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Generated: Apr 15, 2019 10:06 AM
Post last updated: Apr 15, 2019 11:35 AM
reflect what you wish to receive
'Chelledad scoops a Percy
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There are many people that a gang could set upon on a night, and even get away the victors. But even with the advantage of numbers, attacking the four tipsy people who'd been weaving down the street has turned out to be very much the wrong decision. Because the four tipsy people are in fact military trained. That they're tipsy barely impedes their reactions. It doesn't take them long to have it over with, breathing a little rushed, faces flushed with adrenaline and grins.

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"I could almost have done with them being more of them!" Strath says, bouncing slightly as she stretches.

"Psycho," Paul accuses fondly.

"Hey, a girl's gotta get her kicks somehow. I can't keep a boyfriend, or a girlfriend for love nor money..."

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The gang members are in various configurations of "on the ground, defeated". Except for the one that showed any common sense by not joining the fight and declaring surrender even before any of his gang mates was knocked to the ground.

One of the gang members, possibly their leader, is promising all kinds of horrible torture towards the "traitor".

Said traitor is standing still, watching the victors attentively, his face hard to read. His lack of reaction is only causing the possibly-leader to get madder and louder. Too loud for someone that just lost a fight.

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Strath gets noticeably irritated. "Oh, shut up," she says, her foot planting on the back of his head and forcing it further to the ground. "You're beaten, deal with it. No need to be a sore loser."

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"Strath," Aaren sounds far more amused than chiding. "Hey, kid, do I know you from somewhere?" he directs to the one still standing.

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The gang's leader says something that sounds awfully close to "dyke".

"You saw me earlier, I think four and a half hours ago. Me and Jeffrey," he points at one of the fallen, "were waiting in an alley and you spotted us and was immediately suspicious of two guys in an alley. By your disapproval I'd guess you subconsciously notice the smell of Jeffrey's cigarettes."

He sounds very confident of his assessments of Aaren's emotions. Less so of his inferences.

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Aaren smiles, gives a little laugh. "I shouldn't judge for smoking, I was like a chimney back in the day."

(That gains three snorts, even as Strath shifts her foot and straight up kicks the apparent leader in the face.)

"But I do anyway. You got somewhere to stay?"

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Percy smiles back at Aaren.

Then he tenses and appears to dodge an attack from behind before his wound be attacker even moves. Said attacker manages to lift himself up enough to see that Percy changed places and then falls to the ground defeated. Percy's hands go up again.

That reaction would've be hard to pull off even if it was choreographed somehow. The street is too noisy, there was no obvious visual tell even if Percy was looking that way.

"They know where I live and DeLarge would definitely torture me. He has been waiting for an excuse to torture someone for a while."

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He doesn't immediately react to the strange reaction times - he's seen more peculiar things, and he's started to get the impression this kid is anything but mundane. "Strath?"

Strath looks up at him. "We'll get the cops to deal with this, Sarge," she assures.

"Thanks," he says gratefully. "Alright, kid, you're with me. C'mon." He jerks his head, and half turns to leave, waiting half a beat to see if he's being followed.

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The kid follows without a pause. He doesn't look surprised or afraid there will be consequences.

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"I'm Aaren, you got a name I can call you by?"

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"Percy."

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"I'd say a pleasure, but under the circumstances..." Pause. "I suppose you're wondering where we're going?"

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"A shelter of some kind. Maybe your house. Because you're concerned about my safety."

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"Kinda comes down to which you'd prefer. Can get you a room in a hotel for the night, or I have a spare bedroom. -more of a couch tonight. Spare room is currently a box room. The bed might be a bit covered..."

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"I don't want to be alone," Percy says showing the first sign of apprehension. "I don't mind sleeping on the couch."

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"My house then," Aaren decides. "You might regret that when you realise 'not alone' includes a teenage girl - my daughter 'Chelle - and her best friend Lan on top of that."

He nods to the last. "Clearing the bed probably won't take too long, but if you just want to collapse and sleep, we can make up the sofa."

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"I don't mind other people. You don't need to worry about me being comfortable. The sofa is fine."

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Aaren blinks slightly, and gives him a sharp look. "We'll see," he says eventually. Pauses. "You mind telling me how old you are?"

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"Fifteen."

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"-I'm gonna take a wild guess that there's no family out there looking for you?"

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"No." Aaren is going to feel sad and Percy doesn't want to feel sad for himself and quietly shoves that emotion aside.

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-Yeah, there is some, but it's tempered with anger that Percy ended up in a gang.

He shakes it off as they reach a residential area and Aaren leads Percy up to his house opening the door and gesturing him in. "Welcome to our humble abode, it's not much, but it is home."

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Anger and indignation are better, useful even. He doesn't let them show in his face.

"It's a nice place," he reassures before walking in.

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"I appreciate the sentiment," Aaren says with a grin, opens his mouth to-

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Only to be interrupted by a male voice from the top of the stairs. "You are using Bonetti's Defence against me, ah?"[1]


[1] From here, till the end of Lan and 'Chelle's current interaction, all dialogue is from the Princess Bride

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A girl with a shock of bright pink hair appears at the top of the stairs, stepping down backwards, a foam rapier in hand. "I thought it fitting considering the rocky terrain."

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The teen who the other voice apparently belongs to appears above her, also wielding a foam rapier. "Naturally, you must suspect me to attack with Capa Ferro?"

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"Naturally, but I find that Thibault cancels out Capa Ferro. Don’t you?"

The girl is navigating the stairs expertly for the fact she's going backwards and involved in an apparent fencing match.

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"Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa…" the boy pauses, pulling his rapier back slightly, "which I have!"

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Percy is looking in that direction before the voices are heard. He grins and appears to be basking on their sight like a flower in the sun.

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"Princess Bride guys, really?" Aaren says, and how fond he is is possibly almost overwhelming.

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"You say that like it's a bad thing," the girl says looking over her shoulder. She grins when she spots Percy. "Hey, I'm 'Chelle. How do you feel about Mel Brooks films? Me and Lan here were having a binge before we decided to fence!"

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"I'm Lan," the boy provides. "Although 'Chelle already said that."

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"I have not watched any but you two are obviously enjoying yourselves."

The way he looks at them is almost familiar. Fondness is so good. He hadn't any for a while.

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"M'gonna go make- something. Everyone hungry?"

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"Not gonna say no, Dad," Lan says. "Young Frankenstein?"

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Percy mentally debates his options and recent nutrient intake. He figures he doesn't need to closely observe Aaren's cooking to balance out vitamins, fibers and fat, but... "Do you want help? I would enjoy helping you cook and I would like to contribute."He turns to Lan and smiles. "Not that I wouldn't like to watch Young Frankenstein, I expect it to be fun."

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"We'll cue it up for when Dad's finished cooking," 'Chelle says. "S'one of his favourites."

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"Y'can if you want, but I'm okay without."

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Decisions. Deep down all he "wants" is to stay. He doesn't know these people well enough to figure that out, but he is sure they are going to keep him for a few days. So he makes his shoulder shrug. "Likewise."

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"-Y'know what, you can help chop things, that way I don't slice my own fingers off and cause a need for an impromptu trip to hospital."

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Percy beams. "Of course."

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Kitchen! Aaren gives Percy some vegetables to cut, and a few instruction on how they should be cut.

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Percy pays attention and follows the instructions. When he makes a mistake that Aaren catches (never something too terrible), he pauses for a moment and follows the instructions more precisely. He does that without Aaren need to speak.

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Aaren notices, but doesn't actually mention anything. And in short order: stir fry!

He hands two bowls to Percy. "Let's go join Lan and 'Chelle. There's plenty more if you're still hungry afterwards, help yourself."

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Percy beams and obeys

(If Percy noticed the noticing, he doesn't visibly react to it.)

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'Chelle has Lan pinned on the sofa and is trying to get the remote off him.

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"We interrupting?" Apparently this is a fairly common occurrence.

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"Nah, now you're here we can begin. 'Chelle, food."

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"Ooh," 'Chelle abandons pinning Lan. "Food, gimme."

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Percy chuckles at the sight and offers the most appetizing food bowl to 'Chelle.

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She grins at him, "Thank you, kind sir."

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Aaren chuckles and gives Lan the other bowl he's carrying as he passes and settles into the chair on the far side of the room, leaving the one near the door for Percy.

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He takes the cue and seats himself, positioning so he can look at everyone else in the room. He starts eating mechanically, but pays attention to everyone's taking bites of their bowls like they are eating a vastly different and superior meal.

(Unless someone catches him and feels uncomfortable, then he will stop.)

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'Chelle flashes him another grin as Lan hits play, and kicks her legs over Lan's lap as she eats.

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Lan winks at him, and pokes 'Chelle's leg before eating himself.

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Percy grins at her. He will divide his attention and also watch the movie, of course.

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'Chelle finishes first. "Should we get the spare bed cleared?" she asks, tilting her head back to look at her Dad.

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"I don't mind sleeping on the couch or clearing the bed myself. I don't mind house chores."

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"This might just be the start of a beautiful friendship," 'Chelle teases lightly. "But really, you're a guest. It's the least I can do on your first night. C'mon, Lan."

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"Why am I being volunteered for this right after dinner?" Lan complains, but his tone is amused.

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Oh, good. Gratitude is always so hard, but he can do amused. "I don't think she is giving you a choice."

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"Yeah, our 'Chelle's real stubborn like that," Lan says, letting 'Chelle tug him to his feet. "Guess I'll be back after being used as a pack mule..."

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"Well, hopefully I will be able to pick up the slack from now on."

And then he takes a moment to look at them like their sight is nourishing.

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He gets two bright, if ever so slightly perplexed, smiles, and another wink from Lan before the two are gone, bickering and shoving their way up the stairs.

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"Well. If you really don't mind, rules about guests be damned, you can come help me tidy the kitchen."

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"I really don't."

He follows Aaren back to the kitchen.

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Aaren points out where the dishwasher is, and sets about washing the dishes.

There's a dish towel hung from the front of the oven if Percy wants to dry the dishes once the dishwasher is stacked.

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Percy is very diligent about the task.

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Aaren appreciates his diligence!

"Thank you," he says when they're done. "I suspect from the lack of banging, that those two are done. You want to sleep now, or stay up for a bit? There's more television, books, a variety of other entertainment methods..."

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"Not books, maybe something to do together." Percy looks up at the aproximate direction where the banging should becoming from. "But I can sleep if there isn't anything like that."

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"We've got playing cards, and a variety of board games. I'm pretty sure those two would be up for either."

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Percy nods in agreement. "Either of those is fine."

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"Do you know any card games?"

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Nod. "I know how to play poker and can learn anything easily enough."

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"Keep an eye on 'Chelle. She cheats when she's dealing."

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Chuckle. "I will try not to let her get away with."

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"Please do, she gets so smug when she gets away with it."

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There's the sound of the other two coming back down the stairs.

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"Bed's clear," 'Chelle says, sticking her head into the kitchen, "and Lan's donated some pyjamas to the cause."

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"Thank you. Thank you all, this is all very generous and I can only hope to repay you in kind."

Generosity, not close, but a fairly good gratitude substitute. He should've thought about it sooner.

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"No need," Lan says warmly. "We're glad to help."

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"We're going to play poker," Aaren says, producing a pack of cards from one of the drawers. "You two in?"

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"Ask a stupid question, Dad," 'Chelle says, pulling one of the chairs at the table out and sitting down.

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Percy sits and pays attention to card dealing. He will experimentally interrupt a cheating attempt once and pay attention to the table's emotional reactions.

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'Chelle laughs, and reaches over to poke his side playfully. "Stoppit," she doesn't sound too serious. "Girl's gotta give herself some advantages."

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"'Chelle, you keep telling me I have the worst poker face you've ever seen, why do you need to cheat?" Lan is clearly amused.

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Aaren is smiling fondly at them all, and there's a feeling of paternal warmth. (With a brief spike of something else, regret? But that's only for a moment.)

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"Well, with me around she might need to cheat. My poker face is excellent."

He flashes Aaren a reassuring smile, it sounds like the appropriate response.

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Aaren smiles back. "That she will."

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"I'll find your tell eventually," 'Chelle says certainly.

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Percy smiles at her then drops into a perfectly neutral expression. He keeps it for half-a-minute, but his emoting produces no obvious tells.

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She narrows her eyes slightly. "We'll see," she says, her tone bordering on ominous, but in a somehow playful manner.

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Percy continues being a very attentive player.

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It's a warm atmosphere, plenty of laughter and good-natured bickering.

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Eventually though, Lan gets interrupted midsentence by a jaw splitting yawn.

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Apparently sleep is stronger than Percy's attempts at interesting plays. He yawns too.

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"Tapping out already?"

('Chelle is, under her cheer, obviously tired as well.)

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"I think it's time everyone was in bed. And yes, that includes you as well, Sparky. I don't care if you don't feel tired, lying down helps you and you know it."

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"I am just very vulnerable to yawns," Percy says not yawning at mention of yawns like some people do. "But sleep is good, yes."

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"D'you want to take a shower before bed?" Aaren asks.

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Nod. "If isn't too much trouble."

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"Not at all, Lan-?"

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"Pyjamas, on it," Lan says, already halfway out the door.

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"Bathroom's just out here," 'Chelle says, walking backwards out the door and pointing to the door to her right.

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"Thank you." Smile.

Percy gets in, tests the water, figures a temperature that's cold, but not too cold to get sick and proceeds to wash off quickly and thoroughly.

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There's spare towels on the towel rail, and Lan calls through the door that there's pyjamas hung on the door knob outside when he's ready.

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Percy thanks Lan through the door. If there is someone on the other side he will wrap a towel around his waist, but not bother about it otherwise.

Soon, he emerges clean and enpyjamas'ed.

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Aaren appears on the stairs. "Sorted? C'mon, all the bedrooms are up here."

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"Sorted. Thank you so much for everything."

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"It's really no trouble," Aaren says as he leads the way up the stairs, and around the landing to the spare room - there's only three doors noticeable off the landing.

The spare room at the end of the hall is small, in a cosy way. There's a bed tucked against the wall behind the door, a bookshelf diagonal to that, with a chair next to it.

"Here we go, all yours."

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Percy takes his surroundings. He decides not to repeat itself with another thanks. "It looks cozy," he says not knowing what else to say. 

He sits on the bed. "You are very generous person, Aaren." Smile.

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Aaren smiles back. "I-" he pauses, half-gestures back to the door behind him, "we've got enough to share, so why shouldn't we when someone needs it? Sleep well, Percy."

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Smile. He tucks himself in. "Goodnight, Aaren."

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And he's left in peace to sleep!

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Percy lets his face relax and soon does the same with his body. Not at easy. More like releasing puppet strings from your grasp.

He forgets his body and lets go from his senses one by one. Letting himself drag deeper into the final sense. He watches as the people in the house through it.

Slowly he drifts off into sleep.

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The house is warm, and quiet, Lan and Aaren well asleep.

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'Chelle is awake for a while, but she too eventually sleeps, only to wake up in the small hours of the morning, to equal parts resignation and frustration.

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Percy doesn't need to sleep that much and 'Chelle being awake is distracting. He gets up and looks around the corridor. Is Chelle's door open?

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No, but a few seconds after he first looks around the corridor, her door inches open and she slides out-

And lets out a squeak and a jump when she spots him, clapping a hand over her mouth to try and catch the sound.

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Percy gets very still. "I noticed someone was up," he whispers.

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"I'm sorry," 'Chelle whispers back. "Didn't mean to wake you. Just going to make myself something to drink, want something?"

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"Sure, as long I can help."

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"Not that much to help with, but sure."

'Chelle pads down the stairs, clearly an expert at moving around the house silently.

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Percy follows her just as quietly.

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When they get to the kitchen, she fills the kettle, and directs Percy to where there's mugs.

"Tea? Coffee? Hot chocolate?"

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"Whatever you're having. Does this happen often to you?"

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"Yeah," 'Chelle admits, pulling the hot chocolate out. "Had bad insomnia...most of my life? Have hard time getting to sleep, randomly wake up. Great fun... Can you grab me the milk from the fridge?"

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"Ugh. That sucks," Percy says grabbing the milk.

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"Yeah, it does," 'Chelle agrees, pouring water into the mugs and stirring. "Used to it now. Only accidentally fallen asleep in class once this year, and that was because the teacher was insisting on recapping something I've been able to do since I was ten..."

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"Hopefully it didn't land you in too much trouble."

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'Chelle offers him one mug. "The teacher was mad, but the school admins love me."

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"And Aaren says that at least they have good taste?" Percy inquires.

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"Yup," 'Chelle grins brightly. Stares down into her own mug, eyes the table. "Fancy going for a walk?" she asks, lifting her mug to blow on the contents.

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"Sounds fantastic and it's a good night to stretch one's legs." He takes a sip.

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It's instant hot chocolate, but it's warm, and good. (And 'Chelle's enjoying it, although there's a sense that she'd prefer her Dad's homemade stuff.)

"It is," she agrees, leading the way out into the hall, slipping her feet into her boots, and pulling the door open.

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Percy wordlessly inquires if he can take one of the coats. He puts his own shoes.

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Of course he can! Here, this one looks like it shouldn't fit too badly, ignore the designer label, Lan doesn't care. And in fact, yes, 'Chelle should also put a jacket on, thank you for reminding her.

And then: out into the quiet street!

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Out into the quiet street! Percy puts his free hand inside the jacket and sips again. He keeps his eyes alert, like someone used to more dangerous streets.

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'Chelle's quiet, seeing no need to fill the silence as she sips at her own mug, both hands wrapped around it.

The way she leads them comes to a play park, and 'Chelle heads for the swings - this feels like a well worn ritual.

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"Do you want me to push you?" Percy asks, trying to inject humor into his voice.

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That gets a warm laugh and a surge of fondness. "Thanks, but not while I'm finishing my hot chocolate," she pushes the chain of the swing next to her. "Have a seat."

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Oh, good. He smiles fondly at her while taking his seat.

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She hums quietly, using one foot to rock herself on the swing while she sips at her hot chocolate. "I didn't wake you up did I?" she asks after a few moments, not looking at him.

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"Not really? Hard to sleep in a new place," around new people.

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"Yeah, I hear that..." All of it, apparently, even what he's left unsaid. "Think you're gonna hang around for a while?"

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Percy looks at her to gauge her reaction. "I would like to. I am pretty sure your dad would want to too."

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She certainly doesn't seem to be against the idea. "Might be nice to have someone who's actually hard to beat at poker around."

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Smile. "I promise not to go easy on you." He weighs his options. "It will be interesting, but not easy."

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"The best things in life are rarely easy," 'Chelle points out. "But working for them makes them all the more rewarding."

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Percy nods. A bit like that's not quite something he understands.

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'Chelle smiles. "You're welcome as long as you want to be here. That's not going to change."

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"What would that mean... on the long run?"

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"Dad feeds you, probably figures out what to do with regards to your education, we spend an afternoon redecorating the guest room so it's less impersonal. It's funny movies on a Saturday night, and poker games, sneaking out to the swings with me in the small hours of the morning. It's knowing that even if you leave, we're just a phonecall away if you need us." She shrugs. "Alternatively: it's whatever you want it to be."

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"That sounds great. Much better than what I am used to."

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"Then I'm doubly glad you're here now." There's genuine warmth and truth there, and a flash of righteous fury at whoever Percy had been around before.

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He ignores the fury, and smiles. "Thank you. ...things weren't bad to me ...so far."

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"Well now they get better."

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'Chelle smiles, leans down to set her empty mug on the ground and starts swinging herself, humming absently.

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Percy finishes his own mug and offers to push her.

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"Hey, why not? Lan won't."

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Giggle. He starts pushing her.

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She smiles, and laughs.

Eventually though, dawn starts to actually break. 'Chelle sighs. "We should possibly head back."

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"Yeah." He collects the mugs. "I can see why you would do this though. It's peaceful."

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"Yeah," 'Chelle agrees. "It is. Thanks for coming with me."

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"Anytime you want."

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"Dad might complain if it turns out he has more than one insomniac to deal with," 'Chelle teases lightly as she leads the way back to the house.

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Shrug. "I won't actually become an insomniac even if I accompany you every time you take a walk at night."

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"Good to know. Maybe let Dad know that when he starts giving me a hard time?" She doesn't seem too concerned about the idea.

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Smirk. "Of course."

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There's an older woman on the doorstep of the house 'Chelle's house is attached to. She tuts and shakes her head.

"What time is this to be gallivanting around with men, young lady?"

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'Chelle rolls her eyes at Percy and mouths an apology. "Mrs Ashby, I continue to be unrepentantly ace," she says cheerfully. "And Dad knew exactly where I was!"

She's opening their front door as she speaks and pushes it open ushering Percy hurriedly inside.

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Percy does not dignify the neighbor with a response. He just shrugs at 'Chelle and walks inside very quietly.

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Aaren sticks his head out of the kitchen. "You two okay?"

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"Couldn't sleep," she admits. "And just had a run in with Mrs Ashby."

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"I couldn't sleep either, not used to," he waves around. "Is Mrs. Ashby usually up this early?"

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"I've yet to figure out when Mrs Ashby sleeps," Aaren says thoughtfully. "I'm just getting started on breakfast. Someone should probably go and wake Sleeping Beauty up."

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After a barely perceptible pause, Percy decides Aaren to have his breakfast-making fun by himself. "I will do it," he says, dash upstairs.

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"I'll get on coffee then," 'Chelle says cheerfully.

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The door to 'Chelle's room is ajar, showing Lan sprawled out on the bed, cuddling a pillow.

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Aw, he looks so comfy. Percy feels bad waking him up. But he does so gently. "Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty."

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Lan mumbles indistinctly, briefly burrows deeper into the pillow, and then blinks sleepily at Percy.

"Mm," he mumbles, "now that's a nice view to wake up to."

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"Thanks. I would say the same if I woke up next to you."

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"Might need to experiment with that some time."

Pause. "Did I actually just say that?"

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"You did. Sounds like a good idea. But we should get down for breakfast first." Wink.

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Lan laughs. "Don't say things you don't mean," he warns playfully as he slides out of bed. "Although breakfast is definitely a required thing before any experimentation. Dad started on it?"

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"Who says I didn't mean it? And he was getting started when I came to wake you up."

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"Ooh. Any idea what he's making--wait. You're up early. Don't tell me I have another early bird to deal with?"

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Shrug. "I am not used to sleeping here so I was awake when 'Chelle was. I don't need to sleep much."

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"That something at least," Lan stretches as he heads for the door, and the stairs. "Dad still has 'wake at stupid o'clock' stuck from when he was in the military, and 'Chelle is just really bad at sleeping..."

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"Do you usually get enough sleep? Is there anything I can do to help?"

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Lan laughs. "I am restraining myself from making the obvious comment. Appreciate my restraint. I tend to sleep just fine."

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Percy laughs along. "Don't worry. I sure appreciate you."

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Lan looks over his shoulder and gives a saucy wink. "You're gonna make me blush."

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"Wait, you can still blush?" 'Chelle leans out of the kitchen, looking thoroughly disbelieving.

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Giggle. "Should I avoid make him blush?"

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"No, no, by all means, carry on. Just. Let me know when you're going to be trying so I can get pictures!"

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"Cross my heart."

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"No promises to die though. We have a strict no dying policy in this house."

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"I promise I will try my best to uphold that policy. You can summon from beyond the grave if I fail."

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That seems to strike Lan as absurdly funny for some reason, in a morbid kind of way.

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"You guys wanna stop loitering in the hall and come eat, huh?"

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That catches Percy off guard and he laughs loudly while walking in the kitchen.

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Aaren gives him a warm, but bemused smile. "How hungry are you? I know these two tend to eat like bottomless pits sometimes, but I figure I should try not to overwhelm you..."

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"But your cooking is so good, why wouldn't we want to eat all if it we can?"

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Percy ponders. "I am mostly concerned about wasting food. But if you want to cook lots for me, you should go ahead."

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"Trust me, nothing Dad makes goes to waste! I am always happy to eat far too much!"

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Nod nod.

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Aaren hands 'Chelle two well filled plates, and picks up another two.

"Anyone got any plans for today?" he asks as he nods for Lan and Percy to take seats.

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"I hadn't got much further than eating breakfast," Lan says cheerfully, digging in to his meal.

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"Alain text me, figures we should go find out if Teo's still alive, he hasn't been responding to our texts." She doesn't seem overly concerned.

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"My plans would be up to you to decide?" Percy asks tentatively.

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-oh. That's three well concealed spikes of concern.

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"We're not going to dictate your life," Aaren says after a moment.

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"I mean, you're totally welcome to join me and Lan and Alain irritating Teo."

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"-wait, when did I get added to those plans? I like Teo. I don't want him to be irritated by me!" (This is reaction is obviously more for hilarity of anything else.)

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"Or you can stay here and watch TV or something, or...do whatever else you want to do."

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Bad choice of words.

"I mean, there might be things to do about my stay that should get out of the way first. And I have no plans. I would love to meet and irritate Theo."

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That reassures them all some. "The details of your stay are 'the room is yours as long as you want it', and the only other question is your education, but that can wait for now."

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'Chelle gives Percy a 'told you so' look. "Cool. I'll let Alain know? Unless you have some objection, Dad?"

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"No objections here."

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"Sounds good." Percy starts eating. He does basking at them thing again.

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'Chelle grins, and turns her attention to her own breakfast.

All three of them seem to enjoy it.

Once they're finished, 'Chelle excuses herself to let Alain know they're going to Teo's, and also to shower.

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"Need a hand with the dishes, or can I go do that as well, Dad?" Lan includes Percy in that question as well.

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"I could help, you could go shower?" He offers Lan.

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"That seems like a good division of labour. I think me and Percy have the dishes sorted between us."

He gets up and starts the tap filling the sink.

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"Brill," Lan gives them a thumbs up and disappears out of the kitchen.

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And Percy will diligently help with the dishes.

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"We can talk about your education now if you want," Aaren says without looking over at Percy. "But it's entirely up to you."

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"Sure. Is there anything you'd like to know?"

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"Mostly whether you're in school somewhere, if not, would you like to go back, and if so, where are you gradeswise?"

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"Huh, I should definitely change high schools. My grades are passible? I don't really do anything outside of class, but I can pay attention in class now that the teachers figured out I should be separated from bad influences. My attendance is spotty."

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"We can get you transferred to the one 'Chelle's at if you'd like? And arrange for external tutoring if you think it'd be helpful?"

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Nod. "...What are her classmates like?"

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"You'd be better off asking her, but they seem to be relatively good sorts. Teo and Alain are in her year, and you'll meet them later."

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Percy thinks for a moment. "Do you know if they are focused in class?"

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"Hard to say. I know Alain's pushing himself hard, and 'Chelle is very bored in some of her classes, and goodness only knows about everyone else. Perhaps I'm optimistic, but I like to think they are."

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"Bored is distracting, but as long it's not bored enough that they can't do well..."

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"Ask her to show you what she does in her electronics class when she's bored sometime. She finds other things to focus on that don't distract her too much from what the teachers are on about."

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Slow nod. "That helps some."

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Aaren nods as though that made sense. "We'll figure it out and get you transferred if that's what you want."

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Chuckle. He does a split second of basking. "Yes, it is. Thank you."

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"-Are you inflicting education talk on him on a weekend, Dad?" 'Chelle asks as she returns, still rubbing at her hair with a towel. "That's just cruel."

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Percy makes a show of shrugging. "We might as well as get it out of the way."

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"Your choice, I guess," 'Chelle shrugs cheerfully. "Alain's picking us up in an hour."

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Percy looks down. "What I should wear to irritate Theo?"

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"Hm. Honestly, anything. We don't stand on the ceremony."

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"Fair enough."

Is he done with the dishes?

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Done enough that Aaren's shooing him away to get ready.

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Which he does so very efficiently.

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'Chelle and Lan are in the kitchen when he's done, watching Aaren...

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Yes, Aaren appears to be packing up precooked boxes of food.

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Percy is entirely unsurprised about the food packing. Does Aaren need any help?

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No, he's pretty much finished, but thank you for the offer.

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"You know you don't need to feed my friends, right?" 'Chelle asks, half exasperated, but mostly fond.

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"Well. Yes. I know. But we have leftovers, and it saves time."

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"Well," Percy stage whispers to 'Chelle and Lan, "what's the definition of 'need' you meant?"

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"Mostly that Dad feeds everyone," 'Chelle whispers back. "He fed the postman once."

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"Well, the poor man does need the energy to deliver mail."

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"See!" Aaren said. "Besides. It was snowing. He looked like he needed something warm."

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Lan laughs. "Never change, Dad."

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The doorbell goes at that point. 'Chelle gets to her feet, tugging Lan with her. "That'll be Alain."

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"Thank you, Aaren," Percy manages to say bringing the food. He says in a way that is very reminiscent to what Lan just spoke.

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"You're very welcome, Percy."

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'Chelle is hopping into her boots, her other hand opening the door. At which point she over balances, and falls out of the door-

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Straight into the arms of this guy. "You know you don't have to throw yourself at me, Chromatic? You just have to ask."

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"Alain, darling, you're gay and I'm ace, it would never work. This is Percy by the way." She waves to Percy.

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"Hello. I followed Aaren home."

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"That does seem to be a risk in this family. I'm Alain. I am very jealous that you're getting Aaren's cooking all the time."

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'Chelle laughs and pushes Alain back so they can get out the door. "Like I don't bring you goody bags."

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"Getting food from Aaren sounds like the easiest thing in the world unless your own family has some objection to it."

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"Okay. You're not actually wrong. C'mon. Time's a-wasting."

He gestures to the somewhat beaten up car parked at the end of the drive.

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"Shotgun!" 'Chelle declares immediately.

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"Not fair!" Lan complains following her down the drive towards the car.

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Percy will chuckle, but take a backseat without much ado. "Put your seat-belts on."

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Lan flops in next to him, pulling his seat-belt on. "We need to take you and Teo on a car journey. Teo is allergic to seat-belts."

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"Everyone belted in?" Alain asks as he turns the car on with one hand, pulling his seat-belt over him with the other.

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Percy makes an agreeable noise. "Where are we going exactly?"

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'Chelle turns enough to look at him and explains where they're going. It's on a council estate rather than the suburb 'Chelle and her Dad live in.

"I probably don't need to say this, but if things aren't quite right with the house, don't mention it, we're here to irritate Teo, not insult him."

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"I am usually good at that sort thing. Don't worry."

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"Teo can be touchy sometimes, but don't worry, we've all fucked up, he forgives us."

And not too long later: they're here!

Pulling up outside another semi-detached house, this one smaller than Aaren and 'Chelle's, and looking a lot more tired.

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'Chelle's out of the car almost before it stops, and skipping up the path to knock on the door, Lan right on her heels.

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Alain's a bit slower, shutting off the car, and obviously trying to ignore the spike of anxiety and worry that's going through him as he gets out of the car.

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Percy pats Alain on the back absently. Which isn't to say that he is being absent-minded while doing it, that's just the quality of the pat when observed.

"Don't worry," he whispers and quickens the pace so he matches 'Chelle and Lan.

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Alain follows him up the path.

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The door's opening just as they reach it.

"Uh- Hi, guys, what're you-"

Beat, and he's covering nervousness with false bravado and an easy smirk.

"'Chelle, just where do you keep finding all these cute guys?"

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"Dad found this one. Percy, Teo, Teo, Percy. You gonna let us in?"

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Percy takes a long look at Lan and 'Chelle.

"It's a pleasure to meet you fellow cute guy," Percy says... in a way that's oddly Lan-like, but hard to pin down how. Except how it's obviously flirty.

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"I'm more curious about how I manage to surround myself with guys who aren't entirely straight."

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Lan drapes his arm around her shoulders as they step into the house past Teo. "That's just good taste, besides, if we're all busy flirting with each other, we don't flirt with you."

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Teo smirks. "Welcome to my humble abode, Percy," Teo ushers Percy in to follow Lan and 'Chelle. "-is that take-out from your Dad, 'Chelle, really?"

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"Uh, yeah. We'll get it put away."

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"Thank you for having me over."

Percy gets inside and looks around.

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"You're welcome," Teo says with a nod, turning to Alain.

The inside of the house is tired as well, in need of a fresh coat of paint - in part to cover the recently patched hole in the wall - and new light bulbs in the hall light. But it's clean.

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Behind him, taking advantage of his apparent distraction, Alain's taken Teo's hand. "You okay, Anima?" he asks quietly.

Both of them seem to relax a bit at the contact.

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"Come on, let's go drag Lan and 'Chelle out back. Nero's still sleeping."

Teo lets go of Alain's hand and steps past Percy, gesturing for both of them to follow.

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"Who is Nero?" Percy asks Lan.

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"Teo's younger brother," Lan supplies, following Alain and Teo out the back door. "Cute kid."

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"Awww," Percy reacts like he is seeing the kid right now.

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The back yard is entirely paved, but there's some beaten up lawn furniture that Alain and Teo have dropped into.

"So, where you been? You know better than to not answer my texts." His tone manages to be teasing, to mostly conceal the continued concern.

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"Yeeeeah," Teo draws out. "Funny thing. Dad took off, and it turns out I dropped my phone in the car." (He seems to be saying something there that he isn't actually saying.)

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'Chelle pushes Lan and Percy towards seats. "You're making the place look untidy."

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Percy sits and observes.

Trouble in the family? that much is obvious and those are not the right set of emotions for "can't access my phone". There is some plan involved. Maybe.

Paradoxically, Percy is curious about what happened, but in a way where he doesn't find the thing on itself interesting like other people would.

"You want some help?"

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Teo gives a startled laugh. "Thanks, mate, but there's not much you can do. Unless you've got some miracle universal cure tucked up your sleeve."

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Minute headshake.

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"Yeah, didn't think so."

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Alain squeezes his hand gently. "Hey."

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"Mum's back in hospital," Teo explains. "We spent the night there. Dad took off once he dropped us back here."

He seems more resigned to this than anything else. "Okay, do me a favour and distract me. Percy, where did Aaren find you?"

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He makes himself grin. "In the street. Minutes before he and his friends wrecked my friends' pride."

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"...Tell me no-one called Strath a dyke? Everyone seems to think they'll gain an edge if they do, and yet..."

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"It did not give anyone an edge once again. But he was already on the floor anyway." Shrug.

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"I still don't get how people miss the fact that that lot are military trained."

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"I mean, if you're not paying attention it isn't obvious, especially not when they're tipsy."

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"It became obvious very soon, but they had the situation under control very soon."

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'Chelle laughs and launches into a story about some of the more ludicrous stories she's heard from her Dad and his unit.

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It's warm and friendly, and there's a fair amount of laughter.

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About an hour after they arrive a younger boy comes out, blinking sleepily.

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Percy tugs Teo's shirt to call his attention. Not before the boy shows up, but with an uncanny reaction time.

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"Nero," Teo says, getting to his feet. "You're- I thought you were asleep?"

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"Woke up," Nero says like that's the most obvious thing in the world, and it is. He waves vaguely at the others, notices Percy. "-I don't know you?"

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"Yeah, I only met 'Chelle and Lan yesterday. Percy, a pleasure to meet you."

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"Nero," Nero leans into his brother's side. "Your Dad adopting people again, 'Chelle?"

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'Chelle's smile is slightly forced. "Eh, you know what he's like. This one has better manners than Lan."

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"Hey! My manners are impeccable!"

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"Yes, he is. It's surprising the numbers are this low, actually," he tells Nero, to Lan he says. "Well, in that case I will be proud in my better than impeccable manners."

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"I mean, Aunt Ange does in fact take in some of the strays Dad finds. And she takes in more than he does without his help!"

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Alain laughs. "What I'm hearing is 'Aaren doesn't actually run into situations where adopting people is the solution often enough'."

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"Who is Aunt Ange?"

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"My Dad's best friend, helped him out when I was a baby."

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"Aunt Ange runs a...kind of commune, for runaways and strays who don't have anywhere else to go."

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"Ah, that explains how I didn't find a much fuller house."

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"Yeah. We should take you to her's sometime, she's got this massive country estate, it's pretty damn awesome."

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"It still amuses me that you and your Dad somehow ended up hobnobbing with the landed gentry."

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"I would like to point out that I'm not landed gentry."

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"Purely because your parents are the landed gentry."

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Percy pats Lan on the back. "If it helps, I would never have guessed that you are of such high pedigree."

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"-did I just get insulted?" (He doesn't seem in the least bit offended by the possibility.)

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"I like you, Percy."

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"I like you too!" Percy says grinning.

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"-I should probably offer you guys something to eat. And seeing as Aaren's so graciously filled the fridge..."

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"Or I could order us all Chinese? The Chinese near here is really good."

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"Now I am curious what sort of Chinese place is good enough to be an alternative Aaren's food."

Also, he kinda wants Aaren's food to stretch longer, because he cares.

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That does in fact seem to be Lan's intentions as well. "You got a menu somewhere, Teo?"

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"I wouldn't know where it-"

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"I know where it is!" Alain says, and bounds off to fetch it.

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Percy flashes Lan a smile.

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"You know you don't have to do this, Lan?"

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"What good is me having access to an obscene amount of money if I don't occasionally use it to indulge myself. Also 'Chelle was saying last night she fancied Chinese."

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She hadn't been, but she plays along. "I love my Dad's cooking, but Chinese is not a form of cooking he has mastered."

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Percy takes a moment to bask at them, just a tiny moment. Then he decides not to pressure Teo too much. "Not yet, I am sure."

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Alain returns at that moment and offers Percy the menu. "Most of us have our standards. And well, you're the most-guest of the lot of us, so your choice first."

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"Typically we just buy a load of meals and then share everything."

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"Actually, I think I would prefer that approach. I can't remember the last time I ate Chinese," he says peering at the menu.

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"Then pick something you feel like trying, I can almost guarantee one of us will eat it if you don't like it. Between the five of us, I think the only thing we don't eat is like...oysters?"

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"And prawns. Prawns are the work of the devil."

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"Speak for yourself, prawns are delicious."

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"I can eat nearly anything..." And he doesn't mind or even actually cares about things being delicious, so he picks an item that looks like it will take well to staying the fridge in case of leftovers. "This one, he points."

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Lan gets everyone else's orders, and puts in a call to the Chinese. "They say it'll be ready to pick up in about half an hour. Fancy a walk, short stuff?"

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"I'm going to be taller than you one day," Nero threatens. "But sure. Better make sure you don't get lost this time."

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"I get lost once and no-one ever lets me live it down."

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"Last time made four, Lan."

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"I never get lost and don't mind carrying things."

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"The more the merrier!" Nero agrees.

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"And in the meantime, me and Chromatic can get Anima caught up on what he missed yesterday at school."

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"...do you have to?"

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"You mean you don't want to hear the latest in the ongoing saga of Cynthia trying to get her badly manicured talons into Alain?"

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"-I take it back. Tell me everything."

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Snort. "Have fun gossip."

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"We will!" 'Chelle trills.

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"Lemme go get better clothes on!" Nero says and darts off.

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"See you shortly," Alain waves.

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Lan leads the way back towards the front door.

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Percy follows Lan, distractedly basking on him.

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"Did I pick something Teo and Nero are going to enjoy?" he asks quietly when no one is likely to interrupt them.

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Lan smiles warmly at him. "Yeah, they're not fussy, but what you picked is actually something the two of them will enjoy."

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Grin. Then impish smirk. "Is your sense of direction that bad?"

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Lan laughs sheepishly, and doesn't seem all that offended. "Depends on where I am, really. This side of town I just...can't get my head around it."

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"Fair enough. I know nearly every corner of this town. It would probably take some doing for me to get lost."

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"Well then, we're delighted to have you."

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"I'd've got him there and back," Nero says as he bounces down the stairs. "Probably. He's stubborn sometimes."

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"Well, now that I am with you his stubbornness can be easily solved by me picking him up."

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"-I might have to be stubborn just to see that happen," Lan winks at Percy, pushing the door open.

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"Oh, god, you two are gonna be as bad as Teo and Alain aren't you?"

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"Maybe we are going to be worse," Percy says in a mock-warning tone. "You might get into a competition with them."

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"We're all doomed!" Nero says, in a truly horrendous Scottish accent, skipping a little ahead of Percy and Lan.

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Lan throws an arm around Percy's shoulders. "Doomed or not, I'm not going to stop being myself! I do declare it open season on flirting!"

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Percy puts an arm around Lan's waste and gives him a playful tug to bring them even closer. "May the best challenger win."

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"I can see why Lan and 'Chelle like you!" Nero tells Percy.

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Smile. "I like them, they are lovely people."

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Lan laughs, gives Percy a companionable squeeze. "I know, we're fabulous!"

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Percy does the bask thing. He can do that while walking.

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Nero leads the way surely. He peppers Lan with a few questions - something to do with a school project on the aristocracy.

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Lan doesn't seem inclined to pull away from Percy, even while he responds to Nero's questions.

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Conveniently, Percy doesn't seem inclined to pull away from Lan. How nice.

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It's definitely a positive, yes.

Fairly soon after: takeaway! Lan takes care of paying and then squints at the box.

"Squirt, think you can carry this?"

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"Ever the optimist, Lan."

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"A boy needs to have hope, even against all evidence."

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Lan drops a bag of prawn cracks on Nero. "There, this way you can feel like you're helping."

He picks the box up with a theatrical groan (it's not actually taking him that much effort). "Alright troops, quick march back to the others!"

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Percy starts exaggeratedly goose stepping with his box held up high over his head.

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Nero bursts out laughing, and imitates Percy.

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"-Jeez, what am I going to do with you two?"

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"Admire our sense of dignity and style."

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Lan gives them a skeptical look. "Bemoan it more likely," he teases.

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"Yes, bemoan that you don't have a sense of dignity like ours."

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"No, my sense of dignity actually exists."

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Nero sticks his tongue out at Lan. "Meanie."

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Giggle. "Too bad that your existing sense of dignity is stuck with us."

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"However will I cope," Lan teases. "You'll have to make it up to me."

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"I wonder how?"

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"I'm sure you can think of something," Lan grins.

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"Gosh, you just gave me a lot to think about."

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"You two are as bad as Al and Teo," Nero complains, not sounding all that serious.

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Giggle. "I am going to take that as a reason to become competitive. I warn you."

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"And knowing Alain and Teo, they'll become competitive in turn!"

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"What a vicious cycle we started."

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Lan nods seriously. "Quite the monster we have unleashed."

And: they're back at Teo and Nero's house.

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Nero lets them in.

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'Chelle sticks her head out of a door. "We got all the plates and stuff in here. And found a dreadful shark disaster movie to watch."

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"Oh, so it's a modern classic movie session. Nice."

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"Watch out for when Chromatic and Anima start rooting for the sharks. Pillow wars will begin."

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"Don't worry. I will be ready."

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"Glad to hear it, we'll try to wait until everyone's done eating. Pull up a seat and help yourself!"

Teo himself is sprawled in front of the chair Alain is sat on.

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Percy eats and chatters animatedly.

(Though he is focusing on eating everyone's less favored things.)

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Around him the others are doing the same - they do seem to be fairly unfussy about what they eat, but each does seem to have favourites.

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He's apparently not being as subtle as he might like, because 'Chelle shoots him a knowing look - and a grateful smile.

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He smiles back. Nom.

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'Chelle and Teo don't start rooting for the sharks until after everyone's eating, thankfully, but they both apparently get frustrated by the characters lack of genre-savviness.

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Nero throws a pillow at his brother's head.

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Percy is very focused on the movie. Which means he has nothing to do with that pillow that appears to have been thrown from the ceiling.

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He gets a pillow to the head from 'Chelle anyway.

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The pillow is quickly weaponized towards... Lan.

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Lan squawks, but launches the pillow at Alain with a laugh.

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"Betrayal!" Alain declares. "Amoroso, you're supposed to be on my side!"

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'Chelle laughs and dives behind Percy as Nero throws a cushion at her.

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Percy takes the hit and retaliates. Twice.

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After that it's all a bit of a free for all, with the movie long since forgotten.

Eventually though, they'll tire themselves out. At least enough to stop with the pillow fight. (Nero and Teo seem lighter, somehow, in the wake of it.)

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Percy soaks in into the atmosphere. This is good.

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'Chelle drops down next to him and nudges their shoulders together companionably. "Okay, I'm pretty sure that the people probably won," she says, watching the end credits role. "Despite their spectacular lack of genre-savviness, so. What're we watching next?"

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Percy looks at the options. There is a fantasy movie that might be the good kind of bad, but those often feature problematic parental situation... a gory horror movie.. a bit too similar to the other movie. "The silly parody of spy movies?"

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"Ooh, yeah!" Nero agrees, and commandeers the remote before anyone can object - not that anyone seems inclined to.

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'Chelle leans against Percy's side. "Good shout," she murmurs quietly.

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"Thanks," Percy says just as quiet.

Then they can watch the misadventures of four spies: The wannabe James Bond, played by an ugly actor with a good looking body-double; the female fatale spy that complains how she can't get a second date (they all die, because of her!); the spy kid played by a 25 year old pretending to be a high schooler; and the janitor that stumbled into a super-secret spy project that turned him into the perfect killing machine.

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There is much hilarity for all involved, and at some point, Alain flops over Teo's lap.

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Teo doesn't seem to mind, rather the opposite.

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Eventually though, the movie ends, and Alain is looking at his phone. "Yeesh, hate to break this up, but I have to get home."

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"It was very fun while it lasted."

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"Yeah. Thanks for coming over, guys. We appreciate it."

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"Hey, any time, you know that."

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Lan grins. "I always love an excuse for a pillow fight."

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"Like you need one."

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"No, you're right, I don't."

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'Chelle laughs, and ushers Lan and Percy out of the house, ruffling Nero's hair, and pausing to hug Teo.

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Alain hangs back a little to say goodbye to Teo in private.

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Alain wants privacy and Percy... will just pay attention to other things, like Lan and 'Chelle...

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...he basks.

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Alain's only a minute or so behind them, unlocking the car. "Let's go then," he says sliding into the driver's side.

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'Chelle slides into the passenger seat again, not even bothering to call shotgun this time.

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Percy sits next to Lan, he feels a bit snugly.

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Lan loops an arm around Percy's shoulders and snuggles up to him.

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Snuggle!

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The drive back doesn't take long, and Alain and 'Chelle fistbump. "See you later, Chromatic," he says. "See you round, Amoroso, and you, Percy. Hm. Need to figure out what I'm calling you."

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'Chelle laughs as she slides out the car. "You'll figure something out, Alain. You're the nickname guy."

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"As long as they are as fitting and dignified as Chromatic and Amoroso."

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"That's sort of the idea," Alain says with a grin. "See y'all round."

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'Chelle waves, and starts to lead the way back into the house.

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Percy follows.

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Aaren appears in the hallway. "Everything alright?"

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"Yeah," 'Chelle says, stepping in to hug her Dad, leaning against him. "Teo said thanks for the food."

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"In his own, estimable, Teolike way." Lan steps forward and gets his own hug.

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"He asked whether I knew I didn't have to feed him, right?" Aaren asks, holding an arm out to Percy in a silent offer.

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"Yes, he did." Hug.

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Hug! Warm, affectionate feelings. "I'm hoping you guys have eaten something today?"

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"Yes, but I'm totally hungry again now."

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"I feel the same."

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Aaren laughs. "I'll get started on dinner then. There's sausage rolls to snack on while you're waiting."

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-The speed at which Lan and 'Chelle vanish into the kitchen might suggest they have either superspeed, or teleportation. Really, they're just eager.

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Percy is not surprised, though he doesn't teleport either. He will go munch on sausage rolls as well.

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Aaren clearly has experience working around teenagers munching things in his kitchen while he cooks, and in fact, there's a sense that he likes doing so.

"So," he says as he starts chopping things, "Percy, you given any more thought to what you want to do? You want to stay here, or want us to figure something else out?"

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-'Chelle hesitates for a moment, and she seems conflicted, and there's a sense of loss that she tries to shove away.

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That's sure a shoved emotion.

"I would like to stay, but I don't know if you could deal with the burden of having another mouth to feast upon your delicious food."

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"See, you'd actually be helping me not have to buy yet another freezer there..."

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Percy basks at him for a moment...

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"...What are you hiding?"

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-All three of them are careful in how little they visibly react to that, but there's a brief moment, where they all seem... concerned, and wary.

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Aaren is quiet for a moment, focused on his chopping, and then he sets his knife aside and turns to lean against the counter. "I feel like you have some idea of what you think we're hiding?"

It's not evasive, and there's no intent to not answer, but Aaren wants to know exactly where he needs to start this explanation.

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"I am not planning to tell anyone," he says to Lan. "You... you noticed something different about me when the gang attacked your friends. I think it's the same sort of thing..."

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"You're not exactly wrong." Aaren points one finger away from himself and creates a visible spark from it. "We're elementals."

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"Oh," Percy pauses. "I don't know what I am."

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That strikes Aaren as...lonely?

"Welcome here," he says. "What exactly you are only matters if you want to know?"

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Percy face turns flat. "There is a complication with that question. I am something capable of sensing other people emotions' but I don't actually have any of my own... I sort of copy the others."

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"-Ah." Aaren frowns thoughtfully.

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'Chelle looks conflicted again. "I- we're not- this isn't making you want to stay is it? Like- I don't know how to ask this. I don't-"

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"You really don't have to worry... I have something like a self-preservation instinct and some desires that are not... quite emotional enough to be emotions, but they are there. And I can have preferences. I do prefer to stay here. And it feels good stay here."

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-Okay, he's trying to reassure her, that's good- (She thinks?)

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"That's good to hear," Aaren decides. "I'd like you to have a think about whether you would, logically, benefit from knowing more about yourself, about this? There isn't a right or wrong answer here. If you decide you want to, Ange has a library bigger than this house. If not, well. You're still Percy, and I think we'll like having you around. We certainly have so far."

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He thinks for a moment. "Is there a downside to knowing more? It sounds useful in case there is more to it than absorbing emotions and sensing danger." He does not pause. "I should tell you... the absorbing emotions has a moral component to it. And if I am a good company, it's mostly because you are good company."

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"I suppose we at least don't have to worry about you running off with the silverware then?"

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Aaren throws a cloth at Lan's head. "We don't have silverware anyway," he says, as though that's the end of the matter. "I can't think of a reason knowing more about what you can do is a bad thing. They say knowledge is power and all that."

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Nod. Percy basks.

"I must say there is yet another dreadful truth." This is obviously not serious.

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Aaren grins. "Oh dear, how ever will we cope? Alright, lay it on us."

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Percy sighs dramatically.

"Aaren... You're amazing cook, but I only enjoy food by proxy. I am so sorry."

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"-That's going to make birthday dinners complicated."

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"On the other hand, I think we all know me and Lan enjoy your cooking enough that Percy is going to be enjoying your food a lot, even if it is by proxy."

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Smile. "That's the spirit!"

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"Guess you're just gonna have to make all our favourites," Lan grins at Aaren.

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"Your favourites, last I checked, were anything I made."

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"Sounds like the birthday dinner is all set then."

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"That's good then," Aaren agrees, turning back to his cooking. "-Do you have preferences on paint colours? I figure we can redecorate the spare room for you?"

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Headshake. "I never had a strong aesthetic sense, but I've never knew if that was only due to a lack of a source to get from. Lan can pick it."

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Lan starts to grin.

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"Gods, no! His sense of style is like...polka dots!"

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"But imagine how happy he would be whenever someone saw my room and was promptly horrified."

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"-Okay. I can't actually argue with that."

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"Where's your laptop, 'Chelle? I feel the need to browse paint shops for inspiration."

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"You may regret this," Aaren said, amused.

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Shrug. "I will paint that bridge when I get to it."

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"Oooh, good one. You're gonna fit in here just fine."

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Grin. "I am surprised there are only three of us so far. Is Aaren restricting himself to supernatural kids?"

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"On the whole, I don't actually run into situations where kids need a place to stay. Just the three of you so far. I'd need to build an extension if we decide to pick up any more. Or convert the attic."

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"Uh... my power is actually liable to provide opportunities for that."

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"-Failing that, Ange has an entire estate. Her house has...okay, I don't actually know how many bedrooms her house has."

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"See: Dad always has a backup plan!"

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Percy takes this moment to bask at them all.

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'Chelle leans over and wraps an arm around him. "I'm going to take a wild guess that you probably feel positively about cuddlepiles?"

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Percy wraps his arms back. "Gosh, how did you guess?" Squeeze.

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"Like I said, wild guess."

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Lan bounds closer and wraps his arms around both of them. "Cuddle piles are the best."

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"To me it's all about the company," Percy says, calling Aaren in.

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Aaren laughs and joins them happily. "The company definitely makes hugpiles better."

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Hug. Bask.

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After a little, Aaren jostles them. "Alright. I need to finish cooking, and you three need to not fill up on sausage rolls."

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"Of course... dad."

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There's a moment of shocked silence, and then a delighted warmth from Aaren, and a gentle squeeze.

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'Chelle futilely tries to muffle her delighted squeak. Her own excitement and joy give her away anyway.

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Excitement and joy is delightful. Squeeze. "Something is up, sis?"

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"Always wanted a brother," she says leaning into him. "And no, Lan doesn't count."

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"Well known fact that my maths ability is dodgy," Lan says cheerfully. "Does this mean we get cake? This feels like a cake moment."

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"I don't know. Do you think we could impose that much on dad?"

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"I don't know if you've noticed," 'Chelle stage-whispers. "But he likes cooking."

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Aaren laughs. "I think I can whip something up. It does feel like a cake moment. Now shoo. Go watch TV or something while I cook."

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"Of course," Percy turns to the other two teenagers. "Anything good on TV at this time of the day?"

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Lan drapes his arms around both Percy and 'Chelle. "If not, we've got several dozen subscription channels."

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"If you won't watch Swedish crime dramas, I'm not watching French telenovelas."

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"French telenovelas?"

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"The only TV at my parents is in French, they're snobs like that. French telenovelas are a thing!"

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"When you think about it, it explains an awful lot about Lan."

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"It does. And I speak that as an empath."

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'Chelle giggles, and navigates them through both doors into the living room, pulling them all down onto the sofa and flopping over Lan and Percy's laps. "Alright, so, as much as I'm against French telenovelas, I figure Lan's going to pout if I don't at least offer to introduce you to them. And I suppose I can spend the entire time judging them."

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"I have not seen that many non-French telenovelas, but now I am curious about this exotic art form that clearly had a hand in the formation of our dearest Lan."

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"Yass!" Lan punches the air, and leans to the side to grab one of the remotes for the television.

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"Please be aware, you have activated my commentary mode. I will provide a running commentary, and it will not be particularly flattering."

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Lan meanwhile, is navigating them to the appropriate channel. "She will make shameless judgement calls on all of the characters and their actions."

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Percy snuggles up. "I wouldn't expect any less. What's the twenty word synopsis of this telenovela?"

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"This one? In a shocking twist of stereotypes, two women are literally dueling for a man's affections. He meanwhile, is seeing the gardener."

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"Is the gardener cute?"

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"Cuter than either of the girls, to be quite honest."

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"How sad for our Heroines. Specially, because 'Chelle will sure be merciless."

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"I respect a woman's right to challenge her love rival to a duel. Just like. Make sure the person you're competing over is actually available?"

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"Duels are sufficiently non-spontaneous that one would assume that. Is the love interest in the closet, at least?"

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"Trying desperately to get out of it actually! No-one believes him."

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"Oh, my god. That sounds great."

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'Chelle pokes him playfully. "Traitor! I needed you on my side! Now Lan is going to use you as an excuse to watch this!" She doesn't, in the grand scheme of things, seem all that bothered.

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"I am so sorry, I can't help it. Hard to ignore this kind of quality content once it's introduced to me."

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"I'm doomed!" 'Chelle declares.

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"Hush," Lan says, not too seriously. "It's starting."

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Percy snuggles up to watch.

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Snuggles!

And on the screen, the drama plays out.

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'Chelle, as promised, provides scathing commentary on the characters (except the gardener, who she seems to at least tactictly approve of).

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Aaren eventually meanders in, smells of cooking and baking wafting after him. He squints at the screen, before flopping into the armchair. "So, has Étienne convinced Fleur and Delphine that the love of his life is in fact Gaël? Or are they still intent on dueling each other?"

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"No and yes. Étienne managed to convince Delphine that he can only use Gaël's flowers at his wedding. Delphine failed to capture the essence of who he wants to marry with. I have no idea what's going with Fleur, but that she needs to relax."

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"My theory is she's ace but hasn't figured that out yet, and has all these dumb expectations placed on her to get married and have kids."

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"I see what you mean, but I am not sure about the married part. She could be read as ace, but no aro. She does appear enthusiastic about romance. Hard to tell when there is social pressure involved. For all I know she could be a wannabe wedding planner or something."

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"Okay, fair, I was a little leaning on the old theory of marriage where you weren't married until you consummated the relationship."

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"Yeah...  and I guess she her rival at least acknowledges the nuptials in that one rant of hers."

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"On the other hand, I'm not sure I trust these writers to handle that appropriately."

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"Hey. This is the result of fine creative minds!"

That gets him a very sarcastic look from 'Chelle.

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"In his defense. I doubt either of us would be able to come up with this kind of plot on our own and then figure out how to drag it on through the length of a telenovela." Percy tells 'Chelle.

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"-You do have a point. I'm pretty sure I've lost at least one of the threads going on here."

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"Says the girl who watches Swedish crime dramas. In Swedish. Without subtitles. And can still explain how everything interconnects."

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"That's something I can do. Never tried with Swedish crime dramas, but it's easy to intuit things from body language and facial expression."

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"We should teach you Swedish. And then you can watch them with me. And we can confuse Lan by knowing what's going on!"

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"Sounds fun!"

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"You realise Swedish is kind of tricky to learn?"

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"How so?"

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"Mostly the sounds you need to make. It takes some practice. I'm sure you'll get there."

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"Huh, could you try say something Swedish?"

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'Chelle does, words as rapid as her English - perhaps a little faster, and an impish grin on her face.

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He holds still for a moment and then mutters to himself a few times...

...the he recites the phrase back in the same speed and pitch.

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"Now that's just unfair," Lan grumbles, although the effect is ruined somewhat by his grin.

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"Maybe you'll find it a bit easier then," 'Chelle notes, sounding impressed.

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"Thanks, I try."

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"It'll be nice having more people who speak Swedish. Ange refuses."

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"That's cause you laugh at her accent."

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"You laugh at my accent and I still speak it!"

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"Yes. But you're stubborn."

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"Is your family from Sweden?" Percy asks Aaren.

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"My mum was, yes. Spent quite a bit of my childhood there."

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Percy contemplates the bittersweet emotions. "Happy memories," he says quietly, "have you taken 'Chelle or Lan there?"

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"I've been a few times, mostly while Farmor - uh, my Grandma - was still alive. We've been a couple of times since."

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"I've never quite managed to make it. My parents are occasionally weird about stuff like that."

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"What do they do?"

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"As little as physically possible. And one threat to have Dad arrested for kidnapping the time I asked if it would be okay was enough for me."

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Hug. "What's wrong with them?"

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"What isn't wrong with them would be an easier question to answer," 'Chelle mutters sourly. "Some people just shouldn't be parents."

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"No. But I've got you guys, so swings and roundabouts."

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Percy gives 'Chelle a small nod of agreement. "Small mercies. Or in Dad's case, major mercies with great cooking skills."

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"And as much as I would rather Lan's parents weren't walking disasters, I'm glad to have you all. It gives me an excuse to cook a lot."

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"It's symbiotic like that."

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"Speaking of symbiotic and cooking."

Aaren gets to his feet and heads for the kitchen.

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"Do you think he's made cake? I think I can smell cake baking..."

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"You know he did."

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"-Honestly. It's Dad. He's never gonna pass up a chance to bake."

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"We'd be worried if he did."

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"We would need to ask what sort of extremely debilitating illness took him away from the kitchen."

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"Exactly," 'Chelle agrees.

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"I promise to forewarn you if I need to take a break from cooking at any point," Aaren says as he comes back in with a tray - upon which there is four bowls, filled with stew and rice.

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Percy basks at Aaren. He does so while helping distributing the bowls.

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'Chelle steals the remote and puts a Swedish crime drama on - she's merciful though, she leaves the subtitles on.

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Aaren squeezes Percy's shoulder fondly before retaking his seat.

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Percy squeezes Aaren's hand like he was waiting for it, but quickly resumes enjoying his bowl and watching the crime drama.

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Lan complains good-naturedly throughout the show, never sounding or feeling all that serious.

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'Chelle defends her choice happily.

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Percy is enjoying it.

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Aaren is enjoying both the show, and Lan and 'Chelle's argument. Eventually, when they're all done eating, he gets up to clear their plates.

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Percy sometimes will comment on continuity errors and noting what the actors must be really be feeling at a given time.

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That definitely gets a positive response from Lan and 'Chelle.

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Aaren can be heard whistling as he fusses around in the kitchen - loading the dishwasher, putting things away (or getting them out? it isn't entirely clear).

Eventually, he reappears in the living room, flicking the lights out, and balancing a cake with lit candles on the other hand - it's nothing special, just a chocolate sponge, but Aaren's iced the words 'Welcome Home Percy' on the top of it.

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Percy basks at Aaren and then at the cake, before hugging him tight.

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Aaren hugs him back, tight and warm, cake left on the table for now.

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'Chelle and Lan join the hug as well, cuddling around Percy's sides and back.

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Delight!

After a moment of cuddling, Percy remembers the candles. He peeks out of the hug and blows. Then back at the hug.

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The hug continues for a while, until:

"We should eat the cake before it goes stale."

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"It came out the oven half an hour ago, Lan, there's no danger of that happening soon."

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"You might be willing to take that chance, but I'm not."

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Chuckle. "Okay, okay. Even if it doesn't go stale, lets be appreciative of dad's cooking."

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Aaren gives them a final squeeze before pulling BACK, and heading into the kitchen, returning a moment later with plates, and a knife that he offers to Percy.

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Percy cuts everyone pieces of cake. Proportionally sized to how much they want some.

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"Now that is helpful," 'Chelle says claiming her slice. "None of this having to try and quantify the amount you want."

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Snort. "I live to serve. Perfectly sized slices."

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"And we appreciate this skill!" Lan says, toasting Percy with his cake slice.

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Cake toast! Nom.

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Much nom! It is excellent cake!

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Most excellent cake.

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Aaren watches them all fondly, feeling almost complete contentment.

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Contentment is excellent.

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"We've got a couple of options for tomorrow," Aaren says once they're done. "I can get you transferred to your new school."

(That's met by a muted, theatrical groan from 'Chelle.)

"Or you can take the day, and I'll introduce you to Ange."

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"Somewhat, call it a hunch, I think meeting Ange is going to be the more interesting option."

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"Definitely!" Lan agrees. "Aunt Ange is awesome."

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"Ange's it is then. I'll let her know." There's a sense that he had already told Ange that this was the plan.

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"Can't wait to meet her. What's is she like?"

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"Warm," 'Chelle says immediately. "Provided you aren't messing with her people."

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Nod nod. "One more reason, among many, to have decided not to mess with dad."

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"The reasons are multitude. Seriously. Uh- have you read any Pratchett?"

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"The Ogg hypothesis, 'Chelle? Really?"

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"I don't read a lot and have read that. What's the Ogg hypothesis?"

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'Chelle beams. "So, the Ogg family in Pratchett is massive. And they have a variety of ongoing spats. But the minute anyone outside the family becomes involved, the entire Ogg family turns on them like a well-oiled machine. Which is exactly what we're like. With less internal feuding."

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"Aha. Great."

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"It really is."

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Aaren checks his watch. "Well. I'm going to head to bed. Whether or not you three do the same is up to you. Sparky, please at least try to sleep?"

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"I'll try, Dad. Promise."

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"Sleep well, Dad." Then he turns to the others. "So, what do you wanna watch next?"

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Aaren smiles, and takes the dishes to the kitchen before heading on up the stairs.

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"Wanna find some random kids cartoon? Those're always fun."

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"Sure. I don't think you will stay up long enough for an actual movie."

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"Not wrong," Lan agrees cheerfully, grabbing the remote and finding a cartoon - pretty much exactly at random.

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"Lan falling asleep on the couch on someone's shoulder and/or lap is a longstanding tradition around here."

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"In that case, allow me to participate in it for the first time before many."

Snuggle?

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Snuggle!

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And sure enough, after a while, Lan starts to doze off on Percy's shoulder.

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Percy will endeavor to be a nice pillowy shoulder.

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Pretty successfully! Lan seems to be resting surprisingly peacefully.

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Percy is proud.

Well, he is actually filled with contentment. But close enough.

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And while 'Chelle isn't sleeping, she seems fairly content in the snugglepile.

Eventually though, she shifts slightly. "We should probably try actual beds," she half-whispers to Percy.

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Nod nod. "I can carry him upstairs?" He whispers back.

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"Yeah. He sleeps pretty soundly."

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In that case, Percy will pick Lan up and take him upstairs. 

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Lan stirs enough to snuggle into Percy.

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'Chelle takes care of switching everything off as she follows them upstairs.

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Percy is good at not stirring up Lan and gently deposits the other boy in bed.

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"Thanks," 'Chelle murmurs. "Wanna stay? Bed's probably big enough for the three of us?"

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"Of course," basking face.

Snuggling ensues.

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Snuggling! And eventually sleep!

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Snuggly sleep.

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'Chelle wakes early again, but doesn't move further than it takes to grab her phone.

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Percy just cozys up when he awakes.

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Eventually, 'Chelle starts to get up. "I've got to get ready for school," she explains. "You can stay here as long as you want."

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Nodnod. "I think I will get up early and see what I can do to help."

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"Dad'll have breakfast covered, but sure, go ahead."

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"I know, his industrousness is infectious."

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"Just a little," 'Chelle agrees with a grin as she pulls clothes from her drawers. "Have fun." And with that, she slips into her en suite.

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Percy goes looking for something to do then.

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Aaren is, perhaps predictably, in the kitchen, although he seems to have delayed starting on breakfast by instead flipping through something on a tablet computer.

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"Hi, dad? Busy with... work?"

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"Just checking my email, making sure nothing critical came in over the weekend. But we appear to be good."

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Nod nod. "Can I help with breakfast?"

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"If you want. I was going to make pancakes."

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"I would love to. What can I do?"

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"Could you beat some eggs together for me? They're on top of the fridge."

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"Of course."

Eggs are retrieved and beaten.

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Aaren in the meantime, finishes handling his email, weighs out flour, fetches milk and mixes the milk into the flour, and sets a skillet on the hob to heat.

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Percy can easily transition into helping with other tasks. He is careful and pays attention. 

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Aaren seems happy to have the help - if a little unpracticed at having a sous chef.

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'Chelle appears as the first pancakes are being cooked, and starts making coffee in the machine.

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Percy will compensate by being a very attentive sous chef.

He also pays attention on how 'Chelle likes her coffee. He can multitask.

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Strong. And with milk. No sugar.

She offers him a cup with a quiet head tilt.

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Percy gives a shrug and then a nod. He will give it a try.

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She doesn't make his quite as strong, and adds milk. She makes a cup for Aaren, and another cup - probably for Lan - that is probably strong enough to stand a spoon up in.

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Percy still has a weird relationship to food. He is mostly curious at the effects of caffeine in his body. He thanks her anyway.

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In the meantime, Aaren finishes making pancakes, and piles them onto a plate, which goes onto the table.

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Just in time for a zombie-Lan to wander in, blinking blearily.

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'Chelle intercepts him with practiced ease, and pushes him into a seat, putting the mug she made for him in front of him.

"It's hot," she says.

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Percy does his food distribution proportional to desire trick. "Did you sleep well?"

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"As well as I ever do," 'Chelle says - she's surprisingly bright for the fact she didn't get that much sleep in the scheme of things.

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"I slept well. Please tell me you didn't spend the early hours having arguments on the internet, Sparky?"

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"Reading Pratchett."

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Lan makes an indistinct sound as he leans over his coffee.

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"Translation: 'slept fine, too early, you're all weird'." Percy pats him on the back.

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"Sounds about right for Lan before his first cup of coffee. Did you sleep well, Percy?"

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"Yes, cozily," he does the basking thing at 'Chelle and 'Lan.

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"Good."

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"He makes an excellent addition to the cuddle pile."

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"There was already a good foundation when I got to it."

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"-Did I miss ending up in bed with you?" Lan still looks a little bleary as he blinks at Percy.

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"In the literal sense, yeah."

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"Damn. I'll try to be more awake next time."

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"I doubt there will be a lack of opportunity," Percy says taking a bite out of his pancakes.

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"Promise, promises," Lan trills.

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"Really, guys? At the table? At breakfast?" 'Chelle doesn't sound too serious, and feels mostly amused.

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"I mean, I guess next time I and Lan could have breakfast in bed?"

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"Oh my god, that isn't better, Percy!" 'Chelle grins at him anyway.

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And Aaren is doing that thing where he watches them all fondly.

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Fondness is a great and important of a balanced breakfast.

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Eventually, 'Chelle has to leave for school. She does it at high speed, and with hugs all around. "Try not to miss me too badly while I'm gone," she says with a wink at Percy.

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"Enjoy your state mandate stay in kid jail," Percy answers brightly.

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She laughs and leaves.

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"Ange says we can head on over to hers whenever we're ready," Aaren says. "You joining us, Lan?"

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"Was planning too. If nothing else, I can play with the cats."

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Percy is ready in just a moment and then they can go.

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Aaren ushers them all to the car, and off they can go. The drive is strange - it feels like they're rather abruptly in a completely different place, and driving up a long driveway towards a large, sprawling house.

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Percy blinks confused. "...What sort of magic was that?"

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"I don't actually know. There's a lot of magic on Ange's place. To keep it safe and make sure the people who need to find it do."

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"But are we actually... somewhere else? Or... I am not used to have my senses this confused."

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"-Oh. No. Are you-? Yes. We are somewhere else. I... Like, I know where Aunt Ange's house is, but it's also kinda...just wherever it needs to be? It's really neat, but also kinda disorienting."

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"Don't worry. It is a sufficiently novel sensation. So we are still on Earth? We are not going to run into a yellow brick road or a giant caterpillar if we go to far off course?"

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"On earth, no yellow brick roads, giant caterpillars...uh, probably not?"

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"Should I be asking about dragons and other beasts?"

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"Only on the weekends!" Lan assures as Aaren finishes parking.

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Snort. "Fun."

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"Any dragons would be under control," Aaren assures him as they get out the car.

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Only to be greeted by a yell from a woman coming out the door. "Stop that kitten!"

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"Kittens: less under control."

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Percy is not surprised by the woman's sudden yelling.

Assuming the kitten isn't some kind of supernatural creature, Percy is deftly able to pick it up.

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No, it is, indeed, a kitten. Who does make an attempt to gnaw on Percy's hand, but that seems less malicious and more just a kitten being a kitten.

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"Thank you," the woman says warmly as she approaches them. "I forgot to check he wasn't in the hall before opening the door. He's becoming rather the escape artist. You must be Percy. I'm Angelique."

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Percy smiles back, holding the kitten carefully. "I am Percy. It's a pleasure to meet you and you cute kitten."

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"He's the latest addition to our ever increasing menagerie. The other cats aren't quite sure what to make of him yet."

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Lan has moved close enough to let the kitten sniff at his fingers. "He's adorable, Aunt Ange."

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"He is. And it shouldn't be surprising that you take in strays."

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"Ah, my reputation precedes me I see. A family trait I assure you. Started by my great-grandfather I'm told. Come inside. There's tea and cakes waiting in the library."

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Percy comes inside and follows her. He admires their surroundings.

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The surroundings are quite worthy of admiration! The house is definitely old, but it carries it well, with a definite modern twist to the decorating. Despite a feeling that the hallway should be dimly lit, it is, in fact, bright and airy, with a beautiful chandelier suspended from the ceiling, and banisters around what is obviously the landing of the second floor - the hallway alone might give a sense of scale to the place. It is big.

Angelique and Aaren exchange pleasantries as Angelique leads them along a hall and into what is, very definitely, a library. Rows of shelves can be seen in either direction from the double-doors they enter by. Directly ahead of them, there's a table that does, indeed, have tea and cakes on it.

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Percy will go as directed. He supposes Aaren will explain and let him speak when necessary.

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Aaren waits until Angelique's finished pouring tea before he explains the situation - starting with a vastly abridged version of how he and Percy met, covering the fact that Percy will be staying with him and 'Chelle (and Lan) now, and finally coming to the part about Percy's apparent lack of personal emotions, and the fact that he is a rather impressive empath.

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Angelique hums thoughtfully, turning her attention from Aaren to Percy. "And you have no idea about your lineage?"

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Percy shakes his head. "I haven't spoke to my parents in years, but I never noticed them to be like me. I have never met other relatives."

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"Spontaneous magic isn't unheard of, although it is rare. Do you- happen to know, if, legally speaking, your parents still have custody of you?"

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"They do."

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"I see." Angelique is quiet for a moment, staring down into her cup of tea. "Provided you have no objections, I would like to ensure they can't attempt to remove you from Aaren's home?" (There's a sense, as she says this, that she means 'your home'.)

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Percy shrugs. "Don't worry to much about that, but go ahead." He gives her a reassuring smile.

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There's that warm smile. "I'm guessing they haven't told you that it's my job to worry about these things?" she asks with a laugh.

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"Aunt Ange is a serial worrier. But hey, it tends to end with her stress-cooking, so we get excellent cake."

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"Wow, well, as long it gets us cake. Worry away."

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"I will, thank you." Pause. "Anyway. On with the matter of your powers." She waves around her. "My library is...quite extensive, but I can hardly claim that it is comprehensive. We are, almost certainly, missing something. But there's more way than one to find information."

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"-You're going to throw a party aren't you?"

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"A soiree, but effectively, yes. Networking with people is an excellent way to gather information."

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"You get to socialize and achieve your other goals at same time. Efficient."

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"We get to socialise and achieve our goals. You are all, of course, invited. I suspect 'Chelle would be truly offended if she heard I was throwing a soiree and not inviting her."

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"Oh, don't worry. I already knew we were invited." He taps his forehead.

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"Quite the handy gift," Angelique says cheerfully.

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"Also good for dividing up portions we've found!"

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"Hm, we should probably go shopping on the way home," Aaren muses. "Get you some more clothes, Percy."

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"Sounds like a plan."

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"Please tell me you're not going to make this black tie?"

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"A quiet evening among friends? Of course not. Besides which, I'd end up watching you tug at your tie all night. Smart casual will do just fine."

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"Aww, but I've never seen Aaren being awkwardly uncomfortable in black tie."

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"We can engineer a reason for you to see that."

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"If you try, I will dig out my dress uniform and wear that."

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"You're not giving me less incentive, you know."

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"I'm sure we can get Dad into something. Or dig out old photos."

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"Pretty sure 'Chelle has video evidence of Aaren's discomfort."

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"Family movie n-" Percy starts saying, then he freezes in place.

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"Absolutely!" Lan's agreeing before Percy's even halfways through speaking.

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Aaren immediately notices the change in Percy. "-Are you okay?"

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 "Wonderful." Percy is sort of basking, but at no particular direction. He nods slowly. "Don't worry. There are people coming."

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"There's always people coming and going around here," Angelique says a little sheepishly.

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Percy nods, not looking at Angelique. He raises a hand to point-

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And the door opens to reveal three...

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...identical young women...

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...Who walk-in and look around. Percy is staring at them all, but specially at the last one to walk-in.

"Sorry, did we interrupt something?"

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"Not at all!" Angelique says, getting to her feet to cross over to them. "I didn't know you were coming to visit!"

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"Sorry, for showing up without warning, but we really wanted to discuss something with you."

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"Its wonderful news. I guarantee."

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"You know you're always welcome!" Pause. "Oh, Aaren, Percy, Lan, these are Felicia, Fernanda and Theresa."

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Aaren is definitely having A Reaction, although that is probably less obvious to people who aren't empaths.

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The sisters wave as their names are called with practiced easy. They all smile politely, but Felicia smiles brighter. She turns towards Percy...