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 Let's Be Sweethearts Together, February 14, 2167 | Reese Marshall
Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Jan 2 2018, 12:58 AM
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Mental Manipulation - able to manipulate other people's minds through mind control, illusion projection, and memory manipulation, primarily.
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Valentine’s Day fell on a weekend this year, which served both to prolong the commercialized expectations of the holiday while also canceling the weekly Vaughan family brunch. Calvin and his wife had plans, as did Willow and her husband, and the nieces and nephews had been divided into “old enough to stay home alone” and “those who needed supervision” and placed in the care of older siblings and cousins.

Though single, Bruce had plans that, for once, did not involve Shangri-La. His establishment’s February holiday was Lupercalia, which took place on the 15th and involved significantly less preparation than several other celebrations at Shangri-La. Apart from a thematic menu and some Roman-inspired decorations, they required relatively little to host a nude chase through the building. Truly, ensuring that they had enough whips, riding crops, and animal-inspired head gear would occupy the lion’s share of the morning’s attention.

His Valentine’s Day plans were decidedly less adult-oriented.

To ensure that their parents enjoyed a date night, the girls spent every Valentine’s Day with their Uncle Bruce, sleeping over at his apartment to enjoy bonding time. He made a bit of a production of it, with the culturally-sanctioned opportunity to spoil them (while navigating some of the objectionable framing of the holiday which put romantic and sexual pressure on children at too young an age). Each year, he brought them candy, stuffed animals, and a pink and red outfit for the day, and he brushed their hair and styled it with ribbons. They baked cookies so the entire apartment smelled of chocolate and sugar, they did a special outing for the day, and they had a pajama party when they returned.

His phone rang while he had been in the process of removing the cookies from the oven. After turning off the burner, he grabbed the phone, cradled it to his ear, and began scraping the still-hot treats from the sheets to place on the cooling rack.

It was Reese.

Bruce was fond of the other man, but he had learned quickly that Reese tended to call when he wanted or needed something rather than for the pleasure of spending time together.

His observation bore out, as the younger man was consumed with cold panic. Bruce gently prodded him to shake loose the reason, and, as with holiday shopping, Wendy was the cause. Rather, Wendy was the reason though she had done nothing to warrant such a reaction from her father, and Bruce suspected that she would appreciate any overture no matter how meager as long as it was sincere. However, as Reese sounded as though he might suffer an aneurysm over the phone, the mental manipulator explained his own plans for the afternoon and evening and proposed that Reese and his daughter join them. They reached a firm agreement, the verbal equivalent of a firm handshake, set a time and place, and then Bruce returned to the girls. He explained that another little girl would join them to play, and wouldn’t that be so much fun?

Fortunately, Mabel was a precocious extrovert, and Avery did everything she could to keep up with her older sister, ensuring compliance with the change of plans. When it was time to leave, he bundled them up in their over-sized coats and donned his own jacket before they left.

Jungle Jamboree was an arcade and recreation center for children located in Evendale. A popular location for parties and special occasions, children of all ages – and fun-loving adults – could spend a few hours playing games, on rides, and eating greasy food with an abundance of sugar. Colorful costumed characters walked the floor – lions, elephants, giraffes… - and a hologram band provided “live” entertainment. There were two separate climbing sections complete with ball pits: one for children four and under, and another for five and above. All soft foam and padded walls to prevent injuries. All manner of arcade games to train children to gamble when they grew into adulthood, priming the pleasure receptors of their brains early to associate the thrill with the act of winning tokens.

For more adventurous children, a small rock climbing wall, bumper cars, laser tag and laser obstacle courses, bumper bowling, a merry-go-round, a mini coaster and a mini twister, and flight simulators were available.

The floor was sticky from spilled soda, the entire establishment smelled of pizza and macaroni and cheese, and the high-pitched shrieks and giggles of children having the time of their lives pierced the air. A far cry from Shangri-La, but the girls loved it. They dropped their coats at the front, and Bruce placed the check tickets in his wallet before paying for a package, and ushering the girls to a table to wait for Reese and his daughter.

They were easy to find. Bruce had traded subtlety for novelty and wore a crimson long-sleeved sweater vest over a white shirt, with matching red socks and a bowtie. The girls equally festive in their pink, red, and white outfits, though they wore leggings under their skirts so they could run and crawl in the playground equipment without embarrassment.

@Reese Marshall
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Reese Marshall
 Posted: Jan 2 2018, 09:20 PM
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There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
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Perhaps if Reese had been one to say 'thank you' or explain any of his motives, the impression that he gave when he called for his mundane problems would have been entirely different. The number of friends that Reese had (family included) could have been counted on one hand without even filling it up. He was more inclined, generally, to avoid talking to someone than he was to talk to anyone; and he was more accustomed to avoid help than ask for it.

That he was calling Bruce at all meant something, even if it seemed like it was more of a 'take' than a 'give,' most days, and perhaps one day Reese's parents would get the chance to thank him for doing something that they had tried but failed at with their own son -- getting him to reach out instead of the other way around.

Regardless, the situation was one that he had probably been in a hundred times, though not in the recent past. His parents were celebrating some important number of valentines days (he hadn't listened that closely when he'd figured out where the request was going). Mr. Marshall had planned some romantic evening fit for a couple who had two middle aged sons and a million dollar business, and Reese was going to take Wendy until the next morning.

Usually in situations like this, Reese' brother would offer to help, but not today -- he had his own plans and so Reese had been seated (though that term was unfair both to his feelings about the little girl and the feelings about those who had bee unable to watch her) with Wendy without any kind of back up or support. He knew he would mess it up -- it wasn't a matter of if, it was a matter of how long.

When he showed up with Wendy, he looked like he always looked. Neatly put together from head to toe. Outwardly and in passing, nothing to write home about (though he was no doubt handsome). His button down and slacks fit, his hair had been brushed, his face had been shaved; but his eyes were still dead and he was favoring his left leg and he had a nick over his right eye.

Like the other little girls, Wendy was all dressed up for Valentines day. She had pig tails that sported heart-sharped holders and a red jumper that was over a long sleeved white shirt. Her stockings were pink and her shoes black. Her nails had even been painted rather expertly, which was what Reese had done to waste the time before they had headed out to meet their friends.

Reese reached out a hand to shake. There were bruises and a band aid on it as well. "Thanks for meeting us. You've met Wendy before."

She gave the same little curtsy she had when they had met the first time. "Mr. Vaughan. It's a pleasure to see you again."

"Who're these two lovely ladies?" he asked, and he crouched down to extend his hand. "I'm Reese. I'm friends with your Uncle Bruce. This is Wendy."

The girl offered a shy little wave to the other girls.

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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Jan 2 2018, 10:25 PM
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From their table, Bruce spied Reese and declared, “There they are.” A smile spread across his lips, and he waved to get the other man’s attention, though his outfit was loud enough to do so without assistance. However, as Reese and Wendy drew nearer, the mental manipulator noticed his limp, and his smile slowly morphed into a frown.

“Uncle Bruce?” Mabel asked cautiously, unused to seeing him with anything less than a 30-watt smile on his lips. His sudden change of demeanor concerned her, out of place as it was on his features, for the holiday, in this happy place.

Bruce recovered himself and turned towards Mabel, while watching Reese and Wendy approach from the corner of his eye. “Watch this,” he instructed her, frowning more deliberately, exaggeratedly like a children’s cartoon character. He then lined his hand, palm towards his face and back to the girls, in front of his forehead. Slowly he lowered it, and as it passed his eyebrows, they smoothed over, his eyes brightened when they emerged from behind his hand, and finally, as it moved over his mouth, it morphed into a smile. When he did so in reverse, the frown returned, robbed of its power because he had turned it into a trick. Once more, he settled his hand over his face so that the smile returned, right as Reese approached with his daughter.

Bruce rose to his feet to greet their guests; from that angle, face to face, he noticed the bruise on the other man’s face. Were they alone rather than in the presence of children, he would start a lecture, but he bit back the instinct in the interest of entertaining the girls. They were too young to find themselves burdened by adult concerns; scrapped knees and bruises came from playing too much, from accidents in their world; not as a result of deliberate choices, antagonism and a short fuse to earn the punishment they felt they so richly deserved but which failed to quell the guilt that consumed their every waking thought.

He sincerely hoped his daughters would never experience even a fraction of that pain.

All smiles now for effect, he took the other man’s hand, though he brushed his thumb over the length of the bandage, a subtle signal to Reese that he’d noticed. “We’re happy to do it.” Releasing Reese’s hand, he turned to Wendy; the girl was preternaturally polite. “It’s a pleasure to see you too, Wendy. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Mabel eyed Reese before offering one small hand to take his for a shake. She shook it exaggeratedly, a parody of how men shook hands because she knew they often shook too hard, though she didn’t understand the power play behind it. “I’m Mabel,” she introduced herself, whistling through the gap in her teeth, caused by the one she had lost the other day. Then pointing at her younger sister, she added, “This is Avery.”

Avery came forward though she didn’t reach for Reese’s hand. Instead she returned Wendy’s wave with a far less coordinated one of her own.

Bruce captured Avery around her waist and lifted her up into his arms. “So, what shall we do first?”

@Reese Marshall
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Reese Marshall
 Posted: Jan 2 2018, 11:08 PM
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There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
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The brush of the bandage didn't go without notice. Reese let his eyes meet Bruce's and they dropped down. He didn't want to talk about it. He generally tried to plan his meetings with Bruce when he hadn't been in a fight recently, but this had been an emergency and so utterly unplanned that he hadn't thought to avoid one the night before.

The mental manipulator didn't have to say anything. Reese didn't need a lecture. He'd heard it already from every person in the world who cared about his well being. At the end of the day, he needed some outlet and this was the best one he had found -- the one that landed him in the hospital psych ward the least frequently, and most places and people didn't bother pressing charges when it was Reese who left with bruised ribs and a bad knee.

But he, like Bruce, knew how to put on a show for the kids.

Wendy smiled sweetly. "Thank you, Mr. Vaughan. Happy Valentines Day to you too." She chimed.

Reese grinned as the girl introduced herself. His nieces were adorable, and knowing that he wasn't in charge of them put him at ease. "Nice to meet you, Mabel. You've got a good hand shake there." He chuckled, standing back up.

Wendy grinned at the other little girl who waved at her. She looked up at Reese to offer an answer to Bruce and when he didn't, she decided to make her own suggestion, reaching up and stuffing her hand into his pocket where he had put the token. He jumped about a mile in the air.

"Jesus, Wendy." He retrieved her one. "You have a suggestion?"

The girl nodded. "You should play that dancing game." She declared. Then she turned to Mabel and Bruce to explain that her grandmother had said that it was his favorite game to play against her mom and that he always won because he wasn't a gentleman.

Reese hesitated. "Why don't we start with ski ball and work up to dancing?" he countered.

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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Jan 3 2018, 12:12 AM
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Bruce’s grin widened at her polite response. “Did you get anything nice?” He asked, opting for that in place of the more patronizing question about whether she had a Valentine of her own. She was eight. She shouldn’t have a secret admirer or anything of the sort, and if her father was her date, then there existed better language to use than the strange blending of romantic and familial relationships that, at best, led to incest fantasies acted out at Shangri-La a decade down the line, and, at worst, led to child abuse in other households.

“Uncle Bruce likes dancing,” Mabel offered helpfully. She saw that as her first opportunity to join the conversation, since she didn’t know what to make of Wendy and her father; they struck her as a little odd but not necessarily in a bad way. “He has this big trophy in the living room.”

“Sweetheart, it’s still boasting when it’s about someone else,” Bruce reminded her, though his voice contained only affection. He played up the dancing with the girls, because it was one of the only parts of his life that he could share with them; those stories were all true, not carefully edited to erase all signs of sex work, bondage, or patient confidentiality. Mabel enjoyed the stories; she enjoyed building up other people and bolstering their confidence.

She’d make a wonderful little therapist, Bruce thought. Someday, perhaps. When she was old enough to make career decisions and didn’t waffle back and forth about whether she would be the first astronaut to break through the Dome or go up to the stars like people had done hundreds of years ago, or whether she would clone dinosaurs, or if she would be an obstetrician because she loved babies but had yet to understand what gynecology was as a specialty, and why it went hand-in-hand (so to speak) with obstetrics.

“Skee ball should be fun,” Bruce agreed. Avery pouted briefly in his arms, as she was too small to play on her own, until he placated her with, “Avery and I can be a team.”

@Reese Marshall
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Reese Marshall
 Posted: Jan 3 2018, 11:25 PM
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There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
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Reese smiled more talking to children than he probably ever had in Bruce's presence before. He missed his terribly, and that would never change. "Cat's already out of the bag. I'll look for it next time I visit." He lowered his voice as if they were sharing secrets.

Once Bruce and the other girls assented, Wendy grabbed her father's hand and gave him a little tug to have him follow. "Skee ball is this way." Reese flinched over his leg and pulled his hand away, but his temper didn't flare, he merely paused at a table and closed his eyes for half a second.

Wendy paused to wait and looked over at the other girls and Bruce to explain. "He works for my grandpa's construction company and sometimes when people don't pay really close attention they mess up. That's why you've gotta be 'on your A game' when you're building something."

God only knew how many times she'd heard that lie, but it was better than the truth. Easier to understand than the fact that her father went out some nights with the intention of riling someone up enough to knock him off his feet.

Reese made a motion for her to keep walking. "C'mon. You're leading the way, kid." He tossed a half-anxious look over at Bruce as if he expected the older man to be casting a harsh judgement on him.

He was already kicking himself for calling Bruce. He'd had a fun evening planned with his nieces. Damn it. His eyes moved down, but the hand on Bruce's shoulder as he steadied himself on his feet again said that the limp wasn't for show or an attempt to seek attention. "You ever played skee ball before?" Reese asked Avery, while the same question was asked, phrased identically from his daughter to Mabel, whom she was encouraging to run ahead a little to get there faster.

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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Jan 4 2018, 12:22 AM
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Bruce noticed the way the other man’s demeanor changed in front of children; it suited him, and he could see echoes of how Reese must have been before the accident. When he had a gaggle of children and a spouse, before he had buried four members of his family and retreated into substance abuse and depressive self-loathing that caused him to abdicate his responsibilities in a half-baked quest to atone, before he decided he didn’t know how to raise a child. He filed that away for a moment when they weren’t watching three children eight and under.

“It was a long time ago,” he deflected, though he had made reference to dance the night of the rave. It had been a big part of his life once upon a time, even if he had hung up his shoes in any professional or quasi-professional capacity. Now he danced at galas, or if one of the girls wanted to ride on his shoes in the living room while they listened to music. He retained his skills, his natural grace and coordination, but he wasn’t one to wave that trophy around as the culmination of his life’s work, or the highpoint of his forty-five years. Shangri-La held that title.

As Wendy launched into an explanation that she surely had heard countless times before and had every reason to believe, Bruce’s gaze swept over Reese once more. Hunched over a table, eyes squeezed shut…Bruce could only imagine the pounding he had incurred, and what he had done to earn it.

Mabel and Wendy walked in front of them, while Avery rode on Bruce’s shoulders. He paused while Reese steadied himself, lingered to ensure that the other man could walk without assistance, and he held his tongue; now wasn’t the time for this conversation.

“A couple times,” Avery answered shyly, clutching her Uncle Bruce’s hair while they walked. She had never played on her own, not properly, though once she’d been sat directly on the equipment so she could throw more easily. She was still too young for most games, and preferred the holograms and the ball pit and playground equipment. Though she yearned to play with her older sister.

Mabel glanced behind her for permission to run ahead; as soon as Bruce nodded his assent, she quickened her pace, while regaling the other girl with stories of the last time she’d been here and played skee-ball. For a friend’s birthday party; she remembered every detail of that party, because they’d played laser tag, and it had been so. much. fun.

@Reese Marshall
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Reese Marshall
 Posted: Jan 4 2018, 09:13 PM
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There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
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Reese walked steadily enough. Apparently it was just getting going at any good speed that caused the problem. He watched his daughter run ahead with the other little girl and his heart tugged, tore, and squirmed in his chest. The last time he had come to this place was with his wife and kids. He didn't remember whose birthday it was, only that it had been for one of the boys in Atticus' class and so Annie had attached to one of the other big sisters and they ran around on their own while the little boys rough housed in the ball pit.

It was a happy memory. He didn't mention it.

He grinned. "Couple times, huh?" he asked. The smile on his face was warm, welcoming. It must have been put on, for his eyes still looked lost and dead the way they always did, but nothing about it seemed fake. "I can already tell you're going to wipe the floor with us, Avery. You sure I can't talk you onto Team Reese?" he pointed to himself with his thumb. "I mean, you play this game today, you want to be on your Uncle Bruce's team or on my team?" It was playful, light in a way that the rest of him wasn't, in a way that (to an adult, but perhaps not to a child) didn't match the cut on his face or hands; that didn't match the pain that radiated off of him at every moment from the second his alarm clock rang in the morning to the last gulp he had before he passed out in the evening.

Wendy had already stuck the token that Reese had given her into one of the machines and was pointing Mabel to put one of her tokens into the one beside it so that they could play head-to-head, though she didn't actually know what the teams were going to be, she assumed that there would be two -- just like in softball, hockey, football, soccer, and every other game that she had watched perched on her father's lap or pressed against his side when Julian managed to talk him into coming over to watch a game.

She spun around when the two men and the youngest of them caught up. "We've got an odd number." She announced looking back and forth. Perhaps it was endearing in some way that she didn't discount Avery as too little to count in her assessment of the game. "Who's sitting out?" she asked. The competitive Marshall streak apparently would live on.

Reese snorted. "No one's sitting out. Mabel, you want to be on your Uncle's team or Team Reese." He added as the girl chose Bruce, "You didn't even hear my pitch." He glanced down at Wendy. "And you?"

The child had apparently also inherited her father's sense of humor for she raised a brow and started to walk over to Bruce to assert that she also wanted to be on his team before she started laughing and hopped back over to her father. "You guys want to go first or second?" Wendy asked as Reese's hands rested on the little girl's shoulders.

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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Jan 5 2018, 09:51 PM
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It warmed Bruce’s heart to see Reese interact with the children and put on a show. While his enthusiasm didn’t reach his eyes, and the limp and bruises remained concerning, children noticed smiles most often – particularly children as young as Avery – and so she noticed nothing amiss. The mental manipulator thought that Reese’s panic had been premature, but he couldn’t say that the five of them meeting up for the evening was a negative outcome.

“Uncle Bruce,” his younger girl announced shyly when posed the question. He had already suggested they partner up, and she, like many toddlers, craved familiarity over adventure.

“Are we playing official teams now?” Bruce asked mildly, a subtle indication that this had not been his plan. He had only proposed that he and Avery form a duo because she was too small to play by herself, and he had no desire to exclude her from the activity; that would be both unfair and unkind. Beyond that, Bruce wasn’t one for keeping score as opposed to working towards a common goal, such as ensuring that the girls had enough tickets to exchange for some small trinket that they would forget about by the next morning, unless he talked them into temporary tattoos which would last a few days until they faded from exposure and bath time. Mabel’s and Avery’s parents had a similar approach, which made competition a foreign notion in this setting.

He set Avery down beside him now that they had reached the game, and he needn’t worry about her tiny legs unable to keep up with his longer stride. She remained beside him, eyes wide as she regarded the machine somewhat suspiciously. Yet she’d been asked whether she wanted to stay with her Uncle or with the strange man she’d met only five minutes ago; having chosen her Uncle, she wasn’t sure if that meant she could move away from him, and she chose to err on the side of caution.

“We usually just play,” Mabel explained when Wendy asked who would go first. Every time she’d come here, or they played video games at home or Uncle Bruce’s house, they…simply played. There weren’t turns the way there were in gym class, and thus she didn’t know how to approach applying this system to games. However, her parents had raised her to be respectful and generous, and thus she added, “But…you can go first.”

That seemed like the right thing to say, and she glanced over at her uncle for approval.

@Reese Marshall
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Reese Marshall
 Posted: Jan 6 2018, 04:16 PM
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There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
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Reese gave a shrug of his shoulders as the little girl choose her uncle. He hadn't expected anymore. He frowned slightly when Bruce asked if they were playing in team. It wasn't the usual frown that crossed his expression -- it wasn't the one that wrapped around him and tugged him back, and rebuilt the walls; it was, instead, the frown of any man who was trying to comprehend what the other had said. "Yeah? With team. How the fuck do you guys play?" he only caught the word after he'd said it and his eyes widened. "Sh--" that one, he caught before it came to fruition, "Sorry." he offered dumbly.

But perhaps his confusion was only justified by the way that Wendy had been talking as they approached and then declared (without any prompting) how they needed an even number. (Perhaps the entire Marshall family played this game in teams -- friendliness and competition level likely depended on the make up of said teams.)

So it was Wendy's turn to look somewhat confused when Mabel explained that they just played -- no teams. Like the other little girls kept doing to Bruce, Wendy looked to her father for reassurance to make sure that this was actually a legitimate way to play skee ball.

"C'mon. You go first." He encouraged. There was something almost easy about the way that Reese interacted with the child; the love in his eyes was impossible to miss even as withdrawn as they were. She brought out the soft gaze (or at least the hint thereof) of the man who had died six years ago in a car crash he survived.

Then his eyes closed for a moment while all the girls weren't looking; while (he believed) all of the eyes were on his daughter and he could let down the walls for a moment. (The pain wasn't physical this time.) And then he heard the girl chime: "Dad!" And he was immediately back to the way he was supposed to be for his daughter, for all three girls. "Did you see that?" She asked, half-hopping over to him.

"Look at you. Not dragging us underwater from the start." he teased, and the girl grinned and looked at Mabel, trying to figure out how "no teams" worked in skee ball. (She didn't look to her father, because he seemed just as confused.)

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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Jan 6 2018, 08:05 PM
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Avery stared at him, expression attentive because her mind was still a sponge and she had never heard that word before; her parents were careful not to use profanity around her, and her Uncle Bruce effortlessly avoided such language because he compartmentalized well and only used it in scenes. The glimmer in her eyes implied that she might repeat the word at another time, possibly the least opportune moment.

By contrast, Mabel hadn’t paid enough attention to notice.

Bruce was as confused as the other man, though he schooled his expression more carefully. Why would anyone need to turn a children’s game into a competition when they could cooperatively pool their effort towards a common goal? He had little interest in bragging rights, and he couldn’t conceive of a prize for such endeavors. Winner-take-all for the tickets? The antithesis of how tickets should work. And surely nobody was gambling on such an activity. “Everyone plays a round, and then we count up the tickets and put them in the ticket pouch,” he explained. The ticket pouch was his pocket because his jackets had several, and girls’ fashion wasn’t known for utility. They counted not to determine who had won the most but so that they could form a realistic idea of what prizes to seek from the counter at the end of their visit.

However, the gracious thing to do was to cede this territory to their guests because that was how courtesy worked, and Mabel had already indicated that they would do so.

Yet, as Wendy prepared to take her turn and both Mabel’s and Avery’s attention turned to watch her, Bruce saw Reese’s gaze slid away as he turned shock-still and his eyes slipped closed. Would that he possessed telepathy in this moment. As he lacked that from his otherwise impressive repertoire, he could only begin to guess the memories or the images that entered the younger man’s mind. Still, he remained focused on him, with one eye on the game to ensure that nobody came by to snatch the children and so that he knew what had been accomplished with each throw, to offer congratulations or a soothing pep talk as needed.

When Wendy scored, he returned his full attention to the girls and smiled broadly, holding out one hand for a high five. “That was great!” He encouraged her.

Then, to Mabel, he said, “Sweetheart, you go now. Avery and I can go later.”

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Reese Marshall
 Posted: Jan 6 2018, 10:02 PM
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There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
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Reese was pretty sure he'd figured out how this worked now, though he wasn't going to try to give guidance. Bruce had let him come to their event; he considered himself in many ways a guest this evening.

He watched as Wendy moved forward, away from the safe haven that was her father and back towards the far more interesting party that was a little girl approximately her age. She glanced over at Reese with relative frequency, almost as if she was checking on him the same way that he checked on her.

It was impossible to know, but not difficult to imagine what the man who kept the gentle smile on his face for his daughter was going through, even as the two girls cheerfully played skee ball (and Wendy seemed to figure out how to play cooperatively rather quickly). He'd admitted to Bruce on one of their outings less than a month ago that while he loved every second of being with Wendy, it weighed on him heavily emotionally. He'd admitted he rarely spent more than a couple hours in her presence at a time.

It was his own fault that tonight wasn't the way it was supposed to be -- and Reese knew that without a single doubt. If he had been someone else, he would have been watching his kids splitting into teams, trying to decide how to organize ages to make the teams 'fair'. He would have been standing next to a woman instead of a man, and maybe there would have still been a little girl resting on her hip, learning swearwords.

He glanced over. "Thanks again. I'm sorry I called like that. And showed up like this--" his excuse wasn't even half-assed. "I didn't know I was going to see you." With the, apparent, implication that if he had been planning to see Bruce, he would have not been injured (and that inlaid an admission in and of itself; that he had had control over whether or not he had been hurt; and he had chosen the former.)

Wendy tugged the tickets free from the dispenser and went running back over to the adults to count them and store them. Reese greeted her with the same smile and enthusiasm that he had, as if he didn't lowered his voice to tell Bruce something. Then she turned to Mabel. "What do you want to do next?" she asked.

@Bruce Vaughan
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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Jan 6 2018, 11:04 PM
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Mental Manipulation - able to manipulate other people's minds through mind control, illusion projection, and memory manipulation, primarily.
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Bruce watched Mabel take her turn, with Avery helpfully passing her the ball, which was all the toddler could manage without assistance. This way, she could participate in a meaningful way, and she spent time with her sister even as she faded a bit into the background since the new girl was closer to Mabel’s age and far more extroverted than Avery was. Bruce resolved to make it up to her with a different game or activity.

Yet, once assured that the three girls had a system for playing that wouldn’t lead to hurt feelings, and that nobody would accidentally smack Avery in the face with a dense wooden ball, Bruce returned his attention to Reese.

This time, the younger man appeared less vulnerable; whatever image had haunted him might have passed for the moment, or those seconds spent recomposing himself had worked wonders. Bruce didn’t intend to linger on the matter until Reese opened his mouth and offered his apologies and the attendant explanation. He grasped the implication and the dual admissions, first that Reese engaged in reckless self-harming behavior by proxy (and realized it), and second that he made an effort to conceal this from the mental manipulator for some reason that could range from embarrassment to a desire to look better in Bruce’s eyes or simply fear of a lecture.

“I’m happy to take you and Wendy out-” Before he could finish his remark, the girls finished their game and collected their tickets. Avery insisted on carrying them and presenting them to her Uncle Bruce, who beamed at both her and her sister, counted the tickets, and folded them to fit in his breast pocket.

Wendy’s question earned little deliberation from Mabel; the idea came to hear quickly. “Want to play on the equipment?”

To her, that was a major draw of Jungle Jamboree. February in Ark remained cold and occasionally snowy, which put a damper on playing outside. Uncle Bruce’s house had toys and video games, but it was small and not conducive to running, jumping, and climbing. The equipment here, by contrast, was perfect.

“That’s a wonderful idea,” Bruce encouraged, once more lifting Avery to spare her the walk. “You three can climb a bit, and you can mind your sister while Reese and I talk.”

No adults were allowed in the equipment section proper, though several chairs lined the nearest wall so parents could settle and watch. Bruce claimed two and waited for the girls to start up one game or another before he turned his attention to his friend.

“Might I make a suggestion?”

A proposal, not one through mind control.

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Reese Marshall
 Posted: Jan 6 2018, 11:51 PM
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There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
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The way that Wendy seemed to light up around other children was something that Reese rarely go to see. He attended "adult-oriented" birthday parties for his daughter -- the ones that involved only family and no friends. His parents always invited him to the chaotic, light-hearted affairs, but he hadn't accepted the proposal since her third birthday (the first one he had been able to attend after the accident).

As the kids went running off to play, Reese's eyes watched Wendy like a hawk, as if looking away from her might be the death of her. Unlike he usually did, he didn't look over at Bruce when he talked.

When Bruce asked if he could give him a suggestion, Reese's focus on the little girl wavered just love enough for him to run his hands over his face. He really should have called someone else. (Reese had no one else to call, but that was, of course, beside the point.)

"No." he said flatly as his eyes focused back on the girl as he leg extended out, rubbing it gently. "Not if it's about the fight." He was pretty sure it was; what else could he even be considering giving advice about? "Like I said -- if I'd known we were going to meet up -- if I'd known I was going to have her, this would all be playing out differently. I'm not fucking incompetent."

He looked away from the little girl, his temper wavered on the edge of anger and then he heard Wendy let out a shrieking giggle as she played with the other children and his anger subsided as he looked back.

"Anyway, it wasn't a big deal." he explained, "Just a few guys getting out some energy out after having a few drinks. No one was in any danger; no one got hurt." Apparently his leg and face didn't count. "I'm not trying to kill myself, Bruce. You don't have to worry." In a rare attempt to show some kind of understanding of the other man's nervousness over the situation, he set his hand on Bruce's knee. It lingered there for only a moment before he leaned back and let out a sigh adding, "If it was about something else -- go ahead."

@Bruce Vaughan
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Bruce Vaughan
 Posted: Jan 7 2018, 12:27 AM
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731 Posts
Mental Manipulation - able to manipulate other people's minds through mind control, illusion projection, and memory manipulation, primarily.
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Bruce supposed he should have expected such a response, and so he listened attentively while Reese again offered an excuse, this time spat defensively as though the mental manipulator had passed judgment on his fitness as a parent at any point since answering the phone. He had said nothing of the sort, hadn’t so much as asked why Reese panicked at the thought of having to spend the evening with his daughter in an effort to prompt introspection. Bruce had only invited the two of them out, introduced his girls, and let the day unfold as it would. That Reese considered a limp and the damage to his hand and the bruise on his face as existing outside the realm of ‘getting hurt’…the psychologist portion of Bruce weighed who Reese meant by no one (himself), contrasted with ‘someone’ (most likely anyone else under the Dome). Yet he said nothing to interrupt the other man.

Just as he glanced at the hand on his knee but made no effort to extricate himself from the touch. Soon enough, Reese broke the contact on his own, and the mental manipulator lifted his head to scrutinize the other man’s face for several long seconds before turning to the playground where Avery had managed to climb up to one of the slides. In her typically cautious fashion, she kept her hands behind her as she slid down, acting as brakes to prevent her from falling too quickly. He smiled and waved as she passed, waited until she had started climbing again before he addressed Reese.

“I have a friend,” he began, which hardly qualified as news since he had many connections throughout Ark. Their first lunch together upon reconnecting occurred at a diner run by two friends. He also didn’t intended the statement as boasting or to draw a point of contrast between himself and Reese, to demonstrate what could happen if the other man didn’t put other people through the trials and tribulations intended to force them to earn his trust, or, more frequently, to abandon him because he believed he deserved it and that irrational part of him that feared causing harm to anyone who grew close.

Pressing forward, he explained, “She works wonders with a whip. I’d like to give you her contact information so you can meet up.” He spoke softly but firmly, not wishing to draw attention to their conversation in a playground for children; simultaneously he remained resolute and wanted to do this for Reese.

Technically, this wasn’t about the fight, insofar as it straddled the line between Bruce’s concern for the other man’s safety and Bruce’s professional contacts and extracurricular activities.

@Reese Marshall
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