Piaculum

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Chapter 7

Feet touching, lips pressing against heated skin, hands roaming here and there, a whisper of fabric and the soft click of buttons going this way and that as clothes are discarded roughly, two bodies slowly growing closer and closer as the storm outside dies away to nothing. Neither seem to notice the sudden silence as they become more and more lost in each other, Adam Norton pausing in his ministrations long enough to pull back and peer into his wife, Chelsea’s, dark brown gaze, his own soft blue eyes twinkling with mischievousness. “Are you ok?”

She swallows and leans forward to lick a teasing trail down his throat before mumbling heavily, “Yeah. Never been better.” But she’s impatient, his hands teasing along her abdomen doing little for the burning need she’s been feeling for him for quite awhile, and she finally takes over, pushing him backwards onto the bed behind him. As he watches, she shakes herself loose of whatever remains of the sky blue shirt she’d had on before he’d pulled it apart at the seams with his bare, anxious hands minutes earlier.

Arms and hands free now, she kneels over him and quickly undoes his own shirt, teasing him by going painfully slow with each button and watching as inch by inch of smooth, soft skin is revealed. Appreciative of what she’s seeing, she leans closer and kisses a trail up his heated skin, hesitating against each rib long enough to lick along them softly, which, if his soft groans and gasps following each motion are any indication, is an action that he quite enjoys. As soon as his shirt is hanging aimlessly from his shoulders, she giggles against his collar bone, not fully believing that they’d finally found time to be here, in bed together, half dressed and drowning in love and passion. It’d been awhile, the both of them so busy with their jobs and day to day things...

When she teasingly grazes his thighs through his jeans with her fingers, she grows even more aroused as he arches into her touch, body almost thrumming with desperation. “Someone’s sensitive tonight,” she whispers, licking along his pecs as he comes to life once more beneath her. Guessing what’s about to happen, she closes her eyes and allows him to flip her, taking back control. All preamble seems to be gone as he roughly unzips her jeans and slips them down her legs, tossing them off of the edge of the bed and only leaning back enough to look at her in her bra and panties. When she blushes and looks away, he stretches out on top of her, the rough feeling of his jeans against her sensitive bare skin leaving her close to moaning out loud.

His fingers tight on her jaw, making her look him in the eye, he watches her, somehow knowing that she’s close to releasing all of her inhibitions and yeah, he looks a bit smug at the prospect, but she doesn’t really mind it, finding herself kind of feeling proud too of the way his body is already reacting to hers. “You’re gorgeous.” Simple, sincere, he tells her the first thought that pops into his head.

That cinches it, the last of her uncertainty caused by it being so long since they’d had time to be together like this fading away as she stares up into his eyes. Fingers trailing between them, she slips her hand lower and watches as he gives in to the sensation of her touch, how she shifts against his body just so. Despite the fact that they’d been married for over a year already, she still needs moments like this to reaffirm their feelings for each other, especially considering whenever she spends hours without him she feels like part of her is missing... He’s just squirming out of his jeans, unwilling to wait any longer, when the world abruptly turns on its side around them, the wind picking up and slamming against the window over their bed with such force that it shatters, raining glass down upon them.

Chelsea shrieks and Adam freezes, the majority of the shards embedded into his back and neck, some of which are quite large. She shrieks again when he goes limp on top of her, taking away her only possible chance of escape. He’s at least twice her size and she doesn’t want to hurt him further, unable to look away from the blood trailing down his once flawless skin and dripping across her chest, thighs and stomach. Tears streaming down her face, she thinks she’s seeing things but as she stares backwards out of the window, the road they live on begins to look like what she imagines a disaster zone would be, the fields surrounding their home battered and pulled apart, debris flying past at an alarming rate. It takes a moment for her to realize what exactly she’s witnessing as her husband lays, half naked and possibly dead, across her body.

Only as the eaves of the house begin to crack, slam together and pull apart, leaving her shaking and anticipating death-- the prospect of joining Adam wherever he may be at right now-- she says one word aloud, in time with a nearby, watching Aaron Fisk. “Tornado.”

He comes to with a gasp and jerk, shaking his head at the pure flood of emotions caused by the vision-- from one extreme to the other. As he stares at Alison, who is tilting her head curiously at him, he shudders, turning a brilliant red as he tries to keep his mind from wandering around the beginning of the vision. Of course I’d have to see all of that, he thinks, taking a deep breath. At least I don’t need a cold shower, there’s no time for it. Lucky for him, where they’re standing at, it’s raining and it eases some of the leftover heat he feels pooling in his veins. “Where are we?” he wonders, glancing around at the quiet country highway.

“Parkville,” she says simply. Things are still tense between them, though Alison seems a little more talkative since he’d last seen her. He’d tried consoling himself with the knowledge that she seemed to have a short fuse and once it blew, it’d just take time for the damage to settle. He can understand it in some level-- her health, in the end, should be no one’s business but her own, especially when it’s some guy she’s barely known a few months trying to tell her how to live, what to do. He’d had the best of intentions but he almost doesn’t blame her for being mad. Considering how things had also gone to hell with Louis and Reno, he’s starting to wonder if it’s just him who can’t keep friends anymore... Not that being a Piaculum and having to keep that secret from people will help matters any.

He’s not sure what to say from here so he keeps quiet, barely reacting as she follows him across the road they’d ended up on upon arriving here. She seems to be taking the cues from him, her eyes locked straight ahead as they turn and follow the line of gravel on the side of the road. Finally he can’t take it any longer, the various things he’d seen in the vision replaying over and over again in his head. “I saw a tornado,” he tells her, neither of them pausing in their walk as he continues to talk. “There was no siren, no warning. It just... came and damaged at least one house. I saw the people inside die.” Not wanting to acknowledge what exactly they were doing when it hit, he keeps that to himself, forcing his focus onto her as she mulls his words over.

“I see. No siren... maybe there isn’t a warning system? I mean, it looks like we’re in the middle of nowhere,” she points out slowly.

“Or maybe there just wasn’t sufficient time,” he supposes, wondering if they’d noticed what was coming their way had they not been in the middle of... doing what they’d been doing...

“Or they were busy and ignored it.” She notices out of the corner of her eye as he blanches and coughs roughly, looking away as if embarrassed, but says nothing despite her own varied suspicions of what else he’d seen. As a Piaculum, many visions come at inopportune times and there were a fair amount of things she’d rather have not seen over the years. She supposes, with time, he’ll become as desensitized to such things as she’d had over her four years receiving these glimpses into other people’s lives. For now, however, she opts not to make it worse, knowing that they have a limited amount of time to stop the vision from coming true. “Ok, any way you’d recognize where it is? Maybe we can--”

“We?” he echoes, turning to stare at her. “Since when do you get directly involved in a mission?” It sounds more confrontational than he intends, trying once more to remind himself that she knows her own limitations, and his trying to force her to consider her own health won’t go very far with her, but the damage is already done: her eyes darken as she glares over at him, every inch of her warning him not to start this again with her.

“Since now,” she snaps out when he doesn’t say anything else, his eyes bleeding with just enough regret at his hasty words that she calms down slightly, tries to reign her own temper in. “Since this is a two person job.”

He blinks. Opens his mouth silently. Blinks again. “Two person job? What do you mean?”

“Well, while you try to figure out where the house you’d seen in your vision is, I want to go try to sort out the alert system’s problem. If it’s fixable, awesome. If not, well... I’ll be back to help you warn the people in that house. If you need anything, Ser will let me know and I’ll be back before you know it.” Before he can say anything, she closes her eyes, visibly concentrating on accessing the Piaculum leader’s powers, and disappears.

“What is going on?” he mumbles, shaking his head. Any case prior, she was fine leaving it all to him to handle-- which he didn’t mind, especially after learning about her still mysterious health issues, but now all of a sudden she was all gung ho to take over and leave him to handle the grunt work, basically? Even in the rock slide case, she’d kept to herself, left him to handle most of it, only taking control of the situation when he was trapped and unable to do so himself. Growing more and more annoyed with the prospects of it as he continues on down the street, looking from side to side at the various houses, he’s almost tempted just to say screw it and do things his own way... Unfortunately Alison’s directions had had merits and he can’t think of any other way to handle the situation.

The more he walks, the darker the sky overhead gets and the harsher the wind becomes, whipping his hair into his eyes and making walking all the more difficult. “Dammit,” he grunts, almost being pushed clear over into the grass by the rough force. Regaining his balance and planting his feet, he looks around and tries to breathe. “Ok, take it easy, Aaron. No point in gaining unwanted attention right now. Wait until you need to start screaming for people to run for their lives to do that.”

He sighs, looking around as it becomes almost as dark as night around him despite being barely 4 PM in March. “The crap I get myself involved in...”
----------------

Alison appears outside of the nearest weather bureau, blinking up at the large building. She’s not sure what to do, never quite in a situation like this, choosing instead to pace back and forth outside of the building as she collects her thoughts. Ok, Alison, take it easy, she tells herself. You haven’t done this in almost a year but it doesn’t mean you can’t. It just means you need to be more careful, not mess things up for yourself or Ser or Aaron. Easy enough. Sighing, she turns back towards the building and stares up at it, still unable to completely shake how overwhelmed she feels. She’d felt like this part of her life was over with since Ser had begun discussing a replacement for her, but... she’d always been unable to say no to those in need.

She winces as the dull throbbing in her chest grows to more unbearable levels, in response to her anxiety. “Ok, let’s get this over with.” She takes a deep breath to calm herself and ventures up the steps leading to the front door but before she can even get halfway up, a man in a suit pushes his way out of the doors and heads down the stairs, rushing right towards her. She’s inclined to ignore him and continue by but he slows as he nears her.

“May I help you?” he asks her, causing her to stop short on the fifth step up which only adds to her discomfort because she’s grown even more paranoid since her health issues began, not liking being in the middle of any kind of steps or stairs in case something should happen and she’d lose her balance and fall backwards.

Gripping onto the thin metal bar that passes as a railing, she frowns up at him, not sure if telling him her reason for being here is the correct play. But it’s pretty obvious he’s not going anywhere and she swallows, finally coming to a decision. “Yeah, um. I just moved out into the country recently and, since I’d heard the weather report for today includes some possibly severe storms, I want to know how far your emergency sirens can be heard. Like, in case of a tornado.”

He stares at her strangely and she understands, it’s a cheap kind of story but sometimes the weakest ones have played out alright in the end so she doesn’t waver from it. “Well, it varies by how far away you are, ma’am. In what general area do you live?”

“By Parkville,” she says after a brief hesitation, trying to make it seem like she was considering the safety of admitting such a thing to a virtual stranger.

He takes a moment to think long and hard about it, his eyes narrowed. “I believe the sirens are heard in some parts of Parkville, yes, but it depends on how quickly the warning is issued and when the tornado strikes, best just to keep your eye on the sky and if you see a bad storm coming, go to a window-free room of your house, basement or cellar, and stay somewhere secure until it passes.”

She nods, as if it’s something she’d not heard a million times prior, and tries to smile through her tension. “Thank you, sir, I’ll keep this in mind.”

He nods back, following her back down the stairs as she prepares to find a quiet place to leave. “Be safe,” he tells her while he turns on the sidewalk towards the parking lot attached to the building.

“Thank you,” she repeats before moving the other way, still feeling his eyes on her back. Being a Piaculum had always caused a certain level of suspicion, especially because missions are almost always in different, strange towns that she’d never quite learned the knack of not looking out of place in. East Peoria had always been the only place she’d felt comfortable in, and it would probably always be that way.

Once she finds a discreet, out of the way place to once more return to Aaron’s side, she closes her eyes. Well, it’s just you and I, Aaron. Hope I’ll be helpful. Rusty skills and all... The only reason she’s so determined to help him is because of Ser’s menacing words recently. Other than that, she would’ve been fine stepping back and letting him do his thing. But Ser had never been the kind to warn her needlessly, so she takes it to heart. Even so, she’s sure he probably thinks it’s her way of punishing him because, yeah, she is still kind of angry with him for his fussing over her health almost to the point that she was beginning to feel smothered and, despite her earlier admission that not being forthcoming had been the downfall of many teams such as theirs in the past, she just can’t bring herself to talk to him right now. Not when her temper is so volatile still... Her gaze turning this way and that, she just misses as a dark form slips back into the shadows of the building she’s standing behind before she regains her focus and disappears, returning to that lonely country road.

“What do you know,” a male voice whispers, sounding less than pleased.
-----------------

“Find anything?” Alison asks as soon as she reappears by Aaron’s side, her words fading into the wind as it tears through her before she can even get her bearings, hard rain pouring down her face and clothes. “Oh shi--!” He just barely manages to grab her, keeping her from being pulled away from the gravel like he’d nearly been earlier. “Thanks.” He smiles faintly at her and turns to look at the sky. When she follows his gaze, her face pales horribly. “Oh hell.”

“We need to move,” he yells at her, trying to be heard over the mess around them. “It’s not going to last for long, in the vision, everything goes still and quiet before the tornado hits. I think I’ve spotted the house but we have to leave NOW!”

His words aren’t easily distinguishable, no matter how loud he screams over the elements, but she gets the gist anyway, nodding at him. His grip on her tightening, he leads her into the grass and they begin rushing through brown fields of vegetables harvested months ago, neither trying to think of what might happen should they take just a little too long. Forget needing just a replacement, Ser would need both a new replacement and a new right hand woman. And Alison can’t even figure out who that would be. “I have to survive,” she starts to mouth, trying to keep her footing even as blade after blade of tall grass whips into her with painful precision.

Her body’s protests grow more and more vocal as they continue on but she ignores them, used to putting her own weaknesses aside until she’d saved the people who were in danger. And of course she also has Aaron to consider, not willing to make Ser go through the painful process of finding another person he’d be willing to trust with access to his abilities and secrets. Squeezing Aaron’s hand, she allows only a moment of distraction as he looks back at her, not stopping in his own forward motion and dragging her along with him. The remaining anger she’d been dwelling on since their argument weeks ago pouring out of her with a sudden, sharp moment of clarity as she realizes that, since Ser trusts him so thoroughly, she should too, she smiles at him and shakes her head slightly, reminding herself to apologize for losing her temper despite understanding he was just trying to keep her safe as soon as they get out of this.

His eyes clear as he realizes why she’s looking at him like that, nodding in response to what he thinks her steadfast, sincere gaze must mean. Ok, he thinks. That’s one less problem to focus on. Now if we survive this, I can apologize for trying to take control of her life and not trusting her to take care of herself despite only knowing her briefly, and maybe she’ll listen this time. His steps somehow lighter, he finally finds an exit from the abusive plants and slaps his way out of it, helping her to safety as well. They’re now only a few minutes away from the house and he chances a glance at the sky again, barely able to see it as another deluge of rain pours into his eyes, blinding him.

Alison takes over this time, pulling him along. They’re almost there when something harsh strikes him between the shoulder blades and he realizes with a fresh wave of terror that it’s beginning to hail. Just small, pea sized really, but it still hurts, especially when they’re pelted in the faces with them. Alison cringes and clings to him harder, running even faster in desperation to get away from the elements. He’s alongside her, again taking the lead and all but dragging her the rest of the way to the house. When they finally run under the awnings around the porch and are forced to stop after Aaron runs into the side of the building, Alison smacking right into him, it’s the biggest relief they’ve had in a long time and they pause just to cling to each other for a moment. The storm continues raging on around them as they breathe and try to realize that yes they’d reached their target.

“We need to move,” Aaron finally yells at her, blinking some of the rainwater clinging to his eyelashes away. She nods, doing the same so she can see him clearly. “They need to know--” Still holding on tightly to her hands, he leads her to the door and they look up, disturbed at how roughly the wind batters against the roof and shingles, the house already creaking and protesting.

Still aware of just how loud the storm is raging overhead, they both take to the door, four fists battering against the solid wood with all of the strength they can muster. It’s horribly loud, Alison’s hands starting to throb within the first few hits, but she continues on stubbornly, Aaron right there with her. He can just imagine the two of them inside wrapped up in each other and barely aware of what’s going on outside of the bedroom. He almost considers just knocking the door down and dragging them out, half dressed and freaking out, but that’d probably end up worse than just the tornado-- one of them may have a gun or something else to defend themselves with, and then what?

Just like that, the wind dies; the rain and hail disappear just as quickly. Everything falls into a strange kind of peace. Alison freezes, staring over at him with wide eyes, but he doesn’t stop, if anything it encourages him on further. “HEY!” he screams at the door, striking it with renewed vigor. “HELLO! CAN YOU HEAR ME!?” They both know-- this is a false calm, the kind that means a tornado is forming somewhere nearby. Alison finally collects herself, struggling to swallow down her fear as she also attacks the door yet again. “Come on, come on, come on.”

She glances towards a window, almost considering breaking one and going inside that way, but finally they hear pounding footsteps towards the door. Instead of stopping, they hit against it harder and only stop when it’s forced open, a frenzied looking Adam Norton staring out of them, jeans hanging haphazardly off of his hips and something held tightly in one hand. “What!?”

Aaron ignores him and the baseball bat he can just see from here, pushing his way inside. “There’s a tornado coming,” he says, looking up as Chelsea peers out from the hallway, more than a little scared and shocked by their sudden guests. “Can’t you tell? Didn’t you hear the storm?”

Alison slips inside as well, looking at them all. “We don’t have time for this,” she says, somehow regaining her calm even as the others stand tensely around and watch each other, the homeowners obviously considering attacking the people who’d almost knocked their door down while weighing their words. “Didn’t you hear the wind? The rain? Anything?”

“I... I think I heard something, but we were kind of lost in the moment,” Chelsea admits weakly, peeling herself away from the wall and joining the others. Alison’s suspicions towards Aaron’s attitude about the vision are confirmed as she barely has a robe on, the flimsy piece of fabric slipping off of one shoulder. If they weren’t on an even worse time crunch than before, she’d laugh. But for now...

“Alright, do you have a basement, a cellar, anything? We have no idea where this thing is going to form or where it’s going to go, but I’m going to guess by that eerie silence outside, it’s going to be soon. So we have to move.”

Aaron is truthfully impressed. He’d seen split second hints of the kind of Piaculum Alison must’ve been prior to the limitations placed on her due to her health, but this is beyond anything he’d ever imagined. She’s calm and cool, despite how fearful she’d been when it was just the two of them moments earlier, taking over and talking them through it. “First rule of a house fire-- or a tornado-- or any other potentially harmful thing like this? Don’t stop to grab belongings. I know it’s tempting but it just takes time away from actually saving what’s most important-- your lives.” She has a hand between Chelsea’s shoulder blades and another on Adam’s shoulder, leading them towards the stairwell just visible in the semi-darkness.

As he follows, he catches a slight glance of the outside world-- how sickly green the sky is and spookily still everything else remains. Swallowing thickly, he follows them downstairs and breathes in as the floor changes from well maintained and warmly carpeted to a very thin, beige tile covering the hard packed dirt. There are a couple of windows in the basement where more greenish light is bleeding in but they all ignore it as well as they can, Adam leading them to a corner as far away from the windows as is possible. Aaron, remembering his gory vision, is relieved when Chelsea pulls a thick comforter off of a nearby table and shakes it out, giving it a quick, cursory glance before dropping it on top of them all. He wonders if the couple has done this before, or are just prepared in case something like this should arise.

It’s not perfect protection but it’ll do, he supposes, staring up at the thick fabric spreading across his face. Either way this little moment of awkwardness with all four of them-- two of whom are still woefully underdressed, though Alison doesn’t seem to be bothered by that little fact at all-- under the same blanket is much better than half of them finding their death due to being unaware of the storms brewing outside. They all hold their breath and wait while the house rattles and creaks overhead, the wild weather taking hold more and more as time passes.

Aaron hadn’t stayed in the vision beyond watching Adam pass out and Chelsea stuck watching the effects of the storm out of the window so he’s not sure if the house had been honestly stricken by the tornado or if a few shattered windows and loosened eaves had been all that had happened. He kind of wishes he’d stayed a little longer now so he could at least have some idea of what to expect-- if the house would collapse on top of them and if perhaps going outside and laying out in the field would’ve been a safer escape route. Chelsea whimpers as the noise grows louder outside, wind battering the house like it’s nothing, and Adam pulls her closer, whispering softly to her as Aaron and Alison seek each other out in the pitch dark under the comforter, Alison’s hands cold and trembling slightly as he finds them.

“There’s nothing we can do,” she tells him in regret, her voice as steady as her hands. “Just sit and wait. The worst part, huh?”

He nods, pressing her closer to him. “Yeah. It is.” But yet, he can’t find himself hating the situation completely. A part of him had missed Alison in the weeks that she’d been mad at him. Sure, they’d only known each other for a brief period of time but she’d been his closest confidante since he’d first learned of Piaculum and met Ser, and he’d felt off-balanced and uncomfortable ever since that night he’d overstepped the quiet boundaries put between then regarding her health. Ever since then, he’d regretted overthinking her words, despite only wanting to keep her safe and whole.

He had always lived something of a charmed life, only losing people to old age and long-known health issues so that when they did go, it wasn’t so much of a surprise. Finding someone his age who is always ridiculously aware of their mortality when most in their twenties would still be feeling invincible and untouchable, he hadn’t known how to handle it. Squeezing her fingers, he closes his eyes and vows, should they make it out of this mess, to try to be more understanding and less pushy with her, letting her handle things her own way. But first--

There’s a rough sound of windows shattering, glass raining down on the floor nearby as Chelsea cries out, and Aaron, flashing back to his vision, quickly searches out the other three in the gloom. To his relief, they’re ok, the comforter doing its job and protecting all of them as Alison squeezes back, her breathing growing a little more rapid and desperate, loud in the confines of the small space they’re all stuck inside of. As the noise outside intensifies, he draws her hand up and rests it against his chest, like she’d done for him so long ago, and lets her take in his level, deep breaths. Catching on, she slowly forces herself to mimic him while marveling at how strong and steady his heartbeat is under her fingers. Something her own hasn’t been for a very long time.

The weight of her hand on his skin, even through his thick sweater, comforts him and he listens as the house protests against the powerful wind still fighting against it. He well knows the destructive force of nature, having had his fill of various horror stories over the years, not to mention the rock slide he had survived, and he just hopes he’s done enough to ensure their survival of this.

There’s a loud, groaning sound and the wind pouring through the broken window grows in power and rage, the pressure in the basement changing as well, when something overhead seems to snap and crack apart, the noise lasting for a very long, torturous time. Chelsea whimpers and clings to Adam with her eyes closed as she wonders what state their house will be in once they feel safe enough to unearth themselves. It feels like it lasts forever but Aaron thinks it’s probably going to surprise all of them once they do get out of here with how quickly it’s all happened... provided they make it that far. The tornado must be huge, with the amount of time it seems to be taking, but finally everything fades away, calms down around them.

Chelsea sniffs and looks up, her dark eyes gleaming in the faint light they can now see through the comforter. “Is it over? Can we get out of here now?”

The Piaculum exchange glances and Alison discreetly shakes her head, glancing towards the two homeowners for a moment before she lifts the comforter and peers out. Aaron takes the hint and addresses them. “Just give it a minute, we don’t know what’s going on yet. Trust me, you do not want to be half up the stairs and have it double back and catch you unaware or...”

His warning is cut off when she slips completely out from under the comforter, leaving the three remaining gaping after her. Aaron tries to control himself, remembering his earlier thoughts, but it’s damn difficult when all he wants to do is run after her and drag her back to safety. When she returns, there’s a grim look in her eyes. “It’s gone. Dissipated over the cornfields, I guess. The trail just stops abruptly there.”

“Oh thank God,” Adam grumbles, holding Chelsea close to him. They remain like that, celebrating their survival, when both freeze, coming to the same realization at once. The odd tone in Alison’s voice, the pained look on her face... “Our house?” he finally asks, staring at her grimly as Chelsea straightens up to peer at her too. Her hesitation, the look on her face, is all the answer they need.

“Oh, no,” Chelsea chokes out, collapsing, trembling, against her husband. “Not... not...” His hands tangle in her hair, holding her against him in a dazed attempt at comfort as she sobs. They’d lived here for a few good years since his mother had died and left it to them, and the very thought that it’s damaged or... just gone... leaves him ill. His childhood memories remain here, each moment he spent in the place bringing back one nice memory after another. For all of them to possibly be gone, all of the mementos he has of her, well... “Adam...”

He swallows his own pain down, soothing her with a soft hand tangling in her hair. “It’ll be ok. It’ll be ok. We’ll... we’ll be ok. Hey, we survived a tornado... rebuilding our house will be nothing, right?”

She sniffs and clings to him, nodding in a desperate attempt to be strong for him. “Of course. Of course.” Alison and Aaron remain quiet until finally the husband and wife exchange steadying glances, gripping the edge of the comforter together. Both inhaling deeply, they pull it aside and face their new world with blank faces. Despite being in the basement, they can see the gloomy sky overhead, a fair portion of the roof and first floor just... gone. The basement had held up well, to all of their eternal thankfulness, and one corner of the house-- above where they’d camped out under the comforter-- had survived it as well, even though it now looks very strange and creepy with the other walls gone or partially collapsed. The Piaculum members watch on soberly, Aaron’s eyes locked on Chelsea’s pale face as she takes in her home’s desiccation. “Oh God,” she chokes out, dropping to her bare knees on the hard, cold concrete.

Adam goes to her immediately, supporting her as she takes in the devastation. Her mumbles are indecipherable to everyone but Adam, Alison and Aaron standing nearby and just taking in their pain. They had sadly done their parts-- saved their lives, but as for the rest... rescuing this house, putting everything back the way it’d been before the tornado, that’s beyond them, beyond Ser’s abilities. “I think we should give them some time alone,” Alison tells him lowly, nodding up to the torn in half staircase that they’d walked down only, maybe, ten minutes earlier.

He stares at it for a moment, not wanting to even risk it. “I have a better idea,” he tells her, skirting around the mourning couple still leaning against each other, and presses his weight against the vintage-looking table that Chelsea had gotten the comforter from earlier. It holds and he nods, motioning to Alison. As she ventures around them, joining him, he climbs up onto the surface and reaches out, catching hold of the floor overhead. When it too holds, he gingerly pulls himself up by grabbing onto some pipe jutting out of the ground that had led to the outside-- some sort of plumbing, probably...

Once he’s safe and secure on the first floor, he hooks his elbow along the pipe and leans back in to the basement for Alison. “Come on.” When she looks back over her shoulder at the people they’d been sent to rescue, hesitating, he releases a soft breath. “We’ll stay nearby and help them up when they’re ready, I promise. Come on, grab my hand.”

Surprised and pleased with how easily he’s taking charge over the situation, she can truly see promise in him for when she’s unneeded as his mentor; how well he’ll slip into the full role of Piaculum, with no one by his side to help him make split second decisions and know what to do with all of the complicated circumstances he’ll inevitably find himself in. Crawling onto the table and swallowing down a slight fear of heights as it wavers under her sneakers, she reaches up and grabs hold of his hand, closing her eyes as he draws her up gently until she’s kneeling by his feet, staring back down once more into the basement. “Well,” she grumbles, climbing back up to her feet and dusting her jeans off pointlessly as every bit of her is covered in debris and settling dust and grime from the destroyed house already. “If I wasn’t afraid of tornadoes already, I definitely would be now.”

He smiles faintly and wraps an arm around her shoulders, watching for any holes or hazardous things sticking out of the floor as they venture a ways from the gaping chasm to give the couple a bit of privacy. “I’m with you there,” he admits as she rests her head against his shoulder and closes her eyes. He watches her for a moment, worried, almost tempted to ask the question that would surely cause the tension between them to resume, but-- just in the nick of time-- controls himself, merely tangling his fingers in her hair quietly.

“I’m fine.”

“I wasn’t asking.”

“You were thinking.”

“I’m always thinking,” he shrugs, jostling her head slightly. She looks up at him with a smirk, eyes gleaming with all of the possible things she’d like to say, but finally relaxes back against him and lets the easily mockable comment slide. Deciding to go another way with it, he finally vocalizes what’d been at the forefront of his thoughts since she’d started acting more warmer towards him. “Are we ok?”

She pauses, looking up at him as she weighs the question. “Well, you haven’t asked about my health for about two hours... so yeah, I guess we are. Right?”

He smiles and nods, relaxing as she looks appeased. “Yeah. You know I just wanted to make sure that you’re ok, right?” When she just stares at him, he knows he’s treading on dangerous ground but has to at least try to explain himself. “I understand that you know your own body better than I ever will, but you can’t expect to put so many people’s fates in my hands and not have it bleed over into my day by day life. Haven’t you ever noticed that, as a Piaculum, your protective nature is on overdrive? Like, if anything happens to anyone close at all to you, you think you failed, could’ve done something more to help spare them even a little bit of pain?”

She swallows and looks away, understanding exactly what he means. She smiles faintly, feeling bad for how she’d treated him the last few weeks. “Yeah. I definitely get what you’re saying.” She nudges him as he tightens his hold on her, leaning into his warmth.

He looks like he wants to say something, maybe do something, his lips parting when-- “Hey, are you two still up there?” Adam’s voice calls up from the basement, both wincing as they realize they’d completely forgotten about the pair still down there. “Hello?”

Cursing so vehemently that Alison has to giggle, Aaron pulls himself away from her and turns back to the yawning hole. “Yeah, sorry, we’re here.” He runs over and finds Chelsea and her husband standing by the table, looking up uncertainly. “Are you ready to come up?” Adam nods, supporting the table as his wife clambers up it awkwardly, mindful of her state of undress as she reaches out for the virtual stranger overhead. He keeps his eyes on her face, however, uninterested in ogling her while they still need to get to safety and call for help. As soon as she’s up, Alison collects her and pulls her away with small, supportive words, trying not to let her dwell on the torn up bits of her home that remains around her.

Adam thankfully only needs a little help to get himself up and collect his equilibrium once he’s back on the ground floor of the house he’d grown up in, had lost his mother in, and had married Chelsea in before living together with her the past year. Taking in the devastation with a lost look on his face, he glances at Aaron. “What do I do now? I... have no idea where to go from here.”

“First things first,” he tells him calmly, well aware that the longer they stay, the more chance they have at their cover being blown, but not necessarily caring as it becomes more and more evident that the shock of losing most everything that they own is overwhelming Adam. “I give you my phone and, if cell towers survived that enough for me to have any kind of signal, you call 911. Get help out here, they’ll probably give you a ride into town and you can either go to the hospital to get checked out or, if you don’t feel like it’s necessary, go to a hotel.”

Chelsea pipes up this time, her voice wavering. “We don’t have any money, though. It... it was all in the bedroom, and...” Her voice trails off as she realizes that the bedroom, which they’d been holed up in until that unending knock at their front door had thrown them back into reality, is completely gone and, had they not been pulled from their passion, they’d probably have been swept away as well. “You saved our lives. If you hadn’t knocked when you did...”

Alison shakes her head, murmuring softly as she pulls her jacket off and wraps it around Chelsea’s trembling shoulders. “Don’t think about that right now. In fact, here. If you need a hotel, I have some money on me...” She has a couple hundred bills, to Aaron’s shock, and holds it out to the distressed woman like it’s nothing.

“We can’t take that,” Adam chokes out, pride fighting with desperation as he stares from his wife to the money. “We have no way to pay you back...” He fiddles with the phone for a moment before looking up. “Do you have a car? Maybe we can just take that to--”

Alison is, of course, ready for this and she sighs, grimacing. “Sorry, this is why we were out here in the first place. It broke down a few miles up the road and started smoking when this one tried to fix it.” She points at Aaron who, quickly catching on, rolls his eyes in response, stuffing his hands in his jeans pockets. “We were walking when the weather started getting very bad. We could tell it was possibly heading towards really severe weather so when we saw your place, we knew we had to move fast.”

Impressed and amused as always at her quick and easy way of spinning stories to maintain their front, Aaron pats Adam on the back and steps aside, heading back towards the women. Chelsea slips away from Alison and rejoins her husband, who is still looking around with a pained grimace at their former home. “Does the phone work?” she whispers quietly, peering at the dark screen on the device.

“I forgot to check,” he realizes, pressing a button and holding his breath as it lights up. “We have bars,” he finally admits, almost sinking down to the floor in relief.

As he places the call, Alison and Aaron takes a few more steps away for privacy. “What are we going to do?” he asks her, dreading her answer. “We can’t exactly just leave them here without their getting suspicious, but if we stay and the police come, they might start asking questions we don’t really have the answer for.”

“The only thing that’ll sink us is the fact that, should the police want to try to help with our car, they’ll quickly realize there is no car,” she comments lowly. “But, like you, I don’t feel comfortable just ditching them here. Not that they know enough about us to hunt us down, it just feels wrong to kick people while they’re down.” Not to mention that they feel deeply connected to these people and their personal plight after surviving such a nightmare together. “I want to see this through to the end.”

“Me too,” he concedes, watching as Adam gets off of his phone and hugs his wife close to him once more. “Come on, let’s go see what the police said.” As they near, he holds Aaron’s phone out to him with a distant look in his eyes. Aaron smoothly takes it from him and slips it into his pocket, relieved to be staying with Alison.

“Help’s on the way,” he sighs.

“We’ll stay until they come,” Alison tells them softly. “Our car, if it’s still there, can wait.” And just like that, the answer to their problem clicks into place. Tornadoes in the vicinity and one missing car, well, who’s to say that it didn’t just sweep their car up and far, far away like it had these poor peoples’ house? In any other situation, the two Piaculum would’ve looked at each other and high fived, the ingenious lie just fitting perfectly with the sad reality before them. But even they have some standards and refrain despite the giddiness welling up within them at finding a perfect way out from their predicament. One look at Chelsea and Adam’s plumbstruck, grimy faces and all happiness is washed away like ice on a hot day.

They resume trying to comfort the two, ushering them away from the still groaning remains of the house and into the cornfields, which is trampled by wind and debris but still more secure than the questionable structure looming eerily behind them. None of them notice a form half-hidden by the untouched stalks of corn, watching them closely.

It takes hours, it feels like, for the police to arrive and Aaron thinks it’s probably right, finally pulling his phone out once they do arrive to find that, yep, well over two hours had passed since Adam had made his phone call. He wonders what kind of damage had been suffered back by Champaign, the officers looking frenzied as they join the four young people and begin to talk with them about what happened, an ambulance quickly following and a fire truck after that. Alison and Aaron remain, not wanting to raise suspicions at all by the cops, and make a show of asking about their car, both acting unsettled and horrified when the police tell them they’d driven here through the place the two had claimed their car had been and not seen anything.

“Do you think a tornado swept it away?” Alison asks, green eyes wide as she seems to consider the prospect. As the police confirm this as more likely than not, she shakes her head and groans. “God... If we had stayed in there...” She rests against Aaron, trying to breathe evenly. “Aaron...”

“I know,” he whispers soothingly, petting her hair gently. “I know.” Even more impressed by just how well she’s playing this through, he wonders how much practice he’ll need to get to her level. Then again it’d been months and he hadn’t gotten very many suspicious reactions... Maybe I’m just a quick learner. Or maybe I’ve always been an innate liar and that’s why Ser picked me. He shakes slightly, trying to hold his laughter in, and Alison must notice as her fingers dig into his side, pinching viciously. He just holds back a yelp and nods against her, taking a breath to calm down.

They accept a ride into town from the police after the EMTs provide blankets for the woefully underdressed Adam and Chelsea, checking all four of them out quickly before letting them go. Upon arriving in Champaign, they’re dropped off at the nearest hotel after giving the police what they need to contact them there. The four then stand around anxiously as Aaron and Alison try now to figure out the next piece of their story-- how exactly they’re going to disappear without worrying or raising these two’s suspicions.

Stalling for time, Alison once more digs into her purse. “Last chance,” she tells them softly. “This isn’t a hand out, I just want to help you. And I know you’ll pay me back when you get the opportunity. Just please, let me do this right here. It’s the least I can do, if not for your basement being as secure as it was, I doubt me or Aaron would still be breathing about now. Please?”

The couple have a silent conversation before turning back to her, Adam looking both reluctant and thankful. “Fine, we’ll definitely be paying you back as soon as we’re back on our feet though.”

As she presses the money into his hand, she nods. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from you, Adam.” Turning to look at Aaron, she tries to smile. “I guess we should leave now, huh?” He plays along, nodding, but Adam and Chelsea both look confused.

“You’re not staying here too?” he asks as his wife speaks up, still sounding teary eyed, “Where are you going to go?”

“Oh.” She takes a breath and, once more flying by the seat of her pants, explains, “We were here visiting some friends and were heading home when our car broke down. We’ll just walk over to their house, it’s not that far from here, right, Aaron?” As he nods, she begins digging into her bag before pulling a small notebook and marker from deep within, quickly scribbling something on the first blank sheet of paper she finds. “Here’s my phone number, if you need anything, call whenever. I want to make sure you guys get through this ok, alright?”

Aaron swallows, reaching out for the page before she can hand it to them. As they all look at him, he feels incredibly awkward, like a new child on the first day of school. “Hey, can I... mind if I give you my number too? I want to hear from you both as well.” Alison’s face softens as she hands over the paper and marker, watching with a small smile as he writes his digits down and hands it to them, coughing into a fist in embarrassment. It is a first for him, to have gotten close enough with a couple he’d just rescued to even attempt this, but he finds it surprisingly simple to pass off his number, feeling relieved that he had succeeded in helping them to last this long.

“Sure man, we’ll keep both of you in the loop,” Adam says, clinging to both the money and paper. “Thank you so much for everything, I don’t even know where to begin...”

Chelsea, almost overwhelmed with reluctance at having to say goodbye, lunges forward and hugs Alison closely, shaking against her as she holds her just as tightly, murmuring softly into her ear. The men approach each other, quickly shaking hands before separating, turning to watch as Alison soothes Chelsea and wipes her tears away with a sympathetic touch. “It’ll be ok. Call whenever you want, yeah? If I don’t answer, leave a voicemail and I’ll call back as soon as I can.”

“Ok.” She hugs her again and sniffs. “Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome.” One last squeeze and Alison pulls away from the girl with a faint smile. “Take care of yourselves, ok? We’ll talk soon.”

Aaron and Adam echoing general farewells, he joins her. Turning only long enough to wave at the two before they continue up the street, he takes a deep breath, feeling the tension of keeping up all of those lies fading from his body slowly with each step. “God almighty,” he mumbles, exhausted.

She half-smiles, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye. “You handled all of that quite well. I’m impressed.”

He shakes his head, loosely wrapping an arm around her shoulders once more. He grows even happier when she doesn’t tense or shrug him away. “If you hadn’t even thought up all of those, we wouldn’t have made it this far. I swear, I should pick your brain on some of my story ideas at some point. You’d probably kill a lot of my plot holes.” At her visible confusion, he chuckles wearily. “Oh yeah, you probably haven’t realized this. When I’m not stocking vegetables at the local grocery store, I’m an aspiring author. Plot holes are my worst nightmare... or, well, they were,” he muses, grinning as her eyes widen in realization. “But don’t you dare ask to read what I write. Nothing’s finished and I personally never let anyone read my stuff unless it’s perfect.”

“Oh boy, it’ll never see the light of day then,” she teases him, smiling as he huffs.

“So you say!” he tells her, glancing back. “Ok, I can’t see the hotel door from here. Ready?”

“Yep.” She steps away from him and looks around, relieved to find Aaron had led them to a side street leading away from the hotel, all of the buildings around lifeless and the street itself devoid of all life. “Quiet enough street, good choice. See you for the next mission. Stay out of trouble with all of your hardcore writing and grocery store stocking.” As he glowers at her, she laughs aloud and waves, closing her eyes to focus.

As soon as she opens her eyes to her simple, quiet home, she drops to her knees and groans gutturally in pain. “Oh hell,” she moans, digging her nails into the carpet under her hands. Intense pain burning from her chest down her arm, across her rib cage, she tries desperately to regulate her breathing and ride it out. Her pulse is racing and all she can think is No, no. Please not now, not like this. Deep inside she’d known that Aaron had been right to worry, had felt her body slowly growing more resistant to all she’d put it through while trying to outrun the tornado, all of Ser’s powers that she’d accessed to do what needed to be done flowing through her sending her even closer to a bad reaction, but...

I refuse to give up, I refuse to be... worthless... Her thoughts growing more and more muddled, she slips bonelessly to the ground and can only breathe as her heart struggles to regulate itself, her body slowly failing her. “Help...” Consciousness has just left her when a shadow drops across her form and a soft hand rests against her face, eases down to brush against her chest.

Ser watches on impassively as she fights against his touch, too weak and out of it to be aware of who’s inside of her apartment. He can’t do much, just this simple contact with her already weakening him as blue light pours out of his fingers and coats her body in a healing glow, but he holds on for as long as he can, until cool sweat begins to gleam against his rapidly paling skin. Breaking away with a pained gasp, he clutches his chest and waits for the borrowed agony to dissipate, watching as she finally gasps in a normal sounding breath, her heart beat much more regular, controlled. “I am sorry,” he tells her soberly. “I wish I could do more for you.”

Still weakened from doing what he could to heal her from this latest bad reaction towards receiving so much of his power, his responses are slowed down so significantly that he doesn’t notice the other presence in the room with them, gasping as strong hands come out of nowhere and grip the sides of his face. Dark blue eyes burn into his own as power is drained rapidly from him, leaving him staggering and struggling. “You may not be able to,” a cruel, chilling voice whispers. “But we both know now who can, thanks to your little... donation.”

Ser is almost completely drained of all of his energy when finally it all stops, leaving him as powerless as a newborn. Heavy black gaze locked on the person before him, he shakes his head. “He will never be able to control such power... I will find him... this isn’t over.”

“Oh but it is,” Reno Olmstead tells him simply. Hands still on his face, fingers digging into his temples, he sneers. “Now... forget this happened.” And just like that, Ser’s eyes roll into the back of his head and he passes out, landing next to Alison on the floor with a soft thud.

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