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"Mechanics make better money than some people with college degrees. You'll probably be pulling down more money than half the-" That was entirely more pleasant than Watchdog usually was, but luckily Judy stepped out of the changing room with clothes in hand, freeing Ashley to walk with her over to the counter and pay with money from a wallet she pulled from her pants pocket. With that done, they were out on the mall's sidewalk and headed for the bookstore.

 

The pattern of their travel put Ashley closest to Danica (except for her charge), keeping pace with the Segway as they headed down towards the double-open doors of the big-box chain bookstore. For her part, Judy was quite happy with her purchase, hauling around the bag with her new dress (and shoes, too) with a pleased look on her face as she kept pace with Micah. She could tell he liked her; and even if it was just harmless fun, she liked him, too. He was a bit like Leroy, she supposed, a boy her mother would probably not want her to bring home. "So what do you like to read?" she asked Micah as they headed inside the bookstore 

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Danica looked a bit skeptical of Judy's taste in dresses, but the other girl was so obviously pleased that she kept her mouth closed. The dress was, well, modest was one word for it, but the old-fashioned lace and severe cut made Judy look like she was about twelve years old and going to Sunday School instead of a formal dance. It was lucky Judy was so pretty, Danica figured, because it meant she could still pull off a dress like that without looking ridiculous. Danica would never let any of her friends go to a dance looking ridiculous, even if it required a failure of diplomacy.

 

She herself bought an extremely fuzzy pair of slipper socks and hung the bag off the handlebar of her Segway as they left the store. "Oh, hold up! Pretty earrings!" she exclaimed as they passed a teen jewelry boutique. "You guys go ahead, I'll catch up. You know, more or less." She grinned and waved them on. 

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Ashley looked backwards automatically when Danica hesitated, meaning she for a bare instant was stuck on the sidewalk while her charge was headed inside another store. Dammit, not in the! It wasn't that it was her job to take care of the tortoise totem but dividing the party always had its share of risks. Oh well, she thought as she headed inside the bookstore after Micah and Judy. Despite the occasional nightmares where she'd been transferred permanently to guard Claremont, it wasn't her job to take care of super-teens in general - just one in particular. The agents in there know what they're doing.

 

Inside, Danica found a jewelry store that was unusually crowded - and with an older clientele than she'd been expecting. A man in a suit and two women in casual tracksuits were standing together in front of the display counter, one of the latter with binoculars, and she had a feeling that a conversation had abruptly stopped when she pushed open the swinging doors. "Oh, uh, hello," said the young man behind the counter with a cheerful saleman's smile, "how can I help you today?" He did indeed look cheerful enough, despite a short, military-style haircut and a lean swimmers build that looked a good deal fitter than your average store clerk. "What would you like?" 

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Micah ultimately picked the two-color tie, again citing his ownership of a one-color tie and limited dress clothes wardrobe. Once checked out, he tucked the small-ish box with the tie into one of his windbreaker's jackets; they were just large and flexible enough to handle it, and this way his hands were (more) free. At Judy's question, he shrugged a bit. 

 

"Well, I like biography now and again, mostly musicians. Books on aircraft history, stuff like that. I like fiction, especially science fiction. Fantasy can be good, but..."

 

He rolled the words around in his head for a few moments.

 

"Some, not all but a lot, of fantasy authors are worse about...using stereotypes. Mainly for non-white folks. Not always negative ones, but...it still gets tiresome. Same reason I'm not big into crime dramas and the like. Most history books are depressing or frustrating."

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Judy looked back behind them for a moment, but then shrugged and focused on the interesting question of Micah. "Ah've been reading Narnia again since I got into, uh, that tabletop game that Adam runs, it's pretty fun." She considered that she probably shouldn't tell Micah that she'd tried loyally to read her father's books but found them much more boring than his speaking voice, and her mother's book on Christian child-rearing was a lot less strict than how she'd actually grown up - which had annoyed her when she read it more than she wanted to admit. "Finding books that have, um, good values can be hard to find." Twirling her fingers in her hair, nervously she wandered over to Inspirational Fiction. 

 

Watchdog was too cool to shop at a place like this - and Ashley's tastes for entertainment weren't the sort of thing you'd like to see expressed in a suburban big-box bookstore anyway. So she leaned close to the wall, casually moving closer to stay in the vicinity of Judy and Micah.

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"Narnia's fun. I like Tolkien's work, too. I...when I'm reading fiction, I like a world where there's at least some justice. If stuff's too muddled, it's just not fun for me. Sci-fi is not usually as good at that, though Star Wars is pretty good. But it makes up for it with...you know, not being super-trope-y."

 

He shrugged vaguely as they walked along. He noted Judy's path, but for the moment he himself drifted toward the Fantasy & Science Fiction section, just kind of walking through the aisles without much aim. He hadn't intended to specifically separate from Judy, but he was in a bookstore and wanted to look at books, so there you go...

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With a soft sigh, Judy stepped into inspirational fiction where Micah couldn't see her face. I don't know most of what he was talking about! Ugh, I'm so stupid! She looked at the books before her, not quite seeing them, and then looked beyond - luckily the place was small enough that she could call out to him without making a scene. "Ah like Star Wars too," she said out loud, which certainly was true. "My mom..." she swallowed. "um, mah momma used to say it was a great way to show the redeeming power of good even for a secular audience." 

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Danica stopped dead just inside the doors to the store, nearly putting herself into reverse on accident. She had never seen this many adults inside a Claire's store, certainly not this many adult men, and with no kids in sight. It was like being in the wrong store, except everything else looked right. Nobody was buying anything, nobody even had bags from other stores. And those binoculars... something was not right here. She considered turning around and going right out again, but that was logistically difficult with her wheels on, and wasn't she supposed to be a hero? "This is weird," she said instead, leaving herself planted firmly in the doorway. "Is this a robbery?" She looked to the guy behind the counter. "Are you in danger?" 

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That got her a surprised look from the man behind the counter, as well as a distinct flicker from the 'customers' who had been standing by the window. "N-no," the man said truthfully, "but the store is, uh, about to close down for lunch," he lied, making a show of glancing down at the computerized counter he was standing behind. "I know it stinks," he said sympathetically, "but it's company policy to take breaks at, uh, 11. I have to take care of these people first," he offered as he reached behind the counter, "but I can give you a $25 gift card you can redeem online." As he spoke, the other 'customers' in the store were scooping up mismatched items from the counter in front of them and heading to the counter, shooting quick smiles Danica's way like it was perfectly normal for a Claire's to be full of customers who looked about twice Danica's apparent age. 

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On 12/4/2018 at 9:45 PM, Avenger Assembled said:

With a soft sigh, Judy stepped into inspirational fiction where Micah couldn't see her face. I don't know most of what he was talking about! Ugh, I'm so stupid! She looked at the books before her, not quite seeing them, and then looked beyond - luckily the place was small enough that she could call out to him without making a scene. "Ah like Star Wars too," she said out loud, which certainly was true. "My mom..." she swallowed. "um, mah momma used to say it was a great way to show the redeeming power of good even for a secular audience." 

"Star Wars is very much a story that transcends any one philosophy or religion, yeah. I mean, there's some pretty obvious Eastern-ish influences, but it goes well beyond that. The themes are what really matter."

 

He pauses, pulling down a book and skimming the cover summary before putting it back.

 

"Well, that and the laser swords and space ships. I'd be lying if I said those didn't matter, and my father didn't raise a liar."

 

Judy could hear the slight smile in his face. This...was probably the first time Micah had mentioned his father. And one of the handful he'd made reference to family in general. 

 

"Hm. Not a lot of great new stuff this month. Guess it's a slow month. You know what books we need more of?"

 

He seemed to actually be waiting for an answer even if the question sounded rhetorical. 

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Danica leaned forward abruptly, speeding into the rapidly decreasing space between the strange adults and the counter. She came perilously close to running over somebody's foot, but they had really good reflexes. "It's okay!" she told the man behind the counter in a loud whisper. "Whatever's going on, you can tell me. I can protect you!" She gave the pretend shoppers a narrow-eyed look, one that widened immediately when she realized that the man with binoculars also had the sort of bulge in his jacket that she'd been taught meant concealed weapon. "Get down," she told the employee urgently, "call the police. Don't worry about me, I'm invincible." As she turned back to her new enemies, she let her shell manifest around her, so big that two or three guys could've hidden behind it. 

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Oh thank you Jesus he didn't ask about my mom! thought Judy, who hadn't been looking forward to yet another lie. Maybe I shouldn't try to be his girlfriend, just his friend. This is just too stressful - and not very Christian! "Well I know the little library needs some Frank Peretti books," she said confidently "and maybe some history, like those books they based Hacksaw Ridge and Unbroken on. Ooh, you know," she said, taking a few steps so that she could actually look at Micah, "maybe we could buy those movies and watch 'em! Bring the whole gang!" There was a soft curse. Behind Judy, Micah could see Ashley looking out the window of the store, her face gone bone-white and hand resting on what looked like an over-stuffed equipment belt. 

 

...and at the hour of death, amen, Ashley finished thinking because it was more satisfying than screaming inside her head. Do not engage! Do not engage! Do not engage the girl you know goddamned well is goddamned bulletproof! Okay, maybe swearing inside her head was helpful after all.

 

Meanwhile, in the store, things were getting frosty. At the sudden display of superpowers, the man with binoculars had slid his hand in her jacket and stepped back, only to get a hard elbow in the side from one of the joggers. "It's okay!" called the blonde woman, "we're not robbing the place, Turtle Girl! Listen, this is just one big misunderstanding!" 

 

"I'm gonna be fired!" The clerk suddenly seemed to crumple before Danica's eyes, tears welling up on his face. "Because I failed my test! This was a secret shopping day and I failed, and now there's gonna be a superbattle and wreck the store, and I just..." He buried his face in his hands. "I just wanted to get an employee discount for my baby sister!" 

 

Binoculars guy had taken his hand out of his jacket but he didn't look happy about it. "You need to put the force field down, miss." 

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"It's not a force field," Danica sneered, "It's a shell, and it's part of my body. Anyway, you've got a gun and you're really not a secret shopper and I wouldn't put it down if I could." She cast a worried glance at the clerk. "He's not a secret shopper," she told the clerk reassuringly. "They don't get to carry guns, I'm pretty much sure of that. Be right back" She pulled one arm into her shirt and ducked her head down as well, partially disappearing into her shell. There was a brief sound of rummaging and then an echoey "Call Micah." A pause. "No! Call Micah. Come on, stupid... call Micah!" 

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"Hm, if you're hitting World War 2, what about something on the code-talkers? I know they had a movie but it was a while back. They don't get enough attention, you know? Hm, I don't think I caught either one of the movies. Sounds like they're pretty good?"

 

He was thumbing through a book on the history of motorcycles, now. He started to say something else, then he noticed Ashley's curse and sudden demeanor shift. He frowned and set the book down, starting to walk toward the grumpy older sister.

 

"Ashley, what's going-"

 

His phone buzzed, and as he pulled it out he saw it was Danica. Blinking, he clicked the button to answer.

 

"Hey Danica, what's up?"

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Danica's voice over the phone was slightly muffled and very excited. "Micah! I'm in the Claire's and it was full of adults and no kids or teenagers and the adults have binoculars and guns and the guy behind the counter is crying and I don't exactly know what to do at this point! I think maybe they were trying to trick the clerk into giving him the cash register by pretending to be Secret Shoppers but they are definitely not and some of them are wearing track pants and I don't even... Can you help?" 

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Ashley's eyes were very wide, one hand pressed to her ear. Her eyes flicked to Micah for just a moment as she half-heard the conversation with Danica, bulging wide, then she locked eyes with Judy. "Judy, there's a longhorn situation outside." Judy's eyes popped wide too, and she took a step back, shooting a nervous look first at Micah, then at her sister. Oh mah gawd she mouthed, automatically reaching down and squeezing Micah's hand. She caught Ashley's eye and dropped the hand quickly, though, instead ducking down so she was out of view of the glass windows. 

 

"Micah, what did Danica say?" Ashley firmly inquired. Watchdog added, a little belatedly "And are you sure it was her?

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Micah blinked in confusion at first as Danica spoke; the girl may walk slow, but that didn't mean she talked slow! But then he heard the word "gun", and Ashley saw his face go almost blank, a strange calm coming over the young man. When Judy's hand squeezed his, he unconsciously squeezed back; in the moment, it was a gesture of reassurance and safety, not potentially "naughty" affection or attraction. 

 

"Danica, I know they shouldn't be able to hurt you, but you need to try and not make any sudden movements. Just keep the cashier safe. I'll be there in a moment. I'm going to hang up the phone so it doesn't get damaged now. Please try to keep yourself and the cashier back from the windows."

 

Outside, the sky overhead was taking on a distinct gray cast, and the wind was picking up. Judy could probably pick up the uptick in ambient static and electromagnetic energy from the sky....and Micah. When Ashley asked him what was going on, he looked her right in the eye as he answered; the vigilante couldn't miss that his eyes were no longer brown. They were green.

 

"Danica's in the Claire's. There are at least two people with guns, and at least one hostage, the cashier. Danica should be fine, and yes I'm sure it was her. For a tortoise, she's a fast talker. Now we need to go help her. Keep your sister behind us."

 

He begins walking quickly toward the door, his body now showing barely-restrained energy, as if he wanted to burst out in a run. Despite facing away from them, they clearly heard Micah's half-muttered next words, with a heavier accent than what Micah usually displayed..

 

"My daddy didn't raise no coward."

 

 

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Ashley moved through tactical scenarios in her mind like lightning before she realized there really was only one choice. Can't knock him out. Can't let him go in there alone. Can't tell him to stay here. Can't- She reached inside her jacket and came out with a gun. Micah had seen her use her pistols in combat at Claremont, the laser guns were showy and devastating in a fight, and the energy they spread wouldn't kill their target the same way a bullet would. "Let's do this," she hissed. "Judy, st-Except my support team is about to fight an invincible turtle but I cannot leave the First Daughter unguarded in the middle of a possible super-battle. "Judy, you're with us. Stay behind me." If things did go pear-shaped, she could call the helicopter overhead and have the girl airlifted out. "Micah, you stay behind me too and make sure nobody tries to hit us from behind.

 

And so it was that Ashley kicked open the door of Claire's, gun drawn, and yelled the code words "Cowboys! Everybody down! Right now! Hands behind your head!" Ashley did indeed cut a frightening figure, the mundane menace of the weapon in her hand and the icy fire in his voice enough to make the three robbers inside the store drop to their knees, putting their hands behind their heads. Danica had the distinct impression that they did not like what they were doing, shooting angry glances at each other and at Ashley, but they were evidently willing to cooperate with the girl with the drawn weapon. 

 

Thank God I thought to give us a code for 'just follow my lead!' thought Ashley before a wide-eyed Judy called over her shoulder "Oh mah gawd! Ah can't believe this is happening!" 

 

 

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Danica, who'd been doing her best to glare down the bad guys while balancing the greatly increased weight of her shell on the Segway, nearly fell over as Ashley burst into the store. She resisted the urge to raise her own hands automatically and let out a breath of relief when the situation suddenly became much less scary and more manageable. She still didn't know who any of these people were or exactly what they were up to, but now nobody was probably going to shoot anybody. "Cowboys?" she asked Ashley. "Do we have a team name now?" 

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Micah nodded as Ashley took charge; as much as he wanted to get in there, he trusted the girl's instincts. His eyes glowed brightly, only managing not to draw attention because it was (muted) daylight. He kept pace behind Watchdog, not even flinching at her sidearm; while he didn't own or really intend to ever use one, he was not a stranger to them. He kept the lightning from overflowing out of his body, from making him move too fast. But it was an effort. 

 

When Ashley kicked the door in, Micah's eyes swept for threats outside before turning to the robbers inside the Claire's. He saw them complying with Ashley's demands, and gave them a confident smirk, followed up with an "I'm Watching You" gesture that probably kept its gravitas due to his eyes being solid glowing green with tiny crackles of lightning and St. Elmo's Fire bleeding from the edges and corners.

 

"You okay in there, Danica?"

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