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Party Like It's 2010 [IC]

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The AEON building was so new that even the carpets still had that 'freshly' put down. It was very modern, lots of steel and glass but you could see the subtle touches of Alex throughout the building, in the splashes of bright color here and there that made the entire place almost playful. Having a psychic super-genius did make for a rather empathic boss so the overall atmosphere of the employees was by and large a contented one. The benefits were great and the employees were well compensated for the hours they worked. When James arrived, he was shown quickly to Alex's office. Unlike many of these corporate affairs, it wasn't at the top of the building. That floor was taken up with the restaurant and the large room rented out for parties and convention meetings.

Instead the floor was somewhere in the top third of the building. Alex had chosen a corner office but there were several on the floor of equivalent size. Her nameplate was simple and unembellished, with a single personal secretary with her own desk out in front.

"She's expecting you," the young woman said with a rueful smile like it was a line she found herself saying often.

Inside, the office, it was simply a more adult and larger version of the desk in the corner of her dorm room. Very neat, very cheerful. Very Alex. She was standing over by the window that looked out over the city, looking like a miniature adult. Her hands were clasped behind her back and her gaze was a little unfocused, a faint frown on her face. For a moment, James saw the outside reflect the very old soul that usually was hidden in the back of her brown eyes before she noticed the door opening and turned with that bright smile lighting up her face, "Hiya, James. Come on in."

She beckoned him over to the couch and chair in one corner rather than the more formal seating by the desk.

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James really hadn't planned on doing more than just dropping the check off. Given his normal insane schedule and....other recent events, he really wasn't in the mood to be around people. He felt tired and a tad miserable and probably looked like, well, hell. But he'd heard about the party, the prom. It would be something his friends would want to do. And he did want them to have fun. So here he was, planning on dropping a check off. He should have known Alex would have told them to send him right in. He debated for a long moment whether to go in or not. He sighed, wiping his face with on hand and brought up his best poker face and did his best to settle his thoughts. He might not be willing to lie to Alex (and he was likely one of the few who could), that didn't mean he wanted to just lay it all out there.

He opened the doors and walked in. "Hey Alex. How's it going? Got your check here. Can't really stay, long. Stuff to do and all that," he said walking up.

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"You can stay for a drink, can't you?" Alex said, reaching out to take his arm with gentle fingertips and a deceptively fragile touch. She could bend buildings with her force of will but physically, she was barely able to do a pull up or two in PE. It was a little surreal. She was sixteen - seventeen in a few short weeks - and James wasn't much older but here they were standing in her office and both of them acting like adults far beyond their years. "You look like you can use it."

Again she gestured to the couch with her free hand to invite him to sit down, "It won't take long. I know you're busy. I totally get that."

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James wrestled for a moment mentally before nodding. He might not be in a good place but he did miss Alex and the others. "Yeah. Part of why I haven't seen you in like...what, 2 months?" He didn't even know if Erin had told her what he did now, though Alex was smart enough to likely figure stuff out on her own. And then some.

He sat on the couch, heavily plopping down. He took the envelope from his jack and laid it on the little table so he wouldn't forget. He leaned back, resting against the back of the couch. "How've you been anyway? I mean besides that new conference I haven't seen you in a while. That wasn't really a lot of time to talk. I only get to campus rarely now so that doesn't help either. Always for short visits here and there anyway. Seems like a lifetime ago when I first got there," he said with a light chuckle. Two kids, all grown up and still teenagers. What a life.

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"A year can be a lot longer than three hundred and sixty five days sometimes. Especially for people like us." Alex said and joined him. In the corner the mini fridge opened and two sodas came floating out and over to the table. A year ago, floating a book had made Alex have to concentrate her full attention. Now, coasters danced across the table to protect it as the sodas dropped neatly into place and their tops opened with a quiet hiss-pop. Alex took the chair, crossing her legs at the ankles, her fingers knitted together in her lap.

"I'm doing well. I've got a good staff now, so AEON takes much less of my time. There was a little bit of a hiccup when the television interview aired but I had prepared them for that. Now things are settling out. We get the occasional protest but nothing major. In time, I hope, it will all die down." She shrugged a little at that, "How about you, how are you doing?"

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He nodded with a dry chuckle. "No kidding. Technically I think its been 3 or 4 for me since last year," he muttered to himself. He watched the drinks and coaters do their aerial acrobatics at her command with a little smile. "Yeah, definitely come a long way."

He nodded. "Yeah, I had my finance guys invest a bit in your company. Just for fun. I really haven't even check on them much. No idea if its worked out or not. Pretty low on my to-do list I guess. Glad your projects are doing well though. And it will. People forget stuff all the time. Just wait 'til the next thing bothers them and you won't be an issue anymore."

He looked over at Alex, a wain little smile on his lips. Despite his working hard on the poker face, he was far from settled. "I'm...surviving. Did I ever tell you what I do know? For the last several months that is?"

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Alex smiled with a little bit of pride, "I promise its worked out. I won't bore you with the details, but I'm pleased with the success we've enjoyed as a start up. I anticipated it, but its always nice to be proven right. Erin's shares will be a happy surprise when she cashes them out, although I don't think that she's aware of just how much I've increased the profit margin of her portfolio. But it's all above board! Its money she's earned. I know how important that is to her."

She picked up the soda, sipping it as James talked and then nodded a little, inviting him to unburden himself a little, "You didn't but I have managed to infer several pieces of the puzzle, I think. Tell me what you'd like, however, its always nice to hear things first hand."

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He gave a little smile. "Yeah. It'll be nice for her to have her own money. She gets so touchy about it and feels bad. Still glad I bought her the truck though," he said, nodding to himself, remembering fondly, despite the gut twisting it caused.

He popped his own soda, before starting slow though it wasn't long before the words starting spilling out. "Remember, before the invasion stuff? I kind of got a teacher? You talked to her a few times I think. Well, her actual job is a kind of interdimensional guardian. Enforcing the Pact, keeping the dimensional boundaries sealed up, closing holes, stopping invasions, stuff like that. It turns out she's was given the job by THE super mage. And she's supposed to have a partner to help. Turns out, I was perfect for the job. Ideal I suppose you could say. But it's not a nice job. There are some very dark calls that need to be made. And sadly, the job has to come first. It's that important. At first it wasn't hard, splitting that level of work load between two people, even when one was as new as I was. But I was learning as I went. Then she became...indisposed. So I started picking up the slack as she slowed down. Then she was completely incapable of working at all, so I had to fill in completely. I've had zero time to myself for months now to just zone out, go partying, anything really. Between that one, helping out YF occassionaly, and doing Midnighter work," he paused. "Did I mention that one? I'm also on this other team that handles, uh, darker problems. Stuff really nice people like you guys and YF shouldn't touch," he said with an apologetic shrug. "Anyway, Midnighter stuff wasn't constant but certainly more frequent than the YF ones. Which sucked in a way. I like the others and all but I really miss you guys. Its causef me to miss out on so much. School too, not that I ever really cared. Summers is probably passing and graduating me just to get me out considering how little class I've actually attended." He sighed. "Just missed a lot with you guys. Hell," he said using one of his seldom used words, "I haven't hung out with Erin in like forever besides calling her when I need help and that's not the same." And in some ways, that kind of hurt more than some of the others he realized now. "What else? Oh and now I'm the proud guardian of a giant-ass spaceship with interstellar and interdimensional capabilities and an AI who has something of a crush on me." It kind of came out. It wasn't all, certainly not what was really eating at him at the moment, but the pressure had been building for a while now and even he needed to vent once in a while.

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Alex listened quietly, her too-perceptive eyes fixed on his face and her head tilted to the side slightly. When he'd subsided for the moment she spoke up, "Wow, that does sound like an awful lot of work. None if it very easy or black and white. You really do need to take time out of your schedule for yourself, too. I know it seems hard to justify but if you run down into the ground, something really important might come up and you'll not be at the top of your game when you really, really need it."

She reached up to push a curl of red hair back into her bun lightly and tilted her head the other way, her gaze still fixed on his face, "You seem really unhappy, James."

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/me barked a harsh laugh. "Yeah. I've heard that one. Erin said that to me a couple weeks ago." He bent forward, leaning his elbows on his knees, staring out into the morning sun for a moment, not really seeing it. "You know what the killer is?" His voice was harder, more bitter. "Sure, I was swamped. I was tired. I hadn't had a lot of fun but them's the breaks right? Greater good and all that. It kinda sucked but it was only temporary, right? I was handling it. And then, then I realized I'd lost...," his voice trailed off, about as sad and depressed as he'd ever been. Last night had pretty much knocked him down. The realization...it just had been a bad night for James.

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"Something that mattered more to you than you thought it did?" Alex asked quietly and gave him a tiny smile, "No, I'm not reading your thoughts and I wouldn't. If you want to tell me, you can, but you know I won't do anything to dig around before that unless its really needed. I don't think it is right now. I think you just need a friend that's going to do nothing but listen with empathy for a little bit and I've got the time."

Technically, she was making the time but Alex was good with priorities.

"So is it lost for good? Or is it lost for right now?"

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"I know you wouldn't Alex. I trust you with my life." He sighed heavily. "But yeah, its gone. Never had a chance I think," he says with a sigh. "And can't push it. Would risk loosing her as a friend and I can't do that."

He sighed, backing up, trying to explains with a rush of words that he wanted, needed to get off his chest. "I'm a flirtatious guy, you know that." He'd flirted with Alex too (along with most other women he ever came in contact with), plenty of times, even though he never pursued anything with her. Knowing she was destined to be with Mike curtailed any desire he had to seduce her. "Part of its just being a guy. Part of it is my heritage. And flirting and sex and all that is fun after all."

"I flirted with Erin too back when I first got to school. Never pushed and kept it lighter than I do for most girls 'cause she just couldn't handle it, wasn't ready. And it was ok. One of the first girls I'd ever been around with that I was just friends with. Nothing else. And we're great friends now. Spending 3 or 4 nights a week, every week. alone with someone will do that."

"And then, all this happened. The training, the demons, and then taking over. Heck, I can count on the number of fingers on 1 hand how many times in the last 2 months I've just sat and hung out with her. That, and not seeing the rest of you, is what has really sucked the most. Wasn't a way around it though, despite how much I wanted. But I figured it slow down and things would get back to normal. Ish. Despite the fact that I'm not going there anymore, I'd still come back to hang. Not going to let the friendship fall just 'cause I don't go to school with you guys anymore. But I was handling it; juggling everything well enough. I could accept be tired. I was doing ok."

He felt his guts twist a little. "But last night, I was at this gala. I wasn't there for fun, only planning on being there fore like 10 minutes. Needed to talk to this group about transplanting these extinct or endangered species I've..." He shook his head. "Doesn't matter. What matters was that she was there. Erin was there, dancing and happy, with this guy. She looked amazing. And it felt like someone ripped a hole in my chest."

He gave a harsh little laugh. "The damnedest thing isn't it? All that time, sitting side-by-side with her, night after night, and nothing but great friends. Then, bamm, it hits me. What I really feel. Don't know if I just missed it 'cause it was a new thing or buried figuring she'd never be ready. But I knew, in my guy, that I loved her more than as just a good friend. Not like 'I want to sleep with her' kind of thing or 'puppy dog' type but the real deal. How about that? First time I've ever cared for a girl like that and it turns out she's not even in love me me. Ironic, huh? You know, usually dates haven't meant much. Relationships didn't last 'cause I never really cared. Always about the material, the physical. Guess my 'growing up' lately has been in more way than I thought. Anyway, I realize that about her just at the same time that I realize that it's not me that got her to open up, to be interest in guys, dating, etc. Not me that made her happy. And she does likes him. I can tell. I can always tell." He said, shaking his head. "I can't make a play for her now for so many reasons. Not the least of which is I'd stand a good chance of loosing her a friend. And I don't think I can handle that one," he said. "And that, that's what kills me. That even if I wanted to ask her out or there was an opportunity, it just won't happen. She doesn't see me that way and tell her the truth would likely ruin that friendship."

He sighed, words filling slowing down but still dripping with emotion. "I'll get over it I'm sure. After all, I'm the 'player from hell' right?" His chuckled at the pun. "I know my reputation, what people say and think about me. I do. Normally, before, I was ok with it. I was good. Just...right now I wish that I wasn't me." He took a deep, shuddering breath, feeling empty and depressed as his rush of words finally came to an end. "And since that doesn't seem likely, I need to make sure I never let on. Good thing I'm such a good liar, huh?" he said harshly. The fact that he'd never lied to his friends had been important to him. This one would be tough to keep though. Just one more nail in the coffin.

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Alex listened, her fingertips laced in her lap and her hazel eyes wide and thoughtful as she nodded occasionally. She sighed softly when he seemed to have wound down and shook her head, "James, you're a 'player' only when your emotions are not engaged. When you really care, you're as vulnerable as any of the rest of us. Of course you're not going to be able to be all 'smooth' over this, because it matters. The only real question is whether or not its worth fighting for to you?"

She paused to set her soda down, her slender fingertips moving to emphasize her points. Alex talked with her hands when she was involved in a conversation and her fingertips waved in front of her with agitation, "The fact that Erin went out with someone is a really, really good thing. It means she's healing. The chances that this is going to actually be the big love of her life are small to none. Not impossible, but certainly nothing to bet on. Asking her out isn't going to ruin your friendship. Worst case scenario, she's flattered and irritated that you didn't mention it before and doesn't feel the same. But that's nothing that friendships are going to die over."

Alex looked at him and made little pom-pom shaking gestures, "So... Go! Fight! Win! Better to lose then never try, right?"

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James sighed, staring back. "Maybe. Never really cared enough _to_ care before," he said with a soft chuckle. "Is she worth fighting for? I think so. That said, breaking up her happiness, if she really is happy, is not worth fighting for. Even if it means she's not with me. I'm thrilled for her that she's ready to do that. That's she's healing means a lot to me. But I'm not going to rain on her parade. Not even with the tiniest of clouds. I won't ruin a happy thing for her just because it might fail later. She's had a crappy enough time as it is. She deserves to be happy. And even a small chance is worth it."

He scowled and shrugged. "If it doesn't work out between them, I'll say something or ask her out. If not...then I'm no worse off than I am now." He wasn't entirely convinced of the wisdom of not asking. Hell, if it had been anyone but Erin and him, he'd be in total agreement with Alex. But he was putting Erin;s happiness, even if it was just a little bit with potential for more, before himself. Couldn't believe he was doing it, but there it was. It was certainly not something he would have even contemplated 6 months ago. "This whole growing up thing kinda sucks, ya know?"

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"I think you're making an awful lot of assumptions for Erin rather than doing some fact finding that would probably help a lot. So, here's an easy suggestion. Just, be her friend. That's what you miss the most right now, I think, and if more comes of that someday, that'd be awesome for both of you. I bet she'd really like a male point of view on things. It'll prolly hurt a bit but you'll feel better for knowing what's really going on than just guessing in the end," Alex said with a small smile and pulled the invitation out of her pile, floating it over to James.

"And come to prom. That's an order, by the way, from Young Freedom's assistant field leader." Alex teased, "There's good things about growing up too, you know. Some of those are your friends starting to catch up and be able to help with things."

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James shrugged, sighing a lot. "Maybe. But I haven't exactly been thinking clearly in the last day or so. Just need some time. And I'm always there if she needs to talk. Or any of you. For anything. Just...my 'jobs' have kept me away. I'm trying. Maybe when it slows down she'll want to." He shrugged. "I can stand pain. I hope. I...I just need to adjust to all this some is all," he muttered. Love and all that was not something he'd ever had experience with. "If it did work out...that'd be great. But I've never been a 'hope for the best' kind of person. I see the worst usually." And with good reason, he thought. "Maybe I'll give it a try," he said with a shrug.

He took the invitation as it floated to him. "I can't believe I was going to say this, but I'm really not in the mood for a party." He raised an eyebrow at her but cracked a tiny smile. "Yes ma'am. Fine, I'll go guess." He looked at her and met her eyes. "Thanks Alex. Just for listening. Not like I can talk to anyone. Besides 'Seph that is. And she doesn't seem to like Erin," he added half to himself. He stood. "I should go. You've got things to do I'm sure. And I know I always have more to do than I have time for," he said with sigh. He didn't really feel better about the whole thing. But it was just nice to have someone to talk to once in a while.

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"I always have time for you, James. Things can be shuffled and put off, but people really matter the most. I hope you feel a little better, at least. Don't worry, things will turn right in the end. They almost always do, I find," Alex said encouragingly, waving for him to take the soda with him as she stood up as well. "Just give it all some time, I think. You seem really ground down and everything is always bleaker when that's the case. Do something to relax and have a little bit of fun. You've earned it."

Alex smiled at him as she walked him over to the door of her office. "And don't be a stranger."

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He nodded. He didn't particularly believe what she did. In his opinion and experience, things most certainly did not usually work out. Sometimes they did though. After all James had found YF and his friends. "Yeah, maybe I'll do that. Take the day off or something," he said. Again, it wasn't likely but he'd give it a shot. That and get totally hammered. That sounded quite tempting at the moment. "I'll try though. Thanks again Alex." He gave her a quick hug before stepping back. He just needed to be alone for a while. He quirked a sad smile and nodded to her. He didn't particularly feel up to using his powers nor going out the regular way. Instead he keyed his _other_ comm. "'Seph, one to beam to my apartment please." He'd already told her about it so he wasn't concerned about hiding it. He waved, still feeling like hell but at least he had talked to a friend, as he glowed from the transporter beam and suddenly vanished.

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