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Up All Night


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James sat on the couch in the large living room. The TV was off, though from the assorted game systems scattered in front of it, it was obvious that he’d been playing some of them. But now, he was strumming the string on his guitar, coaxing impressively soulful sounds from the instrument.

He was down here ‘cause it was after midnight and he didn’t want to wake anyone. And given today’s events at the park, there was no way he was going to go to sleep this evening. Not that he needed to but this would not be the night to try regardless. He hated sleeping. With a passion.

It had been a rather fun outing all things considered though. He'd have gone to more baseball games if more were like that one. Now, he was just interested in chilling out and relaxing. Hence the guitar. It helped him unwind. He was damn good, and he wasn’t practicing at the moment. Now, he was just playing for the music, letting it flow. Just so happened that at the moment, what came out was slow and soulful sounding. He wrapped the tune up, finishing it out with a final pluck.

Definitely need something more upbeat. More rocking. Otherwise I'll be depressed at the future and being stuck in curfew... He let his fingers move, letting them find their own rhythm, plucking faster and harder, letting the beat come forth.

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Erin had been thinking about going to the gym after Alex went to sleep, which was where she spent a lot of her nights these days. Tonight, especially, she really didn't want to see what was behind her eyelids in sleep. The memory of bounding up the stairs, waiting to see a stadium full of corpses, was far too fresh in her waking mind. The last thing she needed was to see what sorts of tricks her dreams would play with the scenario. She filled her water bottle at the drinking fountain in the main hallway and headed for the door, but turned her steps when she heard strange music coming from the common room.

She peeked in the door, wondering who else was up this late. When she saw it was James, she took another step into the doorway, waiting for him to notice her. "Mind some company?" she asked.

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James' fingers flew over the strings, finishing the tune with a loud 'twang' before he realized Erin was there. He looked over. "Hey there. Evening. Or is it morning? Not that it matters much. I didn't even see you." He waved her in with one hand. "Please! There's seldom anyone up at this hour. I don't mind at all." He slid over to one half of the couch, giving her plenty of room.

He noted her gym clothes and the water bottle. "Off to the gym huh? You did mention that it was open all night. Guessing you don't sleep much either huh?" He idly and softly strummed the guitar as he talked.

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Erin shrugged, walking in and taking a seat on the empty half of the couch. "Every few days, when I need it," she told him. "I actually do better when I can take a couple hours for a nap in the daytime, then I can go pretty much indefinitely. And it's almost one, so I guess it counts as morning." She set her water bottle on the table and leaned back, giving the TV a look. "Been playing with the video games?" she asked. "I fooled around with them for awhile, but most of the solo games are boring. And I already broke one X-Box controller," she admitted with a grimace. "You any good?"

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He nodded. "Cat nappin huh? I generally just wait till I get so tired that I'm exhausted and crash. Takes a few days. Cat napping for me doesn't really work. Just don't like sleeping." Because it means I go to Hell a bunch of time for short seemingly eternity-long nightmare trips instead of just once every few days.

He set the guitar aside and chuckled. "Anything to fill the time," he says with a wry grin. "I'm not as martially oriented as you. And there's only so much work, school or otherwise, you can do. Yeah, I've been playing games since I was...I don't know 8? Maybe 9? The Family always had the toys and it was something I could do."

He gestured to the small pile of the latest games and their respective systems that he had brought. "Pick one. I'll happily play with ya. The solo games are ok to play I guess. Fills the time. But nothing's better than doin it with someone." He suddenly chuckled at his own words, grinning. "Gaming, of course." He didn't mean anything by it; the phrase just happened to click in his brain like it would any teenage boy's. But Erin didn't seem like she was relaxed enough for that kind of humor. Well, she did say she was new here. Maybe it'd happen in time. He didn't want to tick her off, and not just because she could probably beat the tar out of him without breaking a sweat.

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Erin didn't even seem to catch the innuendo, or if she did, she totally ignored it in favor of going through the gaming cartridges. She eschewed the shooting games and tactics games, finally digging out a copy of Mario Kart. "This one," she decided. "I used to have a Super Nintendo when I was little, it had all the Mario games." She put the disc into the Wii, realized it was upside-down, then flipped it over and tried again. "It's not so much being martially focused," she told him, after enough time had passed that he'd nearly forgotten the comment.

"It's that I have to train because I don't want to knock someone's head off in a fight or because they scare me." She shrugged, picking up the slim white controllers and handing one to him as she sat back down. "It's getting better. But like you say, there's only so much you can study or train or do anything in a day." She flipped through the selection screen, looking at the choices of vehicle. "Mark says you've got a cool car for real?" she asked, only half a question.

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He watched and listen carefully to her. Amazing what little details you can pick up about someone when you're really listening and wathcing...

He was a bit surprised at first by her choice but nodded just the same. "Good call. It's a fun one. Yeah, things have come a long way from Super Nintendo days," he added with a wry grin. "I remember playing 'Duck Hunt' and those games. They have come a long way since then. But they were fun at the time." He accepted the controller with a nod.

He started flipping through looking for a fun one to choose. "Yeah, I do. Could have gotten something new I guess. But always like the older muscle cars. Bought it before I could even drive it. Had it all souped up and stuff. Day I got my license I got pulled over twice for speeding! Managed to get outta both tickets though." He paused. "Not sure where you are, financially. Obviously, I'm rich. Not just my family but me. I've got money. But I don't want to rub it in people's faces. But you asked so...Hard to know where the line is with some people. Ya know what I mean? If it bothers ya, I won't elaborate on some of those questions next time," he shrugged.

He settled on his choice, letting her take her time. "I'll make sure not to surprise you in the hall then," he added with a light tone and chuckle. "So, do you have problems controlling your powers or yourself?" It was a fine line, but there was a difference.

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Erin shrugged at the comment about money, a decent percentage of her attention taken up in the manipulation of the Wiimote. She looked like she'd played with it before, but not enough to be comfortable with it. "People having money doesn't bother me," she told him. "In the end, it's not gonna make you live one more day, or keep away the bad stuff that happens, but who doesn't like being comfortable and having what you want in the meantime?" She didn't actually say anything about her own finances, but he already knew she was on a full scholarship, and probably not for her grades.

She selected a car and sat back as well, fiddling with the controller to make sure it was still pointed at the screen. "I don't have any powers I can turn off," she told him, "so I guess it's sort of both. No big flamethrower blast, that's for sure, or psychic powers, or lightning blast. Maybe it's not so much a matter of controlling powers as controlling reflexes," she said, a little guardedly. "Once you get used to doing things a certain way, it's hard to quit." As they scrolled through the racetrack screens, she changed the subject. "So I was wondering, I saw you torch those monster-things out of the corner of my eye, out at the stadium. How did you get the rest of them to go away?"

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He nodded at her letting the money question. It was always easier that way. "If you want it to work more like an actual steering wheel, in that bag over there I've got a few." He dragged the bag over with one foot and pulled one out. "The control slips right in the middle there." He tossed it lightly onto the bag between them. "Can use it or not; I've gotten used to not."

"Well, no 'blasty' powers isn't a big deal. Seems like yours are more than enough." It didn't take impressive skill or super powers to see where her words led. Assuming she was telling the truth, and he was pretty damn certain she was, it meant she was used to using her powers without restraint. Quite a bit too. And it was just as obvious she wasn't entirely comfortable discussing it. He gave a half smile and a nod, letting the subject drop despite his curiosity.

Of course then it was his turn to be the subject for uncomfortable questions though he was good deal better at concealing his inner thoughts, not that he was trying too hard. He turned the controller, send his little car bouncing along. "Hmm, oh that? That was a little Hellspeak. Told them to take a hike basically; B-S-ing something fierce. Not sure if you know this but demons and the like aren't allowed here. Extra planar invaders and all that. They can only cross over into our world if they are invited. One of those morons summoned them. Risky too. But those particular demons were a dumb breed and not too strong minded. So they bought it and left." And, just in case she had some super senses he wasn't aware of, it was true too. The best kinds of misdirection often were.

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Erin looked at the plastic wheel, then decided it was way too flimsy to try and work with. Even if the new guy was swimming in money, it seemed rude to break his toys right off the bat. She set it aside and stuck with the sport cover instead. She selected a training course to figure out how to work the controls, then waggled the wiimote at the screen again, testingly. "Hellspeak?" she asked with some interest. "Where did you pick that one up? I don't think they teach that as an elective most places."

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James fiddled with the controller, mainly just killing time while she got settled. He had played these games for hundreds of hours already. But it was nice having someone to game with. Otherwise, it got kind of old. So he was happy to let her take her time and mess around.

James gave a dry chuckle. "My family...gets around. You'd be amazed at all the things you can pick up by growing up in a family where there are people with powers and a legacy ta boot. And I've got a power that lets me pick up and speak languages. Comes in handy now and again."

He leaned back relaxing, just watching and waiting as she got used to it. "So what else do you do for for fun? Besides practice in the gym and catch up on your studying that is."

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"Me?" Erin shrugged. "There's not a lot of hours left in the day after all that's done. Sometimes some of us go to town and do things that don't cost money, or Alex and I hang out. It's not all like that, though," she assured him. "Some of the guys do more fun things. Like Eddie goes to parties all the time, or at least he says he does, and Chris runs around in his airship. And there's some campus sports teams. People are always playing something." She sounded a little wistful about that.

"And there's always TV and video games and the internet to keep you from getting bored. I guess it depends on what you like to do. Having a car will prolly make you very popular," she said with a grin. "Not too many people around here have them." Apparently satisfied with her command of the controls, she looked his way. "Ready?"

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James turned and looked are her with a raised eyebrow. "Mmm hmm. Tells me about them, which is nice to know. But what about you? Are you telling me you don't do anything to relax? Nothing for yourself? Nothing you really like to do to unwind?""

He looked back at the TV and nodded. "Ready." He always liked these games. "TV and the 'net are nice. But they aren't exactly what I was talking about. Not being bored is not the same thing as actually having fun, a good time."

He grinned. "Cars tend to do that I suppose. And popular isn't too bad I guess. Not something I aspire to but if it happens, it happens. Personally, I don't care what other people think," he said with a shrug.

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Erin started the race, and for a few minutes all of his questions went unanswered as they both concentrated on the race. She handled her controls gingerly, holding the wiimote between index and ring fingers and using her thumbs on the buttons. It wasn't an amazingly successful attempt on her part, and James won the race handily, while she spent most of her time laughing as her cart crashed into walls and fell off obstacles. "Maybe I need to go back to the kiddie track," she told him as the rather pathetic finishing lineup appeared on screen.

While the next race was prepping, she fiddled with the controls and thought about James' question. "I listen to music sometimes," she offered, "and sometimes play around on the library computers." Erin thought about saying that she liked to eat in the cafeteria and watch them prepare all the food, but that sounded stupid even in her own head, so she bit that back. "I like to read, but I'm too busy most of the time. What do you do, besides drive the car and go to parties?" she asked.

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James grinned and chuckled as they played. I was an amusing game after all.. "Nah, best way is practice! You'll be good at it in no time. I've only had like a hundred hours or something more to play this after all. Give it some time and you'll be kickin my butt at this soon enough."

He glanced over at her, letting his voice soften for a moment. "If your not comfortable or don't want to answer, you can say so and I'll let it drop. Just making friendly conversation."

His voice returned to normal, his smile resurfacing. "What? Cruising around and partying isn't enough?" He chuckled, amused. "I like music. Playing my guitar or violin is great. Even if it's just me and no band, I still love doing it. Let's me 'vent' sometimes I suppose. Playing games and stuff is also fun, but not really a hobby I suppose. I actually enjoy watching and studying people too." He shrugged. "I actually spent a lot of time myself growing up. Learned to find ways to keep busy, relax."

"So, ready for round two?"

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"It's not so much being uncomfortable," Erin said with a rueful smile, "as when I put it that way, it makes me sound boring. And that's fair, I guess, at least this summer. When I catch up and get trained, things will be easier." She snorted. "Actually, I really like baseball and softball, though I dunno, I might feel different after what happened today. I used to play, a long time ago. I tried playing the baseball game on here," she said, gesturing to the Wii, "but it wasn't very good."

She looked interested when he mentioned the instruments. "Violin too, huh? Do you play in a band, or just by yourself? Or like in an orchestra or something?" With a little bit of trepidation, she hit the button to start Round 2, then almost immediately fumbled the controller she was holding too lightly and sent her car into a field.

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He nodded with a smile. "See, an interest! It definitely sucks on here. Not fun at all. a real life game is much better. Have you tried getting people together to play an actual game maybe? That's pretty safe, power-wise and might be fun. We might wreck some lawn, but big whoop. I'm sure it'll be fixed in no time," he said with a grin.

He nodded. "Yeah, those two are my favorite, though I can play anything with strings I suppose. Never really stuck with a band. It just hasn't worked out. So most of the time, I just play solo for myself. Occasionally I'll go and do pickup stuff in the city just for the fun of it. I could do it for a living, easily. Not sure it'd be as fun though if I was forced to do it; if it was a job." He'd had more than a few offers to that affect so far. And he'd damn near taken some of them. The idea of being a rock star certainly had an appeal to his semi-hedonistic nature. But it hadn't quite fit. He gave a mental shrug and returned his attention to the game, laughing as the little animation vehicle road rage ensued.

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"Can't," Erin said with a shrug, most of her attention on the race. "I'm not allowed to participate in sports till I can prove to Mr. Archer that I'm not gonna kill anyone on accident. He's sort of had it in for me since my placement test. You gotta watch yourself really carefully during your test. He'll try to wind you up, get you really upset, and then see if he can get you to slip. Eventually maybe I'll be able to play again." She made a slightly better showing in the second race, still losing to James by a wide margin, but not coming in dead last.

"Maybe you could be one of those theme heroes," she suggested with a little smile when he talked about being in a band. "Use a guitar shaped weapon to beat people up with, then cut a couple of albums. Save the world, make a lot of money. Though I guess that part doesn't matter so much to you. But you'd for sure get your own cartoon show," she added with a chuckle.

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"That kinda sucks for ya. Hopefully, you'll be good to go soon enough and you can go have some fun. Not sure I could do what you're doing. You're stronger than me, and not just talking muscles." He paused and raised an eyebrow. "Placement test? For what? I already know my powers. Certainly sounds like it wasn't easy on you." I certainly don't want the jerks who sent a priest to meet me to test me some more. Screw that.He wasn't worried about being upset or nervous. There wasn't anything on this planet that he was afraid of, except going to sleep and what that led to.

He chuckled, entertained by the notion. "I hadn't exactly decided on the whole hero thing, but that'd be funny." Though having a corner cartoon show built around me would seriously piss off my father. Assuming he gets reception in Hell. "Don't think I'll do it though. Unless...maybe...think I can convince everyone to go with a band theme?" He couldn't help but laugh at that. A slightly absurd notion, but entertaining nonetheless. He really didn't know anyone except for Mark and Erin here so far but he doubted it'd fly, not that he wanted it too in the first place!

"So, this what you wanted? To be a superhero? You certainly didn't seem like you wanted it when Mark did the impromptu press conference."

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"I want to save people," she told him, ignoring the game for a moment and looking him in the eyes. "There's nothing really special about me, that I should be the one with all this extra power and indestructibility. I have to think there's a reason I have my powers, and that it's not just some accident of fate that I lived-" She cut herself off. "That it's not just some accident. A lot of people out there need help that superheroes can give them. That's why I can put up with all the BS from Archer and Marquez, because Claremont's going to teach me what I need to know. But that doesn't mean I want everyone kissing my ass about every good thing I do. I don't see why we can't just do what we have to do, and not stand around to wait for the curtain call."

A little embarrassed by her own verbosity, Erin turned back to the game and changed to a different car, flipping through the choices. "Anyway... the placement test is just something they give you so they know what your powers are and what you do with them. It's all simulated. They'll probably try to surprise you, then rattle you, then make you fight till you reach something you can't beat. Just takes a couple of hours, but it's a pain," she muttered.

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He matched her gaze and locked eyes as he listened. For a moment there, she seemed to really open up before catching herself. He nodded in understanding (somewhat since there were things she didn't got into) and smiled as she seemed to shrink back inside a little. He made a mental note about her likely-significant personal tragedy but he didn't push it. He could have. He had the the gifts...but everyone was entitled to their secrets and their pain. No need to forcefully drag it out of them to pour lemon juice all over it. 'Least not if he wanted to be friends with them.

He let he flip through cars, his own choice good enough. Really, his mind was a little distracted; her answers making him think on other things as well. "Yeah, well, I'll see if I can skip it. Already done something like that at home," he responded somewhat distracted. It was a true enough answer for various reason.

He sat in thought for a few minutes, silent as she made her choice. Finally, he spoke up. "So, you believe in destiny. You're meant to be a hero. And you are. No question." He frowned, staring at the TV but not really seeing it. "Do you think you can change? Change your destiny I mean. That even if this is what you're supposed to be, what you're meant for, that you could change it?"

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"Hope so," she said meditatively, looking ahead at the television as well. Neither of them made a move to start the next race. "I don't even know if I believe in destiny, but if it does exist, you've gotta be able to change it, right? You've gotta be able to make your own reasons so that things make sense. I think maybe our lives set us up a certain way, if you want to call that destiny, but anything big enough could change that, could maybe change everything."

Erin shrugged. "I don't even belong here in this universe. If there's a destiny for me then I'm screwed, because there's already an Erin here living that life. But why should I believe that, when I'm so different than how I used to be, and my life is so different? Sometimes I think maybe destiny is just, you know, being too afraid to stop going the way you're going." She glanced over at him. "What do you think?"

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James sighed, still staring at the TV, or at least in it's direction. "No, there are such things as destinies. Prophecies. All that. I know that. But maybe it's just the event? Just the lead up to something big and the choice is ours? It isn't decided. I'd really like that. Don't know if it's true, but I'd like it to be."

The fact that she said she wasn't even from this universe wasn't lost on him. Combined with her little slips from before, it led him to certain conclusions in a vague sense. Despite the fact that this conversation was pretty much discussing his worst nightmare: whether he was screwed or not, he realized that this probably wasn't exactly a shiny happy one for her either given what her story might be. "But the Erin from this universe isn't you. You're different from her and I don't even have to meet her to know that. Everyone is unique. Individual. Different person, different choices, different destiny."

He shrugged. "Most people probably don't really have destinies maybe? They get to live out regular lives. Just the ones that big things are expected from or something maybe have destinies? And even then, they probably don't know exactly what it is. Maybe yours is to... make it, to come here. To reach your potential, whether you see it or not. To be a hero, save lives. Maybe even save the the world. That would be a pretty good destiny to have, huh?" he said with wry smile still staring ahead and doing his best to not think about his own.

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"Just because someone makes a prophecy doesn't mean it's going to come true," Erin pointed out skeptically. "If you're looking hard enough, you can make any random set of things look like it fits a pattern. And even if some people do have the power to see the future, wouldn't just saying it change it? If someone predicts someone bad and someone listens and acts, then the bad thing doesn't happen. You'd think the best prophet would never be accurate, looking at what comes true."

She thought about his explanation of her destiny for a minute, then shook her head. "I don't buy it. Having a reason is different than having a destiny. I could've stayed in Seattle and tried to have a normal life if I wanted, but I didn't. Maybe I don't need credit for every good thing I do, but I think I deserve credit, not some uncaring God or random prophet, for making the decision to do something good with my life. Maybe you haven't decided if you want to be a hero or not yet, but when you do, that's your decision to make." Abruptly, she pushed the button to start the race, tilting down her control and sending her little car speeding down the track.

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He shook his head a little. "I don't think destiny is about not giving you credit where it's due. I think it's that 'meant for a big thing' bit. I certainly hope our decisions mean something. But who really knows?" He grinned as the game suddenly started.

"Nice try!" He was only a second or two behind and, at this stage in her gaming career, easy for him to overcome. He was happy to let the subject drop and dive back into the game once more.

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