Marked for Death: Part X

Marked for Death

Part X: A Night on the Town

Charlie guided us off the school grounds and onto a bus waiting for us. We got on and began the twenty minute drive into the local town. I texted Emma about our plan and she decided to join us. Apparently she and her hotel wasn’t too far from the place. Charlie got us off the bus in the middle of town and had us walk a few blocks until we reached the dock part of town where the club was.

The club was one of those converted warehouse kind of place. There was a line at the front which we joined. We were about to pass when Emma came to my side. In a little under thirty minutes she’d gotten all dressed up, wearing a short dress with rather prominent cleavage and she had time to put on makeup stylishly.

“Hey, planning on catching someone’s eye dressed like that?” I asked.

“Ugh, I hope people won’t even notice me.” She said with a smirk. “Apparently you can’t like to dress up for yourself or just for the heck of it. So I’m looking forward to a night of saying ‘Sorry, got a boyfriend.’ over and over”

“Speaking of Brien, how’s he?”

“Same as usual, which is nice. After Wallace and Alexei I can’t handle drama kings. A nice stable, boring boyfriend is what I want.” She said with a smile.

“Wouldn’t want him stealing your thunder?”

“I cannot deny nor acknowledge your allegations.”

It finally came our turn to see the bouncers who gave us a rehearsed line about entry fees and club policies. More importantly, they warned us that a parahuman band was playing that night and had us sign a waiver before we could get in. We did and walked into the place.

The Annex was fairly big, a dance floor occupied its center and the three sides from the entrance each had their things, from left to right; a bar, a stage for a live band and a selection of seats. Our little group split up almost immediately, individual couples breaking away together. Out of them I noticed Yougen and Yikaru, must to my surprise. I couldn’t tell if they’d been together a while or not, either way they had been hella good at keeping discrete.  

The band wasn’t quite playing yet, instead electro-pop music came out of the speakers. I took Amber’s hand and guided her to the dance floor.

“Have I ever told you I can’t dance to save my life?” She said, looking around and looking a little embarrassed.

“Amber, vanquisher of oni and fearless warrior is afraid of a little dancing?”

She snickered. “Do I look like the graceful type?”

She had a point there, she was kind of tall, yet ungracefully thin, with long limbs that seemed like the rest of her body hadn’t caught up. None of which made her any less gorgeous though.

“And you think I am?” I asked, making a gesture with my hands up and down my body.

“Eh, that’s not what I—”

I put a finger on her lips. “Let’s just focus on having fun? Fuck, looking good while doing it.”

“That I can get behind.”

We danced together for a moment and not too terribly well but everyone was focused on their own effort at it to really notice us. I felt my heart start to work a little harder and stopped. I nodded away from the crowd and Amber followed me.

“Alright, first break.” I said, finding a large leather couch to sit on in a corner.

“That’s good with me. I’m going to get drinks, anything you’d like?”

“Cream soda.”

She nodded and hurried off to the bar. She came back with a can of cream soda and a red cocktail with maraschino cherries in hands. She put the drinks in the table in front of us and slumped down on the couch next to me.

“I didn’t take you for a cocktail girl.”

“I’m full of surprise aren’t I?” She answered with a grin.

We took our drinks, raised them and clinked them together.

“So, I know this is kind of a weird place to talk about it, but I think I’m going to take your mom’s advice and try to stop.” Amber said as we were cuddling.

“That’s good.” I gave her a smile and kissed her.

“I’m starting Monday morning.”

“Why then?”

“There’ll be school and shit to distract me. I’m probably going to punch someone if I start tonight or tomorrow and got nothing to do. I’m not the biggest smoker but I do get cranky when I need my fix.”

“Well, I’m proud of you.” I gave her a hug and she returned it. We stayed together for a moment. “Y’know, I never asked but how did you start smoking?”

“I kind of started out of spite for my parents, got around to hanging out with the ‘wrong’ crowd as they called them. It’s with them I got my tattoos too.” She said with a shrug.

“The wrong crowd?” I asked raising an eyebrow.

“Not the criminal type, save for some underage drinking, smoking and some small misdemeanor. Not that I did much drinking, I’m very hard to get drunk and when I do I recover quickly. They were just the punk trouble maker type; bit of vandalism here and there, picking fights with assholes, bit of reckless driving.”

“Sounds pretty wild.” I said with a chuckle.

“We were bored and wanted to piss off our parents.”

“Any of them ever caught your eye?” I teased.

“Nah.” She cupped her hands around my face. “They weren’t my type; big nerdy and hella cute.” Her mouth shifted into a big grin before she dropped the first of many kisses on my lips, our tongues joining the fray. While she held my face, my hands were free to wander, coming up her thigh, running up her side. I could feel my whole body becoming uncontrollably warm and electrified with excitation.

We just had time to finish our drinks that the stage light up and the band introduced itself; the Unkindness of Ravenhold. Amber and I got up and joined the crowd, waiting for the music to begin.

When it did I quickly felt the energizing rush, but quickly followed by something unplanned. My senses blew wide open and the world became a dizzying, overwhelming explosion of colour and feelings. The crowd was replaced by a vortex of colours and emotions quickly flowing into me like water down a drain.

I don’t know how I got out but the next thing I knew was that I was on a chair surrounded by Amber and two guys one with a neon yellow ‘security’ across their chest and the other dressed in business casual.

“Are you alright?” Business casual guy asked.

“I think so…” I muttered holding my head.

“The performance can get overwhelming for some.” He said.

He opened a mini-fridge and took out a bottle of ice cold water. I looked around and we were in some kind of office now. He gave me the bottle and I drank some, my brain function coming back slowly.

“Try to stay away from the dance floor proper, its where the power is concentrated. If you’d rather go, I can give you a voucher for another night.”

“I think I’ll be fine, I need to avoid exerting myself anyhow.”

The guy smile and I presumed he was the owner. He gave me a free drink token before escorting Amber and I downstairs. When we came down from the office Yikaru and Yougen were at the bottom waiting for us.

“Hey, are you alright?” Yougen asked.

“Yeah, the band’s power hit my brain a little harder than I thought it would.”

“You too?”

I raised a brow. “It’s affecting you badly too?”

“Yeah, we’d rather not risk losing control.” Yikaru said.

I blinked at her words. What did she mean lose control?

“How about we get a seat together?” Yougen proposed and we all agreed, going back to the couch I had picked earlier. Yougen and Yikaru sat down on chairs opposite us.

We spent time just talking about silly things, Amber got us playing quarters and she was pretty good at it, probably a hold up from her delinquent days. When Yikaru and Amber got up for another round of drinks, leaving me with Yougen there was a second of silence.

“So, you and Yikaru?” I said.

“Yeah, kind of new.” She said with a blush. “We kissed last night but we only like made it official today.”

“That’s nice.” I smiled.

“What about you and Amber?”

“We’ve been together a while but we hid it.”

“Right, I’m still getting used to the whole homophobia thing, being a thing.” She said, I just blinked. “Right, I never told you.” She snickered. “I’m from another world, parallel earth and nobody really cares about same sex marriage there.”

“That’s pretty cool.”

We’d visited quite a few other worlds, but interdimensional travel wasn’t exactly a casual thing, even with earth Bet and Gimel —which were our two friendly allied worlds, and where Venusians and Gemilians came from— getting to cross even just for a visit could be quite involved due to security procedures to prevent potential catastrophes.

Our respective girlfriends came back with another round of drinks just at that moment.

“You guys want to play president?” Amber offered, taking out a pack of card from her pocket. “They rent card decks.”

“I’m game.” I smiled.

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Marked for Death: Part IX

Marked for Death

Part IX: Dates

“Well that was something.” Amber said once my parents and Emma left for their hotel.

“Something good or something bad?”

“New and confusing?” She chuckled. “I’m so not used to parents acting like that. Like they care about you as a person and not just about  how you perform.”

“I’m sorry.” I wrapped my arms around her waist and hugged her tightly.

We went back inside together. I spotted Tyler all by himself in the kitchen getting himself a drink. He looked rather grim even if he tried not to. Unlike me, he hadn’t received any kind of visit. I split up from Amber and went toward him.

“Hey.”

“Hey.” He answered back.

“How are you?”

“Alright.”

“Since the parents are leaving Sunday afternoon, mind if we move movie night to then?” I asked.

“Sure.” Tyler said with a shrug.

I nodded before spontaneously wrapping my arms around him.

“What’s that for?” He asked with a chuckle.

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed your mom and sister aren’t here.” I said.

He looked down for a moment. “I get it, they’re busy and can’t take the weekend off.” It sounded more like he was excusing their absence than really understanding.

“Well you can hang out with my family, they’ll totally adopt you. My dad keeps bringing in strays whenever he find them.”

“What am I, a little puppy?” He said with a chuckle.

“A lonely puppy that I like.” I corrected him.

He smiled. “It’s getting late, you should probably go to sleep now.”

“You’re right, but hey, if you need someone to talk to, just come and find me, okay?”

“Will do.”

I gave him a second, quicker, hug before wishing him goodnight. I went up to Amber’s room even though Emma was at the hotel with my parents, I opted to spend the night with her again, even if I went to bed first to catch up sleep to make up for my dream-avoiding schedule.  

In the morning, the parents showed up again one by one. Even though they were technically on vacation, my parents couldn’t stop themselves from baking, whipping up a batch of fresh bread just the the hell of it. They were total baking-aholics. When Mr. Martin came to get us to the auditorium they put a timer on the ovens so the bread would finish on its own. The parents-free classmates staying home would catch it if anything went wrong anyway.

After a long rather boring speech about Ravenhold, its history, programs and all those things nobody but parents and cape-nerds cared about, it came time to meet the teachers through the day. That meant that I had to sit awkwardly as my parents discussed things with my teachers and had to be reminded how terribly I was doing academically. The only reason I didn’t run away was Amber, who held my hand through the whole day, quietly encouraging me.

By the time my family left for a dinner with the other parents I felt like I had had my dose of Ravenhold for the next month. Schoolwork was one thing, talking about schoolwork was a whole new level of torture. I was sort of vegetating in the sunroom, my brain over exerted from having to deal with it all when Amber and I’s phone beeped. She got hers first.

“Caroline’s inviting everyone to an under 21 dance club, they’re leaving in less than an hour.”

“Yes, anything to get away from school! I’ll even fight more onis, bare handed if I have to.” I said, shooting up.

Amber snickered. “You leave the oni punching to me. Going out sounds nice but Are you sure going dancing is a good idea?” Amber asked, clearly concerned. “You’re supposed to rest.”

“Just a bit of dancing and plenty of rest in between and I’ll be fine.”

“We better get ready then.”

We split up; me going to my room and her to hers. As I hadn’t brought anything remotely date worthy while running away from Ravenhold, I scrounged through the bag of stuff my family had brought me. I sifted through the loose clothes until my fingers found one very specific piece I distinctly knew.

I pulled out the revealing black lace corset Emma had brought me over a year ago. I’d never had the courage to even put it on after the first time. I blushed just at the thought of it. It wasn’t indecent, but at the same time it didn’t hide much… The thought of wearing it for Amber made my chest a million degrees hotter.

I removed my shirt and bra and tried it on. It still fit and it wasn’t too tight or anything and it held up well. I switched my jeans to a less baggy-slackery pair and stood up, looking myself in the mirror. I could feel butterflies in my guts, was I really doing this? I could feel myself chickening out. So, I picked up my phone.

EMMA! <

> Yeah?

i think im doing smthn dumb <
how do i look <

I sent her a picture and hid my face under a pillow. I heard the beep of her answer but didn’t dare look just yet. It took me a minute to dare myself to.

> You’re gonna knock her socks off. 😉

I need serious u <

> Annabelle, you look smashing. She’s going to love it and if you don’t believe me, I’ll come and tell it to your face right now.

I breathed out a sigh of relief. At least I didn’t look dumb or silly, wearing something sexy despite my size…

There was a knock at the door and Amber spoke up. “Can I come in?” She asked.

“Yes…” I said, gulping.

She slipped through the door and fuck she looked good. She hadn’t even done much, she’d just brushed her hair into a nice fluff and thrown on a leather jacket, which looked all kinds of hot on her…

“Woah.”She said breathlessly upon seeming me. “You look great.”

“Thanks…” I muttered.

She came closer to me and put her hands on my hips.

“Are you alright, babe?”

“I’ve just never worn something like that ever.”

“I’m telling you, you look stunningly gorgeous.” She said with a grin. “But, if you don’t feel comfortable then go ahead and put something more comfortable. I want you how you are, don’t need to dress up just for me.”

“No, I’ll wear this.”

Amber kissed me and we spent a few minutes letting our body do the talking, only stopping because Yougen came into the room to change, wanting to go to the club too. We left the room and joined the others waiting to go out. Tyler wasn’t anywhere to be seen and I hadn’t seen him at all since the early morning… I sent him a text asking if he was alright but got no answer.

“So, eh, you’re holding hands.” Mace remarked out loud, coming close to Amber and I.

“That’s because we’re flaming dykes.” I answered.

He just stood there blinking, not sure what to answer. “Good for you?” He said after a moment of silence.

The comment had inevitably drawn attention, serving and my official Ravenhold coming out. I tried not to blush under the attention and congratulations.

“Bus is leaving in eleven minutes.” Said coming out of her and Caroline’s room along with Jenna, Caroline’s sister. “Let’s go!”

Past Scars: Part III

Past Scars

Part III: Price to be Paid

As I slowly walked home, all I could feel was pain and emptiness. It was my fault Roxanne was still stuck with the organization, she wouldn’t have been if I had waited for her, but I’d been too scared. Instead I’d abandoned the closest thing to a friend I had ever had… I was about halfway to the house when Mace came toward me.

“Hey.” He said. “Are you alright?”

“Yes.” I said flatly.

“Jaime, you don’t have to lie to me.”

“I’m n—”

“I can see you’re upset, you can talk to me.” I stayed quiet. “That girl, she isn’t your cousin is she?”

“No.”

“Who is she?”

“She used to be my girlfriend.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you were gay…”

“I’m not. I’m pretty sure I’m not into girls. She was just there when I needed someone and she was attracted to me… I didn’t want to risk losing her so I said yes.”

“Oh…”

“I don’t regret it.” I shrugged. “Why do you care?”

“I care because I do care about you Jaime.”

I laughed dryly. “So you want to fuck me. Fat chance.”

He sighed loudly. “No that’s not it! I thought we had something…”

“You helped me, I had to repay you, that was it.”

From the fingerless gloves he wore on his hands I felt his fists clench. “Is that really all you think of me? That I did what I did just so I could use you?”

“It’s what everyone does. Nobody does anything if it doesn’t benefit them, even if it’s just to make themselves feel better about themselves.” I said. “Wait… Does that mean you remember?”

“I’m starting to, at least some parts of that summer.”

“We have to get Roxanne back.”

“Sorry, but I don’t think I can do it again.”

“But—”

“There’s a price to my powers, Jaime.” He said flatly. “One I can’t make myself pay again. I’ve already sold too much of myself.”

“You’re going to be petty like that just because I’m not going to let you fuck me?” I turned around but he grabbed me by the arm.

“It’s not like that! Believe it or not but I don’t expect anything of you except for you to be my friend, but I guess that’s too much to ask for. I don’t have anything left to give away; I already lost my name, my identity and my past. I sold my right to lie to save your life, what else am I supposed to give away for others?”

I just froze under his verbal onslaught. In all the time I’d known Mace, he’d never been this strong and vocal.

“Your right to lie?”

“I can’t lie anymore, everything I say has to be true as far as I know, although it can be a partial truth, but I can’t say anything false, hell I can’t even do theater because it’s false…”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“We come from different worlds Jaime, sure the same Earth but there’s a secret world hidden from most people. Magic is real, demons, goblins and everything that goes bump in the right are all real. It’s how I got my powers, by consorting with these creatures, how I got Laevatein too. Everything I have comes with a price, and they don’t take money. They want to be real so what they ask of you is part of yourself. I sold my name for Laevatein, I sold my memories for freedom… When you were dying from that shit, I sold away my right to lie so you could live.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I’d like to say that I don’t care what you think, but that would be a lie. You don’t have to believe me and I do wish helping your friend was that easy, I’d do it in a heartbeat, but I—” The word seemed struck in his throat. “But I don’t want to pay that price again, I’ve lost too much of myself already. You can call me selfish if you want, but now I know how you feel about me, I’m not sure if I should really care anymore…”

To my surprise, tears started pouring out of his eyes and running down his face.

“Just what the hell do you want from me?” He screamed. “One moment you hate me and want me to fuck off and the next you come back to me because you need support. Is that all I am to you? Some fucking tool to use and discard as you please? Do you really think I did all I did; saving you, protecting you, going to the doctor with you, keeping your secrets and giving you company was all just so I could put my dick in you? Is that really what you think of me? That I’m just some fuckboy douche?”

I didn’t answer.

“I guess that time you apologize to me was just more bullshit.” He looked away. “You must think I’m a moron for falling for it.”

“Mace it w—”

“Stop, I don’t want to hear it. I don’t believe a word you say anymore. I wish you well, but don’t come and talk to me again.” He turned around and walked off. “I don’t want to hear from you, not until you’re ready to stop pushing people away.”

I tried to catch up to him but the pain in my damaged legs was too strong. I tried to call out to him but he didn’t listen.  I just collapsed on the paved path and let out a scream. What the fuck was wrong with me? Why did I have to lash out at anyone trying to help me?

***

“Jaime?” Doc Venus called, coming out of her office.

“Yeah, I’m here.” I got up and went into the office with her.

“I see your friend Mace isn’t with you today.” She noted out loud.

“We’re not really talking right now.”

He had ignored me all night and morning. He was definitely intent on not getting involved with me again.

“That’s a shame. What can I do for you today?”

“Just the usual transfusion therapy.” I said with a shrug.

She guided me to the usual room and I lied down on the medical bed, removing my shirt and exposing the transfusion port. She hooked me up and began treatment. I must have dozed off from the lack of sleep the night before because the next moment she was tapping my wrist.

“You’re all done.” She said. “Is there anything else you need?”

I looked out the frosted window and by the darkness I could tell that it was already past sunset. I put my shirt back on and slipped off the bed, repressing a grunt of pain as my knees groaned from the sudden change in weight.

“Actually, I could use some help with the pain…” I sighed.

“I think I have just the right thing. Wait here.”

She left the room and came back a second later. Except instead of pills or medicine, she carried a metal walking stick.

“You’re kidding.” I snarled. “Do I look like a cripple?”

“I know you’re struggling to accept your new condition, but you are disabled Jaime and soon enough you’ll have to make lifestyle changes or you’ll risk worsening your condition in the long term. This is just a cane, it’ll help lessen the weight you put in your legs, it’ll help ease the pain and let you be more mobile, you don’t have to use it all the time, just when you feel you need an extra bit of help.”

I wanted to tell her to shove it up her cloacal, but Mace’s words came back to mind; I don’t want to hear from you, not until you’re ready to stop pushing people away

“Fine…” I sighed. “I’ll take it.”

The doc grinned wide. “I’m glad to hear it. This is just a temporary one, we can look up for a more personal one if you’d like. Custom fit and decorated just for you.”

“Maybe another time?”

“Of course.”

She gave me the stupid cane and I took my first step, with her instructing me on how to properly use it.

Mending: Part VIII

Mending

Part VIII: Marian

After a while there was a gentle series of knock at my door.

“Yeah?” I asked, taking my face out of the pillow.

“Hey, it’s me. Your dad let me in.” Marian said. “Sorry for not texting, my phone’s battery died.”

“It’s fine.”

“Can I come in?”

“Yeah.”

The door opened and she slipped through. Unlike me, she looked good; yoga pants, a loose tank top and a rugged denim jacket along with a beanie holding her hair, she’d let it grow in the past few months, now reaching her chin. Marian always looked good, but if she didn’t I never would’ve copied her style when we’d met. She’d introduced me to the tomboy/butch thing and I had never looked back on baby Charlie’s nonexistent style.

“Oh my god, are you alright, have you been crying?” She asked, rushing to my side and wrapping her arms around me.

“Sorry, I’m fine it’s—”

“You’re not fine, I can see that.”

“We’re supposed to be hanging out today…” I muttered. “Not to deal with my drama.”

“Charlie, I’m here to be your friend, and that means through thick and thin.”

I nodded. She was right. I let out a sigh. “Caroline and I had an argument.”

“What about?”

“You…” I looked away. There was a quiet moment where I just wanted to run away but Marian’s hand settled on top of mine. “I never told her about you before yesterday and she thought that meant something about us, but I was just too scared of telling her how awful a friend I’d been to you and how I just abandoned you the moment my head got screwed…”

“I’m sure it’s going to be okay. You love each other, you can and will work it out.” She hugged me again and we stayed like that for a moment.

“Alright, enough gloom, let’s go have some fun.” She said with a smile. “Dwelling on it won’t help.”

“What do you want to do, anywhere you want to go?”

“I thought we’d just chill here.”

“Really? Out of all the things we could do?”

“Charlie, your house is the best place on the whole island; you have all the games ever, a skatepark, a private pool— I could go on listing all the things but we’d be here until nightfall.”

She hopped to the couch in my room and slinked down on it grabbing a controller. She booted off my gaming rig and I joined her. As we did, Marian happily sang off key to the Taylor swift playlist she had put. Where I was big into indie rock, she was a pop head through and through, she and Caroline would definitely get along if their music choice was an indication. She was so bubbly and carefree I had to join her singing effort, adding to the cacophony but we didn’t mind, putting down the controllers and just dancing. By the time the list of song was over, we were laughing out loud, sprawled on the floor.

“You have no idea how much I’ve missed hanging out with you.” She said a little out of breath.

“Me too.” I grinned.

We sat up on the floor, our backs against the base of my bed. She huddled closer and put her head on my shoulder. We just stayed on the ground for a moment, catching our breath.

“So with all my drama, I didn’t ask; how have you been?”

“Other than my best friend being gone? Alright, been kind of routine. I didn’t show you my new little cavies did I?” She answered.

I shook my head and she took out her phone. She lit it up and the ‘low battery’ alert came up. She quickly flipped through her photos and came upon pictures of two adorable Guinea pigs; one black and one blonde.

“Here are Amalia and Rosalie.” She said a grin on her face. “They’re the cutest girls ever.”

“I can see that.”

“How’s Nibbles?”

“Good, he’s living with me at Ravenhold now though.”

She nodded and she bit her lip, as if thinking deeply. “So… I know she’s kind of a sore subject right now, but is there anyway I can get all the juicy details on the girl of your dreams?” She asked with a grin.

I smiled at her curiosity. I told her everything; how we’d met, how I’d hopelessly crushed on her from day one, our first kiss.

“Finally!” Marian said. “After all these years of nudging you about crushes I got you talking.” She stuck out her tongue at me.

“From today, I promise you; no more secrets, no more lies.”

“Ooh, what dark and dastardly secrets have you been keeping from me?”

“Well, for starters I’m the one who stole the last piece of cake on your last birthday even though you had dibs’ed it.”

“You bastard!” She said, playfully before punching my arm. “So that’s why you bought me more cake the next day?”

“I was totally feeling guilty.” I said with a laugh. “So, have you met someone you like?”

She was quiet for a second. “There’s someone I’ve had my eyes on for a while…” She looked down.

“But?”

“That someone’s already taken.”

“Oh.” I wrapped my arms around her shoulders. “Sorry to hear that. But you know, maybe you’ll get your chance with him.”

“Right… I just wish I’d opened up sooner, if I had I might have had a chance. Plus, I really don’t want to be the type to wish for someone’s relationship to fail just for my sake.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Gah!” She said, getting up suddenly. “Now I’m the gloomy one. Come on, we’re going out and getting some exercise. Nothing better to get our heads clear.”

“Can’t argue with you on that.”

I changed out of my pajama and into yoga pants, a tee and my windbreaker. We then went down into the garage where I kept my skateboard collection along with my dirt bike and scooter. We grabbed some gears before hitting the ramp just outside. We spent the morning alternating between different activities; skating, parkour, archery and so many more.

We were eating lunch, having gotten sandwiches delivered from a café in town, when the estate’s gate opened and Caroline’s family came back, driving in with her mom’s SUV. They got out and Caroline spotted us, coming toward us rather than the house.

“Hey again.” I nervously said with a wave.

“Hey Charlie.” She said, biting her lip. “Marian.” She nodded at her. “Would you mind if I talk to Charlie?”

“Okie-dokie.” She said getting up. She slid down the ramp on her skateboard and then started going for the house. “Imma go raid your snack collection!” She then said at me. “Same hiding place?”

“Yes.” I answered.

As Marian went Caroline came up and sat down next to me on the edge of the skateboard half-pipe ramp’s edge.

“I’m sorry.” She said quietly. “I should’ve had more faith and not rushed you like that about Marian.”

“And I’m sorry for getting defensive.” I answered. “If I hadn’t we probably wouldn’t have had this dumb argument.”

She opened her arms and I accepted the hug.

“I love you.” I said.

“I love you too. Water under the bridge?”

“Water under the bridge.” I confirmed.

“Why don’t you properly introduce me to your best friend then? We didn’t really have the chance last night.”

I smiled. She took my hand and together we went back into the house.

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Mending: Part VII

Mending

Part VII: Hurt

When Marian’s ride left, my heart was still feeling heavy. As glad as I was to have her back, I still felt horrible for what I had done. I went back inside and since we had all finished our meal I pay for everything.

“Want to go to my place?” I offered Caroline.

“Sure.” She said with a smile.

“Let’s get these guys home first though, don’t want to lose half our class.”

I showed the others the nearest Ravenhold bus stop before calling a cab for Caroline and I. It came quickly and it drove us to my house. Even after a month of coming every so often, Caroline always looked awed by the size of place.

“We’re home.” I declared as we came in. Although it was slightly past ten by then dad and Colleen were still awake, sitting at the bar.

Colleen came up to greet Caroline and I went to my dad’s side who was nursing a fruity drink.

“Not getting drunk again after last night, are you?” I teased.

“Just pineapple juice and coconut milk for me.” He said with a smile. “How was your evening.”

“It was fine.”

He raised a brow before frowning. My eyes were still a little red and puffy from earlier. I bit the inside of my cheek for a second.

“I saw Marian.”

“Oh. How did that go?”

“Very emotional.” I sighed. “She was angry at me at first but we talked it out. Not before she punched me, even after a month of Michael’s tough love teaching, she still hits really hard.” I chuckled. “Caroline and I went dancing, that’s why we ran into her…”

He wrapped his arms around me.

“Ooh like a real date then.” I heard Colleen say, before speaking louder to Ian.“They grow up so fast, am I right?”

“They do.” He said, ruffling my hair gently.

“What are you two doing still up?” I asked.

“I don’t sleep.” Colleen answered. “And Ian was nice enough to give me some late company. Although we might not stay up too long.”

Her use of ‘we’ stood out, there was a little suggestive bend to her word. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw Ian repress a smirk. They were clearly into each other and very much intent on sleeping together again. Which was perfectly understandable, they were single allosexual adults.

“I’m going to shower.” Caroline said flatly before practically stampeding upstairs. Clearly she still wasn’t over it.

Colleen looked a little taken aback by Caroline’s reaction.

“Children, am I right?” She then said, rolling her eyes.

“I don’t know, Charlie’s supportive.” Ian said.

“It’s none of my bizz.” I said with a shrug.

They sat back at the bar and picked up their drinks, Ian refilling Colleen’s whiskey glass which she drank slowly, clearly enjoying the taste of it.

“Do I get a drink too? I’ve had a very heavy day you know.” I said with a grin.

“Eh, why not?” Ian said. “But just one. I know just what you want, you could always say I’m psychic even.” He went to the other side of the bar and began mixing stuff together. “And one Planter’s punch for my favorite daughter.”

“Perfect.” I said with a grin, taking the glass and bringing it to my lips. Dad had obviously gone light on the alcohol but I liked the way the light kick of the rum complemented the sweetness of the pineapple and orange juices

It wasn’t my first time trying alcohol. Ian was a cocktail connoisseur on his off days and he’d often let me have a sip of whatever he’d mixed. The tropical ones were my favorites, even if I had never actually gotten drunk, I just liked the way alcohol mixed with stuff. We sat for a moment, talking about random things and drinking until I decided to go get changed.

Caroline was still in the shower by the time I’d put on my PJs so I went back downstairs where I found that Grump was surprisingly awake on the couch. At twenty one years or so he was massively ancient for a dog, the longevity treatment kept him healthy but he didn’t have the energy he had when I had first met him anymore, spending most of his days sleeping. So I went to his side and gave him some much needed belly rubs.

When the shower finally stopped Colleen excused herself and went upstairs. She and her daughter were together for a few minutes. When Colleen finally came down, I went upstairs with Grump on my heels. I went into my room where Caroline was sitting on the bed, looking somewhat gloomy.

“Hey, everything okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, just some mother-daughter talk.”

I nodded and sat down on the bed next to her.

“Charlie?” She asked, although her head faced me, her eyes stayed away from mine.

“Yeah?”

“Why did you never tell me about Marian?” She muttered looking down.

“We hadn’t talked in four months.”

“Why?” Her tone was dry, feeling accusatory.

“Because my stupid mental health got in the way, okay?” I answered, taken aback by her attitude. “What’s with the interrogation?”

“It feels like you kept her secret from me.”

It took me a second to even answer. “Are you jealous?”

“No!” She cried out. “Should I be, was there something between you?”

“No, she was my best friend that’s it.” I answered, feeling my stomach twist. How could Caroline even ask me that… “Marian’s straight, she’s had like three boyfriends before.”

She looked away and stayed quiet.

“What about Jenna? I didn’t even know she existed before yesterday.”

“What about my sister?” She snapped defensively.

“It’s kind of hypocritical to be angry that I ‘hid’ someone from you when you did the same.”

“So, what you’re angry I didn’t mention her?”

“No!” I sighed and took a second to clear my head. Why the hell were we even arguing about this? “Look, I’m just saying that it’s not fair to hold me to a different standard. Plus you never once asked about my friends, if you had I totally would’ve told you I wasn’t seeing any of them.”

“I’ll go sleep downstairs in the living room.” Caroline said, still not looking at me.

She got up but I stepped in front of her, baring the door. “Caroline… Don’t be silly, there’s plenty of space for two people. And if anyone has to go it’s going to be me.”

“Charlie, it’s your house.”

“My house my rules.” I said firmly. “Let’s just forget this stupid argument? Please…” I begged her.

She didn’t argue and removed the covers from one side of the bed. I closed the light and took the other. Grump who had stood by our argument settled in between us. Although I tried to sleep, I didn’t manage to find rest until the early hours of the morning, our stupid argument replaying over and over in my head. I couldn’t believe it had happened… The last month had been like a fairytale but now we’d gotten mad over something so dumb…

Caroline woke me up when she got up but I pretended to sleep. It was best not to talk to her before we were really awake… She took a shower and I just stayed in bed, rubbing Grump’s fur.

“Should I apologize?” I asked him, whispering in his ears. “Did I do something wrong, she was the one who got all accusatory…” I ruminated. “But if I hadn’t gotten defensive and just answered calmly, this probably wouldn’t have happened.” I sighed and hugged Grump’s furry body. In answer he licked my hands.

“I love you boy.”

I stayed in bed just a little longer, focusing on breathing exercises to try to clear my head as best as possible, Grump helping by lying down across my lap. When I finally got out and went downstairs, Colleen was making pancakes. She offered me some and I accepted, sitting down opposite of Caroline at the brunch counter.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

There was a long silence between us. “Last night I asked Marian to hang out with me today…” I said. “Is that alright?”

She nodded quietly before adding “yeah, I’ll be in church most of the morning anyway,” a second later.

We didn’t speak anymore than that that morning. I retreated to my room and crumbled down on my bed, crying…

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Gadgets & People: Part VIII

Gadgets & People

Part VIII: Opening up

I slept in later than usual. Charlie and Caroline had never come back the night before so there was nobody doing breakfast that morning. I got up from the couch and went into the shower to wash off. Someone else came into the shower and settled into one of the stalls. I came out and dried my hair only for Jaeger to come out of the other stall.

“Morning.” I said.

“Hey.”

There was a moment of silence between us as we brushed our teeth.

“So, guess you’ve got yourself a not-boy, not-girl, something-friend? I’m not actually sure what the correct term is with them…” I mumbled. “And I don’t want to say something wrong…”

“Non-binary. Harley and me are just a casual thing, we’re not dating,” he explained.

“Oh alright.” I said with a nod.

We walked in the common room together. He eyed up the stairs and I spoke up.

“Eh, wait. ” I took out the flash drives I’d wrangled away from Charlie and handed it to him. “Here.”

“What’s this?”

“Your student files, Charlie bragged about stealing them so I took them back. But I didn’t look.”

“You didn’t?” He asked, sounding suspicious.

“It felt wrong to.” I paused. “If you don’t want to talk about things, that’s your right and as your friend I have to respect that.”

“Thank you,” he replied, hesitating a moment. “You’re a great friend.”

I was kind of surprised to hear him call me his friend and a great one at that. I didn’t exactly have a baseline to say if we were good friends… I mean I liked hanging with him and he tolerated me well despite my lack of social skills.

“So, you have anything planned for today? My folks are staying until lunch, you could come and hang with us?”

“That sounds like a good idea, I should probably apologise to them too for the way I acted,” he said. “It’s not like I got any family hanging around to keep me busy anyway,” he joked.

“Well, the last time I brought an acquaintance my mom practically adopted him, so you might accidentally get an adoptive mum, I warn you.”

“Heh, well I wouldn’t know the difference,” he said, immediately rubbing the back of his neck. “Sorry, I should probably quit the dark humour now.”

“But it’s part of your charm, isn’t it?”

Jaeger blinked at me for a moment. “Well,” he said, letting out a small laugh. He then murmured something else in German I assumed.

“One of these days, I’ll have to learn German, understand what you’re muttering to yourself.” I teased. “Actually, I might just change my option just now.” I said, reaching for my tablet.

“I’ll enjoy the short learning period to tease your stumbling German,” he shrugged. “And then just invent a new language all of my own.”

“Go ahead, you’ll see I’m a quick learner. Also, note to self; look up linguistic decryption.”

“Don’t use big words on me,” he muttered.

“Aww, I made my best friend grumpy…” I sighed. “I totally owe you some breakfast now, do I?”

“Yup,” he answered quickly.

“Well, we have an hour and a half before meeting with my mum and sisters. What do you want to go get? I mean, I could try to make it but that’d just be toasts and not quite what I had in mind.”

He stared at me a moment before getting his composure back.

“Right, cafeteria is meant to be open because of visiting families. Or there’s a nice cafe at the gym. There’s also a place in Havenport and-” he cut himself off. “I’ll stop giving options now.”

“Havenport sounds good.” I said.

“Right, let me just grab my jacket,” he said, running upstairs.

I smirked at his eagerness. He probably didn’t go out much because of whatever had him confined to ravenhold. I followed him, making sure to knock in case Jaeger wasn’t decent. He told me to come and so I did and grabbed a change of clothes, slipping on new jeans and a green plaid workshirt. Harley was still in Jaeger’s bed, face smushed against the pillow and still sleeping deeply. 

“Ready to go?” I asked lowly. I turned my head around and saw him in black jeans and a gray tee with his black coat. “Is a side effect of being a chimera an allergy to clothing colours?”

“Heh, no. I just did a lot of work at night…” he trailed off.

“Guess it adds to the dark and brooding vibe. You know the others are full on the batman jokes, right?”

“I hate batman jokes,” he replied flatly. “The only person who got away with them was Kel-” he cut himself off. “I’m just not a fan,” he finished.

“Right, sorry. I’ll make sure to shut them down if I hear them.”

He nodded. “Let’s go?”

“Right.”

Left the house, took a bus into town and Jaeger got us off at one of the stops. He knew the way so I followed him. After a minute to two of walking we stepped inside a coffee shop called Lava Java. The place had a cozy casual feeling with sofas and mismatched chairs, a large fireplace where a fire was crackling, reclaimed wood and plants everywhere. I ordered a cup of tea and an almond danish while he settled for a coffee and a raspberry turnover. We sat down on one of the couches by the fireplace.

“This is nice.” I said taking a bite of my danish. “Our first time going out together.”

Jaeger choked on his coffee.

“Are you alright?” I asked.

“It’s too hot.” He set it down and focused on his pastry.

“So, have you thought about the our history homework?” I asked. The teacher had asked us to talk with the class about our experience of the Tzari invasion.

“I was stuck in a private school in Brighton at the time, didn’t see anything. You?”

“I was in London, we had to spend the week locked in an emergency shelters beneath the city because of my dad.”

“What did he do?”

“He wouldn’t leave without first securing his work so we missed the evacuation window.” I began, just about every large city had had shelters built in case of nuclear war or large-scale parahumans battles, but they weren’t exactly cozy. “Of course mum was four months pregnant so at the time we were worried crazy about how that affected the baby. I remember there was so much arguing between my mom and dad and how Sana was scared.”

“Damn. I’m sorry.”

“We got out alright in the end.” I said with a shrug. I’d been luckier than many, I hadn’t lost anyone I knew and our house had been spared any serious damage; only broken windows from a sonic boom and a little rain seeping in. 

He nodded. “Was that you at club 618? I saw the news, they said it was a new police initiative.”

“Yeah, between you and I? That was total PR bullshit.” I said with a chuckle. “They came up with the excuse after the fact, gave the credit to some random officer.”

“Why did you do it?”

“My sister was in the crowd, I just happened to have a suit of power armor on hand. Didn’t really plan any of it, or think it through at all. Next thing I knew Captain Thunder’s inviting me here.”

I didn’t ask about his own path the Ravenhold and he didn’t offer. I knew it was best not to try to force answers out of him now. We chatted about silly things for a while until my mum sent me a text telling me where they were. We finished our drinks and went on our way.

We met mum, Sana and Vani at a local playground. The three of them were sitting at a picnic table with McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches in hand along with coffee for the eldest two.

“Everyone, you remember Jaeger?” I said.

Jaeger shyly waved to them. Mum and Sana reintroducing themselves just in case.

“Your nose is funny.” Vani said after staring at him for a second. I flinched at her words but Jaeger didn’t seem to mind the three years old’s lack of discretion.

“That’s because I’m a bat chimera,” Jaeger replied.

“You’re part bat?”

“Yeah, I can echolocate like one too.”

“Does that mean I can be a dinosaur chimera?”

“No.” Mum said immediately, making her pout.

“Jayjay?” She then asked, looking at me.

“Yes?”

“What’s Ecolocat?”

Jaeger laughed before kneeling down and patiently explaining what echolocation was to her. Vani absorbed the information like her life depended on it.

“I want to play now.” She said. Mum got up. “No with Jayjay and Jaegy!”

Jaeger raised an eyebrow at the nickname.

“She gives everyone a nickname.” I said lowly. “Alright come on, Vani, let’s go do some slides!” I then said louder.

We escorted her to the large playhouse where only two other children were playing around, their parents hanging around to make sure they were safe. We watched her for a moment and thankfully Vani was nice and polite to the others. In public she was typically fine but at home with family friends she could be quite a handful.

“So, not too traumatized by the little asura?” I whispered to Jaeger as Vani ran up and down the slides.

“I’ve dealt with worse than a little kid. Admittedly, the fear of the unknown did make it close,” he replied.

“Well, That’s our little terror Vani for you.” I smirked. “She’s loud, messy and bossy. And I don’t want her to change one bit.”

“You care about her a lot. I’ve never had any siblings so I don’t really know what that’s like.”

“With the way I went through school, I’ve kind of missed out on the whole friends thing, my sisters and mum were the only people I was ever really close with.”

“What about your dad?” he asked.

“We’re complicated.” I sighed. “Sometim— often, I don’t really feel like he’s my dad at all, more like a boss or teacher. He wanted me to follow his footsteps, go into weapon development and I did. But whatever I do I never feel like it’s enough.” I paused and shook my head. “Eh, I probably shouldn’t be unloading like that on you.”

“It’s fine. My adoptive dad was the opposite I guess. He wanted me to do anything but what he did. That didn’t work out,” he shrugged.

I smiled sadly and put an arm on his shoulder in support. He stiffened at the gesture, looking unsure before relaxing.

“Jayjay!” Vani called. “I want to swing.”

“No rest for the wicked, eh?” I said to Jaeger.

“Except bank holidays,” he joked.

I chuckled at his answer. “We better please the little asura, you don’t want to see her angry.”

“Hulk style?” he asked.

“Pretty much, her wrath is mighty and terrible.”

“Well, we better push her on the swing to protect the lives of all Havenport then.”

Gadgets & People: Part VII

Gadgets & People

Part VII: Friends and Families

My mom found us in the library sometimes later. Sana having texted her our location as I read Vani’s favorite book again, the little munchkin sitting on my lap and following the words with my finger. Despite her young age she could read a few syllables.

“Everything alright Sanjay? You kind of ran away.” My mom asked.

“Yeah, I just needed to look into something so I could get it off my mind.”

As a family we went to the cafeteria, Vani a little overwhelmed by the mass of people. We found Ahti’s family and my mom decided to sit with them. Rowan and their dad was also there and they all chatted together while I focused on getting Vani to eat her fish and chips, ignoring my own vegan chili. After lunch we played in the park for a while as mum finished meeting with all my teachers.

“Mr. Coleman invited Sana and I to dinner, would you be okay babysitting Vani for a few hours?” Mom asked as the afternoon winded down. “Its at a rather posh place and I don’t think Vani would like it.”

“I’d love to spend time with the little munchkin.”

Vani took the temporary goodbye well and we escorted my mum and Sana to the gate.

“Jayjay, I’m cold.” Vani said, turning to me.

“Let’s get you inside then.”

I guided her back to my dorm and we settled in the living room where I gave Vani the toys she had packed for her first trip outside the United Kingdom. Naturally, they were all dinosaurs, her one true passion. Well, she also liked princesses so the previous Halloween she had been the majestic princess t-rex.

As she played, Tyler came toward us a smile on his lips.

“Is she your sister?” He asked.

“Yep.”

“I used to love ’em too, I even brought one of my old dino as a lucky charm.” Tyler said before getting up. He came back a moment later with an old stegosaurus toy that had clearly seen better days. He drew Vani’s attention. “When I was little like you, I loved dinosaurs, this one was my favorite.”

“But it doesn’t have feathers…” Vani said, frowning.

“We didn’t know dinosaurs had feathers when I was a kid.” Tyler answered with a smirk. The shock in Vani’s face clearly indicated that her world had been rocked. “Here, you can play with it if you want.”

Tyler handed it to her and Vani took it almost religiously, like it was some mysterious ancient artifact worthy of reverence rather than a pound-store plastic toy.

“Thank you.” I mouthed to Tyler.

“It’s nothing. I’m the baby so I never got to have little siblings but I always liked kids.”

He stayed to watch her for a bit before there was a knock at the door someone came, asking for him. Dinner was served not long after and thanks to the amount of strangers, Vani behaved through it. Since Vani was clearly getting tired, I put her down in my room for a nap. As she slept, I took out my tablet and put the flash drive I’d gotten from Charlie into it. The prompt appeared and I paused.

Read StudentJaeger.txt?

I just stared at it. Charlie had told me that most of it was redacted, but still… There had to be some confidential tidbits in there… And reading his file felt wrong. Digging into things I’d seen and he’d mentioned was one thing, but stealing private data was something else…

In the end, I closed my tablet and removed the drive. As much as I wanted to know, Jaeger had rights and what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t respect his privacy? I put it back in my pocket and focused on Vani, watching her sleep for a moment. She was clutching her favorite blanket with all her might along with Tyler’s lucky stegosaurus.

I heard some shouting downstairs, obviously it was Charlie and Jaeger. At first I had thought they might get along but the short jokes had ruined any chances of that. As they argued, the noise became clearer, coming closer.

“It worked. If you still need help getting them down, the step-ladder is in Sanjay’s lab.” Jaeger said.

“Fine. Gloves are off, you will pay.” Charlie answered.

“Show me what you got.” Jaeger said before coming into our room and closing the door in Charlie’s face.

“Did you say the step ladder was in my lab?”

“It may have possibly found its way there. I couldn’t possibly comment,” He said, trying to sound innocent and failing miserably. “Are you coming to the club as well?” He then asked, changing the conversation. I’d gotten a text about it but I had a tiny sister to watch over.

“I don’t really do the dancing thing, even when Sana tried to get me to.” I said with a shrug. “Plus, I’ve got this little munchkin over here to watch.” I nodded at Vani’s sleepy body on my bed.

“Oh…Vani, right?” Jaeger double checked.

“Yep. That’s her.”

“Cool,” he said, clearly not sure what to say in this situation.

I smile at his awkwardness. “So, dancing’s your thing?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.

“Ehh, I don’t mind it. Just figure it’s worth having a fun night out. I tend to dance better with alcohol though, which apparently this place doesn’t have…” he trailed off.

“Well, we are underage.” I pointed out. “But eh, maybe I should try the dancing thing sometime, has to be something if two people want me to. I just never really got it, but maybe it’s one of those things that requires friends or— I’m rambling aren’t I?”

“Just a little bit,” he teased, smirking. “Have a good night in.”

I bit my lip, amused at the comment and my own slight embarrassment. “Have fun.”

Jaeger grabbed some clothes and left the room. He came back a minute later having taken a shower and was all dressed up; Ripped black jeans, a grey button shirt and his hair bore some resemblance of care. He grabbed his black jacket and a checkered beanie to complete his look. I gave him one last wave before he went downstairs.

A few minutes later the doorbell rang and I left the room to see who it was from the balcony. It wasn’t my mom and sister, instead being some feminine teen who seemed to know Jaeger. Even from my perch I caught their name and pronouns; Harley, they/them. Rather than spy some more, I went back into my room and focused on finishing up some homework.

The next time the bell rang about a half hour later, I ran downstairs to get it and it was my family.

“Hey, Vani’s sleeping upstairs. Without her afternoon nap she was completely knackered.”

“That’s fine. Let’s go get her then.”

I brought them up to my room and mom woke up Vani who was immediately psyched to see them back.

“Thank you again.” Mom said, giving me a hug with one arm, the other holding Vani. “I hope it wasn’t too much trouble?”

“Of course not, I really missed spending time with her. If it wasn’t for the whole ‘different continent’ thing, I’d still be babysitting.”

“Well, I got you some thank-you baklava. If it wasn’t a bother, guess I can keep them.” She smiled.

“Over my dead body.” I answered.

She smiled and got a cardboard box out of her purse, containing six of them. I took it and placed it in my room.

“Ready to go?” Mom asked, Vani and Sana.

“Wait!” Vani said. She handed me Tyler’s stegosaurus. “Give it to tyty, its his.”

I promised I would before escorting them out of Ravenhold. That done, I decided to go into my lab. After two days of family time, I felt ever so slightly like I was lazing away from work. But first, I had a stepladder to put back in its place…

When I went back inside sometimes later I stopped right before our room. Through the door I could hear ragged breathing, hushed moans and the sound of a bed creaking. Didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going on in there. Rather than disturb them I went downstairs and picked some spare linens and blankets from the supply pantry before settling down on the couch.