Matt was welcomed back with cheers and open arms, and Jane with awkward silence. But to his credit, even through his heavy intoxication, Matt never left her side. Jane filled up the cooler with ice, beside which Ed had already replaced the speakers in their original position – and reluctantly, people began moving forward to get cold drinks. His hand on her arm, not un-gently, Matt then led Jane over to the gazebo – they sat. Matt grabbed another beer and Jane declined the one he offered her.
“I don’t drink,” she told him stiffly. Matt just shrugged and offered her a joint instead. Jane hesitated.
“I’ve never really tried…” she started, but Matt brushed her concerns away.
“It’s fine,” he assured her, “Trust me. It’ll help you relax. Just try a little. If you don’t like it, don’t have any more.”
He passed her the rolled cigarette. She looked at it warily.
“Trust me,” he repeated, smiling. And then after a few seconds, Jane sighed – because she supposed she had to, didn’t she, in this situation? He’d trusted her. And, she supposed, it was legal.
She flickered a small flame from her index finger, lit the tip of the joint and inhaled, then coughed.
“Ugh,” she complained. She went to pass it back to him but Matt shook his head. “I think I should probably go easy for a while,” he murmured, rolling his head back and staring up at the sky.
So they sat there, in silence and idle talk, in the warm night air and the soothing rhythm of the music, under the gazebo’s hanging lights. Jane drew another puff, here and there. And then slowly, the world changed.
People came to join them – to sit, to pass around the joint, to talk, at first with Matt but eventually with her too. First came a freckly redhead named Wally, who smoked like a professional and called her by her name. She panicked slightly when he told her he was a psychic and looked at Matt for danger – but Matt just shook his head and smiled. They talked about swimming, of all things, though Jane couldn’t recall quite how and why. Then came the speedster girl, who smiled at her with perfect teeth and actually went to shake her hand – only to stop again halfway, an uncomfortable expression seeping across her face, as if unsure what to do. Matt looked up from his nap, laughed and rolled his eyes.
“You’ll know if she takes your power,” he told her, “And she’ll go to jail.” Then he blinked, sat up and apparently felt the need to inform everyone else about this. “YOU’LL KNOW IF SHE TAKES YOUR POWER!” he shouted to the crowd over the top of the music.
“And she’ll go to jail!” chimed in Wally. Jane pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Thank you,” she muttered, humiliated, “Thanks for that. I needed the attention.” But to her surprise, her despairing made the speedster girl laugh and she held out her hand again, for real this time. Jane warily, disbelievingly, shook it, feeling the girl’s speed pulsing, light and bright beneath her skin. They started to talk. Her name was Giselle.
Matt’s friend Ed was next. Or rather, he’d sort of been there the whole time, just sitting in the corner of the pavilion nursing a beer, not really joining in the conversation. He pulled up deliberately alongside her and flashed Jane a shy smile. He held out his hand.
“Edward Rakowski. Genius.”
“Jane Walker. Empath.” They both laughed at a joke that that wasn’t immediately obvious. Jane glanced down at his hand, where they’d just touched. He felt like a mountaintop sunk deep beneath the ocean.
“You’re not worried?”
“No,” he smiled, rocking forward on the bench and crossing his feet, “To tell the truth, I’d be interested to see what’d happen. To hear what becoming smart was like.”
“Thanks,” she chuckled, not taking offence. Ed looked aghast at what he’d just said.
“S-sorry,” he stammered, “I didn’t mean-”
“I don’t care,” she assured him. The tangle-haired little man looked relieved.
“I’ve always wondered what it would feel like,” he continued, looking at her cheek with genuine curiosity, “To have your intellect expand. We spend our entire lives trapped inside our own minds, with perceptibly the same capacity for thought…” He pondered. “We only know what we perceive, everything filtered through our brains. Would feeling our brain’s ability change be terrifying or incredible?”
“Oh god Ed please, I’m too high for this,” Matt murmured, head back and forearm over his eyes, apparently listening.
Not long after that, there strode over a figure which made her genuinely flinch, the gigantic James Conrad – coming to grab Matt’s empties, which he was crushing against his forehead. Jane stared apprehensively at him, and he glowered back at her, but Matt just shook his head and introduced them to one another as if they were meeting for the first time.
“Thanks for the ice,” James said begrudgingly.
“Thanks for not throwing Matt through my window,” she admitted, working hard not to clench her teeth.
“I’m a pretty good shot,” he confessed – and that seemed to be enough. Neither of them really apologised to the other – that wasn’t on the cards – but they sat peacefully in close proximity, James talking mainly to Matt and the beautiful Giselle. Eventually, though, he and Jane exchanged a few small words.
“I was harsh on you,” he muttered quietly, leaning over, the others momentarily engaged, “I know. But that’s just the way it goes here.”
Jane didn’t say anything. She would have given a small nod of understanding but she couldn’t help but feel like that would have come across like she was fine with it all, which she wasn’t. James continued on regardless.
“I’m a Senior. The Senior,” he told her, keeping his voice low, “I’ve got to be tough.” He paused and looked at her, a strange glimmer in his eyes. “We have to be the best.”
“I know,” Jane acknowledged.
“The hotter the flame, the stronger the steel. We’re forging a new Legion.” He quietly stressed the last word. “When the time comes, we need to be worthy.”
“I know,” Jane said simply, and that was all of that.
Time passed. The music mellowed. People said their goodbyes and began weaving their way back towards the Academy. Wally got up to help Will, the teleporter who Jane remembered had brought them here, up off the grass where he’d been snoring peacefully for some time – they were gone for fifteen minutes or so while the psychic helped him stagger back to his room before Wally returned to the pavilion to sit and smoke some more. Shortly after, James too began making noises about leaving, glancing across at Giselle every time he said it. But the speedster never seemed to pick up what the strongman was putting down, and so he lingered, continuing to steadily drink his way through an almost inhuman amount of vodka.
“Giselle!” yelled a girl in the night, who seemed to have sprouted wings, “Come play!” Giselle laughed, and with a round of hugs and kisses on the cheek for everyone in the gazebo ran off into the dark to throw and catch a frisbee. With her gone, James took only a few minutes to grumble to himself before leaving alone, albeit for the ten seconds it took for another giggling Acolyte girl to seemingly materialise on his arm.
“That man call pull,” Matt murmured, as James’s giant back disappeared into the darkness.
“But not who he wants to,” Wally said softly, gazing over at the frisbee game and Giselle’s laughing, blurring form. Matt chuckled and Jane sat silent, watching the fireflies. Only Ed, sitting by himself in his corner, looked unhappy for some reason.
They kept on talking while things died down. Eventually, the party was over. The last guests left, Ed turned off the music, and they all for some reason (probably because the wooden benches hurt your butt after a while) ended up sitting on the grass.
“This was nice,” murmured Wally. He drew long and deep on the joint they were smoking (Jane had lost count what number this was), then exhaled, slow and satisfied. He passed across to Ed, who pinched it awkwardly between his thumb and forefinger like a piece of mouldy cheese. “We should do this more often.”
“Yeah man,” said Matt, laying on the grass, his hands behind his head. “Definitely. All the time.” They lapsed into peaceful silence.
Eventually Wally turned to Jane. “I’m sorry about what happened with Nat,” he said, “I told her not to, but…”
Jane shook her head. “It happened. Move on.” She sighed and looked up at the lights of Morningstar, glowing off in the distance. “I just wish I could’ve…” she trailed off.
“Won?” smiled Wally. Jane nodded. The psychic shook his head.
“It would’ve taken an extraordinary mind to repel Natalia Baroque.”
“Lucky I had Psy-Block,” Matt’s voice murmured up from the ground, his eyes closed.
“Exactly,” agreed Wally. He took the joint back from Ed, who didn’t seem to have any idea what to do with it, and took another draw. “She’s really powerful.”
“And my mental defence sucks,” Jane admitted. Wally handed her the joint and she took another funny-tasting puff. The psychic gazed at her with an odd look on his face.
“Do you want it not to?” he said finally. Jane looked at him.
“What do you mean?”
“If you’re no good. Do you want me to help you?”
The red-head seemed genuine, but still she shifted uncomfortably. “I… I’m alright.”
“What’re we talking about?” said Giselle, reappearing in a rush of air cross-legged by Wally’s side, breathless but beaming.
“Jane’s too good for anyone’s help,” Matt murmured, not looking up, “Ow,” he added, as Jane thumped him on the chest.
“Shut up,” she countered, scowling. Maybe it was just the marijuana but his insult gave her a genuine pang.
“You always hit me.”
“You always deserve it.”
“Whatever.” She turned back to Wally, struggling to find the right words. “I just… I don’t want to… it’s fine. Really. Thank you. But I don’t... you don’t need to.”
“You’re in the Legion,” said Giselle, and to Jane’s surprise the words were straight-forward, without sarcasm or disgust. Jane looked up from the piece of grass she’d been picking at to find the speedster looking directly at her. “We’re a team. All of us. Just like the old days.”
“The good old days,” Wally echoed.
“None of us are perfect. None of us can go it alone.” She reached across and placed her hand on Jane’s lap. “Let us help you.”
“I don’t… I mean you can’t… I can’t…”
“Let us try,” said Wally; and the two of them smiled. Jane looked from one to the other, not knowing how or what to say. Her throat felt tight.
“I’ll help too,” piped up Ed, joining in ineffectually, “You know, if you want.”
Giselle laughed and lent over and pecked him on the cheek. “You’re excellent Ed.” The genius’s face turned bright red where her lips had brushed.
“Screw you all, nobody’s helping me,” Matt muttered from the ground, and everyone laughed.
“Come on,” said Giselle, standing up and pulling Wally to his feet, “We should get to bed.”
“Carry me,” begged the psychic, “Darling. Please. It’s so far.”
“Oh my God Wal, you’re so lazy.”
“But you love me.”
“You’re right. I love you.” She bent down and with surprising strength slung the pudgy psychic over her shoulder. “Work work work,” she faux-moaned – then she winked at the three of them and vanished into the night. Ed watched her blur disappear into the darkness with a mournful look on his face.
“I better get going too,” he said quietly.
“No, stay,” whispered Matt, “It’s nice out.”
“No,” said Ed, shaking his head, “I think I… I think I’ll go. I need to… I’ve got things I should be doing.”
He climbed to his feet and walked away slowly towards Morningstar with his hands in his pockets.
“Can never tell if he’s serious,” Matt muttered, “Or if that just means he’s going to play games.”
“Who knows,” said Jane, laying down beside him. Half-asleep, his eyes still closed, Matt snuggled into her armpit.
“I’m a pyro.”
“Oh yeah.” Matt paused, considering. “But you’re a cryo too.” He yawned and shuffled his hands between his thighs. “Would think they’d cancel each other out.”
“Apparently not,” smiled Jane.
“Apparently not,” Matt murmured.
And so they lay there, the empath and the human, alone on the grass in the warm autumn air. They lay there in peace and silence, him asleep, her looking up at the stars, until the first rays of sunlight peaked over the horizon. Then Matt awoke, and together they faced the coming dawn.
Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).