In the forge
Location: In the forge
Timeline: After the attempt on Cat.
"Jericho is going to explain all of that to you later," Hulga waved dismissively, "but, what I can tell you is that I'm... " she paused and then seemed to cast aside her doubts, "I'm not Human."
"Hulga I would never insult you by calling you human, but what do you mean?" Cat tilted her head as she started prepping to work on Brann's griffin again.
Hulga turned and bent down, putting her hands on either side of the scrap metal bin. It was half-inch thick steel plates that had been bolted together and was just low enough for Cat to hang into a search for metal pieces and wide enough that it didn't seem possible Hulga's hands would reach by at least a third of the span. Somehow, this time, they did as it seemed Hulga grew taller and wider, her skin darkening slightly as she hefted the bin up on her shoulder like a sack of laundry when in fact, it had to weigh hundreds of pounds!
The face that regarded Cat was still recognizable Hulga but it had gone all gray and black, iron and steel and she flexed her eyebrows at Cat, gestured to the bin on her shoulder with her hand and then turned and squatting, settled it back where it had been. She shrank back to normal as she did so, dusting of her hands and her shoulders and arms and frowning at what came off. "I need to clean back there," she muttered.
"Hulga, what are you?" Cat said looking at her mentor with a raised brow. She was confused, how had she never noticed what was going on around them. "How can I see what you are and never have seen it before?" She bit her lip and turned to look at the scrap bin.
Cat spun the glass blowing pipe. She had been locked in the forge since the two Payer boys had cornered her. She had finally stopped shaking and started working on the figurines that she was trying to get finished for Christmas. Brann's griffin sat on the shelf tempering and cooling slowly so that it wouldn't shatter. She was working on a "Maus-Brand" logo out of different colors but still very Maus like.
She saw a white haired figure enter her peripheral vision and recognized Maus, who was studiously -not- looking at what she was doing and was instead poking through the broken stock bin on the side.
"Maus, you might as well look." Cat laughed as she tweaked the logo a bit. She set the hot glass down to cool while she preped another type of glass. The glass she had made the logo for was a higher melting point than the glass she was working with now. While she had been working on Brann's griffin she had thought of a new idea for Maus' present and was putting it into form. She fixed the logo onto the end and got the lower temp glass hot so that she could form a sphere around the logo. She formed an eye around the logo, complete with optic nerves dangling off the back. She finished shaping it so that it would hang from the top. "What do you think?" She asked once she pulled a couple more 'nerves' out.
"I might have to try to mass-produce those," he placed his hands behind his back so he wouldn't try to grab the hot glass but he grinned kinda goofy. He was grabby sometimes, especially if it was sparkly. "I brought a picnic, Ang and Bran'll be here in a bit."
"It's better than the one the Payers broke. I thought about the whole logo in the eye last night before I fell asleep. I'm just glad I could pull it off." She grinned as she carefully put the eye on a round form so that it could cool. "I'll let you have it as soon as it tempers, I don't want it to shatter because it didn't cool properly."
"Save it for Christmas," he told her softly. "I've got your present pre-ordered but I gotta Mausenstein it before I give it over."
"Pre-ordered?" Cat asked with a raised brow.
"Do you think I kept anything important where those gorillas could get to it?" he laughed scornfully. "I've got shit hidden ALL over the Academy and I've been burnin up the net in Bubble's office when she wasn't on her second tower."
"You been coding that hard?" She laughed as she set her tools down and took off her gloves.
"Shyeah!" he told her with a dismissive wave, "You don't think I'm gonna give anybody anything with sheepware on it do ya? ONLY my latest first-run production-grade Squeak-ware and Maus-Tech is gonna do for you guys. Mama J might have a fit," he shrugged and grinned, "but I think she's due."
"Yeah she'll probably have a fit when she finds out Hulga and I had a talk earlier tonight." Cat looked around the room and gave Maus a smile. "I'll tell you when Brann and Ang get here."
"I can't wait to hear about this one," Maus chuckled and went to the backpack, taking out plastic cups and plates, a thermos and wrapped sandwiches thick with meat and cheese.
Angel came into the forge then taking off her coat and scarf and hat as the warmth of the forge sunk past the cold from outside, "Oooo, lunch, I'm starved!!"
"Two sandwiches each," Maus said putting the old-fashioned paper-wrapped thick sandwiches down, "and I got coffee in one and tea in the other," he said holding up the thermoses.
Cat grinned broadly and snagged a mug and the thermos of tea. "What kind?" She asked wiggling the tea in Maus' direction.
"Yeah, what kind?" Brann arrived just in time for food, as always. He gave Angel and Cat each a little hug before helping himself. "It's nice to get outside."
Angel went straight for the coffee, ignoring the tea entirely. "Agreed," she said after washing down a big bite of her sandwich with a swig of hot coffee, "but why are we eating here, it's hotter then hellfire in here." Angel notoriously hated being over heated.
"Because its snowing outside?" Maus asked with a quirked eyebrow. "Besides, it's not that hot in here and we can always open the doors."
"Angel's just a wimp when it comes to hot places." Cat said with a grin. "So I have some interesting news, you know how things have been getting weird lately. Like with the fakey Payer's ears and the thing at breakfast yesterday. Hulga is part of the weirdness too, she told me she wasn't human. Though she seemed to ignore me when I asked what she was. She turned huge, picked up the scrap bin like it was a laundry bag. Personally I thought it was really cool. But I'm starting to wonder if any of the staff are actually human and what they actually are. And why are they taking care of us, why do they care about us at all?" She looked around the small group sitting on the floor.
"'Cause we're like them," Maus said with a shrug, "Oh! Remember when she told us the story of Hansel and Gretel when we were toddles?" He glanced around the circle to see if anyone remembered.
"That poor witch," Brann shook his head sadly as he remembered the tale. "It was horrible how those little brats shoved her into the oven. Imagine how she felt?"
"Right so she read it from the book and all of us were sitting on the floor with her and Summer and Betsy," he nodded and started to grin. "Then she closed the book and told us that the witch was good and explained why and what she was actually doing out there in the first place."
"Weeding out the bad kids," Brann reflected. "'Cause good kids would never go out into the forest." He paused, taking a sip of coffee. "She was hinting at the truth all along when she read that book."
Cat looked between the boys. So not only were they abandoned but they weren't... Her head popped up as she remembered what Hulga had told her earlier. 'And you know your parents left you here for a reason?' Hulga's words replayed in her head. If Maus was right and they weren't human maybe that was why their parents abandoned them, maybe it really was something more. She looked at the only family she had ever had. "What if that's why?" She asked softly.
"It makes sense," Brann took a small bite from his sandwich. "If we're like the witch in the woods then life 'out there' ain't easy. How could our parents protect us when..." he swallowed quietly. "The humans hunt them?"
"And hiding us in plain sight is the best things she can do," Maus added, nodding as he took a gigantic bite and started chewing.
"Hulga practically told me. She asked me if I knew my parents had left me here for a reason. So maybe they did it for our protection. Why not at least let us know they love us? Leave a note or something for us, anything just so we didn't feel like they had thrown us away." Cat was angry that she had spent so much time hating her parents when there was every possibility that they had left her not because they didn't want and love her but because they did.
"Your parents can't help how you feel Cat," Maus told her, gesturing towards her with the sandwich. "Neither can Jericho. She's only every kept it very neutral, until recently really and she's taught us that sometimes we have to make really hard decisions for people we love, to protect them. All those stories about sacrifice and stuff had to have been about this," he shook his head and took a sip of tea. "I mean, really, it doesn't fit her otherwise."
"They have their reasons," Brann fell solemn. "Maybe our parents aren't so far away as we think."
"Dude," Maus glared at him. "I'm claiming Kyort as my Daddy."
"Not until after he fucks me for a tat," Brann glared back.
"Maus, you sure you want to go claiming Kyort as your Daddy given what you had to do with him to get that ink?" Cat laughed as she mulled over what Brann had said. "I know they can't help how we feel but Angel's parents left a note with her, and a blanket. Mine just left me and I've spent the last sixteen years hating them for it." She pulled her knees up to her chest and looked at the boys. "Now I find out that they might have been trying to keep me safe and I'm trying to reconcile that. I've hated them for so long and felt right to do that, now I'm not sure it was right."
“Did they leave you somewhere really bad?” Maus asked mildly.
"It's not the where that made me hate them Maus." Cat looked over at him and took a deep breath, she hated emotional crap and the day that she'd had had just made it all the worse. "I've always thought that they threw me away, that they didn't want me and I was nothing but trash to them. I never had any evidence to the contrary. Now there's evidence that supports the idea that maybe I was wrong to think that way and so now I'm having to deal with the fact that I feel guilty for hating people who's only crime may have been to have loved me. It alters how I view somethings and makes me wonder about other absolute decisions that I've made based on that fact. It's a mind shift and it's gonna take me a few days and some more evidence either way before I'm going to be able to decide which way I'm going to feel. So right now I feel confused and am voicing that confusion."
"Okay so I'm trying to help you reason through the emotion," Maus said calmly. "They left you somewhere you were cared for, clean, warm, had good clothes, friends and people that became family. Yeah we have Payers to put up with but if you don't have something to be against, you can't learn how to cope with things like that." Maus reached out and poked her in the forehead with his index finger just like Hulga did, "You weren't left in a dumpster or a public toilet or put into the system of foster homes. Trash gets thrown away Cat, you were put somewhere you would be cared for and taught how to be a strong person and where you would form real bonds." And then he looked down and said softly, "Besides, when you say trash, its like you really think that and that means you think we're trash because we were left here too."
Cat let out a little growl and narrowed her eyes at Maus. "One persons trash is another persons treasure. You guys are my treasure, it doesn't matter to me why your parents left you here, I'm just glad you're here. You're my family and I love you guys. I read in a book there are three kinds of family. 'The one you are born to, the one born to you, and the one you let into your heart.' You guys are the family I let into my heart and the one I choose to stand with." She shook her head and reached over to pull Maus into a hug. "You are right, and I have never actually thought about it that way. Personally I always just thought they left me on a convenient doorstep, not that they might have actually taken the time to research that this would be a good place. So just another plus for the parents cared column and another con for the Cat hates her parents column. Thanks Maus."
"Love you too Cat," he said muffled in her hug. "And you can drag me over broken glass before I'll admit I said it," he said as she released him, grinning wickedly like a mischievous little brother should.
"Back on topic," Brann set his mug down. "I saw a face in Maus' monitor the other night. It was a woman looking over my shoulder. When I saw her she freaked out and bolted. When I turned she was gone and there was no way she could have gotten in or out of our room without my knowing it. That's not all of it, though," he breathed a long sigh. "I can't explain it but I could tell she knew me."
"You think that she was your mom, Brann?" Cat asked cocking her head to the side. "I mean really? Do you think our parents could be keeping tabs on us and we never knew?"
"We looked the same age, so I doubt she was my mom," he shook his head. "It is possible that our parents are keeping tabs on us, though. You know Jericho only tells us what we 'need' to know. If telling us about our parents put us in danger then she would keep it from us. Remember what we learned." he looked between the girls. He knew Maus remembered. "Look to the greater good , not to the moment or to our feelings."
"So there's something really dangerous we don't know about," Maus said and gestured towards the mainland, "out there." He frowned, "I don't like that."
"Neither do I," Brann took up his cup and swirled his coffee thoughtfully, "The only thing I can do about it is to learn more about what I am, what I can do, what I'm up against, and how I can better protect myself, and..." He leaned over to kiss Maus and then pan his gaze across the girls, "those I love."
"Yeah, I don't like the fact that there seems to be something going on. Hulga said something about people starting to pay more attention to me. I'm still confused about what she meant by that." She looked at the boys helplessly.
Brann gave Cat a deadpan look and then looked between Maus and Angel. "She's serious, isn't she."
"I think it might be more than that," Maus said. "I think you and I and Angel are immune, since we like guys but she's been getting a lot more traction with Mike and his bunch, even what-his-name uh, Draco. Yeah, him. He follows her around like a puppy."
"Draco is not following me like a puppy. I'm having to make sure he takes his drops and drinks his tea at the right time." Cat rolled her eyes. "And really Mike and the rest of the idiots have been claiming to have had sex with me since my boobs first appeared. Not like that's really changed." She snorted. She didn't think they knew about what had happened the night before and it was possible that Mike and Mark had been acting a little out of character but really not all that much. They had been some of the more aggressive Payers when it came to wanting to put truth to the lie.
"Yeah well Mark got a chest full of broken glass from somewhere," Maus grinned at her, "and Mark fell down a couple flights of stairs later with Mike when they added Brandon and tried to take on Serafina." He winced at the very idea of how bad an idea that was.
"Good news travels fast and bad news faster," Brann nodded, giving Cat a knowing look. "Maus gets it at 4G."
"Great." Cat muttered and looked away. "Good to know the rumor mill is still in full swing." She shrugged carefully trying to keep the others from seeing how the information affected her.
Angel took her friend's hand and squeezed it tight, she didn't need to say anything.
Cat gave Angel a wan smile. She knew she was going to have to explain what happened but that didn't mean she really wanted to.
"The Payers are acting weirder than usual," Brann shook his head sadly. "Why is that? What part do we play in it?"
"Yeah, it's really not like them to trash all of our things. It seemed way over the top, usually they steal stuff but I can't ever remember this sort of thing happening before." Cat frowned and looked over at Brann. "It's like things are getting ramped up."
"Maybe we're ramping up and affecting them," Brann voiced his thought. "Maybe they're locked up for their safety, not ours. Remember, Jericho said to tell her if we had weird..." he cleared his throat, "cravings."
"I am so not eating Payers." Cat said with disgust on her face and dripping from her voice.
"No, but you might be turning them on," Brann smirked.
"Right, like they haven't been looking at me like that for the last three years." Cat rolled her eyes.
"No, I mean REALLY turning them on, like pheromones or something. Cat, it ain't that you're beautiful, that's a given. Payers are risking everything to get at you and it has nothing to do with revenge. Does Angel cause that kind of stir?"
"No but they tried to jump Serafina too." Cat said with a shrug even as she nodded. "I do see what you're saying though."
"Okay, we're changing and seeing things but why aren't we seeing things about each other?" Brann paused in thought. "Maybe 'cause we had no reason to look."
He thought back to when he looked at Maus' monitor screen. He expected something to pop up but he did not know what. He saw strange things when Jericho and Kyort did... something... to the Payers. In every case either someone did something he never expected or he was looking without knowing what to expect.
"Seeing what I expect to see..." Brann murmured under his breath. "Sit still, I'm going to try something."
"Liiike?" Maus asked, suddenly smiling -that- way.
Brann thought back to his Aikido meditation and imagined Sensei Hanza's soothing, whispering voice as he walked slowly around the dojo. Brann focused on his breathing, on the moment, on the crackle of flame in the forge, on the sound of his friends breathing. He pushed aside the images he expected to see and focused instead on that feeling like with the monitor.
He opened his eyes and looked around.
And saw nothing but the forge.
Or rather, saw everything picture perfect, everything like it was -meant- to be seen. It was like there was a picture in front of him, so real and so well done, it looked perfect, except he knew it as a picture.
Brann studied the "picture" of the forge before him in great detail, taking in how he knew it to be something "other." After this he turned to each Maus, Cat, and Angel and kept that sense of clarity and focus.
And saw something similar, though in Maus' case he saw a little flickering bluish light peeking around the edges, Cat seemed to have the forge behind her -which it wasn't- and Angel seemed to have sunlight playing on her back and shoulders, despite there being a snowstorm outside and it being dark in here.
Brann reached out to the pictures with a sense of wonder. It seemed so real he had to touch it. First the area around the forge and then his friends. He touched the flickering blue light around Maus and sought an edge to the image over him. He meant to peel it back. He attempted with each in turn, seeking edges to the pictures hoping to see what lay beneath.
Angel sipped her coffee watching the others as the moment turned into more. Words seemed strangely inappropriate so she stayed silent, that is until Brann's reaching hand nearly poked her in the eye, "Hey!"
Which brought him out of his reverie even as he felt his fingers brush against... something
Brann yanked his hand back with a gasp. He blinked, shook his head, and rubbed his fingers finding everything looked as it did before. "Holy shit," he looked as if he had not decided yet whether he felt spooked or thrilled. "It's like the fucking Matrix. I touched it!"
He looked excitedly at Maus, "It was like there was a picture on top of everything and I could see it. I could see around your picture and there was some kind of crackling light, like electric sparks." To Cat, "I saw the forge behind you only it wasn't." He faced angel, "It was like you sat in front of a window on a sunny day, the light shining down on your hair and shoulders but look," he pointed outside, "No sunlight."
"And you were there, Scarecrow and you too Lion," Maus teased him.
"Fuck you," Brann laughed and tweaked Maus by the nipple. "That was fun! It was weird and..." he glared at Angel, "you interrupted me so now it's your turn. Just relax like we're meditating and clear your mind." He smirked playfully, unable to resist the urge, "Shouldn't be too hard."
"Damn straight I interrupted you, you were going to poke me in the eye," Angel said picking up her second sandwich, "you all are like a kid with a scab, pick pick pick, I prefer to let things evolve... naturally." She took a big bite.
"You call that a natural tattoo." Brann lolled his head dryly. "You didn't seem to mind when Kyort was pick, pick, picking."
"Totally different," Angel said after she'd swallowed, "and well you know it, not like you aren't going to get your own. I meant this otherness that we all seem to have. I'll see what I see when I see it."
Cat let out a soft laugh as she shook her head at the antics. "Besides Brann, you can always try again. Just don't reach for Angel this time." She gave him a grin.
"Practice makes perfect," This time Brann assumed a proper, comfortable, rested position before relaxing into a meditative state. He repeated the steps and opened his eyes toward Cat. If he saw the picture, he intended to pull it back this time.
But apparently the moment was gone for such things.
Brann opened his eyes slowly and peered darkly at Angel. "I am going to drop a snowball down your shirt."
"You can try to catch me," Angel was known for climbing walls that no one else would dare to get away from them, she might not have the strength or stamina of the others but she could get into places they could never dream of.
"Wait here," Brann got up and made his way outside without a word.
Just as Brann walked out Cat's alarm went off, she let out a sigh and stood up. "Time to go get Draco to drink his tea. I'll catch up with you guys later." She waved and sauntered out of the forge, though it was easy to see that she was keeping an eye open and looking everywhere around her.
Her caution paid off with a loud "SPLAT" as a wet snowball smacked her face and shoulders, sending splatters of ice into the forge. In the distance Brann laughed, "TOO SLOW!"
"You're lucky I have work to do." Cat called back as she shook herself and tugged at her shirt. She was glad that her friends were having fun. She smiled and shook her head again as she headed back into the school. She was hyper aware of every shadow and kept waiting for someone to jump out at her.