The Hidden MemoryStarted by Jason Wyngarde at Aug 20, 2020 6:43 AM
May 25, 2015
That Sunday should have been like any other racing day in the life of the experienced motorcycle racer Jason Wyngarde, but it wasn't. It was especial and hurtful. A day filled with bad memories. Ones that had to stay hidden for his own sake and that of others. If not for his sense of responsibility, instilled in him by his years working with S.H.I.E.L.D., he would've skipped today's race altogether. Needless to say he didn't get to the podium today. It was already a bonus that there was no accident during the race as his mind wasn't at the track as it should have been. He hoped his team believed him when he told them that he wasn't in a good day, but everything was well otherwise. It seemed that all but one had. John Allerdyce, his mechanic, didn't seem to believe in his excuse for his poor performance. Jason had a budding relationship with the younger man, who had insisted in taking him home after they left the track.
Due to this, Jason wasn't alone when he got home that day, as he generally was on that date for about 10 years now. His suburban house at the outskirts of Brisbane was simple, but well kept for a single man who travels a lot. The fence around it was low, allowing a view of the grounds around the small house. Entering the grounds, there was a small garden with flowers and bushes. Nothing too tall nor hard to maintain. The inner decoration of the living room was minimalistic, but comfortable and had a classic style. The two men entered and Jason offered John a drink. Something inside of him was pleased that now he was home, but being not alone today wouldn't allow him to get as drunk as he generally did on such a date as it interfered with his control of his illusion casting power. Jason had told John he had a gift too after discovering about his pyrokinesis, but not exactly which one or its nature. Only that it was very different from his.
"Can I offer you anything, Allerdyce?" His tone was friendly. His need to get high, even if just slightly, being present and unavoidable.
John just looked at him. Maybe it was all the years living with two women who seemed to just know when something was wrong that had given him insight into recognising the same in others or, perhaps he’d just learnt to read the body language of those he considered his mates over time himself. Either way, the firebug wasn’t going to let it go this time. It’d happened far too often lately.
“Normally I’d say yes,” he answered, shaking his head. “But after what happened earlier, not sure it’s a good idea,” he paused, a seriousness to his tone, “Exactly how many drinks have you had today, Wyngarde?"
Had he been caught red-handed? Jason wasn't a man of the obvious sort. He had always been low-key when it came to his inner turmoils. He just sighed at John's words. "Not nearly enough after that tragedy..." He said hoping John would think he was alluding to the race.
That sigh was enough, John studying him. Yeah, he’d definitely learnt a lot from his foster family, like when to tell when someone was lying. It was so obvious the race was not what he was talking about. Nobody in their right mind would get anywhere near drunk just before going into something as important to his friend like that. Pyro knew they hadn't yet known each other long enough to expect the motorbike champion to just suddenly open up and spill all to him. Still, he wasn't about to give up.
“I’m half expecting some sort of mutant power to come in retaliation but I’m just gonna cut to the chase. You drowning yourself has nothing to do with having a bad day on the racetrack. I get you may not want to tell me exactly what happened but the least you can do is admit that,” John said, it clear he wasn't going to believe anything else to the contrary.
Jason's training came forth. He still had control of his faculties enough to dodge even the sharpest opposition. He glanced at John smiling gently and said softly. "Why would I retaliate, Allerdyce? Reading too much into a situation is common. All is fine. If you don't want a drink, it's OK. Just say no..." He left the vicinity of the small bar empty-handed for now and joined John by the couch, waving him to take a seat and doing so himself just afterwards.
Impressive. Whether Jason saw John narrow his eyes or not the pyrokinetic didn’t much care. Regardless of now being slightly annoyed with his friend, that was one of the slickest answers he’d heard in a long time, making a mental note to slip into exactly that same demeanour when he too did not want to divulge some sort of secret in the future. The guy had skill. In more ways than just on the racetrack. Maybe he was wrong. Pyro highly doubted it.
“Fine then. No, I don’t want a drink,” John said, now with a slight smirk, just a way to try and lighten the mood even though he was going over in his head how best to continue his approach. He really was no good at this. His expertise was knowing the inner workings of everything mechanical, not emotional, biological or otherwise. He was so out of his element right now.
Thankfully, he knew someone else who could help.
Expecting some annoyance from John, Jason was fast to try to ease the situation. "How are your mother and sister? Fine, I hope." Family was always a good subject to start a conversation. As long as it wasn't his, but he had his fake history all sorted in his mind. Memorized in a way that not all drinks in the world would make him completely forget it. Sometimes he thought another psychic had placed those memories in his mind. He just didn't remember right now if it was under his request or S.H.I.E.L.D.'s.
“I actually haven’t talked to them while on this tour yet,” John admitted. “Get too caught up in what I’m doing and forget to bother.” It was true and a trait he’d gotten many a talking to about from both members of his family. Still, they knew what he was like and Shaali had this habit of checking in on him regularly anyway so why worry too much, right? Pyro smiled to himself. “Better give them a call soon otherwise I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Jason nodded knowingly. "It's easy to lose track while on tour. I imagined work had taken too much of your time lately." His voice was soft and kind. He did care about John, but subconsciously it was another way of trying to dodge his friend's earlier concerns about his well-being. He was now trying to lead him into believing that it was his tired mind playing tricks on him before. "Always a good idea not to leave them wondering whether you're fine or not. We may end up getting another surprise visit at the paddock. Not that they aren't welcome. You know they are." He reinforced the fact that it was OK for them to suddenly show up on occasion, as long as it wasn't a norm.
Pyro gave a sideways glance, his smirk genuine this time. “Well, that’s a relief because you’d have one upset fan if they weren’t,” he informed him. “She’ll kill me if she ever finds out I’m telling you this but my sister really does like the look of you,” it may have seemed he’d forgotten about the concern he had for his friend but Wyngarde had no idea it was Shaali the firebug was going to get involved in helping him out if things came to that. Even if it was just asking her opinion on what to do, he wasn’t going to just let Jason continue to drink himself to death.
At least, that is what it looked like to him. He really did hope he was wrong.
Jason's laugh was loud, but short. "Really? It's probably just the racer glamour aura though..." He let his words linger. He had always been polite with Shaali whenever she visited, but never thought she might have a personal liking towards him. "Don't worry, Allerdyce. I won't let her know you told me this, nor use it against her in any way." He was a gentleman. He'd never do anything remotely like it. Besides relationships were always complicated for him and he had no intention of going down that path again anytime soon.
For a moment John was caught between laughing and wanting to stick up for his sister by warning Jason he better not. The latter wasn’t needed though. He knew him well enough to understand he didn’t give in to the advances of his many groupies if they could even be called that. One could hardly blame the guy if he had. Yet, Pyro had never seen a whole bunch of good looking girls roaming around behind the scenes.
Sitting up a bit in the chair, John retrieved his lighter from his jacket pocket. It was a habit. He couldn’t be without it in his hands for long, flipping open the lid and shutting it. Once, twice, three times… then looking over at his mate. “Here’s another question, you know my power. Am I ever going to know yours?”
"Maybe..." Jason replied mysteriously. Suddenly, he whistled and snapped his left hand's fingers. Both unnecessary to create his illusion, but it was part of the show. Would John notice the little odd and unnatural detail he had placed on his illusion to mark it as not real? Soon, a German Shepherd came running from the direction of the kitchen's door and staring at John, started to bark at him.
Any thought that he was about to see something pretty cool was lost by the sight of the large dog seemingly appearing out of nowhere then the sound encompassing the entire room as it proceeded to do what it had been bred for. In this case, barking at the stranger in the house. The odd thing was if it had been able to come out of the kitchen that easily where had it been earlier? Did he have it that well trained?
With his initial shock abating, the literal jump showing he had a very healthy respect for large guard dogs, John took a closer look while asking, “Hang on a second, since when did you have a dog? Who looks after him while you’re on tour?”
"Not long." Jason smiled and then whistled again, petting the illusionary dog once he approached him. "You're a good boy, Ziggy. Stop barking at my guest." Ziggy then walked slowly towards John and knocked his head on his legs, looking for another pet.
“Ziggy?” John queried. Not bad.
Coming from a farm and working with rescue animals, Pyro didn’t hesitate to pet the animal, leaning forward and running his hand over the German Shepherd's head then roughing up the back of his neck where the collar should have gotten in the way, maybe even made a bit of a rattling noise. John soon noticed it did neither and when he tried to grab at it, he got nothing but fur. The Pyrokinetic looked up at Jason, eyebrow raised.
"He is lovely, isn't he? Too bad he doesn't exist..." Jason said truthfully. He would've liked to have a pet, but as John had remarked before his traveling lifestyle didn't allow him. Suddenly, Ziggy disappeared while leaving no trace of his existence after another snap. "I can create illusions, Allerdyce. Illusions so real very few can tell them for what they are." He explained.
With his hand now patting nothing, John stared at where the illusion had been for a moment, then straightened up and gave his friend a grin. “And here I am only able to control fire. Doesn’t seem so fascinating now,” it was all said in good humour. Still, Pyro often wished he wasn’t restricted to only manipulating the flame. Sometimes made him feel like only half a mutant. “Thanks for trusting me,” he added, catching Wyngarde’s gaze. His way of reassuring the guy he'd never speak a word of this to anyone.
Flick. Click. Ignite.
Mind the burn.
Soon, John sat back, debating whether to show some of his own fiery creations. Glancing around, he made sure he had the details of the room in his head first. He had such control as to not burn anything even if, say, a fireball was present on the couch right next to Jason but decided it best to not make it as big or anywhere near as realistic as his illusion had been.
Flipping open the lid, the flame taken a hold of even as it was igniting, the sheer delight knowing it was he who was making this happen written all over his face, Pyro concentrated, the fire first growing into a ball then reshaping into a wolf the size of his hand. With a smirk given Jason’s way he sent it running around the illusionist’s head before it stopped right in front of his friend’s face, lowering into attack mode.
Next came the full size eagle, this one rising in all its glory directly behind Pyro's head.
Jason watched as a child-like smile graced his face while John created his fiery constructs. "Should I be scared of you, little one?" His tone of voice defiant as he spoke to the mini wolf in attack position in front of his face. The eagle flying behind John was nearly perfect with many layers of fiery feathers. "And that looks exactly like a Phoenix, the legendary fiery bird." He offered as encouragement to the younger man and because he had a deep liking for impossible things that shouldn't exist granted to him by his own mutant ability and what it allowed him to do. He considered creating illusions to accompany Pyro's constructs, but decided that moment should be his friend's.
"Impressive. Do you not think this to be fascinating too? I do." He was being honest as every word was spoken. He knew John was experienced with his powers, but not that he had so much control to the point of creating such beings out of fire. His smile grew larger. "Trust needs to go both ways. It was already time it happened." Such was his opinion and reasoning for finally sharing which his mutant ability was with Pyro.
The contentment in John’s eyes was palpable, the understanding at both just how destructive and calming to him fire could be only truly understood by those whose element was a part of them. The wolf grew bigger than Jason’s head, the look on its face literally daring him to ask the question again, and the eagle suddenly took flight, John careful to keep the fire-based animal from getting too close to anything and if it did, maintaining his concentration levels precise.
“Sharing powers can also be a lot of fun. I personally love showing mine off. Too much, sometimes. Has gotten me in a fair bit of trouble,” the firebug commented, catching the older man’s gaze, a deep sense of gratitude in his tone now very much obvious too.
"I've lived enough to know caution is advised when it comes to this subject, but I'm glad someone else knows." Jason shared, not with the intention of deflating John's happiness, which was obvious, but to warn him that it could be a dangerous path to show off a mutant ability to the wrong eyes. His thoughts went to a dark place for a moment, but he didn't know why. Maybe he was drunk enough for his mind to play tricks on itself, but not enough to lose control of any of his faculties. Sometimes he felt some of his memories were unreliable, not just the family related ones. Those he knew had been tampered with.
"So... Let me join in the fun then..." Jason decided already enjoying himself. After just a thought, a realistic gray wolf appeared beside him at the couch, showing his teeth, ready to jump at the fiery wolf's throat wild wolf style. A realistic golden eagle appeared screeching and began a beautiful flying ballet around Pyro's eagle.
Pyro heard the warning in Jason’s words. He’d gotten a similar spiel from both his foster Mum and Sister many times. Add to that the Detective who’d helped him get a placement with his family and he would never really get away with being so stupid as to use his abilities in front of just anybody. He was cautious, just not all the time, and very often caught in the act without him meaning to be as was the case with how his friend found out in the first place.
Even as John said, “Oh please do,” to Jason wishing to join in, he saw the wolf appear, careful not to be so distracted from such as to lose control of his own animal. The screech made him glance up, laughing in awe at the sight, before deciding to simply let the birds of prey continue to dance around each other, while giving his fire wolf the command to pounce. At the very last minute, right before it could make contact with anything solid or otherwise, Pyro relinquished his concentration, the fire losing shape before fading into nothing.
Simultaneously to Pyro's command for his wolf to pounce, Jason also waved his to jump up. As both wolves were about to bite each other, they disappeared. That was the fate of unreal animals. His smile was broad now. Did he look like a child at the playground? Because he certainly felt like one right now. The last time Jason had allowed himself to have fun with his powers was a long time ago, so long it seemed to be in another lifetime. The eagles continued to fly elegantly in the middle of the room. "I feel so much better now. Thank you." He blurted out honestly, but in a whisper. The shameful loss at the race track forgotten, the traumatic experience he wanted to drink himself until he collapsed into sleeping to forget until the day was over also not as prominent in his mind as before. John had managed to relax him enough to let go of all untoward thoughts right now.
That feeling of inner contentment that he'd actually helped someone other than himself was something John would probably never get used to. Don't get him wrong, he liked it. In fact, he enjoyed that he had been trying to be a genuine person for most of his life now but sometimes, just sometimes, that sense of doubt would always raise its ugly head and lead him to think he either didn't deserve all the good things happening to him or those who said they cared really didn't. That abandoned child would always be in there somewhere.
"Well, that's something then," Pyro answered, smirking. "If we weren't in such a confined space I could really open up the fire but I don't think you'd appreciate having your house burnt down." Laughing, John's attention went to a digital crackling sound coming from his brown, leather jacket, reaching into an inner pocket to pull his phone out and take a quick look at the text message. "Hah, would you look at that!" He looked back up. "Speaking of my sister, she's just finished an animal care day course in Southbank and wants me to join her for dinner before she heads home. Mind if I just give her a quick call back?" The firebug then had a thought. "You don't want to join us, do you?"
"No. Please don't. No property damage today." Jason begged smiling in good humor, though he wasn't kidding in the slightest. He couldn't even begin to think on the headache it would be if his house burnt down by some unforeseen accident, let alone an announced one. John's attention was then taken by his phone. "Not at all. We're here having fun like two children. That can surely wait a few minutes. Not to mention I've just told you that you should talk to her. How can I say no now?" He replied keeping his tone of voice and his smile. It'd be just hypocritical of him to deny John his request to talk to his sister after the talk they just had. "You think that would be a good idea?" He asked laughing, leaving the joke implied. "Sure, if she'll suffer me there." He completed joking as he knew Shaali wouldn't mind him going. Actually, she may really like the idea.
Suddenly, the golden eagle vanished and Pyro's fire eagle began to fly alone in the middle of the room.
Just as John began his talk with his sister Shaali on the phone, Jason started to feel a funny sensation of numbness at the back of his head. He brought his hand up to try to massage it, but it soon fell beside him. His neck was suddenly unable to sustain the weight of his head, which fell against the back of the couch. "Aller..." The beginning of the surname of the younger man was the only thing he could pronounce in a small voice before his body was taken by seizures. At first mild shaking, then more serious to the point he could no longer sustain a seated potion and fell to his left side before losing consciousness. Two small lines of blood insisted on dripping from his nostrils.
"Hey Shaali, yeah, I can meet you for din..." Pyro's words trailed off as he caught the sound of his unfinished name, head snapping around from where he was now standing a short distance away in time to watch his mate convulse a few more times then pass out. "What the..." his sister not hearing him swear as he dropped the phone, it landing upside down on the floor rug and rushed to Jason's side. "Wyngarde?!" he cried, his fire eagle now vanishing as all thought of having fun with it was replaced with the panic now starting to override any common sense or first aid he'd learnt in the past. "Jason? What the hell is happening? C'mon Man, wake up!"
From his phone, Shaali had already said her foster brother's name worriedly several times before basically yelling it over and over while sitting in the driver's seat of her car. Anyone outside in the learning centre's car park would definitely be looking her way by now. "John?! John?! Damnit Pyro, what in the world is going on?!"
To those on the other end, her voice was muffled but it was getting louder and louder, enough to eventually be heard Pyro soon clicking he'd just been talking to the one person who could help in more ways than he ever could. He basically half crawl jumped to pick up the phone, instantly saying, "You know where Wyngarde's house is, right? You need to get here now."
"What? Why? Pyro, what's wrong?"
"I've been here since after the race meet. It's where I'm calling you from and the guy's just had a seizure. What the hell am I supposed to do?" even as the firebug was panicking he was trying to calm himself down.
"Where is he?"
"Slumped on the couch."
"Okay. Go over and lie him straight on his side. Check he hasn't swallowed his tongue..." Shaali let her instructions hang in the air.
"Seriously, you don't look this heavy," John quipped, trying to quell the intense worry as he proceeded to do exactly what his sister had told him after placing the phone on the coffee table and putting it on Speaker. "Next?" he asked while reaching for one of the chair cushions to place under his head.
"Is he wearing anything tight around his neck, like a tie, or even a collared shirt"?"
"The latter," John answered, already seeing where she was going and beginning to loosen it. "Done."
"You really should call the ambulance," Shaali began. "Thankfully, you don't need to. I'll be there in ten minutes, John," and she hung up her mobile at the same time she turned the key in the ignition.
Ten minutes felt like an age, John pacing the floor until he heard the knock at the door. He rushed over to open it, Shaali's face matching his with concern. The healer followed him back into the lounge area.
Quickly glancing over Jason, it tugging at her heart to see someone usually so active and healthy completely out of it like this, Shaali placed her hand, one on the side of his face and, the other, just down a bit further on his neck. The area around her fingers started to crackle as she drew in some of the static electricity around them, converting it to the energy needed to seek out and find exactly what was needed to heal him. With her own personal studies into grand mal seizures, she soon located and forced the abnormal electrical activity in his brain to calm down, the blood dripping from Jason's nose seeming to start flowing backwards as she reversed the effects.
Jason's eyes started to blink rapidly as his mind flirted with consciousness, unable to attain it for the moment. His situation being stabilized by Shaali caused his mind to enter a state between unconsciousness and the alert awakened state. It was a dangerous state for him to be at considering the powerful illusion caster he is. It made his inner thoughts spill out into the world around him uncontrollably. The telepathically repressed memories now flooding his mind started to take over the surrounding space. Suddenly, his lounge seemed to turn into an office where two people stood in uniform just beyond John's current position.
"Here as requested, Hill. Something new about the recent E.X.O.D.U.S. disappearance?" A man with Jason's likeness asked the other person in the room, a woman, clearly in a position of hierarchical power.
"We've received new information on the case, Agent Skelton. Our intel says the kidnapped mutant should be located in a facility around these coordinates. Prepare your team for an S&R mission ASAP." Hill gave the agent a folder with the information, which he opened and read. The contents of which just beginning to get clear within Jason's own mind.
"Russia. Lovely." He replied ironically. "I'll study the intel more closely. We'll be ready to go by the morning, Hill." He continued in a more serious tone of voice. Hill just nodded and as he turned to leave the office, the illusion vanished and the lounge could be seen unaltered again. Recalling this memory caused Jason to have another mild seizure.
Shaali's eyes were still closed, concentrating hard on making sure the abnormal activity wasn't about to return so she didn't see anything, only opening her eyes when she realized Jason was talking. John was the only one who saw the illusion actually come into play, knowing exactly what was going on and reaching out to get his sister's attention just as it was obvious she already knew something strange was going on. They exchanged glances, and she said, "His powers, I assume?"
"Yeah," John said, nodding, the two of them then watching and listening until the memory was gone. "Agent Skelton?" John voiced, eyes widening as Shaali suddenly scrambled to stabilize her patient again.
As soon as Jason was stable enough to enter that dangerous subconscious state again, another memory emerged. The room turned dark. It looked like an abandoned ill-lit warehouse with boxes littered all over. A man in a S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform carrying a gun and a flashlight made his thoughts known. "Skelton, are you sure the intel is right? This place seems abandoned for quite some time..." Jason had to agree, but made a hand sign for his colleague to stay silent as the team of four moved stealthily scouting the place.
Suddenly, the sound of gunshots could be heard and the agents took cover. The room deformed as Jason created an illusion to fool their attackers. It worked for a while, but soon canisters were rolling on the floor and gas caused the agents to become unconscious. Just before closing his eyes, Jason saw a man getting closer to him. "Our moles did their job very well. The last piece of the plan is in place. Get this one ready." The man said to his lackeys while pointing at Jason. As the illusion faded, another telepathically implanted trigger was fired in his brain.
Pyro and Shaali visibly flinched at the sound of gunfire, instinctively also hunkering low. When the illusion faded, Shaali glanced down at Jason. "These are memories, John," she said. "Every time they are triggered he has another seizure. I can't do much..." she stopped speaking for a moment, concentrating harder. "No, I can't stop whatever process is going on. All I can do is keep him stable. Get me a cold washer or something. He's sweating so much."
John nodded, disappearing into the bathroom and quickly returning, tasked with trying to keep his friend's forehead cool, finally feeling at least a little useful.
Once more, Jason's condition was stabilized by Shaali's powers and the floodgates of memory were released again as his mind was trying to stabilize its own inner condition by letting these memories manifest themselves. Now the lounge turned into a surgical room with a strong top light over a surgical table. Jason was laid on his right side over the table. He was screaming in agony as fluid from his spinal cord was being retrieved by a cannula fixed to the nape of his neck. He tried to desperately get it off his neck, but his hands couldn't reach it due to being strapped together and in connection with his feet. He could hear a muffled voice from behind him. "He'll pass out again. I need him awake. Stop the procedure. We need a solution for this." Just afterwards, Jason's illusion of himself passed out.
"Please let me help. I can heal you."
After the patient on the illusionary table fell unconscious, another male voice with a German accent spoke up, "The solution is obvious," he said, placing a hand to his earpiece. "Is the asset from The Winter Soldier program here yet?"
"Yes Sir, we are bringing her down now."
Flanked on two sides by her handler's, the young, dark-haired woman was brought into the room a mere few minutes later. There were no restraints. Simply the constant awareness of the presence of two of the scientists who'd been there from the moment she'd been acquired from her home in Australia. Distinct green eyes took in what was happening in the room, every core of her being wishing she could open up her abilities and go absolutely rank on them, that side of her abating the moment she saw yet another patient being experimented on upon a cold steel table. This one she didn't recognise. In fact, the entire room, although holding some similarities, was vastly different from the varying experimentation rooms she had been forced into before. A different facility altogether. Another type of forced testing. Still the same cruel treatment of one of their many prisoners, no doubt.
The way he was tied up. The cannula in his spine. The fact he wasn't even conscious! "What are you doing to him? Please, stop!" she cried, pushing past one of her handlers.
Jason's eyes blinked fast for a few seconds. That memory was the most buried one to surface so far and the hardest to cope with later, no doubt. The telepathic memory reconstruction done on his mind by a fellow psychic agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. was being now completely rejected by his own mind. It was all crumbling down. The truth was coming out! The illusionary Jason just flirted with consciousness again when the Hydra agent mentioned the Winter Soldier Program and then when the asset entered. "Why a Hydra agent would care about me? Was she forced to be here too?" Those words were muttered by the real and the illusionary Jasons in unison as he recalled a memory that was getting less and less fuzzy.
"We are doing what must be done to ensure freaks aren't hidden by S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore, Restorer." That was the cold reply illusionary Shaali received to her question. The scientist just left out the fact that Hydra also wanted to control mutants, not just expose their existence.
The entire night had already taken an unexpected turn for the worse, Pyro deeply shocked by what was happening to his boss and friend. Now, seeing a version of his sister enter Jason's illusion just made him stare, wide-eyed, mouth hanging slightly open. There was no way. It couldn't be. Was this where she had been when she went missing for those few months a couple of years ago?
For Shaali, it was like being hit by a freight train directly in the chest, the only thing stopping her from reacting completely the fact she had Wyngarde's life literally in her hands at the moment. Seemed the same was about to happen within his illusion as well, the healer trying so hard to get her mind around it. The only explanation she could come up with was that it was another healer that, for some reason, in his current mixed up and pain-filled state, Jason was putting her face in place of. The German man had called her Restorer, after all. The real Shaali had never had a codename. She hadn't really seen the point.
"Shaali?" John started, moving closer to her.
"It's not me. It can't be. Just..." her words trailed off as one of the obvious doctors in Jason's illusion once again began to speak.
"You will help steady him. Keep him awake for the procedure," he ordered. "Move. Over here," and he motioned to behind the patient's head.
Forced to be there, a prisoner herself, the illusion version of Shaali didn't hesitate to do as she was told, desperate to ease the pain of the ones these horrible people insisted on experimenting on. Back in the other facilities, they'd been prisoners of war. Later on, full volunteers from their own ranks. It was the former she'd always been made to use her powers on, the agents of Hydra knowing full well they had finite control over a woman whose inner core was made up of the need to help wherever she could.
Placing her hands on each side of this prisoner's face, she leaned down, the air around her fingers already crackling. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I can't stop them. I'm sorry." A few moments later she released the converted energy into his body, supercharging its natural ability to heal, wrapping it like a shield around his pain receptors and forcing his brain out of its unconscious state.
Jason's illusion immediately opened his eyes after Shaali's used her powers on him. His eyes then saw the face of the beautiful young woman. Jason wasn't feeling so much pain anymore. How could that be? "What are you doing to me? I feel the process, but no pain..." He needed to understand what was happening. He knew it was his excruciating pain that was preventing him from using his powers to try to fool someone into allowing him to escape. Maybe if he could convince this woman to help him, they could both leave that place. "Are you a prisoner too?" Jason's illusion asked in a low volume, so only illusion Shaali would hear.
She looked into blue eyes clearly asking for help. "Yes," she answered his last question first. "I'm a healer. I convert electricity to a form of energy that helps aid your natural ability to heal. It also works like an anesthetic, blocking any pain. I may not be able to stop their experimentations but I can make sure those like you aren't always feeling what they are doing to you."
"Restorer!" one of her handler's called. "Enough talking!"
Shaali just narrowed her eyes at him. "Make me," she said.
Her handler went to move towards her, stopped by one of the higher-ranking agents. "Not while she is working," was all he said. "You may punish her any way you see fit when she returns to your steed later."
"Let's get out of here then?" Jason offered the woman as he felt a connection to his powers again. Suddenly, many armed agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in uniform appeared storming the room. Weapons at the ready. Sensing the healer's hands leaving his face, illusionary Jason begged her with his eyes not to do so. "Don't..." He said as one of the scientists shouted. "It's an illusion. Don't let yourselves be fooled!" He was under the impression his lackeys could do anything about it.
The appearance of a whole heap of other obvious ally soldiers gave Shaali pause to think that maybe this was her chance to get as far away from Hydra as possible, return to her family and get back to her life. But then she started to think of the prisoners a part of the Winter Soldier program. She hadn't been there all that long yet but the new ones, she could ease their pain, and the one they periodically froze, who'd been there the longest. He was someone she was determined to help break their hold on and get him out of there.
"I can't," she said, softly then looked at him intently. "I'll make sure you can but I have... I have to stay and help them." She didn't go into detail as to exactly who she meant, just kept her hands in place. "Do whatever you have to," she told him, and it went without saying if that included him having to at some point take her out too, he already had her permission.
"I'll come back for you," Jason promised as the illusionary agents started to shoot the scientists, handlers and other agents of Hydra present. Believing they were truly being shot caused their bodies to react to a trauma that didn't exist, somatizing damage that generated strokes, heart attacks and ultimately death. When everyone but the two of them were down, the allied forces simply vanished. "Can you help me get these off?" Illusionary Jason asked pushing against his restraints and nodding his head to show her the cannula still attached to his neck. The only things still keeping him there now.
Her illusion self stared in awe at what was happening around them, blinking a few times and shaking her head as she realized the man on the table was asking for her assistance again. "Yes," she said. Since her powers were keeping him from feeling any pain, she simply chose to yank the cannula out, making sure to heal the wound left behind even as she was reaching one hand over to see to the restraints. "You should be okay now," she said, taking her other hand away. "I need to find something to cut the rope," which didn't take long since there was a trolly right near the table with various operating utensils displayed upon it.
"Thank you." Both the real and the illusionary Jasons said as they moved their heads in slow oscillatory motion around where the cannula used to be. Soon, his illusion was all free and standing beside Shaali's. "Are you sure you want to stay here?" He understood what she had said before. She wanted to help some other prisoners. "Give me as much info as you can. S.H.I.E.L.D. will bust this place and free everyone here. You don't have to stay." He offered as a compromise.
The look she gave him was one of true gratitude. "What I'm talking about isn't here," she told him. "They brought me in from another one of their hidden facilities. The Winter Soldier program. It's been going on for years," and she went on to do exactly what he had asked of her, fill him in on everything she knew, including the names of all bar one of the prisoners she was helping. "I can't leave them behind. I can't leave him," she sighed, not saying anymore. "Go. I'll be waiting for you to follow up on that promise."
"The Winter Soldier is a ghost story in the espionage world. Do you mean the guy really exists?" Jason's illusion was dumbfounded, but that wasn't the best moment to dwell on it. "You can count on it. With the intel you gave me, we'll get you all out of this hell by the end of the week. At most. Maybe before that." He promised, placing a careful and thankful hand on her face as she had done before with him. He looked her in the eyes, then turned and ran away as they heard noises of approaching Hydra agents that had come to check on the situation. Suddenly, everything disappeared as if part of a nightmare and the minimalistic lounge of a famous racer was all to be seen by his visitors.
"What the hell was that?!" John finally voiced, clearly confused and deeply troubled by what he had just seen.
"Whatever it was, that was not me. I don't know what is truly real and what isn't. He might be doing that thing the subconscious has a bad habit of while sorting memories out sometimes. That whole filling in the reality they're not sure of with what they know. That's why she looked like me. He's also clearly been tampered with so..."
"Shaali, her powers were exactly the same!" John interrupted. "I don't think that's a coincidence."
"John, not now," she warned, focusing again on that feeling of another seizure trying to take hold within Wyngarde's brain.
Jason's mind was now reaching a new inner order. Real and implanted memories were mixing to create the man he would be for the rest of his natural life and for this process to be finished, he intrinsically knew he had to recall one more thing: how he had become Jason Wyngarde. As if taken by a nightmare, his head tilted against the cushion and his body made a slight sinuous movement before relaxing into a resting state again. The same room of the first illusion cast returned to fill the lounge. Inside there were two people: Jason and another man in S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform.
"No. Not another one," the real Shaali said, the distress clear in her voice. Pyro reached over to put his hand on her shoulder.
"So you're telling me that S.H.I.E.L.D., the greatest intelligence agency on the planet, has no idea what Hydra wanted to do with my spinal fluid? Well, if we don't know, no one does…" Jason's illusion was visibly upset with the lack of answers he had gotten since his arrival back at the Triskelion.
"I do." A male voice came through the door as it opened to reveal Nick Fury and a beautiful woman with purple hair in S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform. "Have you heard of Colonel William Stryker, Agent Skelton?" Fury nodded the other agent out and seconds later only Jason, Fury and Elizabeth were in the room.
"Yes. He ran the Department of Domestic Security and Defense during President McKenna's run in the early 2.000's. He wasn't a fan of mutants for what I can recall, but also not shy to use us for his own purposes…" That was all he had been privy to about the man. He had never needed to know more than what was on his public file anyway.
"He also created a serum to control others into doing his bidding against their will by using the spinal fluid of his son, a powerful mutant with illusion casting abilities. Rings a bell?" Fury explained as he approached Jason's location within the room.
"And, of course, Hydra somehow found his research in a flooded base under Alkali Lake's waters. I remember there was a huge flood there when the dam burst in which the colonel himself died." The irony was evident in Jason's voice.
"It's Hydra. A simple mole at Strycker's department could have brought to A.I.M. the intel about the serum and its source. Not to mention how to make more of it." Fury's logical mind developed his view of the facts as he imagined they had happened.
"Why only now?" That was the question preoccupying Jason the most and it showed in his countenance.
"That I don't know, but I won't give them a chance to get to you again." The no-nonsense tone in Fury's voice left no space for discussions. The course of action was decided and he wouldn't change his mind. "That's why Agent Braddock is here." Fury's illusion then pointed to Psylocke's. "We'll give you a new life. Whatever you choose. You know the drill."
Shaali's head lowered, the healer closing her eyes and concentrating on her real patient rather than an event almost everyone she knew wished never happened. Directly or indirectly, by choice or otherwise, there was no way she was involved in such a tragedy! Those poor mutants, forced to attack against their will from a byproduct found in the spinal fluid of their fellow brethren with illusion casting powers. Mutant used against mutant. Shaali was beyond sick of hearing about this sort of thing.
"Whatever this is," John began, "7/15 was not your fault." He glanced down at Jason. "Or his..." he added. ~Hydra is going to pay for this,~ the pyrokinetic keeping this thought well and truly to himself.
Psylocke's illusion finally approached Mastermind's. "So... who, what and where?" The usual questions asked before a semi-voluntary telepathic memory reconstruction.
"Let's begin with the simplest: what." Jason's smile grew bigger after saying those words. He was about to use S.H.I.E.L.D.'s resources to fulfil a dream of his. "I want to be a disgraced motorcycle racer with a drinking problem, just returned to the tracks to achieve stardom." He finally let it out and then grinned wolfishly.
"Are you serious about this?" Betsy was clearly dumbfounded by his request.
"He better be. We're not doing this twice." Fury's piercing look was then focused on Jason's illusion who nodded positively. "OK. We'll see to it then." He added to reinforce his earlier words that he would have whatever he asked for. "Actually, this is good." He added after giving Jason's request a second thought. "It'd allow the press to work as a shield. Hydra would think twice before kidnapping someone literally everyone would be looking for."
"Now to where… There's a really interesting motorcycle racing circuit near Brisbane, Australia." Jason continued. "Make me an Aussie." He added in a perfect Australian accent.
Fury just nodded for him to proceed to answer the last question. Elizabeth also waited, already thinking on how she would implant all of those memories within her colleague's mind in a way it wouldn't immediately reject them.
"Last one: who. Jason, like Jason and the Argonauts. It's strong and classic. I like the ring of it." A bright smile graced his features. "As I intend to be a winner and have studied fencing before in my youth… Wyngarde. Who is Jason Wyngarde. Anything else you need?" His question was directed more at the woman than his boss.
Elizabeth nodded negatively. That was all she needed.
Fury followed her with the same action. "I'll get the paperwork assigned. It was good to know you, Agent Skelton." Fury then turned to leave to deal with the issues Jason's requests posed.
John glanced at the illusion version of his friend in surprise. Well, that was an extremely good likeness to an Australian. No wonder not even a true Aussie such as him could tell the difference.
"Wait, sir. What about storming the Hydra facilities I've brought the intel on?" His tone of voice was clearly altered.
"That's not your problem anymore, Agent Skelton." Fury cut him off and left no room for discussions.
Elizabeth then approached Jason further. "Let's do this then."
"No! I've made a promise! I can't leave her there!" Jason wasn't about to let go of the young woman who had saved his life, even though he didn't know her real name. It surely wasn't Restorer nor asset.
"You're not getting anywhere near that facility again. For everyone's sake." There was no chance Fury would allow him in another mission. That part of his life was officially over when he and Agent Braddock entered the room. "Don't worry about the woman. I'll fulfil your promise to her personally." He added to finish the debate.
"Since when has rescuing mutant prisoners become S.H.I.E.L.D.'s top priority?" Elizabeth asked dumbfounded.
"Since I've got over my desk a folder with files containing both Winter Soldier and William Strycker Jr. written in them. This is beyond code red. This is a Fury is on the case priority." He explained. "I'll see it through myself, Skelton… or should I say, Wyngarde?"
Skelton? The more he heard the name the more John realized it was going to take some getting used to, as was learning his good friend was originally an American S.H.I.E.L.D. agent turned Australian thanks to a very powerful and very obvious fellow mutant. John wasn't the least bit surprised he was actually in full acceptance of what he was seeing. These were Jason's memories, blocked and replaced with a new life and it had been his foster sister in that facility. She didn't remember even being missing for those three months, let alone that her Mum and foster brother were never privy to exactly why at the time.
Of course, it was, and it had irked Pyro to no end.
He believed what the illusions were revealing but understood Shaali never would until the memories he now knew Hydra had taken returned naturally to her. That much hadn't been hidden, his mentor, Shaw making it clear S.H.I.E.L.D. had absolutely nothing to do with why Shaali couldn't remember, just never divulging exactly who did.
"If this is as bad as it sounds, you'll get a target on your forehead, sir." Jason let Fury know of his preoccupation.
"What else is new?" The director of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s demeanor was completely nonchalant. He was used to this by now. He finally turned and left the room.
Elizabeth sent a sharp look Jason's way and he walked towards a couch, lying on it. "I'll have to adjust some your memories…" She began to explain but was cut...
"Agent Braddock, you're hardly the first telepath to be in here changing something." He pointed to his temple as he said here. Then, he let out a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Do your thing."
"Goodbye, Michael Skelton. Hello, Jason Wyngarde." Elizabeth declared smiling as she placed her right hand over illusionary Jason's forehead and began her work on his memories.
The illusions gave space to Jason's lounge for the last time. His eyes began to blink rapidly again, but he wasn't having another seizure. After a fast blink, his eyes finally opened. "Damn it. Did I say something?" He had to know if he had a problem to solve or not.
At the slight movements felt beneath her hands and a sense that the real Jason was finally okay, Shaali was clearly relieved. This, mixed with deep shock and confusion, all she could do in response to his question was to stare down into concerned blue eyes for a few moments.
Her expression deadpan, she then stood up and walked out of the room.
Watching her go, John caught his mate's gaze. "Yeah, I'd say so," he answered, eyes narrowing a little. "Glad to see you finally awake but you have a hell of a lot of explaining to do!" He again turned his head to where Shaali had disappeared. "Right now, I'm going after my sister to make sure she doesn't do anything stupid."
Like getting in her car and trying to drive in her current emotional state.
Many scenarios occupied Jason’s mind as John spoke. Shaali’s expression had been worrisome enough for him to know that something was very wrong. Had his mind played tricks on them, showing what it shouldn’t? Now wasn’t the time to worry about it, John was right and Shaali’s well-being was the priority.
”I can block her way out with an illusion. Now that the Genie is out of the bottle, using my powers in your presence won’t cause any more health issues.” His offer was genuine and also the fastest way not to allow Shaali to get to the car.
John's answer was instant and firm, "No! No more illusions," he said over his shoulder, already on the way to the front door. "Shaali!" he called the moment he opened it. "Hey!"
The healer didn't answer, already making her way across the front garden, her mind lost in images of everything she had just seen, unable to place them. Unable to place even being missing let alone a forced prisoner for Hydra of all people! Never! "It wasn't me," became a sort of mantra, first silently in her head, then whispered over and over until she finally reached her car, pressing the button to unlock it.
Jason finally took a sitting position on the couch and rubbed the nape of his neck. He had heard John, but also knew that his was an emotional response. The former S.H.I.E.L.D agent was trained enough to act rationally even when facing the most stressful situations. He had already understood what had happened after John's reaction.
He focused his gaze towards the window and soon Ziggy reappeared outside barking loudly and suddenly he jumped over the hood of Shaali’s car, not allowing her to approach it further. Jason tried to stand to have a better look, but felt dizzy and stayed as he was.
A little ticked off that Jason hadn't listened to him, Pyro focused on the fact it was just a simple illusion without any memories attached to it rather than the elaborate three scenarios he and his foster sister had just been put through before. He watched Shaali start a little, stepping back and glaring at the animal, the area immediately around her beginning to light up with lines of electricity. She was distraught but not for the reasons one might think. She was told her memories were missing but they didn't know why. No matter what John, her Mum and Shaw had said about that time, she didn't believe them. She'd been on the farm helping out with one of the newer animal rescues and no one could convince her any differently.
"Shaali," John said softly, slowing down and cautiously approaching her.
Her head snapped around. "No," was all she came back with, catching the gaze of the illusionary dog once again.
As the electric energy filled the air, Ziggy lay down on the hood and started to waggle his tail and shake his head in an attempt to call Shaali's attention in a non threatening way. Jason's intention wasn't to just scare her off, but for her to stay away from the car as John had said. Playing with the illusionary dog worked just as well. Jason had placed no flaws on Ziggy this time around, so he was as any other dog for Shaali's senses.
Jason then stood up, feeling better thanks to Shaali's previous healing work, and joined his guests outside, taking a position just beside John. "Not good, is it?" His words carried the worry of someone who knew exactly what was happening and what might be needed to correct it.
"Oh really, you think?!" John answered, sarcasm dripping. "What the hell was all that?" not really expecting an answer, just needing to voice his anger as he watched Shaali's intense staring at Ziggy now lying on the hood. "Come on, Sha," he said. "It's okay."
"Get off my car," Shaali said quietly but with a vehemence that matched the electricity now lighting up the veins of her right arm, flowing down into her fingers. Somewhere in the back of her mind, behind all the confusion and now a very strong sense of mistrust in someone she thought was a friend, the healer was aware she was about to attack one of the creatures she adored so much, that awareness not strong enough to break through the emotion of everything she'd just witnessed. She believed her life to be one way and someone else's illusionary power was now telling her differently.
Fingers began to move, lighting up with the electricity as yet to leave through their tips...
Ziggy lowered his head and hid his nose beneath its forward paws while wailing in a low tone as if an illusion could feel hurt that someone was about to attack it with an electric bolt.
"An illusion, Allerdyce. One I couldn't control." Jason's answer was obvious, but also truthful. "I'll go fix this damage now." His words were serious. He was willing to do anything necessary to get Shaali out of that stupor she was in. When in his craziest thoughts would she attack a dog? Thankfully Ziggy wasn't real, but the pain of hurting him could help her. Jason hoped it wouldn't need to get to it as he approached her fearlessly.
"I'm sorry, my friend." His voice was sweet and melodic. "I didn't want this to happen... You know none of that was real... You're under strong impressions... That was all a dream... my dream... and you had to be a part of it... because you are important to me..." Jason elongated his sentences as if trying to hypnotize Shaali with his words, but the emotion in them was real. He had to get to her. He had to fix the damage he had done.
At the sound of the voice belonging to the person who'd caused all this in the first place, Shaali's focus went from the dog to Jason, hearing his words but as yet not really registering them. "You don't get to say anything," she warned. "Just, stay away from me," her voice almost broke. "No more. That was not me!"
It was only then her mind took in that he'd said it was a dream. None of it was real. That feeling of deja-vu, though. It was strong and she needed to get rid of it somehow. She didn't attack the dog because no matter how bad something was, she honestly never could do such a thing. Instead, she directed it upwards, listening with deep content as it connected and flowed through the nearest set of power lines, hit the junction box and exploded.
On pure instinct alone, John ducked, watching the sparks fly, feeling the fire just waiting to be manipulated, it taking all he had not to ignite them even while he was taking another step towards his foster sister.
"Both of you leave me alone," she said again, the energy around her still strong enough to make the hairs on their arms stand on end. She moved closer to the hood of her car, gently putting a hand on the dog's head. "I'm sorry," she whispered, tears burning at the corner of her eyes and not just because she'd been about to hurt the animal either.
Ziggy accepted the caress he was given and tilted his head to the movements of Shaali's hand while emitting happy sounds and waggling his tail more rapidly. While his illusion distracted her, Jason approached her further. "We can't because we care about you, Evans..." He continued as before.
Now he was close enough to feel the hairs on his body stand on end. It was a pleasant sensation in a strange way to the illusionist. He wasn't afraid though and kept his approach. "You are right... It wasn't you... and it wasn't me... It was the weird dream of a dying man... who always wanted to be more important than he is..." Now Jason was just behind Shaali, taking great chances of being caught by an electric bolt and not worried about it in the least. He placed his hand over hers over Ziggy's head and let the physical contact extend to their forearms as well.
At his touch, Shaali tensed, caught between the feelings of anger that his powers had messed her up so much and a deep sense of gratitude that he did indeed care enough to see if she was alright regardless of the consequences. She didn't pull away, just stared at him for a bit, then focused her attention back on the German Shepherd. At recognising John soon placing his hand on her opposite shoulder, she relaxed a little, Pyro one of the few who would ever truly have that sort of effect on her.
"Are you sure?" she then asked Jason, looking directly at him.
"Yes." Jason lied with so much personal belief that there was no trace of the truth in his features. It was necessary. At this moment, she had to believe it wasn't real for her own wellbeing or the psionic impressions would keep being so clear in her mind to the point of maddening her. Something he didn't want to happen at all.
Green eyes studied blue very closely. "If you are lying to me, I'm done," was all she said, before gently removing her hand and proceeding to lean in closer to give Ziggy a kiss on the nose. "So cute. Yes you are," she began. "Thank you for trying to help me."
Behind her, John exchanged glances with his mate. There was no way all that was just a dream. He made it clear in his expression that when Shaali was not with them, he still expected that explanation he'd demanded earlier.
"I'm not lying." At least not about everything, he kept repeating to himself inwardly. "I care about you and I'm sorry about everything..." That was true in its entirety. He let his hand fall beside him as she removed hers to kiss Ziggy. His illusion was having the desired effect. For a moment it came to him that he was manipulating her with the dog, but now it was too late to let go of it. It would have the opposite effect, maybe even a disastrous one on her psyche.
As Shaali's attention was entirely on Ziggy, Jason took notice of John's glances and replied with nods of his own. He would talk to him later even to request that he spoke nothing to anyone about what they had seen in his illusions. It was all classified to the highest level. However, that was something to be taken care of later, once Shaali was fully out of the psychic trance she found herself in.
Flick. Click. Ignite.
Mind the burn.
It was noted the look Jason gave in return, John relieved he wouldn't have to threaten his friend for some more truths later on. For Shaali's sake, he would always do whatever it took, all of his mates, no matter who they were would just have to understand that. If they didn't, they'd no longer be of any interest to him. He leaned down a bit, looking at his foster sister. "That's Ziggy," he said. "I didn't even know Jason had a dog until it came out barking at me earlier tonight," the firebug trying to lighten the mood even further.
"Hey Ziggy," Shaali said, falling into that classic almost child-like dog speak those who loved them almost always did. "You can come down off the hood now. I'm not going anywhere, I promise," she told him.
Jason gave John a reassuring nod followed by a smile. He wasn't lying when he said he cared about Shaali. That was true towards John as well. He'd never do something to their detriment in his right mind. Being a trained S.H.I.E.L.D. agent had never made him emotionally numb and now, during the last couple of years, while living a more relaxed life, his natural empathy towards others was allowed to grow further.
"He is not with me for too long, but I couldn't resist him." That was the most honest truth. Jason always wanted to have a dog in his new house. He didn't remember exactly if he had ever had a dog before in his life, but the chances were good. He couldn't resist creating illusions of them whenever he felt lonely. Ziggy didn't move a muscle for a few seconds, looking at Jason as if waiting for a command like a real dog. "It's OK. Come on, boy." Jason's words were kind and Ziggy, the illusionary dog, jumped down from the hood and stood between the humans, looking for attention. Jason petted his head kindly. "Good boy." His smile grew.
Shaali knelt down to give the dog a proper hug. "I can see why," she said to his comment about Ziggy being irresistible. "Animals will do that and they almost always pick their owners too." She gave the puppy one more hug before standing back up and looking closely at Jason. "You okay now?" the question genuine. Although she was still in shock at what had just occurred, the healer in her would never be too far away to pull back front and centre to help.
"Yeah man, you gave us one heck of a scare there," Pyro added, leaving the "and in more ways than one," part unspoken, for now.
"Yes. I'm okay now. Thank you, Evans." His words were genuine in their thankfulness as he knew for a fact that the woman had everything to do with the fact he wasn't dead now. He was told not to reveal his powers to anyone because the consequences could be deadly, but he still had let his guard down with John and risked everything. Now, the triggers in his mind were all fired and he was free to use his abilities again as he wanted, but he wasn't that sure if the trade-off would be for the better yet.
"Good, because that was serious. How it is I managed to be nearby right when needed will always be something I'm going to question," the healer responded. "I'm not going to leave yet. Need to stay and monitor you for a bit," this said with a tone that brooked no argument from her patient.
John smirked. "Ah, yeah, let's go back inside," he said, putting a hand on Jason's shoulder and leaning over to say, "Best to do as she says. You know how she is, not taking no for an answer when it comes to looking after someone."
"Who am I to argue with both of you?" Jason smiled and snapped, to which Ziggy ran inside the house. "Let's go inside then. We could order something for dinner and stay home if you prefer?" He offered, waving his friends back into his house. "I'll forever be thankful for that coincidence, Evans." He confessed. Some things just happen because they have to. He believed in that. Maybe he still had something important to do around here.
A thought occurred to John then, the pyrokinetic flipping his lighter open and instructing the flame to head up the path, forming a fiery version of a dog that ran after Ziggy, before suddenly changing to an eagle before it touched anything that could burn on Jason’s porch. “This is what we were doing before everything happened,” he said, glancing at Shaali. “Would be a lot more fun and safer to continue if we stayed here for dinner instead?”
“Don’t scare the poor dog, John. Really?” she voiced, looking at him incredulously. She fell into analysing mode. “Ah, how is it that Ziggy didn't seem bothered by John’s fire constructs?” she asked, looking directly at Jason.
“Oh crap,” John thought, obviously not thinking about the fact his foster sister still thought Ziggy was a real dog. So, he quickly came up with something before Jason even had to worry about it. “Fire and rescue,” he said. “Ziggy used to be a fire and rescue dog.”
"That's true. They retired him and I picked him up to take care of the brave one. He is still so young and not phased at all by your brother's antics." Jason was fast to add so Shaali wouldn't notice her brother's faux pas. His demeanor clam and friendly. "Let's follow him inside, shall we?" He could keep the illusion going without much effort now and Ziggy just entered through the front door.
That explained it then. Puppies were usually so oblivious to any danger around them. Trained ones in specific areas even more so. She walked up the path behind the two men, glancing at some of the self-sustaining flowers in the garden she could make out from the porchlight, Jason’s house not among those affected by her blowing out the junction box since it was across the road. In fact, it hadn’t affected anyone’s home really, just the line she’d initially fried. Might be a few power surges and flashing lights to show as much coming from the homes nearby but otherwise, no true blackouts or anything.
“Can we get KFC?” Shaali asked.
“What? No. Pizza,” John countered.
“But I don’t feel like pizza tonight, Pyro,” she told him, watching as he made his firebird disappear before he and Jason actually ran right into it.
“You always want KFC,” the firebug protested. “Do they even deliver?”
“Via Uber Eats Menu Log, they do,” Shaali offered.
Jason smiled at the sibling rivalry, but it was better to just break it up already. He didn't remember having any siblings, but that didn't mean anything in his case. "What about something else?" He offered as a compromise. "I was thinking more on the lines of Bamboo Basket myself."
Both Shaali and Pyro first looked at their friend then at each other. “Oh, heck yes!” Shaali agreed. “Chinese does sound good.”
"Yeah, I'm for that," John said, nodding.
Following them both back inside, Shaali steered clear of where the major happenings had occurred before, instead, heading for the kitchen. She did not want to take even the slightest chance she would suddenly be thrown back into another one of Jason’s uncontrolled illusions.
Noticing her give a wide berth to the lounge room, John motioned to Jason, “Let’s not go back in there for a bit, hey,” he said.
"No need to say it. The kitchen it is." Jason understood well where John was coming from and, to be honest, he didn't want to be at the lounge either right now. After a short look of further approval, both men joined Shaali at the kitchen.