I don't remember much about what happened in my sleep before waking up with a jolt the next evening. I'm not sure I remembered it at all. But I know that I had a dream of some sort. A nightmare. I looked over to the side of the bed and saw that Tim's tape was still playing on repeat. Doing what it could to keep my dreams from being tracked. But whatever defense it gave me from my mystery attacker by alternating my brainwaves was wearing thin. This creature was figuring out the pattern, breaking through, invading my mind again at a faster and more determined rate. All I could recall from the dream was the night sky swirling violently over my head, and the beast's ear shattering howl rumbling the very ground beneath my feet. I could almost see it's face now, pushing, forcing, it's way in. Brutally tearing down my subconcious and visibly moving in to take over the images that I created. As I shot up in our bed, I could have sworn that the creature's screams were still buzzing in my ears. I'm going to need help soon. LOTS of help! More than Zero gave me on my visit. The last thing I need is for that monster to break through this frail barrier of mine and start blasting me with those horrific dreams again. I can't take that. I'd never sleep again if it came to that.
I moved around a bit, spooning myself against my boyfriend once again, and felt a soreness in my arms and legs. A dull misery that just made me ache all over. No doubt, my muscles' way of recovering from the strain I put them through at the fighting arena last night. Dion warned me about pushing too hard. What my instincts order me to do and what my body CAN do can sometimes be two completely different things. Still... it was worth it. Hehehe! Never thought I'd see the day when I'd be such a badass! It almost made me want to start some shit with other people just to let them know that the frail little boy known as Justin wasn't ABOUT to put up with their bullshit anymore! If anyone has a problem with that, they can come see me. And we'll settle it quick and easy. Fuck 'em all! There's a new bad boy in town!
Just then, I felt a stirring in the smooth nude body next to me. The warmth of Taryn's body was becoming more evident as he journeyed his way back to consciousness. A lot more peacefully than I had with my sudden shock. He was beautiful, you know? You could just stare at him for hours and never make any sense out of it at all. You wanted to kiss those frictionless cheeks with all the love you had to give everytime you laid eyes on him. It was amazing. I wrapped myself around him like an octopus, my limbs wanting to touch every inch of him at once. I loved the way his body felt when it was waking up. Such a striking contrast between cold and hot, dead and alive. His breathing became more natural, and I hugged him close as he came back to reality. "Evening, sunshine." I said, as I kissed him softly on the lips.
"Same to you cutie. Hehehe!" He grinned. "You always wake up so early. And yet you go to sleep later than me. It's not fair, you know?"
"Hey, you got to watch me sleep for damn near a month when I was crossing over. I'm the one who has some catching up to do."
He hugged up next to me and we lay in silence for a while before he spoke again. "I kinda miss her, you know?" He said, and he looked up at me. "Tiana."
"Yeah...I know. Me too. And I only knew her for that one night. It's kinda sad."
After another pause, Taryn asked, "Do you think it hurt... her seeing the sun again?"
"I don't know. I guess I never thought about it before."
"I think it would hurt." He said, a hint of sadness in his voice. I hugged him tighter as his thoughts silently drifted off. It wasn't anything abnormal, Taryn longing for a glimpse of the sun again. But when coupled with losing an old friend, I guess it intensified the feeling. Then again... in many ways... maybe he envied her.
"You guys awake?" Bryson asked from outside, and we sighed to ourselves. Even if we had stayed dead silent, he would have only come back in a few minutes anyway. Bryson had this thing where he had to visibly see everybody alive and well before his evening could even begin. He'd go from putting us in this protective chokehold to letting us run free... only to tighten up again before bedtime. I guess it takes some getting used to, especially with a bunch of teenagers around. But more than anything you learn to respect his wishes, and there's a strange comfort in having that 'outline' in your life. If I just ran around free all the time, I'd probably get pretty bored with life in a few years.
Bryson walked away from our door, thinking we were still asleep, and Taryn smiled at me, rolling into my embrace to kiss me deeply on the lips. "Why don't we just stay in tonight? You and me."
"More sex?" I giggled.
"NO..." Then he paused, "... well... YES, but... NOT just for that. I wanna talk to you. I just...I want us to have some quality time together. I miss you when you're away."
I kissed him on the cheek and gently rubbed noses with him before I answered, "That sounds like a plan to me."
A knock came at our door, and it was Bryson again. "Alright boys, we've got stuff to do. Let's see some action in there."
"We were just GETTING to that, but you keep interrupting!" I shouted back with a smile.
"Open up for a sec."
"Sigh... so much for a quiet night alone." Taryn said, and he got up to unlock the door. As his smooth naked body rose from the sheets, every inch of his soft skin coming into view, I found myself staring at him as if for the first time. Breathless. His body moved sexily to the door to unlock it, those pert, rosey cheeks of his looking so delicious that I had to smile. And then he hurriedly came back to jump under the sheets with me before Bryson opened the door. He snuggled in close to me and it sent warm chills all over my body.
Bryson closed the door behind him and sat down near our feet, his gaze looking around the room. "Geez, don't you guys ever clean this place up? It's a mess."
"Our father, the neat freak." Taryn smiled.
"Whatever. Listen, I'm putting you on laundry duty tonight, Taryn. I was going to send Rain, but she's being her usual moody self and frankly she's liable to take the bundle of clothes and toss it into the river."
Taryn stretched out lazily beside me. "Hmmm... didn't Jenna just do laundry yesterday? We couldn't have possibly accumulated a load of dirty clothes that fast."
"Jenna did *A* load of laundry last night when we had three or four. There's a lot of kids here and just over a weeks worth of clothes for each of us. So deal with it." Bryson answered, leaning over to gather a pair of boxers off of the floor, now knowing that we were very much naked under those covers. "Sigh... you guys. Don't you do anything else?"
"Only when you ask us to, pops." I answered.
"Alright, smart aleck. Well, 'tonight' I'm asking you to help Dylan with his focus training. He's comfortable around you, it seems. It might help him get a little better with that extra of his. I don't want him phasing in and out of reality all night where I can't see him. Besides, it scares the SHIT out of you if you're not looking out for him."
Taryn held me closer, kissing me on the neck. "Can we have a few minutes to get dressed?"
"Don't get 'into' anything, got it?" He said as he stood up to go back outside. "Doc is keeping whatever change we have leftover in his glove compartment. It should be enough. And clean up this pig sty a little bit, will you? Since you guys want to spend so much time in here together." He left, and Taryn and I quietly made out for a few fleeting seconds before getting up to get dressed.
Coming out into the lot, I saw Kid walk by and reached out to say hello. "Heya Kid..." But he was still a bit skittish around me. He backed away from my hand and looked directly into my eyes, an almost invisible, but present, scowl on his face. He stood perfectly still, wondering if I was going to reach out again, and then he took a slight detour around me to run off to another part of the lot. He was a sweet boy, I knew that, but he was so standoffish around me that it was kinda...I don't know...insulting. I'm not the Boston Strangler for goodness sakes. But I guess he has his reasons.
Dion unlocked Jun's car door and let him come out to stretch, the two of them chatting it up happily and sharing a few laughs. He looked over to give me a friendly nod, but Bryson instantly came over to 'collect' me for the evening. Taking me over to Dylan, I snickered a bit as he had OBVIOUSLY just woken up. His hair was flipped over in every direction, his eyes half closed and puffy, barefoot, tiny white patches of drool in the corners of his mouth. I think his appearance must have become clear to him too, because he bashfully grinned and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
"Hehehe... sorry." He asked Bryson to give him a few minutes to wake up first, and went back into his car to 'pretty' himself up. "I'll come right back, promise." Then he looked at me and said, "I'm glad you're helping me out tonight, Justin." And with a smile he ducked back into his car. He was such an irresistable sweetheart when he wanted to be.
Bryson sat down on the hood of one the cars, and I quietly went over to join him. It was only a few seconds before he turned to speak to me. "So, Justin...I'm really curious to know why you haven't found anything yet with your extra. It's been some tme now." It was a game, I could tell. Bryson pretends not to know that I'm holding back for as long he can stand it... and then he gets increasingly more persistant until I spill the beans. Considering that he was asking almost every day now, I think he's reaching that 'tell me dammit' stage. "Hopefully, tonight while we're going through some drills with Dylan, you'll get a few ideas about how to found your own special something. You're almost far enough along in your crossover to begin getting into some specific training yourself, you know? You've gotta learn this stuff early."
"I actually..." What can I say? What 'should' I say? What should I NOT say? "...I think this whole headache thing might be something. I dunno." I told him, avoiding the mimic and mind reading abilities as much as possible.
"Ahhh, the blast thing. Yes...I remember." He said, knowing that he had been the unlucky person on the receiving end of it not that long ago. "So it's happened more than once? Ok, that's a start." I could sense it in his vibe, he already knew more than I was telling him. I could tell he was humoring me, appearing to let me find the answers for myself. "Listen, I want to give you a notepad and a couple of pens from my truck tonight. I want you to write down everything you discover about it this week. Ok? What you feel, what was going on around you at the time, how it works, where it might have come from... everything, ok? We'll figure this out together, just you and me."
It was a comforting moment, and for the first time, Bryson threw an arm over my shoulder and pulled me in for a sideways hug. I gave him a bit of a smirk, a bit surprised that he was being so...'normal' for a change. As 'bossy' as he was most of the time, I would have thought that even a one armed hug from him would come off as awkward and void of any real connection. But I was wrong. It was warm, and caring, and a pleasant surprise coming from him. "Um... thanks, Bryson." I think some of that weird barrier came down because of my apparent willingness to talk to him about it. Maybe it was my trust in him that caused him to throw it back at me four times over. "You know.... that night..." I started, a bit embarrassed. "That night that I... used that blast, or whatever, on you...I didn't mean to.."
"It's ok, Justin. You reacted. You were scared, and your extra jumped forward to defend you. That's what it's supposed to do. That's how it works." He saw me still feeling a bit bad about it all and smiled, "Hey, I said it was ok. Alright? You just make sure you learn to get that thing under control before we have any more accidents."
"I hear that Jenna had a bit of an accident herself when she first started." I said.
Bryson smiled humorously at the memory. "Yeah... all those tears and no way to stop them. We had to keep giving her water before she dried up entirely. And there was one time when Jun got locked in a trance for so long we were afraid we wouldn't be able to revive him again. It's hard to coach somebody who can't hear or see you through a trance. And the first time Rain pulled one of her little suicide stunts... God...I really freaked out THAT night." He reminiced, and another look of worry came over his face. It was mellow, and he masked the emotion about as well as he could manage, but it was still there. Somber and sad. "They're all so different, you know? Everybody here at the lot. They all like different things, go different places, have different dreams, mull over different problems, make different mistakes... it's so hard to keep track of them all."
"I can imagine."
"No, Justin. I don't think you can." He let out a sigh, and I began to notice a stirring in his emotions. Something dark, cold, heavy and getting heavier with each breath. "I just want them to be safe. I know I can't hold you guys hostage here and make you obey my every command, but... the worst thing in the world is knowing that when it comes right down to it..." He looked me in the eye, "...I can't protect you. Any of you."
I tried to smile, to lighten the mood a little, because he seemed to be sliding down even further in his emotions, and whatever it was that he was hiding... it must have been pretty bad. "You don't need to protect us, Bryson. We'll be ok. We're not going anywhere."
He gave me a fake grin, "If only that were as easy to believe as it was for you to say, my friend."
"It is if you want it to be."
It was at that moment that he looked at me, and in a serious tone, said "I'd die for them. You know that, right? Without a second's hesitation. No matter what conflicts we have or what problems we face, I don't want to ever lose a single one of them. I pray... you never know what it's like to lose somebody in all this...'darkness'." He said, almost watery eyed now. "Eternity is much too long to spend alone."
What did it mean, what was he moving towards in terms of telling me what his experience was with such a harsh ideal? I wasn't sure, but as soon as I was able to ask...
"Ok, sorry about that." Dylan smiled as he emerged from his home once again. This time fully dressed, hair looking beautiful, face perfect, hazel eyes shining brightly... he was one of those boyish teen heartthrobs that intensified their charm a million times over by being so blissfully unaware of how gorgeous they are. A shy smile from ths boy was more than something you saw. It was something you felt. Deep down where your deepest affections lie. I'd have a little crush on him myself if I hadn't already found my sense of perfection.
"Ok, let's do it." Bryson said, shrugging off his mood almost instantly. The emotion that I felt emanating from him mere seconds ago had vanished. Replaced by a determined 'work ethic' that moved in so fast that it almost made me dizzy. I stood up to join them both in another part of the lot, but as we walked over I was thinking... maybe that's why he does it. Maybe this 'loss' of his becomes more bearable when he's constantly keeping busy with other things. With teaching us, watching us....'protecting' us. If so, I think I'm beginning to understand.
The lot had become pretty empty for the most part, with only a few stragglers left behind who were too lazy to really go anywhere. And it had been maybe two hours of practicing with Dylan before he had even started to make progress. I guess an extra like his would be pretty hard to learn. It would be even harder for Bryson to create an 'excercise' for him to use it properly. But Bryson always managed to think of something, and it always helped. "There's got to be something you're not doing, Dylan. You've got to concentrate." He said.
"I'm trying, Bryson. Really. I just can't do it right." Dylan pouted, now getting a bit fatigued from trying so hard.
"Look, give it ONE more try, ok? For me. One more, and we'll take an extended break. Just... feel it out slowly. Don't think about now, think about before you came to join us here. Your extra is a part of you. It created you, and you created it right back. It's just the other side of the coin. See it, feel it, envision it." Dylan got up on his feet with a sigh. The poor kid was tired, and with every failure to make it right, his confidence slipped further and further down into his shoes where he crushed it under his feet.
The excercise sounded simple enough. Dylan stands behind me, and goes 'invisible', as he called it. Then, he takes steps foward towards me, slowly but surely, becoming more real with every step until he's standing right next to me and he's no longer invisible at all. Then he walks past me as he phases out again. The closer he is to me physically, the more tangible he becomes. It didn't seem like a big feat, but it must have been difficult for him, because Dylan hadn't gotten that kind of control over it yet. He'd either push too hard and seemingly vanish entirely, or he'd push too lightly and not vanish at all. I don't think his frustration was making it any easier.
"I can't do this. I'm screwing everything up." He was nearing the point where he threw his hands up and forgot all about the excercise altogether.
I turned to tell him, "It's ok dude. Just relax. You'll get it." His face didn't change much, but at least it was enough to keep him from walking away.
"Alright kiddo, take it slow. Feel it out, and then guide it as best you can." Bryson encouraged him with a steady voice, loud enough for him to hear, soft enough to not make him lose his focus. And a second or two of his concentration was all it took for him to completely blank himself off of my personal 'radar'. Honestly, it was a weird feeling, sensing someone behind you and then suddenly...not. Bryson continued with the lesson, "Now take a slow step forward, and tone it down. Juuuust a little bit..." I was facing the other way still and just assumed that everything was going to plan. "That's it, Dylan. Keep going. One step at a time. Tone it down just a smidgeon."
As he took a few more steps closer, I began to 'feel' him again. I could very faintly hear his footsteps, his breathing...I think he was actually getting it to work this time. "I can feel you, Dylan. You're doing great." I said, giving him a bit more confidence as he struggled to keep control. It must have been like walking a tightrope, maintaining that balance.
He phased in more and more, and he was almost completely 'real' again as he stepped right up behind me. Then, he appeared completely, and stood on my right side. I turned to see a bright smile on his face and returned with one of my own. "Alright kid, you're halfway there. Keep going." Bryson got down on one knee, studying the whole process up close. His interest in Dylan pulling this off increased as our resident shy guy took another step forward. This time however, I could see him, and that was wild. As he moved further away, he began phasing out again slowly, more and more with each step, and although I was looking RIGHT at him, I began to lose track of him somehow. It was almost like looking at a ghost, like those movements you see out of the corner of your eye in the dark and wonder if it was real or not. The further away he got from me, the more invisible he became, until I was afraid I'd lose my attention to his presence if I did so much as blink. Wow... he did it. He actually did it. I couldn't sense anything at all, even with him right in front of my face.
Bryson smiled openly. "Okay... now ease down. Shut it off... slowly." Dylan performed like a champion, and was able to melt back to his normal self.
He let out a sigh and tried to get his breathing back to normal after concentrating so hard. He couldn't hold back that gleaming smile for another second. "I...I did it."
Bryson rose to his feet again, and started to applaud. "Good job, Dylan. Damn good."
I joind him in the applause instantly, "Woo hoo!" Which made Dylan blush intensely, giving us a timid bow as he tried to fight off the urge to refuse the compliment.
"I think I can add this to our little book of accomplishments. Keep practicing. I think you're gonna get a firm grip on this pretty soon." Bryson wrote down a few notes in one of his many notebooks about the experiment, and folded it up to take it back to his truck.
"I'm proud of you dude." I said, as Dylan came over to give me a hug. His frail, almost waifish arms holding me in a brotherly embrace.
"I've never been able to do it before. Never." He grinned as he loosened his hug. "I think I'm getting the hang of it now. It just... like... fell into place this time."
"Good! You'll get even better at it if you keep practicing."
"I'm sure he will." Came a voice from beside us. It was Dion, who had evidently seen the last part of the training excercise, and came over to give his approval. "You're getting better all the time."