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𝙹𝚞𝚜𝚝 𝚊 𝚐𝚒𝚛𝚕 𝚠𝚑𝚘 𝚕𝚒𝚔𝚎𝚜 𝚠𝚛𝚒𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚜𝚝𝚞𝚏𝚏... 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝'𝚜 𝚊𝚋𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚒𝚝.

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Location: Southern Plateau - Pacific Royal Campus
Hope in Hell #2.023: Spot the Difference
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Interaction(s): Lorcán @Lord Wraith
Previously: Trial by Fire

The first thing Aurora knew was pain.

She instantly felt her throbbing head, pulsating with each labored breath she took. God, she’d never had this bad of a headache before. Was this what a migraine felt like? The right half of her face was on fire, hot and achy, and her arms and legs were heavy and sore. Maybe she’d slept funny? Or she was having an allergic reaction to her detergent again.

What were those god awful noises? She winced, the ringing in her ears amplifying each sound tenfold. Five more minutes. She’d hit snooze and then once her alarm rang she’d get ready for class. Pop a painkiller. Lorcán would understand if she was late for breakfast.

The redhead whimpered, hoping to find any relief from this torment. She shifted, although it was agonizing, feeling the cool bite of a leather cushion underneath her.

Wait a minute. This wasn’t her bed. It wasn’t a bed at all.

And then it all came rushing back to her like a tidal wave. The Trial. The classroom underneath the ocean. The cracked window. The locked door. Teleporting to find the panel. And after that… nothing.

Finally managing to open her eyes, Aurora let things come into focus. She saw the string lights first, their warm hue welcoming as opposed to blinding, then the vague square and round shapes that adorned the walls.

Records.

She knew this place.

Her eyes continued to drift along the wall until they landed on what she was looking for. The red guitar suspended off the ground.

Lorcán’s garage. The trial was over? They’d made it out?

The redhead glanced up from her spot on the worn leather couch and sure enough, a familiar head of wavy hair slowly moved closer, his sunset colored eyes searching as he stood over her. She went to sit up but groaned, lying back, the movement causing more pain to course through her body. “Lorcán? What happened…” Aurora trailed off, groggily.

“Something for the pain.” He muttered, bringing a cool drink to her lips and placing a thick cloth wrapped around a few ice cubes against the bruise forming on her face.

“You took a nasty fall, Princess, maybe surfing isn’t your thing.” Lorcán chuckled slightly. He was wearing a tank top while a black suit was half pulled off, torso and arms tied around his waist. Though even in her groggy state, Aurora noticed it wasn’t like any wetsuit that she had seen Lorcán wear before. The heavy boots on his feet were a far cry from the barefoot or flip-flops the normally clumsy boy ran around in.

“Surfing?” She asked, trying to rack her brain to recall the incident he spoke of, but nothing came to mind. “But the trial-”

“Trials?” Lorcán asked with a confused look. “You mean like we had back at P.R.C.U.? We haven’t run a trial in almost seven years. The school has been decommissioned for nearly five. You helped me torch it for Hyperion's glory.” He laughed like someone reminiscing about a camping trip despite cruelly talking about the destruction of their home.

“You truly did get hit hard in the head.”

Hyperion?

Aurora’s head seemed to pound even more brutally as she tried to wrap her mind around what Lorcán was implying. She closed her eyes, hoping it would help her find some clarity, but she struggled, “No, that… that’s not true,” The redhead managed to choke out, propping herself up on her elbows even though her arms seemed to scream at her in protest. “We were running the Trial, someone messed with the simulation…” She recounted each detail, holding tight to the narrative, “We were locked in a Foundation classroom, we were going to drown…”

“That Draoi from Nepal must have gotten into your head on our last mission.” Lorcán leaned down, gingerly placing a hand on the non-bruising side of Aurora’s face as he carefully inspected her eyes. Her own blue eyes locked with his before noting the jagged scar running the length of the left side of his face.

“Just as I suspected, you’re concussed.” He muttered, “We should get you looked at by one of the Sages. They’ll patch you right up, have those nasty false memories pulled out so you can get back to your right self.”

Her eyes went wide, fear intertwining with her discomfort. She moved away from his touch, sinking further into the leather couch to create as much distance as she could between them. She wasn’t going to let him do that, mind wipe her, how could he even suggest such an outlandish thing? “Lorcán what are you talking about?” She exhaled, panic laced into her voice, “You’re not making any sense.” The redhead broke eye contact and looked around his garage, hoping she could find something, anything, to jog her memory as well as his.

But upon more detailed inspection of the space, she noticed things were… off.

His bass on the wall was coated in a layer of dust, evident he hadn’t played it recently. The boy always tried to squeeze in at least ten minutes minimum per day.

He always kept an extra Canis uniform thrown over the back of his desk chair, for those times when he was working on his bike and got grease everywhere or when he wanted to surf before class. But where the blazer should have been were a pair of plain black swim trunks.

Gone were the pictures of their friends he’d framed and displayed. The one of him and Rory after they’d won Hyperball championships sophomore year. He and a drunk Gil at a party Blackjack threw last November (which got them all extra community contributions for two weeks). She and him on the first day of University when they were freshman. She was smiling at the camera in the photo, he was looking at her. Where they once sat held only scattered papers and drawings.

Aurora looked at the corner of Lorcán’s desk for one of the first birthday gifts that she had ever given him when they were younger. She’d spent weeks collecting sea glass from around the Island. All sorts of colors, shapes and sizes. The jar was nowhere to be found.

It clicked.

This wasn’t Lorcán’s garage. And the boy standing over her was definitely not Lorcán.

Aurora mustered her strength and teleported across the room, practically keeling over upon reaching the other side of the garage next to the assorted tools. Her knees buckled, she was still weak, in no shape to use her abilities, but she knew she had to get away from him at all costs. “Where’s Lorcán.” She spat, keeping her eyes pinned on the doppleganger as she braced the wall in order to stay upright. “Where are my friends.”

The boy that looked like Lorcán let out a heavy sigh before slowly shaking his head.

“I gave that name up after watching my father cut down in cold blood. Your Lorcán, he hasn't had that happen, he’s happy, he’s carefree. Never had a bad thing happen to him.” He stated, looking towards Aurora while slowly untying his suit from his waist and pulling on the armoured attire. A long hood hung from his shoulders as he finished fastening the last few straps.

“I am Raze. And your friends are dead.” He replied.

“Or at least they will be. Even if they survive their own fears, the mind can only take so much.” He tapped the side of his head where Aurora’s neural uplink was located.

“Hyperion's Children needed you to be their sacrificial lambs. Through you, Hyperion will return again. So forget Lorcán, he’s gone, your friends are gone. Embrace the future, you have so much potential being wasted by P.R.C.U.”

Raze extended a hand towards Aurora from where he stood on the other side of the room.

“Join me, together we can take our rightful place as rulers of a new world.” He stated before motioning towards a cabinet with his chin.

“And I’ve already picked you out a wedding gift, go ahead. Open it.” He urged.

She grew lightheaded as Lor- Raze spoke. From his reveal that Hyperion would rise once more, to the promise that her friends would be killed one by one, each word struck a chord and further unsettled Aurora to her core. She was injured, she knew that, and she highly doubted he was lying when he mentioned her having a concussion. There was a slim chance she would be able to teleport out of here. And even if she did, she likely would not make it far enough, and he’d come after her once more.

She also was well aware of who she was up against. Although he wasn’t the version of Lorcán she knew, he shared his abilities. In her current state, he’d overpower her in an instant. So the redhead made a choice to play the game, to bide her time and reserve her strength. She had to be strategic if she was going to get out of here alive. The words wedding gift churned in her gut, but cautiously she approached the cabinet. She wrapped her fingers around the handle and opened.

Her heart rate skyrocketed and her breathing grew quick and shallow as she met the cold and harsh eyes of Damon Fray.

Her step-father. The man who haunted her nightmares, who abused her mother relentlessly, who's vehement hatred was the reason she was given up and put into the system.


Age showed on his face, but otherwise he hadn’t changed from the last day she saw him 11 years ago. The man still had the same thick brows, dark hair and tattoos covering his arms that she had memorized. He was bound and gagged, stuffed into the closet and actively fighting his restraints. But the second he saw her, beheld her, he froze. Damon attempted to speak, but all that could be heard were muffled sounds. Something like pain in his eyes, which morphed into unbridled fury as he began to resist his bounds once more.

The redhead wasn’t able to look for more than a few seconds before slamming the cabinet shut, pressing her back to the surface and sliding down to the ground until she was seated. A broken noise escaped from the back of her throat, her eyes welling up almost instantly. Rendered speechless, she turned to Raze, horror etched onto her features. “I-I…”

“Go ahead,” Raze urged, “He is beneath you, it is time you bring penance upon him for the suffering of your youth. Use your abilities and banish him to freeze in the Antarctic, or send him to the depths where his life will be snuffed out. Drop him in an active volcano where he’ll burn alive. You are like a god to him, he is not worthy to even clean your boots with his tongue, daughter of Hyperion.”

Aurora shook her head quickly, closing her eyes and trying to fight back the tears that began to fall. She took a shaky breath, attempting to regain her composure. She’d always wondered in the back of her mind how she’d react if she’d ever saw him again; what she’d say, what she’d do. But nothing could have prepared her for what it would actually be like experiencing it. The feeling was paralyzing. But she knew one thing for certain.

Death would be too easy for Damon. She wanted him to suffer, to live out the rest of his days behind bars. He didn’t deserve her mercy.

Not today.

She didn’t want his blood on her hands. He already had reign over her dreams, the last thing she wanted was his execution on her conscious mind. She refused to let him have any more power over her than he already did. The redhead continued to shake her head, “No,” She blurted out, “No, I’m not like you, I refuse to be like you.” She pushed herself to her feet, walking backwards and creating separation between herself and the cabinet where one of her demons lurked.

“I want no part of this, I won’t join you.”

“Disappointing,” Raze replied. “But to be expected, P.R.C.U. has made you weak. Did you realize one among you trapped you here? Did you realize one among you still lives to serve Lord Hyperion?” He chuckled darkly.

“No, Team Blackjack solves all problems through the power of ‘friendship.’ Pathetic, relying on others to compensate for one’s own weakness. It makes you blind and vulnerable. Ironic how your team's greatest strength will be its downfall.”

Raze opened the door of the garage, the sterile white hallways of the Foundation lay beyond it.

“I suggest you run now.” He grinned wickedly, his hands igniting into flame.

Aurora didn’t hesitate.

She bolted from the garage, not turning back.
A late summer wind whipped through Aurora's copper hair as she beheld the situation that lay before her. The young girl didn’t understand exactly how the trial worked; she was still attempting to comprehend how she had even gotten here in the first place. When she was brought to this boarding school for “special kids like her” she wasn’t expecting to be thrown essentially into a gauntlet on only her third day.

The 13-year-old shifted from foot to foot nervously while waiting for the group to go inside the structure. She was both small for her age and incredibly thin, making her look younger than she actually was. She was unassuming, you’d likely miss her if you didn’t look carefully. But Aurora was there, scared and skittish, and would try her best to tackle this challenge like she did the rest she encountered in her life.

Her baby blue eyes darted from face to face around her, sizing up the other kids her year who were running the trial. Some seemed excited at the premise and chatter flowed easily for them. But there were also many others like her who remained quiet, cautious.

“It’s okay to be clucked,” The voice of a young boy said from behind her, his long wavy hair spilled down to his shoulders while brilliant orange eyes smiled at her, an iris colour she had never seen before. A puka shell necklace peeked out from his athletic shirt's collar, a sweatband wrapped around his right wrist, and a guitar pick tucked into the band.

“My Dad says that the Trial is supposed to be fun, it’s not like the Thunderdome or anything. Everything you see in there is just for fun.” The boy repeated the word fun, sounding more like he was trying to convince himself than he was Aurora.

“You got this, Lady Dude,” He added, extending a fist for a bump, “Just breathe, stand up on your board and ride the wave.” The boy winked while flashing a toothy grin.

“It’ll be all choka, brah.”

He was the same boy from the other day, the one who had smiled and waved at her near the Administration building.

At this moment, however, the redhead looked at him like he had three heads. He was saying things, it was obvious he was talking, but she did not understand him in the slightest. Who even talked like that? Clucked…Lady Dude…Choka… What did those words even mean? So, she just smiled politely at him and nodded, too timid to try and even plot a reply. She didn’t bother to return his fist bump either.

The students ahead of them started moving towards the hedge, thankfully cutting the conversation short, taking out their student cards to scan. Aurora followed suit, clutching her ID with a trembling hand as the machine beeped upon her movement. She slipped the card back into her pocket as she entered the maze, the neural link on her temple warming slightly.

Some kind of idea of fun these people had.

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Towering spires and soaring pillars of stone surrounded Aurora as she raced through the kingdom, heart pounding in her ears. She navigated the unfamiliar landscape as best she could, dodging visible obstacles by teleporting around them and bobbing and weaving past the other students in her path. The girl had overheard one of them explain how the seniors designed the trial every year and so the theme was up to their discretion. Guess someone had been on a fantasy kick recently.

The redhead moved with agile grace, but inside, all she felt was panic. She was doing well, but it was because she had to, not because she wanted to. Last thing she needed was to be kicked out before she could even begin and subject herself to the vicious cycle of change she had been victim to for the last few years. Her strategy was simple: fend for herself and get out as fast as she could. She’d do it alone.

The clocktower chimed, the bells tolling loudly, and Aurora braced herself for what followed. It was a pattern she had picked up on quickly once they had gotten inside the trial - her keen eye and ear for detail recognized it after only the second instance. Every time the clocktower went, so did one of the pillars around them, crumbling to the ground. The girl’s eyes searched, trying to determine if it would be one near her, which is what allowed her to see him.

The boy from before with eyes like wildfire.

He had stopped momentarily and he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. The pillar directly to his left had started to shake… he didn’t see it. The girl felt fear, pure fear, as she screamed out to him, hoping he’d hear her in time.

“Hey! Watch out!”

It happened so fast that Aurora didn’t even realize what she was doing until it had already been done. She appeared at his side and grabbed his hand before he could even blink, teleporting the both of them a safe distance away. The pillar fell, crumbling to the ground, but they were nowhere in harm's way.

“Whoa,” The boy blushed looking down at his hand while regaining his bearings.

“That was rad, you’re rad, Lady Dude.”

The redhead glanced to where her fingers intertwined with his, and once she recognized the contact, quickly let go. The speed in which she dropped his hand was noticeable, as if she had even surprised herself. Because she had.

It had been the first time she had teleported someone else.

Aurora didn’t even know she could do that; it had never been something she had thought to try. Sure, she’d teleported objects before, but never a person. And why him? She didn’t even know him. The girl took a step away from the boy, creating more distance between them.

“A pillar falls every time the bells ring.” The redhead paused, before blurting, "Watch where you’re going next time.”

The boy nodded solemnly.

“Appreciate the tip, brah. You know you don’t have to go it alone right?”

She didn’t even reply before teleporting away.

Aurora sped through the remainder of the trial, utilizing her abilities to bypass the rest of the obstacles and challenges throughout the kingdom. As she came to the castle’s moat, she teleported across the wide expanse with ease. She looked back from the other side, watching as a couple of students evaluated the unstable bridge that was their only ticket out. She didn’t spare them a second glance before turning back around and making a break for the exit.

You don’t have to go it alone.

The boy's words replayed in her mind as the simulation ended. But what he did not understand is that she did have to go it alone. She always had, and likely always would. There was no one she could trust in this world other than herself, she was certain. She’d been let down too many times, forced to fend for herself without the assistance of others. She had accepted that a long time ago. And yet, she had still helped him, shocking herself by doing so. Maybe it was because he had been kind to her. Or maybe it was because she didn’t want to see anyone get hurt.

Aurora pushed open the door, returning to the Plateau. The small girl’s baby blue eyes took in the faces around her who simply stared as she emerged, in awe.

She had been the first to complete the trial.

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Location: Southern Plateau - Dundas Island, Pacific Ocean
Hope in Hell #2.010: Trial by Fire
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Interaction(s): Lorcán @Lord Wraith Harper @Qia
Previously: Chasing Cars

“Savour it, work together and I know you’ll do great.”

Aurora snapped out of her daydream as Tad wrapped up his pep talk. She widened her eyes and raised her eyebrows, blinking rapidly to bring herself back to the present day. Exhaustion tugged at her limbs but she still followed her teammates and walked towards the maze, swiping her card to gain entry to the Trial. She’d managed to get a few hours of rest after her late night chat with Banjo, her mind put a bit more at ease, but she still felt sluggish this morning. However, if this was anything like her first time running, it should be a breeze. After all, she could teleport through if she was particularly having trouble.

Lorcán stood behind her, she could feel the heat radiating off of him, but he seemed to be standing closer to her than usual… or maybe she was simply more aware of his presence this morning. Neither of them had brought up last night’s conversation. In fact, they had barely spoken during breakfast. She did catch him looking at her though when he thought she wasn’t paying attention. He had the same fire in his eyes that she noticed the evening prior, there was intention behind his gaze.

They walked into the Trial, Harper following behind them, and as the simulation was booting up Aurora looked back into the boy’s sunset colored eyes and smiled. But that grin quickly disappeared as she beheld his confused and troubled expression.

Something was very wrong.

The redhead whipped around to see what he was staring at and her face paled almost instantly as she took in their surroundings. It was clear that this was not the Trial that had been planned. The callous hallways of the Foundation, cold and sterile, went as far as the eye could see. Fog collected at her ankles and static buzzed in her ears accompanied by the dissonance of whispers and hissing. From her vantage point she could peer into two of the classrooms and winced as she saw the gurneys with their restraints, the colorful vials and syringes with the dried blood. Goosebumps peppered her arms underneath her AR suit.

This wasn’t a school. It was an asylum.

Lorcán’s voice was strong and assertive as he took charge, rolling up his sleeves and rallying their teammates. He was a natural leader and commanded attention with his unwavering confidence, a quality that was not lost on Aurora. She felt his touch and looked down to see his hand enveloping hers. He squeezed gently, and she immediately squeezed back, every stray thought evaporating from her mind. The tone of his statement indicated that she didn’t have a say in the matter, but even if she did, the redhead had no desire to leave his side.

She glanced back up at him, a hint of fear noticeable in her eyes, and nodded.

Together. This time they’d stick together.

As Amma spoke and stepped closer, the redhead clutched the boy’s hand tighter, a shiver running down her spine as the raven haired girl smirked. She knew something they didn’t, after all, the transfer had the advantage since she was familiar with these hallways. Bile rose up in the back of the redhead’s throat, whether it was the danger they were now certainly in or the EBI field messing with her body, she wasn’t sure. Either way, she was instantly nauseous.

And then Amma was gone, running down one of the eerie corridors. Aurora took a few steps in the direction the girl headed in but stopped as she felt the pull of the person she was grasping. She looked back at Lorcán, “We have to follow her. I have no clue how this happened, but Amma is the only one who knows this place and is our best chance of getting out of-”

Calli crumpled to the ground, her breathing quick and shallow as she spiraled, icy exterior melting right before the redhead’s eyes. She recognized the signs of the panic attack, just as she had with Lorcán yesterday, and her heart broke for the blonde. But her focus wavered as she noticed movement out of the corner of her periphery.

They weren’t alone.

Who emerged, however, was not anticipated in the slightest. At first Aurora thought she was seeing double, but realization hit that the figures were only Calliope and Katja in appearance, not in mind. They may have looked like them but they spoke of weakness and suffering, an air of disgust laced with chaotic unrestrained energy. If these ‘anti’ versions of two of their teammates existed, who else was lurking inside the Trial? An even better question was how many people were they possibly up against here.

The last thing she saw was Anti-Calliope’s smirk, which rivaled that of Amma’s. Darkness consumed the group and the redhead vaguely felt the sensation of being pulled elsewhere, a version of teleporting, but not of her own accord.

Light returned, and as her eyes adjusted she saw that they were now in a worse situation than before. Separated from the rest of Blackjack, her, Lorcán, and Harper found themselves in a classroom. They were underwater, how deep she didn’t know, but by the looks of it, they were far from the surface. She attempted to examine her surroundings, noting the locked blast door, but jumped as the unmistakable crack of glass reverberated off the walls. Color disappeared from the redhead’s cheeks as she saw the window, a clear line running down the middle. The crack continued to radiate outwards, spidering slowly, but surely. Her mind immediately went to the worst case scenario; the glass could shatter completely and let all of the water in. And with no way out…

She wasn’t a strong swimmer, she’d be pulled under before she could even cry for help.

They’d drown.

“That glass isn’t going to hold forever… we have to find a way out of here.” She declared, although it seemed obvious, her eyes immediately finding the door and the small window that showed the hallway. “There has to be a set of controls on the other side, a way to deactivate the fail-safe.” She turned to Harper and to Lorcán, who’s hand she was still somehow holding, “I’ll teleport and unlock the door.”

"Okay, that sounds like a good idea. Just...be careful.”

Lorcán gave Aurora a look, his eyes darting between the glass windows and the single door.

"It'd be a grom move to just try without at least testing for an EBI field." He reluctantly admitted, taking a few steps forward before raising his hand. Taking a deep breath, he placed it on the blast door and exhaled a small sigh of relief. "I still am not stoked about this."

“We don’t have a ton of options here, Lorcán. I’ve got to try.” Aurora asserted, squeezing his hand before letting go and not giving him another opportunity to detest. She vanished into thin air.

The redhead materialized outside of the room after a few long moments, completely unharmed. She was relieved. How that door bypassed the EBI field, she wasn’t sure, but she was simply thankful that she hadn’t been rearranged along the way. Teleporting had been a massive risk, she could have been seriously injured if her abilities had been nullified, but it had paid off. Only a few steps away she found the controls embedded into the wall.

“I found the panel!” She exclaimed, hoping Lorcán and Harper could hear her through the thick walls. Her blue eyes quickly scanned all of the buttons and levers, attempting to find the mechanism that would disarm the safety and open the door. The labels were non-descriptive, some marked by symbols and others with acronyms. “Give me a minute, I-”

A cold and calculating laugh echoed through the hallway.

Aurora didn’t have time to react before he struck.
@Melissa & @BrutalBx
LOCATION: BHHS Football Stadium/Parking Lot
TIMESTAMP: Before the Football Game
Featuring: Adelaide Jones & Ivy Leung


Game day was always a good day.

Not that Adelaide Jones particularly cared for a sport where men ran with a ball, though her pretty blue eyes were often glued to the girls on the sideline in the short skirts holding the pom poms. God she wanted to be at the bottom of that pyramid. Although she was on the soccer team herself and was a damn good player, Ads was mostly there for the extra credit. The main reason that Addie enjoyed game days was for business. Every Bertie, Betty, Boris and Angela wanted their quick fix of something to get them through another slog of pubescent boys grunting and groaning more on a field assgrabbing than they would watching PornHub all week in their basement boy caves.

Unlike her sisters in the PLC, Savannah, Neveah and Everly, the pint sized blonde didn’t live or die on the hill of a sale; Addie just made the shit. If she didn’t sell a single blunt or bag of shrooms she would be fine, for her, the excitement was in the preparation. She doted on her garden like a mother would her child; she fed them every day, bathed them, nourished and cherished them. Then there were the days where she spliced the plants together and used experimental chemicals to make a super strain of kush. Lucky for her that usually falls around game or events day.

There was a lore surrounding Addie and she was very conscious of it despite most people’s perceptions of her. To most, she was an idiot; a ridiculous, childlike buffoon obsessed with sexual relations and whose ADHD was barely managed. She didn't mind letting people believe that, she wasn’t one for confrontation and didn’t see any benefit in correcting them or maybe she just didn’t care? The truth of the matter was that those very same people didn’t know that underneath the bleach blonde bangs and dark eye makeup, Addie possessed an intellect that was near dangerous. She always scored at the top of her exams and tests. When examined, her IQ was leaps and bounds higher than an average girl of her age. Before attending Beverly Hills High, Addie’s parents were approached with the idea of placing the girl in a special school for gifted youngsters. They would have said yes had Addie not refused to go; she didn’t want to leave her sister.

Now there she sat, wearing her fathers old service bomber jacket, on the hood of her van parked in the lot just by the stadium. Addie couldn’t drive the van of course but inside its walls adorned with a naked lady was her collection of what a normal person would call drugs; Adelaide would call them her babies. Her feet dangled over the edge, the lit blunt in her painted lips bounced as she nodded her head to the dulcet sounds of her beloved Dave Grohl playing in her left ear. The rest of PLC were odd doing their thing trying to out work the Strattons. Addie said fuck it and went off to do her own thing. She had her own “clients” that she preferred to work with.

One of them was coming towards her and she couldn’t help but smirk. Adelaide was a sucker for a pretty girl. She took her joint out of her mouth and blew a love heart into the air with the smoke illuminated by the Friday night lights. “Hey purrrrty lady.” She leaned back on one pal and waved with the white stick still between her finger tips. “I wouldn’t come any closer, I hear that girl Addie is riff raff.”

Game day was always a good day.

Cheerleading under the lights with the attention of a crowd was everything to Ivy Leung. What started as a way to channel her extra energy as a child had become so much more to the dark haired girl than her parents ever could have anticipated when they first enrolled her. She was a natural, with a bright smile and enough pep in her step to power a small army, not to mention blessed with flexible limbs, which were the gift that kept on giving. Most importantly, the pom poms brought her joy, and year after year she returned for more.

Tonight, she stood on the turf with her teammates, donning skin tight matching uniforms that left little to the imagination, stretching out before the whistle blew and the game began. Ivy was antsy, checking her phone for the fourth time to make sure she wasn’t late for her little… rendezvous. It was unlike the girl to be unprepared for the weekend’s festivities, but this morning before leaving for school she noticed she was oh so dangerously low, and thus an emergency text was sent and a meeting place was agreed upon. As the clock changed to quarter past, she exhaled and nudged Cael, “I’ll be right back, really need to pee.”

With hurried steps, she quickly made her way from the field towards the parking lot, bobbing and weaving past her classmates who were headed to the bleachers. Homecoming was a big deal, and tensions were a tad high, which made this adventure all the more crucial. As cars came into view, it didn’t take long for Ivy to spot the familiar van and the blonde lounging on top of it. As she approached, she fixed the bow in her hair and readjusted her skirt. “Addie might be riff raff, but then again, so am I.” The dark haired girl smirked devilishly, before looking around, half expecting to see the other members of the PLC on her trail. “Where’s your crew? Not much for school spirit?”

“Addie can text them and we can make this an orgy, more love is good love.” Addie replaced a roll up in her mouth before pushing herself off of the roof and dropping down relatively gracefully onto the floor below. She was no cheerleader; she was five foot nothing and had a habit of falling out of windows but like her current compatriot, Adelaide found that she had enough skill and poise to make her dramatics look good. “But something tells me that you would much rather this just be us.” She stopped to admire Ivy in her uniform, she didn’t hide it, there was no point. Addie was Addie and everybody knew Addie, even the vegetarians. With sculpted long legs, taut abs that she wanted to lick maple syrup off of and a smile that even Adelaide had to admit she fell in love with just a bit every time she saw it, Ivy Leung looked every bit the dream girl that she pretended she was.

In some strange way, Addie viewed Ivy and others just like her as reflections of the self she could have been. For all intents and purposes, the pint sized pixie should’ve been a white picket fence pom pom powerhouse but the cards she was dealt were different. Her mother Wednesday was a stunning woman, blonde hair, blue eyes, a body straight outta playboy and her youthful grandma was the same. Her father Paul, that all American army type; strong jaw line, just enough edge to make the women swoon and then there was her sister Dallas. She was so beautiful, so intelligent, she could’ve reigned supreme. They could’ve been the picturesque American nuclear family.

But they weren’t.

And that was ok. It was better this way.

Addie loved her new family, the Jones girls were all great in their own way and her new stepmom was badass. Her Mom was saving lives like she did at the hospital. Grandma was dissecting the worlds future psychopaths and Dally was training to fuck Martians? Or was she building rockets? She couldn’t remember. Adelaide missed seeing her Dad every day but he was off being Batman or some shit. She got to see him every other weekend so that was nice.

“So, what do you need? Cos baby I got it. And if you wanna take our clothes off and stare at each other, maybe touch stuff, Addie is always down for that. I’ll even pay for breakfast”

Ivy didn’t mind as Addie’s eyes roved over her body, in fact, she liked it. The girl worked damn hard to maintain her physique in order to remain in good standing with the squad, and she wanted people to appreciate it. It didn’t hurt that her dealer was one of those people; she would cut her a deal from time to time - an extra pre-roll here, a discount there - and there was never any harm in that. After all, pretty privilege had its benefits.

The dark haired girl nodded, “Two's company, three’s a crowd.” Her smile reappeared at Addie’s bold proposition, eyes fiery. It was no secret that there was chemistry there, then again, Ivy had chemistry with most people. But it was something that the girl thrived on, the validation of it all. “Maybe another time.” She purred, raising her eyebrows suggestively before her laughter followed. “What I do need though is something to get me through this game, and some party favors for this weekend. Got anything special for me, Addie?” She inquired, leaning up against the van.

“You’re a fucking tease.” Addie giggled as she threw her joint and stomped it out under the heel of her Doc Martens. “I’ll hold you to that, Ivy. My face is gonna be between your legs sooner rather than later but I digress.” The drug dealer lifted a single index finger up in eureka. “Give me two minutes and feel free to stare at my ass. Addie has been doing squats.” Opening up the back doors of the van, Adelaide revealed her nursery. Bright, shining heat lamps illuminated a variety of potted plants and vegetation. Weed, mushrooms, potatoes? All were growing inside the walls of Addie’s moving greenhouse. She climbed inside, her butt sticking out as she fumbled around to find what her client required.

The wagon was not Addie’s but she had claimed it. Many moons ago, the van where she grew her product once belonged to her father. He went off to war and it sat vacant for years in her grandparents garage. When he returned, it continued to gather dust until finally it was unearthed and sent to live with the then Davies. When Paul and Wednesday divorced, he decided to leave the van to Addie since she loved it so much. She hated driving the thing but she enjoyed the naked lady decal on the side and the fact it was easy to grow her supply on there sans prying eyes.

“Okey dokey.” Hopping back out, Adelaide sat on the edge of the van as she began to place Ivy’s wish list into a plastic baggy. “I got some good shrooms in here, some peyote which I got from the new girl and my latest product…” Addie pulled a single white stick from behind her and held it aloft. “I call it the Hawaiian. You will be a Aloha’ing yourself all the way into a coma. This is some good strong shit. Tastes like pineapples.”

“You certainly know how to make a girl feel special.” Ivy did indeed take the opportunity to check out Addie as she ducked into the van, simultaneously admiring the vast assortment of plants she had growing in the vehicle. It was impressive, to say the least, the variety she had cultivated with her green thumb, not to mention it was a genius business model. In her eyes, this was talent at the highest caliber. She simply felt fortunate she got to reap the rewards.

She watched as the blonde hand selected each item that went into the plastic bag, nodding along with her choices. As Addie introduced her creation, Ivy plucked the blunt from her fingers, examining it before dissolving into a grin. It was perfect, exactly what she was looking for. “You never miss, do you?” The dark haired girl reached into her skirt waistband, grabbing the folded up wad of cash she had stashed there. Cheekily, she extended her arm towards the seated girl, tucking it into the pocket of her jeans for her. “I think that should cover it, doll.”

“Hnnng.” Ivy was every inch a Goddess in Addie’s eyes and as she bit the air to prevent herself from saying all the uncouth things her lips wanted to scream to the heavens, she wanted to catch the cheerleader's hand and just taste her. She could smell her perfume, her shampoo and conditioner. It wasn’t fair. For much of the summer had been in therapy to try and work on her…tendencies. The tiny drug dealer had a habit of just blurting out her thoughts and feelings, especially when it came to the matter of sex and romance.

Despite her outward appearance as Kurt Cobain’s lost daughter, (fuck you Frances Bean, what kind of name is Bean anyway? It was a good job she was hot), Adelaide loved love. She truly did. Her freedom and willingness to give it to anyone was both a blessing and a curse because Addie knew how to have a good time but she also knew just how much rejection, loss and grief could tie a person in unbreakable knots. The manic pixie drug girl had felt both the highs and lows of love but that would never deter her. Hedonism aside, she did want someone to look at her, truly look at her and see beyond the cat eye make-up and deeply layered behavioural disorders and see Adelaide Philippa Davies Jones; girl waiting to be loved.

“Addie also does house calls.” She smiled tilted her head to look up at the tall beauty of Ivy. “If you need home delivery, just leave a window open and Addie will find a way….or, if you just want me to climb into bed with you and whisper sweet nothings, I do that for free. Tell that to your sister Isla too, I bet she’d love a good spoon and she’s super hot. Addie will get her out of her shell and walking on the wild side”

“Oh really…” Ivy raised a brow, a smirk slowly forming, gracing her full lips. Next thing she knew, the wheels in her head were turning. Not about herself though.

About Isla.

Sure, the dark haired girl had tried to facilitate friendships for her twin, ones that would pry her out of the box she’d locked herself in, but never had she dared to attempt a romantic pairing. She knew better than to meddle with her sister’s love life, but in this case, Addie had expressed interest. It seemed natural, organic, whereas any other attempts would be forced and awkward. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea.

“Well you know, Addie,” She purred her name, a devilish glint in her eye, “Isla is going to the dance tomorrow night...” Ivy paused, leaning a little closer to the blonde. Alone. Maybe you could, you know, get to know her a little better.” She reached out and brushed a strand of the girl’s hair behind her ear, “She’s a little bit shy, but I have no doubt you could find some things to talk to her about.” Ivy grinned, “Or, you could do things that require no talking at all.”

Addie’s knees knocked together and quivered in sheer excitement as the cheerleader leaned in and touched her hair. For all the times the dealer had been with a girl, every time almost felt like the first. Love and lust were exciting and should always be treated as such. To grow bored was a fate worse than death in her eyes. There was so much in the world to taste, to touch, to experience and submerge one’s soul in. There was so much to take and Addie was gonna take as much as her tiny ass could carry.

“Addie can absolutely do that.” She jumped up to her feet, almost giddy. “I was planning on being there to sell some stuff and grab ass for any lonely girls dumped by their dates but actually going for a date of my own would be cool too!”

One would have to be blind not to have noticed Ivy’s sister Isla around the halls. Ivy was a model, a glow, you could see her a mile away. Isla, well you really had to pay attention and Addie always paid attention. She shared her sister's striking looks but their auras were different. Isla was a whisper in a crowded room and Addie liked that, it meant she had to lean close and really be in the moment and not just a part of it. The more she thought about it, the louder the heartbeat she always heard in her head got louder. Addie’s interest had been piqued.

“For the tip, how about I give you a freebie? I got some of last month's batch somewhere in the van if you want it?”

The younger of the Leung twins grinned. This was going to be perfect. She was actually optimistic about the odds here! It was very possible Isla would murder her later, but Addie was cute and interested and not much else mattered at the end of the day. She was doing her sister a favor, she was a saint. Ivy shook her head at the proposition of additional substance, “Nah, that’s okay. You give me freebies all the time! Consider this me giving you a freebie, Addie.” She answered, tucking the plastic bag in her skirt pocket, twirling the blunt in between nimble fingers.

She checked the time on her phone and cursed under her breath. “I’ve gotta get going if I want to have enough time to smoke this before the game starts.” Ivy looked back up at Addie, “Appreciate you always. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Not if I see you first.” Addie smiled as she brought one foot up onto the wheel of the van. “Which Addie will, cos imma be staring at your jiggles and your wiggles and those abs…mmm now you got me thinking about maple syrup again.” Attempting not to drown in her lurid thoughts of drenching Ivy in Canada’s best export, the five feet of concrete pulled herself back up onto her perch on the roof of her makeshift greenhouse. She was excited; Isla Leung, now there lay a challenge. Adelaide wondered if perhaps the other twin was the one that could make the ringing in her ears stop. She wondered if Isla was the one that could slow her heart down and could make her drink in the smell of the roses and savour the world like a sip of wine, rather than inhale it like a line.

“Enjoy the Hawaiian, my peach and warn your sister, Addie is coming and soon she will be too!” Addie stood up to her full tiny height, towering a whopping five feet over the parking lot and outstretched her arms as wide as she could. “MAMA GOT DRUUUUUUGS. COME GET SOME! ADDIE GOT THE GOOD KUSH, NEW STRAIN! HOMECOMING DISCOUNT!”

Ivy simply shook her head with a laugh as she walked away from the van, not fully realizing the can of worms she had just opened. It would definitely be a sight to see - Addie, her effervescent drug dealer, seducing her sister, the hermit. But, Isla needed some excitement in her life, and this was the perfect opportunity to bring her some much needed zest. The dark haired girl made her way over to the edge of the parking lot and reached into her pocket to pull out a lighter, but her hand came up empty.

Fuck. She forgot her lighter.

It was a rookie mistake. She groaned, realizing her stupidity. “Fucking hell.”

Rolling back into the Beverly Hills High parking lot on his skateboard just in time for the fans to invade the stadium, Adam blew the fire from his lungs and into the ebony night. The brief confrontation with Piper’s butler had left his blood boiling and his mind in chaos. He knew better than to pick fights, he always defended, always, never started. His mother was a damn lawyer for God’s sake he should have known not to get involved. But he could not abide the way the man was handling a girl a quarter his size. It just wasn’t right. Adam had to hope that Piper would convince her family not to press charges, he also hoped that she would take up his offer of spending time with him; he would really like that.

Kicking his board into his hand, the fighter dragged it tailside across the floor. He could hear several sounds in the distance and circling him like a September wind, none of which he really wanted to focus on right now. The cheers of a filling stadium, the laughs of students, Addie screaming at the top of her lungs that she’s selling illegal narcotics and then there was…

Fucking hell.

That voice cut through.

He looked up and bathed in light stood a single solitary girl, a cheerleader, a joint between her lips struggling to light it and her silhouette perfectly aligned in a frame as if painted by Michelangelo himself. Adam dropped the board and completely and swung his camera swiftly around from his waist and up to his face. He took aim and shot the image of the lonely girl, how could he not? It was a perfectly imperfect image. Picking up his board again, he made his way a few feet closer before pulling a lighter from his jean pocket and holding it up.

“Here.”

Ivy lifted her head and turned to where the voice came from, her previously frustrated expression softening as she made eye contact with the boy, spotting the item she sought in his grasp. Wordlessly, she reached out towards him, their hands brushing ever so slightly as she took the lighter he offered. She nodded once, in thanks, before rolling her thumb along the wheel and igniting the spark, bringing the flame up towards the end of the white stick. It caught and she inhaled deeply, her shoulders relaxing almost immediately as she felt the smoke curl at the back of her throat. She reached up and removed the blunt from her full lips, exhaling. Addie was right, it did taste like pineapple.

The girl extended her arm, gingerly handing him back the lighter. “Thank you,” She motioned with the blunt, “You want?”

“I’m good.”

Adam shook his head. He didn’t feel like he was in the right headspace to partake in brain altering drugs. Any other time and he would’ve likely said yes but he was nothing if not a creature of habit. When Adam deviated from his routine, even a single step out of the line, that had the potential to throw his entire day off and send him off balance. He, like any boy his age, loved to have a fun time and he knew how to let loose but doing so, without any examining the potential consequences was dangerous. Not just for Adam but for anyone around him. Unbalanced, he just wasn’t safe.

He took the lighter back and placed it back into his pocket. The martial artist knew this girl from school, if the colors of her outfit didn’t give it away. Ivy. Adam had seen her perform, in more than once sense of the word. There was a girl, a social butterfly, flapping her wings around school, attracting onlookers like a moth to her flame. Then there was the other girl, in the center of a crowded room, peacocks feathers awash in flickering embers as she danced the night, thrusting to burn out and fade away.

She was beautiful.

“Suit yourself,” The girl shrugged and took another drag, turning her head and blowing the smoke in the opposite direction. She wasn’t an asshole, after all. If he didn’t want any, she wasn’t about to give it to him secondhand. Ivy glanced at him curiously. He looked vaguely familiar, she’d definitely seen him hanging around before, but no name was coming to mind. And for someone who knew a lot of things about a lot of people, that was intriguing in it of itself.

She smirked at him, “So what’s your deal?” The dark haired girl challenged, “Do you stand here and wait for lighter-less girls to fall into your lap? Or do you actually like football.”

“Lighter-less girls, anyone who needs directions, that sort of thing.” Adam responded with a tilt of his head, his light brown bangs falling softly to the side. “I’m not some sort of animal.” Jokes were not his specialty and even he had to admit that was probably a lame one. Maybe he did need that blunt after all? He reached into his trouser pocket once again, this time pulling out a joint of his own. Placing it between his finger tips, he held it aloft, the end gently caressing the point of Ivy’s and waited for it to light.

Although he could’ve used his lighter, something was telling him not to bother. As a moment stretched into eternity, Adam looked closely at the face before him and began swimming in her eyes. He wasn’t staring, gazing maybe? Now in the light and up close, no longer shrouded by shadow like in the photo he had captured mere seconds before, he could see that beautiful did not do this girl justice. No word had been invented or was at least in his vocabulary to describe the majesty of her and what he was seeing.

“Hate football. Just here for friends.”

Ivy felt her breath catch in the back of her throat, taken by surprise as the boy moved closer. He was so mysterious… and yet, so bold? She felt the weight of his gaze and she welcomed it like an old friend, the way they stood there oddly intimate while waiting for his joint to ignite on her own. She relished in the way he looked at her with such intention and how his eyes seemed to dance over her skin. The dark haired girl dared lean in towards him, the distance between them growing even smaller.

“Friends?” She inquired, a hint of mischief in her expression as she felt a haze begin to settle over her. “We could be friends.”

“Maybe.”

Adam knew what the word “friends” meant in Ivy’s circle. Friends here meant letting go, letting loose, allowing time and tide to carry you where it may. The thought of him and the cheerleader on an island somewhere, alone and shipwrecked, with only each other and the smile of the sun and the whisper of the waves to keep them company…was by no means a repulsive thought. Yet Adam also knew that allowing himself to open up, to free himself from the chains that he had chosen for himself could possibly lead to something that terrified him.

The joint in his fingers ignited between them in sparks but Adam almost didn’t notice as he found himself near lost in the woods of her eyes. The fighter brought the blunt to his lips and let it hang there, daring not to step away in fear of losing their intimate moment, their connection. His life had been absent of those for so long. He wondered if any he found could even be truly genuine. He hoped that by the way she was looking at him, that it was.

“You want to be friends Ivy? Do you know my name?”

She let her eyes dip down to his lips as he placed the joint in between, raising an eyebrow as she heard her own name spill from them. He knew who she was, which, if she was being honest, wasn't all that surprising. But it now bothered her that she didn’t know him. A lot. Ivy brought her hand up and removed the white stick from her mouth, letting her fingers rest on the side of her cheek as she inclined her head “No. But I’d like to.”

“fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck, YOU’RE NOT MY SUPERVISOR.”

Before Adam could get another word out, the repeated sound of a high pitched swear grew louder than the chants in the stadium. Turning his head away from Ivy, he saw Adelaide Davies Jones sprinting over parked cars like a mad woman out of an action B-movie. The pint sized drug dealer ran past the two of them for only a second before jumping back and looking up at the two taller students with a cheeky smile on her face.

“Y’all bout to fuck ain’t ya?” Addie began to swivel her hips as her big blue eyes stared at the pair. She may have been nearly eighteen but the drug dealer and aspiring botanist sometimes had the mind of a child. It was somehow both annoying and endearing at the same time. “You would have some hot ass babies. With the swishy hair and the sexy porcelain Chinese face and abs of granite…and ooooh mama…”

“ADELAIDE GET BACK HERE!”

A male voice called from somewhere in the steel jungle of cars. Addie stood to attention and mockingly saluted the two beautiful people before her. “Addie’s work here is done. Peace out.” She flashed two fingers before taking off once again towards the stadium. She was soon followed by their sociology teacher Mr. Fell, complaining about how out of shape he was.

After the whirlwind had ceased, Adam released his breath as he took a step back away from Ivy. “We should probably get out of here before Mr. Fell realises that he just walked by us both with joints in our hands.” He picked up his camera once again and raised it up to his forest green eyes and began snapping away at the girl under the street light. “I’d like to get to know this girl, not the one that they’re all about to see in there.” Adam motioned to the stadium behind him before peeking out behind the lens.

Ivy took another drag of her blunt and blew the smoke towards him, seemingly obscuring his camera’s view. “That’s too bad.” She commented, “They’re the same girl.” Her eyes began to glaze over, whatever Addie had given her began to have its effect. She looked around, the last remaining people had found their way to watch the game, which left the two of them effectively alone. “Maybe you’ll get the chance tomorrow night.”

“Maybe I will.” Adam softly placed his camera back down to his side and polished off the last of his weed before throwing it down and stomping out the remaining ember with the twist of his heel. He could say the soft waters begin to fill Ivy’s eyes and the strong scent of pineapple began to waft around them. She was losing herself in the moment, as was her right to do. He was sad that he would not allow himself the same pleasure.

He wondered if maybe they would cross paths again the following night, there was a party after all. Still, Adam also knew what he would be doing at that party, the same thing he always did. He would be trying to satiate the demon inside of him, he would be seduced by the subtle glow of violence and he would fight tooth and nail to alleviate his boredom and find someone, anyone, that could challenge him. He yearned for it. He needed it. He wondered if Ivy had anything inside of her like that.

“Be seeing you, Ivy.”

The dark haired girl checked the time on her phone, she still had a few minutes to savor her smoke before heading into the stadium, so she stayed put. As the boy began to back away, though, she called out to him in an attempt to make him stop.

“Hey! You didn’t tell me your name!”

“I know!”

Adam called back and smiled as she reached out towards him, that was his second smile of the day. Once was a rarity, two times was something almost mystical. He wasn’t used to smiling; he didn’t hate it. Placing both hands in his pockets, the martial artist continued to back away from the cheerleader. As he slowly began to turn away completely, he yelled out to her once again. “You didn’t tell me yours. Weird huh?!”

Adam ushered himself into the stadium, feeling the moment slip away as his mind returned to its stable state of being. For one that seeks clarity, today had only brought him chaos and strangely….

It was the good kind.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Location: Southern Plateau - Pacific Royal Campus
Welcome Home #1.105: Smoke Signals
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Interaction(s): It's a collab folks! @Hound55
Previously: Chasing Cars

Banjo snapped awake. His head dripped with perspiration, which hadn't just confined itself to his brow.

He looked over at Calliope who had managed to keep sleeping peacefully, despite his dramatic awakening. Banjo ran his hands through his hair, and over his ears, before pinching the bridge of his nose with his forefingers and letting out a deep sigh.

Again. Tonight of all nights. Another bloody nightmare.

Banjo pushed his frustration and rising angst down, and decided the best place to let it go was outside of the tent. No need to ruin her sleep as well.

Carefully he slid around her, planting one foot on the floor and lifting himself over her, watching her whilst holding his breath until his other foot safely found the floor.

Banjo rustled through his belongings on the floor, making sure his cigarettes and lighter were in his shorts pocket, before pulling them on and quietly unzipping the tent’s flap, unveiling the night’s sky. Outside it was spitting and threatening to turn worse, but he needed the open air so he walked out into the brisk open air.

A few strides away, he popped a single durry from his packet of Winfield Blues, and holding it in his leeward side, lit up, with a hand sheltering it from the weather. Taking a first deep drag, his mouth twitched, and he sniffed in agitation.

That’d be bloody right. A night away from one of those daft big beds, a night where I can curl up with Calli, and the bloody nightmares come back so I still can’t get a proper sleep.

It was infuriating. Just when all was right with everything else. Things couldn’t just go smoothly.

He sat on the grass and hugged his legs whilst the dart hung from his lip.

And the worst thing was, there wasn’t anything he could do about them, or properly explain it to anybody else.

Aurora had let herself toss and turn for a while, hoping sleep would wash over her like the waves on the shoreline, but it wasn’t looking like rest would come to her easily tonight. Her mind was restless, a jumble of thoughts that she had attempted to unravel to no avail.

She sat up and looked over to the other side of the dimly lit tent, watching as Lorcán slept soundly. The redhead admired him quietly, studying each slope and curve of his upper body, memorizing the lines of his tattoos, his scars. She imagined what it would be like to fall asleep in his warm embrace, tucked underneath one of his strong arms.

Sure, it was a little bit creepy to stare at him like this. But in her defense, it was the only opportunity she had to do so without anyone questioning her. But as she looked at him, her thoughts drifted back to the moment they shared earlier. The things he said, the way he made her feel, the fire in his eyes she hadn’t seen before. It was confusing, she was confused. She was also scared. Oh, so scared.

Maybe some fresh air would do her some good.

Silently, Aurora slipped on her shoes before ducking out of the tent. There was a noticeable chill outside in comparison to the warmth inside, and she shivered as she felt the temperature shift, along with the small drops of rain that had started to fall. It might have been late Summer, but the nights on the island ran cold. Well, at least by her standards - she was an Arizona girl, after all.

Popping back inside, she spotted her bag on the far end of the space, but it’d be far too loud to rummage through her things to find her sweatshirt; she couldn’t risk waking Lorcán up. She glanced to his side of the tent and noticed his hoodie was within grasp, laying on top of his backpack. The redhead picked it up, attempting to not make any noise and headed back outside. She’d apologize later for stealing it but something told her he wasn’t going to mind that much.

She pulled the sweatshirt on, inhaling citrus and smoke as she covered her head with the hood. She was practically swimming in the oversized garment, but something about it made her feel secure, safe. Aurora began to walk away from the tent and towards the cliff’s edge, but movement out of the corner of her eye made her stop in her tracks. She turned, spotting Banjo crouched down on the grass, taking a drag from his cigarette.

Seems she wasn’t the only one who evaded sleep.

The redhead didn’t hesitate to make her way over and sat down next to him, wrapping her arms around her bent knees. “Just one of those nights, huh.”

“Mmm. Another one.” He replied. He looked over at her and caught sight of the red of Lorcán’s hoodie and smiled to himself as he turned away and took another drag.

Good. Looks like those two cleaned up whatever was on his plate. He thought to himself. Curling and uncurling his hands to hopefully stop the shaking and jitters.

He turned back once he was satisfied he’d straightened himself out enough.

“I’d offer ya one, but you can’t out-jump the big ‘C’.” He showed her, before pocketing the pack.

Aurora shook her head, “You know I don’t smoke, Banjo,” She noticed the way he had moved his fingers a moment prior, seemingly trying to lessen the physical reaction of whatever had gone on inside his head whilst he slept. Although he tried to hide it, the motion didn’t get past the redhead; she knew how bad thoughts could manifest physically. “Calli still sleeping?”

“I know… but it’s that weird thing where it’s rude to not offer ya one, but at the same time I know you wouldn’t want one, and nor should ya. I’ve got a lot of things where it’s just going through the motions.” His hands gestured from side to side, as if directed by the path of social niceties.

“You know me… Always on the frontline battlin’ rudeness, fightin’ for social decorum.” He chuckled to himself at the absurdity of his own statement.

“And yeah. That she is. I take it Matchstick is too?” He took another puff.

The redhead couldn’t help but laugh softly at the nickname he had given Lorcán. “Like a rock.” She answered, holding her palm out facing upwards, feeling the droplets of rain hit her skin one after the other. “I’ve been up all night, never even fell asleep in the first place.” She glanced back at the blonde, a small smile gracing her lips. “And here I was all worried I’d wake him up.”

“Ahh… so not the dreams y’self this time?”

He thought for a moment. So something had wound her up then. Or maybe he was too quick to assume they’d ironed everything out.

“I noticed he took it pretty bad at the Assembly thing earlier today. But that all got straightened out earlier, didn’t it? So what’s on your mind, because you seemed pretty down earlier on over grub? Wasn’t going to say anything, because you looked like you didn’t want attention drawn to it at the time.” He asked, deconstructing what he’d seen throughout the day.

Aurora sighed, letting the sides of her mouth fall downwards, her grin turning into a more neutral expression. “You saw that, did you?” Just as she was observant, so was he. Out of all of her friendships, the one that she and Banjo had felt more familial than anything. They supported each other like siblings, leaned on each other as few others understood their common denominators. “We had an… interesting day.” To boil down the events of the day to one adjective was a vast understatement, but she couldn’t bring herself to elaborate at that moment. Instead she raised an eyebrow curiously.

“Can I ask you something?” She didn’t give him the chance to answer, plowing forward with her question before she lost the nerve, “Were you… scared to let Calli in? How did you know you were ready for that after everything?” There weren’t many others she could be candid with when it came to the subject.

“Ahhh.” He said in recognition, rocking back and drawing a second dart from the pack, before stubbing the first into a blackened palm.

“Doesn’t apply, I’m afraid. She was everythin’ I already wanted, I was just too afraid to ask. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to.” He reminisced back to this same plain five years earlier.

“But yeah… because I probably wouldn’t have. Between you and me, I thought there wasn’t much point and I’d never have a shot, til it just happened.” He lit up the second, before snapping the zippo shut, pocketing it.

“Everywhere I bounced around, all the foster places, boarding schools, and such. Well, boarding schools tend to be single sex, or at least segregated in some way, so I didn’t exactly have a whole lot of experience with the fairer sex before I got here, and I never really stayed put in any one place long in the few places which were co-ed. And I was new, weird and wild. Didn’t exactly draw a lot of attention in that way, not that I’m aware of.”

“So here, with Calli? That was pretty new. I’ve never really been afraid to be myself, but.” He said, taking a draw. “I mean… I can’t hide me forever, so what’s the point in tryin’? So no. I didn’t have much fear in lettin’ her in once it came to that. All of my fear was gone the second the door was open. If you catch my drift. And she did that for me.” He shrugged.

“I got incredibly lucky.” He said, adding another puff to accentuate.

The redhead watched as the smoke from Banjo’s cigarette curled, only slightly visible in the air as the raindrops fell. She nodded slowly as she made an effort to internalize everything he had just spoken. It wasn’t the answer she was anticipating, she hadn’t expected the boy to feel that way about it all. Kids like them didn’t plant roots, it was too challenging to see them be ripped up over and over again. But hearing the blonde’s sentiments seemed like a small sliver of hope, should she choose to go down that path. Still, the voice in the back of her head piped up, “And now? Are you afraid that you’ll lose her just like you did the others?”

Banjo stuck his tongue in his cheek considering the question. Thought about who was asking it and why.

“I think sometimes I’m helped by the fact I’ve got no memory of them at all. Abandonment issues and all.” He said.

“Harder to miss what I don’t remember ever havin’.”

“Doesn’t help with these fuckin’ nightmares though.” He said, poking at his own head with a few hard taps. “I’m damn near certain it’s from something back then, but the memories… that time’s swiss cheese.”

“It’s frustrating, I can get everythin’ bloody right in my life. Everything going perfect, and I mean PERFECT right now. And then this bullshit happens again. And I can’t do anything about it, because I don’t know what the Hell it’s about.” Anger had rushed back to the surface, and his hands trembled slightly with agitation.

“And they don’t even make any sense to anyone to be frightened about, when I try to explain ‘em! But I’m terrified in them. I think it’s because I was there, and knew what it meant– but now it’s all just… Space. Empty space and residual terror. Faaaarked.”

He stopped and realised he’d deviated too far from the question.

“Shit… sorry for the self pity party. Nah, short of bein’ worried she could do much better and ditching me, I’m not too scared of losin’ her. And with the way she’s been talkin’ lately, even that’s been seeming unlikely.” He smiled, at the thought of the woman in the tent.

“I put in the effort. She puts in the effort. That’s the magic to it. Simple trick. And always think of it as effort and not work. Work’s a begrudgin’ thing. Effort though… Effort’s just give-a-shit. Effort’s just energy, at least to me. And I can get that whenever I care enough.”

“I catch m'self lookin’ at, or listening to her sometimes and–”

He pulled the smoke from his mouth and turned and looked at it for a while. His mind a thousand miles away. Before he caught himself and took another drag, before continuing.

“Well, I just can't see ‘give-a-shit’ ever bein’ an issue.”

Aurora knew that was where their stories deviated. Where Banjo had no memories, she had plenty, too many, of her past. She was in agreement with him that it was easier when you couldn’t remember and didn't have to think about what you never knew. Clearly, it was an issue the redhead needed to tackle on her own. She empathized with his nightmares, however. She knew how debilitating they could be, how helpless they could make you feel, especially when everything else felt in your control.

“Don’t apologize,” She placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “I get it, truly. Just because someone else might not find it terrifying doesn’t invalidate your fear. It’s not the situation itself, but how the situation makes you feel. Anything is scary if you believe it to be.” Aurora explained, “Doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense in the traditional way.”

A small smile returned to her face as he talked about Calli. He was so in love, and it was obvious. The redhead was happy for him, for them, and glad that they had found each other. But the same envy from earlier crept up, now accompanied by the weight of what had happened in the tent with Lorcán. She could be as happy as them, if she tried. But the questions she had asked didn’t seem to have clear answers. Turning the subject back to him instead of continuing on with her inquiries, she nudged him playfully with her arm. “Sounds like you’ll be buying a ring soon, Banj.”

He smiled to himself, internalising the question. His mind raced through a half dozen ‘Get Rich Quick’ schemes he could run to pull some cash for a ring together. The smile turned to a smirk, and he took another drag before answering.

“Quite possibly.”

The line of questions. She’d been beating around the bush looking for advice to hopefully be of some help with Lorcán, of which he’d been able to provide all too little. Maybe summary statements?

“I don’t really remember my parents at all, but everything else since then is still solid. A lot of pain, sure. But while I didn’t feel hurt by being dragged around, yanked away from every place I’d been very soon after we’d just got there. It’s mostly because I just got numb to it. For the most part, I didn’t get too close to the other kids, figuring I wouldn’t be around long. Found my own ways to entertain myself along the way.”

“Bein’ numb isn’t a good or permanent solution, ‘Raw. And even if it were, I suspect it’s too late for that anyway, in this case. Let me ask you something. Hypothetical: Say the Foundation up and decided to segregate the entire school by sex tomorrow. Picked all us blokes up and whisked us away, made us form new class teams, and oh… you’re in Myotis and he’s Canis. The New team lunchtimes are set at different times, and they brought in a strict curfew at close of school every day.”

“How would you feel?” He’d smoked the second durry down to the filter, and so stubbed it out once again in a black palm.

“Because unless I’m very much mistaken… that’s your answer right there.” He reached into his pocket and shook the remnants of his carton. Only three to go. He thought better of saving them and pocketed the pack.

Aurora’s face fell as Banjo presented the scenario, the “what ifs” of it all popping in her head. But, her eyebrows raised back up in a panic as he mentioned teams, not having indicated otherwise that the questions had any relation to a specific person. It seemed like everyone around her today was picking up clues that she was not intentionally putting down - first Harper, now Banjo. Not to mention, the words that Lorcán spoke continued to bounce around her mind, which wasn’t helping her train of thought.

How would she feel? Like a piece of her was missing.

The redhead exhaled audibly, shaking her head. So much doubt clouded her judgment, even though the answer seemed simple and straightforward. “Hypothetically,” She looked back towards her tent, where Lorcán lay sleeping, the only indication she was willing to provide without uttering the words out loud, “It would be… difficult.” The rain began to fall slightly heavier, more noticeable in the evening air. “I don’t want to be alone again, Banjo.”

“So, if you’re scared of bein’ hurt… and you’re already at a stage where it’d hurt…” The rain had picked up, matted his hair some, and was running down his shoulders and back.

“Seems to me, you’re already takin’ the risk without reapin’ all of the rewards.” He rocked back and forth with his arms around his knees.

“Like I said, there’s your answer.”

“But that’s just the lawyer in me. ‘Never make a point you’re not willin’ to belabour.’” He offered a warmer grin, getting to his feet.

“Now hold back, I’ve got to get this crap out me lungs.”

His breath quickened and halted, and his body turned blacker than the night’s sky around them. A much smaller corona surrounded him, due to the lack of available light, and his flesh re-knitted. His lungs and system cleaned itself out, and his synapses flared and sparked out all of the effects of the nicotine. He held a few seconds before reverting back to his usual appearance.

Rain droplets had supercooled from the effort and turned to frost on his shoulders. He smiled, as his thoughts once again returned to the woman in his tent.

Aurora sat with Banjo’s words, letting them reverberate while he used his abilities to effectively undo the damage of the cigarettes he had smoked. He had a point, she had already taken the risk by forming the connection in the first place, which only added to her conundrum. But how was she supposed to know that their innocent friendship would turn into something more? It was too late now to save herself apparently. She was going to get hurt either way.

The rain continued, thunder looming in the distance. The redhead looked to Banjo, inclining her head towards his tent. “You should try and go back to sleep. There may not be hope for me getting some rest, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.”

“I reckon I might.” He said, looking back at the tent. If nothing else, it had been good to puzzle himself over someone else’s business, rather than dwelling on what was between his own ears. He’d originally planned to come out and analyze what he’d heard from Alyssa on the Foundation, but this had worked too. Probably saved him some smokes too.

“You should probably head on in as well. Seems this is pickin’ up, but I’m betting it’s a damn sight warmer in your tent, than here. Yours comes with a space heater.” He stuck his tongue out.

“I’d feel bloody terrible if you wound up comin’ down with pneumonia or somethin’ as well, on my account.” He reached a hand out to help her to her feet. “So head in and see ya tomoz?”

The corners of Aurora’s lips curved upwards ever so slightly. “That's why I keep him around.” She joked as she stood, sticking her hands in her front pocket and looking up at the sky, “Hopefully this storm clears through before the morning.” The girl took a few steps towards her tent before hesitating and turning back to the blonde. “Hey, Banjo?” She called back to him, “Thank you.”

Banjo unzipped his tent, and hearing ‘Raw's thanks, raised his brow. He hadn't anticipated there being any more to say. Deciding he'd rather not risk waking Calliope so close to his own tent he settled for a simple thumbs up, before stepping back inside out of the elements.

Aurora watched as the boy disappeared, walking a few strides in the direction she was supposed to be headed. But before she pulled the zipper of her tent, she stopped, taking a moment to simply breathe in the fresh air as the rain continued to fall around her. Just like the beach, there was something about the sound of water that soothed her mind. Letting her intrusive thoughts win, she tipped her chin upwards, the hood of Lorcán’s sweatshirt falling to her back as the droplets began to dampen her copper locks, curling the ends. With another deep inhale, she removed her hands from the hoodie and ran her fingers through her scalp. It was calming, refreshing, freeing.

With a slightly clearer head on her shoulders, she re-entered the tent, immediately greeted by the heat that seemed to radiate off of the boy as he slept. She peeled off his hoodie, draping it off the end of her cot to dry over the next few hours, and returned to tossing and turning once more.

TIMESTAMP: Flashback, before homeroom, 7:00AM
INTRODUCING: Ivy and Isla Leung
@Melissa and @Bee


___________________________________________________________________________________

The Leung household was quiet and still as Ivy stood in front of the stovetop, cooking herself breakfast. Her mom was working an overnight shift and her dad was already at the office, which left her and Isla to their own devices that morning, well, like most mornings. It wasn’t often that all four members of the Leung family were at home all at once; either Ivy was at cheer practice, or her mom had a big surgery, or her dad was out of town at some conference. Isla was always home though, locked in her room (much to her sister’s chagrin), but still, schedules seemed to rotate and never align.

The dark haired girl removed her eggs from the skillet and slid them onto her plate, turning off the burner, simply unbothered by the fact she was running behind. It was Friday after all, nothing could get her down or ruin her mood! Well, maybe her sister, but that was a normal occurrence. She ate quickly, answering a few texts as she went, before rinsing her dish and putting it in the dishwasher. If there was anything her father hated, it was a sink full of dirty plates and cups.

“Isla! Let’s go!” She called her twin, awaiting a response that never came. The girl waited a few moments, hoping for a reply, but when only silence answered, Ivy rolled her eyes. Her sister was in her own little world, as always.

She marched up the stairs, clearly unhappy with the extra effort it required, and pounded on her twin’s bedroom door. “HELLO! Earth to Isla!” Ivy tapped her foot impatiently, checking the time on her phone, and banging on the door once more, “If you’re not out here in 30 seconds, nerd, I am leaving without you.”

Hearing the pounding of a rather irate Ivy on her door, Isla plucked her airpods out of her ear and sighed. She knew that Ivy was up and around eating her breakfast -- that wasn’t something that Isla really partook in. Heavier breakfasts that Ivy had a tendency to eat simply made her feel more lethargic than anything.

She’d rather use the time that would be spent preparing breakfast to stay in her room and be in her little bubble. It didn’t take very long for her to get ready, so she would chill on her bed, tapping around on the drier-than-the-sahara piece of technology known as her phone.

Opening the door, Isla poked her head out, “Calm down, Ivy…” Isla murmured, as she left her room, “You don’t have to be so pressed.”

It was hard to believe that Ivy was the younger of the two sisters, only because she called the shots and Isla always listened. “I’m not pressed. Can’t you just, I don’t know, turn down your music? Or only put one airpod in? Like, how do you even expect to hold a conversation if you're just tuned out…” Ivy inquired, pivoting and making her way back down the stairs. She pulled her backpack over her right shoulder and picked up her cheer bag with her left hand before grabbing her car keys from the hook next to the door. Not bothering to turn around to face Isla, she continued to talk, “Not that you care, but the homecoming game is tonight. I can drop you off after my last class or you can find a different way home, I’m assuming you’re not coming?”

“You sound pressed.” Isla sneered, following behind her (slightly) younger sister, “See, that beats the point of having Airpods. The point of them is so that I can’t hear anyone.” Isla valued her bubble very much, and the most you’d get from her with her Airpods in is a blank stare.

As Ivy grabbed her stuff in front of her, Isla only continued to walk behind her, before being reminded about the football game tonight. “I’ll figure out a way home. I’ll call an Uber if I have to.” Isla then had a little brainwave, “Orr… you could just let me take the car and drive and you can hitch a ride with one of your cheerleader friends.”

“And why would I do that?” Ivy scoffed, looking over her shoulder as she unlocked the front door, the house alarm chiming once to indicate their departure. “No way in hell, I want to get back quickly after the game so I can have enough time to change for the after party.” She walked outside, strutting towards the car and opening the driver's side. The girl slid effortlessly into the seat, throwing her belongings into the back and checking her reflection in the rear view mirror.

“You could always come to the game, y’know. Support me or something? Doesn’t your little bubble travel? Glinda travels by bubble, so could you.”

“Ugh. Fine.” Isla slid into the passenger seat and also chucked her bag in the back, sliding down her seat in defeat. She wanted the car so she wouldn’t be stuck on campus, but alas. Her own car was in the shop because certain pieces kept falling off.

“I don’t really want to go to the game, maybe I’ll walk off somewhere else and call an Uber.”

“Your loss.” Ivy barely waited for Isla to get situated before starting the ignition and reversing out of the driveway. It frustrated her to no end that her sister was well, a hermit. At one point in time she made the effort to invite her everywhere, encouraging her to break out of her shell, but it was always met with a lousy excuse or a flat out no. So, she simply stopped asking. It wasn’t worth her breath these days.

To say the dark haired girl was a subpar driver was an understatement. She consistently drove over the speed limit, rolled through stop signs, and turned right on red even when she wasn’t supposed to. But, she’d never gotten them into an accident… at least up until this point. She navigated the car through the busy Beverly Hills streets towards the High School, turning up the volume on her mainstream pop playlist. Ivy sang along to the song absentmindedly, her sister decidedly not a chatty companion. Like a feather, like a feather, like a featherrrrr,She glanced over to the passenger’s seat at Isla, goofily trying to get her attention as they drove. “Come on, lighten up. It’s Friday! And no one can be annoyed on a Friday.”

Accompanying the rollercoaster that was Ivy’s driving, she was basically gripping for dear life as she drove like the average Tesla driver. Thank goodness these Teslas had features in them, otherwise her and Ivy would’ve been wrapped around a telephone pole about now. Isla had a bit of a scowl on her face, peeved that she had to take an Uber and sit in a stranger’s car for god knows how long to get home. She just wanted to get home!

“It’s certainly one of the days today.” Isla muttered, “Why is it so special when the football players come home? Aren’t they always home?”

“Ha ha ha, very funny.” Ivy mocked, before continuing. “It’s an important game, Isles. We’re playing our rivals, and if we win, we get to hold that over their heads for the rest of the season! Not to mention we’re so close to the playoffs and state championships.” The dark haired girl looked over to her sister in the passenger seat. “I would try and put it into music terms for you to understand, but I don’t speak nerd.”

The cheerleader accelerated down the road, turning right onto the side streets that led to the High School. Senior year was upon them and it was important for her to have as much fun as possible. As soon as the fall hit, she’d be a college student, where more revelry would await her. It was an exciting time, in her eyes. For her sister? Not so much. “Are you at least coming to the dance tomorrow night?”

Isla rolled her eyes, “Such a big deal… for a game that won’t matter in two years.” The musician scoffed, staring out the window as Ivy somehow maneuvered the streets of Beverly Hills.

“I don’t know. I don’t have anyone to go with. They’re never fun alone.”Isla pouted. Despite her apathy toward school, Isla was well aware of how much having someone to go to a dance with would enhance the experience.

“What’s the point of going alone?”

Ivy sighed, “Who cares,” She rolled to a stop at a red light before turning to look at her twin. “I don’t have a date, and I’m still going. Plenty of people are going alone! You’ll find others there to hang out with.” The light turned green and she hit the gas pedal, cutting off a car who angrily honked at her as she haphazardly changed lanes to make the left turn. Even though it irked her, and she had “given up”, she still took opportunities to help her sister out. “If you go tomorrow, I’ll let you take the car after school. On the one condition that you ACTUALLY try to talk to people.” Ivy gave her sister an earnest expression, “You’re going to need to be extroverted enough to land a record deal, might as well start on people who don’t matter to you.”

Isla scowled as Ivy presented a deal that was extremely difficult to turn down. The musician was practically backed into a corner that she couldn’t get out of. Yeah, she hated the idea of going to the dance, but she did really want the car.

“I hate that you get all the leverage here.” Isla pouted, “Fine. I’ll go, but you better give me the car.”

The dark haired girl smirked as they pulled into the BHHS parking lot, finding their usual spot in the corner closest to the football field. It was a small win, but a win nonetheless. She turned off the ignition and hopped out of the car, grabbing her bags from the backseat. She tossed her sister the keys, nearly smacking her in the face. “All yours, nerd.” Ivy pulled a lip gloss out of her backpack and applied it as she stared at her reflection in the driver’s side window. “If I can’t get a ride after the game I’m calling you to pick me up. It’s only fair.”

Catching the keys, Isla narrowly avoiding poking her eye out as she finally got the car she’d been wanting for the whole drive.

“Ugh. Fine.” Isla rolled her eyes, sliding her backpack onto her back. “Don’t make me pick you up at 3 AM again.”

“I’ll call you at whatever time I want, after all, I’m being kind enough to let you use my car.” Ivy guilted before blowing her sister a kiss. “Have a great day sweetie. Make some friends! Or don’t!” She chimed in a sickeningly sweet voice, before turning on her heel and walking towards the school, swinging her hips from side to side confidently.

Isla, once again, rolled her eyes so far back into her head she could practically see her brain. Guess she had to pick her sister up at some ungodly hour now.

Not that she had any choice.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Location: Southern Plateau - Dundas Island, Pacific Ocean
Welcome Home #1.100: After Hours
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Interaction(s): Lorcán @Lord Wraith
Previously: Supermassive Black Hole

Aurora quickly masked any remaining woe in her face as Lorcán sat down next to her, trying to take Harper’s words to heart.

Lorcán is his own person, and we have to trust his judgment, even if we may not always agree with his choices.

The redhead shook her head as the boy extended the marshmallow towards her. In normal circumstances, she would have eagerly accepted, as Lorcán had a talent for crafting the perfect s’more. So much so, she refused to attempt them herself and opted for him to make them on her behalf, which he always obliged. But her appetite had still not returned, and she really wasn’t in the mood.

“Sad? I’m not sad.” Denial at its finest. “Thanks, but I’m not that hungry.” Aurora stated, before looking around at their teammates, noticing some were turning in and heading to their tents. “Honestly, I might call it a night. It’s been a long day, and tomorrow is going to be even longer.” The thought of going to sleep sent a shiver down her spine, not knowing what her dreams, or lack thereof, would hold. But tonight she was mostly concerned with someone else being mere feet from her, thus subjected to her terrors. It was a disclaimer she knew she didn’t need to provide Lorcán with but she paused, trying to decide how to word her next request.

“You can wake me up, if I’m having a nightmare… I’d prefer that, actually. Who knows if I’ll have one tonight, but I just wanted to put it out there. I’m sorry if I do.”

Wrapping a hand around the marshmallow, Lorcán subtly reduced it to nothing but ash before standing.

“No problem, Lady Dude, I’ll always watch out for you.” He exaggerated a yawn with a stretch.

“Yeah, bed sounds good.” He added, letting Aurora know she wasn’t getting away from him that quickly.

The redhead rose to her feet cautiously. Each step she took toward the tent, their tent, was hesitant. As they walked side by side her heartbeat fluttered, an unfamiliar bout of nerves setting in. It was no big deal, she tried to remind herself, but especially after her conversation with Harper this afternoon, she wasn’t so sure she could continue telling herself that.

Opening the tent for Aurora, Lorcán waited until she was inside before entering himself, pausing, before he turned and addressed her.

“Uh, hey Lady Dude, if you need to change or whatever, I can like go back outside,” He offered, before gesturing to the seam down the middle of the tent.

“Or there’s the privacy screen if you’re totally comfortable with that.”

She hadn’t really gotten the chance yet to examine the pair’s living space for the night. Sure, Aurora slept in a tent like this every year for the last seven years, but for some reason, this year it felt smaller than usual. She’d never noticed how close the two cots seemed to be… or maybe it was just her imagination.

Eyes darting to the middle of the tent before turning to Lorcán, Aurora shrugged. “The privacy screen works just fine for me.” She stated, moving to reveal the barrier between the two sides of the space and locking it into place. If it had been daytime, the screen would have been completely opaque, but with the lights illuminated, the girl’s shadow was visible as she moved about, but nothing more.

She dug around in her tote for her pajamas, an old oversized Myotis tee shirt and a pair of shorts, and began to get changed. Silence hung, only the sound of her movements audible, and in that moment the tent felt somehow even more cramped.

Lorcán’s molten-coloured eyes were drawn to the shadowy silhouette on the other side of the screen. His heart thumped against his ribcage, escalating in speed as Aurora removed her uniform. The light outlined her supple form, each subtle curve revealed ironically through shadow.

Removing his shirt, Lorcán looked down towards his chest. Beside him, the two silhouettes on the privacy screen became intertwined. Faces nearing each other, lips hovered within millimetres while hands moved to hips. His shorts hit the floor first, a dull, muffled thud seemingly thundered through the tent as they did.

He felt warm.

His body reacted to the sight of Aurora’s silhouette sensually illuminated in the soft, flickering light. He felt himself flush, the sudden rush causing his abilities to raise the tent’s ambient temperature. His HZEs sought Aurora’s own before merging with them, synchronizing their beating hearts.

Heavy breathing hung in the stillness of the dimly lit tent while beads of sweat began to dot his forehead, humidity sticky to his glistening skin. Lorcán suddenly felt like he could feel Aurora’s silhouette, her soft skin beneath his fingers, her heartbeat racing under his touch. The exhilarating aroma of rose and peony overwhelmed Lorcán, intoxicating him with her scent. He leaned forward in the empty air, his lips felt as though they brushed up against hers. His hand caressed against her ethereal jawline, his fingers tracing along her cheek, tucking behind her ear before cradling the back of her head.

And then Lorcán tripped.

Tumbling downwards, he scrambled to catch himself, grabbing ahold of the privacy screen that gave way with a loud rip before revealing Aurora and entangling the solely boxer-clad Lorcán beneath it. His uniform shorts were still around his ankle, the culprit behind his fall.

“Ow.”

Aurora stepped out of her uniform athletic shorts, slipping on the softer cotton sleep shorts, and pulled her shirt up and over her head removing it. She opted to keep on her sports bra in case she got too warm in the middle of the night, which seemed inevitable given the human furnace on the other side of the tent. Grasping her oversized tee in her hand, preparing to put it on, she paused. The part of her that feared the night wished she was sleeping in the familiarity of her own dorm, and she let her thoughts drift, her HZE’s seemingly pulling her to move and readying for the jump.

And then suddenly, he was there.

She didn’t know how and she didn’t know why, but Lorcán’s calloused fingertips grazed her skin, at least, it felt like it. The redhead grew warm, not only from the rising temperature of the tent but from the thought of his touch, her pulse quickening as citrus consumed her senses. Her eyes fluttered shut as she basked in the feeling, he was everywhere, he was everything.

The sound of the fabric screen ripping snapped her out of it, and Aurora jumped, startled. She tried to catch her breath as well as steady her pounding heartbeat. The girl looked down at Lorcán on the ground, brought back to reality, and nimbly threw her tee shirt over her sports bra. “Oh god, uh,” She started, swallowing as her throat suddenly grew very dry, “I, uh- are you okay?” The redhead asked, a million thoughts racing through her brain.

“I’m just choka,” Came the groaned reply. “My face broke my fall.”

Truth be told, in his current predicament, his face did not take the brunt of the fall, but somewhere lower. With a small moan, Lorcán rolled over to face Aurora, sitting there for a second in all his mostly naked glory, before his eyes darted downwards to the stretched red boxers. He felt flush again, his eyes widening before quickly pulling the damaged privacy screen over his lap and looking back at Aurora.

“So, like a few seconds ago, before I fell,” He started, “Did you, uh feel anything?”

The girl would have normally laughed at Lorcán’s clumsiness, maybe even given him a hard time about it, but as she stood there in the wake of his fall, she couldn’t find the proper words. She was trying to figure out how it was possible that had just happened… that, and wondered if she had even wanted that moment to end. As they made eye contact, she saw something else in his gaze; it was always fiery, but this felt different. Her focus faltered as he looked away, letting her baby blues rove over his toned chest and arms. Catching herself before they dipped elsewhere, Aurora averted her eyes and turned, attempting to regain her composure.

But Lorcán’s next question had her feeling warm all over again. Thankfully, he couldn’t see how red her face had become. So it wasn’t just her.

Without turning around, she cleared her throat. “I…I felt…yeah, I did.”

“Me too,” replied Lorcán, “It’s the first time I wanted it to happen, but I’ve experienced this before.” He continued,

“It’s like, uh, how do I explain it,” He paused. “It’s like in ability training when we boost or block each other’s powers, but instead it's a mingling. But it’s like not just our powers mingling, it’s all of us.”

“It happened before with Amma. When she tried to break down the logs in one of my fires.” Lorcán admitted almost sheepishly. He rubbed the back of his head apologetically. “I didn't even know it was possible before last night. I should have told you sooner.”

As the boy spoke, Aurora couldn’t help but notice the sinking feeling in her stomach that only seemed to intensify with each word that flowed from his lips. It was almost nonchalant the way he glossed over the details of something that felt so intimate and then dropped her name like an absolute bomb. Truth be told, the redhead had never thought about what would happen when he met someone, what that would mean for them and how it’d make her feel, but she’d never expected it to be like this.

She moved to sit down on her cot and glanced at Lorcán, the flush on her cheeks having dissipated, his admission like a bucket of cold water over her head. “Oh,” The girl started, eyes darting down to her hands in her lap as she hid the disappointment in her voice, “I didn’t know that could happen either.” Aurora reached her right hand up absentmindedly to fidget with her necklace, pulling it along the chain. “And you two… figured that out?”

“No!” He immediately protested, “No, no it wasn’t like that, not in the slightest,” Lorcán replied, “The first time I had no idea what was happening, then when we were assigned together I realized she’d never really been allowed to have fun with her powers, y’know?” He stated, embarrassment behind every word. Lorcán could see the hurt on Aurora’s face. It left him feeling sick, a ball of anxiety swirling in his stomach threatening to pull him inside out.

“Remember when we used to play tag, but I could never win because you’d always teleport away at the last minute? I wanted to make sure she had some sort of good memory to hold onto and not just whatever gnarly experience the Foundation put her through.” His brain was working in overdrive to explain, but he just couldn’t shake the guilty feeling.

“Ugh, ‘Rora I am so sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about last night earlier. I am sorry I didn’t warn you that this could happen. But I didn’t figure it out with her, at least not fully, I had an idea of what was happening, but what happened with you, here, just now…” His voice trailed off.

“When my powers merged with Amma’s, it was like a really hot shower. It felt good, but it was just a good sensation, ultimately empty.” He fumbled his words a bit as he tried to explain.

“But just now, with you. It was intimate like I was feeling all of you, everything about you. It was like our entire essences joined. I’ve always felt close to you, but, in that moment, I felt one with you.” He took a breath.

“It felt like I was whole.” Lorcan let the words hang for a second before moving his hand. He hesitated before placing it on Aurora’s.

“Look, you mean the world to me and I never wanted to hurt you. With Amma, I was just trying to be friendly, I didn’t mean or want to get caught up in this ‘power mingling’. But tonight with you, it felt…” His voice trailed off, nerves catching up with the oddly bold comments he had been making. Though in all fairness, Lorcán was sitting there undressed with very little left to the imagination. If Aurora was going to push him away, he might as well show his hand.

“Right.” He squeezed her hand.

“I just need you to know Amma is just a friend,” Lorcán continued, before adding a small scoff. “Cutback, ‘friend’ might even be too generous.” He squeezed Aurora’s hand again.

“But you’re my number one, my ride or die and nothing,” He took hold of her other hand, looking her sincerely in the eyes, their faces hovering very closely together. “I mean nothing is ever changing that.”
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Location: Southern Plateau - Pacific Royal Campus
Welcome Home #1.091: The Lonely Hearts Club
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Interaction(s): Harper @Qia
Previously: Flock Together

The afternoon faded into evening and Aurora just wanted the day to be over already. It had been a rollercoaster, with highs and lows that would have been tough for anyone to predict, but she was looking forward to spending time with her teammates and their Firebird peers, which would hopefully clear her mind of everything going on. After splitting off from Haven, she had served herself a small portion of food from the makeshift buffet, but admittedly, her appetite was shot. She at least made sure to grab a Hyper-Aid to replenish the HZE’s she’d used to teleport supplies back and forth all day, but otherwise, she picked at her plate, pushing what was there around. Normally, she would have been starving after such bouts of her abilities, but for one reason or another, she wasn’t interested in tonight’s meal. Deciding not to bother, she put her plate down, opting to sip on her beverage instead. She could always teleport back to her dorm if she got hungry later, but she didn’t foresee that happening.

As she looked around, her eyes fell on her teammates chatting. She caught bits and pieces of each conversation, but from the seat she had chosen, she wasn’t positioned to participate, so she popped in her earbuds, letting the music she played wash over her senses. With a new soundtrack, she simply observed. Haven and Harper were engrossed in a discussion about something that seemed important, animated reactions coming from both of them. Calli and Banjo sat next to each other, hand in hand, and the redhead couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy. They had been an unexpected pairing, but still, they were so solid.

The redhead looked to the intentionally empty seat next to her, which was meant for Lorcán. Yes, Aurora had saved him a seat, like she always had. Sure, they didn’t sit together at every gathering, but most of the time it ended up that way whether it was planned or not. Tonight, she guessed, was one of the few times he preferred to sit elsewhere, as she had seen him carry his plate over to where his cousin Cassander and Gil were located and joined them instead. She didn’t mind, of course, but it stung a little after this afternoon’s, well, situation.

She watched as Lorcán got up and approached their group, and Aurora moved to wave, but he didn’t even acknowledge her, didn’t even look at her. He made a beeline over to Haven and the two struck up a conversation. It was odd, to say the least, that he didn’t say hello or hadn’t come over to talk to her. It made the girl feel uneasy, on edge.

Harper’s discerning eyes meticulously scanned the scene from her position across the campfire while Haven and Lorcán conversed. Her innate talent for reading subtle shifts in body language alerted her to the silent strain evident in Aurora’s stance. The usual brilliance of Aurora’s crimson tresses even seemed somewhat subdued under the flames provided by the campfire, mirroring the hidden disquiet that she grappled with, unseen by others.

Except for her, of course.

With Lorcán’s departure, Haven had turned to Harper with a grin, excitement dancing in her eyes. “It's our lucky day, Harps.”

Harper’s gaze, momentarily ensnared by Haven’s infectious enthusiasm, soon drifted back to Aurora. The vivid recollections of the day’s earlier events clashed with the current reality before her. The Aurora that had radiated some sense of vitality during the morning’s ceremony now seemed like a shadow of her former self, isolated and pensive. The disparity was striking, and Harper felt a compelling urge to bridge the gap between the Aurora of the past and the solitary figure that now sat before her. It was a call to action she simply could not ignore.

“Hey, Little Dove?” Harper’s voice was soft, a tender note in her address to her feathered companion. She placed her barely touched plate of food beside her, her hunger no longer felt as much. “I need a moment, alright? I promise I’ll be back shortly,” the brunette assured, her words gentle but laced with concern. With that she stood, her movements deliberate, as she navigated the space between her and Aurora.

“Hey…” Harper said once close by, taking the empty seat beside her friend. A gentle elbow nudge accompanied her greeting. “You’ve been missed.” The admission flowed with an ease that Harper’s former, more guarded self would have envied.

But, with Aurora, words like this found their way naturally.

The redhead offered Harper a small smile as she approached, popping out her earbuds and pausing the music she had been listening to. “Hey,” The girl greeted warmly, turning to face her friend who now sat next to her. She sighed, letting her hands fall into her lap and beginning to fidget with her fingernails. “Sweet of you to say, but I’m good. Trust me.” Aurora lied, letting her eyes glance down to the ground briefly before looking back up at her dark-haired friend. “It’s been quite a day, just enjoying a bit of quiet, I guess.”

She looked around at their friends strewn across the campsite as well as the members of Firebird as everyone ate their dinner and chatted. “Nice that we’re all together tonight. How’d things go with Mei and Calli this afternoon?”

Harper’s intuition tingled as she observed her friend’s subdued presence. Aurora’s smile was a mere shadow of its usual radiance, and her hands, usually so steady, now betrayed her with their nervous dance. Aurora deflected, her voice threading through topics of inconsequence—anything but the weight that Harper knew pressed on her shoulders. Harper’s heart swelled with compassion all the while, recognizing the silent plea for reprieve in her blue eyes.

“Mei and Calli? Oh, they were great,” Harper shared, indulging her friend’s query. “Their ideas were perfect. Honestly, I felt like I didn’t really contribute much other than putting them together.” The joy in her voice was infectious, a brief respite from the undercurrent of concern.

Yet, as Harper’s gaze lingered on Aurora, her smile waned. “Rora,” she ventured softly, “are you sure you're alright? I know today has been a lot, and you seem..." Harper trailed off, searching for the right words, "...a bit out of it. Here, but not really here. Is it because of what happened this morning? With our degrees and stuff?"

Aurora knew better than to think she could get anything past Harper, as much as she attempted in that moment to remain inconspicuous. With an ability like hers, it was impossible for her not to notice the minute details. Try as she might, the redhead wouldn’t get off easy here. She let her smile fade, biting her inner lip. “Not exactly…” She started, her eyes scanning the campsite. It was at that exact moment a certain dark-haired girl sauntered over to Lorcán with an unmistakable air of confidence, stood close to him, too close, and said something she couldn’t decipher. The way Amma smirked was almost feline. A predator who had just found their prey. Aurora was suddenly nauseous.

“Haven and I were doing supply runs and we thought it’d be nice to bring everyone some water, especially given that it’s so hot out today.” She took a sip of her drink, trying to fight back the bile that rose in the back of her throat, “And when we got to the construction site, only Rory was there. Apparently, Lorcán and Amma ditched and went off into the woods, together. Everyone was whispering about it, but Haven wouldn’t tell me what they were saying. They kept staring at me though, it was almost like they felt bad for me.”

“Something just felt so… wrong about it. He’s my best friend, and I’ve never known him to be selfish like that. To just leave his friends high and dry. You know how I feel about Amma- she is not a good influence and she worries me, especially when it comes to Lorcán. I just don’t want to see anything bad happen to him.” The redhead explained, looking at Harper with a twinge of anxiety in her eyes. “And now to make matters worse, he’s ignoring me and I don’t know why.” Aurora exhaled deeply, realizing she was rambling. “Sorry, that was probably more than you bargained for.”

Harper listened intently as Aurora recounted the events of the day, her words filled with worry and confusion. Despite Aurora's attempt to remain composed, Harper couldn't help but notice the subtle clues that hinted at something deeper. She could sense Aurora's concern for Lorcán and her uneasiness about Amma's influence on him. Harper couldn't blame her either; she had felt a similar nervousness during their time at the beach.

The idea that Lorcán might have reciprocated Amma's advances was difficult for Harper to comprehend as well, especially given the feelings for Lorcán that Harper suspected Aurora harboured. Yet, she did her best not to let her worries show on her face.

"It's understandable that you're worried," Harper began instead, her tone gentle and empathetic. "It does sound out of character for Lorcán to abandon his responsibilities like that." She paused, considering whether she should voice her own misgivings. "You know, I've also sensed something off about Amma. There's an intensity, a possessiveness in the way she interacts with some of us that leaves me uneasy."

Placing a reassuring hand on Aurora's shoulder, Harper continued. "I think it's important that we keep an eye on the situation, for Lorcán's sake. He might not be aware of the effect Amma has on him, and as his friends, we should be there to support him if things take a turn for the worse."

Pausing for a moment to let her words sink in, and recalling Calliope’s advice to Mei from earlier, Harper added, "But let's also remember that Lorcán is his own person, and we have to trust his judgment, even if we may not always agree with his choices. We should be there for him without overstepping his boundaries." She sincerely hoped her words hadn't been too harsh; the last thing she wanted was to hurt Aurora.

The redhead nodded, taking in the words of wisdom Harper imparted. Her friend had a soothing quality to her, and just having her ear put Aurora at ease. The dark-haired girl wasn’t wrong; Lorcán could do what he wanted when he wanted, and as much as it killed the girl to see him make interesting decisions, she had to let him do so. But that didn’t change the unmistakable sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as a result of his choices. Why was she having such a hard time with this?

She broke eye contact briefly, letting her gaze drift to where he was standing across the way. “You know, Lorcán and I actually met on my very first day at PRCU,” Aurora recounted, her eyes glazing over ever so slightly as she let herself remember. “After I got off the ferry, they brought me to the Administration building and told me to wait outside while they handled some paperwork. I was standing next to the rose bushes, and this boy ran past.” She smiled at the memory, “He was clearly in a rush to get somewhere, but when he saw me, he stopped… and he waved. He didn’t even know me and yet he smiled at me like I was an old friend. Other than the HELP workers who had gotten me out of my last placement, it was the first genuine kindness I had received in a long time.”

Aurora played it off as if it was nothing. “I don’t even know if Lorcán remembers that, but I do.” The redhead looked back at Harper, brushing a strand of copper hair behind her ear. “He’s always been so good to me, and I think I’ve always just tried to do the same for him. Friends look out for each other,” She explained, “He’s never given me a reason not to trust him. I just don’t trust her.”

Harper was completely engrossed as Aurora recounted her first meeting with Lorcán. The story struck a chord with her, and she could deeply appreciate the impact of that moment on Aurora's life. Despite its simplicity, Lorcán's thoughtful gesture had clearly left a profound impression on her friend.

"I see now why you're so protective of him," Harper remarked in response to Aurora's revelation. "In the time that I've known him, he’s always come across as genuine and open-hearted. He seems like the type of person who truly values such meaningful encounters, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he also remembers that moment," Harper paused thoughtfully before continuing, "I think... we should trust his judgment and ability to look out for himself to a point. You can express your concerns, but…give him a chance to explain. Okay?"

Harper offered a comforting smile. "I think it would mean a great deal to him to know that you stand by him here, just as he stands by you and everyone else in the group."

Aurora let her friends' words ring in her ears before shaking her head. “I don’t even think I need to express my concerns to him, he knows how I feel.” She sighed, “Lorcán has such a pure heart, so pure that I’m afraid someone will take advantage of it. He’s not guarded or jaded, and he has such an optimistic outlook on everything.” The redhead found another set of blue eyes across the campsite, “Amma is the opposite, and in the last year I’ve known her she hasn’t done anything to prove me otherwise.” She recoiled as she thought about the two of them sneaking off together to do god knows what, “I will always stand by him, and of course I will give him the chance to explain, but I have such a bad feeling about this and I can’t shake it.”

Harper’s gaze followed Aurora’s to the blue eyes that, to this very moment, she could recall looking into, resisting the urge to shudder. Perhaps, Aurora had every right to be concerned about their enigmatic teammate. Still….

The brunette’s apprehension, at this point, was palpable as she nibbled on her lip. Tucking a rebellious strand of hair behind her ear, she ventured with a hesitant resolve, “Rora... have you ever considered that this protectiveness of yours and your judgment of our teammate, who neither of us really know, stems, in part, from the depth of your... affection for Lorcán?” It was the closest thing she could say without sharing what she believed to be the hidden truth she perceived about the situation.

The redhead blinked once. Twice. Three times. She felt a blush creep up on her cheeks as she blankly stared at Harper.

Now, the thing was, Aurora did indeed feel a certain level of affection towards Lorcán. It was no secret how close the two were and how highly the girl thought of him. Their friendship had been one of her favorite parts of her time at PRCU, in fact, it was quite possibly the most important thing to her. Over the years, their bond had evolved from something innocent and surface level into a connection that was much, much deeper.

But, as strongly as she felt about him, the redhead never let herself go so far down the rabbit hole in determining what that truly meant for her, for the two of them. And even if she had, in her eyes, she was too afraid to explore it. To risk it.

Aurora swallowed, trying to will away the flush that now shaded the freckles on her skin in scarlet hues. “Of course I care about him… the same way I care about you, and Haven, and my other closest friends.” She chose her next words extremely carefully. “I couldn’t bear to see anything bad happen to any of you. I can’t take losing anyone else I care about.”

Harper’s gaze remained fixed on Aurora, the weight of her friend’s emotions hanging heavily between them. She observed the conflict etched into her expression, noting how the fiery glint in her eyes from earlier had dimmed at the mention of Lorcán. It was as though the mere hint of him, coupled with the insinuation of deeper feelings, conjured a whirlwind of confessions and concealed yearnings.
How relatable it was.

Harper reached out, her hand gently grasping Aurora’s, a silent show of solidarity. “Rora,” She began, her voice soft but firm, “it’s okay to admit that what you feel for Lorcán might be more than what you feel for the rest of us. It doesn’t diminish the love you have for us; it just means that your heart has found a… different kind of connection.” Was she, perhaps, pushing things? But no, she couldn’t do it. Between the both of them, Aurora had the best chance of making something that was great even better. How could she not want that for her?

Harper continued, “Wouldn’t you agree that it’s better to understand what’s going on with you, because there definitely is something deeper at play here, than to live with any potential ‘what ifs’?”

Aurora could feel her heartbeat quickening. Her eyes darted around nervously, suddenly overly concerned that those around them would hear what was being discussed, and leaned a little closer to Harper. “Harps, there’s nothing to understand here. We’re just friends.” She snapped, unintentionally, as the redhead had no interest in entertaining this discussion, not now, maybe not ever. The dark haired girl meant well, the redhead knew that, but sometimes she could take things a step too far. She was a loyal friend, alright. “Forget I said anything… I’ll talk to him later about what happened with Amma. Let’s just move on, okay?” She squeezed her friend’s hand. “Please.”

Harper could feel the tension radiating from her friend, and she squeezed her hand back gently. Best not to push it. She’d done it once before and it had almost cost her everything with this one.

“We’ll shelve this conversation for another time then,” she suggested, “Circle back when the time is right. About Amma. About everything.” The brunette offered a small smile as she slowly withdrew her hand. A respectful pause, rather than a full retreat.

Aurora brought her now free hand up to her necklace, holding the gold heart shaped pendant between her thumb and index fingers. “Sure, yeah.” She dismissed, hoping to drop the conversation altogether, before turning to face forward in her chair.

“Another time.”

The two girls sat quietly for a few moments, the crackling of the fire and the chatter of their teammates and peers hanging in the silence. The redhead glanced back at her friend briefly before clearing her throat, “So… care to share who you’re bunking with tonight? It’s not me, and I know it’s not Haven so… spill.”

Aurora’s voice held a playful edge, but it was enough to send a rush of warmth to Harper’s cheeks.

This was karma, wasn’t it?

Harper hesitated, her mind racing with excuses and half-truths. “Oh, um, I’m bunking with Gil,” she managed to say, her voice a practiced steadiness. She gave a casual shrug, her expression one of feigned indifference. “It just worked out that way. Pure coincidence. No big deal.” Glancing over her shoulder with exaggerated concern, Harper continued, “Speaking of which, I think Haven’s giving me a funny look. Probably wondering where I disappeared to.”

With a swift motion, Harper rose from her seat, her departure as sudden as her decision to flee the conversation. She tossed a peace sign over her shoulder to the redhead as she made her way back to Haven, sending a silent message.

Not today, sucka.
TIMESTAMP: A little before the Football game
Though, after the football team leaves the locker room
Introducing: Athena Helmsley & Jonah Goldstein


@Melissa & @LovelyComplex
____________________________________________________________________

Athena Helmsley was a simp.

Okay, maybe that was a bit of an overstatement, especially given the fact that she wasn’t wifed up yet, but she was practically gnawing at the bars of her “friend zone” enclosure. Showing up to the Football game of the guy you were kind of sort of talking to was indeed simp behavior, especially considering this was the first Football game she had shown any interest in attending in the last four years. Calli was suspicious enough as it was. But, Benji didn’t need to know that.

The blonde stood leaned up against the side of the bleachers, out of sightlines but not far too from the action. After all, she was technically there to watch the game, but like always, she had her own agenda to attend to first. With the chaotic crowd focused on what was happening on the field, it was the perfect location for a quick business meeting. No one would be the wiser to what was being discussed and the cheering was an excellent sound buffer.

With a sigh, Athena checked her watch as she waited, a tad impatiently. She wanted to get back to the stands before she missed anything major, but then again, this was debatably more important.

And the person that Athena was waiting irritably for was taking his sweet time, leisurely drinking from his water bottle, in his black and red cheer uniform. Standing on the endzone of the field, with his fellow cheermates stretching and practicing, all ready and prepared to run to the front of the bleachers, Jonah Goldstein stared at his friend through a pensive lens. His fixed, cold expression was hardened from concentration and his dark eyes radiated fierce, uncompromising intelligence.

He didn’t move. He didn’t wave. He simply watched. That was how Jonah presented himself. A rock of a man. Hard to read and understand without a magnifying glass. Stable, steady, and strong. A man tossed by the wind and washed by the water. A man who lived through storms and now, thanks to his family, could use the force of nature to polish himself and be brilliant. A man who chose to take action and break his shell, to live and be, more than his family have ever lived to dream. A boy trying to succeed. That was Jonah Goldstein.

Part of his plan to success had to do with his growing friendship with the small, blonde student continuously glancing at her wrist watch. A gun of a woman. Hard to sway and challenge without presenting a pitch. Enterprise-focused, eloquent, and efficacious. A woman that had all the tools and resources at her fingertips. A woman who was a treasure trove of knowledge, wealth, and connections. A woman who had no limits to what she wanted to accomplish and achieve. A girl trying to live up to her family’s legacy. That was Athena Helmsley.

Together, they were becoming quite the promising duo and the fruit of their labor showed solely based on the fact that a Helmsley was waiting for a boy who may as well be considered nameless in the world of the rich and famous. There was a brief moment Jonah did scan the bleachers to see who was in attendance other than his darling ‘Olympian’. He studied who was arriving, who was engaged in conversations, and who was missing-in-action. To his surprise, he noticed Mordechai, his nephew, who didn’t care for school functions such as the homecoming game. Jonah caught sight of where his nephew’s fixation was set on, the marching band, and watched as Jordyn Jones, the caramel skinned beauty, with long, curly hair, that loved rodents, had an infectious giggle, and ate red hot flamin’ Cheetos savagely, eagerly waved up at him. Jonah smirked.

The cheer team began to make their way to their designated area, in front of bleachers reserved for Beverly Hills High Students. Alongside the cheermates exuding high energy, Cael and Minnie specifically, he cast an intrigued eye once more on Athena. Someone who he was surprised gave him the time of day a couple years back. Someone who understood business better than any other student that attended this elite, ridiculously expensive, and overrated school. Someone that understood that luck only exists when adequate preparation meets opportunity in a statistical universe. Meaning? There was no such thing as luck. All their wins were because of how well they played the game. Luck only existed because they made luck real. People would believe anything when they want it to be true. If they wanted it to be real. If they wanted it for themselves. So for the purpose of their business motto: Luck can be achieved, you just need to believe. That was Athena and Jonah. The Dream Team.

Breaking off from the rest of the cheer squad, ever so casually, Jonah strolled to his partner-in-crime and calmly jested, “Looking for someone that isn’t me?”

The blonde kept her gaze directed on the field, or at least the portion she could still see from her vantage point, tucked off to the side. Even as her friend and business partner approached, finally gracing her with his presence, she did not make eye contact, instead choosing to focus on what lay ahead. In a blur of black and red, she watched as the players scattered around the turf, practically identical if you didn’t know what to look for to distinguish them. But for her, it was easy to spot Benji, and it wasn’t simply because she knew his number. No - it was the way he only used one of his arms to propel him forward as he ran, the other stiff and rigid. He also leaned in a way that his head became level with his shoulders. Small details that other people would miss. But not Athena Helmsley. She noticed everything.

“Always,” She stated, before finally looking over at Jonah, taking in his cheerleader persona.“You look cute, nice uniform.” The girl smirked, reaching out and picking off a piece of lint from his shoulder, “Remind me again how you ended up on the team?”

“Thanks, it makes my ass look good,” Jonah answered offhandedly, his engaged stare never straying from her large, luminous, midwinter blue eyes. They were the lightest of blue, nearly gray. The windows to her soul were frosted, trying to mask and hide what was waiting inside. There was a moment, a quick one, where her gaze passed him and went back to the field, to the football team. In that rapid moment, that came and went as fast as his vibrant haired lover ran around the field with zoomies, Jonah saw her eyes glint. There was a fire burning quietly, a desire beyond achievement, and warmth coming straight from the heart. Softness that was unbecoming of a Helmsley. A touch of kindness, a pinch of respect and a spoon full of compassion, love and adoration. Keeping his thoughts to himself, Jonah turned and let his brown eyes explore the field, alongside her. “I’m good at catching people when they fall,” Jonah chuckled, knowing Athena well enough that that wasn’t a good enough answer.

Cheerleading, at least on the surface, wasn’t a role normally painted on someone like him. But that was the point of why he joined. To imagine something possible, to make it more factual and evident, one shouldn’t stay within the preconceived limitations he created in his mind. He joined cheerleading sophomore year when he realized Mordechai was having a hard time adjusting and while he’s been teased by his extracurricular activity, Jonah owns it, breaking the stereotype and inspiring the crowd. Just how he does as the Ringleader for Game Nights.

The last thing he wants his nephews’ lives to become can be summarized by these three things: could have, might have, and should have. He wanted the Boaz boys to dream and as their uncle it was his job to guide them while they searched for themselves, explored what makes them happy, and redefined their character. He was diligent, astute and versatile. Athletic, conditioned and patient. You’d be surprised at the strength necessary to cheer on an international level and male cheerleaders were in high demand. It was an easy sport to try out for, guaranteed acceptance. Jonah needed something to add variety to his day. The Cheer team did just that. “Cheerleaders love to talk. It’s a good place to find out who is involved with who. More importantly though? I do it for my nephews. I like to think it helps them defy convention.”

Athena nodded, understanding his perspective completely. If she didn’t already have a twin, or two, she would have been under the impression that Jonah and her had been related in some way, possibly even separated at birth. They were cut from the same cloth, never had the blonde met someone who thought so similarly to her. Someone who knew what she was thinking before she even could say it. And not in the normal way, the perceptive way. The strategic way. It was unique, to say the least, to find someone like Jonah. He was wise beyond his years. It was exactly for that reason she had been so willing and well, eager, to help him at first.

Cheekily, she moved back and checked out his behind in the cheer pants. “You’re not wrong. I didn’t realize you even had an ass. God bless spandex, I guess.” Athena laughed, eyes moving back to the field. “So what’s the word on the street? Who’s a hot ticket these days?”

“A few people of interest,” Jonah started, not one to drag things out. There was no reaction to Athena checking out his ass. When the self made man was focused, with a clear objective, he was completely locked in. “I sent a video link to your email. New kid. Just transferred in today. I’m sure soon Theo is going to clock him. Owen Lyon. In summary, he fights well. The video is him fighting a whole football team, not his but the opposing team, because they decided to harass his kicker. It led to them insulting his mother and yeah, that didn’t end well for the other team. I gather the reason they moved was because his father had to take over the 361 Combat Club. Rebranded to The Lyon’s Den. It closed abruptly a few years back. Since Theo is our biggest competitor, I thought I’d start with him.”

When he finished the first part of his ever growing list of prospects, he scanned the bleachers and directed Athena’s attention to two people that were conveniently sitting in the same row. Romi Rae was to the far left and Isaiah was in the midsection. “Then there is Romi and Isaiah. Understated and overshadowed. Jewels that go unnoticed. Just like me. I’ve observed them for a while now and I think they could offer something to our program. Romi is exceedingly fit, there’s no doubt about that, and we could use another bouncer. However, what I’m more interested in is the fact that her parents are deep in the AWE scene, and Joey has only good things to say about her. That means she must have stage presence and our whole thing is an immersive experience. An act of sorts. The House is a world of make-believe and fun, and I could benefit from someone that has acting skills; who isn’t in the theater department. Just something to think about.”

Jonah took a moment to drink his water when a couple of teens got too close to them, smelling of booze and weed. He waited for them to move away and stumble onto the bleachers. His dark eyes went to his fellow cheerleaders, his eyes resting on his lover, Cael. “Not many people know this but Isaiah raps and MCs at The Dolla Lounge. On top of him being smart, I am led to believe he has a keen eye and could catch things before they happen. It’s a plus he has a voice worth listening to. And I do think he’d be easier to convince to join us, over someone like Leila. She is too pure for us. And Yani is not an option because people would know who they are, immediately.” There was one last person he wanted to mention, someone that he thought would intrigue Athena the most but he chose to wait to hear her thoughts first, before giving her more to consider.

Athena pulled out her phone as Jonah spoke, tapping into her Mail app and clicking play on the video he had sent. It was evident it was filmed by a student sitting in the bleachers during the game, shaky, as if they were in shock, and the crowd’s reactions were loud and audible as the camera focused in on the tall player standing at the 30 yard line. It was David vs. Goliath, a single boy versus an entire team, but that didn’t seem to matter as he plowed through, taking them down one by one. It was unlike anything the blonde had ever seen before. Her eyes darted back up to the field, noting Benji’s unharmed form, before settling back on Jonah as she slipped her phone back in her pocket.

“Kid’s got talent. He’s Piper’s cousin, well, they’re somewhat related. Jamie showed him around school today, god only knows what he said to him.” Athena grimaced, “Theo’s going to be hot on his coattails.”

She continued to listen as Jonah riddled off details about their peers Romi and Isaiah, nodding along. The girl inherently trusted the boy’s judgment, which made this exercise more informational than anything else. She didn’t need to give him approval, they were far past that. She simply enjoyed hearing and seeing how the wheels turn in his head, learning what made their classmates tick. “Both seem like solid additions, Jo. So long as they understand the secrecy that goes into an operation like this. I’m sure you’re already plotting how to approach them, don’t let me get in the way of that.”

He did have a plan. He always had a plan. Jonah was the type of guy already thinking months ahead, which is shown from his work ethic as a student. His homework was done for the rest of the semester, having schmoozed his way on getting the syllabus for each of his classes in advance. He didn’t have time to waste when he had people to meet, places to be, and connections to make. “You know me well. But before I pursue those options, I have a date with Toury. A more interesting avenue that we conveniently have an in with, comes in the form of her step brother, Dash. Turns out that little Dash is genius level good at billiards. His father, the rapper not Mr. Phoenix went live this past weekend and in the background I could see Dash playing. When his father gave a tour of his place, I took a closer look and that kid was destroying his father’s friends, without breaking a sweat. One thing led to another and I found out Dash used to be part of the APA junior league, that is until his parents divorced. His rep though makes it hard for anyone to believe he’s good at anything, seeing how he’s hyper fixated on becoming a pro fighter and… is doing his best.”

Athena raised an eyebrow, always impressed with Jonah’s instincts. Most of the time they rivaled her own. “Interesting,” She bit her inner lip, thinking through things more thoroughly, and leaned up against the bleachers. “We’ll have to convince Toury, I’m assuming, and get her on board with the idea. I highly doubt she’d let him get involved so easily without some type of sway. We can give her a cash advance, call it a generous referral bonus.” The blonde ran her fingers through her hair, “Make sure she knows that he’ll be taken care of if things go haywire. I don’t foresee that happening, but speaking from experience, I wouldn’t let my siblings get involved unless I knew they’d be protected if things went south.”

“I’ll talk to Monarch, see if she has any information on Dash that might interest his sister,” Jonah voiced, knowing well enough money would not be the only thing Tourmaline would want. Money only guaranteed protection if it was meant for hiring men to be muscle. This money was meant to dangle and entice, which meant Jonah needed to go to Toury with more to offer. The cogs in his brain continued to turn, shifting his to-do list and formulating a concrete plan on how to bring in a new tournament where Dash was at the center of it all. He knew Athena would write him a check before the day was through. It was safer to do it the old fashioned way with a minimal electronic trail. They decided that when they formed the House contract. Business partners through and through. Till the end, whenever that may be. With his debrief completed, he gave a sly grin and leaned in toward Athena, as she looked toward the field. He whispered, “You going to ask him out?”

The blonde's steely edge dissolved almost instantaneously, a flush gracing her fair cheeks. Nothing got past Jonah, alright. Even though it was the thing she admired about him most, his attention to detail, she’d be lying if she didn’t say it was annoying as fuck. Especially when she was trying to simp in secret.

“That, my friend, is none of your business.”

TIMESTAMP: 5:30AM -7:30 AM
Location: The Cage Rink & Performance Center → Ms. Belmonte’s Classroom
Starring: Jack “Mac” McDonough




There was nothing better than the sound of freshly sharpened skates cutting across clean ice. Well, at least for Jack McDonough.

The sun had yet to crest the horizon as the blonde haired boy laced up his Bauers for his usual early morning practice. At the ungodly hour, the rink was empty aside from the first shift janitors and himself, but that was just the way he liked it. Being there on his own gave him free reign, the entirety of the ice at his disposal. Sure, he had to grease a few elbows to make it happen, call in a few favors, but it was well worth it.

Each morning ran like clockwork. He spent the first 10 minutes warming up. It was a step that most players often overlooked, but Jack knew better; he wasn’t about to risk a season ending injury from lack of stretching. He often used the quiet time and the stillness to think introspectively and set intentions. It was the only kind of mindfulness he did; hell would surely freeze over before the kid tried meditation.

The next 30 minutes were spent running drills. Today he had wanted to focus on edgework, stick handling, and accuracy, so he divided up the block into thirds. Admittedly though, he took some extra time for accuracy drills because he wanted to practice his Michigan goal. Every good player had something unique up their sleeve, and if he could score one during regulation, it’d be legendary. If Bedard could do it, so could he.

Some players bitched and moaned about running drills. They argued that nothing could ever prepare you for how a real game would go down; the split-second choices you’re forced to make and the unforeseen circumstances. But for Jack, practice made perfect. Sure, he had keen instincts on the ice and was fast as hell, but none of the greats made it as far as they did on only their speed and intuition. No, he was trying to go places. Be someone. Jack wanted to don the ‘C’ proudly on his chest, be the athlete on the Wheaties box, the guy with a statue outside of the Arena, and the player who’s number hung on a banner in the rafters when he eventually retired.

Mac wanted it all, and he was sure as shit going to do everything he could to make it happen.

The last 20 minutes were spent getting his heartrate up, line sprints. From the boards to the first blue line and back, to the center line and back, to the second blue line and back, and finally the length of the rink. Mac was a bullet on blades, with strong legs and quick feet, and it showed. He made it look easy, gliding from one end of the ice to the other. It was like breathing for him, second nature. His parents had put him on skates soon after he could walk, enrolled him in lessons as early as the league would let them, and it had paid off. He was a natural, a prodigy.

Satisfied with his work for the day, Jack called it quits and headed for the locker room. As he stood under the spray of the shower, washing the now sticky sheen of sweat from his body, his mind drifted to the year ahead. He was a senior now, the weight of expectations heavier than ever before. College scouts would be watching his every move, dissecting his performance with a critical eye, and Draft day quickly approached. But the blonde refused to let the pressure consume him; instead, he saw it as an opportunity to prove himself worthy. And besides, a year of debauchery and fun with his buddies awaited before the real world set in. And you could bet your ass that Mac was going to make the most of it.

It didn’t take him long to get dressed, packing up the discarded smelly, well-worn gear into his duffel that would be sure to make his mother gag later, and depart the rink. He haphazardly threw the bag into the back of his Jeep and set off for school, definitely pushing the speed limit to make it on time. Last thing he needed was another tardy on his record. He coasted into the parking lot at 7:26am and sailed into Ms. Belmonte’s room at 7:30am just as the bell sounded.

Jack gave her a devious smirk, “Right on time, of course. You know I’d never keep you waiting Ms. B.” The woman simply sighed, not bothering to deign him with a reply as her homeroom and students were always this exhausting. The blonde shrugged.

He’d woo her… one day.

Scanning the class, he spotted Benji in the back with a free desk adjacent that the boy assumed was meant for him. He wasted no time making his way over, collapsing into the chair with an audible exhale before turning to his friend. “Big weekend ahead, Benj. You ready?”
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