Red Dragon Inn
Dreamweaver's Lair => From the Dragon's Mouth => Crash and Burn => Topic started by: Fliss on July 15, 2015, 07:22:06 AM
It wasn't easy walking around Rhy'Din with a large pair of feathered wings on your back. Even in Rhy'Din, where strange things were commonplace, it was hard to miss and sometimes drew stares and questions and even jeers and catcalls. More often than not, people mistook him for an angel. The blond hair and youthful good looks didn't help to dissuade them, even when he did his best to deny it. Angels, demons, vampires, werewolves - they were all fairly commonplace in Rhy'Din, but he was none of those things. He was just an ordinary human under extraordinary circumstances.
How or why he'd sprouted wings, he wasn't sure. He was a mutant, a freak of nature, or so he'd thought, until he'd come to Rhy'Din and found he wasn't alone. There were others like him, others with strange anomalies and abilities they didn't understand, but that didn't stop people from staring at him on the street, sometimes praising his existence, sometimes cursing him. And it didn't stop him from hating what he'd become or just wishing he was normal again.
Even when that difference was not immediately noticeable, it was still only too easy to hate it for even existing. Fliss hated her own ability, though not because it drew remarks or even attention. She hated it for the damage she had caused before her father had come into her life to teach her how to control it; she hated it for the fact that she always had to be in control, or it would get loose, somehow. But there were plenty of people like her in Rhy'Din - enough that a very special school catered for them, and taught them to be easier with themselves and with others. That was how she had ended up meeting Lucas, when he had prevented her from being bullied on her first day there, and over the course of her first year at Harker's Academy, she had very slowly developed a friendship with him. She wasn't entirely sure why he wanted to walk her to the fire station in New Temple, where her father was on shift, but she wasn't complaining about it, either.
Though he might not readily admit it, even to himself, Lucas had grown fond of Fliss over the course of the last year. She was, in fact, his closest friend - or more accurately, the only person he'd let get very close. He was a quiet young man who kept mostly to himself, a good student, though as far as he could tell, he lacked any magical talent or abilities. But why he was walking her to the fire station? If she'd asked, he might have told her, but mostly it was not only because he was lonely and enjoyed her company, but also because he worried for her safety, though he wasn't quite sure why. Whatever the reason, there they were on their way to the Temple District Fire Station, close enough to hold hands, but maintaining a polite distance, chatting amicably about school and classes. His wings were folded snugly against his back, so snugly that unless you looked closely, you might not even notice them.
Of course, anywhere there are differences, there are those who oppose those differences. Even in Rhy'Din, there was bigotry and intolerance, though it was less profligate, less obvious. Still, there were always some people who were prepared to be unpleasant, and among teenagers, it could get ugly. The first Fliss and Lucas knew of their problem in that regard was a stone hitting Fliss' shoulder, before voices started up behind them. "Feathered freak!"
Lucas visibly flinched at the insult, though it was Fliss who'd been hit by the stone. He clenched his jaw, angry that they'd dared hurt her because of him, and he dropped back to put himself between them and her. "Go on ahead," he told her quietly. "I've got this."
Turning, Fliss flickered a slightly irritated look in Lucas' direction as she turned with him, rubbing her shoulder. "Not a chance, and you know it," she reminded him firmly. She didn't like dealing with bullies, but a solid year of good care and a loving family had bolstered some of that confidence she had been lacking. "They're just a bunch of little boys who couldn't piss over a baby gate if they tried." This, she declared aloud, her eyes turning to the group of belligerent teens headed toward them.
Lucas' eyes widened at her statement, not because he disagreed with her, but because he didn't want any trouble, and he certainly didn't her getting hurt because of him.
"Oh, look!" one of the boys taunted. "It's Flamegirl and her boyfriend, Featherbrain."
Lucas would have preferred to have ignored them and keep walking, but now that Fliss had turned around, there wasn't much he could do but back her up. "Come on, Fliss. They're not worth the trouble."
"I'm sick of ignoring idiots and letting them think it's okay to shout insults and throw stones," she fumed, glaring at the group in front of them. "Oh, yeah, that's a real insult, that is. I wonder what it says about you guys, that I would rather spend my time with a so-called "featherbrain" than the clearly astonishing specimen of manhood that you are."
It took a moment for that one to work out that she had insulted him, but once he did, his face turned red with anger, his hand tightening on the stone he gripped. "You think you're special, do you?" he snapped. "You're as much of a freak as he is, and your dad!"
Insulting him and Fliss was one thing, but Lucas had a feeling insulting Fliss' father - who was regarded as something of a hero here in Rhy'Din - was pushing their luck. If he knew Fliss the way he thought he did, that was going to piss her off more than anything else they might have said.
"Oh, sweetheart," one of them said with a sneer, stepping forward as the group of boys fanned out to surround the pair. "You don't know what you're missing. Why don't you dump Featherhead here and see if you can light my fire instead?" the boy taunted.
There was something very dangerous in the way Fliss utterly ignored the invitation. She turned very slowly, her amber eyes flashing a warning in the way they seemed to crackle like fire as she glared at him. "Say that again about my dad," she suggested, her voice worryingly quiet as her fists clenched and unclenched. Only the keenly observant could see the little flaming sparks flashing at the tips of her hair.
The bullies might not be observant enough to notice the warning that a storm was slowly brewing inside of Fliss, but Lucas was. "Fliss, don't ..." he urged quietly, stepping up beside her to tug at her arm.
"Fliss, don't ..." One of the boys jeeringly mocked with a sneer on his face. "What's the matter, Featherhead? Too chicken to stand up for your girlfriend? That's what those feathers are. They're chicken feathers because you're a chicken." He started to squawk like a chicken, a couple of the other boys chiming in as they closed the circle.
Fliss might have taken the warning, if the boys hadn't chosen to use it as more fuel for their taunts. The look on her face was deadly as she glared at them. "Think you're fireproof, do you?" she asked sweetly, and just as sweetly lashed out with one fist, flames scattering through the air in its wake. The punch was hard enough to send the boy staggering back - add the fire, and he no longer had eyebrows to go with his brooding countenance. "Anyone else want some?"
That was when all hell broke loose. One punch from Fliss, and the boys fell back, startled by the flames for a moment, only to charge forward, but Lucas was already reacting. The wings on his back suddenly unfurled and spread out, looking more like an eagle's wings than a chicken's. How he did it was uncertain. It defied the laws of physics, but before anyone could react, he had his arms around Fliss' waist, wings beating the air furiously as together, they lifted off the ground and into the air.
Snarling, ready to fight the charge, Fliss let out a yelp as she felt arms about her waist, hoisting her up off the ground and higher still. High enough that she got a kick in as the boys reached for her feet, before dousing her flame in the beating rush of wind from Lucas' back. "What did you do that for?" she demanded. "I had them!"
Several rocks were thrown their way, but they were quickly out of range and putting a safe distance between them and the bullies. One of the rocks clipped Lucas on the side of the head, but he hardly noticed it in his rush to get Fliss safely away from the boys before things got really ugly. "What were you going to do? Take them all on yourself? Set them on fire? There were six of them and only two of us," he pointed out, shouting over the wind as he veered toward a tall building not far from the fire station.
"Yes!" Even thirty feet in the air, Fliss recognized how stupid this sounded, rolling her eyes. She'd been flying with Johnny a couple of times, not afraid of the height or the sensation, but it was a different feeling to flying with Lucas. Especially since she didn't have anywhere to hold onto.
"Don't be stupid, Fliss! You can't fight fire with fire!" he called back, before setting them both down on the roof of that tall building, making a landing that was sure and graceful, the powerful wings coming to a rest upon his back. As soon as he was sure she had her footing, he very gently let her go and stepped back a pace so that there was that polite distance between them again. "I'm sorry, but I couldn't let you do it."
With her feet firm beneath her, she turned to look at him, torn between irritation at being denied a good fight, and shame at the fact that she had been so ready for one. She shook her hand out, her knuckles sore, and sighed heavily. "No, you're right. Mom'd kill me if I got myself beat up, or if I got in trouble for hurting someone. I just ... he shouldn't have brought my dad into it."
Lucas' mouth twitched just a little, an unexpected stab of jealousy pricking his heart, though he couldn't very well blame her. He knew how much her father meant to her and how close they were. He wasn't sure if he was jealous of envious of the fact that she had a family here in Rhy'Din or if it was the fact that it was the insult to her father that had angered her so much and not the insult to himself. He crouched down, his wings still spread out behind him, to balance himself against the wind. His cheek stung and there was something warm dribbling down his face, but he hardly realized it. "That's what bullies do, Fliss. They try to find your weak point and then exploit it." And they had obviously found hers.
"Yeah, well, you're the one bleeding," she pointed out, unaware of his jealous reaction. Of course, if he looked back on the encounter, he might notice that she hadn't thrown the punch until he had been insulted. Mentioning her dad was a good way to boost her temper, but it took something else to push her to breaking point. Ignoring the rough surface under her knees, she dropped down to kneel in front of him, using the edge of her shirt sleeve to wipe the blood away from his cheek. "I'm sorry," she apologized reluctantly. "I just ... I'm so tired of people picking on us for being different. In Rhy'Din, where everyone's different. It doesn't make sense."
"What?" he asked, furrowing blond brows as he finally realized what that stinging on his cheek must be. He frowned as she dabbed at the blood on his cheek with her shirt, realizing things weren't so different here, after all, though it was still a little easier to blend. At least here, there were others like him - others who were different - others, like Fliss. "You don't have to apologize. I'm not much of a fighter, I guess. Chicken, like he said." Though that wasn't entirely true - he just preferred to choose his battles.
"You're not a coward if you don't fight them on their terms," Fliss told him, frowning as she concentrated. "This is gonna hurt a bit." A bit now, as opposed to aching and itching for a few days. This was something she'd learned to do in lessons, something she'd never even considered she might be able to do with the fire at her fingertips. She ran her finger gently along the line of the cut on his cheek, cauterizing the wound with a soft flicker of flame. "I have a temper. And it has something to do with the fire in me. I flare up, and then it's forgotten as soon as it stops burning." She shrugged. "I don't know how not to react, especially when other people are getting hurt."
"You don't think it's cowardly to run ... fly away?" he asked, correcting himself at the last second. There was no need to run away anymore, not now that he had wings. His gaze darted to her fingers, guessing at what she was going to do, but trusting her implicitly. She was, perhaps, the only person in Rhy'Din he did trust. He winced a little, but remained still, making no complaint as she sealed the wound closed. Who would have thought that a healer's touch lurked within that fiery spirit? "Do you think that's why it manifested in you? Fire, I mean?" He had never considered that it might have something to do with his personality. The fire he understood, but then, why wings? "You didn't do anything to him that he didn't deserve," he pointed out. A black eye, a singed eyebrow, and wounded pride was likely all the bully would suffer from her flare up.
"I don't know," she admitted with another shrug. "See this?" Turning her head, she tucked her hair out of the way to reveal a very slight point to her ear. "There's elf in me, somewhere, and that's where the magic comes from. I don't know, maybe my ancestors were experts with fire. Maybe I got fire because there was someone in the city who could help me. I don't know, and I hate the fire. I nearly burned an orphanage down because I lost my temper. Look what I did to that boy. It could have been so much worse."
His eyes widened, finding out more about her in the last few minutes than he had in over a year. There wasn't much that got past him, and he had already noticed the slight point to her ears before, but he hadn't thought much about it. Lots of people on Rhy'Din were of mixed blood, and she seemed no exception. It was just another difference between them that made him feel even more secluded, more different, more lonely. "But you didn't, Fliss. Whatever you think of yourself, you kept your temper. You didn't lose control."
"I punched someone with a flaming fist," she pointed out almost in amusement but for the concern on her face. "It could have been a lot worse if you hadn't snatched me out of there." She sighed softly, wiping the last of the blood from his cheek. "You're the one who was in control. And that's a good thing."
Her touch was so gentle and so tender it did something to his insides, but he dared not say anything about it for fear she'd laugh at him or worse. He shrugged his shoulders and the feathers of his wings rustled like leaves in the wind. "I don't know about that. I just didn't want to see you get hurt," he told her, almost afraid to admit it.
Fliss smiled, resting back on her heels. "You sound like my dad," she told him softly. "And that's a good thing, I promise. You should meet him sometime." They'd known each other for almost a year, but neither had introduced the other to their respective families - Fliss, because she knew she would be teased to within an inch of her life about having a "boyfriend"; Lucas ... she didn't know what his reasons were, and she wouldn't ask. Her gaze strayed to his wings. "I didn't realize they were so big," she admitted shyly. "C-can I touch them?"
He smiled a little at the comparison to her father. "I'd like that," he admitted, almost shyly, though he wasn't sure he was ready to meet her family yet. He arched a brow as she changed the subject, and glanced over a shoulder at the large pair of feathered wings at his back. He seemed to consider her question a moment. No one had ever asked to touch them before, no one who didn't have some ulterior motive anyway. Suddenly he felt naked and vulnerable there with his wings spread wide open. "Yes," he replied after a moment's consideration, trusting her with a very private part of himself that he preferred to keep hidden as much as he could.
Under his watchful gaze, she reached out to touch his feathered wings, surprised to find that those outer feathers were stiff and strong under her fingers. It was closer to his back where they became downy and soft, tickling against her palm as she smiled. "They are beautiful," she told Lucas quite honestly. "But I can understand how they're a problem, too. The flying must be amazing, though."
"I hate them," he admitted with a frown, as much as she hated the fire that burned inside her, but he couldn't blame elf blood or any kind of magic for what he was. He was a freak, plain and simple. The bullies were at least right about that part. "They're heavy and awkward and ..." And what? They made him different. He folded his wings upon his back and sat down on the roof, crossing his legs in front of him. "When they first appeared, I used to try and hide them beneath my clothes. Beneath a jacket or a sweater, but they're too big for that now."
Fliss sighed softly, twisting to sit beside him as she brushed gravel and dirt from her bare knees. "But you can fly," she pointed out. "At any time, anywhere, you can let the world drop away and ... I envy you that. Having the ability to just get away sometimes, without hurting anyone to do it." She bit her lip, hugging her knees to her chest. "Being different makes you a target, no matter where you are on the ground."
"It's lonely," he found himself blurting, almost wishing he hadn't said it. "I mean, at least you have a family, and your dad is like you, sort of. He taught you how to control the fire, how to use it. I don't even know if I belong at the Academy. I don't have any magic in me, Fliss. I'm not any elf blood. I'm not human. Not really, but I'm not an angel either. I don't know what I am or what I'm supposed to do with my life. What's the point of going to school? Everything made sense back home before ... before I grew wings. Now?" He shrugged again. "I just want to be normal again." But then, if he was normal, he wouldn't be able to fly, and he'd have never met her.
"So?" She looked at him expectantly. "Think about it for a minute. Even if you didn't have wings, would you know, absolutely know, what you want to do with your life right this minute? I don't think so. We're not supposed to know what we wanna do. We learn, and we try things, and if you give up, you don't learn anything but how to give up. Who says you have to do something that has to do with you having wings? You could be a doctor with wings, or a lawyer, or you could join the fire department, or join the theater. Having wings doesn't make you weaker and it doesn't narrow your options, not at all."
"Maybe," he admitted grudgingly, but it wasn't just the fact that he had wings - he was a stranger in a strange land and wasn't quite sure where he was supposed to fit in here. But then, maybe she was right. If he were back home, would he know where he fit in there? "You want to hear something silly?" he asked. "I used to want to be a professional surfer. I was pretty good at it, too, before this ..." he said, indicating his back with the wave of a hand.
Fliss considered him for a moment. "Who says you can't be?" she asked innocently. "I don't see why you can't. Hell, if I can seal a wound, then why shouldn't you be able to surf? I guess it's just a case of learning how to compensate." She twisted, looking fully at him. "Hey, there's that surf shop on the beach, isn't there? You should ask if they'd give you a job. I bet Tommy would love the challenge of helping you find your feet again."
"A job?" Lucas echoed, chuckling. "Why would they give me, of all people, a job?" he asked, doubtfully. While finding a job wasn't a bad idea, especially now that school was out for the summer, he wasn't sure why anyone would hire him to work in a surf shop, other than the fact that he'd once been a pretty good surfer.
"Why wouldn't they?" she countered with a smile. "I know for a fact that both guys there need extra hands - they're both expecting babies with their wives - and if you get your feet under the table early, you'll know the shop inside and out. Besides, it'll get you out of the school over the summer, and you could drop by the Grove and have dinner with us on your working days. I'm sure Mom wouldn't mind."
"Maybe," he replied with a shrug of his shoulders. While the idea of a job - any job - sounded promising, he wasn't sure he wanted to get his hopes up. But it was the last part of what she said that really got his attention. "You want me to come over for dinner?" he asked, blond brows arching curiously. Sure, they were friends - good friends - but she'd never asked him over before.
"Sure," Fliss nodded cheerfully. "You could come over tonight. I'm sure they wouldn't mind. In fact, they'd probably be over the moon about it. They, um ... they get worried about me because I don't really have any friends, except you. And if my dad starts talking about birth control, ignore him. He's on pregnancy alert because Mom's brewing one."
"Birth control!" Lucas sputtered, fair skin flushing scarlet. He might have had a few daydreams about kissing Fliss, but he hadn't thought farther than that, and he certainly wasn't about to admit it. "I don't think he has to worry about that." Not yet, anyway.
She giggled, shaking her head to hide the little bit of disappointment there. She did like Lucas, after all. "So ... do you want to?" she asked, trying not to get her hopes up. "Come to dinner, I mean? I mean it, they really won't mind. Bella will probably adore you, too."
If the blush wasn't proof that he liked her back, he wasn't sure what was, but he said nothing more about it, letting the subject get dropped for now. "Um ..." He seemed a little hesitant about the invitation, but only because he was shy and he wasn't sure what her parents would think of him. "I am kind of getting sick of cafeteria food," he admitted with an almost bashful smile.
"Good, then you can come home with me." She nodded once again, confirming the plan for the evening as she rose onto her feet to look down at the street below. "You're gonna have to help me down from here, though. I burn, I don't bounce." Flashing her grin in his direction, she patted him on the head playfully.
He chuckled and ducked, shoving her hand away from his head. "Are you still meeting your dad at the fire station?" he asked as he moved to his feet. He was tall already, his shoulders broad enough to carry that pair of wings against his back.
"Yeah, I think so," she nodded. "He's supposed to be getting off-shift sometime soon, so I was s'posed to be a good girl and meet him there." She grinned. "And if he's late, Mom'll hit him with her silly spatula thing, she said. That'd be funny to watch."
"We better get going then," he said, looking at her thoughtfully. The only way to get her off the roof was the same way he'd brought her there, but that would require them holding onto each other again, and this time he didn't have the excuse of having to rescue her. "Do you want to ... um ..." Faltering, he blushed again. He hadn't even asked if he could hold her hand yet, though he'd wanted to.
Though Fliss was generally quite shy, she wasn't as shy around the people she knew well as she seemed to be to the outside world. She turned to look at Lucas, hands itching to know where they should go. "Uh ... do you want me to hold on this time, or is it easier if I just go limp and let you carry me like you did before?"
He laughed a little nervously at her question. "It would probably be easier if you held on," he admitted, though that would mean she'd have to actually touch him and get up close and personal. "Or you could take the stairs!" he teased, nodding toward the fire escape.
"And miss out on flying again?" She snorted with laughter, glad she had an excuse to hug her friend without making either of them too awkward. She certainly wasn't shy about wrapping her arms around his neck, nose to nose with an impish grin. "So is this where you take me on a tour of the whole world and reveal that you're really an alien from the planet Krypton?" she teased, amber eyes alight with mischief.
He rolled green eyes bright with amusement back at her, his arms going around her waist, just to make sure he didn't drop her. "Not unless you're Lois Lane," he replied, all too aware of her closeness - so close he could kiss her. He hoped she didn't feel his heart pounding inside his chest. "Sorry to disappoint you. I'm not an angel either," he reminded her, as he unfurled the wide span of wings against his back, looking very much like an angel, though he denied it.
"Angels are boring," was the next piece of unconsidered wisdom from his blond companion as she tightened her grip. "I could just see you as a bad boy, all leather pants and attitude, and gorgeous wings to cap it all off." She winked at him with a cheeky cast to her smile.
One blond brow quirked upwards at her remark. "Is that what you want me to be?" he asked, wondering if what she really wanted was a "bad boy". It seemed to him there were plenty of those to go around, as evidenced by the bullies that had been bothering them earlier. "Are you gonna tell your dad about what happened?" he asked, worried her father might forbid her from seeing him again.
"You should be whoever you want to be," Fliss informed him, words often told to her by her parents and words she believed in whole-heartedly. "Besides, why would I want you to change? I like you, just the way you are." The worry on his face was echoed by hers for a moment, but she shook her head. "I'll probably tell Mom, and she'll tell him later on. They're not ogres, you know. They're probably gonna really like you."
"I hope so," he admitted quietly. "You ready?" he asked, as he tightened his grip on her waist. At least, he didn't need his arms to fly; his wings did all the work for him. Of course, it did take effort, but at least it left his arms free so he could hang on to her and make sure she didn't fall. "Hang on!" he warned as he stepped toward the edge of the roof. He'd have preferred an even higher building than this, but it would just have to do.
Given that he had taken off from the ground easily, as far as she was concerned, Fliss actually squealed as he guided her to the edge of the roof. She closed her eyes, hiding her face against his neck as her grip tightened even further. If that wasn't evidence enough that she trusted him, there was no power on earth that could convince him.
"Maybe someday I'll take you to Mount Yasuo," he said, looking down at her with her eyes closed and her breath warm against his neck. It would be so easy to kiss her. What would she say? Would she be pleased or shocked or angry? Like Superman and Lois Lane, he wanted to show her all the wonders of the world, their world being Rhy'Din. The splendor and majesty of the mountains, the lush cool green of the forests, the sea as deep and blue and unfathomable as the sky. But for now, he just wanted to get her safely to the fire station before her father sent out a search party. "Here we go!" he warned, stepping off the roof and swooping downward before the wind caught his wings and they swept higher, wings beating as they flew through the sky, over the rooftops and the streets below.
The scream as they dropped would have been deafening but for the rush of wind that stole her voice. But that scream turned into a whooping yell of delight as he caught the wind and angled them upwards once again, her eyes opening to look down at the city. "Oh, wow .... this is amazing!"
Encouraged by her amazement, he spiraled higher, catching the wind and riding the pockets of air currents like one might a wave. He had obviously done this many times before and had mastered the skill of flying since he had first sprouted wings several years before. But he didn't want to take her too high or get too far away and before too long, he was soaring back across the city toward the fire station, where she was supposed to meet her father. Who needed a horse or even a car when one had wings?
How often had he done it with a passenger, she wondered, momentarily feeling a pang of jealousy for anyone who had ever been in the same position she was now. She was, however, giggling like a fool as Lucas spiraled through the air above the city, pretty sure no roller-coaster would ever compare to this. And all too soon, he was circling lower, and she could see the fire station below them. "You know if Dad sees us, he'll come up here and join in."
If she'd asked, he'd have told her that she was the first. He'd never even taken his little brother for a ride - his little brother, the one person he loved and missed more than anyone else. He hadn't yet mastered flight before he'd left home, and he wouldn't have forgiven himself if anything had happened to his brother because of him. "He will?" Lucas asked, a little worried about that. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? Did her father usually fly home or take a more traditional approach?
"He loves flying," she told him through her grin, wide-eyed and more than secure enough in his arms. "Seriously, anything gets him even a little bit excited, the first thing he does is whoosh out a window or something. He gets a discount at all the clothing stores in the city because he keeps incinerating his clothes."
"Incinerating his clothes?" Lucas echoed, eyes wide. He knew enough about Johnny Storm to know he was nicknamed "Torch" and he knew why, but he hadn't really thought much about the ramifications of going to flame. "Does that happen to you, too?" he asked, thinking that would be a good thing to know.
Fliss blushed. "I only did it once," she admitted, embarrassed to even recount that day, given that it had also been the day she'd met Johnny Storm. "I haven't set fire to anything by accident for nearly a year now."
"Just don't set fire to my wings," he warned with a smile that was only partly in jest. He was just about to veer downward when something - or someone - shot past them like a fireball falling from the sky, only going in the opposite direction. He might have thought someone had just shot a cannonball at them, if it wasn't for the whoop of sheer joy that followed.
"I wouldn't!" Fliss protested, the words almost lost in the buffeting warmth that swept past them at speed. "Oh gods ..." She couldn't help laughing against Lucas' shoulder as she recognized her father's over-excited voice as he shot past. "That was Dad."
"I figured it was either that or an asteroid!" Lucas replied with a chuckle.
"You taking my girl for a ride?" a voice called over, and Lucas turned to find a humanoid figure covered in flames hovering nearby and seemingly having no problem maintaining the same speed and altitude that he was.
Giggling, Fliss looked over to see Johnny hovering near them, and sighed subtly. "Can we not do the intimidating dad thing until we're on the ground?" she asked plaintively. "You guys are totally at home up here, but I'm the one who'll go splat if you get excited."
"Naw, you won't go splat," Johnny pointed out helpfully. It looked like he was grinning, but it was hard to tell since he was covered in plasma flames.
"Can you not get too close, sir?" Luke asked as politely as he could, feeling Johnny's heat radiating outwards and afraid his wings might catch fire.
"Huh?" Johnny replied, sounding confused for a minute. "Oh! Sure." He flashed another fiery grin, this one at Fliss. "Last one home is a rotten egg!"
Fliss blinked, startled. "What? But -" Her eyes narrowed and she found herself grinning back, looking at Lucas encouragingly. "See? I told you no one would mind you coming to dinner. But don't break anything trying to beat him." She lowered her voice, whispering into Lucas' ear. "He'll like you more if he wins."
Johnny didn't even ask if Lucas wanted to come to dinner, presuming he had been delivering her to the fire station. It seemed just as easy to take her home as to drop her off there, and he wanted to properly meet whoever it was that was flying his daughter all over Rhy'Din. Besides, Johnny reasoned if Fliss trusted the kid enough to let him fly her around, that was good enough for Johnny, though Liv might think differently. And of course, Johnny wasn't about to waste a chance to show off, twisting and turning and burning through the sky like a rocket-ship in flight and whooping like a ten-year-old on his first roller-coaster ride.
Lucas' eyes widened as he watched Johnny in sheer admiration. "I don't think I could beat him if I tried," he admitted. Lucas' flight was far more graceful, like an eagle soaring through the sky, where Johnny was more like a rocket.
Fliss giggled, rolling her eyes as her father went to extremes to show off, knowing that they'd be seen long before they actually got to the Grove and Willow Manor. "You know, I think he likes you already," she laughed, adjusting her grip to be more comfortable with Lucas as they followed after Johnny.
Lucas had a pretty good idea where Maple Grove was, and even if he didn't, all he had to do was follow that flame streaking across the sky. "Think so? How can you tell? Because he didn't burn my wings off?" Lucas ventured as he soared after Johnny, letting the air currents do most of the work, like a bird in flight.
"Because he's playing," she smiled, her forehead against his temple comfortably as he bore her over the city and out over the forest beyond in Johnny's wake. "If he didn't at least trust you, we'd be arguing on the ground by now."
In truth, there weren't many people Johnny Storm didn't like and he usually chose to avoid them like the plague rather than risk losing his temper. Tony Stark was one of them, but Lucas wasn't anything like Tony Stark. "Playing?" Lucas echoed, though the word seemed to fit. Her father seemed to be having a blast. Lucas tried to remember when he'd had that much fun.
"Yeah, playing," she grinned. "Usually he just goes straight home, he doesn't do loops and spirals and write ..." She paused, working out what her father was sky-writing before blushing a brilliant shade of red. "Never mind what he's writing."
"He's showing off," Lucas remarked with a grin upon realizing what her father was doing, but then he couldn't help noticing what he was fire-writing and he, too, blushed. It was bad enough that Fliss was right there, practically nose to nose with him, and then her father had to go and write, "Fliss has a boyfriend," in fire where everyone in Rhy'Din could read it. Real mature.
Gritting her teeth, Fliss winced as Lucas caught on. "I'll kill him later, I promise," she assured her friend, glaring at her father as he swept about. Looking down at the Grove as it opened up below them, however, she had to take a moment to orient herself to the place. "That one," she pointed to Willow Manor, in its own little copse of trees. "That's us."
"Would you ..." Lucas started, upon seeing that declaration written across the sky, but he caught the wince, too, and thought better of what he was about to say. He turned his gaze toward the trees below them, easily finding the little copse of trees that was Willow Manor. They didn't call it Willow Manor for nothing, after all. It seemed that along with the wings, his eyesight was almost as keen as a hawk's. Down he swooped, far more graceful than Johnny, who was still spinning and spiraling before diving toward the ground.
Bella, over-excited and joyful as ever, came bounding out of the house to greet them, barking delightedly as she danced in circles underneath Johnny's swift coming in to land. Fliss laughed at the dog's cheerful hello, though she was holding on tighter the closer they came to land. It seemed as though it wasn't heights that concerned Felicity Storm - it was the prospect of hitting the ground.
Johnny easily beat them to the landing, the fire immediately extinguished as soon as his feet hit the ground. He greeting Bella as enthusiastically as she greeted him, licking his face affectionately, despite his warmth. "Hello, Bella girl. Did you miss Daddy? I missed you, too!"
Lucas came to a landing just as easily, but with far more grace, gliding downward until his feet touched the ground. Though reluctant to let go of her, he set Fliss on her feet, waiting for her to catch her balance before letting go.
With Fliss unsteadily taking her own weight again but refusing to let go until she trusted her feet to hold her, Lucas was rather pinned in place, in the perfect position to watch as the rest of the excitable part of the household came scurrying out to greet Johnny and Fliss. Absolutely silent, little Maria was just a few steps ahead of Alexei when she tripped over her own feet and thumped headfirst into Johnny's leg, but even that didn't wipe the big smile from her face.
Fliss laughed quietly, reluctantly taking her arm from about Lucas' shoulders. "That's Maria," she explained quietly. "She can hear, but she can't speak. And Alexei, and Bella. And I'm guessing Mom's in the kitchen."
Lucas watched as the Storm household emptied to greet Johnny and Fliss, and he felt a wave of homesickness wash over him, though he did his best to hide it. He watched as Alexei tossed his arms around Johnny's legs and Johnny stooped to scoop Maria up off the ground, at least two of them chattering away at each other while the little girl planted a wet kiss on her father's cheek and Bella barked a greeting. It was Bella who was first to greet Fliss, with her tail wagging. It was clearly who she belonged to.
"Heya, Bells," Fliss smiled to the dog who bounced over to greet her, dropping down into a crouch to ruffle the dog's ears fondly. "Wanna meet my friend? This is Lucas." She looked up at her friend, quiet concern in her eyes for the stiff way he seemed to be holding himself. One hand reached up to take his, tugging him to crouch down and be licked to within and inch of his life by the over-excited dog.
Lucas folded the wings on his back, awkward as they were when he was on the ground. "Hi ..." he started, before getting tugged downward to greet the dog, laughing as he was rewarded with doggie kisses. "You said her name is Bella?" he asked.
"Yep. That's her name," Johnny interrupted as he moved over to meet the boy who'd flown his daughter home. "And this is Maria and Alex," he said, introducing the little girl in his arms and the boy who was clutching his hand.
"Are you Fliss' boyfriend?" Alexei asked curiously. From the mouths of babes.
Johnny grinned, but noticed the blush on Lucas' cheeks. "I think maybe we should ask him his name before we start asking too many questions, Alex," Johnny said.
It wasn't only Lucas who blushed at Alex's question, but Fliss was the big sister and therefore completely within her rights to seize said little brother and tickle him mercilessly to prevent any more awkward questions from that quarter. "This is my friend, Lucas," she introduced him to her family as Bella licked his face, her tail wagging wildly as she moved indecisively between everyone gathered there. In Johnny's arms, Maria waved shyly. "This is my little brother, Alex, and my dad, Johnny. The little one is Maria, and Mom is ... where?"
"Mom is here," a gentler voice called from the doorway, where Liv was leaning comfortably, wiping her hands dry on a towel. "Do we have a guest for dinner?"
Alexei dissolved into a mass of giggles as he wriggled in his sister's arms. "Fliss, stop!" he pleaded, collapsing in giggles on the grass.
"Serves you right for asking too many questions, Alex!" Johnny scolded, playfully, though the boy had only asked one - the one that Johnny himself had been dying to ask.
Lucas offered a smile to the small group, feeling awkward but strangely welcome. It was hard not to feel welcome in a group of misfits and orphans, like himself.
"Nice to meet you, Luc! Do you mind if I call you Luc?" Johnny said, stepped forward to shake the boy's hand, who was only maybe a decade younger than himself. "Yes, we have a guest! This is Luc, Fliss' friend," Johnny explained again, as he spun around to find Liv standing in the doorway.
"Well, don't crowd around him," Liv laughed, rolling her eyes at her family. "He isn't an exhibit in a museum, is he?" She smiled fondly at the children. "Alex, you were setting the table, weren't you? You need to set one more place. And I think Maria and Bella were playing, weren't you?" She met the little girl's eyes, her smile deepening as Maria nodded enthusiastically. "Which means Lucas gets to breathe a bit."
Fliss looked at her mother gratefully as Liv shooed the children away.
"Mama, is he a real angel?" Alexei whispered to Liv, as he found his feet before heading back inside.
Johnny rolled his eyes at the little boy and swung him up and over his shoulder. "Come along, nosebag. It's your turn to set the table," he reminded the boy, who was smiling and waving back at Fliss and Lucas as he was carried inside.
Liv chuckled, shaking her head as Johnny took charge of the children. "I'm sorry about that ... Lucas, is it?" She offered him her hand to shake. "I'm Liv. And it is a pleasure to meet you." She flickered a smile in Fliss' direction, not teasing but genuinely pleased. "Dinner's in about half an hour. Why don't you show Lucas around the garden? I can keep the terrors inside until after dinner."
"Yes, ma'am," Lucas replied, taking her hand, his own feeling perfectly ordinary despite the wings that were folded against his back. Except for those, he seemed like a perfectly ordinary teenage boy. "Nice to meet you, Mrs. Storm," he added, looking a little relieved to have the small crowd of Storms shooed away for now. As friendly as they were, it was a little overwhelming for someone who was used to being alone most of the time.
"Liv," she corrected him gently with a smile. "Just be glad my sister and her family have gone to visit Mount Yasuo for a few days - you would have been buried under children if they were here as well." Fliss spluttered with laughter; that hadn't occurred to her. Liv grinned. "I'll call you when dinner's ready," she told them, nodding to both as she turned to re-enter the house.
Fliss looked up at Lucas, not entirely sure whether or not he was going to want to stay now. "Well ... that's my family."
It didn't seem right to be calling Fliss' mother by her first name, but then she was younger than he'd expected. He knew Fliss had been adopted, but he hadn't really thought too much about what her family might be like, except for what she'd already told him. "They seem nice," he admitted, looking a little nervous again now that they were alone. He wasn't sure what had changed, but something seemed to have changed between them, and he hadn't even kissed her yet. "Fliss, can I ask you something?"
"Sure." She smiled at him, infinitely more relaxed here at home than he had ever seen her in the city, mostly because she was very close to Johnny, who would be able to stop anything catastrophic from happening if she lost control. "You can ask me anything, Lucas."
He wasn't so sure about anything. In fact, he wasn't even sure he should be asking her this, but he needed to know, before the question came up again. "Are you ... I mean ... Do you ... Would you like to ..." he stammered, exhaling a sigh. It was hopeless. They were doomed to be forever nothing more than friends, simply because he couldn't find the right words to ask if she wanted to be more.
Watching him struggle, Fliss hesitated, picking at her cuticles awkwardly. "All right," she said carefully. "Do you mind if I ask you something?" She wasn't very good at being subtle - she was either shy to the point of silence, or blunt with confidence.
"You can ask me anything," he replied, looking up from where he'd been staring at his own feet. He wasn't sure what had come over him. He used to be outgoing and popular, until he'd become a freak. He wished he could be more like her father, but he just wasn't that confident - at least, not anymore.
Pulling her hands away from each other, she slid them into the back pockets of her shorts, turning to look up at Luc hopefully. "That question my brother asked us," she said in a thoughtful tone. "Would you disagree if ... if I say yes, next time he asks?"
Lucas arched his brows in curiosity and surprise, though pleasantly so. "You mean, when he asks if I'm your boyfriend?" he asked, startled to find his heart beating a little bit faster. "But ..." he started, looking back at her, a look of mingled confusion and hope in his eyes. "Is that because you want me to be or because you want him to stop asking?"
Fliss pulled a face. "Why would I lie to him just to make him stop asking questions?" she countered in confusion. "He's a big boy, he can take the truth. If I want him to stop, I'll just tell him so. Why, don't you want to?"
"No!" Lucas exclaimed hurriedly, momentarily confused by her questions. "I mean, yes! I mean ..." He sighed, perplexed by the whole situation, by everything that had happened already that day. "I've been meaning to ask you for a while now ..." He trailed off a moment, hesitantly reaching for her hand, unsure how she felt about making it more than just friendship. "Felicity, would you be my girl?"
Her fingers traced over his as he reached for her hand, a shy flush coloring her cheeks as she offered up a small tease of a shy smile. "It's about time you asked me," she told him quietly. "I've been waiting for months." That smile flickered for just a moment into a bright grin, and quite suddenly she bounced close, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "So when Alexei asks again, it's a yes?"
"Really?" he asked, wide-eyed with astonishment at her reply. He'd been expecting a no, that she just wanted to remain friends, until she'd started dropping hints about Alexei's question. A blush to match hers colored his cheeks as she touched her lips to his cheek, a bright smile on his face at her reply. "Yes," he told her, leaning a little bit closer, as if he might give her a proper kiss, but before he could gather his courage, they were interrupted by giggling.
Hand in hand, Fliss looked up at him, shy and sweet, smiling to match his smile as he leaned closer. And then she heard the giggling. She sighed, rolling her eyes, and without even glancing around, said, "I thought you were supposed to be setting the table?"
"I'm done," Alexei said, coming out of from behind the tree he'd been hiding behind. "Mama says to come inside for dinner," he told his big sister before tilting a glance upwards at Lucas. "Papa says you're not an angel, but you look like an angel." He should know, after all. He'd seen plenty of paintings of angels and they almost always looked like Lucas.
"No, I'm sorry," Lucas replied with a frown. "I'm not an angel." I'm just a freak.
Alexei shrugged his shoulders, as if it really didn't matter either way. "Don't eat Mama's carrots. Mama's carrots always taste bad," he whispered up at Lucas. Or maybe Alexei just didn't like carrots.
"You don't have to be an angel to have wings," Fliss told her brother, squeezing Lucas' hand gently. She knew exactly where his thoughts had gone. "It's like having blond hair or brown eyes or horns. Lucas' wings are just one of the things that make him special. Like you and your amazing farts of death." She chuckled, reaching out to ruffle her brother's hair affectionately, glancing at Lucas. "He's right about the carrots. But she knows, so she doesn't take offense."
Alexei giggled again and ducked before she could properly ruffle his hair. "Papa makes the worst farts! Mama makes him go outside so he doesn't set the house on fire!" He grabbed hold of Fliss' other hand and tugged the two of them toward the house. "Do you know sign language? Maria talks with her hands. You will have to learn sign language."
Lucas looked between the two, feeling the tug of homesickness at his heart again, missing his own little brother. "No, I'm afraid I don't. Someone will have to teach me."
Or maybe not, Fliss thought to herself, but she wouldn't express that thought in front of Alexei. Not yet, anyway. "I can teach you," she promised Lucas, pulling him along as she was tugged toward the house by an over-excited seven-year-old. "It's not hard to learn."
Lucas nodded, a little overwhelmed by all the attention after spending so much time by himself. It felt good to be part of a family again though, even if he was an outsider. "Where are you from?" Alexei asked full of questions, as if somehow he already knew the teenager wasn't a native of Rhy'Din. "I'm from Russia ..." he started, frowning thoughtfully for just a moment. "But I don't remember much of it."
That much seemed obvious enough to Lucas, who could tell Alexei was originally from Russia, not only from his name but from the obviously Russian accent. "I'm from San Diego," Lucas replied. "Do you know where that is?"
Alexei nodded enthusiastically. "California," he replied with a grin, adding a "leaf" in the middle of the word. "Papa says I'm good at geography," he added with a proud smile.
"You're good at eavesdropping, too, especially when you're not supposed to be doing it," Fliss reminded her brother, giving him a nudge in through the door with a low chuckle, only to be greeted by the familiar sight of Bella bouncing around like a loony toon, as she always did before dinner. "Oh gods ... hang on a second," she told Lucas, releasing his hand to go and corral the dog as Liv called for Alexei to come and sit down.
A very small hand inserted itself into Lucas' palm instead, little Maria smiling up at him encouragingly.
"Mama! Fliss is taunting me again!" Alexei announced as he was playfully nudged through the doorway. He was very proud of his expanding vocabulary and all the new things he was learning at home and at school.
"Alex, you weren't by any chance badgering Lucas with questions again, were you?" Johnny asked as he moved about the kitchen, helping Liv get everything ready for dinner.
"No, Papa!" Alexei lied just a little. "I only asked two questions! That is not badgering."
Lucas glanced down as Fliss' hand was replaced by a much smaller one. He couldn't help but mirror the smiling face looking up at him. "Hello," he greeted her gently. "Maria, isn't it? I'm Lucas."
"And eavesdropping and spying," Fliss added from where she was setting Bella's own dinner down on the floor, flashing a grin in Alexei's direction.
Liv rolled her eyes, laughing as she and Johnny laid out the plates - the chairs at the table had been tactfully replaced with stools, for Lucas' comfort.
Maria's little smile broke into a grin as Lucas' spoke to her, her free hand rising to offer him another wave as she nodded her agreement that, yes, Maria was her name. She twisted to touch the wing closest to her with gentle, if slightly sticky, fingers, and blew him a kiss.
"Because I am going to be like Uncle Steve someday and work for S.H.I.E.L.D. and rescue people who are in trouble!" Alexei retorted proudly. It was no secret among the small family that Alexei kept waffling between wanting to be a fireman like his father or a secret agent like his uncle. It was also no secret that, instead of bedtime stories, Johnny had been reading Alex comic books before bed and filling his head with superhero stories.
Lucas arched a brow as the little girl touched his wings. It was something he rarely allowed, but this was a special day, and for the second time that day, he allowed it. "Would you like to see them later?" he asked, instantly charmed by the silent little girl.
Nodding hopefully, Maria raised her free hand to her mouth, her fingers flat, and brought it forward and down in one of the first signs she had ever learned.
Liv smiled, offering up a translation as she spooned out those dreaded carrots. "That means thank you. Why don't you show Lucas where to sit, little woman?"
Maria giggled her silent giggle, latching onto Lucas' hand with both her own to pull him toward the table.
Across the kitchen, Fliss let out a squawk as something splashed, shaking out her hand as she laughed. "Some fireman you'll be," she teased her brother. "Maybe you should be a spy instead!"
"I will and I will have an eyepatch, just like Uncle Nick!" Alexei retorted again, closing one eye and glaring across the room at his big sister, just like Nick Fury might do. It seemed the children had seen a different side of the S.H.I.E.L.D. director. It was clear Alexei was picking up his father's sense of humor.
Johnny chuckled again and fondly ruffled Alex's hair. "Be careful what you wish for, Alex!" he warned fondly.
Lucas settled himself into the chair he was directed to, signing "Thank you" back at the little girl with a warm smile.
"Table, people!" Liv called, setting the last dish down. "No running!"
With Lucas settled onto his seat, Maria scrambled up onto the seat beside him, having apparently chosen to sit next to him whether he wanted her to or not.
"Hey, cheeky!" Fliss objected laughingly, hugging her little sister from behind as she passed by to sit at the head of the table next to Lucas instead. Her smile turned to her boyfriend reassuringly. "All good?"
Alexei scrambled into a chair between his mother and father, unable to choose between them, and across from Lucas and Maria. "We want food!" Alexei chirped, taking up a fork and banging it on the table before Johnny reached over to still his young son's hand.
"What comes first, Alex?" he asked the small boy.
"Prayers, Papa," the boy dutifully replied with a small frown. He was excited, and who could blame him? Fliss had brought home a new friend for them to meet, and he was an angel, or so Alexei still believed.
"Whose turn is it tonight?" Johnny asked, looking to Liv for an answer.
Easing herself down into the last remaining seat, Liv took a moment to suppress her laugh before she answered. Their house was certainly a lively sort of place these days, and like Alexei, she was genuinely pleased that Fliss had brought a friend home for the first time. "I do believe it is Alexei's turn to lead prayers," she answered Johnny with a faint smile, biting her lip as the smallness of Maria on her other side abruptly clapped her hands together, ready to go.
Alexei beamed a smile. He'd been worried his mother might be angry at him for the mention of Nick Fury, but he was relieved to find he was still in her good graces. Of course, asking Alexei to say prayers could go one of two ways - he might become very somber and serious or he might turn silly. Tonight it seemed he was in a silly mood and instead of bowing his head and pressing his small hands together in somber prayer, he beamed that bright smile of his and took up his fork. "Rubadubdub, thanks for the grub!"
Johnny sputtered a laugh. It was only too obvious where Alexei had learned that from.
"Alex!" Fliss burst out laughing at her little brother's declaration of "prayers" before food, glancing at Lucas as she spluttered through her giggles.
Liv snorted, rolling her eyes as she grinned. "Remind me to teach you something a little more appropriate for when we have company," she told her son, picking up her knife and fork.
"That's Papa's favorite!" Alexei declared, a little indignantly.
"He has a point," Johnny spoke up. "It is a good one," he pointed out. He wasn't particularly religious, as a rule, but he and Liv were still trying to instill some sense of spirituality into their children's lives. He wasn't sure what the truth was, but he was pretty sure there was someone or something out there that was watching over them.
Surprisingly, it was Lucas who spoke up in support of Alexei's choice. "We used to say this one back home sometimes ..." He bent his head, as if he was praying very seriously. "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who eats the fastest eats the most. Thank you for the food. Amen."
There was silence for a moment as the Storms absorbed this, broken by the sweet little huffing sound that was Maria giggling to herself next to Lucas. Liv gave in, shrugging as she chuckled. "All right," she conceded. "Dig in before it goes cold." Of course, this required her to spend a couple of minutes cutting Maria's up before she started on her own.
"We used to say that one, too!" Johnny remarked with a grin, hoping the teenager was starting to feel a little more comfortable with their family. Somehow, they managed to get through dinner, between mouthfuls of food and laughter and family banter, and somehow it was decided that Johnny and Fliss would do the dishes while Maria and Alexei showed Lucas around.
Liv, of course, was all but forced into a seat in the living room and told not to move, which she allowed ... for now. It wouldn't be long before she got up to run Alexei's bath and called Maria to bed, but she let them run wild with Fliss' new friend for a little bit. In the kitchen, Fliss set the pile of plates and dishes next to the sink, looking at them with distaste. "Who's washing, who's drying?"
"Do you really have to ask that question?" Johnny asked, preferring to dry. Though they were teaching him to swim, he still had a bit of an aversion to water, unless he was taking a shower.
"Wimp," she laughed, poking at his stomach as she nudged him out of the way to fill the sink with hot water, adding soap before she started putting the plates and dishes into the bubbly mixture.
"You know what happens when I wash dishes!" he pointed out, a little defensively. What happened was there was steam and a lot of it, but he was sort of a human dish-washing machine and they sure didn't have to worry about germs when Johnny was around. "So ..." he started, hip-bumping his daughter with a grin as he snagged a towel. "You've been holding out on me."
She blushed, but was determined to keep at least a little bit of her dignity in this conversation. "No, I haven't," she defended herself, plunging her hands into the steaming water with a cloth to wash the plates clean one by one. "I just ... didn't tell you that I had a friend. That's all. It's not like you asked."
"No," Johnny disagreed gently. "I knew you had a friend, but I didn't know that friend could fly. Were you afraid I was going to forbid you from seeing him?" Johnny asked curiously. Even as close as he and Fliss were, he realized there were some things you just couldn't tell your dad.
She was quiet for a long moment, concentrating fiercely on the washing up. But she did answer, however reluctantly the words came out. "Maybe," she admitted in a low voice. "He's a long way from home and from family, and ... He's really angry, Dad. He hates his wings, and I kinda know how that feels, sort of. And I didn't want to risk losing his friendship because, well, he's the only friend I've got, really. The only one I care about."
Johnny's expression softened, a small frown on his face. "You really think I'd do that, Fliss? I know what it's like to be different, and I know what it's like to be alone and angry. And we trust your judgment. If you like him, that's good enough for me." He leaned close and hugged her against him, dropping an affectionate kiss against her hair. That might have been the end of the subject, but Johnny wanted to know more. "So, tell me about him. Tell me what you like about him." He didn't have to ask how they'd met; he already knew that part.
"I-I didn't mean ..." Upset that she'd managed to upset her father already, before the conversation had even begun, Fliss fidgeted, guilt coloring her expression as she bit her lip hard. "I didn't want anyone making a fuss, about either of us, and now Mar's ..." She trailed off, keeping that thought to herself for now. She wasn't entirely sure her parents would be happy to know what was going through her head there. Leaning against Johnny, she sighed quietly. "He's clever, and he's kind, and he knows how to stop me from losing my temper with people. I don't know, Dad. He's just ... special, you know?"
But as much as Johnny appeared to be clueless, he didn't miss a trick, taking note of the unfinished comment about Maria and filing it away in the back of his head for now. "Are you sure all you want from him is friendship, Fliss?" he asked, going right to the heart of the matter and asking the one question everyone else was already wondering, but only Alexei had been bold enough to ask. "You know, when I first met your mother, I was dating her sister," he revealed, perhaps for the first time.
"Eww." There was a predictable response from the teenager next to him at this confirmation of what she had sort of known before. "Do I wanna know that?" She flashed her father a teasing sort of grin, flicking dish water at him as she returned to the dishes and neatly avoiding answering the question in the first place.
"Let me finish!" Johnny said, laughing as she flicked dish water at him, which did very little but sizzle and evaporate as it hit his shirt. "The point is as soon as I met your mother, I knew." He lowered his voice so that the woman in question didn't overhear them talking about her. "I just knew she was the one. She was kind and caring and drop dead gorgeous, and most importantly, she understood me like no one else ever had."
"Dad, Mom and Aunt Lucy are identical," Fliss pointed out superfluously. "So how come Mom's drop dead gorgeous, and Aunt Lucy isn't?" It was a pertinent question, but one she hadn't considered before. After all, she thought Liv was beautiful herself, and despite knowing that Lucy was her twin sister, didn't see them in quite the same light.
"Oh, she is, but it's not the same," Johnny replied, furrowing his brows as he tried to figure out a way to explain it. "There are slight differences if you know what to look for, besides there's more to beauty than just how someone looks. Your mom is like ... like sunshine on a summer day. Lucy is ... I don't know. Lucy is different. She's more like, like the stars at night. I don't know how to explain it. The point is, your Mom is special. Lucy is too serious or something." Johnny shrugged. "We were always fighting. I think I annoyed her."
"Lucy's too much like you," Fliss said with a grin. "You're like little kids when you get going." And she had seen Lucy and Johnny bickering and playing, though she had yet to see her aunt threaten him with a fire extinguisher. "Mom suits you better," she said with a faint smile. "You make her smile, and she makes you breathe."
"You think so?" he asked, never having seen it that way. he thought he and Lucy were too different, rather than alike, but maybe she was right. "Anyway, the point is I felt the same way about your mom as you feel about Lucas," he explained. "I'm not suggesting you get married, but just how much do you like this boy?"
"Dad, he only asked me to be his girlfriend today," she told him, squirming a little. It was weird, having this conversation with her father. "It's not like we've even held hands yet." Which was true - not held hands for the sake of holding hands, anyway. Moral support didn't count.
Johnny laughed and held up his hands, a towel hanging off one of them. "Okay, okay! I won't be nosy. I just want you to be happy, Fliss, and if this boy makes you happy, then you have my blessing."
"Well, good," she nodded. "Because, you know, now is not the time for me to be learning how to sneak out the window without getting caught, what with the whole baby thing." She stuck her tongue out at him, laughing as she set yet more dishes into the rack to dry.
He was tempted to use his heat to dry the dishes without having to do the work, but he'd tried that once only to shatter a few glasses, and Liv had forbade him from trying it again. He picked up a plate and wiped it dry before setting it on the counter to start a pile of clean dishes. "What about the flying? Did you like it? Were you scared? Do you feel safe with him up there?"
"Now that is kinda cool," she admitted, laughing. "It's not like he's taken me flying before today, but he kinda didn't have much choice except to fly, and then ..." She blushed suddenly, realizing what she had almost admitted to her father.
"He didn't have much choice?" Johnny echoed, brows arching curiously, his smile turning serious and a little concerned. "What happened?"
Fliss sighed, rolling her eyes. "It was those boys from the New Temple college again," she grumbled. "Throwing stones and being nasty just for the sake of it. I ... I lost my temper, and I-I ..." She glanced down at the reddened knuckles on her right hand guiltily, not sure she was brave enough to own up to the flame. "Anyway, they would have fought us if Lucas hadn't taken off."
Johnny followed her gaze downward, but since her hands were submerged in soapy water, he didn't quite make the connection. "Did anyone get hurt?" he asked, suddenly concerned, knowing what could have happened if she'd lost her temper, though if she'd lost control, he'd probably have been one of the first to know about it, considering he worked at the fire station. "I see," Johnny replied, thinking that over. If he got hold of those kids, he might give them something to think about, but he didn't tell Liv that. Maybe Alexei was right after all - maybe Lucas was an angel, Fliss' guardian angel.
"I-I ..." Fliss groped for a tactful way to confess what she'd done. "I ... may ... have removed some eyebrows when I broke a nose." She didn't dare look at Johnny as she said this, rushing to add, "But they threw stones, and I have a bruise on my shoulder, and that cut on Luc's cheek happened today, too."
Johnny's eyes widened, and he had to smother a grin. He would have liked to have given her a high five and praised her, but he knew Liv wouldn't approve. Violence only begat violence, or so it was said. Johnny knew that wasn't quite true. There were some things that were worth fighting for, and Alexei and Maria were proof of that. "Sweetheart," he started, choosing his words wisely. "I don't want to condone fighting, but you have a right to defend yourself. On the other hand, I don't want you to get hurt. It sounds like Lucas didn't want you to either."
"I, um ... I wasn't really defending myself," Fliss cringed, still not daring to actually look at him. "I mean, okay, they threw a stone that hit me first, but they were saying mean things, and they called you a freak, and they started being really mean to Luc, and ... and I just snapped."
Johnny frowned. There had been times when he'd thought himself a freak, too, but he'd made the choice a long time ago to use his unique abilities to help those around him and to make the world a better place. Freak or not, at some point, he'd had to make a choice, and so did Fliss and maybe even Lucas. "Someone wise once told me that people are always going to be afraid of things they don't understand. Even here in Rhy'Din, we're different, Fliss. People aren't always gonna understand those differences. There will be people who hate you for what you are. People who will ridicule you. What's important is who you are inside. There's nothing wrong with getting angry, and there's nothing wrong with throwing a punch at a bully every now and then to teach him a lesson, but you can't let that anger get the best of you. You can't let it get out of control because that's how you become just like them."
"I wasn't angry because of anything they said about me," she said quietly, turning to lean against the sink as the water drained away, the dampness on her hands evaporating before she cooled her skin once again. "He shouldn't have brought you into it. And they shouldn't have attacked Luc, even if it was only words. I don't care what they say about me. I have you and Mom, and I know I could really hurt them if I tried. I don't want to hurt anyone, but I won't let them hurt the people I care about."
"A long time ago when I was your age, I let my anger get the best of me once and ..." Johnny frowned, the guilt still haunting him, though he rarely thought about that day anymore. "I swore from that day forward that I'd only use my abilities to help people. Sometimes that means hurting bad people to help innocent people, like your brother and sister. Sometimes you just don't have a choice, but mostly, it means taking responsibilities for your actions. You're a very special girl, Fliss, and you have to choose your fights wisely. Do you think it would make Lucas feel better knowing you hurt someone because of him? I'm not saying they didn't deserve it. I'm just saying be careful. Someone once said, 'With great power comes great responsibility.' And if you lose control because you got angry, that's something you're gonna have to live with the rest of your life."
Hugging herself, there was no one who could look more guilty and repentant than Fliss in that moment. "I shouldn't have flamed," she nodded, looking down at her arms. "If I'd just punched, it would have been fine, but ... I can't use what makes me different, and definitely not to hurt people. I guess I need to work on my temper some more. I'm sorry."
Johnny tossed the towel over his shoulder and drew his daughter into his arms, hugging her close. She might be fifteen, but what she needed right then was to know that no matter what happened, she was always going to be loved and cared for. "Sounds like he deserved what he got, and you didn't lose control completely. That's a good thing, Fliss. Maybe he'll think twice before messing with you or Lucas again." Or maybe he'd want revenge. Only time would tell. "I'm proud of you, Fliss. You have nothing to be sorry for," he said, touching a kiss to her forehead and hoping she believed him. No harm, no foul. No one had been seriously hurt, and it might have taught both the bullies and those being bullied a lesson.
She cuddled into his arms, holding on tightly as he reassured her. One thing Johnny and Liv were always absolutely certain to do was make sure that each and every one of their children knew they were loved and wanted, no matter what they did. "I'm scared, Daddy," she whispered quietly, and no power in the multiverse could take those words back now they were spoken. She was going to have to be honest with him.
Those three words made his heart ache more than anything else she could have said, sensing the trust in her, and the need for reassurance and guidance. He'd been where she was once - he'd done something terrible to someone because he'd lost his temper, and there was no way to take it back once it was done. He didn't want her to learn the same way that he had. He didn't wish that kind of pain and guilt on anyone, especially not someone he loved as much as Fliss. "I know, baby," he told her, holding her close, one hand rubbing her back. "I know you're scared. I was scared, too. But I know you and I know you can do this, Fliss. I believe in you."
"Not just about this." She held on tight, her eyes squeezed shut, afraid of how he was going to react as she admitted to what had been bothering her over the last weeks. "Maria's telepathic, isn't she? She doesn't need to use her hands. She's special. And Alex might be special, too. And I wouldn't be here if you and Mom hadn't thought I was special enough to love and look after, but ... if they're special, and they're so small, and they need help ... what does that mean for me?"
Johnny furrowed his brows as he listened and absorbed what she was telling him. He and Liv had already suspected there was something different about Alexei and Maria; they just didn't know what it was yet. He knew they'd been experimented on in the Arctic before they'd been rescued, but not even Lucy knew exactly the consequences of those experiments would be yet. But that wasn't what Fliss was trying to tell him. He drew back, his hands on her shoulders to meet her gaze. "What do you mean what does that mean for you? Do you think we're going to just forget about you because Maria and Alexei need us?"
"The only reason you even know I exist is because I set fire to things," she reminded him tearfully, hating herself for feeling jealous of a five-year-old she loved deeply. "And I'm kind of in control of that now. But they'll need you, and I ... what have I got to offer if I'm not the special one?"
"Oh, Fliss ..." Johnny said with a frown, his heart aching for her and feeling just a little hurt that she might think they'd love her or care for her any less than they did for Alexei or Maria. In point of fact, as much as he loved all his children, he was always going to have a special place in his heart for the eldest - the child of his heart that he and Liv had chosen for their own, rather than had thrust on them. "Do you really think Liv and I would ever love you any less than the others?" He touched her cheek with a too-warm finger that probably felt perfectly normal to her. "We chose you, Fliss, and it wasn't just about the fire either." He sighed, wondering if he should just go ahead and tell her the whole story.
But this was exactly what Liv had warned him about, exactly what they had worked so hard to achieve with Fliss - that she didn't keep feelings like this a secret from them, but shared them. It was better for Johnny, for Liv, to have a little hurt, than for their daughter to suffer in silence, all the while believing the worst of everything, until finally something snapped. "No, I don't think that," the teen shook her head, sniffling a little, embarrassed that she'd abandoned her friend with her brother and sister and was now crying on her father. "I just ... No one wanted me when I was normal. And when I started lighting fires, that got worse. And then you and Mom took me in, and you gave me a place to be, and a family, and I love my little brother and sister, I promise. I'm just scared, Dad. I don't want to be unwanted again."
Despite the hurt it caused him, in truth, Johnny would have rather had Fliss came to him with this than suffered in silence. Perhaps it was a sign that he, too, had grown and matured beyond the reckless, headstrong rebel he'd once been when he'd first arrived here in Rhy'Din. "You are never going to be unwanted. I promise you that," he assured her vehemently, even as he gently pushed her hair back from her face and dabbed at her tears.
"If anyone knows what it's like to be unwanted, it's your mother and I. If it wasn't for my sister, I don't know what would have become of me," he said with a touch of sadness, but that was neither here nor there, and it was all part of a past that couldn't be changed. "I don't know how to reassure you, Fliss, but I promise we will never stop loving you, no matter what." He sighed again and took her hand to draw her to the table so he could explain further, almost wishing Liv were there. She was so much better with words than he was. "When Liv and I found you, we were both heartbroken. We wanted a child so badly, and we'd been trying for so long ..."
Of course, what he didn't know was that Liv was listening, standing just beyond the doorway into the living room, taking in every word as it was spoken as she cried a little for the insecurity Fliss was struggling with. But she wouldn't interfere, not unless they called for her to join them. She knew Johnny could handle this.
In the kitchen itself, Fliss wandered to the table obediently as Johnny led the way, sniffling to try and take charge of her tears as she sat down to listen to what he was trying to tell her.
Johnny wouldn't call for Liv, unless he felt he had to, but he'd likely fill her in later. There were few secrets between them, and he saw no reason to start now, though he didn't want to cause Liv any undue pain, especially now that she was pregnant. They had worried Fliss might be jealous of the baby, but hoped she would feel secure enough to know that, no matter how many children they had, she would always be the first. Johnny pulled his chair close, turning to face her and taking her hands in his, needing her to know that he meant what he said, even if they were only words.
"What I'm trying to say is, no matter how many kids we end up with, there's only ever going to be one of you. Each of you is special, for your own reasons. We have room in our hearts for all of you, Fliss. And to be honest, you're always going to be special because you're the first. Because we loved you first. No matter how many kids we have, no one will ever take your place. Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?" he asked her as gently as he could.
Fliss nodded slowly, gripping his hands as he spoke to her. "I know it's stupid, to feel this way," she assured him. "I don't believe what I tell myself, not all the time. And I'm an idiot for being jealous of Maria when all she's doing is finding a way to communicate." She shrugged. "This time last year, I was in a cell because I'd set fire to an orphanage. I guess I'm just wobbly."
"It was an accident, Fliss, and no one was hurt. You're not the same person you were then. You have me and Liv and Alex and Maria and Bella and Lucas and ... Do I really have to name all the people who love you?" he asked with a smile, his own eyes shining with tears. The list went on to include the Rogers and the Reeds and the De Lucas and at least half the Grangers. "Oh, by the way! I almost forgot. Yas wants to know if you're interested in an internship at the radio station. She loved you in Sound of Music and thought you might be interested."
Fliss stared at him for a moment, having to mentally manually change gears to catch up with the sudden change in subject. "I ... what?" She laughed a little, brushing her cheeks dry in mild confusion. "When did you talk to Yas? I didn't even know you knew her!"
Johnny shrugged, a sly smirk on his face. Obviously, Fliss had not heard him on the radio recently. "I have my ways," he told her, letting go of a hand to tweak her nose. "So, no more worrying about whether or not you are wanted or loved. You hear me? Or I might have to tickle you until you believe me. Besides, you promised to teach me to surf this summer, remember? Would I let someone do that if I didn't trust them completely?" Okay, maybe it didn't really compare, but this wasn't normal logic - it was Johnny Storm logic. His fingers gentled on her cheek, a soft smile on his face, blue eyes suspiciously wet. "Don't make me prove how much I love you by writing it all over the sky," he teased her.
She sniffed, nodding with a small smile as she rubbed her nose. "Great impression I'm making on my boyfriend, huh?" she asked with a weak snort of laughter. "Bring him home for the first time, and I'm crying all over my dad."
From the living room came the sound of Liv calling for Alexei to come and get in the bath, and for Maria to find her jammies. It was that time of the evening, already.
"You can cry all over me anytime you want, sweetheart," he assured her, glancing toward the living room as Liv called for Alexei and Maria. "Speaking of boyfriends, it looks like that's your cue."
"Sounds like it." Fliss drew in a deep breath, wiping her face dry with ruthless hands. "It isn't too obvious, is it?" she asked anxiously, not wanting Lucas to think there was anything wrong.
"Not too," he replied, with a fond smile. "Fliss?" he added, needing to tell her one more thing. "You know you can come to me or ... or your mom anytime with anything, right?" he asked, referred to Liv as her mother this time, since that's what she was. The papers had been signed, and they were legally Fliss' parents now.
"I know. I promise, I do know that." She lurched forward to hug him tightly, kissing his cheek before rising to her feet to rescue Lucas from the possibility of being invited to share her little brother's bath. She wouldn't put it past Maria to invite him to sleep in her room, either.
"Love you," he whispered as he hugged her back, thinking that Lucas was a very lucky boy to have captured his daughter's heart the way he had. If he was as important to her as he seemed, they would definitely have to get to know him better. He didn't know the boy's whole story, but it was easy enough to see the boy was lonely. He sighed as he watched her go, hoping he had said the right things. Whether he had or not, he had a feeling he and Liv would be having a long discussion later. He got off the chair to help wrangle the two younger Storms and get them into bed. He'd finish the dishes later - they weren't going anywhere.
With her parents wrangling her brother and sister into their nighttime routine, Lucas had been left at the mercy of Bella, who seemed to think he was the best thing since dinner had been invented, bouncing around him with her ball in her mouth, trying to bark through it so he would throw it for her. Fliss laughed at the sight as she wandered out of the house to join them. "She likes you."
If Lucas was suspicious of what had been going on in the kitchen, it didn't show. He smiled at Fliss' return, almost relieved that she was back. While he liked her siblings and her dog well enough, he was there because of her. "Yeah, I guess she does," he admitted, glancing back to Bella and taking the ball from her, laughing and making a face. "It's all slimy now!" he said before throwing the ball as hard as he could for the dog to either catch or fetch.
"Sorry I took so long," she apologized, laughing as Bella bounded off with loping strides, trying to outrun the ball before it landed. "Mom takes chores kind of seriously, and with her getting bigger every day, Dad's kind of paranoid about keeping her happy." She mentally crossed her fingers, hoping neither of her parents ever found out that she'd made them an excuse for having abandoned her boyfriend for so long with her younger siblings. "You survived Mar and Alex, then?"
He thought he saw signs of tears on her face, but he was careful not to mention it. What she'd been crying about he wasn't quite sure. Maybe the incident earlier in the afternoon. She wasn't crying now, though, and he didn't want to make her start, so he pretended not to notice. "Just barely!" he replied with a laugh. "Your brother asks a lot of questions and Maria asked if I wanted to stay the night." Of course, for him to have understood Maria, she would have had to go through Alex as her translator.
Fliss snickered softly, crouching to catch Bella as the dog bounded back and retrieve the ball from her. "I thought she might," she admitted a little ruefully. "She's probably gonna ask Mom and Dad, too. Alex didn't ask anything too weird, did he?" She threw the ball again - it was hard not to smile at Bella's excited attempt to catch it.
"He wanted to know if I'm your guardian angel. He seems to think you need one," Lucas replied with a thoughtful look on his face. He sank down onto the grass, careful of the wings at his back, which made a simple think like sitting and sleeping a real challenge. "He really cares about you, Fliss," he told her, though he wasn't sure why he thought she needed to hear that. "And he's very protective of Maria," he added, indicating he was pretty observant.
Fliss blinked, surprised by this insight into her brother. "I guess there's a lot more to Alexei than I give him credit for," she considered thoughtfully. "It's weird, being the big sister. A few months ago, I was an only child, and now I have a little brother and sister, and we're gonna have a baby to look after before Christmas. Lots of changes." She watched Bella nosing her ball around for a minute. "We're all pretty protective of Maria," she admitted quietly. "She came out worst, with everything that was done to them before Dad got there."
"You're lucky, Fliss," Lucas blurted before he could stop himself. She knew him well enough to know he was all alone in Rhy'Din, at least, as far as he knew. Unlike her, he wasn't an orphan, but might as well be one. He wasn't sure if he could ever go home or if he'd ever see his family again. It was his little brother he missed most though, and he had to blink a few times to stop himself from tearing up. "They'll be okay," he assured her, the outsider looking in, more observant perhaps than those who were too close to the situation. They were young, after all, and they were obviously loved. "Does she have nightmares?" he asked, curiously.
"So're you," she told him, settling onto the ground beside him. One hand wound its way into his, toying with his fingers. "You've been introduced now, you can't get rid of us." She smiled at her friend - her boyfriend - warmly. "You know, if they ask you to stay, I-I wouldn't mind." She had to get that out before she touched on Maria's nightmares. "She has them sometimes. Usually when Mar has a nightmare, everyone ends up in Mom and Dad's bed with them. Even Bella."
"Maybe I don't want to get rid of you," Lucas replied with a smile as his fingers tangled with hers. Maybe he didn't want to get rid of any of them. It felt good to be part of a family again, even if that family wasn't his. He arched a brow at her remark about staying, but before he could say comment on it, she was drawing a mental picture for him that made him chuckle. "I wouldn't mind staying over, but I don't think I want to wind up in your parents' bed."
Fliss laughed, glancing up at him from their entwined fingers. "I don't think we'd all fit if you felt like joining in," she assured him. "I only go because ... well, I feel left out if I don't. I know I'm not little and I shouldn't need my mom and dad as much as they do, but sometimes I do."
"There's nothing wrong with that, Fliss. You've been through a lot, and you're lucky to have them. They're great, by the way. Your whole family is great," he told her, laughing a little as Bella dropped the ball in his lap. "I get the hint!" he told the dog, scritching her behind the ears before picking up the ball and giving it another toss.
"They like you," she told him, smiling as he played with Bella. "I can tell." Not that it took a genius to tell when Maria took to someone, or Alexei, for that matter. Between the incessant questions from one, and the insistence on holding hands from the other, it was a wonder he hadn't been inducted into the family right then and there.
Whether Lucas was Fliss' guardian angel or not, he took something else from what Fliss had said and felt the need to comment on it, knowing how hard it was to be the eldest. "You can talk to me about stuff, you know. That's what friends are for," he told her, though it seemed they were now more than just friends.
She hesitated for a moment, but after royally upsetting her father inside, what more harm could she do to confide in Lucas? "I feel awful just admitting to it," she confessed quietly, looking down at their joined hands as she spoke, "but I resent them sometimes. You know, before they came, it was just me and Mom and Dad. Now sometimes it feels like I have to make an appointment just to hug my own parents."
"And your mom is having another," he pointed out helpfully, though he could see another side of thing that maybe Johnny could not. "Do you think you'd be happier if it was just you?" he asked, knowing she wouldn't be, but wanting to see if she'd realize that herself.
"I don't know," she admitted. "I'm jealous, I guess. But if it was just me, what would happen to Alex and Mar? And ... would I be watching my parents' hearts break because they can't conceive? I wouldn't be able to do that." She sighed softly, leaning against him, arm to arm. "No, I don't think I'd be happier without them in my life. I'm just not adjusting very well."
He turned to face her, needing her to look at him so she would understand and believe what he was about to tell her. "Alex and Maria adore you, you know. Maria looks up to you, and Alex thinks you're cool. His words, not mine!" he said, chuckling. "Their lives are better because of you, Fliss, and yours is better because of them. You just need some time to realize it. That's all."
She wasn't about to cry again, but her smile was more fond than mocking as she looked at him. "When did you get so clever?" she accused him warmly, laughing as Bella finally gave up playing and simply thumped down beside him, her head in his lap. "You've got a brother, haven't you? Tell me about him."
Lucas smiled back at her, glad he could help, even if it would still take time for her to sort it all out in her head and her heart. He was more than a little surprised to find Bella's head in his lap, the fingers of his free hand finding their way into her fur. "Yeah," he replied with a frown. "His name is Matt." That was all he said for a long moment.
"You know ..." Fliss shifted a little bit closer, tilting her head as she watched him carefully. "I talk a lot about myself and my problems. I don't think I've heard you say much about yourself all year. It goes both ways, you know? I wouldn't share it with anyone."
Lucas shrugged, his turn to look away, afraid she'd see the pain and loneliness in his eyes. She had just confessed to her father that she never wanted to feel unwanted, and that was exactly how Lucas felt sometimes. "There's not much to tell," he said. It was a lie, of course, but it was still a little too painful to talk about.
"All right." It was just as well he was looking away; he couldn't see the hurt in her eyes as he refused to talk to her the way she talked to him. Squeezing his hand, Fliss drew in a breath, looking around at the darkening evening. "You want a drink or something?"
He sighed, knowing he hadn't handled that very well and knowing he'd disappointed her, at the very least. "I'm sorry, Fliss. It's just ... it's hard to talk about, you know?" he said, hoping she understood at least a little.
"I know." To her credit, she did know, but it was hard not to be hurt by what seemed like a lack of trust. "C'mon, let's go inside. Maybe if we get to the TV first, no one'll complain about our choice of movie."
It wasn't trust that he lacked exactly. He just didn't want to open that particular can of worms when she had so many troubles of her own. Not yet, anyway. He might have opened up a little more if she hadn't been so ready to brush it aside and suggest something else. "Okay," he told her, giving in easily. It was her house, after all, and he was only a guest.
That was one thing she'd learned from Johnny and Liv. They never pushed to know what was on her mind, trusting that she would tell them when she was ready. So she wouldn't push to know what was on Lucas' mind, trusting that he would tell her, eventually. Her hand in his, she called Bella up onto her feet before giving Lucas a tug, sending the dog bounding into the house excitedly. A moment later, they heard a whoop of laughter and a thud, and Fliss winced. "Oops."
Lucas winced as he was tugged to his feet, upon hearing that thud. "I hope that was your dad," he said, knowing her mom was pregnant. He felt a little relieved to have dodged the subject regarding his family, which would have led to deeper questions, but he knew he was going to have to confess sooner or later, especially now that they were more than friends.
"It probably wasn't," Fliss admitted with a grimace of a smile. "Bells knocks Mom over once a day, at least." Moving toward the house, she drew him with her, fingers entwined, hoping they weren't going to find her mother lying on the floor or anything awful like that.
He winced again. "Maybe she should strap a pillow to her rear," he suggested, more in jest than in seriousness. "What you need to do is train Bella not to knock her over," he suggested. Though he didn't know all that much about dogs, that much seemed logical enough. The entire house was made up of hyperactive personalities, and the dog was no exception.
"I've tried," Fliss laughed, pulling him in through the door, relieved to hear Liv laughing from the living room as the older woman scolded their dog affectionately.
"You're determined to make me sleep on the floor so you can cuddle up with Johnny, aren't you, Bells? Well, tough luck, he's mine."
"I can try, if you want," he offered, though he didn't really have the first clue about training a dog. "Maybe we could try together," he suggested further, knowing it was just a matter of positive enforcement.
"That'd be fun," Fliss agreed with a smile. "Means you'd have to be here quite a lot, though. Think you can handle that?" She grinned teasingly, pausing in the hallway outside the door to the living room as she turned to look up at him. "You'll always be welcome, you know."
"I think so, so long as you don't get sick of me," he said, pausing in the hallway, tempted once again to kiss her when she turned to look up at him, though the last thing he wanted was to get caught by her parents. "Always is a long time, Fliss," he told her, with a small frown, though he hoped she was right. No one could predict what the future would bring, but for the first time in a over a year, he was feeling hopeful and not quite so lonely.
"Well, you're just gonna have to keep me interested then, aren't you?" she challenged him. In an older girl, it might have been a calculated flirt - in Fliss, it came perfectly naturally, and she didn't have the first clue how it came across.
He smiled, making no comment on that, lowering his voice so her parents couldn't hear him. "They beat us to the TV, you know," he said, wondering if they should join them or sneak back outside or up to her room. His fingers tightened on hers, feeling happy to be with her, despite the circumstances that had brought him there.
Before she could respond, Liv appeared in the doorway. "Oh, there you are," she smiled at the pair of them. "I got your dad to put up the camp bed in your room, Fliss. Lucas, there are pajamas up there for you, as well. Would you guys like some cocoa?" She smiled absently, wandering past toward the kitchen with a look of complete innocence on her face.
Lucas arched a startled brow. Apparently, he was sleeping over and in Fliss' room. He'd assumed if it happened, he'd be on the couch or maybe in Alexei's room, but then he might be awake answering awkward questions all night. And as far as pajamas were concerned, it was unlikely he was getting them on over his wings, but he only frowned at Fliss' mother, looking worried. "Are you sure it's no trouble? I don't want to be any trouble."
"Of course it's no trouble, you're very welcome to stay over," Liv assured him warmly. "Although I am going to insist the door stays open, just so Johnny doesn't spend half the night coming in to check on you every half hour."
Fliss groaned through her smile, rolling her eyes. "Thanks for that, Mom."
"I could sleep on the couch," Lucas volunteered amicably.
"Don't be silly. We'll just let Bella supervise," Johnny interjected as he got up from the couch. "Did I hear someone mention hot cocoa?" he asked with a grin, knowing it had been Liv. "You know, Livvie, we should really get a firepit so we can sit around the campfire and tell ghost stories and make s'mores."
"One thing at a time, love," Liv chuckled, already heating milk in a pan as she beckoned to the little group in the hall to come and join her. "Treehouse first, or Alexei might rebel."
"Oh yeah, the treehouse!" Fliss enthused suddenly, the subject of just where Lucas was going to sleep settled for now. She grinned at her boyfriend. "We're gonna build a proper treehouse, out in the garden. You should help out, it'll be fun."
"A treehouse? Really?" Lucas echoed. "My brother and I had a treehouse back home. We used to sleep there sometimes in the summer," he blurted before realizing he was talking about his family again. "I might be able to help," he added, remembering how he and his dad had worked relentlessly for months to get theirs built before summer one year when he was only about Matt's age.
"Oh, that would be awesome," Fliss enthused happily, bouncing on her heels as she leaned against the kitchen counter. "You know, having someone around who knows what they're doing." She aimed this squarely at Johnny with a cheeky smile on her face, secure in the knowledge that Liv was laughing, so it was a safe tease.
"You wound me, Fliss. I thought you have more faith in me than that," Johnny said, one hand against his heart, though there was a smirk on his face. She was probably right - what did Johnny know about building a treehouse? Maybe between him and Steve and Lucas, they could make some sense of it. "Hey, Liv, that reminds me. When are Steve and Lucy due back?" he asked, taking down four mugs from the cupboard. The dinner dishes had been dried and put away while the pair was outside with Bella, and Alex and Maria had been tucked into bed.
"They think maybe four days," Liv told him, stirring the powder into the warm milk with a whisk. "I'm pretty sure it's only going to last as long as it takes for Lucy to get tired of sleeping in a tent, though." She chuckled at the thought of her sister roughing it, even in a tent with a padded sleeping bag.
"Steve and Lucy are my aunt and uncle," Fliss provided the key information for Lucas. "They're visiting for a while with their kids, but they decided to go exploring for a bit."
"Steve Rogers," Johnny added pointedly, rather proud of the fact that Captain America was his brother-in-law.
"I'm sorry?" Lucas said, either unfamiliar with that name or the Earth he came from had no knowledge of the famous Captain. He'd missed the references during dinner, too, and the only reason he'd heard of Johnny Storm was because he was Fliss' dad.
"Oh, no!" Johnny exclaimed. "Don't tell me you've never heard of Steve Rogers!"
Lucas shrugged, a puzzled look on his face. "I'm afraid not."
"He's just the greatest superhero that ever lived!" Johnny exclaimed, rushing off to find his comic books.
"Oh dear ..." Liv laughed, shaking her head. "You're about to get an education in Captain America," she warned Lucas with a smile. "The Earth we're from has a vast number of superheroes and villains, and most of them have been immortalized in comic book form."
"Which means," Fliss added, "you're gonna have comic books coming out of your ears pretty soon." She grinned at Lucas. "They're pretty good, really."
"I know what comic books are, but I guess I never really read them much," Lucas admitted. He'd been too busy doing other things and while he liked reading, he had always preferred books over comics. He was, in fact, a bit of a bookworm, though he had yet to admit it. "We don't have superheroes or anything like that back home. Just in the movies." It had, admittedly, made Rhy'Din a bit of a shock when he'd first arrived. Was it any wonder he considered himself a freak?
"Well, if it helps, it seems to be America that has the majority of the superheroes back home," Liv told him with a low laugh. "Johnny was very disappointed when he found out that I'd never even heard of him when we first met, despite the fact that my sister knew who he was."
"Was that before or after he forgot his wienies?" Fliss asked with a cheeky smile, ducking as her mother flicked a towel at her, laughing.
Thankfully, Johnny wasn't there to hear that, too busy rummaging around in his bedroom for his comic books. "I know what a superhero is, but ..." Lucas faltered, looking a little confused, though he'd been in Rhy'Din long enough to know that just about anything was possible here. "So, there's more than one Earth then?" he asked.
"I guess so," Fliss shrugged thoughtfully. "I never really thought about that. I mean, there's Mom and Dad and Aunt Lucy and Uncle Steve, and they're from Earth, but doesn't Miranda have a daughter from the same city Lucy and Steve live in who doesn't really know about superheroes?" She turned that curious look onto Liv, who looked cornered for a moment.
"It's a distinct possibility," she answered eventually, pulling mugs from the cupboard nearest to her. "There are as many Earths as you can imagine there being, Lucas. The Nexus knows who to send where, so don't let it worry you about going through the portals."
"Oh, I-I don't think I'll be going through any portals," he said, unable to hide the look of sadness from his face, no matter how hard he tried. He didn't offer an explanation, but it wasn't hard to figure out why when he was wearing a pair of wings on his back and came from an Earth where he was an anomaly.
"Not yet, maybe," Liv smiled to him gently, pouring the cocoa into the mugs as Fliss reached out to squeeze Lucas' hand. "In time, though ... you might surprise yourself. Never shut a door, Lucas. You might never actually walk through it, but so long as it's open, the option is always there. Someday you might want to show your Earth just how normal you are. And speaking as the most "normal" person in this family, I can tell you that it wouldn't be as badly received as you might think. But it's a thought for another time."
He would have argued that and pointed out how impossible it was for him to go back home, even for a visit, but before he could say a word, Fliss' dad had returned with a stack of comic books in his arms. "This isn't all of them," Johnny said, as he set the pile of the table, "but it's a start!" Most of the comics were about Steve Rogers aka Captain America, aka Johnny's hero, but there were a few in there about the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, too. He didn't seem to realize that he'd just interrupted something, and Lucas didn't seem to mind that he had.
As Johnny thumped into the kitchen to grab Lucas' attention, Fliss smiled, letting her boyfriend take the distraction and run with it. She moved over to hug her mother, stroking one hand against the ever-growing baby bump as she kissed Liv's shoulder. "Thanks for trying," she murmured.
Liv shook her head, raising her hand to caress Fliss' blond hair as she turned her head to meet the teen's eyes. "It's a bit too soon," she murmured back. "He's welcome here whenever he would like to come, just make sure he knows it."
Fliss nodded, squeezing her mother once more before moving search of marshmallows, sidestepping the boys with the comics.
Thankfully, Johnny was occupying Lucas' attention, neither of them overhearing Fliss and Liv discussing Lucas nearby. Johnny plunked down in a chair and started shoving comic book after comic book at Lucas, explaining how the Earth he was from was full of superheroes, including himself. Lucas quietly took it all in, though he looked more than a little overwhelmed the overload of information.
After about ten minutes of this superhero lecture, however, Liv and Fliss decided to come to the rescue. "Put the comic books away, sweetheart, or you can't have your cocoa," Liv reminded Johnny. "Your rule, not mine."
Fliss, on the other hand, simply set Lucas' cocoa down on top of the comic that was current in front of him, offering him a wink and a grin.
Johnny just about shrieked as Fliss set the cup of cocoa on the comic that Lucas was currently flipping through. "Fliss, are you crazy? That's irreplaceable!" he exclaimed excitedly, waiting for someone - anyone - to move that cup of cocoa so that he could safely snatch the thing back.
"Geez, keep your hair on," Fliss laughed, lifting the mug - which she had wiped the bottom of and dried thoroughly before ever setting it down.
"Indoor voice," Liv scolded Johnny mildly as she eased herself down onto a chair with a plate of cupcakes and her own cocoa. "Children sleeping."
"Yeah, but Liv ... It's a Cap from the 1940s! Do you know how that thing cost me?" he asked, still sounding like he was in a small panic.
"It's okay, Mr. Storm," Lucas interjected. "You don't have to show them to me. I wouldn't want anything to happen to them."
"Oh!" Johnny exclaimed again, as another thought entered his head. "You could just watch the movie. I think we have it around here somewhere, don't we, Liv?" He was on his feet again, moving the comics to the counter where it was safer.
"Yes, darling, and if you wake up the children sleeping, can you guess where you'll be sleeping tonight?" Liv countered Johnny's minor panic with the sometimes annoying common sense that was the reason she ruled the roost in this house. She smiled at him, gently rescuing the comic book and slipping it back into its plastic cover before he transferred the lot onto the counter behind her.
"The movie's not a bad idea," Fliss offered, although she was pretty sure watching the movie would still come with a million and one helpful facts about Captain America from her father. "What do you think, Luc?"
But Johnny was either ignoring Liv or was just too distracted by his frantic search through their DVD collection to notice she was scolding him. "I know it's here somewhere. Alex and I were just watching it the other day!" And it was likely someone had hidden it from him as his family was sick of watching it by now, along with the Fantastic Four and Avengers movies that were part of Johnny's superhero movie collection. "You should see this guy. He's a dead ringer for Steve!" Johnny rambled on from the living room.
Lucas looked uncertainly from Fliss to Liv to Johnny and back. "I, uh ..." The poor boy was obviously feeling a little overwhelmed.
"I think this is the perfect time for you guys to slip away and hide, personally," Liv commented mildly from behind her mug. "While he's distracted."
Fliss snorted into her mug, grinning, and rose to her feet, giving Lucas' hand a quick tug. "Good advice. C'mon, you."
"But ..." Lucas protested mildly, not having finished his hot cocoa or even taken a bite of his cupcake yet. He glanced again at Johnny, and while he seemed friendly enough, Lucas didn't really want to spend the next couple of hours getting a lecture about Captain America when his head was already spinning.
"Take them with you," Liv told him with a chuckle. "You are over ten years old, I trust you with food and drink in a bedroom."
As she said this, Fliss was already grabbing a plate to steal a few of the cupcakes with. "See why my mom is so cool?" she grinned to Lucas. "C'mon, before he comes up for air."
But not apparently when mixed with a comic book! Lucas looked again from one to the other, frowning and feeling a little guilty about abandoning her father, but he supposed there would be other opportunities to catch up on superhero lore another time. "Sorry, Mrs. Storm," he told Liv, though he wasn't quite sure why he was apologizing or what for.
"Oh, don't be," Liv chuckled, shaking her head. "He's excited to get to know you, that's all. There will be plenty of time for that. But seriously, if he finds that film before you get out of here, you're going to be watching Captain America with Storm commentary for the next three hours."
Lucas winced. Three hours was a long time, and he didn't seem to have half the energy of Liv's father, despite being at least a decade younger. "Thank you, ma'am," he said, turning to follow Fliss to her room, taking his cup of hot cocoa with him.
Leaving Liv to console Johnny - which probably wouldn't take much, since he bounced from one mood to the next with startling unpredictability - Fliss drew Lucas up the stairs and toward her own bedroom. It was a fairly open space, not much in the way of girliness on open offer, and beside the bed tucked against the wall was a fully made up camp bed complete with pillows and pajama bottoms. "Well, this is me."
Lucas paused in the doorway to take a look around, noting the lack of overly girlishness about the room. Thankfully it wasn't pink, not that it would have mattered, since the room belonged to her, not him. He had no idea what the history of the house was or that the Storms were changing the energy of the home from that of sorrow to joy, nor would it have mattered. The house suited the Storms well and had become a happy place. "It's nice," he said as he looked it over, with that all-too-familiar pang of homesickness again.
"Come in, I'm not gonna bite you," she laughed, thumping down onto the edge of her bed and setting her plate and mug down on the nightstand. "I'm only up here until the baby arrives. Then I get the spare room downstairs, with the private bathroom, and Maria moves in here, so that we can make a nursery in her room."
"How many bedrooms are there?" he asked curiously, not because he was looking to make it his home, but just out of simple curiosity. He stepped into the room, leaving the door open, as her mother had stated earlier, though nothing was going to happen between them that shouldn't. He'd make sure of that. He hadn't even given her a proper kiss yet!
"Um ..." Despite the fact that this was her home, Fliss had to think about the answer to that question. "Five!" she eventually declared with a certain amount of triumph, laughing at her own silly need to actually count the number of people in her family before she could safely say how many of them had rooms to themselves. "This place used to belong to Jon Granger's sister, but she moved out to the beach last year, and it's kind of been standing empty. Mom told him about the baby, and literally an hour later, we got a little packet with the keys to this place and a little map with directions."
Lucas already knew who Jon Granger was - few on Rhy'Din didn't know that - and that Fliss' mother worked for him, but he hadn't been aware of the generosity of the man and his family. He did the math in his head, though - there were five bedrooms and three children with one more on the way, plus her parents. Each of those rooms was going to be occupied in the very near future. It was just as well. It would be far too tempting to live in the same house as his girlfriend. "I had my own room back home, too," he said, unsure why he was telling her something that probably went without saying. He wasn't sure where to sit so, for the moment, he didn't. He just stood there looking awkward with the cup of hot cocoa held in one hand.
Fliss raised her brow as she looked at him. "Would you be more comfortable if I wore everything single piece of clothing I own and stood in the corner?" she asked with comical dismay, leaning over to pat the bed. "Sit down, silly. You're my boyfriend, you have a bona-fide right to be in here."
"No," he said, laughing at himself. "I guess I'm just nervous." He moved over to the bed and took a seat beside her. Nervous and unsure what to do with his cup of cocoa, he took a sip, wondering what they should talk about now that they were alone.
"It's not like we've never been alone before," she pointed out, though, to be fair, they'd never been this alone before - being alone in a classroom was worlds away from being alone in her bedroom. There was silence for a long moment as she cast around for something to say, before finally coming out with something that definitely pinpointed who her father was. "So ... wanna make out?"
"I guess not," he replied. They had certainly been alone before, though never alone like this. Thankfully, he wasn't taking a sip of his cocoa when she blurted that question or he might have choked. As it was, his eyes got as wide as saucers. "What?" She couldn't be serious, was she?
His reaction was everything she could have wished for, sending Fliss into a howling loop of giggles that just didn't seem to want to stop. Every time she thought she was in control, she'd look at him, and splutter into laughter again, all the while apologizing. "Your face!"
His expression changed, brows furrowing, looking slightly annoyed with her for teasing and poking fun at him. "I should make you pay for that," he warned, leaning over to set his cup of cocoa on the table beside her. And what better way than to tickle her, though that risked waking her siblings. Still, she deserved it. He pushed her over onto her side, fingers wriggling against her sides.
"No ... nooo!" Still cackling with laughter, Fliss pressed her face into the coverlet as she let rip with real belly-laughing guffaws, wriggling to try and squirm away as she was tickled to within an inch of her life. Gods alone knew what Liv and Johnny thought was going on up there, but with any luck, Liv would be able to keep the over-protective daddy from rushing to his daughter's rescue.
"Say you're sorry!" he demanded as he tickled her further. There wasn't much point to it if he couldn't get an apology out of her. Fortunately, Liv was keeping Johnny busy downstairs and reminding him what they were like when they were teenagers. As for Alexei and Maria, so far they remained quiet, but if the tickling continued, that might not be the case.
"B-but ... it was ... you ...!" Laughing harder as Lucas demanded his apology, Fliss curled up tightly, still batting at his hands as she snorted with laughter. A flicker of flame brushed her hair, a sign that she was very close to losing control, but thankfully she did notice it, grabbing his hands to hold them away as she gasped for breath. Blinking up at him with those amber eyes of hers, she grinned. "Sorry."
But he noticed the flicker of flame and immediately stopped tickling her, letting her grab hold of his hands for fear she might lose control. "Sorry," he echoed, frowning a little as he remembered how different they were from "normal" people, whatever normal was. "I got carried away."
Breathless, she twisted onto her back, still smiling. "It's fine," she assured him. "No harm, no foul." A huge leap forward from the girl she had been just a year before, when even the smallest spark had been enough to send her into a spiraling panic. "So that's a no to the making out, then?"
"I-I don't think it's a good idea with your parents downstairs and your siblings in the other bedrooms," he said, though he had a feeling she was just teasing him again. He sat back up and looked over at the door, wondering if her parents really would care if he closed it just a little.
She sighed softly, rising up onto her elbows as she looked at him. "You need to relax a little bit, okay?" she told him fondly. "Seriously, no one's gonna suddenly throw you out. I get that no one actually asked if you'd like to stay over, but you can say no. I bet Mom'd drive you back, no questions asked."
"No, I want to stay," he replied, worried now that he'd made her angry or disappointed her in some way. "I'm sorry, Fliss," he said with a sigh. "It's just ... I've never been alone with a girl before. I know it's silly. We've known each other for nearly a year, but now that we're ... that we're dating, I'm not sure what to do. I guess I should just try to be myself and not worry so much about it, but ..." He frowned further, wondering if he should just tell her everything, tell her how he felt about her, about how lonely he felt, how homesick, how lost. "I really like you, Fliss. I like you a lot, and ... I don't want to screw this up."
"Luc, the only way you're gonna screw this up is if you never speak to me again," she pointed out, still smiling. "Nothing's really changed, has it? We just opened a door to letting something else happen as well as being friends. One question doesn't mean we suddenly have to be attached at the genitals for the rest of our lives."
That remark got a smirk out of him, whether she'd meant to or not. "You make that sound like it's a bad thing," he teased. He might be shy, but he wasn't a child, and he certainly knew what went where and why, even if he'd never experienced it himself yet. "So, what do we do now? Play checkers and eat cupcakes and have a pillow fight?"
"Cocoa and cupcakes sounds good," she grinned, glad to see him smile and tease her back. "We can watch something, if you'd like. Or you could try and work out the code to get into my super sekrit diary." She snickered, pushing herself to sit up before claiming her mug from the stand.
"Would there be anything about me in there?" he asked curiously, a genuine smile lighting his face, making him look almost angelic. "Are you sure you don't want to watch a movie with your dad?" he teased, nudging her knee with his.
"You know, there probably are a few pages about you in there," she admitted with a charming blush of rose over her cheeks, hidden quickly behind a sip from her mug. His question about watching a movie with her father made her snicker softly. "Not tonight. Trust me, anytime a superhero movie gets on the T.V., you're guaranteed he's gonna talk all the way through it."
"Is there one about him?" Lucas asked curiously. If there wasn't, he thought there should be. Back home, there were no superheroes, no magic, no anything that couldn't be explained by hard science. There had been a portal, however - a door to the world of Rhy'Din where everything you could possibly imagine was real. Where it wasn't so strange to see a boy with wings on his back or a girl who could control fire. "I wonder if we lived in your dad's world, would be we superheroes, too?"
"There are a couple about him," Fliss nodded with an almost proud smile. "Him and his sister, and her husband, and their friend. Together, they make up a team that was called the Fantastic Four." She chuckled, having seen those movies and heard all about what Johnny had been like just a few years ago. Lucas' question made her pause thoughtfully, though. "I never thought about that. Yeah, I guess we would be."
"Then we'd have to have superhero names, right? Like your dad. They call him Torch or something, don't they? And Captain America." He crossed his legs as he turned to face her. "What do you think our names would be?" he asked, with an impish gleam in his green eyes.
"The Human Torch, yeah," she nodded, grinning once again. "Oh, I'd be something like Sparky. Because, you know, female superheroes get silly names. My aunt Sue was the Invisible Girl for years before she finally convinced everyone to call her a woman. What would yours be?"
"Sparky," he chuckled. "I like that." He thought about it a minute, trying to come up with a name that didn't sound too silly or cliched. The obvious one was Angel, but he didn't really feel like an angel, and the name implied he could perform miracles, which as far as he knew, he could not. He had no talent for healing or teleporting or vanishing into thin air. If anything, he was more like a bird, though what kind of bird was the question. "I don't know. I don't really like Birdboy, do you?"
She snorted with laughter. "No, not Birdboy." Tilting her head to one side, she considered the possibilities, taking the opportunity to enjoy the view he presented without embarrassing him too much. She'd fancied him since almost the moment they'd met, after all. "Something like, I don't know ... The Eagle. Or the Albatross."
"Hmm, maybe," he mused, not really too fond of either of those. Not that it mattered, but he thought a superhero name should sound cool, not silly. "I guess I'll have to give it some thought," he said. Smirking, he added, "Maybe you should get a shirt with an S on the front."
She laughed, rolling her eyes. "I'm not Supergirl!" she protested, knowing he knew about Superman at least, or he would never have understood her comment about Krypton earlier. "If I was gonna have a logo, it'd be a spark, like this." She snapped her fingers, producing a large spark of flame that died almost as soon as it appeared. "Hey, if we were a duo, we could be the Flaming Feathers!"
"It's just a thought!" He leaned away from the spark she produced on her fingers, more out of instinct than anything else. "Flame and feathers don't really go well together, Fliss!" he pointed out with a chuckle, though he trusted her implicitly. He'd known her long enough now to know she would never intentionally hurt him, even though his gut instinct was to avoid her flame as much as he could.
Watching him lean away, her smile softened as she dropped her hand. "I'd never hurt you, you know," she reminded him quietly. "If I ever did, I wouldn't mean to. Merri says that the magic gets easier to handle when the whole puberty thing is over, like the teenage hormones make it all crazy and out of control."
"I know. I trust you, Fliss," he said, reaching to take her hand as if to reassure her that he wasn't afraid of her, even if he was wary of her flame. "I don't have any magic," he pointed out. At least, as far as he knew, he didn't. He'd just been cursed or gifted with a pair of wings on his back.
"You don't need magic." She met his gaze with a fondness in her expression as her fingers tangled with his. "I think you're pretty awesome as you are, even if you can't see it. I don't see the wings, not any more. I just see you."
"I don't see the fire anymore either," he told her, but then he chuckled as that was a bit of a lie, since it was hard not to notice sometimes. "At least, I don't think about it too much." He looked down at their linked fingers for a moment. "I think you're pretty awesome, too, Fliss," he told her a bit shyly.
She bit her lip, his shyness rubbing off on her as they talked quietly. "That's nice to know," she admitted in a low voice, glancing toward the door as though she expected her father to be standing there s******ing at her nerves. "Luc, um ... would you ... that is, I ... may I kiss you?"
Lucas lifted his gaze to meet hers, looking a little surprised at her question. He'd been ready to ask her the same thing in the garden earlier before her siblings had interrupted. He blushed a little, mostly because he thought he should have been the one asking that question, but she had beaten him to it. "Only if I can kiss you," he replied, though there wasn't much logic in that reply.
The amber glow in her eyes was back, but it wasn't a threat of flames to come. Shifting closer, she bit her lip again, fighting down a very inappropriate giggle. "I, um ... I've never kissed anyone before," she confessed, feeling butterflies bouncing around her stomach nervously.
"Me either," he replied, heart beating fast and hard. "Except my mom," he added, with a nervous laugh, thought that kiss hardly counted. He wondered if he should close his eyes or keep them open. What was the proper etiquette of kissing? Should he pause a moment to have a breath mint? He didn't even have a breath mint! How many times had he seen people kiss in the movies and on T.V. and even in real life? Why was he so nervous?
If Luc was nervous, then Fliss was doubly so. She knew she should really have waited for him to ask her for a kiss, but she had a feeling they were both as shy as each other. If they kept waiting for each other, they might never get past holding hands at all. Swallowing, she leaned closer, feeling her face light up in a blush as she felt his breath on her lips. "Moms don't count."
His insides were fluttering nervously and his palms were starting to sweat, but he leaned a little bit closer, terrified he'd do it wrong. What if she didn't like it? What if there were no sparks? What if he kissed her and it felt like she was kissing her brother? Should he pucker up? Should he wet his lips? Should he keep the kiss chaste, only touching his lips to hers or should he be more bold? Was there a right or wrong way? So many questions and so few answers. "Neither do dads and little brothers," he told her. In the end, he decided to close his eyes as he leaned in, just touching his lips very gently to hers at first with soft, tender pressure.
He didn't need to worry about there being no sparks - with Fliss, there were always sparks, literal and otherwise. How else would they have managed to have maintained their friendship throughout the school year? As his lips touched hers, she found her confidence again, reassured that he did want to kiss her after all, easing closer to press just a little deeper into that kiss. Nothing that crossed the line of innocent chastity, but definitely not the kind of kiss you gave your mom.
The kind of kiss you gave your mom was just a brief touch often to a cheek, rather than to lips. Though that first kiss was innocent, it was full of warmth and desire and longing, not only of physical desire, but that of the heart and the soul. Lucas found himself lifting a hand to touch her cheek as his lips explored hers, warm and gentle.
After a long moment, Lucas pulled very slowly and gently, and almost reluctantly, away, opening his eyes to the girl in front of him, wondering just how she had managed to set his heart on fire with one simple kiss. He touched his forehead to hers, his fingers trailing down her cheek. What was he supposed to say after something like that? Words didn't seem to suffice.
Words weren't necessary. It was just one kiss, but it set them both alight in ways they couldn't have predicted. First love was always the sweetest, the most memorable, even if it couldn't truly be called love. For Fliss, it felt like a beginning; not a new beginning, for she didn't need everything to start afresh. But the beginning of the path that would take her to adulthood. A path that she might not simply walk along ... with Lucas to guide her, there was every possibility that she would fly.
[size=9]((You know, this started out as another "little scene" to introduce Lucas ... and got epic! Lots of fun, though. Huge thanks to my partner in crime!))[/size]