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Late February 2020 

 

It was a couple of days after the Valentine's Incident - a date where everything had gone terribly wrong, even if the aftermath had been enjoyable enough. But now Fa'Rua was back on her ship in all the ways that mattered and Ashley Tran was down here on Earth, dealing with the aftermath of her personal secret being exposed in a very unpleasant way. She had _not_ told Judy that she'd been spotted out with her date; being 'made' as going out that night had been difficult enough, and she did not need a teenager's questions about her space girlfriend even if it was from a teenager she loved like the dumbest of her little sisters. 

 

But she had to talk to one teenager, didn't she? Summers of course had played student discipline cards close to her chest, as she always did (which Ashley had to admit was probably fair, even if it made her job substantially harder) but she knew that the immediate situation with Davyd had been resolved, and he hadn't informed on her to Summers. Which meant the ball was in the court of Ashley Smith, teenage hooligan, and not Callie Summers, feared headmistress. 

 

Great, just great. 

 

She tracked Davyd down near the end of the day, when it was still a while before the dinner bell but after the end of afternoon classes. She looked like 'herself', white t-shirt with leather jacket over it, battered denim jeans, her bubblegum-pink hair a shot of color above her dour face. 

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It was atypically warm for this time of year, which might explain why Davyd was wearing blue shorts and a gold tee.  Except "atypically warm for this time of year" meant  it was in the low 50s, rather than mid-40s.  On the other hand, teenage boys -- even those without metamorphic abilities -- often went around in shorts no matter what the weather was, so it wasn't too odd of a sight.  (Something about their increasing testosterone levels making them run hot, Ashley had once read.)  He was up in the large tree that stood between the two dormitories, perched on a limb and looking out towards the gardens.

 

He felt Ashley approach before hearing or seeing her (so that's what tremorsense feels like), and was the first to speak out.  "Hey, Ashley!  Up here!"  He sounded quite innocent, as if he had no idea what it was she had come to discuss with him.

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Ashley looked at the tree and with a deep sigh climbed up it. It was by no means the first time she had climbed this particular tree but it had been over a decade. So she took her time, feet finding each branch with surety, testing her weight as she went. Up inside the tree's branches, she found a big fat branch that let her look at Davyd without being within arm's reach. There weren't many leaves on the trees at this time of year but that suited her just fine, the branches wrapped around them both like the bony fingers of a wooden fist. Once up in the tree, she gave the boy a questioning look and faint shrug. 

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Davyd watched as Ashley climbed, and gave her an impressed nod when she got up and settled in.  "I would've been happy to come down," he shrugged, and resumed looking off at the garden.

 

Okay, Davyd, you knew this was coming.  Might as well just get it over with.

 

"So," he said after a moment, still looking towards the garden, "are you... okay?  I hope Summers wasn't too harsh on you.  And, uh," now he turned to face her, "again, I'm sorry for ruining your... well, whatever that was."  Another pause, "she seemed nice."

 

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"I'm fine," said Ashley, which was true enough. "I've had some run-ins with Summers, but I can handle what she puts down." She was less sure of that, and took the opportunity to break off a small branch and begin stripping off the leaves, the wood making a faint but distinct crack. "I like girls," she said with a shrug. "Don't think I've ever hidden that." Well that was true enough too, even if it wasn't in quite the way Davyd would have thought. She cracked open a pocketknife and began stripping off the bark. 

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Davyd nodded and smiled, "I've no doubt you can handle whatever she could come up with."  He didn't really know much about Ashley -- they weren't on the same squad, had few classes together -- but from what little he'd seen (especially under Benny's sparring sessions), he was certain she could handle herself.

 

At her second comment, he nodded again, "love is love, and no one should have to hide who they are."  A pause, "but if they're more comfortable hiding, feel safer doing so, well," he shrugged, "you've go to do what you think is best, yeah?  And hope that, in time, the situation will change such that you can be your authentic self."

 

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Ashley's mouth curled in a smile. "Smart boy." With the bark off, she began whittling the limb she held down to a point. "So how about you?" she asked. "If that girl at the club, back before everything blew up, if she had liked what you were laying down, if she'd invited you back to her place, what was the next step?" 

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Davyd burst out laughing, "wait, you thought I was... no, but..." was about all he could manage to get out.

 

Eventually he settled down, though a few giggles still escaped now and again.  "No, no, no, I wasn't there actually looking to, uh... y'know.  I was initially there to test myself, to see if I could pass myself off as an adult.  It's more than just appearance, yeah?  My original plan had been to get in, have a drink or two, look around, then go.  No close contact, except with the bouncer and server.  But then that pale lady-"  He cocked his head, lowered his voice, "hey, you think she was a vampire, too?  Uh," he shook his head, resumed his normal voice, "then she decided to play matchmaker, sent that girl over to my table, said we should chat."  He shrugged, "so I had to improvise, act and talk the way someone like that young man would have.  Though if she had, uh, invited me back to her place for a nightcap, I'd have come up with some excuse."  He shook his head, "I'm not ready for that just yet."

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"Good. Pretty sure you've already gotten the shapeshifter ethics class or whatever, so I'll just say you were right." She sighted down the sharpened stick thoughtfully, then trimmed off some of the edges. "Be yourself, and that's who people will want to be with. Girls or otherwise. That's going to be a lot sweeter than anything you get all, you know, dolled up." When she was done, she looked down at the wood in her hands thoughtfully before she tossed it to Davyd. "Catch!" She pointed with her knife and said, "Tree's blessed. Lot of magic people on campus, going way back." She smiled fiercely. "Might need it if you run into any more vampires." 

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He caught the stake easily enough, and another chuckle escaped his lips.  "For a moment, I thought you were carving a switch to beat me with."  He looked it over, "thanks," and laid it on his thigh, which slowly swallowed it up like quicksand.  "Hoping that won't happen again, but better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, yeah?"

 

"Sooo," he scratched his chin, "does Judy know about, well, any of this?  I'm sure she'd be fine with the 'you liking girls' thing, but the whole 'sneak out to a bar' and 'dating an older woman, who's also a cop' thing," he shook his head, "they might be too much for her."

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"Oh, I'd use something tougher than a sharpened stick for that, buddy, let me tell you. As for my sister, Judy has enough to deal with. She's got senior year, college, Leroy..." Ashley sighed softly, almost imperceptibly. "The last thing she needs to worry about is me and who I'm dating." She smiled thinly at Davyd and said, "I am out to her, if that's what you're wondering. I'm the one who got her involved in the Claremont GSA back when we first started, even." She looked off into space, hand under her chin. "Judy is...someone who has seen a lot of things fall apart in her life. Her faith is the only thing that's held her together." She shrugged, then added, "Farua's not a cop, by the way. She works in, ah, development." 

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"Fire, and lots of it," he nodded, knowing full well she had access to incendiaries.  "Or electricity.  Though I pray it never comes to that!," he quickly added.  Daphne had told him of the Grue Meta-Mind, and the next several nights he'd laid awake wondering if it might reach out to him, control him, make him an extension of itself.  She hadn't seemed overly concerned about that, but the fear had stuck with him.

 

After the talk of Judy, "I'm glad she's got that.  I'm not as observant as babusya might like, but," he trailed off, shrugged, "yeah."  If it comforts her, I'm glad she's got it.  And glad she's got you."

 

"'Development'?," he repeated, growing a bit more interested.  "What's she develop?  Does she work with law enforcement?  Or was I just, like, completely off about everything that night?"

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"My interest in discussing my secret off-campus girlfriend with you is not very high, Dave," said Ashley frankly. Then she smiled tightly at the kid and said, "But I think that solves it. You know some things about keeping secrets, I know some things about keeping secrets...and that, as they say, is that." She made an elaborate show of dusting her hands off, then carefully rose to her feet, perching on the edge of the thick branch. She looked down, seemed to contemplate her chances, and suddenly leaped - making a perfect three-point landing on the ground below without so much as a stumble. Davyd distinctly heard her say, "Hah, still got it!" before she headed off. 

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"Alright, then.  Keep you secrets," he called down to her, and when (if) she looked back up at him, she'd see he had morphed into Elijah Wood.

 

He leaned back against the trunk of the tree, reverting back to his Davyd form, "okay, so, that went pretty well.  She doesn't seem to be in too much trouble with Summers, and she doesn't seem to hold any grudge against me for upsetting her date night.  Didn't ask what Summers had for me after all that," he muttered, "but, she's got enough on her mind, dealing with all her stuff and with Judy's stuff."

 

He hopped to his feet, and took turns balancing on one foot, then the other.  "Hope she's able to enjoy prom," he said, just before falling to the side.  He plummeted a good 25 feet, but when he collided with the ground, it as with a wet SPLAT that turned his boneless form into a muddy pancake.  Slowly he rose up, reforming limbs and a head and clothes, then set off for the dining hall.

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