Where There’s Smoke: The Peace of Twin Falls

The odd thing about Twin Falls, Sin realized, is that the city wasn’t really a city at all. It behaved more like an organic being. If he wanted a drink, the people lining the streets would point him towards a bar. If he wanted to fight, someone would oblige and smash a glass. If he wanted to be left alone, he was left alone.


Except these weren’t pod people, or robots, or aliens. They looked like, well, normal people. Time had worn their faces, they bled (Sin had tested that little hypothesis extensively), and the farther you got away from Anathema’s modest house, the more… people-like they acted.

 

The longer you stayed in Twin Falls, the more you realized just how much control Anathema had over the city. It wasn’t a city – it was just an extension of the woman.


And so, you couldn’t help but be a little nervous when she called you to her home for a chat.

 

Sin involuntarily shivered when one of the people just up and told him that Anathema wanted to talk to him. They maybe acted like people. They might have looked like people. But whatever she’d done to them, they weren’t people anymore. Just…. meat suits. The first fight he’d gotten in was fun enough, and won, handily. But then after two, or three,  he realized that they were letting him win. And then they were letting him drink, and eat, and do whatever he wanted. When a cute girl or guy walked across his way, and his thoughts naturally turned towards that darker way, he saw their eyes, and the thoughts fled in the fear of those amethyst eyes. He really, really didn’t want to know Anathema in that way, and knowing that these people didn’t have any choice in the matter…. took all of the fun out of the idea.  And so he didn’t.

 

Half the fun of what he did was knowing that it offended, or made angry, or was just crazy enough that he enjoyed it, and usually other folks enjoyed it with him. This… he was the only one in the city. Him, and all of Anathema. Still. It was power. Just… maybe not the kind he wanted.

 

Sin, however, HAD taken advantage of the city’s moderate wealth. New shoes, new suit, new wallet, new sunglasses, new haircut. He looked the very definition of a man of wealth and taste. Black suit, red tie, very snazzy. Sunglasses that were just the latest fashion. The iPhone 12. Black hair cleaned, styled, and spiked in a crazy way. He’d been healed up, and everything felt better, and his confidence was back. His TK was back. Yeah, he was nervous… but it was a much more even playing field. Oh, and the metamorphic slime, his current ace in the hole, wrapped around his chest underneath the suit. Anyone tackled him like Nat did, they’d be in for a spikey surprise.

 

He knocked gently, twice, on Anathema’s door, polite as can be, deep purple eyes shining and a confident smirk, belying the deep nervousness inside.

 

Mathilda opens the door – that same old woman with the sunken eyes who had been eaten by Anathema from the inside out. You’re beckoned into the living room, and given some ice cold lemonade and cheese tea biscuits. “Thanks, Mathilda, you’re a sweetheart.”

 

It would be pleasant, if not for… well. The entire Twin Falls and Anathema situation.

 

There’s a young man in room. He wasn’t noticeable at first, but he’s in the corner hidden by the door as Sin walked in. He affects a bored attitude, casually caressing the hilt of his sword in a gloved hand. His attention is on Anathema, looking at her through lashes heavy with mascara and with eyes lined with a well practiced dark pencil. The young man is both handsome and fit. Dressed in a silky red shirt that matched scarlet hair that was too bright and too vibrant to be anything dye, he lounged with loose, long limbs in an armchair.

 

Then his eyes flick up to look at Sin. There’s resentment there, under the cosmetics and bored furrow. And a distinct lack of purple in his red eyes.

 

“This is my son.” Anathema says by way of introduction. Her lips are thinned into a sharp line of irritation. “Callister, stop being rude. I taught you manners, didn’t I? Introduce yourself. And straighten your back.”

 

Callister slouches upwards in a strangely graceful movement that reveals his shirt is buttoned only halfway up. His hair is in that specific arrangement that looked like it casually falls that way naturally but was probably the result of hours in front of the mirror. “Apologies, Mother.” He bowed in her direction, then at Sin, a more shallow bow. “Callister Rayne, The Red Knight.”

 

Sin opens his mouth, pauses a second, takes a moment to register that Callister is Anathema’s son. He bites back all the goth snark and the question if he needed to go blog about his emotions soon. He’s never going to like this pretty boy, but, he’s Anathema’s kid. Shit. Well, guess shoving that sword up his ass and bending him until his sword breaks inside his ass isn’t going to happen. Oh well. The little bow of pretentiousness causes another attack of snark to hit, but he swallows it down. It is a struggle, not to start talking in Ye Olde Englishe. “Right. Sin, or Jacob, as my current alias is.” He just… nods at Callister, instead of putting him through the wall.

 

Anathema’s eyes bore into Sin. “I can see your thoughts,” she says simply. “My son may be simple, and not the man of faith I need him to be yet. But if you lay a single finger on him, I will turn you inside out and twist you around until you scream apologies to the sky.”

He was that easy to read? Was it on his face or could she really read his thoughts that well? Shit. He shrugged, and took a sip of that honestly awesome lemonade. Evil lemonade tasted better, who knew? “Of course, ma’am. You are, after all, the boss.” Pride grumbled, wrath spat curses in his head, but greed and envy nodded wisely. Gluttony wanted the cheese tea biscuits. “Did y’ need me for something, ma’am?”

 

“How do you like my city thus far?”

“I’m impressed.” And he was. “You’ve made it yours, in body and soul, ma’am. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but, my eyes are opening every day that I spend here. Though, to be honest, it is a bit… midwestern for me. I’m used to the big cities. No offense meant, ma’am.”

 

“There had better not be any offence meant.” Callister glowered, a dog at the ready.

 

“Down, Callister. He is a worldly man. See what the outside will do to you?” She turns her attention back onto Sin. “The initial flurry of attempting to apprehend you has died down. And the Midnight always needs new converts, new flesh and blood and minds and souls. I send emissaries out to find such troubled people, bring them home unto the flock. You might serve well as such a messenger.”

“Glad to hear it. Tried to change my look up slightly so that I could be of some use on the outside.” New converts. Meaning more people for her to enslave, perhaps. Or spread the word of the Midnight, her source of power, what she worshiped, he guessed. He nodded, thoughtfully. “There’s always folks looking for a new way. Been offended, persecuted, looking for the ‘way’, you know? People are hungry for that kind of thing. To be a part of something bigger. Though, I have to ask. Are you looking for quantity, because we can find that. Or are we looking for quality, like that Paranormal we grabbed on our way here?”

 

“Paranormals are difficult to crack, dangerous. The man in the cellar still insists his Legion is coming to save him. He will not let me in. Not yet. If you bring me Paranormals, make them ones who are short on will and insecure. Bring me Paranormals with cracks that I can exploit. That is the problem, the flaw with my power I have yet to solve. I need their damnable permission.”

Sin nods, thinking. This could work. She needed people short on will, insecure. He remained focus, pride in the forefront. Pride was the best thinker, out of all his sins. “Two ways I think we can go about this, then, ma’am. People nobody will miss, giving them a better life kind of thing. Runaways, orphans, drug addicts, the lowest of low. I know it doesn’t sound appealin’, but they do hear things, the underground of the underworld, as it were. They’ll be the information. Nobody’ll really miss them, and if we do it right, they’ll appear to be better functioning members of society, who’ll also spread th’ word. With them, we can find others. Paranormals who’ve slipped through th’ cracks.

 

Paranormals with no homes, no real place. People ripe for you, ma’am. Because they’ll be part of the Midnight. Part of somethin’…. bigger.” He pauses, thinking.

 

“Either plan will work. But you will need to discuss that with Callister, won’t you? He’ll be accompanying you.”

The kid in the red shirt sneers, flipping his long hair aside. “By God’s grace, it will be a pleasure to work with you.” There were layers in that sentence, some words he meant, some he definitely did not.

 

“You both will need to check in. You’ve been given full access to the Underground. It should be easy for you two to travel, and return home when need be.”

“Of course, mother. I will prove myself to God and to you.”

 

“You got it, ma’am.” He rises, and finishes off his lemonade, and polishes off those damned delicious biscuits. He cracks his neck, and looks at Callister. “You know, you’re lucky. The first place I’d like to visit, you’ll fit right in.” Sin makes a window with his hands, viewing Callister as if a movie producer. “The girls will love you, and the guys will too.”

 

Sin grins evilly, as he puts his hands in his jacket pockets. “If we want to see how each plan might be, we need to go to the lowest place on earth. I practically named myself for it.”

 

Anathema says nothing, but her amethyst eyes shift onto Callister, heavy with expectations.


Callister sniffs disdainfully. “Worldy expectations are beneath me. God has shown me my path.”

 

Sin’s eyes flash gold for a second, and he chuckles. “That, that last line right there.” He looks to Anathema. “That’s the kind of certainty we’re going to need in Vegas.”

 

Where There’s Smoke: Smoke and Mirrorballs

Smoke & Mirrorballs

 

THE FLYING FORTRESS

 

Someone had taken the Damselfly.

 

The whole point of the Damselfly, of Nat in the Legion, was to be bait. The problem was that a Legionnaire had given into the lure.


“This shouldn’t be…” Alice said, white in the face. “We screen people. We only recruit heroes. Villains go for Nat.”

Smokescreen, the Legionnaire who had taken Nat, was leaving a trail. She was tweeting as the Damselfly.

 

“It’s not that simple, Alice.” Tabitha said, trying to be reassuring.

Continue reading “Where There’s Smoke: Smoke and Mirrorballs”

Where There’s Smoke: Second Album Syndrome

SECOND ALBUM SYNDROME


Chad listened to the challenge from the loud speakers, took a breath and made to set Fi down. “Okay. I’m gonna…”  

 

Good enough for Fi. She stormed right inside.  

Continue reading “Where There’s Smoke: Second Album Syndrome”

Where There’s Smoke: The Hangover

A pool of flames and boiling blood erupted outside, and a tall figure in plate mail arose from it. He was carrying two figures – one over his shoulder, and another under his arm. He handed the smaller figure over to Gretchen, and then began to walk away with the unconscious Smokescreen.

 

“Drop the rogue agent!” Someone shouted. A poised woman in a flak vest, brown hair done up in a neat bun, ran onto the scene. She raised a stun pistol and fired it several times, but the bolts just bounced off the figure’s armor.

 

Callister ignored the bolts, not even deigning to smile at Tabitha Armitage. His bloody pool bubbled at his feet, and with each step, he disappeared. The bolts ting!ed off his armour, hitting the pavement. And then, he was gone.

 

Sawbones was there, with a kit at the ready. She went to Nat instantly, ignoring everything else.

 

The combat-suited woman holstered her stun pistol, cursing under her breath. She ran to where Sawbones was already attending to Nat. She looked like she was about to say something, but hesitated, nodded, and left her alone. She turned and strode toward Alice and the medic vainly trying to calm her down.

 

“Alice. Please.” Gretchen mumbled, settling Nat onto the ground so Sawbones can do her thing, and returning her attention to the panicky Paladin. “I do not think se-” She trails off, noticing her new company.

 

“It’s ANATHEMA, SHE IS BACK GIVE ME THE PHONE I NEED IT ARE YOU LEGION I AM A LEGION GENERAL GIVE ME THE PHONE -”

 

Alice Elizabeth McGowan,” Tabitha barked sharply, and Alice froze stock-still.

 

“T-T-T-T-T-T-Tabitha!” Alice said, hands frozen in panicked grabby motions around Gretchen, her face transfixed in a mixture of horror and an awkward grin as if it was possible to play this off.

She paused for a moment, thinking about her next line.


“Tabitha!” She repeated, this time less high pitched.

 

“I’ll… take her from here, Gretchen, thanks,” Tabitha shifted the infrequently-worn stun pistol’s holster further to the side and crouched down beside Alice. “Okay first thing, hon, let’s do a hug. Okay?”

 

The sound of music could be heard emanating from the club. Instead of dance music, it was the Sound of Music’s So Long, Farewell. Soapy bubbles carried the club staff, the Damselfly, and eir heroes to the club entrance with the rest of the Legion.

 

Nat stirred, groaning and coughing.

 

Fi ran in her bubble like it was a hamster ball before realizing that she could pop it, then kneeled next to Nat. “Nat?” she asked, cautiously.

 

Ey seemed to react to that.

 

“Nat? Yes?” Fi tried again.

 

With eyes closed, Nat reached out to touch Fiona’s face. “Fi. Fi. Fiona. Fiona, Fiona, Fiona.”

 

“Shh. Shh,” Fiona says, taking Nat’s hand. “Hey. Hey, I’m here, alright? Not going anywhere. And-” she looked around. “There’s like sixteen people here. You’re safe,” she said, trying to sound soothing.

 

Nat gripped Fi’s hand and practically tried to climb her arm, drawing her close. “The… she said, she—I thought I’d never see you again…”

 

The Legion gathered around, arguments and frustration forgotten. Nat was one of theirs, one of their family, and ey was safe.

 

Bonding Agents: Thicker Than Cream

‘BEAN SIDHE’ COFFEE HOUSE

RC ROUTE 1, EXIT 13, SOUBRIDGE

ROCK CITY

 

Benny was cleaning again. The Bean Sidhe was a 24-hour location, being on a major thoroughfare as it was, and given that Benny had one of the least active social lives of anyone at the shop, he ended up with overnight shifts more often than not. That was fine. Benny liked overnight shifts. They were slow. He could clean. And these days, he often had the company of his new friend Janet.

 

Not today, though; Janet had gone home two hours ago, leaving Benny and a single supervisor alone. The supervisor was in the back, performing financial busy work, and Benny was going through rote motions on the floor, keeping an eye out every so often in case someone showed up.

 

There was a jingle at the front door, and a tall figure stepped through. His hair was too red to be natural, clothes too…well, romantic goth, to be actual clothing (who wears a poet shirt with leather pants like that?) but the overall look just fit on him.

 

Benny startled, but he startled late. He moved slow, then not slow any more.

 

“Evening. I’ll have a tall cappuccino with a shot of hazelnut syrup.” Ruby red eyes took in Benny’s startlement and a curious lift of the brow.

 

“Absolutely! Let me just get behind the bar and I’ll wh…i…p…” Benny’s eyes widened as he looked up and saw the kind of character he’d been writing as a fanfic OC for the past ten years. He did a really terrible job of not looking Callister up and down. Holy shit.

 

Benny cleared his throat. “Whip that up.” He scurried behind the bar.

 

Callister casually leaned against the counter. “It’s Benny, isn’t it? We talked over Twitter. I’m Callister.”

 

“Oh! Right. Yes. I’d been meaning to ask. How did you find m-my sister?” Benny poured a small pitcher of whole milk and started steaming it.

 

There was a shrug. “The usual way. Someone responded to her, the conversation seemed interesting. I followed her, checked her previous Tweets, and there you were.”

 

“Wild,” Benny dispensed and packed a puck of espresso grounds, then fitted the brewing arm onto the espresso machine. “So that profile pic is… really you, huh. I figured it was, like, an actor you liked.”

 

Callister looked genuinely surprised. “Thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment. More people should use their own pictures. It reflects them more.”

 

Benny let out a self-deprecating chuckle. “With looks like yours, I could see why you’d say that.” He pulled two shots of espresso, glancing at his watch to time them as they poured.

 

“And what’s wrong with your looks? You’ve got good hair and nice eyes.” He poked at the counter display, picking out a couple bars of overpriced chocolate.

 

Benny’s pale, freckled face blushed almost as crimson as Callister’s hair. “You’re… that’s—very sweet of you to say. You came here for a cappuccino, not to compliment an insecure barista. Here, let me just—”

 

As he free-poured the steamed milk over the espresso, Benny shook the pitcher and moved it back gently, then caught the end of the foam with a wide spoon just as he finished pouring. It left a heart design etched in the foam, a wobbly tail trailing off its end. Still blushing, he smiled, set the drink on the counter, and fitted its lid on top. “Is that gonna be everything for you, Callister?”

 

Callister noticed the design on the foam, his fingers brushing against Benny’s as he took the cup. “Yes, this is fine.” He passed his card over for payment (who does that anymore?), and pressed something in Benny’s hand as he left with a wink.

 

It was a phone number. Call me.

 

Benny reeled, a bit faint.

 

A BRIEF TIME LATER

 

Was it too early to call? It was probably too early to call. It was too early to call.

 

Benny called.

 

One ring. Fuck, I could still hang up. Two rings. I could still hang up, I could just—but he’d see—three rings OKAY maybe he was just not gonna pick up and I could leave a me—

 

“Callister Rayne speaking.”

 

“Um. Hey! Callister!” He tried to smile charmingly. He was talking on the phone. “Um, Benny Schuster. From the coffee shop, and twitter. How’s it going?”

 

“Benny! Hello!” Callister sounded pleased over the line. You could almost hear his grin. “I’m well, you?” There were some weird sounds in the background, things hitting things it sounded like.

 

“Um, good! I’m good. Same old same old, you know?”

 

“Sorry, it’s a bit noisy in here. I’m at the gym.” Someone cried out in pain in the background. “Let me find somewhere quieter.” The sound of Callister moving, the ground sounded rough underfoot, like gravel? “What’s up, Benny?”

 

‘Is,” Benny shifted on his futon, “everything okay? I can call back if—”

 

“Oh, no no, everything’s fine here. The guys just get a little intense when a fight’s soon. How’s the coffee shop today?”

 

“I have the day off,” Benny shrugged, “and the neighbor I’m friends with is working a shift, so I figured I should give you a call.”

 

“Glad you did. It’s early yet, you free later? I’d ask you out for a coffee but let’s try something different.”

 

“Yeah I probably don’t need more coffee,” Benny laughed, “so what did you have in mind?”

 

“Ice cream? Froyo? I hear boba tea is real popular the the kids these days.” You could hear the good natured grin over the line.

 

“You have very wholesome tastes for somebody with a bloody sword as his social media banner!” There was a joking tone in Benny’s voice, but also genuine surprise.

 

“No no, blood doesn’t go in ice cream, it messes the flavor up.” There was a pause. “That joke went too far, didn’t it?”

 

“No, you’re fine,” Benny assured. Like he’d even know what an appropriate joke about blood sounded like? Oh god he was out of his element. “So yes! There’s, um. There’s a really interesting international dessert place in the new development that’s a few miles north of my shop on the surface. The menu looks very cool. Wanna… go?”

 

Benny tried not to wince as he spoke. That place was out of his price range, but he could afford to go… once? Maybe?

 

“That sounds great. Meet you there? What time?”

 

“Well uh, I’m done with my errands earlier than I expected,” Benny lied, “so actually I can get there by sixteen o’clock.”

 

“I can do that. Text me the address? Right, see you then!”

 

Just before Callister ended the call, a shout erupted from the background:

 

“CAL, GET OFF THE PHONE AND CATCH THE GUY ESCAPING.”

 

Dialtone.

 

“th-the—” Benny stared at the phone.

 


 

Later
At the Tempered Sweetly dessert bar

 

18:00

 

Callister was waiting at the front. His outfit was slightly different from before. If the white, loose poet was different, his neckwear certainly was. He’d swapped out a long chain for a studded collar, but wore his hair in a high ponytail.

 

Those leather pants were seriously tight.

 

He looked up with a grin. “Benny, hey!”

 

Oh, fuck, Benny thought, I am so powerfully out of my league. He’d dressed up as well as he knew how, in slacks and a button-down with the collar open and a cute fitted vest. It would probably have been easier or better if he’d consulted Buster or Janet, but he worried about getting steamrolled if they got too excited. Also, something about this… made him want to keep it on the down low. For now. Just for now.

 

“Hey!” He waved, giving his best attempt at a confident smile. “Great to see you again!”

 

“You too. You’re looking good. Ready to go in?” Callister held out his hand.

 

Benny walked forward and took the proffered hand, visibly a bit dazed. “Y-yeah!”

 

Callister’s hand was a lot firmer and rougher than anyone would expect on first meeting him. Benny could feel the callouses on Callister’s fingers and thumb. A waitress met them and led them to their table in the back. Callister held out a chair for Benny before settling in his own.

 

Bemused, Benny sat down and watched Callister circle the table. He rubbed his own fingers together, feeling his own calluses from burns and hot liquid-bearing containers, years of guitar playing… but Callister’s were somehow even rougher. What did he do?

 

“Thanks for meeting me on short notice,” he said. “My schedule is unpredictable.”

 

“Mine too. But we finished up for the day pretty quickly and here we are.” Callister smiled, flipping though the menu. “What have you heard about this place? What’re they famous for?”

 

“Unusual flavors and ingredients for a western palate,” Benny smiles. “They have sweet dessert soup with tremella fungus, shaved ice in unusual flavors, imported fresh fruits and confections. I’m gonna try to rose syrup shaved ice.”

 

‘Heh. I’ll give the fungus a miss. Lychee over shaved ice for me.” He quirked a slightly wry grin. “I’m not that adventurous with food.”

 

“That’s okay. You seem pretty adventurous in like. Every other way.”

 

“The look?” Callister shrugged. “It fits, I like it. Like yours looks good on you.”

 

“No, I mean,” Benny chewed his lip for a few moments. “You’re a fighter, aren’t you? Or a soldier?”

 

“Soldier? With this hair? What army would employ me?” Callister chuckled. “Fighter, yeah, more so. I’m looking to break into amatuer boxing and MMA. Thought I’d give that a year then see about school, maybe.”

 

“What’s your weapon of choice?”

 

“Swords. I’ve been getting fencing lessons since I was a kid. But I don’t like modern fencing so I’ve been training unarmed.”

 

“Dang,” Benny sounded impressed. “Do… are you a Freelancer? You really have that hero air about you.”

 

“Me? Nah. I’m hardly a hero. This is just sports, y’know.” Callister paused. “Why Freelancer? Why not Legion? Am I too bad for Legion?” He grinned.

 

“Oh, I wasn’t trying to—um—” Benny stammered.

 

“I’m teasing. God, your blush is fucking adorable.” Callister grinned at Benny for a moment, watching him fluster. “Okay, so. About you. Only one sister?”

 

Benny gripped the edge of the table, trying to somehow will away his blush. His complexion, unfortunately, made that task extremely difficult. “Um. Well, not technically. Buster’s the only sibling I’m still in touch with.”

 

“That sounds rough. The rest don’t like that you’re a barista?” Callister’s tone was light.

 

“It’s… not exactly that, no,” he demurs. “My, um. My parents were—are. Very religious.”

 

“Ah…Yeah. My mom too. I..er…used to dress like this as a form of rebellion. Now I wear stuff like this because I like it.”

 

“If you’re cool with talking about it,” Benny leaned back in his chair, “do you still talk with your mom? Nobody I know around here came from a fundamentalist family.”

 

“Yeah, I do. Live with her when I visit her and grandmother. I was sent away to boarding school so I barely saw them for a few years. It’s…yeah. This is basically like a shield I threw up, and I kinda liked it. You?”

 

“Um, no,” Benny gave a weak shrug. “Buster and I were thrown out for being queer. Haven’t talked to any of our sibs or the parents since.”

 

“Mother doesn’t know I’m bi.” Callister shrugged. “She doesn’t need to know. How’s your ice?”

 

“Oh dang,” Benny suddenly realized he’d been served while they were talking. He tried a bite. “Whoa, it’s really good. The rose is strong but it works. I think there’s a little lychee in here too. Wanna try it?”

 

“And I’ve got some strawberry in mine. And sure. Swaps?”

 

“Just reach on over.” Benny grinned. As he started to loosen up, his expressions were a lot more… expressive. And cute.

 

“Heh.” Out came the spoon and there went a goodly scoop. “God, is that rose? It’s..interesting. Very floral. Like that time grandmother made lavender cookies.” He offered his own bowl for tasting.

 

“Oh wow, velvety,” Benny looked upward as he tasted the other bowl. “This is nice. So I know what your hobby is, I guess. What do you do for a living?”

 

“Oh man.” Callister laughed, holding his hand to his face. “I don’t know if I’d call it a living. I work for my mom. I’m a courier for her business. Getting into the family business isn’t exactly a job, y’know. More like charity.”

 

“I guess not. Don’t… ” Benny’s voice was hesitant. “Don’t you feel a little weird living a kind of a double life, though? Hiding stuff from your mom, I mean.”

 

Callister tapped his spoon into his shaved ice. “Nah. I mean, sure she’ll probably kick me out, but by then, I’ll have enough of a basis to take care of myself. Sides, gotta be my own man sometime, yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Benny took another bite of ice, and pondered this while it melted in his mouth. Once it had, he said: “I guess that in some ways, Buster and I were lucky. That decision got made for us, and we didn’t have to make it ourselves like our little brother did.”

 

“That…doesn’t sound lucky at all.” The spoon of ice in his mouth had too much ice and not enough topping, and it chilled his teeth. “That’s hard, making it out without support. You find out where your brother went?”

 

“Nah. I’m sure he’s doing way better now. Not sure whether I should be calling him my brother, though. Or ‘him’. But we didn’t have new pronouns for him when he left, so…” Shrug.

“Be good to track him down and find out, huh? He left before you did? Rough for a kid. Bet he’d like to know that there’s family who still wants to be family.”

 

“I’ve tried, but he definitely changed his name. Records of his old name stopped after a certain point, and then like a couple of months ago, those records just kinda. Vanished. Like he never existed.”

 

Callister shrugged. “Social security number? That wouldn’t have changed, right?” He didn’t say have you checked hospital records or morgues? Because he wasn’t that much of a dick.

 

Benny shook his head. “No. Somebody who wants to be found doesn’t do all that. If he wants to leave behind all traces of the Schuster family, that includes us and that’s fine. I can’t blame him.”

 

Callister set his spoon down and leaned forward. He had a look about him that said if he knew Benny better, he’d get him off his passive ass and do something more definitive about finding his brother.

 

As it was, he only smoldered.

 

Benny looked a little wan at the smoulder. “…you don’t agree,” he surmised.

 

“No. You can’t take someone’s need to run and hide as a passive message that they don’t want positive relations from understanding family. And give me another spoon of that rose ice.”

 

Pushing the bowl of rose ice forward, Benny nodded thoughtfully. “Now that Buster is deployed on the moon,” he mused aloud, “she’s meeting a lot of important Phalanx and Legion people. Maybe they could help us find out what happened to Petey. Um. My brother, I mean, not the cat.”

 

“Good boy.” Callister stole a spoonful, but pushed his own bowl forward too.

 

The blush remained as Benny took a spoonful of the lychee ice. He smiled. “You’re pretty nice for a guy who looks so intimidating.”

 

“I’m not that nice. Maybe I’m just angling to see if you’ll take me home.” Callister’s grin was slow.

 

“I dunno,” Benny’s blush deepened. “That… sounds pretty nice.”

 

“Mmm. Does it? Want to suck my cock, Benny?”

 

Benny flushed. Hard. Callister could practically feel the waves of heat radiating off his face. “Wh—I… you—y-your—”

 

“Let’s go.” Callister waved for the check and stuck some cash in the folder. He stood, and held his hand out to Benny.

 

The red-faced barista took Callister’s hand and stood gently, like a Southern Belle at a Cotillion. His eyes were dinner-plate-wide, but he certainly did not look like he was about to object to the idea of being stolen away and having his mouth fucked.

 

Callister grinned at him, leading them out of the restaurant. “Where to to your place?”

 

“Um, it’s—it’s a total matchbox, j-just so you—it’s on the transit level under Hayes station.”

 

Callister sighed, stepped close and slowly, deeply kissed Benny. “We don’t need much room.”

 

The noise that Benny made into Callister’s mouth was the helpless squeal of a prey animal caught.

 


 

STILL LATER

 

Benny’s futon had never quite been as mussed as it was now. Nor had Benny. He wasn’t sure how he’d done; he’d literally never had sex with anyone before except himself, but he’d practiced going down on his toys plenty of times, and had other toys that had been other places even more times. He had to hope that that translated all right.

 

If nothing else, he was feeling bruised and used up and good.

 

Callister patted Benny’s rump. He too was heavily mussed and catching his breath. “Good boy.” There was laughter in his voice. He pushed his hair out of his face, folding his arm behind his head and held Benny close.

 

He seemed pleased.

 

“Th-thank you, Callister,” Benny panted, pressing his cheek to his lover’s oh my god amazing abs. “That was amazing.”

 

Callister pressed a kiss on Benny’s hair. “I know. You were too.”

 

“Mmm,” Benny grinned and nuzzled Callister. “Do we get to do this more than once?”

 

Callister reached down and pulled Benny up with a slight grunt. He kissed him again, a lingering kiss on the mouth with slow, tender nibbles. “What do you want?”

 

“Mmmh,” wow, he made that prey noise almost every time Callister kissed him. “I, uh. I definitely want to do this again.”

 

“Good boy. Then we’ll do this again.”

 

“Yessss,” Benny buried his face in the slope of Callister’s neck and kissed his collarbone. “Yes. Good yes. Mmm.”

 

Callister turned them over on their sides, and he slid his knee between Benny’s while still holding the slighter man close. “You got my number, I got yours.” He nuzzled Benny’s fair hair.

 

“Yeah.”

 

Bonding Agents: Homecoming

The Underground don’t even look at either Sin and Callister anymore. They keep their heads down and get the teleportation working.

 

And before long, they were outside Anathema’s childhood home.

 

Sin arrives, and rubbed his chin. He might have gone too far with this one. Lost his temper. He stood  outside the house, wondering what Anathema was going to do. He hadn’t even really begun the cult, only about a hundred people were now enslaved to Anathema through the Midnight Gathering. Pretentious name, but it got people to show up.

 

Now, he’d stirred things up again. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to go toe to toe with Anathema, especially with Callister here backing her up. Well. If it was time…. He’d go All In.

 

Beside him, Callister shrugged and settled his shoulders. He didn’t seem bothered, and sometime along the way, Callister had lost his sneer around Sin. The boy simmered, however, still stinging from Alice’s words.

 

“She wasn’t right, was she?” Then he bit his tongue. He was never to show that much weakness in front of Sin.

 

Sin looked at Callister. The kid was… well, a kid. Bit of sympathy wouldn’t hurt, but neither would lying to the kid.

 

“I dunno, Cal. Could be your mom never even realized it. It could be that she really is that obsessed with Alice.” He took a breath.

 

“But, just want t’ tell you. That doesn’t matter. You choose who you are, now. You’re old enough to make that kinda decision.” Sin shrugged, and walked up to the door, knocked twice.

 

Mathilda opened the door. Callister paused to kiss his grandmother on the cheek. She silently led them to the parlor, before serving them lemonade and ginger snaps, bowing, and leaving.

 

Anathema swept in shortly afterwards. Her eyes fell on Callister, and she smiled.

 

“My son.” She said, voice warm. “I saw the feed. You were magnificent. You are truly my son.”

Recent doubt fled, surprise almost causing him to smile. “Mother.”


Her amethyst eyes shifted to Sin. “Is she dead?”

“She’ll live. I don’t kill steal. She’s your kill, not mine.” He waited for either the explosion of rage, and the fight of his life, a derisive comment, or praise. He’s not sure which, but he’ll be ready for either. He’s calm, and proud of what he’s done, dark purple eyes matching Anathema’s own amethyst gaze equally and calmly.

 

She smiled. “Good. Good. You both played your part well. It could not have gone any better. Things have… accelerated. We could not predict that. But we will overcome. Good.”

Sin nodded, though inside he was a bit concerned. “The Midnight Gathering group is growing, faster than I’d hoped, but still more slowly than what we’d need, I think. I know Callister did one hell of a job grabbing that Paranormal, Smokescreen, but we’re going to need a lot more muscle if we’re going to war.”

 

“The first boy who attacked me… Paul, I think. A good name. He is converted. He has let me in. He will return home to the Legion. This Smokescreen… She will let me in soon. She is ripe with self hatred. And she will go to the Freelancers.”

“Interesting. With, ah, Paul, in the right place, we could bring down the flying fortress. Or recruit less known folks. Same with Smokescreen…” Sin rubbed his chin, thoughtfully.

 

Callister nodded. A two prong attack. “We need one more, for PHALANX. Surely they will come when they see the Legion in danger.”

 

“That will take time. PHALANX are hard to find, reclusive.” She smiled. “You will find one for me, I am sure of it.”

 

Sin nodded again, thinking. “Extraterrestrials. They deal with…. The machine aliens, usually. Make a ruckus with them, perhaps, and they’ll send some of their boys down to earth. Another question. Can you possess one of those Machine Aliens?” Sin’s mind worked overtime. This was going to be one hell of a war.

 

“Other than that, I’m not sure.”

 

“Machines have nothing for me. I deal with flesh and blood and souls.” Anathema admitted, in a way that suggested that she was not a fan of it. “Callister. My son. I am so proud of you. I have something to ask of you.”

Callister snapped his head up. “Mother, anything.”

 

“You put cracks in the Oathkeeper’s mind. Cracks I can use to enter her. We will continue that. Deliver this card to her bedside.” Anathema produces one, slipping into her son’s hand.

 

Callister took the card and slipped it into his inner jacket pocket. “I will do this.” He looked stunned at the continued praise.

 

“I would speak to Sin alone, please.”

Sin raised an eyebrow. Oh shit.

 

“Of course, Mother.” He leaned in to kiss her cheek goodbye then he turned and left, presumably to join Mathilda in the kitchen.

 

Anathema swept towards Sin. “You are a man of the world.” She said. “Have you considered… settling down?”

Both eyebrows shot way up. This was not going to where he thought it was…. Uhhh… “Settling down, ma’am? Never. That ain’t the life I want t’ live. I’ve seen people with that kind of thing, and I know it isn’t for me. I couldn’t ever do that.”

 

She looks… hurt? “Ah. I meant – I didn’t mean offense, I simply meant – perhaps as – political move – you said this was a war, and…”

Was she hitting on him?

Sin blinks. Wait, she’s wait. Wait, what? All seven demons in Sin’s head just kinda freeze, and Sin’s mind comes to a screeching halt. Pride starts screaming, Lust is in the corner crying, Sloth rolls over, Wrath bangs his head against the wall, Greed and Envy go back to fighting over things, and Gluttony whines about more food and drugs.

 

Pride finally starts making coherent sense. Don’t piss off your boss don’t piss off your boss don’t piss off your boss.

 

“Ah, I’m sorry, ma’am, I…. don’t mean offense to you, either. I just…  Uh.” SPIN SOME BULLSHIT DAMMIT.

 

“I don’t think I could do that kind of thing, that kind of relationship. It ain’t in me. When we win this thing, ma’am, I’ll probably be off stirring up trouble somewhere else. Kinda addicted to it.”


There was a pause, and then she nodded. “It is an open offer. Leave me, now. I need to plan.”

“Yes, ma’am”. Sin nods, and walks out. He doesn’t stop at the door, he doesn’t stop to say later to Callister, he doesn’t stop until he’s far into the plains of Idaho, checks to make sure no one is around, puts his head against the ground, and starts screaming into the dirt.

 

Bonding Agents: Beat Dropped

THE LAUNCH PAD

ALBUQUERQUE, NM

 

The Launch Pad is a small venue.  The 21 and over entrance is on the street-side, Central, the famed Route-66, and it is a double door that barely looks like it can hold its integrity, the metal is so dinged and dented.  The under 21 entrance is in the alley, with rundown brick building backs, collapsed rear entrances, and the big black metal doors for the venue, which let people in right next to the stage itself.

 

There is an upstairs, but it can barely even be called that. The “spiral staircase” is more like three box turns going up, and leads to a small dance floor and a large bar overlooking the stage.  The downstairs is a long strip next to the stairs for an ATM, bathrooms, and a booth to sell performer merch, leading to the open standing floor and the stage, at the very back of the venue.

 

The walls are all painted black, as are the ceiling and hard concrete floor.  For a lot of bands, this did them no favors, but for Lights Show, it was perfect.  And really, the small venue was an experience, lights and sounds flowing all around the space like the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, just without the floating space baby.

 

Callister, dressed for the occasion in a latex shirt, many leather bracelets, and moderately expert eyeliner and smudged eyeshadow, and his hair in two rough buns down his his head, entered through the under 21 entrance. He’d heard a lot about Lights Show’s performances, and he looked forward to this one. He smiled at some girls, grinned at some boys and got ready to enjoy the night.

 

Lights Show most definitely delivered.  He was in what looked like a black leather motorcycle racing outfit, standing still at the center of the stage, and slowly, slowly, started moving his hands, like dribbling a ball, and instead it was waves of light and sound, bass thudding, picking up in speed, other sounds adding different streams of colors, until the bass dropped and the whole place lit up like a victory parade with Lights Show himself dancing in the middle of it.

 

And though he did throw in a few really cheesy dance moves, he did so with a warm laugh that sounded like he was biting his lip– it was impossible to tell, because the mirror black finish on his helmet showed nothing other than a reflection of the lights.

 

High above, a figure sat on one of the lighting fly bars, looking down with delight at the performance. Ey didn’t notice Callister enter, because there were better things to look at: namely, the fly boy with the sick beats.

 

Callister leaned back, arms crossed, head nodding to the beats. He didn’t go clubbing often, but he liked life shows. His attention on Lights Show, he didn’t notice the Damselfly near the roof.

 

And Lights Show played his heart out.  About halfway through, he paused, and his boyish, amplified voice declared: “It’s too hot in here!.  

 

Off came the helmet. He took a swig or two of water, quickly, then went right back to playing.  His curly hair glistened by what he claimed would be the last song (as he’d claimed for the previous two) and his freckled face shone with sweat too, but he still grinned, enjoying the hell out of it. At some point, he’d unzipped his suit almost down to his navel too.

 

Nat was utterly enraptured by the performance, grinning from ear to ear and sitting further and further forward on the fly rail until ey wasn’t actually sitting on it at all, just floating in the air in front of it then just below it and then just a little lower, had to see the sweat on his brow, had to peek where that zipper was undone, had to get just a liiiiiiittle closer—

 

Oh yes, this was turning out to be a much better performance than he expected. Callister started forward, dancing to the beat. He was so focused on the show that he still hadn’t noticed Nat above head. A pair of girls eyed him and he joined them, the corner of his mouth pulling into a grin as they danced against him.

 

Lights Show did get goaded into one more song, even after saying last one four times, now.  This one, however, he was a bit  smarter about. He did the beat slower, winding down, so by the end of it, everyone wasn’t jumping with their hearts pounding.  His dancing was slowing down too, less jumping, more body waving, because he’d been dancing for a long time and using his powers at the same time, and wow this venue got way too hot inside with so many people dancing.

 

Callister danced with the girls, slowing his beat to match the changing swaying beat. There were pouting lips and wandering hands and Callister grinned and laughed when one of them found his wallet…and the chain that attached it to his belt. He snapped his teeth at them, big bad wolf, little girls and laughed to himself when they scampered. Callister raised his arms and swayed to the music, still grinning like a wolf.

 

The Damselfly had finally lost emself in the music, twisting like some kind of sensuous leaf on an early spring breeze. Some members of the crowd had noticed, by then, gasping and pointing. When Nat realized that eir cover was blown, ey gave a quick grin to Lights Show, then descended to the stage and danced with him for the very last bit.

 

Callister nearly stopped when he saw the Damselfly land on the stage. He instead danced to the beat, turning a circle as he tried to see if there were other Legionnaires waiting in the crowd. It didn’t seem to be so. No sense in wasting a good show. He half closed his eyes and continued to sway.

 

Lights Show nearly forgot what he was doing when Nat joined him on stage.  He turned bright red and laughed, but then got right back into the groove of the show, even showing off a few moves he hadn’t done yet since, y’know, the Damselfly was on stage and heck yeah.

 

But then that last song was over, and like all good New Mexican concert goers, they were already piling out the door as the last notes rang out.  The lights came up in the dingy venue, and Lights Show had to shield his eyes a little bit with an arm, but he was grinning like an absolute idiot.

 

Nat giggled, then leaned in and whispered, “that was so fucking amazing, you were so good. Um, if you’re free do you want to go—” Nat froze as ey saw that Callister was in the audience. Not just in the audience, but not filing out with everyone else.

 

Callister barked a laugh when he was noticed and shrugged broad shoulders, stretching his latex shirt. He walked to the edge of the stage and held out his hand. “Good show, Lights Show.” He turned his head. “Nat. Looking well.” That was that urge but it was controllable now that he knew what to watch out for. fffffffff

 

What was that? Was Elliot Lights Show Anders a total mess right now, bright red from ear to ear and stuttering?  Ha! Call an ambulance, he totes was.

 

“Oh, you ca-ca-came.  Uh… Hey.” He giggled nervously, biting his lip and glancing rapidly between Callister and Nat. When he sent the address for the show to Callister on Twitter, he hadn’t honestly thought he would show up and WOW was this going to be awkward.

 

“How could I say no to such a charming invitation?” Well, he could. It could have been a total trap. Like, he didn’t even tell Sin he was coming. In hindsight, that was a bit dumb. “You look hot. Buy you a drink?” Did that line even work? “That includes you, too, Nat.”

 

Nat sighed heavily, then bit eir lip (fuck, it was cute when ey did that) and nodded. “Yeah. I’m down. Thanks.”

 

LS was such  a sucker for bad pickup lines like, it should be considered a major hinderance on his character sheet (not Dungeons and Dragqueens v23, kthanks).  He was already saying yes and hopping off the stage  like it was no biggie.  He was over twenty-one. He was literally the only one in the room who was over twenty-one.  They were all adults. Lol  He would totally get huffy if someone tried to convince him this was a bad idea.

 

“Oh. Um. Wow, my suit is still unzipped. Um…”

 

“We can’t have that.” Callister reached out and very slowly, but very confidently, pulled Elliot’s zip up to his collarbone. “Who knows what would be out there.”

 

Nat flushed. Visibly. Having zero chill was not new for the Damselfly, but it was pretty clear that ey was still way into both of the people present, only one of whom was at all a good idea. Ey floated after them, unsure how or whether to interrupt.

 

Yup, Elliot was just standing there staring at him with his mouth slightly open, and he was sure his ears were on fire.  Wow. Callister was literally covering up more of his skin and it was entirely too smoldering? Was that the right word.

 

“Yeah. Um.  Uh-huh.  However you want it.”

 

Wow that came out wrong and he was entirely too embarrassed to correct himself.

 

Callister reached out and casually smoothed back Elliot’s hair from his forehead. “Is that right?” He looked up at Nat. “Ready? Think there’s a bar around the corner.” He’d already had a possessive hand under Elliot’s neck and he held out a hand to Nat.

 

Nat hesitated for a moment, but took Callister’s extended hand and allowed emself to be led.

 

The bar was, quite literally, just down the street, about a block, and looked really nice. Big glass windows, newly painted walls, a welcoming door– oh wait, that was the other bar right there.  This bar was the creepy door in the alley right next to it, with a dilapidated staircase leading up between two precariously tilting buildings.  Nevermind.

 

Lights Show didn’t seem to mind, though, and hopped up the stairs in twos like he’d been there before (he had), and even waved at the overweight man slouching on the stool at the door right at the top of the stairs, rubbing his bald head, utterly uninterested in them.

 

The inside of the bar was dark. Dark like the Launch Pad was dark, black paint used a bit too much, and where the walls weren’t black, they were dark blue, or covered in heavy bookshelves and trippy artwork that faintly glowed in the dark.

 

The main bar was past a set of u shaped booths– two rows with a wall in between and those bookcases facing them– and wrapped around to face both sides, a glass tower of alcohol in the middle the bartenders could scurry around.  Past that little island of inebriation were the pool tables and the bathrooms, bathrooms on the left, pool tables on the right, five of them.

 

There were a few small groups in the u booths and the far pool table was taken up, but otherwise, the place seemed pretty dead.

 

Callister guided Elliot through the doors, his hand on Elliot’s lower back. His other hand held Nat’s, his rough thumb gently rubbing against eir hand. “Why don’t you guys get a booth and I’ll get drinks. What’re you having?”

 

“Um,” Nat said, “I’ll have a mojito?”

 

Eli blinks for a few moments, then turns red, noticing where that hand was, and stuttered a few incomprehensible syllables before he finally got a sentence together. “Theycan’tmakemojitosherebuttheyhavesomanykindsofrum.”

 

Well, sort of a sentence.

 

“Why can’t they make mojitos?”

 

“Mint.” Eli nods, like this is very, very important and actually explains everything.

 

Callister nodded slowly. Mint was important. “So another cocktail?”

 

“I’ll have a Death Fist!”

 

“Nat?”

 

“Um,” Nat still seemed a little off-guard, hovering over the booth next to Lights Show. “I guess I’ll have a midori sour instead.”

 

Callister nodded and went to get the drinks.

 

The Damselfly turned to Lights Show and whispered, “Elliot, what are we doing?”

 

“Trying not to salivate.” Lights Show watched Callister go– or watched his rear go, rather, “And trying to remember how hard Oathkeeper is going to judge us if we do anything she won’t approve of.”

 

“We’re having drinks with him, dude, and all three of us have really good chemistry!!” Nat hissed. “Like I like to think of myself as someone with—fuck—”

 

Callister returned, then, with the cocktails in hand and his bottle of beer in his back pocket. “Did I tell you it was a good show, Lights Show?” He moved into the booth beside Nat.

 

Elliot was totes about to say something he’d regret Callister hearing, so he was hella thankful Nat very obviously pointed out that he was sauntering back.  The question, though, made him laugh nervously, and the first thing to come to mind rolled off his tongue before he could even stop it.

 

“That a bottle in your pocket or was my show that good?”

 

Oh no.

 

Callister grinned, wide and slowly. “Let’s go with both.” He pulled the bottle out, and uncapped it against the table. “What did you think, Nat?”

 

“I don’t have a bottle in my pocket,” Nat replied, “so I guess it has to be a boner.” Smooth, kid.

 

Callister took a long pull of his beer, his red eyes darkened, then he turned to Elliot. “Looks like we’re all playing the boner vs bottle game.” His voice had deepened, had grown a little husky.

 

“Wait, what?” Elliot blinked a few times, really not entirely sure what that was supposed to mean, but it involved that voice, so, what could go wrong?

 

Nat fidgeted and then took a sip of the drink, almost visibly consulting the devil and angel on eir shoulders.

 

Callister leaned back, his arm resting on the back of the booth and his hand lightly playing with Nat’s hair. His eyes were on Elliot, however, and he was smiling. Nat shivered, and unconsciously leaned into the hair play, glancing between Lights Show and Callister.

 

“Oh hey, look, my drink!” Elliot took a quick sip and turned a bit brighter red, part from the situation really, and part because his drink was literally a kamikaze with chile in it. “Yeah, the show was fun. And. You were both there.  And. Um…”

 

Emboldened  fingers sunk deeper into Nat’s hair, lightly massaging eir scalp. “It was a good show. I think you deserve something for it.” Callister parted his lips, lightly touching them with his tongue, while Nat struggled to keep eir eyes open.

 

“Oh, like a cookie. Or a gold star.” Elliot was trying really hard not to stare at Callister’s lips, or Nat for that matter, because ey seemed to be having a blast, and was he really that worried about what Oathke– yes. Yes he was.  This was so bad.

 

“Want to join us over here, Elliot?”

 

Elliot’s honey brown eyes went about as wide as the lowball glasses, and he just blinked at them for a moment, between looking back and forth.

 

Just think about all that rough se–BUT WHAT ABOUT OATHKEEPER–pfft, you won’t moan that loud–

 

And he nodded, looking at the spots on either side of Callister and Nat, not sure where exactly he should slide up.

 

Callister made a questioning noise. It felt like a rumble from his chest. He slid his gaze away from Lights Show and turned to Nat, his fingers lightly tugging at eir hair. He bent his face towards em and made that deep questioning noise again.

 

Nat made this little whimpering kind of sound, then slipped up a little and swung eir legs over Callister’s lap, indicating that ey’d float on the other two, or… near them, at least. Ey shot Lights Show a look that was half oh god please get over here and half HELP ME.

 

And that was invitation enough for Callister to bend his head and slowly lap up the column of Nat’s neck. He used his teeth sparingly, opting for a light touch, and he never took his gaze off Elliot. Nat let out a short, quick moan.

 

Elliot was about to speak up, about morals and don’t threaten our friends and wow, that was his tongue. Huh. How about that.  And like the young, testosterone powered DJ he was, he moved around to the side side of the booth, next to Callister, reaching under the table to give one of Nat’s legs a reassuring squeeze.

 

Nat immediately cuddled up to Elliot, effectively sitting on both their laps without actually putting any weight on them. Ey met the DJ’s gaze for a moment with an expression that possibly read we’re in this together, or possibly we are going to be in so much trouble.

 

And this was very nice too. He reached out and tugged Elliot’s zip down very slightly, enough to brush his fingers against his chest before also paying some attention to Elliot’s neck.

 

Oh no. That look.  Elliot couldn’t abandon Nat. Like, she’d come to his show, and she was amazing and okay.  Bonus points that Callister was totes hot– and reaching into his shirt where there was some pronounced chest scar tissue that Elliot was really nervous about but the dark booth and– oh hey, he’d never had a threesome before.

 

His nerves were never really going to calm down, but he was committed now.

 

“So.” Callister breathed against the pulse point in Elliot’s neck. He pressed his lips there and sucked just a little. “We can stop here, say our goodbyes. Or we can go to the nice little hotel that I passed on the way over.” His hand was definitely caressing Nat’s leg.

 

Nat shot intense puppydog eyes at Elliot. I CAN’T DECISIONS; HELP!!!

 

Elliot shot the same exact look back at eir, chewing at his lip, trying to concentrate, but there was a hand in his suit and his hand was on Nat’s leg and wow did ey smell really pretty right now, and if the heavy looks Callister was giving her did that (okay, his hands were wandering too), then–

 

“Hotel. Hotel is good.”

 

Callister ran his hand through Elliot’s hair as he moved from him to Nat, bending in to capture eir lips. “Then let’s go,” he breathed when he lifted his head back up.

 


Breathing and heartbeat finally slowing down, glowing with a fine sheen of sweat, Nat ran gentle fingers over Elliott’s chest, watching it rise and fall as he dozed. Eir eyes rose and beheld Callister’s muscular form, stretched out and resting against piled pillows on the headboard. His eyes were closed, but Nat knew that he was not sleeping.

“Hey,” Nat murmured, keeping quiet so Elliot didn’t wake, “can we talk for a minute?”

Callister’s nostrils were filled with Nat’s sweet scent. He’d hoped that Elliot’s musk would distract him, but that was faint chance. “Yeah, I’m up.” He didn’t want to risk falling asleep and falling deeper into Nat’s pull. He could control it now, but he wanted to be gone way before morning.

“I know,” Nat said, drawing in a deep breath and letting it out slow, looking back down at Elliot’s serene visage. “He’s so sweet, isn’t he? Just the sweetest face.”

Callister snorted, pushing himself up to rest his back against the headboard. “Yeah, he’s sweet.” Almost too sweet to fuck. Almost. “Whatcha want ta talk about?”

Nat sighed, running a finger through one of Lights Show’s curls, then looked back up at Callister, intense green eyes boring a hole in him. “This is just sex, right? Not some kind of weird ploy to make us vulnerable to your mom’s brainwashing?”

“Fuck. I left my brainwashing dick in my other pair of pants. Wow. I am such a fuck up.” Callister intoned each word lightly as he met Nat’s green gaze with his own red. Then he laughed softly. “Yeah, this is just sex.”

Nat quirked an eyebrow. “You know what my libido does to people. It’s not a stupid question.”

“Yeah, so I fight it. It’s just sex, I can separate it.” He shrugged broad shoulders

“Okay.” Nat looked down at Elliott for a few more seconds, then renewed eye contact with Callister. “Why did you save my life?”

“I was going to let your friends be the heroes, but there was gas in the room, so why not get you out too?” Callister scratched his chin absently.

“Because it would have made your life simpler,” Nat shrugged a little. “Because it’d be one less Legionnaire to oppose your mother. Because it’s one more… ‘trap’ for you disarmed. Because you could have gotten away without being seen, without any of us knowing that you took Smokescreen. Because you didn’t have​ to, and if you were really too cool to care, like you act, why would you?”

“Yeah, it wasn’t the best of plans. Maybe I just wanted to tweak noses, hmm? Hi, hello, I’m here.” Callister shrugged. “Why does it matter?”

Elliot nuzzled into the pillow and rolled over on his stomach.

“Because I ​care about you, and I want to know how foolish that makes me.” Nat whispered.

Callister glanced at Elliot, then up at Nat through his lashes. He reached out and gently cuffed Nat with his knuckles. “Nerd,” he said with affection. “Come meet my boyfriend one day. He’ll love to meet you. We’ll bring you for shaved ice or something.”

Nat smiled in spite of emself, looked down and petted Elliot’s back, then absorbed that statement fully and blinked. “You have a boyfriend? Like. A steady partner? Does he, uh… does your mom…”

“Not yet. Probably tell him soon, but he’s skittish so will leave it a while.” He idly played with Elliot’s hair, eliciting a hum and nuzzle from the still-sleeping DJ.

“What’s his name?” Nat was smiling, eyes on Elliot, running eir hand from his shoulders to the small of his back.

“Benny. Sweet guy, works as a barista. Pulls a mean espresso.”

“Heh. One of my brothers was named Benjamin,” Nat looked up, “he was sweet too. Shy. I wouldn’t have imagined you going for a sweet retail worker, Callister.”

“Yeah? What can I say? He sucks cock like a champion.” Callister smirked like a jerk. “You got a brother named Petey too? He named his cat that.”

Nat froze.

“What?” Callister gave em a blank look. “He doesn’t mind if I brag.”

“That’s—” Nat’s eyes flickered away from, then back to Callister. “If I tell you why I know that name, will you please give me your word never to mention it in front of anyone.”


Callister stared at Nat. The light dawned. “No way. Oh fuck. Shit. Benny is gonna freak.” He looked like he was going to lose it himself.

“Please never—” Nat’s voice spiked in volume a little before ey got it back under control. “Callister please. Please promise that you’ll never deadname me. I left my family for a reason—”

“Yeah, okay, I get it. Benny is gonna kill me. I screwed his little-” He stopped, shook his head, getting his head right. “They left too, ya know. Benny and Buster.”

“Okay. Okay. Thank you.” Nat blinked, breathing hard. At the mention of the other name, ey looked confused. “…Buster? Wait, I don’t have any siblings named Buster. Benjamin had a twin brother named Bartholomew.”

“Yeah, you got a sister now. She’s on Luna with PHALANX.” Callister rubbed his hands on the bed. “Fuck.”

“Holy shit, Bart—Buster—oh my god, and Benny’s…” Nat’s face broke into a smile. “My siblings are queer too. My siblings are queer too!”

“Benny is queer as fuck.” Callister confirmed, his face still suffused with dread.

“Wow,” Nat whispered, then looked up. “Okay so um. I really want to reach out to my sibs but I also realize you kind of just put yourself out there telling me this stuff. How would you like to handle disclosure? I can keep my mouth shut if you want to do it, but if you’d rather I break the news, I’m pretty practiced at this stuff…”

 

Nat’s face seemed to reflect how weird it was to be amicably discussing relationship logistics with eir sworn factional enemy, but also clearly felt more at home in topics like these.

“Hi Benny. Remember when I said I was going to bang Damselfly and Lights Show? I totally did! Then Nat and I got to talking and it turns out Nat is your sibling. Shit. That’s not gonna work.”

“I dunno, that’d work fine for me,” Nat mused. “But maybe it’d be easier if the revelation about his long lost ‘brother’ came first, you know?”

Callister bent over his knees, trying to maintain even breaths. “Yeah, okay. Sounds good. You want me to give him your number?”

“If his—our sister is in PHALANX, I can get in touch with both of them on my own. Um.” Nat’s face was suddenly concerned, as if realizing for the first time that eir glee was not universally shared. “Um. Are you gonna be okay, dude?”

“Oh geeze, I’m fine. Gonna screw my way up and down your family tree. Lots to do, excuse me.” Callister lurched towards the bathroom.

Nat looked genuinely confused. “Cal, why is this bothering you so much? It’s not like you fucked your​ sibling.”

“Yeah? What are the chances? I mean, what if this means I’m screwing around too much? Yeah, anyway, gonna get cleaned up.”

“Too much for what?” Nat asked the now-empty room. When ey didn’t receive a response for a few seconds, ey jostled the comatose DJ in bed with em. “Hey Elliot Elliot! Wake up! I just found two of my siblings!”

 

Distant Thunder: Keep the Receipts

A PARK BENCH

ROCK CITY

 

The most famous woman on Earth sat on a bench, wearing a heavy hat to hide her short hair – but the scowl was evidence that this was Alice McGowan in the flesh. Her arms were crossed in annoyance, and she tapped the toes of one boot against the concrete.

 

Callister ambled by. Hands in jean pockets, he wore a dark red shirt with the words “Fuck your Unicorns”, a couple of leather bracelets, and just one decorative belt looped loosely over his hips. He came to a stop several feet away from the bench, and slouched indolently. A lollipop stuck out from the corner of his mouth.

 

Alice assessed him from the bench, and then lifted the wide brimmed hat to glare at Callister.


Callister shrugged back. “Chuppachup?” His hand came out from his pocket with a handful of candy.

 

“Are you seriously offering me candy?”

Geeze you don’t have to take it.” He crunched the one in his mouth between his teeth, and unwrapped another to replace it.

 

There was a long pause. “If Tabitha knew I had actually followed up on this, she would be furious. So, for her sake, I am going to try diplomacy. …Are you the son of Anathema?”

“That’s what it says on my birth certificate.” A lazy shrug followed that.

 

“Do you know what she’s done?”

Callister shifted the chuppachup around his mouth with his tongue. “Do you know what you have done?”

 

That surprised her. “If you think I’ve committed crimes, present me with the evidence. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done.”

“You made her, you know. You pushed her to this.” His tone was almost bored.

 

“By doing what? Saving the world? Being the Oathkeeper? Healing the sick?”

“By milking every bit of sympathy from your sister’s death. Can you even sing? Mother says dying crows sound better than you.”

 

Alice’s face twists in hurt. “What does Mary have to do with this? I… Singing? I was in choir, at church? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, you wouldn’t have heard about it. Poor little Alice, her sister died. Can’t tweet two notes, but let’s kick Hyacinth out and let’s put put pretty Alice in the choir.” He played with his bit of candy with his teeth, hands seemingly sewn into his pockets, they hadn’t moved.

 

“Hyacinth?” Alice was staring at Callister, mouth slightly open. “I… She was in the choir? I didn’t make that decision, they just told me there was room for me, I never even brought Katie up, I would never have -”

“So, can you sing? Are you really worse than dying crows? Makes you wonder why they invited you to the choir, huh?”

 

“I don’t know, I – I think I’m alright at it? I never thought -”

Callister gave her a bored look. “Like, I don’t care. Whatever. Here’s the receipts.” He pulled out an envelope from the back of his jeans and tossed neatly to the seat beside Alice. There were two movie stubs and a receipt from a burger bar in Rock City, and a strip of photobooth snaps of Callister and a young man several years older than him. They both held up the receipts, Callister smirking, the young man with a bemused smile.

 

Alice looked at the receipts and the photos, and her face turned from hurt to confusion. “You’re… dating him? Does he know who you are?”

Callister shrugged broad shoulders. “Will probably tell him eventually.”

 

She continued to stare at the photos. “What’s your end game with this?”

Callister just stared at Alice. In another person, it might be construed as confusion. “What fucking endgame?”

 

She shoved the receipts and photos back into the envelope and tossed it at Callister. “You threatened to kill me. You’re evil. You don’t date people and have fun with neat people like a – normal person.”

“Whatever. That’s Mother’s fight with you. Anyway, I’m late for mass.” He turned on his heel.

 

“Wait!” There was something desperate in her voice, but not threatening; she didn’t give chase or sound angry. “Wait, please. Just two more minutes.”

He half turned, waiting.

 

“I… I’m sorry. For what I just said. And I’m sorry for what I said in the cafe. I… know I’m… not perfect. I… Nat’s like another kid to me, and… When I find your mother, there will be a reckoning. But until then, can we call a truce? I can’t keep living with this hate in my heart every time I see you say something or be with one of my friends.”

Callister gave her a long and even stare with his ruby red eyes. Eventually he said, “She wanted me to deliver you a card to leave on your hospital room bedside. I never did it. You and mother fight it out. You win and she dies, we may be enemies. But for now, truce.”

 

“Okay. Truce.” Alice extended a hand.

 

Callister took it. His grip was just firm and measured.


“Okay.” she said. “Truce.” She took a long pause. “And if you want to….. Bring Nat over…. For dinner some time. To our place.”

The words were physically hurting her to say.

Callister looked amused. He let her hand go. “Nah. Nat and I aren’t like that.” He turned again, slouching his way back the way he came.

 

“H-Happy Easter!” Alice calls at his back, and then stares at her own hands.


“Callister,” Tabitha nodded politely as she approached him, wearing a fine fitted trenchcoat and approaching from—where??

 

“Ma’am,” he replied like he wasn’t dressed like he was part of a goth-punk rock band.

 

Alice looked up from the bench, saw Tabitha approaching, and her eyes widened. She pulled the brim of her hat down and hunched in on herself in an attempt at hiding.


“How’d things go with Alice,” Tabitha asked casually.

 

“Oh well, you know.” Callister shrugged like it meant something.

 

“Of course. You’ll treat young Benny Schuster all right, yes? His sister drives the most dangerous personal tank in human manufacture.”

 

Something like a challenge appeared in Callister’s eye. He gave the moonless sky a speculative glance and the corner of his mouth lifted to a hint of a wolfish grin. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He made it sound like sounds like a good fight. “Yeah, Benny’s sweet. I don’t hurt people who don’t want it.”

 

“Thank you. Tell your mother I said ‘see you soon’.” She nodded to him, then walked past, toward the flawlessly-disguised park goer. Callister shrugs and slouches his way away.

 

The park goer remains still on the bench, hat pulled down low. There’s a long, awkward silence.

 

“How’d it go,” Tabitha asked.

 

Alice lifted the brim of her hat. “We called a truce.” She admits.


Tabitha nodded for a few moments, making a kind of ‘not bad’ frown. “Good. Glad to hear it.”

 

“I apologized.” She adds. “For… some things. And I have to talk to Dr. Meda about… other things.”

“Understood,” Tabitha nodded, then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’m very glad that it went alright. I wasn’t looking forward to intervening.”

 

“…I think I can return to the field. I… I’m doing better, Tabitha.” She gestures in the direction Callister left. “I’m doing better.”

Tabitha looked at her for a while, then nodded. “I’ll bring it up with the other Generals, okay? Maybe we can get you back on the field soon.”

 

“Okay.” Alice said, and then, after a long pause. “I wanted to hit him a little.”

Distant Thunder: The One Good Thing

SOUBRIDGE EDGE PARK
ROCK CITY, THE SURFACE

 

Benny was still wearing a vest, bow tie, and button-down tucked into khaki slacks. He looked good. He gazed over the edge of the park, to the end of the Rock City Bridge, a higher vantage point than his apartment but lower than the restaurant he’d just been to.

 

He was waiting for his boyfriend.

 

“Hey. You look nice.” Callister slouched out of the shadows, hands in pockets, hair in a loose ponytail and wearing a plain black tee and grey cargos.

 

Benny turned around, saw Callister, and blinked. “You… look nice too. That’s more casual than I’m used to seeing you, but honestly it’s a good look for you.”

 

Callister shuffled and muttered something that sounded like “Laundry day, but thanks.” Then he stared awkwardly at Benny.

 

He adjusted his vest and took a few steps forward. “You wanted to talk.” He didn’t look upset.

 

Callister took a few steps forward too. “Yeah. Erh. So yeah. Nat told you about me and em and about my mother, huh?”

 

“Ey told me the basics,” Benny looked up at the Rock City Center, the tall building that contained the restaurant where he’d eaten with his siblings. “That your mom is the Oathkeeper’s sworn enemy, that ey slept with you.”

 

And then he met Callister’s eyes dead-on, blue to red. “Ey said that there was hope for you. And that I shouldn’t break up with you.”

 

‘Yeah. Mom is Anathema.” Then he shuffled. “Yeah?” His tone was one of optimistic embarrassment. “Fuck. Dunno if I’m doing something wrong or right, then.”

 

“You’re probably doing both,” Benny took slow steps up to Callister, and took both of his hands. “But I’m… I’m happy to have my sibling back. Thank you.”

 

“Erh….sorry for fucking your sibling.”

 

Benny laughed. “Cal,” he smiled up, “I really don’t care. Keep fucking em, if you want. Just don’t hurt em. Okay?”

 

“Yeah, wasn’t intending to.” Callister finally relaxed into a grin. “Right before we figured out you two were siblings, I invited em to come meet you and we could bring em out for desserts. Think ey’ll like Petey Cat?”

 

“Ey will,” Benny smiled, “and approves of the name going to a cat. Nat said that the cat would be ‘more responsible with it’, which I guess sort of makes sense.”

 

Benny took a deep breath slow, and let it out even slower.

 

“I was worried you were gonna dump me in advance because this all freaked you out too much,” ey admitted.

 

“I, yeah, was worried about the same. I mean, I’d be mad if someone I dated turned around and screwed with my younger sibling.” Callister shrugged. “Not that I have one.”

 

Benny chewed his lip for a moment. “Learning that we could screw anyone, at all, ever was sort of a huge revelation for me and Buster. She sorta took it and ran with it, I kind of got scared and sat on it. But neither of us really has the same kinds of moral feelings about it that most people seem to. If you want to sleep with Nat, that doesn’t really bother me unless it means that you don’t want to sleep with me.”

 

“Nah. That was a one time thing, I’m pretty sure. ‘Sides, it’s dangerous for me to spend too much time with Nat. Eir power drives me a little crazy if I don’t take care.” Callister dropped Benny’s hands and slipped an arm around his waist to bring his boyfriend flush against his body. “Besides, don’t wanna talk about Nat anymore. Wanna kiss you instead.”

 

Benny drew in a hitching breath involuntarily. “Y-yes please.”

 

Callister bent his head and did just that.

 

Benny Schuster wrapped both arms around his boyfriend, head tilted up, and let himself forget that anything else existed except the two of them pressed together.

 

Distant Thunder: Bye Bye Benny

Callister entered Benny’s shop, the door tinkled as he stepped inside. He wore dark glasses over his red eyes, his hair pulled back into a sedate bun. He was quiet he waited for Benny to notice him, his eyes unreadable behind the shades.

 

Benny was ‘In the Zone’, doing that thing he did where he’d get really into a repetitive task and just do it until he was done, ignoring everything else. It probably would have taken him minutes to realize that Callister was there, but his coworker (a tall, rail-thin boy with spiky black hair) jostled him from his daze with a greeting.

 

“Hi there! Can I get you something?”

 

Hearing this, Benny looked up, saw Callister, and grinned. “Babe!”

 

Callister responded to the grin with one of his own. It lit his face up. “Hey. When are you off?”

 

Then, while he was there he addressed Benny’s co-worker, “Cappuccino, tall, with a shot of hazelnut, thanks.”

 

“Aight,” the barista replied, smirking a little as he watched Benny bound up to Callister like a blond, apron-wearing puppy.

 

“Um, I have a few more hours to go, but I can probably take my break now. It’s not very busy.”

 

Callister smiled, “Get you a drink too?” He placed a hand on Benny’s waist, but limited his public display of affection to that at Benny’s job.

 

That got an immediate response, though; Benny did that thing he did whenever Callister touched him in anything resembling a possessive or affectionate fashion, where his eyes looked distant for a second and he took in a sharp breath.

 

He recovered pretty quickly, though, and smiled a bit coyly. “You know I’m going to mark out your cappuccino anyway, right? I don’t pay for drinks in my own shop.”

 

“I’ll make you a Benny, Benny,” the other barista offered.

 

“Thanks Caleb!”

 

Callister smiled at Benny’s reaction, a different sort of smile from the one he wore when he first greeted Benny. This one had more than a hint of promise and affection, and also more than a little bit of smug satisfaction.

“Good to know I can always come by to bum drinks off you.”

 

“As long as you don’t abuse the privilege. So um. To what do I owe this lovely visit?”

 

The smile faded a little. “Tell you when we’re outside. What’s new with you?”

 

Benny laughed. “You know you’re the only exciting—well, okay, now that I know Nat’s my sibling, you and Nat are the only exciting things in my life that aren’t Buster.”

 

Callister made a rude noise. “That means I gotta work harder to be the most exciting thing.”

 

“Nat’s rough competition there,” Benny admitted, but then the edge of his mouth quirked up in a sly smile. “But you have some advantages over em that you can leverage.”

 

“Hazelnut cappuccino and a Benny,” Caleb called from the bar.

 

The door tinkled as the little bell went off, and a pale man in dark sunglasses, and a dark suit with a blood red tie walked in, a sharklike smile on his face. His hair was pretty much perfect, and he walked like he looked good, and knew it, too. He went up to the bar, and nodded at Caleb.

 

“Hey. Get a mocha frappuccino, easy on the milk?” He looked over his sunglasses at the barista, and around the small coffee shop. He waved one hand at Callister.

 

“One blended latte it is,” the barista said a little more acidly than was professionally appropriate, then added, “what size?” “Medium, please.” The guy placed a twenty on the bar.

 

“Do you know that guy?” Benny frowned.

 

Callister had become quiet. He was still mostly relaxed and calm, but the hand on Benny’s waist had begun to rub against his lower back. “I do. Let’s get our drinks and go outside. Meet out out,” he said to Sin, carefully not mentioning him by name.

 

Benny blinked, then glanced over at Caleb, who shrugged and made change for Sin, then rushed to make the drink.

 

Sin left a tip of ten dollars in the tip bucket, ‘cause, what the hell, he can be nice. Sometimes. Rarely. When he has obscene amounts of money. He nods at Callister as the red haired man tells him about ‘out out.’ And waits patiently for his drink.

 

“Cal,” Benny pushed through the front door, his apron over one shoulder and an iced coffee drink in his hand. “What’s going on? That guy in there looks like a mobster.” He whispered that last sentence, his eyes straying in the direction of the man still waiting on his drink.

 

Callister slipped his hand all the way around Benny’s waist, holding him close enough that Benny could hear Callister’s rapid heart beat. “Don’t panic. That’s Sin. He must have followed me here. I’m sorry.”

 

Now it was Benny’s heart that was racing, his face going pale. “Sin?” His voice was barely audible as it shot upward in pitch. “The guy who nearly murdered Nat?”

 

The door tinkled again as Sin left, his medium BLENDED LATTE in his hand, as he takes a sip. He eyes Callister and Benny. “Well. Nice t’ meet ya, Benny.” The man smiles, and pushes up his sunglasses with his free hand.

 

“Sin. Nice of you to trail me.” Callister took a sip while casually holding Benny closer to him. Whether this was for Benny’s sake or his, that was up in the wind.

 

“Woah, easy. When you said you were going out for a few days, thought I’d meet your boyfriend. That’s all. Wasn’t intending to trail you, mate. You’re your own man.” Sin held up both of his hands, palms facing the two of them, apologetically. “Honest.” Of course, Sin is an accomplished liar.

 

Benny’s face was wan, and he looked like he was about to faint. He probably would have been wobbling on his feet if he weren’t clinging to Callister’s chest. He looked like he may have been trying to say something—a greeting, perhaps—but noise just wasn’t coming out of the boy’s face.

 

“Hmm. That would have gone down well.” Callister took another sip of his drink. “Benny, this is Sin. Sin, Benny. Sin, Benny’s scared of you because you tried to kill Nat. Nat is Benny’s younger sibling.”

 

Sin blinks, and looks at Benny over his sunglasses with icy blue eyes. “Wait, what? No way. Damn, small world. Honest, no issue with Nat. The whole thing was a huge cluster fuck. Wasn’t even trying to go after eir.” He takes another sip of his drink, and tilts his head. “Well, okay, yeah, wasn’t going to introduce myself as Sin, dammit. Just wanted t’ get to know the guy who you were on the phone with for weeks while we were working. Damn.”

 

Benny squeaked something that may have been reassurance about water under the bridge, or perhaps swearing revenge, or maybe just asking to go use the restroom. Who knows. All that came out was a sad little squeak.

 

“Blake Smith, Benny Schuster. Benny, here, hold my drink, take a sip.” Callister handed the cup to Benny without letting him go.

 

“Okay, the squeaking? Fuckin’ adorable. I can see already why you like the guy.” Sin takes a sip of his drink, chuckling, but watches Callister carefully.

 

Benny somehow paled and flushed at the same time, taking Callister’s drink out of his hands and taking a sip of his own.

 

Callister shoved his hand into his pocket. “I like him for plenty of reasons.” He grinned. “But ain’t gonna kiss and tell.”

 

“Good man.” He takes a long sip of his drink, then looks at it. “Damn. That is pretty good. Was gonna put the guy through the expresso machine, but…. eh. Anyway, Benny. Just wanted to let you know, ain’t got anything to be worried about from me.” He takes another long sip. Yeah, he’s probably addicted to coffee.

 

“Thanks,” Benny managed. It was quiet, but he managed it.

 

“Yeah, thanks for not doing that. Would like Benny to keep his job.” Callister nodded.

 

“Oh, Benny wouldn’t get blamed for it, sheesh. Like everything, it’d fall on me.” He sighs. “Anyway, just wanted to say good luck, you too. You both deserve a happy ending. Thanks for sticking up for me, Cal, I know you did, even if you didn’t have to. Benny, like I said, I know the whole villain shtick loved ones all that bullshit may come up in your guy’s relationship, but that ain’t me. I might be a full blown murderous monster, but just because Nat stands up to me, won’t be comin’ after you. Same if Cal said fuck you, to me. You ain’t in my way, so no reason to do anything to you. I know there’s some guys out there that would, but that’s not my style.” He pauses, and takes a long swig of his drink, finishing it off. The drink flies off into a nearby trash bin.

 

“Damn, that really is a good drink. But yeah, I guess that’s mostly what I wanted t’ say. Get across. Not sure how I’d do that if you didn’t know who I was, so guess it worked out better this way. Anyway, ya two chill, have a good night. I guess, hope I don’t see ya around.”  With that, Sin shrugged, and headed past Benny and Callister.

 

“Hey, Sin.” Callister partially turned. “Thanks for putting up with me, too. And helping with Grandmother. I’ll be back in a couple of days, got some business to wrap up, got some things to think about.”

 

Benny blinked, confusion at the news cutting through his terrified demeanor.

 

Sin laughs. “You ain’t so bad, Cal. Do whatever you need t’do, just like I’m gonna do.” He waves as he walks away, chuckling.

 

Callister watches Sin walk out of sight then guides Benny around the corner where there was a bench and sat the blond man down, sitting down beside him. “Take your time.”

 

Benny put his head down, clutching it, and spent a little while trying to regulate his ragged breaths. “I’m,” he gasped, “I’m okay.” He clearly was not okay.

 

Callister rubbed his back. “It’s okay. Just breath into three, breathe out to three. Slow count.”

 

After about a minute of deep breathing and calm reassurance, Benny finally sat up slowly and leaned his head against Callister’s shoulder.

 

“Thank you. I’m—I’m sorry. I… I decided not to join PHALANX because I always got so scared of danger compared to Buster. I don’t handle that kind of stress all that well, I guess.”

 

“I don’t blame you. Sin’s okay…to me. Then again, I’m…sturdier than you are. I could probably take him on. You couldn’t. But trust him to keep his word, don’t betray him, and he won’t bite. He’s like a cobra like that.” Callister continued to gently rub Benny’s back, moving his hand up his spine to the back of his neck.

 

As Cal touched his neck, Benny relaxed more, making a little “hmmn” noise and leaning more against Callister. “Okay. I trust you.”

 

Callister leaned down and kissed his brow, holding Benny tighter against him. “Okay. So tell me something normal about your day.”

 

“I.. well. It’s not that normal, but it made me happy. You know that coworker I made friends with, Janet?” Benny took another deep breath and let it out, slowly losing the anxious tension. “I got in contact with her sibling, and they’re gonna get together.”

 

“Yeah? That’s great. Janet’s an AI, right?” Callister paused, frowning. “Sibling? How does that work?”

 

“They said that they’re the prototype that the other models were based on. I hope it goes okay, but if this ‘y’ character is anything like Janet, it’ll be great.”

 

Callister nodded. “So what else has happened?” He was obviously trying to get Benny talking to distract him from his scare.

 

“Well, I mean, since… since meeting Nat, not much…” Benny frowned, recalling something suddenly. “Cal, what did you… mean about the business that you had to wrap up? Is… it your mom?”

 

A heavy sigh. “Yeah. It is. I’ll be going to Twin Falls.”

 

Taking a deep breath, Benny closed his eyes and nodded. “I understand,” he said, his voice oddly calmer than it had yet been. “Please do everything you can to come back to me alive, Cal, okay?”

 

“Yeah. Gonna try. I…don’t intend to fight. And I don’t get hurt easy…” Callister paused, organising his thoughts. “What I mean is. I don’t know what’ll happen. I think I know what I’ll do…but I don’t know yet.”

 

“O-okay,” Benny nodded, “thanks. It’s a relief to hear that you’re gonna try not to fight.”

“Yeah.” He paused looking down at Benny. “You’ve seen the cafe video right? You know I manifest armor? I don’t get hurt easily. I’ll be fine.”

 

“I believe you. I mean, I trust you. But I’m a worrier, Cal, you know that. I get nervous every time Buster gets deployed.”

 

“Okay.” He kissed Benny on the temple. “Okay. I’ll be careful. I’ll contact you as soon as I’m able, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Benny murmured quietly. “Thanks love.”

 

Well, that got a response form Callister. He paused a moment, then tilted Benny’s face up and kissed him deeply and soundly, eliciting a little whimper from the smaller man, who reached up and wrapped both of his arms around Callister’s neck.

 

They stayed there for a little while, lip-locked and wrapped around each other.