Marching two by two

The Food Rally 
Ashley had been feeling... weird? She'd even eased up on her healing hours a little (which her wallet suffered for) because she'd just been bleeding out of her face without actually using the power.

It was concerning and felt like a step back after years of increasing mastery.

And now, sitting at a picnic table with an untouched chili cheese dog in front of her, she had a keen sense something was happening. Ashley's head tilted, eyes and bright red irises (unbeknownst to her) locked on a very strange sight.

Three wasps perched on the tabletop in something of a neat triangle, and with identical orientation and pace, they were.. rotating. Every twitch of leg or wing was in sync, nearly robotic.

A little dribble of blood dripped from Ashley's nose and she didn't even notice it.

shirt, probably also wearing pants

Life continued to be great for Ted! Summer was his favorite season, and he almost always made a lot of extra time for leisure while the rest of the country was, too. Along these lines, he had dipped down to Crestview for a bite to eat and was looking for a free space at a bench, somewhere to sit and really get to know his purchase. There was a young lady on her lonesome, not his first choice for a spectator to the oncoming beard mess, but he noticed after just a glance that, uh. There was blood dripping out of her nose. And that was just a little bit worrisome!

He decided to hove into her view, waving brightly. "Miss? You okay there?"

It was very, very, very strange. Ashley watched, wondering when they would stop? And if they would attack?

There was some fuzziness to this moment, some deep sense that she could not look away. Her meal inched toward lukewarm, and there was some chance she'd stare at this until someone kicked her out.

Or talked to her.

The moment ended with a strange and almost physical sense. The wasps set to crawling in their own directions, one taking flight immediately.

Ash looked up with a sheepish smile, opening her mouth to say she was totally fine, this happened all the time, sorryyyy!

But instead she gave an "Oh!" of surprise as an absolute waterfall of blood poured free from her nostrils, a torrential expulsion even as someone whose nose bled on the regular.

"Sorry, I- yes!" she said, quickly reaching into her bag to search for what was essentially a nose blood towel, using her other hand to try to pinch the bridge of her nose.

Haha wow that was a lot more blood than normal and she hadn't been healing anyone?!

Ted's eyes bugged out at the explosion, and his body twisted a little, as if the blood was going to come after him and try to get on his waffle, requiring him to shield it with his body. But aside from that he acted with concern, sidling closer, surreptitiously trying to tell if she was really high or something? Ted couldn't think of many reasons for a Tarantino-style nosebleed.

"I'm gonna go grab some napkins, okay? Just a minute." And he placed his waffle gingerly on the table, glancing at her face.

Why. Was. This. Happening?!

She gave a clumsy nod to the guy's words, too confused and frazzled to say hey, no, I'm getting my blood towel!

Ashley would find it eventually, holding it up to her face as she found herself trembling slightly.

Maybe it was just a... standard real normal person nose bleed? Caused by just having a nose that bled a lot?

She'd look sheepishly to the guy whenever he returned, yelping out a muffled "I'm sorry!" between the blood and towel.

Ted returned with an overflowing amount of napkins, a little surprised to see her with a towel already, and more surprised to get an apology. He set the napkins in front of her and immediately watched them try to flap away in a light breeze. That was an issue, so he grabbed his waffle boat and set it on top of the pile, just in time to watch one of the circling wasps land and become mired in the whip cream.

Okay, well that was another problem. Grimacing, he wiggled a napkin out of the pile and used it to grasp the wasp, then perp-walked it to the nearest trash can and threw it away, only to have the wasp fly up immediately, sticky and vengeful.

Ted yelped and took off for a far corner of the lot.

Ash could mostly just watch, making a weak half-grab at the napkins as they threatened to tumble, but beaten by a much more capable... whoever this was!

Except one of the wasps went right for what was undoubtedly a delicious treat, and Ashley grimaced through the towel, watching as The Guy made quick work of it. Phew!


Except. Oh, no.

She could only watch, grimacing behind her blood towel, feeling very much responsible for this but lacking the power to help. (As far as she was aware.)

Off on his own adventure, Ted dodged around for a minute or so, half-out of hearing range; the wasp seemed to have his number, possibly due to the sugar-smell from the whipped cream dotting his hands. In any event, the chase ended with a yelp and a smack to his upper arm, Pyrrhic victory for the bug and stinging defeat for the psychic. And then he had to slump back to his food where, oh, there was a girl with a nosebleed.

One hand hovering protectively over the growing welt on his arm, he sat on the bench and sighed. "Well, that was — how's your nose?"

Oh, no.

Ashley watched it from a distance, the chili and cheese on her hotdog coagulating toward lukewarm. Her brows came together in concern, feeling weirdly responsible for it all?!

At least her nose was almost done bleeding?! She pulled the towel away, eyeing the mark on his arm.

Ashley actually had very little experience treating bug bites. This did not deter her from wanting to treat bug bites. But she'd already soaked a towel in nose blood. Ugh.

"It's uh- it's okay! I get them. Sometimes."

She swallowed some spit and felt it in her sinuses. Ugh.

"I'm sorry about your arm, it got you?"

The wasp, not her nose!

He looked over at her and squinted for a second, blatantly checking to see if she looked all right and then deciding, yeah, good enough! His hand revealed the sting, and he shifted to get an eyeful of that instead. "Yeah, outsmarted by a bee. I think it only got me once though." He presented the elbow over the table, as if it were perfectly natural for a stranger to want to look at his arm swelling. "What are you supposed to do, put ice on it?"

It was a wasp, but Ashley was polite enough not to correct that! She saw the angry sting and felt an immediate, almost crazy kind of draw to heal it. For practice! Practice was so important!

"I think so," she said, making more eye contact with the sting than was probably not-creepy.

Say your words, Ash!

"But. I could... heal it? I have a healing power?"

Her voice was a little squeaky.

"I'm not crazy, it's like an X-Men thing I guess?"

That was probably worse and she gave kind of an embarrassed laugh but it's what Minerva had said!

It might be creepy to stare at somebody's bee sting that hard, but Ted had offered it in the first place, so really he was surprised but also flattered. Then more surprised, later, when nosebleed girl said she had healing powers. When nosebleed girl said she was an X-Man.

Ted nearly always looked startled and happy, but he looked more of both things as he gaped at Ashley across the bench, and another wasp dropped into his waffle. "Like Elixir?!"

Good news: he didn't seem freaked out!

Bad news: Ash did not know who Elixir was.

"If she's someone who can heal people by touching them and gets nose bleeds while she does it, totally," she said, sheepish but not embarrassed as she looked to her bag.

Water. Neeeed that Great Value water. She'd start digging accordingly, missing entirely the approaching wasp.

I mean!! That wasn't exactly what he did, but there were parallels, especially to Elixir's early life when he was still at the Xavier Institute! "That's kind of the same! He has this ability to heal wounds and cure diseases when he's in contact, and then later he learns how to cause diseases and even bring people back from the dead!" Also his skin was gold! "How long have you had your power?"

Elixir was a dude. And he gave people diseases? But also brought then back from the dead?!

"Whoa," she squeaked, wondering still if she could heal the guy. One thing at a time. "Like five or six years ago. But it's just healing. I could... your arm, if you want?"

By now her hotdog was cold, and his whipped cream was probably melting! (She still, sadly, did not see the wasp burrowing into it.)

Yeah, no thanks, definitely don't show Ted a super cool healing power JUST KIDDING! "Sure!" He shifted to a bit of free table between them and stretched himself out in offering, going face to face with his waffle in the process. God, he really wanted to eat that waffle — but now there was another fucking wasp in it, and he could not go through this a second time. His elbow settled on the table, and with a look of determination he directed his attention to Elixir-girl's face. Would her eyes change color too??

What an attentive audience! Ashley gave a laugh that sounded a little like she was having some sinus challenges, and that's because she was. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a brand new, completely sealed bottle of Walmart brand water, cracking the cap open with slightly more effort than she felt like she was ready for.

"So I don't know why, but. It helps a lot of I have my hands wet when I do it? And I've tried a lot of different kinds of water, but. This one is the best, I guess."

She gave a smile and shrug, holding her hand off the edge of the picnic table and dribbling water against her fingers.

Then, if this guy (did she know his name?!) would let her, she'd reach out to gently touch the sting, her irises flashing immediately to a wild, bright red.

THIS WAS. THE COOLEST SHIT TED HAD EVER SEEN. She hadn't even done any magic yet, but just the presentation, the anticipation, the build-up?? Ted had met a few other psychics in his life, but this was beyond the pale.

Her eyes went red like a traffic light switching, and Ted would have no problem admitting that it made his heart skip a beat. He let out a small, quiet gasp and stared transfixed.

And...nothing seemed to happen with the sting. It kept hurting in a throbby way that made it hard to tell if it was getting better or worse.

She totally had this. And also, she was pretty excited because she hadn't done anything with wasp stings in soooo long.

It was hard not to wriggle a little in her spot, waiting for something to happen. Waiting. Waitiiiiing. Focusing on the weird warm dampness that came from covering your hand in water and putting it on someone else's skin.

And then, she felt it in the form of the first quick trickle of blood from her nose. That was the strangeness of it all, in the end. She never felt some... magic in her hands or something. Just bleeding from her nose if she was lucky, or... elsewhere when she wasn't.

But as she grabbed the towel with her free hand to squish it to her nostrils, she smiled, because it did mean success. The angry redness spreading out from the string stretched further, rushing through stages of healing, paling at the same time. He would probably feel the pain dull to a weaker throb as the welt began to swell and then sink into his skin.

Though his mouth was hanging open a little, Ted was biting back questions in the silence that sat between them. Bits of water clung to his arm hairs and made him feel ticklish. The sting continued to sit there like an enraged pimple. And then Elixir's nose began to bleed.

The cinematic quality of the moment was mind-blowing.

He gasped again, this one more along the lines of a barrage of questions building up steam for the exhale. His gaze went from the sting to the bloody towel. "Will it mess you up if I ask questions?"

A little head shake.

"No," she said. It was fun to answer questions for all that most people took these moments in silence. "But thank you for asking."

Ashley didn't know how it all worked, but she knew it took less concentration than it once did.

Third gasp!! "What are you thinking about when you do it?"

That was an unexpected question. She laughed a little

"Mostly nothing. It's my zen time, I think, if the other person doesn't wanna talk."

She cleared her throat, all of her sinuses having kind of a gross penny taste leaking through.

"Sometimes this takes ten or fifteen minutes. Gets kinda like meditation."

His eyebrows furrowed; he would have thought you'd have to, you know...think about what it was you were trying to do. Ted had to do that, although there was a certain component of the magic that seemed to reside in the body and not the brain. Maybe it kind of came out of them like a phosphorescence.

The pain and the lump were fading, and Ted had so many questions he was going to die. "How can you tell what you're healing, then? Like what if I had a cut on this arm too, or on my other arm?"

"I have to touch it, or get as close to touching it as I can. If it's like... a lung issue or something, I have to press pretty firm on the skin on their chest. If I'm not real close to touching, it doesn't work."

She cleared her throat, adjusting the towel to press a dry spot to her leaking nose. There was a dizziness threatening, and she'd need to be real careful on her way home. Maybe grab a snack.

"I used to only be able to do external stuff. And I can almost never do it without the water."

"Huh." He looked down again, studying her fingernails. "Like you're getting stronger, then?"

That was very cool, and not something Ted could claim with his own power. "You know, I have a power too, actually. But it's kind of more...silly than healing." Or invisibility. Or exploding stuff with his hands. There was no cool leotard in Ted's future, alas.

She nodded. Stronger, or just figuring it out. But she'd definitely gotten better

Adjusting the towel again, swallowing down some back of the throat nastiness, Ashley looked up at the guy admitted he had his own power!

"I'm sure it's really cool," she nasaled. "What is it?"

He smiled at her and thought about how exactly to explain this power, which he never did really. Probably that wasp sting was healed, but he had forgotten about it, Ashley's damp hand on his arm as natural as anything. "I make things happen, I guess? Like...if you had a coin to flip, and I concentrated, I could make it do tails every time. Skewing the odds, kind of."

Whoa. Ashley blinked at his arm, finding it good as new! She pulled her hand away, waiting for her dumb bleeding to stop.

What a power. It was hard to wrap her mind around its use.

"So could you go to Vegas and win like a million dollars?" she asked, then realized she was probably asking his version of the "Can you cure cancer?" question she got a lot.

Look at that! All the pain on his arm was gone, and the welt was gone, too. This kid had done a goddamn miracle!

He smiled at her, ready to pile on more praises, but she was still on the luck thing. So he nodded instead, and shrugged. "I could try it. I never know when it's gonna work, though? And I can really fuck myself up if it backfires." Speaking of which. The waffle with its melting, wasp-infested crown of cream reproached him from the table.

Ashley smeared the last of the blood from her nose onto a pretty grossly damp towel by this point. A little smidge remained right at the corner of her left nostril, but considering everything still smelled like blood, she didn't exactly sniff it out.

"What kind of backfiring happens?"

What was the opposite of winning the lottery? Maybe like... getting struck by lightning?! Yikes!

This was, like, a really cool conversation. He was still smiling excitedly at her, obviously, and his attention caught on the bit of blood still dotting her nose/lip area. He realized they hadn't exchanged names.

Back to thinking about her question, though, he wiped absent-mindedly at his own nostril. "God, it could be anything, really. Basically I turn into a bad luck bomb. I've had parts of my body rupture, aerosol cans explode, two times I started a car on like, it's kind of hard to practice. Either I get what I want or a piano could fall out of the sky and squish me."

Ashley's eyes bulged at the descriptions that followed. That was... terrible! Nose bleeding wasn't fun, but it wasn't really life threatening, and it was predictable, and...

"Gosh," she said, voice quieting a little. And that was about when she remembered her super cold hotdogs? She was starving. So like. She began to try to figure out how to hold one in her hand. It was a challenge.

"How'd you figure out you even could do all that?"

He watched her take up a chili dog with sad envy, and dipped his finger into the whipped cream of his entree, popped it into his mouth."Math class.
In middle school. We were learning about probability and writing down results for flipping a coin, and...I just kept getting tails, again and again and again. The whole class came around our table and I kept going until I threw up! "
. Yuck!! It was a silly story, and he laughed. "Hey, I'm Ted, by the way."

Ashley's eyebrows steadily rose as the story built, and then of course she laughed when he did because oh my gosh?! What a way to find out. It was a fascinating power she couldn't fully understand.

It also seemed pretty scary.

Her hand hung limply over her chili dog as she smiled to his name. He seemed like a Ted!

"Ashley," she said. "It's cool to meet you."

Ashley! "Yeah, it's cool to meet you too! You never know when you're walking by an X-Man on the street, right, this was fun!" He, uh. He wanted to extract the wasp from his big sad waffle, but he was really too afraid to. "Were you healing something when I came up?"

It was true. There could be a ton of... X-Men out there, and she had no idea. Realizing she was definitely starving and all that, she took a chomp of her hotdog and tried to sort of hide behind a napkin to chew thoughtfully to his question.

"Um," she began, then swallowed her food. "No, which was weird. I've been having that happen lately kind of for no reason. It sorta makes me wonder if I'm like, fighting off something? Maybe?"

Like cancer? That had crossed her mind many times, unfortunately?!

Hrmmmm, that was weird. He took the fork out of his tray and delicately, so delicately, inserted it under the cream-mired wasp and lifted it out. Filled with trepidation, he sat the fork and the whipped cream and the wasp at the far end of the table, unable to ignore it even if the insect was not on a mission to exterminate Ted. Also, he now had a non-dangerous waffle but no utensil to eat it with. "Does that happen when you catch a cold or something, or when you break a bone?" (In Ted's life these events happened with equivalent frequency.)

She watched him move a pile of whipped cream around seemingly... for no reason? At first?!

But then suddenly she saw little beating wings inside the whipped cream and almost had a heart attack. Had that been in there the whole time?!

Bugs were crazy here.

"Only on purpose, not really on its own," she said, licking some cheese off the side of her hand as she realized his dilemma.

"Can I get you a fork?"

Ted was listening, but not particularly paying attention to what Ashley was paying attention to. Gingerly, his hands had come up to approach the laden waffle with intent to pick it up. He froze at the question and seemed to realize he was being gross! "Oh! Yes, that's a smart idea. I'll guard the food."

He sure wouldn't though! Ted was no match for the brainless malevolence of a stinging insect.

Okay, just get a fork and then this poor guy can eat his stuff, Ash!

She responded with a smile, swinging her legs over the bench to hurry off for a fork, silently willing the wasp to please, please leave this guy alone.

It was a quick trip to grab a plastic utensil from a trailer counter, but within seconds, she knew she was in trouble.

With. Blood?! From her nose?! Again?

The wasp, meanwhile, clawed desperately through the whipped cream on its wings and body, pushing with every ounce of insect strength to get as far away from Ted as possible.

By the time Ashley returned, she would be offering out a fork in one hand and... well, smushing her opposite forearm to her nose.

"I think I need to head home," she said in a nervous squeak as blood poured like red syrup from everywhere the seal between arm and nostril was less than perfect.

Even for a girl who had a lot of nose bleeds, this one was the most embarrassing in a while.

"Oh!" Oh, that was worrying! Ted felt more kinship than he might have expected to, at the sight of a fellow mutant publicly embarrassing themselves. He jumped up from the bench and grabbed the wads of napkins he'd fetched earlier, shoving them in her direction with clumsy concern. "Oh, no, yeah. Do youuuuuu need a ride or anything?"

I mean, Ted didn't know, but she might have lost a lot of blood. He was obligated here! The fork had made its way into his hand somehow and he looked at it for a second as if he was disappointed in its choices. Science could explain magnets, why hadn't it figured this shit out?

More napkins were probably good! Why was this happening! Did she need a ride!

The wasp was breaking free of whipped cream and fell wetly off the side of the table under its command to go away. Ashley took the napkins with whatever she could manage of a smile but she was kind of beginning to panic.

She looked to Ted, red-eyed, doing her best not to make a scene.

"I live all the way in Larkspur if that's okay," she said, hoping she wouldn't get murdered by an unfamiliar dude with luck powers but driving like this seemed unsafe?!

"X-Men bond," he answered with a serious nod, the red eyes as upsetting now as the blood pouring out her nose.

Generations of paternal knowledge seemed to rise in Ted, allowing him to trot around the table to Ash's side, a shepherding hand between her shoulder blades. While he laughed and chattered, he would escort her to his tiny car, even opening the door. At the point that he climbed into the driver's seat and shut them in, he would glance at her face with abundant concern. "Do you need to go to the hospital?"

This guy was so, so nice.

Ashley felt little crinkles of terror in her chest as she went, though. Because she'd done a lot of stupid bleeding before, but this seemed extra, extra bad. She managed to grab her towel and press that to her face as they went. This was good news, because things did not get better.

The amount of blood pouring from her nose and now, she realized, also her gums was deeply alarming. This was not a nosebleed. She wondered if it was some kind of hemorrhage.

Getting into the car, she brought a trembling hand to the seatbelt, feeling like a big dumb baby over all of this. But it was scary having this out of her control after she'd spent years getting very good at it.

The question was a big one. It felt like such a failure to say yes. But even though it had slowed, it hadn't stopped, and she had red smeared down her chin now.

Afraid she'd start crying if she voiced it, Ashley gave a furious little nod, eyes all sparkly with stupid fear. Thank goodness for random X-Men guy. It was so-

"Guess it was good luck that you were here," she said, trying to have good humor about it even while she found herself trembling.

The bleeding would slow once they got to driving, though Ashley remained mostly hidden behind a dumb damp towel.

Okay, yeah. She was obviously scared, which meant something with the healing had spun out of control. For things like this, you didn't need magic as much as a medical team.

He was already reaching out to pat reassuringly at her arm when she managed the joke, and it hurt Ted's heart a little! She was sweet. His beard smiled sadly and he went ahead with the arm jiggle. " Don't worry about it, kid, we'll be there in no time."

And they would! Ted was too scared to mess with Ashley's symptoms, bit with a light touch and a lot of phlegmy coughing, he hit every traffic light perfectly timed, and the lanes they needed cleared more often than they became congested. All the while, he listed medical disasters he had survived, to make her less scared: blood infection! Jaundice! And though it was not exactly related, he returned to the time he'd set a car on fire while he was in it, because that tends to stick with you, you know?

Anyway, they were parked at an Urgent Care inside of fifteen minutes.

Ted was so, so, so nice. Ashley kept repeating this in her head the whole drive, comforted by his talk. At one point, she gave a sympathetic little laugh for him that caused a bubble of blood to pop from her nostril and she kind of wanted to die.

The drive went so fast, and even as she found herself thankful for every single green light, and even as she heard him cough (maybe that was something she could heal?), it never occurred to her that he was using any ability at all.

When they arrived, the bleeding at stopped, and she felt... foolish for being here. But she was also a complete bloody mess, and there was blood gunked in her teeth and around her tongue and it was bad. They would probably ask her a lot of questions and... what could she even say?

"Um," she began, then pulled out her phone and swiped it open kind of clumsy and maybe there was a little blood on the side sorry!!

"I can probably take it from here. But. I can text you after and if there's anything you ever need, you know."

Little trembly thumbs up don't cry Ashley seriously!

The first thing she did when they got there was offer to text him after, to let him know she was okay, and Ted was so unprepared for this that he maybe bonded a little bit without wanting to. "Hey, really, don't worry about it," he assured her as he took the phone and put his Tedly little number in. "It's just what you do, right?"

God, she was giving him a thumbs-up and crying. She could be a government weapon genetically designed to make people care about her. "Take care, all right? And you got my number if you're ever in trouble, you can just reach out." Hi, who was he?? What was this stuff coming out of his mouth.

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