Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos 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 3 mos ago 3 mos 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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Temple Holy Ground

Trisha stifled laughter at Casey’s comment with her free hand, squeezing his back. She could feel it shaking, so she didn’t comment when he squeezed hers hard enough that it was uncomfortable. She tilted her head up towards him with a reassuring smile.
“Do you have to walk up this hill every time you visit? And I thought all the stairs at dad’s manor were a pain… Alright, let’s do it.”

She squinted up at the two women at the top of it, taking a deep breath. While there was something intimidating in those eyes, she wasn’t going to let it get to her. The bees in her coat softly buzzed, catching onto the tension she felt, until she subtly let out soothing pheromones to calm them down. With them now quiet, and holding Casey’s hand, it was easy to walk up the hill with faux confidence. It wasn’t that she was especially nervous, it was just the normal nerves from meeting her boyfriend of a day’s cult leading mother.

“Hello,” Trisha said as they reached the top, still holding onto Casey’s hand. She wasn’t planning to let it go anytime soon, but she smiled pleasantly at Lynette. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs Richoux. I’m Trisha Vanburen, Casey’s girlfriend.”

She jumped right into it, figuring that it was best to get an introduction out of the way. She wasn’t actually fond of emphasising her family name, generally preferring to be looked at for herself rather than her family, but here she needed it for some kind of equal footing. It was best to get it out of the way. She glanced at the younger woman next to Lynette, then back at Lynette herself. They were both wearing robes.
“Oh, is there some kind of uniform? I would’ve pulled out my old robes from the Sycamore days if I’d known they were required.”

Lynette’s cool face split open with a smile instantly. She was a tall woman, close to six feet herself, and she leaned in a little bit to look at Trisha. A laugh escaped from her lungs.
”Oh, would you? Y’know, Leon’s is inside!”
Her eyes turned up to her son, a hand lashing out and stroking his angular chin.
”Casey, you little bastard… What does go on in that mind of yours?”

She squeezed his cheek, and he made the look a cat does when it gets displeased. His eyes squeezed shut and he pulled his head back. He made a gagging noise as he did so.
”Back, beast woman.” he croaked, letting go of Trisha’s hand and bending to hug her properly. She did so back, then opened her arms to Trisha.
”We hug, sweetheart. Come here.”

The other girl was silent, coldly staring out into the distance as she waited for something. Anything.

Trisha didn’t want to hug Lynette. To her, familial hugs were strange. Really, any outside of a partner. It had taken a long war between her and one especially huggy friend before she got comfortable with it with any friends. Up until that point they’d all teased her about how incredibly tactile she was with partners, while being physically cold with everyone else. Unfortunately she didn’t really have a choice here. Just about managing to school her expression, Trisha stepped into Lynette’s arms and very loosely hugged her.

She escaped as soon as she could, right back to Casey’s side. She then looked at the other woman again, tilting her head. Was she just there for attempted intimidation? Silent, sullen, attempted intimidation?
“And who are you?” she asked, very bluntly.

Casey and Lynette both gave the same skeptical and cynical chortle. It was a typical moment between them, their wretched and half baked sense of humor a shared trait. The woman didn’t respond at first, and Lynette’s head slowly spun like a stone statue rotating on a plinth.
”Don’t be cunty about it, there’s other options.”
The girl gave a huff of air, sticking out her hand to shake.
”Alena Zöller. Crone Maven of the Temple of-”
”Yes yes, she fucking knows already Lena, now go and get the teeeeeea!”

Lena gagged, not even sticking around for the handshake. Lynette waved it off, grinning at Trisha somewhat wickedly.
”We’ll spare you the foreplay, Trisha. Our favorite little rat will probably spill all of our beans to you in due time, so I see no reason to not give you the chance to be comfortable. How’s that for an introduction?” she asked Trisha very directly.

From when Lynette told the girl, Lena, that there were other options, Trisha knew who she was. The temple minion that was obsessed with Casey. She grew slightly more guarded at that, stepping closer to him so that she was practically slotted in against his side. She didn’t move away even when Lena was sent off.

“It was fine,” Trisha shrugged, though she didn’t entirely get what Lynette meant. Sending Lena away? Stopping her from going on and on about things Trisha didn’t care about? She looked up at Casey, then back over at Lynette.
“To help me feel comfortable, then, and before we… have tea, I guess, I do have something to say. I’m not going to join the Temple just because I’m dating your son. I’m also not going to break up with him if someone tells me to because I didn’t join. That won’t be a problem, will it?”

Lynette laughed, but the feeling of Casey being close was made closer when his hand squeezed hers again. He had to make sure she knew he was there with her.
”I think that you’re a very strong girl. I get that about you. Of course you are, you fought the Stygian Snake. It’s why you’re already a member, and you’re free to do as you wish, since you never asked for the membership. Come on, you two. I have some yelling and shouting to do.”

Casey’s nostrils flared.
”Not at me, and certainly not in front of company.”
”But you know I’m upset? You’ve been told?”
He scoffed as she turned her back, and they walked into the pew-lined chapel with the banners of orange and white and gold hanging. There were strange hanging plants that seemed to grow from blast marks in the walls and ceilings.
”Yes Ma, and I know what happened. Leon already filled me in.”
”Did you fucking thank him? That he, once again, has taken the blame for your shortcomings? Do you feel no shame about this pattern in your life?”

Casey grunted like he took mental damage directly. His eyes closed and he slumped his head slightly forward.
”Oh my God Ma, what? What? How the fuck could I have known that something was happening or was going to happen? We didn’t preemptively strike everything in the military, we’re not a bunch of robots.”

Lynette’s hand came up over her shoulder as she walked, waving it off.
”Trisha, Trisha… So, Casey? He is a cutie, he looks the most like his Dad.” she pivoted hard, swapping into a different topic as they hooked a left and headed down the stairs into the long hall of false walls. ”But he’s damaged goods! A nice Vanburen heiress like you can’t find someone else?”

There was a soft buzzing in the air. Trisha couldn’t hold back her agitation, polite smile dropping from her lips as they pressed together. It was just like with her own mom. Blame, harsh words, accusations of being a failure. Always the one in the wrong, no matter which house she was in. It must have been you, Patricia, you’re always causing problems. Don’t try to blame your brother. She gritted her teeth, grip on Casey’s hand tightening.

“Oh, I didn’t know that perfection was required in a partner,” Trisha said, tone flat. One bee had crawled out from her jacket to her neck, the ones in her hair moving to its surface. “Don’t you know how many of us there are? I’m at least tenth in line. I’ll probably get nothing when my brother dies. I’m not looking for someone else. Casey’s nice, and funny, and he treats me well. Don’t make it sound like I’m lowering myself or some other shit.”

A nice Vanburen heiress, sure. She was certainly one of those things. But she wasn’t exactly undamaged herself. It wasn’t something she was willing to lay out in Casey’s defence, but she’d seen and been through enough. She may not have been in a war, but she’d fought the Stygian Snake at only fourteen.
“I don’t care if he’s ‘damaged goods’, whatever that means. I still like him.”

As they made their way down the hall, a wall was already open and they were able to step through the square gap that was the width of two doors. Inside was a dark room with some of the bright white and gold banners strung up across the wall where it meets the ceiling. There was a tea pot and a few cups set up for them, and some of the pastries were already at the table along with a jar of the honey.

Lynette was quiet at first, and she took her seat in one of the warm leather chairs. The little orbiting spheres clanked against the metal of the chair’s bottom, falling silent as they came to resting positions. She opened one of the boxes and immediately went for a chocolate filled croissant… Casey was almost too frustrated to watch her eat his favorite treat on him.

”That was real sweet of you, Babe… Thank you for your words.”
Lynette nodded as she chewed away at the croissant. Lena was already filling little asian style teacups up with amber liquid. Casey purposefully pulled his Channeler out and slipped the glove onto his free hand. There was a pen on the table, and he took it in the gloved hand before he dipped it into the tea that had been given to them. As he did, Lynette smiled.

”You’re sweet, Casey. Checking the tea for poisons… We raised you right, didn’t we?”
He stared daggers back at Lynette, whose smug sarcastic grin ate her face.
”You’re a good one, Trisha. That’s nice. I’m glad you’re not a shallow little rich girl like I assumed. You and my little late bloomer… So, one night? It was cute, I expected to open my eyes in that corner and see him sleeping, but not with you there. Certainly not clothed either. Taking things slow huh?”

Casey grimaced, pulling the Lux infused pen out of the tea and reading the clear signal. He slid the cup to Trisha, confident in its safety before taking his own.
”You’re so rotten sometimes. Leon says you want to make up for things, but you always treat us like this.”
Lynette frowned mockingly.
”I asked Trisha a question, Bubba… Let her answer it, please.”

“I wasn’t in a rush to answer.” Trisha looked at Lynette over the top of her cup, taking a sip. She grimaced, reaching for the jar of honey and putting about three spoonfuls in her tea. Honestly, she didn’t really like tea. At the smell of honey, a couple of bees flew from her hair onto the edge of the cup.
“If not sleeping together on the first night is taking it slow then yes, we are. Especially if someone could be watching us at any time.”

She tried to stay and act calm, even though Lynette’s question did rile her up a bit. For Trisha it was unusual, because her normal order was all messed up. She did normally sleep with someone on the first night, and it was the only thing she felt she had to keep any partners. But here she was… She should be confident about it. Ignore the worries. Ignore the obsessive girl still in the room who also liked her boyfriend. But she couldn’t keep down her irritation, tone turning slightly harsher.
“It shouldn’t matter to anyone but us. I’m not in a rush, there’s more to dating than that- why do you care, anyway? Worried it might last longer than one night?”

”How could I be worried? My little Autumn Flower deserves the best, and that best is sitting in front of us right now!”
Lynettes hand gestured to Trisha, sweeping and taking her teacup to her lips. She didn’t blink; her eyes barely shifted at all, and they were so blue. Like staring up at the sky after the clouds part ways, they were intense and encompassing and devoid of expression. This woman had the ultimate kind of poker face, her entire facial structure a relaxed and unknowable blank canvas that one could apply any kind of projection to.

”I really think you both have the wrong impression here. Of me, and us, and how we function! But, I know my son… Don’t I, Casey?”
”Yep, pretty easy to do when the therapist you send him to has mindreading powers and sees his relationship with you as something far more important than any kind of confidentiality clause that his medical degree made him swear to uphold.”
Casey’s own face was flat. The expression screamed “Stop fucking with me” in a very loud and vocal way, his brow slightly wrinkled and lips pursed together in a wide, flat expression.

Lynette laughed aloud, her smile opening again.
”That’s not what I meant, Casey.”
”Really? How the fuck else can you mean a statement like that, because it sure as shit doesn’t mean you were some kind of doting and attentive mother. You hold the sugar cube out to people and then blast them with the taser you keep hidden in your other hand if they eat it in a way you don’t like.”

The woman scoffed, leaning back hard in her chair and letting her arms dangle like a teenager being admonished for doing something they didn’t think was bad.
”See? That! Its your attitude, Ma! You think your shit doesn’t stink, like you’re fucking right about everything!”
Lynette looked very blase, sighing in a mocking fashion.
”Trisha… Listen. Since Casey’s feelings are so tumultuous, I’m gonna need your help in a really big way. We don’t know one another at all, so I can’t expect you to be on my side about this, but… Can I ask a favor of you?”

She finally fixed her posture in the seat, leaning forward with both her hands clasped together.
”Being the outsider you are… Can you find it in your heart to trust me? To give me, a woman who has done a great deal of things the wrong way and is willing to admit to it, a chance to prove that things can be better?” she asked in an incredibly sincere tone.
It was such a different tone, jam packed with baseline sincerity and lacking in any kind of persona or bravado that would otherwise be present. She wasn’t a new person, but it certainly seemed like either something had possessed her until now, or that now she was being possessed.

There was a bit of a tell, however. Lena, still standing just behind her Mistress, scrunched her face into a confused scowl.

Trisha took another, long drink of tea to cover up a laugh. Trust. Right. Who did Trisha truly, entirely trust? Herself, her bees. To a small extent members of her family and now Casey. But certainly not someone when they just asked for it. When they changed their attitude and tone just like that. She'd experienced it herself - the difference in someone when in public, and behind closed doors. Normally they didn't switch like this.

Her eyes, appearing dark brown with little light to reflect, moved from Lynette to Casey. His expression was easy to read, a direct contrast to how he'd been when it was just the two of them. She ignored the hint of joy she felt at that. Then, she glanced at Lena. Clearly the second tone was the outside one… the attempt to win Trisha over. Perhaps. Not that Trisha trusted any of it. Harsh words were much easier to trust than kind ones, though.
“I don't know why you're asking me," Trisha tilted her head towards Casey, shuffling along slightly so one of her legs tapped against his. “Asking for trust isn't really a favour. But sure, I'll give you a chance… If Casey would like me to. I'm not the one that needs proof 'that things can be better', really."

She turned her head to fully look at Casey, smiling warmly at him, before returning to a more neutral - perhaps somewhat sullen - expression towards Lynette.
“I'm not the kind of girl that wants a relationship with my partner's mom outside of him. So you should fix that first without my help."

Lynette’s expression turned downward into a frown, and she took a deep breath as her eyes slowly rotated to Casey.
”I… Am well aware of my shortcomings. Can you explain?” she gave a real and actual frown to Casey. He knew that expression.

Clearing his throat, Casey spoke up.
”You breach that kind of trust with every interaction, Ma. I never would’ve joined the Reserve if that whole shit hadn’t happened when I got home, and you know that.”
”And I apologized up and down…”
”But the point is that you couldn’t be sorry. Because every time I come home you do it again. You try to be subtle, you try and hold back, but you make these little comments and expressions on your face. You do it because you’re manipulative, and you know that I’ll read into them. Nowadays, you just have the balls to not be subtle about it, as if I’m supposed to trust you like that.”

Lynette’s hand came up to her face and formed a lip over her eyes like she was trying to block out the sun. Deflection of scrutiny.
”And y’know it wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t treat me like I was stupid. Like I’m some sort of freak for not wanting Doctor Rhodes to give me a brain massage so that I can forget the last decade of my life…”

The lid lifted from Lynette’s face. Little tears were forming.
”I don’t think it’s wrong to want you comfortable.”
”Its wrong because you’re his boss. Not Doctor Adlebranch, not the Board of Health for the State… You. You say jump he jumps. You say manipulate my son’s brain so he’s more compliant? He asks how much.”

That’s when he turned to Trisha, a frown on his face as well.
”She asked you because she knows there’s no chance in Hell I’ll ever trust her without someone special vouching for her. Because there’s too much history, too many precedents, too much baggage for me to fully buy anything she has to say. She knows I won’t give her the time of day.”

The tears in Lynette’s eyes were falling in a stream now, her frame hanging in the chair with her legs pulled tight to her chest beneath the billowing robes.
”How can I expect my Baby to believe me when I’ve hurt him? Let him be hurt? And the fucking Military turned him from a sweet little boy into a robot. He wouldn’t even hug me after he came home from his first tour.”

Casey leaned back in his chair.
”Can you not embarrass us in front of Trisha? Believe it or not, we did come here with something like an olive branch.”
Lynette’s teary face looked at Trisha, then back to Casey.
”W-what do you mean?”

“It's more of a honey branch," Trisha side-eyed Casey, completely unbothered by Lynette's crying. She had a sister that could do that - the hysterical crocodile tears when things didn't go her way. At a push, Trisha could cry on command too. She definitely didn't use it like this, though. Everything his mother said was a deflection - the military had turned him into a robot? Trisha hadn't known him before that, but he was the complete opposite with her now. You tended to not want to hug people that hurt you…

“Here," Trisha stretched out, hand curling around the jar of honey on the table and pushing it towards Lynette. With it being a simple, completely unlabelled jar it was obvious it hadn't come from any kind of shop.
“It's a peace offering. I made it myself- well, my bees made it, I extracted it. Magical bee honey that you won't find anywhere else."

She glanced at Casey, corner of her lips twitching up into a smile as if to say, 'see, I'm up selling it with magic like you suggested.' One of her bees meandered out of her sleeve, coming to rest on one of her outstretched fingers, seeming to be watching Lynette.
“We even brought a whole box of it. So, we really didn't come here for a fight." Though, they'd certainly been expecting it to turn into something like this, it was an easy lie to tell. “Try some, it's not poisoned."

While her tears didn’t end, she did unfurl herself from her weak fetal position in order to rejoin the conversation.
”This… Is where I have problems. What am I supposed to say? Am I supposed to pretend like Kane and Abel didn’t tell me about the bees? Or about how I know you can’t control them, but you want to ask for help feeding them? Am I supposed to just let the two of you go on about a plan that I already like and want to help with?”

Casey nodded his head.
”Yeah, Ma. You don’t tell other members of the congregation that you’re spying on them.”
”But isn’t that dishonest to you? And to her?”
”There’s a really easy solution, Mama…”

Casey’s hand reached out across the table. Lynette’s hand instinctively took it without thinking. Their eyes locked.
”Stop. Fucking. Spying. On. Me.”
The woman looked dejected. Entirely deflated, like she lost everything.
”How can I… Make sure you’re okay?”
Casey grinned, turning his head to Trisha, then back to Lynette.
”You asked Trisha to trust you earlier, right? Well, why can’t you trust me to stay safe?”
”You signed up to fight in a World War. You told me you felt safer in a crater than you did at home.”

Casey nodded. His thumb instinctively rubbed Lynette’s hand, the son in him still wanting to comfort his mother despite all the trepidation in his body tell him not to comfort her because she didn’t deserve it.
But she was his Mom, and he loved her in the terrible way one loves their blood. The way where he was desperate to give her the trust she craved. But how could he ever think it wasn’t a trick?
”I did. And I told you I’d kill myself before I ever called you my Mother again, but here we are, right? I still call you Mama, just like I did as a kid. I still come around, even though I shake and quake with anxiety whenever I do because I know that inevitably we’ll be here again. Here in this situation, where I’m reassuring you again that I don’t hate you. So, maybe you can do me a favor and give us some trust. Some trust, and some space? You and Dad raised us in this faith: I haven’t ever strayed from that, and I know you understand why that’s been difficult for me to deal with.”

There was an incredibly strange aspect to this whole relationship that, until now, hadn’t reared its head. Religion. It was easy to forget, with all the hedonism and lack of any clear religious structure, that there was some sort of faith to be had here.
Never mind what the faith was centered around…

Lynette forcefully wiped the tears from her eyes and jumped to her feet, rounding the table and pulling Casey into an embrace. It must’ve been sincere somehow, since she didn’t take the free time to glare or anything. She held him tightly, rubbing his shoulder.
”Of course my children would be my most loyal… And most worthy of my trust. Why else would you come to me?”
One of Casey’s hands reached back, looking for Trisha and finding purchase on her leg. He patted her gently, letting his hand rest there as he dealt with the situation at hand.

”Y-you… You bless me with your understanding, Voice of Grace. Now, maybe we can talk about real things?”

She pulled away, clearing her throat. Her gaze immediately went up to Trisha with a certain amount of concern.
”Of… Of course, absolutely.”
”And we’ll take it from the top? Like you don’t know what’s going on?”
Lynette nodded her head and took a deep breath before making her way back to her seat. However, she went around the opposite way, stepping behind Trisha’s seat and hugging her for a moment from behind.
”First impressions are hard, aren’t they?” she asked with an absentminded tone, sitting back down and taking the jar of honey.

She rolled it in her hands, a weak smile coming over her face. As she unscrewed it and took a scoop out with her finger, she let her eyes trail up to Trisha.
”We do love our magic products around here… And this solves a bit of- Fuck… I’m sorry. I- We-...”
Lynette paused for a moment, trying to consider what to say that didn’t have to do with what she already knew. Or, at least how to word it without wording it. The phrase “fuck it” flashed across her mind, and she simply tucked the knob of honey into her mouth.

Trisha silently watched and listened, putting a hand over Casey's when it came to rest on her leg. Her shadowed eyes didn't give away much, but there was a tight frown on her lips that she couldn't get rid of. The religious stuff… she didn't understand it at all. While her mom was technically Catholic, she hadn't spent enough time with her to be raised that way. It made her uncomfortable. The spying made her uncomfortable. But it was all something she'd known going into this, she could get past it, just…

She was jealous. Fuck, she hated that she was. But the ugly feeling began when Lynette asked about making sure Casey was okay with her spying, and continued when she hugged him. Trisha didn't trust her- certainly not any of the niceties thrown her way- but it was clear that Lynette cared for Casey. Trisha was smart enough to recognise it. She'd seen it in some of her siblings mothers, a controlling sort of love. Her cousins' too. Hers hadn't had any of the care in it. Just constant check ups to make sure she was studying, that she was getting the best grades, and trying to prevent her from being the big fuck up she'd ended up being. When had her mom last checked up on her? One… no, maybe two years ago? Trisha could be dead, and she wouldn't care. When had she last hugged her? She couldn't remember. Maybe never. Her mother probably didn't think she deserved it.

Trisha flinched slightly when Lynette hugged her from behind, fingers digging into Casey's, though she tried to play it off with a half smile and hum of agreement to her question. It was obvious something was off with her - at least, she appeared more closed off than she had before.
“I don't think it actually has any magical properties," Trisha intoned, pausing. Ah, fuck, that wasn't what she was supposed to say. Well, she'd said it now. “The bees are magical but they produce honey through normal means… just more of it, since they don't need to breed to replenish lost numbers. Firstly, I want to know if it actually tastes nice. I like it more than normal honey, but I'm biased. And yeah, along with offering the honey I'm hoping for some help with the bees."

She reached up with her free hand to lightly stroke one that had appeared on her cheek, rubbing its fuzzy little body against her. “Which I can control, I just have difficulties with larger numbers. I need to work on that before getting more bees, and more honey, if it's worth it. At least, it'd be nice to talk to some other adjoined."

Lynette mulled the honey about in her mouth, a pleasant emotion washing over her sullen face. She turned it in her hands a bit more, clearing her throat.
”Lena, a light please?”
She waved her hand, and the quiet sullen woman turned to a cabinet against the wall and pulled a small hand flashlight out, handing it to her mistress. Lynette held the light under the jar, and the overhead light switched off as she stared into the glowing golden liquid.

For a long while, she stared at it. Calculating eyes rotated with the jar, narrowing and opening in the dull golden light. It was her face and the jar, like two hovering lights in the midst of oblivion.
”Your own pheromones affect the composition. However you were feeling during this particular batch gave it a hint of astringency that isn’t found in a normal honey.”

She flicked the flashlight off and the overhead came back on. She opened it up again and took another glob, then held it up to Lena who reluctantly took a fingertip full. A warm surprise came over her face, and Lynette looked up at her with an eyebrow wag.
Casey gripped at Trisha’s hands, looking over excitedly at her. The Priestess’ head clicked back like she was a clockwork doll.
”Trisha, I can recognize a fellow spirit of Natural Order. You, and the spirit you steward, find yourselves in empathetic company despite the dysfunction you may find yourself thrust into. We’re not animals, and I’m certainly no wolf. My son asks me to trust him, I ask you to trust me, we all roll around in the middle and make a great big puddle of mud like silly pigs. Again, we’re not animals. What was my point…?”

She slid the jar’s lid back on and sucked it into one of her big robed sleeves.
”I… I love the honey. I think we can make a relationship work for everyone here. In a very long term fashion, which I’m sure would appeal to you greatly.”

There was a long pause. Lynette sucked air through her teeth with a grimace on her face, and then cleared her throat.

”Sorry, sorry… The visions. Sometimes they just wash me. Gods, yes! Yes, a place for the bees, a place you two can call your own so we don’t need to deal with my Leon’s quirks or the particularities of his current living situation… Which reminds me!”
She spun in her chair and pointed at Casey. At once he felt tense, and his hand let go of Trisha’s as he straightened up.
”Casey and I need to talk about what happened last night privately. Trisha, can I ask you to go upstairs with Lena while we sort things out? I believe Andrade is somewhere up there, you can give all of the honey you brought to him. We’ll be up once everything is taken care of.”

“Oh," Trisha looked up at Casey, fingers curling into her palm and forming a fist. She didn't realise that her pheromones would affect the honey while she was making it. How had she been feeling to make it taste slightly astringent? It had been a couple of months ago with this batch… Lonely, probably. She didn’t really understand half of what followed, about animals and Natural Order and visions. But the honey was enjoyed, and there was a possibility of something there, at least. A start. She certainly did like the idea of long-term… though how Lynette knew that, she wasn’t sure. Magic. But it was all rapid and constantly changing topics that had her head half spinning. Was Lynette seeing some kind of future for them, or was she offering them a home? She had no idea… Discomfort bubbled in her chest, which she tried to ignore.

She really didn’t want to be left alone with Lena. She’d actually rather anything but that. But Casey had already let go of her hand, a clear indication that he planned to go with his mother to probably be shouted into submission… She bit her lip. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to make sure Lena didn’t get any ideas? If she was as obsessed with Casey as he said, she wouldn’t just back off.
“Sure, I won’t intrude where I don’t belong," Trisha said, pushing back her seat and standing up. She reached out to gently squeeze Casey’s shoulder, before her hand dropped to her side and was stuffed in her coat pockets. She turned to Lena, not even bothering to force a smile. “Lead the way, I have no idea where I’m going."

She did turn her head over her shoulder to give Casey another smile, and a half wave. “I’ll see you up there. Don’t make me wait too long."
”I don’t plan on it… Miss you already.”

And then the four corners of the false wall closed down on themselves, leaving a black space full of nothing behind. Nothing but Lena’s scowl.
”I think probably the way you came from would be a good idea for starters, but if you need a reminder,-” her long, black polish tipped finger pointed down the hall. ”-i’ss over there. So, walk walk, stronger witches will make sure the monsters stay off your back.”
She waggled her fingers, directing Trisha in the direction like one would gesture to some kind of pet.

“Are you telling me to leave?" Trisha folded her arms, narrowing her eyes at Lena. The slight smile she’d had was completely gone, replaced with a scowl as nasty as Lena’s. She turned her head to look down the hall, then back at Lena. The bees buzzed agitatedly, but she told them to quiet down and stay still. She could handle this just fine without magic. She was already feeling uncomfortable, and the way Lena was immediately treating her just pissed her off.
“I’m not stupid, that," Trisha pointed down the hall, “isn’t upstairs. I’m also not part of your little church, so I’m not just going to nod and do what you say. So take me to wherever your leader- my boyfriend’s mother- told us to go."

”If you’re so qualified, why don’t you buzz about where you like? Plenty of dick around that isn’t His Righteousness’. My jaw gapes at the utter ridiculousness of hearing someone whose nickname is ‘Promiscuous Patty’ thinking that she’s anywhere near good enough for the seed of Our King Beyond. You, you Sycamore, disgust me. Now, if you know the way upstairs I suggest that you head that way, you half-witch…”

She gripped her fist tight, and there was a shimmer that bubbled out from the nothingness behind her. Two eyes opened, big golden spheres staring.
”And no, Patrica, this isn’t me trying to intimidate you.”
One of the eyes split off, hovering over Trisha’s shoulder as it slid across the air.
”This is me showing you the way, since someone like me actually has responsibilities to attend to. I can’t be bothered being some unemployed skank’s seeing eye dog. Now, fuck you and have a nice life.”

She spun on her heel and walked in the opposite direction. The golden eyeball hung there, looking at Trisha before hovering just ahead of her in the direction of the stairs.

“You fucking-" Trisha clenched her fists at her side, looking at Lena’s shoulder with cold rage. She wanted to go after her and give her a piece of her mind- but how could she? She knew nothing about her, whereas Lena had far too much information about her. Every word had been like a knife in her chest. Was it Leon? Fuck, who else would share that nickname… Then it would get back to Casey. Did Casey already know? What this just one big fucking joke? No, it couldn’t be. Fuck. Be the bigger person, so Casey didn’t drop her on day two. She turned towards the stairs, then paused.

Fuck, when was she ever the bigger person.

She stopped the pheromones she was using to suppress the bees, stopping them from acting on her anger. It wasn’t a controlled attack, she didn’t tell them to do anything, just about fifty bees flying out from under jacket and buzzing after Lena, attempting to catch up and sting her.
“Oops, sorry, I can’t control it, because I’m just a half-witch. They just go after bitches without me asking them to- should’ve kept you’re fucking mouth shut."

There was no reaction. The bees got caught up on some kind of wall or something, smacking their fuzzy little bodies against nothing. The barricade seemed to roll as Lena continued on down the hall, the bees getting a little further with each step but never getting any closer to her. The golden eye opened, splitting itself in the middle to form a wide mouth with nine perfectly spaced dome shaped teeth that slid together into an awkward smile.
”Bitchrisha, please refrain from acts of violence on Temple grounds.”

”Oh, can it you black haired Nazi cunt. How about not being rude to guests?”
A familiar voice broke the otherwise silent hall. Footsteps descended from the stairs revealed Mia standing on the landing. The gold eye vanished in a huff of smoke at the same time the bees lost track of what they were following.
”Hey, Girl, heyyy… You met Lena and Mom I take it? Who left you all alone with her like that?” she questioned, taking a standing spot next to Trisha.

“Your mom wanted to shout at Casey alone about last night," Trisha said, still glaring down the hall. Her bees came back to her, feeling incredibly confused. It was difficult to calm them down when she was feeling so agitated. She wanted to just leave. She also wanted to punch a wall. She wanted to be alone, but was also pretty relieved that Mia had turned up. What Lena had said got to her far more than she wanted it to. Fuck, she shouldn’t pay any attention to what she’d said. But she couldn’t stop it when it was all true. She hated the nickname, but she couldn’t deny it. She never cheated, but… she did have a lot of relationships. Casey said it was fine, but was it? He must’ve known Lena would say something, had been fine for them to be alone. Was she just saying what he’d been thinking? No, that was ridiculous… but it could be. No.

“She told me to wait upstairs, but that bitch took issue with showing me there, and just-" Trisha threw her hands up in the air, bees sitting on them scattering at the sudden moving and hiding in her hair. She finally stopped looking down the corridor and looked up at Mia, unable to change her sullen expression to anything else.
“It’s fine. Let’s go upstairs- well, if you were heading down, I can find my own way… So long as there isn’t anyone else like her up there. Wonderful first meeting, between her and your mom."

”Y’know, that muff lover will come around. We all think she’s gay, and that she just wants to be up Mom’s ass, but being with Casey was the only thing that was gonna get her close. Hence the attitude, the whole thing. She talks all the time about how she’s wasting time and shit isn’t going her way. God, I’d… I’d squash her little Nazi head like a brick if I could. Fuck she gets me steaming…”

Mia’s long arm reached around and patted Trisha’s shoulder in a very friendly manner.
”Either way, don’t let her intimidate you. She probably just has a crush. C’mon, let’s go back upstairs. I was just looking for Mom, but if she’s busy with Casey I won’t interrupt.”
She turned, nodding back from where she came.
”Did you guys have a nice night?”

“Oh yeah, it was really nice," Trisha nodded, turning around and starting up the stairs. “Haven’t had a night that relaxing in a long time- I mean, we fell asleep on the couch. I don’t normally do that."

She shrugged, forcing a half smile. Pretending really badly that she was perfectly fine and not affected by Lena’s words. She wasn’t letting her intimidate her. It had just pissed her off. That was all.
“But if that bitch is gay, I’d like to hand my queer card in- I think I’d rather she was just going after my boyfriend. Wait," Trisha paused midstep, twisting her head round to look at Mia. “How would Casey get her closest? Don’t you have an older sister? Or Leon, he’s single, right? Just want to know my enemy a little better."

Mia’s face twisted into an expression of true humor like the mask of comedy.
”Ohhhh, shit! The first time I get to do this!? Fucking… So, Elise is still technically married to this guy; they’re not together anymore but he is in charge of one of our branches like the… South West, or something. Arizona? But they’re having a hard time divorcing since he knows that once the ring is gone he’s basically gonna lose everything.”
She paused before the top of the stairs where people were, getting close to Trisha.
”And Leon is betrothed to his Apparition. Lelou. It’s a… Religious thing.” she shrugged her shoulders.

“What?" Trisha completely stopped, spinning around to stare up at Mia. The news was almost enough to shock her out of her morose state, eyes widening. Leon was betrothed to his Apparition? How did that even work- she didn’t want to know. She’d only found out he was adjoined yesterday, now she finds out the apparition is also his… fiance.

“I didn’t think things could get weirder… Well Leon’s lucky I’m not in Sycamore anymore to spread his secret," Trisha half joked, making it up the last steps and out of the stairwell. She looked around the place.
“Any idea where Andrade is up here? Your mom suggested I give him the rest of the honey I brought- not that I have it on me either."

She grinned and nodded her head.
”Oh it was yours? The uh, bees, right? Leon kind of mentioned it; oh, I’m sorry, I did ask about you… And he said he’s hopeful, because Casey kind of, I guess like defended you this morning or something, I guess Leon said something mean and Casey shut him right down. So, hey, brownie points, right?”
Mia pointed her fingers back and forth, almost giving Trisha finger guns like they had some sort of quiet agreement.

She didn’t leave Trisha any time to answer, however.
”Uncle Dre!? Hey!”
Standing at one of the pews with a jar of honey, the long haired and handsome Andrade Salamente was standing next to a few other members of the Temple. One was spinning a small vortex of air, making snow cones and letting the chef layer them slowly with honey.
”It’s the Honey Mama herself. Casey’s new girlfriend! Trisha, this is Andrade! Uncle Dre, Trisha!”

Andrade gave her a sly and handsome smile, holding his free hand out to Trisha.
”Honey Mama? What?”
He laughed kind of awkwardly, looking between them.

Trisha shot a half hearted glare at Mia, before smiling awkwardly at Andrade. She stepped forward and shook his hand, dropping hers pretty quickly.
“It’s just Trisha. The honey’s from me, so I guess that’s where that comes from- Well my bees made it." She held up her hands and a few bees crawled out from her sleeves, crouching on her fingers and fluttering their little wings. They were a bit calmer now, as was she. Hearing that Casey had shut down Leon was… nice. A tiny drop of positivity in the torrent of negativity Lena had hit her with.

“I guess you already got the honey, so I don’t exactly need to give it to you…" she half mumbled, looking over at the weird snow cone production. “What are you making with it?"

Andrade gave Trisha’s bees a warm and friendly reception in Spanish, dipping his finger into the honey and letting them come toward it as they pleased.
”Trisha… You remind me of someone…” his eyes narrowed for a moment, but he shook his head.
”We are making… Snow cones!”
He finished packing the one he was holding with a final drizzle of honey and handed it to her.
”I spent a little time in Canada, and I saw how they would take the fresh maple syrup and drizzle it over the freshly fallen snow. Perfect practice for an aspiring Red Adept.”

Mia nodded and smiled.
”That is super fucking cool Liam. No pun intended.”
The group around, including Andrade, laughed at the pun.

Trisha laughed awkwardly because she felt she had to, taking the snow cone handed to her. A couple of her bees had betrayed her, going to Andrade’s honey coated finger and happily drinking it up with absolutely no care for the fact he was basically a stranger. More swarmed to the snow cone before she even had a chance to get a taste. She rolled her eyes at them.
“Well, it’s popular with the bees," she waved them away so there was at least a gap she could take a lick from. Huh. It was a pretty nice combination, the sweet honey and the cold snow. “It’s nice. I never thought about doing that with my honey- honestly I just have it on bread and the like."

She shrugged, taking another lick before letting her bees snack. They most went for the honey layers and ignored the snow cone section. It was quite funny to watch as the white frost got all over their little legs, like snow pollen.
“And I’m not sure how I’d remind you of him, but you probably met my dad… or one of my half-siblings. There’s some resemblance." She gestured to her face with her free hand. “Who didn’t meet dad, he practically ran this town…"

With a frown, she mentally shooed the bees off the snowcone so she could actually eat it. They reluctantly moved back onto her, some landing on the top of her head and getting specks of white ice all over her hair. She decided to quickly move past that, and just ask more questions.
“What do you think of the honey? Is it much different from normal?"

Andrade nodded happily, a smile coming over his face.
”Yes, yes! It’s got quite the flavor; have you noticed? Ever compare this to regular honey?”
He dipped another finger in, stuffing it into his mouth and smacking his lips to circulate the air around his taste buds. Taking a deep breath, he opened his nasal passage to let the air vent, all the while he let the honey coat his tongue until it was completely dissolved.
”It has an almost coffee-like rear note that really makes me want to make some sort of… Some kind of cake? With rum and the honey… Are you always in season? They’re able to withstand these temperatures and continue producing the honey?” he asked her with wide eyes.

”I’m always looking for natural sweeteners. And it can be used in our Fine Courses as well, so there’d be a heavy premium for it. Do you have more?”

“I’ve never compared it to normal honey, seemed a waste of money," Trisha said, as if she had any money concerns in her life. Well, it wasn’t like she had loads sitting around, she was quite dependent on what her older brother was willing to give her. But it was nice for the honey to get appreciated, and to hear someone thinking about actual uses with it. While in a way it was just a by-product of owning the bees, she harvested it all by herself. It was a labour of love, for her bees, and she’d grown to enjoy it. At least there was one thing she was good at. Maybe something she could build a future on. Maybe. It was a little hard to believe.
“Technically, they can produce honey anytime of the year. But there aren’t so many flowers around for them to collect pollen from and they tend to eat most of what they produce during winter. It means they’re self-sustaining, but not productive."

She turned over her free hand so her palm was flat. A couple of the bees crawled out onto it. She curled her fingers in and tickled them. They were clearly active, unlike most bees during this time of the year that would be in a hive conserving heat to keep their queen alive. Her still quite sullen expression softened slightly as she looked at them.
“They’re not really affected by the weather or old age. But they collect pollen and make it into honey like normal bees, just a bit more efficiently. I do have more, maybe… six or seven more boxes. Some of it is years old, but it’s still good. Would it really be worth that much?"

”Last year, for Our Grace’s birthday, I prepared a spread of sixteen deserts. The most popular among her closest guests was a portion of Lemon and Vanilla Panna Cotta, drizzled with a honey based sauce whose contents come from the mountains of Turkey… The two jars, eight ounces a piece, cost our logistics just over three thousand American dollars to obtain. I would say this honey is as unique in its flavor profile, and equally as uncommon in its production.”
Andrade grabbed another cup and started scooping up the freshly prepared snow. He laughed to himself as he layered the first bit of honey.

”Putting it that way, this whole thing feels a little wasteful, but Goddamn it’s good. The honey doesn’t freeze, but it gets nice and close, and it becomes this honey jelly shit… I’m extremely happy to work with you on this…”
He put the honey down and held his free hand out to shake it again.

“What's wasteful is all the free jars I gave my very rich half-sisters…" Trisha murmured, narrowing her eyes for a moment as she mentally calculated how much she could have gotten out of it. A decent amount, and less digs about depending on Ezra's money. Well, she'd given him at least a jar too… surely that made it even. But it was an unexpected amount of money. She'd expected it to be about the same as normal honey, perhaps slightly better… not near three thousand dollars worth.

But that wasn't particularly important right now. She forced her lips up into a half smile, reaching out with the hand not covered in bees to shake Andrade's.
“Me too - well, it's me and Casey you'd be working with… kind of a joint venture. I wouldn't have even thought about it if he didn't suggest it." She glanced at the jar of honey. To think she'd been sitting on something like that for so long. “How much would you expect to use? I don't cook at all, so I really don't know what honey goes into… I'm realising I maybe should. Uh, more specifically, how long would one jar last?"

Andrade nodded with an impressed look on his face.
”Oh, you should still plan for a business without our boy, Bonita. Whether he’s around or not, making sure you’re taken care of on your own should be a young business woman’s primary concern. I’ve seen too many young women go into business with spouses and significant others as partners, things fall apart and all of a sudden the other half is holding the bag.”
He tapped at his head, close to the temple, as if he was some sort of genius for putting her forward.

”But, I would say out of the five of those kids, Casey’s got the best head on his shoulders. So, good luck with it. As far as your other question; We can go through a few jars in a dinner service. But, there’s six restaurants to think about; and of course menus rotate, but I think you have an audience in boxed product. We’ll talk to Casey about it, but I think we can call my facilities ‘Jumping Off’ points for you. Rich people will hear about your honey, we’ll advertise it in our newsletter, we can circulate it through our underground contacts as magic honey… It’ll be good. We’ll make you rich.” he smiled, patting Trisha’s shoulder.
”Oh, speak of the Devil!”

Casey was ascending the stairs, and Lynette wasn’t far behind him with her robes and their clacking spheres that hit the steps. His eyes quickly found Trisha, and like a puppy gone from its master for too long, he was at her side in a flash, arm clutched tight around her waist. Lynette came around Mia’s side, leaning on her daughter like a support beam. She smiled at Trisha and Andrade.
”So, a verdict?”

Andrade smiled back at her, handing over the snowcone he was making to her. Lynette and Mia clinked their paper cups together, and a horrifying sight blossomed forth in front of Trisha without anyone else seeming to notice or care.

”It’s fantastic, Your Grace. I’ll bet that it has a few beneficial properties.”

Lynette took the whole snow cone, let her mouth wrap around the top, and sucked the entire thing down in what looked like one big lump of ice. She crumpled the cup and deposited it in her gaping sleeves as if she had a million pockets in them.
She nodded as she ate, chewing the half frozen honey.
”So we’re on then?”

Andrade nodded happily.
”We were just talking about what the next steps were as you guys were coming up.”
Casey was beaming ear to ear, and he looked at Trisha with bright and happy eyes.
”Mom and I were talking about what the first steps are. I think we can make it work if you want to do this, Trisha. Actually, I know we can make it work. And, I think everyone here will be a big help if everything stays good… So… Maybe we’ll talk it out over a walk?” he offered her.

Trisha didn't respond immediately. She was staring at Lynette, trying to process what she'd just seen. Who ate a snow cone like that? Or anything? It reminded her of how some of the apparitions they fought against ate… unlucky blinds who they caught, or smaller apparitions. She shuddered slightly, leaning into Casey's side. Really, she should be happy about all of this. Her honey was good, there was a possible future with it, even if it meant working with a near cult like religion to begin with (or forever). Finally a success in her unsuccessful life. But she saw Casey smiling, she saw Lynette eat a snowcone like it was a shot, and she felt a distance. Did she really have a part here? Was it something she could do if things fell apart with Casey, which they undoubtedly would?

What Lena had said about her not being good enough was probably enough, and while she'd put those words to the back of her mind while talking to Andrade they hadn't been forgotten. She was all too good at remembering the bad. Casey and Lynette reappearing had just reminded her. After all, their talk was the reason she'd been left alone in Lena's company- had to hear all of that in the first place.
“I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to do it… I'm sure we can make it work too," Trisha said in a tone that didn't particularly sound like someone who thought it would work. It was the tone of someone who'd gotten stuck inside of her own head again, latching onto a hint of negativity that hadn't even come from the current company and running with it. Flat, cold.

It was fine. Go on a walk, talk things through. Pretend it was fine. But she was awful at pretending she was fine, and she was awful at not immediately closing herself off at the smallest of things. She looked up at Casey with a forced smile that didn't reach her eyes.
“Yeah, a walk sounds good. Can we go outside? I'd rather talk about it outside. Nicer for a walk too."

”You read my mind. We can let the bees roam around for a while too. C’mon, we’ll see what flowers are still awake.”
Lynette tugged on Mia gently, moving them both out of the way for Casey and Trisha to head out.
”We’ll see you again, right?” she asked while looking at Trisha. Casey answered for her.
”That’s definitely the cult question to ask, Ma.”
Mia didn’t speak, but she did gently nod her head in agreement. Lynette’s look turned a bit sour, but it was clear that it had nothing to do with her specifically as her eyes turned to her children. She sighed, clearing her throat.

”I hope to see you again soon, Trisha. But, of course, you’re fully able to make your own decision about it which I wo-”
”Alright Mama, great job. We’ll let you know what’s going on later.”
Casey kept ahold of Trisha, but as they started to walk, he wrapped one arm around his sister and mother, squeezing them both tight before ushering Trisha out the front door.

”Bueno con dias, Lovebirds! Casey, you got my back next time, right?”
”Yes Sir, Uncle Dre!”

But Casey didn’t turn. Trisha would be able to feel his pace picking up as he walked back down the hill with her.
”Jesus fucking Christ… It’s like pulling teeth every time, I swear. I’m sorry about that, Babe, seriously, all the fucking crying and shit… We’re cryers, I guess, but that was the last thing I wanted you to have to deal with. And I knew it was gonna happen, and I should’ve fucking warned you, but I was just… Really fucking hoping it wouldn’t be that way.”

“It's fine. The crying didn't bother me," Trisha said honestly, with a shrug. It really hadn't. She wasn't the kind of person that got affected by a couple of tears. It had just been uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. The words that had come before the tears had bothered her a lot more, but admitting that would mean admitting that it reminded her of her mother, and that would be admitting to her own failure. So she pursed her lips, face scrunching up in displeasure for a moment before settling on a more passive grumpy expression.
“You did warn me, anyway, last night. Your mom thought I was going to be a pushover, didn't she? Like I'd just agree to sway you to her side…"

But Trisha didn't really care so much about what Lynette had thought right now. Her hands clasped in front of her, fingers tangling together. It wasn't something she wanted to ask, or think about, because it could lead to other questions, but she also really needed to fucking know where Lena's information had come from.
“That Lena. Can she read minds or… something like that?"

Casey’s face immediately dropped.
”No, she can’t. She’s Abberant like you are; except she’s fully Adjoined… Why? What’d she say to you out there?”
He knew she couldn’t, but he knew that she heard nearly as much as his Mother did, either through direct monitoring or trickle down directly from his Mother’s mouth. He wasn’t happy now, not at all. Not thinking about what Trisha said about her being a pushover, he was instantly defensive about matters concerning Lena.
”I swear, I’ll… Fucking… Do something, I don’t know. What happened?”

“Nothing," Trisha snapped, closing her eyes for a moment and abruptly stopping walking. Her hands clenched in each other, nails digging into her skin. She knew it wasn't Casey's fault. But the irritation had built up and there was no one else to lash out at. Lena couldn't read her mind, so she'd found out through Leon. Had Casey already heard everything that she'd said? Was that what Leon told him this morning? He'd shut him down then, but what if he really thought about it. She knew she was being unfair, but it couldn't be stopped now, resentful words spilling from her lips.
“She just said some shit. It's fine. You left me alone with her, anyway, when she's clearly pissed about us- what did you expect?"

Casey knew instantly what’d happened. He had hoped that it wasn’t going to be like that, but of course it had to be. And of course he wasn’t going to stand for it.
”You’re right. You’re absolutely right, and I didn’t think she was going to make it a problem, but she did. So let me fix it.”
The ex soldier spun on his heel, turning to look back up at the church. His legs began to carry him back up to the precipice with fury building in his core.

“Wait," Trisha turned around and tried to chase after him - which was difficult with her much shorter legs. She would love to see him fix it, but then what Lena said would come out, and he'd hear it, and anyone else there would hear it, and then everyone would agree with it.
“I said it was fine, it's not a big deal, it's fucking fine!"

Casey halted, spun, and threw up his hand with his index finger extended as long as possible. He didn’t point at her, but he certainly would’ve if he hadn’t had a bit more presence of mind.
”One thing you should learn right now is that I’m a problem solver. I’m not a fucking child, we didn’t do shit that way in the Corps, and whenever I get some jumped up little fucking Staff Sergeant who comes and kicks at my office door with passive aggressive bullshit, I rip them in half. Do you get me? Because as long as we’re together, I’m not going to let us get to that point…”

Pushing forward slightly, he bent his knees to get a bit closer to eye level with her. Despite his words, his body motions and posture were calm and measured with laser-like precision. His arms rushed toward her arms to grab them, only to gently wrap around them without any kind of pressure whatsoever. Only gentle, tender and careful caressing.
”Now… Is there a problem that you’d like me to take care of? No questions asked, I will politely ask my Mother to admonish her follower as is her position, and the status quo will be maintained henceforth. Or we can ignore it for now, until you feel like you can talk about it properly. But, if she thinks she’s going to just get away with doing something to you, I can promise you that she’s very fucking mistaken. Very.”

Hands clenching and unclenching at her sides, Trisha didn't push Casey away but she also didn't react to his touch. Her whole body posture was tense, trembling slightly, and her expression incredibly sour. She wasn't scared or intimidated, but she felt stuck. Most people snapped back or just got frustrated and walked away. She didn't get his reaction. Was he angry at her, at Lena, was he not angry at all? She bit her lip hard, glowering eyes shifting to the side and away from him.
“I don't want to talk about it- I don't want you to hear what she said. You've probably already fucking heard it, cause Leon's probably been spreading it fucking everywhere… I don't. Fuck. I don't know."

She let out an irritated hiss, in sync with the buzzing of bees responding to her agitation. But they were still hidden in her jacket. As if they knew what was rational and irrational anger on her part.
“She just said what everyone else was thinking. That I'm-" Not good enough. Promiscuous. Just in it for another warm body, which wasn't far from the truth- but it was the company she wanted. If Lena knew and Leon had told her, or she'd heard him talk about it, Lynette probably knew too. Everyone probably knew. She gritted her teeth. Her head dropped slightly, and she leaned in towards Casey. “I don't want to repeat it, I don't want it repeated. It's not fair, I was fourteen. They don't even know me. I just- don't talk to your mother about it. It's fine."

A new expression formed on Casey’s face. One, at least, that Trisha had never seen before. It wasn’t happy, it wasn’t friendly, it wasn’t good. It was cold. It was like someone had turned all the lights on the sun out, and left the angry red hatred of its core to produce nothing but a dark heat. His hands gripped at her arms, forever delicate despite the new wriggling feeling. It was like he was fighting every little bit of himself to not clamp down.

Words quietly fell from his mouth.
”That fucking bastard…”

And he turned his back to her. It was like all the air rushed away, all of the sound being taken with it.
”LEON!?”

Casey’s voice boomed across the parking lot, echoing up into the steeple and out across the grounds to the dorms.

People immediately rushed out from the Church at the top, brandishing every kind of magic available, only to see Casey storming his way back up toward them. There was a slight deflation in tension, only for him to raise it again.
”Where the fuck is Leon!?”
Lynette pushed out from behind the group of Adepts.
”Casey!? What!? What’s the matter, what’s going on?!”

He took long strides up the hill, getting right into his mother’s face.
”Where is your cocksucking Herald son? He and I need to have a refresher conversation about respect and decency, and I’m not fucking playing. Get him now.”

Trisha had been left staring at Casey's back for a moment, plummeting towards more and more doubts as her chest started heaving up and down. Anxiety gripped her, fear that this was it, he was turning away from her- but he wasn't, was he? This was the opposite, he was angry on her behalf… fuck. Trisha scurried up the hill as quickly as she could, practically hiding behind Casey in the hope that no one would look at her. She raised a slightly shaking hand, grasping at the back of his hoodie lightly.
“I said it was fine," the words came out as barely more than a whisper, near immediately lost in the clamour.

Lynette held her hands up, placing them on Casey’s chest and giving him a stern look.
”Where…”
”Use other words, Caseau…”
”Leon said something to me this morning.-”
”And what?”
”He has preconceived notions about someone who I intend to be special in my life…”

Lynette’s eyes got wide, and she bit her lip in a grimace of concern. Her lips moved, but noise didn’t come out… But they didn’t need to. What was said was clear, and Casey put his hand up like an axe, a chopping motion coming across Lynette’s body without ever actually touching her.
”Yes, that, and I told him-”
”After he’d been here… After he’d said it to… To Lena and myself. And I’m sorry for that. What happened?”

Casey looked back at Trisha, seeing how embarrassing the situation may be for her, and he shook his head.
”Outside of Gatherings, I don’t want to see her. She’s not allowed near Trisha.”
”Of course, Bubba Cher.-” Lynette cooed, doing her best to catch a glimpse of Trisha herself. ”-We… We don’t worry about those sorts o-”
Casey shot his hand up in front of his mother’s face.
”She’s already said she doesn’t want to talk about it. If you really care, you’ll just do what I ask and forget this happened. We’ll get back to you about everything else later.”
Lynette nodded her head, letting go of her son and stepping back slightly.
”Just, please don’t scare us like that… Not after last night.”

Casey looked back, and people had gathered at the dorm windows and out front as well. He shook his head.
”O-of course… I’m sorry for that, you’re right.”
He spun, arms wrapping back around Trisha.
”Do you still wanna walk? Let’s go, come on, there’s plenty of woodlands around here…”

“Yeah." Trisha briefly leaned in, pressing her head against him and taking a deep breath. The resentment she’d felt slowly slipped away, buried back down with all the unexplored issues. It was slightly lessened, and any she’d felt towards Casey was gone now. She felt embarrassed and still felt upset, but having someone actually… defend her? Get angry on her behalf? It was nice.

And he said she was someone he intended to be special in his life. Those weren’t just words you’d say for the sake of it, to your own mother, right? Right.
“A walk sounds nice now, relaxing. Especially in the woodlands- I’m sure the bees reach those when they go around, but I rarely do." She turned around as well, starting to make her way back down the hill. Softly, she added, “thank you. For doing that, and, uh, not getting mad at me too."

As they started to walk away, out of the lot and across the quad grass, further and further out toward the rolling green and brown expanse of trees, Casey held Trisha tightly. At first he was still shaking, but once they got far enough away, he seemed to ease up.
”I can’t think of a reason I’d be mad at you. But, you’re welcome. There’s just no way I can let shit like that slide, not when he goes and says things like that to people like my Mother, or worse to people like Lena. I don’t know what the fuck he could’ve been thinking besides something malicious…”

He shook his head again, rubbing her shoulder.
”But honestly, fuck it. Fuck it, fuck him, I won’t make puns out of your name anymore; I don’t even want to come close to that, it’s… Not fucking right.”

“That’s not the same," Trisha looked up at him, expression beginning to relax from the sullen frown she’d worn since talking to Lena. She didn’t want to think about it anymore. He’d heard it, he knew the nickname, but he didn’t seem to mind it. Not that she could see. Her lips curved up slightly.
“It’s just the bad ones - the ones with my full name, or the nickname I hate. The first person who called me Patty-" she grimaced. “Was one of my half-sisters. We didn’t- don’t- get on. Then all the people who didn’t like me in the coven, like Leon. I don’t mind when it’s with Trisha, and I haven’t been bothered by anything you called me."

She leaned in against his side for a moment, looking at the trees they were approaching. As she calmed down, so did her bees, crawling out from under her jacket and clinging to the outside. A couple of them crawled up onto Casey, just sitting on his arm.
“Hey, look, they’ve already gotten attached. They know you’re the reason I calmed down so quickly," she laughed softly. “I think I prefer it like this. Just us and the bees."

”Heyyy, my girls!”
Casey put his face toward them, his nose pressing against one and nuzzling it. Looking around the forest, Casey could see the different paths between ritual sites and other more habitual hangouts for the teens trying to get some privacy. He had his own path in his head, and he was taking them out there regardless of how bleak it may be.
”That’s pretty great. They’re like… I don’t know, it's like a third person. The good kind of third wheel, like a pet or a kid. One that slots in, you don’t have to force an opening. It’s nice.”

He still leaned into Trisha, just holding her as they walked.
”So… Besides all that, Mom and I, I think, have come to an agreement on how we can get things started. Do you want to hear about it?”

Trisha giggled at Casey interacting with the bees. It was cute, and it was nice. She could sense their relaxed pheromones, which in turn continued to calm her. A few stayed on Casey, a few stayed on her, and the rest started to buzz around them, exploring the nearby area of the forest.

“Yeah, let’s hear it," Trisha said. She did want to know what the agreement was, and how it fit with what Andrade had talked to her about. She smiled and her tone turned more joking. “So long as I don’t have to see your mom eat another snow cone ever again."

”Hey, that looked pretty good honestly…-”
He thought about it for a second, then furrowed his brow.
”-Oh, the… Yeah. Yep, never really asked any questions about that one. She eats all her food like that for some reason, but she’d always yell at us if we copied her…”

Casey’s thoughts trailed off for a moment as he thought about a million family dinners where his mother simply slid the bowl or plate to her mouth and swallowed the contents whole. He didn’t want to think about it now.
”Anyway, I think it sounds doable. It may ask you being a bit understanding as to my situation overall, since I’d… Well… I agreed to a position in the Temple. An actual seat; my title would be something like Righteous Left Hand, Whose Power Guards All Flocks... Translating, I’d be taking over security from our Uncle Furio, whose been asking for a change of title himself recently. It works out, since the position comes with a… Specific location that would be suited to our needs at the time.”

He looked at her expectantly, like he was ready for her to be upset with him about the arrangement.

Trisha bit her lip, face scrunching up and shoulders shaking slightly. This went on for a little while, her expression growing more and more twisted before she couldn’t hold it in. Trisha burst out in laughter, pausing walking to bend over. She couldn’t even process what the job entailed because she was too hung up on the ridiculousness of the title.
“I’m sorry- I just- Righteous Left Hand, haha, it’s so pretentious. Will people have to call you that? I don’t have to, do I? That’ll be incredibly romantic- haha."

She waved a hand, finally stopping laughing and thinking about more about the… rest of it. The actually important stuff. Her lips pursed slightly. She didn’t like the Temple. First impressions weren’t much different from what she’d expected. But she’d started dating him knowing he was with the Temple. As long as she didn’t have to convert or whatever, it was fine.
“What exactly does the job entail? Like sitting in an office watching Temple wide security cams, or breaking the knees of people who go against them?" She asked. She didn’t seem upset, though she also didn’t seem enamoured about the idea. “And what do you mean about the location? Like, you get a field with the job?"

Casey laughed along with her when she mentioned the title. It absolutely was pretentious, but in his mind it was only pretentious because of the age they lived in.
”A thousand years ago, that title would’ve been cool shit. Imagine someone called that showing up to your village and slaying the local dragon? Badass.” he giggled, kicking a rock out of his way as they walked.

”As far as what I’d be doing, well… Yeah. Yeah, there’s a monitoring station, and I’d essentially be in charge of dispatching and coordinating different security protocols. Daily life, events, whatever needs to be watched from a physical standpoint. And, ultimately, I’d need to respond myself if necessary. It’s a hierarchy kind of thing…” he said a little bit more seriously.

In truth, he didn’t want the job. He wanted to get far away, but… It would help Trisha. He could stick it out long enough to help Trisha.
”And where do we live? Well, technically the same place Leon lives. On the roof, there’s an extra living space. It’s the monitoring station, but… Well, Furio and his family live up there right now, but they’ve been sort of ready to move out as long as I can remember. So, we wouldn’t be displacing them or anything. But, more to the point, there’s a greenhouse up there as well. They grow things, and moreso there’s plenty of extra room for boxes and more flowers in the spring and summer.”

Moving in together. On day two. There was a hint of panic in Trisha’s chest at that. Moving in together meant if- when- they broke up she had nowhere to live. It was a commitment based on them staying together. It was- but wait, no. It was in the same city, ten minutes away from where she currently lived. It wasn’t like she needed to fully move out of Sabrina’s. Sabrina didn’t exactly need the space. She could keep that. Thinking of it that way, Trisha was able to completely get rid of the anxiety she felt over the idea.
“The job sounds pretty hard, but if it’s what you want, who am I to disagree? I don’t want to control your life… I mean, you didn’t even need to tell me about it."

Though she did appreciate it, because it meant he would be busier. Not that that would be a problem. She had plenty to do herself… Well, she would, if everything started to work out with the bees.
“That sounds nice. If a whole family lives there, it can’t be too small, right? I’m not going to be able to sleep in a room filled with screens that are constantly on. I’m used to loud buzzing in complete darkness." She grinned, raising a hand to stroke one of the bees still on her. “If there’s a greenhouse, I could grow flowers for the bees during winter too, right? Or maybe it doesn’t work like that… But having more room for them, and a proper place to put flowers for them, would be great. That sounds really nice. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about expanding the hive either. I could get them the biggest box possible and just keep expanding it- heh, it’s technically a penthouse, right?"

Casey nodded, seeing the clearing up ahead. His smile had managed to come back fully, and his expression turned to face her.
”I… Think so? Also, almost certainly built illegally; it breaks the district’s building ordinances, but I think we’re getting away with it because it’s no taller than the water tower on the roof. Oh, that’ll be a good thing; just like downstairs where the water comes up from public lines, the cistern at the top houses water for the upper building floors, and it’s got its own heater, so we get awesome fuckin’ water pressure. No weak showers for us, Babe.” he grinned.

As they continued, they came into a clearing deep in the middle of the woods. There was a stone smack dab in the center, probably the size of a small car. There were carvings all over it, and a lot of dead flowers that had perished in the last couple of frosts.
”Hey Champ! Stopping by to introduce you to someone…”
Casey immediately turned to Trisha.
”Don’t worry, nobody’s actually here. I’m sure Mom has something to listen in or visit the place herself, but… Well, if we live thinking about that forever, we’ll both go insane. Trisha, this is uh, my Dad’s stone. He disappeared a long time ago, and we still… We don’t really know where he is, so… So we come here to talk to him, in case he can hear us somewhere.”

Casey waved his hand across the clearing.
”In the summer, this place is like bee central. So many different flowers growing from here, and from like… Different Universes, I guess. Whatever will grow here, they usually plant it. But, now its too late. Hopefully next summer we’ll be able to see it together. But, Dad… This is Trisha. Trisha, my Dad Max.”
He waved his hand at the stone again, letting it drop to his side with a quiet slap.

“Uh, hi," Trisha said with an awkward wave to the stone. What did she say to a stone memorial for a missing, possibly dead, person? She hardly ever visited her own dad's grave… though they hadn't had much of a relationship to talk about. The whole talking to the dead thing wasn't something she really got. But Casey had brought her here, and it clearly meant a lot to him. She could make the effort.
“I'm Trisha, Casey's girlfriend. Nice to meet you. I'll try and take good care of him."

She smiled softly, shuffling much closer to Casey so that she was right up against him. She wrapped her arms around him and continued to talk in a quieter, softer tone.
“I'd like to see it in the summer. I'll bring all my bees then they can mix with the local ones, maybe they'll make friends. They can all pollinate the fancy other world flowers… I wonder what honey made with that would be like…" she trailed off. “I've met both your parents now, I guess I'll have to introduce you to mine. Dad's easy, since he’s buried in town, but mum's quite busy. She lives on the other side of the country too, so… it might be a while. I'll see what I can do. I'm glad you were comfortable enough to bring me here to see your Dad's stone."

Casey looked vaguely disappointed. He was; wishing that the flowers were still around and that the space was more than just a barren memorial to his maybe-dead father.
”Ah, there’s no rush. There’s a more personal shrine to him inside the Temple, this one is kind of… Just a spot he liked to be at, so we carved into the rock. I… I really just wanted to show you the flowers, but something feels rude about not introducing you properly.”

He made his way to the rock, fingers starting to dig at the soil where he figured one of the weirder plants would be.
”Oh, here! Come, look… This one’s from somewhere else.” he exclaimed, making enough space for her to look at the ground.
Casey’s finger dug around in a small circle, pulling more and more away until there was a small circular bulb in the ground.

”These are cool, they’re like Venus traps. Watch.”
He bumped his finger against the bulb, and it unfurled with grippy little tendrils that all wrapped around Casey’s hand and tried desperately to drag him in.
”I was told they think that if it gets big enough, it could probably get out of the ground and actively hunt. So we cull them when they get about pumpkin sized.”

“Like… A Triffid," Trisha said, crouching down beside him to look at the bulb. She sent out pheromones at the same time to keep her bees away - it couldn't get Casey with those little tendrils, but it could definitely get the bees. At the same time, out of curiosity, she reached forward and tapped one of the tendrils trying to drag Casey in. Her eyebrows raised as some of them wrapped around her fingers. It was pretty fucking strong.
“Oh, that's from an older movie one of my friends made me watch - they're like moving plants that start killing everyone. It's kinda stupid, but I'm glad you're stopping that from becoming a reality."

She laughed slightly at it, because it was still a funny image, of a bulb climbing out of the ground and starting to hunt like it was some kind of predator.
“That is pretty cool… how many other worldly flowers do you have? Does the temple just have a dimension travelling team of seed gatherers?"

”It’s a bit of a hobby for a few Adepts. Well, not really a hobby. A good way of getting people trained and up to speed. We have a couple of Purples who can cross the lines, and one who's particularly good at retracing steps… So we have these curated places that we take people to practice and study.”
Casey poked at the little plant again, nudging it and watching the little thing react with an alien intelligence. He thought about what its life would be like if they just let it grow and roam around, but considering what it became, it was probably too dangerous.

It was brightly colored, blues and greens and oranges striping its bulbous flesh. They said some grew actual eyeballs, but he’d never seen it.
”This one is from one of the common places; its how we know so much about it. Big specimens are sitting there one minute, then disappear the next, they don’t seem to attack Humans at that size, but I honestly think they’re like… Just full of something? Like if they’re big predators, what do they hunt? Definitely not big insects…”

He shrugged his shoulders, giggling as the little thing tried its damn hardest to drag the fully grown man into the dirt. He stuffed the finger against it, pushing down until it let him go, then he buried the poor thing back in the warmer soil.

With a dust of his hands, Casey stood up.
”You know you don’t have to move in with me… I’m happy to give you a place where the bees are comfortable without trapping you and locking you down in something. I promise it’s not a problem…”

Trisha straightened up from her squatting position, still looking at the spot where the little, living bulb had been reburied. Moving in with someone was scary, because what happened when he learned more about her and didn’t like what he saw? But if she moved in with him, he’d always be there. It would be harder to abandon her. She wouldn’t be as lonely… And it would be nice. She’d get to wake up like this morning, with him cuddling her awake. She’d have someone to eat with.

“I want to move in with you." She finally looked up at him again, stepping closer and reaching out to take his hands in hers. “It’s not exactly trapping me. I bet even if I move out Sabrina- she owns the house I live in- will leave my room untouched. It's kind of like my space, and she has a whole floor to herself. My other two sisters have plenty of space too… no one’s fighting for my room. I have a lot of stuff so I’ll probably leave some there anyway…. And I can always go back, but I don’t think it’ll be a problem! So I want to move in. I think it’ll be really nice."

She then grinned, squeezing his hands.
“There’s a few things you should know before I move in with you. First, I’m really clingy in bed. I sleep best when I’m hugging something or being hugged. So you better be prepared to have no space when sleeping. Second, I can be quite grumpy when I wake up. You were lucky this morning… Lastly, I can’t cook. The one time I tried I managed to burn pasta and almost set the apartment I shared with my friends down… they banned me from cooking after that. So knowing all that, do you still want to live with me?"

Casey frowned a bit listening to her qualifiers. It wasn’t that he had a problem with any of it; there were no real problems there. He didn’t expect dinner on the table when he got home, and he was used to catching whatever sleep he could find in the worst possible places. Cramped, hot, musty, didn’t matter. Grumpy either; he’d been trained during the height of the War, there were no “kind and gentle” drill sergeants.

No, Casey simply wasn’t worried about any of that. It was simply what her perception of things was that worried him.
He took a deep breath, eyes trailing downward with a huff.
”It’s… Real sweet you’re worried. But you’re the last thing I’m worried about in this situation… I feel like I need to ask a lot more of you than you need to ask of me.”
His expression was totally apprehensive, and he looked like he was a bit strained thinking about the situation.

”If we’re being honest like that, then… Well, you already kind of saw. You’ve gotten a good sample of what makes my life hard. I… Well, the nightmares to start. I slept sound with you, and maybe that was a fluke, but usually I’m not sleeping. My eyes are closed, I lay there, but when sleep comes so do the bombs and the screams… Sometimes I wake up and I’m screaming, or I’m weeping, so I just… Don’t.”
He shrugged his shoulders, a thousand voices saying “Why don’t you just get it taken care of?”. It was, somehow, shameful despite the nobility he imagined was in it.

Casey felt someone had to carry the pain that others couldn’t, to remind them that War should never be the first option. To teach and to help others understand that there was a reason humans should avoid open warfare. If nothing else, the people involved were testament, and his memories were key to remembering their faces. Their suffering. From the bodies of the young to the grizzled and hateful faces of the old, it was a cycle of hate and pain.
He had to remember it.

”And then there’s… This. This place, this work thing, this thing of my Faith. It’s complex, and not just because it's something I believe in. This… Security position. I think she’s going to make a bigger deal out of it than is necessary: To break my balls. Mother never gives with both hands, as it were; there’s always one hand ready to give, and the other ready to take. I… I don’t necessarily want to put up with it, but… Suffice to say, if God didn’t think all these struggles were necessary, it’s my belief that it wouldn’t have given it’s voice to Lynette Richoux.”

He looked up from his shameful expression, meeting Trisha’s eyes.
”There’s a chance I’ll be gone often. That you’ll be left to your own devices for who knows how long exactly. Like someone travelling for business, except I’d… Well, most likely I wouldn’t be far. Can’t imagine getting further North than Seattle. South? Maybe, but… If we’re going to California, I’d like to take you. Spend time at the beach, maybe get you out on a boat to do some fishing? Go flower shopping?”

Casey got a bit closer to Trisha, arms wrapping around her waist and pulling her tight.
”If you think you can deal with all that, then… I’d be honored to live with you.”

“What’s the difference between being alone in a place that's ours or a place that's mine? At least you'd eventually come back to our place," Trisha said softly. She wriggled her arms under his to hug him back, hands resting on his back. She knew that wasn't the whole point. It wasn't even the most important bit. There was the sleeping - she didn't know how to deal with someone who woke up screaming, but she could probably handle the crying. It wasn't like she had a job that required her up and early after an interrupted night. And the faith…

She didn't really get it. She'd never had it, so she couldn't understand some higher power making people suffer for some convoluted reason. Why put up with so much shit for practically nothing? But she kept those thoughts to herself, because it wasn't her place… yet. He'd followed it his whole life, and she'd only known him for a day.
“I can deal with all of it. I don't really understand Faith and what comes with it, but it's fine. And for the sleeping… if you don't sleep at all then you're just getting to cuddle me while I'm sleeping, which is a great privilege, you know. If you do and you wake up crying I'll just hug you till you stop, if you're screaming… I don't know, I'll figure something out. I'm tougher than I look, you know," she smiled warmly at him, after quickly weighing up her options. Maybe this was where she should cut and run - because these were issues she normally wouldn't even bother tolerating. But in such a short period Casey had already tolerated her. It had just been the smaller things, but that was enough to make most people she dated drop her just like that. She didn't want to let that go. “Especially if you take me to California. I've never been fishing, but I bet I'd be alright at it- and I love beaches. Not that I visited many, but there's just something relaxing about them."

She tilted her head up, stretching her neck to lightly kiss the bottom of his chin before smiling again.
“Let’s move in and handle all the challenges together. And if all the shit with your job gets too much? We can go kick down my brother's door and get him to provide our next apartment, since it'd only be fair. Try out what my side of the family would be like to deal with… Probably a bit easier, I've figured out exactly how to get what I want out of Ezra… When his security doesn't stop me."

Casey couldn’t help but let a small tear leak from his eye, which he quickly covered up by bending and pressing himself close, burying his head in the crook of her neck and resting there with slow, gentle breathing.
”Then it’s settled. We’ll… Well, actually, maybe you-”
Isn’t this fast? What did you say last night? That you weren’t just going to jump int-
”-should take care of moving whatever you want. Or, us. You and I. I was going to say that the Temple would be able to provide some movers, but if you had furniture, it’d be a dangerous game letting one of them get anywhere they could hide something… But, then, it’s still her building.”

Casey pulled back from the hug, a half-annoyed and half-glazed look in his eyes. His trauma was struggling with his enthusiasm, the two ethereal titans clashing against one another for dominance as he desperately tried to pull himself out of the fire. A huff of air left his nostrils like the ghost of a laugh haunting the moment.
”This is hard. Because I’m supposed to try and trust her. And I don’t know how to, and exposing you to that makes my skin crawl. Because you’re never going to think what I think, or believe what I believe entirely, you’re always going to have a disconnect when it comes to understanding why… Why I can’t really do anything about this.”
He shrugged his shoulders, shaking his head.

”But you’re not backing down. I have to give you that. It’s why I think you’re so fucking cool, Trisha Bee. So, if you really want to go on this ride with me, I’m seriously honored to have you to share the sights with. Because I think I could love you for a long time. Forever, maybe.”

“I do," Trisha managed to say, brain grinding to a halt for a moment as Casey's words played on repeat in her mind. Could love you for a long time… Did that mean he already- no, he said could. He could see himself loving her eventually and it lasting a long time. Even if he did- it should be scary, but it just made her feel happy. He wasn't going to just leave her. It wasn’t enough to make her feel safe, to satiate all her anxieties, but it was a start. What he said had such permanence, warming up her entire body and darkening her cheeks as sparks crackled in her chest. It took a moment, but eventually it stopped playing over and over again in her head, and the warmth in her cheeks receded slightly.
“I really do want to. I really like you, Casey, so I’m willing to deal with it all."

She reached up to cup his face with her hands, thumbs lightly rubbing his cheeks, her smile soft and gentle.
“I’m not going to tell you that you should trust your mother or anything, and I probably won’t understand… But yeah, I won’t back down, and I’ll have your back. I’m really good at getting what I want, just so you know, and since what I want is you, I won’t let anything else get in the way."

It wasn’t quite true - she was good at getting what she wanted materially, but never emotionally. It was easy to demand money from a half-brother she didn’t care for, and who would rather shove cash in her bank than ever talk to her. She got gifts from her mom when they were together because it was easier than actually talking. But this time would be different… hopefully.

“I don’t really have furniture I’m attached to outside of the hive- will the place already be furnished at all, or do we need to bring all that? Only some of the stuff in my room is mine, anyway, and I don’t think Sabrina would be happy if I stole the bed… If we don’t need furniture it’ll be easy. You have a car, I have a car, we can just load them both up with my stuff, it’ll take one or two trips, I bet." She tilted her head, thinking about it. She had a lot of clothes and just stuff in general, and had no idea what kind of space they’d have.
“I’d probably need to see the place before I even thought about packing… I have a lot. I’ll probably leave some of it at Sabrina’s for storage…"

She trailed off, laughing.
“I’ll figure it out, but I don’t think it’ll be hard. I could move in today if I really wanted to."

Casey’s expression grew thoughtful as he considered what sort of work would need to be done to move in.
”I… I think the furniture up there is pretty crappy? Besides their daughter’s room, I hear Furio complaining all the time about the bed and stuff. I could probably dip into my portion of our Dad’s money for some furniture, since I’d need it whether I was moving there or in some different state. I’ll just have to ask my Big Sister to, uh… Authorize it, I guess. I’m not sure how it all works.”
He cleared his throat and shrugged his shoulders. His head turned to the stone with so many different carvings in it. Little pictures, or quotes. Nuggets of inspiration his Father had given the writers throughout the years.

He saw his own carving.
See you soon.

Not soon enough that the government wasn’t willing to consider him dead. So dead that his estate could be broken up among the names in the will: His wife, and a certain portion to each child. All he knew was that his should’ve been untouched. He wasn’t sure whether to thank the old man or to apologize for pillaging.
He spun, holding Trisha’s hand tightly.

”Not to rile you up… But if Leon said the same thing to my Mom and to Lena that he said to me: I really don’t care about shit like that. I can’t stress that enough. You’re you to me, and that’s all, no matter who was around first or what you’ve done with them. So, the next time someone like HitLena the Fuhrer gives you shit and tries to use it against you? I want you to think of my face, and I want you to smile back at them; because you shouldn’t be able to see them past me. I’m what matters, just like you’re what matters to me.”

So Casey already knew. Well… that was fine. For now. He seemed to be fine with it, he said he was fine with it, it was just difficult to believe. Though it wasn't like she'd ever cheated, and it was rarely the reason people broke up with her… it was just one of the many things her mom used against her.
“I’m not sure I could think of your face if it's her," Trisha half laughed, glancing away before looking back with what she hoped passed as a joking smile. “She’s just too ugly! There's no way… it's like trying to imagine a really nice meal while eating dog food."

And if only it was as easy as them being what mattered to each other. How nice it would be to not care about other people's opinions, to be able to just grin and bear it. She couldn't do that. She definitely didn't want to give false promises that she could, because that would just lead to more disappointment when she broke them.
“I’ll try not to let them get to me next time." Next time she'd just punch Lena in the face and be done with it.

“You're not going to rile me up by bringing this stuff up afterwards, it's just in the moment…" she continued. While that wasn't strictly true, when it was brought up like this it was fine. He wasn't repeating what Lena had said, or bringing back any old arguments… She smiled slightly, squeezing his hand.
“It’s fine now, anyway…" time to change the topic back to something easier. “If we're going to replace the furniture, does that mean we can go furniture shopping? I've never actually gone to a shop for something like that… I've hardly chosen my own furniture and it's always online. I'd like to go together and pick everything out- it'll be fun. And we can split some of the costs. I have money from my dad too, and the last job I did. Then I won't feel so guilty when I start demanding a specific type of wood."
She was joking about the last bit, but she did want to help pay for it.

Casey was half tempted to just blurt out something to his mother, assuming there was a listening post nearby enough that she’d be interested: But he was supposed to trust her. The phrase kept echoing in his head for a long while as they started their walk back toward the Temple grounds proper.
”Being honest with you, I'm not terribly attached to one style or another. I guess I’d… Probably want a bigger tank for Traitor. Maybe think about getting some other kinds of friends for him, some kind of big suction fish to help filter things. And, being up there, I can make it… Well, pretty magical? I think I can work some spells out for extra space around the place, since it’s a bit smaller.”
He waved his hand.
”Anyway, my point was asking what sort of like… Look, you had in mind? If you want, I can give Clarissa a call and she can come shopping with us, since she knows the place best and can give us an idea on dimensions. She’s real laid back, definitely the kind of person you want to meet. We call her Auntie Happy.” he smiled.

Trisha had no idea what look she had in mind. She didn’t have a look in mind at all. She’d never actually thought about something like that. She’d decorated her room and gotten more shelving, made it something like a home - but it was just a bedroom, and a lot of the furniture was already there. A whole apartment was more than that. What did she want…
“I’d like it to be cosy," Trisha eventually said. “It’s not really specific, but I want it to feel like… a warm home. Greens and blues and wood colours, maybe? Or reds… Colour doesn’t really matter. Just not like where I grew up, which looked fancy but had no feeling. But I don’t actually have a specific look."

Just being able to choose it herself, with him, would be nice. She’d never had that opportunity, beyond the bedroom in her current place.
“And if Clarissa really lives up to the Aunt Happy name, let’s invite her along. My idea of space is definitely way off, I grew up in a mansion and my mom’s place was pretty big too. Without some guidance I’ll probably choose a bunch of stuff that can barely fit, and then we’ll be squeezed in there with all our furniture. We’d have to do everything standing… it’d be like an indoor assault course."

She laughed at the thought of that.
”Oh, I’ll need somewhere to work too… It can just be a corner of a room, anywhere I can fit my computer. I don’t always have work, so it can be used for other things too- it’s a really good desktop, if you want to use it."

At first he thought she was talking about a place to work with the bees, and he was going to ask a dumb question. But, she started talking about computers, and Casey smiled.
”You work on your computer? Designing stuff? Or like, the codes? Programs and stuff?”
He cleared his throat, thinking about all the times they’d tried their hardest to get him to use a computer in the Reserve. He was used to hitting the Comm to beam something across half a mile on a secure magical channel. Computers were the real magic, and frankly he was intimidated by their complexity. Even looking things up online was generally foreign, his only real experience being with his phone that he had to ask Mia’s help with all the time.

Sometimes the calluses on his fingers made it so the screen couldn’t detect him touching it. He’d learned to almost exclusively use the ring finger, since it’d been “underutilized” during his service.
He thought about the equipment that he’d requested from his Mother to make her special requests a reality. He was security, but he was also arms and armory. The tenth floor was being converted into a smithy, the six different apartments hosting different extremely secure spaces for storing and distributing magically enchanted equipment. Low budget artifacts, whose component costs would be covered by the sale of the easily manufactured and highly effective magical ammunition he’d been in charge of producing for his men.

Casey’s entire effective career in the Army had been based around the application of magic to empower available equipment. He had a list of spells the length of his arm, and had been the man in charge of a team producing thousands of rounds of magical ammunition an hour for several different groups.
He wasn’t educated. He was specialized.
”One of the apartments downstairs… The actual security apartment, the one with the cameras and computers. Not every room is full of stuff, so we can still work closely without being forced into the same room. And I mean, there’s a kitchen and everything. If the machines get too loud you can close the apartment door and your office room door.”

Casey had a thoughtful look still lingering on his face as he shuffled for his phone in his pocket.
”This uh… The… Psych doctor they had me seeing in the Reserve said that it’s not good to have one’s work and life occupy the same space. So, you get a little separation with it too, the whole flight of stairs you need to walk down into the offices. And you can leave your window open for the bees, we can do whatever you want to it. And and,-”

Turning round the path to avoid a hill, the two came face to face with themselves. Casey stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the mirror-like surface.
”-uhhhh?”
It was a teardrop surface standing erect like a tree stump in the middle of the forest… Like some ornamental mirror glass had been hung from the spot. Casey pulled Trisha a little closer.
”This… Isn’t something I’ve heard about.”

”What the fuck," Trisha hissed at suddenly being faced with herself. She’d been trying to figure out how to explain her contracting job in a way that made it not sound lame, though since he called it ‘the codes’ that shouldn’t be too hard, and wasn’t prepared for the sudden stop. Or that. If it was something Casey hadn’t heard about, they didn’t know what they were dealing with, which immediately put her on edge.

She closed her eyes, just in case seeing her own reflection somehow did something. It- well, the Stygian Snake had been good at mind tricks. She didn’t want to risk it.
”I’ll check it," she whispered, not really meaning herself. Her body tensed slightly as she sent just one bee closer to the reflective surface. Maybe it wasn’t dangerous, maybe it was, but it was easier to put one small thing at risk. The bee flew close enough that the beating off its wings could be felt.

Feeling somewhat threatened by its fellow flying insect, the massive butterfly’s wings unfurled in two stages. Tremendous carapace joints snapped into place as it showered a solid ten foot diameter with so much pearlescent dust that it coated them both in a mirror-like bismuthine finish.
The actual beating noises as it began to take off were like truck mud flaps smacking against rocks or something else being thrown up by the moving tires. A stupendous amount of effort seemed to go into getting enough momentum for the gargant to pull itself from the perch of a tree it’d sat on.

If it was in fear, it clearly had no chance in acting on that fear with any reasonable response. After a few flaps spread the silvery rainbow shimmering dust in a wider area, it must’ve been satisfied by the threat response; the creature settled down with newly ruffled pearl white fuzz devoid of the built up film.

It was everywhere else. One big mirror glitter bomb. Casey looked down at his body, then at Trisha, and then he couldn’t do anything but start laughing hysterically.

Trisha was shocked, while being bombarded by panicked bee pheromones that led to more panicked bees all clinging to her. They reacted before she did, beginning to try to shake the shimmering dust off of their little bodies. Trisha was still staring at the massive butterfly like creature. Then, finally, she looked at Casey. Then herself.

”What-" Trisha started, before stopping. She wasn’t laughing like Casey, though she wasn’t exactly annoyed about it either. The whole thing was just strange. How was she meant to react?! ”Was that meant to scare us off? It didn’t- achoo!"

Trisha sneezed loudly as some of the dust got up her nose, wrinkling it uncomfortably. With a light huff, she reached up to take her hair out of its ponytail. Silver specks fell off it as it tumbled onto her shoulders and she then leaned forward, properly shaking it out. Once it seemed mostly free of dust, she tied it back up into a bun so it wouldn’t pick up anymore. Hopefully. Then she straightened back up and shook out all of her limbs. A little bit less covered, she turned to Casey again… and finally started laughing over it.
”You look like a massive disco ball- if you stood right in the sun I bet you could blind someone."

Casey took a bit of a fanciful approach toward ridding himself of the powder, disco dancing his way around until most of it was shaken loose.
”Y’know, I’ve got a feeling I’m gonna get an annoyed text message later about how we use this stuff for something… It just feels too familiar to not have a bad feeling. C’mon, let’s get the hell out of here.” he kept laughing, patches of the dust still clumped in his hair as they made their way out toward the realm of the living again.
Hidden 20 days ago Post by FernStone
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Casey’s Car > Barker Brothers

They were in the car, driving back towards the city… Casey had called Clarissa, but since she didn’t answer it made sense just to head back. Trisha sat in the passenger seat with her knees drawn up against her chest, absentmindedly looking out the window.

With Casey driving, Trisha took the opportunity and lull in conversation to pull out her phone and checked it properly for the first time since… before meeting Casey. When she was alone she’d often be glued to her phone or computer - not so much out of a want to use it, rather than a hope of getting contacted. It meant when she wasn’t alone she didn’t really look at it much.

She frowned slightly as she opened up her messenger. Hundreds of messages in the group chat with her eight college friends… Expected. A couple in the girls only group, also normal. But… There were also about a hundred messages in a new chat named ‘Ruining Trisha’s Weekend.


Trisha rolled her eyes at her phone, and considered straight up turning it off so she didn’t have to deal with that at all. But they would actually find her… and she did kind of miss them. It would be nice to see them. It was just the suddenness of it, and introducing Casey to them. She wasn’t fucking prepared for it. But that’d be fine. They’d met most of her exes… Right, it would be fine.

”Soooo…" Trisha broke the silence, locking her phone and putting it back in her jacket pocket. She did want Casey to meet her friends - the only friends who she had regular contact with - but it worried her. What if they judged him or scared him away? Or he didn’t like them… Well, it wasn’t like they could visit often, aside from Reyna. Yeah, if it all went wrong, she’d just make sure they never met again.

”Are you free this weekend?" She tilted her head to look over at him, arms wrapping around her legs. ”The college friends I mentioned are visiting… I just found out, because why would they tell me in advance? Ugh- anyway, they’d like to meet you. I’d like you to meet them, but if you’re going to be busy with the new security job that’s fine. Or if you just don’t want to, because they can be a lot. They’re nice but intense. It’s totally up to you."

Casey had mostly been focused on the road, half lost in a memory of France. She said her friends were intense, but all he thought about was the quid pro quo of the whole situation. Of course he’d put in whatever sort of effort he had to match her bravery. She was moving in with him!
”Well, I’ll kind of have a grace period. Furio’s still going to be coming around pretty frequently for the next couple of weeks while I learn everything… I think we have a place they can stay if they’ll be staying the night. Not glamorous by any means, but f-”

What was he saying? They were friends of a Vanburen; it was all gravy. What’d they care about forking over for a downtown hotel suite.
”They probably don’t need it, but feel free to let them know it’s a free place to crash. Private, they can stay as long as they want, and it’d be right downstairs from us. There’s so many empty apartments in that building, half of them are storage. It’s… Kind of meant to be a… Stronghold… For… When, y’know…”
He clammed up, clearing his throat as he thought about how to present the idea that he’d always thought was perfectly normal until he made it into the military.

You mean your parents aren’t building magical forts to dominate the coming new world?
Casey shook his head, vaguely shrugging his shoulders and trying not to make himself look crazier than he already probably had. Between the Temple and here, he probably looked psychopathic to her. So brave to stick around…

”I think they’re staying a couple nights… Unless they’re going back to Portland after just a night. They probably have somewhere, but I’ll ask." Trisha wasn’t sure she wanted them to be the floor below her, because then they’d know she’d moved in with Casey and she knew they’d have some thoughts and harsh words on that. She didn’t want to deal with it. Plus, Cass was intrusive as fuck and Reyna was nosey. Thankfully Reyna was also organised and would’ve definitely booked a place.

She paused for a moment, what he’d said about the apartments being some kind of stronghold registering. That was… pretty smart. Was it like orange lux reinforced? Or just a more secure place? A lot of buildings were destroyed when the Stygian Snake was in the city, so it made sense.
”So if something like the Stygian Snake appears again, we’ll be pretty safe?" Trisha asked, seeming to not find it strange at all. After all, the city was beset with magical dangers… and the Stygian Snake had been a big one. Absentmindedly, her hand rested on her upper abdomen, where a scar she’d never gotten magically fixed lay. Ignoring the feelings that came with that, she grinned and joked, ”good to know that I can sit out the next world ending threat- I did my part! I’ll just hunker down in our apartment."

With a light laugh she pulled back out her phone, and shot off a message to the group chat - getting an immediate response back. A few messages and she had her answer, along with enough annoying messages she wanted to turn this thing off again.
”They’ve rented an apartment, but they want to stay there next time… whenever that might be." She shrugged. ”In case you’re worried my friends will be stuck up or anything, they’re not rich like I am. I went to a public college, surprisingly… Anyway, I think they’re quite normal in that regard? Oh- but I should warn you, one of them- Reyna- is an adept. White and… whatever deals with emotional stuff. She can be a bit annoying about just reading auras. She’ll definitely do it to you to make sure you-"

Should’ve stopped at explaining what she did, well done, Trisha, good luck not sounding like a dick.
”That you’re not an asshole."

”Oh, you went to school with someone magical? Did you know one another before?”
He didn’t exactly love Pink Lux users. Learning from Hari, he found out that most of them were… Problematic. It was the power of using your knowledge to manipulate people. His mother often went on about how the world had been spared “Lynette of the Fuschia Crown”.
”Pink Lux. White and Pink. Apparently it’s kind of a common pair, and it works really well in tandem. Shrinks and fast talkers, conpeople. Hari’s a Pinkie too. She taught me about how it works when we were kids. Mom used to have her settle our arguments as practice; we’d all gather around as a family and let Hari dump our brains into a union.”

Yeah… Too much information. Thankfully Casey’s cellphone started ringing. He pulled it out without his eyes leaving the road.
”Warrant Richoux.---. Yep, in the car. Driving down now. —. What? What do you me-”
There was a noise like metal being ripped in half by some sort of destructive force. It was loud, it filled the car, and worst of all it send Casey into a panic. His phone left his hand at mach speed as both hands gripped the wheel and he stuffed the accelerator of the car into the floor.

In the back seat, there was a blinding purple rip in reality that expanded until it was about the size of a door, its shape literally clipping through the solid environment of the vehicle. Carefully, a great big blonde afro stuck its way through, staring forward at the two of them. Clarissa saw Casey’s immediate panic.
”Casey, Casey! Easy, Boo-bear! Easy!”
Casey’s head spun rapidly.
”Clarissa, what the fuck!?”

Carefully, Clarissa let one leg step through the portal into the back seat of the car, followed by the other leg before she made a kind of hopping motion. The portal slammed shut instantly, and Clarissa fell onto the seat.
He was slowing down now that he knew the “convoy” wasn’t under attack, but Casey was still shaking and taking great gulps of air.
”Jesus! Do you know how many times I’ve heard noises like that?! I can tell you, a tank shell peeling an armored transport’s roof off sounds just like that.”

Clarissa was dressed very casually, frilly cuffs on her blouse and a little vest covering the front. Flared bottom pants. A pick was still stuffed in her hair.

”Awwww Sweetheart, I’m so sorry Boo… I wish I could change the sound of it myself, but… It’s pretty intimidating. Scared the shit out of you, didn’t it?” she cackled, adjusting herself in the back seat.
”And loooook at you! I do remember that sour little face… You’re Trisha? My name is Clarissa Natale, Baby… It’s nice to not be watching y’all from afar.”
She held her hand out to Trisha, a wide toothy grin on her face.

Trisha was still trying to convince herself that she wasn’t about to die. One hand had shot out and grabbed Casey’s wrist, squeezing tightly, while the other gripped her seat brace herself for the suddenly stop. Twenty bees had flown out from her jacket, with about half of them hitting the window and ending up rolling about the dashboard in a state of disorientation. The others were also confused, buzzing all around the car in an attempt to find the threat.

”... Hello," Trisha managed to get out, taking a deep breath. She let go of the seat and Casey’s wrist, gently patting his arm before she twisted around to look at Clarissa. With a slightly shaky smile, totally passing as calm and collected, she reached out and shook her head. At least there wasn’t a hug this time.
”I’d say it’s nice to meet you, but my ears are still ringing- one minute."

Trisha realised her bees were still bouncing from wall to wall in the car like fluffy, panicked ping pong balls. At least they hadn’t tried to sting Clarissa yet - because they didn’t realise she was the ‘threat.’ Pursing her lips, Trisha took another deep breath, calming down her alarm pheromones and turning them back to soothing ones. Slowly the bees stopped. They didn’t come back to her, but instead landed in various spots in the car, on high alert. It was easier to talk now.
”Yeah, I’m Trisha… do you know me from before? My face has been pretty cheerful lately-" That wasn’t really the point, but apart from the stuff with Lena a little while ago, she had been in a generally good mood since meeting Casey. A lot of smiling! ”Alright, it’s nice to meet you, and not be watched from afar… can you just teleport into any car? That was fucking- something."

Clarissa gave a big belly laugh.
”No, I can’t! This was one of our fleet cars a few years back, so I had fixed points in all of them in case of shenanigans!”
She cleared her throat.
”One of my jobs a long time ago was making sure Leon stayed safe, which meant a lot of watching you Sycamore Kids doin’ the damn thang. You always looked a little… Annoyed? I thought it was cute, my Daughter’s the exact same now. That lil’ pouty look.”

Her smile was so bright and so wide open it was hard not to get lost in it. And her voice was warm, unironic, and motherly with a gentle authority in its body.
”But now you’re here with our favorite Soldier! God’s chosen Warrior! Clarissa said with a great deal of conviction. Her hand reached around the seat and tightly clasped Casey’s shoulder.

He reached his own up and held hers’ tenderly.
”Oh, don’t start with that Auntie.”
”Listen, Boy, you made it through the hottest war this planet’s seen in thousands of years! If God don’t shine out the Richoux Family’s ass, I don’t know what does… ANYWAY! Lil’ Miss Trisha… You’re moving in? Already? My Furi… We were talking about kids a few days after we met, I’ll be honest… It took us years to actually get it done, but that’s just because we were so busy!” she chattered away in the back seat, her hands moving around. She was also fairly touchy, fingers tapping Trisha’s shoulders punctually on occasion.

”It’s not like I’m stuck if I move in," Trisha laughed, playing it off as a joke - even though it was true. The perks of being rich and having a sister with a large house with far too many rooms. But… She would quite happily be stuck if it meant that Casey was also stuck with her. It was only a problem if- when- he wanted out.
”I already know I want to spend all- well, most- of my time with Casey, that’s easier if we live together. I would’ve basically moved in anyway… But we’re not. It’s just the moving in. We’re taking everything else slow, right?" She looked at Casey for confirmation. There were some things she didn’t mind speeding up - things she could back out of, if needed, that wouldn’t leave her more hurt at the end. Others, not so much. If he started talking about kids in a few days, she wasn’t sure how she’d handle it.

Casey’s head turned slightly to answer Trisha, but it seemed to be destiny that the strong women in his life would speak before his own thoughtful personality allowed him to.
”Oooh girl, he’s a tortoise! You want slow?-” she playfully tugged at a tuft of Casey’s long hair, causing him to strain and laugh at the same time.
”-This is your man for slow. You know he ain’t stop breastfeeding until he was six years old! Too scared to use silverware, he would panic if you got anywhere near him with a fork or a knife.”

Casey’s expression got sour. How could he explain that the cats used to lob forks and knives at him from the dark of his closet?

”It was so cute, and he had that little stone-face otherwise, like he was all tough. But you couldn’t go anywhere near water with him or he’d fuss and scream until he was like eight. Remember your Daddy tossed you into the river and made Leon swim out to get you?”
”Yeah, just… More trauma, Auntie! Yaaaaaay…”

He patted his head gently.
”That’s why it’s important that you’re a big, strong man now. You can protect the people you love, and do things you never would’ve done before. You ain’t that little scaredy baby.”
Clarissa’s expression grinned at Trisha.
”He’ll do well by you, is what I mean. Even if you’re eager to stand by him, he’s gonna walk at your pace. The Soldier’s Drum.”

She held her other hand on Trisha’s shoulder, her thumbs rubbing the both of them comfortingly.
”Honestly? I’m just happy we’re getting out of that place. It’s been awesome living up there, it’s private and the view is amazing, but fuck me if we ain’t outgrown the bitch. It’ll be great for the two of you though, just perfect. Trisha, Honey, what’s your style like? What’re you thinkin’? Casey’s gonna bring us on down to the Barker Brothers, and we’re gonna look at some beautiful stuff, like how we got our actual house furnished. Elise approved you up, Case?”

Casey nodded.
”Yeah, the transfer has already gone through I’m pretty sure.”

The image of young Casey too scared to use cutlery made Trisha’s lips twitch up into a bit of a smile, because how did knives and forks scare anyone? The water wasn’t nearly as funny. If someone had thrown Trisha in a river when she was young she still wouldn’t want to be near it. Not that she even knew how to swim now.

”I know he will," Trisha said softly, mostly to herself, about Casey doing well by her. Perhaps it was to convince herself and that irrational anxiety that said otherwise. But so far he had. He’d already done so much for her.

But there wasn’t the time to dwell on that anyway. There was furniture shopping to think about! Something she had absolutely no experience in because, unlike some of her siblings who got their bedrooms redone regularly, she’d always moved into furnished places. The most she’d bought was some more shelving. She hadn’t even heard of Barker Brothers. But she was going to fake knowing exactly what she wanted.

”My style is… cozy, I’d say. Warm colours, or more natural colours- I like green. I like the space being used without being too cluttered. My mom’s place was minimally decorated and didn’t feel lived in, so it always felt cold. I don’t want a home like that. I want a place that really feels like… home. Probably simpler things, too." She laughed, rubbing the back of her neck. There was a discomfort there, with how intense and familiar Clarissa was acting, but the hand on her shoulder didn't bother her anywhere near as much as the hugs from Lynette had.
”Probably surprising, considering I’m a Vanburen, but I didn’t really like the style of where I grew up. Dad's wasn't as bad as mum's, it was very lived in, but it was so fancy it was intimidating."

Clarissa patted Casey’s shoulder excitedly.
”Dude! She loves green!
Casey was laughing immediately, shaking his head and turning an embarrassed shade of red on his otherwise pale cheeks.
”Yeah, yeah… I heard that…”

The woman was hopping up and down with enthusiasm, her hand smacking his shoulder again and again until he had to shoo it away.
”This. Boy. Loves. Green! He had this little dinosaur jacket that he used to wear when he was a baby, and when you tried to get him a different color sweater or something he would just ball. It was so fuckin’ cute.”
She laughed aloud, her mind tracing back to those good old days of being their Godmother. All the trouble those kids got into…

”You gotta understand, Trisha: Lynette? She’s somethin’ else. Kids? Never should’ve had ‘em. But the Lord requires things of us, so like her duty, here they are. And honestly? I love every single one of these kids just like they’re my own. They’re the sole reason Furio and I waited so long to have our daughter… I was almost Forty by the time our baby girl was born, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t ready for everything motherhood could throw at me. It’s been perfect. Just perfect.”

Her gaze trailed to Trisha, eyes tired and accented by the crow’s rake marks of time. She was still glowing. Maybe it was the hair, but the smile was just so Goddamn friendly, how could one not feel a little warmth? The passion, the enthusiasm.

It couldn’t be… Real?

”So, one thing I was told is that there’s a general rule of thumb when it comes to stuff like colors. You want mostly neutral things, anything big you’re gonna go for. Couch, rugs, shit like that? Mostly neutral. Whites, beige, light browns; there’s a ton of windows in the place. You’ll definitely want something that goes well with the natural lighting. Not like that fucking dungeon downstairs, God in Heaven…”

“I really don't want it to be like that," Trisha laughed, shaking her head and smiling at Clarissa. It was difficult not to feel comfortable in her presence. And she was right, the basement apartment practically sucked in all the light. Trisha wasn't that fussy when it came to colours - when it came to her wardrobe, she had just about the whole spectrum. She had her preferences. But a living place that was completely black? No way. What she was getting from this, though, was that painting your apartment completely black pointed to not being mother material. Though from just one meeting she knew there were plenty of other reasons Lynette wasn't made for it… not that her own mom was much better. That hadn't even been out of ‘duty.’
“My sister's place- where I live just now- is the complete opposite. Bright white, kind of cold. I think I'd like light browns. Then it'll go with any green bits, since we both like it."

She turned her head to grin at Casey.
“Maybe we can pick you up a new dinosaur jacket too? Ooo, that can be the theme- bees and dinosaurs! How cute would that be?" She giggled, covering her mouth as she did. Her eyes creased into cute half moons as she pictured it. It was cute that it was something they shared - the like of green that was. The way he'd blushed over it was cute too. “Light browns, some greens, some yellows… that sounds nice. Comfortable furniture too. What else? I guess it'll be easier to figure out the specifics when we get there…"

She twisted in her seat again to look back at Clarissa.
“How big is it? The apartment… what kind of furniture can we fit in there?"

Clarissa held back as best she could, but her lips peeled into a precocious grin. A hot laugh bubbled up from her chest, and her afro began to bounce around.
”Oh, no!” Clarissa croaked, her composure cracking until she was finally sprawled across the back seat laughing hysterically.
”No you didn’t! Nooooo!”

Casey’s brow raised up, and he checked the back seat in the mirror.
”Alright, Giggles; what’d I miss?”
It only prompted Clarissa to laugh harder, until after a long few moments she finally came to her senses and sat back up.
”Oh my God… If you don’t see what’s funny in that, you’re both on the same page. And that’s just adorable.”
She cleared her throat, wiping the tears away before leaning back.

”I love where y’all got your heads at. We have a theme, and I think that’s great. But, let’s expand on it a bit; because if you’re just smashin’ bodily fluid colors together, it ain’t gonna go down great. Good news is, we can separate the spaces. And the last catalogue I got, they were havin’ this retro theme… Old cloth prints are chique again! Like back in my parents’ day, when you had a corduroy couch with the wooden arms on it…”
Clarissa’s head tilted back as she sniffed at the air.

”I can still smell every bit of the old cigarette smoke in those couches… Awful awful shit.”
She shook her head.
”But not you two… Pot stink is fine, it comes out easier than nicotine soak. As far as the space, baby, I’d say you’re lookin’ at like eight-hundred or so square feet. Most of it is the main room, it’s got a high ceiling, and the bedroom overlooks the room, shares the windows with it so it gets all that nice light. It’s so pretty on a cool winter morning. Up there, you’d probably fit a king bed if you didn’t plan on having any other furniture up there, but it’s also not technically the big bedroom. Before she was born, I had a little office up there, but once she got too many toys and things, we decided to move our bed up there. So, I’d say we should keep it conservative, but it’s all neutral for color. Nice hard wood floors and glass walls with some places that are insulated walls. Mostly interior walls.”

Trisha didn’t understand why Clarissa was laughing at first. She pursed her lips, clamping down on her initial reaction. Had she said something stupid? No, no… What was it that Cass always said? We’re laughing with you, not at you. It must be that. But what Clarissa was laughing at, she really didn’t get. Bodily fluid colours? What does that- oh. Her nose scrunched up as she realised what was so funny. Vomit colours. Right. You’re so amazing, couldn’t even pick furniture colours correctly.

Her fingers dug into her thighs as she forced herself to relax again, and smile like it was nothing. Just think about the furniture. Eight-hundred square feet. She tried to picture it. That was about… 28 feet wall length. Probably not much bigger than her room. Well, that was fine. She didn’t need a lot of living space.
”We don’t really need anything but a bed in the bedroom, do we?" Trisha said, lips pressing together as she thought about it. Right now, everything was in her bedroom, but that wasn’t necessary. Just have it for sleeping, the main room for living… and then an office in another flat. ”Corduroy is nice… I have a couple of corduroy pants… And conservative is fine, if you think that’d be best. I don’t want something flashy, anyway. I want to feel comfortable rather than showing off."

Though she also did like showing off herself, material belongings were never a way she’d wanted to do it. It wasn’t like she’d earned the money herself and her family just came with bigger problems. She’d rather show off a nice, warm and well lived in home.
”So we can have a big bed up there, since it sounds nice. Then all the storage can go in the other bedroom, I suppose… And everything else in the main room. Couch, a small dining table- only need it to sit two, after all. Space for Traitor. Maybe an indoor hive as well for winter. How much space would that all take up…" She zoned out for a moment, trying to figure through the maths without having the proper sizes for anything. While she’d started failing at the advanced mathematical concepts once she hit college, mental arithmetic was still something she excelled in. ”We could probably fit in a three seater couch with a couple of armchairs. I guess we don’t have to worry about a TV since you already have one, right, Casey? And the rest…"

She paused, smiling. Nobody wanted to hear her go on like this.
”You know what, I don’t want to make any proper decisions before we get there. Maybe there’ll be something we really like. This is my first time properly furnishing a place- when you’re rich, you tend to hire people to do it for you. So I might- I might-" Get a lot wrong. She couldn’t bring herself to say that. ”Get a bit too excited over it."

Clarissa laughed again, snorting and tossing her head back as she clapped her hands.
When ya rich! Girl, I fuckin’ love you already. That’s badass.”
Casey smiled, rubbing Trisha’s leg tenderly with his hand.
”I said that to her! You’ve got the perfect attitude, Trisha, seriously. You probably would’ve made a good soldier if you joined, you’ve got that kind of confidence you need when you’re handling firearms and explosives.”
Clarissa nodded along, the big golden afro bobbing up and down like a child television show’s background sun.

Having pulled her phone out at some point, Clarissa swung it around the front seat to show Trisha. She was on the website for the store: Apparently it was one of those ancient boutiques that survived the restructuring of the Country’s infrastructure in the Internet Age’s childhood. The storefront looked prehistoric compared to the surroundings, which seemed to be what Temple members liked…
The Pre-First War hotel-turned-apartments, the old hilltop church in the middle of nowhere, everything just seemed a little more bespoke than the modern sanitized luxuries found in the Financial Downtown.

But Clarissa scrolled away from the banner image at the top of the webpage, opening up the home furnishing selection for couches and living room sets.
”Here we go! Disco Never Died collection: Honestly, I think you’ll love it. Go ahead, scroll away.” she finished, waggling her phone for Trisha to take.

”Of course I’d make a good soldier, I was already fighting for my life at fourteen. Why wouldn’t I be confident?" Trisha said dryly, with a smile. The compliments were nice, enough to bring a light blush to her cheeks and a warmth in her chest.

Of course, she didn’t actually believe she would. Being in the army required a lot of obedience - a strict hierarchy that needed to be followed. Someone told her what to do and she generally got really pissy about it. If someone tried to use violence or yelling to enforce it, she’d sting them with a thousand bees.

She took Clarissa’s phone, knees pulled back against her chest so her arms could rest on them as she scrolled. She was right, Trisha did like it. Couches of varying designs - patterned, plain coloured ones with soft velour surfaces, ones made from corduroy or tartan, some even large enough to be a bed. It was all simple on the surface, but nicely designed. Tables and shelving made out of natural wood. Some of the designs were weird, but overall it was a style she’d like.

”Yeah, I like it," she held up the phone, showing a green, booth style velour couch. ”This one would be really nice if it would fit. I probably wouldn’t bother going to bed though… Is it strange that I really want to feel it? Just seeing the texture on the screen."

She held Clarissa’s phone back out to her. ”It’s a bit scary how easily you got what I’d like. Will they have this stuff in the store?"

Clarissa nodded.
”Even if they don’t have it, you can order it. If you’re out a few things for a week or two, it ain’t a problem.”


The drive into the city brought them by the apartments again. Clarissa mentioned stopping off and letting Trisha see the space, but both of them insisted that her measurements and knowledge of the space would be plenty. Casey also included the fact that he’d been up there and seen it, and would be happy to input when necessary.

As such, they rolled on to the absolutely parking space devoid boulevard that once served as the City’s main downtown stretch. The frontage of the store was just like the website: Abstract art deco reverse arches held the overhanging facade in the air, creating a six foot lip off the side of the building that climbed almost four floors upward and stretched on for a couple of football fields into the block.
As it turned out, the store was two buildings actually melded together; a strange effect from the days of the Stygian Snake, simply never recognized or reconciled. The public gestalt said this store had always been like this; but head to the town library and look up the plans for it, you’ll never find them.

For members of the Temple, it was a little pilgrimage to visit the Amalgamate. But the Blinds would never know. They wouldn’t be able to see the seams between the structures sewn together at their ass ends with unreality.
After finally getting some parking a quarter-mile down the road and walking back to get to the storefront, they were met in a lobby by a few entry attendants who gave each of them a warm paper cup full of coffee. They asked if the group would need any sort of representative, but Clarissa was quick to decline and they were allowed to roam about the massive superstore without trouble. While the main causeway seemed sleepy and empty, there were dozens of mock rooms and display sets lining the sides of the store.

Dozens and dozens of dioramas had different sales people and their prospective customers chattering about. Some stood, some sat on the sets they were looking to purchase in hopes they’d find the one.
But none of the ones on this floor had anything to do with what they were looking for. Not that they weren’t nice, but Clarissa had heard what Trisha said about the furniture in her current situation.

It was all the most expensive stuff; the kind that would be in a wealthy person’s home. Austere, cold leathers and muted colors. Neutral and boring. Clarissa let out a muffled “Blech-”, turning her head to Trisha and sticking her tongue out.
”Gross and cold. Like someone said ‘make office furniture.’”

There were several escalators, as any good department store had, and they led upward to the second floor which was full of more open displays. Rather, the whole floor to the storage area in the back was full of open displays that seemed to hold different collections. One side was beds, mattresses, drawer sets, general bedroom things.
The other side was living room furniture, and among a flurry of wild colors near the back end, the edge of a fat, forest green friend was hidden cleverly behind some warmly colored wood cabinet.

Clarissa didn’t seem to notice it, and Casey hadn’t actually seen the picture of the couch, but it was there. Ready to be slept on.
She did, however, see the sign that was printed in amazing vintage lettering: “Disco Never Died”.
”Here it is! Oh, man, so when this was the big line, they had downstairs done all in that disco style. Even the clerks, and the sales people, everyone was in a period uniform. I don’t know how they pay for it all.”

Trisha had been looking around the store with barely concealed wonder, like a kid that had stepped foot inside a candy store for the first time. She really hadn’t been in a store like this before - any furniture changes in the Vanburen manor were handled by designers who came in personally, selecting what was best and overseeing its fitting. Her mom, when deciding to change something, just ordered online. She was all about cold efficiency. So there was something exciting about seeing all the furniture on display, arranged in little room sets as if ready to just be selected and inserted into a house.
”That’s some dedication… Surely it can’t have worked out financially- well, I don’t know much about that! But the furniture is nice. Much better than downstairs."

She grinned, very quickly finishing the coffee she’d been handed and crumpling up the paper cup. There was a lot to look at. She wasn’t quite sure where to start. Her eyes darted around, quickly passing around the bolder colours- that wasn’t what she wanted. A few pieces in a brighter blue, green or yellow perhaps, but not the vivid pinks and reds that kept catching her eyes purely because they were so eye-catchingly bright. She was drawn to the living room side first - she was more bothered about how it would look, assuming they'd be spending most of their time there.

Trisha stepped in amongst the furniture and quickly started weaving through it, seeking out the kind of things she actually liked. Tables made of warm looking wood… There was a nice, simple coffee table made to look like it was a cut of a tree trunk which she quite liked. Maybe impractical to fit, but nice to look at. Then, some cabinets- oh!

With a bright smile, she scurried back to the other two. Without thinking much about it, and how childish she might look being so excited over something like this, she grabbed Casey’s hand.
”Come over here, I found the couch I was looking at- you’ll love it." Hopefully. Maybe she didn’t have a good read on his taste yet, beyond her… Pushing away any doubts, Trisha practically dragged (as much as that was possible) Casey over towards the back end of the room. Moving past the cabinet, and it was visible in its full glory - the large, forest screen booth style couch. Trisha gestured to it. ”See! I bet we wouldn’t even need a bed if we got this… I’d definitely fall asleep on it."

With her free hand, other still holding onto Casey’s, she reached out and felt the arm of it. The fabric was soft to touch, but not too textured. Nice. She made to get on it, but paused, looking back. ”Are we allowed to sit on stuff to try it out?"

Clarissa was already diving across the two of them, leaping onto the massive sectional couch and bouncing slightly as she hit the springy cushion with a cackle. Casey was in awe himself, eyes wide and transfixed on the behemoth the moment he saw it.
”Holy shit Trisha! You’re basically fuckin’ right, but honestly… I… God, y’know…”

Clarissa’s hands shot up, grabbing Casey and Trisha by their respective sleeves and tugging them down onto the massive couch.
”Hear me out. I think you should put this in Ivetta’s room. With a new TV. A bigger one, with a nice sound system for yourselves… Trisha, you could even hook up a computer to it-”

She coughed, cleared her throat, and turned her head to Trisha with a bit of a grimace.
”-You… I mean… We know you’re plenty smart. Can’t not know all we can, we do our best to keep up with you kids. Knowing where you are, what you’re up to. I don’t know much about computers myself, but hey ain’t this couch just comfy as hell?”
Casey sighed gently, taking a deep breath.
”It really is. Is this what you wanted, Trisha? I think she’s right about putting it in the other bedroom. Making it like a den, leaving the open space part of the house as more like… Work or entertainment?”

Trisha’s heart jolted in her chest, suddenly speeding up. She had been enjoying the feeling of the couch, falling back on it and stretching out. But there was an instant shift in her demeanour when Clarissa used the words we know. She rolled onto her side, propping herself up on one arm and pulling her legs into her chest. A smaller, more curled up and defensive position. Her other hand landed in front of her, fingers digging into the fabric.

What did they know? That she was plenty smart? No, that was a lie. She wasn’t. If they knew she worked in software development- then they must know almost everything. Or was she just overthinking things? No, with how Lynette had already spied on them. She’d told Casey that it wouldn’t bother her. But this meant they probably knew her grades. All the exams she failed. Her pitiful degree grade. Did they know she wasn’t in contact with her own mom? No, they probably didn’t care. But they knew how much of a failure she was. How she wasn’t good enough. Calling her smart was a lie. Why lie? She didn’t know, but far too many people had said the opposite. Her own mother thought the opposite. She bit down on her lip.

The look she gave Clarissa could only be described as cold. It was like all the emotions Trisha felt - the excitement, the joy - was locked behind icy walls. She withdrew. Any openness, the slight peek in that Clarissa had been given, was gone.
”If you really knew me, you’d know I’m not smart at all," Trisha intoned in a low voice. ”Making some money coding doesn’t make me ‘plenty smart.’"

She turned her head slightly more towards Casey, but didn’t quite look at him. Her eyes softened slightly, but there was still a distance there.
”Yeah, I want this one. We can put it in the other bedroom. I don’t mind what we use the open space for, whatever you’d like."

With those noncommittal answers, she unfurled her legs and suddenly stood up.
”I’m going to look at the beds." Without waiting, she shot over to the other side of the room. Absent-mindedly she started looking at the beds- except, she wasn’t really looking. She didn’t really see them. So fucking stupid. So sensitive. You couldn’t have just brushed it off? You told Casey you could handle it, but one small comment sets you off? It wasn’t like Casey had ever noticed. Her hand clenched around a duvet, scrunching it up between her fingers. It was a sore spot. Being decent at coding, and bad at everything else. Can’t let anything go… Should’ve just enjoyed yourself. Trisha frowned, staring at the duvet balled up in her fist.

There was a period of time where Trisha was left alone in the quiet with her own thoughts. There weren’t raised voices, nobody started a shouting match. Casey didn’t lose his temper… But it was an endeavour. How could he ever expect the people around him to not act like they weren’t a magical cult of stalkers?
He hadn’t realized what’d happened at first, too far gone in the bliss of the big green couch to think about what had been said. Clarissa had to come clean for him to know; but he was at least happy she had; and what was more, she admitted her wrongdoing. Casey couldn’t hate that, or her, and she expressed that once she spoke up, she knew she’d messed up.

But now it was Casey’s job to deal with it. Clarissa wasn’t so empathetic.
”She’s a computer person. It ain’t that complex. You wanna date her, you smooth things over. That’s what you ask for, you don’t think Furio ain’t deal with my bullshit?”
He figured if anyone had, it was that man. He took more shit than anyone.
So there he was, quietly walking up behind Trisha with his hands in his pockets.
”Tee? I’m… I’m sorry! Again… For the fifth time today, I think? This… It’s gonna keep happening, Trisha. I’ll do my best to put out a PSA or something. To not talk to you like you’re in on it... It’s my fault.” he said with a sad, longing voice.

”It’s not that," Trisha muttered, not moving. It wasn’t. She didn’t care about them talking about shit they’d overheard. Sure, it was invasive, and she’d rather she wasn’t spied on in the first place - but it was better that they came out with it. It was digging into certain bits of her past. Things she didn’t like anyone knowing. Embarrassing things. Was it hypocritical to get so upset over that specific thing? Probably.

”It’s not your fault, anyway. You’re not the one looking." She did believe that. After all, there were other people to blame. Clarissa, and the woman above her. If she was to blame Casey, then she was blaming him for who he was related to. She wasn’t angry enough to go that far… yet.
”Being watched is creepy, but I can deal with it. I’m used to what I’m doing being questioned." Though for her, it was her mom questioning why she wasn’t studying enough, why she left her room, why was the location sharing showing her being in a park? Not really the same scale. ”Of course they saw everything when fighting the Stygian Snake. Leon was there. Bet they even know about-"

She stopped, choking on her words and clamping her mouth shut. A person that had died because of her and a memory she’d forcefully forgotten. Not going to poisonous feelings welling up in her chest.
”Whatever. I don’t care. But none of the inbetween. They can know about the Snake, and now, but nothing else. I want my life to come from my own mouth."

Trisha finally let go of the duvet, letting it slip from her taut fingers. She turned around, at first glaring past Casey at Clarissa, before looking down at the ground. With a step she closed the gap between them, leaning her head against his chest and letting her arms hang limp at her side.
”I want to tell you about myself.” And keep what she didn’t want shared secret. ”And I don’t like people acting like they know me because of some fucking facts on paper.”

Casey couldn’t do anything but hold her. Poor girl, he thought, having it slowly taken from her. He agreed with the sentiment, that she deserved to tell him from her own lips, so that he could trust her to be accurate. He wasn’t looking for Rome to be built in a day, after all.
”They’re so much better around Blinds, you know… They can’t act like they know things, people are usually paying attention. But, when you’re magic, they just expect you to be ready for it.”

Shaking his head, he held her tightly in his arms, hands rubbing up and down her back slowly to comfort. He never thought it’d be so exhausting trying to show his family someone he was interested in, and wondered if Elise had so many problems back in the day. Probably not…

”Clarissa already said if you want her gone, she’s gone. No sense in fausting anything on you… But I’m sure she’d be willing to apologize and put it behind her.”
The woman in question wasn’t staring back or watching; she had her hands in between her legs, sitting at the edge of the couch with her head looking down. In wait of a verdict, she was ready for whatever came next.
”Or we can take a break. Just walk around the store, I’m sure she’d wait for us if you just wanted time to process things.”

Trisha closed her eyes for a moment, pressing her face in the fabric of his hoodie and taking a deep breath. Was she willing to accept Clarissa’s apology and put it behind her? On a surface level, perhaps. She was good at pretending when she wanted to. But the door to the true Trisha that began to open up at Clarissa’s disarming friendliness was slammed closed and locked to her now, for who knew how long. She was willing to at least try a little bit for Casey, which was more than she’d normally bother with. But it was difficult to change who she was - someone who held grudges over the smallest things, and took a while to get over it.

”I want to walk around a bit first," she said softly, finally pulling back a bit to look up at him. Her expression wasn’t so cold, but it wasn’t particularly warm yet either.
”Just a moment so I don’t-" Snap and say things that will make her look worse. ”Say something I don’t mean. I was just upset thinking about what they might know. It wasn’t like she said anything bad… Yeah, working as a developer is a bit embarrassing, but it’s fine.“

It was just what other things she- and by extension, other temple members- might know.
”We can actually look at the beds. That’s the kind of thing only we should be picking, right? Let’s find one we like, test it out to make sure it's comfy enough, then we can go back over. I’m sure I’ll have cheered up by then. I just want to spend a bit of time with you first."

Casey was trying to figure out how she could be embarrassed working with technology. Even if he was a meat-head who didn't get it, he knew how important digital infrastructure was to the burgeoning New World. There was no reason for…
”You think working with Computers is lame. Like, what, it's not girly enough?”

His arms scooped her up rapidly, and suddenly Trisha was cradled in Casey's arms fully. He could feel the buzzing vibrations beneath her coat, and remembering the bees stopped him from wholesale tossing her onto the bed.
”Newsflash: There's only one computer person on this planet who I don't like. And, hopefully you don't like him either. Because otherwise, I'm afraid I'd lose you to him. Silly, huh?” he grimaced as his knees pushed up onto the bed.

Feeling the softness, he already knew this wasn't the mattress for him, but he let Trisha wriggle away so she could get a feeling for it herself.
”I'm a firm kind of guy… We have the cash; I'd like to look at those electric beds with all the crazy independent side shit. Have you ever used one? They looked like two separate beds in the advertisement, so that makes me leery. I want to sleep with you, not next to you.”

”Working with computers is lame," Trisha mumbled. There were all sorts of stereotypes, and guys always seemed to get the wrong idea about what she was like because of it. Sure, she knew it was stupid. Reyna, her ex and a software developer, said there were all sorts of people in it. She had horror stories, of course, mainly of men thinking they were better purely because of their gender. Reyna said to ignore it all, but she really couldn’t.

She leaned out of his arms to feel the mattress - at first with just a hand, then wriggling out properly to kneel on it. It sunk beneath her weight. Probably the kind of bed she’d never be able to get out of. Comfortable enough… but if Casey wanted firmer, she was fine with that. She’d never really thought that hard about what kind of mattress she liked. She just knew she preferred sharing it with someone else.
”Of course you want to sleep with me in a firmer bed," Trisha teased, finally smiling again. It was easy, for now, to shove away all of her annoyances when the source wasn’t currently around. She leaned from knee to knee just to test just how soft this one was. ”I’m fine with anything. Never tried an electric bed like that… I’ve never lived with anyone like that, so why would I? If it’s two mattresses or something it sounds a bit pointless… We’d either end up uncomfortably sleeping in the middle, or bundle on one side. No way am I sleeping on separate sides only holding hands or some shit like it's the 1900s. But we may as well try it out."

With a light laugh, Trisha spun on her knees to face him and wrapped her arms around his neck. She leaned in and rested her head against his shoulder, face close to his.
”And that computer person you don’t like? I’m sure I won’t like him too. You definitely won’t lose me to him. I like you, not some smart computer guy who’s probably an asshole if you don’t like him."

”Well… Junior’s pretty charming around people who don’t know him… Little fucking sociopath…”
Casey thought about his menace of a younger brother. There was no respect between them; frankly Junior didn’t respect anyone. He figured that may actually be a bonus here, seeing as how if she didn’t really buy into it, he’d probably just make himself look like an asshole.

Looking back for a moment, Clarissa had moved off the couch and was walking around in a further part of the store on her cellphone. He felt a little bad, having invited her only for her to say something dumb… He had to put her on time-out, right? Even if she was an adult, there had to be some kind of reflection on the action.
He’d been listening to the Base’s Shrink too much.
”C’mon. This ain’t it.”

Getting up, he began to saunter around between other beds. One hand slipped into his pocket, grabbing ahold of his glove before he stopped. He knew he could solve the issue right away with a simple trick… But did he want to? Was it worth cutting out the time he was spending with the person he-
Liked… A lot… Liked enough to move in with her pretty well instantly.
His fingers released the glove, and he simply slipped onto the next bed. It was nearly the same, which actually pissed him off a bit until his head scanned and looked up at the wall.
”Oh, shit! Look!”

Casey pointed up at the wall. There were these blue and white signs informing the customer of the firmness and texture of the mattresses that were there. He looked left, looked right, and finally realized.
[color=577d06]”I guess we’re in the soft section!”
He sat up, looked around again, and saw nobody in the immediate area to stop him from reverting to childhood.
”Think you can bounce across more beds than I can?” he looked at Trisha with a wicked grin.

Trisha looked at Casey, then the signs, then at the beds.
”Like… bounce from bed to bed?" She pointed to the mattress he was currently on, then her finger moved to the next one in an arc. They were pretty close together. It wasn’t something she’d ever done… since she hadn’t exactly gone bed shopping ever. Was it a normal thing? It did sound fun. Could you even bounce between beds like that? She was thinking too much about this, wasn’t she.

”You’ve got, like, an extra foot on me, doesn’t that give you an advantage? You could probably just bounce-shuffle between them." She snorted, laughing at the image of that. She leaned over the mattress he was sitting on, hitting it with one hand to test the springiness of it. Maybe she was thinking about it wrong… she was smaller and lighter, which meant she could probably bounce more easily.
”I don’t think I can, I know I can. I bet I’ll be an expert from the first bounce."

She stepped back, folding her arms and tilting her head back a bit as if she was a judge at an olympic trampolining contest.
”I’ll let you go first. Obviously we can’t go at the same time, or you’ll launch me across half the store."

Bee careful. I don’t want anyone getting squished, maybe you should take your coat off.”
Ever the worrywort, Casey was still thinking about safety and security despite the growing feeling of enthusiasm building up. He rolled back on the bed, pulling his shoes off and standing up into a squat. At first his long legs pushed into the mattress, bouncing him up and down until he was hopping around like a long frog.

Laughter. It filled him, and he couldn’t help but find his inner child again as he slowly hopped toward her.
”RIBBIT!”
And then his legs and arms all pressed down at once, shooting him across the beds. He cleared one fully, landing across the way on the bed beyond. Due to his overall size, the entire ordeal proceeded to skid across the tiled floor, making a loud scratching noise.

Clarissa looked over, reaching into her purse with her free hand until she saw what’d happened. Casey was already laughing hysterically, and she started up half way across the store.
Now it was on Trisha to follow suit.

Trisha slapped a hand over her mouth as she burst out in laughter. What the fuck? She hadn’t expected him to jump between the mattresses like a frog. It was stupid, it was funny, and it was far more endearing than it should be.

But there was no way could she jump across a whole bed like that! She wasn’t even sure if she’d make it between the first two! She shook her head, carefully pulling off her coat and lying it across a bedside table. The bees clung to her sleeves silently until she commanded them to go back over to her coat and inside it.
”Alright… now watch a master at work."

She pulled off her shoes and climbed onto the first bed. She shuffled right onto the middle of the bed before standing up. She bent her legs and straightened them a few times before actually bouncing on the mattress. She couldn’t do what he did, with the hands and legs- it was just too embarrassing. She was really glad she’d worn shorts underneath her skirt as she began to bounce up and down, loose skirt swooshing up and down with her movements. With each hop closer to the other leg she bent down further and jumped up higher, going from a proper squat into a straightened jumping position.

Then with one final crouch, she jumped across the two beds. She landed on the next one over, two feet together and bending like she was doing a proper gymnastics landing… only to wobble and fall back on her ass. She let herself properly flop back, legs kicking in the air and landing on the bed. After lying there for a moment, she rolled onto her side and started laughing.
”Alright… you won this one… it’s harder than it looks!"

Casey was laughing like it was the Scottish Comedy Festival. However, that wasn’t enough to prevent him from getting back into position and leaping vertically, so that he crashed down into the bed next to Trisha. It caused her to bounce upward in turn, and he took the chance to swing his arms up and suck her into his full embrace.

And now they were cuddling in the middle of this unmade bed in a very public place. Thankfully there just weren’t many people on this floor. Not that Casey would’ve cared, if someone had something to say about public displays of affection he figured he’d give them a public display of aggression.
But it was bliss. Frenetic peace, energy and calm all at the same time. His face buried into Trisha’s hair and he squeezed her as tight as he could without it being painful.
”You make everything way more comfortable… Everything.”

”Everything?" Trisha grinned, practically melting in his arms. Her heightened heart rate from being bounced up into the air started to slow down again. A giddy laugh escaped her lips. She pressed herself closer to him, curling inwards and closing her eyes for a moment. She could just stay here forever. It didn’t matter that it was a furniture store and there were other people aound. In his arms, held so tightly, she could just forget about everything.

”So even if you were lying on hot coals, or nails?" she asked, not quite sure why. Maybe because she wanted to see how far he’d go. No, that was silly. She didn’t really want that, not like- like what? She didn’t remember. It wasn’t important. She tilted her head up to kiss his chin, then again, before smiling with a radiant joy that lit up her entire face.
”I’m comfortable too. More comfortable than I’ve been in a long time- maybe ever. I wouldn’t just cuddle anyone in the middle of a store, you know."

She didn’t want to move on to looking at more beds yet - even though this one was barely firmer than the last, and clearly still not right. They had time. Plenty of time.
”I can’t wait to move in with you and do this every night and morning. The cuddling, obviously, not furniture shopping. I hope you don’t need much space, because I’ll be in yours all the time. Except when you’re working. I’ll be like a little koala, constantly hanging off you. I really can’t wait. I don’t think I’ve looked forward to something like this in… a while." She didn’t really want to think too hard about that. ”I’m really glad we’re doing this."

Casey nuzzled tightly into Trisha, baring in mind that besides his sisters and Mother, he'd never actually been this close to a woman. Not in a relationship where he could bring them close and cuddle them. He could think of one time in the Reserve where this Eltee was having problems and she asked for a hug, but…

He only really knew what this looked like from television. From whatever media he'd seen. And now he didn't want anything to take it away from him ever…
”We'll get you stronger too… So you can come to work with me if I ever have to leave. I'll wear you like a backpack, you can be my dangerous insect dispenser.” he giggled, thinking of the mental ramifications of being drone-striked by a few thousand bees.

But there was a vague sadness to it. The idea that at some point she would have lonely nights. She’d deal with the ramifications of his devilish deal, and he wondered then what would happen if she never found the spirit of it.
Furio and Clarissa worked because they were both conditioned to it. They were both used to ridiculous requests and unbelievable working hours supervised under tremendous scrutiny. There was going to be a time where she was going to make him choose… How could he trust Her? How couldn’t he?

She was God’s Voice. What else could she be? He couldn’t just turn…

”That… Makes me nervous. Thinking about that. The things Furio and Clarissa do for my Mom aren’t normal. And now I’m taking his place, but you’re not taking hers. Part of me knows that’s why she picked Lena: Because she’d fill the role expectedly. But you won’t… You won’t hurt people for her. You won’t break into a State Representative’s house for her, you won’t hurt someone because she asks you to.”
Casey’s eyes slowly blinked.

”But she will ask me. I’ll do it for her. And maybe you’ll suffer because of my actions… It’s a lot to think about with you talking like that… Like I’m… Not who you should be with, I guess.”

For a moment, Trisha felt cold. Even in his arms, she felt a chill. It wasn’t because of the thought of whatever ‘role’ there was that Clarissa had filled, and Lena would have filled. The mention of Lena again was part of it- she’d do it, she was better suited. It was that her talking about wanting to be with him made him nervous, made him think they shouldn’t be together. A rejection? Not a rejection… No, it is. It’s fine. It’s fine.
"Who should be with me, then? Someone with no-one else," like her, "who somehow likes me and can put up with me. The perfect person doesn’t fucking exist. I’m not that fragile. I won’t hurt anyone for her, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t for you."

She forced herself to take a deep breath, curling inwards so her head pressed into Casey. Don’t spiral again. You can’t blow up twice- no, three times, in a day. He’s just concerned. It’s alright. Calm down. Once she looked past the perceived rejection, she could understand. It was a lot she was getting into. Moving in with him, risking the control of a cult and watching him do things for them. But what was it that she had in her life otherwise? The bees. What else?
"I don’t care. I want to be with you- me, not Lena. I won’t fill that role, but if I have to direct my bees to kill someone trying to hurt you? I’ll do it. Maybe, one day, I will help. Or maybe we’ll have moved away somewhere else. We won’t know until we try."

Her hands came up to grasp Casey’s hoodie, crumpling the fabric in between her fingers. It was difficult to see her face, hiding against him as she was, but her suddenly quieter voice held a hint of vulnerability to it. Closer to the true Trisha, perhaps?
"I don’t think I’ve ever felt that it’ll work out like I do with you… I… don’t give up before we even start, please?"

He had a tear in his eye, and he pulled Trisha close. There was nothing else but them. One hand pulled her waist close, the other wrapping around the back of her head and gently rubbing it. He didn’t want her to see him cry after that. With her so close to his chest, she couldn’t look up and see him struggling trying to keep from weeping like a child whose parent tried to take his favorite stuffy away for a wash.
His breath was hitching, little movements causing panicked vibrations between deeper breaths as he tried to contain himself at least a little bit. He’d spent entire years not crying, or doing so quietly in places nobody could see.

Sometimes the panic overwhelmed him. Like being stuffed into a trash can that someone starts hitting with baseball bats. The noise, the violent jostling… And then the sledgehammer usually hit, leaving him crippled in that quiet place for a long time until someone or something came to force him onward in the march.

The Endless March.

“E-excuse me? Sir?”
Interrupted by a strange voice, Casey nearly jumped out of his skin. He probably would’ve if the bed hadn’t gotten the brunt. There was a fighter’s speed and precision present as hands holding Trisha deftly swapped to flat, planted positions from which his arms could power his body feet into the air.
When he landed, one leg was hanging off the bed and both hands were pressed behind him, reaching over Trisha as if to block her and keep her safe. His wrists even pressed into her, almost pinning her down like he was protecting the President from an active shooter.

It was a woman in some nice clothes: She had a nametag and a clipboard, and some glasses on. Casey’s heart was still beating like a bomb had gone off.
“While we do want you buying the right bed for you, we do discourage customers from using our facility like an Inn…”
Still wide-eyed, face covered in tears and hair, Casey wiped his nose on his sleeve and cleared his throat.

”J-jesus, I’m so sorry…”
He slipped from the bed fully.
”C’mon, Babe.”

They were both fully shoeless, and the beds were all slid about from where they’d jumped about. The woman smiled.
“It’s alright, don’t rush too much… Was this what you were looking for?”
”We were… Discussing that, something else came up. It’s nice, but I’ve got some lumbar issues from the War?”

Her eyes widened. Her name tag said “Kathy”.
“Oh. My. God. Thank you for your service, Sir, I’m… Of course! Something firmer. Can you both come with me? We’ll take you upstairs to the tester, we can get some exact metrics for you…”

Having let Trisha up, Casey waggled his eyebrows at her.
”Pays to get shot at I guess.”
His hand did reach for her hand, squeezing knowingly… As if the conversation wasn’t done.


The two of them spent around twenty five minutes with Kathy the saleswoman, a welcome reprieve for Casey who was going to look pretty stupid if he started blubbering about how he always felt so lonely.
No place lonelier than a bomb-hole next to the corpse that was once your friend… Except maybe a bed where your other half once slept. He knew he didn’t want to do that to her, and knew for certain it wouldn’t happen to him. Not her.

Coming back down the escalator, Casey turned back toward where they’d left Clarissa; by the big green couch that he only had a moment to get used to before things went sour. The loyal woman was still sat on it, blabbering away on her phone. She didn’t stop as they approached, but did let her free hand snap out a bit of sign language.
A man of many skills, Casey read and understood, nodding at her and signing his own. He and Trisha had, after getting a recommendation and testing one of the beds, found a suitable fit that had some modern adjustable features built in.

They were satisfied, and let the woman take the sale on the bed and the rest of the furniture they intended to buy. The store had a funny beeper system, with them having a buzzer that allowed them to summon Kathy from wherever they were. She’d also given Trisha a funny clipboard with a pen and a sheet of paper. It was a purchase form, and had a bunch of small sections for putting different information found on the furniture’s tags.
Once they filled it out, all they had to do was approve the sale. Since no loans were coming out, they didn’t need to talk to the financing office or anything.

Then was the matter of finishing what had been started, which meant coming back. Back to Clarissa. Casey hoped that Trisha felt a little better, and equally hoped that they’d be able to simply explain to Clarissa what the problem had been without any other issues.
But for now, she was busy on the phone. She slid to the end, patting the big cushions with her empty hand.

”-know that! You think I ain’t done everything in my power to get that shit runnin’ smoothly, then you can take it up with the Boss. She knows my style, she knows that when things click they click. Now, I think I deserve a bit more respect than that.”

Casey leaned into Trisha as they walked.
”She’s doing the Boss Bitch thing. It’s kinda cool, she does a lot of like… Engineering? Stuff having to do with machines, I don’t know. Above my paygrade type things, but they’re magic and they do things that require math. Just ignore her.”
He flopped back down on the big green couch.
”Ohhhh God… Yeah, this’ll be something to come home to. Veg out on it in front of a big ass television. Nothing on it, just a video of a nice fire. Read a book, watch the rain fall down the glass windows.”

By the time they got back, Trisha felt a bit more prepared to see Clarissa again. There was still that cold resentment in the back of her mind, covered up by nagging anxieties brought forth by the unfinished conversation with Casey. But the warmth she felt from just being with him, how comfortable it was as they chose furniture for their home, meant she did feel better. Better enough to listen to Clarissa's apology without telling her to fuck off, and to probably accept it. For her that was a big deal - not that people often apologised when they wronged her, which just further fueled her resentment. She was willing to hear her out.

The mention of engineering - magical engineering - caused her to pause. Like her mom. No, not the same. It wasn't like her mom actually worked with machines (or knew about magic). She just wrote papers filled with complicated mathematics and did other things Trisha could never understand, being well liked among the people she taught while simultaneously managing to make Trisha feel like she was the stupidest person in the world.
Not the same.
“That is kind of cool. I know a bit about math, but not that kind of stuff."

She perched on the couch, just looking at Casey enjoying it with a smile for a moment. Then she put down the clipboard and got more comfortable, legs pulling up so that they were crossed over each other and turning to face him properly.
“That sounds pretty perfect. Just us, and our books, or whatever we want to do. Relaxing in our own space." Trisha smiled softly at him, eyes filled with a warm light. It was really nice to think about. She'd never really had a space outside of her bedroom to just relax in. Her life, rich as it was, was always constrained to the one space that actually felt like her own.
“Maybe I can set something up so that we can play video games on the television together. Nothing too serious… I'm not really a gamer, I just enjoy it occasionally. One of my college friends, Sal, dragged me into it. There's some relaxing games that I enjoy playing, and a couple of two player ones I've always wanted to play through but haven't been able to. I tried with him but he's impossible to play with… there's nothing less fun than shouting at each other over a game. But I think it would be fun with you, if you'd like to try."

Casey had some experience with gaming; mostly the Reserve barracks, where the college atmosphere of the entire facility could be felt as a quiet undertone. Most of them were respectful, but they were allowed their hobbies and free time in a way you just didn’t see on a frontline.
Well… He had met a few dedicated gamers in North Africa. The FOB he’d been in had a working television and an old Gamestation that they played an old shooter together on. At that point, Casey hadn’t cared. In all actuality, it made him mad how they could just forget that war was going on all around them…

Now, he understood. One simply needs to get out of that moment.Living in the red zone twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, was impossible without seriously fracturing one’s psyche. Since then, he’d become more accepting of the hobby, and didn’t hold such a grudge against it.
”I’m always willing to learn. At worst, I’ll still watch you play whatever you want. Sometimes I catch myself getting lost watching the younger guys at the Base playing. Usually it’s football games, but some of them play this shooter game… It’s bubblegum colored.”

He called it “The Candy Game” or “Bubblegum Game” because of all the colors and effects happening on the screen at once; someone deciding to build a massive tower or odd cover structure in the middle of a gunfight.
”They build shit. It’s nutty, but then I think about how actual magic fights go and then I remember we’re not so different.” he laughed. There was a slight readjustment on his part, mostly to grab Trisha by the sides in order to drag her down onto the couch fully.

”You can’t escape meeeeeeee-”

”Maribel Worthurs, you’re fuckin’ done for. Do you hear me? Yeah. Yep, go ahead! Call the police, they won’t be able to figure out what the fuck happened to you!”
A violent pause. Casey was surprised to hear such a thing. His eyes got wide, and he stopped playing around, now looking at Clarissa.
[color=e0c4ff]”It’s my fucking business Mary! The fucking machine doesn’t work without my spell, Mary! So I guess it’s all [i]mine, isn’t it Mary!?”[/color]

Clarissa was getting visibly frustrated, free hand gripping in and out of a fist until she finally lashed out. In the action, there was no tension. She simply stood, let the phone down to her side, stepped, and hucked the phone across the store, watching it smack into the escalators and fall down to the first floor of the building with a clatter. She cleared her throat and smiled at the duo.
”My my, today is just… One of those days, ain’t it? How y’all feeling, better?”

She sat back down on the couch, a warm smile filling her face in stark contrast to her last few motions.
”Trisha I’m so sorry sweetheart. Forgoing any desire to overly explain myself, I’ll simply say that I understand what the problem is, and I’ll take steps to prevent it in the future… Can you accept that from me?” she asked, holding out her hand.

Trisha had been trying to figure out what game Casey was talking about, expression scrunched up cutely and easily allowing him to pull her properly down onto the couch. Before she could guess, or snuggle up to him again, Clarissa absolutely lost it beside them. Trisha automatically flinched at the aggressive tone. It didn’t necessarily set her off, but it was just… incredibly different to the Clarissa she’d seen so far.

And the switch back to warm and smiling was just as jarring.
“Yeah, I’m feeling a bit better." Trisha then looked at Clarissa’s hand, then over at Casey. As far as apologies went, it was fine. Not that Trisha knew what a good apology was. She hardly got one towards her, and she certainly didn’t apologise very often herself. But there were no excuses. What had been said couldn’t be taken back, and the way Trisha had started to open up wouldn’t resume, but it was fine.

“I can accept that," Trisha said, a bit awkwardly, sitting back up and reaching over Casey for Clarissa’s hand. She didn’t smile, but she wasn’t frowning either. A neutral expression.
“I don’t care if you bring up anything to do with what happened during the Stygian Snake, or my magic. It’s my mundane life I don’t want mentioned… Especially not my family. I’m sure you can both understand why."

Of course, the real reason why was that she didn’t want how bad her relationship with her family was all round. A mother she had no contact with, siblings she barely tolerated, a father she’d hated right till the day he died… It wasn’t good. Not that Casey’s was either, and he’d introduced her to them, but at least there was a relationship there at all.
“But we’re fine as long as it doesn’t happen again."

Clarissa nodded along.
”We just… Don’t keep secrets. Not among the Crones and the Closest. Lynette hears us, every single one. And she listens, and we know. So we don’t act like she doesn’t know, we just…-”
The bright expression she usually carried softened to something like sadness. Fatigue.
”-We just live with it. It may seem like they’re all reading your mind, but it’s the wheel of gossip that releases your business to others. Like that… That stupid fucking nickname that you don’t deserve.”

She shook her head.
”I’ve never felt so ashamed meeting a newcomer. Ashamed of us, our people. For being how we are.”
None of this was what Casey expected to hear, and his brow furrowed. He sat up, pulling Trisha tighter.

”Because it’s not right…” he intoned gently.
Clarissa simply nodded, fingers playing with themselves in a nervous fashion.
”You are part of the Sycamore… For most, it doesn’t mean anything. They don’t really know what you kids were doing. But I watched. The whole time, I watched, just like I would watch Leon and Elise when they went out, I’d watch you all and just think about… Everything, I guess. I’d think about what y’all were gonna do with your lives, if we’d have to step in ever, what things would be like after the smoke cleared. There were a lot of times I… I probably could’ve helped.”

She sighed, shaking her head again.
”I’m sorry. It ain’t about how I feel. Your privacy is yours as far as I’m concerned; but I can’t stop the others. You’ll do the dance again and again.”
Casey rubbed Trisha’s arm. He had a strange feeling that Trisha was just going to leave, that he’d wake up one morning and find her and the bees gone. Or that they’d get outside and she’d be too put off by the prospect of having to keep going through this that she’d just say fuck it.

But he couldn’t imagine what would happen if she asked him to leave. Leave them all… He thought about all the faces he loved, and about all the faces who gave him love despite the pain he’d been through with his closest family. He didn’t want to leave someone like Clarissa, who was a good soldier and did what she was told.
He still had a great deal of respect for that aspect of her life. The loyalty and willingness to do her duty.
”She’s got me… We’ll get through it, Clarissa. Right Bee?”

“Right," Trisha nodded. After Casey had explained what Lynette was like - and this morning - she expected it. She should’ve expected it with Clarissa too. Did she like her privacy being invaded? No. Did she care about most of Lynette’s ‘closest’ knowing? Not really. She disliked certain things being brought up- being used against her- but at the same time she didn’t give a fuck what they thought.
It was a strange conflict.

“I’m not going to pretend to be happy about it, or that I won’t get pissed off. I’m not that nice or forgiving. But I was more bothered because…" Because Clarissa’s warmth had caught her off guard and began to break through the walls Trisha had up. She’d started relaxing around her, after such a short period of time, and it had been more of a shock. She hadn’t been on edge like she had at the Temple. “Well, Casey’s close to you. I care more about what you know… Because I want to be able to be around someone Casey likes."

A partial truth. It was fine for now. Her want to be with Casey outweighed the rest right now. She was used to people saying shit about her that was based on assumptions or what they thought they knew. Everyone from the old coven she’d met since, her half-siblings… She could handle it.
“If you were around Sycamore a lot, you know what I’m like. I can get through that, I can get through anything."
Even if there were patches in her memory from the time that weren’t quite complete, facing the petty coven drama along with a world ending creature was a lot worse than this. She leaned into Casey with the hint of a smile.
“And I have Casey. I’ve already seen how much he’ll defend me, I probably don’t even have to lift a finger."

”Whatever I may hear, sweetheart, has no bearing on how I see you as a person. You are who you are, understand? Don’t let anyone you meet among us make you feel like you’re anyone other than exactly who you are. Because we’re a big group of rejects. People nobody else wanted. Lynette knows we’re important, and that we have purpose.”
Her head bobbed from side to side as she considered what to say.
”Judgemental people may feel bigger, or better, but they’re only hiding their own insecurities.”

Casey nodded.
”Like Lena, and her parents being in Sonnenrad.”
Clarissa pointed at him.
”What?”
”Your girl’s sitting here talking about how she doesn’t want her private bits getting thrown in her own face.”
Casey looked at Trisha and frowned, then put his hands up.
”Hey, she already made Trisha feel like shit. As far as I’m concerned, my girl deserves some payback.”
He waggled his eyebrows at Trisha.

“Yeah, she already knows and said a bunch of shit about me, it’s only fair," Trisha shrugged, smiling at Casey - a slightly smug, devious smile. Trisha wasn’t exactly some kind of amazing person who just let things go… She was the opposite. And she wasn’t nice enough to care that it was hypocritical that she was fine about Lena’s privacy being broken but not her own.
“No wonder she was so nasty to me - she’s just jealous. If there’s one thing my parents have going for them, it's their good reputation."

Aside from the whole having many children with different women on her dad’s side.
“As long as she never says shit to me again, I’m not going to bring it up, anyway." Though she was fairly certain if she ever saw Lena again, she would. While she wasn’t above petty revenge for the sake of it… she’d rather just never see Lena at all.



Barker Brothers > Claire’s


It was another few hours the three of them spent in the furniture store. Accents were picked out, massive curtain rods, even a new wood stove for what would, presumably, be a more formal entertaining area. Clarissa had shown off various pictures of the interior, and there was a side with enormous floor to ceiling two story windows. Lots of natural light and a clear enough skyline that it's the tallest thing around; no chance of people watching through them outside of a hot air balloon or… Oh, I don’t know, magic. Still, curtain rods were purchased, and massive drapes (which would need to be cleaned of dust regularly) were purchased.
Clarissa seemed to know half a dozen of the employees, many of them joking about “When her next shift is” and acting friendly by name. It seems the store had some experience with the property as well, having furnished the very same apartment before the war when Clarissa and Furio had moved in. They even kept some pretty specific styles and patterns required for quirks of the design.

In the end, Clarissa was satisfied with the thoroughness of the new couple. At the billing, she said her goodbyes and expressed her apologies a final time before leaving off with a “Can’t wait to see you on moving day.”
She disappeared into the store, and after sorting out logistics for the deliveries, there was the inevitable bill. Twenty-five thousand dollars. Even Casey had to think about whether or not he had to worry about it or not; but for the moment, they wouldn’t go hungry even if they were broke. Too many tributary deltas to fish from.

So the papers were signed, a card was swiped clean, and they had a lovely bill of sale that they could frame and put up in the house, or let rot in an organizer somewhere. Casey checked his account as they were leaving and nodded. By then, it was after noon, and the perfect time for some food.
As they were leaving, the storefront was getting busier and more boisterous with families and window shoppers lining the street and coming in for the warmth and the coffee. Stepping back out into the cold, the two had a moment to themselves again. Casey had a wide smile on his face.

”Spending money is pretty fun… I liked getting rotated back and hitting the vendors at the base… Oh shit… he bit his lip, looking at Trisha, then shaking his head. ”Never mind. I have like three apartments downstairs I can put stuff in. Are you hungry, Baby Girl?” he tucked her in his arm, rubbing her shoulder lovingly.

“Yeah, shopping’s hard work," Trisha smiled softly up at him. Honestly, she didn’t actually feel that hungry. She’d accidentally trained it out of herself a bit as a teenager - studying for so many hours without eating, and no one bothering to make sure she did. Nowadays she just tried to keep to a schedule of eating. It worked, even if she didn’t really feel it physically.

Trisha shuffled in close to him, shivering slightly at the cold and trying to steal a bit of his warmth. A shorter skirt hadn’t been the right decision for the weather, with the slight breeze chilly against her bare legs. It would be fine when they were actually moving.
“What do you want to do? Find somewhere to sit in, or get something to take away and eat it… well, my place, maybe? Since our place won’t be ready." That was nice to say. Our place. Maybe, eventually, it would become somewhere that truly felt like home to her. “I’m happy with anything. I don’t really get the opportunity to eat out often."

”There’s a cool place up the Shore a bit. We’ll drive, but in the summer it’d be a great walk. Hopefully it’ll be a peaceful little lunch. First peace we’ll get since getting glitter bombed.” he laughed.
”So how does it feel? Happy to be a little bit safer at least? If nothing else, at least now you have the interest of the entire Temple watching your back. Not a moment alone for you to get movie murdered.”

He shuffled her in front of him a bit, letting her control the pace at which they walked to the car while holding her around her shoulders to keep her as warm as possible. Knowing the bees were in there, he felt a desire to keep them just as warm.

“That’s one way to look at it," Trisha laughed, though… Yes, it was nice to not have to worry about getting stabbed at any moment. She walked at a moderate pace, not feeling a particular rush, but not going especially slowly either. His arms around her shoulders helped keep the chill away, anyway. The bees had gathered together on her upper arm, a small ball of fuzzy warmth.
“It is nice to feel safer. Saves me from trying to explain it to my non magical brother so he’ll fund a security team… It’s like a weight’s been lifted, because I spent most of my time alone. I half expected- Anyway, that’s not the case anymore, right?"

She tilted her head back to smile brightly up at him.
“I can’t believe getting beaten up led to me being safer!" She laughed, seeming to be joking… but it had. She bet Adora would be pissed if she found out that she’d inadvertently helped Trisha. Really, Trisha should thank her. “I guess I was lucky it was you who came along… Like some kind of weird fight caused fate."
Trisha didn’t actually believe in fate, but it was a nice thought.

Casey nodded.
”It means a lot that I can help. But it means a lot more that you like me. So, thanks for that. And for being ready to put up with it.”
He kept her safe from the wind all the way back to the car, and opened it like a pure gentleman would before politely pressing the door shut. He got in on the other side and rubbed his hands together.
”Give me the desert heat any day. I’m already done with winter.”
He shot Trisha a smirk, started the car and flicked the heat on again. It was stone cold after being outside so long.

But they were off and gone, and before it got any warmer they were at the place Casey intended them to be.
”This other guy my brother knows took us here once for lunch. They’re just good sandwiches, and they do an eggplant parmesan that I think about a lot.”
It was a little hole in the wall, some Italian sub shop that had the kind of mom and pop look you’d expect in the neighborhood. They catered to the workers at the docks, and he mentioned they had a great selection of fried fish affairs as well as the typical staples.


Walking into the little storefront smelled like fresh bread and french fry oil with tomato sauce bubbling away over an open flame burner. There was an old man at the front of the line, and it seemed like he had a big order to fill. They’d probably be there a while, which meant time to chat about the little things.
”What’s your favorite kind of pizza?” Casey asked Trisha with a cheeky smile.

“Well… You have to agree to not hate me for it first,” Trisha smiled back.

Casey’s eyes widened and his nose scrunched.
”You’re… Lucky I’m French. I mean… I still don’t really want you to say it. But go ahead… Tell me about what there is to like on Hawaiian Pizza, Ms Controversial?”

“It’s just-” Trisha made a large gesture with her hands as if it would somehow explain it. It was, after all, a discussion she’d had many times. “It’s nice, okay? The different flavours and textures… It was what mom used to always order when I was round there, so fond memories too, y’know?”
It was one of the rare times her mom would actually spend with her. Nights when she drank a little, relaxed a little, and ordered in food for them both rather than leaving Trisha to fend for herself. That was probably more why she liked it.

Casey went from being skeptical and cautious to mournful.
Emotional connections… Shiiiiiii-
”Alright, alright. I guess we’ll have to get two if we ever get pizza though, ‘cuz I’m not eating it.”

There had been a ding behind them while Trisha was talking. Casey hadn’t bothered to turn and check on the person who happened into the store behind them, so it wasn’t troubling him at first.
”There’s zero percent chance you have a soul in your body.”

Casey’s brow furrowed. He assumed the voice wasn’t talking to them, but there was no way it wasn’t familiar. Like a voice he knew through a phone.

”There’s no such thing as Hawaiian Pizza, Pewtrisha.” the voice taunted.

Trisha didn’t need to turn around to recognise who was talking. Even after ten years. That slick tone and needling words were unforgettable.
“Wow, what a surprise, no one’s shot you yet, Greyson?” Trisha sneered out his name, twisting around to properly glower at him. Perfect. Exactly who she wanted to bump into while on a nice lunch date- not that she wanted to bump into any of Sycamore, but he was up there as one of the worst. Back in the day Trisha had voted for him to be kicked out - not because she cared if he’d stolen any of the shit, but because she didn’t want to even breathe in the same room as him at that point.

Her feelings hadn’t really changed much there.
“I’d say it's nice to see you, but it really isn’t. Don’t you have better things to do than police my taste in pizza? And you know, if liking that means I don’t have a soul, where does that leave a criminal like you?”

Edict had a wide grin across his face, those same sunglasses from so long ago still wrapped around his head like they grew into the skin. He wasn’t wearing anything flashy, save for a shimmering watch that slipped out from under his sweater sleeve. Casey was trying to figure out who he knew named Greyson, which totaled out to zero people. But, there was only one way to know for himself who it was.

He spun around to feel shock.

”Edict?!”
Casey’s eyes were wide, and he looked between the man he knew as Edict and Trisha.
”Wait… Greyson? Greyson Devola!? Edict! You never fuckin’ told me you were part of the Cov-”

Edict held up his finger to his lips.

”Easy, Cowboy.” he grinned, lifting a hand to point at the two of them as he rested the arm against the other that crossed his chest in skepticism.
”Now… What’s going on here? They try’na make a superhuman over in that Temple of yours? I’d choose a fresher cow.”

There was a shift in the energy around them at that moment. Casey wasn’t happy to see Edict anymore; not after he said something like that. But, he wasn’t ready to be done with it yet. In his mind, Casey believed everyone deserved a chance to explain themselves before judgement could be passed without bias.
His massive body shifted forward, almost tucking Trisha behind him.
”You’ve got a few seconds to explain what you Sycamore have against Trisha. Honestly. Because I’m getting sick of meeting you assholes when none of you have anything good to say about my Girlfriend.”

Edict didn’t flinch. He wasn’t concerned about the Richoux or their size or strength; it was business. And he did business with the only one that mattered directly. The friendliness was a formality.
”She’s a bit of a whip, Casey. Little Miss Too-Good, can’t be bothered to do anything but yap and sting people. She doesn’t feel any better about any of us, and honestly I don’t blame her. But, we’re all adults here, so a little verbal jousting isn’t an excuse to get a raised temper. Trisha?” Edict finished, as if to ask her to call her dog off, or at the very least agree with him for once.

“At least I didn’t spend all my time forcing my way into people’s heads,” Trisha hissed, glaring at Edict around Casey. She put one hand on Casey’s arm, fingers curling into the fabric of his sleeves both to comfort herself and him. She was pissed. She’d been pissed from the moment Edict opened his mouth, and it got worse the more he said. But there was also a hint of fear there. What if Edict said something that made Casey reconsider?
“Don’t fight him here, Case, he’s not worth it… you can beat him up outside later,” she said softly, still glaring at Edict.

“You’re right that I don’t like any of you either, but at least I tried. Nobody gave me a fucking chance then- and they still don’t. You said all that knowing how I’d react, so save the shit about it being ‘a little verbal jousting’, E-Dick. Mind your own business and stay out of ours.”

”I said that to you to see if you still didn’t have a sense of humor. Good to know! Jesus Christ, you say a little something, all of a sudden you’re the bad guy.”
Casey took a deep breath, frustration filling him.
”Y’know, we’re gonna be working together a little more closely if everything is staying the same way… Don’t make it difficult man. Just apologize.”

Edict’s ears perked up at that. He lifted his glasses up, staring at Casey.
”You? What uh… The whole-?”
Casey shook his head.
”Quitting time. The program is set up, they either want me in deeper, or not at all. So, taking on more responsibilities here.”
The gangster’s nose crinkled up, looking between the two of them.
”Furio’s moving on?”
”Yeah.”

His face became thoughtful. Edict took a deep breath, looking at Trisha.
”You’re right. I didn’t give you a chance. I’m sorry.”
It sounded sincere. Of course it did; it was Greyson Devola.

Trisha didn’t trust the apology one bit. She trusted Greyson as much as she trusted someone who’d just lied to her face. But… right now she didn’t want to make things too difficult for Casey. Not that she would in the future, either, but if she kept snapping at him Casey might realise that some of what Greyson had said was true.
“Apology accepted,” Trisha said tersely. Unlike him, she wasn’t such a good actor, and her reluctance was written across her scrunched up face and tense shoulders. She was going to do what she always did - remember this, and hold it against him. It wasn’t like he was actually sorry, he just didn’t want to ruin whatever business he seemed to do with the Temple.

She tried to force herself to relax a bit, but it was difficult with all that resentment she held onto towards the coven coming up to the surface. Her fingers dug into Casey’s arm enough that even as her expression seemed to lighten it would be obvious she wasn’t exactly happy about the whole thing.
“So…” she looked between Edict and Casey. “The Temple does business with him? Any other surprise coven members hanging around?”
She shook her head, taking a deep breath. Calm down. She forced a smile up at Casey. “Maybe I need to send out a memo too, something like ‘please don’t bother me and my boyfriend’, to stop this from happening.”

Edict laughed aloud, if not a little nervously on reaction.
”Trisha, listen… As far as I remember, being around you was difficult. But, like you said, I spent all my time trying to get into people’s heads. So, who am I to judge you? But, you know… This is gonna happen with everything going down. This city is bustling with Sycamore coming home, the chances of interactions like this are highest now.”

Casey nodded, lip curling into a frown. He didn’t like to hear the truth like that, but he had to agree.
”Honestly? He’s probably right… Aah-about it happening again, I mean. But, we’ll try to keep it minimal after this, eh?” he turned to Trisha, nudging her gently in comfort.
”Business is business. And, if you’ve gotta know? It ain’t my “Family” benefitting from our deal. My “Company” buys interesting materials and ingredients for distribution from their organization. The money goes around, and everyone’s happy with the product.”

Casey cleared his throat.
”If we started selling your honey outside of St. Portwell, it’d uh… It’d be him distributing.”
Edict’s face became wide.
”You’re gonna sell the fuckin’ honey!? Do you remember when we were sixteen and the Club was starting? And everyone said you should do that, and you got super pissed off!? I’m actually so glad you’re coming around to it! That’s a shit ton of money just sitting around not doing anything for you!”
For a moment, he was childlike again. The same sixteen year old Greyson.

I was fourteen,” Trisha rolled her eyes, unnecessarily honing in on a small, incorrect point. She did remember that. Back then her honey production hadn’t been what it was now, and her view of where her life should go wasn’t the same either. Everyone had assumed she was pissed off because she was from a rich family and didn’t need the money. It hadn’t been that. Selling the honey would mean going down a path her mom wouldn’t approve of. Less time to study, less chance of going to University. It had felt like they were telling her she wasn’t good enough to do anything else.

She regretted it a little. Not the getting pissed off part, but not even considering trying.
“I’ve matured. Ten years ago it seemed like a stupid idea when I could finish school and go to college and get a job. Do you know how much work goes into that honey, without trying to sell it?” Why was she even explaining it to Greyson of all people? She just felt that she… had to. Maybe it was more for Casey, or for her own benefit. “I didn’t have the time with, y’know. What was happening. Things are different now.”

Then she looked up at Casey, smiling at him - genuinely, and almost sickeningly sweet.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it by myself anyway.”

Edict grinned again, but this one wasn’t so malicious. Truthfully, he was a romantic at heart.
”Well… Either way, y’know? I guess I just hope you’re happy.”
Casey grinned as well, but was directed down at Trisha with warmth in his eyes. Inside, all he wanted was another moment in the car without anyone around.

Like God parting the clouds to reveal Heaven in the sky, the old man who had ordered what looked like an entire catering order finally waddled up to the door to push past Edict. The counter was open.

”Hey, look at that… Let me get you guys your food, eh? There’s uh, no pineapple in this place. I checked.”

“Just cause it's my favourite pizza doesn’t mean I want pineapple in everything,” Trisha glared at him, though it wasn’t half as sharp as the earlier ones.

”And me letting you spend your money on my lunch doesn’t mean I forgive you for being a dick.”
Edict laughed aloud, holding his stomach slightly as the other hand waved them forward.
”Marcooooo, I’m back again. Get these two lovebirds whatever they like, on me Fratello.”



Trisha’s (Sabrina’s) House


After a delightful encounter with Edict, Trisha really didn’t want to stick around and eat there. What if another Sycamore member ambushed them? She just wanted to have lunch and spend time with her boyfriend, was that too much to ask?

So she suggested they take their food back to her place, since they needed to go anyway. Sabrina should be at work, and her other two sisters were out of town. The place should be empty with no risk of someone ruining it.

In the time that they’d been away, someone had been in and cleaned the mess that had been in the living room. No more empty pizza boxes or alcohol bottles, just pristine white couches in a cold space. Trisha didn’t particularly like being in the living room, but eating in her room meant the smell would linger and the bees would swarm.

“You mind eating in here? I know it’s not super friendly but… I don’t want to stink up my bedroom. Nobody’s around, so it’ll just be the two of us, don’t worry,” Trisha asked with a smile, gesturing towards the couches. At the same time she headed towards the attached kitchen, looking out some plates and cutlery for them both. She came back out and put them on the table in front of the ring of couches. They could sit at the dining table but… that felt a bit too formal for her. Bad memories.
“Plus, out here you don’t have to fight the bees for your food. It’s worth risking the blinding white, I promise.”

She sat down on the couch, assuming he wouldn’t disagree, and patted the space beside her.

Casey had seen a lot of bright places. Mostly the desert, since there was really nowhere to go. The closer to the coast you got, the whiter the sand got. Blinding. Like this. Like she said.
”Christ! How does it stay clean?”
He knew what was wrapped up in his sandwich; a thick slab of eggplant fried and smothered in cheese and red sauce. It wasn’t going to be good if any fell…
There were at least paper towels readily available, and he ripped a yard of them off the roll to insure there was enough space for the desolation that was coming. But he sat down, the low sofas kinking his legs up until he was practically in the fetal position.

It didn’t matter… It just made an amphitheatre of carnage. He didn’t even say anything else. The paper unwrapped, and a quarter of the sandwich was gone in an instant. After a day of dealing with people and furniture ordering and patterns and anger and love, it was a perfect remedy. Just good warm vegetables and milk byproduct.
As he crunched down on the first bite, letting it fill his mouth to pull the saliva directly from his cheeks. He smiled, laughing with the food still in his mouth, and swallowed before speaking again.
”I know, I know… I missed you too, sweet fuckin’ sandwich. I don’t know why I’m not over there more, ugh… So good!”

The ascent into Sandwich Heaven lacked only the quiet strum of harps, yet it was not sweet angelic music that soon reached the ears of the young lovers. No, instead it was the awful sound that had been plaguing couples seeking a moment of privacy for eons, the terrible rattling of metal and wood as a key wrestled with a lock., the noise like the wail of a banshee, echoing through the foyer and cutting into the living room to kill the mood. Still, surely they could rest easy. Sabrina had most likely just come home early, but she was the kind of housemate who was savvy enough to not intrude too long when someone brought a guest over to what should’ve been an empty home. A quick hello, a nice to meet you, a playful quip, and then a proper fuck off to her own floor of the house so she wouldn’t be a bother.

Then all hope was shattered by a shrill, bloodcurdling,Knock, knock. Helllllo, darlings~

The clunking of block heels towards the living room did not give Trisha enough time to grab Casey and flee before a statuesque woman appeared in the threshold. She was nearing middle age, the fact mildly hidden by pounds of makeup on her pale porcelian skin, and dressed in a vintage, dark green houndstooth dress. Her blonde hair was preciously curled with rollers to mimic that of an actress from Hollywood’s Golden Age and kept in place with so much hairspray that striking a match within several feet of her was a good way to cause a firestorm. In her hand was a large, half gallon water bottle, partially filled with brownish-green sludge. Blue eyes brightened with joy as they fell upon Trisha, her ruby red lips parting in a wide smile made perfect through thousands and thousands spent on dentistry work and whitening treatments.

“Ohmigosh, Patricia, I am so happy that my favorite baby sister is here today!” squealed Tansy Vanburen, Trisha’s oldest half-sister and personal tormentor, the look of joy a thin veil for a precisely calculated cruelty.

Tansy continued talking, ending her sentences with an upwards inflection and affecting a kind of cutesy accent some adults naturally fell into when speaking to young children or a particularly cute dog. The room was filled with her chatter, the words crashing out of her mouth like a rushing river breaching the dam. Tansy sounded truly excited to see her young sister, yet every once in a while there was an offness to the way she said something, noticeable only if you were like Trisha and had been conditioned by years and years of dealing with Tansy to translate the passive aggressiveness.

“You weren’t here the last couple of times I came to visit, even though I gave you plenty of notice ahead of time to clear your very busy schedule. I was absolutely devastated. I had to spend my entire day listening to Brooke, I mean, she doesn’t shut up you can hardly get a word in, I can’t imagine how you stand to live under the same roof as her, I just can’t. But seriously, if I didn’t know any better it almost felt as if you were avoiding me. You look…well…”

Tansy squinted in a look that could only be disapproving and then acted as if she had suddenly noticed Casey instead of having chosen to just ignore him, “Ohhhh, Jamie! I’m even more surprised to see you here. With the long hair I almost didn’t recognize you. Very cool, it looks good on you.

The moment Trisha heard the key in the lock, she felt tense. The prosciutto, mozzarella and tomato filled ciabatta that had been raised to her mouth for a second bite, after the first tentative one, was immediately put back down. It was probably just Sabrina. Of all her siblings, Sabrina was the one she was most alright with meeting Casey - she was reasonable and would leave after polite greetings.

But it wasn’t Sabrina. Instead, it was the worst option possible.

For just a moment Trisha considered jumping over the back of the couch and fleeing, with or without Casey. But she couldn’t do that to him - or herself. That would only give Tansy the opportunity to fill his head with lies, to try and turn him against her while pretending to just be a caring older sister.

“I was avoiding you,” Trisha said harshly, not even bothering to play along. Her whole expression tightened, eyes narrowing into a venomous glare and lips curved down into a nasty scowl. Tansy’s voice was grating enough without the words that came along with it. “You look just as fake as normal.”

“Just like a doll, I know! Impossibly flawless from head to toe. Aww, you’re too sweet, Patricia!” squealed Tansy.

But the mention of Jamie made Trisha visibly flinch towards Casey, fingers digging into her thighs. Tansy wasn’t stupid enough to mistake one man for another. As with everything, she was doing it on purpose.

Jamie was someone she’d dated for a few weeks almost eight months back. It had started as most of her relationships did, with an intense physical attraction at a club, and ended just as quickly. The in between had quickly turned toxic, escalating from two way explosive arguments to physical aggression. She’d been far too lonely then to even consider ending it. Then he broke up with her because he ‘couldn’t handle her’ even though he was the one that had slapped her across the face and he didn’t even know about magic so he couldn’t blame her for the thousands of bees that stung him afterwards.

Tansy knew all of this because she’d barged in the day after and seen Trisha.
“Is your eyesight going in your old age, Tansy? Or are you going senile?” Trisha sneered, quickly pushing down the hint of panic as she glanced at Casey. She was going to have to introduce them. She really didn’t want to, but if she didn’t Tansy would do it and that would just be worse. She reached out to rest a hand on his knee, expression lightening a little bit as she looked at him. “This is my boyfriend, Casey. Casey, this is my oldest half-sister, Tansy. I mentioned her this morning - the one with the ‘special’ water that she clearly hasn’t moved past.”

Casey had long ago lost the mindset of standing up and saluting, or stopping whatever the fuck it was one was doing to address someone in a proper and respectful way if they had some kind of rank or authority. In the beginning, they teach you that your officer is the most important thing, and you must acknowledge them or face wrath.
Nobody in the PSS was like that. It was too much of a clusterfuck of Warrant Officers and Specialists for someone to pull rank in the middle of a meal because he felt like he didn’t get a good enough welcome. So, here? To stop eating because someone’s addressing him? It didn’t even register.

But around the time the boisterous and screechy woman called him Jamie, he slowly put his sandwich down as he finished the bite. He didn’t know Jamie, but that certainly wasn’t his name. Hearing “special water” made him giggle.
”Oh, the Alkaline Water Wonder. I would’ve got you something too if I knew you were here.”
Casey stood up, sliding the paper arena he’d made onto the glass coffee table, a paper towel sliding between his hands to wipe the errant grease off.
”Chief Warrant Officer Casey Richoux, Ma’am. A pleasure to meet you.”

He was going to do his damndest, at least, to try and get familiar with these people. She was doing the same for him, and with a braver face.

“Oh, no, please, it is an honor to meet you. Thank you for your service,” said Tansy, putting a hand to her heart before giving Casey a slight curtsy. Her nose wrinkled ever so slightly at the sight of the food. “I appreciate the gesture, but I’m actually on a juice cleanse right now anyway. It turns out that alkaline water is made from the same stuff they put in batteries, can you believe it? Honestly, I don’t know how they’re allowed to sell that stuff in the store. I’m trying to get it banned.”

She jiggled the cup of sludge and took a sip, making an mm sound with her throat as she winced at the taste.

“Patricia you simply must try it. It’d do wonders for your skin,” said Tansy. She put her hand on her hip. “And why didn’t you tell me that you were dating such a handsome hero, Patricia? How long have the two of you been together?”

“Are you saying there’s something wrong with my skin?” Trisha glared at Tansy, not bothering to stand up. Why would she? Honestly, seeing Tansy curtsy made her want to gag. She wanted to tell Casey to sit back down too but… if he was standing maybe he could make a run for it and at least save himself. “I’m not drinking that sludge.”

Nooo, I’d never say that, lied Tansy, the Why, do you think there is? lingering on her lips, held back only because Casey was in the room.

But there was the question to answer. Not that any answer to how long she’d been with someone would get a good reaction. This was Tansy.
“I didn’t tell you for the same reason I don’t tell you about anyone in my life. You always come in and try to fucking ruin it… We’ve been together for a day. So congratulations, you’re the first to meet him.”

Casey wasn’t used to the kind of openly hostile pushback that Trisha was giving her sister. He wasn’t put off by it necessarily, but it certainly wasn’t what he was expecting. In his experience, there was always a kind of friendly back and forth, two parties well and good knowing their positions without having to make it so real so fast.
He was probably better off that she was like that. It’d be better for the honesty in their relationship if she didn’t hold back like that around him.

He laughed and raised both his hands, wiggling them a little bit.
”Yaaaaay. Surprise! Best part is you can’t make things any more awkward than my family can, so… Here! Sit down! Let me try that juice you’ve got; I doubt it's any worse than what my Dad used to give me.”
Casey looked at Trisha with a smirk. He couldn’t quite convey “Lets have fun with this.” into a look, but he did his best.
”Do you know anything about Boxing, Tansy? Like the sport, not the things shoes come in…”

“Me? No, I’m afraid I don’t know a single thing,” said Tansy, jumping at the invitation to sit down.

She squeezed herself between Trisha and Casey, turning her back completely on her half-sister, accidentally on-purpose flipping her hair in Trisha’s face. She pinched the straw between her manicured fingers and pulled it a bit further out of the cup, offering it to Casey. However, before he could take a sip she turned back towards Trisha, her eyes the size of dinner plates.

“Wait, one day!?” Tansy threw her head back and laughed. “No, you silly billy, I mean how long have you two been actually dating? Like how did you meet and when, etcetera, etcetera. I don’t care how long you’ve been hanging out for!”

Trisha’s expression went from bad to worse when Tansy not only sat down with them, but in-between them. She leaned back to not get a face full of curls, not so subtly shifting so there was a good gap between them. She… half got what Casey was trying to tell her with his look, but the thought of having to spend any more time with Tansy outweighed any fun she could get out of the situation.

“One day,” Trisha intoned, hitting Tansy with a flinty stare as her voice turned near monotonic. She was trying her best not to be as scathing as she normally was for Tansy, that slight fear Casey might find it distasteful at the back of her mind. “We met yesterday at the festival.”

”She’s super right, and honestly it’s been a pretty fun day so far. I’m thinking of actually doing a second one. Probably a third too? Trisha, what do you think, are we likely to keep stringing days together like that? ‘Cuz y’know, that’s how they work.”
He quickly plucked the straw into his fingers and sucked the opaque green sludge into his mouth. But it wasn’t like he was being polite, rather he was taking massive gulps from the straw like a man determined to suck the ocean from the planet.

Thankfully he could tell right away it wasn’t alkaline water. She struck him as the type of ditz to get something banned and still use it. He wondered how badly she’d burned her throat from the third party water filters.

“Yeah, we are, these days will just keep going until we lose track of them,” Trisha said, though the words coming out hadn’t exactly been well thought through. Since she hopefully still had Tansy’s attention while Casey finished her vegetable slop, she attempted to turn things around a little.
“Didn’t you always say, when I was younger, that if you find someone you like you shouldn’t let anything hold you back from getting together? At least, that’s the reason you gave every Christmas when you brought home a new boyfriend. How is Charles, by the way?”

“He’s dead,” said Tansy, all too casually. Socially dead, anyway, like all of the other men she had dumped or that had dumped her. She didn’t flinch as Casey drained her drink, pushing the cup even closer to encourage him to finish it, backwash and all, giving him a playful wink before turning to Patricia. “Honestly, I’m so happy to hear that you took what I said to heart. What else is a big sister for? Seriously. I think it’s great that you’ve known each other for only a day and aren’t only comfortable enough to call one another boyfriend-girlfriend, but to even introduce yourselves as such. That’s just so, so incredi—”

She coughed.

“So incredibly you,” said Tansy, giving Trisha a fake smile.

As Tansy looked back at him, he felt a shock of fear go up his spine. Instantly he backwashed the last bit he had in his mouth and sat back up stiff on the couch. He’d met this archetype before; a pair, actually. Two Warrants in Europe who were both so unhinged and over their service that they no longer showed fear of the unknown. It was like they were equipped with shields of ignorance so thick they could block artillery shells.

On base, there was a long standing tradition of fucking around and subsequently finding out. And those two were the Kings of it. For a brief moment, he felt like he was looking at the equivalent Queen. Feeling equal parts fear and disgust, he did the only thing he felt like he could do at that moment.
Holding his gut gently, he felt the kombucha base bubbling, and held it in for a moment before releasing the loudest, most protracted belch he possibly could. The scent of ginger and spinach was mixed with the marinara and garlic from the sandwich, forming a potent weapon of biological terror in the form of a gaseous cloud that now hung between himself and Tansy.

And to top it off, he blew the last little bit.
”Damn, thanks. That shit was pretty good.”

Trisha’s scathing retort to Tansy dressing up questioning their relationship in flowery language died on her tongue. She turned around and away, hand covering her mouth and nose both to avoid the smell and stifle laughter. Normally, she’d find something like that disgusting… but in this situation, against Tansy? It was just hilarious. Her hatred for her half-sister outweighed everything else.
“You’ll have to let me know where you got it, Tansy,” Trisha said, still trying not to laugh. “Since he’ll continue to be my boyfriend for a long time, and he enjoyed it so much.”

A little curl of Tansy’s hair wilted as it came in contact with the chemical bomb released by Casey, but the woman stayed resilient with her phony, polite smile. Her eyes watered as she carefully set the empty drink down on a coaster, taking the moment when the two couldn’t see her face to silently bleh in disgust, and sat back up with a smile on her face yet again, hands folded in her lap, shoulders in perfect posture.

“O-of course,” said Tansy, her guard slipping ever so slightly as she was hit by a second wave of the belch that had lingered in her spot.

It was typical for Trisha to have a boyfriend who lacked manners. Charles, the worthless, stupid, balding, fat, lazy, ignorant, incompetent piece of shit, at the very least knew how to excuse himself. She turned her head ever so slightly, her lip puckering as if she had just bit into a rotten lemon, and she steadied herself. She had one goal and one goal alone: get Casey to adore her more than Trisha. A fun little “game” she played with all of her family’s partners, winning more than any of them would ever admit.

“That’s actually a sign that it’s working. It’s your body releasing its toxins,” said Tansy, turning her back once more on Trisha to give Casey all of her focus. “I posted a blog about Eastern medicine before—you know, with how multicultural my family is I just love to learn about all kinds of foreign traditions. Better out than in is their theory. I’ll have Trisha give you my number and I’ll send it to you to read. Oh, but you were saying something earlier? Something about boxing?”

Ding ding! They were about to enter into a new round. Tansy moved to grab Casey’s bicep, “Are you a boxer? You’re definitely built like one.”

”Oh, right! Right, no, I was wondering if you know my brother? “Timberwolf” Richoux? Leon to his friends…”
Casey was frankly impressed by her sturdy constitution, but he couldn’t let her see that it affected him. If you gave these types the fear response, that was a victory. He had to keep up, for every Marine and Airborne crazy fucker he’d ever met. The entirety of the United States Armed Forces was riding on this performance.
”Trisha didn’t tell me if you were a globetrotting slag or just a regular local one. I figured if you stayed local he’d probably tried to fill that kalehole of yours at least once. But if you’re not a sports groupie, you must be into fashion.”

“She’s both,” Trisha snickered, still covering her mouth. Honestly, she didn’t feel the need to say anything… she could just sit back and watch the show. She was worried for a moment when Tansy started on her fucking flirting, the very thing that led to more than a few ruined relationships, but it didn’t seem to faze Casey at all. Thankfully.

There was a second where it looked like the annoying_sister.exe crashed as Tansy stared at Casey unblinking, the mirthful shine in her eyes suddenly dull and dead like the fresh catch of the day. Her body tensed. It seemed at that moment as if the plastic pleasantness was about to reveal itself to have been covering a mold made out of some slightly more volatile plastique. Then, the corner of her eyes crinkled in a look of amusement as her kalehole twitched until she was able to fully reboot and offer him a fake smile again.

“ I see that you must not have served with a lot of women. Did Patricia snag you up as soon as you returned from deployment? That explains so much. You’re so brave. Reintegration takes some time,” said Tansy ever so politely before cocking her head and twisting a strand of blonde hair around her finger. “Since you’re curious about fashion, I’ll give you this tip for free: slutshaming is no longer vogue.”

The piece of hair popped perfectly back into place as Tansy returned her hand to her lap and grinned, ready to shut up Trisha’s snickering with a fearsome knockout punch, “Or was it my body count that you were actually interested in, soldier boy? I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.

Casey could do nothing but laugh aloud at the sheer power. The strength, the poise, the rebound potential put her in the top scoring players throughout the entire WNBA and probably the regular one as well.
”Trisha? I’m… So fucking impressed. Are you gonna be like this when we argue? Am I in for, like, the worst stone face I’ve ever gotten?”

His nose crinkled in a mix of shock and disgust as his focus shifted back to Tansy.
”You took the Kalehole line like a fucking champ. My Dad, and my Brother, are both professional boxing champions. Like, world recognized. I’ve seen sturdy motherfuckers, Tansy Vanburen, and you’re one. I’m just… I’m at a loss.”

Tansy turned to look at Trisha, the smugness of her smile unable to be masked as the ref signalled to ring the bell.

Trisha's laughter very quickly stopped. Tansy, the bitch that she was, had completely stepped past Casey calling her a slag. While she hadn't expected it to actually bother her horrible half-sister she'd hoped it would make her back off. She only seemed to double down.

That explains so much. You’re so brave. Trisha's lips pulled down into an even uglier scowl than before. It wasn't hard to tell what Tansy was implying… no she was openly saying that Casey was only with Trisha because she was the first woman he'd met since, and that he didn't know many others. That he'd leave her when he realised how awful she was in comparison. Tansy was probably right, and that was what made it so infuriating. The smug smile, and Casey being impressed, was just the nail in the coffin.

“I’m nothing like her. Just because we have the same shitty dad doesn't make us anything alike- don't even compare us." Trisha jumped up, standing in front of them both while glaring daggers at Tansy. It was very clear that she wouldn't be stone faced during any argument - her anger written across her face and slightly shaking arms. Her voice was still low, rather than exploding into a shout, but it was harsh and heated.
“Piss off, Tansy. Stop flirting with my boyfriend, before I ruin that perfect face of yours and you won't get anyone again- I mean it this time. Do you know how desperate it is to try and steal your sibling's partners? Your life is so sad you have to come here and ruin mine too. You're just a bitch that everyone in the family hates… And nobody gives a fuck about your body count- its so high we can all see it."

“She’s just kidding. This is how we show affection.”

Casey put his hand up, finger rising high.
”That was beautiful Babe. I’d like the record to clearly reflect that I was not flirting with this Botox Beast, I just… Think it’s impressive that she would fit right in with a barrack full of Infantrymen on a six month deep deployment. Mostly as entertainment.” he cleared his throat and grimaced thinking about the implication of that. However, the darker thoughts he had queued up were probably just going to send him back to a place he didn’t want to be.

”And don’t speak for women you don’t know, Hon. It’s also suuuuper not chique. Past tense, even. Most of the women I met in the service were proud slags, since active combat attracts a different breed, y’know? Harder than you. Thicker than you. Stronger than you. I could still get you enlisted, there’s plenty of border conflicts you can go fight in.” he stared, the grin vaguely fading from his face until he matched Tansy’s previous cold, dead and fish-eyed expression.

But Tansy had turned her attention to Trisha, hand up to block Casey from seeing her lips move as she mouthed: he’s talking about prostitutes. Her eyebrows raised ever so slightly, as if in concern for her younger sister, like she was some kind of protector instead of tormentor.

“Unfortunately society would collapse if I left, so I’m afraid the borders will just have to fight themselves. Speaking of entertainment,” said Tansy, smoothing her dress as she stood up and turned to Trisha, “I’m hosting a little charity gala next weekend and came to see if Sabrina could whip together some of her magic and help me find a dress. Do you know when she’ll be home? Oh, funnily enough, it’s for Veteran’s Day. You two should come! By then you’ll remember each other's name. She nudged Trisha with her elbow. “What do you say, babe?

”Oh, Babe, she’s so right. I can call General O’Keefe, I’m sure he’d be happy to show up and bring the Command Staff from Lewis-McChord! Just the kind of guy to give your event a bit of real star power, Tansy.”
He shot Trisha a knowing glance.
”I think you’ll really get to see what kind of soldier I am at that point. And amazingly, it has nothing to do with licking boots!”

“No way, I'd rather die the slowest, most painful death than suffer one of your galas," Trisha said tersely, expression only getting worse. Tansy knew just how to get under her skin - digging down into the insecurities she tried her best to hide. She knew Casey wasn't talking about prostitutes, and she knew they knew each other's names… but the implication under it all rattled her. “Fun as it would be to ruin it and see how you deal with real soldiers at an event you're hosting to pretend you actually care about anyone other than yourself. I don't think you'd enjoy it- and maybe then everyone would know what a fake bitch you are!"

Trisha jerked away from Tansy, sitting back down and immediately pressing into Casey's side. She looped her arms under one of his and hugged it tightly, still glaring at her sister.
“And no, I don't know when Sabrina will be home. You have a phone, don't you? Fuck off and come back another day. I won't be here anymore to ‘entertain’ you… hopefully you can finally leave me alone rather than acting like some obsessed stalker."
Hopefully it would be harder for Tansy to track down a temple owned apartment in the same city than it was Trisha's accommodation at university.

“Oh, boo, you’re no fun,” said Tansy, giving a playful pout, not even flinching at the insults thrown her way. Trisha lacked the eloquence needed to pierce through her armor. “Come on, even Casey sounds like he wants to go. Brooke and Izzy came to the last one, but do you know what they said when everyone asked why you weren’t there? They said you were throwing one of your patented pity parties. Pity Party Patty they called you the entire night. Honestly, it was awful. They wouldn’t let it go. Really, you should reconsider coming. People are starting to worry about you.

“I mean it. I’m worried about you too. I was only playing around earlier, Patricia,” said Tansy, her voice taking a serious and somber tone. It was well-practiced, bullshit gilded to glisten like genuine concern. “You’re my baby sister. I’ll never leave you alone. So when you say things like, I won’t be here anymore, I…I…I get really scared!” Her eyes watered on cue. She wiped one with her finger. “That’s not something funny to joke about!”

Casey clung tightly to Trisha, not wanting to cause her any more undue stress.
”As much as I'd love to ruin your event, Tansy, Trisha's really got enough on her plate after meeting my family. Business, a home, safety, peace of mind. Things that you and yours can't seem to provide her properly, she's poised to achieve on her own. And I'm there for her every step. So, with all confidence, fuck off and come back tomorrow after we've properly moved her out. Oh, and one more thing?-”

Trisha could feel him lean back slightly, and both women would be able to hear his guts rumbling before a louder, nastier burp erupted from his throat.

”You're not seeing any results because you're actually not putting enough fruit into the mixture. I suggest less Kambucha, more natural juice. Maybe it'll cleanse the dirty fucking soul you seem attached to. Now don't make the fucking Wizard angry and be a good Kalehole.” he finished, his free hand coming up to shoo her off like a giant bug.

“Thank you, Case,” Trisha said softly, smiling at him and leaning into him more.

A hint of color was able to fight its way through the layers of powder and concealer and appear on Tansy’s cheeks as her eyes widened. At first it seemed as if she finally appeared insulted, having her “concern” so easily deflected, the crocodile tears in her eyes holding steady. Then loud, wicked laughter burst out of her as she clutched her stomach and doubled over. Her poise shattered and her face wrinkled, making her look like a hag whose glamour was failing. She laughed so hard that her side felt like it was about to cramp and actual tears began to stream down her cheeks.

“After we’ve moved her out? As in, you’re moving in? Together? With Harry Potter?”

Tansy threw her head back in another fit of laughter at the idea of Trisha moving in with her boyfriend of one day. She was in full hysterics as she stumbled away from the stupidest couple she had ever met and fell onto the couch while rolling with laughter. She struggled to breathe. Anytime she looked up at the two she broke into fits again, slapping her forehead and kicking her legs. This was hands down the single greatest thing Tansy had ever heard. Only through sheer force of will was she able to finally calm herself down enough so that she could speak.

“Oh, I’m just…pfft...I’m just so happy for the two of you, hehehe. I fully endorse this union, r-r-really. Wow, this is great. This is just great,” said Tansy, descending from her full blown guffaw into a giggle fit. Her eyes almost exploded out of her head as she sat up. “I cannot wait to tell EVERYBODY!”

Trisha was completely speechless. She just stared at Tansy with wide eyes, shock momentarily overwhelming how pissed off she was. She’d never seen Tansy like this. For as long as she could remember, she’d never seen anything genuine about her apart from the times a younger Trisha had gotten a proper, angry reaction out of her. But laughing? Laughing so hard she was flailing about like she was having a dying fit (which sadly she wasn’t).
“I’ve never seen her like this… she doesn’t normally show real emotion,” she whispered to Casey, going back to a narrow eyed glare at Tansy as she seemed to collect herself. Honestly, it was a bit terrifying. More so than the faked care.

“I’m sure you’re totally happy for us,” Trisha rolled her eyes, returning to a scowl. Because she knew that Tansy was mocking them. Was moving in with Casey after a day fast? Yes. Did she want her worst sister to find it so hilarious she actually proved that she was a human because of it? Not really, no. “Tell whoever you want, it’s not like you can tell anyone I care about. And I won’t have to deal with it, anyway, because you won’t be able to barge into my life anymore! Oh, but if you tell Ezra, make sure he knows I’m not actually leaving the family yet, but that I won’t depend on him for much longer.”
She still needed that allowance for now… just in case.

“Oh, of course, I’ll be sure to tell him just that,” said Tansy, still chuckling. “I’m sure Maria will be excited to hear the news, too!”

Don't you dare tell her." Trisha's expression only worsened, tone lowering with a cold rage. She jerked forward, only stopped from jumping up and scratching her half-sisters eyes out by Casey's arm around her. But she still pushed against it in her anger. She couldn't have her mom finding out right now. That would only end in another judgemental phone call, hours of being picked apart and then thrown away again once she was deemed damaged enough. Or worse, there would be no call at all. Her mom simply wouldn't care, and that would be much harder to bear than disappointment.

“She probably won't even pick up, Mom's too busy to listen to people like you, she's not one of your vapid rich ‘friends’-" Trisha gritted her teeth, whole body tense. Pretend it doesn't bother you, don't make it obvious. A slight banana scent started wafting off her - Casey would recognise it as her pheromones, different from the ones he'd been hit by before, and not strong enough to do anything to him at all. But she couldn't handle it. The risk of it going to her mom, the risk of it not being a bluff - because why the fuck was Tansy in contact with her - and the risk of her mom not caring at all. Panic and anger clutched her equally.
“Tell her before I do and I'll- I'll make you regret it."

“Oh, of course, you would want to tell her yourself. I know how close the two of you…” Tansy’s nostril flared, her eyelids fluttered, and her words died in her mouth. Her breathing grew short and staccato as she leaned forward, fingers pinching the bridge of her nose, appearing as if she suddenly felt unwell, tugging at the collar of her dress to fan herself. “Mmph…sorry, I just…um…”

Casey immediately pointed at her, his unhinged nature growing as his emotional field was walloped by magical pheromones.
”Oooh! Not so tough now, you… Blind…”
Clearly he was looking for the words to use to insult her for lacking any sort of magic, but in his head none of it sounded intelligible. He knew she wasn’t magical from the moment she started cracking up under the pressure.

It barely tickled him.

But he knew this wasn’t going to be what he wanted to be remembered for.
”Don’t piss the Warlock off!” he barked, both arms wrapping tight around Trisha.
”Hey, easy… Don’t hurt her, you’ll regret it later. Trust me.” he quietly and calmly spoke into Trisha’s ear, hands rubbing up and down her biceps as he held her there.
”You win, you’re stronger, she’s not a threat.”

His voice was a quiet mantra that echoed in her ear as he attempted to calm her down and appease her as best he could. He was just reaching for whatever he thought would be comforting.

Trisha curled in towards Casey, legs pulling up to her chest so she was a tight ball in his arms. She took a deep, shaky breath and tried to push back the panic rising in her chest. Tansy wouldn’t actually tell her mom. If she did, then it would be fine. She was used to her mom berating her. And she would. She wouldn’t just ignore it. Deep breaths.

“I’m not doing it on purpose," Trisha mumbled, trying to pull the pheromones back in. It wasn’t anywhere near the full blast, but they started increasing the more she panicked. She shook her head, closing her eyes and trying to concentrate on everything else. Focusing in on the sound of Casey’s voice and the feeling of him holding her tightly. Slowly, but surely, the scent began to fade. The tension in her shoulders faded, and she uncurled slightly. Her arms snaked around Casey and she rubbed her face against him a few times.
“I’m alright. I shouldn’t let her get to me…" Trisha said softly. It made her look so fragile, but Tansy just knew what to say. There was so little she didn’t know. “She just pisses me off so much. She does this all the time, I should be used to it, but some things just get to me more. But I’m alright now, it’s fine."

Meanwhile, Tansy had bolted out of the room in a flash, babbling what might’ve been a panicked apology for the sudden departure, stumbling only momentarily as her leg banged into the coffee table and knocking her water bottle onto the carpet, the remnants of whatever kale nightmare concoction dribbling out and staining the white rug. The sound of heels clacking in an off-rhythm followed by the front door slamming open against the wall confirmed her exit from the house. The faint sound of a young man, her driver perhaps, calling out to her—”Miss!Ms. Vanburen!”—could barely be made out through the front door that Tansy had left open in her flight.

Casey did indulge in a smirking giggle as Tansy vacated the premises. He didn’t want that type of thing happening to Blinds, but sometimes they were just too uppity. They had to learn. But, that was also his upbringing seeping into his mentality; the inherent bigotry that families like his exuded toward those without magic was almost always palpable in a private setting.
Like any other hate, it propagated in privacy, small numbers of close people giving into their biases and insecurities. They made themselves feel insular, safe, and ultimately on a pedestal above those without their gifts.

The capacity within him filled his mind with shame, but that sense of pleasure still came with it. The snickering, greater-than judgement… He was disgusted and fascinated by himself simultaneously.
But he didn’t want to dwell. It wasn’t right… Even if she deserved it.
”It’s okay… We all let things get past our walls sometimes. She’s been doing it for years, right? Forever? When you meet Junior, he’s not gonna be like that. He’ll flirt, try to get you to think he’s charming and funny, and that he’s not a sociopath. When he hears you’re into computers and stuff, he’s-”
He stopped, clearing his throat. Why was he thinking about Max Junior?
”-I guess, the same person. Just a dude. And he does shit like that to me. So, I understand. Okay?” he offered the reassurance again.

“I’m glad you understand,” Trisha said softly. She was, in the way it made her worry less about him reacting badly to her reaction. To those who weren’t used to people like Tansy, everything she said seemed to be nice. She’d fooled most of Trisha’s university friends when she ‘visited’, aside from Reyna, thanks to her ability to read auras. It had been frustrating. It was the same for past partners of hers.
“She didn’t used to be like that- well, she was always fake. Since she’s the oldest girl, she was always trying to act like our mom. But I have a mom, so I always pushed back on it.” A bit of an understatement. “Eventually it turned to this. All the hidden jabs. She’s only like that to me.”

Trisha laughed without much joy to the sound, fingers digging into Casey’s back as she tried not to think about all the things Tansy had said over the years.
“You can see now why a bit of crying doesn’t affect me, right? She does it all the time. At least… we can both see through it. Silver linings and all that,” she smiled slightly. “I won’t get charmed by any partner stealing siblings of yours either.”

Casey nodded.
”Good, because I’d have to kill him at that point, and I’d hate for you to have to deal with that.”
He didn’t mention the familial ramifications. It was, of course, implied. Regardless, he cuddled Trisha a bit tighter and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
”At least hopefully she won’t be back tonight. She doesn’t live here, right?” he asked with a nervous tone.

“She doesn’t, thankfully, she’s just an unwelcome guest,” Trisha smiled, twisting around to look at her practically untouched sandwich. “... but let’s finish those in my bedroom, just in case.”
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Act One-Three

Sabrina's House

After the chaotic events of yesterday, they decided to have a more ‘relaxed’ morning on Thursday.

At least, it probably was for Casey. For Trisha, a relaxed morning was waking up midday and maybe rolling out of bed after another hour on her phone. But Casey woke up at five on the dot, and there wasn’t exactly anywhere to comfortably go in her place. Him waking up and moving about meant the bees woke up. While Trisha could sleep through someone moving next to her relatively easily, the thousands of pheromones bombarding her was a whole different story.

As were the fuzzy bodies of a couple of bees that had buzzed over to her and landed on her face, tickling her with their little feet in an attempt to get her up. As if they actually needed anything from her. She couldn’t wait to sleep in a completely different place from them.

With a grumble, Trisha raised a hand to wave away the bees, lazily leaking pheromone at them to go away. After a little more pattering over her forehead to make sure she couldn’t just go back to sleep, they flew back to the loud hive. The window had been left open all night, with bees occasionally going in and out on strange protective patrols around the house or in search of any still alive flowers at this time of year. Normally she had to bundle on blankets to not get cold at night… but it hadn’t been necessary with Casey there.

But somehow during the night she’d rolled herself in the duvet, facing over the edge of the bed with only the top half of her head poking out. It was a bit stifling now that she was awake… with another grumble she started the process of wriggling herself out of the duvet, managing to free her arms from where she’d managed to get them trapped in a tight blanket burrito.

As she wriggled herself out, Trisha also turned around to face Casey - who’d taken the side by the wall. Her long, dark hair spilled across the pillows and the oversized t-shirt she’d worn slipped off a slender shoulder as she propped herself up slightly on one elbow.

“Mornin’,” Trisha smiled sleepily at him, eyes still half closed. “You sleep well? I’m going to have to get up soon to check what the bees want… they’ve decided I need to be awake… maybe I can make us some breakfast too. I’m sure we’ve got something in the kitchen…”
She spoke slowly, clearly still in the process of waking up, but no longer tired enough to go back to snoozing. There was a lot to do today anyway - packing up her stuff, and moving in.

Casey was thinking about the blanket set they’d gotten for their bed, wondering how he’d be able to do it at night. There was nothing that said they couldn’t have separate blankets, but he felt somehow wrong about that. But he was sweating when he woke up at his usual time. Maybe it was the heater underneath the wall side of the bed, or maybe it was the thickness of her current set, but he laid there in an uncomfortable silence as he rotated onto his back.

As Trisha was waking, she was still laying on top of his arm. He just stared up at the ceiling.
I was having a nightmare… I can’t remember what it was, but I’m sweating… I’m hot. The windows are open...
He took a deep breath, and one of the bees bumbled up around his face before landing on his forehead. Not that he wasn’t nervous, but it was definitely still in the back of his mind after the other day.

But, there she was. She hadn’t left him in the bed to fend for himself… Or to deal with that woman. She was emerging from her cushy cocoon like an adorable little moth. Seeing her made him feel excited immediately, and he happily shifted back to his side to pull her in close with the blanket and all.

It would’ve been pretty easy to see his vaguely wet face shimmering in the low light coming from the vague low light bouncing about the room. But he quickly buried it in the duvet as he cuddled Trisha.
”It’s a great fuckin’ morning seeing your face… Hi. Don’t make me go out there, she could be out there seeking revenge.” he joked.

“If she is, I’ll get rid of her myself,” Trisha laughed, wrapping her arms around him and melting into the hug. Remembering yesterday made her properly wake up… Dealing with Tansy was something she hated doing on the best of days, nevermind after already suffering through both Casey’s family and former coven members. There was a reason she was Trisha’s second least favourite sibling.
“Don’t worry, I’ll go out first to make sure the coast is clear… We were just really unlucky yesterday. Normally she’s too busy to torment me. But I’m not in a rush to get up.”

She yawned, wriggling out of the duvet more so she could properly cuddle him, not particularly caring about the slight dampness from his sweat. She could shower.
“But now you know why my family isn’t so easy to deal with either… Mom's side’s no better. Thankfully most of them live in a different country.”
She didn’t really want to be thinking about her mom this early in the morning (or at all), so she changed the subject, tilting her head to try and properly look at him. “Sooo… do we get to move in today?”

Casey nodded and smiled.
”Well, frankly we’ll just be doing some pretty minimal direction. Theo and Norm are the ones actually moving all the furniture up the building, but the delivery gets there at eleven. We should probably try and be there early to meet Clarissa and Furio, have him give me the keys and confirm things. Once it’s taken care of though, I was thinking about taping some lines down in the place so they know where to put stuff.”

Having stuffed his face into the blanket, it was mostly dry now. He giggled.
”You’re lucky. I was having a nightmare I think, but I wasn’t really seeing it. I didn’t scream or anything. One of the bees came to comfort me as I woke up.”
Casey’s arms slipped up, wrapping around her as opposed to the blanket, and he pulled Trisha in as tight as he could.
”You like pineapple pizza because it’s too sweet and so are you.”

He was right in a way. She was like pineapple, at least - sweet at first bite, until it felt like it was burning your mouth.
“I could never figure out why I had such a sweet tooth… I guess that’s it,” Trisha smiled, putting aside the doubtful thoughts clamouring inside her mind. She shifted slightly so she could curl her head in against his neck, properly kicking off the blanket so her legs could tangle with his instead. It was so much easier to ignore all those nagging worries when cuddling like this. It felt safe and comfortable.

“And even if you’d screamed, it would’ve been fine. I said I’d be able to handle it… and the bees already are. They’re good like that.” She was glad that after the incident where she’d lost control he hadn’t held it against her or the bees, and they’d easily warmed up to him too. When she liked someone, they tended to, but there was only one other person they would also actively seek out that wasn’t her.
“I have plenty of socks I can stuff your mouth with,” she joked, giggling. She didn’t entirely know how she’d handle something like that but she’d deal with it when it happened. She’d seen people pulled out of Stygian Snake induced illusions, but very few of them were people she actually cared about.

Not something to worry about too much just now.
“What time is it just now? I need to finish packing… along with getting ready, it’ll probably take me a couple of hours? Since I need to decide what I’m bringing and leaving.”

”Oh, it’s…-”
Casey craned his neck to look out the window at the very slowly greying dawn sky.
”-Just after five thirty? You took a little bit to really wake up. I didn’t wanna move.”
But he held her tighter, rather than encouraging her movement.
”You’ve truly messed up now. I’ve got you in a lock. I’m never gonna let go; we’re gonna meld together into one person. I’m actually an amoeba monster. Raaaaah…”

His dry voice and almost effortless movements as he locked her legs in between his were an attempt at humor in such an early morning setting.
”And the sock thing is kinda kinky. Unless it’s not?” he grinned.

“Mmm, nothing sexier than waking up to a sock shoved in your mouth,” Trisha laughed, making a half assed effort to wriggle away from him without actually wanting to. She was more than happy, and comfortable, with this closeness. “I keep a used pair by the bed, just in case.”

She managed to pull back her head and stretch her neck so that her face was more in front of his. She darted in for a quick peck on his lips, before smiling sweetly at him.
“I don’t mind kissing an amoeba monster, but I’m not so fond of the taste of old socks…”
Trisha moved back in, kissing him again. It wasn’t as quick this time, she drew it out while keeping it shallow. She didn't want to push him when he wasn’t as experienced… and she was fine with taking it slow. It was better than risking getting rejected.

In his own head, Casey wasn’t exactly sure how far one was expected to go at this point. She was kissing him, sure, but she initiated it. Was it okay to just move forward when it’d only been a couple times now? It was more than he’d ever gotten, or at least wanted to get. Lena was the only person who had ever tried to kiss him.
At that point, it just put him off more than it turned him on; practically zero prompting. As if she’d just throw herself at him and he’d accept or even know how to handle a thing like that.

But getting lost meant the hands started to do what they wanted. Not much more than before, but he gently pulled at the back of her shirt, letting his fingers run across her bare lower back as they sat there pleasantly attempting to prove Casey’s amoebism correct. By the time they pulled away, he was sad to have it go. The moment of intimacy.

”That… Is really nice. Watching a thousand movies where the good guy gets the girl and they kiss in the end… That’s really kinky, isn’t it? Good endings?”
He grinned at her in the low light, just staring into her eyes.
”Ours will be good too… Sixty years from now, when we take the last elevator. We’ll be at peace.”

“I hope so,” Trisha said quietly, lips still close enough to his that he’d be able to feel her soft exhale afterwards. She did… Even if she’d never really thought that far. To getting old, or even towards the next few years. She’d wandered aimlessly, flitting through academia without a goal, from person to person in the hope that they’d be the one that didn’t leave her. Maybe- hopefully- that would be Casey. It certainly felt like it could be.

But was she just like her mom? Moving too quickly, only for it to all crumble underneath her in a matter of years?
No, she didn’t want to think about that right now. Just enjoy the moment.
“But-” she stole another quick kiss, hands moving up his back and lightly pressing against it. “I think we have very different views of what’s kinky. Good endings are… well I don’t know. A dream? But if you find it kinky, things will be interesting for whatever's on the other side.”

She giggled a little at that, lips curving up into a soft smile, corners of her eyes creasing and tone turning more teasing.
“Socks and good endings… You’re lucky I’m so easygoing.”

His grin was full of pale teeth, one vaguely shining as the metal cap became clearer in the wideness. His arms slid her gently so they were at eye level without Trisha craning her neck. His lips wrapped slowly around to whisper in her ear.
”You can teach me about kinky then… Teach me everything, my Queen Bee…”

A light shiver ran down Trisha’s spine and she smiled, eyes narrowing contentedly. It was… nice to hear. It meant that he was attracted to her and she could, slowly, teach him what she liked. She hadn’t had that opportunity before…
“Mm, alright… You’re also lucky that I’m a good teacher. You’ll be an expert by the time I’m done.”

Then she tilted her head, and leaned in to kiss him again.




In the end, it didn’t take Trisha as long as she’d expected to finish packing… thankfully, since they stayed in bed longer than she’d expected to. She was practically glowing afterwards as she went about gathering her things. She decided to leave at least a week's worth of clothes here, just in case, and the old mathematics textbooks along with a bunch of the other books she’d either already read or wasn’t likely to. It’d be an unnecessary weight. The rest of her clothes were neatly folded into boxes, her makeup properly gathered and shoved in along with it. Books went in their own box, picture frames carefully laid on top of her coats. Her desktop and screens could be carried out themselves. By the end of it there was a reasonable pile of boxes, and a few suitcases… But between their cars it should fit.

She needed to move hers over to their place anyway.

It just left the bees to deal with. She looked at the wooden hive with a slight frown, hands on her hips. After getting out of bed she showered and got changed, opting for a more comfortable combination of dark green cargo pants and a white tank top with a sweater over the top for warmth. A small group of bees gathered in the messy bun at the top of her head as she tried to figure out what to do about them. Brows furrowed, she turned to Casey.

“I’ll need to order some new hives for our place. Moving this one will be too much of a hassle… I think I’ll leave them here for just now, until I get those. Then I’ll have to slowly move the bees over. They might take to the new ones right away, they might not. Yeah, I think that’s the best way to do it…” She nodded, looking at him like she was waiting for him to confirm that it was a good idea.

Casey had, after the most enjoyable extracurricular study session of his life, was at a bit of a loss. He was using his magic to keep his mind off the fact that he was on cloud nine, balancing a dozen boxes magnetised to his hands as he shuffled through the tall hallways of Trisha’s sisters’ home. When she started speaking to him, he barely realized were it not for the words “hive” and “order”.

”Those should be getting here today too… Part of the agreement is you get into production immediately, so I’m pretty sure they’re going to be doing something crazy with the greenhouse? Mom said something about letting the student adepts test out a new group ritual to give you extra space for production, so Ginara will also probably be there with a whole bunch of teens. I’d like to be working while they’re doing their business, Gin kind of gives me the creeps.” he explained, shrugging his shoulders with some boxes.

“Oh, shit, really?” Trisha’s eyes widened slightly, and went back towards the loudly buzzing hive. That meant she had to try to bring the bees too. Of course, they could take themselves but… a whole group of bees was just a sitting target for the strangely increasing crow population. She’d rather take them with her. They’d just have to go in her car… maybe if she ordered them into boxes, and poked holes in them? No, she couldn’t do that. She should be able to get them to not bother her during the drive.
“Your mom… does she know that honey season ended over a month ago? Even if there’s a flower-filled greenhouse, they normally rest over winter and only produce what they need to eat.”

She shook her head, taking a slow, calming breath.
“Sorry, that’s not something you decided. I’ll make it work. Apart from the bees, I’m all packed…” She smiled, pushing down the bubbling anxiety. It was just moving nerves! And the prospect of dealing with magical teenagers and others she didn’t know… but it’d be fine. It’d be fine. Before sorting out the bees, she quickly stepped over to Casey, pushing up onto her tiptoes to press a kiss against his cheek. “Thank you for doing all the heavy lifting, boyfriend.”

With a grin, she went back over to the hive. She closed her eyes, collecting her thoughts before carefully sending out pheromonal commands. Controlling a large group was more difficult, especially the whole hive, but it was possible as long as the instructions were simple. Follow me. An easy one, and her mind was relatively clear and her mood still good from earlier that morning. There was a loud buzzing, and a stream of bees began to come out of the hive. Some landed on her, while others flew around her head, and some hovered in a cloud just in front of her. So far so good.
“So. How many bees are you taking in your car?” she joked.

Casey laughed at both her joke and the question from before about the honey season. Of course she knew… Maybe Trisha didn’t really understand what a “Ritual” and “Something Crazy” really meant for a Greenhouse. Rather than press things, Casey giggled to himself and nodded along.

”Oh, I’ll take them all if you want me to. But I think they’d maybe fuck me up if you’re too far away, wouldn’t they? Like I’m kidnapping them?” he asked with a laugh.
His head was still fuzzy, but being called Boyfriend really made him put some pep in his step as he made way with the last few things.



Cannery Apartments > Casey and Trisha's Home


Trisha’s bees thankfully behaved the whole drive. She carefully stacked boxes in her car so they wouldn’t shift too much, putting the small plants she had in the front seat next to her. The bees settled all over - on the boxes, the backs of the seats, the dashboard, and the plants. A couple were still in her now loose her, and underneath her jacket… but thankfully they kept still. That had some amount of self preservation.

It didn’t take too long either. She followed Casey’s car, thankful they’d managed to miss the morning rush hour traffic (just about), and in no time they were pulling into the building’s parking lot. She made sure to lower the windows slightly before turning off the ignition, twisting round in her seat to look at all the bees… well, as many as she could.
“You all stay in here until your new home is ready, alright?” Of course they couldn’t speak, but the slight response she sensed as he gave them the instructions in a language they understood seemed to be agreement. Trying to sort everything out with sixty thousand bees clinging to her would be a nightmare.

Bees sorted, she got out of her car, a black Toyota Tercel. The least fucking cool car she could have, in her opinion. But it was what Ezra had given her when she’d bothered him to buy her one… not that he’d actually bought it. But she couldn’t really argue when he’d said it was safe, even though she doubted he actually cared. It was so dependable that it’d lasted her nearly six years, and it wasn’t even first hand- the lack of hassle made up for the lameness… so long as certain people didn’t see her with it. Unfortunately, she didn’t have much of a choice with Casey.
She walked round the front of it and craned her head up at the… pretty tall building, grimacing slightly.
“Fuck, I really hope there’s an elevator.” She spoke loud enough that Casey, and anyone waiting for them, would probably be able to hear her. A couple of bees lazily flew around her head.

Casey had been happy to get there so early. The bus wasn’t there yet, but pulling into the parking lot, he could see Furio and Clarissa’s cars, as well as the moving truck packed full of things.
As they both met up in the parking lot, he gave Trisha a laugh and pointed out toward the truck. It abutted the building, blocking a bit of the view toward the back of the building. There were guys wearing some funny looking contraptions on their legs, like they were bionic. But things became clearer as they twisted a few knobs and began to vertically scale the building as if it were some kind of flat surface.

They didn’t even slow down.
”Don’t worry about carrying anything… But, yeah. Kind of. It goes to the top floor, and then there’s a set of stairs after that. But you’ve got a few perks. The guys?-” he said, pointing to the ones scaling the wall by walking like normal. ”-Theo and Norm. Technically my employees. Really, like our butlers. Not butlers, like… I don’t know. They help out, and they live here for free on the security floor. They’re supposed to be for my job specifically, but they clean for Clarissa and Furio when they get busy and can’t keep up, or like they bring the groceries upstairs for you. I’ll introduce you when we’re up there.”

He smiled widely, admiring the morning sunshine and rubbing Trisha’s shoulders to keep her warm.
”Get prepped. Because it’s another round of introductions… It’ll get easier the more you do. This time, Furio? Clarissa’s husband. He was my Dad’s first student, and he’s been my Uncle forever. Technically he’s my Godfather. But, you’ll like him. He feels like how we feel, and if Clarissa did what I told her, he’ll act like he doesn’t even know you. Their Daughter probably, or she may be at a friend’s or over at the Temple, but she’s sweet.” he giggled, thinking about the bobbing golden hair she’d always had. Just like her Mom. Same attitude too.

”Otherwise, like I said, Norm and Theo. Pretty down to Earth. Mostly happy to have stuff to do I think. They’re like how uh… Mia is. Except they’re older, so I think they’re not so… Addicted? To being addicted, I guess. But then Ginara maybe, if we can’t squirrel you away somewhere or if she’s not too wrapped up with her students. She’s not evil, she’ll just treat you like a lesson while you’re standing there, and I really hate feeling like I’m someone’s plastic skeleton.”

Of course they had some kind of magical building scaling device rather than just using the elevator like normal people. Trisha shouldn’t even be surprised, but she was. The whirlwind of names seemed like nothing compared to that. She already knew Clarissa, and she’d spoken about Furio a bit yesterday… Then the rest Casey had mentioned that morning. It made it possible to keep up. But it was still a lot to take in, and she just nodded along. People bringing up their groceries and possibly cleaning if they were busy sure did sound nice.

“I hope she doesn’t, I’m not sure how well I can control them if that happens,” Trisha pointed back to her car, and the bees quite visibly crawling across the windows. It wasn’t so much a threat as it was honesty. She wasn’t sure what exactly being ‘treated like a lesson’ would look like, but she could imagine it. Not pleasant.
“If we get caught by surprise I’ll just cling under your hoodie like a koala, and you can pretend you gained a ton of weight or something. I’m sure nobody will figure it out.”

That was a much funnier image, and she tilted her head back to smile at him. She raised a hand to rest over his where it was on her shoulder, lightly stroking it.
“I think after yesterday I can handle any of the other introductions. I already went through the hardest, right? Aside from Ginara the rest sound… nice. So I think I can handle it.”
She turned around to properly look at him, smile widening and eyes taking on a teasing shine. “So long as you have my back and don’t get too distracted remembering this morning, yeah? Serious business from now on.”

”Do I get a reward for being a good boy at the end?” he grinned, eyebrow rising high into the sky.
He laughed aloud, taking her up the side entrance of the building and into the main lobby. It wasn’t anything grand, there wasn’t a doorman or anything. Rather, it seemed like it was once a bar or restaurant turned into a common room where there were postage boxes, bulletin boards, and a bunch of places to sit that varied between private and open, as well as vending machines and a row of phones that didn’t seem connected to any sort of pay system.

On the back wall were two elevators, one closer to the entrance and one much further down near the end of the building. Really, it was like a little hotel, and one could imagine the massive saloon front down here sandwiched under layer upon layer of guest room and suite.
Casey specifically went to the elevator further on down the hall.
”This is the one with access to the top floor. The other one doesn’t go up all the way, and you’ll see why.”
The elevator doors opened, and he stepped inside. The panel for the elevator seemed normal, but Casey made sure she watched him.

”It needs a little juice. So, pump it with a little energy and hold zero, then press one twice. It’ll detect you’re a magical being, and it’ll take you to the Eleventh floor. Which is actually the tenth, but who has to know that?”
The door promptly closed shut, leaving them with a moment.
”Nervous?”

“Excited,” Trisha replied, smiling even as she looked intently at the panel. It didn’t look different from normal… she guessed most magic things didn’t. Her eyes narrowed in concentration for a moment as she committed the instructions to memory. So long as she could do the magical energy thing, it’d be fine.

“Alright, a little nervous too,” Trisha laughed, tilting herself forward so her head leaned against his chest before she completely slouched against him, her arms loosely wrapped around his waist. She closed her eyes, lips pulling up into a cute little smile.
“Recharging first so I have the energy to face all the new people. Need to get my fill before we’re busy sorting stuff.”

Having carried stuff, Casey’s glove was still on. As he rubbed her shoulder, he smiled and channeled a low effort enchanted material spell. The purpose of it, he figured, was long gone. Probably an ancient form of load bearing material, but it wasn’t strong enough to do much more than gently press into Trisha’s shoulders and neck.

A massage coat.

”Did you leave a door open for the bees? Well, actually, how do they do in the cold? It’s definitely not bee weather right now, but we can bring them into the lobby or the shop until Gin gets here and sets up.” he offered, considering how frustrating it must be to be tens of thousands of bees stuck in a metal box with the heat on.

“I left the windows open,” Trisha said, with a shrug. It wasn’t that she wasn’t worried about it - they were her bees, and if they were upset it affected her. Bringing them into the lobby would be difficult… because then there’d just be sixty thousand bees hanging around.
“They’re actually pretty used to my car. When I went to college I just put them in the car and drove them there with me. They can get out and find me if anything happens… But it shouldn’t.”

She smiled again at him, feeling… content. Any nerves she had felt were massaged away by the coat and his concern over the bees.
“Thanks for thinking about them. Keep it up and you’ll be their new favourite.”

Casey giggled.
”I am their new favorite. Who else is going to contest the spot? Seriously, point them out, I’ll make sure they stop the contest.”
He held her nice and tight to him, smiling down and shaking his head.
”Now, when you get up near the top, the elevator will-”
The entire thing rattled as if it would totally come down from its line.
”-do that. Which is why anything worth keeping safe, we just walk it up the side of the building. The enchantment set is this crazy gyroscopic mindfuck. So, even if you’re walking vertical, it keeps its orientation relative to your feet.” he grinned.

”It’s definitely a spell in my Dad’s big book of tricks, but I haven’t really bothered to learn many of his spells since I Kindled. It’s hard when your brain doesn’t work the same way. I think that’s why I never managed to do it here.” he shrugged his shoulders.

Trisha nearly jumped out of her skin when the entire elevator shook. What the fuck? She reactively clung to Casey, glad that he was already holding her tight enough she didn’t have to worry about being shook around.
“Well, I don’t know anything about spellbooks,” Trisha said, trying to pretend like she hadn’t just been nearly scared to death. “But one of my many talents is studying. Maybe I can study it, then help you learn… through teamwork and all that.”

He grimaced.
”Oh, God I wish they were fuckin’, like, math equations. Something simple, you know? No, the Richoux Tomes are these big fucking adventure journals. And each spell is associated to a story, and you’re essentially supposed to be able to harness the fucking story and take the emotion you need from it by channeling it through your dedication to your clan and faith. I… Never really felt a connection.”

As he finished, the elevator doors made a ghastly hiss before beginning to slide open. Like any other apartment building hallway, this too stretched out before the happy couple as they stepped out and turned right.
Or, it almost was. There was a bevy of clipboards, filing cabinets and other office supplies and materials that lined the walls, and apartment doors were left either partially open or ajar entirely. Casey looked around for a moment before a gruff voice came from one of the apartments.

”Casey?”
Casey almost deflated a little bit in Trisha’s arms.
”Yup… No rest…” Casey whispered to Trisha before speaking up.
”Morning, Uncle Fyor!”
”Glad you didn’t say good. Come here.”

As they walked, Casey gripped Trisha just a little tighter, like a protective object or some kind of shield. The first door they walked past looked like a very strange room made of metal grates and gates, maybe some sort of secure room. But the one after it, Casey turned in. Furio Natale was sat in front of a computer console the size of a living room, feet swung up onto the big desk that held at least half a dozen monitors.
As he turned, he looked up to see the two, rather than the one. He cleared his throat, finally standing up.

”Trisha. Good to meet you sweetheart, I’m Furio. Forgive our family business, but can I ask you to head upstairs to the new place while I speak with Casey? In the interest of keeping you as separated from our business as I’m sure you’d like to be…” he offered her.

“Good to meet you too, Furio,” Trisha said, relatively politely. So far it was the most… normal introduction from anyone in the temple. Well, Mia and her friends hadn’t been too bad, unavoidable hug aside. She pursed her lips, looking at Furio for a moment before tilting her head up towards Casey. She didn’t really want to head up to the new place by herself… honestly she’d rather just go back downstairs and sit in the car with her bees. Well, it wasn’t quite by herself, there were a couple with her.

But she also didn’t want to get in the way. Getting in the way was a quick way for Casey to start seeing her as a burden, probably. And staying somewhere she wasn’t wanted was more uncomfortable than being alone for a little while.
“Sure thing, I wouldn't want to intrude.” She spoke softly and without much emotion, though she did smile at them both. She leaned up to kiss Casey’s cheek before slipping out of his arms and back towards the apartment door. “I’ll get you up there in a little bit? I’ll try not to accidentally paint the place another bad combination of colours before you get there… are the stairs just along the hall?”

Furio and Casey both nodded, the two of them pointing in unison down the end of the hall that they’d been walking toward.
”Uhh, the boys are up there still moving things out. Oh, y’know? Gin came yesterday, Case…”
Casey had a surprised look on his face.
”Oh, no shit?-” he turned to face Trisha. ”That means the Greenhouse is actually all set, or should be?”

Furio gave them both an enthusiastic look.
”Listen, whatever you two are gonna be using that space for? Real fuckin’ impressive, they outdid themselves this time. That kid? Nolan?”
Casey was all smiles, and nodded along.
”That impressive?” Casey bantered back.

All Furio could do was nod.
”Maybe you both wanna see it… Oh, y’know? Trisha, come here. Casey tells us you were lookin’ for an office of your own?”
He waved his hand, guiding Trisha and Casey toward one of the other rooms. In this particular apartment, there seemed to be a large main section that used up most of the living spaces, then a bedroom with a closed metal door, and another one wide open with a massive desk spanning one of the walls. It was already mostly furnished, having a tower and a few monitors set up, as well as a chair, storage spaces, and even a few potted plants with a little card sitting on the keyboard.

”Just hang out in here for a few moments, I’ll make it real quick, I’m not tryn’a abuse our boy or nothin’. Check the envelope out.” the very clear New York Italian man’s voice didn’t waver even a little bit. He was constantly charming and friendly, even as he slinked off to leave Trisha alone with her new office and a closed door.

Trisha wasn’t easily impressed by material things, but the setup of the new office was impressive. It had everything she could need and things she hadn’t thought about - namely storage. She was used to having everything in one room, and at a certain point just dumped work stuff at her feet. Having a whole space for it would be nice. An easier separation. It also meant she could set up her current computer in the apartment itself… She’d been thinking about buying a laptop for that, but it removed that need.

She’d just need to keep everything backed up, in case she had to leave.

The bees that had come with her meandered around the room before landing in the potted plants, contentedly lying on leaves and watching her. She made her way over to the desk, deciding to just bite the bullet and open the envelope. It didn’t necessarily make her nervous, but she was hesitant, with how much prying there’d already been. Well, it was maybe just a card or something, right? She bit her lip and opened it.

It was a card, in fact. A nice, rectangular white piece of cardstock with some very nice cursive written on it.
”Welcome Home.”
Attached to the card’s back, however, was a thin metal key. Turning it over was a second note.
”The Key to New Beginnings- Lynette, Furio and Clarissa, and the Project Eden Team.”

Trisha smiled slightly, holding up the key and rotating it in her fingers. Then she slipped it in her jacket pocket. She’d add it to her keychain later. She sat down, picking up the card again and flipping it to the back. It was a bit… disconcerting, if she was entirely honest with herself. Sure, it was nice words. She would love this- with Casey- to be her home and new beginning. But when it was signed by Lynette… Well, it was a bit different. It wasn’t something she wanted to dwell on too much, because she knew she’d have to deal with it properly if they stayed together for a while.

But what the fuck was the Project Eden Team? Like the Garden of Eden? She knew about it of course - it was impossible to avoid learning about ‘creation’ at school, or when her mom decided to give her a lecture about how it was just an allegory and that it was completely possible to believe in both science and God. She’d found it incredibly boring then, but maybe she should’ve paid more attention… but it probably wasn’t anything to do with that. Why would the Temple name a project after something from another religion? It was just as likely to be some important figure’s name.

“Hey, there’s nothing to eat there,” she murmured to the bee that flew over to the card and seemed to start… nibbling on the corner of it. She rolled her eyes at it and put it down on the desk. If her bee wanted to chew some paper then she wasn’t going to stop it, she just made sure to remember her pheromone scent. “I’m sure there’ll be plenty of food for you later, be patient.”

There was a slight moment where the piece of paper seemed to shift slightly on its own, but around that same instant the door opened back up. It was Casey. As the note and the door moved at the same time, the bee climbed back up toward its mistress. It caught Casey’s eye as his vision shifted into focus.
”Hey, all set Babe. Furio and I have decided there’s not gonna be a lot of hiding what we do around here, so we’re just gonna give you the long and short, and at least make sure you can access the important stuff in case you’re in a bind. Should be enough time for them to get done bringing stuff out.”

He smiled at her genuinely and with a great deal of excitement in his eyes.
”Office work for you? It was Clarissas, I guess.”

Trisha took a moment to reply, brows furrowing as she tried to figure out the pheromones the bee was bombarding her with. Something had freaked her out but she couldn't figure out what. Maybe the card didn't taste nice? Well, it wasn't that important. She was planning to just throw it away later anyway.
"So you shut me in here for nothing?" Trisha teased, raising a finger to gently stroke the bee that had landed on her neck. ”I… I guess I'm glad you trust me enough to not keep it all hidden."

She smiled warmly back at him, getting up from the comfortable chair and quickly making her way to his side. She reached out for his hand, threading her fingers through his and gently swaying them.
“It’s way more than I expected… I've seen some big offices, like my brother's, but I didn't really expect to have one. It's not the same but- well I'm going to be able to work much better. It'll be nice being right next door too, so long as you can tune out the occasional swear here and there." Occasional was a very generous way to describe how she got when coding was going particularly badly. “It's pretty perfect. They even provided a computer, so I can set mine up in the apartment. Maybe we can plug it into a TV and use it for movies or to play games or something."

She grinned up at him. “Either way, it's exciting. It makes it all feel real."

Nodding, Casey wrapped his arm around Trisha’s shoulders and rubbed them gently.
”Some conversations are just things you don’t want to hear. You’ll get used to it as things go, but right now…-”
As the two of them stepped back into the office, Furio was waiting with a grin.
”-The faith is freaky, my girl. You don’t want to hear about some Righteous Left Hand bullshit, right? Best you get used to wearing headphones and keeping doors closed in that office. Casey’ll show you around, I’ll be upstairs waiting.” he finished, shrugging his shoulders and making way for the other end of the hall. Casey and Trisha were alone again.

”Thank God he’s not the stick around type. Love that man.” Casey’s body shook as he giggled.
”So, there’s six apartments per floor. Up here, two of them are offices. There’s actually usually a lot more people working, but they’ll know to just leave you be; you’re not working with them.”

“Yeah, I like him,” Trisha said once Furio was gone, with a half smile. “He didn’t try to bullshit me about anything- I guess I’ll have to invest in some good headphones.”
She then pressed her lips together thoughtfully. She wasn’t really used to being around a lot of people, generally having her own space - but she supposed that her office had a door, and if it was closed no one would come in. Still, she had to ask. “How many people, normally?”

”Probably like twenty?” Casey questioned for a moment before nodding.
”There’s three people in the Cage-” he explained, hand pointing at the closed metal door. ”-But they don’t really leave their whole shift. Then I have a personal assistant, who I actually don’t know yet, but they’re usually in here with me.”

His head nodded, guiding her back toward the elevator they’d come through. The room with the metal mesh door and other cages. Casey put his Channeler on and pressed his hand against the door. Loud metal grinding led up to the door popping open with a bit of a jolt, and it opened up fully.
Within were cages full of boxes. Metal boxes with thick padlocks, and in the middle of the apartment was a big table.
”This is mostly a storage unit. Like, half the building is storage units, but this one generally has important shit, so we keep it locked up tight. Magical products we use or make here get packaged up and distributed from this room and a few others like it around the city. It’s usually another couple people working in here, but on days that we get more complex orders out, there could be ten.”
He looked around, moving to the master bedroom door and swinging it open to reveal even more metal boxes.
”I could read the inventory, but honestly I don’t want to think about it yet. There must be at least a dozen unresolved orders going on right now while we try and figure out some sourcing issues.”

Closing the door again, he nodded her back out of the room. Across the hall directly was another door, and he opened it up to reveal a very dark apartment with all of the windows covered over by different machines. It was icy cold, and the hum of electronics was strong.
”Main server. Technically Junior’s office, but he’s almost never actually here. Again, thank God. There’s plenty of computer shit in here, parts and units that are getting worked on. Some people send their computers to us to hook up directly to our systems rather than using, like, basic internet from cable companies. There’s like three guys who work under June, but you know tech types. Quiet, tame. Not like you…”

“Well, I am way cooler than most people in tech. Almost all of them, perhaps,” she smiled brightly at him, glancing over the machines with more interest than she’d felt towards the rest. It was a lot of equipment. “Oh- don’t tell my friends I said that when you meet them, two of them are developers too… Not the quiet, tame types, but just not as cool as me.”

Casey returned a laugh.
”What if I say it because I believe it?” he cuddled her tightly before continuing down the hall.

”Now, you’re probably asking yourself what we make here. It’ll probably be no surprise that we do a lot of processing of raw materials. You remember those deer on the Temple property? Or the glitter from the Moth?”
At the end of the hall, the last two apartment doors were both wide open. In the right, there were refrigerators, and the entire thing was tiled and pristine like some sort of operating room.
”So, this ends up being a butchery. We store meat here, and in one of the back rooms we actually tan the hides and collect any other sort of raw material. The other one is for specialty materials, shit that you’d pull that we don’t experience here in the Shimmer.”

The last apartment’s door opened into a box. Just a black metal booth.
”This one you probably wouldn’t be able to get into without approval, but I’m going to register you with the door, because there’s a day where you may have to use it as a safe room. It’s the most secure room in this entire building.”
In the same way he opened the door to that storage room, he pressed his hand against one of the walls. Grinding, churning, and the door popped open. Swinging, it opened up into another apartment full of metal cages and lockers and-

Stepping in fully, there was a large wall full of racks on racks of firearms. There were tables with machines and presses, different tools.
”This is the Temple’s secondary armory. There’s a one-way portal from here to the Temple, meaning any assault on us can be reinforced through a secondary stage. This… This is my baby. My actual work. From here, we can modify and enchant arms and equipment, develop actively destructive spells in a safe environment, forge and manufacture our own patterns of guns and even pack ammunition for distribution.”
He proudly walked up to one of the lockers and patted it.
”This one’s mine… I’m gonna keep my toys in it until I find a good place upstairs.” he grinned like a child.

“By toys you mean… guns right?” Trisha asked, already knowing the answer, looking up at him with a smile. She had never been a gun person, would never be a gun person, but Casey’s joy was infectious… enough that she decided not to ask about the distribution. She didn’t want to know about that, actually.
“It’s… cool, I think. Don’t know much about this stuff. Do you enchant them yourself?”

He nodded happily.
”First spell I ever actually learned to cast was on some bullets, not even the guns. But, yeah, sometimes I can spend hours in here just loading ammo. Probably a luxury I won’t get to experience much anymore, since my seat will get cold if I’m not in the office.
I know I’m weird for it, but I guess tedious simple tasks are good. To me.”
he added punctually.
”I know the whole magic thing may seem like it makes these things useless, but honestly they’re just more powerful magical delivery systems.”

Casey’s hand waved at the wall of guns, and he walked over to pull one down. It was short, and almost looked like a toy in his massive frame. But for a normal person, it’d be a normal sized gun.
”Like, every bit of this is a mass-produced magical artifact. We make dozens of them a month, and each one is exactly like the last one until we come up with something better.”

Shrugging, he put it back up on the wall. His smile remained, however.
”But what I really mean is like, I kind of… Want you to learn how to use one?” he let his voice squeak at the end.

“Huh?” Trisha’s eyes widened, head snapping around from looking at the guns to looking at Casey. Her… learning to use a gun… Just the thought shocked her a little. She wasn’t against it, but she also was really sure of it either. What if she was awful at it and shot someone accidentally? Or shot a bee- wait, she’d have to be a good shot to do that.
“Why? Because of Father Wolf? I’m willing to try, I think, it just seems like. Well. I feel like it’d be like pool.”

”Well, like, I can make a gun that aims for you. I can make a gun that reloads itself. I can make one that requires zero maintenance. I guess in that sense, yeah it is like pool. But, yeah. I just don’t want you walking around without at least vaguely understanding how things like that work. Like, say you need to run and you lose the gun I give you. You may need to use a different one, and if it doesn’t do all that special shit, you’ll be fucked.”
Casey shrugged his shoulders, considering what she said a bit more deeply.

”It’s… Yeah. Mostly Father Wolf, but the Temple has plenty of enemies. Maybe you being associated with me could make you a target. I’d rather you be a dangerous target, so the only thing I can think of that’s more dangerous than sixty-thousand bees is sixty-thousand bees and one gun.” he giggled.

“Can you not make all the bees little guns too? Then its sixty-thousand bees and their little guns, and one proper gun,” Trisha laughed, pushing past the sobering thought of being targeted by the Temple’s enemies. If they were Apparitions, she knew how to handle them - had the experience with the Snake. But humans? Anything that could be hurt by a gun? She didn’t have any.
“If the bees can’t shoot for me, I guess I’m willing to learn, so long as you're patient. There are things they can’t handle… and if they get hurt, I do too. I’d rather be as safe as I can be.”

Casey's mind went wild at the thought of sixty thousand assault bees. There were component shrinking orange spells, and plenty of different enchantments that could be used in tandem to maintain their combat effectiveness. He thought about the harnesses, the fact that bees were already too fat to fly, and his mind wandered about the possibilities that were, frankly, endless with the right amount of tweaking.

The entire idea, and the fact that she so casually presented her utter genius, flustered Casey. He stared at her, cleared his throat, and then glanced up at the door before looking back at her.
”It would take a long time to hand make sixty thousand tiny guns… With all the magic that would go into it?”
He took a step closer, arms gently wrapping around her waist, or as low as he could get them. His gaze was intense.

”W-would you… Would you do that? Keep weapons for them, I mean… I'd be honored to t-try and…-”
The reasoning for his stammering wasn't openly clear, but he was desperately trying not to put Trisha off.
”-An-and… Did… Anyone, has anyone I mean, did I…-”

His face was beat red. He couldn't look her in the face, so his embrace tightened. He pulled her so close, to whisper in her ear.
”Sixty thousand assault bees… So fucking hot, Trisha.”

Trisha was confused about Casey’s reaction to what had been a joke on her part. Giving her bees guns just seemed ridiculous - there was no way they could use them! How would that even work? Would she have to train them… could she train them? Why was she even properly thinking about it?

She reached up to put her hands on his shoulders, leaning in as the mood began to change, head tilted as she easily met his gaze and waited patiently for him to finish whatever he was trying to say. What about making guns for the bees was so hard to talk- Oh. Oh.

“That’s a new one. Nobody’s ever found my idea of arming my bees hot before,” Trisha replied in a low, teasing tone. It was really difficult not to laugh and ruin the mood. Really difficult, when the start had been so ridiculous. She didn’t want to ruin it, however strange the cause had been.
“If you make the guns, I’ll arm them… then we can train them to use them together.” She twisted her head round so her lips lightly brushed against the corner of his. “So long as you keep telling me how hot it is.”

Her lips curved up into a smile, face so close to his that their lips were practically touching, but not quite closing the last bit of distance. Waiting to see how he would react.

Possessive hands grabbed places they probably shouldn’t have, gentle finger tips slowly digging into Trisha’s thighs.
”You keep talking like that and I’ll go insane.” he grinned and almost growled in her ear.
For the first time, he felt like he was being prompted to do a little digging, and took the time to lock them up in another kiss. It was a few moments before he pulled away, forehead brushing against hers.
”I’m… I’m a fucking weirdo, I know. It’s… Your willingness. Whatever action, you know? You’re just… You seem so down for anything. Makes me want to say the word.”

“It’s a bit early for that,” Trisha said softly, slightly breathless, her expression not seeming to change much at the prospect. She smiled at him, eyes contentedly narrowed and her body still pressed against his. Physical attraction could come instantly, liking someone could happen fast, but loving someone? Not genuinely… or without the risk of everything falling apart. But the selfish part of her, the part that was desperate for someone who would hold onto her no matter what, was happy for him to think he felt that way towards her.

“I knew you were a weirdo from the moment you were interested in me when I was covered in blood. I still chose to go out with you,” she lightly teased. Her arms moved to properly wrap around him, fingers pressing into his back. She leaned in to kiss him again, a quicker one this time, as if rewarding him for… feeling that way about her.
“There’s very little I’m not willing to try… And I find it pretty hot that you like that about me. It isn’t the thing that people normally… appreciate about me.”
There was a hint of emotional vulnerability in her eyes as she spoke.

Casey shrugged his shoulders, still holding her tightly by the ass.
”When I signed on, I was a Marine first. The big lesson you’re supposed to get from training is that things are always gonna suck, and you’ve just gotta make due with what you have on hand. Thinking about someone who can adapt in situations like that, like I think you can? It gets me riled up like I don’t usually get.”
Finally, his hands let go and he kissed her one more time, gentler of course. Though, his fingers lingered for just a moment longer, like he didn’t really want to let her go.

”We’ll talk about the bee guns when I have a prototype. I don’t doubt you’ll need to do some work on controlling them to get it to work on both our ends, but… It’s not such a stupid idea. Goofy, sure, but still doable.”
He took a deep breath through his nose, head listing slightly to the right before fully regaining his composure. He nodded toward the door.
”Alright, let’s go. Before I force you to dress up in uniform and march.” he laughed, knowing full well that one day his deepest desires could maybe be met.

It made him really want to say it. But she was right, and he knew he couldn’t. Not now.
”Unless you want to look around here, like I said. It’s mostly a place that you can run to and seal up, the walls and doors are magically warded, so it’d take some pretty intense magic to get in.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, you couldn’t handle me in a uniform yet,” Trisha joked, smiling brightly at him. She took another quick look around the room, just in case something jumped out that she would want to take a closer look at. Not really. It wasn’t like she knew anything about guns.
“Intense magic… So something the Stygian Snake’s level?” she started to head towards the door as she asked, indicating that he could answer while they walked.

Casey wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t going to make her feel like it wasn’t an impenetrable fortress. A little fib to make her feel better.
”It actually turned it away, if I’m not mistaken. They had to do a bunch of construction on the roof of this building after the big battle, but apparently the room itself was safe. Buckled into the next floor like a safe box crashing through a surface.” he grinned, rubbing her arm and leading her out before closing the black box door and then the real door behind it.

At the end of the hall, there was another door. It didn’t have a window or anything, and Casey opened it up to reveal a mostly bland room with some empty coat racks and a staircase leading up to what was clearly a rooftop access.
”This is technically storage for the office, but storage for the office is also downstairs? So, this is like our basement. It’s ours to use how we want, since nobody but us and the on-site guys are supposed to be on the roof ever. So, if there’s someone up there? And Norm or Theo aren’t around? Treat it like the whole roof is your yard, and extricate them from the area as you see fit. Make sense?”

“Who can even get up here? It’d be people who work on this floor right… and I can just tell them to fuck off? Sting them with a thousand bees if they don’t?” She glanced around the mostly empty room, before looking back at him. It did make sense, but she also wasn’t that confident she could remove someone from the roof if they’d gone up there knowing that they shouldn’t. Because if it wasn’t Temple members, it would have to be someone who could fly, which was much less of a risk.
“Uh, yeah, it does make sense. How likely is that to happen?”

”Like, not. That’s why if it does happen, you treat it like it’s a problem. And, obviously, why I want some magical firearms upstairs too. We’re lucky to have this place, but it’s an exposed ass position and not-so-enchanted. Furio and Clarissa will both tell you that they’ve had to improvise some defensive manoeuvres over the years.”
He really couldn’t stop himself from continuing the statement until a point where he realized that he probably killed any good his previous white lie had done.

”B-but, yeah! I mean, it really won’t happen. I’d expect Sycamore members looking for you to show up before I expected one of our faithful to break a rule like crossing into hallowed ground without permission.”

“So not likely unless they really want to kill me, like half the Sycamore members might, right,” Trisha shrugged, clearly joking. While it sounded like… an actual risk, if she knew anyone on the roof that wasn’t them, Norm or Theo was a threat, she could just take it as such.
“I can handle that.”

”Fuckin’ Christ, I hope that many people in the Sycamore don’t hate you like that. I mean, Edict is just… Like that, isn’t he? Leon said he was always a dick… Heh… Eat-a-Dick’t. he laughed, remembering the day before and thinking about how cute Trisha was when she was defending herself.

He didn’t let the thought linger too long, however, and led Trisha up the stairs to the next door. It opened outward into the cool late Autumn morning, the grey skies condensing as the threat of rain rolled through the bay. Standing out on the roof, there were canopies that kept a clear path from the door directly to the structure of the house. The whole front of it on one half seemed to be glass sloped down like a greenhouse roof. Looking in, one could see green plants hanging from various hangers, filling the windows with a verdant canopy. Otherwise, it was brick, and made to match the outer aesthetic of the building on which it sat as much as possible.

On the other side of the roof, an equally large structure stood in a mysterious fog-like haze. It was an actual greenhouse, make no mistake, but the many windows seemed to be either painted over or covered by some kind of shade. At its front were some planter boxes, and despite the temperature around them, they were full of beautiful flowers. There was also a table, which seemed to have a few things laid out on it.

”There they aaaaaaaare!”
Clarissa’s voice directed attention to the rear of the building, on which sat a rooftop reservoir for water that supplied the upper floors of the building with pressure they otherwise may not get. There was also a stack of furniture and boxes still being carted down the side of the building bit by bit.
”Hello my beautiful Bambinos!”
She was upon them in an instant, one arm wrapping around Trisha and the other around Casey before pulling them both in tight.

She was seriously strong. Stronger than a woman her size should be naturally. A single flex brought Trisha tight to her.
”Happy days, happy DAYS! God I’m so ready to move into that big ol’ house! God in Heaven, Casey, you’re really doing us a favor stepping up in a big way like this Baby.”
She gave him a big smooch on his cheek, then turned her focus to Trisha.
”Girl… You are so spoiled right nooooow…” she intoned, nodding toward the greenhouse.
”That shit? Should. Not. Exist. It’s crazy, and I think you’re gonna love it.”

The roof was… much nicer than Trisha had expected. Not that she’d expected anything horrible, she’d just expected… a roof. But it was actually nice. She was drawn to the house first, eyes widening a tad at the open glass outlooking the rest of the roof. A window that spanned a wall wasn’t unusual to her - in her mom’s place there were two, that slid out to a small balcony. But they had felt cold, looking out on a minimal, neat garden. This didn’t feel cold at all.

She barely got a chance to consider the Greenhouse, head tilting in confusion, before Clarissa grabbed her in an inescapable hug. She didn’t bother struggling against it, though she didn’t particularly return it either. She was still conflicted about Clarissa - she liked her, and she was warmer than many people were to her, but it was difficult to forget yesterday and what she knew about Trisha.

But there was the mention - well nod to - the Greenhouse again. Trisha peered past Clarissa at it. Blooming flowers in autumn… Was that possible with a Greenhouse? Well, they’d clearly done some sort of magic with it. Did it imitate the effects of summer, or something? Trisha couldn’t quite wrap her head around it. She hadn’t grown up around magic, and hadn’t interacted with it much since the coven either. Really, the year or so with Sycamore was the only time she was around it consistently.

But she really didn’t want to seem stupid by asking what the fuck they all meant. She would see it, and it would be fine.
“Is it me or the bees that are getting spoiled?” Trisha asked, with a laugh and a smile. The few she had with her, who’d landed on her neck after lazily following her up here, were already wanting to go to the flowers. There was a slight conflict in their little bee minds between staying with her, keeping her safe, and following their instinct. With a gentle command she let them follow their instinct, the ten or so bees buzzing over to the flowers and shoving their fuzzy faces into them.

She looked up at Casey, grinning, then back to Clarissa.
“... Can we go inside, then? I feel like I’ve been waiting to see this Greenhouse all day.”

”You got your key out of your office!?” Clarissa asked.

“That was for the Greenhouse?” Trisha shoved a hand into her coat pocket and pulled it out, waving it a little bit. “Just to check, it’s a normal key, right? I can just… go right in?”

Clarissa smiled.
”Oh, no, that's definitely not a normal key. But, that don’t mean it don’t work the same. So, I guess? It’s a not-normal normal key.”
As they got closer to the Greenhouse itself, Clarissa pointed at the work table built into the side of it. There was a binder labelled “Operations, Instructions and Emergencies” as well as a manila envelope and a box with little bees designed on it that was about the size of a floor safe.

”All that shit, Gin said you should look through it. There’s also a few magical bee suits. Not, not like a bee cosplay, but you know with the nets and shit. Bee keeper’s suit. That’s right.” she tapped her temple with a grin.
”But, since you ain’t doin’ nothin’ crazy, just go ahead and get in there.”

Trisha gave Clarissa a bit of a confused look. Why would she need a bee keeper’s suit? There wasn’t… some kind of gas in there that would make her bees go crazy, was there? Sure, she’d lost control that one time, but that generally didn’t happen. She bit her lip, trying not to dwell on it. It probably wasn’t about that.

“So I shouldn’t have called up all my bees?” Trisha joked, to forcefully alleviate her own mood. She glanced over the binder, which she’d have to read over multiple times later, before holding out a hand towards Casey, making a grabbing gesture with it.
“I want to see it for the first time with you.”

Casey grinned back at Trisha, grabbing her hand and planting a kiss on her head.
”Let’s get in there, then!” he said excitedly, getting close to the door.
”Ginny said to start by turnin’ it all the way to the right! She said that’s the most comfortable one for everyone involved.” Clarissa said from behind them, also a bit curious to see what it was.
Not that she was going to rush in with them or anything, she could hold the anticipation in… Right?

“Alright, all the way to the right.” Trisha said as she got to the door, mostly to herself. She squeezed Casey’s hand, half out of excitement and half nerves. The nervousness came from not quite understanding it all - why was all the way to the right the most comfortable? Did that mean it was like… some kind of portal to different Greenhouses? That some were dangerous, or something? Just in case, she ordered her bees to stay outside in those flowers.

There was no use thinking about it, rather than just doing. She didn’t want it to look like she was worried about it, anyway, not in front of Casey who’d just earlier been talking about how much he liked her willingness.
“Here goes…” She put the key in the lock on the door, turning it as far right as she could before she didn’t feel any more give. Then, she pushed open the Greenhouse door and stepped inside, making sure to tug in Casey with her.

She froze within the first step, mouth falling open.

In front of her was a large field, far larger than it should have been within the constraints of the Greenhouse. But just the size alone wasn’t enough to shock her - certain amounts of magic she was used to witnessing. No, it wasn’t that. It was what the field contained.

The grass came to her knees, and it varied - from typical long and green, to wheat coloured and feather like. There were flowers throughout it, brightly coloured patches among swathes of green. Some, she recognised as local ones. Large shrubs of Blue Blossom’s caught her eyes, before they moved on to ones she didn’t recognise. Flowers she wasn’t even sure existed. There was one that seemed to be so many colours at once, shimmering in the artificial sunlight, that she couldn’t figure out which ones made it up at all.

“Wow, it’s amaz-” As she talked, Trisha tilted her head upwards towards what she’d assumed were strange, green trunked trees. The words immediately died in her lips as her eyes only grew wider.

Towering above them were flowers. It was beyond the normal, and less normal, ones that scattered the floor level grass. These ones were the size of trees, bright purple, blue and pink petals spreading out and offering some shade. They varied too - some looking like large daisies, others like lilies.

Trisha just stood there, staring, for what seemed like minutes. She was slowly processing it. How much magic had gone into something like this? How did you even make something like this? Was there… more of them? How many? She shouldn’t be so shocked when it came to magic, but she’d never witnessed anything like this. Not even in the strange spells some coven members had used together.
“It’s…” Trisha trailed off again, belatedly realising she’d been squeezing Casey’s hand like she’d been trying to break it this whole time. She loosened her grip, still looking around in awe. It was difficult to process how she was feeling when there was so much to take in. Excited to bring her bees in, scared… overwhelmed.

“I honestly don’t know what to say,” Trisha said weakly, still looking up at the tall flowers. “The bees are going to love it… well, I’m not sure they’d even know where to start with flowers that big. I’m a bit worried they might drown in the pollen. I don’t think they’ll ever want to leave.”

She finally smiled, snapping out of the shocked state she’d been in, and shuffled in close to Casey. She lowered her voice in the hope that Clarissa (if she’d followed) wouldn’t be able to hear her as well.
“I honestly didn’t understand why you were all so excited about the Greenhouse,” she said softly. “I don’t really have magic like this around me. It’s amazing… It doesn’t feel real, honestly. Like this is a dream or some shit.”

There was a long moment where Casey was just shocked to see such a thing be captured in their little greenhouse. He’d come up here for years, and until now it’d just been a rinky-dink little greenhouse with gaps in between the glass and the frames, and it’d rattle when the wind blew too hard.
But the majesty of Project Eden’s little “Educational Experiment” was so much greater than anything he’d come to expect.

”Jesus fucking Christ, forgive my blasphemy Lord…” was the only thing he said as he looked up at the splendor of God’s childrens’ hands. He had some vague idea about how the structure was built, and it made him shake at the amount of energy and material they must’ve had to expend to make it happen.

His free hand trailed through the tall grass, and for a moment he saw the green fields of France like he had as a child. Before the bombs, before two World Wars, before he’d seen them awash with the blood of man. As the two walked, Casey’s eyes grew wet with tears.
”It… It’s certainly a feat, my sweet Trisha Bee… God damn! I mean, look! It’s like an entire fucking range! And it’s all so…”

He pulled out his glove and put it on, then took his shoe off. Yarding backward, he chucked the shoe and watched it tumble through the air for a good minute before it finally seemed to hit some kind of invisible barrier. Tugging on nothing, the shoe quickly came back as if it were attached to a rope in space.
”You’re so right. It honestly doesn’t feel real.”

Clarissa didn’t interrupt them, but she was nearby having her own religious moment. With her, Furio had wandered in, and the two took in God’s splendor between the incredible plantlife and the blossoming love in front of them.

“It’s a lot to do for some honey,” Trisha mumbled, gaze moving in an arc with the shoe that flew through the sky and then got pulled back. It was so big, and it was beautiful. She could imagine just lying in the fields, watching her bees going about their days. It was lovely.

But it also came with a certain amount of pressure she couldn’t ignore. If they’d put all of this effort into making a magical Greenhouse of proportions Trisha hadn’t even thought possible, how much were they expecting from her? Her bees would gladly make honey all through the year - it was in their nature. But how quickly would she need to grow their numbers? What if it wasn’t good enough?

Because this obviously wasn’t some everyday Temple feat, judging by Casey’s reaction. She didn’t understand the exact logistics, but it was clear a lot would have to go into something like this.
“It makes me wish we had a picnic, or something,” Trisha smiled, swinging their joined hands, acting as if she wasn’t on an internal spiral towards anticipating a failure that hadn’t even happened yet. “How do they even do something like this? Is it… like those spells Adepts can do together?”

Casey shook his head, not entirely sure of the details.
”That would be something to ask Gin? As far as I’m aware, it’s… Well, alright, think about a diorama? Or, like, those little zen gardens therapists get? And then like, a rolodex. You make your little garden, do whatever to it, then attach it to the rolodex by one side, and enchant the building to be, like, a big magnifying glass.” He laughed.

His hand came up, and a big smile cracked across his face.
”Actually, y’know that movie we tried to watch the other night? We should’ve paid attention, I guess the movie is kind of centered around a premise just like that. Because when I texted Gin about it, she was like ‘Oh iss gunna be like BEETLEJUICE!’.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled his phone out. Opening it in front of Trisha fully would reveal that he didn’t even have any kind of lock on it. Just swipe to open. His text message box was anaemic, and seemed to be full of delivery confirmations with the occasional personal text.

But he pulled up the conversation with “Ginger”, and lo’, it was exactly as he said. Upon showing her, he giggled like a kid.
”She’s always on like, every single new movie that comes out, games and shit, I think when you do meet you guys will hit it off. Soooo long as you don’t mind her being quirky.” he laughed.

“There aren’t going to be any of those worm things, are there?” Trisha automatically looked at the ground. She really didn’t remember much about the movie, but she remembered those things. She’d been fucking fixated on them when high… and she still had no idea why they were there, or what they were. It being like that movie, or a diorama on a rolodex (which she’d never heard of), didn’t really help much. But that was fine, she’d understand it the more she used it.

She leaned over to read the message, honestly… not shocked he didn’t even have a password. She tried not to pay too much attention to what else was in his messages - even if he was showing her, it seemed rude. A trust and privacy thing, really.
“So after she treats me like a plastic skeleton for a while, we can talk about more normal things? If she knows all the latest games… maybe she can help me get better at this one my friends made me play with them online. They always get pissed because I’m bad at it. It’s not my fault I’m not really a gamer like the rest of them! I don’t tend to call my friends to get cursed out…”

Trisha trailed off, waving a hand in front of her face, looking a little awkward. Just like software development, gaming was another one of those things that didn’t really go with her image. In such a short period she’d gotten comfortable enough to let slip these things by choice… it was almost scary.
“I can deal with quirky. There were some people in the old coven that… were really weird. I wasn’t really friends with them, but I was fine with them.” Though she’d been quicker to snap then. Really, people like that - who talked about mostly their interests - were easier for her to handle. They tended not to prod at her in ways that set her off.
“Just wait till you meet my friends, anyway. Some of them are… yeah, maybe not that same level, but they’ve all got their oddities.”

Casey thought for a moment about her friends. As far as he remembered, she only seemed to mention one being sensitive to the paranormal.
”Oh, yeah, cover story for your blind friends? If they come up here? This is all just storage. If you just open it, it should be like, just a bunch of boxes and like shit furniture. It only activates when you put the key in.”

Slipping his phone and his glove back into his pocket, Casey took a long deep breath, still admiring the giant flowers.
”I’m kind of excited to crack open that manual… I think Tristain was probably in charge of writing everything down, so it’ll be a bit more animated than you’re expecting. Moving pictures and magical recordings, so you have whoever was in charge of the feature telling you how it works. The few times I’ve gotten pamphlets from ProEd, I can’t help but try and figure out the fuckin’ spells he uses to embed it all into the paper.”

Casey paused for a moment, thinking about his extended family and the things that they were all capable of doing. The good natured and kind people that they were, putting their hearts and souls into a project that they all believed in. It hurt that their faith was seen as ironic or harmful by other Adepts, especially ones he’d met in the Reserve. Like it couldn’t be real.

”There’s… There’s a lot of good people, by the way. I know you got the worst of it the last couple of days, but I promise. The further down the totem pole you go, the less crazy things get. They’re just nice people who… Y’know… They believe in the things my Mom has to say.”

Trisha nodded along to the cover story for her friends. She wasn’t sure if she’d bring them here at all… it required going up a semi-magical lift, and bringing people over the second day of living together didn’t appeal all that much. But it was good to have a plan, because if she did they’d be nosey as fuck.

“A magical recording explaining how something works… Kind of like a video lecture in paper form?” Trisha gnawed at her lip a bit as she processed that. It sounded cool, but if it was all magical recordings rather than words that just meant she’d have to write it all down as she watched them. Well, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe she’d have to read it over a few less times to understand it all. “That’s… something my university would’ve loved to have. They’d try sell it to us for a ton of money too, magical talking textbooks.”

Her brow furrowed slightly at Casey’s affirmation about the goodness of people in the Temple - she’d never thought otherwise. Every place had nice people, even if the person at the top was like Lynette. She wouldn’t necessarily trust any of them less than someone she met otherwise… Since she didn’t tend to open up to anyone, until they were close enough it was no longer a risk.
“I’ll keep an open mind, don’t worry. I won’t judge all the followers based on the leaders. And Clarissa’s been nice, even after… that.” She waved a hand, before her mind jumped back to what he’d said before. “Oh- is ProEd short for Project Eden?”

Casey nodded, smiling at her own affirmation toward his feelings.
”Yup! Project Manager is Ginara Rasmussen. Then, yeah there’s a whole bunch of other people, but they’re… Like, our bleeding edge Wizards. Like, during the War, I was able to get a couple of furloughs in order to coordinate between government Paras and uh… Aiden was still PM then. Not such a good guy, and also not around anymore.” he grinned.
”But yeah, they wanted some more spells under their belt, and at the time the Temple needed cash to help defend the homefront, so we coordinated the trade. Mostly Gin and I.”

“Right,” Trisha nodded as if she completely understood everything. It didn’t really tell her anything more about what exactly Project Eden was… cutting edge magic, seemingly used to make a very fancy Greenhouse? She supposed if it was related to the Garden of Eden, this might be what it was like. But this was probably just one of the many things they did. She didn’t want to outright ask, because that was probably prying into something she shouldn’t. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to.
“So they… make really cool Greenhouses and help in World Wars? That’s some range. It’s… really impressive. Really fucking impressive.”

She tilted her head back up towards the towering flowers, and smiled.
“Do you think I need to read the manual before I bring the bees in?”

Casey couldn’t help but grin and smile at Trisha’s line of questioning. It did sound a bit ridiculous, but here she was. Magic wasn’t typical. Even as a kid, even if he couldn’t see his Sister’s dolls coming to life, he could observe the effects.
He couldn’t hear the cats chattering in his brain, so they made it a point to make sure he knew they knew that he knew. It was a nightmare. And a nightmare he couldn’t do anything about but cower in fear of. But even at that, it still left him more ready for the strangeness.

Not that he minded. He figured that he was already living his life with minimal magic, but maybe Trisha and he could give one another balance in that aspect.

”Well…-” he started, taking a long look around. ”-I definitely don’t see, like… Hive boxes or anything. So, I’m gonna have to say, yes?” he giggled.
”Or, at least don’t wait too long if you do. Maybe there’s something we’re missing about it.”

“Yeah, I don’t see anything,” Trisha also took a proper look around. “I suppose they could make their own hive, but that doesn’t just happen overnight. It could take them weeks… They need to build up the honeycomb once they’ve found a spot they like. If they have to build the hive they probably won’t start producing honey until they're done, so we’re probably missing something.”

She hoped so. Otherwise, she’d end up with a fair amount of the bees trying to sleep on herto take breaks.
“I was hoping to take my time reading it later… Ah, I guess the bees can always hang out inside with us until I figure it out. They’ll live so long as there’s places for them to sit and fruit for them to eat.”

Trisha nodded, making up her mind that she wouldn’t rush too much. If she rushed and did something wrong then that would have more of a negative impact on the bees.
“I guess we should go get everything else sorted? I feel a bit bad now, thinking about all my bees just sitting in my car while we’re enjoying this.”

Casey considered the bees and the situation. Without more knowledge on how the structure worked, he didn’t feel comfortable with leaving the door open for them to freely go in and out. Which, of course, meant sixty thousand bees in their rafters.
”Yeah, I mean it looked like the indoor collection is getting left to our discretion.”
He turned, nodding his head toward the exit.
”Just bring ‘em in and we’ll let ‘em in the house. I’ll have someone go get us some groceries and shit. And there should be some wood, I can get that stove goin’ while we’re taping down spots for the furniture.”

”Nah, special surprise my man.”
Furio’s voice was a surprise. His face hadn’t looked pressed for speech, but it practically echoed from his foghorn of a chest.
”Swapped it out for a nice clean burning gas. So, it’s just heat now.”
”Oh, geeze… I’ll really miss having to bring wood up here and chop it by hand.”
Furio put his hand up, playfully pointing back.
”It was a good chore, and it helped us out! Kept you fit!”

Casey seemed to take it in stride as they got a bit closer.
”So you guys are leaving the plants?”
”Well, nah. We’ll come back for ‘em later on though, since I’m not sure how that green room is gonna fit ‘em all, I may have to give them a different home. Buuuuut, don’t worry! We’ll clean up when it’s all set.” Clarissa smiled, leaning slightly into her husband as she spoke.
”You mean Theo.” Casey laughed
”Well duh, Psycho over there loves vacuuming.”

The three of them laughed like it was a joke Trisha wasn’t in on. Casey didn’t bother to explain it.

Trisha stood awkwardly as they all laughed at a joke she didn’t understand. Nobody explained, so she didn’t ask, trying to ignore the irritation at being left out. Her lips pulled into a thin line, the hint of a grumpy expression that she couldn’t quite control before she pushed it down.

“Uh,” she awkwardly cleared her throat. “Let’s go figure out where to put the furniture? Then I can get the bees before they get too upset…”

She half ushered them out of the Greenhouse, and towards all the work that waited for them.




There wasn’t much Trisha had to help with after they’d taped down all the furniture spots. She wasn’t really built for manual labour and she couldn’t start unpacking her own things until the furniture was all in and it was moved up. There were a few things that kept her busy - a trip downstairs to get her bees, and a less fun trip back up with them… but she didn’t want to call them all up and risk them going into attack mode. After taking the time to get them settled, most of the bees resting in the plants hanging above their heads. It wasn’t ideal, but she felt a lot more relaxed having them inside with them.

With the bees sorted, she was back to feeling pretty useless and just a bit in the way.

So as soon as she saw the opportunity to, she took the Greenhouse manual and squirrelled away into the smaller room they were going to make their ‘den’. The large, forest green couch had been put in and set up early on - before it would have to be carried around loads of furniture boxes. It took up a large space in the room, but it meant it felt cosy… safe. Trisha preferred spaces like this to massive, open rooms.

At first, she’d only meant to do a quick flick through - to find what she needed now and give the pages a brief glance over. She’d grabbed a notebook and pen from her car when she got the bees, just to make a few notes of the important points, so she could get the bees settled as quickly as possible.

It didn’t take long for her to start treating it like studying. The manual was well laid out, with all the information she needed right away at the start. It was incredibly detailed, and she was only on page one - no moving pictures yet, just informative text and clearly laid out instructions. She was glad there were no ‘magical recordings’ to start with, because then she’d really have to properly write out her own notes.

She’d just read through this page once or twice, maybe take some notes on it… then she’d move onto the next one. There was no point going through quickly if she didn’t properly understand the material at the beginning. If she was quick, she’d get through everything she needed right now in a few hours. That wouldn’t be so bad.

She moved from sitting up to lying on her stomach, manual open in front of her and notebook to her right. The pen went to her mouth as she chewed on the cap, face scrunching up as she started to read. Her eyes moved across the page slowly, pen moving from her lips to the notebook to make scrawling notes, before she immediately went back to chewing it as she concentrated.

The manual itself was a bespoke tome masquerading as a simple office shelf insert, even from the first few pages. It was addressed formally, but still as if it were some sort of planned one on one tutoring program where she was the sole focus. There was a small forward by the purported project manager, this Gin character.
”Welcome to your personalized guide to navigating the latest and greatest advancement in magical horticulture: The Plentiful Garden. It is a privilege to have the opportunity that we’ve been presented with - Allowing magically influenced creatures native to our Heavenly Domain of Shimmer to develop in conditions that we expect to see in the next Epoch.

Casey swung into the door frame. He had a bowl in his hand and a smile on his face.
”Heyyyyy… Busy? I can leave the fruit and go, but I cut you up some melon, aaaand some strawberries, and there’s grapes too. I cracked a few watermelons for the bees, I think they’re chowing down with Theo.” he giggled.

It took Trisha a moment to even realise someone was talking to her. Her mind was just filled with words, eyes moving at a snail's pace across the page. Even the foreword was something she had to read a couple of times to properly process. So Casey’s words entered her ears and just sat there at the top of the stack of other things she was thinking about, until she finally reached them.
“Oh- no, I was just taking a quick look at the manual,” Trisha turned her head towards him with a smile, acting as if it had just been a casual look. As she did she opened her mind back up to the pheromonal signals she’d been purposefully ignoring, sensing that what he said about the bees was true. “Oh yeah, they’re really enjoying them. I can feel it through the walls.”

She shifted slightly, patting the couch next to her while subtly closing the notebook already filled with a hurried scrawl with the other hand.
“It’s really sweet that you brought me all this fruit… I’m not the one doing any of the manual labour.”

The large man returned a gentle chuckle and put the bowl down on the wooden insert that turned the corner of the couch into a table.
”Well, for one? Studying’s hard work. I can still recite like thirty five stories from the Richoux Tomes; I used to study that shit until my eyes hurt.”

For a moment, he thought about being a kid and knowing for certain magic existed, but not being able to do any of it. To not feel how his siblings felt. But looking at her face made him brush the pain aside. It was a good day, and he didn’t want to ruin the mood.

”And, two… I’m barely doing anything. Check this shit out.”
One of the first things he’d done when the furniture arrived was change into a different pair of pants. It hadn’t been obvious then, but now he demonstrated a keen feature: Rather than sitting on the couch, he simply bent his legs into a squatting position, then readjusted for a moment until it looked like he was literally sitting on nothing.
He had no strain in his face, no struggle to keep the posture, no shaking or anything.

”Enchanted pants and boots, dude. Like exoskeletons, they hoist and stabilize all at the same time. You could easily be doing this shit with us, I just don’t want you to have to. Because I’m a chauvinist like that.” he laughed aloud, hoping she’d take it as the joke it was.

“Oh yeah, you’ve relegated me to doing the only thing us women can - studying,” Trisha laughed, shaking her head half in disbelief as she stared at Casey, then at the pants. He really wasn’t struggling to stay like that…
“All this item enchanting just feels like a life cheat code. Next thing you’ll just be letting your clothes do everything for you. Is there something that can do the work of my brain for me?”

With a smile, she rolled over towards the corner of the couch. It would be easier to sit up and move, but she couldn’t really be bothered to. She reached out for a piece of melon first, putting it in her mouth and quickly chewing it. Normally when she got properly into studying something she wouldn’t even bother to eat. Having someone bring her food was… really nice.
“How’s it going out there?” she asked, munching on another piece of melon. Then she shuffled across on her stomach so she was right next to him, gently pressing her head against his arm.
“I think I can get through everything I need to set up the bees if I don’t-” take any breaks. Right, that wouldn’t be feasible at all. “-Get too stuck on the details.”

Casey shifted so he was actually sitting on the couch with her. Leaning his own head, he pressed it up to hers and took a deep breath.
”Oh, we’re just about done, it’s gonna be stuff that the other two can bring up. Clarissa and Furio are officially out, but you can expect to see him at least for the next couple weeks while we transition the role fully.”
He pointed out to the hall.
”The massive fucking television I wanted is actually in the hall, I just didn’t want to install it and everything while you’re in here trying to intake information. Thankfully one of the guys from the IT office is going to be coming later to hook everything up for us; the cable, get the wifi taken care of, all that shit.”

He grabbed a few grapes and popped them into his mouth, laying back a bit to look at the manual with her. As his eyes tracked across the page, he started to get a strange and tingling feeling on the back of his neck.
”Wow… I really hope they don’t go super heavy into the whole faith thing. I don’t want you reading this and feeling like they’re trying to convert you…”
His brow furrowed as he began to shuffle through the pages. Each new one, or at least once every few pages, a voice leaked out like a person stuck in a book before being shut up again by the fold of another.

“Honestly? I don’t entirely understand all the faith stuff in it, and I’m used to ignoring things like that to get the information I need,” Trisha shrugged. She leaned over to watch as he flicked through it, trying not to get too twitchy about how he was just skimming and not even bothering to read anything properly, and he wasn’t understand the earlier things first- but he wasn’t studying it, he was just quickly checking it wasn’t too religion heavy.
“My mom’s Catholic so she used to always get me these ‘Faith and Science’ books, I got good at reading around those parts. Didn’t work so well when she quizzed me on that too… But basically, I’m used to it, so don’t worry too much about it.”

She reached out to place a hand on his shoulder, gently rubbing it. Honestly, she did find it a bit annoying, but she also didn’t care if they were trying to convert her through some manual… she wasn’t going to convert, and that was that. She wasn’t someone who was so easily influenced.
“Maybe it’ll help me learn a little bit more about you?”

”Well, sure… But…-”
He bit his lip, hitting the end and reading through a paragraph. He cleared his throat before speaking again.
”Its just, y’know, a Catholic will tell you Jesus died for your sins. A member of the Temple would agree, but they’d also tell you that he came back. And that he’s not far.”

He shook his head, closing the book.
”It seems fine. No little quotes from the book, or any of my Mom’s poems. They’re probably gonna start talking about Eden and about the Bible, so its shit you already know. But, they’ll probably give the magic spin on it, if you’re interested in hearing. I guess, long and short, we… Believe that with enough unity, we’re be able to reclaim the gift of Eden. Since… Y’know, Jesus died for our sins already and all that.” he shrugged.

”But, just like you, I want to be the one to go through it with you. Not them.”

Trisha pressed her lips together to clamp down on her initial reaction that it was all ridiculous. She already found the Catholic thing, with God and Jesus dying for their sins, stupid as anything but fiction. It did in part come from having it forced on her when she was young, and the resentment that came from being shunted to a Sunday school when she could've spent that day with her mom. But that he’d come back? That they'd be able to reclaim something that probably wasn't even real? It was hard to wrap her head around believing it.

But Casey believed it, and the last thing she wanted to do was upset him over something she wasn't really bothered by. She disliked having things pushed on her, but she'd never had a problem with other people's faith. Being with him was more important than any lack of belief she had. It wasn't a real problem.
“I want to hear it from you too… when there's less things happening, and you want to tell me," Trisha said softly, before laughing as a thought crossed her mind. “Then when I'm an expert I can write a textbook about science, faith, and magic."

She pushed herself up slightly, only to practically burrow against him, mostly lying on him rather than the couch. She looped her arms around his torso as best she could, snuggling in closely.
“We can slowly tell each other these things… About ourselves, and our lives. Then by the time I tell you my deepest, darkest secrets you'll be too invested to leave." Her voice lifted up into a joking tone towards the end of the sentence, and she smiled contentedly at him. Of course… it wasn't really ‘secrets’ she was worried would cause him to leave her. She never got close to truly letting someone in, yet they left her all the same. It was just her. “I’m looking forward to it. Learning everything about each other until nobody knows us like we do."

She smiled warmly at him, like everything was going to be perfect. She really wanted to believe it would be, for once.
“We haven't even finished moving in and this place already feels more like a home than anywhere else I've lived."

”Hey, who says I’ll ever wanna leave? I could be like one of those fish… Latch onto you like a leech and grow into you. Amoebaaaaaaa…”
Holding her so close, he easily tucked backward to lay on the massive green couch they’d bought. He bought, though he didn’t ever consider it. Not once had the thought crossed his mind the entire time that it was anything other than their furniture.

It wasn’t so much that he knew she had money, moreso that it didn’t matter. It was all fake, and they were living unreal lives among magical prestige. Even if the Vanburens weren’t magical in their entirety, Trisha was. And sometimes vast wealth grants one better spells than genuine magical study.
No, none of it mattered. He was there with her, on the couch that was in the apartment that, for the moment, he was sure of being clean. They were alone as someone could be in the Temple.

His hand reached into the fruit bowl from a distance, bringing a piece of melon up to Trisha’s mouth.
”Buzz, buzz. Open up.” he giggled, his other hand creeping about her exposed bits, pressing and poking until he could find a decent tickling spot to use. He wasn’t rough or digging about it, just putting enough pressure to get a reaction.

Trisha liked the thought of Casey becoming a fish permanently attached to her more than she should. Then he wouldn't leave her and she wouldn't have to worry about being lonely ever. Sure, the concept was a bit disturbing, but… well it would be nice.

She parted her lips to take the melon, unable to resist lightly kissing his fingers at the end. As he tried to tickle her, though, she demonstrated a pretty impressive stone face, barely seeming to react beyond a languid smile. She really wasn’t that ticklish and if anything she just enjoyed the feeling of Casey’s light touch all over.
“Did you really think it would be that easy? I've been trained by thousands of bees crawling on me, this is nothing-" Trisha's confident words were cut off by a fit of giggles when his hand lightly pressed into her side. She jerked her body to try to get away without actually getting off him, pressing her face into shoulder and muffling her constant laughter. “Hey, hey, stop!"

She wriggled up so her head was at his neck, reaching down to grab the offending hand. She tried to trap his fingers to stop them from pressing into her sensitive side, but didn't actually try to move his hand away, keeping it at her waist. Her other hand snaked up to his chest, just resting there.
“Now that you've found out my weakness, I can't let you live." Trisha's attempt at a low, ominous tone was ruined by a giggle at the end. Her eyes creased playfully and she pursed her lips to gently blow on his neck. At the same time her fingers pressed into his chest to tickle him back.

Every time Trisha tried to tickle him in a new spot, he just laughed like it was nothing.
”Nerve damage. Scar tissue. Not ticklish there. More nerve damage.”
It took getting up under his arms, hands crammed into his armpits, for him to start scooting and hopping. His giggles and the situation only caused him to fight back with equal fervour.

Eventually, the two of them were a writhing mass of giggles and laughter, with Casey finally giving up getting her back and simply grabbing both her wrists.
He spun, playfully pinning her to the big open section of the couch. He was panting, trying to catch his breath after being tickled half to death himself.

His eyes stared down at her, hair sprawled out to frame her face against the darker colors surrounding it. Hands released hers, slowly moving down but still keeping him looming over her.
”D-do… Is this when I kiss you again?” he asked quietly.

Trisha laughed, smiling softly up at him. There was a light sheen of perspiration across her forehead, her chest rapidly moving up and down as she tried to slow her breathing back down. But she couldn’t stop more laughter swelling up, eyes half closing. It was just so… cute how he had to ask.

“It is," she replied softly when she stopped giggling. She reached up to loosely wrap her arms around his neck, one hand resting on the back of it and the other threading through his hair. They lightly pressed, encouraging him back down towards her. “You’re learning quickly, I’m really lucky to have such a good student."

She didn’t move to close the gap, just once again waiting for him to take the initiative with an inviting smile.

He was more than happy to let himself go like a greyhound at the track. An hour or so later, Casey's shirt was gone and half wrapped around Trisha's neck as he dried her sweat and his spit off with it. They were tight together, legs locked between one another. He was playing with her hair, staring half into space.
”I always knew I was gonna like kissing.” he giggled.

The manual for the greenhouse, as well as Trisha's notes, ended up on the floor long ago, but he wasn't in a position to return them to where they were… Nor did he want to. It was his time, for however long or brief it'd end up being.
”I guess it's satisfactory, huh?” he grinned smugly.

“Mhm, you got way too good at it way too quickly," Trisha laughed weakly, still panting slightly. She was happy and content, but also tired. She was definitely going to have to actually start going to the gym with him and do some… stamina training or something. It wasn’t even like they’d… well, when they got to that she’d definitely need it.

“It helps that I’m a good kisser too, of course you enjoy it with me," she smiled, tucking her head in against him. As she did her gaze went down towards her own neck and collar - all the skin that was exposed by just wearing a tank top. Her eyes widened slightly, as if she hadn’t experienced all of the kissing, and she playfully pushed at his chest.
“Oh my god, this is going to be so obvious tomorrow… My friends are not going to shut up about it. Caseeeyyyy." It was obvious from the way she still smiled and snuggled close to him that she wasn’t actually upset, just jokingly complaining. “I’m not going to protect you from all their questioning."

Casey gave a hearty laugh at the implication.
”We spent some time in the psych office taking tests to make sure we wouldn't spill government secrets under interrogation. I'm a steel cage: you just tell me how to respond and I'll do it.” he grinned.

His neck craned and he planted another sucking kiss on her neck.
”But, I kind of like the evidence… Is that weird?”

“Not really, I- uh- well I like it too. I would’ve stopped you if I didn’t," Trisha blushed slightly while saying that. It wasn’t that she was inexperienced at all, but vocalising something she liked? Generally not something she’d do.
“Butttt I’m not sure that psych office has anything on my friends, they just have this way of annoying you so much you give in just to get them to shut up. Well, it’s not anything you need to lie about, they’ll just be intrusive."

She paused, lips pressing together and dropping from a smile to a thin line. Thinking about her friends, and everything they’d ask and say, and being with him like this… She had to say. While it was just them, and she had the opportunity.
“About my friends… there is something you should know, but you have to promise to stay calm about it, okay?"

He was about to ask if he was ever anything other than calm, but she’d already seen him blow his stack a bit.
”Unless something is hurting you, I promise you I’ll keep my cool. I’ll never ever yell at you, or anything like that. So, what’s up?”

“Alright,” Trisha nodded, taking in a deep breath. Well it would be fine, wouldn’t it? Sure, there’d been other men she’d been with who found out she was friend’s with an ex, and a girl at that, who’d changed just like that. But Casey wasn’t like that. She trusted him.
”So one of my friend’s- Reyna, I mentioned her before, the White-Pink adept- we sorta, well yeah we did, we dated before. She was the one that lasted four months… but it was over four years ago, and we’re really just friends now. There hasn’t been anything there since she broke up with me. But just, I wanted you to know before you meet them- her."

If it affected Casey, he didn’t show it. Truthfully it didn’t; the disconnect was so strong that not a lot was going to overpower it. He was just confused as to why she was making anything out of it at all.
”Al-right? I mean, I appreciate you being honest with me and I love that, but like… Is that something normal people worry about in a relationship? I guess, like, because people cheat?” he asked, just trying to wrap his head around it.
”But, like, it was only four months. Four years ago. You guys just made better friends, I get that. Well, I mean I understand. I’ve seen the scenario in, like, movies and television. But is that really something normal people would get pissy about?” he asked her.

“Yeah, they do.” Trisha visibly relaxed as he talked, the slight tension that had appeared in her frame completely drained away.
“I’ve been with people in the past who found out and made a big deal about it. One even broke up with me over it… I think, because she’s a girl, guys I’ve dated just assume I’ll need both? I’ve never cheated and never will, but sometimes people just jump to conclusions.” She shook her head, smiling slightly at him.
“I’m glad you’re not like that about it- not that I thought you would be. Probably seems a little silly I got so worried about it, huh?”

Silly? Sure. But people were silly, they did silly things. Having been involved with the Temple just about all his life, he was used to that sort of thing. Quirks, oddities, weird ticks. It didn’t get any better in the Military, either.
”Well, if I got worried about shit like that, I probably would’ve died. There was this… Guy. He was in my squad, and he… We were close. He tried to come onto me, and I didn’t really know how to feel about it. He got offended, ran off… Fucking shadow monsters invading our position ripped him apart, poor guy. We were on watch duty, we didn’t even know that we-”

His voice trailed off. Describing it invited the memories back. The visual of it.
”I didn’t really have time to be sad. It was confusion into fight mode. No time for getting overly emotional.” he finished, his voice no longer warm. He got quiet, almost distant.
”I… Couldn’t even stop him. It was totally unprofessional. We were… Supposed to be on watch. Why couldn’t he wait? I’ll never know.”

“I’m… sorry,” Trisha said softly, shuffling herself slightly to loop her arms around him and rub gentle circles against his back. While it would probably come across that way, she wasn’t so much saying sorry for it happening like others might when told something like this… That wasn’t her fault, what would her sorries do? But she was sorry that what she’d said had led him to remember it.

“That really is worse than anything I’ve-” As she spoke, the image of someone being ripped apart by shadow monsters really settled in. She could see it. It was almost too real as it flashed across her eyes… She had seen that. Everyone in Sycamore had seen people die, but… She closed her eyes to try get the image out of her head. Something she didn’t want to remember. It didn’t help, but she pressed closer to him, hands still rubbing circles in his back - as if it was all to comfort him.

“I’ve never seen someone die like that. I can only imagine…” Trisha lied awkwardly, but it probably just seemed like she was struggling with the whole person being ripped apart thing. “It wasn’t your fault but… I guess sometimes we regret things that weren’t our fault.”

He wasn’t exactly listening to her talking. He was looking for something else to bite into. Casey’s mind twisted and turned to a conversation he’d had just a couple of years back, when he and Leon had spoken about their own situations involving traumatic events. It was mostly about Casey’s refusal to seek magical assistance with it.
Leon had explained the process, and what he’d chosen to have done about it.

”Did… Have you had a memory adjustment?” his voice echoed. ”Or, were you… Not a fighter? I know Edict messes with people’s memories, he’s the one who cleared my brother’s condition. But, from what they both say, things got… Real bad. You’re telling me you never saw anything like that?”

He tried to sound like he was excited for her, but there was a… Tension.

Trisha’s head snapped up, eyes widening as she jerked back slightly. She wasn’t able to hide her reaction, her face visibly paling. How could she be so stupid? Of course Leon talked to Casey about what happened… but she’d gone and forgotten about that in her stupid attempt to cover up a perceived vulnerability. She’d lied and he knew and he was just trying to pretend he didn’t.
“I… My memory’s a bit fuzzy.” That was true. There were bits she didn’t remember - or had forced herself to forget, perhaps. A self protection thing. But not enough. “But I haven’t had a memory adjustment, I couldn’t- don’t want to… I did see… I…”

She stumbled over her words, squeezing her eyes shut so she didn’t have to see whatever reaction he had, breathing quickening. Closing her eyes just meant she saw all that again, but that was better than rejection. It was in the past.
“I was there. I fought Apparitions and the Stygian Snake. I- I just don’t like talking about it. I try not to remember it. I wasn’t always on the frontlines, I missed some of it. I didn’t want to make it about me.” Rapid fire excuses, one after the other. “It was ten years ago.”

Casey got concerned once her eyes slammed shut. He recognized the reaction in some of the other soldiers he’d met when he tripped something accidentally. Most of his issues came from associative visualisation. It took a lot to get him going heavily without actually seeing something in front of him. But she wasn’t doing well with it based on memory.
He nodded his head, taking a deep breath.

”Trisha… Look at me. Casey. I’m here, Trisha.” his voice was gentle, trying to be subtle and calm as possible. He’d been taught some techniques to try and help with flares. Connection and consistency were important.
”Nothing’s gonna hurt you with me around, Trisha. Nothing. I won’t let it. I’m right here with you, and I’m going to be as long as you want me here. I’m sorry… I know it’s hard to remember that kind of thing, but I promise you it’s never going to happen again. Not here with me.”

“Really? You’ll- you’ll stay?” Trisha’s eyes slowly, hesitantly, opened. Her fingers dug into his back as she tried to get rid of the deep feeling of fear that had come out of nowhere. She didn’t normally get like this- she didn’t normally remember. But it wasn’t that, was it? It was the fear of him leaving after she’d lied, right? She didn’t have problems with- with-

She winced, chest tightening again as she just brought back up more memories she’d tried to suppress. The apparitions… the claws and teeth that ripped people apart. The Stygian Snake worming its way into her mind, the hallucinations.
“I’m… I’m fine. It wasn’t like I- well I- I only nearly died once. Just once. I know it’s fine. It’s not that. It’s really not that.” She shook her head, eyes darting all over the place as she tried to deny to herself more than anything. She hadn’t had problems in so many years since? Just the first few, that was to be expected. “You’ll really be there to protect me?”

This was difficult for him. He didn’t want to make it seem like this was the end of the world; she’d lied, and so had he. Just a few hours ago, totally unprompted and about something that he hoped would never even come up. But, what was she so afraid of that she was lying about having a condition like that?
Casey slowly brought his hands up to her face, gently cradling her chin and cheeks.

”We’re gonna talk about this again. Not in a day, maybe not in a week… But I certainly intend on being here to talk about it with you again. And again, and again. Until one day we’ll both feel better about what we’ve seen.”
His face got close, kissing her on the forehead, then rocking his own into hers to look at her directly in the eyes.
”I’m not leaving you, Trisha. We’re doing things together, starting with living here together and sleeping in our own bed together. Hanging on our couch together. Talking like this together.”

His eyebrows rose up, making sure she could see his expectant gaze.
”Do you understand me? It’s us. Us.”

Trisha bit her lip, slightly tilting her head into what seemed to be a nod. She really, really wanted to trust his reassurance. He probably wouldn’t leave her… yet. But it was impossible to get those words any further through her walls, to all the anxieties she’d locked up deeply for years. She didn’t talk for a while, slowly processing his words, trying to let them sink in. Trying to calm down. Eventually, she felt like she could talk again.
“I understand. You’re not leaving, and I’m not leaving, so I guess it is us.” She took a deep, but still shaky, breath. It was easier to calm down as she looked into his eyes, that expression, foreheads pressed together. The warmth of his skin against hers helped her push away the doubts and the memories that had been brought up. Things she didn’t really want to talk about again, if she could help it.

“Thank you,” she said softly, expression finally relaxing, and chest no longer heaving up and down as if she was struggling to breathe. Now, she really just wanted to curl up in his arms and sleep.
“I don’t know what happened, really, I don’t normally get like that. I guess it’s all part of living together- this couch has already seen so much, it’s only been a few hours.” She laughed slightly, tilting her head slightly to rub her nose against his. Her mind was still slightly fuzzy, trying to figure out how to move the conversation on, but only coming up with awkward ideas. Well, better than nothing.
“I’m glad we got it, it's comfortable for just cuddling up like this.”

Casey couldn’t help but smile, feeling Trisha calming down directly in his arms. He’d long since released her to take whatever position felt most comfortable, and was cradling her as best he could between his massive arms.
”I’m sure Big Green will see a lot more in its life. Lets just hope the cushions don’t get all caved in from us being here too long.”
He adjusted slightly, a nervous tick to avoid the scenario of the cushions getting ruined in his head. Why? Even he didn’t know. Not like it couldn’t be fixed.

”You get nice and comfy… You want me to have them finish up for me? I’ll sit here, make sure you feel safe as long as you want me…” he offered to her, whispering sweetly as his hand twirled a little curl in her hair.

“Only if you think that’ll be alright,” Trisha replied softly, curling up in his arms and resting against his chest. After that episode she felt drained, even as the little voice in the back of her mind that sounded awfully like her mom’s started berating her for wasting so much time when she could be studying. But she was tired. She tilted her head up, eyes half closed.
“Maybe just for a bit… let’s stay like this, then I’ll get back to reading the manual.”

”Oh… Yeah! You just chill out, Babe. I’m here with you. Maybe try and fall asleep? Get some good rest.” he smiled down at her, hand running through her hair as he thought about what was next.
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A few more hours passed. Casey was done before they bled out of daylight, and Trisha had been able to move out into the main part of the house. There was another sofa and a couple of loveseats nearby the warmth of the gas fireplace for her to study at while Casey let the guys from downstairs wire in the television and anchor it to the wall.
All the while, sixty thousand bees buzzed in cacophony over their heads, the unstoppable noise of the hive filling the place. The two of them had time to discuss the finer points of the Greenhouse, and Trisha had voiced some concerns about the ideas that The Temple had for her harvesting. With no boxes, it would be an incredibly cursed job as she tried to break into established wild hives high up giant flowers just to get the product.

Plus, from what she made it sound like, the Queen liked to be involved with harvest, and that meant Trisha had to be easily involved. To Casey, this meant hive boxes were necessary, and to get the buzzing of prop-bombers out of his head, he had to get the people responsible involved as soon as possible. Unfortunately for Trisha, that meant one last set of introductions for the day.
Not but thirty seconds after he sent a text to Gin asking about hive boxes, she responded.

He was in the kitchen area, munching on what fruit remained after the bees’ bombarding brunch. Eyes widened as he read the text message.

”Aw, shit… Babe? I maybe fucked up a little?” he spoke with a questioning tone.
”You remember you said you really wanted boxes? I texted Gin to tell her… And now she says she’s, like, on her way?”
Casey’s phone dinged again.
”She says… I’ll be there in twenty minutes. And then she just sent another one saying I was born ready. Which is… Ominous.” he grimaced.

“Twenty minutes?!” Trisha dropped the manual that she was still poring over, now mostly figuring out the final details. The bees reacted to her sudden panic with a louder buzzing, a large group of them descending from the rafters to swarm around her shoulders. One hand went to her neck, now crawling with bees. It wasn’t that she was embarrassed about it, just…
“I’ve barely started unpacking, I have no idea where my scarf is… maybe I can use the bees… Uh, maybe it doesn’t matter, I don’t know… Twenty minutes? What’s she ready for?!”

She jumped up off the sofa she’d been lounging on, darting into the bathroom and leaving a trail of bees in her wake. After some barely audible swearing she came back out, dragging herself over to Casey with an expression closer to pained acceptance than panic.
”What’s… well how intrusive is Gin? Is she just going to come and magic up some boxes, or will she start questioning me about everything?”

Casey found himself grinning at a scene he probably shouldn’t have grinned at. She was flustered, worried about her space being invaded, and all he could do was find a giggle in his heart.
”Well, I… I think I mentioned, but she kind of treats everyone like a specimen before she treats them like a friend? I’m sure she’ll mostly ask about logistical questions between you and the bees. My hope is that she’s too distracted by needing to get boxes taken care of? I’m… Not sure what the fuck she’s going to do about that in twenty minutes; her powers have nothing to do with fabrication.”

The accompanying shrug was resignatory, mostly out of confusion mixed with a lack of ability to do anything about it. The two attendants had gone back to their own apartments for the day, leaving Trisha and Casey alone to handle whatever needed to be taken care of.

”I’m sorry, Babe, I… Just kind of figured you’d want to get the girls settled properly as soon as possible, so I texted her. I should’ve known she’d be too eager.”

Trisha shook her head, stepping closer and tucking herself against his side with a sigh.
“It’s fine, I will be a lot more relaxed when they’ve got somewhere to stay… Sometimes you have to sacrifice your own comfort for your kids,” she half joked, raising a hand to rub her forehead. At least she’d had a nap earlier, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to handle it at all. “If it’s mostly questions about me and the bees, that’s easy. So long as she does sort something out for them.”

She leaned into him more, mumbling, “I can’t wait for everything to be sorted so it’s really just the two of us.”

Casey laughed aloud, but still comfortingly rubbed her shoulders.
”Oh, dude… Wrong family to shack up with.”


Twenty minutes rolled around, and there was a buzzing coming from [i]somewhere[i] in the house. Casey didn’t particularly care for that, the doorbell being some aggressive alarm bell hidden in the walls. It made him think of air raids and shit he didn’t want to think about so suddenly. So he elected to head out and down to open the door.
At least the courtesy was there.

Returning, Casey was accompanied by a short, brown-skinned woman whose hair was impossibly long and tied up into several different loops that dangled behind her. She wore an ensemble of masculine clothing, mostly stylized to resemble some kind of rave fashion. It was all way too big for her, purposefully ripped or half-stitched in a lazy repair.
Most notably was the laboratory coat she wore over it all, with the sleeves rolled up no less.

Casey and the woman, presumably Gin, made their way to the Greenhouse to meet Trisha. He didn’t even have time to make proper introductions.
”Ooooh, Puh-puh puh pmmpmmm… Puh-Trish-a!” the young woman stuck both her fingers out into finger guns.
”And… What? Sixty… Sixty two thousand, four hundred and thirty-six bees in the colony. Random guess, I’ve got no clues; hey! Hi. It’s really nice to meet you.”

It certainly was the same voice from the manual, the one that had given such a professional introduction. She wobbled awkwardly, and certainly didn’t make any kind of direct eye contact. It was easy to feel like she was stealing glances.
”Can… I touch them?” she bluntly asked, nervous energy bubbling over.

“The bees?” Trisha tilted her head, shooting a questioning glance at Casey. Well, he had said she’d that Gin would treat her like a specimen first. There was still a group of bees on her shoulders, gently buzzing.
“No, you can’t. They don’t like being touched by strangers.”

She then glanced up towards the ceiling, where the rest of the hive was primed and ready to come down at the sign of an intruder. It wasn’t like she could explain guests to them, it was always a process of calming them down at the time, which she did with subtle pheromones before continuing.
“There’s sixty thousand and forty five. Also, it’s just Trisha… Nice to meet you, Gin, I assume.”

She smiled slightly, trying not to immediately judge the other woman. She’d deal with quirky people. At least she was mostly asking about the bees… probably. So she decided just to get straight to business.
“Are you going to be able to set up hive boxes, or something similar?”

Gin’s hands were very clearly imagining touching the bees as she stared at the moving mounds on Trisha’s shoulders. Her fingers were wriggling, and she slowly but surely grew a big, foolish grin on her face.
”G’yad they… Look so soft. Are they? Uh, boxes.”

Her head, and to a lesser extent her shoulders, bobbed up and down in agreement.
”Kinda crazy they need boxes, huh? So you… Well… Come on, you have your key, right? Which biome will you populate first? I mean we’re going to get them all taken care of, but… No natural hives? Can we get natural hives? For testing; I… I’m unconvinced the production will be the same between artificial and natural designs.” she quickly turned her body, rigidly staring at her creation.

A grin formed on her face as she looked up at the building. Being shorter than Trisha even, it was like watching a teen see something they’d never seen for the first time.

“They’re soft,” Trisha said, even though the conversation had moved on about twenty steps since that question. She pulled the key out of her pant’s pocket, putting it in the Greenhouse door and turning it all the way to the right. It seemed the safest to start, and it was easier to just show it than explain which one. Once there was no more give she pushed open the door, once again revealing the wild meadow filled with towering flowers.

“It’s not that they can’t make natural hives… But there’s a few things that mean it won’t work.” Trisha reached up to gently touch the bees that had travelled in on her shoulders, obediently sitting there without immediately going for the feast in front of them.
“I need to visit the hive every couple of days. If it’s too high or out of the way I can’t do that. They- the bees and my apparition- prefer that I collect the honey. I could maybe direct them to make natural ones in reachable areas, but it would take them weeks anyway. Also, these bees have been together as a colony for ten years. They won’t separate unless their hive is too small… Maybe if I start getting more.”

She turned her head to look at Gin, shrugging.
“All the honey I’ve produced so far has been from a single hive box in my room.”

”You can’t just make more? These are… Really finicky. They’re like real bees, God…”
Entering into the Greenhouse, Gin looked around and smiled widely. At this point, the workings of the “machine” were mostly clear. They called it a machine, as it wasn’t exactly a structure.

It was, apparently, a small rotating set of tiny manicured gardens made by some of the different Green and Red Adept students. The actual covering for it was a magical housing that emulated a surrounding environment to keep the place temperature treated.
Coming into it from the entrance on the roof caused one to enter the machine at a miniaturised scale, giving it all the illusion of being a large plot of naturally grown land for the bees to live in.

Gin took up a walkie talkie from her coat.
”Gogo, can you hear me? We’re here.”
Now the true scale of things became clear. One side of the sky opened up like a sliding roof, a grand noise grating across the top. They could see the workshop of the Temple outside, and it was all enormous like celestial giants staring down into the little world they made.

Many people looked into their world, smiling faces and waving hands creating little gusts of air that whipped down toward them. Gin raised her hand to wave. There was a giant set of tweezers that descended from the heavens, planting down a large structure that seemed to be some kind of multi-story hive.
It was even designed interestingly, with carvings and a lacquered finish that gave it a striking appearance.

”Ooooh, I’m glad it came out so good. That lathe thing you made really does the trick.”
One of the giants was holding a radio, and rather than speak, she held her thumb up. Then, unceremoniously, the door was closed. Gin just turned her head to smile at Trisha.
”How about that? A hive bigger than you could ever need, with plenty of stairs and access points. We had originally planned to use these, but someone brought up naturalizing the areas… At some point, for us, it’d be nice to see a variety. To test if the honey comes out any different… I really hope it does.”

Trisha bristled at the suggestion that her bees were somehow lesser because they were finicky and like real bees. They were real bees that lived longer and came with more quirks because of it. They were her bees, not some worker bees for the Temple’s pet project or honey production. But she didn’t get a chance to say any of this before the roof opened.

She just stared up at the giant people, mouth falling slightly open. Was that how they’d originally planned to get the honey? By just reaching in and plucking out her bee’s hard work? They weren’t going to be watching from up there anytime she was in here, were they? She bit her lip, suppressing a shudder at the thought.

Now wasn’t the time to think too hard about that. Without saying anything Trisha approached the hive, squinting at it. It was… massive. Way bigger than her. Big enough to host a colony of bees likely ten times the size of what she had. And it was really nice.
“It’s good, but it doesn’t really matter how much I like it… they’re the real test.” She didn’t move or verbally talk for a few moments, instead having a gentle pheromonal conversation with the bees. She didn’t want to command them to go inside. Instead, she told them that it was their new hive. They were hesitant at first, but eventually the ones she’d brought in - only about fifty - flew off her shoulders and inside.

Trisha’s expression changed as the bees explored, going from slightly grumpy to a small smile to a wide grin and laughter. It was like she was having a conversation no one else could hear - she was, as much as was possible with the bees. They flew back to her in dribs and drabs, landing all over. They burrowed into the bun she’d pulled her hair up into, back to her shoulders, across her arms, little bodies gently wriggling.
“It passed the test,” she turned back to Gin with a smile, bees crawling all over her. They were clearly re-energised, and less wary of the newcomer. “In the future we can try some natural hives, when they’re more settled. They’ve all just been uprooted at a time of year where they normally just sleep… Just getting honey production going is already a lot to ask of them.”

As she spoke she turned around and stepped out of the Greenhouse.
“We can discuss it some other time… I want to get the bees settled now.” She tilted her head and closed her eyes for a moment. As she did, a very faint, floral scent filled the air as she sent out a careful, strict command to the bees in the house. The buzzing only got louder until thousands of bees flooded out. Her eyes opened and went to the sky with a tired smile as as many as possible landed on her. The rest hovered around her in a cacophonous, fuzzy cloud.
“Oh… Thanks for sorting the box out so quickly, Gin.”

Gin was clearly lost in the cloud of bees, her bespectacled eyes reflecting the artificial light beaming down upon them. She stared wordlessly, fingers twitching until a hand grabbed at the bottom of her coat in a death grip.
”I… Wanna pet them…”

Casey was still standing by her, and as he heard Gin speak, he recognized the tone.
”Ginara…-” his voice rumbled, catching her ear and forcing her head to turn in some sort of acknowledgement.
”-If you try to touch them, they'll hurt you. And if they hurt you, you'll be very upset, won't you?”

She nodded, still straining slightly against him, prompting him to get even closer.
”If you're upset, you'll try to hurt the bees. I know you. I don't want that to happen. Because if you do that, and you hurt the bees? You'll hurt Trisha. And you definitely don't want Trisha hurt, right?”
She shook her head again, sniffling as she became more frustrated at the situation.

”B-but… I made bee suits! For people who don't have bees! Or metal skin!”
He wasn't sure how to defuse her like this. She'd never been his favorite person to deal with, mostly for moments like these where he could tell she was winding up for an episode. It wasn't really her fault, and he did his best to remind himself of it as he found Gin going slowly down hill.

”Hey, Babe?” he called, waiting for her gaze before he bit his lip and did his best to subtly nod downward at the woman half tucked into his arms. She was longingly staring at the cloud of bees, very openly teary eyed.
”I'm… Just gonna bring Gin outside. I think it's probably just uh… Like, overstimulation. I'll see if we can't just say our goodbyes for now.”

Gin stomped a foot weakly.
”I made the fucking… Bee suits.”
”I know, Gin, but it's getting late, Honey Lover. We can't all be doing experiments at all hours of the day and night.-”
Casey turned his back, assuming Trisha would understand the circumstance, and stepped out of the well manicured Eden-esque garden to leave her alone with her bees.

Trisha raised a hand in a half wave, trying not to feel too irritated about the whole situation. The bees weren't like dogs, happy to be petted and enjoying it. They liked the closeness with her and to some degree people that could sense she liked. Anyone else… Well, it was intrusive in a way. The bees were both like her children and an extension of herself. It wasn't like any of them had asked her before making the bee suits. They weren't even necessary.

It was annoying. Why did Gin have to be so unreasonable about it… meaning Casey had to deal with it and leave Trisha alone. On their move in day. She'd already interrupted them, not she was throwing some kind of tantrum over not being able to touch the bees? Trisha couldn't even imagine being that unreasonable. Gin was lucky Casey was able to handle it or she would've ended up stung by bees… Trisha let out a sharp huff of air, causing the bees on her face to scatter.

“Yeah, yeah, let's get you all sorted," she muttered, holding out her hand to the bees that had just flown off her. They landed back on it and joined the mass of yellow and black crawling over it. The bees kept swapping out with the massive cloud behind her, darting on and off her body. They followed her as she led them over to the hive, going up one of the steps so she was slightly higher on it.
“This is your new home. Pretty nice, isn't it? Sorry I couldn't provide something like this before."

Of course, the bees didn't understand what she said. She communicated as much as she could across the pheromones, reaching out to touch the hive box as she lightly bathed the area in her pheromones. Marking it as a safe place and as their new hive. The fifty that had already been in went in immediately, while the others were reluctant to leave the comfort of her. Eventually, the rest started to trickle in. She didn't leave as soon as all of them had gone in, squatting beside the hive box and carefully sensing their pheromones. It was overwhelming when it was so many, bombarding her with a mixture of signals, but concentrating she could pick through it. As the bees explored their mood shifted from hesitant to content, in as much as bees could feel that way. It was only when she was confident they were settled, and prepared to go about their normal bee business, that she straightened back up. Her mood was slightly improved by the pleased scents washing over her. At least the bees were happy.

After one last check, Trisha turned around and left the Greenhouse. As she closed the door her mind was cleared off the constant signals she'd been bombarded with since bringing the bees in. It left room for other thoughts that she tried not to even start considering. Instead, she turned away from the Greenhouse, eyes quickly skimming over her surroundings.
“Casey?"

Casey was by the entrance to the roof, still talking to Gin. It seemed a lot more casual now, and if they were hanging around by the door it had to mean he was trying to get rid of her. As Trisha said his name, both of them looked up. Casey was all smiles, but Gin’s face curled into a hint of a frown.
”Hey Pretty Lady!” he called, waving her over. His hand popped up to gently rub Gin’s shoulder, and she seemed to perk up slightly by the time Trisha made it to them.
”Sorry, I figured it’d be best if we stayed out here, but-”

”I’m sorry!”
Gin bowed. Literally bowed, like she was some zealous anime character, with full bodily rigidity like her torso had become a stiff plank.
”I… Am sorry. I’m sorry. And-and, I called you Patricia… And I’m sorry. And, I’m sorry that we didn’t put- that we didn’t just put, put the fuckin’... The boxes. In. The Machine. They’re special to you, and… And I’m sorry…”

She didn’t look up. Couldn’t. She knew what was happening, and that there was plenty of things about her that weren’t like others. But Casey had made it expressly clear that Trisha wasn’t a part of the family like the others were.
So rather than confiding in her strangeness, as Lynette encouraged, she found embarrassment and shame: both tenants that members of the Temple were supposedly immune to. God watched, but she was taught that he did not judge. That he’d resigned from such petty things.

Yet she was embarrassed about herself. And as such, she could not bring herself to look up and see the judgement in Trisha’s eyes. The same judgement that all outsiders gave her.

“Huh?” Trisha was taken aback when Gin started apologising for literally everything. And she bowed. What the fuck? Suddenly she felt more confused than she did annoyed, looking over at Casey with a bit of helplessness in her gaze, and then back at Gin. There wasn’t the judgement that Gin expected in there - just remaining hints of sullenness. Really, she was taken aback by the apology. Normally her irritation was the thing viewed as unreasonable, even if it really wasn’t.
“I don’t care about most of that stuff. Wasn’t like you could’ve known I need to get the honey, or said my full name to annoy me… I just don’t like other people touching the bees. It’s not happening. But the rest is fine. I’m not bothered.”

She was reacting pretty reasonably to it all. Really, it was hard not to in the face of an apology like that. There was nothing to react badly to, and… it really didn’t seem like it had been done on purpose. Not that that had stopped Trisha getting pissed before, but… she glanced up at Casey, lips twitching upwards slightly. Yeah, she could be reasonable about this.
“But I accept that apology.” She awkwardly gestured upwards with her hand, hoping that Gin would get the message and stop bowing, because it was uncomfortable. “You did a lot for my bees, more than most have.”

Casey gave Trisha the warmest, most loving look he possibly could. As if his soul was touched by the act, he took a deep breath and appeared renewed.
”Ah, see Ginny? Come on, Honey, stand up straight.”
The woman did, but her neck still craned downward to avoid eye contact that she wasn’t sure she could bear. But she still had questions, and it wasn’t in her nature to leave them unasked.

”I… Can I… Come back? For inspections, I mean, I may need to come back. And, maybe I can come back other times, like to see them… And I can put the bee suit on, so they can’t hurt me, and maybe… Maybe they’ll touch me?”
She had to see honesty, or at least whether or not there was any, so the risk had to be made. She looked up finally, eyes meeting Trisha’s.

“Well sure, I guess,” Trisha said, after thinking about it for a bit. It wasn’t like it would be a problem for someone else to see the bees, so long as she wasn’t trying to get into the hive or touch them herself. And if Trisha was going to be in Casey’s life for a long time, like she really hoped to, she should make an effort with the people he cared about at least a bit.
“So long as you put the bee suit on. It’s probably fine if I’m there, but I can’t guarantee it when there’s so many. Maybe I can show you how I get the honey… and yeah, if you spend enough time around them, they might eventually land on you. They’re not like dogs or anything, you can’t just touch them unless you’re me or-” she coughed. “Smell enough like me.”

Her cheeks heated up a bit at saying that, and she glanced away. It was less smelling like her in, say, the genetic sense as much as being doused by pheromones that only the bees could smell.
“I’ll probably need your help to figure out everything with the Greenhouse anyway.”

There was another buzzer coming from the house. It was loud enough to hear outside, which was both concerning and frustrating for Casey. He’d have to ask for a better option later on, but for now-
”What the ever fuck? Come on, Gin, I guess I’ll swap you with-”
She held her hand up.
”It’s Leon. And the girls. They have… Flowers, and wine, and-” her brow furrowed. ”-Both spirits are withdrawn. The Queen and The Doll have been suppressed for the time.”

Casey nodded. His face turned up to Trisha and his head shook.
”No peace. No fuckin’ peace, Bee. Stay here.”
He opened the door and slipped through, closing it behind him to leave Trisha and Gin alone. The odd woman just stared at the door. But, then she managed to look at Trisha again. She hadn’t felt the judgement she expected, and she found herself a bit more comfortable.

”Casey said you’d, or that you do, play games? Do you have a Turbine account?” she asked.

Trisha was also staring at the door with an increasingly irate look, snapping out of it when she realised Gin was talking to her. Obviously. Who else would she be talking to when Casey had just left.
“Oh yeah, I do. I normally just play occasionally with friends, whatever they’re into, or the occasional Sims for stress relief. I’m not particularly good at it, but it’s pretty fun.” She shrugged. “When I’m not getting cursed out for dying to a zombie.”

She nodded to herself. It was hard to hold back and assess the first statement that came to her mind. But she knew from dealing with some of the others in the Eden Project that calling someone’s tastes basic wasn’t a nice thing to do.
”Well, if… I come around, and you like me, maybe we’ll be friends who play games together too. I’m uh, trying to work with some of my crew on this new machine. One day maybe you’ll have one to replace your computer. And when the End passes, we’ll still be able to play games.” she grinned proudly.

The door opened to the sound of talking and giggling. Mia’s lanky frame was the first through to the roof, and she looked between Trisha and Gin.
”Damn, Casey, the Lord let you have two of my favorite people?”
Gin was surprised, like she didn’t know exactly who was coming, and clung to Mia like a child clings to an older sibling. Mia clung back, but didn’t try to rope Trisha into it. Rather, she gave a big wave as best she could.
”We brought some housewarming stuff… I know you must be tired, but we figured we’d try not to be too bothersome.”

As Mia spoke, the others funneled in. Hari, Eddy, Leon; each carried a bundle of something or another. Leon was actually carrying several cases of wine on his shoulders. Casey came last, pushing past them all.

”Hey… Happy surprise housewarming…” Leon said, his deep and bass-filled voice rumbled. Gin immediately clung to him, and he laughed in return as his tall frame swayed with the boxes on his shoulders.
Casey cleared his throat as an arm wrapped around Trisha’s waist.
”Only if you are okay with it.” he pointed out.

”Totally true! Like, we know you guys have probably been working all day. But, we just figured we’d come up and do something low-key.”
She held up a cloth case, probably some sort of insulated bag for food.
”Buttload of sushi- I mean, a boatload. A few actually, like have you seen those things?” she smiled.

It was a lot all at once after a day that had already been a lot. The girls were fine, if overwhelming. She’d gotten along well enough with Mia so far, and figured it would be the same with the other two that she hadn’t talked to as much. But then there was Leon. She bit her lip, looking up at Casey and leaning against him slightly. Sure it was only if she was okay with it, but he might be disappointed if she said no.

Also, she really should have a talk with Leon… as much as she didn’t want to.
“Sure, it’s fine, I guess a housewarming is the done thing, right?” she forced a smile, gaze shifting to Hari and the probably food filled bags. She very awkwardly and obviously avoided looking at Leon. “That doesn’t look like a boatload- don’t tell me the bags are larger on the inside? Right, of course, magic.” She laughed lightly at that, looking back up at Casey. “But we don’t have a big enough table… or a proper table. I guess we can sit on the couches, like a TV dinner?”

Eddy raised her hands with two more matching bags.
”We usually do body sushi, so I think eating wherever is chill.”
Hari elbowed her, laughing.
”Excuse you, what happens at home?”
”Is usually pretty fuckin’ awesome, yeah!”

Mia groaned.
”Ooooooh my Lord you two. Come on. Lets get this stuff inside, and nobody tell Trisha about the bags or anything.”
”Shit, forreal, unload them bitches, ‘fore she has a heart attack.” Ed cracked up, feeling the extra weight of the magically stuffed bags.

Rolling his eyes, Casey’s head shook and he called out to them.
”Yeah, go be useful for a change, bring me my fuckin’ gifts.”
”Shut uuuuuuuup oh my God you’re so annoying!” Hari cackled.
The three women chatted until the door to the house closed behind them, and probably continued on after. A silence grew, with Gin still clinging to Leon like a barnacle.

Casey looked at his brother, then down at their old friend with a smile.
”Recharging, Ginny?”
”Oh, I’m pretty good now!” she said loud and clear, despite her face buried in Leon’s gut.
”That’s great, G’s and P’s… Are you hungry, have you eaten?” Leon asked in his best big brother voice.
”I could eat some rice. But, uh, does that mean I can stay, Trisha?” she finally turned her head back to look at Trisha from the safety of the totem pole.

“Yeah, you can, sounds like we’ll need help with the food, anyway,” Trisha nodded, smiling slightly at Gin - appearing genuinely fine with it. The smile dropped as her eyes creeped upward to Leon, gaze turning flinty. “You’re not the person I’m uncomfortable having in my house.”

Leon’s face turned a bit mugged, his bottom lip curling into a frown as he furrowed his brow.
”See? Easy. Go on, get you some food, eh?”
Gin spun to hug Trisha, but Casey’s hand shot out to grab her by the lab coat.
”Hey, hey… You go wash first, and take this dirty ass jacket off. We’ll wash it before you go.”
Standing caught, she looked back at Casey.
”You can’t, it’s covered in a special microbe we’re developing… But I will take it off.”

He vaguely directed her toward the house, letting her go like a pull and release car toy. Now it was only three of them, and a bit of tension. Casey stared up at his older brother expectantly.
”Do I need to be here with you both to settle this? Or are you both gonna act like Covenmates?”

Leon shook his head.
”Oh, dude I have nothing to say that I wouldn’t say in front of you. I totally leave that up to Trisha’s discretion.” he replied.

“If we act like covenmates we’ll start fighting as soon as you’re out of sight,” Trisha managed to joke, still staring coldly at Leon. She’d rather just avoid this all together. She wasn’t one for civility but… she needed to force herself this time. She put one hand over Casey’s, squeezing it, and looked up at him. Her expression instantly softened, eyes turning warm instead of cold.
“I’d like to talk to Leon alone if that’s alright, babe? Not because it’s anything I don’t want you to hear just…”

Casey threw his hand up.
”No questions asked, Babe. You’re a grown woman, right? I trust you. And, I trust my Brother to not do something stupid.”
He held up a finger.
”But if I hear yelling, I’m coming out.”

He then motioned toward the boxes and waved for Leon to pass them off, which he did. Casey made way to kiss Trisha, and whispered in her ear as he did so.
”You’ve got this. Brave as fuck.”
He planted another kiss on her neck for good measure, then sauntered off toward the house leaving them alone.

For a moment the silence hung.
”Do… You want to start? Or…”

“I’ll start.” Trisha tilted her head back so she could properly stare at Leon, eyes still cold but more emotionless than anything. “I don’t like you, and I know you don’t like me. But I do like Casey, so I want to be civil. I’m not fourteen anymore, I have matured. But…”

She trailed off, frowning, folding her arms with her fingers digging into her biceps.
“Stop spreading shit about me. To Casey, to that b- people in the Temple. It’s been ten years… and you know it’s really fucked that you’re talking about all of that stuff, with that nickname, about someone who was fourteen when you were nineteen. You don’t have to like me, you can go do whatever with the rest of Sycamore, but I’m not going to break up with Casey, as much as you might want that.”

It was clear as day, watching the man before her practically deflate.
”Dude…”
He tried to start, but his own thoughts grabbed at him.
”You know, I really didn’t feel too bad until I tried to get into my apartment and you were there. Honestly, I thought… I… Damn.”

His big hand went up to rub his eyes and the bridge of his nose.
”I’m… A dick. I’m a big dick, and it’s not your fault. The blame’s mine. I should’ve tried getting to know you and helping you rather than giving into those moments of being a lesser person. It’s not fair to you. Ultimately, I can’t take back what I said. But, I’m more than willing to do what it takes to show you I mean it when I say that I’m sorry.”

By the time he finished, he was looking at her with full eye contact and a genuine look of remorse on his face.
”I was embarrassed by our Mother when I got back yesterday… She really dragged me for quite a few hours. She feels I gave her the wrong impression, and I think I did.”

“Yeah, the impression that I’m some shallow rich girl who sleeps around,” Trisha intoned, expression unchanged and gaze unwavering. While it was true she jumped between relationships, it wasn’t her fault people kept breaking up with her… but she was surprised Leon was admitting that he was to blame. She’d expected, and geared up for, more of a fight over it.
“It’s fine, you probably just thought you were protecting your little brother from scary, promiscuous me.”

She frowned, looking away for a moment to take a deep breath before she got more riled up over nothing. She was trying to be civil with him, to talk things out, and he wasn’t being shit about it.
“Let me make it clear, I don’t need help… and I didn’t then, either. But for Casey’s sake, I’ll put it all behind me. Get to know me as your brother’s partner, get rid of what you think you know about me and… I’ll try to do the same. I don’t want this, and the coven, to get in the way of something… really good.”

Leon grimaced, and his hair rippled for a moment as a gust of wind whipped up. He was listening for a little song that he could almost always hear. At least where they were, it was faint enough that he knew he could speak freely.
”I’m gonna get you both out of this…” he said very ominously.

Trisha furrowed her brow, not saying anything as she tried to figure out what he was going to get them out of. Not Father Wolf, because he wasn’t targeting Casey. Then… it didn’t take much to figure it out. There wasn’t very much that they were in.
“Of the cult?” Trisha didn’t bother censoring herself, following Leon’s lead on that. “Well, if you think you can. I don’t-”
She grimaced.
“Well, I don’t understand the faith thing. You’d know better than me… it’s Casey who’s in it, and I can’t do anything about that.”

”Just… Please don’t eat the food. Not now, but… Well… Just, eat out. Don’t eat the groceries from the Temple. Don’t drink their free water bottles. Don’t go to the banquets. Because Casey’s had a long time to detox, and you’re not part of the family… But, Me? Mia and the girls? Ginny?...” he grimaced.
”It’s not good, Trisha.” he finally frowned. ”I don’t want him or you getting hooked in like us.”

“The food has something in it? Shit- fucking magic,” Trisha raised on hand to her forehead, pressing against it. She suppressed a shudder. Really, she shouldn’t be surprised, but everything she learned about the Temple just made her like it less. The self protective part of herself was telling her just to cut and run, but she ignored it. They weren’t properly in.

“Alright. Far as I’m aware, neither of us can cook, so that’s easy. I’m also an expert at avoiding events I don’t want to go to. But…” she frowned. It all sounded shit, but she didn’t care to try help the others out. What would she be able to do anyway? “He’s not going to just leave you all. I’m not selfish enough to force that.”

She was selfish enough to force that, but she was also selfish enough to not do something she knew wouldn’t work.
“I’ll keep us away from the food.”

”We’re gonna have to work together. I don’t know every single detail myself; Mom’s a steel trap. But, maybe I’ll be able to get us all out of it, and we’ll be able to live without…”
He stopped himself, shaking his head.
”For now, just be leery. He’s a soldier, he takes orders well. If you need to be forceful, be forceful. But, don’t hurt him. Not too bad, at least. He’s already hurt…”

Leon stuck his hand out for Trisha to shake.

“I don’t plan to hurt him at all.”
She reached out to shake his hand, though it was kind of difficult when her hand was so much smaller than his. But it was done, and she pulled her hand back, stuffing it in her pocket.

“I’d say let's work together like old times, but I’d rather it wasn’t like that.” Trisha laughed, relaxing slightly. “You can get my number off Casey, or I’ll give it to you later… For now, let’s go in. It’s been a long day and I need some of that sushi.”

Assuming the conversation was over and that he’d follow, she turned around and made her way back to the house. As she got to the door she paused, one hand going to her neck. She’d only gotten away with it so far because it was dimly lit outside, but in the bright indoor lights? Trisha grimaced. Shit. Why did people keep appearing without warning? She raised a hand to undo her bun, letting her thick hair fall down across her shoulders. She quickly moved it to cover as much of her neck as possible… it would have to do.

Then she pushed open the door and stepped inside, smiling. “Is there any food still left? I’m kicking you out if you ate it all.”

As Trisha entered, there was a commotion as the four young women bustled about the kitchen island. They’d laid all sorts of sushi rolls and different tempura fried things out on the big counter.
Casey was suspiciously missing, but the boxes of wine were stacked up against one of the walls, and there were a couple of bags next to it. Ginny was standing off to one side with an entire takeaway container full of white rice, smashing it into her face with a pair of chopsticks. She took the time to wave at Trisha with a smile.

”Hell nah, girl! Dig in, there’s honestly way too much.” Mia called, waving her into the melee.
Getting closer, Hari was hard at work chopping up a few whole sushi rolls and dumping them into a bowl. She grinned goofily at Trisha as she came close.

”Hey… Do you love your boyfriend enough to chop up his fucking sushi rolls for him because he won’t eat them whole?” she snidely commented, a laugh escaping her nostrils. ”-God, he’s a pain in the ass…”
Her tone was very clearly humorous, and she was talking loud enough that the joke clearly wasn’t just between the two of them.

”Nobody asked you to chop my fucking sushi up, Harison Ford.” Casey called from the other room.
”Oh, who made the comment about being useful?”
He came down the stairs from their loft and into the main room in a pair of comfortable shorts and a t-shirt.
”Yeah, useful. Not busybody work bullshit.”

Casey pulled Trisha into his arms and kissed her head. Nobody’d really looked up at the two of them long enough to notice, but as Casey jostled Trisha, it left most of her neck exposed to a beam of light.
The actions of their morning were in clear view as black and blue leopard printing all across Trisha’s neck and upper chest.

Of course, Eddy grinned.
”Shit, so Trisha? Leon’s a werewolf, right? You know, but, I didn’t… I didn’t realize Casey’s a vampire too; that’s kinda crazy.”
Mia looked up, furrowing her brow at Eddy before looking over and immediately laughing.

”Oh, oh! Oh damn girl!”

The hair covering had worked perfectly until Casey started moving her- well that wasn’t true, it was never going to last. She turned bright red, just wanting to disappear right there. She wasn’t embarrassed about it, it was just… really fucking awkward. She grabbed one of Casey’s arms and pulled it up to cover her face, pressing her nose into it with a groan.
“Next time I’m putting on a turtleneck right after in case we get more unexpected guests,” she muttered into his arm.

Blushing a little less, she peered over Casey’s arm at Mia and Eddy.
“If Casey was a vampire then I’d be dead,” she said very bluntly. “Just- we weren’t expecting guests! It’s only… well… new home and all…”

She tilted her head back and up to shoot a playful glare at Casey.
“You are so sleeping on the couch tonight.”

Hari lifted her arm and tugged her sleeve to show a stretch of bruising down her side.
”Oh, dude, don’t even worry about it. You should see where else I’m black and blue, seriously.” she said, smiling at Trisha.
”Yo, forreal. Coo-”
Mia’s hand darted to Eddy’s mouth to stop her from following through with the worst of the worst. Laughter rolled across the island, and Hari finally held up a big bowl of chopped sushi to Casey.
”There. Eat, Beast, eat!”

They were very clearly trying to be genuine, and Leon piped up from the side.
”It’s no problem, Trisha. It’s really to make fun of Casey; like, dude, you can’t get the blood through the skin. You need to bite.”
Casey groaned, putting the bowl down and holding Trisha tighter.
”Jesus, please take me, I can’t deal with this.” he giggled alongside her.

Trisha burst out laughing at Leon’s… well she couldn’t tell if he was joking or being serious. But it was just, wow, she really couldn’t hold back at that.
“Do not get any ideas from him,” she said through the laughter, wriggling in his arms to just about pull out an arm and point a finger at Leon. “I’ve seen your room, I really don’t want you giving Casey any advice. No thank you.”

She pulled her arm back into the tight hug, tilting her head back again and managing to stretch up enough to kiss his chin… before very lightly biting it. A warning, maybe. Her lips curved into a smile as she pulled back, head moving back to a more comfortable position.
“Do I get to eat, or I am going to be stuck in a sushi-less hold the rest of the night?”

Casey giggled, contemplating whether or not he was just going to hold her and feed her sushi. But looking down at the hunks of red and pink meat within made him queasy. So, he let her go with a smile.
”To be fair, he couldn’t learn anything from me that our Mom hasn’t mentioned at least once.”

The entire room gagged in unison at the prospects.
”Lee, we’re trying to eat.”
He was laughing hard, shaking his head.
”Thinking about sex ed or something?”
Casey’s hand flew up, smacking Leon in the arm.
”Sex ed is that picture that was in the living room.”

Mia only groaned louder.
”Do we need to bring that painting up so fucking much?”
”Are you not traumatised by it?” Casey asked.
”I’m not.” Eddy grinned and giggled.

”Okay… I’m ashamed to say I’ve seen enough hentai to know where this dinner is going.”
Gin pushed off the wall she was eating her rice on and put the empty box down on the counter.
”Eden calls me.”
Hari nearly spat the sushi she was eating out.

”O-oh?! I mean, probably not going there?” Hari managed to reply through grains of rice.
”Etienne is always willing for things to go there.” Eddy cackled, sticking her tongue out.

“No way, absolutely no way is that happening,” Trisha said before it got any further. She really wished she didn’t know the implication here. It wasn’t so weird to her that they were openly talking about this stuff, but rather that they were joking about it. In her family it was all jabs, open or hidden, or the hushed comments from outsiders (and some of them) about their dad. About how many ‘took after him.’
“Not in my house. You can take that downstairs.”

She picked up a piece of sushi, nibbling on it for a moment. Pretty good, but she didn’t really have much of an appetite. Then again, when did she?
“My sex ed wasn’t nearly as ‘fun.’ If we’d all learned from my dad there’d be another hundred or so Vanburen children running about the place. If there’d been a painting… he’d have to change it every few months.”

Trisha shrugged, speaking lightheartedly, munching on the sushi some more.
“Dunno, which is worse, crazy BDSM or getting dozens of women pregnant?”

”I’d say the kids, probably. I’m not super worried about carbon emission or anything, but more people definitely take up more resources, right?” Mia intoned in a questioning fashion.
As the discussion continued, Gin poked Trisha on the shoulder.
”Next time I do maintenance, I’ll call ahead. The schedule is in your manual, though. So, don’t be surprised. Thank you for letting me stay for now.”

Hari turned.
”Aw, Ginny, I’m sorry honey, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable…”
”Naw, it's… A calling, y’know?”

Trisha turned slightly to face Gin, smiling at her. She really… wasn’t so bad. There was a logic in what she said, sort of, that Trisha could follow.
“Yeah, I’ll make sure I have the schedule memorised. Maybe next time, after you’re done with maintenance, you can help me with a game I’ve been struggling with?”

”Oh, Hell yeah. You can just text it to me… Even if I don’t know it, I’ll play to help you.” she smiled.
”Can… I ask for a hug?” she questioned, arms not moving or anything to indicate that she actually wanted what she said.

Trisha hesitated, but… she’d already denied her touching the bees. It was just a hug. Not much.
“Sure, that’s fine.” She held up her arms awkwardly, but didn’t really move otherwise.

Gin jumped for it, nearly smacking Hari with one of her arms too far outstretched. There was laughter, and Mia gave a great “Awwwww” as they merged for the hug. When she pulled away, she had a bright smile.
”One day, maybe we can use my projector to study Her Royal Highness. But, until then-” she pulled away fully and made way for her nasty lab coat on the rack.
”-Eden caaaaaaaaalls!”

The group unanimously said their goodbyes, and were left with a hushed atmosphere.
”Does she really watch hentai?” Hari broke finally, clearing her throat.
”Get your filthy mind away from that pure, innocent pervert.” she laughed.
”She is an adult, after all.” Casey retorted.
”Yeah, I mean… Well, whatever.”

Mia pointed outside at the Greenhouse.
”How is it, Trisha? The crazy Eden-in-a-Box shit they’ve got going on? I saw Sayne working on it last night.” she questioned, doing her best to steer far and away from the topic threatening their sanctity.

“It’s honestly amazing. Kind of hard to put into words, but I’m not really used to magic like that.” Trisha smiled, subconsciously reaching out for a hint of pheromones from her bees. There was a light scent that she could always sense, the tether between them, that let her know they were alright.
“The bees are still settling in, but once they’re done, I’m sure they’ll be happy to have something to do. They get bored over winter… you don’t want to deal with bored bees.”

She forced herself to pick up another piece of sushi, taking a tiny bite, quickly swallowing it.
“I’m glad Gin got a normal hive box in quickly so I don’t have to scale any tree sized flowers trying to collect honey.”

Ed poked her head around the island to look outside.
”What is it?” she asked with confusion in her voice.
”Mia already said. EIAB.” Leon responded, using the phonetic acronym for the project.
”Oh shit! That thing, with… Like the little gardens, right?”
Harri nodded in confirmation.
”Yeah, the last trial was for long term residency, so we know that living things can live in there pretty much like normal. Now it’s kind of like, just dealing with the casing and stuff. Sayne says its crazy that they’re doing all this for some honey, but you know Gin.”

The Templites nodded in unison, the boxes of sushi slowly but surely emptying as they continued to stuff their faces. Casey was almost through his bowl, and was visibly leaning back to fit the last bit.
”We, or at least I, think it’s super fucking awesome, Trisha. Any sort of modifications that need being done can be done by hand remotely. It’s a pretty interesting looking thing, maybe we can go in sometime.” Hari tossed the idea about, seeing where it’d land.

Trisha had only gotten through two pieces of sushi and a tempura, before she stopped eating. She’d swapped from holding food to rubbing Casey’s shoulder, as if that would somehow help him in his goal of eating everything in his bowl.

At Hari’s suggestion, she glanced over at Leon for a moment, then over to Hari.
“I saw that earlier. Made me feel a bit like I was in some movie…” Honestly, she hadn’t liked it at all. Practical, but intrusive, they could just open up the Greenhouse roof anytime to look and reach inside.
“I’m the kind of person that likes to stay down on the ground, honestly. I didn’t grow up around magic so I’m not… so used to it. Maybe once I adjust more, but if you guys go up there, I can wave to you from inside.”

”Oh, man… You know you can’t actually talk between the two areas? The box is in this, like, weird sleeve that sucks the sound up. I guess, if any noise from the big area got transferred through to the area that your bees are in, it turns it into this crazy compressed noise that could ruin it.”

Leon pushed air through his teeth, shaking his head.
”Gin’s going too far with that shit. The Richoux Tomes are not production manuals.”
Casey’s brow furrowed, and he put the bowl down. Hands reached back, finding a comfortable spot on her lower back.

”Why not? Nobody ever said two of the same artifact can’t exist. If you can make ten, why wouldn’t you?” he asked, his voice sincerely begging the question.

”The Order never used the exact same enchantments. This ‘Standard Template’ stuff just isn’t natural magic.” Leon shrugged.

Hari cleared her throat after having slammed another dozen pieces from the boxes.
”Blech, can you guys talk about cool shit for once?” Ed piped up, a bit of a giggle in her voice.
”Trisha? Can you tell us a story about normal life? Like, I know that sounds crazy, but-”
”Oh, she’s right. It is totally weird, but like, we… I guess what’s normal for us is probably really weird for you, right?” Mia included, appreciative of Ed’s abnormal tact.

“Oh, yeah, I didn’t even know about magic till I was thirteen,” Trisha shifted herself to better face Eddy, while leaning more into Casey’s side. A story about normal life… it was like being put on the spot a bit there. Childhood was a no go - it was all studying and fighting with half-siblings. Thinking about it, suddenly her whole life felt pretty boring to talk about.

“Well… So when I was in college, for my twenty-first birthday my friend’s decided we were going to go to twenty one bars to celebrate, have a drink at each. I was the last to be able to legally drink, so it was like a big celebration kind of thing. The plan was to go to a club at the end of it… It started out alright. My one friend, Nadiyah, had written out this entire schedule, down to the minute when we had to leave, and how long it’d take us to go between them. So it was like sit down, get a drink, drink it as fast as possible type deal. We started midday… It quickly went to shit. I think it was the fourth bar? I was already pretty drunk at that point because I kept just getting handed drinks, and another friend, Reyna, suggested we get food. But Diyah got all pissy about it because food wasn’t on the schedule for another two hours, and we couldn’t deviate from the schedule. Reyna isn’t really the type to fight, but Diyah wouldn’t let it go, and ended up just not talking to any of us. But she was the only one who knew where we were meant to be going, so… Oh yeah, well, I’m getting stuck too much on the details. We grabbed some food, then went to the another bar- except the one someone chose was down this creepy alley. It was- i dunno- weird. We didn’t stay long, moved on again- except when we got to the next place we realised we’d lost one of the guys, Sal.” She paused to take a breath, raising one hand to rub the back of her neck. “Sal’s like this loud, obnoxious guy who’s pretty hard to lose, but we managed it. We tried to phone him… but he’d given his phone to Reyna. We were all kind of hammered at that point, so we just kind of… assumed he’d died in that alley and continued. I don’t actually really remember what happened after that, but I was told that had one shot, keeled over, and just kept saying no to everything. The next day, totally unprompted, Sal turned up to our flat - he was fine, not dead or anything, obviously. He’d gone to the toilet when we all left and ended up hanging out with this group of middle aged men, who bought him a ton of drinks, took him to some kind of weird rave thing at one of their apartments, and then… slept in the middle of a parking lot cause he also gave his keys to Reyna. He didn’t even go home once he got them, instead he beat us all at mario kart first.”

As she finished, her gaze moved away from anyone as she realised she’d… really not told that story well at all. She didn’t even know how to tell stories.
“That was… pretty boring, wasn’t it?”

If they were bored, they were great at faking it. Leon was a lot more interested in polishing off whatever food he could. Casey’s face was obscured by a portion of his chest, and it looked like he was staring off into space; but the occasional smile or breathy chuckle were good tells that he was still engaged
The girls, however, were all leaned in. Mia had a tempura shrimp hanging from her mouth, and throughout the entire story Ed was wholly engaged. She pointed, or made little gasps. When Trisha was finished, she was the first to speak up.

”Nah, Dude. That’s all, well… Like it’s a long one, but its all shit we take for granted.” Ed offered.
”So true, like… Even Emancipation, y’know?”

Mia and Ed both leaned back, groaning.
”Fucking Lynette, man…” Mia growled, frowning. Hari put her hand on Mia’s thigh and gently rubbed it.
”I know, Booboo. But, y’know,-”
”Yeah, I mean, it could’ve been anything else, right? We had a good time.”

Hari cleared her throat again, looking at Trisha. She gave a weak smile.
”We’re just uh, y’know. Surveilled. Amazingly, this place is clean right now.”
Mia nodded.
”We’re still sorry. It’s uh… Well, not a cool situation to put someone in. We’ll protect you.”
”Yeah. I think it’s worth insulating you. We’ll fail, obviously, we’re not miracle workers. But, we’ll meet you half way, at least.” Hari offered.

”What happened to talking about cool shit? C’mon, Emancipation story.”
Ed waved her hand.

”Alright, so we’re still in Las Vegas at this point, right?-Oh, context, we ran away once. It’s a long story, we were gone like six month, we made a demon- But things weren’t that bad yet. We still had, like, cash. And we were just trying to live like normal people.”
”No bank account, no fucking State ID-”
”Shitty broken Van-”

Ed waved her hands at the other girls, throwing them up.
”-Yeah, context there, so like we’re trying to get our Van fixed. We’re at this fucking gas station, and they only use… The fucking, like, debit card? Or credit? But, like we had nothing. Like, of all places? We roll in there and he only takes cards?”
”Mind you, we’re not Amish, right?-”
”Yeah, like I said we had REAL dollar bills and this dude would not fucking budge.”

”So some fuckin’ old Blind woman saved our asses.”
”Yeah! Like, we thought it was fucking Lynette in disguise bro!”
”And I hadn’t used my magic in like a week, so I was fuckin’ tweaking. Like blasting this old woman with White Lux, I didn’t even have my Channeler with me.-”
”And her head is fuckin’ smokin’, right? Like fumes, me and Hari are trying to be subtle about it.-”
”And like, it’s the middle of the desert, there’s no AC, I’m hot I haven’t showered, my hair’s nasty, and she goes ’Oh dear, you need to dry your hair better in this weather, Sweetheart, you’ve got steam coming off your head.’!”

All three of them were giggling like school children, and Mia subtly reached for both their hands. Their fingers idly played between one another, and for the first time Trisha would be able to see the matching tattoos on their hands. It was some kind of design that crossed between all their fingers like bands. Wedding bands, or other kinds of rings, on every single finger.

”That was uh… That was pretty much when things started going down hill, right?”
Mia shrugged at Hari’s question, trying to savor the good moment instead of returning to the bad.
”Past is the past, right?”
”And the future, hopefully, is right in front of us.” she smiled at Trisha and Casey warmly.

Trisha had paid attention through the whole thing, silently listening, mostly her expression changing at various moments. She automatically shifted closer to Casey, taking one of his hands in her own. She’d kind of understood the surveillance before, but not really… the extent. Maybe she’d downplayed it internally. For all that her life had sucked, she’d never thought of running away like that.

“Yeah, hopefully… well, if you want to run away again, I’ve got more than enough credit cards to go around,” she tried to joke, tilting her head up towards Casey with a smile and lightly squeezing his hand, before looking back at the three girls. Her gaze shifted down to their hands, and her smile got slightly warmer.
“I can’t say I’m someone with loads of money of my own, but between inheritance and the jobs I do… I’d say there’s enough to last at least a few months in Vegas if you don’t hit the casinos… A week if you did. Either way, I’ve got it all - identification, credit cards…”

She trailed off, laughing lightly. It wasn’t like anything she said could change the situation, so she didn’t bother with all the sympathy stuff. Just… moving onwards.
“And if I ever really need the funds, I’ve got an easy way to get them.” Trisha tapped the side of her face like she had some kind of underground fund rather than just perfecting kicking down Ezra’s door and forcing money out of him.
“Maybe in the future when me and Casey travel, we can take you all along wherever we go first… just dump you there, collect you at the end, all get a fun trip out of it. What do you think, babe, you could tolerate them for an entire flight?”

Casey cracked up. He was thinking about how quickly the three of them would die without a support system. From what he heard, the Lady in question was a Blind member of the Temple, and that she was put up to it like a dozen other people in that city were. Accounts were from Furio, who rarely lied. It was he and Clarissa who brought them back eventually, in typical fashion.

”I’d like to see a day we can trust them that long!” he chided. Leon snorted. Mia took a deep breath, shaking her head.
”You know we love our Girl, Case.” Mia replied somberly.
Ed looked cagey immediately, clearing her throat. But before she could say anything, Hari read the room.

”Still, I think that’d be awesome if you wanted to help us like that, Trisha. Maybe someday soon we’ll take you up on it. Once, y’know, everyone’s done a bit of proving to one another. Gotta know we can trust, right?”
Casey gripped Trisha’s hand like a lifeline in a storm.
”Sure. We’re all making concessions these days.”

Leon pushed away from the table, moving to the boxes of wine and bending down to pull one out. He looked at it for a second, then took another box from within the endless food bags.
Coming back, he pushed some of the sushi boxes away to open what he brought. From the styrofoam package, he began to slide beautiful crystal wine glasses across the counter toward each person.

”These were brought from the Estate in Lyon. Like, years ago. I thought I was going to use them for something, but I figured they’d be great to give to you guys. And the wine is from the Elder collection.”
Casey’s head snapped back at the box of wine bottles.
”What the fuck, all of them?”
”Six bottles, my Man. Mom approved, obviously.”

Casey leaned into Trisha.
”Six hundred year old wine.” he whispered.

“That’s… really old…” Trisha whispered back, brow furrowing as she tried to figure out just how much that’d be worth. A lot. “Tansy once bragged for weeks about getting a hold of a bottle just over a hundred years old… I’m definitely rubbing this in her face the next time I see her.”

Trisha giggled just thinking about how much it would annoy her pretentious half-sister.
“It’s not stronger than normal wine, is it?” she then asked, louder. She then looked at Casey with a grin, gently scratching the back of his hand with the tips of her fingers. “Guess it doesn’t matter since you can just carry me to bed if I drink too much.”

”Oh, nah. Ain’t nothin’ left to ferment, really. Plus, well… Hey, guess what? The bottle’s fuckin’ magic; imagine?” he laughed. The girls laughed. Casey laughed.

”It is fuckin’ pathetic isn’t it? Some rich wizard, probably just like us, decided he wanted his descendents to be able to taste the he made literally any time they wanted in history. So what’s he do? Makes a fucking enchanted bottle. With the coolest uncork that exists on planet Earth I’m pretty sure.” Casey explained to Trisha.

”Oooh, can I do it, Lee?”
Leon smiled gently at Ed, passing the bottle over the island to her. She looked excited. Almost actually alive.
”Whose is it?” she asked with a reverent tone.

”Alphonse Dumonde Richoux. The one who-”
”-Oh, fuckin’ sick. Yeah, the… The Butter guy.” she chuckled back at Leon.

Casey laughed again, remembering the story of Ol’ Dumbass.
”Oh, alright, so the Landlord responsible for this wine was a dude who essentially died because he fucked around with an enchantment for an endless butter crock. Imagine being not drowned, but not exactly buried because it’s that weird gelatinous-”
He immediately started gagging. He turned his head, then half his body toward his older brother as he dryly wretched.

He was thinking about the way butter looked… The meat and the goop. There was still sushi on the table, and it only made things worse.
But he did his best to play it off.
”Mon Dieu, Casseu!”
Casey was actually laughing a little bit by the time the fit was over. Despite that, his heart rate was still through the roof. He just had to get his throat cleared, and then he could get back to her.

”Sorry, sorry! I was… Yeah, bad place. My bad. Uh, can we get this all cleared off if we’re not gonna-”
Hari was on it immediately, but Casey didn’t slack as he began pulling plates away.
”Babe, I’ll put a bunch in the fridge for you. You didn’t have a lot.”

Leon’s hand stretched out as Casey moved toward a plate.
”I got that, Big Fella.”
”Oh yeah? You got any others?” Casey teased, stretching his free arm out, careful not to look down at the fish.

Leon started giggling, leaned back, and opened his mouth. Casey laughed immediately.
”Oh, this old routine.”
Mia and Ed, the latter still holding the ancient bottle, started laughing as Mia began making machine noises with her mouth.
”Trash compactooooor!” Ed laughed aloud.

Trisha really felt like she was watching a joke she didn't quite understand, but for once she wasn't… actually too bothered by it. It was… nice? To watch. Nice with a hint of jealousy, really. But still, she couldn't help but ask.
“Trash compactor like… he's going to finish it all off? Not the boxes too, right?" She laughed.

”Oh yeah. Guy’s a trash compactor, seriously. I guess it must just be Lelou, like you never used to eat like this.”
Leon’s head shook as Casey began to dump the plates of sushi into Leon’s mouth, remembering the ones Trisha had previously eaten in order to save them.
When enough had been disposed of, Casey brought his hand away and slid it across his throat, causing Mia to make a loud buzzer noise like the machinery was being switched off.

Such an audacious act of gluttony… Yet they cheered like it was no different than the chug-off at the party. Leon laughed like it was nothing as he chowed down, and Casey was happy to see the food eaten. Nobody was going to complain in that room… The strangeness never would’ve struck a chord that hit all of them at the same time.

”There’s a few reasons, but yeah when I adjoined Lelou I was dropping muscle like crazy. So I started upping my macros, upping my macros; I’m eating like eight to ten thousand calories a day.” Leon giggled like it was nothing.
”Sometimes, I feel like I can hear the food hit my stomach and just fuckin’ burn away, y’know?”
”No, I fucking don’t.” Casey laughed again, bringing the remains around to Hari.

While the two of them were wrapping the food in plastic to be put in the fridge, Ed held up the bottle.
”Alright, enough distractions!”
”Right, right. I think Casey was explaining our man Dumonde?” Leon smiled at Trisha, genuine friendliness in his voice.
”Well, the bottles themselves are kinda jokes. The spell is in our family’s books: The seal can only be opened by a member of the bloodline. But, to open it, a member of the Bloodline has to give a passcode that each bottler sets up during the process of casting. For Dumonde, his Daughter was actually the one who bottled this. And because his dumbass drowned in butter-”

Ed held the bottle with both hands, putting it out in front of herself and staring intensely.
”Le beurre est prêt, Papa! Give me your wine, you fuckin’ moron…”
The seal around the cork sputtered into orange flames that were hastily put out by the cork blowing them away on exit. The whole group cheered, even Hari and Casey who were toiling away.

Mia began handling the glasses for Ed to pour, passing them out around the island while Leon continued.
”You get to tell the bottle that the butter is ready in French, and it gets excited and explodes. Classic parlor trick.”

“Right, classic, we did that all the time at family dinners," Trisha commented drily, though it was offset by eyes nearly as wide as saucers just staring at the bottle. It was so unnecessarily dramatic with the fire and the explosion, but it was also… Fun. Definitely a parlor trick if not a classic one for her.
“Le beurre est prêt," Trisha mumbled to herself a few times, getting the pronunciation right after about the second one. She then nodded, laughing. “I’ll remember that for if I'm ever in France making butter for some reason."

As a glass finally got to her she took it, swirling the wine in it and smelling it like she'd been lectured to do the few times she'd been unable to escape some charity gala or family gathering her least favourite sister organised. As much as it had pissed her off, doing things wrong irritated her more. Though she honestly didn't know what she was looking for smell wise, it just smell acidic and like wine.
“Do they all… explode the same, or do they get to choose that with the phrase?"

”Nah, they all do that. The seal burns off, forces vapour to form in the bottle, it blows the top off.” Leon explained in a very casual manner.
”Sometimes they explode!” Hari added as the fridge door was closing. They were done it seemed, and Casey was just going over everything with a wet cloth before he finally made it back to Trisha’s side. This time she was fully in front of him, and he draped his arms over her in a warm embrace.

”Yep… Shitty bottlers, imagine enchanting shitty glass.”
As the stragglers gathered back up, Mia held her glass high.

”All that aside… Toast to Casey and Trisha?” she asked around the table.
Leon was quick to stick his up as well.
”For sure. To the two of you, and to some genuine happiness.”

Trisha smiled, genuinely, at them both. One hand rested on Casey's arm as she leaned back into his embrace, the other raising her own glass.
“To us," she laughed, tilting her head back so that she could look up at him with warm eyes. “Feels a bit weird to toast to myself, sort of… Hopefully we'll be happy, not get too annoyed by all our little habits when living together, and be able to start a new life together."

It felt a bit sappy, and perhaps too open, to say something like that. But she'd been caught up by the atmosphere, and they weren't particularly unusual wants, were they? She wasn't quite showing how desperately she wanted that life with him to work out, with genuine happiness and everything else that came with it.
“Toasting with a six hundred year old wine guarantees success, right?"


With the evening folding into the dark cold night, the Richoux clan polished off the expensive wine and left as swiftly as they came, heels promising a replacement bottle as they tottered down the stairs and into the apartment building.
Casey had shown them out, spending a moment reveling in the quiet cold. It was over. And maybe, for a short span of time the next day, they’d have nothing to do. He could even do his exercising up here.

The light from inside his new home bathed the roof in warm orange, the slight tint to the windows effecting their hue. It was a wonderful moment in his mind, made only better by knowing there was still someone inside who he didn’t mind spending time around. On enlightened feet, he practically danced toward the door. He felt the knob, and the bulk of the door against his shoulder as he pushed it open and closed it behind him.

Trisha was curled up on one of the loveseats, legs pulled into her chest and side leaning into the arm. In the time that Casey had been seeing his family out she'd gotten some of the sushi he'd put away for her, eating it with a lot more fervour than she had done earlier. Her eyes were squinted sleepily, and she twisted her head around at the sound of the door, smiling.
“They all gone?" she mumbled around a clump of rice, quickly chewing and swallowing it. She'd managed to pace herself with the wine, drinking only a glass and a bit over the time they'd finished the bottle. It was enough to make her a bit light headed and tired, but not properly drunk. “There aren't going to be any more unexpected visitors, are there? No night owls swooping in?"

She finished off the piece of sushi she'd been eating before stretching out her arms in his direction, hands making cute little grabby motions.
“I’m spent, battery dead, recharge required."

”Well, the cats, but we… We should be safe.”
He couldn’t know when they’d show up, but he knew full well they were capable of getting out of Leon’s apartment. Especially with how sloppy the others were. At first he was walking, but quickly clambered down and scooted forward to her with his knees like stilts.

Casey practically fell into Trisha’s grasp, his head resting against her legs and his arms wrapping around her in an awkward position. There was a twist as he unseated her, legs unfolding for him to resume standing at full height.
”You and I have a cuddle date scheduled pretty much right now. I’ve already chosen a venue, so you don’t have to think about it.”

Trisha let out a quiet squeak when she suddenly found herself without a seat underneath her, legs uncurling and wrapping around him tightly. She bent her upper body forward so her head could rest against his shoulder, making the most of the somewhat awkward carry.
“Oh, a surprise date? That’s exciting, don’t tell me where, I want to be surprised by that too.”

She tilted her head so her face pressed into his neck, lips gently brushing against it.
“I’ll let you take me there… Do you want me to close my eyes?” She giggled as if it wasn’t obvious where they were going.

Casey laughed as he adjusted the weight of Trisha’s body, curling himself into her as much as he could.
”You can. It’ll be pretty quick though.”
Looking around, he tried to figure out if there was anything he should do before heading up. The wine was gone, still sitting on the island with the empty glasses. That was fine. The drapes were gonna be a while, so there was nothing to put down. Fine.

His torso turned and looked up at their little loft, then the lights. Remembering correctly, the other set of switches in the hall controlled them, so he simply made way for the destination. His elbow flicked the light switch, casting their glassy home into the darkness of the city’s skylight. The moon was over the city, and in this part of town they could look out at the bay as they lay together in their bed.

Getting up the narrow staircase was a tight squeeze with Trisha in his arms, and he was struggling not to whack her head off the wall. At the apex, he looked out and saw the moon over the Greenhouse, and the shimmering of the Pacific Ocean beyond it.
Scooting his body up onto the freshly made bed, he released Trisha to sprawl out as she pleased while he adjusted the pillows.
”Would you look at that majesty?” he crooned, a smile on his face, gaze turning to Trisha as he leaned back on the pillows.
”I mean the moon’s nice too.”

Trisha giggled, eyes curving pleasantly as a pleased smile curled up her lips. She shuffled her body up the bed, rolling over to curl up against Casey's side with her head resting on his chest. She had to tilt her head slightly to look out at the moon as she cuddled in contentedly. It was comfortable, and it was really nice. Their bedroom in their house.
“Mm, yeah, the moon's almost at the same level, isn't it?" she joked, gaze flickering from out the windows up to him.
“Pretty nice date location, you picked well."

He smiled, hand moving up to run gently through her hair. He did his best to match her breathing as they settled in.
”Oh, great. I’m glad you like it.”
He was already starting to nod off. Most of the time, he found himself standing, or sitting up on hard surfaces. Something this plushy, or the couch downstairs, those were clearly made for sack time. Sleep. Rest.

Having begun his career in the Marines, switching to the Army as he was recruited into the Special Services, he’d been a near decade long member of the “Sack Challenged”. The few members of the service who, after rucking and busting ass for days on end, would simply eat their meals and ask for more.
It got a lot worse after his Kindling. Mostly because of what happened.

Slowly, surely, Casey curled into Trisha as it slowly came back. Very slowly, and he could feel her touch being something he could focus on. The same feeling as when it all came crashing down. He felt hands on him in that moment, who cradled him and kept him safe from harm. Like no arms had before.
”Thank… you…”
His body gently shook as the tears flowed, and he began to weep without noise.

Trisha was confused. What was there to thank her for? What was there to… cry about? She awkwardly tilted her head up, small frown playing on the corners of her lips as she tried to figure it out. Was it happy tears? Was it the… something to do with what had happened in the war. She really wasn't sure. Being not sure of the cause meant that she wasn't entirely sure what to do about it.
“It’s alright," she said softly, meaning it in response to the thank you.

She twisted around so that she was properly lying on top of him. Her delicate hands moved up to his face, thumbs gently wiping away the tears, even if it was a bit pointless when they kept flowing. She shuffled herself up so that her face hovered over his, leaning down to kiss just below his eyes.
“Am I so pretty you couldn't help but cry?" she lightly teased. Of course she knew that wasn't the reason, it was obvious she knew that wasn't the reason, but she wasn't about to start questioning her on it. He'd tell her if he wanted to, and this was the best way she knew how to deal with it.

Casey did laugh, and started to nod his head before looking up at her and sniffling.
”Yeah, God, I got so fucking caught up in it…” he giggled as much as he could.
”It’s just… Everything’s so hard all the time. You’re soft. And nothing’s been soft until now.”
How could he properly explain to someone who wasn’t crazy that being in her arms made him feel closer to God? Like the moment where he’d been able to save his own life at the expense of a lot of other good men? The survivor’s guilt mixed with the genuine belief that God was not just a friend, but a very close guardian. He was safe because the woman who barely held him as a child decided to finally look at him with her magical stare, and to protect him in her loving arms.

”You… Make me feel safe.”

“Really? I'm… well, normally I'd associate safeness with strength, I guess." Trisha smiled. She stayed where she was, face hovering just above his, looking down at him with a soft and warm expression. She still didn't entirely understand but, she guessed if he'd been through the war coming home and… being in a place without that, with someone like her, would feel like safety.
“I’m glad. I'll keep being here to cuddle you and keep you safe, then."

She leaned forward and kissed the tip of his nose, before moving back to rest her head against his neck, tucked up right under his chin.
“I guess this does mean I should abandon my plans to work out and become really buff…" she joked again. It wasn't that she was bad at talking seriously about things, just that she still didn't really know what to say in the face of something like this. Yes, she was physically soft, and appeared it so far, but later there was the risk she'd lash out and he'd realise she wasn't so safe after all? That feeling of safety might not continue… but she didn't want to dwell on that at all.

“I feel safe too, with you, so I guess that makes two of us. Not that I've had it so hard since the Snake just… not stable, I suppose."

Casey cleared his throat trying to find the words to use. He wanted to make sure she knew he was going to be there no matter what, but he didn’t know how not to be direct about it.
”Buff is soft too. I’m soft. I can just flex it.”
Focusing less on the idea of her and more on the interaction was good. He did his best to joke, flexing his chest and rocking her about slightly. He giggled, still a hint of emotion in his voice.
”But, I mean… If you don’t feel stable, I know where to pick up slack.”

He stopped, puffing his chest so it was like a slab.
”We’ll be solid together. Keep me safe, I’ll lift you up nice and high.”

Trisha giggled too, poking his rock solid chest. Her finger lingered for a moment before her hand moved up to rest on his shoulder. She did feel more stable than she had for a long time. Like there was actually some direction to her future. That someone might actually stay for once. But her fears were too deep to just be fixed with some comforting words. It did… help.
“Yeah, nothing will be able to stop us together. Us and sixty thousand bees. They really help."

She smiled softly, pulling up her legs so they tangled in between his. As if there was some way to get even closer when she was already lying on top of him, she snuggled in, pressing a light kiss against his neck.
“But you really are the best of both worlds… soft when needed, strong when needed. Very nice to cuddle. I can lie wherever I want without worrying about crushing you."

He found it funny that before her, the last time someone else laid on top of him like this, they were already dead. Not that he’d tell her that, it’d ruin the mood he figured.
”Mmmm… Wherever, however. You’ve got me, I’ve got you.”
His brain was drifting, staring at that moon outside with Trisha in his arms. Slower and slower.
”Need… A fan up here.”
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FernStone One Again Addicted to Pepsi Max

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Act One-Four


Casey and Trisha's Home

On Friday, Trisha actually got to lie in past 5am. One of the benefits of living together was that Casey could slip out when he woke up, and there were no bees living in the same room to disturb her. As much as half asleep Trisha was reluctant to let her very comfortable pillow go, she eventually got over it and replaced him with an actual pillow. She didn’t set an alarm, figuring she’d wake up naturally while it was still morning.

But a strange, increasingly loud buzzing interrupted her dreams. With a groan, she rolled over, feeling about for her phone. She propped herself on her elbows and squinted at it. It was just past 11:30, she hadn’t set an alarm, so what- shit.

Her phone displayed in annoyingly large writing ‘Incoming Call: Cass

She fumbled for the answer button, rolling onto her back and holding her phone up to her ear. “What?”

”OH MY GOD TRISHA FINALLY! WE MESSAGED YOU LIKE HOURS AGO BUT YOU FUCKIN’ IGNORED US!“ Cass’s voice assaulted Trisha’s ear, so loud she had to hold her phone away from it. I was all for just turnin’ up to your gaff and just banging on your door but Reyna said we gotta phone you first, so, that’s what I’m doin’.”

“What?” Trisha repeated, mind slowly processing what the fuck Cass was saying, taking a moment to actually understand her accent and slang. ”You’re… coming to my place?”

”Yeah! We’re like, fifteen minutes out.”

Trisha shot up, suddenly very awake. ”From what place?”

”Y’know, the one Reyna visited before, fuckin’ posh ga-”

”I moved.”

”Nah, you’re kidding, fuck- Rey, she moved!” There was some mumbled talking in the background. ”The fuck you move to? It ain’t far is it, cause Reyna’s gonna lose her head if she’s gotta drive much longer.”

Trisha pressed a hand against her forehead, trying to push down the impending sense of doom. This wasn’t what she wanted to deal with right after waking up. ”It’s ten minutes away… I’ll text you the address. Text when you’re outside, it's… difficult to access.”

”Sweet! Oh- you’re new boyfriend better be there, even if he has to absolutely leg it to arrive before us.”

”He’s already- whatever. I don’t have time, bye.”

Trisha very unceremoniously hung up, staring at her phone for a few minutes just processing what the fuck had just happened. Then, she sent them the new address, and then… the panic set in. She had maybe twenty minutes to get ready. That included getting dressed, doing her hair, makeup- letting Casey know. Shit.

Alright, calm down, before the bees get added to the situation- She took a deep breath and jumped out of bed, scurrying over to the wardrobe in their room. It wasn’t big enough to hold all of her clothes, so she’d just unpacked a few things which… made it easier to choose. She pulled off the t-shirt and shorts she’d worn to sleep, throwing them on the bed. There was no time to take ages choosing like normal, so she went with something easy, quickly getting dressed in a black dress with a tight fitting, off the shoulders bodice and a looser skirt that fell midway down her thighs. It didn't do anything to cover the mottled blues and purples across her upper body - but if she wore a turtleneck she'd just get more questions with how her friends were…

Trisha spun around on her heel, clattering down the stairs, almost tripping over her own feet at the bottom.
“Casey! Caseeeyyyyy!” She had no idea where he’d be so she shouted… she really hoped he was still in the house, otherwise she’d be running all around trying to find him. “I- my- fuck, I forgot to find out when my friends were getting here and they’re almost here!”

There was no response, making her really feel like she’d wasted her breath by explaining the situation to an empty house. It was fine. He was either outside, or downstairs. Or out… but if he was out it was fine, she’d just deal with a bit of shit from her friends, that was all. She took another deep breath, forcing herself to at least appear calm. It was fine. She could handle this - or at least pretend to.

As soon as she stepped outside, about thirty bees descended on her. Their confused pheromones bombarded her as they mostly landed in her hair and on her shoulders. They’d obviously felt her intermittent panic, and gone between coming to her and not as she jumped between freaking out and calm.
“All good,” she said softly, letting out a soothing scent. Satisfied in her safety, most of the bees buzzed away back to their new paradise, leaving her with just a few burrowed in dark, messy waves of hair.

There was no sign of Casey on the roof, and she couldn’t hear anything, so that meant downstairs. She rushed over to the door leading off the roof, not even bothering with shoes - socked feet pattering down the stairs and into the corridors of apartments below.

There were a lot of apartments he could be in. Biting her lip, Trisha started to walk down, ears straining for any sounds of life. Thankfully she didn’t have to get far, the muffled sounds of something coming from the apartment closest to them. She pushed open the door to that black metal box. Had he registered her with it yet? Could she just put her hand against the wall to get in? But if he was in there doing something… now inside here it sounded like bangs - hammering or gunshots maybe… wouldn’t she disturb him if she just went in. It wasn’t that important, was it? She could go down by herself. Better than disturbing him doing something important.

“Casey?” she called out towards the wall she was pretty sure had the door in it, loud enough it should be heard if it wasn’t too soundproofed, raising a fist to tap on it. If he didn’t hear she’d just… go back up and get ready, then figure things out.

Inside, behind the second door, the indoor range was alight with gunfire as Casey put round after round into the randomly appearing targets. Modern ear protection was something of a magic in its own right, hardly needing to be adjusted for a range like this despite the tight quarters.
Each shot was a dull thud in his ears, the electronic components of the earphones adjusting the amount of dampening to meet different needs. The shots were dull thuds in comparison to the notification on the wallboard that someone was looking to come into The Box.

He immediately ejected the magazine and cleared the chamber of the rifle, laying it all down and pulling his headset off before making it to the door. He didn’t open it, but he did slide the eye slot open. Trisha wouldn’t be able to see the wide golden retriever grin form on his face, but she certainly would be able to see his eyes narrow at her.

”Ooooh, whaaaaats the password, Miss?” he tried his best to sound aloof.

Trisha narrowed her eyes back at him, but it was less of a cheerful narrow and much more of a tired one. As much as she would really love to have time to play some back and forth, her internal clock was ticking down. She'd much rather spend what little time she didn't need to use on some much needed morning hugs.
Casseyyy," she whined, pouting rather cutely. “Good morning, please come out, I forgot to set an alarm and my friends are twenty minutes away?"

Casey frowned, mostly because he didn’t realize things were going to be quite that rushed. Immediately, the door opened and he was standing there, more or less in the same shorts and shirt he went to bed in.
Seeing his face, he had a slight but playful frown.
”Oh, man… Sorry Babe. You want me to go get showered and stuff?” he asked her pretty plainly.
”It’ll be an Army shower with that much time, but I’ve gotta put my stuff here away.”

His torso bent down, planting a kiss on her forehead before he spun and made way for his gun and the other things he was using.

“Yeah, if that's alright," Trisha half smiled, rubbing the back of her neck and unable to hold back a yawn. “It’s on me for not checking when they'd get here yesterday so… don't worry about it too much. I can always tell them to go wait somewhere."

Just admitting the blame in such a simple way made her feel uncomfortable, like nails were scratching at her chest. It wasn't how she'd planned things to go… she hadn't expected them to be here till at least midday. Why was today of all days the one that Cass had been successfully dragged out of bed early?
“I’m going to go back upstairs and finish getting ready… I'll see you up there."

She backed out of the room with a smile which quickly fell when she was out of his sight. The journey back up was just as quick, not quite jogging to avoid breaking into any kind of sweat. She wanted a shower too but she just didn't have time. She nipped into the bathroom to grab all of her stuff - makeup, hairbrush, and a small mirror she was glad she'd had the foresight to bring along. She was used to having her own bathroom, so sharing one was yet another adjustment that she really wasn't used to after only one day. She took it all to the counter in the main room, setting up a little station. Her phone was placed unlocked beside her, group chat open, ignoring the unimportant messages as she shooed away her bees and started to properly brush out her hair.

It only took Casey a few minutes to get his stuff situated. Assuming she was going to be using the shower upstairs, he opted to use the one that was still intact in their office. Furio was there, working as usual.
”Chief…”
”Boss…”
Casey threw his hands up.
”Woah, woah. Let’s not go throwing out crazy titles or expectations here.”

They both laughed, and Furio swung around in his chair.
”What’d she want?”
”She’s got some friends coming, just gonna shower.” Casey explained in the lightest way possible.
Furio’s head nodded along, and he smiled.
”They comin’ here?” he asked.

Casey was impacted by the question, and it left him stunned for a few moments.
”She… Said they were twenty minutes away? I assume yes.”
”Alright! I’ll expect visitors.”
”I’m pretty sure she said some of them are Blind, so…”
”Some? Is one a Sycamore? Any?”

Casey did his best to recall what she’d said, but some time after the wine and the crying, it was all a haze.
”Gonna go ahead and say that I’m ninety-nine percent sure no.” he offered, figuring that was going to be enough. Furio cleared his throat.
”Y’know, protocol is usually a lot tighter than what you’re giving me right now.”
Furio’s gaze turned downward, expectantly staring at Casey. He took a deep breath in turn.
”Y-yeah, Uncle, I know. I’ll be five minutes in the shower, run up and ask her, and then-”

Furio dusted his hands off, pushing back in the chair and standing.
”Take your shower. Do your thing. I’ll go up, ask, and grab you some clothes so you can be nice and fresh for your little second housewarming.”
”Oh, I don’t know if they’re even gonna come up, Uncle Furio! D-don’t worry about it, I-”
Furio put his hands up.
”Shut up! Please! I’m doing you a favor so I don’t have to see you traipsing around my fuckin’ office during my last days of being the boss like you’re in a nudist colony!”

Casey grimaced, hand flicking up for his watch.
”Fine, man, fine. Whatever, I’m wasting time as it is with this. But if she gets pissy with me because you’re prodding, I’m gonna rip your shit apart.”
”Rip my balls you precious angel you.”

Casey stepped into the bathroom and closed the door behind him. Furio stared for a final moment before seeing himself out and upstairs. Not bothering to ring, he simply invited himself onto the roof and up to the front door. He didn’t hesitate to swing it open, though he didn’t quite enter so much as drape himself in.

”Heyyy, Trisha!? It’s Furiooooo. Mind if I come in real quick sweetheart? Casey’s showering downstairs, asked me to get him some clothes!” he called in through the open door.

When the door opened Trisha had assumed it was Casey, so panic shot through her when it was a voice that wasn't. She twisted around in her seat and the few bees with her automatically reacted, shooting towards Furio. Thankfully she was awake enough to properly react, instantly telling them to stop. Five bees screeched to a halt halfway to Furio, before reluctantly buzzing back to Trisha and landing on her shoulders.
“... Uh, hi, sure, come on in," Trisha said, expression relaxing back down to some more neutral than caught out. She was in the process of twisting her thick, wavy hair into a proper bun at the bottom of her neck, both hands taken up with it. “His clothes are up in the loft… just don't mind the mess up there."

”Oh, it ain’t a mess. You guys just moved in, a mess is expected anyway.”
Furio wasted no time making his way through and up, but he spoke to her through the open floor plan.
”Casey said you guys have friends coming? Anyone from Sycamore I should roll out the carpet for?” he asked so casually.

Trisha laughed, as if he was telling some kind of hilarious joke. There was a bitterness to it, her eyes darting over to the stairs up to the loft before moving back to the mirror in front of her.
“The only Sycamore members I'm on speaking terms with are too rich to come round to my place, or Leon as of last night. They're university friends, unrelated. None are even from around here."

She paused, finishing tying her hair back. If Furio was here… she hadn't even really thought about the whole security thing they had downstairs. She hadn't actually planned to invite her friends round in the first place until they'd surprised her with practically being there, meaning she didn't have time to plan anything else. It wasn't exactly a situation she wanted to bring them into.
“They don't have to come up if there'll be a problem going through downstairs. Things Blinds shouldn't see… or maybe the other way around?" She also spoke very casually, not signs in her voice that she was annoyed about it.

”Well I imagine they’ll ask questions. You and Casey get a story straight?” he asked back, starting to rummage through clothes. He found most of them were hers, and he’d only brought a backpack up from downstairs for now. Lazy fucker. So he simply picked it up and started back down the stairs.
”No need to worry about anything really, not like they won’t just see closed apartment doors. I guess, if you know whose driving, you can give me their names and I’ll make sure they can get into the side lot. I figure Norm’ll be fine, he’s got nice clothes on today.”

“I’ve got a story straight, I just haven't discussed it with him. I'm sure he'll go along with it," Trisha shrugged one shoulder. It shouldn't be hard, she'd just tell them he had some kind of security job, and keep them moving through that floor. She was used to fielding and ignoring annoying questions from them.
“The one who's driving is called Reyna- she's the only one with magic. She can read auras, so she'll know Norm's magic too if she sees him, if that'll be a problem."

”Well, I mean… Can she read auras well? It don’t take a skilled White Adept to know this place is engaged as it were. I mean I hope she’ll have enough sense to not bring it up to your Blind friends, but she’s gonna ask you some extra questions.”
Furio wasn’t supposed to be pressed, and he certainly wasn’t acting like he was… But know he was going to need to know a whole lot more about this Reyna person than he wanted to find out. He tapped his foot anxiously.

”I mean… If I wasn’t…” he cleared his throat.
”Uh… It’s Casey’s show now, right? So, I’ll… Be an adult and let you guys handle it. But, I would be leery of your friend. Will be. We can’t know who wants to hurt you or Leon or any of us. But, I’ll stay in my office and I’ll trust you both, and I’m sorry that I’m a grumpy ol’ man like that.”

“If Reyna was going to hurt me, she would've done it four years ago," Trisha said, tone slightly cold. She understood, but also didn't like her friend being questioned like that. Just because she was white lux didn't mean she was some invasive asshole like the temple was used to.
“As far as I'm aware she's a fairly skilled adept, but she's also good person. She's only ever used it on me for an impromptu therapy session- " maybe a bit more information than she needed to give out there. “ So yes, trust Casey's trust in me. I'll answer any questions without giving away anything about the Temple, don't worry."

Furio really wanted to say more. He almost couldn’t help himself.
”More just, we don’t know who could be controlled by forces beyond our understanding. You remember the Snake: It would be in your mind one second, next you wake up somewhere you never wanted to be. It ain’t her fault, ain’t anyone’s fault and it’s got nothin’ to do with what she knows or doesn’t know about the Temple.”

He shrugged his shoulders.
”I’m… Very sorry. Seen a lot in this business, and it’s paid to be a paranoid fuck. I hope you and Casey can find a better balance than that… I think our organization needs it just as much as you both deserve it. Capice?” he asked as sincerely as he could.

“Yeah, I understand," Trisha waved her now free hand, as if it didn't really bother her at all. It did, but she did also get it. It wasn't like she was out here trusting many people - or anyone fully. It was just a different kind of trust. She wasn't worried about magical threats to an organisation that already spied on her…
“I’ll balance him out if he starts getting that paranoid about people."

It wasn't so much meant to be a dig at Furio, just a statement of truth. That kind of paranoia and lack of trust would eventually turn on her, who was technically also an outsider to the Temple. She didn't want that.
“But I do get it. I might not be on the same level, but I'm more cautious than you'd think, since I do remember the snake." She did a pretty good job of keeping her tone even, as if just the mention of it being in her mind put her on edge in a way she didn't really understand. It hadn't quite happened like that, but there were patches she didn't remember from back then. It always had its ways of getting in. It was a specific bit she didn't like to remember. Couldn't, really.

“You better get those clothes to Casey before he traipses up here in a towel," Trisha smiled as if she wasn't not so subtly trying to get him to leave. “Oh, sorry in advance for how annoyingly loud one of my friends is, I'll try get her past the apartments as quickly as possible."

”Got it, no worries. We’ll keep it down ourselves.”
With that, he was off. Another ten minutes went by before Casey made his way up freshly dressed. He’d actually worn the clothes Furio brought only long enough to get back into Leon’s apartment so he could grab something nicer to wear for Trisha’s friends. He dressed as uncomfortable as possible, assuming that they’d be pretty preppy.

Jeans, a white collared tennis shirt, square toed shoes. He had his half-wet hair pulled and tied courtesy of his Uncle, and the nice watch that Leon had gotten him when the war ended.
He walked into the house smelling like cologne.
”Hello my Baby, hello my honeeeeeyyyyy…” he sung into the place.
”We’ve got Norm waitin’ for your friends downstairs Trisha Bee, so he’ll bring ‘em up.”

He swaggered about, looking for her.
”Anything you wanted me to get done?”

“Uhhh- m'dunno," there was very mumbled response from the bathroom, followed by the sound of the sink running. She popped out, beelining for Casey with a small trail of bees behind her. She stopped just in front of him, holding her arms out to the side and swaying her hips slightly to swish the layered skirt.
“How do I look? I had to rush, I didn't have much time to choose what to wear."

The black dress was different from what she'd worn around him so far - namely the more comfortable crop or tank top and baggy pants combination she tended to favour. It had a lower cut, strapless bodice with short off the shoulder sleeves that were pulled in tight at the top but loose towards her elbows. The skirt fell about mid thigh, loose enough to have some movement to it but not too voluminous. It was the kind of dress that could work in a variety of settings - for both a nice day out, going to a bar, even to go clubbing. She'd done a bit more with her makeup, too - darker, more purplish eyeshadows, simple eyeliner, and soft pink lips. Still relatively simple, since she hadn't had much time. She'd swapped out the simple hoop on her front lobe piercing to be a longer one, a twisted loop that swayed a bit with her movements, and the other two were now just simple studs.

She stopped swaying and reached out for his hands, squeezing them. The bees meandered past her towards him then paused, floating confused in front of him, and going right back to her.
“You don't smell enough like me anymore, they're confused- I like it. The cologne."

Casey smiled at her, looking her up and down. He was glad he ended up dressing up a bit similar, the idea of pairs and things matching making him feel satisfaction.
”I think you look fantastic, Babe.” he grinned. His hands reached out for hers, and he pressed forward to kiss her for a moment. He didn’t automatically go for tongue, but it was on his mind. How could it not be?

”And I’m glad you think I smell good. It was in a box of my stuff from before I joined Basic. Been sitting in my room, barely had the chance to use it.”
He did feel like he was missing something, however, so he made way for the hoodie he’d left on the rack when they were done moving yesterday.
”When I woke up this morning, I was looking out at the same moon we fell asleep looking at. I really hate the Winter. he chuckled.

“You know if you sleep in past five the sun's up?" Trisha teased, smiling brightly at him. It'd been a stressful morning, what with barely having a morning at all after waking up, but it was fine. She had him with her and she did like spending time with her friends… as much as she wished she'd had a couple of hours warning.
“But summer is nicer… long days, not having to worry about getting cold. I'm looking forward to spending our first summer together next year."

She really hoped they made it to then. Her lips parted to say something else, but her phone buzzed on the counter, distracting her. She unlocked it with her thumb and squinted down at it.
“Uh, they're basically outside- that wasn't twenty minutes was it? Shouldn't have trusted Cass' estimations… it's fine…" her voice lowered into a mutter at the end of what she was saying. Her fingers flew across the screen as she sent a quick response letting them know where they could park and that someone would get them. She then locked it, moving back to Casey's side.

“Ready? They're really all fine, just a bit loud sometimes…" She spoke quickly, as if they were about to enter some insane battle and she only had seconds to give him the battle plan. “I’m just going to say you have a live in security job if they ask- oh, Reyna will know you're magic right away, but she won't say anything. She really doesn't pry much, just the basic stuff like that and surfaces emotions- anyway, let's go outside?"

Casey calmly nodded, chuckling about Trisha’s explanation of their story. He was happy enough to hear about it, but he wondered if they’d been told whether or not it was very recent.
”Oh yeah, but I mean like… Yeah, alright. I figured maybe we’d just wait in here but we’ll go get ‘em out there.”

Taking a few steps forward, he swung the door open and held it for Trisha.

“There’s less things that can be knocked over out on the roof," Trisha commented somewhat ominously, smiling at him. She paused in the door, stretching up to press a kiss to his cheek.
“Thanks, babe, I know it's a lot."

They barely got a few steps out of the house before there was the sound of thudding footsteps, as if an elephant was sprinting to get onto their roof. The door was going open, and a woman of average height barreled out. She had short, curly hair with blue tips and was dressed extremely casually - a baggy black hoodie with dark, ripped jeans with all sorts of chains hanging off the belt. Her light brown eyes immediately found Trisha, already massive grin growing even wider.

"TRISHHHAAAAA!" She shouted loudly enough that she could definitely be heard downstairs. She charged towards Trisha, leaping at her in some sort of flying hug. Her arms and legs wrapped around the slightly smaller woman, sending them both crashing towards the ground. On the way down Cass twisted with a nearly inhuman speed, so that she landed on her back with Trisha safely protected.

If Casey looked close enough, he'd noticed cheetah like spots receding as quickly as they appeared from Cass' hands and ankles.

“Let go-"

”I ain't fuckin' letting you go, it's been a fuckin' age! Like monthhhhsss!" It was obvious as soon as Cass opened her mouth that she was one of the British friends Trisha had mentioned, with a rougher northern English accent.

"Come on, Cass, let her up."
Through the still open door came another woman, with two more people close behind. She spoke with an accent that made it obvious English wasn't her first language, a distinct, drawn out Latin American accent to it. Dark, kinky hair was pushed back behind her ear and her dark eyes moved from the two on the floor to Casey, lips pulling up into a calm smile. She pulled her denim jacket close around her.

Right behind her was taller, slender woman - dressed the nicest of the three, in a halter neck burgundy dress with a short, black wool jacket and a myriad of delicate, gold accessories. Her makeup was obvious but well done, painted red lips pulled into a thin line. Last was the one guy of the group, just a bit taller than her, coming out with a laughing grin. He carried about three bags, and had a rucksack on, swinging one up with a sweater covered arm.
"We brought brunch! Or lunch, whatever!" Also clearly British, but with a smoother accent closer to the stereotype.

Cass finally let go of Trisha and helped her to her feet with a laugh. Trisha rolled her eyes, immediately going to slot in at Casey's side.

And so all eyes moved to him.

Cass looked him all over before getting in real close for a better look.
"Whooooaaa, so Mr tall, dark and handsome is your boyfriend? I ain't saying it's suspicious but you bring us to your fancy as fuck gaff and pull out a dead handsome man, but you sure you ain't-"

"Give the man some space, come on," Sal had reached them, grabbing Cass by the back of the collar and dragging her back so she wasn't practically pushing into Casey's space. He dumped her a bit away along with the bags and went in for a hug with Trisha… lifting her well off the ground and spinning her around.
"Trissshhaaa, I've been excited to see you for months!"

"You only invited yourself along a few weeks ago," Nadiyah, the only one who hadn't talked yet, commented snidely. She glanced up and down Casey with a raised eyebrow and cold expression. Of the four, her look was the most judgemental. "It is nice to see you again, Trisha."

"Well I'm always in a state of excitement to see my friends," Sal laughed, putting Trisha down and stepping away. "Well, introduce us to this incredibly handsome man, Trish."

“Back off. You’ve got a mouth, don't you, introduce yourself," Trisha shot back.
Sal held up his hands and laughed.

"Gladly!" Cass pushed back around Sal, holding out a hand towards Casey. "I'm Cass, which rhymes with ass!"
They all groaned.

"Nadiyah," the tallest woman said, without a hand held out to shake or a smile.

"I’m Salvador but you, handsome, can call me Sal," Sal lowered his voice until it was silky smooth, leaning in towards Casey with a wink and a smirk. Trisha’s hand immediately flew up to slap his chin. It wasn’t a hard hit at all and he chuckled, completely unphased and unmoving.

"Don’t joke around too much, Sal… It’s been too long, Trisha, I thought that you maybe were avoiding me." Reyna smiled and moved past the other three to Trisha’s side, pulling her in for a normal hug. Trisha half returned it, grumbling something about being busy. It wasn’t like she’d been avoiding visiting Reyna, it was just a lot of effort to go to Portland and it always ended up being a therapy session forced on her that she didn’t want. Well maybe she had been avoiding her a bit.
"Reyna, and it’s a pleasure to meet you," Reyna stepped back and turned around towards Casey, also holding out her hand.

Casey was happy to observe, to be someone on the sideline of Trisha's interactions. Cursory. But they were, obviously, expected to focus in on him at some point. He wasn't intimidated by their closeness, nor was he worried about whether or not he could make friends. His main concern was simply not saying something stupid.

Though, he couldn't help swooning when Trisha got barky. What she said to Sal made him grin ear to ear, and Cass’ introduction was more than he could ask for as an ice breaker. From his personal perception, the only one who didn't seem thrilled to be here was Nadiyah. He felt the side eye, but with underdeveloped White Lux, he wasn't going to try and gleam anything from her Blind psyche.

Attempt to impress, expect to misstep.
Casey's hand quickly struck out to mine away the wall of hands.
”Casey Richoux, Casey Richoux. Nice to meet you guys; I haven't heard this many British accents since we stopped off in Scapa Flow for a refuel at the end of the War.” he grinned, shaking hands lightly.

With Reyna specifically, he gave a grin and a nod, bumping against her Emotional Field with his own vestigial White Lux in as friendly of a manner as he could.

”You guys just studying here? Or is it permanent residency?”

There was a slight shift when Casey mentioned the war. Not much, but both Sal and Reyna look at Cass with some amount of concern. The woman herself didn't seem bothered, however, still grinning brightly.
"Permanent! Well… that's the aim, y'know how hard it is to get a green card, and I ain't gonna shack up with someone just for that," she chatted away. "Well, dunno about Sal, he fucked off to Spain for a year back when we graduated."

"I just couldn't bear the separation from you lot," Sal said dramatically, with a laugh.

”Sure you couldn't… It is nice to meet you, Casey," Reyna smiled. There wasn't quite a message against his emotional field, but the like tap that came back was a clearly friendly gesture. "Trisha never seems to want us to meet her partners…"

“Cause you all start asking unnecessary questions and making annoying comments," Trisha rolled her eyes. It wasn't like she'd purposefully kept them from her friends. Right now they don't exactly all live nearby, and back when they were studying… Well, very little lasted long enough.

"Aw, Trish, we ain't that bad!" Cass laughed, leaning on Nadiyah, who just gave her a cool glare but didn't say anything. "Soooo… you fought in the war, Casey? Shit, thanks, sure you get that shit a lot but we lived through all the fuckin' bombing."

Casey laughed at their interactions, listening to Reyna as she mentioned Trisha’s other partners. Obviously, he knew that he was clearly the best. She hadn’t moved in with any of the others. Cass asked about the war almost instantly, which was expected. He mentioned it, and he had fond memories of the short time he spent in that cold, Scottish port.
”Oh yeah, the Blitz and the Lockdown. I appreciate your thanks, though… Thank you for, I guess keeping your spirits up? Did you guys have any civil duties?” he asked back, just trying to make some casual conversation about a nightmare.

"Nah, well, just the usual, growin' food and shit. We were like, teens when shit was real bad, then came over here," Cass shrugged. "My brothers were drafted, though! They were like a fair few years older than me so there was no escapin' it. Sal here managed to dodge the bullet- literally, heh."
"You're making it sound like I draft dodged or something," Sal snorted, reaching over to ruffle Cass' hair. She slapped his hand away playfully.

Trisha's expression tightened slightly. This wasn't a conversation she wanted them to continue on, and she was surprised that Cass was choosing to continue it. She glanced over at Reyna, who gave a slight nod.

"Let's continue this inside, it's cold out here. You British two might be used to it, but I still haven't adjusted to this weather," Reyna said calmly, with a relaxed smile. "More importantly, the food will get cold."

"Oh yeah, shitttt, I ain't fuckin' eating cold pasta, fuck that shit!" Cass shot over to one of the bags Sal had dumped. He also bent down for the other two, which looked particularly square shaped. ”Let us innnnn."

“Nobody’s keeping you out," Trisha rolled her eyes. She then reached out for Casey's hand, fingers threading through his. “Do you want to do the honours of showing them the place?"
Not that there was much to it.

”Whatever you say is my pleasure.” Casey smiled back down at Trisha, taking her hand in his and pulling it up to kiss it before he spun on his heels.
”And may I say, as a life long resident of St. Portwell, welcome. We’re happy to have you. I don’t know if my associate Norm gave you guys the rundown when you got here, but this is the Cannery Apartment building. Kind of a historic building in the town, been here almost the entire time. But, our house-”

Casey swung his arms up to their house built atop the building.

”Is like… Twenty? Years old? Originally, the landlord built it because his wife wanted a house instead of living in the apartments, but he didn’t want to live too far from the building. They compromised, and now I’m acting Landlord. Family business!” he smiled. Taking Trisha’s hand back, he walked them both forward to the door and swung it open for everyone.

”C’mon in! Pile in, it's warm and comfy.”

Trisha smiled up at Casey as he explained. It was a pretty good one, managing to avoid mentioning anything that pointed towards a magical cult. It was a better one that she would have given, for sure.

"Whooooaaa," Cass was the first one through, striding right in and looking around the place. "Hey, this place is fuckin' sound. Shit, I was absolutely dreadin' sitting in your fancy fuckin' place after Rey described how white it was… this is awesome! Like, dead homely."

"Sure is… where's my landlord boyfriend to give me somewhere like this?" Sal laughed, as the other three followed Cass in. Those two completely glossed over the whole our house thing, and Sal raised one of the bags. "Where do you want this?"

Trisha pointed towards the large countertop.
“He isn't here, this one's mine."
"Aw, Trish, you really think I'd try steal him- is there a chance?" Sal joked, winking at Casey again.
“Only if you have a death wish," Trisha shot back.

"It is nice, but," Reyna fixed Trisha with a look she knew meant some kind of prying, and a possible lecture, was coming? "What does he mean by our house?"
"I would like to know that too," Nadiyah added.

“It means exactly what it says, we're living here together," Trisha said as nonchalantly as she could, grip on Casey's hand tightening a bit. She wasn't… super bothered about if they thought it was a bad idea. Just a bit scared of the disapproval Reyna and Nadiyah might show.

They both stared at her.
"You moved in together… after a couple of days?" Reyna asked slowly, still looking calm, but Trisha had known her long enough to read the shock behind it. "That seems…"
"Stupid," Nadiyah said bluntly.

“Don’t start, Diyah," Trisha said, glancing up at Casey and then at her friend. She really… really didn't want Nadiyah to start going off about things she really didn't want to hear.

Nadiyah, thankfully, recognised the look… and decided to start ripping into her in a language Casey (hopefully) wouldn't understand, switching to Arabic. "Are you stupid, Trisha? How long have you known him?"

Just trust my judgement, please," Trisha snapped back, words much more stilted than Nadiyah's, more following the modern standard than the Libyan dialect Nadiyah spoke in. She… was nowhere near fluent in a language she'd essentially picked up from short visits to her mom and then brute force learning to have discussions with Nadiyah that no one else could understand.

"Why would I? You have terrible taste. You get yourself into situations where you're stuck, and then you get hurt. But this… this is a new level."

I'm not stuck- and it's not the same. It's…" she waved her hand trying to describe how it wasn't the same. It just wasn't. Casey wasn't the same as the other people she'd dated, apart from maybe Reyna. It had started differently. He's not like them. He treats me well."

"Oh, right, because nobody can ever fake that. Remember, who was it… you dated someone who seemed nice, acted nice, and then after a few weeks of monopolising all your time, he changed and hurt you really badly."

Casey had been listening the entire time, but really didn’t want to disrespect the situation. Trisha couldn’t know how closely he’d worked with the locals, nor could she know how long he actually spent in North Africa. But the language was easy to him, and he found himself gripping tighter to Trisha’s hand.

I really hate to disturb your personal discussion. I think it’s great you’re looking out for her too, Nadiyah. That’s great.
His voice hung in the air as the eyes peeled up and looked at him as a singular unit. Arabic, just like they were using.
”But if I know what you’re saying, it’s hard to argue without me hearing. So… Maybe just give me a shot?” he finished in English.
”Unless we want to swap to a different language. I’ve got French and Spanish in the back pocket.”
Casey grinned a slightly evil grin, his eyebrows rising as he nodded at Sal.

Nadiyah's eyebrows raised, and Trisha's head snapped up towards Casey. She was glad he'd interrupted when he did rather than just listening until it got into things she wasn't comfortable being open with yet.

"Ooo, yeah, let's switch to Spanish," Sal grinned.
"That would be easier for me," Reyna added with a smile. She reached up to put a hand on Nadiyah's shoulder, rubbing it. "It is unfair I never get to speak my first language… ah, well, let's give him a chance, alright, Diyah?"

"Alright, I suppose I jumped to conclusions," Nadiyah said evenly. Throughout the conversation her expression hadn't changed very much, only narrowed eyes as she got more verbally aggressive that relaxed now. "I'll give you a chance."

“Since when was it-"
"Oohhhh Diyah stop acting like such a stuck up ass, we all know you're soft as fuck inside!" Cass interrupted, leaping over at Nadiyah's other side and hooking an arm around her neck, forcing her to bend over. "Unless you're just jealous cause Trisha got such a smokin’ hot boyfriend!"
Nadiyah rolled her eyes at Cass. "You know I have no interest in that."
"Well just picture a smokin' hot woman then!"

”Hey, before we get too into this, let's eat, I'm starved," Sal said. He'd pulled out a whole bunch from the boxes along with Cass while they were talking, laying it out across the counter. There were big pizza boxes and smaller tubs of what looked like pasta. "We went to an Italian on the way over… we didn't know what you'd like, Casey, so we just got a whole lot."
”Yeah cause someone wasn't answering our messages."

Trisha ignored Cass's dig. She was still a bit visibly wound up, grip on Casey's hand not loosening, but she took a deep breath. She'd expected this.
“Let’s have something to eat," she leaned up towards him, speaking softly. “You’ll need the energy… they're not that bad, just nosey."

Casey was at least happy about the fact that Nadiyah conceded the point. It was a bit more frustrating that Trisha hadn’t put out the fire earlier. He found himself lingering on it as something he’d find a reason to bring up later. No problem; couldn’t be. So it was annoying? Everything else was too.

”Hey, me and food have a weird relationship. Though, I’m not a big pizza guy. It kind of, well… What kind of pasta did we get here?”
He wasn’t above tucking into simple food, finding himself hoping for some sort of scampi or alfredo that didn’t look like someone’s head-mashings. It wasn’t as bad as the raw flesh color of things, thankfully having a very different sheen compared to the color of spilled blood.

”But, y’know Trisha I can be nosey too. I learned from the best, y’know.” he giggled, bumping into her gently.
”Like, uh… Sal? From Spain fully? Born and raised?” he asked, eyebrows rising.

"We got macaroni cheese, carbonara-"
”That one's mine!" Cass shouted, sprinting over to grab up the plastic box Sal had just gestured to.
"- which is Cass's, and some kinda spinach Alfredo thing. I think."

”Oh, no problem. You said Mac and Cheese, so I’m on it.” he smiled, going for the gooey golden deliciousness.

"Perfect," Sal grinned. "And to answer your question… Spanish born, sadly not raised, my family moved to Manchester when I was like four."
"What do you mean sadly, you wouldn't have met me if you didn't move!" Cass pointed out, kicking at Sal's ankle. ”Oh, Trish, where do you keep your plates and shit?"

“I’ve got it," Trisha said, finally loosening her grip on Casey's hand and letting go to get out a bunch of cutlery for the pasta, then trying to remember where they actually kept the plates. She just started opening random cupboards in her search.

”Only Diyah's actually American born and raised," Sal continued, opening up the pizza boxes. There were three - a plain margarita, something with a ton of -meat on it, and something with a ton of veg on it.

"Technically I'm American," Reyna commented with a light laugh. "South America is part of America."
"Right, right, only Diyah's from the states. Well, Trisha too."

Trisha, as her name was said, popped back up from her plate hunt, looking over towards Casey with a look that clearly said ‘i don't know where anything is in our kitchen but I'm too embarrassed to say that please help.’

The scent of cooked meat hit his nose like a punch. There was a great need to extract from the spot he was at, which Trisha happily gave him an out to do. He couldn’t not stare at her, after all, so catching her gaze wasn’t a problem. He pushed up and away, sliding out while he tried to maintain conversation.
”Uh, right. So, full British, Spanish raised British,-”

He spun slightly to keep looking at them, pointing to each individual as he relayed his memorized information.
”Then, I mean… Egyptian? Or Lybian? But, your folks, right? You’re born here, so a States Citizen. And then, born where, Reyna?” he asked her, just being nosey. Not giving them the chance to be nosey about he and Trisha.

As he listened, he stayed quiet. But, with gathering things, he was hoping Trisha was watching so she could know where their dishes and cups had been put. Though, he did take the time to whisper to her.
”Nothing has to go back in the same spot, Babe, so don’t worry too much about keeping it neat.” he smiled, kissing the top of her head as he handed off some plates.

Trisha had watched carefully as Casey pulled out everything, committing it to memory. He said it didn't have to go back to the same spot, but if it didn't go back where it belonged then they'd never know where their stuff was. But it wasn't hard to remember, so she just nodded to him with a soft smile.

"Libyan," Nadiyah said, taking a plate and stacking a few pieces of the vegetable covered pizza on it. "My parents moved over just before having me."

"And I'm from Ecuador," Reyna said with a smile. She hung back as both Nadiyah and Sal got their pizza, seeming to be waiting for everyone else to serve themselves first. "I was… sixteen, I believe, when I moved over with my family. It is safer here, but I miss the warmth back home."

"I don't miss my home weather!" Cass laughed. She'd just taken a fork, not bothering to take the carbonara out of the plastic Tupperware it was in. But she hadn't started eating, instead she was watching Casey and Trisha with an increasingly widening grin.
"You guys are soooo cute… Trish, I didn't wanna start out with it, but," she gestured to her neck with a smirk, "you're clearly gettin' a lotta love, huh?"
Sal whistled, and Nadiyah rolled her eyes at Cass.

“Shut up," Trisha groaned. She'd known she wasn't going to escape this, and her reaction was a lot more annoyed rather than embarrassed compared to the night before with Casey's family. She was used to it.

"You can't silence meeee, I want all the deets! C'mon, tell me, when-"

“Just because I invited you into our house doesn't mean I invited you to our relationship," Trisha said, pointing a finger at Cass. It was clearly in good nature, because Trisha appeared more relaxed than she had been before. She took her own plate and put a couple of slices of the margarita pizza on them. “Keep asking and I'll make you shut up."

"Ooo, Trish, don't tempt me with a good time," Cass laughed.

“Neither of us will enjoy it," Trisha intoned, fixing Cass with a hard stare.

"Heyyyy, don't assume I won't, anything can be enjoyable if you try hard enough," Cass grinned, waggling her eyebrows.
"Cass, can you not make us all look bad in front of someone new?" Nadiyah interrupted, also fixing Cass with a cold stare.
"It ain't that bad, Diyah. Right, Casey, it ain't bothering you? Not like I'm gonna steal your girlfriend."

”Oh, I mean, true.” Casey laughed, bringing one of the couple chairs from the island out into the parlor.
”I’m a big virgin, so I’m sure you could outmaneuver me.”
Casey liked Cass. She was the kind of person he wasn’t bothered by at all; if the worst she did was get into people’s business and give out good energy, she’d be the easiest to deal with.

”Plus, I mean I was a Marine. Pretty hard to be poorly impressed when one of your Sergeants liked to play the ball tucking game.” he giggled, taking a spoonful of mac into his mouth. There was a good cheese mixed in with way too much mozzarella that was clearly meant to give it a good cheese pull. Photo-food.
”I’ve got so many stories that’d make you blush, and honestly none of them have anything to do with awful shit happening. Just, like, the shit people do, y’know?” he laughed openly.

"Ohhhh yeah, people do so much weird shit, I'm pretty damn normal, honestly… especially compared to you army folk," Cass laughed, before flashing an ok sign at Trisha. "I like him, he's passed my test!"
"You have defeated the first boss," Sal intoned, before laughing too. "Don't let Cass fool you into thinking she's got legit moves she's dated, like, two people."
"Shut upppp, don't out meee!" Cass punched Sal in the side. He half kicked her back, and the two continued to play punch each other with their free hands all the way over to the parlor area, when they finally stopped to sit down on the main couch.

Reyna and Nadiyah followed suit with sitting down, though Nadiyah perched on the edge of the smaller couch they'd chosen as if she'd somehow get the cheese from the pizza she was delicately eating onto it.

“She’s been trying for nearly five years, and you succeeded in a day," Trisha said to Casey. She'd trailed after him when he'd brought out the chair, just kind of hovering as if this wasn't her house where she could sit literally wherever she wanted.

"Awww, Trisha, babe, you totally fell for my charms, we'd just be too powerful together!" Cass joked, winking. She then very enthusiastically slapped the space between her and Sal. "C'mon sit between your two favourite people! I just knowwww you've missed the Cass cuddles."
"Pretty sure you've been replaced by someone else with a name starting with Cas," Nadiyah pointed out drily, lips curving up towards an almost smile.
"Nooooo!" Cass wailed dramatically, making fake sobbing sounds as she started to stuff carbonara into her mouth.

“You can't replace what was never there," Trisha retorted.

"Yeah, keep dreaming, Cassi," Sal mockingly patted her head, grinning and turning to look at Casey. There was a glint in his eye. "So, Casey, how exactly did you two meet? Trisha gave us very few details. Her messages are the shortest shit ever."

Casey grinned, looking down at Trisha. Of course he wasn’t going to tell them that, and he figured he’d do his best to help his girlfriend out while assuaging at least a portion of the worries her friends had about the situation. He was a member of the Charming and Graceful, after all… If Grace gifted him with anything, it was the Richoux propensity to avoid awkward truth with convenient lies.

”Trisha and I were in high school together. Hung with a different crowd, but we had a few classes together and we were quiet friends. At least friendly. But I’m a loser, and didn’t ask her out then. I came back home recently from up North, and we actually met back up at the Halloween festival here. Which, by the way, if you’ve never been to the St. Portwell Halloween Festival, you’ve gotta come. We’re like the Salem of the West out here.” he grinned, throwing a thumbs up.

”But, yeah, we’ve really not left one another’s side since. I knew I’d be coming back to this place, so I asked her if she wanted to try living it out. Worst comes to worst, there’s empty apartments downstairs she can use. I don’t really see that being necessary though.”

Both statements were true, obviously. He’d be just as likely to let her live downstairs for the safety of it regardless of their relationship status, but he really wasn’t keen on things becoming like that.
He wanted Trisha in his life as long as he could have her.
”I really think she’s just embarrassed about how people are gonna act, y’know? But I keep tellin’ her, Original Sin is just shame, right? If you don’t feel the shame that people try to force on you, it rolls off your back.” he shrugged, spooning some more of the stringy glop into his mouth with a wide spoon.

Trisha nodded slightly as Casey spoke, but her gaze had immediately moved to Reyna rather than Sal who'd actually asked the question. She was watching Casey intently, with the same calm smile she'd had for most of the time so far. Even Trisha couldn't see through it to tell if Reyna could read past the truthful cover to the lies within it. She didn't remember the full extent of her life detection, just that it was something she could do as passively as basic emotion reading. Paranormals didn't feel it happening. And that made her worried, even though the other three ate it up.

"Oh, that's good to hear! We were worried when Trisha said you guys started dating Tuesday that you'd just met then!" Sal nodded, seeming satisfied as he ate some pizza. "I did want to come for the festival agesss ago but Trisha said she was hanging out with other friends - guess I understand why now."

"Moving in with someone you've known since highschool is slightly less idiotic than someone you just met," Nadiyah concurred, glancing between the two.
"But Trish, why would you be embarrassed? You know we'd never judge you! We've seen you in all sorts of shit states, like when you-"

“Lets not," Trisha interrupted. She finally stopped staring at Reyna and shuffled closer to Casey, nibbling on one of the slices of pizza she'd taken. Her mind was jumping all around the place, from the comfort that came with Casey saying he didn't see her moving out being necessary in the future, to discomfort at the mention of Original Sin and Reyna's possible truth reading. At least no one-

"Are you religious, Casey?" Nadiyah asked. "You mentioned Original Sin, though it's… an interesting way of looking at it."

Casey shrugged at the question.
”You get a lot of time to read in the down periods. Raised in a weird little Christian sect, but never got nuts over it. I did think that the whole Paradise Lost book was pretty cool though, the one where you see the Devil making Hell and shit? Obviously, religious fanfiction, but still cool, it’s the type of shit that sticks in my head.” he shrugged.

Obviously, he had no clue there was a situation where someone was reading his mind would be present. Everything he knew about Emotional Fields told him that there’d be some sort of struggle generally; at least Adept to Adept. Rarely did someone have a spell that wasn’t extremely telegraphed that could freely bypass the natural defences.
His Mother, as he was aware, was so effective because of the way her powers worked. Being able to observe people remotely through some innocuous means made it hard to pinpoint her to begin with.

He wondered if she’d join.

”How about you guys, any religious trauma? Or just the normal stuff?” he giggled.

"Sadly," Nadiyah said drily, seeming surprisingly fine with the question. "I was raised Muslim, but clearly."
She gestured to her hair. "Islam in Libya is… well, it's not something I can agree with. My parents were less strict about it since they moved away, but it was still there until I moved out."

"I just got the regular shit," Cass laughed, having somehow finished off most of her pasta in the short time she wasn't talking.

"I'm technically Catholic, lightly practising," Reyna said with a smile, gaze almost unnervingly fixed on Casey.

Which just made Trisha uncomfortable. Why would she be staring so hard if she wasn't reading his aura? Just what could she read again without it being felt… she tried to remember at what point she'd feel that intrusion. Rarely. Reyna wasn't exactly the intrusive type in general, unless she felt it was for safety. But the basic emotion reading… the lie reading, perhaps.
“Are we really talking about trauma this early?"

"Hey, you know I'm an open book," Cass said cheerfully. "We're bonding here! Maybe Casey and Diyah can make a religious trauma support group, get friendly, y’know…"

"That doesn't sound like a bad idea. I’m surprised, Cass, I didn't know you had a brain in there," Nadiyah said.

“No, absolutely not," Trisha shook her head, trying to clamp down on her agitation when she failed to change the topic. Reyna's gaze flickered over to her for a moment, before returning to Casey.

"Religion aside, you grew up here in St Portwell, Casey, is your family still here?" Reyna asked with a smile. "I know Trisha has three sisters here that she was living with. Do you have any siblings?"

While he didn’t mind the questioning, his predation senses were tingling like he was being stalked by the cats. He actually took a cursory glance outside, scanning across the rooftop trying to see if the blighted beast was waiting. He wasn’t, thankfully. But, that did lead him back to Reyna’s eyes.
They locked with her as everyone else talked, until there was a shift that clicked into place. Like his body went from loose and noodly to locked and rigid. He tried channeling a little bit of White Lux again, but without his glove actually on, it was just going to hurt. He wasn’t practiced enough to ignore that kind of pain, not these days.

Thankfully she started talking, and since she was the only one he was uncomfortably focused on, he quickly answered.
”A couple, yeah. Well, out of five I’m the middle. My older brother lives where he likes, my older Sister is up in Seattle most of the time, my younger brother lives outside of town, and my little sister actually lives here in the basement. Which, coincidentally, is our childhood home. Big apartment down there, enough for everyone. Her and her girlfriends are happy enough, which makes me happy.”

He held his gaze a little while longer, still smiling.
”Sorry, I just… Can’t get over feeling like I’ve got some cheese or something? On my face?” he asked, pretending to search for some cheese he knew wasn’t there.
”Or, maybe you recognize me? I look a lot like my Dad, and he was a famous boxer. Max “Gravity” Richoux? World Heavyweight Champion, I think record holder for the largest modern boxer to hold the heavyweight title. Started his own league for guys our size, The Superheavy League? Posters. Tooooons of posters. I’m sure I can get one.”

"OH! OH SHIT! I knew there was a reason I liked you from the start!" Cass shouted, jumping up and punching the air. She then shot finger guns at Casey. "Not only are you a middle child of five, making us totally connected cause same, but your dad's also a fuckin' legend! Damn- nobody ever knows about boxing, these heathens won't get it… fuck, now that I'm lookin' I see the resemblance, how did I not notice before?! Could you actually get a poster? Shit, that is so fuckin sound."

"Is he on any of those posters you used to have in your room?" Reyna asked, finally looking away from Casey and over towards Cass. It was partly because she realised he'd realised, and partly because she also realised she'd been magically prying more than she should.
"Oh yeah, a fair few. I had a whole wall of that shit… you know how hard they are to find now?!"
"Right, that makes sense, sorry if it looked like I was staring too hard," Reyna smiled at Casey.

“Just don't look at all," Trisha muttered, quietly enough that only Casey should hear it. She'd felt him stiffen, and knew he'd realised that Reyna was reading him in some way. She should've warned him… but also why couldn't Reyna just keep her eyes to herself.

As she did look away, Casey untensed a bit and put his bowl down on the table before wrapping an arm around Trisha. He leaned back slightly, smiling widely as he nodded along to Cass’ enthusiasm.
”No worries! I just didn’t want anyone sitting in anticipation. But, absolutely. And one of my Brother Leon’s too. ‘Timberwolf’ Richoux? He fought Carlo Herron for the Superheavy title a few weeks ago, actually, so we still have a bunch of those posters. Signed, too. I mean shit, I’ll hook you up! Date and everything if you wanted!” he offered up his own brother, laughing aloud as the expression left his lungs.

Not being stared at helped. It wasn’t so much that he cared what she was doing, it just… She was strange, and it didn’t feel good. And knowing she was the only magical one made him definitely feel like there was more than just a contemptuous gaze behind it.
”And he’s bi, Sal.” he winked, clicking his tongue between his teeth and shooting a finger gun at the wonderful gentleman. ”I honestly don’t know what the fuck I am, so I can’t exactly jump into the water.” he laughed aloud a second time.

“You can't jump in because you're taken," Trisha said with a light laugh, nudging him with her elbow before leaning into his side. She'd eaten one slice of pizza before putting down her plate. Reyna looked over at her now and Trisha stared back, clamping down on the surface agitation and forcing herself to relax against Casey.

"Oh shit! Timberwolf too… well I should've fuckin guessed that!" Cass spun around and pointed a finger at Sal. "Back off, Sal, you ain't even into boxing, I'll fuckin' end you before I let you get the jump on me for that date."

"Hey," Sal laughed, holding up his hands and grinned at her, then over at Casey. "Let the man decide himself… maybe we can share."

"Oh I suppose… but I ain't sharin' the signed posters! I'm fuckin taking those for myself." She then spun round towards Reyna and Nadiyah. "See, ladies, this is why I'm bisexual - the chance to bag fit boxers of all genders."

"I'm not into the muscular type anyway," Nadiyah shrugged, looking amused. Like she was watching some kind of show… but it wasn't a judgemental watching, at least to those that knew her.

"More for me!" Cass turned back towards Casey. "Would you really hook us up? Shit, just meeting him would make my day."

Casey grinned, slipping his hand into his pocket and pulling out his phone. He loved this.
”Oh, for sure. I’ll even have his big dumb ass bring you the poster.”
He quickly flicked through it, pulling it up to his ear after a moment. There was ringing, ringing, and finally-
”Yooo, what’s up. What are you doing?”
Silence. Listening.
”Alright, come up. And stop in the office, grab one of your posters. And one of Dad’s if there’s any.”
More listening. Anticipation.
”Well, no, I’m just… There’s a couple people visiting who’d love to meet you, and I know how big your head gets. Especially when you weren’t the first person who came up, it was Dad.”

A grin came over Casey’s face.
”Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Alright? Cool, see you in a few minutes.”
And then he hung up the phone, pointing at Sal and Cass.
”Ayyyy, we’ll figure it out soon enough. Either way, you’re getting your poster. Now, I’ve gotta ask… Did you guys just bring lunch? ‘Cuz we can go anywhere you guys want. I’ve got plenty of recommendations if we wanted to go have fun.”
Though, places he thought were cool and what was actually cool, he didn’t know how close the crossover was. Could’ve been miles off.

”Well I mean, maybe not so much in this weather, but… Oh, Trisha, did you ever go to the Walden Arcade?” he asked her.

“No, never really had the chance," Trisha shook her head. It was less that she hadn't had the chance and more that when she was in St Portwell properly she was studying, fighting the Stygian Snake, or spending time with the type of girls who wouldn't go to an arcade. She hadn't really been into that stuff before meeting this group anyway.

"Shit, an arcade?! We have to go," Sal grinned, already cheerful expression lighting up even more. "We just brought lunch since it seemed rude to just impose ourselves-"
"Something they would've done if I hadn't suggested it," Nadiyah interjected.
"-Right, but we didn't have other plans! We figure Trisha would have suggestions but we're definitely going to that arcade. If anyone disagrees it's just because they're scared I'll hand their asses to them."

"I'll beat your fuckin' ass if you start on that," Cass said, pausing what seemed to be panickedly rearranging her hair after pulling off her hoodie to reveal a black tank top with rips down the side underneath.
"Whoa, calm down with the violence, that's not going to be a good look in front of your boxing hero."
"Boxing is all about fuckin' violence!"

"An arcade is something we can all enjoy," Reyna smiled. As she did, she slipped off her denim jacket, putting it over the arm beside her. Trisha let out a soft sigh of relief, relaxing more. "So long as Sal doesn't get aggressively competitive. Avoids the cold weather, or starting drinking midday."

”Ah I mean, I’ll dominate him. Put him in his place.” Casey joked, sticking his tongue out at Sal before laughing loudly.
”Shit, sorry. I’ve never been more comfortable than in a barracks full of dudes acting gay. So, that stuff’s just gonna slip in and out y’know.” He tilted his head back, laughing some more as he thought about the absolutely heinous shit that would be said back and forth between the good-natured gentlemen he served with. Monsters. Animals every one.

”But it’s great. It’s on the bay, and it’s got this like, outdoor balcony on the back where we can sit and get drinks; they updated it to cater more toward people our age. Go figure.” he smiled, offering them an idea of what was to come.
”But yeah, I mean they’re still running strong. I went there when I got back to town with my younger sister a few weeks ago, and my mind was blown. I thought I’d definitely need to go there with more people, so this is perfect. I’m really glad you guys are game.”

He felt his phone vibrate, and he pulled it up to look. Leon telling him he was about to head up.
”And we’ll see if big brother’s free. If you guys don’t feel intruded on by him, we’ll definitely bring him along. Because he’s another dude who loves playing games. I mean, he’s nearly seven foot tall so like, those basketball games are guaranteed losses.”

"Don't underestimate us shorties when it comes to basketball," Cass grinned. She still hasn't sat back down, practically vibrating with energy and excitement. It wouldn't be surprising if she started bouncing off the walls. "Oh, maybe I can pretend I dunno how to play, then your brother can teach me… he better come along! If you guys cockblock me Ima be pissed."

"I, for one, am looking forward to actually having a challenge if you're as good as you say, Casey," Sal smirked, cracking his knuckles, eyes practically burning with a competitive light. He then winked. "I'm not easily dominated."

Trisha groaned, though it was less the unsubtle innuendos that she knew was a joke (though they jabbed at her fragile confidence too) and more the memory of all the times Sal had gotten competitive while they gamed and ended up cussing out whoever slacked just slightly in a team game, while managing to be both a sore winner and loser.
“Are you alright with the arcade?" she asked Nadiyah, the only one who hadn't agreed.

She shrugged. "I enjoy watching you all worked up over unimportant, supposed to be fun things."

“I guess it's that then," Trisha nodded, smiling up at Casey. It would be nice, so long as Sal's competitiveness was directed towards anyone but her.
“Leon can come along to keep Sal's attention off you," she said playfully, seemingly unbothered by the jokes that were going on there. She was used to it with Sal at least…

Casey laughed at the idea of Leon taking the spotlight. He almost wanted him to. Obviously her friends were here for Trisha, but if he could get her to himself? He didn’t mind that. He could see himself doing evil things to keep Trisha’s attention.
Not evil… Naughty. Like, inviting his handsome, rich, famous brother to a get-together where some of those attending were very clear fans.

That wasn’t evil. He’d seen evil.

”Well, Nadiyah, I’m not really sure what you’re into. But, there’s luck stuff. They have a mock casino where you gamble tokens for tickets to get prizes… And because they’ve gotta follow local legislation against actual gambling, you can’t actually lose your ante. It’s pretty neat, and a pretty clean gambling high. If you’re into that sort of thing. I know I’m probably gonna see if I can get a jackpot out of a craps game our something; I love that shit.”
He was laughing often and loud, making sure to keep his energy up. There was only so much of it he could dedicate to dealing with people outside his circle, so they were on a timer against his mood.

”But, honestly it’s no rush or anything. You guys take all the time you need to catch up, I mean… You came for her, right?”

"I just go with the flow, though getting some money out of the trip does sound enjoyable," Nadiyah mused. Her friends all laughed at her saying she went with the flow… it was very much not true, but she was genuinely fine following along in situations like this.

"Well yeah, obviously we're here for Trish, but there's no better way to catch up than over some games! Well, games then a couple of pints in a pub, but we gotta wait for that cause two and she's gone," Cass grinned. Her eyes widened as she suddenly remembered something. "Oh shit, before I forget…"
She ran over to Sal's backpack, rummaging through the front pocket and pulling out a small box. She practically skipped over to Trisha and held it out.
"Happy birthdayyyy, Trishaaa~"

Trisha just stared at that box, then at Cass.
“It’s not my birthday till the end of December."

"Yeah well, we ain't gonna see each other again before, are we? And I gotta go home for like a month over Christmas… so consider it an early gift! The rest of these assholes didn't think ahead like I did."
"I live in the same state," Reyna commented.
"Yeah but I bet you'll be back in Chicago for the holidays. Anyway, cmon, take it and open it."

Trisha wriggled out of Casey's hold a little bit to lean forward and take the box. As she did Cass took the opportunity to hook an arm around her shoulders, spinning over to her other side with a grin and leaning in. It was just an unwrapped box, so Trisha opened it to reveal a pair of nice, gold coloured honeycomb design dangling earrings. They were actually… surprisingly nice compared to Cass's taste. While she wasn't actually someone who enjoyed getting gifts, she did appreciate this. There'd clearly been effort put in.
“Thanks, Cass. I uh, yeah, I like them."

"Shit, that's a relief!" Cass grinned, turning around and properly hugging Trisha. Trisha half hugged her back. "You were always pushing honey on us and had that cool beekeeping hobby so yknow, I figured you'd like them."
She let go of Trisha and put her hands on her hips, looking at Casey with a jokingly intimidating look. "When her actual birthday rolls round you better spend loads of time pampering her. Everyone's normally busy so it's always a bit fuckin’ shit."

Casey looked over the bee styled earrings. His eyes went wide, and he snorted as she mentioned Trisha pushing honey on them.
”Babe! Holy shit, tell them about the-”

There was a knock at the front door, which swung open regardless of whether or not someone was letting him in. Leon stepped in like a Goth Prince, baggy black jeans and boots, a pristine white t-shirt, tattoos gleaming upon his rippling muscular arms. His neck bulged about the line of the shirt, straining just a bit too much. His hair was tied into a braid down his back, and he wore a half-folded beanie over his head. He was holding a bundle of plastic sleeves in his arms.

”Heyyyy, I heard people were talking about some fuckin’ boxing up here?”
His handsome, wolfish grin parted to reveal the sharpness of his teeth.
”Lemmie take a guess…” he said, looking about the people gathered before pointing at Cass directly.
”Had to be you, right? You’re looking at me like I’m not actually here.” he finished, actually managing to grin and make his face just a bit more handsome.
”Oh, yeah… Ladies? Sal? Meet my brother Leon. Leon, this is Nadiyah, Reyna, Cass and Sal.” Casey gave out casual introductions, being sure to reach for Trisha in order to give her hand a good, affirming squeeze.

"Holy shit!" Cass gaped at Leon. Her hand shot out to slap the person nearest her - which was Trisha’s arm. Cass managed to get a good few hits in before Trisha was able to get far enough away, gripping tightly onto Casey's hand. She was glad he'd taken it, the contact helping her deal with the extreme excitement that normally had her grumpily leaving the room for a while.

Sal whistled, standing up with a grin. ”Great to meet you, Leon, I see good looks runs in the family, huh?"
"Yes, a pleasure," Nadiyah said in a smooth tone that made it impossible to tell if she was being genuine or sarcastic. "The more people to hold Cass's attention the better."
Meanwhile as Leon stepped in, Reyna brushed her fingers over her denim jacket and looked over at him. Her eyes immediately squinted and her lips pulled down into a small frown, and she let go of the jacket. It was a minimal reaction, unnoticed by most of her friends. "... Nice to meet you, Leon."

"Shiiitttt you guys can't be fuckin' serious, nice to meet you, that's all, fucckkkk, this guys like a fuckin' legend in boxing, you just don't get it, fuckin' hell," Cass had snapped out of her weird slapping whatever was closest state to bounce over towards Leon, screeching to a halt just in front of him. "Shit, Rey, Diyah, you guys don't know how fuckin' easy you have it, I bet you could get it on TV all the time, but back in England I had to fuckin' hook up this shit on a computer just to stream shitty quality matches… then I missed a shit ton when all the poles near us were taken out. Fuckkkkk, I can't believe you're actually fuckin' real rather than some figure on fuckin' TV."

“I could have told you that since ten years ago," Trisha commented, rolling her eyes at Cass, but she was smiling slightly. Her grip on Casey's hand had loosened, playfully tapping her fingers against the back of it.
”You've known him for ten bloody years and you didn't tell me?!"
“No. I knew him ten years ago. Different thing."

Leon didn’t bother with any sort of magic, wanting to respect Trisha’s space. He could’ve given a great sniff of the air and known a lot of things; but he didn’t. Not, that is, until Lelou screeched so loud in his head that he couldn’t ignore the warning.
His nostrils flared, ears opening as the water and air seals ever-so-slightly unlocked to grant him a sense of the paranormal.

What he found was a room full of magic. No different than usual, only these were all people he didn’t recognize. Who? Trisha’s friends? From where?
”Y’know, Casey didn’t mention magical fans. I would’ve brought the moving posters instead.”
Casey furrowed his eyebrows, head turning to look at Reyna again before swinging back to Leon. He threw on a fake grin.

”They’re pretty awesome, but I don’t think I’d say magical!” he tried to insinuate.
”Caseau, you seriously need to sort out some White Lux spells, my man. And Furio said there was only supposed to be one. So, why’s there three and a Severed?”

Leon shook his head at his brother with a look of annoyance before turning back to Cass with a smile.
”That’s some pretty serious praise though. Boxing isn’t so hot anymore, but they won’t really let me into any of the MMA leagues, since there’s really nobody willing to put up a bracket for guys my size.”
Leon spun, putting down the tubes on the counter before stepping back into the middle of the room.

”You wanna throw some punches? Hard as you want, as much magic as you wanna use.” he grinned at Cass, leaving the rest of the room to deal with the probable psyche damage he’d just bombed them all with.

Casey looked back at Reyna, then at each in turn until he was looking at Trisha.
”I’m… Confused?”

Trisha looked back at him, shaking her head without saying anything. She was also confused.

"As much magic as I wanna use?!" Cass squeaked, eyes widening in clear panic and head snapping around towards Reyna.

Trisha frowned. There must be something wrong here, Leon must be sensing wrong, only-
Cass had grown a pair of wolf ears. A pair of wolf ears were sticking out of her head, out of nowhere, twitching around nervously.
"Ahhhh, fuck, Rey, how do I make them go away?" She reached up to try and cover them with her hands.

Reyna sighed, holding up a hand to her forehead.
"I was going to talk about this until Sal tagged along. I didn't realise he was severed… I don't see that."

Trisha was still staring at Cass's wolf ears, and so was Nadiyah. She has an expression of shock that none of them had ever seen before. Reyna and Sal seemed to be taking it best.

“I didn't know," Trisha said eventually, voice getting really quiet as she looked up at Casey. She was worried he'd think she'd lied. And after what Furio had said earlier, that they might not trust her… well, did they even trust her in the first place? But she really hadn't known. As far as she'd been aware it was only her and Reyna.
“I really didn't know, only Reyna ever told me. I wasn't hiding it or anything."

"Cass kindled right before we graduated," Reyna stepped in, explain calmly to the whole room. "Nadiyah only became… an Agent, I believe, sometime last year. Sal…"
"I severed when I was eighteen," he shrugged.
"I don't read that," Reyna continued. "There has never been a time when I could bring it up, and I didn't think it was my place to out magic without the subject present."

"... And Trisha?" Cass asked, seeming to get over her shock, even though the ears remained.
Trisha didn't answer, and Reyna shrugged. "The whole time we've known each other. I'm sorry, by the way, Casey."
She gestured to her eyes. "It's not something I turn on and off at a basic level. If I wear my jacket, I see auras, and read the changes. I know I was looking too much earlier."

Leon and Casey frowned at one another, both realizing at once what they’d inadvertently done. It wasn’t something they could take back however, so the only thing Casey could do was try and make it right.
”I mean… Obviously, apologies are accepted if it’s something you can’t control. I mean, you were giving me a staredown like you didn’t believe me, so… I guess that cat’s out of the bag too?”

Leon piped up.
”You’re a White Luxer. Like our family” he said to Reyna, shrugging his shoulders.
”The intrusion is honestly expected in our household, so don’t go feeling too bad. Casey’s just been sensitive ‘cuz he’s got himself a girlfriend to be protective over.”
His gaze turned back to Cass.
”Now, you gonna hit me, or are you just gonna stand there and howl at me, little miss Green?” he tilted his head downward seductively, putting his hands up for her to strike.

”You serious?”
”You may as well just let it go, dude. Clearly we cracked open a big misunderstanding, so just… Y’know, live with it. So what, everyone’s had magic, not like we ain’t lived around it our whole life.”

Casey tilted his head back, sighing as his hand gripped Trisha’s, the pressure valves releasing. He relaxed slightly.
”It’s just… Awkwaaaaaard…” Casey finally blurted out, nervously laughing as he did.
Leon didn’t seem much phased, ready to put Cass to a test.

"Oh shit, I'm allowed to use any magic right? Uh- ain't so good at this magic thing, anyway," Cass shook her head, wolf ears twitching a bit. But she grinned, eyes narrowing up at Leon. She jumped from foot to foot for a moment, before shoving her hand in her trouser pockets and properly pulling out the guitar keychain in there.

"Don't hurt yourself," Reyna implored, glancing over at Nadiyah, who was still sitting in a state of shock. She went over to her and patted her shoulder, gesturing towards the corner of the room. To Trisha, she said, "I'll talk her through it over there."

Trisha nodded. She didn't say anything at all, just holding on tightly to Casey's hand, still slowly processing it all. It was difficult to decide how to feel. She looked at Cass, but also wasn't really looking at her.

Cass finally seemed to figure out what she wanted to do, shifting into an awkward fighting position. A curled monkey's tail pushed through her lower back, balancing her out, and spots grew visible through the rips in her jeans. Her nails lengthened into sharp claws… which she then looked at, and laughed.
"Aw, fuck, not what I wanted, I'm way better at the howling part, honestly," Cass shook out her hands, eventually the claws retracted. It was replaced by scales coating her hands and wrists, fading up into another set of spots all the way up to her shoulders. "Alright, better not start cryin' when I knock you off your feet."

She twisted her body forward, fist shooting towards Leon's hands at a supernatural speed. It slammed into it with enough force to send a loud bang echoing around the room, her strengthened legs and arms combined with speed and hardened hands allowing her to put a lot of power behind it.

Casey watched with baited breath in anticipation of what would happen here. He wanted to see serious, awesome raw power… To see an Adept fresh to kindle with a great deal of hidden potential. Leon was waiting for the same, as both were conditioned to the ultimate wait to see what a fresh wizard could do.

In the end, some of the plants overhead jostled about with the shockwave flying upward toward the ceiling. Obviously, as he’d held his open hands up intent on catching the blow, Leon did just that with speed and strength to match and exceed. Not like he wasn’t a trained champion boxer or anything… Like lightning, he’d grabbed and thrown Cass’ hand downward, letting the free hand lash out at full speed with deadly precision.

Even if she flinched the wrong way and got closer, he’d know exactly when to stop. It was almost literally an instant, and his hand was hovering an eighth of an inch away from Cass’ jaw.
”You know you’ve got that “fresh Lux” smell that all the freshly Kindled do. Pretty cute. Like the ears.”
He hand that had thrown the mock punch flicked up to pat her head, rubbing the wolf ears with a smile.

”I’d ask if you wanna feel my wolf ears, but-”
”Alright, alright… Jesus Christ, guys, I mean…”
Casey’s head looked at Trisha before looking toward where Reyna and Nadiyah had gone off to.
”It’s clearly a big deal to some people, so… Let’s chill out? Maybe?” he asserted, looking back at Trisha with empathy in his eyes.

Cass gave a little, involuntary wiggle when Leon rubbed her ears, almost leaning into it and seeming completely unphased by also almost being punched. She twisted around to look at Casey and Trisha, nodding. The tail was pulled back in first, and she grimaced as she began the arduous process of returning all her features back to normal. The ears stubbornly remained, though.
”You can show me yours later, I'm here till Sunday," she winked, laughing.

“Yeah, no more punching or animal features in my house please," Trisha finally said, sighing slightly. She managed a thankful smile towards Casey. It was the last thing she'd expected… suddenly her mundane life was growing less mundane. Did she actually know anyone without magic? Ezra, Tansy and a bunch of her other siblings, she supposed. But that was really it. Was it really a problem? Maybe not. She rubbed the back of her neck.

"Man, if I knew keeping my lux would've allowed me to punch someone so hot, I wouldn't have severed," Sal joked, still very much lounging on the couch. "But yeah, it isn't nice to focus on something some of us aren't involved in anymore! And clearly it's broken Diyah, look-"

"I'm fine." Nadiyah and Reyna made their way back over to the group. She didn't look so shocked anymore, looking cooly at Cass's ears, before shaking her head. ”It's just a bit shocking to learn that magic is common enough that my friends, my friend's boyfriend, and his brother all have it."
"You'll get used to it," Reyna said.

“Not everyone gets used to it," Trisha frowned, as if she hadn't taken the many new magical things she'd been exposed to the last few days relatively well. Her view was an extremely skewed one, where the magical world was mainly a dangerous thing focused on fighting something that could easily kill her, and the non magical was the rest of her life.

”I mean, we can kill that feeling pretty quick. Reyna, when you came here today, did you notice anything weird about this building?” he asked. ”Or the guy who met you at the door? Or the elevator you took to get up to the top floor? This place glows like a magical beacon. If you’re real observant, you’ll probably be able to feel out the Cat Demon in the basement.” he grinned evilly, hand reaching down to tug Cass’s shirt.
”C’mon, let’s get your posters signed, we can talk about the date we’re going on later.” he waggled his eyebrows.

”Mon Dieu, Leon! You animal!” Casey called, looking back at Reyna and Nadiyah as they came back.
”I’m… Listen, I’m real sorry. I cocked this one up, I… Shit, man…”

"Fuck, yes please!" Cass shouted a little too loud, patting Leon’s hand before very happily bouncing over to tubes on the counter.

"Don't worry about it," Reyna was the first one to respond to Casey, holding up her hands and smiling. "If anyone's at fault it's me. I knew about the magic and yes, I could see it in the whole building. I should have figured someone else would be able to tell."

“I would've appreciated a heads up," Trisha grumbled. She glanced over at Leon, then back at Casey. “And someone who doesn't just come in sniffing magic out."

"You can't expect me to text you something like that, Trisha," Reyna shook her head. "You failed to mention that your boyfriend has magic too. But it's not important now, right?"
"Well, I do think it was a ‘cock up’," Nadiyah said bluntly. "But I accept your apology, it was unintentional. None of us hold grudges over things like this."
They both glanced at Trisha for just a moment, before Reyna looked over towards Cass.
"We should think about going to that Arcade soon, before Cass drags your brother into a room somewhere."

“She does that in my house and it's over," Trisha intoned, not being very clear about how it would be over, but it would probably involve a lot of bees.
She wasn’t really happy about the whole magic situation, but she was trying to let it go. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault. It wasn’t even really that bad. She definitely shouldn’t let it ruin her time with her boyfriend and the friends she didn’t see very often. Move past it, enjoy herself.
“Going to the Arcade sounds good, if everyone’s done eating, I want to see Casey beat everyone- especially Sal." She reached out to hug Casey’s arm, pressing her face against it.

”Y’know, I don’t think she’s capable of dragging me anywhere. But I’ll happily go.- Here, check this out, its from my da-”
Two fans of a sport hit it off like peas in a pod, leaving the rest of the group to sort out what was going on. Casey looked back, then looked at Sal with a grin.

”If you flirt, like, a little louder? I’m sure he’ll give you just as much attention.” he giggled, standing up from his seat with Trisha’s hand tight in his.
He looked back again to see how absorbed Leon was in talking about their Dad, so he turned his head to Trisha and nodded at Leon.
”Yes? No? I understand no.” he shrugged. ”Not that… Not that I think no at this juncture will stop the train.” he grimaced.

"I let her have this one, this time," Sal held up his hands and laughed.

Trisha chewed on her lip for a moment as she considered it. She was still on shaky terms with Leon, and she wasn't particularly comfortable with him. But… she glanced over at Cass who's already high energy had already gotten higher. It was difficult to say no when one of the few friends that had actually stuck with her was that happy about it. Especially when it was Cass. It wasn't like he'd be with them all day, either.
“Yeah, you've put something scary in motion," Trisha half joked, managing a smile. “He can come along, I imagine at an arcade we'll split up a bit? Different games. And they're here till… Sunday morning I think, right?"

"Yeah, here all day tomorrow," Reyna smiled. "Not that we'll be demanding all of your time, unless you want to give it."
"No, we are demanding Trisha's," Nadiyah countered.

“Yeah, two whole days, I actually need Leon to come along so I don't get a headache from Cass's shouting," Trisha managed to joke a bit more fully, finding herself relaxing again. Yeah, it was really alright.

Casey nodded.
”Heard that, Big Man? Or do you need Mumma’s permission today?”
Leon was too busy GUSHING about his own father to the girl, not missing opportunities to talk about his own record.
”Leon?”

”-so we were just kind of waiting for this fuckin’ pussy. We’re sitting there in his corner, I’m wrapping his hands-”
Casey took a deep breath, tilting his head back and snapping it forward.
”Leon Furio!?”
The massive man jumped out of his skin.
”-What!? What!?”
”Pay the fuck attention, God… We’re going to Walden! You’re coming!”

Cass would be able to see Leon’s childish grin.
”Oh… Why didn’t you just say that?” he asked, holding his hand out to Cass and wiggling his eyebrows.
”I guess the date is right now, huh?” he grinned.

Casey groaned.
”God, I’m so fucking sorry for this.” he said, shaking his head and taking a deep breath.

”Fuck yeah it is, I ain’t gonna wait,” Cass grinned, practically slapping her hand into Leon’s.

Reyna laughed as she looked at them. "Well, honestly, when Cass is happy, we’re happy."
"Cass is always happy."
Reyna shrugged.

“Alright, let’s go, let’s go,” Trisha started gesturing towards the door with her free hand… before realising she didn’t have any shoes or a coat on. She pointed to the door, looking at all of her friends.
“If you aren’t all out by the time I’m back, I’m calling it.”

"Aw, don’t worry Trisha, I won’t steal your boyfriend while you’re gone!" Sal laughed.

Trisha just rolled her eyes at him, giving Casey’s hand a squeeze before letting go and running up to the loft.
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