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Ras Alhague It was maybe ten minutes after midnight when Ras and Merope turned to one another and realized they were hungry. After checking his watch, Ras asked, "Is there even anything left open?" Merope frowned, because there was only one thing in this small town open past midnight - Dennys, right off the highway. Fifteen minutes later, they crashed through the woods into the parking lot.

Ras Alhague "Well, I guess we're here," Ras says.

Merope "Yeah." She looks around her. "So.. technically, I guess this our first date."

Merope looks around again. "This wasn't quite what I imagined, but whatever. Let's... get some waffles."

Ras Alhague "In that case," he says, heading towards the door. "It's definitely my treat." He opens the door and grins, making it clear he was planning to treat either way.

Ras Alhague "After you..."

Merope smiles. "Well, don't break the bank or anything, honey." Her tone is teasing, with only a tiniest trace of actual bitterness. She's trying "honey" out for size.

Merope rolls her eyes a little, but smiles still, and walks indoors.

Ras Alhague Ras walks in the door behind her, then takes a short intake of breath. He grabs Merope by the arm and pulls her back. "Are you sure this is the only place open in town?"

Merope "Uhh, pretty much, unless we eat out of some van somewhere... why?"

Ras Alhague "There's a guy, in the booth in the corner... you see him? No, don't make it obvious, look casual."

Merope "What about him?" she whispers back, leaning up to his ear a little closer than was strictly necessary.

Ras Alhague "He's the guy who convinced my dad to send me to Jessup in the first place. Tenacious SOB. What the hell is he doing here?"

Merope frowns. "Like, he's your old principal?"

Ras Alhague "Part principal, part warden, part drill sergeant." Ras shudders. "Look, I have a kitchenette, let's go to my place and I'll make you something to eat. I don't want to deal with him tonight."

Merope Merope's brow remains wrinkled. "But if you've left the school, he's no big deal for you now, right? He's just some guy.."

Ras Alhague Ras absent-mindedly rubs his facial scar. "No... not quite. I'm just... I don't want to have to deal with him, okay?"

Merope The brow wrinkles deepen. "Well... ok. Let's... let's go to your place."

Parks "Wrestle-hog?" Ras winces - the guy could never pronounce his name right. "Well, I'll be!"

Ras Alhague "Shit," Ras mutters under his breath, where only Meropecan hear. At a normal tone he says, "Sergeant Parks. I'm surprised to see you here. We were just leaving."

Merope looks from Parks to Ras, but doesn't say anything.

"But you just got here," he says, a lazy smile on his face. "Surely you and your lil filly want some food. You're out late, little lady," he says, turning to Merope.

Ras Alhague "Don't you talk to her. Don't you touch her!"

Parks "Oh come now, Hog." He puts a hurt look on his face. "Surely there's no hard feelings. Let bygones be bygones?"

Merope looks sidelong at Ras, and then up at Parks. "Uhh... we were just going, really..."

Ras Alhague "Yeah," Ras slowly unclenches his fists. "We're going."

Merope "..so, you know... another time?"

Parks "Well, don't let ME stand in your way." He smiles another lazy smile. "I'm sure I'll see you around. Especially you, missy." Tipping his hat, he turns to go back to his table.

Merope is inching toward the door and tugging Ras by the arm. "Yeah. Nice to meet you, though...."

Ras Alhague opens the door for Merope, then heads out behind her. He mutters, again, so only she can hear... "yeah, he's just 'some guy. Right..."

Merope "Well, he is. A guy putting out like eight hundred watts of creepy, but still..."

Merope eyes Ras thoughtfully. "So what was the whole deal, back there. I mean... what happened with you and that guy?"

Ras Alhague "You remember the old slogan, 'be all that you can be.'?"

Ras Alhague starts walking towards his house.

Merope "Um.. yeah?"

Ras Alhague "He's, like, the poster boy for that. Wants to be everything he can be." Ras shudders. "Wants to be Sleepless."

Merope "Wants to be... how would that even work? I thought... I mean... we only started showing up in the last two decades, right?"

Ras Alhague "Yeah. He's a bit zealous - guess the military likes that type." Ras sighs. They walk for a bit. "At first he wasn't so bad. A pushy zealot, but... sane. Thought I was the wave of the future - his perfect protege. I haven't killed anyone, Merry, I promise, but thanks to him, I know how. Lots of different ways. I guess he got jealous."

Ras Alhague "He started wanting to blood tests and stuff. Yeah, I know, nobody's EVER found anything, but he was convinced he could. He was a biologist once, or something.

Ras Alhague lapses back into silence.

Merope "Blood tests? Did... did you let him?"

Ras Alhague "Yeah. He was a mentor once. A hero, kinda." Ras shakes his head. "I didn't notice when he slipped over the edge. I guess he got desperate one day. He'll only wear long sleeves anymore."

Merope digests this last in silence. Then, at length:

Merope "Ras?"

Ras Alhague "Yeah, Merry?"

Merope "At Jessup... did they.. do anything to you?"

Ras Alhague "Not like they've done to others. They're government-run, scrutinized. They've got all sorts of regular kids there. They could only do so much. Jessup was supposed to be... protection from places like the Academy. From stuff like Cassie..."

Merope "Cassie." Merope's voice is dull.

Ras Alhague "But Parks did push me to my limits... farther than he would have pushed anyone else. He knew I could take it." He sighs. "Then he started..." His voice breaks. "He started..."

Merope looks into a face creased with the pain of recollection. "You don't have to tell me. Not yet."

Ras Alhague "The worst part, I think, is it worked. What he did... WORKED. But only for a little while. Then he had to come back and get more..."

Ras Alhague They're at Ras's driveway now.

Ras Alhague "Oh," Ras says, as he's fumbling with the keys. "Before you go in, I just need you to know... I kind of have a roommate."

Merope blinks at the information overload. "What?"

Ras Alhague "Only since yesterday. I'm just helping her out until she can stand on her own two feet again." Ras finally has the keys in the door.

Merope "It's a girl?"

Merope splutters.

Merope "You have a girl living with you?"

Ras Alhague "It's not what you think. You'll understand in a moment." The door swings open. "Merope, meet Cassiopeia."

Ras Alhague *