Bragging Rights Reward
Damn You, Muscle Memory!
Tactical Rock Paper Scissors
Stupidity Is The Only Option
Mini-Golf Episode

16,039 words

Henry couldn’t say he knew how long it had been since, through the valiant effort of friends to try and set him up or his own efforts to get to know someone, that he had been on a date that, all things considered, he hoped wouldn’t turn out completely disastrous. There had been opportunity - an evening spent at a carnival a couple of years ago could have been the perfect setting, perfect evening, perfect experience and trial and error in trying to win his date a prize - but the fates that be had different plans and almost always enacted them, turning stuffed animal toys into animatronic monsters and the main tent into a terrifying maze of killer clowns, drop out floors, and spiked walls he vaguely recalled being shot out of a cannon into.

It was diabolus ex machina at its finest, every turn an introduction for something terrifying that just made everything worse, and Henry couldn’t say it had paved the way for the greatest of expectations when it came to the potential outcomes of an evening that - thankfully - wasn’t at a carnival, but had just as much decoration about it to stray far from normal - not that Henry exactly expected normal from anything in his life now. Not from the places, not from the people, and not from his own two hands as he carefully removed the yellow power ring from where it typically sat with hope that he wouldn’t need it and full expectation that, if he did, it would know where to find him.

This was mini-golf, after all, not a situation of galactic proportions, no matter how readily Henry might have thought it was between dilemmas over clothing - since when did he have so many black clothes - and the trouble with clammy palms as he waited at Stagecoach Greens. Thankfully, while not exactly without guests putting their way through the course, the holiday weekend and everyone returning to their regularly scheduled lives had cut down on potential crowds. He and Jesse could take their time - and hopefully not swing too many balls out of bounds, but if that was the worst of possibilities, maybe things would go great after all.

There was only one way to find out, Henry shaking his arms out slightly which could have been an attempt to loosen up his arms for what was undoubtedly a spot of friendly competition to make the date more fun and enjoyable than ‘just dinner’ as much as it was to shake the nerves off. Monsters from another dimension starting a coup? He could handle that. Making an impression on six-foot tall and handsome? That was a little more trying, but he’d put his best foot forward.

“So, Jesse?” He inquired with a hint of a smile, perhaps even a hopeful one that he wasn’t approaching the wrong person - God, wouldn’t that have been embarrassing right off the bat? Why didn’t he ask Theo more questions? Was he supposed to shake hands or was that too weird? Why was he so awkward? “Hey.”

The last time Jesse had been on a date had been… Hell, he couldn’t even remember. It wasn’t even that he’d been on bad dates or that he didn’t date (which he really didn’t) but more that he just kind of took things as they came. He didn’t generally set up official dates but rather, just ‘hung out’ with people, sometimes in groups and sometimes one-on-one. Sometimes said hang outs resulted in going back to one or the other’s place afterward but again, Jesse didn’t constitute them as official dates or even anything more than just the preamble of what was to come. And that was telling in and of itself of the relationships Jesse had carried on the past few years.

His last real relationship had been four years prior when he’d moved to San Francisco. He’d spent the better part of his last year in college talking to the girl and when it came time to decide what he was doing after college? He’d hopped on a plane and crossed the country without a single thought. Jesse had known the girl inside and out or so it had felt and yet when they were actually together, face-to-face, things didn’t work out quite as well as they had when there was thousands of miles between them. That had put a bit of a damper on relationships for him and four years later it still hung over him a bit. He was mostly humoring Theo with going on this date with Theo’s friend but Henry did seem like a nice enough guy.

Unlike Henry, Jesse wasn’t nervous in the least. He had no expectations of the ‘date’ and in fact, was doing his best to think of it as he had all previous dates: as simply hanging out. Jesse was great at making new friends and so, if nothing else, he hoped to walk away one friend richer. He dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt topping it off with a baseball cap turned around backward. While Jesse had never been to Stagecoach Greens, he’d heard of it and had no trouble finding the mini-golf course. Parking his car in the lot, he did take a moment to brace himself before he got out of the car and went in search of his date. Okay, so maybe he wasn’t quite as confident about this as he’d thought he was. He checked the mirror, checked his teeth to make sure he didn’t have any food stuck between them or anything else embarrassing. Really, he was just stalling.

At last, he pushed out of his car and headed for the entrance of the park. Immediately, he spotted Henry or who he presumed was Henry and he headed toward the other man. With a smile on his face, Jesse gave a nod of his head as Henry addressed him and then he lifted his chin in greeting of his own. “Hey,” he replied, and then he took a moment to give the other man a once over before meeting his eyes again with a slightly crooked smile. “So you didn’t say - are you some mini-golf champion or something?” He took a step toward the entrance of the park and then when he saw Henry proceeding to follow, he began to lead the way in.

‘Hanging out’ was a much better turn of phrase than ‘date’, far easier to fall into and simply go with the flow of - at least it should have been, but that too was something Henry felt he had room to improve on. While he was more or less fine in a group setting, perhaps something to do with just how easy he could disappear from the social landscape when it became too much for an introvert, and especially so when he felt less inclined to hide his super-related oddities, ‘hanging out’ was so rarely one-on-one. It hadn’t come with the title of ‘blind date’ or the process of being set up with someone - at least in as much or as little as Theo had actually done it - which might have put a bit more weight on nervous shoulders.

But that was what first introductions always seemed to be - nervous - and things would rattle themselves out eventually and the ice would be broken, even if it took a few poorly aimed golf putts to do it. How poor? Well, he’d have to find out, no familiarity with the course that he had found while looking for places to go and ultimately decided on in the name of safety - both for anyone around them and the windows of the indoor mini-golf courses in the city.

“I’ve at the very least received a participation ribbon,” Henry said as he followed, eventually keeping pace with Jesse until they were at the check in. Pulling out his phone, he showed the digital tickets to the greenskeeper - always good to plan ahead even if in small form, he figured - in exchange for the necessary gear, tossing his ball in the air only to catch it again when it came back down. “But that can probably be said about any sport I try. I’m more of a pencil pusher than the world’s best athlete,” which might have made him sound boring, but he simply just wasn’t inclined to it and he doubted there was room for eldritch monsters on the field.

Maybe Jesse should be more concerned about this whole date working out if only to appease his friend. He wasn’t like that though and he knew that Theo would understand (while likely being disappointed) if things didn’t work out. It was a little strange; for as long as Jesse had known Theo, he hadn’t known him to play matchmaker. It made him wonder what had spurred him to do so now, with him and Henry. Jesse supposed that was something he would have to ask Theo later. For now, he was here and very much in the present even though his thoughts were wandering a little.

Chuckling, Jesse gave a slight shake of his head. “That’s about all I have too but I can tell you, no one’s going to be placing any bets on my head.” He’d already joked about putting the ball out of the galaxy, so Henry would have an idea of just how truly terrible he was, even if Jesse was exaggerating. Truthfully, he wasn’t that bad but he lacked any sort of skill with it. He vastly preferred more group sports like soccer.

To say that Jesse was surprised when Henry presented digital tickets would have been an understatement. “You didn’t have to do that,” he murmured as the gear was passed over. Once again, Jesse shot Henry a crooked grin. “Now I have to take you to dinner even if I find I can’t stand you.” He was teasing and he hoped his expression relayed as much. Grabbing his club, Jesse then led the way through the gate to the first of the sixteen-hole course. There was another couple ahead of them, so they had to wait their turn. “Did you not play any sports as a kid? I was always into something. Soccer, basketball, baseball - you name it. Official and unofficial, just pickup games with friends. At least when I wasn’t busy with World of Warcraft,” he tacked on with an almost shy smile then. From the brief conversing he’d done with Henry, that seemed more up his alley but then, maybe Henry would surprise him.

How Henry had ended up with a figurative non-profit collective of friends was still confusing, one off-hand comment about itches that had yet to be scratched and mention of the last time he had been on anything resembling a date turning into the fever pitch of puff paint and glitter tee shirts of homemade design, but as with most things to do with being a social creature, he hadn’t expected anything more than that - a group of warmly welcomed cheerleaders whenever something did happen. That Theo had gone the extra mile to set him up with someone had been equal parts appreciated and terrifying, toeing the line of being hopeful while avoiding such great heights that could be toppled by a tragic outing - not that he was entirely sure which feeling was winning out at the moment.

“But,” he said, “if we were to place bets on who is the most terrible, how do you think you’d do? Because I think I’d take the pot on that one.”

The comment about not having to spring for tickets - not that they were particularly expensive or anything close to it - earned a small shrug of his shoulders and shake of his head. For Henry, it was a non-issue even if, all things considered, going dutch and paying one’s own way was likely expected. “I was looking at the site, just going through everything, and figured I’d take the hassle out of it. Besides, I couldn’t be sure how many people were going to be out here, so might as well snag a tee time. If that’s the case though, at least food saves me from being a terrible conversationalist,” he joked. It wasn’t like he was struggling along with it so far and he liked to believe it would only get better as familiarity did.

“I was on the swim team for a while,” Henry said - not that he could be sure that was his actual high school experience or the odd week redux that came with being a shifter - “and some pick up games here and there with friends, but I was probably the one trying to log more hours into World of Warcraft than anything else. I worked hard on maintaining my social awkwardness well through college.” He leaned lightly on the putter while they waited, an almost pained expression on his face as he thought about it. “God, I can’t even remember the last time I had to swing a baseball bat. I was never good at it.”

“Well now you’re just making me doubt how terrible I am,” he quipped with a grin. “I don’t think anyone should be placing bets, period. And besides, I doubt you’re that bad.” At least he didn’t think he knew anyone who’d suggest doing something they weren’t that good at, and Henry was the one to suggest miniature golf, right? Even if Jesse had been the one to select it from the options presented.

Jesse’s head bobbed from side to side as he considered Henry’s rationalization for getting the tickets ahead of time. “Well, in any case, thank you.” He gave a slight bow before leading the way to the first hole where they lined up to wait for their turn. He laughed at Henry’s joke, pleased that the other man hadn’t taken him too seriously when he’d joked himself. “You know, I never get people that take forever to eat their food because they’re too busy talking. Me? I gotta feed my belly.” Then again, maybe it was that he’d never really had much to say or at least nothing more important than eating was, anyway.

Indeed, Jesse found himself surprised when Henry revealed that he’d been on the swim team when he’d been in school. That was certainly unexpected. “Swim team’s cool,” he replied automatically. Although he’d never swam competitively before and had only been to a very small number of swim meets for friends. Jesse’s grin widened when Henry confirmed his suspicions and told of playing WoW himself. For a moment, he entertained the idea of them having played together but what was the likelihood of that? With as many people that played the MMORPG, it was highly unlikely. When Henry’s expression shifted, Jesse honed back in on the other man only to laugh when he confessed that he was no good at baseball. “You’re probably one of those that only ever picked up a bat in Gym class, huh?” Before Henry could answer, the couple in front of them was moving on to the next hole, leaving the first one for Jesse and Henry. “You want the honors?” He raised a brow as he stepped forward but kept his eyes on his date.

“I’m probably not that bad, just rusty,” he said, his last outing to any golf course, miniature or otherwise, also compounded by trying to figure out how to make constructs out of nothing but pure fear energy and, while some valiant attempt had been made, he had to leave it to the Green Lantern to provide the ways and means of getting some shots in before the police became aware of their presence. Still, not a bad way to spend an evening, Henry shifting in his stature, adjusting his stance as if this was serious business, before taking a small practice putt at nothing but air. “There’s some mini golf places back home, but I can’t really recall ever going to them - maybe once or twice in high school whenever someone wanted to hang out.”

“Right? Next thing you know, you’re writing for them to get everything put in a takeout box to heat up at an ungodly hour at night,” Henry commented, shaking his head. His had been a similar notion: Considerably important topics aside, there was very little more important than eating when one was hungry and even conversation could take a sideline for a while or, at the very least, be balanced between one act and the other. “No need to worry about that here,” he said, patting his stomach in a mild gesture that nothing would go to waste if it was on his plate and, all things considered, nothing would.

“It was alright,” he said, nodding. “You spent half the afternoon dying because you can’t breath from the repetition and the rest dying because of the muscle ache until your inner dolphin makes itself known.” It had been a short-lived branch into athleticism though, video games easily more appealing and for far more reasons than putting a screen between him and awkward social interaction. “You’d be one hundred percent correct,” he said as he stepped up to the tee, setting his ball on the marker with some care that it didn’t just go rolling off for an awkward chase. Going up a ramp? That should’ve been a piece of cake, and while he managed to clear the halfway mark, it wasn’t the hole in one he had been hoping for.

Jesse nodded. “Same, same,” he murmured absently as he watched Henry line up his shot. It had probably been a few years since he’d played miniature golf but he’d at least played in San Francisco so that meant it had been within the last four years, so that was something at least, right? Maybe. In any case, it was all fun and games. They weren’t placing any bets and aside from bragging rights, there wasn’t anything to gain or lose. Jesse perked up at Henry’s next comment. “Where’s home?” he asked, ever curious.

At Henry’s reply about people talking instead of eating, Jesse looked aghast. “Actually have leftovers to take home? I’ve never heard of such a thing.” A hand went to his heart melodramatically for a second and then he let it fall to his side with a laugh. Even if there was a lot of talking, Jesse found a way to shovel in all his food. He never had leftovers. Well, unless of course it was a buffet and his eyes were bigger than his stomach (which happened quite often) but then you weren’t allowed a takeout box for a buffet. Jesse just laughed as Henry patted his stomach. “Good, good. I’d hate to deprive you.” He winked then and then moved up when the couple ahead of them moved on to the next hole.

“You have an inner dolphin?” Jesse feigned shock even as his eyes danced with mirth. “I have an inner dog with the dog paddling,” he shot back and then mimed doing said dog paddling. Really, Jesse wasn’t that bad at swimming, and in fact, he’d taken up surfing after moving to California. It only seemed natural. “Ha, I knew it!” Jesse could tell looking at Henry that he wasn’t exactly the most athletic. That was okay though; Jesse wasn’t picky about things like that. And besides, just because he worked out fairly regularly now didn’t mean he was athletic himself. He did join in on some pick up games though here and there when they cropped up.

He grew silent when Henry lined up his shot and then putted. He could just see where Henry’s ball had come to a stop and it wasn’t far from the hole at all. “Not bad, not bad,” he nodded and then pretended to crack his neck as though he were gearing up for the challenge. He waited until Henry had sunk the ball into the hole before he lined up his ball on the tee and… did about as well as Henry had. At least he’d kept the ball in the first hole section, that was a good thing. “What happens if we tie?” he asked as he lined up his second shot and managed to get the ball in the hole on it. Not bad at all.

“Los Angeles,” he said as he stepped back and away from the tee, giving Jesse his due distance so he could take a proper shot without Henry looming around. It might not have been a serious competition, no bets or the like, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t something of a mischievous inclination churning in his mind - one he stalled by dipping his hands into his pockets. “Born and raised, stayed until I was done with college, and then decided it was a great idea to move across the Pacific for a while,” and it had been until slowing projects and family had called him back home, but Henry tried not to explain too much about it - not when the rumor mill had already circulated his so-called death.

And now he was just a video game playing super… well, whatever he was that worked at an occult shop - not that there was really anything wrong with that.

“At least that’s what I think it was. Now I could just be a sea slug or something that would rather float around in the water than charge through them as fast as I can,” he joked. “I get my workouts elsewhere.” While going to the gym had taken a backseat as a lot of things had in the growing oddness that had become his life outside of moments like this, it wasn’t like magical metamorphosis or super powered trouble didn’t give the muscles a good work out and tendons a good stretch, and perhaps that was the surprise in it all: He wasn’t out of shape, but his clothing definitely didn’t give much away aside from short stature.

As if he had asked a question of particular importance despite mild competitive standing, Henry’s brow piqued up on his forehead for a second. “What does happen if we tie? We’ll have to have a tie breaker somehow,” he pointed out though he wasn’t sure whether or not the course would have allowed them to hold up their customers just to get a second run in on whatever hole decided on. “Does it just go to rock, paper, scissors? Best two out of three?”

“Okay, okay. That’s cool.” Jesse nodded his head as he took it in. He’d been to LA a few times himself but he wondered how it must differ having been from there. He was about to volunteer that he was from New York when Henry remarked on moving across the pacific and Jesse’s curiosity was piqued yet again. “Where did you go and what in the world prompted that move?” He chuckled so that Henry knew he wasn’t giving him a hard time but rather he was simply curious.

Once again, Jesse had to laugh at Henry’s depiction of being a sea slug. He figured the other man was joking anyway. “You don’t like swimming anymore though?” he asked seriously. He could understand not liking something you did as a kid but it was interesting to say the least. Not many did about faces like that. More often than not (in his experience anyway), people simply didn’t do the things as much as they used to as a kid. Like miniature golf - Jesse was pretty sure he’d played a hell of a lot more as a kid than as an adult.

After both of them had putted the balls in the hole, Jesse knelt to retrieve them, tossing one to Henry. He grinned as they started the short trek to the next hole. “Rock, paper, scissors works for me. I don’t know any other tie-breakers really, at least nothing that’s not sports-related which… this is, I guess, but I don’t know how you’d break a tie with golf. Surely they have a way to break a tie?” He leaned in all conspiratorial. “I don’t really know golf,” he confessed in a stage whisper before pulling back. Golf was one of those sports that was just… not all that fun to Jesse. Miniature golf was different, it was about having fun rather than more skill and focus on getting the ball in the hole. Plus there were the crazy obstacles to go along with it.

It had been quite a leap even from as short a perceived distance as Los Angeles to Tokyo had been and there was almost a self-effacing smirk to his lips as, eyes cast down on the ground for a second, he shook his head. “I moved to Tokyo to work for a game studio,” he explained, “so it was both, at the time, a solid career venture and a chance to get out of Los Angeles for a while.” The ‘while’ mentioned had been a handful of years and while he would have arguably had little to show for it, portfolios in studio or familial possession, it wasn’t like his name had changed in the super powered struggle. “What about you? Are you from here? Or no?” He couldn’t be sure how much - if anything - Theo had told him in that moment, but it didn’t amount to much beyond vouching for a friend, so there was plenty to figure out about Jesse.

“I like swimming, but between working and no pool, I think it is more just accessibility,” he said, completely foregoing any mention of questionable body structure that proved to be dimensional portals because that would have been less than impressive on a first ‘hang out’. It was similar to mini-golf - something that was so accessible when at a school with a pool and ample amounts of time to enjoy or in the area with no responsibility beyond homework to fill, but had since become a once in a while thing. “But once in a while, a bunch of us like to go to Ocean Beach to hang out, light a bonfire, have some s’mores,” he said in casual invitation with an equal casual shrug. “Otherwise I think the option is to jump into someone’s pool when they’re on vacation.”

“That’s the best tie breaker,” he said as he caught the ball, giving it a spin in his palm while he followed to the second. “The only other considerations I had would just start another round of competition because I try not to lose at video games,” he quipped with the presumption the arcade was in their future considering things weren’t going tragically, “ and I have a feeling a repeat round even on one hole would get us nowhere.” And this was fun, so why burgeon it with tie breakers that weren’t as quick as rock, paper, scissors? “Maybe just repetitive insanity until someone got a hole in one.”

At Henry’s reply, Jesse was thoroughly impressed. “Now that’s some move. You went right after college? What brought you back, and to San Francisco of all places?” Jesse had thought his move across the country was a big one but he couldn’t imagine moving outside the country. That was a big move and one Jesse wasn’t even ready to take presently. Gesturing to himself with his putter, Jesse shot Henry a grin. “New York, baby! I’ve been in San Francisco for four years now but I think New York will always be home. Don’t get me wrong, I love it out here, but it’s just not the same as home. Do you feel that way about LA?”

Jesse’s smile turned wry at Henry’s reply about swimming. “Not having access to a pool does make it a little hard. Do you work a lot then? I know you said you weren’t available in the mornings but do you work later in the day too?” It was then that Jesse realized he didn’t even know what Henry did for a living. “And what do you do? If you don’t mind me asking,” he tacked on for good measure. It was the first time in their conversation that it occurred to him that he might be prying too much but then that’s what a first date was, right? Getting to know each other? His smile softened some as he glanced over at Henry. “Hanging out on the beach is always fun. That sounds like a good time.” If that was an invitation, Jesse didn’t pick up on it. He thought that Henry was just telling him how he was able to get near the water.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to a tie-breaker but if it does…” He shrugged and then he laughed and pointed a finger at Henry with the hand that held his ball. “Now video games, I think we’d have a real competition.” But this was fun, wasn’t it? Doing something neither of them was a pro at. “That sounds about right,” Jesse replied with a wry grin. “I think by then my stomach might start revolting so I’d just forfeit.”

">“More or less. I think I was in Los Angeles another year or so before venturing off into the great unknown,” he said, the timeline a little hazy so far down the line when there had been so much that happened between one life and another, “but family - they ended up bringing me back being the oldest son and all the expectation that goes there.” Of course, it had been more somber than that, but Henry wasn’t going to venture into the realm of mortality and timely shuffles off the mortal coil - never mind untimely ones - since that would just bring the mood down in some respect. Instead, he embraced the enthusiasm of Jesse in mentioning his New York roots, laughing all the same. “Does this mean now we’re going to have to put east coast and west coast titles to this too?” He joked. “Of course I feel the same about Los Angeles. Not sure if I’d live there given the chance to go back, but it’s special even when it’s almost on fire.”

“I don’t usually,” he said, shaking his head, “but sometimes there’s people lingering about and we’re short staffed as is, so it doesn’t leave me too many options.” Granted, there were options, but he wasn’t sure how many customers would come in with demonic goblins manning the counter. “And sometimes its just quiet, so I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting around with my nose in a book.” As for what he did for a living now, that was a peculiar question he shaded over with a simple answer: “I work at a magic shop. More occult and oddity than the kitschy stuff you’d expect out of teenagers,” he said, scratching his chin a little bit. It wasn’t the most impressive job - not unless you counted in the rest.

“Next time then, you’ll have to come out,” Henry said with a shrug, “if you want. It’s usually a good time and a good chance to unwind - especially without a pool.”

“I’d probably be just as rusty with MMORPGs, but throw me in front of Marvel vs. Capcom or something like it, Street Fighter even, and those moves will come back to these hands in no time,” he said, holding his hands up to waggle his fingers within reason to the putter and ball still being carried around, dropped back onto the ground only when it had been their turn for the next hole, a pattern than would be repeated throughout without much thought to it as his focus sat on conversation. He laughed, even if just an aside of sorts: “Just like magic.”

Jesse nodded his understanding. He wasn’t the oldest child but he knew some of the pressures his parents put on his older sister to be a role model to him. It wasn’t something he envied. “Family can be a bitch. You can’t live with them but you can’t live without them, am I right?” He grinned and winked over at Henry, suspecting based on what he’d said that he could relate to that sentiment. And then he was laughing too. “I’m not that hardcore New Yorker,” he assured him. Once again, Jesse was nodding. “After experiencing life outside of New York, I’m not sure I’d want to live there again either. Everyone’s crammed in too close together, like sardines in a can. I also like being able to drive.” He flashed a toothy grin. His love of driving was something they’d yet to hit on.

Henry’s reply had Jesse’s eyebrows furrowing as he struggled to understand what the other man meant. It might help if he knew the nature of Henry’s job but then that came and Jesse was still a little puzzled. “That’s interesting,” he replied automatically, already wondering how Henry had wound up in a job like that. He voiced his curiosity aloud then. “How’d you wind up working at a shop like that? From Tokyo to a magic shop.” He gave a slight shake of his head, more curiosity than disbelief really. Realizing how that sounded, Jesse hastened to add on to reassure Henry that he wasn’t judging. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just… interesting.” In the end, he was fumbling for words but hoped that he hadn’t offended the other man.

“I have a boring eight-to-five with my face glued to a computer screen. I’m a software engineer,” he explained, figuring it was only fair to share his own occupation now that Henry had done so. “Sometimes I feel like it would be more fun working in somewhere like a magic shop.” It wouldn’t pay as well though and so he couldn’t complain in that regard. His job allowed him to live more luxuriously than others would have. Jesse did love his material possessions.

A wide grin spread across Jesse’s face at the clearer invitation to join Henry and his friends -presumably Jesse’s friends too if Theo went- when they hung out at the beach. “That’s definitely up my alley,” he nodded his acceptance. So far the date seemed to be going pretty well, or at least there was no shortage of things to talk about just yet.

“Oh, same, same.” Jesse was quick to agree. It had been years since he’d played an MMORPG. “I tend to stick to one-player games. X-Box, actually. You play any console games? I can’t even remember the last time I went to an arcade,” he laughed as he rolled his ball between his fingers. Jesse laughed along with Henry. “Let’s see you get that hole-in-one.” He was half encouraging, half challenging the other man.

“You’re telling me, he signed in exasperation - not of the Lee’s, but the Hargreeves who had more mess between just seven of them, he couldn’t imagine that being untangled any time soon and especially not when all but two had bothered to show up in San Francisco. It at least put on some added conviction to the comments about family, shaking his head. Oh yeah, he could relate. “You drive?” He paused. “And I realize how stupid that sounds in California, but I mean, more than your average sedan on the street?” It wasn’t something he had gotten into, in one city or another where walking or public transit had been more ideal than dealing with the vast amount of traffic that was around. San Francisco, Tokyo, Los Angeles - if you didn’t have to go anywhere particularly far, it paid not to bother with it all.

“It is interesting,” and he had been an interesting story, one that Henry glossed over with something more normal than magic-fueled antics, “but I was here when the pandemic hit, unfortunately, and I couldn’t get back to Tokyo for Ghostwire, so I unfortunately had to saddle that opportunity and find something that paid the bills. A friend of mine owns the place, so she got me a spot and I suppose I just haven’t worked on anything else since. It doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there, but if I can stick around in San Francisco for it, it would be ideal. I don’t need to go back to the starving artist trope.” But, of course, he hadn’t exactly looked and as far as the once-well of side projects he had aligned, those had essentially shriveled up.

“Ouch,” he said, squinting a little bit, “but secure, I think? I’d assume so, especially with the tech giants that can be found out here.” There were a few even in the super powered circle, but as for what any of them did before the cover page, he could only take a guess. He just knew they were backed by some heavy names - in one realm or another. “I have a bias, so I think my opinion would widely shoot for ‘yes, it would be more exciting’. I’ve seen too many people trying to pull their hair out over C++ to even want to try that side of it.”

“No console wars here, but Playstation, mostly PC,” Henry replied, nodding his head a little. “I think I went to an arcade maybe… once, twice since I’ve been here, but why when you can go home, be comfortable, and not have sticky kid fingers all over the joystick?” Plus, the games were simply better, especially in the single player market where multiplayer functions and streamlining didn’t exactly have to take away from it. He stepped up for the hole-in-one challenge, looking over the hole’s tricks - at least as far as he could say - before stepping back to see where he actually needed to shoot the ball.

“Got to get all the angles,” he laughed, squaring up again for a solid putt - one that ultimately wouldn’t be a hole-in-one, only as good as the first hole they had shot at. His face crinkled, but there was still a smile on it. “I am a very par mini-golfer.”

“Hell yeah, I drive.” Jesse’s grin was from ear to ear then. “That’s the one thing I hate about New York - how much it sucks to drive. Of course, I never drove up there unless I rented a car to get out of the city but that wasn’t very often. But out here? I live for it. Sometimes I wish I had a convertible but then the weather’s not always conducive for the top being down and you don’t see many tricked out convertibles. Not that my car is tricked out or anything but I have made some mods.” He glanced over at Henry with a sheepish look. “I like to race when I can. Nothing official but just racing on the city streets, racing randos and stuff.” He also liked to race go karts although they weren’t as fun. Maybe he should have suggested that for the date, or maybe, if things continued to go well, they could do that at a later time.

Jesse’s face fell and he winced when Henry mentioned the pandemic. Of course that would affect jobs. It totally made sense. Just as quickly, his face was lighting up though. “You worked for Ghostwire?” He looked sufficiently impressed. He was curious though because he couldn’t imagine leaving something like that behind and he wondered how Henry was coping not being able to pick that back up. He seemed to be doing alright though. “I can only imagine what being a starving artist would be like,” he murmured absently. While Jesse wasn’t raised in the lap of luxury, his family had been financially comfortable and he was too as an adult, more than even, but he still wouldn’t call himself wealthy. “But yeah, the job market is definitely pretty secure for engineers. Tech is always evolving and all, you know?” Jesse chuckled. “I even want to pull my hair out with coding sometimes too.”

“Ugh, I feel you. No distractions at home either like there are at the arcade. It can still be fun though. Or at least I remember it being fun. It’s been a minute since I’ve been.” Jesse grinned and lifted his putter up behind his head as he watched Henry line up his shot. He merely nodded his understanding when Henry remarked on getting the angles and stepped back to allow the other man to putt. Jesse noted the way Henry’s face crinkled even as he smiled and couldn’t help but smile back. The guy was cute, that was for sure. It wasn’t the first time he’d taken note of it but it stood out more in that moment. “Ha. You and me both, pal.” And then it was Jesse’s turn to line up his shot. Jesse swung his putter just a little too hard, sending the ball colliding with one of the obstacles where it shot back at Jesse. Eyes wide, Jesse reflexively jumped and caught the ball before he glanced over at Henry with a sheepish grin. “Sometimes I don’t know my own strength,” he joked.

He listened intently, interested, now that they tapped into something Jesse liked to do a bit more readily. The enthusiasm for it was there and recognized, and Henry definitely didn’t mind hearing about it - even if it was a field he was far less familiar with. “I can imagine. I’m still not entirely sure how anyone got around in Tokyo without a ridiculous amount of accidents, but then again, that might be because of behind the wheel sensibility,” Henry said, “but I’m sure there’s opportunity here for it. Just got to get out of the Bay a little bit. What kind of mods? I’m not much of a gear head, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few Fast and Furious to pretend.”

“I sure as hell tried,” he said, “and it would have been a great addition to my resume, but my penmanship is more on The Evil Within. I kind of dig the horror thing - which I guess you can call that horror, people disappearing all over the place, but it just isn’t the same.” It had definitely been a better time in his artistic life, but the summation of what came after seemed to land at ‘shit happened’ and he could cry over it or move on with the cards he had been dealt - very few of which had been good for some time. “Yeah, it does seem like there is something new popping up and everything is so integrated, you’d always have something. I’m at least glad I did stick a toe into digital arts because I’d probably be busking paintings in a farmer’s market or something,” and even a magic shop was better than that.

“As far as I remember,” Henry agreed, a small huff of a laugh escaping his lips. “It tends to get the competitive lead out and you can see the ten year old talking trash.” While conversation simmered so Jesse could properly align the shot, he couldn’t help but jump when the ball returned, not rolling back, but shooting back at Jesse. Though there had been some inclination to stop it himself, Jesse had that taken care of before he could so much as flick a wrist to send it shooting off in another direction. “Is this what you meant by blasting it out of the galaxy?” He laughed, grin wide as he pointed at Jesse. The athletics had definitely done him some good and they weren’t trying to find a ball somewhere in the back of a golf course. “Which I’m still waiting for by the way. I haven’t forgotten.”

“It’s a lot more fun driving without the traffic, I’ll tell you that much.” Jesse made a face just thinking about it but then the conversation was shifting to his car and his face lit up again. “Well, the first thing I did was add a cold air intake and upgrade the fuel system. Simple changes but they make a world of difference. I also have a dual exhaust system - you can hear me coming a mile away.” His grin turned a little rueful. “I wish I knew more about how to do the mods myself. I had to pay an arm and a leg for them.” He made a face. Just thinking about paying for what he could have done himself left a bad taste in his mouth. Unfortunately, Jesse didn’t know enough about mechanics to make any of those modifications to his car and he didn’t really have the time to learn either.

Jesse still looked impressed. “A friend had The Evil Within so I got to play it a few times but I didn’t have it for my own console. Still. You did work on that?” He nodded slowly, certainly understanding the benefit of digital art versus the alternative. “There’s definitely more of a market for digital art. But do you do other mediums too?” He was curious. Jesse himself had never been much of an artist aside from doodling in the spines of textbooks back in high school. Of course, he’d also had an art class or two over the years but even that couldn’t help his lack of skills, not to mention his lack of patience. Funny how he could be patient working with a computer but not with a pencil and a paper or a brush and a canvas.

Laughing, Jesse nodded his agreement re the arcade. While Henry fell silent as Jesse lined up his shot, it didn’t do much good. Clearly, Jesse was a bit too excited. He’d never been one to be overly patient and as he joked, he really didn’t realize his strength sometimes. With golfing, being gentle went a long way. Jesse’d have to work on that. They had fourteen more holes after this second one. He laughed at Henry’s teasing and shrugged a shoulder. “Kind of? I tend to hit harder than I should. I do the same thing with bowling too. Throw way too hard.” He made a slight face and carefully set the ball back down. This time when he putted, it was far too soft and just barely made it through the obstacle, but nowhere near the hole. He shrugged. “You’ll probably see me blast it out of the galaxy here soon, no worries.” He winked at Henry as they headed to their balls.

“Yeah, I can’t imagine that being anything but costly between parts and labor, and even buying the parts yourself, it only takes off so much, but - I might know someone who can help you out,” he said, nodding a little. While her priorities might have shifted from mechanics and automobile racing to the magic shop, there had been that itch in the back of his mind that thought to make mention of it to Mally or see if he could glean some information on quality, but less costly options for modifications and - given the risk potential - repairs.

“I’ve got to hand to hand it to the programmers and everything once it was all strung together,” he nodded in understanding albeit his reasons for not getting through it was never on account of not being able to play it, “because I think it is pretty bad when you can’t even get through a game you conceptualized by being scared of your own creations. Mmm - yeah, acrylic and oil mediums I tend to stick to a lot, and if I need to pen and ink something, I can too. They give you a good gamut of tools in art school, but that’s kind of where I landed.” An ever-changing medium as art was, catered to whoever was putting in the commission, made having a wider repertoire a good thing, but then again, if someone was coming to him for something, they probably already knew what to expect.

“Bowling!” He exclaimed. “I have definitely bowled in recent years and I’m much, much worse than I am at this which you’d think wouldn’t be the case given a full lane, but there’s just something in the throw and that twist.” Weight could only be blamed for so much when there was a clear lack of skill to go along with it, but like mini-golf, it was something meant to be fun unless someone, somehow, made it to a professional level. He fell in step to retrieve his ball with a smile - it had been the wink, it had to be - moving over to the next as it became their turn and it was dropped once more, this time in front of a small replica of a mine, water wheel and all. More elegant a run than his last, he watched it get close to the hole with gritted teeth - and still, it hadn’t gone in. “No! So close!”

“Oh, it is, trust. But it’s so worth it!” Again Jesse’s smile was ear to ear. He loved his car and he loved racing it even if he didn’t get the opportunity as much as he would have liked. Jesse’s eyebrows shot up when Henry mentioned knowing someone who might be able to help. “Oh yeah? You got a mechanic friend in your back pocket or something?” That would be pretty handy, actually… Jesse should have made a mechanic friend as long as he’d been in the Bay area. He’d tried a little but the guys he used were all business. Sure, they’d talk shop but outside of that, they were all about the money.

Jesse laughed and gave a slight shake of his head in disbelief. “Nightmare inducing, huh?” he teased. His expression turned thoughtful then as he listened to Henry explain the other mediums of art he utilized. “I’d like to see some of your work sometime,” he said sincerely. “That is if you don’t mind sharing it.” He didn’t know how comfortable Henry was with his artwork - obviously he was confident about his digital work but Jesse was more curious about the other pieces.

A sheepish look crossed Jesse’s face then as they talked about bowling. “I have the tendency to throw the ball halfway down the lane before it hits the ground.” It really was bad. He used a heavier ball too but that only made the ball hit that much harder when it did hit the ground. “Me and the gutters are old friends too.” He laughed, though truth be told, despite not bowling the correct way, Jesse wasn’t really all that bad at it. Jesse caught that smile on Henry’s face and smiled himself -smiles were just contagious. And then they were moving on. Jesse stood back with his hands behind his back as he watched Henry and noted his technique as he putted. “Damn,” he murmured. “You’re gonna get that hole in one here soon, just watch.” Dropping his own ball, Jesse putted a little better than at the last hole but still nowhere near as well as Henry had. He, on the other hand, was not likely to get a hole in one.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve got her in my back pocket,” he said, shaking his head since it was very much the other way around - both in the realm of super powers and employment, “but if I’m remembering correctly, she has a spot in her heart for racing and had a garage at some point. She’s actually my boss, so it’s really no sweat to talk to her about it, see if she knows anyone at the very least who can give you a hand and not for the price of your arm or leg. Those are nice where they are.”

There was an almost sad glint to his eyes as he nodded a few times, but nightmare-inducing wasn’t exactly a problem - not then and especially not now, but those he’d keep on the down low for as long as he reasonably could with how often San Francisco exploded in trouble. “But I fit the primer, so if it has a chainsaw, looks like a killer fish with braces, or just generally gives you the creeps, it is probably my doing.” There was a beam to the smile that came next, undercut with a sense of bashfulness that he readily stuffed down into the pit of his being. “Sure, I’d like that,” Henry replied, “and you can show me these hot shot mods you’ve been talking about.”

“You do know you throw them underhanded, right?” Henry joked, miming for a second his poor technique which, while not the best, probably wasn’t good either. “I did know someone once threw the bowling ball so hard, it bounced into another lane and got a strike on someone else’s board,” he said, “which was both impressive and made the worst sound in the world when it hit the first time. I don’t even think they had the bumpers on. It just spun the right way - for someone else. At least we’ve got nothing like that going on. I honestly don’t think I’ve counted anything since we started.” He honestly hadn’t, looking back at the line of holes they had passed through and the ones to follow before shrugging since it really didn’t matter. “I’d honestly be surprised if I ever gained favor of the mini-golf powers that be to get that.”

A brow shot up as Henry described his friend - no, boss - and he gave an incredulous laugh. “She had a garage? I definitely think your boss and I need to have a heart-to-heart. She sounds like my kind of girl.” He grinned and then it faltered when he realized how that might have come out. “Not that… Well, you know. Not paying an arm and a leg is always nice. They’re definitely good where they are.” As if to prove that point, Jesse lifted one of his legs and held out the corresponding arm, and gave them both a shake. “But if you could talk to her, that would be great. Thank you.”

Jesse’s eyebrows knit together as he wondered at the way Henry nodded in response to his teasing. He didn’t really think the game gave the other man nightmares, especially not when he’d designed some of it. A light chuckle escaped at the description of some of Henry’s work. “Well, now I want to play it just to see if I can pick out what’s yours.” Jesse didn’t miss the way that Henry’s face seemed to light up when he mentioned wanting to see some of his work. He laughed when Henry tried to express his own interest in Jesse’s car. “It’s not as fascinating as artwork, but I can show you some of the finer aspects.”

“No, no! I do! I throw it underhanded, but that’s the problem - I throw it, I don’t roll it.” He laughed and then his eyes widened as Henry went on to tell the tale of the person throwing the ball into the next lane. “Oh, shit. I… might have done that once.” His face colored a little and he laughed again. “But I blame it on the beer. I got excited and let ‘er fly before I was ready to. It was a gutterball but in the next lane.” Jesse looked thoughtful for a moment when Henry confessed he hadn’t been keeping score. “Well, damn. How are we going to know if we need that tie-breaker? Or who’s going to get bragging rights, hmm?” He was teasing, mostly. Jesse really didn’t care what the score was or who won. “Hey, you never know.” He leaned in and bumped shoulders with Henry.

Truth be told, Mally was a friend too, perhaps one of the better ones he had despite everything that surrounded the more demonic qualities of their relationship, and though there was some thought given to the potential found in a heart-to-heart with the Goblin Queen, he also didn’t see it as a soul-binding situation unless he was the one ripping out of the gates in a Hellcharger. Though he understood enough what Jesse had meant, he still crossed his arms about his putter, his gaze only foiled by the grin on his face. “If I were,” he said, shrugging his shoulders a little bit, “she’d probably be mine too. Probably the one that gets away, but you never really forget. She’s good at what she does. I’ll see if she has any secrets she can spare.”

“I’m sure it is,” he said, though self-effacing his own artwork wasn’t going to be something to happen any time soon - not with as much time and work he put into paintings when he actually found the time to work on them and had put in just as much, if not more, schooling to ensure that he wasn’t just tooting unbacked horns when it did come into question. No, he couldn’t be sure a degree spoke a lot, but it had managed him some decent jobs and a studio that, at one time, had welcomed him with open arms. “It’s two sides of an equally artistic coin, just presented in a different way,” and it didn’t so much matter that Jesse hadn’t been the mechanic behind it when he was the one curating and constructing what the vehicle could ultimately become. That had to have some vision.

“You have to roll it! Roll, smooth like butter,” Henry laughed, perhaps especially so at the similar circumstances of knocking down out-of-lane pins. “Oh, we’re blaming the beer. I only blame beer for one thing and that is suddenly beating someone at billiards. That is one of those things where, I swear, you get better the more you drink and I can’t explain to you why. That has just always been my experience,” he explained, stepping over to another hole once they had ensured their non-counted points total, this time not even making it beyond the front face of the display. “I’m going to blame distraction for that one,” he said, pointing with his putter at the ball while it rolled back, waiting until it bumped into his feet before grimacing a little bit. “Spoke too soon about the golf gods.”

Jesse couldn’t help the almost secretive smile that crossed his face when Henry attempted to be sore with him. “I dig, I dig.” He nodded his head. “How did she wind up running a magic store after having a garage? Or was the garage more for personal use than professional?” He was curious, to say the least. He couldn’t imagine moving between those two careers and yet Henry had also made a leap between vastly different careers too. He made a mental note to try and pry more into that, but later. He didn’t want to pry too much too soon. “Anything would be appreciated!”

Tongue in cheek, Jesse considered what Henry was saying. He could see where he was coming from but he didn’t necessarily see the artisticness in the modifications he’d made to his car. Sure he’d had a vision, an idea of what he wanted (mainly to go fast) but that was about the extent of it. From there, he let the pros take over and went with their suggestions. Still, he was a little bit proud of his car; it was his pride and joy, after all. “So do you not drive?” he ventured, curiosity getting the best of him again. He wondered how Henry got around the city if he didn’t drive. There were plenty of options but he didn’t know which the other man might have preferred.

“I know, I know.” He half groaned. “I’m just used to throwing and kicking things, not rolling. Well. Some things I’m used to rolling.” He flashed Henry a grin. Jesse laughed, a hand going to his belly as he did so. “Now that’s something I’d like to see. Next time we’re getting drunk and playing pool.” He watched as Henry’s next putt didn’t go quite so far, at least not considering it rolled back to where it had started. Laughing, Jesse turned to raise a brow at Henry. “You’re not blaming me, are you?”

“You know, I’m not entirely sure about that one,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. There were moments where it seemed like the two could’ve been operational in unison, but knowing what had gone into the formation of Arcana and what was happening in the super powered scope, especially with the finding of the Reality Gem and subsequent use of it, it made sense to focus one’s efforts in one spot - not that he expected that answer to be anything short of weird. “She does have kids though, so probably something to do with making sure she had time for them too,” Henry offered instead, “and that’s got some slower pace and probably less people being crabby when you just want to get grease out of your fingernails.”

“No, I don’t drive. I can drive, but I don’t go very far very often, so I can usually spring for a rental when I need to go out of town,” and then there had been the whole dimensional jumping thing - again, a hushed point. “I’ll take the BART sometimes and, if I’ve got to, ride service or a cab though definitely not going into the pricing of all that, but it’s worked out for me pretty well so far. It’s pretty easy to get about San Francisco proper without having to step foot on a gas pedal.”

He paused in his assessment of Jesse’s bowling ball throwing skills, his mind clearly blank as his expression as he tried to figure out what other sport actually required someone to roll a ball rather than throw it outright. Bocce, sure, but that was about as close as he got to any comparison before Jesse had rolled his belly. “Now you’re just showing off, but you’re on for beer and pool,” Henry laughed, brow piquing, head nodding, “and yes, after that, now I am going to blame you.” Granted, the second putt was far more par for his run through the course so far, and with a tap into the hole, he was stepping aside with a slight flush of red to his cheeks that he might’ve gone so far to try and hide.

Once again, Jesse was laughing at the remark about getting grease out of your fingernails. “That makes sense. It might be a curious conversation starter though. If you ever need one,” he added. Considering the woman was Henry’s boss, Jesse wasn’t sure if the two chatted much about their personal lives. Clearly, they did enough for Henry to know that she’d had a garage or knew people and enough that he was willing to broach the subject for Jesse’s sake.

Jesse nodded his understanding. Public transportation in San Francisco wasn’t terrible and there were always rideshares if nothing else. Just as Henry pointed out. It didn’t always make sense to have a vehicle but it was an indulgence Jesse enjoyed. “That makes sense. I just like to drive. As if that wasn’t obvious.” He shot Henry a rueful grin. “I do use rideshares though if I’m going to be drinking but more often than not I drive myself.”

Watching Henry try to figure out what he was referring to was amusing, to say the least. Jesse did have to wonder if the other man caught on to what he was referring to. He didn’t think he did but discussing what other habits they might have would likely come up later. It wasn’t like Jesse was a pothead or anything of the sort but he did toke fairly regularly. “How am I showing off?” Jesse protested with a laugh and a roll of his eyes. It didn’t surprise him that Henry was now going to blame him for his poor putt. He could live with that. “You can try and distract me if you want,” he offered with a grin as he lined up his own shot. Once again, he putted harder than he should have and the ball flew right over the hole and bounced off the rim of the green that surrounded it. Jesse wasn’t surprised but he made quick work of dropping his ball into the hole after a couple more putts. He was pretty sure that Henry was winning but neither of them was taking score, so.

“Now that is a perfect use for rideshares,” Henry said, nodding. It had certainly been when he wasn’t able to come and go as he pleased and still sold the air of normalcy about him now, and he really couldn’t trust that he would find himself in the right place if he was a few sheets to the wind. He had his cautionary stories - namely those of his would-be brother who was notorious for not listening to anything of the sort - but that didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy a drink or few now and then. Anything else, if he could ever remember imbibing in such, were incidental and - all things considered - he definitely wasn’t going to walk all over anyone else’s good time.

This,” he laughed, making an attempt all the same to roll his stomach though, if only by the laughter that stayed, it wasn’t exactly going correctly - not one way and not the other even though he attempted it. His hand remained positioned over his stomach, straightening out his shirt to ensure it stayed down once he had righted himself back up. “You can’t just throw out belly rolls like that and not expect someone to be distracted.” Did he mind? Not one bit, though figuring out how he could reasonably distract him - something Henry couldn’t say he was good at without a super powered edge - was taking a mental center stage as he gave it some thought.

“At this point, we might just have to see who gets a hole in one first,” Henry offered as a means of figuring out a winner and avoiding the count, “or we clip it here, say we’re tied and start again the rest of the way?” Winning as he might have been, Henry’s next roll hadn’t been spectacular though the clean up had been easy, he knew he had tacked on a few more than he wanted to a mental scorecard he didn’t know the numbers to. He waited until Jesse stepped up and took his first putt before shouting and pointing to the sky in the opposite direction, shouting, “Hey, what’s that?!”

Maybe not the best thing to do in the middle of a city that had see some trouble of late, Henry trying not to laugh when other patrons spun around; but if all worked according to plan, maybe it’d be Jesse with the unofficial win.

“Right? What did people do before rideshares?” Jesse laughed. He knew there was still such a thing as actual cabs and the like or the dreaded designated driver. He wondered if that was even still a thing. “Rideshares are better than cabs, somehow. They’re a little cheaper for one but the drivers are usually cooler, more laidback and not so worried about being uber professional.” He smirked at the pun.

Jesse had to laugh as Henry attempted to roll his stomach. “What are you doing, man? You’re just making it worse!” He continued laughing as he shook his head. “No, no. That’s not distracting! Don’t pay attention to me -don’t pay attention to him,” Jesse raised his voice on the latter part, drawing the attention of those nearest to them. “You’re crazy. I didn’t do that!”

His eyebrows raised and he had the gall to look skeptical. “Who’s saying one of us will get a hole in one? I was so sure you were going to nail it but now that I’ve seen your golfing skills…” He made a show of wincing all while trying to keep his face serious and not laugh. “You’re not that much better than me, Henry.” Jesse considered their options, looking thoughtful for a moment. “Starting from here might be the better idea,” he agreed as he teed up and prepared to putt.

Instead of hitting the ball wide, Jesse paused and looked over at Henry at his exclamation. Then he followed Henry’s arm to where he was pointing, brows furrowed curiously. When he realized he’d been foiled, he turned back to Henry with his eyes narrowed. “Hey now,” he murmured almost threateningly. “You gotta do better than that.” And then he putted and, much to his amazement, Jesse actually got that hole in one. The look on his face told of his surprise but then he was whooping and hollering. “Hell yeah! Check that out!”

“I can’t even believe people might’ve walked,” he said as if that wasn’t the easiest means of getting around the more populous, traffic-heavy areas of San Francisco, a faux sense of horror in his expression and the press of his hand against his chest. He couldn’t say he had a designated driver in recent history, but rideshare did tend to take some precedence whenever there were gatherings to be had and enjoyed. “They got to buy those tokens,” Henry said, speaking of cab drivers, “and it is this whole damn thing where people are even in with the mob just because they needed a loan to buy them, so when rideshare came along, it undercut a lot of people who are now in debt…” It was a momentary ramble, Henry tapping his chin once he realized that - not that he was embarrassed by having random knowledge, it was just quite a bit to spew out.

“I’m not making it worse! I’m making it better!” He said, laughing as there grew to be a small audience of gawkers, necks turned to see what the commotion was about. “He totally did do it,” Henry addressed, “but he did it better. This is the side show.”

There was a grimace on his face when he turned back around and there was talk of his golf skills again. He had been close - so very close - but there was still no cigar sinking a hole in one and no, he couldn’t be sure that he actually would, but that was where parlor trick magic might have - and certainly did - come in handy. The distraction - surprisingly - had gone off without a hitch, and Henry stood there, arms crossed, once Jesse turned back around to him with that threatening, but not quite tone. “Do I?” He countered, watching as the ball rolled smoothly about the path of the hole to nail that hole in one. “Someone had to do it, right!?” An aura of excitement was easily maintained, any conniving curves of his grin disappeared in the genuine enthusiasm Jesse had. “So, now you have the hole in one: Is that a win or is that just a lot more - well, less because that’s how golf works, for you?”

“Who even goes places within walking distance?” he shot back, laughing at the look on Henry’s face. As Henry went off on a slight tangent, Jesse wore a slightly amused expression, his head tilting a little as he listened to him. “Well. Hopefully, you don’t have any friends that are cabbies,” he replied for lack of anything better to remark on in regards to what Henry had just explained. “So, are you trying to guilt me into not using rideshares now?” he asked with a grin, teasing Henry.

“Hey, hey!” Jesse got out between laughs. “You can’t make it better and say I did it better!” He was laughing so hard that tears built in the corner of his eyes. Putting his hand on his belly, he tried to roll it again and only served to make himself laugh harder… and make people look at them strangely.

Jesse nodded enthusiastically as he lined up his shot again. “You gotta startle me, make me jump. That kind of distraction, if you’re hoping to affect my shot anyway.” From where he was bent over his putter, Jesse looked over at Henry and winked and then he was refocusing on the hole and putting, perhaps the softest he had since they’d started. Apparently, that was the trick of it. If only he didn’t get overly excited. Of course, having made that hole in one, there was no dampening Jesse’s excitement. “And that someone was me!” Jesse jabbed his thumbs into his chest, nearly whacking himself with the putter in the process. He just continued laughing though as they moved down to where the hole was. “Well, we were just talking about picking up from here, so unless you want to concede defeat that easily…” He shot Henry a wicked grin, wondering just how competitive the other man could be.

Kneeling, Jesse fished his ball out of the hole and then waited for Henry to make his. Once he had, they were moving on to the next round. “Let’s pick up the score from here. If we’re gonna do this though, someone needs to keep track.” He pulled out his phone and loaded the note app. “I can keep tally if you want or if you don’t trust me…” He raised a brow, throwing the ball into Henry’s court.

“Definitely not those kind of connections,” he shook his head - not that it was to say he couldn’t figure out ways to pull something together had they been needed. “I think the only ones I have are a bunch of art nerds and people who like witchy things at this point,” and a cavalcade of superheroes and villains that popped up at random, more and more, each time the shift came around which was probably the most helpful out of the bunch. “I’ll draw something on a napkin if I have to,” Henry said, not sure if there was anything at the end of the course other than bragging rights and a self-pat on the back for making it through all sixteen without getting angry or losing their ball somewhere, though the open enough grounds seemed to keep that from happening. “I’m not even sure I’ve got it right, but I know that the higher the number, the worse you do. That’s probably all anyone really needs to know when it comes to mini-golf other than don’t swing the thing over your head,” Henry shrugged, taking note of his five count when he moved to the next hole once he caught his ball. And when the next hole bumped the count from five to nine, all Henry did was laugh by the time he managed to sink the ball. “I’ll still beat you in rock, paper, scissors,” he said, competitive spirit stroked just that little bit more. While it didn’t look like he’d get to a tie, there were still plenty enough holes to see if they landed on the same score. “Going to just warm up my hands,” he commented while off to the side, his ball going into his pocket as he started shaking his hands out and stretching his fingers back. Oh goodness, no, because I'd use rideshares most of the time too. I don't have mob money,” Henry laughed, shaking his head a little bit. It was just odd trivia he had picked up from the news that, for whatever reason, had sunk into his brain and stayed put - not that there was a problem with that. It would just be replaced in due time when something more important fell in when he wasn’t laughing up a storm amiss welcomed strange looks. It was far better experienced in this way than any other ‘strange’ that Henry could have been and very well was.

“I still don’t even know what happens when anyone wins,” he said, pointing over to the tee of the next hole with the end of his putter, waving it around a little bit, “beyond bragging rights anyway because now we might be getting serious with this hole in one you’ve got. I don’t even think you take a point for that. I think it’s just… what it is: A better shot than anyone else has made so far.” He watched as Jesse pulled his phone out to keep track, eyes diverting over to the hole. “But if we stroke count, that would be one and I would have two on this one, which means you’re still ahead and I’ve got some good shots to make.”

He didn’t know what to expect from the next hole, but moved along to it all the same to keep the pace of other guests that were behind them. “Go for it,” he said, nodding, no mistrust to be had - especially considering he had been the one to ultimately cheat in the first place, even if it wasn’t necessarily for his golf game favor. His first putt swooped about the tower as intended, falling short of being close to the hole thanks to a putt too soft; and two more later, he had actually sunk it in the hole, hanging his head down slightly. “So, three. A whole three to get this thing around the Sutro Tower.”

On the verge of asking what kind of connections Henry did have, Jesse had to laugh when the other man elaborated on his own. “Fair enough,” he replied with a nod of his head. “Those other connections might come in handy someday though, just keep that in mind.” He pointed a finger at Henry and gave him a knowing look before his face broke out in a grin again. Jesse wasn’t often seen not wearing a grin or if he wasn’t, he was generally lost in thought. He was just a happy-go-lucky guy and he enjoyed life more often than not. Okay, maybe except for work but even then he tried to look on the bright side.

“Hey, I’d take it!” Jesse enthused with a laugh. Considering Henry’s artistic skills, he was pretty sure that whatever the guy drew would be impressive. Far more impressive than if Jesse had attempted to draw something, on a napkin or otherwise. Nodding, Jesse agreed with Henry. “The fewer putts, the better is what I’m thinking.” Which neither of them seemed to be doing too great in that regard aside from Jesse’s one-time hole-in-one. He wasn’t betting on getting another but maybe Henry would. Part of Jesse hoped he would if only so he could see Henry’s reaction.

Keeping in stride with Henry, Jesse managed four putts in his next go as well, with just a single point between them still, Jesse somehow in the lead. Probably that hole-in-one again. “You think we’re gonna tie or is that another competition afterward?” He flashed Henry a grin as he once again picked up their balls and tossed Henry his. As Henry pocketed his ball and shook out his hands, Jesse laughed. “You have any magic mojo you can pull out? You might need it.” He wiggled his own fingers as he gave Henry a challenging look and then led the way to the next hole.

“You’re right, you’re right. They might,” Henry conceded though the least used of late had been the art connections, something to consider if he ever did want to jump start his career again beyond commission pieces and the occasional artbook. That definitely wasn’t going to pay the bills - not that he was having much trouble with that currently or had been looking for something else, the shop paying well enough for him to at least have a place to rest his head when he wasn’t spending his time at Arcana which, suffice to say, was quite a bit. Who knew what interesting object he would miss out on if he didn’t?

“Yeah, I’m beginning to think I really shouldn’t have wasted my distraction like that. There is no way I can do that again and get away with it,” he chuckled. That one single point, the potential hole in one he could manipulate himself if he really wanted to, was there, a short distance from a game of rock, paper, scissors that he might’ve stood a better chance to win than something that took actual skill instead of some good guesses about what someone would throw down. Thankfully, the next hole was oddly simple looking, a simple path through the park with tiny replica buildings resembling Golden Gate Park around it. A few buffalo in the background lined one side of the hole and, if nothing else, maybe he could knock the ball into those.

“Okay, I’ve got it,” he said, pinning his putter underneath his arm as he took the golf ball, giving it a toss, “I’m going to make this ball appear in that hole without moving from this spot,” he said, pointing to the ball and then to the hole on the far side of the course. Showing him the ball one last time, he moved his hands about it like a cheesy magician might have before smacking it against his shirt and pulling his hands away. Black had been a convenient choice, concealing the small portal he had all but chucked the ball into while the depth of the hole hid the exit point. Henry’s hands went up, waggling his fingers again to show there was nothing within, shooting Jesse a grin, a wink, and a nod of his head towards the hole. “Go on,” he said, trying not to laugh, “I bet you it is in there.”

“Especially if you need to hide a body,” he deadpanned and watched Henry for his reaction to that. Once again, his smile didn’t stray for long before he was laughing and smiling at his own joke. As he watched the other man, Jesse wondered what Henry was thinking about. He looked a little serious although maybe that was just his normal face when he was thinking about something. How was he to know? Maybe one day he’d be able to pick up on Henry’s moods and have an idea of where his head was. For now though, he was left speculating.

As they approached the next hole Jesse laughed. “You did kind of waste it. You gotta wait until I’m mid-swing to catch me unawares. I won’t fall for it again though,” he warned which was pretty much what Henry had been saying. In fact, Jesse probably wouldn’t pause even if something was amiss, so sure that Henry would be pulling one over on him now. The boy who cried wolf or something like that.

“What? You find your mojo or something?” Jesse laughed and placed his hand holding his ball on his hip as he looked over at Henry. He wore a bemused expression as Henry explained that he would make the ball appear in the hole and for a moment, Jesse was positive that Henry simply meant that he was going to make a hole-in-one. His eyebrows furrowed as he watched Henry tuck his putter beneath his arm and then show him the ball before seemingly making the ball disappear. His skepticism was clear, an eyebrow raising as he continued staring at Henry. “It’s in your pocket or something. I’ve seen these tricks before!” And yet, Henry insisted that he check the hole.

With a parting skeptical look, Jesse crossed the green to the hole, absolutely positive that the ball was not going to be there that he almost missed it. “It’s not-” He cut off as he looked again and blinked in surprise and then laughed. “No way.” Kneeling, he picked the ball up from the hole and looked at the ball in wonder. He was certain that Henry had done some kind of trick, not actual magic (even it wouldn’t be that surprising in the world they lived in). “You’re gonna have to show me that one.” A look back at Henry at the starting point and he saw a queue forming behind him. “Later though. I’ll give you your hole in one, although I wonder if that should be zero points…”

“Please, you think I can’t find a way to hide a body?” He could. He very well could, but with the grin that followed and flippant air that came with the comment, he hoped it unlikely that any such services would actually be needed - not that investigators would be able to follow a trail of portals into dark dimensions where beasts roamed in the dark. That was something not to be explained, Henry simply shaking his head. “You rent a car, drive it like you stole it because you kind of did, and - I don’t know, leave it? I didn’t say it was a good or foolproof method.”

But before there was any further dissecting on that, a magic trick - harmless versus his usual brand and more meant to impress than to do anything else although the good time had was an easy wake to self-confidence enough that maybe he didn’t need to throw anything powered in the mix; but, all the same, he couldn’t help the amusement found in the skepticism and he definitely couldn’t deny it when Jesse had crossed the hole’s facade to find the ball in the hole just as Henry had stated. Skepticism and surprise were warranted, all things considered, and all Henry could do was look smug at the finding.

“The only thing I could do to make it even more verifiable was write my name on it, but I don’t have a Sharpie to do that,” he said, head tilting for a second as he thought, “and I don’t know if they like someone writing all over their balls.” He knew it wasn’t a real golf course which would make someone pay only to turn around and pay someone else to collect them to wash and recycle, but it wouldn’t have been surprising either if Stagecoach Greens wanted to keep their balls unmarred for as long as possible. “One of these days,” he assured - chances were it wouldn’t be long knowing how San Francisco was - as they moved to the next, Henry counting the rest of the holes.

“We’ve got five more, hot shot,” he commented, shaking his head as he half-joked, “and that still counts for one. Do you even know how hard I had to hit myself in the stomach for that to happen?”

To say that Jesse was surprised would have been an understatement. He was thoroughly impressed and his mind circled over every move Henry had made to try and dissect how he’d moved the ball from where he’d stood to the hole without moving himself. Did Henry possess actual magic? Jesse had seen and heard stranger things on the news, especially as of late, but he was still somewhat of a skeptic. When Henry remarked on writing his name on the ball, Jesse merely waved him off. “I believe you, I believe you!” He laughed even though he was still completely puzzled as to how Henry had done it and he relayed as much. “I still don’t know how you did it, but I’m going to figure it out,” he shot back, wagging a finger at him.

Laughing, Jesse gave a shake of his head. “Don’t beat yourself up on my account. I mean, unless you’re into that.” He flashed a toothy grin and winked before he moved on to the next hole without another word. That “hole-in-one,” that Henry had gotten brought him up in the lead against Jesse and while he was a good sport, he was also competitive. The next few holes went by in a blur and, somehow, the two were tied by the time they got to the last hole. Jesse lined up his shot and managed to get his ball in the hole with three putts.

Stepping aside with a smug grin - although three putts wasn’t that great - Jesse gestured for Henry to go. “No magic this time. This is the tie-breaker well unless we tie on this and then, you know.” He made the motions of rock, paper, scissors with his hand. “It’s all on you, buddy.” Jesse grinned and rolled his stomach again a bit obscenely even though he knew it wasn’t likely to distract Henry this time.

“What’s a few knocks if it makes a good impression?” Henry commented with a shrug of his shoulders, still thoroughly entertained about how well his trick had actually gone. Sure, there was a lot of odd that went on in the city, but considering how much of it was of a grand variety - demons roaming the streets and superheroes flying through the sky and the occasional bank robbery committed by a clownish street gang ripped right out of comic book pages - there was still no telling whether his had been real or not, but then again, if it wasn’t, how did the ball get from Point A to Point B?

“I’m sure you will,” Henry laughed, easily breezing through the next few holes without any magic of any sort to aid him - they had already both gotten a hole in one on account of some trickery - but he knew well enough about the tie they were faced with by the time they had ended up at the hole almost appropriately named ‘Eureka!’ Built about a fortune telling machine, Henry couldn’t help but laugh at the woman in the glass, all too close to the Zoltar machine on the pier, but with an unmistakable hippie vibe.

“Oh, now this is ironic. How do we have no magic when we’ve got a fortune teller right there?” He asked as his eyes looked over it as he stepped up, glancing back up to Jesse while he crossed his fingers in a silent promise that he wasn’t going to magically cheat on the last hole. Naturally, there wasn’t anything spectacular about the shots he had taken, a total of three putting them back at a draw by the time Henry had walked over to retrieve their balls. “Alright, so,” he said, “we’re both level on the mini-golf course which means we’ll just have to sudden death this.”

Jesse just grinned as he had been during all of the game play. For the last few holes, he watched Henry closely, still trying to dissect how he’d managed to get the ball into the hole without moving. Unfortunately, Henry didn’t perform any more tricks and so Jesse didn’t have any luck. It was just as well since he turned his focus on his own putting and just barely managed to tie with Henry by the skin of his teeth.

Approaching the last hole with Henry, Jesse chuckled as the other man remarked on the lack of magic and the hole’s theme. Jesse went first and managed to get his ball in with three putts and then he turned to watch Henry… do the exact same thing. Jesse groaned melodramatically even though he wasn’t the least bit put out. If anything, he was amused. “Sudden death, it is. Let’s turn these in and get out of the way first.” He gestured to the people teeing up behind Henry.

The course had wound around and eventually brought them back nearly to where they started. Jesse led the way to the counter where they’d picked up their gear in the first place and passed over his putter to the attendant and then waited for Henry to do the same with his putter and their two balls he carried. Once he had, Jesse gestured for them to step aside and then raised a brow once they were out of the main walkways. “You ready for this?” When he got the affirmative, he made a fist and put it in the palm of his other hand. “Alright, here we go. Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!” Jesse threw out his fisted hand, keeping it in a fist for rock, and held his breath as he checked which Henry had chosen.

It was courteous not to hold up the rest of the guests enjoying their mini-golf outing, Henry following suit without fuss through what remaining walk there was to the counter and passing everything over with a side of pleasantries to the attendant. It was just a few steps more where they found some reprieve from being in someone’s way, Henry still keeping a cautious eyes out for anyone that - much like he was in some part - wasn’t paying attention and might have been bowled right into by someone looking to see how this sudden death match had turned out.

“Alright,” he said, stretching his fingers out a bit by hooking them together and stretching them out backwards, one making a fist while the other became its landing point. There was a mental count more than the outright call that Jesse had made, smacking his fist down against his hand with each beat before throwing out his sign of choice…

“Ah, why did I pick scissors!?” He nearly hollered, looking at his extended fore and middle fingers against the crushing power of a fist-made rock. Grimace on his face, it still wasn’t without an air of humor. “You got me this time.”

Not unlike Henry, Jesse might have run right into someone while they were playing Rock, Paper, Scissors for not paying attention. It was precisely why after dropping off their gear, he guided them to an area that wasn’t right in the walkway. Once they were out of the way, he was preparing to throw down. When Henry made a show of stretching his fingers, Jesse laughed and wagged a finger at him. “No more tricks, pal! This is it.” Not that he really thought there could be any tricks to be made with Rock, Paper, Scissors. Still, he made the warning -or was it a threat?- with a crooked grin. Really, there wasn’t anything Jesse could do if Henry tried something other than giving him grief, which he most certainly would.

The moment Henry’s hand came down with his index and middle fingers extended, Jesse gave a loud, excited whoop. He lifted his closed fist and brought it down in yes gesture and then he reached over and pretended to crush Henry’s scissors with his rock. He thought about asking if they were going to do best of three but then decided that he was absolutely going to just take this win. “Yeah, buddy!” He chortled, dancing around a little in his imitation of a victory dance. “This time,” he intoned settling down although the grin he wore was megawatt. “Just keep telling yourself that.” He slapped Henry on the back.

After a brief moment, Jesse started to slowly lead the way out of the park. Passing through the entry gates, he nodded to the attendant that bid them farewell. Once they were outside the park, each of them came to a halt. Jesse hesitated for a moment, not entirely sure what would come next. It might have been a date but while Jesse had enjoyed his time with Henry, and yes, had flirted with the guy, he wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about him outside of simply really enjoying the time they’d spent together. There was a part of him that was loath to let it end. Another beat passed and then Jesse was making a decision for them, unless of course, Henry had any objections. “Let’s grab something to eat. You can ride with me since you didn’t drive.” He’d made the decision all his own and acted as though he wouldn’t take no for an answer, starting toward the parking lot where his car was parked. All in all, it hadn’t been a bad date at all. He'd have to give Theo props.