Hidden 12 days ago 12 days ago Post by FernStone
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St Portwell Halloween Festival
...Continued From

“I don’t mind.” Trisha wasn’t really in a position to argue about getting some kind of healing. Her face felt like it was on fire, and the onesie sleeve she was holding up to her crooked nose was barely stopping the bleeding. She was beginning to feel a little woozy from it as well. The bees that had been circling Adora gently flew back to her, landing on her shoulders. Their buzzing was still audible and agitated. “Healing sounds good- fuck.”

She paused, rubbing her head… which did really fucking hurt. And she could hardly see through all the blood and the swelling of her eyes. Fucking crazy bitch. “How far is it? I’m starting to feel dizzy… I might need help.”

It wasn’t entirely a lie, her head was beginning to swim - but she could probably make it to a nearby stall herself. She just wanted to make the most of the sympathy she could gain… Plus, Leon’s attractive younger brother was treating her nicely. She hadn’t experienced that in a while… though she mostly hung around a bunch of rich kids who didn’t care enough about her family name to be scared about it.

Casey didn't hesitate scooping the woman up in his arms like a bride across the threshold. Frankly his first reaction was a dip and tip, but he figured the last thing she wanted was a cross carrying like she was part of a rucksack.
“No worries, just stick with me. Lean your head forward, don't worry about the blood. Plenty on the uniform already.” he replied with a morbid giggle.

He didn't have any intention of chatting her up: Vanburen echoed in his head like a plutonium disk in a hollow dome of lead. Radioactive, untouchable gas that would consume him wholesale…

That's what Dad said, at least.

What transpired was a minute of the most steady and platform-like carrying that Trisha ever would've experienced. The man wasn't just naturally strong, but built like some sort of dozer equipment with thick wide arms that made the perfect crook to lay in. The booth came up fast, and he let Trish back down on her feet.
“I'm just gonna get it, keep your head tilted.”
And then he disappeared into the small crowded food stall, coming back forty-five seconds or so later with a plate of dessert.
“Here, eat up. It'll feel a little strange as your nose resets.”

Trisha was shocked, but not upset, when her suggestion that he gave her a bit of support ended up with her being carried. She tilted her head forward, still trying to staunch the blood flow with her sleeve - it was already all over her too. Her lips twitched upwards at his… joke? She didn’t get it enough to actually laugh through the pain.

“Thank you.” Trisha decided to be polite for once, taking the plate and looking at the dessert with a bit of suspicion. She’d been magically healed plenty of times, but never with food. She picked it up and took a nibble… It wasn’t bad. She took a proper bite, then another, and winced as the healing started to kick in. It was never something she’d get used to. The feeling of her nose starting to rearrange itself was almost as bad as when it had been broken. “Ugh, a little? It feels really strange.”

She grimaced. “Normally doesn’t feel so bad when I normally get healed… Not that I need it often. This is the first time I’ve been beaten up like that!” A lie. “That b- Adora really didn’t hold back… ugh, not a great first impression, looking like this.” She gestured to her still very battered face, though her nose was righting itself. She was a lot more talkative now that it wasn’t bleeding everywhere. “Leon already introduced you, but I’m Trisha… I prefer that to Ms Vanburen.”

Casey smiled and nodded along as Trisha spoke. Not wanting her to feel uncomfortable, he did his best to go along with what she was saying so that there was no problem. If Leon trusted him with taking care of this woman, there must’ve been some kind of reason for it: All four younger siblings could at least agree on the fact that Leon didn’t intuit a damn thing in his life.
It was all a big calculation, a poignantly aimed shot on someone’s tender flesh meant to break ribs or clavicles or whatever needed to be broken to release the resistance from a situation.

Or was it just that he liked the other person better? That was always an option with Leon…
“Well, Trisha… I’m Casey. Casey Richoux, obviously, Leon’s middle brother. I don’t think I ever heard about you when we were kids: Were you part of the Coven? Not like I was or anything, I never got to go fight the Stygian Snake… Had to sit at home while Leon got all the credit.”
He smiled to himself, chuckling and shaking his head slightly.
“And don’t worry about first impressions. First deployment I had, I wound up on a forward in the middle of some God awful territory with nothing much to do except fight club and prank one another. Sergeant Pasqual had dick and balls out first time I met him… A little scuffle doesn’t bother me.”

As she regained her lost health, the thought easily came to him that she was a beautiful woman for all intents and purposes. Young like him, with the future ahead of them.
“You got any plans tonight?” he asked with as much casual smoothness as he could muster.

“I don’t,” Trisha smiled coyly, brushing back a strand of hair that had fallen over her face and tucking it behind her ear. The bees that had settled on her hair moved out of the way of her hand, and out of sight. “My friends abandoned me and aren’t replying to any of my messages.”

This wasn’t a lie - though it maybe wasn’t being abandoned, since all she’d gotten about going to the festival was a mix of nos and maybes, but they were pretty much ignoring her at this point. “And I was part of the coven, along with those friends… We stuck to ourselves mostly, so I didn’t really interact with Leon much. He was too-” what was a polite way of saying this? Normally she wouldn’t care but Casey was attractive, and Leon was his brother. “Uptight.”

Trisha laughed lightly. “You didn’t miss much. It is a shame you weren’t in it back then, it would’ve been nice to know you earlier… Well, I guess there’s tonight for that.”

“Oh, yeah. Lee's always had a stick up his ass. I blame our Dad; if you spend enough time telling a child that God chose them specifically, they're bound for Messiah complexes.”

Casey laughed aloud, thinking about how ridiculous it all was. His memories traced back to his Kindling and his near worthlessness before that.

“Honestly, as much as I knew you guys were doing things, I never could've joined. I was a late bloomer: I didn't Kindle until I was nineteen.”
Convoy, radio, RPG, darkness, agony, screams, blood, fear, regret, rage, courage… Kindle.
Devastation. Survival. Fucking promotion. Dead friends. Do it again. Again. Again. Again.

Casey finally shook his head, clearing his throat.
“I had to leave home entirely to come into my own. How about you, what's the Vanburen siblinghood look like? Who's the favourite?”

“It looks like shit,” Trisha snorted, trying to stop her lips from twisting down into a scowl - she half succeeded, ending up with a slight frown. “I have, what…” she began counting on her fingers, before shaking her head. “I don’t know, far too many half siblings to count. Didn’t matter how massive the house was, it was always noisy. Most of us don’t get on.”

As for a favourite… Well, if the question had been least favourite she could answer that really easily (a certain bitch whose name began with G). Favourite was harder. There were some she tolerated more than others. “My favourite… Well, Ezra provides all the money just like dad did! He’s a bore, though. Probably Sabrina. She let me move in with her and another two sisters when I came back, and she doesn’t bother me much.”

She shrugged one shoulder. “Tons of awful siblings aside, being a Vanburen has its perks. These being one.” She gestured to the few bees still visible. “I never kindled, so I don’t know what that’s like, but I did end up with all my bees thanks to something in my dad’s collection. I can’t imagine what it’d be like without them… but it is difficult having to explain why I have a whole hive to any non magical siblings!”

His brow furrowed at the idea that Blinds could see the bees. The term “Fake-Wake” crossed his mind, his days at the Temple rubbing off on him. They didn’t take kindly to Agents; people who relied entirely on their proximity to some sort of Artefact for their magical abilities, even though Orange Lux was the family’s bread and butter. The four of the others had all made their own Artefacts as capstones to their “graduation” ceremonies.

He’d avoided that process: Dad was already gone, leaving Mom to deal with the bullshit. She’d just been happy he made it home, never mind that he’d Kindled in that fucking desert.
“Ah, right. The fast track! That works, people have good success with things like that. Y’know for the longest time, since I hadn’t Kindled, my Dad was thinking about courting an Apparition for me to Adjoin.”
Scratching the back of his head, he did his best to stretch that little fact over the quiet implication that it was somehow a “lesser” process. It got far more complicated bringing non-bound Apparitions into the picture, as their divine or otherworldly nature often became reasons to deify them in some fashion.

“But, y’know if we skip out of here, I bet we could find something fun to do.”
He took the plate, watching as the last of the bruising faded away from Trisha’s face. Turning slightly, he pushed it over the nearby table at the booth and grabbed a few napkins. His massive hands were gentle as one slipped under her chin and lifted her face to look up at him. The other dabbed away with the napkins, rain water and bloody remains washing out into the slowly dampening grass and dirt.
“I’ve got some of my buddies from the Corps staying in town, we were supposed to go to a bar later. You’re more than welcome, bees and all.”

Fast track, sure. Trisha held her tongue on her thoughts on that. It wasn’t like she’d just adjoined and knew what to do. She’d like to see anyone else handle suddenly having a voice in their head (albeit, rarely) and thousands of bees following them. She tapped her head with a slight smile. “You lucked out, Apparitions are noisy.”

She barely reacted when he got closer - she’d plenty of experience in that, and people getting closer still - letting him wipe away the remnant blood. It was… nice. Trisha didn’t have many memories of someone actually looking after her. How pathetic, getting affected by something so simple.
“Mm, going elsewhere sounds good. Nothing fun’s happening at the festival.” Not quite true, it always got a little wild the later it got, but sticking around for that meant risking seeing Adora again or literally any of the other more violent Sycamore members. One beating was enough for the night (and to garner sympathy later).

“I’d love to come along. I’ll send away most of the bees if your friends are blind, though. I’m sure I won’t need them with you around.”
She smiled up at him, before glancing down at her outfit and realising she did not look suitable for anywhere but a halloween festival. Thankfully, she wasn’t an idiot and had worn clothes underneath. She stepped back and swiftly pulled off the ridiculous looking bee onesie, rolling it up into a crumpled ball. Underneath she was wearing a black crop top and dark green, baggy trousers. Comfortable but not too bad looking… if a bit chilly. The thirty or so bees with her moved from just sitting on her top to hiding in her hair and the pockets of her trousers. “Now I can have fun without looking like I murdered someone!”

Casey couldn’t hide the vague disappointment in his eyes as she crumpled up the bee suit.
“Oh, shit… It was cute. I hope you wash it and I get to see you in it again; the whole queen bee thing is…”
He paused, eyes welling up as he realised he was just about to speak his mind. He stared openly for a second, out into nothing before finally letting a smile curl up around his lips. He started to giggle at himself.
“You’re pretty cute.”
And then his genuine full smile opened up, like a warm desert flower in the slowly clearing rain.

“Wherever you wanna be, I’m with you tonight.”
With that big wide grin, he ushered her past the pack of people doing the toga-conga, and onward toward the Ferry to get the Hell off of Cracker Island.

Trisha was rendered speechless when Casey called her cute, lips parting slightly and a light blush settling on her cheeks. She'd received a lot of compliments from men, the main reason she even went after them - pretty, beautiful, hot, sexy, but never cute. Had she ever been called cute? She didn't think so… She tried to ignore the warm feeling it gave her. It was still just a compliment. Still, she'd make sure to wash the bee onesie just in case…

His grin was infectious, and she couldn't help but smile back. It was more subtle - a small, endearing smile that lightened up her normally sullen face. She didn't even pay attention to the toga-conga filled with people she knew (and disliked) on the way past.

Thankfully there was already a ferry at the dock, and it was much quieter than the one she'd gotten there - not many people leaving so early, outside of parents and their kids. She found a spot away from those groups, leaning her back against the railing and turning to face Casey. The decision of where to go was on her… so where did she want to go? She was tempted to suggest just going back to her place, but that was too fast, and she definitely wouldn't want to go back out after that. Plus, she'd have to deal with thousands more bees vying for her attention as well.
"Why don't we go to one of the bars along the dock? There's a couple of nice ones, I'm sure at least one will be open…" Her smile widened. "Get to know each other better over a drink, beyond the family issues and magic."

Nodding along with her thought, he decided on trying to figure out which bar out of the two dozen on the Harbor Strip to go to. Kings and Queens sucked, The Brettanica was an old person bar, Brick Harbor was a Mafia joint, Drunken Starfish actually burned down the other night, which was nuts.
There was only one place that stuck out in his mind, but he couldn’t tell if it was because he was comfortable there or because he actually thought it was a good place to hang out.
“You been to Tackle’s? The Late n’ Bait?”
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Hidden 12 days ago 12 days ago Post by FernStone
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Tackle’s Late Bait Poolhall -> Leon's Apartment

Tackle’s Late Bait Poolhall was widely accepted as a place that one could go to free from irony or the vague haze of hipster breath that the Harbor Strip had become known for. The south side was being gentrified, and the older buildings on the north end were home to all manner of old folk and people whose rent was locked in at rates sometimes thousands of dollars cheaper than just up the road.

The bar was full of St. Portwell fishing history, except rather than the Drunken Starfish, the clientele were the younger apprentices. They came for the cheaper drinks and the better music, and to stay away from their captains and the veteran potters who felt there should be some separation between crewmen.
It was a little tacky, a little gaudy, but the staff were all dressed up like crab potters and the place was almost entirely devoid of fellow halloween revellers.

The place had an L shape to it, and Casey was sure to get a booth at the short end with his back to the sturdy brick wall of the building. He couldn’t see anyone coming in, but they couldn’t see him either; not that he was worried about any one particular person finding him there, so much as it was a simple ready-action habit.
To the right of the booth was the gap for the kitchen area, and he knew a few feet past that was an emergency fire exit. Y’know, in case anything happened.

The server brought them both a beer, on the house, and then left them to their own devices. Casey had long since pulled off his uniform top, giving it to Trisha to wear over her shoulders and keep her and the bees warm in the slowly chilling autumn night, and was wearing one of the Temple’s halloween shirts from this year.
Not that it was an overtly Temple-themed shirt, only that they had an art competition every year and the top designs always got shirts, the money from each shirt going back into the individual artist by way of the Temple Trust.

An excuse to keep the money from the sales in the Temple coffers, to be replenished and returned once the trustee was “qualified to claim it.”

“I’m not much for sailing, but I come here because it’s usually like this. I honestly don’t know how they stay open outside peak season… But for now, it’s fuckin’ empty. We can rack some pool if you want too, or just get whatever you want. On me.” Casey offered, taking a sip of the Guinness he’d been given.

Noticing they’d given her the same beer, he pointed at it.
“I can get that replaced too, if it’s not your kind of beer.” he said with a laugh, surprised they shot the shot with a heavy beer like that.

"What, you think I can't handle it?" Trisha joked, lips curving up into a teasing smile. She lifted the bottle to her lips and took a long drink. Contrary to her appearance and rich background, Trisha was much more of a beer and spirits drinker than anything fancy, like the expensive wines her dad always had stocked in the house. While Guinness wasn't her normal go to, nor was this kind of incredibly empty bar, she was fine with both. "It's fine, almost any beer is my kind of beer."

She looked around while she took another drink. The place really was empty - unsurprising, with the Halloween festival going on. Most bars didn't even bother to open for the festival hours. She normally went to clubs or more boisterous bars by choice, and was dragged along to fancier ones occasionally by siblings and her friends here. But this was a nice… change. Sometimes it was nice to be more chill. For a while.

"Hmm, I enjoy pool… but I'm not very good at it," she admitted. Just like many things, the more annoying voice in her head reminded her. She pulled the uniform top across her shoulders a bit closer, properly covering the bees that gave a soft, agitated buzz. There were only six still with her - she'd sent the rest back home when they got off the ferry. They'd all come if she called them anyway. "Me and my college friends used to go to bars to play all the time… we'd get one table between about 8 of us, so we'd play in pairs. I ended up getting banned from playing cause I always lost, no matter who I was paired with. Not like anyone showed me how to actually play." She threw her hands up in a half exasperated gesture. Then she leaned forward with a slight smile, tilting her head so she was looking up at him from underneath long eyelashes.
"If you're good at it, maybe you can teach me?"

Casey’s mellow expression peeled into a playful smile as she dug at him for thinking she was typical. Soft girl, soft beer… He was never a good judge of character, so it wasn’t surprising to him that she was like this. With the amount of time he’d spent around women overall, he was lucky he wasn’t talking to three ducks stacked in a trench coat.
But he knew his chance when he saw it. Champion pool player in the Narakali FOB three years in a row, he was not only a fantastic shot, but an actually decent teacher. And teaching someone how to play pool was a lot like teaching someone how to shoot a rifle: Posture and sensation were important, so touching was almost a must.

This was an invitation, no? A reason?

He put his hand out, slowly sliding up from the booth.
“I ain’t one to brag, Princess, but I do play a little pool… Lemmie show you how it’s done.”

Trisha’s smile widened. She placed her much smaller hand in his, fingers lightly caressing his palm before she used it to help push herself up. She didn’t take her hand out of his, gesturing to all the pool tables.
"Any of them? I’m warning you now, I’m really bad, but I’ll try not to take an eye out." She tilted her head up towards him with a playful grin. "I’m sure anything’s possible with a good enough teacher."

“Girl, I could train a lemming into a hole with a grenade and have it pull the pin itself. Teaching is as easy as -” he paused, taking her hand in his own and spinning it over her head until she was in his arms. “-getting the feeling right.”

Releasing her, he grabbed one of the pool cues off the wall and slid a dollar into the machine. The rainbow of spheres clacked through the tubes, loudly impacting into the feed at the bottom, and he sorted them all into the form before leaving them to be broken.
Holding the cue up alongside Trisha, his free hand slipped under her arm and compared the length of it to the cue. It didn’t really mean anything, more just him showing off. He swept his position behind her, leaving his hand near her elbow before pressing against her back ever so slightly.

Just enough that she could feel his toned shape beneath his shirt.

His arms adjusted around her with the cue in his hands, shifting his weight until he was in a shooting position that felt comfortable to break.
“Match my posture, my pose… And slide the cue out of my grip. It’ll automatically fall into the sweet spot for you. Whenever you’re ready.”

Trisha was a little stunned at how easily Casey went along with her flirting. He didn’t seem like the normal guys she went for - the kind who gave out easy compliments but were obvious red flags to anyone who wasn’t desperate. Not that she was. Obviously. But men like that were easy to catch, and just as easy to be abandoned by the next morning.

It was easy to shake away that thought at the feeling of him lightly leaning against her back. She bit her lip, and tried to follow his instructions. She shifted back to press up more against him before leaning forward. She stretched one arm out, fingers curling around the pool cue, and the other slightly behind her. Her posture wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t awful either - it was much easier when she didn’t have to support the cue herself. "Like this?"

She didn’t actually wait for his response before sliding it forward. The white ball shot forward and hit the rainbow triangle, sending them in all directions. None of them were pocketed, but enough had hit the side that it wasn’t a fault. Trisha leaned back against Casey and twisted around to flash him a bright, genuinely happy grin. "That was pretty good! Normally I barely get three balls to move when I break."

He smiled, laughing at her circumstance just as much as he was laughing along with her.
“That bad huh? Christ, well let’s see if we can’t make that game a little easier.”

The Richoux family had a nasty habit that they rarely told anyone about. Casey had always figured it was assumed, learning the history of his family, that people would be leery of them if they had any kind of clue about what sort of magic they dealt with. As he pulled away from Trisha, he slipped his right hand into his back pocket and pulled out his Channeler before stuffing his hand into the ragged cloth.

When he came back to her, he was already channelling Orange Lux through the glove. His hands moved to adjust her posture slightly, and the gloved hand brushed the pommel of the cue.
It was instantly light as a feather. No more weight needed to worry about, except for right at the tip where it seemed to all concentrate.

Three time champion? Three time cheater. Could he hit the balls, sure. Did it help that his pool cue was weightless with some kind of aiming assist that normal people would never notice? Hell yeah.

“How’s that, easier to aim and hold?”

"Seriously?" Trisha shot him an incredulous look, before giggling. She’d never even thought to use magic for something like this… Not that she had magic that would work for it. It would be pretty hard to hide a whole bunch of bees helping out with anything. She moved the cue around a bit, feeling it adjust itself slightly as she did. With a grin she made another shot, sending a striped red ball into one of the pockets.

"Holy shit- It’s so much better. Is this what it’s like to have… orange lux, right? Next time I play against my college friends, I’m definitely bringing you along-" Wow, that was quite an assumption to make. Who knew when she’d next see them considering they were all across the country… And it wasn’t like anything lasted for her beyond the friends she had here solely because of her surname. She laughed awkwardly. "Assuming, y’know, you’re around and want to come."

Casey was smiling widely as he watched Trisha sink the ball into the pocket, and watched the cue ball roll backward into another ball. He smiled widely, making his way to the rack and grabbing a cue of his own with his bare hand. He slipped the glove back off, holding up a cue.
“Assuming you want to keep learning how to play pool, we’ll have to see one another more.” he joked, his eyebrows wagging up and down. His hand chalked up the tip of the cue, slapping the block back on the board and waving her forward.
“Since you sunk, you shoot again. And while you’re at it, get used to the feeling that the stick insists on. The better you’re doing, the less resistance you’ll feel.”

As he spoke, he was walking behind her, bringing her beer and his over to the edge of the pool table as she shot.
”I uh… I haven’t told my family yet. But I’ve officially retired from the Military. Seven years! Seven whole years of staying pretty much as far away from St. Portwell as I possibly could. Running from my family. Now, I’m coming back. It doesn’t mean I want to be around them any more than I did before, so… Yeah, I’m around. And if you want me around you? I’m absolutely game to hang out with a bunch of people I don’t think I have anything in common with. I’ll probably surprise myself.” he said, in the midst of surprising himself.

"We’re the same, then." Trisha straightened back up from taking another shot - not quite so good, but she’d hit the right ball first at least. She was still pretty awkward about getting into the right posture after moving. She reached out for her beer, taking another long drink before continuing. "Well, not exactly the same, I was never in the military… obviously."

She laughed, gesturing to her slender frame. "I mean the whole not wanting to be around family thing. I live with my sisters cause I don’t really have a choice. Guess I kinda ran away too when I went to college on the other side of the country, but-” she hesitated, looking in the opposite direction to Casey and taking another drink. She was about half way through already, the alcohol warming her up and loosening her inhibitions. Why shouldn’t she say? It wasn’t like he was here with her because of her intelligence. "But I didn’t do so well, so I ended up back here, jobless and stuck with my family again."

Her expression had soured slightly, but she forced it back into a smile as she turned around.
"So, I don’t actually see those friends often! They’re all over the place…. And hey, they’re probably not what you’re thinking. They’re chill and not rich. The friends I have here, though? Yeah, they’re exactly what you’d expect… but they don’t tell me about things half the time because I was ‘away until a year ago’ as if Gabe didn’t just come back too-" She shook her head. Reign it in, not the time to go on a rant and scare him away. "Someone I can actually spend time with would be nice… I have to say, my company is pretty amazing."

She grinned teasingly, once again filled with the confident energy she’d momentarily lost. "Your company’s been pretty good, too."

Casey beamed back at her, his body leaning into the table as he lined up a shot she placed practically in front of him. He sunk it, the ball cracked off another, and it sunk too.

“I’d have to say your company has been the highlight of the festival. And,-” he moved, aimed, and sunk another into the furthest pocket. It seemed like he didn’t need the cheating after all.
“I’ve got nothing but time, really. No duties to my family, no major responsibilities left. Unless there’s another Draft, but I don’t think after what happened last time they’d try their hand again… So, what do you want to do tomorrow?” he asked in a self aware fashion, eyes nudging toward her as he sunk another ball.

Trisha couldn’t help but gape as he sunk not one, but four balls. Was she even going to get another shot? Not that she was actually bothered - pool had mostly been an excuse to get close to him. "My company is often the highlight of events."

She laughed, knocking back her beer to hide her blush at him so casually asking about the next day. What did she want to do? She tilted her head, putting down the bottle and carefully leaning her cue against the pool table next to theirs. With a devious smile she moved closer to him, slotting in at his side and leaning up over his shoulder.
"Hmm, let me think," Trisha started, smile turning suggestive and voice lowering slightly. She pressed herself against him a bit more, careful not to actually affect his shooting position. "Maybe we could start with breakfast at my place?"

If he didn’t like the suggestion, hopefully it would at least be enough to distract him from his next shot.

He grinned, knocked the cue between his fingers, and then looked up at her with a gentle sheen in his eye. He lifted the arm with the grip of the cue in it, opening a spot for her.
“Come here while I shoot this, so you can feel how I do it. And tell me more about breakfast… Does it happen to be in bed? Cute little trays?

"Oh-kay," Trisha enunciated the single word, slipping into the spot in front of him. She wasn’t exactly sure how she was supposed to feel how he did the shot, so she wriggled back until she was tucked right against his chest, having to bend over a little to fit. Her cheeks heated up. Normally when she flirted with someone it would get very hot very quickly - and she could handle that much better.

"Mm, in bed would be nicest… I don’t have cute trays, do I look like someone who has cute trays?" She grumbled the last bit, though it came across as cute more than anything. "One of my sisters might- no, that’d be embarrassing. It’d have to be ordered in or cereal, because I can’t cook. I normally go to a bakery down the road… That doesn’t really work with staying in bed. Ah!" She had a sudden, very stupid idea, and giggled. "Maybe my bees can get it for us… a bee breakfast service."

Casey didn’t take the shot until he adjusted her hands to where he wanted them; essentially around the cue inside his own hands. He wanted her to get a sense for how far back he pulled his elbow, what strength he put into a shot, how he lined himself up. Since there was such a size difference, it was easy for him to shift himself so it was comfortable.

His mouth was right behind her ear.
”We can’t stress them out about it, can we? How about…-”
She could feel him tense slightly as he lined her up. His right hand’s fingers raised, three of them, and tapped one at a time to count her down to the moment he’d strike the ball. It clacked off the ball that was most obviously a shot they could hit. He didn’t put too much tension or effort into it, and it felt more like a snap than a shove.
“-while you’re sleeping? I go out in the early dawn, get the good stuff when its freshest, and then you can wake up to it?”

He was well aware that defeated the purpose of her offer, but frankly if the bees were her bees, he’d give them a break. A smile formed over Casey’s face as he imagined the bees with bags of bagels. Alliteration…
“After all, how can I make the Queen Bee or her loyal subjects busy themselves with such menial work?”

"You’d do that?" Trisha twisted around so she could look up at him, eyes widening. She was so thrown off by everything - how close he was, his voice in her ears, his hands engulfing her own and the offer of waking up early enough to get them breakfast - that she didn’t really take in how he took the shot. She definitely wouldn’t be able to do it herself. "Really?"

Realising that she was acting a bit ridiculously over a small gesture she turned back around so he couldn’t see her face as easily, cheeks burning. It was just that… as far back as she could remember, no one had brought her breakfast in bed. There’d be servants who made dinner they had to get at her dad’s mansion, and her mom couldn’t have cared less if she ate in the morning. But still, she shouldn’t be so easily touched by something. She cleared her throat as if she hadn’t just acted incredibly embarrassingly.
"You’re right. It’s beneath me and my bees to do something like that… so let’s do that. The you getting breakfast thing. That sounds nice."

Way to act like someone with absolutely no experience, Trisha. She internally rolled her eyes at herself. She managed to get her thoughts, and blush, under control and tilted her head back round to look at him.
"I hope you can sleep through a lot of noise. My bees get upset if I make them sleep outside… Well, I can send them out for a while, but if it’s all night they get very agitated. I don’t want them trying to sting you if I don’t let them back in till the morning."

Noise… Noise was the sound of bombs and screams and shout and-
“Oh, I’m not worried about buzzing. Used to hearing the planes.”
He grinned to himself.
“Plan on doing a lot of sleeping tonight?” he asked, his lips still near her ear as he moved her body beneath his own into another shot. With each one he made, there was a gentle recoil from the cue hitting the ball, and then the slight flex to compensate behind it. Micro movements that he didn’t even think about.

A light shiver ran down her spine. She bit her lip to catch the embarrassing and totally not attractive squeak that almost escaped as he moved her around so easily. It was difficult to suppress the other reactions - it suddenly felt far too hot, and she could hear her heart thudding in her ears. Trisha slowly turned her face towards his and tilted it up, so that it was her own lips rather than her ear close to his. "Not really, if I have my way… and I normally do."

Casey’s smile had become a perpetual grin across his face, his eyes pouring into hers as she turned her head to look at him. His lips pressed forward, and there was that same tension. In the midst of the kiss, the clack of the cue ball hitting another ball preceded the hollow thud of it sinking into a pocket.

It was long, somewhat shallow as he’d had very little overall experience kissing. He wasn’t even sure what kind of kiss she was going to want, and despite having seen plenty of examples, he rarely reckoned how the tongue thing worked. Finally he pulled away.
“Buzz, buzz… Lookin’ for some pollen…” he giggled at her like a school kid would.

"What the-" Trisha stared at him in disbelief, before laughing at the ridiculousness of it. She wriggled her hands out from under his and used them to cover her face, because she had no idea what expression she was making. She couldn’t decide how she felt and didn’t want her face visible until she did. "Seriously?"

She shook her head in her hands. The kiss had been nice, if a bit clumsy. It was pretty obvious to her that he wasn’t that experienced - mostly because she really was. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing… But the line afterwards? That was something else. It had completely ruined the mood. It made it really, really obvious that he wasn’t her normal type. But… When had her normal type worked out? Her normal type always led to short lived relationships that burned out violently. Was her normal type even her actual type? Shit, now was not the time to start thinking about this. It was just one night, if she didn’t enjoy it, she never had to see him again.

The temptation of breakfast brought to her in the morning was just too strong. She peeked through her fingers at him, her lips twitching up into a slight smile. "Please never say anything like that again… especially not at my place. I’ll need to have my bees kick you out for terrible… jokes?"

The grin that had been baked into his face didn’t leave. Frankly, he wanted that reaction more than he wanted one that was heavy. He never liked a heavy mood, either too serious or too self serious. Romance was always a thick, saccharin layer atop the buildup toward intercourse; especially if people were meant to have kids. It was the layer that went down well to hide the fact that the cake was made of dirt.
That’s probably why it was so fascinating. So tantalising to him; it was commitment like he’d had in his career except it was meant to be for the rest of one’s life. Or, at least, a lifetime.

“Fine. But if you think for a second that the bees won’t jive with my jokes, you’ve got another thing coming. I bet they’ll love my ass.”
His big face was warm and friendly.
Alright, I did want her to laugh more…
He may have felt a little disappointed, but she was still pretty insistent about him being at her place by the end of the night.

So he held up his hands, cue in the dominant right, and flicked his hair ever so slightly.
“Maybe a wager? Beat me at pool, and you’ll never hear another Bee joke out of me. Until then? B u z z b u z z, Baby.”

"I hate to break it to you, but the bees don’t understand any words, nevermind jokes," Trisha laughed, finally dropping her hands from her face. "I communicate with them with pheromones- you know, that doesn’t matter."

She waved her hand at the pool table before folding her arms. "That isn’t a fair wager - you’ve already cleared like half your balls! You even got one in while we were kissing- There’s no way I can win. You know I can’t win that." She pouted, throwing up her own hands. "Alright, fine, you can keep your bee jokes. But just you wait, I’m going to train in pool so that I can beat you next time."

If she was going to hear jokes like that for the rest of the night, she’d need more to drink. Trisha shifted back around the pool table to her neglected beer, and just straight up finished off the bottle. "I’m going to need another to cope. Maybe after a couple I’ll even find them funny.“

Casey looked down the pool hall toward the bar, the urge to make a joke very clearly on his face, before looking back at Trisha and nodding.
“Sure, sure. And, don’t worry: The jokes are for special occasions. You want just another brew? Or can I offer you something a bit harder?”
Y’know, like some Honey Mead, maybe a Honey Bee? Could get anything, the bar isn’t exactly BUZZY…

He bit his lip, holding himself back like a kid after they’re told they can’t take another candy from the halloween bucket trying desperately to be respectful. It was such a grave pain, but he really didn’t want her dealing with it too much. He was even worried about saying beer now, lest she lose all sense of reality as she’s never able to hear the word again without making association to her own little pals.

"That was a special occasion?" Trisha raised an eyebrow, lips curving back up into a genuine smile. And he was even holding back on the jokes - see, deciding to stick around wasn’t a bad decision. She could handle the occasional bad bee pun… or any bad pun. Maybe more, when she liked someone enough. One of her college friends was awful for it and Trisha still tolerated her. Just about. "Just another beer, yeah. The same is fine… or whatever else they have bottles of. I’m not fussy about beer!"

As much as she’d like something a bit harder, she knew her own tolerance pretty well - in that it was low. Getting completely wasted was fun, but she wanted to remember tonight. So far. That might change.

The bees still with her, that had been silently hiding until now, gave a soft agitated buzz. She not so subtly glared at her shoulder. They couldn’t exactly communicate like a person did, but she could tell what they wanted. After a bit of back and forth with them she sighed. "... some sugar water too. Not for me, for, y’know. Honestly a lemonade will do, they can handle that."

Casey stuck around just long enough to catch Trisha making eyes with the bees. Giving a thumbs up for the lemonade, he tried to remember if they actually had any lemonades… Or anything like that. It wasn’t exactly a place people went to get mixed drinks, but hell it was popular these days right? Not like getting hammered by yourself in a barrack on Christmas because you don’t want to go home.
Gasoline. Pure ethanol. Fuel for the flames.

Getting to the bar, he put up for two Corona; a bit lighter than going for lagers all night as he found the bloating effect to be unsustainable.
”Simple syrup? Just like, in a cup?”
The bartender paused for a moment, furrowed an eyebrow, then pulled a disposable cup and filled it with a shot or two of two-to-one simple syrup. As he slid the ten dollar bill across the counter, the bartender leaned in close.
“I’m happy to see you not drinking alone… Where’s she from?”
”Around, I guess?” Casey responded with a slight annoyance in his voice. He’d not realised they cared enough to notice that he was a solitary alcoholic, never mind asking him about his “date”.

With a huff of air equal to poor opinion, the Bartender let Casey back over to the pool table with the drinks.
”Beer for you, beer for me, and syrup for the little ladies.” he handed the cup and the bottle off to Trisha.

"Thanks," Trisha smiled, taking both. She put the beer down on the edge of the pool table and turned around so her back was to the bar (and the bees were hidden from the bartender's sight). She tilted the cup on its side so the syrup was more spread out along it. With a simple instruction the bees gently flew from her shoulders into the cup… except for one that landed on her finger. It wiggled its little body and didn’t move any further. Trisha narrowed her eyes. "Seriously?"

The bee wiggled again. After what seemed to be an intense human to bee stare off, Trisha gave in. She reluctantly stuck a finger into the cup, coating it in a little bit of the syrup before pulling it out. The lone bee happily flew over to her other hand and started drinking the syrup from her finger.

"This one’s stupidly fussy," she explained, in case Casey was actually interested. "She was one of my first so she’s extra attached to me… you’d be surprised how much personality slightly magical bees have. It’s hard to keep up when I have so many. It sure would be nice," she shot the bee a mock glare, "if they’d leave me a free hand to have a drink too."

”I assume it’s a Mother’s instinct that tells you? Or do they all have some sort of unique kind of, what was it? Pheromones?” Casey asked, getting closer as he watched them do their thing. He’d seen plenty of bees in nature, even watched them doing their thing…

Quietly, he was in Europe. Springtime, near the end of it all. A muddy fucking hole on a hill overlooking a field full of blood and bones. He’d been transferred to SOT by this point; they were waiting for the… Some fucking German name, it didn’t matter. He just remembered being frustrated about the fact that there was a bee scrambling to try and get at the sugar water from his O-Ration.

He tried his hardest to be polite, tried to get the thing out from in front of his face, but it just kept landing on the rim of his canister and wouldn’t leave well enough alone.

”I almost feel like I should apologise to them now…” Casey said absentmindedly as his thoughts trailed to flicking that bee into the sugar water before ejecting the liquid to watch it spatter into the wind.

He never could’ve known that bee or what it was thinking. It was probably something similar to being peckish and hitting the refrigerator.

”It was just going to the fridge…”
His face was next to hers, eyes locked with the bee’s half-thoughtful set of compound eyes. A tear almost fell.

"Huh?" Trisha was very confused about what Casey was talking about… And why he looked like he was about to cry.

He cleared his throat, looking at the bee just another second.
”I… I was thinking about the fields of France. We used to get bees all the time in those trenches, like we were made of sweets or something.”
Shaking his head to snap out of it, he finally pulled himself away with a swig of beer.

”They made sure we never worried about killing anything, so I never really thought about the bees. But, seeing you with them, just dredged something up. Sorry. When you’re done-”
He pulled up his cue, proceeding to sink the last five balls in rapid succession.
”-We can start a new game. You gotta practise now, no getting out of it.”

Trisha was glad he changed the subject. She wasn’t very good at the deep stuff - both hearing it from someone else, or delving into it herself. What did she even say to that? She had no idea what a war was like, and honestly she didn’t place that much importance on insect life beyond her own bees.

"Finnnne, we can play another game," Trisha grumbled, though from her playful smile it was clear she wasn’t actually annoyed about it. The bees continued to drink as if they’d been parched. "To answer your earlier question, it’s kind of a bit of both. They all have a unique… scent, I guess, and I can tell them apart because of my connection with them naturally. If I had to remember it I’d have no chance."

She laughed, and the bees finally finished drinking - having gone through all the syrup. She had to shake the cup a little bit to get the full and lazy creatures to move, reluctantly crawling up her arms and hiding in her hair. The one on her hand flew onto her cheek, sitting there for a little bit and seeming to press its little face against her. Then it also joined the others. Trisha put down the cup and wiped her slightly sticky finger on her trousers, grabbing her own beer and taking a swig of it.

"Alright!" She picked back up her cue, passing it between her hands with a determined grin. "Let’s start… Let me break, otherwise you’ll just win the game before I even get a shot in."

Casey was happy to see her bounce back; he liked determination and willpower in a way he couldn't describe, though he imagined his siblings had similar relationships with it. Something about Lynette Richoux and willpower and tenacity and-. He got too ahead of himself and found a wide smile on his face as he reset the balls after tossing another dollar in.

As Trisha squared up to break, he stopped her and got into position himself.
“You use this forward hand to keep it steady. All your aiming and everything is usually done from the rear… But try making an arch with your index finger?-”

He demonstrated, left index finger curling up to touch the middle finger with its tip. It formed a loop, which he proceeded to stick the cue through.

“Depending on how tight you make the loop around it, it'll keep you steady and straight. Better, it'll work well with the enchantment at keeping your shots dead centre. After that, it's all about practice and muscle memory. It's easy, just takes a lot of time.”

He lifted the rack from the balls, leaving them ready for impact.

“Whenever you're ready.”

"Easy, right…" Trisha moved to right next to him, bending her knees to be at eye level with his hand. She actually watched and listened pretty attentively. Sure, she had suggested pool for less innocent reasons, but actually learning how to play pool would mean she could show up all her friends the next time she saw them. "Alright, I think I’ve got it."

She stretched back up, beginning to line up her shot. Her left arm extended forward and she curled her index finger onto the middle one, slipping the cue through. She leaned in towards the pool table and bit her lip as she tried to figure out the aim, letting the cue’s enchantment guide her. She wasn’t quite sure about the rest of her stance (she’d been distracted), wiggling as she adjusted in a very similar motion to the bee that had been drinking from her finger.

Finally satisfied, she took the shot, cue sliding through her finger and hitting the ball. It hit dead centre, sending all of the balls flying and one right into the pocket at the back corner.

"Hell yeah! That means I get another shot, right? She didn’t wait for his answer, surveying the table and finding what looked like a straight shot. She quickly got into position and, after another round of wiggling to adjust herself, hit the ball… But the loop of her index finger wasn’t quite so tight, making the angle of the cue slightly off. With nothing pocketed, she straightened back up with a pout. She turned back to Casey with what she hoped was a cute, pleading expression.
"Your turn. Go easy on me, please?"

Casey watched her motions, nodding to himself as he watched her flit about the table to find a nice angle. She'd made a wonderful breaking shot, and he was proud as he heard the clacking of a ball being sunk into a pocket. His eyes traced her arm's length, the shape and angles, the way it developed into a shoulder that climbed up to her neck in a gradual, soft slope. He admired the tone of her skin, the way her eyes smiled when she did.

Even as she missed her shot, she was just… He couldn't help but smile to himself. He stepped up, patting her on the shoulder.

“Don't worry about it. We're having fun, I'm not trying to discourage you.”
With his knowing grin, he lined up for a shot.
“Two into pocket four.-” he directed the shot he'd be making, pointing out which pocket he was aiming for. “-Easy shot.”
The cue lurched forward, sending the cue ball flying across the table. It smacked the two ball, sunk it, and proceeded to spin very rapidly across the table until it hit another ball and fell into the dark pocket across from four.

He grinned at his self destruction, the skill of it alone. Intentionally sending the cue ball across the table to sink it…

“Ah, yikes… Well, you know what that means…”
His hand reached into the pocket for the cue ball, and he handed it off to her.
“Take your pick, Trisha-Bee. Your go.”

"Toooo bad for you," Trisha grinned. She reached out for the ball, hand lingering over it as her fingers rested against his hand. Eventually, she took it and stepped back. She didn’t even get annoyed about the silly nickname - it was kind of cute if she didn’t think about it too hard. "You’re going to regret teaching me when I start winning."

She smirked, placed the cue ball just behind the line. She bent down and closed one eye, as if mentally lining up shots. She shifted the ball about a bit before she found what she thought would be a good one. She didn’t quite have a direct line to a pocket, but if she hit it at the right angle… she had a chance. With her newly, totally perfected stance she made the shot. The enchanted cue gave her a much better chance than if she’d been doing it herself, hitting the ball she was aiming for at just the right angle. It spun towards a pocket, slowing down as it neared it and stopped just short of falling in.

She clenched her teeth, fingers curling around the cue a little bit too hard as she tried to suppress her frustration. She’d been getting back into the headspace she’d had in highschool - working her ass off to achieve good grades only to fail. It was just a missed shot. A fun game. She was still learning. She relaxed her grip on the cue and stepped back, grabbing her beer and taking a good long drink. The buzz of the alcohol as it went to her head helped get rid of those niggling thoughts.
"Fuck, that was so close."

So close?
Casey slid up, wrapping his hand around her waist and pulling her tight to his side. He was all smiles as he did, nudging her over to where the ball almost went in.
“I mean… That’s really close. Like even a-”
He fake coughed, and his hand swept across the table to knock the ball in without letting the cue fall with it. He stared at her with a grin.
“-like any sort of breeze could’ve done it, y’know? Close enough in my book… Try again.”

"Hey, that’s cheating," Trisha laughed, smiling up at him. Just like that, that slightly lingering bad mood was gone. She shifted up, going onto her tip toes and lightly turning on them. Her hands curled around his shoulder and she leaned in to press a kiss against his cheek. "Guess I have to take another shot."

She lowered her heels back to the ground and reluctantly moved out from against his side. It wasn’t such an easy shot now with where the cue ball had ended up, but she had to try. It would be boring if it was just easy shots. She lined herself up to take another shot, wobbling a little bit as she did - fuck, she shouldn’t have taken such a large drink… she really didn’t handle alcohol well. Well, it was fine. She carefully aimed, taking a dangerous shot - one of her balls right next to one of his. The cue ball went flying across the table, hitting both and sending them hurtling towards a pocket. Hers went right in.

And so did his.

"Well, at least I got one of mine in?" Trisha threw up her free hand, twisting her head around to flash Casey a teasing smile. "I can just tell I’m getting better with every shot, so I had to give you a free one."

Casey’s brow furrowed a second. He hadn’t noticed yet, but she was following a rule he hadn’t even thought of.
“Oh… Oh, nah! You just got two in, is all. We’re not playing stripes and solids… You been hanging out with British people or something?” he laughed, waving his hand.
“It was a great shot. Keep going, we’re just doing score, so it’s four to one! If you’re at some tournament, or you’re playing with people used to formalities, then you split it. But hey, we’re just practising, so for now I want you to just focus on the feeling the stick is trying to show you. Remember, the less resistance, the better you’re doing.”

As she started in for another shot, Casey leaned in close.
“Don’t get distracted…”
His hand slowly moved upward, brushing the underside of her arm to tickle her and get her flustered, his boyish grin beaming like the morning sun.

"Huh, really? I do have a lot of British friends…" At least, the ones that dictated how they did things were.

This was much better! She smiled and got herself ready for another shot, moving the cue around to aim. It resisted a bit, but she was getting a better feel for it- Until his fingers lightly touched the sensitive skin under her arm, sending goosebumps across it. Her arm shook lightly as she tried her hardest not to flinch away. It wasn’t so much the touch, something she was used to, as the ticklishness of it. She was really, annoyingly ticklish.

"Hey, stop it, that’s not fair, stop it- shit!"
Unable to stop herself Trisha flinched, both arms jerking out and the cue hitting the ball at an incredibly awkward angle. It sent it spinning at a pathetic speed, hitting into a nearby ball and barely nudging it. She immediately spun around and hit his arm - with very little strength behind it.
"I know I’m irresistible, but keep your hands to yourself when I’m taking a shot!"

He laughed aloud, smiling down as he held his hands up.
“Woah, hey! Easy, I must’ve brushed against you!” he giggled, reaching for the totally out of place cue ball.
He slid it a bit into a nice shot for her, gently biting his lip.
“That’s where it was, right?”

"That looks about right." Trisha’s smile was filled with satisfaction. She knew exactly what he was doing - but she liked it. He was making things easier for her without needing to be asked. Normally she had to complain a lot more for that. "Careful not to brush up against me again."

She moved her hands back to the right position, taking the nicely lined up shot by following what the cue was showing her. It easily went into a corner pouch, and she moved around to take another one. There wasn’t really any direct line here, so she just followed the cue again and took a nice, clean shot. Nothing sunk, but not a particularly bad shot either.

"Oh no, I guess it's your turn."
She was really curious if he would somehow find a way for her to get another shot.

“Oh, sandbagging me now? I know you could’ve made another shot. It’s five to one now…”
It was fair and true that he knew exactly how the enchantment on the cue worked. For her, it was a blind guessing game… But it had a lot more tricks up its wood grain than were obvious.
“Here, wanna see something cool?-”

Reaching for her stick, he grabbed it and closed his eyes before turning back to the table. He knew that the six ball was still in place, so he moved to where he last remembered the cue ball was and got into stance.
For the next few moments, Trisha could see his eyes remain closed. He took a long deep breath, humming slightly. In his hands, he felt the stick moving his near limp arm as it relied entirely upon his willful desire for it to make the shot.

“Six to pocket two.”
The instant he called the shot, the cue immediately stood on end at an almost vertical angle. Without hesitation, it snapped at the ball like a stork plucking a fish from a river with its beak. The ball twisted and spun like a dancer around the ball in front of it, knocking into the six ball with miraculous precision.
The ball in question made a slow approach toward pocket two, teetered, and finally sunk into the abyss. Opening his eyes, he looked directly at Trisha’s face with an evil grin and raised eyebrows.
“Whaddya think about that?”

"Whoa." Trisha’s eyes widened, flickering between the cue and Casey. It shouldn’t be so shocking, or impressive - she’d seen all sorts done with magic. But she wasn’t an adept, and most she knew didn’t have particularly practical applications with their spells. "That is a really fucking cool. You know exactly how to impress a girl."

Her smile turned teasing again, though she obviously was impressed. She looked back at the cue again, tilting her head. "Can it do that for anyone, or is it just you? Does it have some kind of magical connection with you like my bees with me? I couldn’t-"

She stopped talking, a giggle escaping her lips. Her hand flew up to cover her mouth as she giggled uncontrollably at the most ridiculous image that had come to mind. Through the laughter, she just about managed to get the words out to describe it.
"I bet if I got about…" she started counting on her fingers. "One hundred and ten bees to line up, and hold each other's legs, I could do that. Like a bee cue, haha."

Bee cue? She knows how many bees she’d need? She can fucking estimate that? Go! Go, go and get the bees necessary and bring them here right now and we’ll see how fucking-
”That is… That’s incredibly cute, Bee Momma… Like, so cute, I’m gonna try my damndest to make sure we’re together again so that I can fucking see that. I can’t wait.”

His grin was practically plastered on his face as Casey stared up at this Vanburen girl with her beautiful dark eyes and dimpled smile. Whatever tricks he was pulling out, he seemed to be making it work. No need to overthink it now. Just keep going Sarge.

Handing off the cue to her, he shrugged and gave a wave of his now empty hand.
”Also, uh… Your cue hit the ball, so… It’s you again. Good job. It will do that for you, probably just as easy as it does for me. So long as you’ve had some kind of Lux cooked into you, it reads your mind without you even being entirely sure of what you’re doing. A relative, sometime in the, like, sixteen-hundreds apparently invented the spell because he was sick of losing to the aristocratic nobles whom he was rubbing shoulders with. Give her a try, just pick a ball and a pocket and then give a feeling like you’re channelling.”

Trisha tried and failed to not blush at the compliment. Being called cute twice just wasn’t something she could handle easily. It almost had her calling her bees right there, but she stopped herself because a whole swarm of bees coming into a bar wasn’t a good idea. She snatched her Corona up and took another long drink - huh, there wasn’t very much left. Where had it all gone? She drank it all already? She hadn’t even noticed.

”What do you mean by some kind of Lux cooked into me?" she asked, discarding her empty bottle so she only had the cue in one hand. Did she have that?

”Like… When you Kindle, for instance, it engraines itself into your body. Similarly, if you’ve got an Apparition sealed artefact, if you’re an Agent that is, you’re just as saturated. It's essentially how we’re able to observe our powers and the abilities of those around us. Kindled, baked, cooked, we use a bunch of terms in the Temple.”

His explanation seemed genuine and sincere, and even a bit enthusiastic as if it was a topic of interest for him.

"So it’ll work if I’ve got an apparition inside me?" Wait, that didn’t sound right. She snickered at the ridiculous way she’d put it. "I mean if I’m adjoined. I honestly don’t know much about it all, so I didn’t know that. Everything I’ve learnt is from here," she tapped her head with her free hand, "and Sycamore. My dear father didn’t bother to tell us about it even though he kept a whole supply of artefacts in the basement."

She took the cue and got into position again, holding it lightly. She wasn’t quite sure what channelling was like, because she didn’t do that, but it must be like talking to her bees. Her eyes fluttered closed to concentrate better, as she tried to think like she did when using her abstraction and get it to aim for the five ball, so it would go into the nearest pouch. As the cue started to guide her, moving her relaxed arms, she also accidentally started to let out the pheromones she could use on humans.

A soft, fresh lemony scent filled the air around her. To Casey, whose emotional field dampened the effect, it would just make her appear more attractive. Like someone he wanted to stay around without actually pushing him to do anything.

The cue finally stopped moving, and shot out to hit the cue ball spinning towards the five ball. Trisha opened her eyes and watched the ball fall right into the pocket she’d wanted it to. Not noticing the pheromones she was accidentally leaking she spun back around towards Casey with a grin. "Hey, it worked! That was fucking cool."

He was lost somewhere in a field again… But he was on a blanket, crisp shirt, dog tags dangling against the arm that he laid against staring to his side at her. She was smiling, giggling. Bees danced around them in the warm sunlight, the breeze blowing by. He was good with them; made his peace finally. The bees…
Doughtry, Reese, Leburt, Clifton, Amesly, -

He was there again. Back in the bar room, watching that smile bounce around slightly. He’d be okay, he figured. Just have to keep it up a while longer.

”I kind of figured that you had an object for the bees… But whatever does it is inside you then. Adjoined, like you said. You’re like Leon. Just as applicable, and just as cool.” he nodded gently.
”I… I think you nailed me, Queen Bee. Stung me right in the heart with whatever it was you just let out. You do that often?”

”Shit,” Trisha’s confusion at Leon being adjoined rather than an adept, supposedly, was completely replaced when she realised she was hitting him with her pheromones. It slowly stopped, the smell and effects reducing. She really hadn’t meant to. "No, I don’t."

That was a lie. She didn’t do it often to other paranormal, because they could always tell. But Blinds? She would gladly bathe them in her pheromones until they wanted nothing more than to be with her, to keep her close and happy and satiated. But she could never keep it up, exhausting herself with the constant use, and then they would be exhausted with her.

She wasn’t going to tell Casey that. Admitting to magically making people like her was the easiest way to speed her way right to the finish line where she got kicked to the curb again.
"I don’t normally- I was trying to channel like you said, and I must’ve let them out. At least it was that type," she laughed awkwardly, not quite able to meet his eyes. "The other ones… would, uhm, make you freak out, I guess. It’s the other side of my bee stuff. Not as useful as the bees. Yeah. Sorry."

He grinned, shook his head and took a deep breath to come back to reality. He was plenty used to the young adepts and their blatant power usage whenever he was at home, and as a Blind teenager, he wasn’t much more than a plaything for others. It’s why he had to escape.

But with her specifically, he didn’t mind. He couldn’t, really.
”I’m not sure what you mean about not being useful. If I felt right, that’s quite the spell to put on someone.”
Though he had next to no practical spell usage, White Lux was always a useful thing to have coursing through your veins. Playing off his emotional field, he found he could parse some of the infectious aroma’s traits.
”If you were my Mom’s daughter, she’d be constantly telling you to saturate people with it. Hell, I bet if you practised, you’d be able to break through-”

Trisha wasn’t with the Sycamore Tree anymore. There was no way she wanted to hear this from him…
And he was doing so well…
”Well, whatever. Just like pool, if you want to use your abilities better, I can definitely help you. However you want to spend our time together…”

He got a bit closer to her, hands reaching out to gently take hers.
”I mean it… I’m not mad or anything. You did exactly what I said to do, and you made a great shot. Pride means a lot to my family, and I’m proud of you for getting it first try.”

”Really?” Trisha curled her hands in his, looking back up at him. There was a hit of vulnerability in her eyes, exposed by what she viewed as a fuckup combined with alcohol. She blinked it away, and smiled again. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had said they were proud of her… Have they ever? Well, she was sure a teacher in middle school had said they were proud of her for working so hard. ”Your mom sounds much cooler than mine, if she knew about magic she’d be all like, ‘Patricia, unless it helps you get the highest grades in your year, I don’t want you to use it.’ Then something about how my cousin got into a top university without using magic- he doesn’t even live in the same country!”

Realising she was getting off topic, and maybe revealing a little more than she wanted to, she swerved back to something else he’d said. ”Actually yeah, I’d like that. The help to use my abilities better. I haven’t really had time to practise, and my friends here aren’t really interested in it. But I’d like to be able to use that part better, and maybe command the bees more efficiently. They still don’t always listen to me.”

Casey couldn’t help but let his enthusiasm leak into the interaction, raising her hands slightly in his and smiling.
”That’s great… I’ll ask some of the Adjoined at the Temple about their experiences. Or, maybe you can even come by? Entirely up to you, I won’t push… I mean, I’d love to take it slow. With you… And I…” He couldn’t hide his own blushing. Not only was he excited that she wanted to spend more time, but he was excited to find someone else from his world who didn’t seem so hung up on it. It could be something casual between them, not running their lives.

”Or, you know, whatever happens happens, the French say Que sera, sera or something…”
He stopped worrying about the fact that he was smiling too much. He barely cared about the pool or anything.
”I’m… Babbling, aren’t I?” he giggled, looking at her with the same gaze as a satisfied cat.

”You are, but it’s okay. It’s cute.” He wanted to take things slow… Aw, that was cute. Trisha couldn’t help but smile sweetly at him. In her mostly drunk state, she was just quite happy. And it wasn’t like she needed to rush things. Normally the easiest way to get with someone was to sleep with them and then go from there- well, she still wanted to do that, but she wouldn’t push too hard. She had his company and the promise of it continuing, which was what she really wanted. ”I’ll come along to the Temple… Where else could we practise except my place, and I don’t think my sisters will be happy about that. So long as I’m not dragged along to any family dinners or, uh, religious stuff.”

She squeezed his hands and leaned in, though it wasn’t entirely on purpose. She was feeling a bit unstable as the two beers she’d had properly hit her. It was more of a sway than anything, towards him, then away from him, then back towards him.

”Yeah, que será, será,” Trisha nodded, pronouncing it properly - well, the Spanish way. ”But isn’t it Spanish? Ah, I don’t speak Spanish properly, but there’s a lot of words from it in Filipino… Sometimes my mom liked to mix things up and yell ‘que?!’ at me rather than ‘ano?!’ Oh, she does also know Spanish. Ah, but her favourite thing to yell is ‘manang mana ka talaga sa tatay mo’. Basically, how do I translate it… she’s saying I take after my father. She said it last time we called cause I told her-”

Trisha cut herself off, shaking her head. Oh yeah, she just remembered why before she said it. It was because she’d had four partners in as many months. ”Now I’m the one that’s babbling.”

”You are, but it’s okay. It’s cute…” he glared at her knowingly.
”Family dinners are things I can usually avoid, but the inevitable philosophical discussions are generally tame and respectful… You know, they-we…-”

Casey cut himself off. He still didn’t love the back-of-the-mind thought that they and he were somehow adjoined entities. That like someone dealing with an apparition inside them, he too was dealing with a ghost that just wouldn’t leave him the fuck alone. But it wasn’t their fault. People like Andrade or Furio, they just had beliefs and their beliefs aligned with his mom’s. It shouldn’t be their job to be intolerant, rather he found that he had to impose tolerance upon himself. Measured, even handed tolerance.

”Usually those kinds of things turn into a bottle of wine and some stories, they’re never lectures. And Adjoined specifically hold a special place in our hearts and in the Philosophy. The others in your situation, Leon included, would love to tell you about their experiences. We’re honestly just a bunch of hippies trying to make it in this modern world with some sense of community.” he trailed off finally, the mind twisting to bemuse the idea that he was somehow defending them.
But he had no other faith. No other light to look toward in the dark, and with all he’d seen, he was ready to believe in something.
”But there I go, getting like that. I promise, if anyone wants to give you a hard time, they’ll be giving us a hard time.”

He had since repositioned his hands, holding both of hers in between his own and gently caressing the soft skin with his thumb.

”That sounds nothing like the few church trips I’ve suffered… And I haven’t talked to many other Adjoined before, that’d be useful.” Trisha tilted her head. It didn’t really make it something she wanted to attend, but it didn’t seem like something she’d have to avoid entirely. If she somehow did get dragged along to something like that. Trisha wasn’t really the believing type. If there was something out there, she’d probably cuss them out before telling them to fuck off. Wasn’t like her life felt like anything divinely granted.

”Hey, not just us.” A content smile bloomed across Trisha’s lips, fingers curling inwards slightly. She liked the way he held her hands… It was nice. Stable. ”Us and sixty thousand bees. Not many want to mess with them.”

She giggled slightly at the image of her, Casey, and her whole hive facing off against Temple members. It would certainly make things more exciting. She then leaned forward again, up onto her tiptoes so her face was more on level with his. She wobbled a bit, but managed to stay up. What she was about to say could be put down to drunken confidence, or drunken rushing, if she needed to. She was always fast with these things, but it was an excuse to cover that up.
”I do like the sound of that. Us. I’d like that.”

Casey could feel his cheeks hurting as Trisha spoke softly and sweetly to him. He’d not drunk enough to be drunk, but he felt like he was. Or high, or something, something wasn’t normal and it wasn’t the magical pheromones that she accidentally blasted him with. He stared down at her, his forehead pressed against hers. He spoke lowly, matching her tone and inflection.
”We’re looking, y’know… For Father Wolf. I’ll keep you safe, Tee. I promise.”

It was something he said on reaction, something he felt like she needed to know, or maybe it was the heat of the moment or maybe he felt like it was something personal that he could bring to her; a token or…
Shit…
He hoped that she wouldn’t have some sort of adverse reaction… He was telling the truth; he didn’t want to see her alone like this.

”Oh, really?” Trisha smiled. She pulled her hands out from his, raising her arms to loosely wrap around his shoulders. She needed the support to stop wobbling so much, and it brought their bodies closer together without having to move her head away. As much as she really wanted to say she could keep herself safe, she knew she couldn’t. She’d been planning on forcing her brother to hire her a security team, but unfortunately his security team knew her on sight and knew to not let her far enough into the building to reach the most recently hired secretary. So she hadn’t been able to talk to him yet.
”How are you going to keep me safe from something that can appear at anytime, anywhere?”

”We’re good dogs. We bark when we hear something, we bite if we see it. All you need to do is keep me around.”
His arms slid around her lower back. He pulled her as close to him as he could, making goofy growling noises like a snarling dog until he was laughing.
”Y’know… I’m not trying to butt into your life or anything… I mean maybe I am, but not all intrusive-like. But, y’know… I’m a lot more than a wizard. You don’t know what I actually do… Did… Not, not like it’s supposed to impress you or anything… I just have… Let’s say, a certain set of skills.”

He couldn’t possibly keep a straight face, laughing and hugging into her.
”Sorry, I’ve never gotten to use that line before.”

”Alright, Liam Neeson,” Trisha couldn’t help but laugh too. Alcohol had a way of making things more entertaining. She tightened her arms around his neck, half hanging off him so she didn’t have to put all her weight on her toes. ”Don’t make a career change to acting, alright? Just stick to, haha, biting threats for me.”

She laughed again. It was hard to imagine because she had no idea what Father Wolf looked like, but if he was anything like his name… maybe biting was a way to get rid of him.
”But, it is alright if you butt into my life. There’s not really much to it anyway! I sleep, eat, look after the bees, see friends occasionally, and sometimes I work-” she paused. ”Actually, my work is kinda private. But aside from that…”

Her work wasn’t so much private as something she was incredibly embarrassed about. Programming was nerdy. She wasn’t a nerd. She was the opposite of a nerd. Yet it was one of the few things she was really good at.
”You might actually get bored if you intrude on my life.”

”Yeesh, bored? You want bored, there’s a little place somewhere in North Africa, I think outside Libya, where the desert meets the coast. There’s rocks and sand and then ocean, and it just stretches on and on for what looks like forever. I think I maybe threw a thousand rocks off that coast and into that ocean.”

He looked almost at peace. Fond of the memory.
”You spend a lot of time just sitting around in the Army.”
Bending his neck a bit, he stole another kiss from her lips; a small one with not so much gusto as the first time he tried it. Clearly settled down. Then he pulled away; not far, and he kept his hand in hers.
”Once everything’s safe, we’ll go. You can see the places I served; some of them were really beautiful.”

”Beautiful but boring?” Trisha laughed softly. It was a melodic, joyful sound. She was completely unbothered that he was jumping into things with the suggestion of an overseas trip. Surely thinking that far forward meant he was less likely to drop her quickly? ”I’m sure we can make it interesting… I’ve never actually been overseas. Not cause I lack the money, of course, just the company. My mom’s job is her life, so when I was with her she’d never want to go away… and can you imagine if my dad took us all on trips? It’d be a nightmare, him and twenty kids!”

She rolled her eyes at that image. They wouldn’t even make it past the airport, even with a private jet. Not that she would ever agree to a trip involving her siblings. ”I thought about going by myself when I took a gap year- just travelling around and enjoying myself, but Ezra’s much stingier than dad. He said he’d pay for a week away, but that wasn’t really what I wanted.” She shrugged.
”I’d like to see all the places you served. That sounds nice, we should definitely go.”

”As far as I’ve been told, right now is a fantastic time to go back. Now that everything’s settled down and money’s starting to be made by industry over there again, it seems like things are on an upswing.”

He finally managed to find desire in something other than her attention, and pawed his beer before slugging it down in a few gulps. His gaze looked at the pool table, then at her, then back and forth another time.
”So… Whose place do we wind up at?” he giggled.

"Hmm," Trisha hummed thoughtfully. "What's your place like? Do you live with your family? I don't really know how the temple works… My place is pretty nice, I've got a big room and bed, but at least one of my sisters will be back tonight."

Though she had no idea when Sabrina would be back, or if she was even already home. Probably not. Hopefully not. "The bees can survive one night alone, they're pretty self sufficient, just clingy."

”I am actually living in Leon’s apartment right now, since Mom won’t let him stay there. He’s got me staying there with Mia, making sure things don’t get dusty. It’s big, and not so far away. Can you believe there’s such a thing as a basement penthouse? he shook his head, thinking of his brother’s cavernous existence in that dungeon of an apartment. But, it was so big there was essentially two different apartments, meaning he didn’t have to worry too much about Mia poking her head around.

”It’s got a certain aesthetic, I won’t lie… Our whole family has a sort of uh… Goth-witch thing going on? Like, it’s all dark wood and black furniture. Even the stainless steel fridge is like… Laminated black or something, I don’t know. But, I do know he wouldn’t mind me having company, and Mia’s side of the apartment has been hers for like a year now, it’s all separated.”

"How does a basement penthouse work? Isn't the whole point it's the top floor?" Trisha got a little too fixated on the specifics of that for a moment, drunken mind slowly catching up with the rest of what was said. "Soooo it's a basement, and it's filled with loads of dark decor… it kinda sounds like a dungeon."

She bit her lip to hold back another bout of giggles at that. She didn't really care what it looked like - her place was decorated by her sisters, and her own room was only half decorated by herself while the rest was designed to keep the bees happy. A goth-witch aesthetic was fine. "So long as you don't lock me up in Leon's scary gothic dungeon- apartment, then let's go there. Our place isn't separated at all. My sisters are pretty unavoidable and as much as I love my bees, they can be a bit of a pest when I have guys over."

Oh. Whoops. “Not that I do often. Just friends and stuff, y’know, the bees don’t see the difference.” Nice save.

Casey giggled at her, shaking his head.
”Dude… I don’t care.” he laughed, wrapping his arms around her and hugging her. His whole torso twisted around gently, rocking her back and forth. He pulled away, rubbing her shoulder.
”One dude, a hundred dudes… Being insecure is for kids. If there was some sort of problem, I’m sure you’d tell me…”

There was a small pause in his voice, and then he grimaced.
”Which… Alright… Maybe not to ruin the mood but…”
He paused again, shaking his head.
”There’s this Temple member… She’s one of my Mom’s little minions, and I think she’s been told to hang on me or something, but ever since I got back she’s been fucking obsessed and I have zero interest in her whatsoever…”

His lips parted into a cheshire grin. ”You’re way more fun, she’s… She creeps me out, honestly. I promise, I’m actively avoiding her as much as possible.”

The warm comfort Trisha felt from him seemingly not caring about her past, and the comforting hug that came with it, froze in her chest. It was difficult not to let her smile slip. Being insecure is for kids, Trisha, come on. It was just one girl, where she’d been with many… One very present in his life, where hers were all exes she’d never seen again. But he wasn’t interested in her! She sounded like a mother sponsored stalker. But what if she’s nicer? Prettier? Smarter? No, that doesn’t matter.

"She sounds like the opposite of fun," Trisha shook her head, ignoring the self-doubt beginning to rear its ugly head. They’d just met! She was perfectly fine, if it was obvious there actually was something there she could just leave. No problem. No problem at all. "Don’t worry, I wouldn’t get jealous of someone like that… Especially if you’re avoiding her. I trust you."

She reached out to take one of his hands in both of hers, one on top and one on the bottom. Her fingers curled around his hand and she gently squeezed it. Pretending to not care about it came as a second nature to her. "And if she’s bothering you, I can scare her away with the bees… But is it like a your mom setting you up situation? Is that what happens in the Temple?"

Casey took a harsh inhale through his lips as she asked the last question.
”Ahhh… It isn’t. We’re not Moonies, it’s an actual magic cult. Sometimes she’ll make suggestions to certain members, but The Philosophy is more or less against arranged marriage. It’s supposed to be against the Luxine Paths, allowing the magic to flow between people naturally.”
He shook his head, frowning a bit as he waved his hand.

”Leon told me, honestly. I mean, we grew up together, I thought she was creepy then, I knew she always liked me… But now she’s one of my Mom’s maidens, and every time I’ve come home since she’s been hanging around trying to get closer. Leon says she’s… My Mom’s regretful, and wants to make up for the past.”
He sighed, looking around at the bar and finding it more empty than it was before.
”I got the short end of the stick. I’m the middle kid of five, and I didn’t Kindle like my other siblings. So, I always felt like I was just a burden, and honestly my folks never-”

He very abruptly interrupted himself, taking a deep breath and looking down at Trisha with a furrowed brow.
”Do you really wanna hear this shit?-” he asked with a certain intensity to his voice. It was very clear it wasn’t frustration, so much as sincerity. Something in his look screamed for attention. ”-I mean you said you had, what, twenty siblings? That can’t be any easier, right?”

"Probably more, but it’s fine. We all have different moms, we didn’t all grow up together, it really wasn’t so bad." That was a complete lie. Trisha spent most of her time in the Vanburen mansion, going between tense fights with her siblings and locking herself in her room to study. Her mom blamed her for everything. She hated most of her family. But she also didn’t want to talk about it. She hated talking about it more. That meant revealing all the ugliness that lay beneath the surface.
"None of us had magic, either. It was just like normal siblings, with ten extra! So… it really wasn’t as bad. It must have been rough to be the only one that wasn’t kindled."

Hesitating for a second, Trisha closed the slight gap between them and hugged him. She tilted her head up so her chin rested on his chest and she could still sort of see him. Comforting people wasn’t something she was good at, but physical contact always helped, right?
"I do want to hear it." Partly because she didn’t want it to turn on her. She could tell him how she understood, of course. There were similarities… but no way. Why would she tell anyone about how she felt like- was- a burden. "I want to know more about you, and that includes the shit family stuff- no promises my bees won’t accidentally sting anyone, though!"

Casey shook his head, giggling gently as he held her tightly.
”It’s just… God, Elise was like four? Or something when she Kindled. Leon had his ceremony when he turned six, Junior went up in flames at age five… Quite literally I was a frustration for my parents. Everything was exclusionary. Studying, playing, like it was them and me. Mia, my youngest sister, she… She’s like in love with Leon. She was Dad’s favourite hands down, and all that love she had for him went over to the big guy, so she doesn’t really care about getting ignored. But then she Kindled too as a little girl: It was the only reason my old man was so willing to play the doting Daddy, I figure.”

He scrunched his face, turning his head to stare at the few balls left on the table. His eyes trailed up and across toward the bar, then back to her face. She was looking up at him with warm eyes.
”Point is, I felt really alone. And by the time I became an Adult, I was a lost cause. By then Dad was gone and Mom was dealing with Sonnenrad and the aftermath of the Stygian Snake stuff. Nobody batted an eye when I packed my shit and hit the Recruiter’s office. The war looked kind of good to me. Better than what I’d been through, and if I worked hard I’d have a family for life.”

He blew air upward and away from Trisha’s face, blowing his bangs toward the ceiling and smiling at them.
”Now look at me, I’m leaving them too. But, I mean… Imagine they didn’t treat me any different once I Kindled? Turns out, the Military’s got a whole secret branch for people just like us. That’s where I ended up. Either way, it was four years. And for each full year of active wartime service, I ended up earning my pension. Retirement. My stint in the Reserve since has been assisting in structuring a plan for an Adept Reserve Corps. Government sponsored Military Wizards.”

He grinned at her as he spoke about his work, beaming as if it were the only real light in his life.

”But, it’s gotten heavy at this point. They asked if I wanted to take my commitment to the next level, but… It just didn’t feel right. It wouldn’t be the same separating myself from what made me.”
He gently shrugged his shoulders, taking a deep breath.
”And… I think that’s it.”

Trisha’s drunken mind struggled to keep up with all the information, but she got the basic points. Siblings that kindled insanely early, feeling othered in the family (which she could relate to), joining the army for another family, and then… military wizards?
"You’ve been through a lot," she said softly. She was honestly surprised he’d told her all of that. How was it possible to be so open? Was it nice to do that? She felt a hint of irrational jealousy, even though the only person stopping her from opening up was herself. "I didn’t even know it was possible to kindle that early… Well, I don’t know much about kindling at all. Or about the magical army- well, obviously, how would I?"

She laughed slightly, looking up at him as she tried to figure out what else to say. It didn’t seem like he was looking for her to say anything about it. Thankfully. As much as she was surprisingly good at listening when in a good mood (rare), she was awful at… saying the right thing. Normally she didn’t even care about that. Did she in this case? She wanted to keep up the good impression, at least. She liked him enough to bother… and there were similarities to her own life, military aside. She understood and this was someone who could maybe understand her. So, just like earlier, she went with the physical response - stretching up to press a soft kiss to his chin before lowering back down into the hug.
"Even if you don’t do the… Military Wizard stuff, I’m sure you’ll find something. Maybe make another family too- wait, I mean find. And a future that’s all you."

At first, he felt like there was some kind of disconnect. Maybe he’d simply gone into too much. Granted, he had. She was in no way shape or form supposed to know about the Rainbow Act or the ARC Program. But, she didn’t seem to shy away from him. Rather, she got closer, and he felt her warmth in his arms as she talked about making a family and a future. She was hopefully right, and he couldn’t help but want to crack a joke.
”In the spirit of taking things slow, I won’t ask you to help me out yet…” he grinned down at her.

”Do you even want to finish this game? Night’s young… We could be anywhere besides melting into one another in this bar room…” he offered to Trisha, not exactly excited for the prospect of going out into some big crowd. He was, however, ready and willing to follow this girl into a room full of landmines.

"Yeah, that’s an at least three months in thing," Trisha joked back, smiling up at him. It was something that was easy to joke about and less easy to ignore the niggling combination of fear and want in the back of her mind. She was her mother’s daughter after all - the mother who’d fallen hard for a man who’d cheated on and abandoned her just after Trisha was been born.

She pressed her face against him for a moment to forget about, before leaning back and glancing around the bar. She hadn’t really been bothered by pool in the first place, even though she’d gotten quite into trying to get better at it. As soon as they stopped playing, any interest was lost. There were quite a few better places they could be, but most would be quieter than normal thanks to the halloween festival. But… well, she wasn’t really sure what she was feeling up to.
"I’m not really bothered by the game, let’s go somewhere else. Why don’t we…" she dragged out the last word, eyes shining mischievously. "Go back to your place? Heh, surprised? I’m not really feeling up to going somewhere busier- and I’m not dressed for anywhere I normally go anyway."

Casey’s smile went from tentative and forced confidence to genuine and instantaneous elation. He even did a little dance, swinging both of their hips about in unison.
”Oh, shit, Halloween night horror movies… Unless you’re a chicken, in which case we’re still gonna watch them. It’ll just make you hold me closer.”

His hands moved to take hers, and he began to bring her out of the bar.
”You wanna get some food on the way back?” he asked back at her.

"Do I look like a chicken? Wait, don’t answer that," Trisha rolled her eyes. She’d fought the Stygian Snake when she was fourteen, she didn’t exactly scare easily… but it would be a good excuse to climb into his arms and get properly close without seeming like she was trying to speed things up too much. Which, honestly, she was happy to take things slow… at least in terms of going beyond kissing. She still wanted to get physically close.

"Oh yeah," Trisha nodded, absentmindedly swinging their joined hands as she thought about it. "I haven’t eaten since lunch and the magic bone fixing food, let’s grab something. I’ll eat almost anything, so your choice."

Casey made a long, sideways grunt of pleasure.
”There’s a fuckin’... Chicken place. I honestly don’t know where it is in the city, but I’ve ordered from it like six times while I’ve been here and they deliver and somehow it’s hot and crispy just like if you went there. And they even do falafel, like if you don’t eat meat? And I made sure they use a different fryer than the chicken goes into, since Mia’s a little herbivore.”

He turned back around, forgetting his jacket at the booth they’d originally sat in, then made it back to pull it over Trisha’s shoulders. His arm wrapped her tight, and they were both able to proceed into the chilly coastal street. The old lanterns lit the sidewalks, the taller street lights and traffic lights on the boulevard bathing the streets themselves in a separate glow altogether.

The place was clogged with trick-or-treaters doing the business route; a tradition Casey was unfamiliar with until today, when he’d been tasked with running around to a few different Temple businesses with boxes and boxes of whole chocolate bars.
There was even parent-child trick or treating, where the various local businesses would have candy for the kids, and either some sort of shot or snack for the weary parents to find equal joy in. Frankly he thought it was kind of smart, keeping the parents and kids both in the safe eye of authorities. The SPPD, he figured, was out in force tonight in blues and crews. No telling what scary clown or anime character had a badge and a gun behind the makeup.

As they started to walk, Casey proceeded to fall into one of his favourite Halloween games. His eyes scanned the crowd for the absolute worst costumes, and they instantly found a target. He leaned in and down to Trisha.
”Woah, hey… You see that over there?”
He had his arm around her shoulder, and slyly tucked his hand beneath her chin. His outstretched finger, and the guidance from his hand, pointed her gaze directly at…
”Is that an actual fucking bear?”

It was the worst bear costume Casey had ever seen. His tone was absolutely venomous with sarcasm, and he was already giggling like a school child.
”Holy shit, why is nobody afraid of that?”

"I am," Trisha mock gasped at the sight of the costume, turning towards him as if to hide her face against his side. She snickered, side eyeing the tragic bear. She was surprised, but also absolutely elated, that he was quite happy to mock the awful costume - he’d initiated it! It meant she didn't have to worry as much about what she said. "It’s absolutely terrifying, I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep tonight!"

Pressed close in against him, Trisha’s eyes darted about for the next target. She honed in what she thought was supposed to be… well she wasn’t really sure. The person was wearing a purple shirt with balloons taped to it.
"Are they supposed to be… grapes?" she not so subtly pointed in that direction with another giggle, lips curling into a sneer. ”It’s so bad it’s actually fucking horrifying- some people shouldn’t be let out of the house."

Casey’s head tilted back as he giggled to himself at the prospect of such low rent budget grapes. Rather than keep the thoughts in his head, he let them spill out.
”Maybe a nearby piano will fall and turn him into the worst wine you’ve ever drank?” he grinned, laughing loudly as the crowd was able to swallow up whatever noise he made. He scanned, pointing again.

”And there it is! Right on queue, the fucking… Look!”
It had to be some sort of prop or float. It wasn’t actually bad; in fact what he was pointing at was extremely well made. It seemed to be a float, or some kind of liftable lightweight prop of the Flintstones car with the massive road roller wheels. Inside was a family, seemingly content with their unified Flintstones cosplay being their answer to Halloween. They even “pulled up” to the different candy stations, taking what they could and continuing on.

”Jesus Christ, I mean… Kind of impressive actually.”

“So embarrassing, though, imagine being dragged around by your parents like that,” Trisha giggled, looking at the kids and thinking about how mortified they must be to be dragged around in the back of a Flintstones car. Or maybe they were weird and enjoyed it… that was an even worse thought. “Glad we're not on the road trying to get past that-”

She looked around with a grin, eyes widening as she spotted what was more of an embarrassing costume than anything. She pointed towards a couple seemingly dressed up as a plug and socket… not bad, but kind of disgusting.
“Do they not know there’s kids around- oh fuck, they have kids!” She laughed as caught sight of the young children following behind them.

“You know, my first halloween in college they did this weird thing where they paired up people from the dorms I was at and made us do halloween costumes together. Like absolutely no choice, have to match. I think it was some weird kind of hookup thing organised by older students… Anyway most people did something funny, or like a friend pair- but there were these two who showed up as the fucking cookie monster and a cookie. The guy was going about talking about how much he wanted to eat her out- it was awful. Can’t believe I had to remember it because of their costume. Never ask me to do something like that.”

”Never ask you to… Let me eat you out? Or dress up in matching Halloween outfits?” he laughed, looking down at her and waggling his eyebrows. Of course he knew what she meant, but there… There was something about the tradition that made his heart warm and soft.
”C’mon, if it was the right group outfit? What if we did like… The Frog and the Toad, or if you had kids, you wouldn’t dress them up like-” he stopped himself dead, a bead of sweat forming and slowly dripping down his forehead with the thought.

The Bees…

”Now, hear me out… The uh… The bees? Can we… Can we dress them up?
Casey’s hands were pressed into one another like a prayer, eyes welled up with sincerity and genuine interest. The same expression as when he was talking about Pool, or his previous line of work, now lined his face.

Holding onto her hand, Casey felt the softness and warmth. There was something terribly comforting about it all. Comforting enough that he had almost talked about the feeling of always wanting to dress his family up in a matching outfit… Dumb. Cute.
He got that same image from dressing the bees up in little ties or bonnets, or having them form a moving shape like some sort of small animal that the hive could all make.

”O-or, like, have them walk around as like a crocodile or something?” he laughed, only slightly nervous about what her reaction would be.

“Don’t ask me to dress up in weirdly sexual halloween outfits,” Trisha rolled her eyes. A cute couple outfit could be fun, and with kids- Her smile slipped. There was a stab of fear and pain that came with the mention of her having children. She wanted to, but it was a sensitive subject… time they’d known each other aside.

“The bees?” Trisha tilted her head. His expression, and the warmth of his hand around her own, was enough to stop her from spiralling to a place where she’d snap at him. She would just ignore the mention of children. “I don’t know, I’ve never tried… Probably. They do what I say, but the more there are the harder it is. Has to be more general then- and where would we get clothes small enough to fit them? Do you know a bee tailor?”

She laughed slightly, smiling again. “Having them form something would be easier… I’ve done that a couple of times when practising! But little outfits on them would be cuter. Maybe I should start training them for next halloween, then we can all match.”

Casey nodded happily, smile still on his face with a big toothy grin.
”That… I’m sure there’s a wizard somewhere in this town who can make tiny clothes. I imagine a bunch of tiny, like… Dresses? Like little handmaiden gowns, since you’re a Queen and all.”

It was an unexpected plus moment; calling her a Queen. He’d not even been thinking of it when the word tumbled out of his mouth, just the bee thing was so convenient. Besides, she hadn’t beaten him at the table. She was still vulnerable to the bee puns and the Dad jokes, so he figured he was safe no matter which way he phrased that.
And hell, who could know? Being a Queen was in, if he was to believe all the women in the Temple at least.

The magical world they inhabited was, as Casey had learned in his years coming back to the Temple in a slow but impending way, a wonderful tool for showing people what empowerment for themselves really meant. It was a tool that people could feel strength in, and translate that feeling into their everyday lives.
It was hard to think of them as a Cult with talk like that. So many things felt like they weren’t, like the glassy surface of it was so clean and shiny that you didn’t mind the bloodstains on the underside.

What he did know is that she was a Vanburen, and a magical one at that. Adjoined to some Bee spirit, which she had little training in. It was all very cute to him. Whatever was, simply was.
”Whatever you think of, we’ll find someone to make it. I’m sure it’ll be a bitch to dress them all though.”

His eyes hadn’t stopped looking for a good costume roast, but they were also coming up to where they had to turn off the boulevard and onto a connector. The building in the distance ahead of them on the next main road was the one they were aiming for, and the open restaurants and shops handing out candy gave way to closed businesses and offices that were all either closed early or hadn’t opened to begin with. It was a bit darker, but the old fashioned street lamps still shone bright enough for them to see one another clearly.

Not to mention the headlights and taillights of the cars, which gave it all a far more electric light kind of vibe than Casey loved.

There were far less people on the sidewalks overall here, so he shrugged and thought of something else to occupy them.
”Ooh, yellow punch buggy.-” he pointed, flexing his arm toward Trisha. ”-Do it, you get the first one! So you know from now on to be on your guard when we’re together!”

“Huh?” Trisha squinted at him, and then at his arm. Was this some kind of weird temple thing? No, that didn’t seem right… Was it something you did when you had friends you actually walked around with? Or siblings, maybe? She could get a vague idea about what it was from the name - spotting something yellow, obviously. Punching him? Well alright then.

She wound back her right arm, punching his flexed one with about half her strength… Which probably wouldn’t feel like much more than a tap to someone in the army, but it wasn’t that bad a punch! She wasn’t incredibly weak or anything.
“Wait, so how does this work? I need to know what I’m looking out for, otherwise it’s very unfair. She then belatedly realised he’d been pointing, and followed his finger to the yellow car he’d spotted. “Ohhh… I’ve never played this game before. I think I’ve got it. You better watch out, I’m very fast.”

”Oh, yeah… One of those German cars. Frankswagon or something.” he snickered to himself knowing full well what the brand was.
”I don’t know who came up with the game or whatever, but when we made it to Berlin you can’t imagine the bruises that we had on our arms. They don’t call it the People’s Wagon for nothing, y’know?”

It was funny how the streets looked so similar.

Casey was about to ask her about Europe, and about what she’d seen of the Islands across the Pond… But thinking back that far in their night gave him an image of little tin trays in bed. Croissants and tea and eggs.

”Oh, shit! Y’know, you’re gonna have to give me the address for that bakery tonight, so in the morning I can make sure you still get your breakfast in bed…” he grinned widely.

Trisha had no idea that they called it the People’s Wagon, or really anything to do with the car… or cars in general. Sure, she drove one, but she’d only learned a year ago and hadn’t bought it for herself. So she just nodded along, pretending she definitely understood and knew anything about that.

“Oh, are you sure? It’s a bit out of the way from here… You gotta drive at least.” Trisha pulled her phone out of her pocket, quickly typing in her own address then scrolling to find the bakery. The maps app showed it as a thirteen minute drive, which compared to the short walk from her house was… more effort than she’d be willing to put in. She held up her phone to show it to him. “I’m not set on it being from here, any breakfast I can eat in bed will be a pretty amazing breakfast. I hate getting out of bed.”

She smiled, trying not to feel too warm and fuzzy about his willingness to get breakfast for her like that. He’d have to drag himself out of bed when it was still early… That was a lot, for her as someone who hated getting out of bed at any time in the morning. It was always a massive fight with herself and the bed itself.
“Oh, you should give me your number as well while I have this out,” she shook her phone at him, smiling more cutely with her eyes and nose slightly scrunched up. “Don’t want you to run away tomorrow or anything.”

Run away? Why would I run away?
Casey took the phone and began to put his number in. Usually he didn’t have it, so she’d be a reason for him to keep it close. Rather than use his own name, he put in “POOL GOD” in all capital letters, then handed it back to her with a smirk.

By that time, they reached the street crossing with the residential building staring at them. It was a beautiful turn of the century building in the old downtown of the city. This particular section of roadway was built on some serious slabs of stone, meaning that a basement was going to be a sturdy construct were it not for the expense. But, back in the days when the city was first built, there was a need for the blasting and the carving to be done, and the building that had been built on the spot first was a storage area for the local fishermen. It was just a basement then.

Later on, The Cannery Hotel was raised in its place, utilising the basement space as both a kitchen and a pantry. Now it was Casey’s brother’s apartment, which he found to be incredibly strange. But, the Temple owned the building; or, the family who did belonged to the Temple. Casey remembered very little of his time spent there as a child, in their family home in the basement of the Cannery. But as soon as he could, Leon had apparently moved back in. After being there for just under a week, he’d grown used to the feeling of seeing that big brick facade again after so many years.

Crossing the street, Casey was sure to walk with Trisha at his front with his hands out of his pockets. The last thing he wanted was to be caught off guard in the event that a crazy driver may break the rules and laws of the road and accidentally crush them. He wanted to be able to at least throw her out of the way.

There was a gated parking lot to the side of the building, and rather than going through the front, Casey paged in at the gate and a small side entrance unlocked. He let her into the parking lot first, then closed the gate behind him as he followed.
”Haha, I tricked you. I bet you weren’t expecting home to be a parking lot, and now we’re gonna lay on the pavement together!”

It was a stupid joke, and he made a dumb face as he said it, still leading Trisha onward toward an actual side entrance to the building.

“You can lie on the pavement alone, my tiny, frail body wasn’t made for anything but a comfortable bed,” Trisha laughed, though she rolled her eyes at the stupid face he pulled. She looked up at the building, and around the parking lot curiously. She paused at the actual building entrance, looking up at Casey. “If it’s a basement, are there no windows and shit? I’ll need to send the bees I still have with me back if there isn’t… they don’t handle being trapped so well.”

”I guess you’d just have to sleep on me then.” Casey grinned, almost not hearing what she was saying about the bees and the ventilation. When he finally processed it, near the top of the stairs, he stopped.

”Oh, nah there’s windows.” he said, physically swinging his arm down toward the row of thin rectangular windows that lined the building at floor level, each one with a small open space that was grated off to make sure they didn’t leak and flood the apartment inside. It looked like they’d even been decorated with different pots and flowers that seemed to be half in the process of moving inside.
”I’ll go around opening them when we get down. The bedroom is on this corner here too, so it’s got two different walls with them. Plenty of air and natural light in the mornings.”

Light was unnatural in that fucking apartment. Condo? He’d had a hard time distinguishing the difference his entire life.

He popped the side door open, and it led into an immediate stairwell with properly old wooden stairs and fancy hardwood floors. Rather than turning left to go up, Casey obviously turned left to go down. It was actually two flights with a landing in the middle, at which point they were met by a fairly nondescript wooden double door. There was a keypad lock, as well as several locks.

”This is where Leon and I come in. The other entrance is Mia’s, since she doesn’t drive. She comes through the front. Chances are, even if she makes it home, we won’t be seeing her. And if you do, just spit. She’ll get the message.”

He wasn’t in the business of being scandalous about his little sister, but he hated that nobody seemed to have a lid on her. But he wasn’t her Dad, and he wasn’t going to go snooping through her room for heroin needles. If Leon said things were fine, things were fine…

Casey proceeded to undo a total of seven locks from this set of double doors before finally swinging the weighty, reinforced metal door open for Trisha to enter.

And by God, the room was black. It was like being swallowed by the void, this side entrance hall walls were completely coated in practically Vanta Black paint that seemed to swallow every bit of light. On the wall, or built into it in places, were different picture frames and awards. The fixtures were all gold, backlit by dim, almost red halogen bulbs. Directly to the right seemed to open up to some kind of office or lounge space, dark oak bookshelves and a massive desk flanked another case full of trophies and awards. A fancy computer sat on top of the desk, an equally large chair with a wolf head as a head rest was swung to look out at the hall.
At the end of that hall, on the right hand side, a door was open, but the inside of the room was blocked out entirely by a wall of curtains that kept it private even with an open door.

Past the hall itself, a black quartz countertop and island duo sat on equally dark stone tiles, with bronze and white accents in the backsplash, and dark bronzed metal work on all the appliances and hardware, even down to the knobs on the cabinets. Adjoining was… Some kind of function wall? It was like a hotel conference room, a false sliding wall blocking off a part of the apartment that was probably once a massive dining area.
There was also another hallway that led to a couple of doors; probably a closet and maybe the same section of the place that was closed off as Mia’s living space.

But in the part of the open room that was available, a massive ring of black leather couches were sunk into the floor with some kind of crazy kotatsu table that had a heater and, you guessed it, fancy spots to place your drinks that would keep them frosty so you didn’t leak condensation onto the glass and leave rings.

You didn’t guess that? Oh…

There was an equally big entertainment centre, though the centre itself was devoid of a television. Rather, there was a projector and a pulldown screen, which was down and hiding whatever could possibly be on the other side.
There was a hint of it being a picture frame on the bottom edge, however, and feet lined the small sliver of visibility. To the right of the entire ordeal, another door was open slightly ajar. Casey made his way to it and swung it open, entering in.

As he opened the door fully, a shape skittered across the floor before hopping up onto the kitchen island.
For all the literal blackness of this apartment, it'd only be fitting that a massive black maine coon cat would also inhabit the space. His paws were huge, and he stared at Trisha with rapt interest.
”That's Kane. Abel is next door, but chances are he'll be smacking at the door to the hall any-”

The door toward Mia's section thumped loudly. An ear piercing meow crawled out from under the door. Opening it would introduce Abel, the most contrasting creature in the house with pure white fur tinged to red in some places. He took his spot next to his brother, and now both cats were staring at Trisha.

Trisha stared right back at the cats.

She hadn't had much time to take in the apartment - it's grandeur not all that impressive, considering where she was raised, but the sheer… darkness of the whole place was very different from what she knew. A lingering look had been given in what appeared to be the office when she followed Casey in, a hint of irritation sparking in her chest. But she moved on… to be met with two cats. She hadn't expected a single cat, nevermind two. It wasn't that she minded cats, but she had lost a few bees to them before. The bees weren't intelligent enough to be frightened, but the slight panic she felt at the thought agitated them too. She carefully got them to crawl from her shoulders to her neck, buried away underneath her long hair, before approaching the two cats.

"Hellloo," she said softly, stepping towards the kitchen island and holding out a hand for the cats to sniff. She then tilted her head towards Casey with a smile. "I'm not used to cats. Or any normal pets, honestly! Mum's family brought their dog when they visited one summer, but otherwise… didn't really grow up with any. They're friendly, right?"

Casey had already disappeared into what was probably his room. But at the question, he came back out with a smile on his face.
”No, they’re both rude jerks.”
”Rude!”
”Oh, very rude, Brother. Evil Casey.”

The two cats exchanged a look which was transferred to Casey, then to Trisha.
”Casey girlfriend?”
”Noooo, Mia friend!”
”No, no! Here. Not there.”
They stood in unison, footsteps one hundred percent in sync as they made their way across the island to get as close to Trisha as they could.

”I Abel!”
”I Kane!”

Speaking cats… Talking, presumably magical cats… They both spoke again in unison, as if coming to a concise conclusion.
"You Charming and Gracious!?"

Casey shook his head.
”No, guys, Abel… Well, I think he got it right. Girlfriend?” he gave Trisha a cute look.

When the cats started talking, Trisha reflexively jumped. She shouldn't really be shocked by it, after all the magic she'd seen, but she was. At least her bees didn't really talk? They talked in a way normal bees did. She stepped away from the cats and their intense stares, and right next to Casey.

"Oh." She finally got over the talking cats and registered Casey's question. A smile bloomed across her lips, eyes curving into gentle crescent moons. She turned her head away from the cats and up towards him. "Yeah, girlfriend."

She immediately giggled afterwards, like it was her first relationship, leaning towards him and hiding her face against his arm. It was… different from how any of her other relationships had started. Normally she slept with someone, and then it started from there. So this was new in a way. "I can't believe you're introducing me to your cats first! Not that I need introduced to anyone else- but really, the cats, this is so embarrassing."

”Well, you already know Leon, and… Well, they’re not just cats. They’re… Contemporaries.”
”Murder is within me!’
”And I was the first!

The two cats both licked opposite front paws in unison, and one could be forgiven for thinking that they smiled up at Trisha.
”Technically they’re the same cat, or so I’m told. Our dear old Dad exposed them to a very powerful Apparition, and they wear it with grace.”

Creepy cats didn’t dissuade or remove Casey’s smile from his face as he held onto Trisha. Girlfriend… He had something to do that wasn’t moping around now, and he felt excited. Happy even.
”Do you two have enough food on Mia’s end?”
”I famished! Abel’s eyes scrunched together like a cat’s often do.
”I ate him. Already full.

Casey rubbed Trisha’s arm in a comforting way before he stepped away.
”Here, let me feed them, and give me your onesie so we can get it washed and dried. More comfortable than regular clothes. In the meantime, I can check if Mia has a pair of sweats or something that will fit you.” he said, holding out his hand.
”And if you wanna shower or something, Leon’s room has the bathroom. The one we passed in the hall with the curtains. It’s a reallynice shower. Technically it was our parents’, so it had to be built a certain way for my Dad. It’s like showering in a cave.”

"You just want to see me in the bee onesie again, don't you?" Trisha joked half heartedly, trying to ignore the fact one of the cats had said about eating… someone? Whoever ‘him’ was. Hopefully it wasn't a person. She shuddered, taking his hand and squeezing it - more to comfort herself in the face of the eery cats. "Some sweats would be great- if they're too big it's alright, I'll make do! Maybe a hoodie or something too? Doesn't matter how big that is… the bigger the more comfortable, honestly. I wear a large sized one about the house a lot of the time.”

She smiled, holding out the onesie she’d somehow been carrying the whole time. “I won’t say no to a shower. I’m used to pretty fancy showers, but never heard of one like a cave… Are there already towels in there?”

Casey considered for a moment, but one of the cats had it on lock.
”No! No towels, girlfriend! No towels anywhere!
Their voices were like young boys, and they both laughed in the most horrifying and creepy twin-like way that they could.
”You use Abel as a towel… He likes.”

Casey frowned.
”First, she’s Trisha. Tri-Sha. Second? Keep your crappy attitudes up, you’ll be doing the ouroboros thing in the street tonight, no chickens and no beds!” he asserted, sticking a finger up.
The twins exchanged a look before batting their paws in unison at Trisha.
"Sorry Trisha."

Casey looked at Trisha with a small frown.
”Sorry, they get weird around new people who can hear them. Please, guys, refrain from being absolute jerks? Like, in fact, go next door. I’ll bring you your food when its ready, but we’re gonna have some private time here tonight.”
The twins gave a slight look of indignance, but spun to leave regardless.

It may have only been an instant, but the twin cats appeared as a twisted mass of flesh and evil that was more than suitably horrifying for a Halloween’s evening, the image fading as they crossed the threshold into the other part of the apartment.
”To your earlier question-” Casey continued, closing the door behind the cats. ”-yes. There should be towels already in there. C’mon.” he turned, taking her hand as he brought her back down the first hall and into Leon’s bedroom.

Pulling the curtain in front of the door back revealed that the place was an incredibly debauched dungeon-esque room, handcuffs still dangling from the massive bed’s ornate headboard. All manner of toys and paraphernalia were on display in a glass case hung from the wall. There was some other furniture and structures that were clearly used in some sort of BDSM play; overall it was like being in some porn producer’s creepy bedroom.
But pushing in a little further revealed the bathroom. It was, as Casey described, incredibly cavelike. The whole setup for the shower was actually sunk a few feet into the concrete subfloor, and the tiles mimicked real rock in their texture.

It was like a glass-fronted grotto. There was also a toilet made of, you guessed it, black porcelain, and a black marble his-and-hers sink and countertop arrangement. And, yes, there were towels. Plenty of towels.

“I think I just learned far more about Leon than I ever wanted to,” Trisha shook her head in disbelief. Really, couldn’t he set up a second bedroom for that? Did he sleep in there? With the handcuffs above his bed? Trisha wasn’t really against all that, she’d tried it out a little bit before, but when it was the only path to a shower… Not something she wanted to see. Or know, about her… boyfriend’s brother. “Do you have to
walk through that everytime? I think I prefer the cats…”


She looked around the very large bathroom, which absolute dwarfed her (and she really wasn’t that small, she was average!). At least there weren’t any chains in here. Without being watched by any apparition-cats, or being in a BDSM style dungeon room, she was able to relax again. The bees that had been agitatedly clinging to her neck came out from under her hair, flying away from her and landing on one of the towels. They lay there contentedly.

“This is pretty nice, even if it makes me feel tiny,” Trisha smiled, letting go of Casey’s hand and stepping further into the bathroom. Without even thinking she pulled her top off, dumping it on the floor beside her. It was only when she half turned back around that she remembered- shit! They were supposed to be taking it slow. She was wearing a bra, of course, but she shouldn’t have started stripping at all. “Oh, uh, sorry, I didn’t even think.”

She laughed awkwardly, reaching out to grab a towel and cover herself back up.

”Trust me, at their worst, you’d really prefer the sex room. Pray you never catch them in an argument, because Kane wins every time… The names are very delibera-”
She started stripping in front of him… He turned his head and shifted until he wasn’t even looking at her at all. By the time she looked at him, she was already looking at his back.
”Ah, it’s fine. I’d say I’m used to seeing people naked but that sounds weird out of context. There’s not a lot of privacy in the Army.”

Without turning back around, he moved toward the door.
”When it gets super steamy, a fan will turn on. I just didn’t want you getting scared by the noise. I’ll come back with clothes for you.”
And then he walked out, closing the door to leave Trisha alone with the massive shower.
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Leon’s Apartment

The knobs were typically intricate of these big shower setups, and one group was even labelled as “Sauna”. There were at least twelve nozzles that began to dump water into the shower from all sides.

“Thanks,” Trisha called after him. She didn’t move for a moment, hands falling to her side. They clenched into fists, then unclenched multiple times. An irritating, irrational feeling of rejection started to creep in. It wasn’t that. Though she didn’t know for sure, it was pretty obvious from the two kisses they’d shared that Casey was inexperienced. They were taking things slow. He was respecting her privacy. That was good. It was.

It was just the far too familiar sight of someone’s back turned to her, that was all. A silly irrational thing. Her life was just back after back after back- her exes, the coven, her dad, her mom. But she was being stupid. This wasn’t that. And even if it was, it was day one, right? It wasn’t like there were many feelings there. He was nice, attractive, and treated her pretty well so far… but it had just been one day.

Nothing to get so worked up about. But of course, emotions didn’t exactly follow any logic, and she was awful at controlling hers. A bee worriedly flew past her eyes, landing on her cheek and snapping her out of it.

“Hey, go back to the towel, you can’t get wet,” Trisha murmured, reaching up to tap it. It seemed to rub its fuzzy body against her cheek before following the pheromone command she’d given along with her words. With the bees safely out of the way, she finished taking off her clothes and turned on the shower. It took a moment to figure out the insane amount of knobs. Rich as she was, she hadn’t actually used a shower this massive before. The Vanburen Manor was an older building, and while the current place was fancy her ensuite bathroom certainly didn’t have a shower like this.

The warm, all encompassing shower helped. She closed her eyes as the water was dumped on her, spending more time just standing in it than actually cleaning. She was in there for about ten minutes before she dragged herself out, the thoughts washed away starting to fight against the torrent and crowd her mind again. The bees flew out of the way as she grabbed one towel to wrap around her body, then another for her hair. She started with drying that first, vigorously rubbing it. Once it was dry enough she shook her hair out so it fell in messy waves down her back. It would take a while to fully air dry which… would be annoying. With a soft sigh she crouched down, pulling a hair bobble out of her trouser pocket. She pulled her damp hair back into a bun at the top of her hair. She had the towel wrapped tightly around her, so all she could do was wait for Casey to come back with clothes.

Immediately sensing her idleness, the six bees flew over to her. Two landed in her hair, while the rest landed on her face and shoulders. They started lapping up the water as if they hadn’t drank anything their whole life. Trisha bit her lip to suppress a laugh, because it fucking tickled. “Hey, hey, stop it! I didn’t say you could move- you’re not listening to me now, huh? Fuck, it tickles, stop- Go over to the sink.”

It was a far longer period of time than what could’ve been expected of someone just getting some clothing. Casey finally returned and knocked on the door with some haste.
”Leaving them out here! Taking care of something!” he called through the door.

Okay,” Trisha said softly - he probably wouldn’t hear if he’d already moved away from the door. She carefully opened it, reaching out and pulling in the clothes. The bees finally listened to her and moved off her, allowing her to get dressed. She pulled back her own underwear, then the promised clothing. It was all too big, but the elasticated waist of the sweatpants meant they shouldn’t fall down… She just bent over to roll up the bottom of them so she wouldn’t trip when walking. "Alright, you can come back."

The bees buzzed back over to her, five settling sensibly on her shoulder and one choosing to sit precariously on her ear. She didn’t bother moving it… They were being really finicky right now. Maybe because she hadn’t been talking to them until now - she didn’t need to, but generally did when alone with them. Not so much around other people. She bit her lip, gnawing at it as she delayed leaving. Why? She couldn’t describe it, just a stupid feeling of dread. It’s seriously fine. Why are you being like this? So annoying.

Trisha took a deep breath and stepped out of the bathroom, making her way through Leon’s BDSM dungeon as quickly as she could and back out into the hallway, then down towards the open room. "Casey?"

As she walked through the room, it was immediately clear that Casey had hung more sheets or some cloth blockers across Leon’s room so Trisha didn’t have to see it again. He’d pulled the curtain from the door itself, giving her a clear shot from the door to the bathroom whenever she needed it.

Coming back out into the kitchen, Casey had put together this fruit ensemble, and had covered the black leather couches in plenty of blankets. There were candles burning, filling the apartment with autumnal scents, and the projector was already running and displaying a warm fireplace.
”I didn’t know what kind of food you would want from this place, so I figured I’d wait to ask you. But, in the meantime I know that the bees are gonna love some of this fruit, and I know you will too.”
He was waiting in something more comfortable; sweatpants of his own and a green Army t-shirt. His hair was pulled back and tied up in a loose bun.
”How was the shower?” he asked, walking closer to her and moving in for a hug.

Seeing all the effort Casey had gone to, Trisha felt conflicted. She should feel happy about it all. She didn't have to see anymore of Leon's creepy sex dungeon, a comforting atmosphere blanketed the darkly decorated place and there was fruit. But she'd already taken one thing as rejection, and that was it. Was it fruit because Casey had taken one look at her and decided she wasn't healthy enough? He was probably right. Were the blankets because she couldn't be trusted on the undoubtedly expensive leather couch? That was ridiculous.
"It was nice," Trisha said woodenly. She didn't move to go in for the hug, but she also didn't make any move to stop him. She just stared at him, nose wrinkling and lips pursed. Her eyes, looking like a more dull brown without any reflected lights, showed her confusion.

The bees felt incredibly conflicted too. They could smell the incredibly tempting aroma of fresh fruit, luring them towards it. But there were also the literal mixed signals coming off Trisha, confusing them. She was annoyed, but she wasn't annoyed, wanted to get close and push away. Safe and not safe. Eventually, the former won out. There were no actual commands and no want to hurt. Five bees flew from her shoulder and onto a plum, immediately beginning to gnaw their way through it. The bee on her ear was less happy. Instead, she buzzed over from Trisha's ear and landed on Casey's cheek, just below his eye. She gave out a 'threatening' buzz to anyone that could sense pheromones… a very normal one to anyone else.

Trisha frowned. "Oy, stop."
She was probably talking to the bee.

But Casey did stop. He stopped mid stride, arms still out.
Was this too fast?
No, she was probably freaked out by the fucking cats… And Leon's nightmare of a sex bedroom. Casey hadn't imagined Trisha being prudish necessarily, but of course she knew Leon better than him, right? It almost certainly wasn't something she wanted to know about her Covenmate.

And obviously the two cats were unsettling. How could he convince her they're friendly and sapient enough to accept and comply with boundaries? They were both over twenty years of age, their unnatural lifespans maintained by the spirit within. They'd watched countless children grow into adults, and grew used to the kind of sibling relationship that existed.

But that probably didn't matter to her.
”Too fast? Sorry, I-”

But the Bees were feasting. All but one that landed on his cheek. It was… Was it defending her? Casey wasn't an educated man, but he had a good sense for things. He knew bees didn't do things for no reason.

It brought him back to that hill. To swatting that bee against the side of the mud hole and feeling it explode under his fingertips. As if on reaction, his hand flicked up and nearly squashed the poor innocent creature against his face.
But he stopped, resting two fingers against his cheek to try and coax the little one off any important areas.

”What's wrong, little one? Did I get some watermelon on my face?”

Trisha flinched as his hand went towards the bee, an automatic reaction to anyone else's getting near them. She'd experienced people squashing her bees. But he wouldn't?
And he didn't. She let out a soft sigh of relief. The strange tension she'd been feeling began to drain away. Internal problems pushed aside without any thought given to them, ignored but not resolved or forgotten.

The bee seemed to look at his fingers. It then turned around and raised its abdomen, string brandished threateningly.

"Heyyyy, no." Trisha closed the gap between them, stepping into Casey's outstretched arms and reaching up. She put her finger between the bee and his two fingers. The bee buzzed and she narrowed her eyes at it, brow furrowing slightly as she told it to fly away or get on her finger. There seemed to be a tug of war between her and the bee, which she ultimately won. It let out a grumpy buzz, ignoring her finger entirely and flying over to join the others on the fruit.

"She, uh…" Trisha lowered her hand, looking up at Casey and trying to smile. Her expression softened slightly. But how did she explain it? She was set off by seeing his back turned to her and got stuck in her head to the point the bees were affected? That she still felt annoyed about it? No way. "She got shaken around a lot while fighting the snake… made her and a bunch of the others way more pessimistic. Very weird. She was just set off by the shower, I think, and then thought you smelled different. Change of clothes probably. She was absolutely bombarding me with pheromones."

She leaned against him, loosely wrapping her arms around him. It was a good enough explanation, right? He hopefully wouldn't figure out that it was her that had freaked out the bees, rather than the other way around.

”It must be real hard when there's a lot more of them… Good thing we're gonna help you train and get better at it. I'd say we can start with the cats, but they really can't process the whole ghost thing with the same precision and skill we can.”

He had taken what she was saying at face value: It was probably just that she didn't want anyone getting hurt. If they did in fact sting and die like normal bees, he was certain it wouldn't be a positive experience for anyone.

”Pretty good you can handle it, though. Thanks for helping me avoid the sting.”

Back to his scheduled program, Casey's arms wrapped around her tighter, until he was almost squeezing. His voice got muffled in her hair, but the gist escaped.
”I've only had a couple girlfriends. Before the Army. I… I tried something with this guy from my platoon, but it turned out we were better friends, since… Well, frankly, neither of us were gay. Just lonely. Amazing what the brain can trick you into with enough emotion.”

If Casey was one thing, it was open and honest. Maybe too much so, but he didn't imagine the consequences of telling a girl he was dating that he'd tried kissing other dudes at any point. He was just happy to have someone there with him. He wanted to cuddle up and disappear: Finish the saga right then and there with her and with happiness.

”My point is, I only know what I've seen. I know it's probably not something you want to deal with, so… If you feel like it's not working, I'm strong. You don't have to hide around me. If you feel like it's not going well? We'll drop it. No harm, no foul. You're too sweet to be stuck in something rotten.”

"So you won't leave me first?" Trisha blurted out before she could stop herself. Too sweet? She'd never been called sweet before… because it wasn't true. She could pretend, she could act, but Trisha knew deep down what she was like. It wasn't her fault, it was just the way she was - the way her parents had forced her to be. But she wasn't sweet. But how could he know that?

"It's okay. I won't hide around you but… you're meant to work through problems, not drop it right away." She said that as if she'd ever worked through a single problem of her own in her life, rather than becoming a growing ball of resentment and pain. She wriggled in his arms a little bit, craning her head back to look up at him. What did he mean by all of that, anyway? Beyond her gut reaction of… happiness that he thought she'd leave first, she didn't understand. Because he'd only had a couple of girlfriends? He was inexperienced? That was fine. Because he'd tried it with a guy? Did he think there was something wrong with that?

"You know, I've dated about fifteen people," she said softly. She didn't like talking about the deep stuff, her feelings or emotions or problems. But that was just a surface level fact. She had dated a lot of people. "The longest was four months- she had an abstraction too, so she got the bees a bit more. But do you know how many I broke up with?"
She paused, biting her lip again. It was just a fact again. On the surface. None of the reasons why. "None. I've never broken up with anyone."

”So you think I'm gonna leave?”
It would've taken a particularly inept individual to not put that addition problem together after she'd said such a thing initially. So you won't leave me first?

Casey's eyes narrowed as the question left his lips. He stared down, eyes filling with a blackness as the dim lights shaded him in like a comic book character. His arms got just a little tighter as he thought of all the corpses that had begged him not to leave. All the dead men who had seen his face as their last sight before they left their mortal coils.

”I don't think you understand what you've gotten yourself into.” he spoke with a calm, reassuring voice.
”I used to help the Docs with Triage. I wasn't very good at it. I couldn't leave the dying men, and I couldn't bring myself to put them out of their misery.”

Something told him to help her understand. To understand his seriousness. He didn’t want to kill the mood, but he didn't need her worried either. For the first time, he considered that she wasn't just a cute funny girl; that there were problems there that he may not be able to fix ever. Things he'd need to deal with.

But she hadn't slept with him either. She didn't know that he couldn't really. That he was up at all hours of the night, keeping opsec and skulking the halls of the apartment building looking for any sign that things weren't perfectly secure for himself and the other residents.
Or how he obsessively kept his back to walls he felt secure around, or that too much noise and light made him shake uncontrollably.

She didn't know he was a freak yet. But if she stuck around long enough, maybe that number would go from zero to one… He only hoped it would last longer than four months.

Casey let her go slightly, only so he had enough room to kneel down in front of her.
”If the bus’ wheels fall off, I'll stick my fucking feet through the floor like the Flintstone family we saw earlier. I'll fucking drag you kicking and screaming if I have to. But I won't leave you like that. I promise.”

Trisha opened her mouth, then closed it again. Her breath grew shallower and her hands fell to his shoulders, fingers gripping his t-shirt. His words were enough to begin to chip away at the metres thick walls she'd built around herself. Just the tiniest of cracks, dust that had always formed bricks leaking out along with emotions she'd kept trapped. But she didn't believe him. How could she believe him? Her own mother had abandoned her. She talked about her as if their relationship was distant but still there, but it wasn't. She hadn't heard from her mom since she graduated. Every call had been rejected.

Why would a guy she'd just met put in the effort to stick around? How could she believe that? Really she should feel scared, there was an intensity to what he was saying, but she just didn't believe it at all. But there was a tiny bit of her that hoped it was true, and wanted to confirm it. “Everyone leaves. Will you really do that? Will you really stay, even if I’m the one that pulled off the wheels?”

She looked away, gnawing at her lip. Why was she letting herself be so affected? She'd already said it would be fine if he left. Now. Not in a month. Tomorrow, maybe, but not after a few weeks. She looked back away, smiling weakly. “I, uh, I mean I won’t, obviously. I believe you. I've never had someone promise me that so seriously.”

Casey tried to grin up at her. To smile warmly. He thought it worked, but he couldn’t hide the discomfort, nor would he even really know how to explain it. How could he explain that it was all trivial bullshit? That he’d seen death time and time again, and that if she had too, she’d understand the same as him. That they had things hard enough, and that commiseration was necessary for people to survive hard times. Or that he’d been forced into so many uncomfortable situations in his life that he, for the first time, was contextualising how little he’d ever actually run from in his life?

”Fuck the words then. Just let me show you… Girlfriend. Babe. Trisha… You’ll see as life continues for us. I don’t run. I stand and I struggle, because I fucking love when things get hard. It thrills me.”

He rose up to his feet, scooping Trisha as he had when she was wounded at the Festival. That same warm, strong, protective grip as before. His head tilted down to nuzzle their noses together in an eskimo kiss. His eyes stared down at hers, the bright blue of them piercing like a spotlight.
”Now, where were we?” he asked, the half smile turning into a more playful grin. He felt like he shredded the tension off, but kept observing her face for any signs of lingering doubt.
”Oh, right-”

He shuffled the both of them toward the fruit, adjusting one of his arms to take the brunt of her weight while the other slipped out and grabbed a few grapes. Like a man-servant, he brought his hand close, feeding her grapes with a playful look on his face.
”-the Queen needs some sweetness too…”

Trisha wrapped one arm around the back of his neck, the other loosely resting on his shoulder. She rested comfortably in his arms and put her worries to the side. Either he’d stay like he said, or he’d leave like everyone else. She didn’t want to think about it right now- she forced herself to not think about it right now.

She leaned forward and ate the grapes right out of his hand, before smiling sweetly at him. “Mm, they’re good. The bees are enjoying it too.”
She nodded towards the six bees that had merrily eaten half a plum between them, and were now lying on the plate in varying states of fullness. Once they’d processed all of that, she’d probably send them back to the hive and have another group come out. These ones had been with her all day… and it was easier for them to sleep there rather than with her.

“Oh, can we order that chicken you promised me? Grapes are good, but I really need something unhealthy to balance it out.” She grinned, expression much for relaxed as she leaned her head in and rested it against his neck. “I’ll have anything without bones in it.”

Hearing her opinion on the chicken, he nodded happily and sat her up, sliding her onto the countertop next to the fruit.
”Hell yeah! Alright, probably a box or two of boneless, I’ll get Mia her falafel, do you…-” he was patting around for his cellphone, but realised it was still in his uniform pocket.

As he moved away to move to his room, he stopped and turned back to her.
”-I’ll let you look anyway, I think. Because they may have a side dish or something you want. Or dessert. They fry chocolate bars like they do in the UK, with that thick ass batter?”
He waggled his eyebrows, then waved his hand.
”You wanna see my room? Or wait until later?”

“My friends told me about the battered chocolate bar thing, I was never sure if I’d be able to eat it,” Trisha wrinkled her nose, but she then smiled cutely, leaning towards Casey. “Maybe you can get one and I’ll have a bite or two of it?”

It wasn’t that she cared much about not eating junk food - she was blessed with a high metabolism and did actually exercise. But she also really wasn’t sold on the idea of a chocolate bar covered in batter. She liked battered things, and she liked chocolate, but combined? Wasn’t so appealing.

“I want to see your room.” She slipped down off the countertop and smiled teasingly. “I need to make sure it isn’t like Leon’s before I’m stuck here for the night.”

Ever since Leon and Casey had come to terms with their personal relationship, Leon had taken to curating a space for Casey to come that he’d be comfortable in. To that end, it was a far more tame and warm room than many of the others. There was a pleasant draft rolling through the room as the tall, slender windows were opened on the different walls. This was where most of the plant life seemed to be, various spider plants and hearty crawlers that had been given their own little tressels.

The bed was big, fluffy, and low to the ground as the frame swallowed the mattress and the boxspring. A closet was next to the entrance door, and there was a smaller entertainment centre that had a television and a bunch of knick-knacks. Different pictures, small frames, of Casey and their family, or pictures that had a teenage Casey surrounded by his fellow soldiers as they graduated basic. There was an American flag that was folded and pressed into its own little case, and two boxes of medals for various qualifications and awards he’d received.
Interestingly, there was a picture of Casey with the President… He was in uniform, so clearly they’d done something special.

There was also an amazing looking fish tank that was somewhat built into the wall. The whole thing seemed to be built for a turtle, and was a replicated freshwater habitat for the north-western painted turtle. The creature was at the top, sunning itself in the bright light of a warm lamp. Below the water, a myriad of different fishes swept to and fro through the ample space of water.

Casey found himself staring at it as the two of them stood together. He had one hand on his uniform pants, the other stuffed into a pocket and gripping onto his cellphone.
”Sometimes, I can stare at it for hours. I was amazed that Leon had kept Traitor after I left, but… Well, after he told me how much it meant to him too, I understood, but when he first told me the old guy was still around, it was a surprise.”

The tank was tall enough that to get to the top, Casey still needed a stepping stool. He slid it out, climbed up, and scooped the dinner plate-sized turtle out. It’s little webbed feet paddled at the air, and rather than retract, he aimlessly waggled his long neck out at Casey.
”Yet, here he is! I was like, five? We were up north camping. Traitor here was all alone, me and Leon made believe that he was a rogue turtle who betrayed his family. At one point, Leon had made a little band to put around him so he could project his thoughts, but… Well, turns out he has none. Or, that Leon was lying to me since I never would’ve been able to hear anyway.”

He found himself smiling like a kid at the turtle, and held it out for Trisha to touch.

Trisha looked around the room with a feeling of relief - not that she’d expected it to be like Leon’s, but it was his flat… maybe Casey could’ve been stuck with a room like that too. Thankfully he wasn’t. It was nice. She could see herself spending a lot of time in here… just relaxing with him, that was. Well, other things too, eventually. She walked past the pictures, looking at each of them for a moment. She was mostly curious to see teenage Casey - how different he’d been, but also the similarities. Sadly, none of the pictures were too embarrassing.

There was, again, a stab of jealousy as Casey talked about how much the turtle meant to both him and Leon. A shared memory. That must be nice.
“How many surprise pets do you have? At least I was upfront about the bees,” Trisha joked, staring at the turtle, half expecting him to talk too. Seemed to be a normal turtle, though. Thankfully. “He’s… cute but there’s no way Leon made him a thought projection band. No way. He’d have to have some thoughts in there, surely? Even my bees have thoughts.”

She smiled, cautiously reaching out a hand to touch the turtle’s shell. Then she, even more gently, stroked his head. She then dropped her hand. She wasn’t really the animal type, beyond the bees she’d ended up with, so she wasn’t sure what to do now. She ended up looking around the rest of the room again.
“You have a television in your room? Do you know how perfect watching stuff in bed is?” she grinned up at him. “I always wanted one when I was a kid, but my mum said no, and dad actually listened to that… Oh, I suppose you probably didn’t grow up here. I don’t have one in my current place either, since I got so used to not having one.”

Casey shrugged his shoulders, setting the turtle back up on its perch and sliding the footstool back.
”Well, actually… Funny you mention that, I’m pretty sure I was born in the kitchen out there. Mom doesn’t really believe in hospitals unless she owns the doctors.” he mentioned offhandedly.
Looking around the room now, he chuckled to himself.
”Leon and Elise got their own rooms. I had to share. This was his. Now he’s got our parents’ old room, and if you can imagine it, their setup was actually way worse. Like, I’m pretty sure my Mom still has a painting of her and my Dad just getting absolutely freaky with it. And that was hung as a portrait we all got to see every day. Titled Genesis, y’know like us kids were supposed to be proud of our parents’ active sex life or something.”

If it hadn’t already become abundantly clear, Casey was quite the oversharer. Mostly thanks to all the time he’d spent with nobody to talk about what he’d seen and experienced, he’d only recently come into contact with Adepts outside his family during his work with the ARC program.
”I had this tv in my barrack at the base. I brought it with me figuring Leon was gonna be home a lot more, but since I’ve been back and this whole Father Wolf shit is going on, he’s practically our Mom’s slave dog right now. So she knows he’s safe.” Casey finished in a mocking tone, returning to his pants and grabbing his phone.

”Alright, this food… Gonna have to work this and the breakfast tomorrow off really hard. I know a certain drill sergeant who would beat my ass for eating like this, but hey; calories in, calories out. I defended our freedom to eat Nashville hot chicken.” he smiled, his free arm wrapping around Trisha’s waist and gently pulling her close before plopping down on the bed with her to stare at the menu.

”If I could find some pot, would you smoke it?” he asked, glancing a side eye at Trisha with raised eyebrows.

Trisha was getting whiplash from the speed at which Casey changed topics. She was still processing his mum giving birth in the kitchen when he dropped that his parents had a much kinkier sex life than Leon, who seemed to have a pretty fucking kinky one. Trisha wasn't a prude by any means, and she was pretty open to trying anything when it came to that but… she was surprisingly private about it. And she really didn't need to know about other people's. But Casey had to grow up with a picture of his parents doing that?! That was fucked up enough even Trisha could truly feel sympathy.
“My dad's sexual escapades are well known across the city but… at least that's detail free. And hey, that's one benefit of you missing out on being in the coven - a serial killer isn't hunting you and you're not locked up by your mom.”

Trisha grinned at him then swung her legs around to hook over his, leaning into him to look at the menu. Fairly standard chicken affair, that bit was easy. Did she want any sides? She was pretty hungry.
“Ooo, they have curly fries, can we get those? And one of the deep fried chocolate bars… I want to try it.”

She flashed him a bright smile, before glancing down at his chest - not like, checking him out or anything (well maybe a little bit), just with his comment about working the food off…
“You're not in the army anymore, surely you don't have to work out that hard? Unless you eat your bodyweight in chicken you won't lose these.” she reached out and poked the top of his chest. “You're not going to start dragging me to the gym too, are you? Actually, I wouldn't mind if I got to watch you work out.”

With food mostly decided on, she was able to consider the pot question. “Like, for tonight? I'd smoke it, but you'll have to order at least another box of chicken… I've done it once before and I ended up eating like thirty chicken nuggets by myself. I don't really remember that bit but Cass- one of my friends- said I just sat in a corner for thirty minutes just eating. Didn't say anything, didn't respond to anything, just ate. So you'd have to be prepared to deal with possibly silent, constantly eating Trisha.”

Casey giggled when Trisha poked his chest. He was supremely ticklish around his chest and armpits, and he almost flinched. Instead his hand swept up, itching the spot where she poked him.
”Fitness is super important to my family. The Philosophy dictates an Adept's body should be immaculate and healthy. It's thought that a clean bill of health and a hard body gives the Lux a place where it feels more comfortable.

He bumped his shoulder against her playfully as his head tilted over hers slightly as he loaded the cart.
”Honestly though, I just like it. I train to failure more often than not, so I always need a good spotter. It's not a necessary shared hobby, but love is quite the motivator for one last set, y'know?”

His eyes passed over to her with a gentle wagging of his eyebrows. His large fingers slid across the glassy screen of his phone loading the delivery cart up. He watched the total climb. Fifty, sixty-five, ninety… When Casey saw it was almost a hundred and fifty dollars for two people, his brow furrowed.

  • Three Sandwiches
  • Three Large Plain Tenders
  • One Large Nashville Tenders
  • Family Coleslaw
  • Family Curly Fry
  • Family Mac n Cheese
  • Large Felafel
  • Two Fried Chocolates


Oh, Mia… Will she want the mousse? No, it’ll be gross by the time she gets to it.
He grinned thinking about stuffing his face with hot chicken. He always imagined getting chubby, or even fat, and after what he'd been through in his childhood, the voice of his Father's “motivation” was always in the back of his head. The truth was that it was ritualistic self-harm. The training, the constant pain and discomfort, the voice always in his head that said he needed to do better and punch harder and run faster…

Like he wasn't ever good enough to be a cheater.

Casey hit order, watching the loading wheel spin for a moment before it was confirmed. He took a deep breath.
”Alright, that's out of the way… Though it's probably gonna take longer than usual because of all the traffic.”

His free arm was still wrapped around Trisha, his hand gently pressed into her side and stomach. He pulled her extra close, then tilted his body to topple them both over. Now laying next to one another, Casey tilted his head.
”I could deal with eighty thousand bees stinging me at once if it meant spending time with you… his voice trailed off, eyes locked onto and lost within her own.

“Well, lucky you… I only have sixty thousand,” Trisha giggled. She rolled over so that she was on her side, snuggling in as close as she could get without actually climbing onto him. She rested one arm loosely over him with the other one curled up against her own body. It was easy for her to hold his gaze, lips tugging up into a gentle smile and eyes crinkling. This close, in the soft light, their actual colour would be more obvious - a unique hazel that looked brown in most unnatural lights. “Earlier was an accident, anyway. They normally don't try to sting people unless I tell them to or they're in danger. It… doesn't kill them like it would normal bees, but it still hurts them. Regrowing the stinger takes a while too.”

She stretched her head forward, lightly kissing his cheek before resting her forehead against the side of his. “If you help look after them, like all the manual shit that comes with having a whole hive of bees, then they’ll be even less likely to sting you. Another shared hobby - I’ll be your spotter, and you can be my beekeeping assistant."

Trisha smiled brightly at the thought of that. It was a lot of work by herself - while magical in their connection to her, their long lives and not dying to sting loss her bees were otherwise normal. They made honey, which needed taken out and processed, and they needed tidied up after. She didn’t mind it, because it was her only hobby really, but it’d be nice to have help.
“Oh, one minute.” She closed her eyes, expression briefly tightening. The bees that had been on the fruit plate next door, lazing around after being fed, eventually flew through and out of the open windows. Her brow furrowed slightly as she called a few more, very carefully… If she messed up the call, then she could end up with thousands of bees flooding in. She really didn’t want to deal with that. Eventually she opened her eyes again. “Sorry, just had to do a little bee rota change. Those guys have been with me all day so they need to rest, and they only sleep in two places - me or the hive. It’s a pain if it's on me, cause then I can’t move much.”

Her face relaxed again, and she smiled at him again. “Sooo.. What are we going to do while waiting for the food? No point in starting a movie…”

Casey laughed, sincerely at a loss. He’d probably just come off as a creep if he said what was on his mind.
”Stare at you… Wonder how I got so lucky?” he grinned, shaking his head.
”Honestly? I don’t know. Maybe fix us both a drink, figure out what movie we actually want to watch. Maybe get something to smoke out before the food gets here so your appetite is ready? Does all of that sound like a plan?”

“Mm, I am pretty great,” Trisha grinned playfully. His words were nice to hear, and it made it easier to project that confidence she wished she fully had. But she did know how attractive she was. That was one thing she was truly confident in.
“Sounds like a plan to me… But we should choose the movie before the drink and smoke. I can’t promise I’ll have good taste after.”

She went to sit up, but then paused with just her head slightly off the bed. A slightly devious, but cute, smile appeared on her soft lips. She wriggled a bit, bending her legs and throwing them both over him while pressing closer so that she was almost on top of him. “But, I’m soooo tired after calling for more bees. I don’t know if I can walk…”

”Oh, Queen Bee… You’re so lucky I come pre-trained.” he grinned at her, taking her and sliding Trisha with great ease back onto the bed.
For a moment he was on top of her, not holding her, but looming. Daring enough to place a kiss on her open neck, it only took an instant for him to slip away. One hand grabbed thigh, the other hooking under her arm and hoisting her over his back in an army carry.

”Like, really trained.” he laughed maniacally, starting to spin around in place with her in his arms. It went on for several seconds, with Casey laughing loudly the entire time.
Once he stopped, Trisha would be able to feel him wobbling around in a daze; but it was mostly to scare her. He was pretty good at being dizzy. He drunkenly stumbled toward the door, then back out into the living room before flopping her down on the big blanket covered couch.

”I figured my Queenie would get cold at some point, so all those blankets are yours to do with as you wish.” he finished, planting a kiss on her forehead and pulling away to head for the liquor cabinet. There was all sorts of fancy mixology shit inside, but he was only really worried about the bottle of tequila and the lemon squeezer. He dropped a couple nice glasses on the crazy table. One in each slot, and they both lit up underneath as a small refrigerating hum starting to chill the glasses before liquid even entered them.

He went off for a lemon from the fridge, split it in half with a knife, and grabbed the honey from the cabinet nearby.
”So you say they make honey? We should make mead with it or something…” he said from across the room.

“Yeahhh, they do.” Trisha rubbed her head, head still spinning slightly. She’d gotten excited for a moment, could still feel a hint of lingering heat on her neck. Or maybe that was just from getting shaken around a whole ton immediately afterwards. She pulled her knees up to her chest and grabbed one of the blankets, wrapping it tightly around herself. She ended up as just a blanket with a head poking out, twisting around to watch Casey. It helped with the lingering dizziness.

“I actually have so much honey I don’t know what to do with it. Most hives have a brood box - where the queen lives and lays eggs. Pollen and honey is used to feed them, but mine don’t have that. Occasionally if too many die they’ll create a temporary queen… but it doesn’t happen often. So it’s all just honey. Harvesting season ended in September, but I’ve barely gotten through it. I never thought about making mead with it... It’s always just been part of looking after the bees for me, since they’ll get unhappy if the whole hive is filled to the brim with honey. There’s the risk of them leaving to find another place too… Don’t know if that would actually happen, and I don’t want to find out.”

She stopped, realising she’d gone on and on about bee information he probably didn’t have any interest in. She wriggled an arm out of her blanket burrito to fiddle with one of the three small gold hoops in her ear lobe. Change the topic to something more interesting, nobody wants to hear that much about bees- “Oh, what movies do you have?”

Casey had been intently listening to the topic of the bees. He was, as it stood, absolutely fascinated by the strange pseudo-physicality of her Abstraction. In his time with the program, he’d been able to work with a lot of different Abberants and Adepts whose abilities varied drastically between the most mundane spells and the most incredible feats of strength he’d ever seen. In all that time, however, he’d only rarely seen a manifestation as she described. He wondered wildly about what the “Voice in her head” was, as he understood almost all Abberants had such a voice: The Apparition within.

Did her’s tell her to change the topic? Were the bees so sacred that she wasn’t allowed to babble about them? Would pushing it be too far?
”Oh, every streaming service known to man, and connection to the Temple’s archive on the other side of town, so if we can’t find it legitimately, we can have it beamed over here. Remotes are in the drawer near your knees.”

The lemon, honey and a tray of ice got brought to the couch, and he placed the ensemble down before he started making them both a drink. Lemon juice, honey, stir; then the tequila and ice, stir again. He picked both drinks up, handed Trisha her chilly glass, and raised his.

”To what I hope is an enriching and long lasting journey for the both of us.” he smiled at her with warmth and, probably, love.

Trisha had wriggled more out of the blankets out of necessity to get out various remotes (because she had no idea what was what), and now to take the glass from him. It was cold to the touch, and she automatically shivered even though she wasn’t cold. She smiled, trying not to read too much into his, and gently tapped her glass against his before taking a sip.
“To that- mm, it’s really nice.” She took another, longer drink. She’d been a bit hesitant when she’d seen there was honey in it - not because she disliked honey, but she was sick of it. She had so much that she ended up putting honey on whatever she could so it didn’t go to waste. But this was really good. The honey was the main flavour but… the other’s really added to it. “You’re making all my drinks from now on… We have a pretty insane collection at my place, I bet we could create all sorts of cocktails. Might have to fight two of my sisters for it though…”

She trailed off, drinking some more. It was really nice. Perhaps too nice, as she drank half the glass in a short period of time. She grabbed one of the remotes she’d pulled out, trying a couple before it turned on something that changed it from the fireplace image to a selection of streaming services. She found the horror genre and started flicking through them.
“Do you have any suggestions? I don’t really watch horror- not cause I can’t, but I don’t tend to watch movies alone and some of my college friends are wimps. My sisters could probably handle it, but whenever we try to watch movies together it just ends up as an argument and we can’t even choose one.”

Trisha was rambling a bit again, partly so she didn’t just continually drink and end up finishing it far faster than she should. She kept flicking through but honestly, they all just looked like… movies to her. Nothing stood out. “Or I can choose randomly?”

”Well, a vibe is a vibe. So I hear anyway. Maybe…” he trailed off, holding his hand out for the remote. Taking it, he began to scroll until he stopped himself, fighting every urge to put on the classic ”The Bees”. The fruit was low: too low, he couldn’t possibly pluck it so close to the ground. It was for the pests. The carrion would feast upon such a joke.

So he moved away from the classic horror section, moving into more contemporary options.
”Horror movies are kind of a joke for people like us…” he commented casually, eyes glazed over slightly as he found it hard to think of a title that really impressed him.
”You fought some fucking thing called the Stygian Snake. It’s like a horror movie in itself. So, maybe something that doesn’t take itself too seriously?”

He wound up on Beetlejuice. He’d never seen it, but he heard it was funny and creepy.
”I always have a rule. Twenty minutes. Unless one of us sees something in the movie that we like, we find something else.”

“The Snake itself was pretty bad, but the apparitions it created…” Trisha shuddered slightly. Nothing would really hold a candle to it. It was hard to find fictional horror scary when you lived in a world full of it. Though she’d mostly managed to avoid that stuff since the Stygian Snake.

“Oh- I’ve heard of this one,” she nodded at his choice. She really wasn’t much of a movie watcher, but she remembered when this movie came out and a couple of her college friends had gone to see it. She’d been too busy studying for an exam to join… but they’d all given it glowing reviews.
“Twenty minutes.” She repeated, as if thinking it over. She took another drink… and realised she’d finished it while Casey was scrolling. “I guess my time isn’t so precious that I can’t waste twenty minutes if it's bad.”

She laughed, leaning forward to put down her empty glass before leaning towards Casey with a wide smile. “Sooo are we going to start now? Twenty minutes is about how long my bees should take to get here… shouldn’t be many, but they’ll probably be a bit annoying for a while. Oh, I guess if we enjoy it enough to continue it won’t work out so well.” She frowned, as if thinking about some large problem. Really, her mind wasn’t doing much of anything, because she’d drank the cocktail so quickly without thinking about how much alcohol was in it. But another problem did cross her mind, slowly.
“If I smoke, I might not be able to control them. I’ve never tried…”

He laughed thinking about a few dozen bees buzzing about while she was high and they were trying to watch a movie at the same time. It was a comedy movie in itself.
”Honestly unless they start trying to kill me in some crazy swarm, I don’t think I’ll bee too worried about it. I’ll pull the rest of the fruit out for them.”

Casey sat for a moment, trying to figure out whether or not he wanted to start the movie. She made it sound like just a few of them were going to be a pain in the ass, but he didn’t have any kind of prior experience to know what she meant exactly. It was a tossup. He checked the order for the food on his phone.
Twenty minutes… They’re already on the way? Oh, it’s over there… That makes sense.

Movies weren’t supposed to be this complicated. He hit play on the remote without the chance for another thought, tipping his drink back and letting it slide down his throat. They probably didn’t need to be drinking and smoking; she even sounded a little hesitant about it overall. But it helped his appetite. Despite his love of food, getting it down was hard. Nothing tasted right after the Faim Incident on the Western Front, even after the effects had worn off and things tasted how they should again. Fruits, grains, those were easy enough. But meat… You learned to be nervous about the meat you were eating.

As the movie started, he patted Trisha on the thigh.
”Be right back.”
Long legs picked him up and took him over the back of the couch to stand on the unsunken floor. He made for a small box on the mantle, and brought it back to his seat. Inside was a bunch of baggies and other stuff. He pulled a stubby metal cylinder and a small piece of paper.
He unscrewed the cylinder, the smell finally wafting out of the box and into Trisha’s nose. It was a box full of different strains of marijuana, and Casey absentmindedly rolled a joint. He’d always smoked, since he’d stolen his first cigarette from his Father and realised that the man was never actually sober. Even on the Southern Front in North Africa, when they’d done some door kicking and found a few bundles of Afghani Kush bound for Morocco: Nobody was going to tell the CW3 that he couldn’t indulge.

After a few moments, a tight little joint had been rolled, and Casey put it to flame. The smell was potent, pungent like a skunk’s grave. One puff, and then another, and then he looked at Trisha.
”You don’t have to, by the way. No pressure if you think it’s gonna be too tough to deal with the bees.” he said calmly, holding the smouldering joint in his hand up in offering to Trisha.

“I want to.” Trisha reached out and took the joint from him, fingers lightly brushing his before she pulled away. She put it to her lips and took a small drag, quickly blowing it out before taking another, longer one. She’d only smoked it a few times before, all during college parties where her bees were safely locked in her apartment and she was free to get as high as a kite. But she was sure it’d be fine.
”I only called about ten… Well, it’s not that precise, but a small number.”

She shrugged, handing the joint back to Casey. Then she shuffled closer, ducking down to try and get under his arm so she could lean into his side. Her upper body was completely out of the blankets she’d wrapped herself in, but her legs were still tangled in them, stretched out beside her. She turned her head back towards the movie that was playing with a slight smile.
”I’m going to be honest, I’d hit a dog rather than driving into a river like they did- is that bad?”

He shook his head.
”When I was in the Middle East, they would just roll over people who got in the roads. Can’t stop the convoy, it’s too dangerous.”
Casey’s arm dipped down, holding Trisha tight for a moment before loosening and taking another few drags. It didn’t do much for him. Neither was the movie so far, but it was getting smoothed out by the THC mixing with the ethanol in his bloodstream.

Being crossfaded was, in his opinion, the simultaneous best and worst state to be in. It relied totally upon what kind of drunk you were, since the pot only really made you happy, hungry, sleepy or paranoid. The worst was a paranoid smoker and an angry drunk: Casey was neither. A hungry smoker, and a happy drunk. Neither of which he often partook in, though now it wasn’t going to be so difficult. No more random tests, no more PT. No more structure.

The movie went on a little more, and before the main characters managed to get home, Casey spoke up.
”Y’know a crash like that would’ve killed them…”
They didn’t have reflections. A scene later, they didn’t have reflections. He pointed at the screen.
”Gottem…”

“Hey, maybe they’re vampires,” Trisha giggled, reaching out for the joint again and taking another few smokes from it. She kicked the blankets off her legs and curled them up against her chest. She properly snuggled up against Casey, throwing one arm across him. “Oh wait, they’d still be dead.”

She squinted her eyes when the guy, who’s name she’d completely missed, went outside- before her jaw dropped at the sight of some kind of worm. What? The combination of weed and alcohol, for someone with a low tolerance for both, made the already weird scenario seem kind of insane to her. “I’m seeing that, right? There’s a worm inside a worm- why are they even in a desert? Did I miss something?”

Trisha was actually kind of confused, even though they were hardly into the movie, looking up at Casey and then back at it. They weren’t even in the desert anymore but they were given a handy handbook about dying. “Oh, they are dead. What were the worms about, then?”
She was really fixating on the worms.

Casey was just as lost. He hardly had the words to describe how lost he actually was at the prospect of what was going on. The little world that the titular character lived in, the strangeness of the transitions. Not that he wasn’t entertained; it all seemed to be an interesting aesthetic, but it was just… So strangely composed.

His phone began to ring.
”Warrant Richoux…” he answered it without even looking.
”Oh, just leave it at the security desk, they’ll make sure it gets to me. Thanks.
And then he hung up. Not once did he blink or even stop staring at the screen. He hadn’t actually laughed yet, however, and it was difficult to get a read on whether he was actually enjoying it from an outsider’s perspective.

He took another drag of the joint, then patted Trisha on the arm, holding it up to her.
”You can leave it running if you’re liking it… I gotta get the fruit bowl back out and meet Charlie at the door.”

“Alright,” Trisha smiled warmly at him, taking the joint from him. She was actually quite invested in the movie - not because she had any idea what the fuck was going on, it was just very visually entertaining. There was always something different going on. She did find it funny, but probably not at the moments that were supposed to be funny.

She raised the joint to her lips thoughtfully, as the strange girl on screen was able to see the ghost couple. She looked a little like one of the various edgy girls that had been in the coven- Trisha snorted. What was her name again? Didn’t matter. She was completely relaxed now, mind pleasantly fuzzy. Her bees should be turning up soon, too, and then Casey would be back with the food. It would be pretty perfect.

A quiet buzzing came from Casey’s room, and she could sense the blurry pheromones her bees were giving off. Some of the more sensible ones… Wait. Wait. There were a lot more scents than she expected. Was it because she was high? She was imagining some? But the buzzing was getting louder too. It didn’t sound like just ten bees, or even a hundred-

A whole swarm of bees spilled through the open door to Casey’s bedroom. There were at least a thousand, and Trisha didn’t have the time to figure out the exact number before they flew right over to her. Just like that she wasn’t relaxed. She was fucking panicking! The relaxing effect of the weed had completely reversed with the appearance of a thousand bees, swinging round to increased anxiety.

“Are you fucking with me?!” she yelled as the bees swarmed her. There weren’t enough to completely cover her, but they covered the front of upper body along with a fair amount of them landing in her hair and on her face. “I asked for a dozen of you, not a thousand! Fuck- go home! Go home!”

Along with talking to them she was doing her best to tell them in the language they actually understood, but they just weren’t listening. Instead they clung to her as if their life depended on it. She didn’t want a thousand bees with her! She increased the amount of pheromones she was releasing to tell them to fuck off - a sweet scent that humans would be able to smell leaking out of her, but not one that would have any effect on them. A few bees buzzed off her in confusion, and landed on the television. They followed the humans on it as if trying to ward them off. She waved a hand in annoyance at the bees crawling about her face, resulting in them moving onto her hand instead.
”Get off me at least- Plleeasssseee.”

Casey had been occupied in the side hall where they'd come in. The security guy in charge of the desk at the entrance was peppering him with questions that seemed less friendly and more suspicious. He'd never taken well to being bombarded by questions, and as politely as he could, Casey leaned on his name and the man's employment to remind him that those questions were for strangers, not for his effective Boss.

As he finally came back inside with the massive bag of delivery food, he could hear the buzzing. Lots of it.
There were only supposed to be a few…
He wandered down the hall with cautious anticipation, tantalised by the potential image he'd be privy to.

When the threshold came, Casey stopped and stared. He couldn't guess how many bees were there, nor was he cognizant of his fruit juice and alcohol stained hands and shirt, or how sweet he smelled…
He wasn't thinking about the honey mustard dip in the bag, or the fried chocolates…

He put the bag down on the island and grabbed the bowl of fruit.
She's panicked! I have to help her!
Shaking the bowl, he began to walk toward Trisha and the swarm.
”W-welcome… Welcome home, everyone! Come on, get off Momma while she's high, come eat some fruit! It's dinner time!”

A naive, foolish move.

Trisha didn't quite register Casey's presence until he spoke, and even then, she struggled to figure out what he was saying. But the bees didn't need to figure it out. All they saw was someone, a stranger, approaching their Queen. A threat? She was stressed. Panicked pheromones, but not alert ones. No order to attack. Confusing orders. Nice smell, strange smell.

The bees didn't act immediately, but they all started buzzing threateningly. Trisha noticed this, expression twisting from panic to a grimace to more panic. Shit! Ok, tell the bees to calm down. Calm down. Her eyes narrowed in concentration as she tried to tell them that Casey wasn't a threat, he wasn't a problem, that they could go to the fruit bowl but nowhere else. The scent in the air that she was giving off got stronger, hanging in the air without affecting humans - but he would be able to smell it. The bees on her got more agitated the closer he got. The pheromones she was giving off were confusing and indistinct, not really telling the bees anything.

But she could still sense theirs and their increased irritation as they geared up for a fight. The ones that had been on the television screen began to hover threateningly near Casey. Shit.
”It's fine, they're just being clingy, you should-”

Before Trisha could even tell Casey to step back, the bees made up their mind without orders… though not quite collectively. The majority of the bees flew off Trisha in a massive swarm, buzzing towards Casey - some were aiming for the fruit to eat, others for the stains on his hands and shirt to get a test. But about half had a different objective: attack. They were coming at Casey with killing intention.

”Oh shit," was all Trisha managed to get out as she tried to stand up, half falling back on the couch, reaching out as if she could grab the bees. But she couldn't, and her pheromones were doing nothing - the bees swarm was moving in for the kill.

Oh shit was right. At first he didn't flinch, standing there with that fruit bowl… He held fast in the belief of trust. He truly thought they were all headed for the fruit, and that Trisha had things under control. But, she'd said earlier that she needed better training. He should've expected something. Something like this…

The first cluster hit the bowl, diving into the sweetness of cold fruit. A few initial fuzzy-body impacts against his hand made him put the bowl back on the counter, and as Casey did so, his body twisted. By the time his hands came away, he had a set of searing, flaming gloves whose stingers began to drive their needle-like heads into his flesh.

At first he accepted the pain, turned and held up his hands. He was going to ask her what to do next, since he didn't want to hurt them at all. The sweet smell was overpowering now, and despite not physically affecting him, it did make him think of a particularly calm day somewhere in a French field. At least to the point where he could concentrate and focus on a solution.

But turning himself revealed the oncoming swarm. All at once, Casey Richoux was covered in fuzzy little bees that wanted to kill him. Dozens and dozens of stings covered his bare arms, neck, face and hands. He harkened back to a summer spent in Upstate New York, watching Cousin Feddy and Cousin Eligh both fucking with a hornet's nest.

Morons…

Ripping off his shirt was a blessing and a curse. It was only about ten feet to his bedroom, but he was almost certain that there wasn't going to be any help from there.
”No, no! NO! Casey cried. ”Not the BEES! GIRLS, NO!”
The shirt ripped the majority of them away from his face and neck, and he swung his arms like they were covered in lava, sending angry bees flying in every direction.

He stopped, dropped, rolled, then pulled himself to a foot and sprinted down the hall. His body crashed into the hanging curtains of Leon's room, and he slammed the door shut before making his way to the shower. Every bit of exposed flesh felt like it was ablaze, the stains of accidentally crushed bees and their stingers still jabbing into him as the hot water began to rush down.

He looked at the curtains through painful eyes and hated himself. He could see the stains where he'd been caught and hit the ground, smashing them by accident.
And he was woozy. So woozy.

Every killed bee was a pinprick stabbing into Trisha, the emotional backlash like being stung herself. She curled up on the couch with a wince, gritting her teeth. It wasn’t that many- one was too many to handle- she wasn’t the one who got stung all over. The swarm of bees hovered at the door to Leon’s room, little bodies hitting against it with soft thumps. Trisha’s pheromones flickered between panicked and pained, and the latter eventually had them flying back to her. They landed all over her, small fuzzy bodies pressing against her in what seemed to be an attempt at comforting her.

It didn’t feel very comforting right now.

Trisha sat up, waving them off her hands so she could wipe away tears from the corner of her eyes. The pain from losing the bees had subsided but there was still an emptiness there. She didn’t want to count them. Belatedly realising that she’d been using the wrong pheromones the whole time, she’d stopped them and slowly pushed herself to her feet. The slightly smaller swarm followed after her into Casey’s room and she closed the door, sitting down on his bed.

”I only called for ten of you," she said softly, as if they could understand and it would magically fix everything. She pressed a hand to her forehead, rubbing it as if it would reduce the fuzziness over her mind. At least if she messed up with it here there was no one for them to sting, no perceived threat, and she could just keep trying until they fucking left. ”Go home."

The bees buzzed in confusion, a few flying off her and onto the bed itself. She didn’t feel so panicked anymore, just… empty. It helped not influence the pheromones she carefully put out. The bees calmed down slightly, seeming to think they’d dealt with the threat. That was good enough.

Eventually, after multiple tries and careful thinking, she gave them the right message. All the bees, just under a thousand now, flew out of the open windows. She was tempted to close them behind the swarm, but there was no way she could reach that. She’d ask Casey when he was- Oh.

She probably wasn’t going to be able to ask Casey anything. He’d just been strung by a thousand bees. He’d want nothing to do with her now. It was fine, though. It was totally fine. So fucking fine. As if telling herself that multiple times would make her believe it. She always went and fucked things up, losing control in some way.
Because you’re a failure, Patricia. Maybe her mother was right about that. She couldn’t even stop her bees from stinging someone after smoking a little bit- Someone she actually liked! And now he was going to leave her, and she couldn’t even blame him.

Trisha scrunched her hands up into balls, nails digging into the palm of her hands, and forced herself to stand up. Even if he was going to leave her, or kick her out immediately, she should check that he was alright. Make sure he went to a hospital or a magical doctor or something… she had no idea where medical supplies were kept in here for immediate help, though. She’d just check then.

She slipped out of Casey’s room and to the door of Leon’s, knocking on it with a shaking hand. ”Casey? Are you okay? … of course you aren’t, I, uh, they’re gone now. You should go to a hospital or something…"
She winced. At least if he leaves me, it will be over quickly.

Trisha didn't have a long time to think about feeling sorry over the situation. Casey had cleared any remaining bees and remnant material off himself and had been sitting in his wet underwear on the cold bathroom floor, trying to get the dizziness out as the poison slowly circulated through his body.

But when she knocked, he was right back on his feet wrapping a towel around himself. His soaking wet hair was pulled back fully, out of the way as he ripped the door open and fully embraced Trisha. His skin was cold, he was gently shaking. He felt weak.

The shaking was tears coming up. Ragged breathing as he tried to hold back.
”M-m-my fault…. I… I hurt them… I co-couldn't…”
Casey's head leaned back slightly, eyes moist.
”I didn't think it was gonna hurt so b-bad… I just reacted, and I hurt them, and I'm… I'm so…”

He broke down. He was remembering the bee he killed in that field again: How he'd felt nothing, thought nothing of its consciousness or its life. He snubbed it out. He'd killed it. He'd killed men. Other men with families, and children… He couldn't hold back his regret, and after a moment he was on his knees, clinging to Trisha's legs and weeping.

He was sure he'd ruined the night. He regretted getting her to smoke, he regretted telling her he'd be stung by bees to be with her: Not because he still wouldn't, but because he'd failed in doing so to begin with.

Casey readied himself to be bombarded by anger and fury, and all he could do was repeat the phrase:
”I'm sorry… I'm sorry… I'm sorry…”

”Why are you sorry?!" Trisha wasn’t strong enough to pull him up, so she curled forward, face pressing into his wet hair and hands rubbing his back. It masked her own tears, coming from the pain and fear of getting abandoned again all combined together with the alcohol still in her system. But she didn’t understand why he was so sorry. He’d been attacked by her bees - bees that she was supposed to control.

They wouldn’t be in this situation if she’d been able to. Losing the bees hurt, people killing her bees always hurt and she hated it, but for once she couldn’t actually blame someone else. Because if anyone else was to blame, it would be the bees themselves. ”They were the ones that stung you… I couldn’t. Just. It wasn’t on purpose, I didn’t mean to call so many, I thought it would be fine- I’m sorry."

She shook her head against the top of his before pulling back a bit, loosening his arms around her legs enough so that she could squat down to his level. She leaned forward so that her forehead rested against his, arms wrapping around his shoulders.
”I’m the one that should be sorry… It was…" She couldn’t quite bring herself to say it was her fault out loud. ”I didn’t mean to hurt you. Please…" don’t leave me.

Casey didn’t respond with words. He just held on tighter as she got to his level, and ragged breathing turned into something more calm until he was finally able to piece together what he was trying to say before.
”I’m… I’m sad. I’m not hurt.-” somewhat of a lie: the spots that had been under heavy attack were black and blue from the amount of stings. But physical damage was temporary. ”-I… I just didn’t think it would hurt like that. I told you, I just got done telling you… That I’d be stung by all of them constantly if it meant being with you, and I instantly fail the test. And I kill them, because it hurts and because I can’t control myself, and I-”

They were sitting in the sex room. The gross creepiness of it, surrounded by fallen curtains covered in dead bees. He could’ve beaten himself. He could’ve driven spoons through his own eyes to scoop the worthless brain behind it out. He felt like he should be on trial like he’d always been. Like the scrutiny should’ve killed him. But she was holding him still. Probably because she felt bad that he’d been stung.

”-I’m sorry because I failed, and because I hurt your girls. And… I need to apologise to them too…” he said, finally pulling himself away enough to look Trisha in the eyes and apologise to her.

”I couldn’t control them," Trisha said, voice shaking slightly. When he said he’d take being stung by all of her bees, she’d taken it as a joke… because why would he suffer that? Why would anyone, when she wasn’t even worth it? ”I didn’t… want you to get stung. Didn’t think it would happen."

She just didn’t understand why he thought he’d failed. He’d hurt them, but they’d hurt him first. Wasn’t that how it normally went? If someone hurt you, you just hurt them back, bees or human? She would have done the same. But… he was obviously really upset over it. She wasn’t sure how to tell him it wasn’t his fault. She wasn’t very good at comforting. And there was still that fear clutching her that one he recovered from this he’d want her to leave. He’d realise he was being stupid.

”It’s okay. It’s fine, I forgive you, and they-" she paused. ”They can’t really understand words… I can try. Not now. Not tonight."

She tightened her arms around him and curled in against him so she didn’t have to meet his gaze anymore. It was difficult to. She shouldn’t ask, because it was selfish, and he’d been hurt and he was sad, and she should just tell him it was fine and really there was nothing to forgive and then let him tell her to leave if he wanted to but- ”You aren’t.."

Trisha paused, voice getting quiet. ”You don’t want me to leave?"

Casey’s swollen brow furrowed as his face scrunched with confusion. It wasn’t her fault. He’d walked too close, he didn’t understand. Frankly, he’d been cocky. The fruit bowl, the sugary smells… He hadn’t realised until it was too late. He felt idiotic and useless, and she was worried about if he was going to ask her to leave… When he’d put himself in jeopardy?

”Please don’t leave…”
He pulled away, picking himself up and bringing her with him until they were both standing again. He wiped his eyes and face, took a deep breath, and felt a warm bubble of annoyance wash across him.
Way to be a tough guy. Way to be strong for her. Tears are always the best way to get a girl to like you, Fuckface.”
”You don’t deserve to have your night ruined because some asshole got stung by a few bees… It was my fault. Let me get some new clothes and clean up. You should eat your food while it’s still warm. I’ll clean up, and we can pretend like I’m not an infant.” he offhandedly finished, hugging Trisha properly before adjusting his towel.

He gestured with his head for her to go back.
”You don’t want to hang out in this room anymore than I do.”

”It was at least a thousand bees, not a few," Trisha shook her head. But he didn’t want her to leave… Which meant he didn’t want to break up after less than a day. How did that make sense? But she was glad. She was still worried, she’d always be worried, but she was probably safe for tonight. ”Okay, I’ll go eat… but come back out as soon as you're dressed. I might eat it all otherwise."

Of course, that wasn’t actually the reason. If he took too long alone he might start to have second thoughts or doubts, he decided he actually did want her out- she would be worrying the whole time. She couldn’t say that, because then she’d look weak and needy.

She moved in quickly, pushing up onto her tiptoes to quickly kiss his lips. She lowered herself back down with a slight smile then backed out of Leon’s room. She grabbed the bag of food from the island and took it with her to the couch, putting it on the table there. After rummaging around a while she found the curly fries, and started munching them absentmindedly. It was strange not having any bees around, but… she didn’t want them there right now anyway. She tried just to concentrate on the food, finding some chicken too and just eating.

Before he could think about drying and dressing, he was already picking up the fallen curtains and staring at the fixture he’d broken in his escape. It didn’t look too bad, a few seconds under a spell would have it fixed right up. But, he had to wash the curtains first. They needed it anyway. But he couldn’t run the risk of another tenant being in the laundry area without clothes on, so he piled the curtains by the hallway door and came back down into the kitchen.

There was a brownish green smear where he’d hit the floor and probably crushed a hundred bees. It totally killed his appetite, Recollection colouring his PTSD in vivid shades of red and brown. The limbs never looked real…
He had to close his eyes and tilt his head back.
”T-trisha? I’m… I don’t want to ask you to do this, but I think I need your help…” he intoned from behind her.

”Huh?" Trisha twisted around to look at him, curly fry stuffed in her mouth. She quickly chewed and followed it. What was wrong? Had she done something wrong- no, he needed her help, that wasn’t going to be something bad she’d done, right? She stood up. ”What do you need?"

Casey had a grim look on his face, eyes closed. He was standing over the half-dry, puke green stain.
”I just… Seeing the…-” he gesticulated to the particular spot. ”-God, I’m so fucking worthless… It’s making me- It’s giving me-”

Not the innocent fucking bees…

He unfurled his towel, revealing himself down to the underwear but not entirely caring, and tossed the towel at the stain. His hands flew up in frustration.
”Fuck it! Don’t! I’ll fucking get it, I made the Goddamn-” his door slammed shut. There was a pounding noise that lasted a few seconds as he smashed his fist into the sturdy wall for a few seconds as he tried to stop the searing memory from being Recalled completely.

Oh good, now she’s really going to think you’re a freak. Yeah, where was this one? Mopping up for the Artillery crews in Zanzibar? Remember the screaming? You’re like a bee artillery shell. A shell meant to kill bees… Neat.

Trisha’s wide eyes were fixed on the shut door, and she flinched slightly at the loud noise from inside. Was he that upset about the bees? No, no, it must be something to do with having been in the army… PTSD. She’d heard about it, listened to her friend studying psychology talk about it often enough she remembered something about it (but not enough she knew what to do). She carefully made her way over to the towel covering the stain, putting her foot on it and rubbing it against the floor a few times, before sitting back down.

Casey spent a few more minutes trying to collect himself. He was thankful that the Recollection only ate up a few seconds of his time, no matter how long he felt like he was back there. It was like a waking dream almost, where things were replaced. Elvis’ head was a bee head, the other heads were bee heads. The guns sounded like bees, the screams were bees, the whole thing was fucking bees. He was a bee…

Another new pair of sweatpants and shirt later, and he returned to the door. He figured he could look again, figured he could do it. Opening it, his eyes immediately travelled to the spot again praying that it’d been taken care of. It had clearly been moved, and was fully covering the stain. It was wet, so he figured it would be fine. He just couldn’t look at it again. Not like it was.

He sheepishly made his way to Trisha, leaning down and kissing her on the top of her head. His hands gently came down to rub her shoulders.
”Thank you for doing that… And I’m sorry for giving you a show like that so early. It wasn’t your fault. It’ll never be your fault…” he paused, looking down at her.
”How’s the food?” he asked, trying to move away from the topic altogether.

”It’s okay." Trisha tilted her head up to look at him with a smile. It wasn’t like she did much, she rubbed a towel across the floor with her foot. Though for her cleaning anything up was… well, not a first, she’d been in dorms, but definitely an effort. She raised one hand to his wrist, gently rubbing it. ”Mm, the food’s good. Really good."

She’d grabbed a piece of chicken, munching on it like it was nothing. It was gone in seconds. The weed’s more relaxing effects were… only slowly coming back, but her appetite? It was still in full force after everything. As she ate another piece she patted beside her on the couch, indicating for him to sit down beside her. It was nice having him rubbing her shoulders but she wanted him beside her, where she could see him and he couldn’t suddenly decide to run away.

”Have something to eat, or I’ll have it all and then I’ll need to hit the gym hard tomorrow… nobody wants that," she said, on her third piece of chicken since he’d come back out. She then gestured to the television, where the movie was still playing. ”We missed a lot. I didn’t really understand it anyway."

”It’s all background at the end of the day… But I gotta finish what I started. Otherwise I can’t relax.”
Casey reached over her, rummaging through the bag and putting all the stuff out onto the table. He grabbed the box of Mia’s food and brought it to the centre island. The oven beeped behind Trisha as he carefully transferred the food to an oven-safe container and slid it in to keep it warm for whenever his sister would be home.

Then there was no excuse left. He had to move the towel. He bent down, rubbing it from side to side a bit more deeply, then closed his eyes and furled it into a ball that he pitched down the hall toward the back door.
He’d do the laundry later. For now, he needed to re-relax, the adrenaline having pumped every other intoxicant from his system over the last half an hour. He stepped back over the couch, taking his place next to Trisha.

The half-smoked joint was still sitting in the ashtray, and he went for it before grabbing any kind of food.
”Did you want to restart this and actually watch it? Or does it bother you?” he asked her, flicking the lighter to take another drag before putting his arm around the happily munching woman.

”I’m not bothered, I wasn’t following even from the start." She was more sober now, but she wasn’t sure if that would help. Not her kind of movie, maybe. It was entertaining but she wasn’t hooked. As he said, it was just background. She enjoyed movies socially but she wasn’t the kind of person to sit down and fixate on one the whole time anyway. Unless dragged to the cinema.

Trisha curled her legs up at her side, placing the box of chicken in her lap and snuggling into his side. She kept eating near continuously, with gaps only to pick up another piece, while watching the screen. Not that she was really taking it in. She was trying her best to push down all the insecurities she was suddenly feeling again, pushing it all back down into the depths with each bite. She didn’t speak again until she’d finished all of the chicken in that box. ”This is really good… I think I’m going to be ordering from here a lot. I wonder if they deliver to my house. Then I’d have to fight my sister’s for it… They can be kinda insane with food. And alcohol. Sabrina has to restock the alcohol like every week because of the other two."

She definitely didn’t drink loads either. Absolutely not. It was mostly them.
”Oh, I guess that doesn’t matter since I can just get it to your place. Since you’re not b- bothered by that." She awkwardly changed what she was going to say midway through her sentence, swerving away from mentioning the swift breakup she’d expected. ”I’ll come here every day and eat chicken and steal your bed. That’s what you’ve signed up for, so you can’t say no."

She smiled brightly at him, leaning forward and grabbing another box of chicken.

He felt warm again. Like his flesh didn’t feel gelatinous with bee venom. He leaned back gently, smirking as he wrapped his free arm around her.
”Once it gets warm, and things settle down for you Sycamore Kids… We can look for our own place. Maybe. If we want… You. Want. Or, I can ask Leon if I can get a bee box installed.” he smiled, smoking again before putting it back down and grabbing one of the sandwiches.

He felt safe to eat. Like nothing was going to happen again. Like the night could go on forever. He tucked into it and felt the warm juicy chicken paired with the crispy lettuce. He’d gotten extra pickles, and the acidity cut through the fat and the crisp and made his mouth tingle.
He tried not to think about eating flesh. Don’t think about eating the flesh.

”Sometimes I think about going vegan, like Mia. But I don’t think I’d be able to stay in shape the same way… But there’s no exact fuckin’ science I guess, so there’s nobody I can ask. I try not to live in a world where magic can just fix all my fuckin’ problems. Junior, fuckin’ guy… Dude goes to our Doctor every week, gets Green shaped, has his dick changed. ’I’m trying a new nose this week, what do you think?’ Casey thought aloud.

He had to let himself trail off just to get the energy to have another bite. Focusing on being annoyed was easier than letting himself get caught back up with the meat thing again. He’d had so many years to get over this, yet it kept coming back and back again. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. He just didn’t seem to get it completely.
But he took another bite, and he loved it. He fucking loved the way it tasted. And he would eat all three of those sandwiches, but he would be complaining the whole way.

”I think I should break it for you, give Nedia some more work. I don’t say that to him, because it just makes things worse.-” he spoke in between bites until the first sandwich was gone. Mac and cheese heaven was calling him. He grabbed the family sized bowl and one of the accompanying plastic cutlery sets, and began to dig into the gooey golden bucket of macaroni. ”-So instead I’ve gotta be like ‘Yeah man, looks a little more like Dad’s than the last one, that’s crazy.’ like he hasn’t looked exactly like our Old Man since he was allowed to start freely requesting procedures… But she won’t make him any taller.”
Casey giggled to himself thinking about how he’d never be their Dad, no matter how hard he tried.

Casey moved on before Trisha had time to say anything about his suggestion they get a place together… and she was glad about that. Her knee jerk reaction was to say no way, because it was jumping into things like that which had gotten her mom betrayed. But another part of her was happy and liked the sound of it. Not answering was easiest.

”Wait, wait, go back a minute-" Trisha grabbed a plastic fork, leaning over and stealing some of the macaroni cheese. She quickly ate it before continuing. ”You’ve got a green lux doctor that… basically performs plastic surgery? And dick shape surgery I guess?"

She snorted, finding the whole thing crazy. Maybe because she was brought up mundane and thrown into the world of magic with no preparation, and then went back to living as normally as she could. Getting a magical face lift every week was insane! She stole a bit more mac and cheese, eating it with relish. It was also really good.
”Yeah, I don’t get it. Maybe because I was born this attractive- well not born- but why get magical modification. Or any. I don’t think I even know a green lux doctor! My mom’s sister did try to take her to this spiritual healer when I was younger but she had none of it. She’s a woman of science, you know, kind of why I’m not too reliant on magic either."

Trisha grinned up at him, tone teasing. ”Surely your whole family needs some height removed if anything. Share some with the rest of us."

Casey laughed at the comment with warmth in his voice. It wasn’t a comment he hadn’t heard before. There was always talk among the adults about which of the five was going to reach for the stars like Dead Old Dad. Turned out none of them were good enough for it. He was fine, he came to terms with who he was: The shortest of three boys from a family of Jotunoid freaks.

”I can say for a fact that the Green Doctor and the Pink Therapist aren’t any big help. Well, they are. They’re big helps, and they’re experts regardless of their supernatural abilities, but often I find the people they treat regularly to be more damaged than they were before their help.”

Casey took another bite of the mac and cheese, smiling at Trisha as he held a spoonful out to her.
But the thought and subsequent action were interrupted. There was noise and clamour from behind the wall and door from the kitchen into the other part of the apartment. Voices got a little louder, and a little louder still.

And then the door popped open.
”-nd I just couldn't fucking understand her!”
”Almost as frustrating as listening to you bitch about it for two hours.”
”We can take care of this, yes yes!”

Three young women, accompanied by two creepy giant cats, poured into the kitchen, one carrying a large paper bag with a familiar logo. The very same chicken place Trisha and Casey were eating from…
It took them a couple of seconds to shuffle about before there was acknowledgement of Casey and Trisha. It was surprise that greeted them.

”Oh, shit! Humble Hottie, home with… A woman!?
”Ohhh, Case! You got Pearla's too!?”

Casey shifted in his seat, a little less comfortable than he was a second ago. He mouthed the words “I'm so sorry” to Trisha, hand gently dropping to put the food down on the table. He stood up.

”Waaaah, waaaah, it hurts! Bees! Nooooo!”
The two cats snickered as Casey came into the kitchen light a bit more.
”Girls, I uh… This-” Casey gestured to Trisha. ”-This is Trisha. My girlfriend.

He gave her a chance to introduce herself, but before she could, Mia was already sliding her way across the floor to wrap her arms around Trisha.
”Dude, oh my fucking God, welcome! Holy shit, and you're a hottie too!? My God!? How long have you two been seeing one another, Casey, are you keeping secrets!?”

Trisha didn’t have a chance to get away, completely caught off guard by Mia’s hug. She really wasn’t used to familial affection, nevermind from her boyfriend’s family… who she’d just met! It must be a Mia thing, because Leon certainly hadn’t come across as the hugging type. Trisha just awkwardly sat there, neither pushing Mia off or reciprocating. She looked at Casey with eyes that screamed ‘please save me.
”Uh, thanks…" Push through it, Trisha, you’re used to dealing with people like this. She smiled at Mia, though her shoulders were drawn up and tense. ”If I wasn’t this hot do you think I’d even be here? Of course I am."

It was a joke, of course, and an awkwardly made one. She finally removed Mia’s arms from around her and wriggled away, immediately getting up and shooting towards Casey. She slotted right in at his side. Hopefully being right beside him would deter any other surprise hugs, human or cat.
”It’s been less than a day, don’t give him too hard of a time." She tilted her head up towards him, smiling a bit more genuinely again. ”My family has no clue, so if anyone’s keeping a secret it’s me. But it hasn’t been long."

Mia looked a little embarrassed. While it wasn’t clear what the reasoning for her being so cold was, the Richoux woman knew what a cold response was. She backed off out of respect for Trisha as an individual, accepting that she’d either have enough time to get to know this woman, or it’d never matter again anyway. Both options were equally low stress, so she did what she was best at: She simply chilled.

The cats weren’t so chill.

”Ask Casey about the bruises.”
”Oh, Girls… You should have heard him screaming.”
They did pause to look at Casey. In the low ambient lighting situation, it wasn’t so easy to tell how swollen Casey’s face was.
”Oh my God, Casey! What the hell happened!?”
”I got stung by some fucking bees, it’s not a big deal.”

The trio stared at one another incredulously.
”I think we’re old enough to know about kinky sex, dude.”
”They were beeeeeeeees.”
”In fucking October?”

There was enough of a pause for Casey to stop them from pressing further by forcing introductions.
”Trisha… This is our foster-sister Harietta… She prefers Hari..”
The group understood the redirection, and embarrassedly, they held out their hands to Trisha.
”Hi, hi! Sorry, I know we probably interrupted you guys…”
Casey wildly nodded his head.
”This is our cousin from New York; Etiennette… We call her Eddy, it’s easier.”
”If you and Soldierboy break up, look me up…” Eddy said with a wink and a lip bite. Casey gave her a dirty look and shunted his fist forward to punch her in the arm. It seemed playful, and she responded accordingly by rubbing her arm and pouting in a comedic fashion.
”And this rat is my blood sister Mia. Youngest of the brood.”
Mia grinned and shook Trish’s hand.
”Sorry I got too excited… I just don’t think Casey’s had a girlfriend like… Ever… Mia intoned in response.

Trisha just found the bee conversation funny rather than embarrassing - funny enough that she was still laughing when the introductions started. It was a lot of names to take in, but just three people. That wasn’t too many. Nothing compared to the various functions she was dragged to as a teenager. She awkwardly shook all of their hands - which was really taking her back to meeting various family friends she never wanted to meet.
”I’m Trisha. Just Trisha." She didn’t give out her full name, because she hated it and any other nicknames that would come from it. Her surname was better kept quiet right now, too. ”It’s alright, I’m just not used to… Well, my family isn’t really the hugging sort. I’ll get used to it."

Possibly. She then looked at Eddy, laughing lightly. ”Hey, getting with an ex’s family is not going to happen. My dad did that, and now two of my siblings are also cousins, do you have any idea how much of a mess that is? Even if we break up- which we won’t- I’d move to fresher, non related pastures."

Eddy dramatically gripped at her chest.
”Yo, I’m devastated in the wake of your honour. I only simp harder.”
The entire group laughed, and it did a good job of cutting the tension. Casey smiled at Eddy, knowing that was her strongest suit.

But the cats…

”Patricia Vanburen.”
”You know, the Vanburens? The Vanburens?”

None of them acknowledged the cats. But the information was left in the air, and there was a very noticeable wide-eyed glance that passed between the three girls and landed squarely on Casey.
He cleared his throat.
”She can hear them… She’s magic.”
The tension between them all deflated, and Mia immediately turned to the cats.
”Oh my fucking God, you two! You don’t stop, you don’t fucking stop!”

They both meowed happily, wagging their tails. Hari clapped her hands together to get attention off the creepy fucking cats.
”Yeah, anyway guys, let’s give them their night, huh? Casey, we-”
She reached into the bag of food they brought home, laughing to herself as she pulled out Casey’s usual: Three sandwiches, a small curly fry, and a family sized mac and cheese…
”-we got your usual for you! My treat this time… I’m sorry we didn’t call, I think all our phones are dead.”

Casey waved his hand.
”I didn’t know if anyone was coming home tonight, but I ended up getting the falafel for you two, and coleslaw, and the tenders we both like. In the oven.”
Mia was surprised, and moved to the oven to pull the little pan out of the warmer.
”Oh fuckin’ sweet. Thank you, second favourite!” Mia chimed, leaning over and planting a kiss on Casey’s cheek.

It was uncanny, her incredibly tall frame leaning over the countertop. What skin she showed was pale, pallid, almost fungal. The three of them reeked of marijuana and vague body odour, and the longer they remained the stronger it got. But it wasn’t… It wasn’t real. Trisha’s pheromonal abilities would recognize the similarity to her own subtle scent signals, but these weren’t for bees… They were for people.
It was burned, it was rancid, it was toxic, it was… Plastic? Some kind of industrial chemical smell. Strangeness. But focusing, it all seemed to come from the girl Eddy, whose eyes were always just a little bit glazed over.

”It’s really nice meeting you, Trisha. My best advice if you’re gonna be around here more frequently? Learn to ignore those two. Because they’ll hurt you. Badly.” she intoned, pointing down at the Cats. Her lengthy arm snapped out, grabbing one by the neck. The other was gripped by a phantom presence, and both rose into the air in the exact same position.
”Demon! Wretched beast!”
"UNHAND ME! THIS IS NOT DIGNIFIED!

With the falafel in one hand and the eldritch horror in the other, she bowed her torso slightly, then turned with a sigh.
”Come on babes, we’ve done enough damage.”
Eddy winked and nodded at Trisha, mouthing “Call me.” before she followed behind. Hari, still holding onto the bag of food, grimaced slightly.

”Mimi is right… Honestly, I’d think about inviting him over to your place… Or meeting in public places from now on. Being here isn’t peaceful, it’s just free.”
She gave a stern nod and tried to form a friendly and reassuring smile.
”We’ll deal with them tonight, so you guys can have time to yourselves. I’m really sorry about barging in again.”

And then she left, closing the door behind her. Casey’s muscles were doubly tensed, and he was holding onto Trisha tightly and shaking ever so slightly.

The cats… had known her full name. She hadn’t told them her full name, had she? No, Casey had just introduced her as Trisha. Was she misremembering things? She didn’t think she was. She barely registered the conversation that followed, beyond the acrid scent in the air so similar to her pheromones yet not and the warning to not be around the cats. Maybe… maybe they should consider her place. But as big as her house was, her sisters were unavoidable. What would be worse? She wasn’t sure.

She half waved to the retreating trio (and creepy cats). Mia and her friends hadn’t seemed… too bad, but she was glad to be left alone. It was more peaceful and relaxing, and she always found dealing with any family difficult.

”That was an experience- uh, Casey, are you alright?" Trisha just noticed the slight trembling through the arms tightly wrapped around her, snapping out of the strangeness she’d been feeling after that encounter. She twisted around in his arms to face him, hugging him back nearly as tightly. She continued, slightly jokingly. ”Did you feel threatened by Eddy? Don’t worry, I won’t call her-"

Maybe not the best time to make a joke. Her hands gently rubbed his back, which she hoped would help. ”Did the… was it the weird smell? Or the cats… well they weren’t that bad… uh… don’t worry, it’s fine?"

He shook his head, his brow furrowing as he did.
”Being completely honest with you?-” he started, taking a deep breath. ”-I don’t honestly know… But I’ll tell you when I figure it out.”
His eyes closed for a second, and a deep breath washed the shakes out of his body. He really didn’t know; it wasn’t another attack. It was… It was dread. Fear of the unknown. Or, was it… Nah. Couldn’t be the smell.

”Magical friends are used to certain shit. But the cats? It’s just… They’re like a bridge too fucking far. I missed it as a kid; I didn’t Kindle, so I couldn’t hear them talk. I knew they could, and I knew they were smart like people, but they just… I guess I agree with Hari, even though I think the girls just want the run of the apartment to themselves. For your sake, y’know? My family, their bullshit, it’ll eat us alive.”

Casey had a look of conviction in his eyes. Or, it read as conviction; determination to tell her. To make her see. But it was a creeping sadness, like if things went long enough that he’d lose her, and she’d be scarred to boot.
But she fought the Stygian Snake… Leon did too… So, she’d be able to handle anything.

There’s the conviction.

He took a long and deep breath, closing his eyes and tilting his head back slightly. He opened them looking down at her, warmth hitting him as he saw her pretty face.
”Fucking debbie downer I am, huh? It’s still not our problem for the night, the girls will keep the assholes busy. All this other shit is a road we’ll hit tomorrow, after a nice toasty croissant with creme and a cup of tea. Yeah?”

”Yeah," Trisha smiled softly. It was something to worry about tomorrow - to worry about if he didn’t leave her the moment she stopped being just a fun, cute girl. They’d make it work… Really, she was sure she could handle the cats. They weren’t the only paranormal creature that had read things from her mind. Though, she didn’t really remember much of when the Stygian Snake had been trying to turn them against each other. Surely it must have been worse? She could handle a cult family and their creepy cats, right? Right.

”But it’s alright, we all have our family problems! You have a pair of creepy cats, I have at least twenty half-siblings that could be as bad and I wouldn’t even know." She was fairly certain she knew of all her magical siblings, which were the ones she lived with, but there were some that… didn’t need magic to get under her skin. ”Maybe I’ll just kick down Ezra’s door- my oldest brother, he’s got all the money- and demand he buys me a studio apartment so we don’t even have to worry about any of it."

She laughed lightly at that. She’d certainly done something like that before… It was the reason she still had an allowance at twenty four, constantly turning up at her brother’s workplace and causing a fair few secretaries to quit. That wasn’t information she was going to share with Casey, though. But it was easy to fake confidence about the whole situation.

Trisha glanced back over at the screen, and the movie that seemed to be in its final scenes. She pulled one arm out of the hug to gesture to it.
”Looks like we missed the rest of it… Not that I had any clue what was going on. Do you want to watch another one? Or…" She trailed off, expression growing warmer and gaze moving back up to him rather than on the screen. ”We could just chill. Talk. Finish the food… I’m happy to do anything with you."

He grinned like he had so many times that night. It was warm, devilish and playful. He was going to tell a-
”Anything? Alright, I’ll get my ruck, we can fill it up and see who can lift the most. It’s me, by the way… Well, maybe it’s the bees? But they’d all need to be here… Y’know, that begs the question:-”

He nodded his head back toward the couch, but grabbed the hot mac and cheese the girls had brought rather than eating the cold stuff he had to leave during the whole debacle. The sandwiches were one thing, but he couldn’t deal with the texture of cold cheese sauce sticking to his throat.
Reminded him too much of blood.

”-How do you get more?” he asked, wondering the logistics of it as he held her hand to let her step over the back of the couch to sit in that sunken square in the floor.

”Uh…" Trisha had been considering the logistics of her bees having a rucksack lifting competition with Casey, trying to figure out if it would even be possible because they’d have to stack, when he hit her with the one question about her abstraction which was uncomfortable to answer. She bit her lip, thinking about how to answer while sitting down again, crossing her legs and getting comfortable again. ”It’s a bit complicated."

She could just give the easy answer, the one that wasn’t incredibly fucked up and that she’d actually used. But… Casey came from a family of adepts and a place that seemed to revere apparitions. He’d probably be able to handle it? Probably. Trisha took a deep breath, looking down at her hands as she finally answered.
”There’s two ways. I don’t know how much you know about actual bees but.. Normally it’s the queen bee that lays eggs. Obviously I can’t do that. All of my bees are female worker bees, because there’s no need for drones- they, uh, mate with the queen. So, if I want to get more I need to… create a temporary queen, basically. In normal bees this is done through the healthiest larvae being selected- again, not possible! So I can make one of my workers a temporary queen. She can then lay eggs, and the hive tends to them like normal. It’s harder to control them when there’s another queen. They listen to me outside, but tend to listen to her in the actual hive… But it’s how I got this many. I started with only ten thousand."

Her eyes had lit up as she explained, hands gesturing about as if to help show the process. As much as her bees and abstraction was something thrust onto her, she’d grown to genuinely love them and the process. It was one of her few interests… But, the other method wasn’t one she liked.
”There’s another way too. I’ve never done it, but it’s what the apparition did. I think she had… nearly a hundred times the amount I did before she was sealed. It’s…" Trisha grimaced, hands lacing together in her lap and nails lightly digging into her skin. ”Not nice. Basically she’d lure in in people using her pheromones, like the ones I used earlier but stronger I think, and then… she’d… directly plant larvae into their bodies. I think some died, some had to carry them while alive- I don’t know. I could do it, she said I could, but I haven’t. It’s just too…"

She trailed off, waving a hand. Just thinking about it made her feel a little sick.

Vulture Bees… Don’t think about the meat jelly…
Casey’s eyes didn’t leave hers, even as they both managed to sit down and he started going to town on the bowl of mac and cheese again.
Too much cheese, don’t think about the meat jelly.
He took a long deep breath.
”Oh, shit… So it’s uh… It’s not picky about living or dead?”
God is funny like that. Don’t think about the meat jelly.
”That’s honestly… Does it have to be human? I mean I get that it’d freak you out, but like… If we could make it sustainable, why not try? They’ll be living their best lives, you’ll have more bees to use and you’ll never have to compete with another Queen.”

If Casey was anything, at least he was solution oriented. He really didn’t want to look at raw meat like that, but he figured with modifications, she’d be able to take care of the majority of it on her own. Like feeding any other pet, except this was feeding and… Housing?
”Not like I mean I’ll take the bee pregnancy, it sounds like a nightmare. But, the Doc could probably make an entire person without the, y’know… No soul, just an empty vessel to fill with bees.”
Macabre didn’t begin to describe the idea of fully recreating the physical anatomy of a human body just so his new girlfriend could make an army of bees. But he also believed that if she really was serious about getting to learn her powers more, she could possibly get into the spirit of it.

”Though, I’m sure there’s a freak out there who wants it. With proper backup, I bet…”

”No way," Trisha cut him off before he could go further with that idea. It wasn’t that she cared about other people enough to not want them to go through that suffering even consensually, but more that the whole process was grim for her.
”It’s not as simple as just putting them in and being done with it… I have to check up on them, I think. Which was easier for her because she’s an apparition. I don’t want to do that."

She’d shuddered slightly at the thought of seeing bee larvae underneath someone’s skin, then having to watch them burst out. She wasn’t generally squeamish but that… was beyond what she was alright with.
”I could maybe do a… empty human vessel. I could pretend it wasn’t easier, I think. But I’ve never actually asked if it has to be human… I never asked. She always used them, so I assumed. Wait."

Trisha closed her eyes, frowning as she tried to speak to the apparition inside of her. They didn’t communicate often, and Trisha rarely started it but… it was the easiest way to find out if she didn’t have to fill an empty human body with bee larvae.
Hey, does it have to be human?
Silence. Trisha’s brow furrowed, lips twisting down into a deeper frown. Seriously? Surely it was an easy question to answer.
Does it have to be human?
Nothing. Trisha scowled, opening her eyes for a moment to glare up at the ceiling before closing them again.
Oy, freeloader in my body, answer the question.

... Patience. Came the response, finally, a smooth, deep feminine voice ringing in Trisha’s mind. I was sleeping.

Fucking hell- Well if you’re awake, answer the question. Do they need to be laid in humans?

It can’t be animals. That would be undignified.

Undignified how? Well, whatever. It was enough of an answer for Trisha to cut off the conversation, eyes opening and expression relaxing. She looked back at Casey with a slight smile.
”She said it can’t be in animals, so I can’t just buy a chicken breast and put them in there- I guess that means only humans. What other kind of flesh is there?"

Casey gave a momentary thoughtful look..
”For certain rituals, we’ve always eaten things that aren’t from this uh… Dimension? Mostly in my life, we’ve had this guy who lived with us. Well, the Chef, Andrade? You ate his food tonight. The cake that healed your pretty face.”
He shrugged his shoulders like it was no big deal.
”Maybe it’d be morbid to her, but there’s this spell that Andrade uses that can make Apparitions vaguely physical. Enough that we can harvest actual meat off of them. I don’t know if she’d be offended or think it’s a better offering, but… We can make it happen I bet. Andrade likes me, he treats me well.”

”Oh, I’ve heard of him- I think we had a family meal at one of his restaurants once? Didn’t know about the apparition meat thing… Wait, does that mean I ate an apparition earlier? Or was it just a magical cake?" Trisha shook her head, that wasn’t what was important right now… and she didn’t really care either way. There were friendly apparitions like the Queen she hosted, but most weren’t. She’d help kill enough ten years ago that the thought of them being used as meat didn’t bother her, at least.
”It doesn’t really matter if she doesn’t like it, as long as it works. Well, I suppose I should check."

She didn’t bother closing her eyes this time. Would apparition meat offend you?
There was no response. Only silence, echoing on and on… Trisha rolled her eyes.
”She’s either ignoring me, or asleep again, so I’m sure it’s fine with her. If it’s possible, I’d prefer it… Something that isn’t human shaped.’"

She gestured with her hands, as if forming a body, then tilted her head back towards Casey with a bright smile.
”Thanks. I didn’t think it’d be possible to grow my hive any further- I’ve had this many since the Snake. Not that I needed to… but now I think I should."

Casey nodded his head, polishing off the last of the family sized bowl. It was like a fucking tub of macaroni and he felt proud of himself that he cleared it while the image of the substance was still in his head.
Stop thinking about the fucking-”
”There’s bees in South America that eat meat. Like, they eat it and make uh… Meat jelly. Which, until I did mop-up for artillery crews, I never knew existed. But one of my buddies whose parents were from down there, when we… When we were cleaning, he mentioned it. Like a joke, trying to make the squeamish guys yuck up. “

Verbalising the image was new and uncomfortable, but he was able to take it mostly in stride. Maybe because it had to do with her. Or not, since he wasn’t able to take the pain of a few bee stings. Failure.
He went back for the sandwich he hadn’t finished. It was kind of cold, but a room temperature chicken sandwich was easier to handle than the sticky cheese sauce. But he was feeling the sense of comfort washing back over him as his body tried to relax in a place it never felt relaxed in.

Not without her. It was new. It was new, and he liked it, and he wanted to be comfortable for her and with her. Life would be good if he just tried. Try and fail, why try? He grimaced, making a funny face to accompany his explanation of meat jelly.
”But, I guess they still go out and get flower pollen like honey bees? They only breed in the flesh?”

Trisha grimaced at the thought of a meat jelly making bee. She knew there were other, stranger types of bees but hadn’t looked into them when researching her own. There weren’t exactly beekeeping guides for meat eating South American bees- who would want that? Though she’d seen and directed her bees to attack people before, and seen them sting and bite them to death. Perhaps it wasn’t so different. The image was a little less disgusting when thought of like that.

”Yeah, mine don’t eat flesh. They’ll kill people if I ask them to- not that I do- but they won’t eat it. Really the, uh, flesh breeding thing is the apparition rather than them…" She glanced at his chicken sandwich, feeling her own appetite come back again, and reached out for the lukewarm curly fries she hadn’t finished earlier. They weren’t too bad. She munched on a few before continuing.
”When I’m not telling them to do anything, they’re just like normal honey bees. They collect pollen, stock up the whole hive with it and make honey. I’m probably single handedly doing more for the flowers in St Portwell than anyone else-"

She grinned, stuffing a few more fries in her mouth. They weren’t as good as they had been hot, but it was alright, she just wanted to eat something. ”It's funny sometimes, because if I call too many during spring or summer half of them will turn up laden with pollen… It gets everywhere. I considered only wearing yellow and brown last spring because they kept landing on me with it. I try not to interrupt them going about their… bee business when I can, but they need frequent contact with me to even do it."

Trisha waved a curly fry in the air. ”Bit of a long winded answer to a simple question, sorry."

Casey was very clearly in the middle of churning out some thoughts.
”No, you’re fine! You’re talking and I’m listening, and… Do you ever think about how when you meet someone new, you get through all the interesting stuff in the first few days? Until secrets are left? Then nobody says anything until it becomes relevant?”
He was chewing as he asked the question, but when he swallowed, he put his hand up and slid it as if to cut her off.

”Wait, no… Save that one. Back to the bees; I hope you aren’t annoyed answering my questions but I’m super fucking interested. So, like, what? She, The Queen, just was like some fuckin’ nature spirit? One of the other Warrants in my special unit used to always say ‘It’s magic my man, don’t think too hard.’ But, he was like Leon; he Kindled early in a family where it was all magic all the time. Me; I always had to hear about it second hand, or see weird secondary results like phantoms throwing furniture or something.”

He shrugged, waving his hand again in a different direction, like he was turning a page in the book.
”But basically, if she does this whole thing about letting them grow in flesh, then why let them keep the whole process just for a backup? I mean, I get it being kind of convenient, but at the same time you’ve gotta ask yourself how long she’s been around. Have you ever just like sat and bothered her with questions like that?”

And then he grinned. The hand he was moving to gesticulate through the conversation began to roll, like he was winding a chord or something.
”So I combine the two points: We’re getting to know one another, and I’m trying not to blitz through my life and dump it all on you. Are you down to the point with The Queen where it’s just secrets? Or have you ever gotten to know one another at all? Or, what are the chances there’s a bunch of stuff she knows about that you don’t? Like, maybe, raising them in meat changes them?”

”I…" Trisha trailed off, actually thinking about it. She felt a bit embarrassed the answer to whether she’d just sat and asked questions was no. They adjoined, the Queen taught her the basics, she helped against the Stygian Snake a year later, then she settled into a routine of tending to the bees she had. She hadn’t thought to talk to her more or find out more about her abstraction. It hadn’t been that important beyond the companionship the bees brought her.

”I don’t really know her at all. She talks to me maybe… every few months? One time we didn’t talk for a year. Normally it’s just something stupid as well, like pointing out that I’m cutting off the honeycomb wrong- or a snide comment." She was quickly realising how little she knew both about her apparition and the abstraction that came with her. There were the bees, there were the pheromones, but was there more? She’d never thought to ask.

”I always just assumed what she told me at the start was all there was to it. She said raising them in humans was faster, but that was it. I don’t… Well, all of my friend’s with magic are adepts. The ex-Sycamore group I’m still friendly with, and one college friend- my ex, actually. The rest are Blind so I spent those four years barely thinking about it." Her eyes widened slightly, something akin to excitement shining in them.
”Do you think I should? Try to get to know her, that is, just like I am with you? Well, not the same, I’m not trying to-" she snorted, covering her mouth. ”Date her."

”It’s more intimate, isn’t it?”
He rolled his head about slightly, thinking about the situation. Leon had described some pretty intense feelings to him, and he understood that it was done in confidence. So he couldn’t really share it.
Rather, he reached out and grabbed the conversation again.
”Well, you’re sharing a body right? A total union. Sometimes… Sometimes, you’re like a prison warden. Some people seem like they’re besties with their ghosts. Some people practically gave birth to their ghosts. Like the trio of slugs in the other room; Eddy’s Apparition was born after they did a ritual together. She treats that ghost like her baby.”

He didn’t like the Heroin Baby. He really didn’t like it. He didn’t believe for a second that they weren’t using it to get high. What was the difference besides not catching diseases from dirty needles? But that wasn’t Trisha’s problem, and Casey wasn’t a detective…
Yet…

”Ohhhh…" Trisha couldn’t imagine treating an apparition like a baby- Well, she sort of did it with her bees sometimes, but it wasn’t quite the same. Nor did she feel like a prison warden, or really a friend of the Queen. What was it for her…
”If I had to describe what it’s like for me… it’s kind of like having a second mom, except she’s in my head. Silent for months before popping up with some unwanted advice or criticism. Doesn’t always respond when I ask, but will answer when she feels like it-"

Trisha froze, realising that gave a little more information about her actual mom than she’d wanted to. Though her mom tended to just come in with criticism rather than advice, while the Queen tended to do the former a bit more. It was kind of sad. A bee ghost she shared a body with was more maternal than her own mother.
”Point is, I don’t really feel close to her or… find it that intimate. She’s just there, and I sometimes forget that the bees aren’t just mine. I never really thought about talking to her, or treating her like a friend or… well, I think she’s at least a thousand, I couldn’t treat her like my child."

Finding her comment on it being like a second Mom to be funny, he thought about his own mother. Lots of nightmares there. Lots of screaming. He’d hate for her to be in his head. If she wasn’t busy doing something, there was a chance she was in the room with them without either of them really knowing. Mia taught him a White spell that the others use to feel her magic’s presence, but it was impossible to identify a source that she’d enchanted.

He didn’t have his glove, however, so he’d have to ignore the paranoia.
Focus on the good stuff, don’t trauma dump about your Mom. Girls hate hearing about their boyfriends’ Moms.

”Well, then it sounds like she’s not really the type to be in your head. Which sounds great, it means she probably doesn’t have any preconceived notions about you. You can make the relationship whatever you want. Lets brainstorm it.-”

He leaned forward for a minute to roll another joint, and remembered there was a couple fried candy bars.
Fuck! Just don’t bother saying anything. The meal is fucking ruined, we’ll do it again soon.
So he simply worked out the immediate problem, licking and sticking the paper roll full of ground up herb into a complete conical cylinder. He lit it, smoked again, and offered it to Trisha.

”My first thought after hearing you is that she’s got pretty high standards. Like, maybe unless we get this whole meat thing worked out, maybe get control of some more bees, she won’t want anything to do with you in the first place?”

Just like my actual mom. Trisha was beginning to find her analogy a bit too accurate, now. Though it was just a guess when it came to the Queen… She took the offered joint, taking a long inhale from it. She slowly exhaled as she thought, handing it back to Casey. After a few seconds she felt it relaxing her again, just slightly.
”You’re probably right. I don’t know much about her, but she doesn’t really care about humans… she only adjoined with me in the first place because she was weakened. She probably only told me anything so the bees were cared for."

She tilted her head, half expecting the apparition to say something about that. Of course, she didn’t say anything at all. Typical.
”That would explain why I can’t do much with the pheromones people can smell- I can only lure people in because she wants me to make more bees, and scare them off to protect the ones I have. Though they’re not even strong enough for that- oh. If they start leaking out again, cause of smoking, just hit me or something. Anyway, she must’ve been able to do more than that."

Casey nodded his head as Trisha spoke, punctuating any particular points she was making, or where he agreed with her logic, with nods or gesticulative pointing toward not much of anything.
”The uh… The Cats are apparently from America. They say they grew up in the swamplands, like down South, and that before it was settled and populated, America was this magical forest where spirits had a bunch of territory to themselves to just do shit. That things were natural because the people believed they were how things were. Leon says Lelou has mentioned similar things.”

He liked to imagine the world like that. Primal and beautiful. But maybe people like him would’ve just spent their time afraid of every tree and creek. They’d be terrified that the ground would just swallow them whole, leave no trace discernable by any other mortal man. The shaman would know, but the soldier would just fucking die. The Blind Soldier. He did identify with them best.

”So, if she’s that old and she’s from here, she’s probably used to just doing things on her own. A free spirit, trapped in a box first, then forced to hitch a ride in a foreign body. If we started honouring her the way that a consciousness that old wants to be honoured, I’m certain we’ll find a whole different kind of spirit than what you’re used to. We find a little land, we put some better hives down, bigger and more robust, we deck them out with some ancient symbols and other shit that she likes, and boom.”
Casey reached for Trisha’s hands with excitement at the prospect of making this work with her.

Trisha let him take her hands, fingers curling around his. That sounded nice. She wasn’t so sure about the whole honouring her thing, but… she’d like more space for the bees. Proper hives built on proper land, rather than one she’d managed to get in her bedroom because it was the only space that was really hers. Funny, when her family undoubtedly had acres of land… But that was all Ezra’s, maybe shared with some of the other oldest.
”So, kind of like filial piety but for a spirit? I never thought about what it would’ve been like for her before… I’ve never heard of anything like that from her, but she must’ve had her own little spot in the world without humans around. The bees probably made their homes in whole trees or some shit like that.”

She tilted her head, smiling warmly at him. ”Even if it doesn’t make her happier, I’d love to have more space for the bees. Even just a little land, somewhere outside, for them… I already mentioned they’re in my room just now. It’s not ideal for anyone. I don’t know… how do you even go about buying land? We’d have to buy it, right?"

Her face scrunched up cutely as she tried to think about how much that would be. She had no idea. She’d never bought property. How much did she have? Not much, she spent most of her monthly allowance on herself and the bees… Ah, she did have a little leftover from a coding job she’d done recently.
”It’d have to be somewhere close- or at least, driveable. If I don’t visit the hive every day or two the bees get grumpy about it. Though maybe they’d be better if they had more space… or if she told me more about how to look after them. Oh, I wouldn’t have to worry about cleaning up the mess either."

He thought about her question having to do with the land. She really was a rich girl, and he imagined she didn’t ask many questions overall. At least not about practical things, maybe.
”Well, I do have a choice. There’s a program for Veterans coming back home where if you have a business idea or something, the Feds will grant you out land or property for you to use. If I file the paperwork for a beekeeping and honey business, we get the land granted. We could build on it; things may be rough at first if it’s just a plot of land though, and there’s no guarantee we could zone for residential on it since it’s granted.”

He had looked into the program earlier, when he first considered stepping away from the Army. He wanted to start a Gunsmith, but really he just wanted a free property to have a trailer on where people wouldn’t bother him without a reason. Some quick income he could do with the effort of his magic, or if he cared enough he’d do the work with his hands like an actual craftsman. But bullets and bees would probably net even more cash.

”I uh… This is fast, isn’t it? No, right? Because it’s for the bees really, it’s not about either of us. You deserve to have a good relationship with your ghost, and if you can make money while you make memories, that’s best right?”

”Yeah, it’s for the bees and her, not us," Trisha nodded. That sounded about right. She wasn’t really thinking about all the other things that came along with running a business with someone… Well, she didn’t really know much about running something like that at all. If she did, she might have already started trying to sell her honey.
”But, would you really want to do that? I assume you can only get land granted once… What if it doesn’t work out? There must be so many honey businesses, mine aren’t that special, so-"

She cut herself off before she started vocalising all of her concerns about that, and going down a dark path she didn’t want to. It was for the bees, for improving her abstraction, and for the possibility of a little money with it. That wasn’t the main point, right? And it would be fine if she had to move out of those hives later. Maybe the bees could still live there.

She smiled again, as if all of those concerns were nothing. Really, they weren’t. They weren’t.
”It sounds nice, even if there’s a lot to do at first- I put together my own hive mostly by myself, I’m sure I can do multiple with help. I’m harder working than you’d think."

Though, hard work for her had been hours of studying rather than any kind of manual labour. She then thought about something he’d said in among all of that.
”Why would we… zone for residential? Do you want to build a house as well? Bee hives don’t count as residences, do they?"

”Well, I always imagined living with my business. I guess I like the idea that I’m the one defending it. But, no I’m sure that bee boxes aren’t residential like that. But I bet you we could have staff and stuff. And better, you’ve got magical honey. See, magic is useful for shit like this, we used to talk about this all the time in the dirt.”

He scooted on the couch, arm wrapping around her and holding her close while the other painted a scene in front of them.

”You know people will buy any crock of shit with a clever punchline or some story in it. So we play it up. It's magic honey. But the people who know really will know that it is magic. We use our connections to the people we know, and we pipe it back to them. Special ingredients, or exotic pollens… There’s this guy? Ken? From the Sycamore? And Leon told me he like, travels across dimensions and brings some of you guys like souvenirs. We could go to him and get weird pollen and stuff to use!”

”Ken…" Trisha leaned into Casey while trying to remember. There had been a lot of people in Sycamore, and while she’d interacted with people outside of her clique a little more than the other rich kids… it was a bit difficult to remember them all. Oh! ”Kenshiro? I remember him. We didn’t really talk much- but if he has flowers from other dimensions, I don’t see why not. I bet the bees could use it easily, they’re smart little creatures… I wonder what it would do to the honey. The honey they make is already better, I think, but I’m probably biased. I’ve never heard another opinion about it."

She smiled, just thinking about it… There would definitely be a market for magical honey. There were people with too much money and knowledge of the magical world who’d buy anything.
”I don’t really have any magical connections in that way, but I bet I could sell it to my brother- Ezra just eating it would be enough for tons of other people in the business world too. He doesn’t know anything about magic, but I bet he’d just be happy I’m doing something rather than leech-" she stopped, laughing awkwardly. ”He’d be happy I’m following in dad’s footsteps."

But that was getting a bit ahead of herself. They needed ‘magic honey’ first.
”Oh, we could test the waters a bit to see if it’s even worth it before… building the hives, at least. I have enough from this year to give out, get opinions, I don’t know. Maybe that won’t help."

”Oh, I bet it will. We’ll run it to Andrade, have him use it to whip us up something. So long as I keep my business out of Lynette’s hands-”
He stopped dead, realising what it meant to go on far too long in a direction that wasn’t the right one. He frowned.
”I… Only really know The Temple. The people there would be the ones who could help me most. But, that’s me. I guess I would be worried that you wouldn’t want that in your life. Frankly I don’t either, but… Well-”
Casey’s hand rubbed Trisha’s shoulder gently.
”If I’d want to keep my own Mother out of my business, imagine how much I wouldn’t want her in yours? So, maybe we stay as far away from them as we can. We stick to what we can get, we use flowers from here, and maybe as you and the Queen get more personal, we find out there’s stuff we can do on our own to make things better. And we give her space, give you space, to just fill the area with bees in natural hives that we don’t even take honey from.”

He sat for a second imagining the macabre forest full of human-shaped natural hives built around never-living bodies hung from trees. Bloody Bees.
I’ll have forgiveness.
”I think… If it takes the flesh for things to get better, I think Doctor Nedia can be trusted. She’s always been good to me. Well, they all have, but she was… Special. Like an aunt who you can cry to. Andrade’s friendly, but he’d make one dish with the honey and my Mom would start asking questions. I’m betting that I can get meat under the table without much questioning though.”

”Surely…" She paused. She didn’t know how controlling his mother or the temple was. If her mom found out she’d probably laugh, and say that it would fail.
”You only mean stay far away from them business wise, right? You don’t mean… in everything? I really don’t mind, I don’t want you to just cut everything off for something that might not- Well, don’t do that for me. I can handle it being in my life for you."

Probably. There was some sick, twisted thought deep down that would have liked that. If he cut it all off, then he’d only have her. Then he wouldn’t leave her, would he? But she suppressed that. She was selfish and resentful, but not like that. She… didn’t want to become the truly bad person some thought she was.

”You know who my family is, right? Last time I checked we run the city. I talk to my brother, get his support or whatever, and it’ll be untouchable.” Probably. She didn’t really know if this was just about the business anymore, or their whole life… But she definitely couldn’t move away to a place where it was only them and the bees in some kind of natural paradise.
”We’ll… do what you think is best, though. I don’t know them. But it’ll be really hard to hide from your mom either way, right? We might as well use the resources- Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from the questions and intrusions."

She just felt like she was saying words now, not knowing if it got her point across, but hopefully he could see the earnestness in her expression. Like she thought they could make it work.

”Well, untouchable as in you’ve got infinite money to fund lawyers and bankroll politicians to make things difficult for normal people. You can hire a private eye to tail someone, or get a hacker to forward someone’s emails to you so you can snoop. But is your brother Magic? Can he teleport into a locked concrete bunker underneath a hundred and fifteen feet of granite bedrock and blow you to smithereens by screaming something stupid like ‘Get off my lawn’?”

Yes, Staff Sergeant Willaby was always quite a character like that. Casey really only had the trauma of his Mother neglecting him. It was only recently that she’d taken any interest in his life in the first place.

”The cats know who you are. I can’t lie to my Mom, because the cats already know the truth, and I’m sure they’re still listening to us right now, right-”
He held out his finger toward the sliding false wall, at the corner closest to where they were sat.
From the other side, there was some muffled voices. It was absolutely the cats. Two little paws bashed their way underneath, almost waving at them and exactly from the direction that Casey had pointed. For a moment their furry arms wiggled around, then retracted altogether.
”-right fuckin’ there! he exclaimed in frustration. ”There’s no fucking peace in this place! None!”

His eyes were a little tired looking. He was tired of it, so it was only natural. ”My life’s been a narcissist’s toy for twenty-five years. And when she finds out that your last name is Vanburen, she’s going to bomb you with love like you’re her favourite person. She’ll buy you things and get you comfortable so she can start asking favours, and then when she knows everything she needs to know about you, she’ll try and make your world her world. And once she’s done that, she’ll start demanding things from you. She did it to my Sister’s ex-husband, she did it to Hari in the other room, she’ll do it again and she’ll try and do it to you. I just know it, Trish… Remember when I was talking about secrets? I don’t want us to get there. Where we’re just waiting for the ball to drop.”

That was a lot to take in. From the bunker blowing up, to the cat’s fucking paws sticking through the wall, to… his mom. No wonder he didn’t want her involved. But there was no avoiding it if the cats already knew, and it would then get to his mom. They couldn’t just cut everything off and run… She couldn’t.
”What can she buy me that I don’t already have? I’m not trying to dismiss it but… You know, my dad used to buy us things because he didn’t have time for us. People buying stuff for me has the opposite effect. It doesn’t make me feel loved. That won’t work on me."

She shook her head, twisting around so she was properly facing him and wrapping her arms around his midsection.
”If she’s going to find out anyway… Well, it’ll be fine. I know that you’re just concerned. It’s not the same, but I have experience in… conditional love. The kind of love you get because someone wants you to be something, and they force you to be that way. I don’t-" trust that anyone would actually love me. But she couldn’t say that. She couldn’t say she’d never be comfortable, no matter how much someone bombed her with love. ”I don’t want to get there either, but we won’t. If you don’t want me to meet your mom, if you want me to avoid her completely, I’ll do that. But I wouldn’t let her in."

She spoke confidently, even though she had very little confidence internally that it would even matter… That he would put up with her long enough for it to even become a problem. That they’d be together long enough to reach that point.

Casey looked a little dejected, but he didn’t think it was right to take away an opportunity for her to at least see if she really wanted something like the burden of his family. They were, if anything, close; he figured from what she’d been saying, that maybe it would be something she’d appreciate. For how much he didn’t trust his younger sister, she was ultimately a good, if not self-destructive, soul. Same with Leon, at least he was willing to stand by you when you needed it most. Though maybe she knew a different side of him at the end of the day.

”Honestly, until I came home Kindled, I’m pretty sure Lynette forgot I existed. Even now she still… I guess, I’m kind of afraid that she’s going to all of a sudden have a reason to pay attention to me like she does Leon. I’ve seen what she does to him, saw how she would treat him as a boy. Even if I wanted attention, I mean… Who wants it like that? She treats him like a little kid until he does something wrong, and then it’s fire and brimstone until he ‘makes it right’.”
Casey finally shrugged, leaning into Trisha and resting his head on her shoulder. He hugged her close.

”Who knows. I seriously don’t, the last one of us that had a significant other was Elise, and those two are divorced now. Not that we’re getting married, just… I can’t help but think that she had something to do with it.”

Trisha reached up and rested her hand on Casey's head, gently rubbing his scalp. She twisted around so her legs hooked over his. ”I didn't know it was like that for Leon, maybe I was too harsh on him ten years ago- I always got pissed off when he started trying to be some enforcer, but I see where it came from… well, that doesn't matter just now."

She tilted her head to lean it against his.
”I can see why you're worried, if your sister got divorced. Even if it was your mom, that doesn't mean she'll be able to get between us. I don't want to let her- and you've told me all of this. I'm not going in blind. I promise, I won't let her get to me. But it won't even be a problem- if there was a Vanburen pecking order, I'm right down at the bottom. I don't have much power, so I doubt it'll be that tempting to your mom."

Trisha took his hands, squeezing them and turning her head awkwardly to look at him again with what she hoped was a reassuring smile.
”And if it doesn't work out, and what you're worrying about starts to happen, we can just run away and get a little field somewhere with the bees, away from everything."

Casey blinked slowly, looking into Trisha’s eyes softly.
”You’re… You’re great.”
He tucked in a little closer, big hands rubbing her back and cradling her so he could lean back. He turned a little so that she had the back of the couch and him to lay against. It was a warm little nook. She’d be able to feel his feet moving around until his hands slipped a bit and rolled the blanket up over both of them.

”Can we just stay like this? You can’t imagine how lonely some places get…”
He was talking about places like they were in. Home, where if he hadn’t been attacked by the cats daily, the rest of the family probably never would’ve known he was there. Where it was him and his own thoughts echoing again and again about how he was never going to be good enough for anything.

At least he was good enough to kill for his country. He found out you didn’t have to be “good” to be good enough then. There was always the idea that he had to be some sort of noble hero like his Father was. Or like he wanted them to think he was, at least. He caught a lot of shit for being some goodie two-shoed fuck, and he got absolutely blasted by every drill sergeant he met during basic…

Because he thought that’s what Men were supposed to be.
”How’d you get so cool? Born with it?” he asked her quietly, as if they were really all alone.
Casey had a safe space. It was imaginary, of course, but he thought about them being there. No blanket, just the warm air rolling across the island beach in the middle of nothingness in the ocean.

”Who says we can’t just stay like this?" Trisha smiled softly, lying against his check. It was warm and comfortable and… safe. She really did feel like she could stay here forever, in his arms and covered by the blanket. Because, she did know how lonely places could get. Loneliness was studying in her room while her siblings played outside, yet their grades resulted in praise and hers in scolding. It was days left alone at her mom’s house during the only month they had together because she had academic conferences. It was never quite belonging anywhere, and her only proper company being bees.

But she wasn’t going to open up about that. She just smiled warmly and snuggled up against him, happy to be content for once.
”Mm, if I tell you all my secrets, I won’t be able to let you live," Trisha said softly, eyes filling with warm laughter. ”My coolness is all hard work, I definitely wasn’t born with it. I was a loud, annoying baby - the opposite of cool. I became this cool through sheer will."

She grinned, reaching up to tap his nose. ”Maybe it’ll start to rub off on you, and you’ll become as cool as me."

Casey laughed quietly, holding her tighter as he did so.
”Woah, hey… Easy. I’m very fucking cool.” he grinned at her still chuckling.
”And you can test me. I’ll pass the cool test every time. Someone taught me how to.”

Of course it was ol’ Commissar. The Warrant Three he’d been tasked under once he’d made it that far in was a man who didn’t flinch in danger, and didn’t shy away from telling people how he felt about things. But he wasn’t evil, nor was he cruel. Warrant Officer Comstadt was a Father, a Husband, a Leader who you never questioned. It was respect, that he would know what was best because that was his job.

And he was an Abberant. He had an awful, evil, zealous spirit inside him that claimed to be a vengeful angel from God. And it would send him into awful rages and fits that he couldn’t control. But nobody cared, because Comstadt had earned his position. They respected him, and they could separate him as a man and a leader from the spirit inside that made him a killer and a butcher.

To Casey, that’s what cool was. At least, his ideal cool. Trish was a close second though. He really liked her…

”Oh really?" Trisha leaned her head back slightly to give him an assessing look. Her attempt was broken a bit by a soft giggle. She didn’t… actually know what the cool test was, but it sounded ridiculous. Surely if you had to take a test to prove that you were cool, you weren’t really cool anymore?

”What’s-" she yawned before she could get further, surprising herself. She was just a little sleepy, mostly from the warmth of the blanket and being hugged so close. The comfort of it. ”What’s the cool test? You see, I’m so cool I never had to take a test… So show me how it’s done and prove that you're so cool, Case."

Casey grinned widely at her, biting his lip slightly to give a very sassy look at Trisha.
”Alright, cool.”

He jerked his head forward slightly, like he was in a bar acknowledging some other cool guy. Then he tilted his head back and closed his eyes. That was it.

Internally, Casey beamed at himself, his own baited joke echoing in his head. What else did she think he was going to do? What else could one do except be… Cool…

Trisha snorted, laughter escaping her lips at the ridiculousness of his actions. She didn’t entirely get it, wasn’t sure there was anything to get, but she did find it funny. Maybe not cool, but entertaining.

”Yeah, very cool," she giggled, slowly and carefully moving her own head forward. Sooo cool, wow, I just can’t hold back."

Then she darted in, pressing her lips against his in what she’d decided was a sneak attack. She let it linger for just a moment, but didn’t push for anything more as she pulled back slightly, smiling teasingly.
”That’s a reward for passing the test."
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Act One-Two


Casey’s internal clock knew five in the morning like it was branded into his brain with hot metal. Five AM was like a hiccup in a vacuum: It always felt like the world was closing in around him at that time. But today, there was something different. His sleep had been dark and black, devoid of the nightmares that usually plagued him.

He felt a little weight on top of him. She was soft, and her skin was practically hot to the touch. At some point over the night, he had tucked Trisha up closer and tighter to the couch so his feet and legs were sticking out in the cool air of the apartment. He didn’t like being hot like that, but he did like feeling the weight of something on top of him.
There was an order in the mail that he was waiting on: A forty pound aluminum mesh blanket was on the way from this blacksmith upstate.

It was perfect, the kind of material that didn’t add any kind of insulation. Only weight. She was perfect, except the part of his body she was tucked closest to felt like it had turned to sandstone. She’d rolled, and his bare arm was practically stuck to her bare back; apparently she’d accidentally rolled it up.

He took a deep, quiet breath. The cats’ muffled voices echoed from the other side of the wall, instantly aware that Casey was rejoining the world of the waking. November first. He laid there a few more minutes, still astonished that such a cute woman had just curled up and fell asleep.
He remembered being impressed by a joke, but mostly he was tired because…

Casey finally shifted, and felt all the searing pain of the bee sting patches rolling across his body like he’d been beaten up in his sleep. It wasn’t good, but it was at least easier to deal with than the reality that was getting actively stung.
He shifted his body, knowing he had very little room to work with. But she was already tucked and ready to roll into the couch if he slipped out. So, he twisted his torso, and the arm underneath her kept her in place until his legs and ass were free. With a single scoot, he placed her back down fully and got up.

He stretched hard, rolling his hips and midriff while his legs shook from the strain.
”Alright, Baby Bee. You’re just dreaming. Stay asleep.” he very quietly spoke down to her before squatting and scooping Trisha up from underneath herself.

Trisha grumbled in her sleep, a few barely audible and not fully formed words escaping her lips, before she twisted around to press her face against his chest.

He nearly squealed from the cuteness death. However, he had a duty. She was expecting breakfast in bed, but he couldn’t make that happen if she wasn’t in a bed specifically. So, slowly and methodically, Casey carried Trisha back to his bedroom. The gentle water noise and low hum of the electronics made the room a little more noisy, but a little more comforting in his mind.
Bending at the knees, he unfurled the blankets and let Trisha slip into the silky sheets before covering her back up.

With the payload safe, he made for his dresser and grabbed some morning clothing. Clean sweats and a new shirt, new socks; he changed in the living room and locked his bedroom door behind him so nobody could get in from the outside. It was one way, so she wasn’t stuck in there in case she wanted to use the bathroom while he was out.
But he had a strange feeling, and he slipped back in as quietly as possible to get two things: His Channeler, which he stuffed into his pocket, and a pistol in a waistband holster that he clipped to his front and slipped his shirt over.

Forty-Five in a compact, he was used to the jumpy little pistol. It was his range shooter, and the beam on it was nicely aligned so he didn’t have to aim. Just in case anyone felt funny, he refused to not be protected.
He leaned over Trisha, kissing her forehead again and smiling warmly at her before pulling away. He still had the place’s address in his head, and he typed it into his phone, then grabbed his keys and headed upstairs to his car. As he passed the hallway, he made it a point to scoop up all the dirty laundry that needed doing.

Coming out of the door, he turned right and immediately entered the laundry room of the apartment building, and he loaded up the curtains, his and Trisha’s dirty clothing, her bee onesie, whatever was in the pile. The machines were all card machines, so he pulled his phone out and slid it across the mechanical face. There was a gentle chime that told him the machine accepted his money, and the electric hum of the washer began as the barrel rotated. He figured by the time he got back, it’d be done enough to dry.

Coming back out, he came face to face with an unexpected person.
”Casey? Where the fuck have you been?”
Casey looked up at his older brother, who was just a little bit taller as he was still standing on the stairs. Casey’s face was blank, but Leon looked pretty bad. Like he hadn’t slept in days.

”I’ve been here. Why, what’s wrong?”
Leon’s face turned sour. His hands clapped together as he sauntered down the last couple steps.
”Have you bothered looking at your phone? We got hit last night.”
Casey’s gut fell out of his body. His eyes grew to saucers, and he slowly reached for his phone. He hadn’t actually looked at it, just scanned the electronic card…
Ten missed calls, ten voice messages, thirty-five texts.
Casey’s grim expression met Leon’s, and he took a deep breath.

”How bad?”
”Andrade’s hurt. The Doc fixed him up, but Elise is pretty shaken up about it. I guess she put Mondo in harm’s way, and-”
Casey stopped his brother, holding his hand up.
”Where are you in this equation, Mister Bastion?”

Casey didn’t like what Leon was getting at: He was conditioned to this sort of behaviour. If Leon had been there, Elise would’ve never utilised Mia’s gift; her Channeler was far too precious to be destroyed. She had to be desperate, which meant that Leon wasn’t there to help… So now it was going to be Casey’s fault. He was ready.

”Sycamore Business, you wouldn’t unde-”
”No, Man… I understand just fine. We weren’t there, and so you’re catching the heat and you need someone else to blame.”

Leon was silent, staring at Casey with frustration in his eyes. Casey saw his brother’s nostrils flare slightly.
”I’ll tell you what: I was planning on heading over there later. I’ll cancel all of my plans and intentions for you, Leon. So that you can be free to do what you want. Since I know that’s all you want to do, I mean all your friends are home. Who wants to spend all that time looking like he’s some cultist tool?”
”And what fucking plans did you have?”
”Ask my fucking girlfriend if you dare to wake her up.”

Leon had intended to square up and use his size to try and intimidate Casey, but once those words left his mouth, Leon slacked up. Confusion and fear set in.
”L-lena?” Leon croaked, fearing the answer.
Casey’s eyes narrowed. A wide and evil smile crept across his face.
”No, Lee. Honestly? I fucking hate Lena. I hate her fake enthusiasm, I hate the way she’s always on her phone when she’s not pretending to be interested in me, I hate the way she talks like our Mother.”

Leon’s face went from confusion to fear to sadness all at once. He realised instantly what he’d set in motion, and he cleared his throat.
”Is Promiscuous Patricia in my apartment right now?”
Casey stepped forward, cutting Leon’s space as he approached the stairs.
”Do not make your problems with her my problems, Leon. If you really fucking care, like you’ve said that you do? Then you’ll keep the fuck out of it. Please and thanks.”
His feet took him up the stairs, but Leon followed him closely.

”Listen, I just didn’t want to deal with her! But Casey, I promise you that she’s not going to give you anything but grief, Bro!”
”Wow, really concerned about it. That’s touching Leon, I’ll be sure to mark this down in my memories as one of the times you really tried your hardest to be a big brother. Crazy how you’re putting up more resistance about me dating a girl than signing up for a literal World War.”

Leon stopped dead in his tracks, great sadness flowing over him. It was enough of a stun that Casey got out of the side door and into the parking lot without Leon. But that big goofy man stood in the glass door and watched Casey as he got into his car. Casey’s hands flew up, questioning Leon’s actions, and then gestured to his passenger seat. Reluctantly the wolfman came and got into the car. The gate rolled open, and the car slid out into the dark St. Portwell morning.

It was quiet at first, but Leon broke the silence.
”So you… Had a good night?”
Casey didn’t respond verbally, clasping his lips into a frown and nodding.
”Did you?”
Leon shook his head.
”After we parted ways, I ended up getting involved with what I thought would be fun. It just led to a bad situation that could’ve ended a lot worse if some of my friends hadn’t been there.”

And there it was. Casey knew immediately, but hearing Leon say it was vindicating. He’d been fucking off, and because he wasn’t doing his job playing Temple Superman, people they were close to got hurt. Classic.

”So I assume when you got back with your tail tucked, you got your head ripped off?”
Leon didn’t answer with words, but his hand rose up slightly as if to agree.
”Didn’t get that far. After my situation was over, I went back to the tent because I figured there was some more of that health pie left, but I found the place wrecked. I found the two of them at the Merch booth with Keighla and Clarissa. She got things started, but it wasn’t long before Mom appeared out of thin air.”

Always too late to actually be of any help. Classic Lynette. There was another pause as Casey made his way on through the quiet streets. The sweepers were out in force, blowing away the confetti and candy wrappers left in the street the night before. The two men took long breaths between one another, slowly synchronising until their actions were in tandem. Things relaxed again.

”I’m sorry. And I already defended you.”
”What, from Mom?”
”She was pretty upset with both of us. You know how important Andrade is with things; and we haven’t found him any sort of apprentice to teach. But, I made sure she knew it wasn’t your fault. That I told you that you could head home. She’s frustrated you won’t get help with your condition.”

Of course she was; it made Casey less effective overall. He couldn’t deal with crowds, couldn’t deal with long exposure to social situations. He couldn’t be the same kind of butterfly Leon or Junior were.
”I know. I bet she wishes I never-”
”Absolutely not. You know she’s regretful, I’ve told you before. Just give her some time.”

The two dragged the conversation on as Casey drove closer and closer to the bakery. He saw it from the street, but there was no connecting parking. He picked a street spot and pulled in.
”Do you want anything?”

Leon looked out at the bakery and chuckled.
”You came all this way for a croissant?
Casey shook his head.
”I promised her breakfast in bed. Sh-”

Leon immediately clowned on his younger brother, scoffing and tilting his head back. Casey’s hands came up in a frustrated manner, slapping the steering wheel on the way back down.

”No, no, Casey… It’s fine! It’s fine, I just… Man, Patty? Patricia?”
”Just Trisha, man.”
”Well when you get into your first argument, make sure you call her Patricia Punkass, or literally any alliteration to her full name.”

Casey shook his head in disgust.
”Whatever, man. Do you fucking want something or not?”
Leon shook his head, taking his seatbelt off.
”No, the Gym is close enough. I’ll just hit a run and have a protein drink when I get there.”

Casey looked around a little bit, recognizing the neighbourhood a little more. He hadn’t realised their uptown branch was so close, but it made sense. With three Gravity Gyms around St. Portwell, he figured they were just always close to one.

The two brothers got out of the car in tandem, and Leon gave Casey a wave.
”So you’re gonna go over there at least?”
Casey nodded.
”I wanted to talk to Mary-Ann about helping with the Bees and stuff.”

Leon tossed his hands up.
”Well good luck with that. Chances are, all Mom’s concerns will melt away when she smells the money wafting off the body of a Vanburen. Ciao, Little Brother.”

Casey flipped Leon off as he turned and walked away. It wasn’t a great morning start, but he did his best to put the impending doom on the back burner. As he walked down the street, he pulled his phone out and rattled off a text message to Clarissa letting her know that he was aware of the situation, and that he’d be over later on to figure out what the next steps were.

For now, he knew what his next steps were. He stepped on and on, into that little bakery, and when he emerged, he was holding so much that it was silly. They had just finished their bread rolls, and the scent of all the warm wheat came just short of giving him wood for probably the first time in months.
While meat was a source of regret and fear, fresh baked goods were the opposite. They were innocent foods, people’s fillers that were meant to be consumed and had zero morbidity to them whatsoever.

Boxes were filled with muffins and tarts and donuts, bagels, a couple of chocolate filled croissants (his favourite treat since childhood) and loads of other goods that would be happily devoured by the young people in the Temple dorms and commons. He came out with so much actually that a person from the bakery actually helped him get it all out and situated it in his car before he made his way back home.

Pulling back in, he headed around the back of the building so he could leave the car running. He didn’t want to bring all the shit back in, so he had them prep a sampler in a single box, so all he had to do was bring that back inside with him. It was just after quarter-to-six, and he figured Trisha wasn’t going to want to get up just yet. He had time.

Getting back in the apartment, Eddy was up and rummaging through the fridge. She was more than half naked, and nearly jumped out of her flesh as Casey rounded the corner.
”God Dammit Casey!”
She had a hoodie on, but… Just the hood. She grabbed the cloth arms and quickly tied them around her chest to cover.
”You’re fucking out?”

He stood with the box of pastries, confused and slightly concerned. He looked past her toward the closed door. He didn’t need to use words to convey his feelings to Eddy, who knew pretty instantly that Casey was processing a whole bunch of thoughts.

”I-I-I-u-uh… Was… Gonna use Leon’s shower! H-hari said Clarissa-”
Casey put his free hand up to stop her.
”Spare yourself the trouble, Eddy. Just… Please disappear.”

She was gone like lightning, leaving the raw burning smell in her wake. Casey was compelled to open the door, to creep down the hall, to catch them. Just for the forbidden knowledge. But he shook it out of his head. He didn’t need to know about his little sister’s freakshow life. He’d had enough of a morning already, he just wanted to focus on that warm feeling he got when he thought about Trisha.

He pulled a croissant out of the box and tucked in immediately. It was hot and delicious, and the boxes all had this little foil lining that kept them insulated so they’d stay that way longer. He really understood why Trisha had mentioned the place. Their selection was fantastic, and the ingredients seemed premium. The front was covered in flour; he learned in France that you only wanted to go to a bakery that was covered in flour. If it wasn’t, chances are they weren’t working very hard.

The creamy chocolate filling blew his concerns away for the short term, and he set about getting hot water for tea and brewing a pot of coffee. It wasn’t long before good ol’ Hari quietly popped the door to the otherside open and slid in. Casey had the tin of coffee in his hands.
”Whaaaaat?” he groaned playfully.

Important to distinguish was the idea that Casey did love the girls. Mia, Eddy, Hari: But mostly, probably more than his own blood, he loved Hari. She had this aura, this ability to listen and receive and not misinterpret communication. She was patient, even tempered, willing to put up with all manner of frustration.
She was one of his Mother’s Angels. A Temple Crone. It was an important position, and came with a lot of perks.

It was important to Casey that Hari was willing to share these perks. She stepped close to him; very close. Her head was just about empty, conditioned to do so as she delivered a message to her honorary older brother.
”She’s expected.”

Casey nodded his head. Of course their Mother knew.
”Where’s the plant?”
Hari hugged her arms around Casey, squeezing tight. It was obvious they weren’t blood by the height gap, and Hari barely came up to his chest.
”Don’t… It’s not worth it.”

There was a long pause. Casey finished filling the coffee maker with water, started the machine, and then wrapped an arm around Hari. He rubbed her shoulder for a moment.
”It’s worth getting out, Casey…”
Casey took another deep breath.
”You three… Are using again.”

She didn’t respond besides slowly nodding her head. But she pulled away.
”It’s not-”
He put his hand up. He didn’t want to hear her explain.
”Then don’t lecture me about getting out.”
Hari frowned, but she couldn’t do much about it. There was too much to unpack.

”Where’s Ed?”
Casey’s head nodded toward the hall behind him.
”Hiding in Lee’s room like she thinks I’ll disappear.”
Hari sighed, walking around him and off toward Leon’s room.

No fucking peace around here.

He started shuffling through cabinets looking for that tray they used to use on Mother’s Day, finding it buried under a bunch of pans. It was still shiny, and had the etched image of two elk forming a heart with their antlers in the middle. He couldn’t help but smile gently at it. He prepared a bunch of little plates, napkins, cups, then started filling them one by one.

A donut, a cream puff, a few citrus jelly tarts, a beautiful bagel with the choice of spread from cream cheese to butter to jelly. Water with a couple different kinds of tea, coffee, apple juice, and an optional shot of vodka in case she wanted a morning screwball instead of just the juice.
He knew his Mom certainly did.
He asked them for some bacon as well, seeing they had breakfast sandwiches, and laid it on a plate with some of their brioche toast and a warm slice of swiss cheese on top of it.

Before he finished, the two girls passed by him again. At least this time Eddy was actually wearing the hoodie…
”There’s definitely gonna be a meeting.”
Casey nodded as they passed.
”Shit, do we get any love like that?”
Casey grimaced.
”Nope, this is for girlfriends only, and there’s no way I’m jumping in bed with you girls.”

They both just giggled, crossing back into the other side and closing the door. In that moment he swore if he saw a paw, he’d sever it. The cats immediately began beating at the wall and laughing maniacally to themselves. His hand almost reached for his pistol, but it’d be useless. He just looked down at the tray and felt a warm feeling.

Trisha.
But before he woke her up, he figured he’d go turn the laundry over. The units were especially nice, and their efficiency meant that cycles were quick and washing was thorough. Before he transferred, he inspected, making sure there were no lasting stains that needed to be worked out. Once everything was drying, he figured now was the time. Six-thirty in the morning.

A very clearly normal time to be awake considering the Girls were up. It didn’t matter that they’d fallen asleep around midnight to Casey: He was used to days without it in general. A few hours made no difference…

So up came the tray, perfectly balanced in one hand. With the other, he unlocked the door and slipped into the room, closing the door gently behind him. The plates rattled slightly as he placed the tray down on a solid surface. He was sure to unclip his gun and put it back in the drawer before he got close to her by climbing into the bed next to her.

Casey’s arms wrapped around Trisha and he snuggled her gently.
”It’s time to wake up, Your Highness… Breakfast is served in the Kingdom of Crazy People…” he whispered, slowly shaking her.

In her half asleep state, Trisha felt a weight against her back, and soft words buzzing in her ears. It felt… a bit heavier than bees, but it had to be the bees, who else would be there. She rolled onto her back, eyes still closed and mind heavy with sleep. A limp hand raised over her face and waved in front of it as if shooing something away.
“Mm, buzz off, entertain yourselves… it’s too early…” she mumbled, eyes slowly beginning to open. As they did, and she began to wake up, she remembered where she actually was.

This wasn’t her bed. Nor was it the sofa she’d fallen asleep on. That meant it wasn’t bees buzzing or landing on her… it was…
“Oh… Good morning,” Trisha smiled, warm and sleepy. Her eyes blinked open, sleep still a soft gauze over their pretty, hazel surface. She sluggishly rolled in Casey’s arms so she was facing him. She could already smell the food, waking up her appetite along with the rest of her body. It was earlier than she’d normally get up, probably, but she didn’t really mind. Trisha didn’t really have a specific sleep schedule - just when she wanted, tending to sleep long hours because she didn’t have much else to do. But early mornings and shorter hours of sleep were fine too. “I think I want to be woken up like this every morning… Well you don’t have to get breakfast every time. Just the hugging is much nicer than an alarm… definitely much nicer than a bee alarm.”

She yawned, reaching up a hand to rub her eyes, before slowly blinking and seeming to properly wake up. “How did I get in the bed? I definitely didn’t fall asleep here…”

Casey smiled at Trisha like the sun was coming out of his mouth. Pure unadulterated happiness washed over him like an ocean wave a hundred feet tall. He rubbed his hands against her back for a moment.
”The couch has legs, he brought you in.”

“Oh of course, I should’ve known,” Trisha laughed, rolling her eyes good naturedly and craning her neck to glance over Casey’s shoulder. “It managed to get through that door? Or did you patch up the hole it made while I was asleep?”

He scrunched his head into the crook of her neck and shoulder, laughing. He squeezed her tight, then finally pulled away and stood up.
”When I woke up, I managed to get you in there before you got too jostled. Now, sit up. Lemmie get your pillows, so you can be comfy while you eat. You want the TV?” he kissed the top of her head.

He reached for a second pillow on the other side of the bed, propping her up nicely before swinging the tray over and sliding it over her lap. It was quite the spread.
”I don’t know how you like your tea or coffee, but I’m on demand for any condiments. Milk, cream, sugar, just ask. Oh, let me get you a napkin too.”

He slipped out of the door, coming back with a cloth napkin that he daintily laid next to her, along with a spoon, fork and knife.

“Wow.” Trisha was honestly overwhelmed, but in a good way. He’d gotten a whole selection, and actually brought it to her on a tray in bed. She’d… never really had someone look after her like this. It was nice but disconcerting. She wasn’t even sure where to start. With a drink choice, probably. “Just some milk for the coffee? No need for TV- what’s even on at this time? The news? That’s never fun.”

The news was what her mom would watch every morning, ignoring all conversation from Trisha. It was a step up from the finance programs often on in the Vanburen household, where the oldest or biggest got to choose. She didn’t feel the need for that background noise, comfortable with how things were.

Before Casey went to get milk, and she started eating, she leaned over and stretched up to plant a soft kiss on his cheek.
“Thank you, this is actually… yeah… it’s really nice.” She picked up the knife and spread a thin layer of butter on one half of the bagel, before putting on a slightly thicker layer of jelly. She picked it up and took a bite, smile immediately widening. It was as good as normal… he’d really gone to the bakery she’d said about. Not that she’d expected him to try lie about it, just it was a bit out of the way. “You’re eating too, right? This is wayyy to much for just me in the morning.”

Casey came back with milk and sugar, and he snagged one of the tarts from the plate.
”Yeah, absolutely. A lot of things make me feel like shit, but bread and sugar aren’t in that category. I think breakfast was invented by someone who skipped dessert a lot.” he mused, settling down on the empty side of the bed and munching away. He had his own coffee in his hand, black with a lot of sugar.

“It definitely was… At least, breakfast like this, rather than boring toast and cereal,” Trisha smiled, pouring milk into her coffee and taking a sip. It was a bit hot so she put it back down to continue eating the bagel. She twisted her head to look at Casey as she did. “I used to skip breakfast a lot as a kid. Was up late every night so I didn’t have time before school… Don’t know how I did it, it’s the best meal of the day. Maybe I just think that cause I’ve gotten more of a sweet tooth since I got the bees.”

Casey laughed thinking about all the meals he’d missed in his life.
”Our Dad used to always make sure we were eating five meals a day. Small ones. He learned all he knew about fitness from this Guru who was friends with our Grandfather, and the guy was always talking about constantly feeding your gut and making sure it was well worked. You are what you eat, all of that.”
He scarfed down the tart, following it with another sip and nodding.
”So it was all snacks. Apples and tapas and charcuterie boards and these-”

Casey held both his hands up in a box that was about ten inches in height.
”-massive fuckin’ protein shakes. We called ‘em garbage cups, he’d throw everything in. Like, cooked chicken, banana, peanuts, kale. First time I had a chocolate bar, I thought I was going to explode.”

Trisha’s nose scrunched up, and grimaced.
“That sounds… horrible. All of that blended together? I think I would’ve thrown it up- just thinking about it, ew.” She shook her head, taking another smaller bite of the bagel and washing it down with some coffee. “I knew a couple of people who went on these protein shake diets, but it was this powder blend. Not that. What is blended chicken even like… actually, don’t tell me. I don’t think I can handle it.”

Not when she was eating. Or ever, actually. The ‘protein shakes’ sounded like they were something out of a horror movie. “My one or two meals a day seems quite good in comparison. I’m quite glad no one had the time to force a protein shake like that down me- well, it probably would’ve been caviar or something. Dad was always away and mom lives on the other side of the country. One of my older sisters tried to take that role, but it didn’t really work out. She’s-”

Trisha didn’t really know how to describe Tansy- the queen bitch of the Vanburen family. She’d rather not. Her munching got a bit more aggressive as she finished off the half of the bagel, reaching for the cream puff.
“Oh, I think she’d get on with your mom, actually. She did try and push certain ways of eating on us, but it was normally diets. I started skipping dinner for a while so I didn’t have to hear her go on and on about how we should all be eating salads, and oh, there was this special type of water that was better for you than normal water. But… she never tried to feed me blended chicken.” Trisha couldn’t help but laugh at that.

Casey watched Trisha polish off her bagel with fervour and took a mental note that it was the first thing she went for. Typically that was the first thing to go, but if she did so much to it he figured it had to be something she liked.
Maybe she was the type to go for her favourites first, or maybe she was just serious about breakfast just like she was saying.

”The only time I ever heard about special water was when this melonhead from the Reserve office tried to get me signed up for a fuckin’ pyramid scheme. What’d she have like a special filter or something bogus like that?”
The same Private, Casey remembered, was discharged a few weeks later for trying to sell an MP some dope. Moron.

"Hmm I think it had like, shit added into it?” Trisha mumbled out around eating the cream puff. Her eyes squinted slightly as she tried to remember. It had been a while ago and there was always someone in the Vanburen house trying to push some fad. "Like extra minerals and shit added in, electrolytes… it was probably a pyramid scheme that she was running. Supposedly it'd make your skin 'glow' and give you more energy. Honestly it-” Trisha paused, stifling laughter. “It definitely made something glow when I threw some of it in her face.”

She finished the cream puff and paused, just picking up her mug of coffee and sipping it. Honestly, she wanted to eat more but after all that chicken last night there was no way she could. Maybe if she waited a bit.
“So… what are the plans for today?” she smiled at Casey over her coffee. Based on their talk last night, she had an idea of where that might be… however the cat to mother communication went. Or some other way she had to find out, as controlling as she sounded. “Need to know how much coffee to drink to prepare, and if I need that shot.”

There was a warm laugh when he imagined her dumping water into some older lady’s face. He didn’t know why, those kinds of cruel acts usually didn’t sit well with him, but… He imagined her cute face scrunched up in anger, or the way she maybe bounced without realising that she even did it.
It was the same sort of reason you’d get a terrier; feisty but tiny. However, she did drop the question. The Question. She asked if she needed the shot.

”Well, in terms of what I had originally planned, I figured we’d hang around here until the afternoon, bask in one another’s company for a little while longer, then head out. I thought I’d bring you home, give you some personal time if you wanted it or at least let you get some day clothes. After that, sort of depended on what you were going to say. But…-”
Casey grimaced, eyes closing for a moment as he took another sip of his own coffee and bit down on a donut, then followed with a second sip.
”-Well, I had quite the morning while you were sleeping… Shouldn’t say quite, I feel like that’s too much credit. It was annoying. Leon showed up as I was leaving to get this stuff and tried to grill me because there was some trouble at the food tent after we left.”

Casey shrugged, looking down at his cup and then back up at Trisha. It was, he felt, going to be fine as long as she was there too. Like it wouldn’t be a problem if she believed it wouldn’t be.
”I talked him down, and he told me that he took the heat off me with our Mom. Which is great. But, I woke up with a ton of calls and texts from her and my sister. Nothing nasty, just informational shit and them basically repeatedly asking me to somehow answer the phone.
”It cuts off around three-thirty this morning, so I assume at that point she started snooping around the apartment with her magic and either the cats spilled the beans about you, or she knew I had a woman here last night, because after I got back, Hari told me that Lynette is… Expecting you. he said with some discomfort.

“Oh,” was all Trisha said at first as she processed it all. If Casey had talked to Leon, did that mean Leon knew she was here? Had he tried to… discourage Casey from being with her? She knew he didn’t like her - most of the old coven didn’t. Even the ones she’d tried to be friendly with she’d been horrible to at the end, when the coven dissolved. Lashed out like always. But Casey was still here. He hadn’t just kicked her out so Leon probably hadn’t said anything…

The rest was a different matter entirely. So, Lynette could magically spy on them in some way. That didn’t sit well with her, a hint of discomfort springing in her chest. Had she shown herself in a bad way last night? She’d lost control of her bees. She wasn’t doing anything productive, like learning to- Wait. This wasn’t her own mother. Trisha forcefully cut off her thoughts.
”So you had a way better night than the rest of your family?” She started, before realising that was in poor taste if there was some kind of trouble. She took a big gulp of her coffee. The shot was definitely appealing, but one vodka shot and she’d be gone. “I guess we’re skipping all the minions and going straight for the boss fight then- sorry, one of my friends is big into gaming, rubbed off on me a bit. That’s fine. I guess it’s only fair if something happened last night… well not the snooping. But your family will be curious about what was so amazing you couldn’t look at your phone, right?”

She smiled warmly at him, putting down her cup and reaching out to take his hand. She gently squeezed it. Like it was nothing meeting his cult running, magically spying mother on day two.
“We’ll go there then… Well, let’s go to my place first. I want to change clothes and collect some bees.”

Casey felt the warmest wash of radiant emotion rake across his body like a storm of comets turning him into swiss cheese. Between the morbid joke and her unwavering desire to face fear and uncertainty, the word formed on the tip of Casey’s tongue like nuclear fusion. The power of the sun flung itself from his mouth.
”God, I fucking love-”
His voice hitched and he paused. It was brief, but long enough to notice.
”-how… I love how cool you are, Trisha Bee. Like you’re this badass chick, y’know? I show you a cake that heals you, you come play pool with me. I show you a pool cue that can play a perfect game by itself, you ask if you can come over my house. I show you two mind reading asshole cats, you sleep over. I tell you my Mom was probably watching us sleep together, you say let’s break the ice.”

Flabbergasted, Casey flung his hand about, letting it slap his thigh in punctuation.
”Just… So fucking cool. It’s great.” he finished, trying to play things cool and collected.

Trisha blushed slightly at all the compliments, the little anxious feeling in her chest completely replaced by a warm swell. It was something she could never get enough of, the reason she’d always swapped from partner to partner when the last one left her. The reassurance and the compliments that helped her feel just a little good about herself. This was different from normal, though, normally it was all about her appearance, how attractive she was. She’d never been called badass before. It was enough that she could… not think too much about the slight pause after the word love. Maybe he’d just not thought out what he was going to say. Yeah. Had to be that.

”Well, I did fight a world ending snake when I was fourteen. Of course I’m even cooler ten years later. I’ve also had my fair share of family drama… Somehow mom’s side of the family manages to be as insane as the side with dozens of half-siblings. One of my cousins punched one of my uncles once for stopping him fighting someone on the street, so then his kids started beating him up.” Not that she’d actually witnessed that, thanks to living in a different country, but she’d heard of it from one of the few cousins she had some kind of contact with. “So this is nowhere near enough to make me back down.”

She smiled brightly, finishing off her coffee. It had been good, the whole breakfast was good, and she wished she could eat more. But while her appetite was probably bigger than expected, she was still quite small.
”I don’t think I can eat anymore… Thanks for getting so much. Uh, nobody’s gotten me breakfast like this before. It was really nice. Definitely gives me plenty of energy to face the day- With this I can protect you from anything they throw at us.”

Casey grinned at her, listening about the cousin and not backing down. He was excited to see how she handled herself today, especially when his mother could lay things on so thick. It’s like she thought everyone wanted to be special to the point that they were royalty… Maybe Trisha would love it.

Regardless, he began to tuck into the things she left behind, slipping the knife through a donut and laying the bacon inside before chomping down on the absolute worst thing he could eat on the plate. His face was happy as he munched away until nothing was left.
”Do you want to hit the gym before we go? Or would you rather skip it for the day? I wouldn’t blame you, seems like we’ve got enough to do.”

He plucked up the tray, leaving the orange juice and slam dunking the shot with a throaty exhale.
”You’ve got a little bit regardless if you wanna just chill out. I’ve gotta finish the laundry and fix Leon’s stuff after I broke the fixture last night.”

“No way am I going to the gym and facing your mom for the first time in the same,” she shook her head. Honestly, going to gym that early wasn’t her idea of fun… Well, watching Casey work out was quite appealing, but not so much doing it herself. If she was going to have to do it, she’d take delaying the inevitable one more day.
“I don’t have any gym clothes either- I’d trip over doing it in these.” To punctuate her point, she kicked up on leg, showing off the too large sweatpants she still had on. “I’ll just relax here until we leave.”

Trisha flashed him a bright smile, before her eyes half closed again. She’d take this short period to try to let her mind rest before what was undoubtedly going to be a stressful day. But it’d be fine… so long as they managed to avoid her side of the family. Dealing with one would be enough.



Trisha’s (Sabrina’s) House

After laundry was done and fixtures were fixed, it didn’t take the two long to get to Trisha’s place. It wasn’t a long drive, and Trisha had Casey park along the street outside of the gated house. It was too much hassle to get another car in there… and they wouldn’t be there for long. She shoved around in her pockets for her keys, which were all held together by a cute little bee plush keychain.

“I’m on the ground floor, so we don’t have to go too far into the house,” Trisha explained as she led Casey through the front gate, unlocked with a key fob, and down a short path to the incredibly fancy, three-floor house she shared with her sisters. She shook her keys at the front door, pausing before she unlocked it. If Sabrina was in… she really didn’t want to have to stop and talk to her. This was just a quick in and out. Get changed, pack some clothes, check on the bees, and then leave.

She reached out for Casey’s hand, grasping it tightly. It wasn’t like she could forcefully drag him if she had to, but… hopefully she wouldn’t have to. Taking a deep breath, she unlocked the front door and stepped inside.

The massive living room was an absolute mess. There were bottles of alcohol and empty glasses strewn all across the table, pizza boxes beside them and on the couch, and evidence of at least on person sleeping on them. Trisha paused what had been a very purposeful walk in to just gape at it, squinting slightly. The bright white sofas and light themed decorations hurt her eyes slightly after growing adjusted to the gothic darkness of Leon’s apartment.

But, what the fuck had happened in there last night? Did Sabrina throw a party? Who had she had around to drink so much alcohol- sure, the four who lived here could go through that much in a night, but the other two were out of town… Trisha shook her head. She didn’t care, actually. At least there didn’t seem to be anyone around.

“Good thing we went to yours last night, and avoided all that,” Trisha commented offhandedly, while leading Casey further into the house. She took him down a hall directly opposite them, past a few closed doors and to one right at the end. There was a soft buzzing audible from about halfway down that got louder the closer they got to the room. Trisha once again shook her keys to find the right one, unlocking the door and pushing it open to let Casey in.

“Welcome to my home.”

The room was large, with the door they came in through in the middle of the wall. Directly to their right was a large, wooden bee hive. A constant buzzing came from inside of it, but there were only a few bees meandering in and out of it. The other wall it was against had a large window along most of its length. One of the topmost frames, a small square, was left open. Along from the hive and in front of the window was a large desk made out of light brown wood. It had two big computer screens on it, a desktop computer underneath it, and a notebook open over the keyboard with a bunch of scribbles.

Behind that, in the back right corner, was a queen-sized bed. It was high enough for there to be two drawers underneath it, covered in simple dark green sheets with a pile of about six pillows pushed towards one corner. The whole back wall was covered in tall shelving units. Some had books on them - a variety of mathematics textbooks, coding guides and mixed fiction - while others had storage boxes. Small plants decorated the shelves, interspersed with pictures. There was one of a much younger Trisha, with an Asian woman who looked similar enough to her to likely be her mom. The photograph had a clear coldness to it - Trisha’s smile was awkward, and the woman wasn’t smiling at all. But it had been placed in a prominent position, in the centre of a shelf. There were other pictures too - multiple of Trisha with a medium sized group of friends, Trisha with three other girls, one of the same group of friends in graduation gowns, and a solo picture of her graduating too. There was a distinct lack of family photos outside of the clearly displayed one with her mother.

In the left corner was a vanity table, with all sorts of makeup scattered across it. Along the left wall there were only a set of sliding doors, closed, and a slightly ajar door that showed a hint of a bathroom.

Upon entering, Trisha shut the door behind them, not bothering to relock it. Near immediately a couple of bees flew over to her, landing on her shoulders, from their right. She waved them away, consciously using her pheromones to stop them all from swarming her.

“Come over here, say hello.” Still holding Casey’s hand, she pulled him over to the hive. She carefully let her pheromones wash over it, soothing the bees and telling them that she was home. A group of about twenty came out, circling around her as if checking up on her, before landing on various places on her body. She turned to him with a warm smile.
“If you’re alright with it, I can get them to land on you… then they can get used to you so what happened yesterday is less likely to happen. I already let them know you’re not a threat. It’s pretty quiet just now because it’s winter, so they don’t have anything to do… Honestly, they all want to come out, but that’ll be annoying. It’ll just be a couple, but only if you want.”

Casey’s first impressions of the Vanburen house were good. It wasn’t like his Granparents’ house in New York, rather it was a dense little affair that didn’t spread across the landscape it inhabited. He found it comfy for how big it actually was, especially the three-floor height that loomed over the well manicured area. There were cars in the gated off driveway, so he understood why she didn’t want to bother having him find a parking space.

Nobody was going to break into his shitbox anyway, especially not in a neighborhood like this. Entering, he found the white and bright furniture reflecting the autumn morning’s light coming through the windows. It made the whole place feel like it was a big sphere of light, and while he found it easy to see, it wasn’t so welcoming. It felt too clean to sit on, or like it was made for display despite the food boxes stacked up on the table.

Her room was far more cozy, a single window behind the computer setup that he examined with careful interest. Casey’s eyes drew themselves to the books, and he grinned thinking about the fact that she wasn’t just cool in attitude, but cool in interest too. She had smart people books; the type of books he’d catch Junior reading, where there were formulas and math problems and the kind of technical jargon that made his ears ring.

But of course the show was the bees. The thousands and thousands of little girls he felt compelled to apologize to after his previous blunder. Casey had, before leaving, snuck a few fruits into his hoodie, as well as a small pill bottle filled with simple syrup.
He snapped one of the fruits in half with his bare hands, dumping some of the simple syrup on it and leaving it next to the hive before doing the same with the other half and repeating the process all over again for the other fruit.

”Think about this like it’s your first test of the day: Try and command as many as you’re comfortable doing, but keep an exact number in mind. We’ll see if you can control that many specifically. Don’t tell me.”

He dumped the rest of the simple syrup on his arms and held them out like he was going to hug the hive.
”Hi girls! I’m Casey… I hope we can get along, and I hope you know I’m real sorry about what happened last night! I can’t wait to see you guys moved to a place where you’ll be more comfortable. I’ll be sure to get a lot of flowers and stuff for you to rub your fuzzy little asses in… And bowls of fruit daily. You guys’ll love it, I promise.”

Trisha's eyes widened slightly, just staring at Casey for a moment in shock. He'd been stung by nearly a thousand bees yesterday… but today he was apologising to them and covering his arms with inviting syrup. She could sense the bees' interest, the ones on her moving closer to Casey until they were all gathered on one shoulder. At least the hive itself was stocked with honey for them to eat, stopping the whole swarm from coming out immediately to feast.

“They're going to like you better than me soon,” Trisha muttered, looking at the fruit. It wasn't that she was stingy with them, she just didn't make the effort. Getting fruit meant going to the kitchen or the shops, both of which came with interactions she couldn't be bothered with. Though the bees weren't actually bothered… it was endearing the effort he'd gone to, and the way he talked to them even though they couldn't understand.

“Alright, I'll try now.” She furrowed her brow and tried to quickly figure out how many she felt comfortable controlling. For a situation where she was having them attack something, thousands, close to the whole hive… but when it came to something like this, where she didn't want them to attack, probably… not that many. Not that many at all. Two-hundred. Anymore felt like a risk. “I'm going to try have half of them go on the fruit, half on your arms.”

She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath, before carefully adjusting her pheromones. The precise number was weaved into the scents, and a command to come out of the hive nicely and split between the fruit and Casey's arms. Near immediately the buzzing coming from it grew louder. A large group of bees flew out, a mass of black and dark yellow. It split in two, half descending on the syrup covered fruit and the other half on Casey's arms. There were enough to cover the lower half of both of his arms - definitely way more than two hundred in total. Unlike the day before, they clearly weren't in attack mode- instead they started to suck up the syrup. It would feel like hundreds of little tickles all across his arms.

“Uhhh…” Trisha looked across all of the bees, lips tugging up into a smile at the sight of it before tilting her head up at him. “Do you want the number now, because I can tell you right away that's way more than I asked for."

Casey couldn’t help but giggle as the little bee feet and tongues lapped up the syrup off his arms. It was like being tickled by a thousand little feathers or something, each one independently controlled. It was impressive how much warmer his arms were with a mass of bees on them.
”Way more? That’s pretty funny, actually. From the two experiences I have now, it seems like you overestimate? Or overcompensate, but either way there’s something funny going on.”

He beamed at Trisha, ecstatic about the fact that he was having such a meaningful interaction with the bees. He made sure he kept his muscles loose and his heart rate down, but he kept twitching with each tickle.

”It’s stuff like this that you could impress Blinds with. People love stuff having to do with cute animals. Anyway,-” he laughed, looking around Trisha’s room while the bees went about their business. ”-whatever you need to do, you go for it. I’ll be here. If you gotta change, I guess I’ll close my eyes, or you can try having the bees give me a blindfold, that’d be a neat test. No possible reason they’d try to sting my eyes out of my head, right?”

Trisha shook her head at him, unable to stop her soft smile back. It was pretty cute seeing all the bees on his arms, so happily drinking away. She was being bombarded with content pheromones, increasing the warm feeling blooming in her chest. The fact she overcompensated with them… well, she could see where that came from. She didn't really want to think about it right now. Just enjoy the moment for now.

“I'm not making you a bee blindfold, I don't want to risk your eyes, then how will you see me?” Trisha joked, though she really wasn't confident in doing that anyway. They didn't see a threat right now and she was very calm, but her bees were used to being commanded to fight and attack and not much else. Maybe that was part of the problem. She gestured to the two doors along the opposite wall.
“I'll change in the bathroom, so just make yourself at home. The bees are happy enough you can probably move around with them.”

And she could sense their pheromones from anywhere in the room. After another quick check to make sure they were all behaving, Trisha went over to the sliding doors next to the bathroom door. She pulled them open to reveal a moderate sized walk-in wardrobe. The first half was visible, with two layers of racks with an assortment of clothes hanging from them. The open space between the actual storage went round to the right, where Trisha disappeared. What could be seen from the outside seemed to be sorted by colour, with some random exceptions here and there.

The bit Trisha had gone down into was messier. She'd gotten lazy with putting stuff away and ended up dumping a pile of clothes on the little stool she used to reach things she'd put higher up. She crouched down and pulled out a small suitcase from the very back corner. Honestly, she had no idea where they would sleep tonight but it was better to be prepared when she could be. She packed this first with a selection of outfits - more comfortable cargo pants and tank top combinations, a few nice dresses, a skirt, a hoodie and sweatpants, and some sportswear for the gym. She was quite efficient in her packing, managing to squeeze quite a lot into the small space before she was satisfied.

Then there was the question of what to wear today. Normally Trisha dressed for her audience. She had so many clothes not because she was into fashion, or even particularly cared about clothes. It was because she dressed to give a specific impression towards the people she'd be around. To her, it was just another thing to use to get the attention she craved. If she was dressing for an audience the answer today was obvious - anything black. The gothic aesthetic wasn't one she'd ever delved into, nor did she plan to, but she had plenty of black clothes. She could pull it off if she wanted to.

But that wasn't what she was actually going for today. She didn't want to fit in with a cult. The person she wanted to impress was Casey, not his mom and all of her followers. With that in mind, she took a few moments to pick out an outfit before nipping round into the bathroom to get changed.

“Are they still behaving?” Trisha asked when she came out of the bathroom after not too long. It was a complete change from the cargo pants and crop top she'd been wearing before. A loose, white blouse was tucked into a light blue floral print circle skirt. It fell to just above her knees, incredibly flowy, and she'd worn shorts underneath just in case she had to… run away from cultists or something. Overall it was very cute and very ungothic. She made her way over to the vanity in the corner, sitting on the stool in front of it.

“I only need a little bit longer,” she said, beginning to brush her long hair. After getting out all of the kinks, she pulled it up into a high ponytail, leaving a few shorter strands at the front loose to frame her face. Makeup would be next - normally she didn't wear much, she just didn't feel entirely comfortable going out without it. But she paused, twisting around to look at Casey. “Oh, I packed at least a week's worth of clothes… I figured it'd be useful to have in your car at least, if that's alright? I can leave it behind if it isn't, uh, if you weren't wanting, y'know, to stay together again tonight.”

Casey had been absolutely vibing with a few hundred bees wandering about on him. It was clear to see they were behaving just fine, and Casey was just lost in his flower child phase as he danced about with them. From the outside, it looked like he was imitating something, or someone… A dance he’d seen, the arms were outstretched at the torso like a T, and he undulated from one side to the other by bending his knees and twisting his torso.
Truthfully, he’d seen a gaggle of kids doing it, and was channeling his own inner child as he revelled in the acceptance of the bees.

He was doing the Stickbug Dance. With any amount of time on the internet, the mundane and innocent meme could be recognized from just about any angle. When Trisha came out to speak, he looked up at her like a kid caught doing something wrong.
”That’s a great idea, Trishabee. We’ll keep it in the car, and I’ll give you the spare key in case you have to make a quick getaway. Or if you wanted to keep it in the house that’s fine, I’m just thinking logistically…”

He looked at her with a great deal of admiration; she was very cute. He thought she was just… Just like one of her bees. She radiated in his eyes, and he felt the warmth of the bees around him.
”They forgive me I guess. I’m happy. Thank you, Babe… You take all the time you need.” he smiled softly, sweetly.

Trisha had recognised the dance Casey had been doing, which the bees had been enjoying a little too much. They seemed to enjoy the movement as they finished off the syrup on his arms. Now that it was done, some of them flew off of him and onto the fruit, some returned to the hive, and some continued to meander above his arms and up onto his shoulders. She stifled laughter, deciding not to comment on it… It was ridiculous and goofy but she actually found it quite endearing.

“If I was making a quick getaway, where would I be going except here, where the rest of my clothes are?” She asked with a light laugh, returning his smile with a warm one of her own before turning towards the mirror in front of her and starting to go through her makeup. A light layer of foundation was put over her face before she kept talking.
“They definitely forgive you. In fact, I think they quite like you… most people don’t approach them covered in something they can eat. Keep giving them fruit and they’ll choose you over me. I’m a stingy mom.”

Though, she was fairly certain the bees had forgotten what happened yesterday. They certainly didn’t know he was the one who’d reduced their numbers. But she wasn’t going to burst his bubble. She kept getting ready, not taking long just like she’d said. Some concealer on worse spots, blush on her cheeks, simple dusky pink eyeshadow and soft pink lip gloss. It took her less than ten minutes in total. Once she was done she picked up all of the products she’d used, along with a couple of more, and went to get the suitcase she’d packed. Makeup was haphazardly thrown on top of neatly folded clothes. She also grabbed a soft, navy wool coat and shoved her phone in its pocket.

“Oh,” she straightened up, and went over to one of the storage boxes she had. She pulled out a simple, sealed jar filled with golden liquid and held it up. “Should we bring some honey? Maybe it can be a peace offering if your mom takes one look at me and decides I’m not good enough- or a weapon, to be thrown at someone. Very versatile.”

She played with the jar in her hands, looking away for a moment. She was a lot more nervous about the first scenario happening than she was the more likely one - his mother trying to lovebomb her and eventually control her. She’d be able to handle that a lot better.
“Honey decision aside, I’m ready.”

Casey shrugged his arms a bit and giggled.
”However we handle this, I’ll grab honey and we’ll go. There’s a bunch of pastries in the back? I guess I can open one of the donut boxes and they can chill out in there? Or do you keep them in your coat or something?”
He did his best to waddle over to her, slowly waving his arms to give the bees a gentle rocking motion.
”But as far as you bugging out? I’m gonna talk to someone about this shit, try and find someone from the Corps who can protect you if I fail for some reason.”

“Normally they hide in my coat or my hair or under my shirt. They prefer being near me.” Trisha laughed as he waddled over, deciding to give him a break and asking the bees to get off his arms. The ones that were on his arms flew over and onto Trisha, gathering on her as she pulled her coat. They moved into her sleeves and onto her back, most of them hidden. A few of them stayed on Casey, seeming reluctant to leave. She rolled her eyes at them, but let them be for just now.

“I- Thank you for thinking about that,” Trisha said softly. She closed the remaining gap between them, hugging him and pressing her face against him. The remaining bees on him crawled onto her shoulder and into her ponytail. “Hopefully it doesn't come to that… I'm sure just being with you is a father wolf deterrent. He seems to get people when they're alone- I wouldn't want him to get you either.”

She shook her head, letting go of him and stepping back. The thought of Father Wolf getting her, or getting Casey trying to defend her, wasn't a pleasant one. She'd been trying her best not to think about it, and everytime she did it made her nervous- well, beyond nervous.
“It's nice to have someone who cares that much- but I don't want to dwell on that danger, let's go face a slightly less murderous one- sorry, I shouldn't say that about your mother…”

Casey openly laughed.
”Oh, very dangerous. Once watched her beat Leon with a book of poems for like thirty minutes, and he never picked his hands up to her. Foot and a half taller, hundred fifty pounds heavier, and he just took the beating. That’s power; that’s danger.”
He shrugged, hugging her gently and making sure he wasn’t too tough on the bees. It was a bit of a nightmare, not wanting to scuff them up at all.

”You’re like a walking hive; it must be a nightmare if you accidentally fall over.”
When he let her go, he swung around the corner and looked at the stack of custom wooden boxes she had for keeping the honey. It was fantastic that she had this much, and he imagined her sitting around listening to music while she emptied out the grubless combs and getting the jars all sealed in a boiling pot of water.

He pulled the top crate off the stack and held it in his hand. A dozen jars, sixteen fluid ounces a piece, he figured he was carrying close to forty pounds between the honey, glass and wood of the box. No trouble, it was like a couple cans of ammunition. Just like a box of grenades, he slid it up onto his shoulder next to his head.
There was space for it in the back of the car on the seat opposite the pastries, and he pulled out a donut to eat while they continued their drive.

From Trisha’s house to the opposite was a twenty minute drive around the perimeter of the city, the highway forming a bubble around the outskirts consisting of four sets of off and on ramps serving as the gates in and out. They took the last one, and ended up in a forested suburban area where the homes became older and the spans between grew longer and wider until it felt like they were nowhere at all.



Temple Holy Ground

When it felt like reality was gone, and like there wasn’t anyone around for miles, there was a road. A road with a sign that was a little sun rising over a forest. Gold and orange and white colors, no words or lettering of any kind breaking it up.
It was like a summer camp. At least, until the gate. It was open, there wasn’t any sort of post or anything, but it was clearly a gate and a fence, and they weren’t just chain linked. Metal, with inverted slopes that were dotted by knife-like barbs packed tightly in clusters along the edge. Truly hostile architecture, designed to warn outsiders that it was not a place they were welcome.

”Dad built the walls in a day. The property is roughly six hundred acres; its close to a square mile of protected rural space interspersed by buildable zones. The back area has aura gates that can sort animal from man, so they don’t let people in through the property but the animals can still move freely.” he smiled as he thought about it, his hand leaving the wheel to point into the woods around the road.

”Out there, you see ‘em?”
There were deer out there. He slowed down enough to let her see them, and it became much more clear that they weren’t normal deer. Their antlers were dark, burnished metal that matched their eyes and noses and hoofs.
”Those are project deer… The agriculturalists are working on a project trying to figure out what sorts of extra-dimensional livestock we can replicate here in our world. Their bones are this crazy organic metal.”

“What the fuck? They made them?” Trisha gaped at the deer, leaning closer to the window to get a proper look at them. Outside of the Stygian Snake and all of its minions, she’d never actually seen anything from another dimension. And all the apparitions or similar she’d encountered were… quite frankly, horrible. “Their bones are made of metal? Does that make them super heavy?”

”Yeeeeeeah… They’re beautiful, but they’re not doing so well. Apparently where they come from, the gravity is real low. See how they’re so tall and lanky?”
He pointed at the bull of the group. They were far away, but they were essentially twelve feet tall without the antlers.
”I guess the metal is from their diet, but they developed it because the normal calcium bone structure is actually too weak to keep them together. They did some kind of fucked up experiments I guess, like tracking their evolution through some crazy Pink/White spells. Imagine seeing like, millions of years of evolution that you have to parse out? We have some serious eggheads behind these walls.”

He sped the car up again, finally taking them down the lane to the cul-de-sac that served as the gathering quad for the Temple’s various facilities. Half a dozen buildings of various aesthetic and size shared parking lots on both sides of the ring, and a big chapel style building sat at the back center. It was up on a small hill, looking down on the other buildings like a looming parent.

Casey looked at the radio clock. Close to ten in the morning. Most of their fellow twenty-somethings were either at their jobs already, or still sleeping, so the area was mostly empty. There were a few younger men tossing a football around in one of the grassy areas, and the first blatant display of magical usage as one of them snagged the ball away from another in a burst of light.
There was an ensuing argument as the car pulled into the spot. The manoeuvre had blown the ball apart, so the game was clearly over. But they saw Casey pull in, and they began to approach them. Casey smiled and waved, speaking casually to Trisha as he put the car in park.

”Ah, some slaaaaves.” he giggled, looking over at her then back. ”They’ll take care of the food and the honey, and I don’t even know their names. They know me though!”

And they did. As he got out of the car, they started babbling at him about one thing or another as if he remembered that they’d spoken previously. They probably had, so he played along until they finally got to the point and helped take the pastries into the great room.
By that time, figures had gathered up at the top of the hill at the door of the chapel. For the first time, Trisha Vanburen’s eyes would be able to meet the piercing blue eyes of the captivating widow known as Lynette Richoux.

Her long hair was tied in a single thick, braided tail that fell around her front. She was holding the end of it in her hands, playing with the split ends at the bottom of the braid. She was wearing some kind of robe with multiple scarfs, and some hanging gold baubles that danced about her hidden knees.
At her side, there was a young woman who looked like she was trying desperately to be Lynette’s twin. She had twin tails, loose closer to the head and tight at the ends in triple spools. Both were raven haired, and she had the same piercing blue eyes.

Casey gasped.
”She’s not wearing fuckin’ black! My Gods, is it all ending?”
”I can fucking hear you Casaeu L’del… You know we’re approaching the Solstice.”
”No, Mama, I think you just didn’t want to intimidate your new best friend.”

Casey reached for Trisha’s hand. It shook a bit, even though he tried to hide it by squeezing her hand harder. He may not have sounded like he had a problem talking with his Mother that way, but the physical sensation was completely different.
But he looked at Trisha and he smiled, dropping his head slightly with a laugh. He nodded up a bit at the impending.
”C’mon. Lets do this together.”
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