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A day at the beach [Vignette]

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Grinning widely, Sean Parker hurls himself into the water. It’s nearly 95 degrees, but the water is at least twenty degrees colder. The sudden chill is welcome, even if he had to wade out quick a while before the water grew deep enough for him to dive in. He has traded in his battlesuit for a bathing suit today. Try as he might, he couldn’t get it to shrink enough to act as a pair of shorts, and he felt like he looked stupid when he made it into a wetsuit. He wasn’t going surfing, and besides, it’d be nice to work on his tan a little. When Talos did whatever he did to his body, he washed away years of neglect to his skin. Sean had avoided looking at himself in a mirror then, but he remembered glimpses of pasty paleness. He wasn’t about to let that happen again.

This is the first Independence Day that he was able to celebrate openly. Instead of watching the fireworks from the abandoned oil rig that Freedom City’s villains used as a meeting ground, he could go out in public like a normal person. He had gone down the coast to a public beach early in the morning. He might not have his suit, but he could still fly a lot faster than any car could drive, and he didn’t have to follow the roads. Thankfully, he had remembered to pack a few bucks on him for food. He had forgotten that beaches charged people to be on them, so most of his meal money was already spent on a beach tag. Today, he wasn’t going to be Icarus, super-villain scourge of Freedom City. He was going to be Sean Parker, an ordinary guy, and throwing some teenager into the water because he was doing his job isn’t a good way to relax.

The water is colder than he had remembered, and he barely avoids taking a breath in surprise. That would be a bad idea, he thinks to himself. He pulls himself to the surface and breathes in there, rubbing the salt water out of his eyes. He sees a couple of college-age girls looking at him, and when they notice that he noticed, they turn away, laughing.

He looks down at himself, confused. Sure, there’s the tattoo there in the middle of his chest – he had found that he could fix it into a single shape if he concentrated, and he had left it as a cross – but he didn’t see anything to laugh at. He rubs his hand through his hair – no seaweed, or anything like that. Then it dawns on him. They think he’s cute. It has literally been years since anyone has thought that (unless you include the time travel, but that was technically in 1972 anyway). It comes as no surprise to anyone that a man in full Greek armor (including a helm that completely covers the face) isn’t a ladykiller. But now… he’s old enough to be their father. For a second, he’s afraid and does the math, but no, not old enough to be their grandfather. That’d be even more disturbing.

Sean climbs out of the water and goes to his towel. Is it wrong? He looks like he’s still in his twenties, after all, and young women get with older men all the time. “Of course, those guys are also usually rich,†the little voice in the back of his head says. “You still live in your old apartment.â€Â

His reverie is interrupted by the clanging of the bells up and down the beach. The lifeguards are waving everyone out of the water, and someone on the shore is pointing to a large fin cutting out of the water.

“That’s no dolphin,†Sean says to himself unnecessarily. He sighs as he realizes that they’ll probably be closing the beach because of it. Then another thought pops up into his head. He looks from side to side, then sprints down the beach past the lifeguard station. They see him, but they can’t get down from the tower before he’s already knee-deep. At that point, he makes himself heavier, surrounding himself with the peculiar energy field he can control, and flies straight into the water.

This is the first time he ever tried to fly through water without a helmet on, and the first thing he notices is how much thicker it feels than the air. He has to hold his breath, too, but his target is fairly clear. The shark is swimming straight toward him, and he twists to the side to avoid its teeth. He punches it in the ribs, and even without all the power that his suit gives him, he can still feel something give. The shark starts to swim faster, and Sean can’t tell whether it’s to build up speed for an attack or get away from him.

It strikes him that he is being the jerk here. The shark probably wasn’t going to attack anyone, especially with all the other people out of the water, and he just swam in and punched it. At this point, though, he’s sort of committed. He swims to the surface and takes a breath, then dives down again. He looks around again for the shark, and finds it as it bites onto his left leg. He can feel some of the teeth break against him, and he pulls himself free without even much effort. He feels even worse now – not pain, but just bad for picking on someone much weaker than him. That it’s a shark… well, he doesn’t go around kicking puppies either.

He swims down and underneath the shark, then flies up and out of the water with it. The shark struggles against his grasp, but can’t escape. He just needs to get it far enough away from the beach that … that they might not close it all the way. He hadn’t really thought this through, and now he’s carrying a shark around. Sean’s about a half-mile offshore when he drops the shark back in the water and it quickly swims away. Rather than try to return to his towel, he just flies and swims away, back toward Freedom City. It isn’t until he gets back to his apartment that he sees that the left leg of his suit is all chewed up. For Sean Parker, the most lasting mark of the Fourth of July is that he’ll need to buy a new towel and pair of swim trunks.

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