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It was near the beginning of summer break. Prom and everything that had happened there both good and bad were now decidedly over, and it was time for everyone to get along with their lives. 

 

Judith Claudia Cahill had been faced with many challenges in the last few weeks, some of which she was reasonably sure she was never going to be able to solve. Some of them, however, were easier than others and so in the middle of May she knocked on Danica's door in the late afternoon, big book in hand, a watchful Ashley standing just behind her. 

 

As usual the contrast between the sisters was striking - Judy in her dark brown dress and Ashley in her jacket and jeans, Judy downcast and Ashley sympathetic, but of course they weren't really sisters at all, were they? 

 

When the door opened, Judy handed Danica the book without really thinking about it. "Hey, Danica," she said, a little awkwardly. "Ah wanted to make sure Ah gave this back to you before everybody, um, left." She swallowed hard. Danica's copy of Small Gods was in immaculate condition, though a bookmark was sticking out of the last page. "Ah actually really liked it!" she offered. 

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Danica answered the door quickly, or quickly as tortoises counted things at least. She was dressed to enjoy the warm weather, her shell shrunk up to the size of a large backpack, showing off her Ocean Point tank top and long jean shorts. She grinned at Judy as she accepted the book. "I'm glad you liked it!" she enthused. "It's one of my favorites! My mom got me The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents back when it first came out, and I was totally hooked! You should definitely read more if you liked this one, maybe Guards, Guards! or go all the way back to the start and read The Color of Magic." She looked over at Ashley and gave her a smile as well. "So do you get to be on vacation now?" 

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Ashley smiled thinly as they closed the door behind them. "Not for three months, not this year. There were, ah, special circumstances last summer," and unaccountably to the teens she blushed as she ran a finger through pink-dyed hair that she'd let grow a touch beyond regulation on assignment. "But Judy and I won't have to live in each other's pockets anymore." 

 

"We, ah, shouldn't talk too much about us," said Judy with a glance at the door, "because we actually came with another reason in mind, and Pan's gonna be here real quick." Judy took a breath, a noise that sounded slightly odd, as if she was congested somewhere in her sinuses, and said, "What are you gonna do this summer? Back to doing science out west?" Judy had certainly paid attention in science classes she'd had with Danica, and (perhaps surprisingly enough given what Danica knew of her parents), had never even disputed the age of the Earth with instructor. 

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Three knocks on the door.

 

Yes, Pan was there real quick. Emerald green dress shirt, with just a few buttons open at the top, dark green shorts and bare feet, he was hovering in front of the door when they opened it, a small plush turtle in his hand.

 

"Hel-lo!" He quickly held the plush out to Danica when the door was opened, bright smile on his lips. "I saw this, and I thought of you! Have fun!" He raised an eyebrow, looking to Ashley and Judy. "Spending the summer apart, are you?"

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Danica grinned, taking the turtle plush and examining it. "Look at him, he's so cute!" she cooed. "That was really nice of you, Pan!" She looked back to Judy. "My folks moved to Freedom City when I got into Nicholson, so most of my summer's going to be at the Freedom City Zoo, but we're doing three weeks back in New Mexico in July!" She seemed a lot more enthused about being in New Mexico in July than most people would be. "It's going to be sooo hot. What are you doing for the summer?" she asked Pan. 

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Pan shrugged, closing his eyes and holding his hands out to the side in a somewhat exaggerated fashion. "No set plans yet. Maybe go to Sweden with Eira, maybe stay here. Probably something that will get me into trouble in some way or another." He opened his eyes and smiled. "I have never been much of a planner."

 

His eyes shifted slightly to Ashley and Judy, the slight smile still on his lips. "What about you two? Where will you go?"

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"Oh, wherever adventure takes us," said Ashley, a bald smile on her face as she snapped open a pocketknife and began whittling a short piece of wood. "You'd be surprised the kinds of things we do when Claremont's not looking." 

 

"We're, uh, gonna go all over," said Judy awkwardly. A lot of her plans for the summer had changed recently, but dwelling on that around her peers was definitely not high on her agenda. "Maybe even into space, who knows." Unaccountably that made Ashley blush slightly, and briefly pause in her work before Judy said, "Actually, uh, we came here to talk to you, Danica." She reached up, tangled her fingers in her hair, and said, "Well, uh, Pan and Ashley and Ah, we wanted to invite you to sign up for our squad next year. We know you're not actually a senior, but we're pretty sure we can get you on our team in the fall. If that's what you want!" she added quickly. "They're going to be moving things around. With the new students, and all." 

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"Really? You'd let me join your squad?" Danica asked excitedly, then immediately subsided. "I mean, that sounds awesome, but I might not be ready to be on a team with seniors. I kind of haven't done very well with squad work so far," she admitted. "My powers aren't great for a lot of kinds of hero work, and I tend to slow people down. If you guys are getting ready to go out and be on real hero teams, you need to be at your best, right?" 

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"Oh, please." Pan waved his hand around, golden dust whirling around it and flowing around Danica who slowly lifted off the ground. "Think some happy thoughts!"

 

He grinned, while he moved into a sitting position in mid-air, just watching as Danica floated. She could control it, of course. Fly where she wanted. All with just a little bit of pixie dust.

 

"Mobility is not an issue with us."

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"And even if flying isn't your thing," offered Ashley, "nine times out of ten, you'll be fine. We don't exactly go out patrolling the way some of the squads do." She didn't make eye contact with Danica but she knew the turtle girl knew the reasons why Ashley and Judy's squad typically let trouble come to them rather than the other way around - even if Pan didn't. 

 

"Seems like everything's changing these days," said Judy consideringly, looking away from the others with her arms hugged around her torso. "There's no reason some of the changes can't be good ones. A little shuffling in the fall will make everyone happier." 

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Danica's eyes widened as her feet left the floor, giggling a little at the sensation of weightlessness. She turned a somersault in the air, oddly graceful and yet somehow just as slow as she was on the ground. "I'm not sure this will make me any faster," she admitted, "but nobody's going to expect a flying tortoise!" She halted her aerial roll with a little trial and error and looked consideringly at Ashley. "And I am pretty good at protecting things, I guess that might be a plus on your team. Um, are you okay?" she asked Judy. 

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"Odd," Pan mused, floating up near Danica and her slow movements in the air. "You should be able to fly faster than this. You seem to have plenty of happy thoughts, at least."

 

He tried to poke at her back, give her a little push to move just a tiny bit faster. "Felix and Adam are plenty tough," he added to the idea of defense, "but we tend to need them for hitting things too, yes."

 

His eyes barely moved, glancing in the direction of Judy at the question. He knew of at least one reason why she would be sad, of course, but perhaps there were more. Still, he stayed silent for now, for his own reasons.

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"Ah'm fine," lied Judy. It occurred to her suddenly that maybe Danica hadn't heard about the end of her relationship with Leroy, and impulses warred within her briefly before she realized there wasn't really any point in talking about it, was there? "Ah've just had a rough time lately." She looked up at the sight of the flying tortoise above her head and managed a smile, a real one, even. "Bet you'll get to fly higher than Ah do," she said with a glance at Ashley. 

 

"Yes, well," said Ashley diplomatically, "Danica can take a fall at terminal velocity better than you can. No offense, Pan," she added with a little wave of her hand. "Trust me," she added to Danica, "even negative thoughts won't necessarily knock you out of the air. And I should know." 

 

"The zoo sounds awfully nice," said Judy thoughtfully. "And back in New Mexico! Ah'm-Ah'm gonna be in Arizona for a couple of weeks," she offered, "maybe we can get together then?" 

 

Ashley winced and said, "Let's talk about that later. I know we'll be hitting the zoo a few times this summer, maybe you can Facetime with Danica there?" 

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"I do everything slow," Danica told Pan with cheerful matter-of-factness. She bobbed like a balloon when he pushed her, but didn't go appreciably faster. "The master mage told my parents it was the tradeoff I would have to pay for being a totem for a tortoise spirit. There's nothing wrong with my body that would make me slow, it's just what happens whenever I try to do anything that makes me go places. I'm just glad that I don't think slow or talk slow, and I can type mostly okay. I can get by with not being able to move very fast, but those other things would be pretty rough." 

 

She turned her attention to Judy, happy at this new idea. "That would be great! I could show you where I grew up, and my favorite shopping mall, and all the animals at the zoo! We'll have to compare our schedules and see if they overlap." She ignored Ashley's attempt to be a buzzkill, familiar with that tendency already. "You could come stay at our house!" 

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"Yes, yes, everything slow, but... this is magic! Not even from this world! It is curious why it still abides by the absolute law of being slow, is it not?" It was interesting! Why did it work like that? 

 

Turning back to the conversation, he glanced between Ashley and Judy again, his eyes eventually settling on Ashley. "So, what do you have against the zoo?" He sounded genuinely curious, of course.

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"I have nothing against the zoo," said Ashley with a wave of her hand. "I just said that was probably the place we were going to...see the most of. They're a pain in the ass for security but honestly I've taken Judy to places much scarier than the zoo." 

 

"That does sound really fun!" said Judy to Danica. "Ah've hardly ever gotten the chance to do that. Anything like that." She shot a glance at Ashley, then turned back to Danica to say firmly, "...we'll do it. We'll find a way to make it happen." 

 

Ashley stared at Judy, seeming to forget about Pan entirely, then said, "...all right. I'll see what we can do. I think we can sell it as powers training-" 

 

"And Ah'm turning eighteen this year," Judy added to Danica, "so Ah can...Ah can do more than Ah did before, when Ah was just a kid." 

 

Ashley flushed with suppressed emotion - but didn't actually seem angry. She put a hand on her sister's shoulder and said, "Okay. I'm with you." There was something of an awkward silence before she released her and stepped back, leaning against the wall. She gave Judy a worried look before saying to Pan, "Danica's got useful powers, and she knows something about science too. Not really any of our fields. And the magic thing, wow, is it true you don't even fall at normal speed?" 

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"Well, I really try not to test the falling thing," Danica admitted. "It's still pretty dangerous, but I've never gotten hurt falling down the stairs or anything like that. Maybe it's slower than usual?" She shrugged, sending herself gently tumbling again. "The slowness is magic too," she explained to Pan. "The Master Mage said that most magic has a cost, and that I'm lucky because I'm paying the cost right away by giving up my speed, rather than having to pay something I wasn't expecting, somewhere down the line. Slow's not so bad, most of the time. Kind of sucks in combat, though." She cupped her hands and opened them to release a spectral tortoise the size of a teacup, laughing when it floated, too. "This is great!" she told Pan. "Why do you ever walk anywhere?" 

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"I try not to! Why would I, when I can do this?" Pan chimed back, sitting on the air right next to where Danica was floating around. He reached out for the spectral tortoise that floated around them, before glancing back towards Ashley. Maybe now was the time for the confrontation he had been considering. 

 

He grinned widely at Ashley and Judy. "Well, you are both free, are you not? Why would you not go where you want to go? Who would stop you?"

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"Oh, we all have obligations to attend to," said Judy before Ashley could speak, a pained look on her pretty face that was met with one from sympathy by her sister. Judy looked around from Pan to Ashley to Danica, then said, "You know, this may be a good time to talk to you about something, Pan, since we're going to be on the same team together for another year. Danica already knows this but it's important information." She shot Danica an apologetic look and added, "We'll be out of your hair really quick like, but since y'allready know this, maybe it would help if you were here?" She gave Danica a look that could best be described as puppy-dog-eyed. 

 

Ashley's eyes went big; and she put a hand on Judy's arm. The two of them exchanged a long, searching look, then Ashley turned and made sure Danica's door was closed. "Can you give us some privacy, Pan?" she asked the magic boy, "so nobody can hear what's going on?" 

 

"And make us all fly like Danica," added Judy seriously, "it's easier to talk when you have a happy thought." She reached up and offered the back of her hand for the spectral tortoise to smell while they talked. 

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"Well, that was much easier than I thought it would be."

 

Pan grinned at Ashley, now that Judy was taking command. Quite unlike her, was it not? Maybe there was more to her character than Pan had suspected? He raised his right hand in a closed fist, then quickly opened it, golden glowing dust flying all around them. Pan and Danica had already been flying, now Judy, and even Ashley, if she wanted, would join them. Happy thoughts, yes. Many happy thoughts.

 

Sitting in mid-air, watching the others, he looked around. Anyone walking by would hear nothing. An illusion of silence. An image of flying youths. Nothing more than that. 

 

"Silence, calm, and happy thoughts," he concluded, waiting for the big secret to be spilled.

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"Sure, I'll hang out" Danica replied agreeably. The spectral turtle nibbled at Pan's fingers, then began trundling through the air as though swimming in syrup. "It's good that you're telling people," she encouraged, "you have to be able to trust your teammates, even with important stuff. Plus it makes Ashley make sooooo much more sense!" The turtle nibbled Judy's fingers as well, then floated away and disappeared. 

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"Hey, I make - ugh," said Ashley out loud, breaking off a stupid argument before she could actually have it. 

 

Once they were all up in the air, Judy floated in mid-air, arms crossed over her stomach for a moment before she spread her hands and said, "Well, this is, ah, different for you, Pan, because you're not from around here, but it goes like this. The story everyone knows about Ashley and me is a lie." Her breath caught in a hitch in her throat at that, and she looked away. 

 

"It wasn't your fault," said Ashley sympathetically. "Nothing that's happened here is." 

 

Judy scrubbed a hand across her face, then said, "Maybe so, but it was a lie all the same. Ashley and Ah aren't from a parallel world - we're from this one. We told everyone the lie because it was supposed to protect mah family, and protect me. But it..." She looked Pan dead in the eye and said, "Pan, Ah know you like to play tricks, so you have to promise you won't tell anyone this. Not anyone at Claremont, not even Eira." 

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"No, I am quite sure that you make very little sense." Pan stuck out his tongue at Ashley, breaking in just before Judy could start her explanation.

 

No more time for jokes. Judy was serious, so he should be too. Or at least try to be, yes. He sat in the air, floating slightly around. He was silent, which was in itself out of character, but whatever was going on, whatever he thought, it didn't show in his eyes.

 

"Please, give me a little credit." He sounded rather serious, for him. "I might lie, cheat and cause trouble, but I am true to my word. Your secret is safe with me, until you tell me otherwise."

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When they were all arranged, Judy floated in the air in front of Pan and looked into his eyes, seeming to gaze into his soul. Suddenly fire and light seemed to wash over her skin, her voice dropping to a deeper resonance, and Daystar glowed in rainbow colors as she floated in front of Forever Boy. 

 

"My name isn't Judy Smith. It's Judith Claudia Cahill. I am the daughter of the President of the United States." She hesitated briefly after that dramatic pronouncement, then added, a little more awkwardly."That's...that's the leader of our nation, here in America." Her glow faded as quickly as it had come, and she added, "Ah came here to learn how to control mah powers, so Ah wouldn't be a danger to anyone else." 

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Pan opened his mouth, then closed it again. He blinked at the bright light, all the colors of the rainbow before him. He crossed his arms, and nodded, his lips splitting into their usual grin. "Hello Judith, it is nice to finally meet you." 

 

He laughed a little bit, shaking his head.

 

"I do know that. Give me some credit, I have been here for almost two years now, after all." He shook his head again, laughing at it. "You know, I was completely convinced that Ashley was the one with the deep dark secret, at least after seeing that Raven-thing in the dream." Floating around, until he was upside down, he rubbed his chin and stared at Ashley with suspicion in his eyes. "So, if Judy is really Judith, and she is really the daugter of the president, then what does that make you? A foreign princess?"

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