The adventures and misadventures of Jay Capistrano.

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Samiyah Zayn
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Location: A townhome in Clovely to the north of Rhydin

Re: Plans

Post by Samiyah Zayn » Sat Jan 19, 2019 10:26 am

December 28, 2018
Clovely, 45 minutes north of Rhydin

Sami hit the red button on her phone to start the recording and then sunk back into the same old chair. Snow swirled outside the bedroom window. This time, she couldn’t find it in her to smile.

Silence reigned over the room for several breaths as she watched the seconds on the video creep up. Then suddenly the words slipped out of her mouth. “I’m pissed, Jay.”

“I know I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to be strong or what the fuck ever. But I’m angry. I’m really fucking angry. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been this angry before and I just don’t know what to do with it. I want to scream and throw things and break things. But what good will that do? Will I feel better afterward or will I just have a mess to clean up and Sapphire and Maria and Ria thinking I’m crazy?”

Her hands lifted to tuck her hair back behind her ears, drawing in a breath and releasing it evenly between pursed lips to try to recollect herself. Her shoulders dropped to a downward slant. “I’m supposed to be using these to tell you about the baby so you don’t miss you on the whole pregnancy experience. That was what Sapphire and I had discussed. But I’d bet Sapphire knew what these were going to turn into. It’s hard enough to go through a situation where a loved one is missing but when that loved one is also your best friend… Well, it doesn’t really leave you anyone to talk to. Maybe she thought it would help me just to talk to you. Even if you weren’t here to talk back to me.”

“But, let’s be honest, you’re a better listener. Knowing what to say in a particular situation isn’t exactly your strong suit. I will say that marriage has taught you the art of a well-timed hug.”

She laughed, reaching up to her cheeks to wipe away a couple of stray tears that had slipped out. “I want to really marry you, Jay. Having a baby together is a lifelong commitment. We’re in this together. I don’t want our vows to be some story that we made up for the press because I got us in trouble and you were trying to get us out of trouble. I want them to be real. I want to be able to be around the Crew without worrying that they almost feel such sympathy for you to be stuck in this situation with me. I certainly don’t want my kid growing up under that cloud even if it is a cloud only in my own head.”

“So, you know, get your ass back here and really marry the woman that’s going to have your kid.”

“That’s all.” She reached out and hit the button to stop the video.
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Re: Plans

Post by Capistrano » Sat Jan 19, 2019 6:01 pm

December 29, 2018

Jay slept in his childhood bed, his headphones resting over his ears like makeshift earmuffs. A Discman hid under the covers, sitting just over his heart with a tangle of cords snaking out from underneath navy blue sheets. Chugging guitars and crashing cymbals bled out of the speakers, drowning out the hum of the CD spinning.

Then, he was on his best friend’s tattered orange couch. A nearby dryer thumped and buzzed as it worked through a load of whites. He looked at the posters hung on the partially finished basement walls. Tony Hawk in a half-pipe high above the concrete, grabbing the back of his board. Rodney Mullen, mid-kickflip on the blacktop with a group of kids sitting on a nearby wall watching. Bob Burnquist, in fish-eye lens, grinding the lip of a swimming pool.

Beep. Beep. Beep. A machine bleated out a beat, while something cool pulsed into Jay’s veins at regular intervals. He opened his eyes but the room blurred, save for the elvish woman tapping a syringe in the corner. She spoke, words lost in fog, then walked over to the bed and stuck the needle in his arm.

The room smelled like body odor and cigarette smoke. Half the stuffing had been ripped out of the brown recliner in the corner, and a spring punched through one of the cushions on the sofa. Spray paint, black and red and gray, covered nearly every inch of the walls, making it difficult to tell their original color. Anarchy symbols and Black Flag logos, curses and song lyrics, crude genitalia and a portrait of Joe Strummer. A cheap boombox blared from the kitchen. Some ratty old blankets made up Jay’s bed for the night -- a crust punk couple from Pittsburgh took the couch, while some straight edge kid from Orange County had called dibs on the recliner. Jay stared at the ceiling fan, wobbling in a desperate and futile attempt to cool them off, and fought the urge to break house rules about smoking inside. Instead, he got up, opened the front door and stepped outside-

He sat on the edge of the bed in his old high school teammate’s guest cottage, overwhelmed by all the pink. Pink sheets, pink comforter, pink duvet cover, pink pillows. A black dopp kit sat near Jay’s hip, cutting into the femininity of the room. A wooden door off to the side led to the bathroom, with a bathtub and sink bigger than any in his old house. Jay flipped the dimmer switch up and down, watching the light creep across the room and fade into shadows. He flopped onto his back, into softness that threatened to swallow him, and frowned. After months of couch surfing, it felt weird. Wrong. He pulled the comforter and two pillows off of the bed and dragged them downstairs into the living room, where a black leather sofa sat facing a gigantic rear-projection television. With a grunt, Jay pulled the bedding onto the cushions, then dropped the pillows at the end. He slipped underneath and laid his head down, finally comfortable. Comfortable…

“Are you comfortable, sir?” The medic spoke to him quietly, just above a whisper. A symphony bleeps filled the field hospital. Jay tried to turn his head to face her, but it felt like lead. When he tried to answer, his voice caught in the back of his throat. He curled his fingers, trying to make the shape of a glass, and lifted it to his mouth.

“Oh, sorry, sorry!” She poured some water from a sealed jug into a small paper cup, brought it over to the bed, and held it to Jay’s lips. “Slow, slow!” she said in warning as Jay greedily drank it. He started to cough, liquid spilling down his chin and neck.

“Sorry.” Jay croaked the word out as the medic dabbed at him with a paper towel to dry him. “...can I go back to sleep? I’m still really tired.”

“Of course. Of course-”

Jay bought a tent from one of the street kids on Skid Row for $50 and a meal at McDonald’s, and skated through the Dreamworld to Joshua Tree National Park. Once he had set the tent up in the camping section of the park, he immediately regretted not purchasing a sleeping bag, blankets, or pillows from someone or somewhere else. The desert got colder at night than he had anticipated, but he couldn’t just skate back to L.A. and give up his mission. So he sat in a corner of the bright blue tent, knees folded to his chest, shivering as he listening to the coyotes croon off in the distance.

He kept shuffling back and forth between his bed and the couch, trying to find a combination of comfort and low light that wouldn’t set his migraine off further. He’d settled on the latter, his head covered by a throw blanket and a washcloth filled with ice cubes pressed against his skull, when the aura gave way to the main attack. The nausea poured over him in waves and he barely managed to get his head out from underneath before vomiting his dinner into a nearby five-gallon bucket.

She held his head in her lap, massaging his scalp with her fingers and whispering soothing words. He whimpered, tried to twist and look up at her, but she pressed down on his temples and he fell asleep.

The back door creaked as he opened it. Cardboard boxes sat everywhere: in the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the foyer. He kicked one near the stove, heard the tell-tale jingle of silverware. His bare feet padded on dark brown carpet -- they would have to replace that. A fireplace crackled and roared, orange fingers beckoning him over. No, there was somewhere else to go. Carpet gave way to hardwood, and the steps curved slightly as they carried him upstairs. The floorboards creaked as he went room to room, opening each door. An empty bathroom. A bedroom painted robin’s egg blue, also empty. The last door swung open on its own. She sat in a wooden rocking chair, swaying to and fro, singing a song to a bundle in her arms. A crib sat empty across from her. Jay approached her and she smiled, offered the swaddled child. Blankets completely covered the babe, so Jay pulled back the ones hiding its face. Wolf ears and a pronounced muzzle greeted him. The child shrieked, over and over-

Klaxons blared as Jay bolted upright, gasping for breath and hissing as the IV in his hand tugged at the insertion point.

“Oh God, what now?”
We are not alone
We are not mistakes
Don't whisper now
We're allowed to be loud
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Samiyah Zayn
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Re: Plans

Post by Samiyah Zayn » Sun Jan 27, 2019 7:23 pm

December 29, 2018
Clovely, 45 minutes north of Rhydin

Sami had been forced to flash her badge three times at checkpoints across the Rhovnik Foundation grounds and each time she’d expected someone to tell her to turn back around. But each time, she was waved through and the old, battered SUV rumbled forward deeper into more secure areas.

Her security level was high but she’d expected the brass to limit her access in the middle of this crisis. It clearly hadn’t dawned on anyone that she would try to reach the portal. Then, again, there was no reason for that to cross the minds of anyone in leadership.

“Why the hell am I here?” The question was asked in the silence of the SUV as she parked it in front of the portal to North Tushaila. Or at least it had been a portal at one point. Now, it was just an empty archway.

The granite arch was several stories tall and wide enough to fit a truck through. It looked like a section of bridge that had been plunked down in the middle of the countryside. On all sides were gently rolling fields that in warmer months would be full of corn or hay. Chalked equations had been made on many of the stones that made up the pillars of the arch. Instead of glowing ominously as the equations did when the portal was active, they looked like nothing but smeared white streaks.

A small team of magical technologists were standing around, consulting tablets and flipping through magical tomes. They were no closer to an answer, she realized, than they had been the day the portal had mysteriously shut down.

Sami reached for her Rhovnik jacket, pulling it on as she slid out of her car with the hopes that it might discourage anyone from questioning her presence. Had she only stopped him from going on this deployment, he would be here now. But she would have never done that. She would have never stopped Jay from doing something. She would never have even asked him not to go.

The realization why she wouldn’t have asked stung. She would never have asked not for any altruistic, supportive reasoning but because she didn’t feel she had the right to ask.

It wasn’t what he deserved. He deserved a partner that would share his life fully. He deserved someone who felt like she belonged at his side. He deserved someone who would swoop in and rescue him when he was in need of rescuing.

Her dark eyes lingered on the closed portal as she stepped closer. Unfortunately, her presence hadn’t gone unnoticed. She didn’t see Agent Ed Bailey approach. One moment she was alone and the next she felt her friend’s hand on the back of her arm. “Sami, you shouldn’t be here. Jay wouldn’t want you here,” he said gently.

“I’m supposed to be here,” she said suddenly and confidently, unsure where the words came from. Her feet drew her closer to the arch, away from Ed’s touch.

Open it, Samiyah.

The words appeared in her mind’s eye. There was no voice attached to it. They were just flashes of letters that appeared one by one as some greater being was typing them out into her brain. It caused her to hesitate. Now was she losing her mind?

I am your Maker. The one who created you.

“Are you God?” Sami asked aloud.

The question asked to thin air caused a flicker of confusion followed by fear to slide across Ed’s face. He took a couple quick steps forward to wrap his arm around her shoulders. “Come on, Sami. Let me get you home. Where’s that friend of yours that’s been staying with you?”

The letters came quickly into place. One by one they formed out words in rapid fashion. Goodness no, child. Nothing quite so grand.

Sami reached out and firmly pushed against Ed’s chest. The gentleness and sympathy from the usually hilariously gruff figure was painful. It burned in her throat. She didn’t want to be in need of his compassion. A finger was leveled at him. “Don’t touch me right now. I have work to do.”

The desperate baffled look that Ed shot her was ignored. Sami turned on her heels, finishing her approach to the arch. She set her hand against the cool stone, somehow knowing that was all wrong. It should be pulsing with life but it wasn’t. It was cold and dead. Several of the mages and mathematical wizards gathered stepped forward as if to intervene but Ed, fearing a grief-driven violent outburst from Sami, held them back. Vaguely she could hear him begging them to give her a couple minutes.

“What do I do?” she whispered quietly to the Maker.

Open the door.

A bitter laugh escaped her. Her shaky hands reached up to brush away tears. It was too cold to be without gloves. Why had she even come? Why was she now talking to a typewriter in her head? “But how do I do that?”

Nothing. No words appeared. The Maker was silent on the issue.

Sami took a step back, her eyes traveling up the height of the arch. Finally she spoke into the quiet. “Open the door.”

“It doesn’t work like that, Sami,” Ed’s voice behind her rumbled sympathetically.

More confidently, child!

A breath was taken and then she shouted defiantly into the countryside. “Open the fucking door!”

Her energy poured forth with the shout. The ground rumbled beneath their feet. Shouts rose up from those who had been standing about. The chalk markings fell away. Ed stepped in quickly to catch Sami. It wasn’t until he had that she realized she had been sinking towards the ground, unable to hold herself up any longer. She was suddenly exhausted.

“She’s an opener!” The gasp from one of the mages reached her ears amid the din before the world went dark around her.
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Samiyah Zayn
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Re: Plans

Post by Samiyah Zayn » Sat Feb 02, 2019 10:31 am

December 29, 2019
FOB Juliett

“Somebody turn that damn alarm off!” Sergeant Thomas shouted at one of the intelligence officers stationed at one of FOB Juliett’s bay of surveillance computers. “It’s going to make me deaf!”

“We can’t, sir.” The skinny, bespectacled man at the keyboard pushed up his glasses as he spoke. “Until we can verify the portal wasn’t opened by a hostile force, or that the portal doesn’t lead to a hostile environment, protocol says the alarm stays up.”

“Can we get ear plugs, at least?”

“Fresh out, sir.” The quick smile that crossed the officer’s face disappeared fast at Sergeant Thomas’ scowl. Captain Krajnic’s powers of intimidation may have been legendary among the Rhovnik soldiers, but Sergeant Thomas’ brief time in command of FOB Juliett had shown she was no slouch in that department either.

“Have we heard anything from HQ?”

“On it, sir.”

“Good.” She banished the frown as quickly as she had summoned it, and patted the man on the shoulder. “Keep me posted.”



“Overwatch, this is Juliett in Sierra Victor. We have an alarm for an unauthorized portal opening at our FOB. Can you give us any indication who may have opened this portal, or where this portal may lead to, over?”

“Juliett, this is Overwatch. You’re not going to believe this.”

“Believe what, Overwatch?”

“Your ‘unauthorized portal’ leads straight back here to Clovely HQ.”


“Ninety-six percent. Well within standard safety parameters.”

“...Thank the Maker. Overwatch, we have several wounded we have triaged and stabilized but they need more advanced medical treatment than a field hospital can provide. We have four in cryostasis, two amputees, two TBIs, and four GSW/IEDWs. How soon can you get a medical team to your side of the portal?”

“Five minutes, Juliett.”

“Copy, Overwatch. We’ll have them ready, you just keep that portal open. Juliett out.”


“Holy shit, Sami,” Ed said as he stood at her side, watching in silence as barely contained chaos descended around them. Excitement seemed to be battling with training. For the moment, Sami’s role in all of this was being ignored. The situation needed to be dealt with. She was sure, however, they would not forget.

The first patients through the portal from Svijetjia to RhyDin were the ambulatory ones. The two wounded soldiers with traumatic brain injuries -- a tall, broad shouldered human male with white bandages covering most of his blonde buzz cut and Ronnie -- were carefully escorted out of the medical bay, through the driving Tushailan rain, and through the gray stone arch by an elvish field medic and the minotaur guard.

“Ronnie,” Sami breathed out.

Ronnie gaze a quizzical smile to Sami as a blanket was placed over her shoulders by a medic. “Hello, Sami.”

“Where’s Jay, Ronnie?” Sami asked, unaware that her hands were clenching up tightly into fists.

Ronnie’s brow furrowed and her head tilted to the side. “He isn’t here?”

Before she could ask another question, the medic gently turned her towards a waiting vehicle. His eyes found Sami’s and he gave a shake of his head. “She’s had a bit of a incident. We need to get her to the medical unit.

Sami nodded numbly as Ronnie was escorted away. Ed reached up to rub her back firmly over her layers. “He’ll come. He’s there.” But Sami wished Ed had sounded more confident.

Next came the amputees. Private Atchison came first, hobbling as best as he could, his crutches not quite a full replacement for his missing lower left leg. He was followed by Private Uriel, whose right arm had been removed past the elbow. She clung tightly to her bicep, shivering and soaked by rain.

They were followed by a motley assortment of gunshot victims: a dwarf clutching his midsection, a half-elf with both shoulders wrapped up entirely in bandages, another short-haired human rolling himself through the shimmering portal in a wheelchair. After that came the cryounits: the minotaur and another of the taller, beefier soldiers had to push the wheeled pods out. No visible sign could be seen of the bodies, but nameplates had been slid in at the foot of the pods: Armeson, Jenkins, Underrmace, Rikhotso.

“Anybody else?” Ed asked into his walkie-talkie.

“I think that’s-” the crackly voice of the Juliett comm operator got cut off by a familiar, booming half-orc.

“One more.”

Jameak strode through the portal, drenched but unbowed. The half-orc held the full-grown Jay like he was a child. Gauze and dressing covered most of the right half of his body, particularly around his foot and lower leg. For a moment, he seemed dead. Motionless. But the look on Jameak’s face -- a look of exhausted relief -- proved otherwise. The soft rise and fall of Jay’s chest proved further that he was still among the land of the living. Jay kept his eyes squeezed shut and groaned.

Ed had slid an arm around Sami’s waist to help keep her upright. Her frame was shaking violently. Was it the cold or the exhaustion? Or was it fear? She wasn’t sure. Jameak stepping through caused a rush of air to leave her lungs. He had Jay. He had Jay. A sharp breath was taken in and she broke away from Ed, running back towards the portal. “Is he okay?”

“...Jamie, can you turn down the volume on the light? It’s blinding and deafening me.” Jay spoke in a cracked whisper.

Jameak’s expression didn’t change, even as he exhaled loudly at the sight of Sami. “He stepped on a land mine or an IED.” He took a couple of quick glances around to make sure no one else was listening, then lowered his voice. “He heals fast, but that comes with its own problems. And he’s got a migraine.”

More Rhovnik Foundation vehicles were pouring in and the area had degenerated into a state of chaos as the evacuees began using the phones of those present to make calls to loved ones and medical personnel began loading up the injured to take them to the Foundation medical facilities.

Sami’s gaze cut around the craziness. For now, the three of them were unnoticed. But how long would it take before order was restored? Her dark eyes settled on Jameak. “I opened the portal. I don’t know how I did it. I opened it. I don’t know what they’re going to do to me but I don’t want to answer the questions right now. Is he well enough to take home?”

“He’ll need surgery for the foot eventually.” Jameak glanced down at the heavily wrapped appendage, thankful for the coverings that hid the extent of the wound. “But we can change his dressings at home. He’s tough. You got a car?” A daredevil’s smile crossed his face.

“If we have to we’ll arrange it through the Crew,” she replied with a shaky exhale. The Rhovniks had taught her to focus on the problem at hand rather than the emotions that were sweeping through her. Therefore, she reasoned, it was their fault that she could keep it together enough to escape. “It’s over here. Let’s go.” Without hesitation, she turned to lead him to the SUV.

Jameak opened the back door to the SUV, trying to find the proper balance between hurrying up and not hurting Jay as he loaded the injured man into the back of the vehicle. Jay’s head accidentally bumped against the opposite door. He whimpered, and Jameak patted his uninjured leg. “Sorry.” He slammed the door shut and hopped in through the passenger side seat.

“We’ll be home in just a minute,” she told the pair of men as she slid the key into the ignition, holding her breath until the engine came alive. A heavy exhale of relief was given and she shifted into drive.

Jay sniffed at the air, taking in the familiar scents of home for the first time in nearly a month. Gasoline from the SUV. The spilled coffee in the front cup holders. The fake leather of the seat cushions. Jameak’s cologne, faded down to the base note of musk. And Sami. He wanted to lift his head, open his eyes, and look at her, but his skull felt squeezed in a vice. He couldn’t even be sure he’d be heard, over the clunk and chug of the engine, but he croaked out the words anyways. “It smells like you, Sami. I hope - I hope I’m not dreaming.”

Her fingers tightened around the steering wheel to remind herself to keep it together. She couldn’t start crying now. “It’s me, Jay. We’re almost home. You’re almost home.”
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Maria Graziano
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Re: Plans

Post by Maria Graziano » Sun Feb 17, 2019 8:06 pm

January 9, 2019

Little about the AMD Training Academy's main gym had changed in the years since Jay had first set foot on the Wrecking Crew's campus. The bricks were as worn as ever (although possibly not as worn as they should have been, given how old the building seemed to be), and inside, it still felt like someone had dropped a New York City boxing club into the middle of one of RhyDin's ritziest neighborhoods. Two teen boys, with matching red and blue headgear, were sparring in the main ring while an older man with thinning, slicked back gray hair shouted instructions and encouragement at them from the corner.

A little ways away, all manner of exercise machines sat, mostly unused. Treadmills and ellipticals, weight benches with dumbbell racks nearby, and Nautilus machines with levers and cables attached to weight stacks waited silently for their next user. One lucky machine, however, had company this afternoon.

Jay sat in a leg press machine, tilted at a 45 degree angle to the floor. His feet (the right one still wrapped in bandages) pressed against a pad, above which sat a sled loaded with heavy plates. A young man with a clipboard released the lock on the sled, and the weights slowly slid down the machine, until Jay forced them back upwards. One, two, three. His knees flexed, and he grunted with the effort. Four, five, six. His lower legs bent and straightened, while his thighs anchored him in place. Seven, eight, nine. His right calf and foot, not yet fully recovered from his injury and subsequent surgery, began shaking. Ten. Jay managed to get the sled 3/4 of the way back up, before the trainer intervened and pushed it the rest of the way. With a loud sigh, Jay threw his head back and stared at the ceiling, periodically wiping sweat from his brow with a nearby towel.

The Crew's campus was one of the few places where Maria Graziano felt completely at home. Everyone knew her name but Crew so often walked these hallways that the staff was unimpressed. It was just another day at the office. Of course, there was a constant flow of people trying out for traveling teams or professionals and those hoping to be professionals looking to work with the elite AMD trainers and talented teens taking part in various camps. But the staff kept them properly aware and those situations were easy to avoid unless they were being sought out.

Today, though, there were no hallways to avoid. The facility was still quiet after the winter break. Maria walked through the main corridor towards the gym, stepping inside with only a nod of greeting from the floor manager. He didn't offer her assistance. In jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, she'd just come from a steroid injection to her right shoulder and was clearly not here to workout. After only a moment of looking, she found who she was looking for and moved towards the leg press machine.

Jay's trainer spotted Maria out of the corner of his eye and nodded knowingly at her, before looking back down to Jay. "Take five?"

Jay opened his mouth to protest, but he could still feel the ache in his right calf and foot. "Yeah. Five's good." The trainer nodded again, this time for Jay, and turned to head for the staff office.

Jay stayed reclined in the leg press even after he finally noticed Maria nearby. "Hey, Maria. 'Sup?" The words came casually, even though he wore a frustrated expression.

She sunk onto a nearby flat bench, exhaling heavily. "I need an arthroscopy on my right shoulder. Trying to put it off. How's your rehab going?"

Jay pulled himself out of the machine and took a seat on the floor. He kept his right leg straight, folding the left one underneath. "Feels slow, but they keep telling me I'm lucky I still have a foot, let alone that I'll be able to use it again like nothing happened." No one was there to overhear them, but he dropped his voice anyways. "Thanks for your discretion on the, uh, full moon thing."

Her lips twisted into a concerned frown and she shook her head. "You know that our position on that has not changed. We will always have your back. No matter what."

Jay shut his eyes for a brief moment, took in a long, deep breath, and exhaled it slowly. "You're not here just to check up on my rehab, are you." His ice blue eyes snapped open and fixed on her, but his look was one of curiosity, not intensity.

Approaching issues with tact wasn't Maria's strong suit. It was a flaw she knew fully and so she hesitated as she tried to consider how to proceed forward. Eventually, she merely shrugged and confessed quietly. "I saw the ultrasound picture, Jay. I know Sami's pregnant."

Surprise flashed across his face, before he pulled himself back into the moment with another cycle of slow breathing. When he finished, and when he looked back at her again, he smiled, somewhat sheepishly. "Yeah. I would've told you sooner..." He trailed off, leaving out the obvious conclusion: ...but I was trapped outside of RhyDin for almost a month.

"You can't go back to the Rhovnik Foundation, Jay. Neither of you. You're both working yourself into the ground and what do you have to show for it? You want Sami to go on another deployment? Particularly now that they know what she can do? Do you want to risk her raising a baby on her own if next time you're not so lucky?" Fear reverberated in her voice. Jay and Sami were family.

Using his hands for leverage, Jay pushed up off of the floor to a standing position. He took one step on his injured foot, hissed in pain, and hobbled the rest of the way over to Maria's bench. He took a seat on the end, but still sat silent. When he finally spoke again, he was staring at his knees. "I love my job. Even after all that awful shit -- I still love it. I still wanna do it. And I'm good at it. I'm doing good." His head lifted, to meet her gaze. "What else can I do like that?"

She turned slightly to angle herself towards him. The urge to shake him and hug him warred heavily in her heart. "You can do this, Jay. You can duel and get paid enough to move your family wherever you want your kids growing up. Sami could go work for Stick for next to nothing and you wouldn't have to worry about a thing. You can run camps for at-risk youth. You can mentor up-and-coming talent."

As soon as he heard the word 'duel', he shook his head, although he remained polite enough to let Maria finish speaking. So when she dropped in the idea of being a mentor and helping less fortunate kids, it softened up much of his opposition. Still... "...I hate dueling. I hate that I became what my dad wanted me to be -- some kind of famous athlete. And I hate that every time I read about myself in the newspapers and magazines, it's: 'Jay Capistrano: best duelist never to win it all?' 'Jay Capistrano: most disappointing duelist ever?' And I hate that that bugs me." Nervous energy had him scratching at the tops of his hands.

"Nobody likes it. I'm not really who the media portrays me to be." The statement gave her pause and she lifted a single shoulder in a shrug. "At least not completely. I do it for my kids. I do it because I'm not good at an awful lot but I sure as hell can show up and sign autographs. All that shit the media says...? It matters a whole hell of a lot less when you know that the reason you're doing it is to put food on the table for your kids and to keep a roof over their heads."

His shoulders slumped, and he measured out his next words carefully. "So...I eat- I swallow my pride, fight some, and find my happiness outside of work...I need to check with Sami on this. And if we agree to it, she's gonna be there when we go over the contract."

Her hands slid down the length of her jeans before she shoved herself to her feet. Her eyes found the teens working out on the opposite side of the gym. "You have options, Jay. That's more than a lot of people have. I'm just pointing out one of those options."

Frustration ate at Maria’s patience. “What I do know is that come this summer, you’re going to be a dad. You need to get your shit together.”
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Samiyah Zayn
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Location: A townhome in Clovely to the north of Rhydin

Re: Plans

Post by Samiyah Zayn » Thu Feb 21, 2019 9:01 pm

January 9, 2019

Sami had opened a closed portal to another world by yelling at it and then disappeared with Jay into the embrace of the Wrecking Crew training compound’s gated complex.

Unsurprisingly, the Rhovnik Foundation was trying to get them to return.

Safe behind excellent Crew security, she sat on the sofa in a suite that management kept specifically for Crew, scanning through her text messages and voicemail transcripts. Her Foundation friends wanted them to come home. Her superior officers wanted them to come home.

Maybe there was nothing nefarious about it. Maybe they were merely concerned. She wasn’t sure. She couldn’t think straight. Eventually she would have to go back. She had to support her baby.

She tossed the phone onto the coffee table and reached up to rub at her temples. Her head was pounding.

Jay had dragged one of the white-and-brown wooden dining room chairs over to the kitchenette. There weren't any scuffs on the tabletop, all the chairs matched, and there were an even number of them (four). Everything about the AMD Training Academy suite felt like it had just been purchased -- Jay tried not to think about whether or not the Crew had newly furnished the place just for them. The whole situation felt sterile and surreal, and the only thing he could think to do to keep the rush of thoughts at bay was cook.

Once upon a time, Ria had seen jars of tomato sauce sitting in their pantry and nearly threw a fit on the spot. She had insisted on teaching Jay how to make his own sauce, and so that was what he was doing, adding tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, basil, and bay leaf to the already sautéed garlic and olive oil. A pot of water sat on the opposite burner, waiting to boil and cook spaghetti once the sauce was simmering. It was a bit of a struggle, having to hop out of the chair and up on one leg every so often and peer down into the pans, but it emptied his mind.

“I need to go back to Clovely by the end of the week to check in,” Sami said as she watched from the sofa. Her appetite had not returned yet. Not even with Jay’s return. Not even with the transition from first to second trimester.

"I think I do, too. There's some kind of, like, awards ceremony they want to do, but they also want to debrief me and I don't think they're happy I've been out this long. They're worried I've got, like, a story to change or something." With everything mixed together, he brought the sauce up to a boil and then turned down the heat to let it simmer. The water in the other pan had started to boil as well, and so he awkwardly hobbled over to where he had set the box of spaghetti on the countertop, cracked the strands in half to fit them inside the pot, and began boiling that.

Her lips pursed for a moment as she slid her hands along her knees. “I am guessing they will want to run some tests on me. I was hoping to get another deployment or two in because I could really use the savings but if they insist on the tests I’m going to tell them that they have to give me field pay.”

There was little left for Jay to do but wait and occasionally stir the spaghetti, so he abandoned the chair and picked up the crutches he had leaned against the dishwasher. He slowly swung himself back into the living room and half-sat, half-fell into a brown recliner that had probably never been sat in before. He pursed his lips, trying to figure out the best way to bring up the topic. He decided to ease his way into it. "I saw Maria today at the gym."

Did they want her to leave sooner? The thought struck illogically but hard. Maria and Ria had been nothing but kind. But they knew the truth behind her marriage. They knew it was all fake.

Her fingers curled up into the hem of her oversized tee. “Yeah?”

He watched her hands dig into the fabric of her shirt, and tried to reach over to pat her on the knee, but he couldn't quite make it without standing. And standing, at the moment, was quite difficult for him. Something sad and apologetic washed over him as he pulled his hand back. He could comfort her in a moment. Right now, he had to decide how hard he wanted to rip off the band-aid. "She's doing good. Said she might need some surgery on her shoulder." He shut his eyes, centered himself, took a deep breath and let it trickle out. "She doesn't want us to go back to the Rhovniks."

“Well, Stick doesn’t offer health insurance nor does she pay particularly well and besides shouting at things to open, teaching martial arts, and providing security in war zones, I’m all out of marketable skills.” It could have been sassy had she had the energy for it. Instead it came out tired and sad.

He knew it was cowardly, but he also felt that bringing up the offer right away would not end well for him. So instead of replying, he crutched back over to the kitchen and stirred the spaghetti water, then hobbled back. Only when they were in the same room again did he speak. "She wants me to duel again."

Her eyes lifted from her striped socks to find his face. “She’s always wanted you to duel. Or, at the very least, doing something that keeps you close to the Crew.”

He sat on the arm of the couch, legs dangling toward the floor. A compromise between being close to Sami, and being able to watch dinner cook. "I know. But she's worried about us. She's worried about you. What they might do now that they know about the opening. What might've happened to you if I hadn't been so lucky."

"No," she said shakily, a chill sliding down her spine. Her head shook firmly against the idea. "I won't be the reason. I can't be the reason. I screwed up. I got pregnant. I didn't handle you being gone well. I opened the portal. I can't screw up your life again. Not again."

He took a last glance at the stove, then slid down to sit closer to Sami. "Yeah, I know, we both know I hate dueling. But there's other shit I can do with the opportunity. Do all that stuff we talked about for street kids. Mentor other duelists. Maybe help out coaching their youth baseball team or something?" He scratched his head as he considered the last option. "But yeah, you could work for Stick, and all that health insurance and pay shit? It'll work itself out." Because the Crew pays well, was the unspoken rejoinder to that.

He had made his mind up. It was just like he had every other time when he'd swept in to help her out of whatever mess she'd gotten herself into. Not this time. Not this time. "I'm going to go stay at Stick's tomorrow."

Her vehement response actually sent him scooting away from her, and he went back to his crutches to check in on dinner. A few more stirs, a quick glance at the sauce, and he sprinkled in some salt and pepper for additional seasoning. He stayed there for a few beats, then turned back towards the living room to face her. "Okay?" Confusion wrinkled his nose and brow.

She rose to her feet suddenly, unsure of where to go. A hand settled over the very subtle rise that she'd gained very suddenly in the last week. "One of these days you're going to wake up and hate me."

He lifted his nose and sniffed at the air. He took a couple of steps, away from the stove and towards the sink, then leaned against it. "Why would you say that?"

"Because I bring one mess to your life after another. Because once again you have to do something you'd rather not do and I am the cause." Her hand fell away, her eyes sweeping back to him.

Just as he opened his mouth to speak, the timer went off behind him. He let it beep insistently for a few seconds longer than necessary, before finally turning around to finish the meal. He drained the spaghetti into a colander into the sink, then put it back in the pot, and removed the sauce from the stovetop. He ducked down and opened the refrigerator, emptying most of a bag of mixed green salad into a wooden bowl already on the counter. While the door was open, he pulled out some shredded cheddar cheese and Italian dressing and set it next to the salad. "Dinner's ready."

Her stomach revolted at the idea of food. Sapphire would ask her when the last time she ate was. Sapphire would be correct about the root of her problem. Sami shook her head as she moved to her boots to shove her feet into them. "I'm not hungry. I need to get some air."

He nodded, barely. Say something!, a voice screamed in his head, but his tongue felt thick and heavy, the way it had most of that week he had spent in the hospital full of painkillers. Instead, he nodded again as she dressed and walked out the door. Once it shut, he slumped down against the oven, lowered his head, and pinched the bridge of his nose.
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Re: Plans

Post by Capistrano » Thu Feb 21, 2019 10:50 pm

January 10, 2019
AMD Training Academy

Jay had ignored every direction given to him by him by his doctors, rehab specialists, and physical trainers. He hadn’t taken his pain medication all day, preferring to marinate in the dull aches and sharp pains that traced their way up the right side of his body. He hadn’t tried to minimize how much he walked on his injured foot -- he figured he deserved the discomfort. And he hadn’t slept in a real bed the night before, foot elevated and wrapped in a gel cryopack to keep the swelling down.

What was the point? Sami had gone to Stick’s, skipped dinner, and hadn’t come back that night. Jay called Sami in the morning, got her voicemail, and left a message, with no response back. He should have spent the afternoon with the Wrecking Crew’s workout specialists, but he called in sick and planted himself on the couch. He tuned the television to daytime game shows, then flicked it off when the schedule switched over to soap operas. The Young and the Elvish didn’t hold any real appeal to him.

Instead, he picked up his cell phone, opened up the mail app, and began making his way through the month-long backlog of messages to his accounts. His Wrecking Crew address took little time to go through. He was close enough to the Grazianos that they knew how infrequently he checked it, and they subsequently took him off most of the Crew’s e-mail blasts. He tapped through the handful of notifications about AMD Training Academy basketball games, various automated holiday greetings, and scholarship announcements. A few more taps, and the bulk of them went into the recycling bin.

He switched over to his Rhovnik account, where the real work began. As an active employee, they kept him on the usual listservs even after he went missing. Advertisements for the commissaries and exchange stores located at Rhovnik bases across the multiverse. Notifications about his direct deposits, his missing time cards, the balance in his vacation and sick leave banks. He shivered when he read the messages with updates on their mission, and pangs of guilt stabbed at him each time he read through the funeral arrangements for services he missed while in the hospital. And at the very top of his inbox, e-mails from various levels of supervisors greeted him, as they checked to see how he was doing, if he would make it back in time for the awards ceremony. Not so subtly slipped in were mentions of his debriefing, and requests for him to talk to Sami about coming back for testing. As much as he wanted to delete those message on sight, he knew he couldn’t. With a sigh, he flicked right, hit the flag button, and saved them for later.

His thumb started to ache by the time he’d finished with his two main accounts, but he couldn’t think of anything else to do, and besides, he was already in the zone. So he clicked over to his little used personal e-mail, expecting the usual spam, newsletters from stores he no longer shopped at, and tour announcements for bands that never came close to Clovely. Those were easy enough to drag and delete, but a trio of e-mails from Sami gave him pause.

None of them had subjects, and when he opened them, there was no text in the body of the message. Each one had a single attachment -- a movie file, its name a series of numbers. Dates and times. He looked over his shoulder, half-expecting her to walk through the door at that moment and scold him for watching. She wasn’t there, though. No one was. He centered himself with a deep breath and clicked play.

It felt strange at first, almost voyeuristic. Hearing her tell him about things she’d already mentioned in the present struck him with the sensation of jamais vu: it all seemed utterly new, even though the stories weren’t. Meeting Sapphire, Jewell’s daughter (and Sami’s sister) from an alternate future. The way Ria and Maria came over and cooked and cleaned for her. All the thoughts and prayers and rallies and fundraisers the Crew and the Rhovniks hosted on behalf of the Tushailan mission. The full moon. They’d gone over it all before, back when he’d been recovering from his surgeries. Hearing it from this version of Sami, though, felt different. The melancholy cut through the screen, across time, and lodged itself like a dagger in his heart. He wanted to reach out, across the impossible distance between the two, and wrap her up in a hug, but all he could do was watch.

While the first two videos nearly drowned him in a wave of sadness, the last one -- the most recent one -- left him staring at the screen in shock when it finished. The moment it started without Sami smiling, he knew the tone would be different, and it didn’t take long for him to be proven correct. The anger rolled off of her, threatening to melt the snow dancing around in the background of her video. Then, he watched it burn itself out, replaced with tears and a heartfelt desire.

““I want to really marry you, Jay.”

The phone tumbled out of his hands, bounced off of the coffee table, and landed on the carpet with a quiet *thud*. Sami’s words -- both those spoken in the video, and the ones she’d said last night -- hit him like a one-two combo to the gut. He pulled his knees up to his chest, folded his arms across them, and buried his face in his forearms. Each and every time he tried to center himself, empty his mind, control his breathing, he saw her face, heard her voice, and his breath hitched in the middle of those deep breathes. Was this what it was like when Sami had that panic attack? I need - I need my best friend. But Sami wasn’t there, and Jameak had his own problems with his family to deal with. That left him with just one person.

Twisting over the edge of the couch, he scooped up his phone and dialed Maria’s number. A torrent of words poured out as soon as she greeted him, faster and higher-pitched and not at all like his usual laid-back California vibe.

“I-I fucked up, Maria. I fucked it all up, and I don’t even know wh-where to begin to f-fix it.”
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Re: Plans

Post by Capistrano » Sat Mar 09, 2019 5:12 pm

January 10, 2019

It was far from the first time Maria had received a panicked call from a family member in need of help. She was the big sister. She wanted to be their first call. With Mama gone, Maria was the matriarch. It went unspoken but it didn't make the mantle any less real. Their emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being was a piece of her happiness. She was only as happy as the least happy of her family.

Her directions were clear. Jay was to go to the front gates where a car from their contracted service would pick him up. When the short call ended she sent a text to the car service, detailing the pick up as the Wrecking Crew's New Haven facility. She found herself typing in the address for his drop-off before she even realized why she was doing it.

409 Cardew Road
New Haven, RhyDin

She caught her breath. When was the last time she'd been to that brownstone? It had been too long. The property was old with a history she'd never really explored. It had been purchased for her by the infamous Anubis Karos in exchange for her loyalty when she was a recently divorced single mom with little money. The stench of the decision to go loyal to Anubis had made the Crew so angry that she'd signed the deed over to the Wrecking Crew itself in an attempt to make amends.

It felt like a lifetime ago and it felt like yesterday.

It was cold but she chose to walk. Bundled up in a black coat and a knit hat, her hands slung in the pockets of the coat, she wasn't even recognized. Or if she was recognized no one stopped her. Her lungs ached from the cold but it felt good to walk these streets again. The three story property was on a tree-lined street brimming with small shops and eateries and across the street from a sizable park. It wasn't the swankier end of New Haven where the designer shops were located but it was New Haven with its safe streets and higher end real estate.

She input the code in the real estate lock box on the door, removed the key, and let herself in. There was still some furniture and the space seemed recently cleaned. Someone within the company must have been keeping the property up.

The front windows in the living room looked out over the street and she stood there removing her coat as she waited for Jay.

In between placing the call to Maria, and the arrival of the black town car that would take him to Maria, Jay sat numbly on the couch, wrapping his arms around himself. In a better state of mind, he might have cleaned up more -- or at all -- in preparation for meeting with her, but his mind kept racing with all the worst case scenarios. So when the vehicle finally arrived, honking and sending a text message to his phone, he was completely unprepared to head outside. He knew it would be annoying, but he sent a text asking for five minutes to the driver, and then promptly took ten (thanks to his injuries) to throw on a wrinkled blue Crew hoodie, jeans, winter boots, and Rhovnik foundation jacket. He crutched his way out the door and to the front gates, half-expecting a dirty look from the man who picked him up. Instead, the middle-aged man with a jaunty gray driving cap shot him a sympathetic look, and didn't even try to make conversation with him. Jay nodded, opened the back door, and slid inside.

Jay rested his head against the cool window, staring out at the gray skies overhead for a brief moment before shutting his eyes. He'd hoped the quiet hum of the engine, the chill against his cheeks, and the new car smell mixed with pine air freshener might lull him to sleep, but it was no use. His eyes stayed closed, but his mind remained wide awake.

The drive within New Haven didn't take long, and when the driver stopped and let him know they'd arrived, Jay seemed puzzled at where he'd been let off. The address wasn't a neighborhood restaurant, or coffee shop, or anything obviously linked to the Crew, the Grazianos, or any of their friends. Nothing about it screamed "meet-up place." It was just another house. A nice looking house, but, well, that went with the territory in New Haven. He approached the front door and, unsure if he should knock or just go right inside, did neither.

He didn't wait at the front door long. Maria opened the door to the brownstone, offering him a soft smile as she did. There was none of the frustrated attitude she'd had with him before. She could flip off her frustration with her family members as quickly as she could flip it on. "Come on in. Let's go have a seat in the living room and talk."

Jay nodded and took a step inside the brownstone. Despite the fact that the place had obviously been recently cleaned, and the furniture seemed almost as new as the furnishings at his place at the AMD Training Academy suite, it immediately felt different. It felt a little like a scaled-up version of his and Sami’s townhouse in Clovely. He took a little detour to peer through the curtains out the front windows, then caught himself dawdling and rushed to the living room.

The hardwoods they walked over weren't perfect. There were scuffs here and there. Maria had insisted that they were 'character scuffs' and refused to obsess over every scratch and dent. It was modern and clean but incredibly comfortable. She dropped into an armchair, kicking off her boots to tuck a foot under her. "So... what's going on?"

Jay hobbled over to a recliner, propped his crutches against the wall nearby, and stretched out his legs. Recent events had pulled him back into old, bad habits -- his ice blue eyes darted around the room, looking everywhere but at Maria. So when he finally answered her question, he was looking somewhere over her head, into the dining room behind her. "You were right. I don't have my shit together."

She tilted her head to the side at him, thoughtfully. "Well, you're smart and driven. You just have to identify what you want and I'm pretty sure you and I can come up with a plan to figure out how to get there."

It didn't take much to push Jay back to his new equilibrium. His eyes drifted back down, and it became quickly clear that he hadn't slept well (or at all) the previous night. Dark circles hung underneath his eyes, somehow making the blue in his irises even sharper despite the obvious fatigue. "I told Sami about your idea to bring me back to the Crew, back to dueling. It...didn't go over well. She left for Stick's last night and I haven't heard from her since." His eyes danced right, back towards the brownstone's main hallway, a tell-tale sign he'd left something out of the story.

"Because you don't really want to go back to dueling and she feels like she's the reason you would have to?" She asked as she reasoned her way through it. There was no pause for confirmation. It was exactly how Sami thought. "For Christ's sake, Jay. Take the girl a basket of cute baby things and let her know you're excited about this. It's a kid. You guys are going to be good parents."

He confirmed it anyways, even though he didn't really have to. "Yeah." He stared at nothing in particular for a beat or two, then cut his eyes right back towards Maria. "I don't think it's just that, though. I think that's, like, a symptom of something else. When I was...away, she recorded, like, a bunch of videos so that I wouldn't miss anything with the kiddo. But she also recorded one - she said she wanted to marry me for real." He butted in on himself, the last sentence tumbling out much faster than the ones preceding it.

A breath was taken in and she gave a slow nod. Her voice gentled. "You weren't ready to marry her when we had to create that story for the press and... well, it wasn't pretty. The infidelity, her ex-boyfriend, the press release. I was so proud of you for the decision you made not to hang her out to dry but none of it was pretty."

"...Is it weird if I say that it never really felt fake to me?" Jay laughed and shook his head. "I don't know, I..." The words escaped him, and he looked to Maria to fill in the gaps in what he was trying to say.

"It's not. She's always been your person. For as long as I've known you, Sami's been there. Even if you two weren't together, she was a... ghost that was never very far away," Maria replied, lifting her shoulders in a shrug.

Her hands lifted to tuck her hair behind her ears. "You know this was my house. Anubis bought it for me after I got divorced. I had no money and no place to go. Adie and I were literally living with Tony. It was so fucking embarrassing. But I knew I could provide for my kid and that was important for me. The Crew was so pissed at me for going loyal to Anubis but I got this house out of the deal. It was mine. I did that for my kid. I don't know if any of them understand that to this day. It was liberating. I knew Adie and I would be okay."

Jay’s nose wrinkled, as he tried to piece together the words that Maria said, and the fact that they were having this meeting at a house she'd previously lived in. And, somehow, still had access to. "That's the sacrifice you made."

"I never really saw it that way. I never saw it as a sacrifice. I felt bad ass. I felt at home and safe. I had my daughter." She hesitated before twisting her lips into a frown, her eyes sliding over him. "What it is that you want, Jay? Is that what you want? A home? Sami and your kid in your home? I just can't imagine you're the guy who wants this whole situation to go away."

"Yeah. I want a home, with my best friend, with my family, whatever form that takes in the future." He took a moment to collect his thoughts, fingers resting on his chin, before he looked back at Maria. "You remember Johanna?"

“Hayes? The fixer? Yeah, we had to hire her one other time when Tony went to—“ She came to a stop, thinking better of repeating that story. A shake of her head was given to suggest it was better left unsaid. “Yeah, I remember her.”

Under other circumstances, he might have pressed Maria for the story, if only because there was a good chance there'd be a kernel of humor in Tony's hijinks. Now, though, all he did was smile. "When we set the whole marriage thing up in the first place, she framed it like this: 'the lily or the sword.' The lily was the fake marriage, getting to keep her reputation, getting to be with me. The sword was Johanna and me and the Crew writing her off as some crazy desperate ex who I felt nothing for. I picked the lily, but, y'know, it wasn't a one-time thing. Every day I wake up, I pick the lily. I pick her. I always will. I just- I guess- I guess I should've said something sooner."

Her lips twisted up in a warm smile and she huffed out a soft laugh. “Scoot a bit. That was so sweet that I need to hug you, pain in the ass.”

She rose to her feet to slip beside him, giving him a one-armed squeeze. It was tight and protective. “You are as much my brother as Chris and Tony so I’m going to be as blunt with you as I would with them. You have to marry her. Act out the story. Make it real. Then bring her back to this house. The Crew owns it now. It can be part of your contract. You’ll have your best friend and your kid. You’ll have the satisfaction of being the bad ass that provides for them. Tell Sami this isn’t a sacrifice. This is exactly what you want.”

It took a bit of effort to keep his leg protected as Maria walked over, but Jay dutifully obliged her with the hug. "I'm glad I'm an honorary Graziano, even if I am an A's fan." The soft tease let her know that he was almost back to normal again. "I'm gonna do all that. I'm gonna call her again when we get done here, apologize, get her that basket of baby clothes or whatever, and - I'm gonna fix this. I promise."

A hand rubbed his back as she sat beside him, letting her eyes roam over the space. It felt right that there would be life here again. “Of course you will and I’ll have your back. Promise.”
We are not alone
We are not mistakes
Don't whisper now
We're allowed to be loud
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