(assuming that nothing else pre-empted this...) Otto is loitering in the Gale estate's guest garage. He hears a click; the door to the bathroom opens. Pneuma comes out, making an icky face. "The syrup on those pancakes is really something. I think something got gummed up." She hefts the bottle, held in one hand, and reads it. "Drano Hair Dissolve. Ugh, I was gargling with the heavy duty stuff. This tastes so nasty." "Need a breath mint?" Otto chuckles. Pneuma glares at him, then gets a worried look on her face. "What time is he - are they getting back?" Otto laughs, but doesn't bait any further. "Wonder if speedster hair grows faster. Maybe that's why they have that stuff." "Sounds logical." Pneuma returns the bottle to the bathroom, then climbs onto Otto's hood and reclines. The car revs - Otto doesn't have a conventional gas engine, but coolant from his other systems runs through the hood, providing a comfortable warmth. The girl nestles into it. Moments of silence pass. "It's just us right now, right?" "Just us," affirms Otto. "What are we gonna do if the League, or Sergeant Amari, or somebody, comes back and tries to break up the team? And on that note, what if Leo and Charlotte succeeded? I don't think Jason has really figured out what'll happen if his father really comes back." "Hey, those guys can't just tell us to disband. They got no right." "Might sometimes makes right in this business," Pneuma reflects sadly. "Remember when we were researching team names awhile back? We found those small packs of teen heroes, basically organized like gangs. Wear colors and the cops come after you. Wear masks and catch criminals, and people will forgive a little vandalism or arson. Why would the larger, older, bigger groups be any different? Dr. Quill did his own thing, no matter what AEGIS, America, or anyone else told him. His CIA man wasn't his handler, he was a bodyguard." "And Rook. Nuff said," grunts Otto. "Yeah. Nuff said." Pneuma frowns, curling up into herself, absorbing heat from Otto's hood. "Hey hey. None of those pensive sighs of yours. Your Drano breath will get sucked into my intake." Pneuma laughs at that, and rubs her hand affectionately over the hood. "Dork. You smell too much like oil for anyone to notice." "Yeah, but it's high-grade. I got some pride." Otto 'roars' briefly, driving the RPM of his wheels' motors. "Listen. They're just havin' dinner. HHL doesn't know us, wants to know us, it's stupid adult stuff and they're gonna muscle us like everyone else muscles us, tryin' to get the respect they're owed. Jason will talk smooth, Charlotte will talk sense, the boss will have the sense to keep quiet. Adam and Harry are good people, they'll do the right thing." "I guess." Pneuma rolls onto her side, cheek pressed against the warm hood. The experience is something like hugging the world's largest mastiff. "Otto, am I a bad person?" "Where the heck did that come from?" "I.. I'm making things hard on Leo--" "You stop this right now." Otto's voice grows stern, though anything but cold. "You aren't making things hard on anyone. Things were made hard, on you, on the boss, on Numina. On everyone around us. Everyone you and I care about. You were forced into carrying the load, but it ain't your baggage." "But I... I don't know. Everything I do hurts him somehow." Otto rumbles for a moment. "Y'know how Leo writes that emo poetry he thinks we don't know about?" Pneuma perks up a bit. "... Yeah?" "Hahah, well... I got a glance of one of his composition books earlier. He's not done with this one, but get a load of this. 'When a Rook attacks the Queen, Knight must move to intervene'. He's still workin' on the part about Numina, where she's a pawn that got promoted to a second Queen. He left a scribble in the margin. 'Queen most important piece on board, but also strongest piece'." Pneuma blinks. "And why are you telling me this?" "Because the boy desperately needs an editor." Otto laughs, and the girl at least smiles along. But the car continues. "Listen. He can't be your King, but he's totally fine being your Knight. More than anything, he's scared of not having any place in your life. Things are things, fine. You'll both figure it out. But you aren't hurting him, lady. You're the best thing in his life right now, and always, no matter what you are to him." Pneuma closes her eyes to stop the tears coming, and buries her face against a warm and supportive hood.