary. Maybe more than being a mule had been. At least then she knew what she was getting into. Going in blind… what a mess.


Dorien wheezed a laugh. “I definitely wouldn’t, that’s for sure. Though, hey, if a guy ever hurts you, you’re all set,” he offered.


“Really?” A brow rose and she managed a small, dry smirk, “Does that work retroactively, you think? I mean… not that I would go there, but hey… The idea ain't too shabby.” She didn't mean it. Not really. It was terrifying, if she were honest. She'd always wanted a family, but hell if she hadn't fallen into the most dysfunctional one on the planet. Rubbing her brow, she sighed, “Do you ever stop seeing it, Fish? Hearing it? In your head? The things he does?”


“Probably. It would be done before you could finish the phrase ‘let me help you hide the body’,” Dorien snorted. “I don’t think it’s a theory I’d want to test out though.” He sighed. How to word it… “No. I don’t. Sometimes it fades a little, it’s less vivid, but it’s always there.” He gestured to the canvases stacked against the wall. “It why I do that. There’s too much in my head, and at some point, something needs to come out.”


“Damn.” Looking to the paintings, she frowned, “Guess I'm gonna need to buy some paint. Not exactly good at that sort of compartmentalizing, I guess. Thought I was, but…” A sigh escaped and she pushed her plate back, nearly empty, “I don't regret doing what I did. For Jamie. For you. But this is… it's not what I thought it would be.”


“I don’t think anyone’s that good at compartmentalizing,” Dorien admitted. “I’m just trying to get by. But hey, if you’re seriously considering painting, I’m pretty sure I’ve got tubes of paint hiding from me in every nook and cranny of this apartment. Keep digging, and I’m sure you’ll find something.” He looked at his own plate for a moment, having paused in eating. “I’d be concerned if it was what you thought it would be. Thank you again, though, for what you did.”


Laughing faintly, Aster shook her head, “Unless fingerpainting has become a socially acceptable artform for adults and I just never got the memo, I think it's safer to leave the painting to you.” Reaching across the table, she smiled, hand resting briefly on his arm, “You don't have to thank me, Dorien. It's not like I had a whole hell of a lot to put on the line…”


“Adulthood is a sham,” Dorien said, waving it off. “Fingerpaint, nerd out about Ninja turtles, become the next great modern artist solely through fingerpainting the Ninja Turtles.” He grinned, looking up at her as she rested her hand on his arm. “I do, though. You didn’t have to do that. You still had something to put on the line, and you did, for my and Jamie’s sake.”


“Ha! I like the way you think, Fish. Maybe I will. You know… once I figure out how to fingerpaint… Cause I was totally bluffing on knowing how to do that, too..” She grinned, and it turned slightly sheepish as she lowered her gaze, “Hell, Dorien. Honestly, was worth it. I never had anyone in my life who gave a damn about me the way you do Jamie… She needs that. And you need her. Just… just needed to make sure that didn't go away.”


“We’ll figure it out. We’ll make it work. My only condition is that we learn how to paint Donatello first,” Dorien chuckled before sobering a little. “Thank you. And if you ever need somebody to give you damns, then I volunteer,” he added, raising his hand.


She laughed, and nodded, faintly aware of the odd twinge in her chest at his words. We. Hell… How long had it been since she was anything a 'you’. But if this wasn't what Alastor wanted, hell…


“Well, geez, Fish.” Nudging him with her foot beneath the table, she smirked, “Give all the damns.”


Dorien echoed her laugh soon after. “I have damns a-plenty to give,” he said, spreading his arms out wide as if to show just how many. “Though I have to admit I’m surprised. No objection to painting Donatello first? Am I winning you over, Aster? Do you at last see the light?”


“I mean…” brows raised, she grinned, “You save the best for last, Fish. C'mon, now. You should know these things by now.” Rising, she plucked up her plate and took it to the sink to rinse it, leaning against the counter, “Thanks, Dorien. For uh… you know. For all this…”


Dorien gasped, clasping a hand over his chest dramatically. “Rude,” he protested, “Donnie deserves better than this blasphemy.” He returned to eating, finishing his own plate quickly enough before looking up at her again. “It’s my pleasure,” he said honestly. “And that ice cream is on the top shelf of the freezer.”


Laughing at his offense, she shook her head, “It's not my fault that you've got rough taste in Ninja Turtles, Honey.” Moving to the freezer, she grabbed the cartoon and finding two spoons, moved back to the table, popping off the lid, holding out a spoon, “I'm not big on… on emotional episodes. But I dunno how well I'd have gotten through all this tonight if you hadn't stepped up. Was big of you.”


“Excuse you, my taste in Ninja Turtles is perfectly fine. So smooth. So very smooth. Turtle shell smooth, even,” he pouted. “Also, we absolutely should eat the entire carton, because I didn’t tell Jamie I got it and at some point she’s going to see it.” As he moved to rinse off his own plate, he took the spoon from Aster’s hand. “Like I said, Aster. It’s my pleasure, and the door’s always open if you need me.”


“Thanks. Might take you up on that, Fish.” Giving a shrug, she took a mouthful from the carton, “I'm… I'm not great at this whole… friendship thing. But hell if I don't wanna give it a shot for once. Alone's gettin’ kinda old, you know?”


“Everyone’s gotta pick up somewhere,” he said, settling beside Aster. He took his own bite from the carton before speaking again. “Yeah, I can imagine. And Tommy’s not exactly great company, the little shit.”


“God!” She exclaimed, with a fierce nod of agreement, “What the hell even was that?? He looked so freaky… Some things, man… Can't be unseen. I swear, Fish, I'll kick you so hard if you end up being that ugly and creepy under all that…” Vaguely, she gestured to him.


“Perception manipulation. That’s his thing. He makes you see what he wants you to see. To be fair, what he showed you? Still not him. That was him dicking around,” Dorien sighed, shaking his head. “He’s...somewhere in between the tiny sweet child facade and Alastor Jr.” He then laughed. “No need to worry, this is all me.”


“Ugh. Alastor junior. Why is that so creepy?? Taking another spoonful, she laughed, shaking her head, “And good. Don't think I could handle it if you weren't who I thought you were… At least physically.” With a wink, she nudged him again.


“Because you don’t expect it?” Dorien offered. He did sort of feel bad for the kid. Tommy had been on the streets far earlier in life than he’d ever come close to. This was closer to normal for the kid than it ever was for him. Didn’t mean Tommy wasn’t unsettling though.


He shook his head at her with a laugh. “Good news is I’ve never been very good at hiding parts of myself, so you’re in luck,” he assured, sticking out his tongue as she nudged him.


“Or maybe cause I kinda did expect it?” She sighed faintly, “He always seemed too cute, you know? Like… Nobody that sweet and innocent would make it in the world we live in. But he never seemed to have any trouble.” He continue, and Aster’s expression shifted, as she shook her head, “Wish I could say the same. Unfortunately, I’m not great at being vulnerable… I… I have a hard time opening up.”


“I guess,” Dorien said. “I know I didn’t see it coming, when he first came around. Thing is, I can’t help but feel a little bad for him still. I don’t think all of it is an act on his part. I just...as far as I’ve ever been able to get out of him, Grey was the absolute best thing to happen to him.” He then shrugged. He seemed to look Aster over for a just a moment. “You’ve opened up to me. Maybe not a lot, but every bit counts. Sometimes it’s a process.”


“It’s hard to give someone the benefit of doubt, who can do what he does. But maybe that’s not fair. I mean, people judge me for what I can do, even though I hate it so much.” A sigh escaped, as she leaned back in her chair, “And you say that like you’ve made it hard. You’re easy to talk to, Fish. Too easy, sometimes. I find myself opening doors I haven’t gone near in years, and I just… damn. It’s not a bad thing, but I… I dunno. There’s stuff… I just… I don’t want you to start lookin’ at me different, you know?”


“That’s fair. I dunno, I think he’s still a little bit of a shit, but maybe not as much as he seems to be,” Dorien offered. He seemed to consider this as he shoved his spoon into the carton again. “Aster, I promise, I’m not going to look at you differently. I get it, having things you don’t really want people to know right away. But with you? Whatever has happened, whatever you’ve been through or had to do, that’s just part of the picture. I just get to see more of it, whenever you’re ready to show me.” He then shoved the spoonful of ice cream into his mouth. “Good to know I’m easy to talk to, though.”


“That’s cause you see the best in everyone, Dorien. It’s part of your charm…” And part of how he’d ended up in this mess, no doubt. Reaching forward, she took another spoonful, and shaking her head, she studied him a moment. A moment too long. Looking down again, she cleared her throat, “...Picture starts to look a little bit like one of those wack impressionist paintings, if you get too much of it at once. Not sure I’d even know where to start…” It wasn’t a shut down, however… and looking up at him again, she shrugged, “You could always… ask?”


“I’ve gotta have something going for me,” Dorien joked lightly. He’d started to reach for the carton again before choking on a laugh. “Those are still cohesive, though. And pretty,” he added. He seemed to consider this. What to ask? Where to start? He didn’t want to push or pry, to dig in places he shouldn’t be digging in. “What about...you tell me something you’re comfortable with me knowing, and I tell you something in exchange? Or even vice versa? Just to get us started. Tit for tat and all.”


A brow rose as she considered the offer, and with a small, smooth smile, Aster nodded, “Alright… That sounds fair.” Snagging another spoonful, she abandoned the utensil when she’d finished and rose to her feet, “But I’m gonna need to get comfy for this…”


Leaving the kitchen, she moved to the living room and huddled into the corner of the couch, patting the cushion beside her own, “Plant it, Fish. Let’s open some doors. But uh… you gotta go first. Cause I’m crap at this.”


Dorien grinned, taking another bite before dropping both his and Aster’s spoons into the sink to worry about later. There was still some ice cream left, but he could worry about that later too. “Oh, I think we can get comfier,” he said, grabbing a blanket as he plopped down beside her. He then settled it over them both, scooting to where he sat fairly close to Aster.


And he sat there a little while. “You’re right. This is kind of hard.” Where to start? “Uh, I’ve been working under Grey for about five years.”


It was a little strange just how comfortable it was… and Aster didn't think twice before draping her legs over his, leaning back on the arm of the couch, “Damn. That long?” She'd been working for the man officially for a few hours and she was ready to retire, “I uh… I started with Lucky when I was sixteen. Off and on for two years. Almost there....”


“What can I say? He got to me young. Sixteen here, too,” Dorien said with a slight shrug, before settling his arms over Aster’s legs. “Almost there for what?” he asked, head tilted.


“Too long…” she answered with a small shrug, “Started to doubt I was ever gonna get out alive. Still not complete sure…” With a wry smile, she shrugged, “Alright… next door.”tr


“Well, you’re out of that particular mess, now. By the way, how did Calvin react when he heard the news? Please tell me that angry goldfish of a man made the face,” he asked, pursing his lips and furrowing his brow to once again make a ticked off fish face. He fell silent again, trying to think of what to say. He didn’t want to go down all the dark roads just yet…


“I dislocated my shoulder when I was seven, and broke my thumb. I can still make my shoulder do that weird popping sound,” Dorien said, quickly demonstrating said popping said as he moved on arm and a deep *click* sounded near his collarbone. “Ooh, and I can do this.” He then popped his thumb, the finger moving like it were double jointed. He did this several times, looking quite pleased with himself.


Laughing, she shook her head, “Weirdly enough, he was kinda sad. I mean… he was never super great to me, but I got the impression he was gonna miss me hangin’ around.” With a small shrug, she sat back to watch his display, eyes widening slightly..


“...I dunno if I'm impressed or freaked out. Either way… ow.” The chuckle died out a little, however, as she shifted, contemplating her answer, “I've had… three toes, two fingers, my nose, my wrist and collar bone broken. And nearly broke my leg when I got shoved down some stairs…”


“Huh,” Dorien said softly, considering this. He then grinned. “Both is a completely valid answer. Jamie hates the thumb thing. Freaks her out,” he continued, still looking very pleased with himself. It quickly morphed into a look of pained sympathy. “How did you manage the collarbone?” he asked, before concern crossed his face at hearing she’d been shoved down stairs.


“I uh…” Picking at a fuzz on the blanket, she frowned softly, “I was ‘clumsy’.” Casually, she wiggled her fingers into.quote marks, “Tripped down the steps a lot. Ran into door knobs. You know… the usual. That's what my social worker was told, anyway.


Dorien’s frown of concern deepened. He hadn’t faced a lot of that when he was in the system, but he’d dealt with it enough. “I’m sorry,” he said softly, placing a hand on her arm in sympathy.


“All good, Fish.” She smiled, shrugged, “You've seen the tattoo. Strong as hell, from it all. When I got out, I made a promise to myself… That I'm never gonna let someone hurt me that way, again.” Covering his hand, she gave it a squeeze, “Don't need to be sorry.”


“Maybe. Doesn’t mean you should’ve had to deal with it in the first place, though,” Dorien said softly. “If we’re compiling injury lists, though…I’ve had three fingers broken,” he said, holding up his hands to show the two crooked fingers on his right hand and the crooked pinkie on the left, “and I’m missing my bottom wisdom teeth.”


“Still… better off than grabby hands from earlier tonight….” Aster noted, with a small grimace, “Sorry. That… dark humor. Next door!”


Dorien wheezed, trying not to laugh. “It’s fine. I made sure not to make anything that required a lot of chopping for food earlier, and I had to not say a few things that would be in poor taste,” he replied, “so I think we’re even.”


“The fingers and teeth were Alastor,” he added, deciding to just let it drop. Better than lingering too long on it.


“Wait… woah! What!?” Aster just about toppled off the couch at his words, and in fact might have, if she hadn't been held in place by his arms over her legs, “That son of a bitch! Are you kidding me??”


“No, I’m not,” Dorien answered, giving her a sad smile. “It was...There was a lot of stuff that led up to it. I...I screwed up. Bad. Over and over, and when Alastor learned it was on purpose, well…” He raised his hands to once again show her the crooked fingers. “He might act like a dad, sometimes, but he has an interesting take on discipline.”


“I’m gonna kill him.” She growled softly, shaking her head as she swung her legs off of him, and rose to her feet. Reason dictated she wasn’t gonna get anywhere near Alastor Grey that night… or ever, but hell if she didn’t wanna put her hands around his neck, “I’m gonna… How! How do people get off thinking they can just… What gives him the right??”


“No, you’re not,” Dorien said, managing to firmly grasp her wrist after she’d stood. He didn’t think she’d try it, but he didn’t want to test it. He sighed. “He owns me?” he offered. “Even without Jamie being in the picture of things he can mess with, he’s the reason I’ve got this, for Jamie’s sake.” He gestured his free hand at the room around them. “If it makes you feel better, though, I gave him a solid right hook beforehand.” He eased his grip, slowly letting go of her arm.


Frowning, Aster turned to him and for a moment it was apparent she was contemplating an argument. But his words clicked… and with a frown, she dropped back down onto the couch, “...It’s crap. All of this. No one owns another person.” Rubbing her hands over her face, she sank back, “The hell makes someone so mean, they gotta hurt somebody else to feel big…”


Relief flooded Dorien as she sat back down. “Maybe not, but this sure comes close,” he said softly. He then shrugged. “Possibly losing tens of thousands of dollars because your apprentice is deciding he’d rather have a moral code, in that instance,” he said before shaking his head. “If you mean what actually made him that way...I don’t know. He only ever makes passing references to stuff that’s happened to him.”


“He’s… he’s despicable. I don’t care what happened to him. What he’s been through. You make the decision to rise above your circumstances, or you don’t. Just cause you lived a tough life doesn’t give you some divine right to treat everyone else like crap…” Running her fingers through her hair, she turned and dropped her legs over his lap again, “...You really punched him?”


Dorien gave her another sad smile, shrugging, because he wasn’t quite sure what to say. “I think I’ve been around him too long, honestly. I’m starting to sympathize with the man,” he said, shaking his head. He settled the blanket back over her legs, leaning back into the couch again. “Oh definitely. He had a big bruise on his cheek for about two weeks. I split open my knuckles, but it was absolutely worth it. Now, I think you owe me a juicy secret.” He wiggled his eyebrows teasingly.


“Sorry I missed it…” She stated softly, but honestly, and a small smirk formed as she shook her head. She considered what to say… and for a moment, nearly resorted to the easy humor that was so easy to sink into… so easy to devolve back to… when she wanted to avoid the hard stuff. But he’d been honest. Told her something deep, and they’d made a deal, “...I almost died, once. On…. on purpose.” It was the best way she could think to phrase it, maybe because it was the only way she could get it out, “...I was twelve… and I was stuck in this… mess of a foster home. Nine of us… the sort of place they did it for the money, you know? Did it to feel powerful…” Biting her lip, she lowered her gaze, “I got tired of being someone’s punching bag… Got tired of all of it… So I climbed up to the roof from the second story bedroom window… and I jumped. Didn’t know they’d called in landscapers for the leaves… if they hadn’t… Anyway… I wasn’t sorry. Realized a little while later how stupid it was, letting someone push me to that point. Promised myself I’d never go there again, you know?”


He grinned as she said she was sorry to have missed it. Her next words then all but stabbed him in the heart like an icepick. He swore under his breath, eyes closing as her placed a hand over his mouth. Hearing she was twelve drove that icepick further in. To feel that way at twelve. He knew he was lucky, only being in the system for about three years before he clawed his way out for Jamie’s sake. He couldn’t imagine being there all his life. He sympathized, too, because he’d been there. Been in that pit and was never sure how to get out.


“Do...do you ever still want to?” Dorien couldn’t help but ask. “Or was that the part you meant when you said you’d never go there again?” Old memories flitted through his head. It had been years since he’d been in a similar position, but this brought it all back like it had been yesterday.


“Never again.” She answered, with a small nod, glancing over at him, “Made a promise to myself, remember? That I’d never let anybody hurt me that way… And that includes me. Way I see it, I was bitter for a long time and it didn’t get me anywhere… So I don’t see why I’d let myself get that way, again. Besides… Got a few things seem kinda worth my time, now, you know?”


He nodded understandingly. “Yeah, that makes sense,” he said, still nodding. He smiled at her when she said she had a few things worth her time now. “Good to know you’re sticking around, Flower Girl.”


He had an idea of what he’d bring up next, from his own past, since she’d brought up this. It was, unfortunately, a dark road. He made a mental note to bring up something lighter after this.


“So, uh, next door?”


Breathing out, Aster nodded, and she was surprised for a moment, how light she felt. The weight she carried around had always been hers… just hers, and she’d never been willing to unload, because she’d never been able to trust that she could. Things were changing in a big way, and she wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about it…


“...Yes. Next door. Your turn…”


Dorien nodded, drawing lazy patterns on the blanket as he bit his lip anxiously. How to start, how to start. “I was fifteen when my parents died. I’d...been having problems before then, though,” he started, taking a breath. “I never exactly fit in, and when you’re in your early teens, suddenly that means everything to you. Kids can be cruel. The stuff I heard them say before that I could laugh off, I just...couldn’t anymore. Suddenly it meant something different.” He took another breath, briefly looking up to the ceiling before continuing. “I don’t think my parents knew what I was dealing with, the way I felt about myself. Sometimes I wish they did, that I’d told them. I think things might have been different if I had.”


“It got worse, after they died. It was never that...I wanted to die. I didn’t want to do that to myself, I just...if there had been a button I could press, and I could not exist, and everyone else in the world would be fine...I would’ve pressed it then. The kids in that first foster home picked up on it, and didn’t exactly help. It was more than just the self-esteem issues then, because now it was about someone else. Jamie was out there, on her own, with some family that might not even remotely care about her. Then, here I was, feeling sorry for myself, and I just felt like a failure. I was her big brother, and I loved being her big brother. Yet I couldn’t do a thing to help her.”


“The thing with Alastor, it gave me perspective, I guess. The problem didn’t go away, it was still there, but it felt a lot less important. I had a path to getting my sister back and keeping her safe, and when I was eighteen, I got him to pull every string he possibly could so that I could legally be her guardian,” he said. “So that she would never face what I did.”


“...Damn.” Breathing out, Aster reached to take his hand, giving it a squeeze. It wasn’t enough. She knew it wasn’t. But it was the only thing that seemed for a moment, to make any sense at all. What he’d been through - what they both had - and Jamie, too… It wasn’t fair. The world never seemed to balance out, and as hard as she tried not to fall into bitterness, she could feel it creeping in…


Not for herself, but for what he’d gone through, “People suck. Like… damn. No one should ever have to feel that way. Like the only way out of it all is to turn to someone like Alastor. I dunno how, Dorien, but I’m gonna find a way to get us out of this mess. All of us. I don’t care how long it takes. We’re gonna get our peace.”


He smiled up at her, though it was still a little sad around the edges, as she squeezed his hand. “Yeah, they can sometimes,” he agreed. “It’s alright, though. I’m...in a lot better place emotionally these days. Having Jamie back gives a lot of perspective. I even know the kids she’s around talk about me, some of the things they say. It doesn’t bother me, the way it might’ve a few years ago. Got bigger fish to fry,” he added with a shrug.


“Thank you, though. One day,” he agreed, “we’re going to catch our break.”


“That… sounds good to me.” She agreed as well, laying her head back on the arm of the couch again, warmth seeping back into her bones from the blanket draped over her, “Alright… my turn. Let’s see if I can find something that’s not quite so… you know.” She considered for a moment, falling quiet, until making a small note of triumph, “Oh, got it! There are very few things in this world, Dorien, that I can say without a shadow of doubt I absolutely love… and I can say wholeheartedly, with unceasing, unrelenting passion… that peanut butter cups are one.”


“Yeah, we definitely need a change of pace there,” Dorien agreed. He then threw his head back with a laugh. “A woman after my own heart. Peanut butter cups are fantastic, and I’m not even remotely argue with you there. Especially the miniature ones. It’s the perfect highly addictive ratio of chocolate and peanut butter. I could probably go through a whole bag of those,” he said, nodding all the while.


“Oh, I have. And I wasn’t even sorry, after…” She admitted, with a grin, “It was right after I got out, my first paycheck… I went straight to the corner store and bought an entire bag, and didn’t stop till it was an empty wasteland of tin and paper cups.” Leaning back, she let her eyes drift shut for a moment, surprised by how easy it was to relax in that moment, “...You’re turn. Next door.”


“The best kind of wasteland to have, so long as you’re the one who made it,” Dorien said with a grin of his own. “I think...anything orange flavored has a special place in my heart. Lollipops, jellybeans, those little sugared orange candies that so many old guys apparently just have in their trucks, actual oranges. One of these days, I’m going to eat so much of it I’ll actually turn orange.”


“That explains a lot…” She nodded, without opening her eyes, as if he’d revealed one of the great mysteries of the universe, “You smell a little like citrus, sometimes. It’s nice…” Breathing in, releasing it slowly, she took another long moment to think, “I have never been… to a movie theater. Not ever. Just never got around to it…”


“That might be because I accidentally bought citrus soap and just never went back. I want to smell like fruit now, damnit, not like a middle schooler that doesn’t shower,” Dorien chuckled. He tilted his head. “Really? My parents smuggled me in once, don’t ask how, because I don’t remember the details. But...it’s nice. The huge screens, the sound coming from all walls. It’s an experience, too, though, sitting in a room with a bunch of people seeing the same thing,” he said, leaning back. “I’ll have to see if I can get us in sometime.”


“Nothin’ wrong with smellin’ like fruit salad, Fish. I did say it was nice…” With another soft sigh, she shifted, let her cheek rest against the soft arm of the couch, “But Alastor has a theater of his own. I could see him, sittin’ down there alone… watchin’ old horror flicks, munchin’ on popcorn. So help me, if he’s hoarding peanut butter cups, I’m gonna wreck the old man…”


“I’m the fruit salad man, now,” he stated with a grin. “He probably used really old, bad slashers for inspiration. The ones with the bad effects that you love anyway. You know, I think you could take him, if he were hiding peanut butter cups from you.”


“Nah..” She half-yawned, shaking her head, “Always Fish. And gross… He would be the type, wouldn’t he. Probably roots for the villain… All edgy and dark-like.” Grinning faintly, she nodded, “I could definitely take him… For peanut butter cups, I’d take on anyone.”


“I bet he’s a Halloween fan. He could pull off a Micheal Myers, don’t you think?” Dorien said, looking over at her. It looked like she was close to falling asleep. “Duly noted. Don’t hide peanut butter cups from you.”


“Ugh. He might actually be that creeper. Who enjoys choppin’ off people’s fingers? Whose brain works that way? ‘Hm… Think I’ll just carry a knife around with me and chop off some digits, today. And then, maybe a scone.’” A dry smile formed, as she continued, “...You better not, Fish. You’re cute and all, but I can still take you down if I need to. Your turn… by the way.”


Dorien wheezed, “A scone. I don’t know, I think he’s more of a cake man. Gotta have something else to cut into.” He shook his head. “I have no doubt that you can take me. Go for the knees, Aster,” he added with a grin before considering what else to say. “I’m twenty-one years old, and I’ve never been in any kind of relationship.”


“Knees? Pssh…” Shaking her head, she stifled another yawn, “Can’t make it hurt if you make it easy, Fish… C’mon now. Hasn’t Alastor been teaching you anything useful?” He went on, and her eyes cracked open as she studied him curiously, “...No kidding? A stud like you? Hm… I mean… neither have I, really. I don’t count Calvin, in case you were gonna ask… That uh… that was nothing I was into.”


“Nothing Alastor teaches me will prepare me for when I’m clearly outmatched,” Dorien snorted, “And I was kind of hoping you’d take it easy on me.” He then shook his head. He’d never really had the time or the chance. Then he stopped. “Uh? Calvin? I wasn’t going to ask, but now I feel the need to?”


“As long as you understand you’re totally outmatched…” She teased, with a grin, “I’ll take it easy on you… till peanut butter cups get involved. Then you’re on your own, sweetpea.” As he continued, she shook her head, letting her eyes fall closed again, “Wish I could say it was completely nothing, period. But we’ll just leave it at it wasn’t romantic, and it wasn’t exactly… It wasn’t what I wanted. Don’t gotta worry about that, anymore, though. Guess I owe Alastor for that much…”


“Oh I definitely understand I’m outmatched. Peanut butter cups are going to be the end of me one day, though I didn’t imagine it would be like that.” Sympathy crossed over his face again as she explained. Part of him wondered if it would be out of the question for him to cross paths with Calvin again. Give him a friendly handshake, maybe break his arm. Yeah...Alastor was definitely rubbing off on him. “I’m sorry,” he said softly, though he knew that wasn’t enough. “Was he...the guy you considered having Alastor go porchdick dad on?”


“You say that a lot, Dorien. Gotta stop apologizing for things that you’ve got no fault in. Someone else being an ass isn’t your responsibility.” Biting the inside of her cheek, she shrugged, “Can’t say I’d be sorry to see him lose a few fingers, no. I… I thought about it. More than once. Doing it myself, but… I hate doing it. I hate even thinking about doing it. That time that I told you about? The one Alastor got wind of? That… I still have nightmares about it. For all Cal’s deserves, I don’t think anybody deserves that…”


“I guess I do. I feel bad that I can’t do more, though, to help, and that’s why I say it,” Dorien answered honestly. His brow furrowed, a frown on his lips. “You’re going to have to hear it again, because I’m sorry, that you have to deal with that.” He gently laid a hand on her arm in reassurance.


“...How a guy like you wound up goin’ twenty-one years on his own… You’re a enigma, Dorien.” She mused, with a small smile, covering his hand with her own. Her eyes closed again, and she shifted, curling into the couch, “Keep talkin’... I’m listenin’. Just… just resting my eyes, yeah?”


“Take a wild guess, Flower Girl. I’m a little weird, you know,” Dorien replied with a smile of his own. “Okay. My turn for opening doors, since I learned Calvin’s an even bigger dickhead from you?”


“People are dumb…” she hummed softly, “Open… those doors.” Another yawn, and she curled her hands beneath her cheek.


Dorien smiled over at her, carefully fixing the blanket so that it covered her fully. “I started painting when I was really little. Always a lot of little doodles on the fridge. I didn’t start painting on canvas until I was about eighteen though,” he rambled.


Breathing in, Aster made a soft noise, somewhere between agreement, and the encouragement for him to continue…


“I wasn’t lying that I painted to get stuff out of my head. There’s a lot more than just the ones in the kitchen, though. I have one, with an alien making a peace sign,” he continued. “Some of them are kind of dark, some of them are just something I saw, and some of them are dumb. But each and every one of them means something to me.”


There was no sound that time, except for the soft hum of Aster’s breathing.


Dorien smiled softly, propping up his head with one arm. He’d probably wake up sore in his neck and back, but he was pretty sure it was worth it. So, after sitting there a little while, he too slowly drifted off to sleep.