Scene 12 – March 26th
Interior Mansion, Continuous
“So, Quinn,” Jacob asked as we sat down around the table – him and Holly’s mom next to each other, me and Holly across from them. “How did you and Holly meet?”
“We work at the same part-time job,” she said.
“Although,” I added, “we nearly met two years ago. We shared an art history course at UNV, as it turns out. A small overlap in our education.”
“Ah, you attend UNV? What for?” he pressed.
“I’m a biology major, with a concentration in metahuman biology. The plan was to become a doctor and specialized in treating metahumans.”
“Was,” he noted. “Did something happen?”
“Well… plans change. Some personal stuff… I’d rather not talk about it,” I demurred.
He hummed. “I see. Are you sure that you can’t explain further?”
I hesitated. “I’d really rather not…”
“Explain,” he said again, his voice almost musical, and I nodded agreeably.
“Sure. My father died a few months ago, and I promised him that I would become a superhero. I won’t have time to both work as a hero and go to med school, so I had to cut one.”
“Hmm. Reasonable, I suppose.”
Holly narrowed her eyes. “Father, you can’t do that!”
“Do what, honey?” her mother said calmly.
Holly froze, then shrank back a little. “Nothing, mother.”
Jacob shrugged. “I won’t do it if they answer our questions. Does that sound fair to you, beloved?”
“Perfectly fair, dear.”
He smiled at me. “Well, I think it’s quite good of you to have wanted to become a doctor, even if other matters have prevented you.”
“Thanks. I’d still rather like to, to be honest,” I confessed, scrunching up my face to get rid of a momentary feeling of discontinuity “but plans change, like I said. And thanks for not making me explain.”
He waved a hang magnanimously, even as Holly frowned. “Of course, of course. So, you met at work! How nice.”
“It may have been some time since I worked,” Delilah commented, speaking for the first time since we sat, “but I seem to recall that in my day, it was considered a bad idea to date your coworkers.”
“Ah, they’re young,” Jacob said, dismissing this objection. “Besides, we met on the job as well.”
“That’s different. We worked in the same field, but we weren’t coworkers when we met.”
“I’m sure it’s fine, beloved,” he assured her. “Didn’t you see them out on the patio? Quite adorable, don’t you agree?”
“Ah yes, the patio,” she said. “Holly, you know full well you’re not allowed to use magic in the house.”
“We weren’t in the house,” Holly said defensively. “We were on the patio.”
“We also don’t like you trying to hide things from us. You’re not allowed to create privacy screens like you did there, not against us.”
“Now hold on, everyone deserves privacy,” I protested, but was ignored.
“What’s the point in banning them?” Holly demanded. “It’s not like they work against you two, apparently.”
“We taught you everything you know, of course they don’t work against us,” Delilah said, still calm. “And because we taught you, we get to decide how you use our skills.
“They’re not your skills, they’re hers!” I snapped.
“Be silent,” Jacob murmured. “This doesn’t concern you.” I obeyed, sitting back in my seat.
“This is exactly what I hate about you two,” Holly hissed. “You treat me like I’m a thing, like I’m something that you own. I’m a grown woman! I have the right to make my own decisions!”
“Like this….” Delilah wrinkled her nose at me. “…person?”
“Yes! If I love Quinn, that’s my choice, and what you think doesn’t enter into it! But no, you just have to meet them and see if you approve of them dating your daughter, because it’s your feelings that matter most!”
“Honey, what you don’t realize is that we know better than you,” Jacob said soothingly, holding his hands open-palmed towards his daughter. “We have much more life experience than you. We know the world better. We know people better. If this Quinn person has ulterior motives, well…” He shrugged. “We’re in a much better place to see that than you are, particularly given our magical specialties.”
“I hate you,” Holly growled at her father.
“If it makes you feel any better,” he told her, “I see no reason to disapprove of them, at least not yet. Admittedly, I’m not done yet either.”
“It doesn’t change the fact that you’re still putting them through this interrogation!” Holly snapped.
“While they are admittedly a superhero,” Delilah said, absently drumming her fingers against the table and staring at me, “you are as well. A decision I still don’t understand…”
“The only one you ever let me make,” Holly muttered, crossing her arms.
“And if they were planning to become a doctor, they must be intelligent enough – oh, dear, ask them about their grades.”
“Of course, beloved.” He snapped his fingers.
I blinked in surprise, feeling a slight disconnect. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“I was asking about your time at UNV,” Jacob reminded me, and I nodded, his prompting helping me to remember. “Medical school is very difficult to get into – were you at all worried about your grades?”
“It’s tough, sure, but I’ve always been good at school. Valedictorian back in high school, 4.0 all through college, the works. I even managed to keep up my grades last semester after starting work. It’s not easy,” I noted, “but I can do it.”
“4.0 average, really?” he said approvingly, flashing his wife a quick smile. “That’s quite impressive.”
“Well, biology isn’t exactly easy, but it’s nothing compared to Holly,” I said, glancing over at her, and Jacob’s grin grew. “She might be the smartest person I’ve ever met.”
Holly was a little flushed and couldn’t meet my eyes. “Quinn…”
“What? It’s true. You should have seen her teaching me about magic.” I turned back to her parents. “It takes months and months for people to find a casting style that works for them in college, and she got me there in minutes.”
“It was your idea,” she protested, trying to deflect my praise.
“But you were the one who helped me get it working.”
“So you’re a mage yourself, then?” Jacob cut in. “My wife and I are as well, I hope Holly’s mentioned.”
“I’m not much of a mage – I really only know one spell,” I admitted. “And yeah, she told me – it came up when she taught me how to cast.”
“Honey, you shouldn’t be-”
“I know, mother,” Holly complained, interrupted her mother. “You don’t want me teaching people magic.”
“It’s not safe to learn magic unsupervised,” Delilah continued. “Quinn, you’re going to have to show us this magic of yours. Just to make sure that our teachings have been passed on properly.”
“Sure,” I agreed. I focused my presence for a moment on my wineglass. Almost instantly, the interior of the glass filled with light, a thick, almost-liquid white glow. “There you go.”
“Interesting method of casting,” she said, tilting her head to the side. “It almost resembles how Arthur does it.”
“Surely not, beloved. Arthur always used gestures.”
“Not Könberg, dear. Peregrine.”
I leaned forward curiously. “You know Arthur Peregrine?”
Jacob sighed. “Observant kid, aren’t you? Forget that,” he ordered, and I did. “How long did it take you to get that spell down?”
“The first time, or in general?”
“It took what, fifteen minutes to cast, the first time?” I asked Holly, and she nodded confirmation. “Then a month or so of regular practice before I could do it fast enough for it to be useful. Around three before I got it as instantly as that.”
“Quite impressive, don’t you think, beloved?” he asked his wife.
“I suppose,” she admitted, sounding reluctant to give me any credit. “Let’s try a test.”
“Be silent, honey,” she ordered. I frowned, hating how Holly’s parents were treating her – I had known that they would be like this, but knowing and seeing were too very different things. But I let her take the lead – when she spoke up, I would back her, and until then… “Quinn,” Delilah began, flicking a finger and erasing my light spell, “focus on the wineglass again, but this time on the glass, not the air inside it.”
“I’m not sure that-” I tried to protest.
“Do as she says.”
I focused, letting everything in the world fade away except the glass.
“Sound, as I hope you know, is nothing more than a pattern of vibrations.”
Delilah’s voice continued, instructing me as I meditated on the wineglass, arraying myself in the perfect focus that Holly had instructed me to use.
“Whether it be a violin, a barking dog, a crackling fire, or your own voice, that pattern is all there is.”
The glass vibrated gently with her every word, a pattern that was becoming more and more clear.
“And that pattern can be changed, altered, reworked, at the will of the magician.”
It was a pattern that made no sense to my conscious mind, but I could still understand it, could connect it to my sense of hearing and interpret it easily.
“But sound is a complex thing indeed. Even a simple ‘hello’ has layers and complexities that the conscious mind cannot possibly design itself.”
Even the subtleties of the wineglass’s vibration that corresponded to the sounds of people breathing, and a faint, otherwise imperceptible hum coming from Jacob, were written clearly in its pattern.
“But your unconscious mind can understand them – and more than that, can create them. To generate an auditory construct, here is what you must do…”
Delilah’s instructions sank into my mind like pebbles into a lake, sending out ripples that faded and shifted and forever changed the lake in a way. I learned…
“…so connect your unconscious mind to your imagination to your conscious mind, and speak – not with your voice, but with the glass.”
“Like this?” I asked, imposing a pattern of my own speaking voice on the wineglass.
“Yes, precisely.” Delilah turned to Jacob. “Impressive,” she admitted.
He nodded. “They seem to be quite a quick learner. If that unfortunate tendency to stand up for themself and Holly can be corrected, they might make a very agreeable addition to the family.”
“If,” his wife pointed out. “They’re a bit old for the methods we used on her.”
“What methods-” I started, but was interrupted.
I blinked, experiencing another momentary disconnect, and instinctively reached for Holly’s hand – she squeeze it tightly, as though afraid I would drift away. “I’m really terribly sorry,” I said apologetically. “I feel like I’ve been drifting in and out all night, and it seems terribly rude. You’re both lovely people, and you don’t deserve for me to be like this.”
“No need for an apology, young-” Jacob began.
“You’re drifting in and out because father is mind controlling you,” Holly hissed at me, glaring at her parents.
I blinked in surprise. “He’s what?” I demanded, my eyes narrowing.
“Forget that. Young lady,” Jacob growled at Holly, “what do you think you’re doing?”
Something was slipping from my mind, but I fought to hold it – Holly had said something, had said… “I’m not just going to forget that you’re mind controlling me!” I snapped, rising and pulling Holly to her feet. “I think we should go, Hol-”
“I said forget it,” he snapped, half-standing out of his chair. “In fact, if you’re going to take this kind of attitude, you can forget this entire night, and that you ever met my daughter!”
“Remember,” Holly said sharply, clenching her fist, and a spike of pain lanced through my mind. “And father, I hope you realize, when you’re dying alone and haven’t seen or heard from me in years, that this was the moment that any hope of an eventual reconciliation was lost forever.” I staggered as she spoke, and she wrapped an arm around my waist, slinging one of mine over her shoulders to support me.
“Honey, what are you-”
“You know damn well what I’m saying,” she interrupted. “I was already planning on leaving and never speaking to you again, but maybe, if you hadn’t been manipulating the person I love, breaking their mind for your sick curiosity, I might have eventually reconsidered! But no, you just had to play your fucking game!”
“Holly,” Delilah said flatly, standing. “Why on earth would you be leaving?”
“You’re smart, figure it out,” Holly growled. “Maybe it has something to do with how you vanished for months on end and left me to fend for myself, over and over and over again? Or how you come back from those blessed periods of respite to take control of my life and countermand everything I do? How you’ve tried to pull me from the MLED five times and counting, and yet something which seems so fucking important to you is forgotten the moment a new magical puzzle comes along?” She laughed bitterly. “Fucking hell, you didn’t even notice that I’ve been moving all my stuff out.”
Delilah tilted her head to the side, her fingers twisting briefly and tiny sparks of light playing on her eyes for an instant, then she narrowed her eyes. “Holly, listen to me. You will-“
“You don’t get to tell me what to do anymore, mother,” Holly mocked. “Don’t you get it? I’m leaving. You have no power over me anymore. None. I’m not even going to think about you from the moment I walk out that door, never again, you hear me?”
“I just want to understand why-”
“If you don’t understand why now,” Holly said, “you never well. Good-bye forever, mother.” She turned and began walking, and I followed as best as I could.
She stopped and looking over her shoulder at her father. “Oh? And what do you have to say for yourself?
“I…” he narrowed his eyes. “I’m not going to stop you, honey. But you know what you must remain silent about.”
Jacob blinked. “What?”
“Maybe I can’t block your fucking mind-magic completely in the moment,” Holly snapped, “but I can damn sure break it down at my leisure. What, exactly, are you going to do if I snap that thought-binding spell and tell the MLED all about who you used to be? Are you going to come out of retirement? Leave your cozy little hideaway? Stop doing your goddamn magical experiments and maybe, I don’t know, act like parents for once in your lives?” Her parents exchanged a glance, but said nothing. “Yeah,” Holly said, turning away again. “I didn’t think so.”
Scene 13 – March 26th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Evening
Quinn seemed to have been hit pretty hard by my father’s enchantment magic and my hasty countercharm, and I honestly had no idea how much, if anything, they’d remember – mind magic was a delicate thing, and I had poked at Tristan’s perception filter at the beach for more reason than the dubious-at-best legality of it. If they had forgotten me… I didn’t know what I’d do.
I couldn’t share my parents’ identities and didn’t think I could break that spell, despite what I had told my father – that order had been layered onto my mind since I was a little girl – but I wouldn’t have to say exactly which supervillains they were to tell Armstrong that Quinn had been mindwiped by my parents. And… and that was the least I would do, I swore to myself, if Quinn’s mind had been permanently damaged. If they had hurt them…
I fretted worriedly, glad that the compound was empty for once as I laid them down on the common room’s couch. If their mind didn’t wake up from its current state soon…
I could feel the blankness of their mind if I extended my senses towards them, and I hated the feeling. It was worse than the grayness that pervaded their thoughts whenever they got caught up in memories of their father – there were still thoughts beneath that, even if they were wrapped in grief, but now…
Just a few moments before I was about to psychically prod them, Quinn stirred. “Oh god,” they moaned. “Did anyone get the number of the bus that hit me?”
“Quinn,” I worriedly said, reaching for their hand. “Do you…” I swallowed. “What do you remember?”
They blinked a few times, eyes unfocused, before they met my gaze and smiled. “Holly! I remember…” Quinn frowned, their brow furrowing. “We sat down to eat… your dad was asking me about… why I wasn’t planning on being a doctor. And then… everything else is a blur. What happened?”
The relief I felt was indescribable – they had forgotten everything from the first time my father had used his mental magic on them, but nothing else. They hadn’t forgotten why we were there, they hadn’t forgotten the entire night, they hadn’t forgotten me. “It… don’t worry about it, Quinn,” I said, blinking a few tears away.
“Don’t-” I started to say, lacing my voice with psychic undertones, then cut myself off before I could finish the suggestion. Quinn was already lucky to have survived with their mind intact – I shouldn’t upset that balance with more mind magic, no matter how much it would simplify things.
Especially because… hadn’t I just been yelling at my father for this exact thing? Mind control was his first resort whenever anything didn’t go his way, and here I was, about to forcibly prevent my best friend from thinking about what had happened tonight. I couldn’t do that to them. I shouldn’t do that to them. That was…
I was a piece of shit for even considering it.
I sighed. “It’s all over now,” I said to Quinn, refusing to let those harmonics enter my voice. “There’s nothing to worry about anymore.”
They hesitated. “If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure. Don’t-” I bit my lip. How many times had I spoken those words, cast that spell? Was it really that instinctive, to prevent people from worrying about me? “Don’t worry about it.”
“…okay. If you say so,” Quinn said, lifting themself up into a crosslegged posture. “Hey, come here.” I leaned into them, and they pulled me into a comforting hug. “You’re shivering. This whole thing with your parents really has you freaked out, huh?”
I was shivering? I hadn’t even noticed. “Yeah,” I confessed. “It… they–” I knew what I must remain silent about. “-they’re pretty shitty people,” I managed. “But I’m done with them now. I never have to see them again.”
“And here you are, worrying about me when I probably just had too much to drink,” Quinn murmured. “I’m sorry. I was there to support you, and what did I do? I can’t even remember…”
“No, you were very helpful,” I promised them. “If you weren’t there…. like I said, I end up folding when I face them alone, and if you hadn’t been there…” If the person I loved hadn’t been there under threat, clear and imminent reason for me to marshal my courage… “I’m sure I would have folded again,” I finished.
Quinn nodded, their breath tickling the crook of my neck, and I shivered – noticing it this time, perhaps because it was a pleasant shiver rather than an unconscious, fearful one. Then they released me, but only enough to gently spin me around.
“Quinn, what are you – ooh,” I moaned as they began kneading my shoulders and the base of my neck, my eyes closing instinctively.
“You’re incredibly tense,” they said. “You need to relax a little, Holly.”
“I just… god, harder… it’s a combination of fear and relief and… and…”
“I know. It’s a lot,” they said sympathetically as I practically melted.
“…you’re really good at this,” I whispered.
“God… of all the fake partners I could have had tonight,” I couldn’t prevent myself from saying a few minutes later, “I’m glad it was you that my parents decided to fixate on.” Quinn laughed, and I continued, “you really would be a wonderful partner.”
Their hands paused for a moment, and they hesitantly said, “Holly, I… I was happy to step in and help tonight, and I’m glad that I can help relieve your stress, but…” I heard them swallow nervously. “…you do know we’re not actually dating, right?”
“Yes, Quinn, I know,” I responded, trying not to sound sad about it. However much I might like to…
“I think…” They swallowed again. “I think we’re on the same page about wanting to, unless I’ve misread things massively, but… I’m not ready yet. And… I don’t think you are either, right now.”
“…yeah,” I eventually admitted. “Yeah, I think you’re right.” They slowly began to massage my shoulders again, and I struggled to hold back another moan of pleasure. “…but don’t think I didn’t catch the ‘yet’ in there.”
I could hear the smile in their voice as they said, “Oh, I wanted you to.”
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