The Breaker stumbles into the barracks, magic still buzzing, hissing in his bones, blood crusted under his fingernails. He says to his brother: “We’re leaving.”
Without hesitating Kai says: “Okay.”
They go AWOL and Kai doesn’t ask. They leave Iraq, traveling west until they reach Turkey where they finally run out of funds. They both know without speaking that they are going to have to turn themselves into the embassy, but for now, they sit in a small, dusty coffee shop nursing tiny cups of thick, bitter espresso.
Kai turns his cup slowly in his hands, takes a deep breath and asks.
‘Mega, who has been expecting this question for the past 900 miles answers without pause.
“I’ll never be able to forgive myself. Never.”
“Did you kill him?”
Kai doesn’t say anything else, just drains the last of his espresso and gets up for fetch a refill. As he passes ‘Mega’s chair, he pauses and rests his hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“I forgive you.”
“It’s going to get worse before we can go home.” ‘Mega says bleakly.
Kai just tightens his hand, pressing down, making sure ‘Mega is paying attention.
“I forgive you.” He says again quietly, and goes to get himself more coffee.
The two Springs brothers are dishonorably discharged in a closed court hearing. The only reason they do not end up serving time in a military prison is because ‘Mega gets up and threatens to tell the world exactly what the Army asked him to do in a dark hole bunker under the desert sands.
- Current Mood: creative
- Current Music:MUSE
“I’m sorry, Jade. I’m so sorry for what has happened to you.” He says softly. Jade bows her head over their hands, her curly hair swinging forward to hide her face. But ‘Mega sees the barely there hitch of her shoulders and decides to make himself scarce. He knows from his own experience that recounting these kinds of memories is much easier without an audience. Even a well meaning one.
At a loss ‘Mega wanders back to his own apartment, leaving his door open so that he can hear if Jade calls for him. Before he can spend to much time in his own head, a tentative knock sounds against his door and ‘Mega turns to see Donnie standing at the threshold peering in.
“There you are. Hyper is looking for you, something about fixing the floor?”
‘Mega sighs, “Would you mind telling her I’ll be down in a little while? I don’t want to leave Jade up here alone.”
“Isn’t Kloud with her?”
“Yea, but he’s here as an officer of the law, not as a friend.”
Donnie scoffs, “Hardly. The second Kloud didn’t arrest Jade he let go of that role in your lives. He’s only here as a friend. He’s not going to hurt her, ‘Mega. He’s to find a way to help her.”
“I thought you couldn’t see his future.”
“I can’t. And I still can’t see a way clear for Jade. But I know Kloud and I have faith in him.”
‘Mega crosses his arms over his chest and rocks a little on the balls of his feet. “What can you see?” He asks bluntly. “Is there anything I can do to help her?”
Donnie stuffs his hands awkwardly into the pockets of his coat. “It’s...Her time line is in flux right now. Has been since last night. I’ve tried, a lot more than I should, to study her life from all angles. But the bottom line is people are never going to stop being interested in her and the curse.”
“But if the charges were dropped, if she was no longer a wanted criminal she could still live here. The building would protect her from people just tracking her down.”
Donnie casts a shrewd look at ‘Mega.
“Like it does for you and your brother?”
‘Mega reels as if struck, he takes an unintentional step back his arms falling to his side. His heart races and for a moment the Breaker thinks he’s about to bolt or start a fight.
“I thought Oracles only see the future.” ‘Mega spits, angry.
“Common misconception,” Donnie answers blithely, appearing completely unconcerned with ‘Mega’s rapid shift in demeanor. “We can’t see the past like we do people’s futures. But sometimes, understanding what happened to a person in the past is key to understanding what is coming for them in the future. You two aren’t AWOL anymore, but you were at one time. And even though you two left the Army, they haven’t forgotten about you.”
There’s another tense pause, but ‘Mega slowly relaxes. He’s not pleased that Donnie knows so much about his past, but at the same time it is something of a relief to not have to explain it.
“Kai and I found that they bothered us less once we moved here. We still work, go out, have fun but when we’re home we’re never found. Their phone calls and emails don’t even reach us here.”
Donnie nods, “Jade could have something similar but not that I’ve seen. Then again, I have blind spots.”
“No. Kloud just...isn’t there for me. That’s not a blind spot it’s just an absence.”
“You must have had a panic attack when he decided to be a cop.”
Donnie grins wryly, “More like a near mental breakdown. I made him swear to always wear his kevlar, no matter what.”
“You should probably remind him of that now that he’s made detective.”
“Oh he knows he’s not free of his promise just because he spends time behind a desk now.”
‘Mega picks his jacket up from the couch and shrugs into it. Donnie backs away from the doorway and turns to head down the hall towards the stairs. ‘Mega follows after him, pulling his door shut behind him.
“So before we head down,” Donnie starts in an arch tone, “What do I need to say to get you to ask Hyper out?”
‘Mega stumbles in surprise before glaring at the Oracle’s back while the other man cackles.
“Does everyone know about that?” the Breaker demands.
“Everyone but Hyper.” Donnie confirms.
‘Mega grumbles under his breath, annoyed. He stops abruptly though as he looks at the girls’ closed apartment door. Maybe he should just check on Jade real quick? Make sure she knows he’ll be right downstairs?
“‘Mega.” Donnie calls quietly. ‘Mega looks up at him. “He won’t hurt her. He just has to understand if he’s going to find a way to help.”
“She likes him, you know.” ‘Mega offers up the observation, one he made weeks ago after watching to two in question talk about literature. Fiction was one of Kloud’s hobbies and passions, and Jade was quickly becoming a bibliophile in her own right. She was constantly asking him questions, and Kloud was constantly delighted to answer them. Their discussions often lasted hours.
“Really?” The Oracle asks, drawing the word out for a few extra seconds. He looks pleased by the news, a sort of craftiness entering his expression that surprises ‘Mega.
“He’s engaged though,” the Breaker points out as the pair of them head for the stairwell at the end of the hall. “Jade’d never do anything about her feelings.”
Donnie shakes his head, pushing open the door to the stairs and walking out onto the landing, holding the door open for ‘Mega.
“You’ll never hear any other Oracle admit this, Springs, so listen up. The future is vast and ultimately unknowable. Anything is possible.”
His voice echos oddly off the cement walls and stairs. It gives the statement a gravity that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“Anything?” ‘Mega parrots, thinking about the girl in the apartment down the all, a curse wrapped around her arms and just desperately wanting a place to be safe. He thinks about his brother, and all the things ‘Mega asked him to give up. He thinks about Hyper, and the way she smiles at him sometimes, as if his simple presence is just the best thing that has ever happened to her.
“Any. Thing.” Donnie confirms.
- Current Mood: creative
- Current Music:all the tunes
‘Mega doesn’t know what enchantment over the site is causing the wards of the base to “titter” angrily (Kai’s word not his) but there is certainly something going on.
Kai is passed out at his work desk in the temporary tent they’ve raised. His twin is slumped over the diagrams ‘Mega has worked on all day and honestly he’s loathe to disturb him even if he really needs those papers. Neither of them are getting enough sleep these days.
The Breaker takes himself out under the wide sky, finds a reasonably sheltered spot and sits. He will undoubtedly tear down the millennia old protections tomorrow, he already has several working theories, one of which he has a very good feeling about.
It has been 542 days since he and his brother arrived in this country and in that time he has shattered timeless wards and broken magical foundations. Structures that were laid down before mankind was even writing these things down. He has disturbed guardian spells, destroyed far sight spells, and even ripped loyalty bindings of attacking soldiers from their hearts.
Kai worries, ‘Mega can tell. He doesn’t sleep because his actions haunt him; Kai doesn’t sleep because he worries. A fine distinction, but well, they’re twins, their whole life has been one long fine distinction.
This is not what they had in mind when they joined the Army, but there is precious little that can be done now.
Tomorrow, ‘Mega will tear down what they point him at. He will grind to dust what they need gone, and obliterate as they desire. But for now, for right now, the Breaker sits out under the stunning night sky and just listens. The hum of ancient magic sings faintly to his ears, falling in perfect time with the turning of the Earth beneath the swing of stars overhead just as it has for thousands upon thousands of years. How many other talented people have heard this same song through the ages?
He doesn’t know. So he sits and listens and tries not to think about how he will ultimately be the last to hear it sing.
- Current Music:"Planet" by Joseph
The fresh bandages around Jade’s forearms are already spotting blood, they will need to be changed again before too long. For now however, Jade is still unconscious and is thankfully unaware of the wounds on her arms and of the thick tension obscuring the usually relaxed atmosphere of the coffee shop.
The Breaker steals a casual glance around the shop to see how everyone else is doing after the dramatic events of the last hour. Jen is being looked after by Hyper and Alex. The young scrivener is practically falling asleep into her coffee, slouched over the counter and perched precariously on one of the high stools. Kai is comforting Sunny, who unfortunately had walked in half way through the binding. The pair of them are sharing one of the overstuffed armchairs. Kai has pressed the curve of his nose against her hair, while Sunny stares at Jade with worry and concern.
Donnie has Sari cornered in a chair at one of the tables and is speaking to her in hushed whispers. Kloud, surprisingly isn’t with his friends but rather stands silently next to ‘Mega, watching him as he set Jade’s arms gently against her stomach and then covers her with Alex’s winter coat. Ty is hovering at the back of the sofa and ‘Mega thinks he sees a strange kind of sympathy in the other mans’ eyes.
‘Mega rises to his feet and the room instantly falls silent.
“The binding was successful,” ‘Mega dutifully reports to his friends. Those present who knew about Jade’s curse let out an obvious sigh of relief.
‘Mega turns to the others, Ty, Kloud, Sari and Donnie and knows that some kind of explanation must be given.
“As you probably realize by now,” ‘Mega begins quietly, “Jade’s cursed. The geas is absolute, I can’t break it without killing her.”
“She’s a wanted criminal,” Sari hisses from her table before ‘Mega can say anything else. “She’s an insane wanted fugitive and Kloud should be arresting her right now.”
“While she’s unconscious?” Donnie asks sardonically at the same time as Kai exclaims, “No one is arresting Jade!”
“Did you somehow miss the part where ‘Mega said she’s cursed?” Alex demands waspishly.
“Even if that’s true she wasn’t ordered to set the fire was she? Everyone knows that mages can’t be forced to use their powers!” Sari argues back.
“Not to complicate matters,” Hyper interjects calmly as she freshens Jen’s coffee. “But actually they can with the curse Jade’s under. She can be compelled to use her magery in whatever way the master of the curse bids.”
“That’s utter bullshit.” Sari replies, resolute as she rises from her chair.
“It really isn’t,” ‘Mega returns firmly. “I’ve seen every kind of curse you can think of, and this is without a doubt the worst. It’s a complete and total geas. What she is ordered to do, she does.”
“Then who forced her to set the fire? That professor?” Sari demands.
Half the room visibly winces, ‘Mega included.
“Well…no. She did set the Class One herself. But she had reasons.”
“Reasons?!” Sari explodes, “She set a Class One Mage Fire in a city of millions of people! In a time of peace! Only an insane, terminally fucked up person is capable of that!”
“Or,” ‘Mega says evenly, his temper wearing thin, “Someone who genuinely finds themselves at war.”
Sari lets out a frustrated huff and rounds on Donnie who is still sitting at the table.
“And you! You knew about her! Have you lost your mind? She sets cities on fire and you let her stay in yours?”
Donnie shrugs his shoulders, the very picture of indifference.
“Brooklyn took her in, Sari. She’s one of mine now and I’m obligated to protect her.”
“What about the rest of us?” she shrieks at him, “What about your obligations to us?”
At this, Donnie gets to his feet. His entire demeanor changes and ‘Mega knows that in the blink of an eye they are no longer dealing with their friend Donnie. The Oracle of Brooklyn, loci prime of the city’s oldest magic is standing in front of them.
“If you think I am failing to fulfil my duties as Oracle, Sari, there are rituals you can do to cast me down.”
She takes a sharp step back from him, one of her hands coming up to grip the lapel of her coat.
“She’s – She’s dangerous, Donnie.” She stutters out, suddenly hesitant.
“Say the words, Sari.” Donnie replies, his voice grave, “See how far it gets you.”
There is a tense pause between the two friends as everyone waits to see what Sari will choose. Her hesitancy turns back to anger quickly, but instead of lashing out at Phillips again, the whirls on her fiancé.
“Kloud! Surely you see what has to be done? She must be turned over to the authorities. She’s a danger to everyone.”
“No one is turning Jade over to the cops!” Kai says again. Sunny runs a soothing hand down his arm and clutches his hand to keep him sitting down with her. ‘Mega casts her a grateful look.
“You can’t stop him!” Sari fires back.
“There’s seven of us and one of you, lady.” Kai says firmly.
“Did you just threaten me?!” she shouts, and turns to look at her fiancé again, “Kloud!”
“Enough.” Kloud announces and his tone somehow carries real weight. It cuts through all of the tension in the room. Without that to bolster them, ‘Mega suddenly feels his exhaustion acutely.
Kloud ignores his fuming girlfriend and instead looks down at Jade. After a short pause, he turns to his best friend.
“You have to give me more than that, Donnie. You’ve helped me catch Brooklyn natives before, so why is this one special?”
“She’s no danger to this city, Kloud. She came here to hide. That man,” Donnie nods to the blank TV, “…wants her back for terrible, horrifying reasons. I can’t see a way clear for her yet. I’ve been waiting, hoping something would develop, a way for her to live.”
“Jade’s going to die?” Hyper interrupts fearfully.
“I’m talking about living a meaningful life, Hyper. Not ending up either trapped here or trapped back in a fucking lab for the rest of her days.”
“How long?” Kloud asks simply.
“Hyper brought me one of her cookies back in October. I knew from that.”
“Has this changed anything?”
“Not much that I can see right now. Things are still…developing.” Donnie admits delicately. ‘Mega gets what he means, the paths aren’t clear because so much depends on Kloud’s decision. “What I do know is that the bastard has now narrowed down her location to New York State.”
“If she turns herself in now?”
“Jade set the fire because it was the only way to destroy the curse circle. She succeeded there, and now she is the only copy in the world of a curse that has the ability to compel a mage. If she turns herself in now the only question is which lab she spends the rest of her life in and which master she will have to obey.”
“The bastard that cursed her, the Army, the CIA and the FBI. There’s a couple of foreign interests, but they are remote.”
“Will they kill her?”
“In all the ways that matter, yes.”
‘Mega is reluctantly impressed with the speed at which Kloud and Donnie converse. Kloud rakes a hand through his hair, looks up at the ceiling for a moment and then back down at Jade.
“I won’t turn her in, or tell anyone she’s here for now.” Kloud says simply.
“What?!” Sari screeches.
“What do you mean ‘for now’?” ‘Mega demands having picked up on the important caveat in Kloud’s declaration.
“I mean, Springs, that I need to talk to Jade. I’m withholding my final judgment until I can hear her story from her.”
‘Mega nods tightly at the detective, “That’s fair. But you have to know, we will do whatever we can to keep her free.”
Kloud regards the Breaker with a somewhat amused, somewhat bleak expression.
“Trapped in a blessed building isn’t what I’d call free. Seriously, what was your long term plan here? Jade just becomes a shut in for the rest of her life?”
Before ‘Mega can mention GJ and his connections, Sari darts to Kloud and tugs on his arm until he faces her.
“You believe this bullshit?”
“Sari,” Kloud sighs, “It’s Donnie.”
He takes the woman by the shoulders and gives her the tiniest of shakes, like he’s trying to startle her into paying attention.
“This isn’t just a bunch of strangers making up tales. Donnie is telling us this. When is he wrong? About anything?”
At that, Sari finally seems to truly consider the events and information she has been given over the past hour fully.
“Never,” she admits quietly. “He’s never been wrong.”
“So we need to do what we’ve always done. We trust him. We both know he wouldn’t protect her if she was a threat to Brooklyn.”
Sari visibly struggles with this for a moment but finally relents.
“Thank you. We keep this to ourselves until after I can talk to Jade.” Kloud turns back to ‘Mega. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“She’ll be awake by then most likely.”
“Come on, Sari, I’ll take you home.”
Sari nodes her assent and Kloud wraps one of his arms around her shoulders. The dark haired beauty goes willingly into his embrace, and Kloud presses a kiss to the crown of her head.
‘Mega watches, frowning, as Sari glares down at the mage, still blissfully unaware of the going ons around her. Before he can say or do anything however, the door to the shop swings open with a bang for the third time in as many hours.
GJ tumbles in from the cold, shaking snow from his hair.
“Holy stars and stones it’s cold as – “ he stops as he gets a good look at everyone in the room and freezes in the doorway.
“Well shit. What’d I miss?”
“Alex! Another long day, huh?” Hyper greets from the doorway, diverting the lawyer from the apartment lobby.
“Yea, unspeakably so and not over yet. I have leftover Chinese upstairs to go with all these case files.” She nods to her rolling brief case that she’s been forced to half roll, half carry over snow covered sidewalks.
“Hmm, well. You should know Jade’s experimenting with some savory croissants tonight. I know she’s looking for taste testers.”
Alex groans with feeling, “Gods take you both. You’re gonna make me fat!” She changes directions and heads into the shop.
The air is warm and welcoming as she walks in, smelling of yeast, coffee and something sweet. Ty is already there, his art supplies and papers spread out on one of the two long tables in the back. He and Jen are hunched over several large pages out of a sketch book, giggling.
Donnie is napping on one of the couches, the TV on but muted on the wall behind him. Kloud and a woman Alex has never seen before are sharing a pastry of some kind at one of the small tables, but the woman doesn’t appear to like it if the sour look on her face is anything to go by.
“Where’s the rest of our crazy group?” Alex asks shedding her winter coat. Hyper locks the shop door and turns the sign to “Closed” behind her.
“Kai and ‘Mega are upstairs cleaning up. They dropped a can of varnish and managed to get it all over themselves.” The Charmer explains as she makes her way over to the counter and her cash register.
“Jade’s in the kitchen already, GJ’s out on a job and Sunny’s on her way over.”
“Levi and Sharon?”
The step-mother and her son were nominally staying with Alex, sharing her guest room/office space, but since Alex had been working late all week to catch up on the holiday backlog, Hyper saw far more of them.
“Family night.” Hyper reports with a grin, “She took Levi ice skating at the park.”
“That’s excellent!” Alex cheers, muscling her rolling briefcase around the smaller tables and chairs. ‘I’m glad she’s feeling well enough to leave the apartment more.”
“She’s been a lot more at ease now that Oakland’s bail was denied. Nice work by the way.”
“All I did was have a chat with the ADA on the case.”
“Must have been a hell of a chat,” Kloud chimes in from his table, “Good to see you counselor.”
“Nice to see you too, Detective.” Alex says, grinning, “Jade told me this morning, congratulations!”
Kloud beams, “Thanks. Alex this is my fiancé, Sari. Sari this is Alex – she’s the family court lawyer I was telling you about.”
“Nice to meet you,” the greeting is borderline cold and perfunctory. Alex looks her over in a flash; the woman is physically lovely. She has dark, wavy black hair with stunning violet eyes. But there is a pinched quality to the corners of her mouth and eyes that give her a permanently dissatisfied air.
Alex returns the pleasantries with the same amount of enthusiasm as she retreats to the other long table at the back of the shop. She’s not even out of ear shot before Sari is hissing angrily at Kloud.
“Jade, again huh? I didn’t hear from you about your promotion until lunch and Jade knows about it this morning?”
The lawyer glances over her shoulder at the couple, taken aback at Sari’s vehemence. Kloud has spent a great deal of his free time the past few weeks bumming around the shop trying to get Levi to trust him. Some of that free time has overlapped with Jade’s shifts in the kitchen but Alex has never seen the two of them do anything untoward. Mostly they talk about books.
“You were in meetings all morning, Sari. I called by you didn’t answer until lunch. Jade was here this morning when I got the call from the Chief.”
Kloud’s tone is even and unruffled. But Sari does not seem impressed.
“You’re spending way to much time here…”
Alex purposefully tunes the rest of their conversation out, not wanting to be rude and instead looks over Jen’s shoulder at what she and Ty are working on.
“What are you two up too?” she asks suspiciously.
Ty looks up, his eyes bright and honestly it’s the happiest she thinks she’s ever seen him.
“Nothing!” Jen chirps, shuffling the papers to cover up whatever it is.
“Uh huh, I call bullshit. Share with the class.”
Ty sheepishly turns over one of the papers he has to show Alex.
The page is filled with miniature, cartoonish sketches of the coffee shop regulars. There’s a mini Hyper clinging to the handle of a massive coffee cup, while ‘Mega frantically waits below, his arms outstretched. A tiny Sunny sits on a throne of economic textbooks while Kai, dressed as a cabana boy, fans her with a palm leaf. Kloud, dressed in his police blues offers a book that three times his height to a highly skeptical Jade. There’s even a mini-Alex mid-tango with GJ who is struggling to hold onto both her and an over large rose. Donnie is half finished, running away from a faceless crowd of admirers, hearts and stars in his wake.
Alex breaks down into laughter, “Stars! These are fantastic! And adorable! Do you have more?” she asks eagerly.
Jen laughs along with her, “I know right? I caught him at it this afternoon, He’s got tons of them.” She glances at Ty for permission, which he shyly gives. Jen then hands Alex a couple more sheets.
Alex is quick to note that on these other pages, Jen features quite predominantly. There’s several mini sketches on one of the pages, Jen tackling a cinnamon roll with glee, Jen peeking out from under an enormous newspaper as though it was a blanket, Jen bouncing on a button on a huge cash register. The other page doesn’t have any of the miniatures, but rather is a sort of more serious piece with Jen in the center, while swirls of bright colors spin around her in glowing arcs.
“I really like this one,” Alex announces, tilting the page to show them both. “You’ve really captured her here, Ty.”
Ty flushes, the blush crawling all the way up to the shells of his ears. He signs, slowly and with careful deliberateness Jen watches intently.
“He says: Thanks, he doesn’t usually show – er, I mean share – his… I’m sorry Ty I don’t know that one.” Jen says unhappily. Ty just shrugs, grabs a pen and writes on the page quickly.
“Oh! Doodles!” Jen copies the hand sign a few times while Ty nods encouragingly, matching her.
Alex rolls her eyes at the both of them and turns to heave her case on the other long table.
“You two are too cute.” The lawyer asserts.
“Don’t tease.” Jen chides.
“Not teasing,” Alex assures her, “Stating an absolute fact.”
Alex starts unpacking her case, stacking the files she’s going to need and locating her pencil case with all her writing utensils. She glances back at them, but the two are already hunched back over the doodles, giggling once more. Ty’s laugh is a silent one, but it’s obvious that he’s enjoying himself and the attention that Jen is giving him.
The lawyer huffs a content laugh herself, and moves several seats down so as to escape the flirting.
Jade wanders out just then with a wide tray in her hands.
“Okay, first attempt is just plain ham and swiss. I have to get good at the basics before I can get fancy.” She says while setting two plates down next to Ty and Jen. They thank her absently and she moves on quickly to Alex.
The plate the baker hands over has a perfect looking croissant on it, steam still rising from its flaky brown crust.
“Had another busy day, huh counselor?” Jade asks. Alex sets her plate down on the table while nodding.
“Yea, this is exactly what I needed too. Makes the entire shit day worth it.”
Jade smiles, “Happy to help then. But I need honest feedback, okay? I’m counting on you, because those two,” here jade thumbs over her shoulder at the two artists, “are so busy crushing on each other everything tastes like sunshine and rainbows.”
Alex chuckles quietly, agreeing with Jade’s assessment.
“Ahh, young love,” she quips.
“Puppy love?” Jade asks.
“First love at least.”
“They’re adorable. But terrible for my blood pressure.” Jade sighs.
“Who’s gonna crack first, you think? ‘Mega or Ty?”
“Tough to say. My money’s on ‘Mega though. Kai will eventually force his hand I think.”
“Hmm, you’re right about that. I heard from Sunny that he’s giving ‘Mega until Valentine’s Day to speak up.”
“Stars and stones,” Jade swears, “That is going to be a fantastic day. I might stay up all day just to make sure I’m present for it.”
“I’ll get GJ to pull the tapes if you miss it.”
“You’re a saint, Alex. A guardian spirit disguised as a lawyer of all things.”
“Perfect cover, don’t cha think?” Alex responds with a wink.
Jade chuckles in response and takes her tray towards the couches where Donnie is stirring, no doubt teased awake by the scent of the croissants.
The sleepy Oracle makes grabby hands at Jade’s tray, still half reclined against the sofa.
“Oi, sit up properly, Phillips. You get melted cheese on the cushions and Hyper’ll make you pay for them to be cleaned.”
“No she won’t she likes me.”
“Not that much,” Hyper interrupts from the counter where she is counting out the cash drawer.
“That hurts,” Donnie mocks, hand on his heart.
“Walk it off, boyo.” Hyper teases back.
Jade hands a plate to the pouting man, and Donnie eagerly takes it while scooping up the remote with his other hand.
“Anyone object to the news?” he asks the room.
Those present sound off negative replies and Donnie flips the channels until landing on one of the major cable networks and unmutes the TV.
Alex looks up from organizing her files into some kind of order or importance to see some kind of interview going on. The TV screen is split into two panels, one for the anchor the other for an older man. He has a sharply receding hairline, with silver white hair tucked behind his ears. The small, round spectacles, bow tie, and tweed jacket mark him as some kind of academic – and definitely one that enjoys buying into the professor stereo types.
“- we are mostly worried at this point about the mental health of the perpetrator. It takes a somewhat damaged mind to successfully cast a Class One Mage Fire without real provocation. That is to say, outside of war time.” The professor finishes saying with a warm, almost fatherly look of concern on his face.
The bar of text at the bottom of the screen identify him as a professor of Mage Studies from Harvard University. Alex looks sharply over at Jade, who is staring, almost transfixed at the TV her face pale.
The anchor is saying something, asking the professor some kind of question but Alex isn’t listening, she’s getting to her feet a sick feeling in her stomach. There’s something wrong, so very, very wrong. The building is suddenly growling, the atmosphere is dropping –
Alex watches as Donnie frowns at the remote in his hands, and then up at the TV. She knows suddenly that it needs to be turned off, it needs to be shut up right now –
“ – if it were me, I’d be putting out a message begging the perpetrator to turn themselves in. If you are listening, whoever you are, you need to turn yourself in. It’s okay, it’s alright, there is no enemy here. All you need to do is turn yourself into the police. Right now, turn yourself into the police.”
The professor isn’t looking at the camera. Not really, Alex can tell he’s looking through the camera.
He’s looking at Jade.
Donnie frantically hits the buttons on the remote, powering the TV off. But he’s too late, they are all too late.
The tray drops from the ex-Mage’s hand with an ear splitting crash, startling everyone else in the room. Alex tries to get around her table, but Jade is already moving, striding across the room to where Kloud is sitting at his table. She is strange, mechanical, and stone faced.
She makes it to Kloud, kneels on the ground in front of him and offers the detective her wrists, palms up.
“I’m turning myself into the police.” Her voice is flat, devoid of all emotion. Whatever Kloud sees in her eyes as she looks up at him, makes him recoil sharply.
Alex gets around her table, darts around the couches but is suddenly caught by Donnie. He drops an arm in front of her, catching her shoulder with his extended hand, halting her progress.
“Don’t.” He says quietly into her ear. “We can’t get close. Not now.”
“Jen!” Hyper shouts.
“Get ‘Mega!” Jen exclaims back. Alex looks over her shoulder to find that the Scrivener has left Ty and is at her newsstand grabbing up a bottle of ink from her supplies. Hyper slams out of the shop door, darting to the right towards the apartment lobby.
Jen vaults her newsstand counter, dodges around the tables and to save time, simply throws the bottle of ink onto the concrete floor. It obligingly shatters, scattering the ink everywhere. Jen flicks both wrists, fingers straight as though she was swatting at insects. The ink on the floor parts neatly in the middle and then slides like a pair of snakes to wide circle around Jade. Another sharp gesture from the Scrivener and some of the ink bleeds from the circle to form the characters for containment along the outer rim.
Kloud is up out of his chair, pulling Sari to do the same. He quickly backs away, pulling his fiancé behind him.
“Donnie, what’s happening?” Kloud demands. His tone is even, but Alex can see where he’s clenching his jaw so tight the muscles in his cheek jump.
“Quiet, all of you.” Jen orders with much more confidence than a nineteen year old should ever have.
The containment circle in place, Jen goes to her knees just outside of it looking at Jade’s profile.
“Jade? Can you hear me? Can you show me your arms?” she asks this in a soothing voice, as though Jade was a frightened child.
Jade doesn’t look at her. She continues to stare at Kloud.
“I’m turning myself over to the police.” She says again in that same monotone.
“Why?” Kloud asks. “Tell me why.”
“Because I set the Class One Mage Fire at Harvard.” Jade answers plainly.
Sari gasps in fright, fisting a hand in Kloud’s sweater as she tries to back up. Kloud doesn’t move with her however, forcing her to stay put or leave the protection his body offers. Kloud doesn’t say anything further, darting a look at Jen’s heartbroken face, Jade’s blank one and then the containment circle that separates them.
“Jade? I’m so so sorry.” The Scrivener whispers, and Alex can see that she’s got tears in her eyes. But the young woman takes a deep breath and orders: “Jade, show me your forearms.”
The woman in the circle obligingly uses her hands to push her sleeves up. They all make noises of surprise or horror, because Jade’s tattoos are moving under her skin. The color is patchy and faded, and clearly actively struggling against the work Jen and ‘Mega had done weeks ago.
The door to the shop opens with a crash, and ‘Mega charges in, toolbox in hand; while Hyper and Kai tumble in behind him. He’s half-dressed and soaking wet but he doesn’t hesitate to march straight to Jade’s side and slam his toolbox down, ripping open the lid.
“There’s no time, you have to start now.” ‘Mega says after one fast glance at Jade’s arms. He yanks a tool that looks very similar to thin ice pick out of the tray. The metal glows oddly, and has characters in a foreign language that are starting to shine with unnatural light.
Alex doesn’t think she can watch. Jen told her some of what happened the night Jade arrived at the shop’s kitchen. She doesn’t know if she can be here and watch this happen again. Ty is suddenly at her side, his face tight with confusion and horror.
“Cover your ears,” Donnie says firmly. His grim features don’t give anyone any room to disobey. Alex and Ty both put their hands over their ears. Alex sees Hyper and Kai do the same from the corner of her eye. Hyper is crying as she does so.
“What the hell are you planning on –“ is as far as Kloud is able to voice his objection, taking one hesitant step towards Jade.
Jen puts her hands on Jade’s shoulders, high up where her skin is left bare by the wide neck of her shirt. The baker falls backwards, still inside the circle. Her spine bends into an excruciating curve while Jen doggedly hangs on to her friend.
‘Mega grabs Jade’s right wrist, pins it to the floor and touches the point of the pick to the writhing black letters on her skin. Black flashes erupt from that spot, striking the containment circle as though it was a grounding rod. The ink sizzles, and burns but holds.
Jade drags in a ragged breath, and screams as though they are cutting her open from throat to belly.
Get to 18 and get out of foster care. Get out of the state mandated anything. Get out of being an orphan. Just…get out.
Apathy is the name of the game. If no one is going to care about her, she’s not going to care about anyone. Least of all herself.
And then Justin Decameron happens.
Decameron is a skinny streak of nothing at 15 and arrives at the orphanage as a result of a complex tangle events. The salient facts however, as Decameron explains are this:
“Mom’s fucked in the head and likes to take it out on me; Dad’s fucked in the pancreas, cancer’s taking it out on him.”
With his Dad in intensive care and a lack of relatives that can take him in, Decameron just sort of defaults to the state orphanage.
It’s Alex’s turn to be mentor for the newbie so she is forced to guide the kid from orphanage, to school, make sure he gets enrolled properly and just generally make sure he doesn’t make a break for the Canadian border.
(One of the other older kids, Ethan, had that happen with his newbie a few years ago. The outcome was not optimal for anyone involved.)
So when the kid starts lugging around thick tomes in tall stacks from somewhere Alex is duty bound to call him out on it.
“What’s with the books?”
“Trying to give The Bitch a run for her money.” Decameron replies absently around a highlighter that is hanging from his mouth. His mother’s honorary title is so well known at this point it needs no clarification.
Alex blinks in surprise, “Oh. Nice.” She compliments.
Because it is. Alex can appreciate that much at least.
“Yea, if I can figure this bullshit out. And find a lawyer willing to do some pro bono work.”
“Get your dad to dictate some letters. Dying father’s last request. He certainly doesn’t want you to end up with The Bitch.”
Decameron looks up at that, his expression equal amounts awestruck and appalled.
She ends up lending a hand in her copious free time. Alex likes the idea of being able to strike back at a failed mother figure. It’s…cathartic.
The fact that she’s good at it comes as a complete surprise.
Decameron is emancipated when he is 16, right before Alex herself turns 18. He’s no longer a ward of the state so he can’t stay at the orphanage but when he leaves, he presses one of the law books they both spent hours reading over and over into her hands.
“Sed lex, dura lex.” Is all he says as his farewell.
The passion for her job comes later, it is something she will cultivate at college and law school. But the compassion she realizes is something she had the entire time. Even if she spent years ignoring it; it was something that lived in her heart the whole time, the last gift her father gave her.
- Current Mood: accomplished
- Current Music:Gaelynn Lea
Alex spends the early hours of January 1 in the ER. She’s not sure if that is a very auspicious start, but she does admit to herself that from here, one can really only go up.
Kloud turns up after Sunny calls him. The police officer is in his uniform, Levi takes one look at the man and starts crying silently. To his credit, Kloud doesn’t miss a beat, simply hustles the kid into one of the hospital’s conference rooms with Alex to serve as witness. It’s not in any way ideal from a legal standpoint, but well, circumstances rarely ever are.
Alex is silent while Levi explains what happens, she just sits next to the young man with a comforting hand on top of his.
“What made you decide to report the abuse now?” Kloud asks at the end, his pencil poised over his open notebook.
“He could have killed her. I think he wanted to.” Levi says quietly. “It’s been…different lately. I’ve been spending more and more time out of the house. Used to be, he just sorta paid us equal attention, you know? We each got half of it, which we could just deal with. But I haven’t been around, and she’s been getting more of her fair share.”
“Fair?” Alex whispers, tightening her hand around Levi’s so much that he turns in his seat to look at her. “There isn’t anything about this that is fair.”
Levi gives her a heartbroken, crooked smile. “The universe isn’t fair.”
“Still,” Alex stresses, unwilling to let this go. “There is no ‘fair share’ here, Levi. You know that right? This isn’t your fault, you don’t deserve to be treated like this.”
“Neither does your step-mother,” Kloud adds quietly, closing his notebook. “If you two will excuse me, I have someone to go and arrest.” He rises from his seat, pops his uniform hat back on and leaves the room.
“You’ve done a wonderful and brave thing, Levi.” Alex begins, “But I want you to know that you shouldn’t have had too. You are a child, and the adults in your life are supposed to protect you.”
“She tried, you know. In the beginning.” Levi admits. He looks off into middle distance for a long moment. “It was okay for a little while. He convinced her he was changing. But he didn’t. He never will.”
Alex draws him into a hug, resting her chin on his head and trying to somehow radiate her dim memories of unconditional parental love through her limbs and into his shivering frame.
“It is his loss.” She whispers into his hair.
Levi’s stepmother is released later that night with strict instructions not to sleep more than 3 hours at a time. The ER is reluctant to let her go with only Levi to keep an eye on her, so Alex steps up and offers them her guest room.
Back at the coffee shop, everyone is still awake and waiting on them. Hyper delivers untold quantity of tea and hot chocolate upstairs while Jade turns out perfect buttery delicacies in every flavor and construction she can think of until she is assured she has identified their favorites.
Alex finds GJ hunched over Hyper’s shop laptop when she comes down to get some espresso (sleep is a forgone idea at this point, she knows she’ll just have to wait until the following night or be hopelessly muddled when it is time to return to work in two days). She leans on him while she sips her drink, curling into his side like a comma and tucking her head into his neck. He seamlessly lifts an arm so she can cuddle closer, all without breaking eye contact with the computer.
“What are you doing?” she asks, trying to make sense of the rapidly shifting screen. He goes to fast for her to make out any of the pages or documents.
“Destroying Oakland’s credit, at the moment.” GJ answers blithely. “I’ll see about getting him on the sex offender’s registry next. I’ve already gotten his tax returns fucked up beyond all recognition.”
Alex takes a moment to parse that information fully before snapping up.
“What?!” she demands.
GJ casts her a quick, skeptical glance before going back to his screen. “What? You can’t tell me he doesn’t deserve it. The bastard nearly killed his wife with a baseball bat.”
“It’s not a matter of whether or not he deserves it. Kloud arrested him, he’s going to jail.”
“It’s the law, GJ. This is what I’ve dedicated my life too. You’re breaking the law right in front of me. What am I supposed to do?”
Alex reaches out and grips his shoulder, bodily turning him away from the computer and to face her.
“GJ, stop. Please. Undo everything you’ve done, right now.”
The man’s jaw clenches and he mulishly frowns at her, “I’m not going to get caught. This building is a black hole online. Nothing that happens here is traceable outside.”
“I did not need to know that.” Alex addresses first, “That that is so not the point.”
“You don’t care if I get caught?”
“I care that you’re doing this at all. GJ, I’m an officer of the court, I have to up hold the law. That would require me to turn you in to the police.”
“It isn’t right!” GJ erupts. “He’s arrested sure, but you and I both know that he won’t be in jail for nearly long enough. If we’re lucky he’ll be in there long enough for Levi to turn 18 and for Sharon to divorce him!”
“This isn’t about what’s right, it’s about the law.” Alex stresses, shaking him a little bit. “I never said this was perfect, I’ve studied law for my entire adult life I know where it falls short every time of what is right. But I didn’t swear to uphold the law only when I agree with it! I swore to uphold it always!”
“Why?” GJ asks desperately. “If you know it’s a broken system, why did you buy into it?”
“Because it’s all we have!” Alex replies furiously. “It’s all I had! The only other option is to become a vigilante and that always ends so well doesn’t it?! At least as a lawyer I can help people navigate this medieval, byzantine system. At least as a lawyer I can effect change. It’s slow and it is never enough but for all of my childhood the law was the only thing that stood between me and growing up on the streets!”
“You’re stepmother left you behind. The law didn’t protect you from that.” GJ says, quiet again.
“Yes it did,” Alex replies. “It didn’t punish her, and don’t think for one second that I don’t wish there was a way to do that, but it did protect me. The state foster home wasn’t the best place, GJ. There were times that I honestly thought the street would be better – but I was protected. I never went hungry. No one ever beat me and I always had a warm place to sleep.”
GJ reaches out, snags her by the arms and pulls her to his chest. He mindlessly shoves the laptop off his knees and instead drags Alex across his lap while he sinks back onto the sofa.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He chants against her temple, squeezing her as tight as he can without hurting her. Alex wraps her arms around him as much as she can from her position and tries to soothe him.
“It just isn’t fair.” GJ says eventually. “I hate that Oakland is only going to get a couple years in jail and some probation. I hate that he will get out of jail knowing how to get away with what he does better. I hate that he’s going to find another woman at some point and do the same thing to her. I want to render his life to shambles so that maybe, just maybe he’ll be so busy trying to pick up the pieces he won’t have time or energy to beat on another person or kid.”
“I understand,” Alex whispers. “I hate it too, GJ. But you can’t take his punishment onto yourself. If you do, you take on partial responsibility for him for the rest of his life. If you do, you will have to carry him around for the rest of your life. And he isn’t worth that. None of them are worth that.”
GJ runs a hand up and down her side, “Is that what you tell yourself about your step mother?”
“Does it help?”
GJ sighs, heavy and resigned. “And on the days that it doesn’t help?”
Alex tries to stifle a smile but can’t quite manage it, “Recently? Mess around with you.”
That brings a sort of electric quality to every place that GJ is touching her inside a second. He tenses, and before Alex can fully process it, she is flat on her back on the couch with GJ prowling over her in a very determined fashion.
“Really?” he practically purrs, “Would you mind returning the favor?”
Alex loops her arms around his neck and drags him down as her reply. He rests his weight against her, and she bends her knees to bracket his hips. He reaches back, and hikes her right thigh higher, letting him press closer. Alex’s focus recedes to just the man in her arms, doing frankly wonderful things to her and she gives as good as she can back.
The lawyer is starting to give serious consideration to GJ’s button down shirt, and how quickly she can divest him of it, when the coffee shop door opens to admit Hyper. Alex knows this because two seconds after she distantly hears the door shut she hears this:
“Crayle! What the hell did you do to my computer?!”
GJ breaks the kiss with a surprised start to glance over the side of the couch. Hyper’s poor laptop is on its side, a forlorn crack in the screen.
- Current Mood: amused
- Current Music:"Trip Switch" by Nothing But Thieves
Alex isn’t sure why Hyper has insisted on Christmas carols at the New Year’s Eve party, so she asks.
“Because after midnight it is no longer acceptable to play them.” Hyper explains over homemade eggnog. “I’m getting my final fix in.”
“It’s unacceptable to play them after Christmas.” Jade gripes from her counter where she is rolling out more cinnamon rolls. They, as a group, have already decimated her first and second batches.
“My shop, my tunes!” Hyper replies with a grin.
Jade glares and goes back to carefully slathering delicious smelling spices across the dough she just rolled out.
Alex leans back and peeks through the kitchen doorway to see GJ mind melding with the twin’s gaming system on the shop TV so everyone can play Super Mario Kart later. The twins themselves are upstairs tracking down more controllers since GJ assured them that generation didn’t matter with his abilities.
Jen is working on the menu signs for tomorrow. She’s a great deal relaxed about her powers these days, especially around friends. Liquid streams of white, red, green and yellow flow effortlessly from open bottles on the bar while an awe struck Ty curiously pokes at them, grinning in delight when he realizes the ink doesn’t stick to his skin.
“Do you think we’ll have leftovers that I can sell tomorrow?” Hyper asks, bringing Alex’s attention back to the kitchen.
“Hyper,” Jade begins dryly, “GJ is here. I’m amazing I’m only on the third batch.”
“Alright, fair point. Can you hide some from him?”
“I can try. But he has unfettered access to the security cameras, so I’m not sure if I’d be successful.”
“You wouldn’t.” GJ announces cheerfully from the doorway as he strides in. “And Hyper! Hiding the delicious cinnamon rolls from me! For shame!” He draws even with Alex, presses a quick, caste kiss to her temple while slipping his left arm around her waist.
“Website maintenance only gets you so far, Crayle. You’re eating me out of my pantry.”
“I’ll fix all your online billing for you.”
“And debug my personal computer. And set up my wireless printer so it works for everyone.” Hyper haggles.
“Ugh. Printers and wireless networks? Are you trying to kill me?”
“Okay, okay, deal.”
The two solemnly shake on it before trading matching happy smiles.
“We’re back!” Kai calls from the shop door. “Sunny’s here finally!”
Alex, GJ and Hyper all lean around the door jamb to wave a welcome at a cold, red nosed Sunny and she trudges into the shop shaking snow from her hair.
“Happy New Year!” Sunny cheers taking her coat off and hanging it up on the rack by the door. The second that she is detangled from her coat/scarf/glove combination, she pounces on her boyfriend, shoving her hands under his shirt making him yelp.
“Stars! You’re hands are freezing, get off!” Kai howls, shoving the extra controllers at his brother so he can turn and fight off the blonde invader.
‘Mega juggles the extra controllers, just barely making it to a table to drop them. Kai snatches his girlfriend’s wrists to shove her back, but she just lets him pin her arms backwards while she steps forward and plants a determined kiss on his lips. Kai’s entire affect instantly softens as he leans eagerly into the kiss and lets go of her arms so that he can wrap his own around her waist and lift her the couple of inches from the ground so that they are equal in height.
“Get a room!” Jen shouts good-naturedly from the bar.
Alex squeaks in surprise when suddenly her own boyfriend, his arm still around her waist uses it to dip her sharply and kiss her as well. GJ’s eyes are on her’s mischievous and playful as he nips at her bottom lip with gentle teeth. Alex smiles against his mouth, wraps her arms around his neck and kisses him back with fervor.
“Not you too! It’s not midnight yet you guys, knock it off!” Jen calls, outright laughing now.
“No PDA in the kitchen!” Jade hollers from her counter, furious.
GJ gracefully walks them two more feet through the doorway and with a cheeky wink at Jade goes back to kissing the daylights out of Alex.
“What is this? A contest?” Hyper hoots tossing a wet dish towel at them. GJ pulls back and sets Alex back on her feet so he can lob the dish rag at Kai and Sunny who are still kissing by the door.
Said door quietly clicks open again, this time to admit a clearly nervous Levi and a woman none of them have ever seen before. Levi is holding tightly to her hand, leading her carefully into the shop. If Levi is nervous this woman is practically petrified, her eyes are unfocused and she moves like she’s drunk.
“Levi?” ‘Mega asks quietly, his tone lacking all inflection but still somehow carrying his usual solemnness. Kai breaks his kiss, puts Sunny back on her feet and turns to face their new guests.
Levi looks at all of them, his eyes restlessly flickering over each of them in turn before finally settling on Hyper who still stands behind the counter next to Alex.
“I need help,” is how be begins.
Alex spends the first seven years of her life loved. And she knows it. She has no memories of her mother, but her father makes a special effort to speak of the woman often. Sharing experiences, thoughts, funny stories and pictures with Alex whenever she asks. Her mother started a baby book after finding out she was pregnant, that baby book is Alex’s bed time story for many years. Her father, despite the heartbreak it must bring him, reads through the pages over and over without falter. Without ever asking for another book.
That, Alex, thinks to herself many years in the future, is what love looks like. A faded baby book made by a woman long gone, and the man who loved her willing to break his heart every night rereading it to their child.
Her stepmother is not so understanding. In Alex’s humble opinion, her step mother is not much of anything, other than a terrible person.
Alex’s father passes away when she is seven after a car crash. He lingers, on life support for three days before her step mother signs the paperwork to turn it all off. The woman then packs up their life, their house, their furniture, their things and their memories in a flurry of activity; barely pausing long enough to hold a wake and a funeral. In two short weeks she is ready to return to her home town in western Pennsylvania.
“Heartbreak is best soothed by familiar surroundings,” her step mother says tightly as she tapes up yet another box from Alex’s room.
Alex doesn’t know what half of those words mean, but she knows that she doesn’t want to leave. She doesn’t want to leave her house, her room, her friends, her school, her home. This is where her father is, this is where her mother is, this is where all the things she knows about anything are. She cannot leave them behind. This is where she was loved.
When she tells her step mother this it is through tears, at volume and includes as many bad words as she can muster at seven. The woman listens to the angry, childish tirade in its entirety before finally replying:
Her step mother leaves her at the county orphanage on her way out of New York and Alex never sees or hears from her again.
- Current Mood: accomplished
- Current Music:"Alaska" by Maggie Rogers
wtf is this coffee machine and why is it TALKING
Not a charmer
Lets open a coffee shop!
Coffee shops are very expensive
Blessed buildings like Hyper
First customer is a red head!
Jen needs a place to crash
Hyper has a place for crashing
Jen is a scrivener
Blessed buildings are somewhat difficult to live in
Jen's teacher is a douchebag
That douchebag teacher and explosions
Why is there an unconcious woman in the kitchen?
Jade's life kinda sucks
Really kinda sucks
But she's a damn good baker
More on Jade's sucky life
Jade is something of a defeatist
GJ is baffling even on good days
also, Hyper is a badass and the building loves her
GJ is a technomancer!
There's a hole in my coffeeshop and it's GJ's fault
GJ likes puzzles
But not this puzzle
holy crap it only took me 25 chapters to get them all in the same room (except Ty. damnit.)
Sunny is perplexed by these odd people
Sunny likes success (or DOES SHE?)
She is also a badass and Kai LOVES THIS
Sunny and Kai go on a date!
Sunny quits her job and decides that an oracle is her only hope
Donnie is a cutie; and is kinda sassy (who knew?)
no, really, what the hell is up with this building
Donnie is an oracle and Kloud is a quantum particle
Blessed buildings are master meddlers and Donnie is very nervous about this
The other oracles are kinda mean
Levi is a cute little stray puppy
Makers vs. Mages Battle of the Ages!
HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE
good flirting and bad flirting, also, the death of words
good golly gosh lets join the army!
resurrect those words Kai
The Springs twins come into their separate powers at age sixteen. Makers and Breakers aren’t by any means rare in the US but getting the appropriate training can get expensive. In an effort to spare their mother the stress of two sons in college at the same time, Kai and ‘Mega decide to join the Army.
The decision isn’t one they take lightly, but between the recruiter that practically salivated over them when they first come by to inquire and the promises of a free education they figure it is the best option they have.
Joining is a practical decision, not a patriotic one. So it isn’t until they are facing a war zone in Iraq that they begin to seriously reconsider their choice. It’s not really the fighting that gets to them, as members of the Army Corps of Engineers and Spellcasters the twins don’t see much fighting. It’s the magic that’s expected of them.
Kai is an average Maker. His faith is stronger than most, but his imagination is not nearly as creative as others. But the curses they want from him…Kai still has nightmares about those curses.
He knows his brother doesn’t have it any better. As a Breaker ‘Mega is called in during interrogations to shatter protection charms and loyalty bonds. He is expected to tear down wards that stand over sacred places and sabotage guardian constructs.
They choose to leave after a single tour.
It is not a choice that the U.S. Government takes laying down.
It’s another early morning just three days before Christmas. Kai kills time waiting on his brother down in the shop kitchen watching Jade roll out that morning’s offerings. In an effort to get the last of their orders done before Christmas Eve, the twins have been getting up well before dawn. Jade has some kind of 30s big band swing on the shop’s sound system and is swaying in time while she manages three ovens and several pans of pastries and biscuits. In addition, one of Kloud’s book is open on Jade’s recipe stand and every so often she will nod at Kai to turn her page.
“Can you really even enjoy a book right now?” he asks her when she spins away on a down beat to silence one of the oven alarms and yank out two trays of perfectly cooked cheese danish.
“I’m dying to know what happen actually,” Jade admits sheepishly, as she sheds her oven mits and goes back to rolling out the dough for cookies.
“It’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Jade. I’m amazed you don’t already know what happens.”
Jade flicks flour at him in annoyance, “I’ve told you guys over and over, my education was very different from yours.”
“But really, missing out on basic American classics?”
“Never had a literature class, Kai.”
“That is genuinely terrible.”
“So I am beginning to understand.” Jade says ruefully. “Where are you and ‘Mega headed today?”
“Out to Red Hook to our workshop first. We’ve got several refurbishments to finish up and then we’re heading to the Village for some historic restoration.”
“Tell me that pays well.”
“You have no idea.” Kai replies with a toothy grin. “It’s going to be a very nice Christmas this year.”
The door in the shop opens and shuts loudly, Kai gets up from the stool to gather his things. But instead of his brother, Sunny appears in the doorway suddenly.
“Sunny?” Kai asks, bewildered, “What are you doing here?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Sunny confesses wearily. “Jade, can you get me some coffee? Last time I tried to work with Hyper’s machine it spat hot water at me.”
Jade laughs, dusts her hands off on her apron and walks through the doorway and into the shop, slipping past Sunny.
“Sure, Professor.” The baker winks at the other woman as she passes. Sunny grimaces at the moniker.
“I’m certifiable for agreeing to this,” Sunny remarks to Kai. The young carpenter drops his things back to the floor and goes over to offer his girlfriend a comforting hug.
“You’re going to do fine,” he says firmly, lips against the crown of her head. “You know this stuff backwards, forwards and diagonally. And it’s just a guest lecture. If you don’t like it, you never have to see any of them ever again.”
Sunny sighs contentedly, wraps her arms loosely around his waist and leans against him.
“Oi,” Jade says as she returns, mug of coffee in hand, “No PDA in my kitchen. It’s unsanitary.”
“It’s a hug.” Kai tells her.
“For now.” Jade replies, mock suspicion in her voice.
Sunny giggles, pulls away and accepts the coffee from her friend.
“Thanks,” she says. Jade waves it off and goes back to her work station.
“Out of my kitchen the both of you,” the baker orders.
The pair obligingly goes out into the dark shop and sits down at one of the smaller tables to nurse their coffees.
“So what’s really got you freaked out?” Kai asks. “It’s not about the lecturing part, you can’t fool me.”
Sunny brushes some of her hair from her face before propping her chin up on her palm.
“I guess I’m just nervous about it because it’s new, you know? I don’t want to disappoint and I really don’t want to be disappointed myself.”
“This sounds trite, but it is true: you just have to try your best, Sunny. And then there’s no reason to feel disappointed.”
“But what if this isn’t what I’m looking for? What if Donnie is wrong?”
“Then you try something else, it’s really that simple.” Kai assures her.
The shop door suddenly opens again, Kai turns, expecting again for his brother to appear. ‘Mega still hasn’t come down, this time the cold, bitter morning admits their reclusive neighbor who stumbles across the threshold with a surprised look on his face.
“Morning!” Kai welcomes, glad to see the young man out and about. He has a messenger bag strapped across his chest and a documents tube over one shoulder. “Come on in and get a cup of coffee before you head out where ever you’re going.” Kai continues.
Kloud has been working hard to get Ty to socialize in the shop more now that he knows Jade’s hours. Ty for his part, has put up minimal resistance since there is someone he can talk to with ease, but at the same time, still spends the majority of his time up in his apartment alone.
“JADE!” Kai yells at the open doorway while Ty hangs up his things on the coat rack.
“WHAT.” Comes Jade’s annoyed reply.
“TY.” Kai responds. Ty flushes, embarrassed. They have all learned that the easiest way to combat his shyness though is to just ignore it and wait for him to rejoin the conversation when he’s comfortable. The artist tends to get even more flustered if anyone calls attention to his sensitivity.
Jade comes out of the kitchen, slapping her hands on her apron to shake off the flour.
“Morning Ty, can I get you anything?”
Ty responds in a flurry of signs while Jade pulls down a mug from the shelf.
“One Americano coming right up,” Jade replies. “Or you know, if the machine agrees with you.”
Ty huffs a laugh in response.
“Come sit with us while you wait,” Sunny invites, hooking a foot around one of the other tables’ chairs and pulling it closer. Kai turns it so it faces the right direction. Ty wanders over and drops into the seat signing his thanks. Jade follows a couple of minutes later with Ty’s coffee and a mug of her own. She pulls up another chair as well.
“Where are you headed so early, Ty?” Kai asks.
Ty, signing while Jade puts voice to it, replies “I have a client meeting this morning. I wanted to head into Manhattan before the subway gets super busy.”
“Showing off some mock ups, or a final product?” Sunny inquires, nodding at the large protective tube that Ty has hung up on the coat rack with his outerwear.
“Final product. A logo for a new law firm.” Ty signs back.
“Nice, I hope they give you a tidy Christmas bonus.” Jade says.
“Fingers crossed.” Ty replies. “How about you two?”
“Work,” Kai responds with a despondent sigh. “Christmas orders, man. They’re going to kill me.”
“I’m guest lecturing at one of the local universities. I couldn’t sleep so I decided to kill time here.” Sunny answers.
“I had no idea this place was open this early. I thought it opened at 6.” Ty signs.
“It does,” Jade answers after voicing the question for the others, “But the building will let in people sometimes. It’s one of the reasons I’m here from 10 to 6. I field all the people that randomly show up in the middle of the night because they are in desperate need of a cup of coffee. Or someone to listen. Or a place to crash. Or on one memorable occasion, the Wi-Fi.”
“GJ?” Kai asks, grinning.
“Yep,” Jade says laughing.
“Do people show up a lot at night?” Ty asks.
“Hmmm, maybe three or four times a week. They usually just need a coffee, or something small to eat.” Jade answers.
Kai frowns, momentarily concerned. He hadn’t known that Jade was having to mind the shop while that many random people were wandering in.
“If you ever want company, just in case, you can always call me or ‘Mega.” Kai offers firmly.
“And deprive you of your beauty sleep?” Jade teases.
Kai scoffs, “Hilarious. But really, Jade. We can go a couple of days without sleep, it’s no trouble.”
“You learn how to do that in the Army?” Jade asks.
“Sleep in a war zone is a luxury, believe me,” Kai replies without thinking.
“Is it the noise?” Sunny asks, clearly curious.
Kai feels the all too familiar lump in this throat rising to choke him, but manages to squeeze an answer out for his girlfriend.
“No, it’s not the noise. It’s the…atmosphere. A base, especially a base in a war zone is never really…restful or relaxing. It’s never really asleep. Do you know what I mean?”
“Like the city can be?” Ty offers.
“A little,” Kai admits. He has never thought of the city as restful, it’s New York City after all. “But not quite. The city is restless – like how you feel sometimes at night when all you want to do is leave it all behind and just start walking? It’s a kind of restlessness that has no focus, you know? The base wasn’t like that. It never slept – but there was always purpose to the sleeplessness. There was always something that needed doing.”
“So they kept you busy, even during your downtime?” Jade queries.
“Oh yea,” Kai asserts with feeling. That is an easy question and requires little thought or struggle. “’Mega and I were in pretty constant demand because of our abilities. If we couldn’t sleep, there was always work to do.”
“Wasn’t that unhealthy though?” Ty interjects, hands flying through his words, “I mean – you needed your downtime, right? Even if you weren’t sleeping, you should have had time off.”
Kai shrugs ineloquently, these words proving to be a great deal harder to summon. He takes a few seconds to try and gather his thoughts and the others seem content to let him have the time.
“It wasn’t easy. And you’re right, it was really unhealthy…but well…sometimes the work was all we had to distract us from what was expected of us. As weird as that sounds.” Kai finally says, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.
“So long as you had something to focus on, you could ignore the larger ramifications, am I right?” Sunny asks, resting her hand on Kai’s wrist on the table.
Kai sighs in relief, because that is a much clearer way of putting it. He’s going to have to try and remember that one.
“Yea, that’s it exactly.”
“I don’t mean to sound insensitive,” Jade interrupts, “But what did they have you two doing?”
“Hyper hasn’t told you?” Kai asks, surprised. He figured that the coffee shop owner would have shared with Jade and Jen at least. But Jade shakes her head.
“No, she has never said anything.”
“Ruining lives, mostly.” Kai replies. “In a variety of creative, terrible ways we worked at ruining lives.”
“Oh,” Jade says weakly. “Well, I can certainly relate to that.”
Ty and Sunny both look perplexed by Jade’s answer but never get the chance to ask because ‘Mega finally comes down from the apartment, dressed in his work clothes and carrying their tool box.
“Oi, Kai, you ready?”
Kai whirls in his seat, pissed “You’re asking me that? Seriously?!”
‘Mega is unaffected by his twin’s ire, ignoring Kai’s muttered insults as he gets up and gathers his bag and coat.
“It’s started snowing again,” ‘Mega remarks, shutting the shop door behind him to keep the cold out. “Where’s your hat?”
“In my bag, mother.” Kai half snarls yanking said item out and tugging it over his hair and ears. Jade chuckles at the brothers while gathering up everyone’s empty mugs and heading back towards the kitchen.
“If you guys give me five seconds I’ll have some blackberry scones for you to go.”
“Done deal,” ‘Mega replies eagerly.
Kai finishes putting his coat on and turns to Sunny and Ty, “Do you guys want a ride to the subway station? We’re headed in that direction.”
Ty nods quickly and flips his hand down from his chin in thanks.
“I appreciate the offer, but the university buildings won’t be open for a couple more hours. I’ll hang out with Jade for a while longer.” Sunny says, standing so she can peck a sweet kiss on Kai’s lips.
“You can turn my pages for me!” Jade cheers coming back into the shop space just in time to catch the end of Sunny’s sentence.
“Is she serious?” Sunny asks Kai.
“Deadly serious. She’s down to the last four chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“I must know what happens.” Jade says emphatically, handing a paper bag over to ‘Mega. “I put a cheese Danish in there for you Ty. Make sure you grab it out of the bag before the boys drop you at the station.”
Ty signs something to Jade that she doesn’t bother saying aloud but she grins happily at the artist in the response.
“Well with praise like that, it’s easy to be nice to you.” She replies.
“How about I read aloud to you?” Sunny asks Jade as the boys head for the door.
“Huh, that would probably go better,” Jade agrees. “You don’t mind?”
“Not at all, it’ll be nice to reread it.”
‘Mega opens the door and gets an armful of Hyper for his trouble. The sleepy eyed barista gives Kai’s brother a grin as she brushes by them all to get into the shop.
“Morning boys!” she chirps, yawning, already tugging her coat from her shoulders. ‘Mega stares at her back, a look in his eyes that reminds Kai quite suddenly of their mother many, many years ago. Longing. Wild, fierce longing.
Kai puts his hands on his brother’s shoulders and shoves him out the door, following and trusting Ty to pull it shut behind them. Once out in the snow and the quiet, cold morning Kai faces his brother on the side walk.
“If you do not find the words necessary to tell that woman how you feel about her, I will take drastic action.” Kai announces.
“Leave it alone, Kai.” ‘Mega hisses, stealing an uneasy glance at Ty who casts about for something to look at that doesn’t include the feuding brothers.
“No. I won’t. You know why?” Kai asks, poking ‘Mega in the chest with his finger and not giving him a chance to answer. “Because you look at her the way mom used to look at dad. And you and I both know how that one turned out. All because they could never figure out how to talk to each other.”
“It’s not that simple, Kai.” ‘Mega answers softly.
“I didn’t say it was. And I know it isn’t. Especially for us. But, seriously, ‘Mega. We have got to be better people than our parents.”
‘Mega glances away at that, a bitter frown twisting his mouth.
“I’ll try.” He promises, after a long moment’s pause.“That’s all I want.” Kai assures him. “For both of us, I just want us to keep trying.”