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Balanced Odds

Posted on Sun Dec 18th, 2022 @ 7:57 by Reagan D'Angelo & Cameron Johnston

Chapter: Prologue: Dawn of Avalon
Location: Gymnasium
Timeline: September 13th, 1992
3202 words - 6.4 OF Standard Post Measure

The squeak of shoe rubber always gave him away.

Not that the bounce of a solitary basketball didn't carry far enough to suggest the court was occupied, and certainly the friction between feet and freshly-polished floor was a mundane detail so typical that it normally wouldn't have raised many eyebrows. Once the term had officially started and the teams were back to their training regimes, the gym would become a heck of a lot noisier, considerably smellier, and there would be nothing out-of-place or telling about the sound of a game in progress. The place was very rarely empty, in fact, popular enough to warrant timetables and booking templates and allocation of priorities to ensure it served its primary function. There was absolutely nothing unusual about the sound of the gymnasium in use. If anything, it was weirder when it sat empty.

It was the frequency of the squeal. The syncopation of it. The pace of it. The faintest whiff of overheated plastic. The muttered curse as the battering of a backboard was promptly followed by the need to replace a slowly-deflating ball. The resignation of the need to moderate, to accommodate the world's general lack of preparation or means to mitigate the rigor of high-speed baskets. He hadn't left any scorch marks yet; that was generally considered a good thing. Had it been anyone else, there might have been something inherently lonely about utilising an entire court for solitary practise but Cameron, despite ongoing protest, found it difficult to coax people to shoot hoops with him. He put it down to poor sportsmanship, whereas almost everyone else put it down to a lack of enjoyment in being inevitably knocked off their feet and into the bleachers. Exuberance got the better of him in competitive situations, even his friends had generally concluded that it was better to just let him try to out-play himself.

He was currently subsequently up by 5 and down by 5.

"I thought it smelled like burnt rubber and machismo in here." A voice raised from closer to the doors that lead into the main school itself, ones that students might use to gather for assemblies. A teasing tone would guide eyes toward the smirking blonde near a rack of spare balls courtside, one of the big, orange spheres picked up and tested for pressure in her hands. Khaki pants and a tank top were hardly playing attire, but Reagan could hardly resist the urge to egg Cameron on when she discovered it was him making all that noise in her normally quiet gymnasium.

"You know Claire's likely to teleport you into the loch if you keep breaking the equipment. Been back long, speedy?" The sort of ribbings usually reserved for a sibling, except Reagan's hadn't spoken with her in some time, so she had that particular pool of energy overflowing and begging for release. She tossed him the new ball, straight on from the chest with both hands.

It was fair to say that, when he was deep in the throes of experimenting with his own limitations, Cameron was prone to distraction. It was the kindest way of phrasing 'self-absorption' and the tendency to block out everything other than the challenge right in front of him. In his defense, he rarely opted to indulge in personal exploration when the situation required his input and, as such, the only real casualty when he was a million miles away and waiting for his brain to catch up with his body was his pride. The ball struck him right on target, into the oof of a doubled-over assault to his stomach, and it took reflexes beyond the norm to grab the ball as it ricocheted. It saved some face, but only just.

A glance upwards immediately relaxed his features into a knowing smirk, the shift from annoyance to amusement just as swift as his earlier movement up the court. Hefting the ball up to rest against his fingertips, Cam bopped his head to the side in partial acceptance of the newcomer's point, though he took no time in pointing out, "She's been threatening that long enough that it's kind of disappointing to have no follow-through at this point. Couple of days," he added in response to her query, "Been real lonely."

Despite herself, soundlessly, Reagan mirrored his little 'oof' with her features. She might have called him out for being distracted too, but he seemed to recover well enough, even caught the ball. There was judgment, arms folding, but ultimately it ended in a telling smile. "Maybe I convince her to give it a shot, we'll see if you swim as fast as you run. Or maybe you just run on water too? Shudder to think of the boost to your ego if you can go around claiming to walk on water."

Reagan let her arms drop then, approaching the noticeably taller man and canting her head back and to one side to get a better look at his features. "Ready to put the kids through the ringer? Didn't play much ball myself, but I do remember bitter old coaches goading me into learning how to make a free throw or two." There was a pause, tone shifting from warm to teasing again on a dime. "Should have come by my office, said hi, Cam. And I'm always happy to come show you a thing or two in the gym."

"Didn't know you were back," came the honest reply. As much as he was loud and proud about the societal pressures around visibly presenting oneself as a mutant, Cameron had long ago reached the decision that he would, for the most part, lay low and off the radar when visiting his family. It didn't always work out, the real world seemed ripe with far too many opportunities to utilise his powers for the Greater Good According to Cameron, but he certainly didn't go out of his way to practise or experiment. The inevitable backlash meant that he often spent the scant few days he had back at work, before the term started, making up for lost time. Yesterday had been his first full day back and he'd spent it on improving his return time from London.

It needed work.

A shot taken over her towards the basket behind hit the ring and bounced several times before he retrieved it, the whip of wind left in his wake strong enough to ruffle strands of hair. He arrived behind Reagan, tapped the ball on her head and then, reaching over, dropped it with the expectation that she'd catch it. "Your shot."

Stood off to one side, balled fists resting against his side, Cameron studied her stance. "So, did you actually go home at all?"

"Got back awhile ago, I was just sort of quiet about it. Like to take some of the children that don't really have a home option out for field trips and such." She admitted quietly, suddenly faced with a shooting Cameron that disappeared just as she followed the ball with her eyes. Lucky her, her hair was in a stable bun and resisted the change of the sudden wind. Or with the ball hitting it. Her eyes narrowed briefly, but Cameron wasn't the only one who enjoyed saving face around here. She played it all off, taking the ball after the first bounce from his drop and doing her best to transition smoothly into a dribble.

How out of practice was she, exactly? And with him no doubt watching her, judging. Just like high school. She managed a few, good dribbles though, coordination never really her issue, and lifted the ball with a little hop in her form, her flats leaving something to be desired in the athletic performance department. The ball spun in a slow arc, hit the box on the backboard a little high, bounced back against the outside of the basket, then swirled in and through to bounce on the floor. Only then did she answer his question. "New York? No. Back to London, saw my mother on one of her little museum trips. You?"

"Got a brand new niece."

This, apparently, was an appropriate response, not ambiguous at all as to whether he actually went home or not. Still, the grin on his face was typically contagious. One of the things that often endeared Cameron to others, even at his most infuriating, was his open and honest devotion to his family, especially his nephews, and now niece. As much as he seemed an unlikely candidate at times, he was probably one of the best suited to understand her motivation behind taking younger proteges under her wing. It was a tendency they'd both already come to realise they shared.

Taking the ball once it was passed to him, Cam shuffled it back and forth between hands, bouncing it from his fingertips as he finished answering her. "Helped Dad with some renovations. Caught up with friends. Been a quiet one really." Bending at the knees, he lobbed the ball without the usual showmanship and jogged at a perfectly reasonable speed to catch it on the rebound and execute a lay-up.

"Hey! That's something to celebrate." A short response in reply to what might have been his offbeat one for anyone else. But they knew each other well enough by now. Neither a parent themselves, but they had an affinity for the children here that spoke volumes. At least she thought so. And maybe if Cameron, for all his bravado and competitiveness, could still be a great mentor for them, then that validated her too. It was easy to discount herself when she'd spent most of her adult life keeping people at arm's length with a fa├žade of selfishness and disregard for others, even to the point she sometimes believed it herself. But Avalon changed that. The little things like sharing that passion with Cameron changed that. Maybe that was why she liked him so much.

Her chin tilted up briefly in a gesture after she gave his little performance a clap. "About the only thing my father ever built was a stock portfolio. Suppose my time away was downright boring in comparison. Spot me? Just give it a vertical toss near the rim when I get there." Now she was just planning on showing off, if she could even manage. Shoes discarded at the side, Reagan limbered up and stretched her limbs while finding a good spot in line with the basket from more than half the court away. Those arm stretches, the poses, preparatory work for a run up, flip, and vault. Either she'd manage a dunk with some style, or go down in flames. She could only grin, setting herself in the ready position. "Ready?"

It was often lost in the heat of competition but, ultimately, Cameron was harder on himself than he'd ever think to be to anyone else when it came to performance and expectations. Many times, it was less a love of winning and more a desire to prove to himself that he could push the limits and get away with it that fuelled his determination, it was just a shame that it was so easy to mistake that passion for judgement of other people's contributions. There had never been a need to avoid open admiration in Reagan's case; she had a track record that permitted a lot more legitimate accolades than he'd ever been allowed to amass. There was resentment there, a twinge of envy perhaps, but never directed at her. He trusted her abilities. Trusted her skill. Relied on it even, when the shit hit the dirt.

He grinned.

"You make this, I owe you lunch."

There was a flash of a raised eyebrow in his direction before her features melted to steel and she moved from ready to set and then took off. There was a reason this was normally done on different flooring, or at least softer flooring. But she'd given herself a little extra room to build up to a sprint. Then there was one step that was a lunge into form, both feet coming together, and she threw herself forward in an arc, hands gripped briefly at the flooring. There was no room for thinking about it now, she just had to do it. Luckily for people like Cameron and her, just doing something in a physical situation was their forte. They had muscle memory, confidence of skill, and just enough self-confidence to push aside doubt.

One flip, then two, and on the third she bent her elbows and pushed with her arms to get the extra air, twisted mid-flight. She had to rely on Cameron to get the ball where she needed it to be, but their trust from missions together was as solid as the rest of the team. What was a little stunt compared to saving each other's lives? Her arc was good, hands found the orange globe easy enough, and more than grabbing it, they pushed it and threaded it through the basket. All that momentum had to go somewhere though, and the orange ring bounced dramatically from her hands smacking and pulling on it, her body continuing on an angled trip downward where she at least managed to tuck and roll roughly along the gym floor.

If she banged anything on the way down, she didn't show it, catapulting back to her feet to face Cameron and raise her arms in a wide Y-shape with a victorious hoot. "Pain was absolutely worth the free meal!" She huffed a laugh, having to straighten her hair. Another cursory once-over found another casualty of her stunt, sheepish, tight-lipped smile on while a hand covered the front of her pants. "If you uh... find a button laying around somewhere... yeah."

Nostalgia was a funny thing. Cameron was a sucker for it, had to suffer more than his fair share of ribbing about his insistence on observing every single tradition and Hallmark moment and dragging as many people along for the ride as would tolerate it. It wasn't always about decorations and gifts, or food and silly games though. Sometimes it was just the sensation of comfort that came from finding one's place in the world and returning to it. He was lucky, he realised, that he could go home to his family and enjoy a relatively easy visit without many repercussions. His was a mutation easily hidden if he was careful and, aside from a handful of zealots, humanity seemed somewhat okay with the idea of forgetting the existence of superpowers if given half a chance. It wasn't a decision that sat all that well with him but it did afford his parents a peaceful existence. Cam considered that worth the suppression of his freedom of expression to a certain extent.

This here, however, was exactly what he needed to come back to. The company and prowess of those who didn't seek to hold him back, whose only words of caution were to think before he took off. Remarkable and exceptional people fighting to build a remarkable and exceptional world. He'd missed them all. Reagan in particular had loosened up a lot since their first encounters, something that Cameron liked to attribute to the fact that he'd refused to accept her solitary nature as an excuse for hiding behind her work. Had he been annoying? Probably. Was he still infuriating? Likely. Was he the one with his pants threatening to fall down around his knees?

For once, no.

His laughter was a relaxed, honest expression of total amusement, at her expense but not unkindly meant. A quick zip around the floor located the offending button and, with a rush of hot air, he arrived in front of her with it outstretched. "This what you're looking for?" And as she took it, and his grin threatened to split his face in half, Cameron stopped trying to resist the urge to unsettle her meticulously tidy hair and wrapped an arm around her neck under threat of vicious noogy-ing and instead planted a kiss into the strands. He was abundantly affectionate and consistently unapologetic for it.

"It's good to see you again, Bridge." There was a heartbeat pause, just long enough for mischief to pool. "Just maybe didn't need to see quite that much."

Reagan had to hold her pants when Cameron went on his little search. Curse her pale complexion and the ease with which it filled with color. Lucky her the zipper was fine and things were just loose, as opposed to threatening to fly off. Sheepishly, she took the offered button, but could only smile up at him in response. Despite herself, how she always was with others, trying to maintain an aura of composure and maturity, Cameron just... made her feel like a kid again. How much was this like gymnastics practice? Goofing off with Rhiannon afterward and skipping a night in studying for a night out at the movie theater or catching a Broadway show? Definitely no noogies though.

Instinct wanted to duck away, or at least phase through his arm, easy enough to do, but might leave him with a limp limb for an hour or so. It was a tactic the team had seen her use before, just walking through someone who tried to grapple her or who was just too armored or quick for the old grab and zap. She'd never stopped to ask them how it felt when they recovered, but the closest comparison she had from her studies was like being hit by an electric eel or stung by a jelly fish. And then... there was no noogie. "Heh, good to see you again too, Dash. Let that be a lesson for me, hm? Always wear the spandex before showing off. Also, I'm not 15 anymore."

Once he really let her go, she tucked the button into her pocket and briefly bumped her head against his shoulder in a return gesture of affection before stepping away, scooting back carefully on her feet to retrieve her shoes. There was only a slight limp in her left leg, but definitely not one she would admit to having. "Gonna uh... go fix these up, get back to some work. Catch you later for some combat training?"

The flip of a mock salute only briefly interrupted Cameron's comparatively slow amble backwards to retrieve the first ruined ball. With any luck, he could figure out a way to repair it before a dip in the icy loch became a genuine threat. "Got some fresh ideas for us to try out," he called after her retreating form, and chuckled to himself as he was left alone once again to consider his options. Several presented themselves.

The most pressing appeared the be a shower.

"Can't wait!" Came her now distant answer, shuffling quietly on bare feet until she bumped the door with her hip to open it and slipped on out, giving him a big wave from across the gymnasium before she fully disappeared. Now she just needed to be stealthy on her way back to her room.


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Comments (1)

By Claire Cavendish on Sun Dec 18th, 2022 @ 21:52

I really love the interaction between these two, I can immediately believe there's a history and a rapport between them that we're just stepping into the middle of!