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Back away slowly

Posted on Fri Oct 27th, 2023 @ 10:47 by Mhairi McIntyre & Cameron Johnston

Chapter: All Hallow's Eve
Location: Avalon Institute, Exterior
Timeline: Right after 'Ride or Die'
3329 words - 6.7 OF Standard Post Measure

There was a great many emotions milling around in Mhairi's body as she was making her way back to her car. The English teacher she'd come across in the garage had been pleasant enough but not exactly who she had been looking for when she drove up to the institute and bluffed her way inside the walls. Now she was heading back home, still wired up, feeling utterly foolish. The white stones crackling underneath her feet felt like they were mocking her as she made her way back to her car. As she lifted her eyes from the ground in front of her in the direction of the door of her car she noticed someone standing near it.

"Nice of you to show up." She opened the door to the driver's seat, "Get in."

Hands shoved into his pocket, having spent the best part of the last ten minutes pacing, Cameron looked like a man sprung in the midst of delinquency. It possibly didn't need admitting that he had not only recognised the car but initially sought out its occupant, until the sound of distant voices had told him someone else had already intercepted. Cameron wasn't a cowardly man but he had balked then at having to choose a demeanour. As much as he was an open and honest man, there were certain things he struggled to discuss openly and there had been really no way to reconcile what he was comfortable talking about in front of his friends and what would possibly give an awkward impression in front of someone whose opinion apparently mattered a great deal.

Just her tone made his stomach drop.

"Yes'm." Whilst he played off the sheepish schoolboy, Cameron couldn't quite embody the pantomime entirely. Slipping into the passenger seat, he waited quietly and, once they were both squarely inside staring forward, he cleared his throat. "Did I miss another phone call?" He winced slightly at the possibility, still not sure he'd recovered face from the last time. Last three times.

Mhairi shook her head. Perhaps she should've called ahead, it would've prevented some trouble at the gate. She started the car and slowly made her way back towards the bridge that connected Avalon with the rest of the civilised world. "Why bother, you're never there to answer it." She immediately deflected the blame for not calling back to him. For the time it took for her to exit through the gate and clear the bridge she simply stared ahead over the dimly lit stonework covering the gap with the mainland. Once back on the main road that led towards New Cresthill she looked to her side. "I worry about you. Probably more than I have any right to."

It felt, Cam mused, a little bit like being punched in the balls and then handed a slice of cake. Ordinarily, he didn't struggle for adequate comeback, relaxed enough in his own self-confidence to have a quip ready and a decent amount of honest sincerity to smooth over ruffled feathers. With virtually any other person, he'd have taken the jab about avoiding his office with a well-natured grin but where easy banter usually settled, there was nothing but awkward silence. He squashed the impulse to apologise only because it seemed a little unnecessary but there was still a sensation of guilt and embarrassment that he couldn't quite account for. He couldn't even get in his office door most days because he used it more as a storage closet and that had never bothered him until this very moment, where confessions regarding why he avoided paperwork would lead to inadequacies he tried to ignore. It was disconcerting, therefore, to gear up for a round of demoralising self-recrimination, only to be faced with a rather more pressing admission to respond to.

He cleared his throat and suddenly wasn't all that sure what to do with his hands. Like most people with his particular skillset, he wasn't a fan of the passenger's seat.

"Things aren't normally quite this..." He searched for an adequate word. "...volatile." Squinting as he showed a little too much interest in the passing scenery, Cameron craned his head to watch a tree disappear out of view and then forced himself to glance across. "It's not that weird to be worried, everything's just that bit too close to home."

"You. Not the plural you, the singular, 2nd person, you." Mhairi pulled the car to the side of the road and swung to punch him in the arm. "I don't want anything to happen to you, Cameron Johnston. And I hate it that my old man was right about that. He'll be insufferable." She looked at him to see if there was any kind of response that would indicate he felt the same.

Being fast on the uptake wasn't always an obvious tangent for Cam's powers to take but there were some things universally transmitted through a fist of well-aimed knuckles. Almost instantly, he was struck by two opposing reactions; the toe-scraping elation of reciprocated confusion and, oddly more of a muddled mess, the weight of responsibility that came from a guilty conscience. For a long time, particularly in this arena, Cameron had struggled with the battle between heart's desire and doing right by those who mattered. As much as it wouldn't have been difficult at all to return sentiment he was left with the burden of having to decide in a hurry if he should.

Trouble was, he was a terrible liar.

"I mean," he started after a moment of stunned silence, "I'm not that disappointed that you've changed your mind on wanting things to happen to me." When in doubt, the humourous route. "At least, I assume we're not talking about nice things." A crooked half-grin acted as a gentle tease, though it wasn't quite enough to chase away the thoughtfulness from his eyes. "You might have heard I can run pretty fast. Nothing's caught up to me yet."

"Good. That's good." Mhairi nodded at that. Then silence.

The tension that had been visible on her knuckles as she strained around the steering wheel seemed to eb away a bit. She looked out the window from where she had parked the car, "This is a nice spot for an evening walk." She looked over at Cameron realising she basically just abducted him and this was the first moment she checked whether he actually wanted to come. Though in fairness, someone with superspeed would've probably found a way to not have to get into the car if he really hadn't wanted to.

"Yeah," Cam agreed, turning his head to admire the view through his window. "It is."

The self-depreciating wince that followed was partially hidden by the angle his gaze had taken, a moment of sheer incredulity that fired off more questions than Cameron could answer in the space of time he had left to avoid ruining the moment entirely. He couldn't recall the last time he'd encountered someone so simultaneously difficult and effortless to talk to. If he ever managed to arrive at a place where he stopped overthinking everything, it was easy to spend an hour chatting without any concept of time having passed at all, and yet moments like this could make ten seconds feel like a lifetime. He probably wasn't the most eloquent guy on the planet but he didn't usually struggle for words, regardless of their calibre. Clearing his throat, he started to unbuckle his belt. "Shall we?"

Mhairi took a moment to gather her thoughts before nodding. "Aye." With that she got out the car and circled around to meet Cam at the hood of the car. The wind swept over the loch and swayed the trees around them, howling through the branches and cutting the cold November night into their skins. "Do you ever go out hiking?" She wasn't really one for walking great distances, she'd much rather take a dirt bike or a 4x4. Nevertheless she started out on the nearby trail.

At least out in the open, it felt like there was room to breathe. Exhalation curled tendrils of vapor in the cold but even that was a comfort, in an odd sort of way. Cameron liked weather. The chunk of time he'd spent in California had been great for surfing but he'd missed the turning of the seasons, and the sense of festivities that came with each. Hands stuffed into his pockets, he slouched just a little to brace against the breeze and fell into step at any easy enough pace, glancing directly ahead as he considered the question.

"Sometimes. Used to a fair bit as a kid, before..." He wrinkled his nose and then offered a wry smile sideways. "Well, there came a time where walking anywhere seemed like a poor man's choice." Returning his attention to the trail ahead, Cameron tried to cast his mind back to the last time he'd been anywhere on foot that hadn't involved an imminent emergency. "It gets muddled," he admitted. "Being out here just for the enjoyment of it and training, trying to figure things out, push the limits. There's still a lot I haven't nailed down about what I can do and it's starting to feel like the reasons for figuring it out sooner rather than later keep stacking up." The crunch of a twig beneath his foot coaxed a faint frown. "Isn't that what they say though? You can get so caught up saving the world that you forget to live in it." He sniffed. "Actually," he confessed with a sideways bump of his shoulder against her arm, "That was one of your Dad's."

"You shouldn't believe everything that comes out of that old man's gob." Mhairi remarked as they were walking down the narrow path. As the forest got a bit thicker it forced them to walk closer together. The sounds of the woodland critters, and the two people's feet in the underbrush, made for a slightly spooky atmosphere. "Saving the world is a lot easier if you have something in it worth saving." With a step she bumped into him, a short moment of connection between the two of them.

It earned her a huff of soft laughter. "No argument here."

Except for the fact that there was plenty of argument, a lifetime's supply of it, all bubbling beneath the surface of several confessions that Cameron was struggling to justify even to himself. Though he would have felt like a cad to actually say it out loud, there had been some semblance of relief to the fact that hanging out with Reagan regularly had lead to assumptions about their relationship status that served a worthwhile purpose. He'd stopped short of actually selling it that way, had always attempted some sort of correction if it was ever brought up directly, but he hadn't mourned the loss of opportunity that came from being considered unavailable. Not only was that smokescreen gone now, it was hard to hide from the fact that a very significant chunk of him had panicked at the idea that Mhairi would fall for a similar presumption. Cam wasn't sure where that left him, not when recent events seemed intent on compounding all his fears surrounding being the cause of anyone winding up in the line of fire. He'd already been down this path before, had already sacrificed his heart to appease what his head wouldn't stop bleating at him.

Hands still stuffed in his pockets, he risked a glance sideways and then quickly returned his scrutiny to the path.

"I think you're too hard on your old man though. He's got his ways. Starting to think he might be clairvoyant, should get himself tested."

"Aye, that much we can agree on." Mhairi laughed a bit at her rather simple joke at the expense of her father. It was fine, the old man could take it. "I. Uhm. I have a rifle in the trunk." There was no segue. It was just something she blurted out. "I mean. Speaking of saving the world. I thought I could help you guys. People throwing literal fireballs and running at the speed of sound, by showing up with a gun." It felt stupid, and the more she spoke about it the sillier it sounded in her head.

Cameron did his best to smile at that, though concern over what really would have been a complete imbalance of power didn't make it a very successful attempt. It was everything Graeme had told him about his daughter though, and from that perspective there was something bafflingly impressive about her bold lack of reservation in seeking the front line. It just also happened to terrify Cam no small amount.

"Might have been a stretch but I don't think any of us would argue that the sentiment isn't appreciated." He was choosing his words carefully, trying to walk the line between consoling her and insulting what she'd been trying to achieve. Another sideways glance sought to match her bravery and Cam steeled himself before admitting, "Even me, though I'm kind of trying to ignore the fact my first impulse is to run you back to Africa and dump you in the middle can't-get-involved no where." He winced sheepishly and offered an apologetic shrug. "Take some pity on me, your Dad would string me up by my entrails if anything happened to you."

"He knows how I am, he couldn't stop me from going to Africa. He won't be able to pull me from the Avalon Ramparts." Mhairi looked over to him and stopped walking, "before you say anything else, know that regardless of whatever this is.." she pointed between herself and the man she'd basically kidnapped, "I'll be on those ramparts." She knew some people, present company included, would sacrifice a lot for trying to protect people. "So, don't even think about killing off whatever it is that's growing between us because you're afraid of intimacy under the guise of protecting me or fear of my dad." She took a moment to see how that landed with him. "Whichever way this breaks, I'll still be on the ramparts. My dad will still hate you, in the best possible way."

He wasn't sure why the directness of her approach nearly stopped him in his tracks. By now, Cameron was well-enough aware of Mhairi's forthright preferences and found them, whilst a little intimidating when in full-swing, easily one of the traits he found the most attractive about her. He didn't do well with guessing games, wasn't much of a fan of emotional mind games, and was considerably more of a fan of someone punching him in the arm than silently stabbing him in the back. Appreciation swelled, and with it a sense of burgeoning affection that accelerated well past his usual capacity for platonic camaraderie. Listening to Graeme laud her praises had provoked a sense of anticipation that reality had not failed to deliver on. There was space here to speak his mind, protection enough that a degree of vulnerability wasn't going to explode in his face because, for once, the other person was far too independently-minded to be swayed by anything he did. It was alarming in a general sense but incredibly liberating from a personal perspective.

The look he gave her, immediately less furtive, held her gaze as his features softened to a fond smile before it faded to allow a gentle frown of concern.

"It's not just your dad. The idea of you getting hurt because of something directed at me is..." Lowering his eyes, Cameron wrestled on the precipice for a moment longer and then reached out to give her hand a squeeze. "You ever feel like you've known someone forever and yet you only just met?" A soft huff of laughter re-established eye contact. "It's weird."

Mhairi nodded at that, they've had connected on a level she hadn't been familiar with before either. "You had a bit of a head start." Knowing her old man he would've told him everything he wanted to know, and quite a few things he probably didn't, about her. Despite not being so openly complimentary towards her he didn't seem to have difficulties expressing his praises to others about her. There had been quite a few people that had come into the town in her time away that talked to her as if she'd known them for years. It was hard to admit to these things out loud. "The thing is, it's not just directed at you. It's bigger than you. Besides I'm the one that's stubborn enough to get in the way of these things, that's on me, not you."

"So what you're saying," Cameron started, turning as their pace slowed enough for him to duck beneath a low lying branch, only to arrive in the middle of a small clearing right at the centre of the copse they'd wandered into. " that I'm not special." To any external source, it sounded far more natural than some of his previous attempts at humour, a flare of mischief that was characteristic of his normal confidence levels. It matched the failed attempt at smothering a dimpled smirk.

The man was possibly one of the fastest people on the planet, but the swiftness with which Mhairi punched him in the arm wasn't something he was prepared for. Or perhaps it was something he allowed for her to do. Either way the Scottish mechanic wouldn't stand for that sort of self deprecation, "You'd do well not to talk about my boyfriend like that. I have a rifle in my car, remember."

In what was sure to become a very prominent theme, Cameron found himself trapped between a grimace and slack-jawed speechlessness. "I was not aware that the two of you had..." He seemed to catch himself in time, the scramble of his thoughts finally pushing through the rapid acceleration of his heart-rate to deposit a metaphorical life preserver in his path before he plunged for a second time off a jagged precipice. "I'm very happy for you both," he corrected, still rubbing his arm. "He has impeccable taste." Then, because life wasn't fun without a little risk, he added with exaggerated coyness, "Probably cute too."

"Not half as cute as he thinks." Mhairi turned to face him and angled her head a bit looking at him, when there was no immediate response she simply leaned forward and kissed him. Eyes closed. Drifting away in that moment as her arms slowly but confidently snaked around his waist.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, tucked behind a dozen rehearsed excuses for why the bacon supply was low again and twice as many accolades easily bestowed on the woman pressed against him, an age-old mantra screamed for caution and was summarily ignored. Too much had happened, too much was uncertain, and for a man who occasionally felt the cold sting of loneliness trapped in a world that couldn't quite keep up with him, the prospect connection was currently too potent to resist. Dancing eyes quickly catalogued the face peering up at him, permitted finally to express his open admiration for her natural beauty, and Cameron's lips twitched as his arms settled, draped, over Mhairi's shoulders.

"We could always ask her Dad for his opinion."

Once again, his yelp of laughter didn't earn him a lot of sympathy.

With a bit of a punch against his chest Mhairi pulled herself free from the embrace, "Eedjit." and with that she ran off into the woods. The sun was setting and the low light glittered off the Loch to her right as the trees rushed past her. She couldn't believe she had just kissed him. The sensations washing over her had been a long time coming, but no amount of anticipation could prepare her for that moment of electrifying connection. "Try to keep up, slowpoke!"


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