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The Gift of Home

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The De Leon Househould

West Vallee, Emerald City, Oregon

Thursday, November 22, 2018; 7:30PM


"Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts,

which we are to receive from Thy bounty.

Through Christ, our Lord. Amen."


Around the table, the family performed the sign of the cross, ending the prayer, and with the sound of cutlery they began to serve Thanksgiving dinner. 


They were a family of five, the parents first-generation immigrants from Mexico. A mother and a father, three girls, the youngest of which was Nicole's age (who couldn't keep from batting her eyelashes at Pan) and the oldest of whom was in her mid-twenties. The wife, Elizabeth or Eli for short, was a matronly woman who had aged well in her late-forties, bronze of skin and her hair dyed a reddish-brown. She was, to hear it told by Nicole, someone who had raised her and saved her and someone the teenager owed a debt to. Rafa, the husband, seemed to have blood leading directly to a Spanish conquistador. Trisha, Kate, and Abby from oldest to youngest, from the most formally dressed to the least, from the one most resembling her father to the mother.


They shared a round table just large enough to accommodate the five of them comfortably but with Nicole and Pan visiting, the table was cramp, all jostling elbows and clanging plates. Nicole and Pan were beside each other, Eli to Pan's right and Abby to Nicole's left. A white tablecloth covered the table. There was the traditional turkey dinner, laid out on the center as the main course, but plenty of breadstuffing and a few more homecooked Mexican dishes to go with it.


Nicole wore a pink undershirt. She had taken off her sweater, in a white and blue striped pattern, which hung from the back of her wheelchair. Emerald City was a chilly place to be, with snow and clouds concealing the sun. Rain had just fallen a day before, lowering the city's temperature even more. But it was cozy inside the dining room and the house in general. It wasn't the biggest house, or even big, but it was cozy and homey, with old mementos and pictures doting the walls and tables. Well-worn sofas in the living room waited for them just a few feet away as an electric fireplace heated the house.


Nicole had come in for the Thanksgiving holidays flying first-class by commercial airplane and by pity or some other mushy feeling invited Pan along.


He flew couch.


They had briefly met before his time at Claremont, back when he had reverted to his old trickster ways and Nicole in her armor was looking to vent her frustrations on the first opportunity that reared its head. It didn't end well for either of them and it left a bad taste in Nicole's mouth. So maybe this was an apology of sorts to the sophomore who had no family to be with during Thanksgiving.


"So, Pan," Eli finally said, putting down her utensils. "Nicole never told us she was anyone. How did you two meet and where did a handsome young man like you come from? You aren't from around here are you?"


Nicole, for her part, was in the middle of chewing on turkey as the question was asked. And she blinked in confusion before the realization dawned on her, her cheeks growing red, thinking that Pan had no idea what Eli meant.


"N-n-no, no, no," she said with her mouth full, which made what she said sound more like, "M-mm-mhph-mwo."


"Whymft." And she began chewing her food vigorously.


The others around table meanwhile waited for Pan's answer.

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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The journey to Emerald City had been a new, if not entirely pleasant, experience. Pan had tried flying in great ships that sailed across the sky many times. He had flown under his own power more times than he could count. Once or twice, he had even ridden on giant birds. But this giant metallic contraption, this plane? That had been something entirely different. He had fit easily into the chair, and still, he had been amazed at just how many people he saw everywhere. The trip had been boring, but he had spent his time well, and quickly met up with Nicole again once they were on land, gushing about the plane and how amazed he were on it for at least a short while after. 


Now, at the table, Pan had put in some research about this Thanksgiving, as it seemed to matter a lot. You spent it with your family, you watched television, talked, and you ate a whole lot of food. That seemed to be the gist of it. He had simply been happy to be invited along. While he did not join the prayer, he remained silent as it was spoken. It was obviously an important rite at the table. He was dressed in red shirt with a green christmas tree. So many options with his favourite colors at this time of year, it seemed. He loved it. 


He had introduced himself, he had behaved, and he had thanked them for having him. He was a guest, after all, and you had to behave if you were a guest. He had noticed Abby, and the looks she was sending, but best not to act on it. Again, he was a guest, and in that case, he should behave. He had snuck in a single wink back at Abby, but that was it. Nothing more than that.


Pan was studying the turkey on his plate with an appraising smile when Eli asked her question. It looked delicious. He looked up at Eli's question. He was just about to reply, but was stopped by Nicole's sound. He grinned mischievously at her. He realized he didn't know how well Nicole's family knew about her heroic identity, so perhaps he should play that part safe, at least. He could ask her later. "Ah, we met back in Freedom City during the summer, and again when school started. It was quite a surprise to see Nicole again, I had no idea we would both be attending Claremont." Keep a secret identity and all that. He had listened to some of those lectures, at least. "And you're quite right! I'm from quite a bit away, so I was quite happy that I was allowed to join your family today, rather than spend the day alone. Again, thank you for having me." Nicole was right, at least. Pan had not understood quite what Eli meant Nicole being with anyone.

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Nicole sighed in relief, mouth still half full, and resumed chewing at a more leisurely pace.


"Oh don't worry about it. We're always happy to have Nicole's dates around."


"I bet Abby's not happy he's taken," Kate, the middle child, teased from across the table.


"Really? You're going there?" Abby said.


"Welll, I heard from Mom you just broke up with..."


And the dinner continued that way, trading stories and catching up across the table. Nicole shared about Claremont and Pan would recognize some of those people she told her experiences about. Corinne being Corinne's bipolar personality (aka. being more of a b**** and less of a b****). The Intramural squad assignments and Red Team's progress as a team. Leroy choosing Judy over her, with Ashley hovering around the two like a dog over its food. The Fall Dance and Astrid's incredibly horrible song placement. The Dangers' private beach party. The two Dakanan students and Sara's accompanying her Sunday visit to ArcheTech's disaster relief site in Southside.


Then when dinner was done they had to clean the dishes and put the leftovers in containers to be put in the fridge. There was a whole evening after that and the De Leon's all gathered on a couch to watch some movies. Popcorn and all.


But Pan found himself in the front porch, waiting for Nicole to return. He heard Spanish being spoken inside, muffled, then Nicole opened the front door, speaking to Trisha over her shoulder.


<Yeah, I'll get three for you too.>


 Trisha shut the door behind her. Nicole handed Pan a thermos much like the one she always had on her person, a stainless steel green.


"Coffee. With lots of sugar and cream. You look like a sugar and cream person." She popped open her own thermos, a deep purple, and took a swig from it. She was wearing her sweater now and she looked ready for a evening walk out.


"I can't believe they thought we were dating. Don't worry, I told them we weren't."

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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Oh, he was Nicole's date here? Pan looked genuinely surprised. To be fair, the whole concept of dating was still a bit foreign to him. It was different from what he had experienced back home, at least. He quite enjoyed the dinner, taking part in the talks around the table, sharing his own experiences at Claremont on the Blue Team. He felt that he should defend Leroy and Judy a bit, being his teammates and all, but otherwise he stayed clear of commenting on any romantic entanglements. Pan knew that there were things he knew, and things that he didn't know, and romance and dates were clearly in the latter category. He completely agreed on Ashley being overprotective, sharing that, despite being on the same team as both. He was sure that he had never seen them farther away from each other than the older sister being able to actually see Judy. There was something more there, something he was a bit suspicious of, but it was not his place to share here at the table. He listened, he learned, he laughed and shared his own tales. And he enjoyed the food. He had only tried Mexican in the cafeteria at Claremont before, but as good as it was, he could tell that the Mexican dishes here were something different all together. 


It wasn't long before he found himself on the couch, looking up at the stars. He could hear the family inside, watching movies on the television, and registered that Nicole was talking in Spanish. If he had tried, he could probably have heard every word. He understood it, at least, but it would be rude, and since his hosts had been kind enough to have him for the evening, then he felt no need to be rude. 


Pan happily accepted the coffee, happily agreeing with Nicole's observation. "Ah, yes, thank you!" He took a sip. He had been told not to get too much coffee in the past, but he liked coffee. Especially with cream and sugar. He had wondered how coffee could not only exist, but have the same name, both on Earth and Neverworld, but he was not complaining. 


He looked up at the stars again, a sly grin playing across his lips. He might not fully get the concept of dating, but he understood enough, and he just couldn't help himself. "You wound me! You know it is only a matter of time before they discover our forbidden love, darling!" Oh, he was joking of course. Even if any of Nicole's family happened to be listening, his tone of voice and exaggerated pronunciation of the words forbidden and darling should make that clear, but still, he couldn't help himself.

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Nicole couldn't help but chuckle as she went down the ramp to the front garden, well-cared if bare save for several flower beds on the side. "You need to get in line first," she told Pan in a volume that wouldn't disturb the neighbors.


On the sidewalk, under the light of a streetlamp, Nicole handed Pan a list of groceries they were going to buy. "Turns out they forgot a lot of things. There's a convenience store a couple blocks over so we can do a quick run."


And they were off at a leisurely pace. West Valee was a blue-collar district but even then it was clean and orderly, with little trash on the streets and wide, unbroken sidewalks. It helped too that the De Leon's place was close to the middle-class suburbs of Arcadian Peaks. So there was space and streets that rolled with the hills, grass and clean air that only became more pronounced in an evening between Fall and Winter.


They walked in silence, passing by other strollers on their way somewhere, or nowhere if they were the type to wander. A family here, a couple there, a lone woman. Many houses and apartment rooms had their lights on, glowing softly, and the streetlamps lit Pan and Nicole's path well.


"So," Nicole said, breaking the silence. "You've been in Earth-Prime for several months now. How're you holding up?"


She knew of Pan's story. Many Claremonters' stories that were not kept secret tended to spread like wildfire in that small, exclusive school and Pan's was no different.


She could have dug deeper if she had wanted to, but she wasn't like that anymore, replacing some of the time and skills honed on a computer with more craftsmanship and human intelligence. Sure, she wasn't as good then but it was worth it.


There was the rumor mill and one could never escape that, and what she knew from her run in with Pan before Claremont. A thief and a trickster, much like Peter Pan had been but less legal. She'd watched the Disney movie.


"I've been to other dimensions against my will before, you know, and I hated every minute there."

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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"You wound me!" he put on a few more jokes to the same effect on the way, just in case Nicole's family were listening. He stopped once they were a bit away from the house, flashing another grin at Nicole along the way. He at least understood that romance here could be a source of embarrassment, and he did like to tease. Of course, he agreed to accompany her to the store and to help carry the things.


As always, Pan's eyes flickered from sight to sight as they walked the streets. Even if it were nothing special to Nicole, it was something new for Pan. He took joy in even the smallest things. He was overjoyed to get to pet a small dog along they way, happily fawning over it as it rolled over to have its tummy scratched. Nicole almost had to drag him along from that encounter.


He paused a bit as she asked him how he was doing. It was not a question he was asked frequently, at least not by his friends or fellow students. Perhaps at the start, when they asked about his world, or where he was from. It had been a while, at least. He stopped walking for a short second, looking up at the sky and smiling. He pointed up, pointing out a small cluster of three stars. "Second star to the right, and straight on till morning. That's how it goes, is it not?" There was a bit of melancholy to his voice, an emotion he rarely displayed. It quickly disappeared, replaced by his usual happy tone. "Being here has been an adventure so far, at the least. I have fought against people from the stars and living cartoons. I've tried burgers and other wondrous food that I had never heard about before. I've been trapped in books, and I've experienced role-playing games. I have made great friends." He smiled. This was what everyone expected of him, was it not? The melancholy  returned to his voice. "I think I am doing fine, but I do miss my home. I fear what might have happened to my friends in my absence. I did not exactly leave at the best situation. Did I ever tell you about that story?" A bit of the excitement crept back into his voice at the last part. He did love telling stories of his exploits. Nicole and he had not exactly met under the best circumstances. He was still new to Earth-Prime at that time, did not know or understand much about the world. He was happy that had at least been able to move past that.

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"Yeah, but you ever tire of it?" Nicole asked, her eyes travelling to where Pan's finger pointed. "Adventure, I mean. Always travelling and discovering new things. Even Magellan had his sights on Portugal when he set to sail the world on a ship that didn't fly. Seems like you do. I don't know. Maybe."


It might as well have applied to her, that question, and well, to anyone. When did they get tired? When did they say enough of their life is enough and it was time to turn a new leaf, flip to the next chapter of the book? It was something she hadn't bothered to try to find yet. Take it one step at a time. After Claremont there was always ArcheTech waiting.


They passed by a park and Nicole, seeing this, motioned for them to enter it.


"C'mon, this way's faster."


Wooded, brush, and the streetlamps a farther apart to dim the surroundings a tad, it mimicked what would have been the wilderness had the city never been established here. But it was cleaner and no animals scarier than a raccoon lived here. There was a path that winded down through the faux woods. This late in November and a very thin coating of snow draped over the greenery, and the orange and red leaves of fading Fall.


"If you want adventure, you'll find it in Emerald too," Nicole said, giving her sage advice. Sure she'd been around the block more times than Pan had for sure. Their shadows lengthened when they entered the park and the darkness seemed to creep a bit more. "But you've got to be smart about it. Too aggressive and too open and they'll hit you when you'll least expect it or get at you in other ways that doesn't involve duking it out and losing to you. And mystery and magic but it's all hush-hush, even more so than Freedom. No living cartoons here, not like the Toon Gang."


She paused. "It's a stupid theme anyway."


She drank another mouthful of hot coffee. No, she didn't know how Pan came to be here. She knew enough to know he was from Neverworld, which was close enough to Barrie's Neverland that anyone with half a mind would suspect something was up. Nicole knew of fantastical things, she created the fantastical with her hands, and it wouldn't surprise her to find out that a connection was somehow drawn between the Pan's world and Barrie's work of fiction.



Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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Pan mused a bit about the question. Did he ever get tired of adventure, discovering new things? Just for a second, then he shook his head. "No, not really. Life is all one big adventure, and I intend to live it to the fullest. It has served me well for a very long time." For a brief moment, his voice sounded much older, then it was gone, as he made a happy little jump.


He followed her into the park. It was a nice shortcut. He could hear some animals in the bushes and trees, moving about their business, doing their best to keep an eye on Pan and Nicole, to make sure they were safe to be around. Kind of like the critters back home. That was probably a constant between the worlds. This "Emerald City" did indeed sound different than Freedom. It had a more subdued, less fantastic feel to it. It was kind of strange to know how much were hiding under the surface. He could only grin and nod at Nicole's view on the Toon Gang. It really was. The toons had been a chore to stop, nothing working right, and them defying physical laws to an even greater degree than Pan could. 


She wanted the tale, and he could tell her. No, he could do better! He could show Nicole what had happened! With a grin, he held out his hands. A small ship appeared, flying through the air. It was majestic. Two large masts with great sails. For a brief moment, Nicole could hear and feel the wind. "I was travelling with the Lost Heroes at the time. They were still on their never ending quest to find the Crocodile, so that they could defeat the Hooked Man." He was aware that she didn't know anything about them. "They were the greatest heroes of Neverworld. The Crocodile the greatest mystery, and our only hope of finally defeating the Hooked Man." The image changed, showing instead the Hooked Man in all his glory. He was tall, with long, dark hair. His dark goatee was finely trimmed. He was wearing a dark red coat over black clothes, a sword in his right hand, his left empty. He looked like a pirate, straight out of a picture book. Except for his eyes. The look in his eyes was intense, full of inhuman hatred. "I don't know the details, but he was once just a sailor in the Victori armada. Then something visisted him, something hooked him, and he became an unstoppable beast, leading a nations worth of Sky Pirates to plunder and pillage. So of course, someone had to stop him." He paused briefly. "With me so far?" This was probably the first time he had gone into this much detail in a long while. 

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"Huh. Well, you do you."


Nicole scratched the back of her ear. Guess some people just thought differently and she didn't have a retort to that. Then Pan's voice became different. She couldn't place exactly how but it made her think of the voice of an old man, those kinds you see and hear in the movies. Sad, tired, speaking of all the years that has passed them by. It wasn't like that of a teenager still looking at the world with stars in his eyes.


"How long has your adventure been going on?" Nicole asked with raised eyebrows. "You're immortal, aren't you? Barrie got that one right. Maybe he wasn't seeing you and Neverworld in the future when he wrote about you but saw it as it was then, a century ago. Forever a sixteen year old."


She smiled, wagging a finger at Pan.


"That must suck, never growing up. You and Huang're both in the same boat then. And I know a guy, literally a Neanderthal. He's got this thing going, a code for immortals or whatever. Might be your thing, might not since you plan to leave someday, but I can get you in contact with him."


She didn't believe in immortals, true immortals with no way to permanently die, just people and beings with really long lives. All things came to an end, even gods. It just was a matter of when.


But she didn't need to say that to Pan.


They were moving around a small roundabout for park goers when Pan did his thing with the Pixie dust and she went around the Hooked Man's image as Pan told his story.


"Barrie did some things right but got a whole lot of thi gs wrong, huh?" She commented. "Captain Hook, the Lost Boys, the crocodile. Next you'll be telling me there were magical Native Americans all along with magical wisdom."


She poked at Hook's sword, feeling cold steel under her finger. "Yeah, I'm with you."


She could guess where this story was headed but she didn't want to interrupt Pan now, not when he was this invested.

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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How long had his adventure gone on? He only had a simple explanation to her query of whether he was immortal, one that he delivered with a smile. "I don't know. I have been sixteen for a long time. I am, after all, the Forever Boy." He bowed with a quick flourish. The image of the Hooked Man made a bow much like it at the same time, only with more exaggeration, before both stood up straight again. Pan had not chosen the name himself, but it had stuck. Forever a boy, forever on an adventure. What else could he do but try to live his life to the fullest? He did not quite agree with Nicole's mention that not growing up being a thing that sucked, but he decided not to comment. The code for immortals were an interesting concept, however. Maybe he should try to find this Neanderthal, whatever that was. An interesting thought, at the very least. "I will give it some thought. Maybe I will try to reach out to them." 


He grimaced at the mention of Barrie. It was kind of strange, how they shared a name like that. Still, Pan found himself agreeing. "Oh, I've read the book. Watched all the movies I could find. Barrie was incredibly close with great many things." He paused, briefly, his tone turning more serious. "I'd still like to know just how he did that." As for the Native Americans, his tone turned lighter once more. "Not Native Americans, no. There's plenty of different native tribes living on the different islands all over Neverworld. Some with magical wisdom. Some with technological wisdom. Some with technomagical wisdom, even." He winked at Nicole at the last part, before deciding to continue his story.


The image of the Hooked Man changed, instead showing two flying ships, what appeared to be cannonballs flying between them. Closer inspection would reveal that they were not simply balls of steel, but small technological wonders. Explosives, conceal technomagical robots, and even stranger. "The Hooked Man and part of his armada ambushed us. We were outnumbered, with nowhere to run, but we were heroes and legends, so of course we fought. What else could we do?" The image shifted closer to the ship, showing Pan and a group of others fighting pirates. "And of course, we were losing." Only Pan still stood, glowing sword in hand. The Hooked Man before him, blade in right hand raised. The image of Pan on the ship swung his sword, cutting off the Hooked Man's right hand at the wrist, the hand and sword falling from across the ship. "And then I took the Hooked Man's hand. He did not like that. I was sure my adventure would end there, but then..." The pirates are shown hitting and kicking Pan, as he lies helpless on the deck. From below the ship, a massive creature, easily standing at more than 300 feet tall, if the scale of the ship were to believed. A deep, rumbling sound, like the rhytmic beating of a drum, could be heard from the creature. "The crocodile found us." The awe and wonder were clear in Pan's voice. To call the creature a crocodile would be generous. It was a giant lizard, with a gaping, elongated maw, but it stood on two legs, with clawed hands in front. It was sort of blurred. Pan had not gotten a close look. And then, the image disappeared. "The next thing I know I woke up in Freedom City. I'm sure that the Lost Heroes escaped somehow. The Crocodile was supposed to defeat the Hooked Man, after all. But I would still like to know instead of believe." He lifted the cup to take some coffee. He needed something warm right now, he thought. 

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Nicole nodded. "Just tell me and I could help you get in touch. He only ever called himself Mr. Murk but, you know, we actually met here in this city, back in January."


Nicole listened, a hand propping up her chin as she watched the life-sized slideshow. She blinked at his mention of technomagics and looked closer as the ships and their cannonballs played their battle. When the pirates were beating Pan, she couldn't help but wince, seeing the bruises form and the blood flow, cuts on his face and arms. Then as the Crocodile appeared out of the water, Pan's voice dropping low in reverence, Nicole's eyes widened and she leaned forward, enamored by the scene and the story.


And then, the image dissappeared.


"That's... one hell of a story," Nicole said as Pan drank his coffee. He had a talent in storytelling, that was for sure. And building worlds and getting her hooked into it all.


"Neverworld doesn't sound so bad," she admitted. "Except for the Sky Pirates, of course! But they have a different tech base I could look into and creatures, that if are even half as grand as the Crocodile, would be very interesting to look at."


She faced Pan, an idea forming in her head, eyes shining brighter with excitement. She looked to the far off distance as her thoughts flew. "The other worlds I visited brought me back to the Middle Ages in technology. No cellphones, no armor, no electricity. Nothing. But if we could find a way to get to your world. Maybe a sample of your powers or-- or-- the location where you first appeared and we track down the confluence. Or maybe--"


She looked to Pan again and her face fell. "Or maybe they wouldn't work anyway. Mrs. Summers would have probably have done all that or asked people who knew how to do that when you came to her."


She exhaled air through her nose, looking up at the streetlamp in the middle of the roundabout. She wasn't used to doing what she was about to say, but she felt that she should just say it, throw it out in the wind and see if it catches.


"You miss them, the Lost Heroes," she said, her voice much more subdued. "You worry for them and you have no idea how to get back, no idea what to do except continue on with your adventure of a life. And all the while you believe because that's all you have right now."


She looked to Pan again and hesitantly reached out to give him an awkward pat on the arm. Then she withdrew her hand. "I understand that."

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Pan light up in a smile at Nicole's suggestions. Sure, some of them had been tried before, with little effect. It was hard to pintpoint Neverworld, apparently. Still, it was nice to have a friend offer suggestions. Who knew, trying with someone else might yield different results? 


"Neverworld is amazing." Pan flatly stated. "I think so, at least. Hopefully, I will be able to show it to you and my other friends here on Earth some day. I'm happy for your suggestions, and we can perhaps try some once we get back to Claremont. Even if I have already tried, maybe we just didn't try with the right person." He had been tossed to and from in his life, but he Pan was still not one to give into despair. He was confident that he would find his way home some day, after all. His lit up in a grin again, he couldn't help but tease. "Still, there's no cell phones. I believe I know at least a few back at Claremont that would have trouble with that concept." He was happy to have friends willing to help him here, even if he did miss the Lost Heroes and his other friends back home.


He smiled faintly at the awkward pat. "Thank you. I appreciate it, honestly." The melancholy and old tone was back, just for a second, only to be replaced with a wide grin. "I could tell hundreds of tales of Neverworld and my adventures, but honestly, enough about me! Come, tell me more about your adventures! And your marvelous armor! It is some kind of magical technology, is it not? A fusion of science and the mystical?" 

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"Not exactly, no," Nicole said as she started back down the wooded path, her voice taking the tone of a lecturer. "Some say the mystical and the technological can never be together. Others dream of a world where magic can be used by any person living, like it was technology. But they're both wrong in their assumptions, you know."


She held out two hands, each holding an imaginary stick. "You can't fuse them together into one branch, Prime laws just don't work like that, but that doesn't mean they can't coexist hand-in-hand, complimenting each other. Bellios is a dear like that, isn't he?"


"He was actually one of my family's favorite artifacts, all magic then, and used as a sort of conduit for the wearer's powers. I took that and I added into it modern technology, putting a layer between the two so that interference would be at a minimum but made so I could manipulate it, opening valves at my command to let them through and mix."


"Course, it forced me to rewrite Bellios' original magics to adapt to that. He'd work with just one or the other but not as effective if both magic and technology was working in tandem. It's magical and "magical" technology if you put it that way."


It was the layman's explanation for she knew that Pan had little knowledge on either matter. Truth be told, she barely understood the underpinnings herself. It's magic was old when her family had purportedly claimed it for themselves centuries ago. She understood more, but still not enough, what she had done to modify it to its current extent. It was the power of fevered inspiration stretched to fill months of labor.


"Took me almost a year to make it work and even now I've got to revise it continuously until I get it to really stick, but it helps me go out there." She gestured to her legs. "Not really an option otherwise." Then she wiggled the fingers of her right hand, looking up at Pan as she did so. "And I knew a bit if magic back when I was a kid too, the spellcasting kind. Incant something, focus your thoughts, and perform the gestures."

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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Pan might have little technical knowledge about either technology or magic, but he still listened, to the degree that he could understand. He could understand the story of it all, at least, even if not the technical specifics. And the story was interesting. Bellios sounded almost alive, the way that Nicole described the armor. 


It was interesting how magic and technology did not mix in this world. He had not even thought about it that way. On Neverworld, the mix was as natural as anything. It was more rare to see magic and technology that was not interwined in some way. Curious, but not the subject for now. "Your armor, Bellios. Is it alive, in some way? They way you are talking about it, it doesn't sound quite like just an armor, at least."


The gesture to her legs, and the explanation for actually being able to move. Not being able to move freely, not to have the freedom, that would probably be one of the worst experiences he could imagine. And it brought another realization. "I'm sorry if I step over the line, and I apologize if I do, but your work on Bellios, and using it as you do, is it in part to help you move?" He was not quite sure about how sensitive Nicole were about the subject, and he did not wish to offend.

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"Well, something's there alright," Nicole said, not clarifying further as they passed by a couple going the other way. When they were out of hearing range she continued. "Maybe not sapience, not even sentience, but it seems to be linked to me, going through life with me. It was always there when I needed it."


She pointed to her head. "Photographic memory. I remember the first time it came to me like it was a second ago and I was wreck back then. It provided a distraction from my problems and a motivation to wake up."


She looked to Pan, eyeing whether he thought she was talking crazy talk. "My home was burnt down, siblings missing, a criminal empire revealed to me, magic gone, legs uselss. You don't go through that without some serious ignoring."


"So yeah," she could practically imagine Pan's lightbulb light up. "It let's me move in ways I can't even with all the normal mundane and magical solutions can't. They never end up working right, always breaking. It's like the universe went up and told me I couldn't, shouldn't stand. Ever."


They exited the park, back into the concrete jungle of Emerald City's working-class apartments, and they continued on their way.


Her chin jutted out, defiant. "And that's fine. It's been three years I've been like this and you get used to it, you know? You learn to cope but that doesn't mean you dream of doing so again."


"My armor -- Bellios -- it let's me fly. It makes me stand so tall and I could go toe-to-toe with anyone in Freedom City. Salvo's so powerful and strong and fearless. Nothing escapes her." She lightly slapped her knee, her lips pursed. "No one would think a girl with no working legs was actually her."


"Best superhero disguise ever."

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It was a curious thing, this Belios. It must be nice to have someone, or something, depending on what Belios was, that would come for her like that. He listened to the story. He had not realized that Nicole's life had been so bleak. He was wholly focused on that part of the story now. The armor, and its curious magic, was forgotten for the moment. When Nicole had looked at him, he had shown none of the disbelief she might have sought. Why should he? He admitted that he had not heard of anything quite like Belios before, but so what? Just another wonder of this world to him.


He grinned at the thought of Belios letting her fly. Oh yes, he could understand the joy in that. If anyone could, it would probably be him, after all. "I think I understand that quite well. The universe told you that you couldn't stand, and then you defied it. But why just stand, when you can stand tall, right?" He conjured a quick image of Salvo standing in his hand, striking a heroic pose with her fists in her sides, fireworks exploding behind her. It was gone seconds after it appeared. "But I believe that it is not just Salvo who is strong and fearless, is it now? Powerful armor or not, not everyone could just go out and fight evil like you have done." Sure, Claremont was full of people that went out and did just that, but from what Pan had seen of this world, it was still such a small segment of the entire population, not unlike Neverworld. Back home, there had been numerous legends, yet few in the grand scheme of things. And returning to the subject at hand, few of the students seemed to have suffered an injury like Nicole's. "It is admirable that you do as you do, having suffered as you have." There was not a hint of humor in his voice. He was completely sincere, even if just for a moment. A bit more of that hidden age shining through. "But tell me! You can fly! That is amazing! What else can you do, when you are wearing Belios?" 


Pan paused for a moment. The other questions were more serious, but he felt that he should ask. His voice was somber again. "I hope I do not intrude, and please, tell me if I do, but I am both curious and worried: What of your siblings and the criminal empire?" 

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"You are a flatterer, Pan Barrie," Nicole said, swatting at Pan as she did so. "You make me sound like a martyr, but I've got so much going for me too."


Put that way, her ills seemed so permanent and encompassing. But she didn't want for anything. She had her inheritance, whatever was left from her parents' estate, and she ate well and could afford luxuries. She had an interesting job in ArcheTech waiting for her. Compared to that, there were quite a lot more who had less though it did not seem like that to her years ago.


"A lot of Claremonters go like that. It's a shared trait, I think, to have tragedy and power go hand-in-hand."


They turned a corner to a road that was somewhat wide and one could almost imagine the cars that would drive by on a typical day. But now, on the evening of Thanksgiving, it was empty. A long row of stores were still open near them and they began to walk. A botique store, a laundromat, a thrift shop.


"You haven't seen it have you? Strength that could make me carry an elephant, armor that could shrug off tank cannons, and sensors that could track everything," She says proudly, head held high. "It was how I was able to keep on your tail that one time before Claremont. But it drives like a rock and it only uses conventional ammunition and delivery cause those're the easiest to make."


"Was how you got away if you remember. You exploiting those two things in a city."


She shook her head at Pan's questions. "I don't wanna go into detail about those things. Not the time for downer stuff. But they're just like your Lost Heroes and Hooked Man, things I that give me a headache thinking about."


They stopped in front of the convenience store and Nicole looked up at Pan. "I'm fine, really. I've had the De Leons to fall back on these past few years. The... same thing can't be said about you and I'm sorry for that." Her face fell at the thought but she quickly recovered then gave Pan a reassuring smile. "But it's sweet that you worry."


Then the doors of the store opened as she wheeled inside.

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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"Of that, I am guilty." He did like to flatter, that much was true. He chuckled a bit at the thought, before shaking his head. He had not meant to make her out as a martyr, but he could still admire her for it. He hadn't even though about how a lot of his fellow students had some kind of dark past, something bad that had led them to their current place at life. It was a curious thought, really. Was it just a law of nature here, in this world? Did having powers lead to tragedy? Curious. It was something that he would have to give some more thought another time, perhaps.


The strreet was wide, and filled with shops. Pan compared it to the market places in New Avalon for a moment, before dismissing the thought. The street was much too wide for that comparison, and the shops too neatly organized. And everything was so quiet, which he guessed was probably just because of the holiday.


He chuckled again, quickly drinking some more as Nicole mentioned their meeting prior to Claremont. Not his proudest moment, really. "Only caught a glimpse of something big and massive coming for me, so I made sure to get away. To be honest, I didn't even notice those weapons, I just figured I might be able to maneuvre a bit better. It was probably the only reason you didn't catch me." From what he had seen of Belios, it had been fast. Much faster than him. But, well, as Nicole said, it drove like a rock.


Stopping before the convenience store, he made a small solemn bow before they entered. "You are my friend, Nicole. I cannot not worry about my friends. It is simply how I am." He stood up straight again, flashing her a quick smile before walking in. The automatic doors of stores like these still amused him, but he tried not to let it show too much. "You have nothing to be sorry about. I really haven't been here for long. I'm confident that I will find my way back some day. Maybe even find some way to travel back and forth. That would be ideal, I think."


No more solemn things. They had shared, and he felt better for it, both for having shared his own tale and for listening to Nicole's. It was nice to know a friend, and what had shaped them, after all. "Now then! I believe that we have been given a quest by our most gracious hosts!" He stood with legs a bit apart, pointing into the store. A single employee looked up from stocking the shelves, not really knowing what to think of Pan's outburst. "What is on the list? What shall I find?"

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Nicole sighed, embarrassed on Pan's behalf, and shot the employee an acqueiscing glance. Then when Pan asked her for what was on the list she rattled the contents to him.


They moved through the store, looking for items and picking them off from their shelves. Nicole had time to think as they looked, and she was not sure what she should think of Pan. He was optimistic, that was for sure, confident to the point of naivety. She was sure it was a defense mechanism, hiding behind the smile worries that would weigh down the boy otherwise. But his optimism and cheer were infectious and, well, she liked being with him because of those things.


They exited the store with three grocery bags worth of goods, ready for the short walk back to the De Leon's home.


"You good to go?" Nicole asked Pan, but she already knew the answer.


He forever was. For adventure and friends and lands unknown. It was his gift and, for Nicole, his curse.

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If Pan had noticed Nicole's embarrassed sigh, he didn't let it show in any way, as he moved quickly through the store on his quest. He was still amazed at the bounties on sale everywhere in this world. Every so often, he would return to Nicole, dropping whatever he had found on his way in her basket, before returning.


Leaving the store, he held the bags. Even if Nicole had protested, he had insisted. He was the guest, he would do his part.


He had enjoyed the evening with Nicole and the De Leon family. He was quite sure that he liked this Thanksgiving, after all. It had been a nice evening, sharing the past with Nicole as they walked. She insisted that she was fine, and he believed her to be so, so he would not pity her, but yet, he was in awe. After all her hardships, she had stood up, both figuratively and literally.


Of course he was ready. Another adventure, another walk with a friend. What more could he ask for?

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