RP Paradise



There was too much smoke. It was being pulled in through the air vents in the car, filling the entire body of the vehicle. Finally, she gave up and pulled over to the side of the road. The car skid as she breaked, until she had to slam down on the brakes. Samantha was coughing as she opened the door and stepped out of her car, waving her hand through the air. She swallowed in big gasps of air as the fresh forestry air hit her. In the distance was salt from the Pacific Ocean, carried through on a breeze.

She was mid drive down Otay Lakes Road when her engine had seemingly caught fire. She walked around to the trunk of the car and popped it open, digging through the bags until she found an emergency roadside kit at the bottom of her Kia’s trunk. She pulled the gloves out first, sliding them on over the flowing sleeves of her blouse. The black was sheer enough that anything getting on it would be a catastrophe. Jogging, she made her way back to the front of the car.

With a careful touch, she flipped the front lid of the car open and pulled back as a huge cloud of white smoke puffed up. White smoke was good. Or at least, it was the best case scenario. That meant something was cracked and leaking. She didn’t see any flames, so she waved the smoke away and started poking around the engine cavity, looking for anything broken. There! Dripping down from the brake line was brake fluid. She shivered as she realized that any second, her breaks could have gone out. That explained the skidding, at least.

Well, she couldn’t drive it like this. Samantha reached into her pocket and pulled out a cell phone, a newer Samsung model, and she swiped through to the phone app. But as she clicked it, opening the dialer, she caught sight of her bars. None. Nada. Zilch and zero.

With a soft sigh, she tucked it back into the pocket of her black corduroy pants. She was glad that she had made the decision to bring her black combat boots out of storage for this trip. It looked like she was going to have to walk all the way down the road to get to Chula Vista, where her hotel was. She thought for a moment about backtracking. There was a skydiving place back down the road, wasn’t there? But it was a Sunday, and they might be closed.

She looked out into the forest on her right and then into the reservoir on her left. There was a small pathway, just big enough for a car to fit through, but overgrown partially. It looked like it was still in some degree of use. The branches of the trees had formed around it in beautiful arches, making it invisible from the road unless you were stopped and looking at it.

Maybe there was someone out that way? It couldn’t hurt to try. Certainly, Samantha thought as she walked, it wouldn’t hurt to try. She pulled her green shawl from the car, despite knowing full well that even though it was mid fall and almost sixty degrees outside she wouldn’t get cold, and wrapped it around her shoulders before she began to walk.

What a way to start off her San Diego vacation.​
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Eve was familiar with the trails outside of Paradise, narrow paths only just visible between even the thin trees here. That wasn’t any praise to the undergrowth; that was just disuse, and how carefully it was used by the few people who actually knew where they were. Occasionally, there would be someone – someone from the highway maybe, or the town, or lost hikers from the trail around the reservoir – someone who didn’t belong here, in the patch of forest stranded like an island in the scrublands. Part of her duty was to bring them back home, and… well. Adam would take care of them.

She felt the smoke in the currents of air around her, caught up in the wind and pulled into the forest. It smelled like brakes, maybe. Someone on the highway, close to the edge of the oasis. She reset her course, moving almost silently with air cushioning each step under her hiking boots. If the driver came in, it would be from the old driveway entrance, and she knew where they would be by the time she caught up to them.

“They” were a woman, with long red hair tied into complicated braids that cascaded down into shimmering red spirals. Certainly not the usual lost hiker, and certainly not someone who should have such sure footing in the hilled forest terrain. Eve’s dark eyes traced the clothes, the way the shawl that clung to her shoulders, and she sighed softly. The driver wasn’t quite what she’d been hoping for with Adam’s latest mood swing, but she’d have to do.

“Hello!” she called out to the stranger’s back, the first sign of her presence. “I saw a car out on the road. Is that yours? Is everything okay?”

Eve wasn’t wearing any makeup, which would make her harder to identify in case something went wrong. She had blue jeans, but her white tank top showed her bare arms just slightly colored by the California sun. Her hair was pulled up in a loose bun, showing off the tattoo on the side of her neck – a series of straight lines, like a barcode. Her small mouth was pulled tight, in something resembling concern, although as always there was something just slightly hollow behind her near-black eyes. Aside from the white shirt, she looked for all intents and purposes like a local hiker, albeit a small one. A concerned citizen.

A friend, even.

The voice startled her. It startled her because she had felt no one approaching her. There had been no sound, no heartbeats, no natural vibrations of the body. Just a sudden voice carried to her across the wide path. It also startled her because she knew that voice. She stopped, feeling the lie ping off her instincts, and turned around. “Eve, is that you?”

She paused, her eyes searching the woman behind her. She looked different than she had in the magazines and in the news broadcasts, but that was definitely Eve Morimoto. She looked up to her eyes, a beautiful near black, and froze. All at once, her world seemed to stabilize. It was as if the world had grounded itself into reality, whereas before it had been dreamy and vague. She felt herself ease, the tension in her body fleeing her. It was like she had never known real air before, had been trapped in a room where the air had been thin and she had been gasping for breath. Now, it filled her lungs, deep and full.

What the fuck was that?

Samantha shook her head, but the grounded feeling stayed. She felt… she felt connected to Eve, as though some kind of tether, some kind of lifeline, had just snapped into place between them. It took everything in her not to rush forward and throw her arms around the other woman. This was the first time she had seen her in person, had met her face to face. Still, she couldn’t help the way her feet carried her forward, stepping carefully and precisely through the undergrowth and the uneven pathing.

“Eve Morimoto! Holy shit, I, uhm. Okay, this is weird. I feel like. Like I know you, obviously, but I suddenly feel like I know you. What are you doing out here?” She stopped a few feet from her, clearly struggling to keep her distance. There was something shining in her eyes, a brightness that hadn’t been there before, when she had turned around. Excitement, happiness, like she had been uplifted into a good mood, despite everything.

Because Samantha was piecing it together already. This, this was proof of her theory. This was proof of soulmates. This didn’t feel romantic, or sexual, but she had theorized that soulmates came in all types. And Eve had just become a part of Samantha, in a way that she didn’t understand and didn’t care to examine quite yet. There would be plenty of time for that.​
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“Samantha Walsh?”

Eve blinked when she saw the woman’s heart-shaped face, her natural features softened even more by the pink tones added at the edges, exactly the same as every photograph, all the interviews they’d sent Greg to in their place as the best face for that side of the company. The face was distinct – and well known.

But that wasn’t what made Eve hesitate. Her eyes focused on Samantha’s eyes, bright and startling gold, and she felt something inside her chest… loosen. A moment where her rigid self-control and discipline slipped, and where in an extremely rare moment, she felt herself, her full self, rooted in her own body.

Her boots touched the ground so subtly that most would never notice she’d been off of it.

She’d never met with Ms. Walsh, personally. She was the public representative of one of the metahuman charities Paradise made sure to fund when they had the extra income. However, like most of those interactions, Gregory Bletcher-Faul had been the one sent for personal interviews. He had a degree of professionalism that both she and Adam lacked. But Eve had always rooted her very self in her discipline, in her control. Now, as she stared into Samantha Walsh’s eyes, the wind around them shifted, stirring their hair and clothes, and the leaves in the trees.

And for that moment, Eve didn’t want to take control back. She felt like, even more than Arlo or even Adam, this woman she’d only ever spoken to over the phone was someone she could let go around. Someone who could ease the burdens she placed on herself. Someone who might understand her, who could take some of the old pain away, dig it out from where it was buried under almost three decades of scars and self-control.

The moment didn’t pass, but Eve’s thoughts cleared themselves as she took a deep breath of nitrogen-rich air, and let it out again. After that, she realized, there was no way they could go back to Adam. She smiled, just a little, at Samantha’s confirmation that she had felt the same. That she was ready to let her own walls down.

“I know you too, but – we’ll address that later. We– I. I live in the area. Down near Chula Vista, actually. I hike around the reservoir and some of these off-trails on my days off. What are you doing here?”

She stepped closer, and once again cushioned her boots against the hard earth. Samantha Walsh was starting to close the distance – it was only fair that Eve Morimoto do the same, meet her in the middle. After all, the feeling of liberation never wavered.
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As Eve moved in to close the distance, Samantha felt even more… something. God, so many somethings. She wasn’t entirely sure what all she felt. Free, yes. Light, of course. And a distinct sense of belonging and comfort. She realized that she felt comfortable in the presence of Eve Morimoto. That, that was something she didn’t have with many people. That was something she’d only truly felt with her family. She had a contact, at a different pharmaceutical, one that primarily worked on metahuman research, and she sometimes made her feel this way.

This was so much more than she could have ever expected. And then, she felt a rush of a heartbeat, strong and calming, running through her veins. That was her, that was Eve. She knew it instinctively. She knew this heartbeat, these vibrations, and as they got closer, a breeze that hadn’t been there before picked up. She felt so grounded, just then, with Eve’s heartbeat running through her. And then the heartbeat disappeared.

That gave her a slight pause, and her head tilted slowly to the side, her cascade of curls falling down to her waist over her shoulder. She looked at her for a moment as something in her statement rang untrue. She smiled, regardless, and continued to close the distance, until they were close enough to reach out to one another. As they closed the gap, Samantha shook her head and her curls bounced.

“Vacation! I was coming down to San Diego from Columbus for a vacation, and well. Like you said, my car broke down on the side of the road. Something happened to the brakes, and I barely managed to stop my car. You said you hike around here on your days off– is your car nearby?”

She took another step forward, her hands leaving her shawl for the first time since she left the car. It stayed in place, but the breeze lifted the tasseled edges. The wind, the missing heartbeat, the way it had started when things had suddenly clicked into place. Was Eve a meta? Was Eve… like her? But why would she hide something like that? No, Samantha knew why. Being an out meta was like signing yourself up for death threats and hatred. Surely Eve wouldn’t want that, nor would her fiance Adam want that for her.

She could keep this secret. She could stay quiet and not tell anyone. After all… Samantha let go for a moment, and a blast of warmth released from her skin, spiraling out from her in a wave. She let it go until she was sure it had reached Eve and smiled in a secretive kind of way. Even if neither of them acknowledged it out loud, they would both know.​
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The warmth spread its message across Eve’s skin, and she caught it up in a breeze without thinking. It dispersed into the forest, and she knew that Samantha – her new friend, her oldest friend, her true friend – knew what she was, as well as who. The others, well. They all knew, of course. But they were more than friends, the seven of them. Five of them had seen horrors not meant for any living soul. The other two had shouldered their way in, but she’d felt something with Gregory for just a moment when they met.

But even Greg, she knew, wouldn’t understand this. Like her, he was controlled, scientific. They were the head researchers in Paradise. And while he was like her – herself and Samantha – his power wasn’t nearly as volatile. Not elemental.

Like Samantha, she knew nothing to be said about that. So instead, she answered with a little shake of her head, “I usually have someone pick me up at the trailhead.”

And even if she didn’t, a quick text to Iris would resolve that. Her apartment in town wasn’t the glamorous celebrity home most people would expect, but she’d figure out how to lie that off. Anywhere but Paradise would work. With that in mind, Eve reached for her phone.

“I can actually send her a text now, if you want. It’ll save us some time. I could also give you the number for the towing company – I’m pretty sure they’re open Sundays.”
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“I mean, We could walk for a little bit while we wait. This path seems nice if disused. The towing company would be good, though, I don’t think I’d trust my car to make it anywhere. Besides, I want– I want time to talk. Let’s talk and walk for a little bit, yeah?”

Samantha swallowed softly and held one of her hands out toward Eve. She could see it all reflected in the other woman’s eyes. Everything was so clear and it settled perfectly into her heart, like there had been this perfect Eve-sized hole inside her. This was right. This is where they were both meant to be. Samantha could feel the earth beneath her feet, solid and steady just like this tether between them now was.

A part of her felt like crying. She wanted Eve to take her hands and for them to curl up on the ground against a tree and just exist for a minute. She wanted to run with her through the thin trees, through the scrublands past them, along the water side of the reservoir that she assumed the path led to. She wanted to talk to her, to tell her everything that she’d always wanted to. Because Eve was the only person meant to hear certain things, who would understand the way she felt no matter what she felt.

And honestly, this path was nice, and the weather was good. There was no reason for them not to walk while they waited for her ride. There was no reason for them not to talk, and talk about everything and anything because it all would have meaning between the two of them. Everything was right, right now, right here.

“After all, it’s a long drive to get here. Surely we can make it down the trail and back before they get here. It would be better than sitting with my broken car the whole time, don’t you think? It’s such a lovely day.”
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Eve typed the text quickly, then turned her screen off and put it back in her pocket. She knew about the place where the signal would come back, and she’d finish sending it then. For now, she smiled and nodded to Samantha.

“You’re right. I was about to start heading back to the main trail, anyway. C’mon, we can take the long way back past the reservoir.” She waved, and then started to walk, slowly lowering herself until her feet touched earth again. She breathed in the stability the ground gave her, breathed in time with Samantha, even if neither woman realized it yet.

The forest had been Eve’s home for most of her life. Aside from a few years studying chemistry at Berkeley, she hadn’t left, not really. One would think a place with so many dark memories would haunt the corners of her mind, but… no. No, she and Adam and Arlo had done everything in their power to build their new lives out of the wreckage of their old one. Now, with the sunlight dappling a barely-visible path that was turned to the reservoir trail, beside the person she was always meant to meet, the shadowed past retreated from the warmth of the day – and the future.

“It’s such a coincidence you’d break down here, of all places,” Eve laughed, a soft sound that rustled the wind in the trees. “Honestly, walking with someone is going to be a nice change of pace. We don’t get a lot of visitors, what with Adam being… Adam. Stubborn and secluded. I can barely get him to charity functions, these days, and he doesn't hike with me the way he used to. He just swamps himself.”

She chided herself, in her heart, for the near-miss. She might be comfortable with Samantha, but she couldn’t risk the others. Adam would never – alright. Adam would forgive her, and the others. But she wouldn’t forgive herself for whatever secrets slipped out of her mouth to this practical stranger, well-meaning and perfect though she was.

In time, maybe. In time, she wouldn’t have to tell little lies, but she couldn’t give everything away at once. As real as everything felt, for the first time in her life, the dangers of her life were just as real. And Samantha didn’t deserve any of it.

Samantha smiled, although she caught more lies pinging off her instincts. She could feel Eve’s heartbeat again, though, and so she let the small lies slide. They had just met, really, for the first time. Just because Samantha wanted Eve to know everything, that didn’t mean Eve had the same luxury. So she would be patient and forgiving. That much, she could give to her closest friend. She started walking next to her, an idiot grin on her face.

“Adam. Well, he’s missing out. It’s beautiful out here, and I’m sure the hikes are lovely. I don’t believe in coincidences. Not for things like this, like us. This… this is more. This is… I don’t know.” Samantha laughed, a soft and tinkling sound. She turned her attention to Eve’s face and ingrained the woman’s eyes, dark and soft, into her mind.

She shrugged and turned her eyes back to the ground just in time to keep from tripping over a root that was breaking the old paved road they walked along. She hopped over it delicately, a precise and feminine movement that demonstrated how deeply ingrained being around cameras and the public eye was in her body language. Then she looked back at Eve. “Whatever this is, it’s not a coincidence that my car would break down at the same time that you were hiking out here, especially not when I drove almost thirty-three hours to get here.”

She remembered how her parents had fretted when she told them she was choosing to drive across the country instead of taking a plane and renting a car. But this all made sense now. She had felt like driving was the right call, and right when her brakes had given up on her, this. Eve. This was right, and this had been the right choice.

She looked out beyond them to the trees around them, thin and willowy, birch by the looks of them, and she felt so at ease that her eyes softened and her lips turned up into what felt like the first real and calm smile she’d had in years. Her job wasn’t always happy, and was frequently stressful. And Eve was a special gift, one that told her that everything she was doing was right. That she had made the right choices to have ended up here, now.

Samantha pulled out her own phone and checked the signal. Nothing. She wouldn’t be able to call the towing company until they reached the city, most likely. But that wasn’t distressing her. There was nothing in her car worth stealing, and there was nothing there she couldn’t replace. Her laptop and her personal items were safely tucked away in a special compartment drawer under the passenger seat of her Kia that her father had installed.

The only thing on her mind right then was how perfect everything was. Was how perfect Eve was and how this was going to change her life for the better. And how, even now, she had a feeling. More good things were going to happen that day. There was still more in store.

Samantha was ready for it.​
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Eve smiled, just a little, and supplied, “Destiny, fate, the universe.”

Maybe not all good luck, but Samantha would never need to know why Eve had really been out hiking. Adam would just have to deal for a few more days, until someone else wandered too far off the trail or Iris called him with a real problem. Slate had been getting more active in the area – out of spite, Eve assumed – but even they weren’t really an issue that Iris couldn’t solve. He’d be a little frustrated when she came back alone, but he’d live.

She sighed, feeling the breeze move with her breaths and, by extension, Samantha’s breaths, as they were one and the same. She fell into step with the other woman, despite their slight difference in height. So much about them fell into time that Eve wanted to lose herself in it, to just sink in and surrender to the peace the other woman gave her. To tell her everything, to give her everything. If she’d been anyone but Eve Morimoto, she could have.

But if she’d been anyone but herself, Samantha Walsh wouldn’t fit so perfectly into her soul.

Her feet certainly lifted off the ground when they reached the broken root, though there was no slight hop to accompany it. The air seemed to carry her, cushioned her feet and softened her landing. Everything about her seemed to flow like the air around them – like Samantha, she bore the symptoms of existing in the eye of the public. But the harshness that lingered on the edges of her features, the slight cold in the black depths of her eyes like the darkest corner of the sea; those were attributes a camera could never capture, and so she’d never lost them.

“You picked a good time of year to visit, in any case. It’s not hot enough to boil you alive just yet. These trails are pretty when the trees aren’t bare, but I like being able to see the birchwood. It feels clean.”

Not the way disinfectant was clean. Orderly little rooms in fluorescent lights, tight with furniture to save space for the identical room on the other side of the wall. Eve hadn’t thought about those rooms in a long time, or that smell. She flexed her left hand, which she usually held to hide her missing little finger, but sometimes she still felt pain where it used to meet her hand. Gregory had offered a prosthetic – and she usually used it at events, when she could comfortably wear gloves – but that didn’t make the ache stop, like it should still be there. She didn’t bother when she was just… hiking.

She realized she’d gotten lost in thought, and reached out to touch one of the trees. The papery bark felt soft and pliable under her remaining fingers. Natural, orderly, and clean. All that and free, despite their roots, their rigid trunks and patterned stripes. Another soft sigh, this one slightly off-pace from Samantha, escaped her lips, before she turned back to her friend with a warm smile that hid the past as best it could.

Just like Eve had, Samantha smiled and nodded her head as the woman offered up words for her lack thereof. As she watched her, she caught the same gracefulness in her movements that was learned in her own. God, so many events and galas where she was supposed to be there, but had gotten sick or reassigned at the last minute. So many times when they could have met before. So many times they narrowly missed each other. So many times.

“I love forests. I love trees and trails and fields. I, uhm, I like to do this kind of thing when I have the time to. I think it’s pretty whether there are leaves or not. I can see why you like it out here now, though. The trees are beautiful.”

She tilted her head slightly as she caught the edge of Eve’s emotions. The sigh and then the smile sealed the deal. It was there, lingering in her eyes. Something that was haunting her, something she was trying to hide. Samantha had never been able to so clearly read someone before. Not like this. This was different.

This was different from Joshie, who she could read like an open book. That had been due to being raised side by side. That was due to the fact they knew each other like no one else, her and her brother. She could read his mind from the look in his eyes. She could see his emotions in the way he moved. But this, with Eve, was different. She didn’t have those decades of time and life lived together to be able to tell that something was off. She just knew.

She swallowed gently, and then she slowed her steps slightly and looked at her soul’s friend. She looked her over with gentleness in her eyes, with a warmth that she couldn’t help, and she said softly, “You don’t have to pretend. Not here, not now. You can feel it. Whatever it is you’re suppressing, it’s safe for you to feel it here. You don’t have to tell me, I know it’s soon, even with this, but you can feel it and not have to hide it, at least. I can offer you that much.”

She bumped her shoulder into the smaller woman’s shoulder and smiled at her. If there was nothing else that she could offer Eve, she could offer her her ear, her time, and her care. The look in her eyes, that tinge of darkness and that shine of pain or sorrow, it made Sam want to hug her, to hold her tightly and never let anything hurt her ever again. She refrained and simply looked at her, that gentleness never leaving her. She tempered herself, not letting any eagerness or excitement leak through.​
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There was no lying to someone who knew her soul so thoroughly. She saw it in Samantha’s face, in her eyes as they met again. That soft yellow, more amber than gold now that Eve was looking. The warmth in them, and rolling out from her perfect match, sank into her skin and sought to put down roots. Eve sighed again, never really losing that smile, but now, she walked closer to the other woman as they resumed their hike.

She didn’t speak, at first. She just let the warmth loosen her muscles enough that feeling could find its way back into her hard heart. She stepped and breathed back into time with Samantha, and as she did so, the air around them started to move. It was invisible, of course, intangible except the breeze. But there were shapes to it, if you knew what you were looking for. Faces, younger than they were now. Spaces. Whole rooms, shaped around the trees. A boy with thick, curly hair; another one that had always towered over her. The small space with its crowded furniture.

It wasn’t until she heard one of the trees creak that she realized her images were becoming almost solid enough to be visible just in the dust they were kicking up. One close by – one so close she could reach out and touch it, one she’d known in her dreams for years. A child, slightly pudgy still despite being fourteen, just like her. They’d shared that cramped space for a decade, before –

Before —

The shapes shattered in one howl of wind, and then the air settled. When she looked around, she realized they’d left the asphalt path. She could see it from here, but the feeling of uneven dirt under her boots gave her a feeling of steadiness. She felt something warm and tight around her hand, and realized that at some point, she’d taken Samantha’s. Her friend was holding her tightly, patiently. She breathed deeply, feeling the air settle in her core and escape warmer.

Escape. They’d escaped. Not all of them, far from it. But despite everything – they’d escaped. Thanks to Adam. The wind died, and she looked down at the trail under her feet. She knew the way from here. This path would branch, and the main branch would take her home, while a smaller one would go back to the trailhead.

They could take this path, for a little while.

She squeezed Samantha’s hand, then let go. “Thank you, Samantha. It’s been… it’s been ages since I could let go like that.”

She couldn’t, back at home. She and Gregory were the backbone of the team, the support beams, sturdy and disciplined. Arlo was their heart, and Adam their mind, with Juliette covering everything in between all at once. Somehow. A body couldn’t survive if its bone just broke like that.

She rubbed her scar, acknowledging it, even if it didn’t make the ache go away. She wanted to say something, say anything, to Samantha. Tell her everything, even if they should just know each other without words. Instead, she just fell into time again. It would be a few minutes before she trusted herself to speak again.

They were memories. Even if Sam didn’t know the context, she knew that the shapes were children. She could piece together cramped rooms, and children in those tight spaces. It was then she realized that Eve Morimoto never gave interviewers answers about her childhood. She never presented people with information about herself. Had she been in a foster home? Samantha had been to a few metahuman foster homes that were that tight and cramped. Metamorphosis, the organization that Samantha worked for, had helped build additions and repairs to several homes across the country.

Eve was showing her something personal, even if Samantha didn’t quite understand what she was looking at. She kept careful hold of Eve’s hand, until the other woman let go. She channeled warmth into the woman and hummed as she watched the memories get blown away. She nodded her head in Eve’s direction and then paused before she answered, “Whenever. Whenever you need it, I’m here for you.”

Then, in a hesitant way, she lifted her hands and she pressed them together. Then, she pulled them apart, and as she did, fire tendrils arched through the air. She couldn’t do something as big as Eve had done in a forest like this, especially not one so dry, but she could still reciprocate. And she breathed out and then in, deep. As she did, she manipulated her flames into shapes, into movement.

Her friend’s memories were sad. Her childhood had been covered in shadows and pain, whatever had happened. That was what Samantha understood to be true. Her life hadn’t been like that. She created figurines of her family and made them dance through the air. The parents chased the two little kids through a home. The two kids grew, and as they did, they played together. But every time the girl left the house, left the family, she was alone, and the flames would flicker.

Samantha had never had friends. She’d never had that kind of companionship. All she ever managed to have was her family. All she ever had was Joshie, Momma, and Papa. And they had been enough, for the most part. But the flicker of her flames around the girl as she stood alone told the truth. She had been lonely when she wasn’t with them. She had been the only meta child in a town full of regular humans.

But now, she had Eve. She had this friendship that nothing would ever be able to break or take away from her. She had her truest friend, now. The friend whose burdens she could shoulder and share, whose sorrow she could help to lift. The friend she could be herself with, without the fear of overdoing it or underdoing it or just doing it wrong. Nothing could ever be wrong between them. A twinge at the edge of her mind. She ignored it and kept up the display, until it showed a young woman, walking out the door for the last time, a box in hand. Then she pulled the flames back in, letting them soak into her skin.

“I’ll show you something bigger sometime. I don’t want to do it unless we have water nearby. I learned that lesson the hard way as a kid.”
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It was a shadow play made of light.

A shadow play of all the moments she’d lost in her own childhood.

Samantha looked like a glassblower, someone manipulating light itself to craft something beautiful. Even if she hadn’t, Eve wouldn’t have been able to look away, even if in any other case that kind of happiness made a knot in her chest that took hours to go away. But… but now, all she felt was something small and soft curl up around her heart, something that kept her from hardening it again.

She watched the four figures, happy. The two that grew, that grew up, that went to school and loved each other. She watched the girl, alone. And she knew that as horrible as her childhood had been, she’d never been alone. First she’d had Felicity. Then, through the thin walls, she’d had Arlo. The others had come and gone – Ollie, Khal, Tilda, Cam, Lia, Cole, Kelley, Sid, Simon. She remembered all of them, and more. She remembered every time none of them came back, taking another piece out of her heart the way they used to take pieces of her body.

She knew that loneliness, but not as deeply. She wanted to touch her fingers to the fire and hold that girl. She wanted to pull the nitrogen away from the flickering flames and let her grow bright and strong.

Someday, she’d hold Samantha to that promise. The promise to see her in full flame. But today, they could be themselves, as they were now. Even if they were perfect, they could still grow together.

She sighed, echoed once more by the breeze.

“It’s always hard, being like us. Sure, some people have it harder, but they’ll always be scared. Sometimes, they have a good reason. Others… they don’t wait for a reason. An excuse is good enough.”

Yokai, a distant voice hissed in her ears. Her teeth set, but she reached for Samantha’s hand, this time not being careful of her own scars. They’d learn about each other, in time. For now, maybe another topic would be good for them.

When Eve’s hand wrapped back around hers, she felt it. Three fingers, not four. That, coupled with her statement… Samantha felt a wave of anger cut through everything else and choked it back. Now wasn’t the time for that. She didn’t need to have a flare-up, not after so many years of keeping her head about her. She had fought so hard for this level of self-control when it came to her anger. She wasn’t about to lose it in front of Eve.

She squeezed the woman’s hand and let her natural warmth flow freely into her. That's what she could offer for now. But she felt it when Eve tensed, when her teeth clenched. She felt the vibrations through her hand, making their way up Samantha’s arm. Their heartbeats evened out to beat almost in opposite time from each other. When Eve’s heart beat, Samantha’s would follow in the space between them. It was as though they were passing it back and forth.

She looked around them, again, and this time, she let her vision do what it wanted. Her eyes telescoped out and looked around them. Small birds out by the edge of the water, insects crawling across the fallen leaves and seed pods, and–

What was that?

Samantha tilted her head to the side, slowly and smoothly. She remembered a time when that motion used to be jerky, but long years of being in the public eye had smoothed it out until it was seamless. But sitting there, just off the trail, was a sign. She read it, and then let her eyes drift past it to take in a building, the sides overgrown by plants and vines that crept along it in a beautiful way. Her eyes went wide as understanding clicked into place. She gave her new friend, her oldest friend, a wry smile and gestured toward it.

“You know, if you didn’t want to tell me you were taking me to the Paradise Pharmaceuticals lab, you didn’t have to lie to cover it up! I knew it was in Chula Vista, but I never imagined it would be out here in the middle of nowhere.”

She took in the sign that declared the land the private property of Brightheart Corp. and smiled. As far as she was aware, no one had been given the honor of actually visiting the lab before. This was the lab where some of the most effective medications came from. Their metahuman geared medications and aids were among the best in the world. And this was where this magic happened. This was where they made those life-changing drugs. Samantha looked at the building and then back at Eve.

“Can we go inside?”
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Samantha’s comment yanked Eve out of her thoughts, and she took a quick glance around. She was familiar with this path – as familiar as someone was with their own home. They weren’t lost, but her heartbeat picked up just a tick. She’d missed the turnoff. Sometime during the fire-play, probably – while she was distracted. She cursed herself silently. There wasn’t any way to make a good excuse now. She’d have to make do.

How had Samantha realized it? The signs were still blurry specks at the edges of Eve’s vision. Eve was by no means nearsighted, but she knew what they said only because she’d read them so often on her return hikes. It didn’t matter right now, but it would be worth investigating later. Right now, she had to concentrate on the task at hand: protecting Samantha when they arrived.

She took a breath, measuring the differences in the air that came in and went out. Her heart stilled, her jaw loosened, and she smiled ruefully. “I’m sorry. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if Adam would be okay with it. I haven’t had a signal to call him and ask. The satellites can be finicky like that sometimes, all the way out here.”

She’d need to find him. As soon as they got to the door, she’d need to find him. Find him before he found Samantha. He wouldn’t even ask, he’d just assume –

Eve took another deep breath. If she asked Samantha to wait outside, she could go find Adam. He knew where she was, what she was doing. He had no reason to leave no matter how bad his mood was. Unless he decided he really needed some fresh air. Even then, he’d wait to see who she brought back first, if anyone. She’d have time to find him.

“He’s the one who’s touchy about the location and the press,” she continued, as if she hadn’t just been strategizing, “so I’ll need you to wait outside until I can talk to him, but if he doesn’t mind I would love for you to stay for a tour. Maybe we could go down to town for dinner after?”

Because, heaven knew, Eve wasn’t going to suggest dinner in Paradise.

There was a moment when Eve’s heart rate picked up, and it was followed by a partial lie. Samantha kept her face smooth, despite picking up on the slip. She looked back toward the building– which wouldn’t be visible yet to Eve, as only the sign was within view of regular human eyes, Samantha had learned– and wondered. Eve clearly was concerned about something. Was it really just Adam that she was worried about?

If this was due to her fiance, then Samantha was even more concerned. Eve seemed to be tense and was quickly coming up with words. The rest of what she said rang true. Was Adam… a difficult person for Eve? Was he someone that Eve didn’t want her to meet? If that were the case, then that meant something was wrong with him, or he did something wrong. That made a slow fire kindle in her stomach. If Adam was hurting Eve, then God help him, because no one else would have a chance.

It didn’t matter that she had just found Eve. It didn’t matter that they had just met. This was Samantha’s true friend, the person who was part of her soul, and she’d be absolutely damned if she stood by and let anything happen to her.

“I’m more than happy to wait outside. I understand completely. I’m also more than happy to leave my phone outside, if that helps! Not that I would photograph or record anything without permission anyway, but if it helps ease his mind, I’m willing.”

She smiled down at the beautiful woman next to her and added, “And dinner sounds great. Maybe Adam can come with us. I wouldn’t be against him joining if he wanted to, at least.”

A tactful invitation, she hoped. She could observe them together, and make sure he wasn’t doing anything to her that way. Of course, it could be completely unrelated to Adam, the reason that Eve was suddenly tense, despite how hard she was trying not to be. It could be about a dozen things. But the way that she was saying she wasn’t sure if he would be okay with it led her to believe that he was her concern.

Oh god, was she maybe worried that Samantha would be all over him? She had seen Adam Fowler on the news before. She had seen recordings of him at various events and seen him talk to the press before. He might have been attractive– and attractive he was– but Samantha didn’t really have any interest in him. In him, or anyone else. She’d never met anyone in whom she genuinely felt romantic or sexual interest. That wasn’t about to change now, that was for sure. But was there a way to let Eve know that, that might ease any concerns she might have in that regard?

She couldn’t think of one in that moment, but she would certainly think about it while Eve was looking for him inside Paradise.​

Eve felt the hostility roll off of Samantha. The slight change of air temperature that should’ve gone unnoticed, that most wouldn’t have noticed unless they’d known the other woman their whole lives. But Eve had known her their whole lives – she had just never met her. Funny how things like this worked. Funny that this was how she’d been destined to meet Samantha Walsh.

A lot less funny that she could lose her just as suddenly, although less unexpectedly.

The hostility faded, and Eve felt the calm at her center resonate out like a bell. All the twisting emotions straightened out, all the unease came under control. She wouldn’t lose Samantha today.

So she laughed, a little dryly, about bringing Adam down to the city to eat. “Don’t get your hopes up about him saying yes. He has some… dietary restrictions. I’m sure he’d rather eat in.”

The path to the doors was a lot more even from here, and without rocks and roots, they made good time. Eve kept the resonating note of calm as it sang between her bones. Bones she knew were hollow, thanks to this place. She didn’t hold it against the building – not anymore. This had been her home for too long for her to hold it against the place. A building was just a building. It was up to the people inside of it to make it safe.

And it was safe, for most people. Samantha was a stranger, but Eve knew when she told Adam the situation, he’d make it safe for her, too. His control wasn’t nearly as good as Eve’s, but he buckled it on like a shield when it mattered. She would find him, probably in his office, and explain everything.

Everything would be okay, she assured herself, as she stopped outside the glass doors and pulled out her keychain. It was a simple affair, no extraneous baubles, and she found the key without even looking. She smiled at Sam again.

“Don’t go anywhere. I don’t want security getting the wrong idea before I talk to Adam. I’ll be right back.”

With a small nod in response, Samantha watched as Eve disappeared into the building. She walked over the wall next to the door and slid down it, sitting on the strangely paved entrance. She pulled her knees up to her chest and looked out at the sparse forest around them, at the birch trees with their peeling bark. She swallowed softly.

She needed to center herself before she was introduced to Adam. She needed to make sure no hint of that rage was out when they met. She took a deep breath in, held it, and thought of Eve. Her new center, the way Joshie had been for so many years. She breathed out and the fire inside her calmed. She could be normal about this, even if Adam Fowler turned out to be an asshole.

For a long time, Samantha just sat there. She stared out into the trees and listened to the birds. She could feel distant vibrations from all around her. Animals walking, the general hum of the earth, and then right when she was starting to worry, footsteps approaching from inside. They were muffled due to their distance, but still, she stood and started dusting herself off. That had to be Eve.

Samantha straightened out her flowing blouse and her green shawl, making herself presentable again. Just as she finished dusting off the legs of her pants, the door next to her opened back up. She turned, head tilted slightly down, as she went to address Eve and ask if they were a-go.

Instead, she found herself looking at a pair of jeans with a thick brown belt. She paused, her lips parted slightly in a smile. She let her eyes travel up that half-done brown jacket over the dark grey t-shirt until she saw– him. When she looked up at his face, she breathed in sharply.

Adam Fowler was, as Samantha had previously thought, very attractive. She was ready for the dark-haired Apollo look of him, with those tight dark curls and those bright blue eyes. She was not ready for the energy that surrounded him. It was like she had just stepped into a magnetic current. He looked surprised to see her for just a moment– one single moment– before his face smoothed out.

But Samantha was reeling. The longer she looked at his eyes, the more the rest of the world fuzzed out. He was all that existed, had ever existed, and as her breathing started to pick up, she swallowed around the sudden knowledge that flooded her.

Adam Fowler was, as Sam had not previously expected, her soulmate. She knew it deep in her bones. She knew it in every inch of her mind. She knew it in her heart. It was like he had suddenly become an anchor to the world. This was different from the gentle and lovely grounding that Eve had provided her with. This was violent, demanding, and insistent.

Her face stayed frozen in a look of shock for a few moments, and then suddenly she burst into a dark flush and broke eye contact as she looked anywhere else. Then, she hesitantly let her eyes drift back to his.

“A-Adam Fowler, right? Eve said she was going to get you. I’m Samantha Walsh.” She held a hand out in the short space between them, offering it to him. It was then, as she pulled her focus back to look at all of his face that she noticed it. Peeking out of his hair, right between his curls, were the starting of what looked like two perfect horns. They were maybe an inch and a half in length, and thick near the base, curling up and starting to curl back.

Was Adam a meta too?

Someone had left a perfect cut of meat on his doorstep.

She wasn’t supposed to be there. Nobody was. Partly thanks to Iris, and partly thanks to Eve, no one found this place by accident. So… she was supposed to be here, or she was hopelessly lost, poor lamb. Neither looked favorably at her, because it saved him time tracking her in the forest.

His eyes skipped over her form immediately, more from habit than immediate intent. It was all he could do not to stare, though. His lungs filled the second he opened the door with sweet vanilla and jasmine, undertone with apples – all intentionally dull, just noticeable to the average nose. His nose was far from average, however, and he caught the kick of cinnamon under the rich and bodied scents. Her face was soft, round, heart-shaped, and a good indicator of the parts he couldn’t assess yet – tender, he could tell. Almost childlike. That’d never stopped him before.

Her arms were on perfect display under the thin material of her blouse, the muscles on her shanks perfectly toned – aside from a few irregularities, moving oddly against the otherwise perfect meat. The shoulder was invisible, but he could guess by the curve of her chest that the texture of her chuck and ribs would be much the same. Having spent a decade with Eve, he could tell just by her movements that the bone was hollow, too light for their size. The curve of her flank caught his attention, right where it widened to the softer rounds and round steak. That wasn’t surprising. Her emergency fat stores must be there. He’d keep that in mind.

A second or two, and his eyes flicked back up to hers – to find her still making eye contact. Not only was the little bird designed to appeal perfectly to his appetites, but it would appear she was absolutely fearless. Or just charmed, as women often were, by the way his sharpness accented his features. He was sure that the latter was by some design, evolutionary or otherwise, to keep the attention of his prey away from his jaws and hands when he was finally ready to get to work on them.

Now was the time to put that little trick of mimicry to work. Her scent was already laced with desire. It shouldn’t take much more to get her exactly where he wanted her.

He swallowed, clearing his mouth for words.

“Last I checked, that was me. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Walsh,” he purred, reaching out to take her hand. His grasp was strong, but not crushing. Enticing in the way he didn’t quite let go, just slid his hand away, as if beckoning her to chase it. This was emphasized by how he took half a step back, gesturing inside. “Come on in. A friend of Eve’s is always welcome. I hope you don’t have dinner plans…?”

A little dark humor, or light conversation, as she’d hear it, went a long way. He smiled with teeth and kept her eyes as long as she’d keep his. Remembering to blink, and to be careful not to let her see how much her very existence was making his mouth water. He earnestly hoped she’d be as much enjoyable to chase as he already knew she would be to eat.

Who was he kidding? Of course she would. She was perfect.

Eve certainly knew what he liked.