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Avenger Assembled

What Happened This Summer

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July 2019 

Oklahoma City, OK 

 

Judith Claudia Cahill studied her reflection in the bedroom mirror and felt a sharp twinge. It wasn't that she disliked how she looked, far from it. She looked very different than the hand-me-down penniless orphan in the custody of the Claremont Academy. The rosette A-line gown she wore was a shade of dove gray that perfectly matched her light tan complexion, her lips were the perfect shade of soft pink to match same, and her long brown hair was up behind her head in a bun that matched her mother's - as did the cross she wore around her neck. She looked a lot more like a million bucks than she necessarily felt - and suddenly she wished Leroy could see her, and Corinne too. "Why do I have to go to this again, Mama?" 

Rachel Cahill gave her daughter a practical look. She was shorter than Jaycee and darker, her brown hair a slightly different color than Jaycee's because its full color had been coming out of a bottle for some years. "Because Joanna's busy in Lawton and Jerusha's with your Daddy out in Philadelphia." Jaycee's older sister was teaching at a Comanche-majority elementary school that summer; and her younger sister was standing by her father's side out in Pennsylvania with the Vice-President that night. It was the same speech she'd given her earlier that day, but she put a sympathetic hand on Jaycee's back. "Ah'm sorry you have to go through this," she said, "but you have it easier than your sisters do. They've been carrying a lot of water for you this past year." 

 

"They never had to go down to a dinner and pretend to eat it," muttered Judy, getting a look from her mother that was rather less sympathetic. "Ah mean come on, mama, how long am Ah gonna have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome?" She spat out the syllables of the last few words, which she'd learned to memorize over the last few years very well, spreading her arms wide. 

"For as long as it's a problem," said Rachel Cahill flatly. Their Secret Service agents and her mother's staffers weren't actually in the room with them, but they were close enough to hear anything spoken above a whisper. "This is the perfect place for you to show your face - hardly any cameras, friendly donors, media's on our side; they'll write up some nice articles about how Jaycee Cahill came out with her mama, and wasn't that nice, and then we can get back to the campaign. Ah would think you'd be happy you don't have to do anything more public." 

 

"But why does it have to be...these donors?" said Judy, gesturing downstairs in the general direction of the men on the first floor of the luxury hotel. 


"...because they're very rich friends of your daddy's and because they've been helping keep the lights on since you were in kindergarten?" her mother replied, evidently not fully understanding the question. "Don't tell me you've suddenly decided you don't like money that comes from out of the ground, because if that's so I can tell your father to cut back some on your allowance." 


"No, Mama, that's not it," whispered Judy firmly - after all, the natural gas found on her grandfather's land seventy years earlier had made her family very rich instead of giving her "a dynasty of hog farmin'!" as her late grandpappy had put it, and it had made her daddy President of the United States. "Ah'm talking about the other stuff. You know..." There were things she wasn't prepared to say to her mother, even quietly enough that she was reasonably sure nobody else could hear. "The stuff that isn't because they get their money from out of the ground." 

"Oh, well, honey," said the First Lady as she neatly put on her earrings, "Ah know it sounds a little funny coming from the mouths of older men like that, but you've seen my marriage to your daddy. The man may be the head of the family, but the woman's the neck, and she can turn that man anyway she pleases. Here, do you want the diamond studs or the gold rings? I think we'd look cute as anything if we match." 

 

 

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Automatically,. Jaycee followed her mother's lead - but Judy objected even as they donned matching diamond studs. "Ah don't even mean the complementarian stuff," said Judy hesitantly. "Ah just mean the other stuff, about, you know..." She thought about words she'd heard growing up - never from her parents, of course, because you didn't talk that way about other people. "The gays." 

 

Rachel turned from the mirror to her daughter, irritation growing in her eyes. "Darlin, if this is your way of testing my limits, let me assure you that they are still there, and they are very real." She took a step towards Judy and went on. "I know things are hard for you. Things are hard for all of us," she said in a firm whisper. "But the important thing is, we are a family, and we work as a team." 

 

"We aren't a team!" Judy hissed back, with such force she surprised herself. "You and Daddy get to be Mr. and Mrs. America, and the rest of us have to pretend to be people we aren't! You know Joanna doesn't agree with half the things Daddy says, and Jerusha's gonna realize when she's old enough that half the boys who are sweet on her are just sweet because they like their picture in the paper more than they like her!" 

 

If life in the Cahill household was like the way many of Judy's friends thought it was, at this point Rachel would have slapped her in the face - as it was, for just a moment she looked like she wanted to before she said, "Do you think I _want_ to be living like this?" she asked, pointing to the dress she was wearing. "Darlin, if it was up to me, we'd still be back in Guymon and the biggest thing I'd have to worry about is going to the faculty Christmas party at OPSU. But your daddy wanted to be in the state legislature, and then your daddy wanted to be Governor, and now things are the way they are." 

 

"Your life ain't so hard," said Judy sourly. "You go on Sesame Street and you write books about how to raise good all-American children. Ah have to pretend Ah'm some refugee from god-knows-where eight months out of the year, and when Ah'm home Ah have to pretend to eat so people don't think Ah have an eating disorder." 

 

"Don't say ain't," came the automatic response. "Judy, honey, it's because we have to show people we're a normal family." 

 

"We are not a normal family!" said Judy, actually yelling this time. "How can you possibly pretend we're a normal family?" 

 

Rachel stepped back, her eyes wide. "Judy, honey, you need to control yourself." Judy heard the faintest noise from outside the cracked door outside, the Secret Service agents on duty recognizing the first of several possible code phrases, and she suddenly, achingly, missed Ashley. Why did she have to be on that stupid vacation to Louisiana anyway? "You know how dangerous it can be when you get this way." 

 

 

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Jaycee stepped back, crossing her arms, hating herself. "Ah'm sorry, Mama." She closed her eyes, and just for a moment, her mother's face flashed before them - not the way she was now, but burned on the inside from microwave radiation, close to death if they hadn't been so close to some of the world's best doctors. Her fault. It was her fault. "Okay. Okay, Ah'm sorry." 

 

Rachel took a breath, then let it out. "It's okay, honey, I know you didn't mean anything by it. You're just losing discipline because you've been away at that school so long." 

 

"...actually," said Judy carefully, "that school has really been helping me." She thought of Lulu, and Leroy, and Danica, and all her other friends at Claremont. "Ah only had the one accident all year." 

"Well then!" said Rachel cheerily. "If we don't have to worry about any accidents, that's even better reason to start keeping you home again. Ah'm not so busy Ah can't still get you a real education." 

 

Judy thought about that, the place where her stomach had been churning, and said, "...but Ah have a lot of friends there, mama. Ah told you about-" She'd been about to mention a few when her mother finished her sentence - incorrectly. 

 

"Yes, Ah know all about that boy. Ah trust you and I trust Agent George, so I don't worry about you going on some chaste dates with a fairy tale prince and his pet dragon," said Rachel, in what actually was a rather liberal statement for her. "But you know you can't ever marry a boy like that, so why are you bothering with him?" Rachel was applying her lipstick, a last step before inviting the makeup crew back in. "And as for your friends, what about your friends back in DC?" 

 

"...a lot of them turned out to be my friends because of who you and Daddy are," Judy admitted, getting a laugh from her mom. "My friends at Claremont are my friends because of who Ah am, even though I've had to lie to them this whole time." 

 

"Well, friends come and go," said Rachel. "But family's forever. You remember that, right honey?" 

"Family's forever," agreed Judy. She looked away from her mother as the makeup and security guards came back in, her mind working ahead, and suddenly she did something she'd learned how to do from a friend at Claremont whose bodily grace had been matched only by her personal confidence. She stood up, rolled her eyes back in her head, and pitched over backwards. Her trustfall gamble worked like a charm (who was going to let the First Daughter fall to the ground) and within a couple of seconds she was on her back in the room's small couch, being tended to by her mother and a Secret Service man she didn't recognize. (Rachel Cahill, a trained nurse, preferred to do the family's doctoring when necessary.) 

"Oh Mama," she said as she fluttered her eyes, "I think it's the, um, POTS acting up." She looked at Rachel, hand over her heart, and said, "Ah'm sorry, Mama, Ah don't think Ah can make it down there tonight." It had been a bold play, almost spur of the moment, and she wondered what Ashley would think about it - especially since her mother knew perfectly well that her daughter didn't have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. 

For her part, Rachel Cahill knew a thing or two about company manners. She smiled at her daughter and said, "Well okay, honey, you just stay up in our bedroom. Agent Johnson'll make sure to turn off all the lights and the electronics to make sure you get some rest." Her smile pulled back over her teeth. "We'll talk after the party tonight." 

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August 2019 

Oklahoma City 

 

Ashley had persuaded Mrs. Cahill to leave her alone with Judy for a while - "sisterly bonding time" was part of maintaining their respective characters, something that was a vital part of the charade that Rachel Cahill took very seriously indeed. When they were finally alone, Ashley held a finger up to her lips and walked around the edge of the hotel room, casually removing devices from her belt and placing them at the edges of the hotel room's walls. Understanding the signal, Judy was quiet until Ashley joined her again at the hotel card table where she'd been sitting. The notebooks of their summer story, the deck of cards, the Gideon Bible - they'd all have to wait right now. 

 

She didn't need to explain what she was doing; Judy heard the radio signals in the room briefly fuzzing into inaudible noise, and knew a similar effect was reaching the ears of any eavesdroppers. When they were done, Ashley steepled her fingers and studied her charge, considering how to play this. From the tense way Judy was shifting in her seat, she understood the game too. "I'd like you to tell me what happened in Oklahoma City last month." Another teenager would have reminded Ashley about the report the agent had already signed off on about the incident - another teenager would have  protested that she'd already told her everything! But Judy was typically an honest girl, which was why they needed to have this conversation now, because if they didn't and something was changing the coming year was going to be dangerous. 

 

Ashley took no notes for the conversation - but she remembered it well enough. Judy's story went something like this. 

 

-

 

Alone in a darkened room with a wet towel over her forehead, sipping on a bottle of water, she'd done some hard thinking.

 

She knew her mother well enough to read her moods, and she knew Rachel had been serious about potentially pulling her out of Claremont. Her mother had never liked the idea of sending her daughter away to a place where 'she'd be exposed to who knows what kind of people, where they'll fill her head with who knows what ideas' - and when she tried to think about the school from her mother's perspective, her fears only grew. She had a boyfriend her mother didn't like, that was one strike, she had friends her mother certainly didn't like, that was two strikes, and she'd managed to avoid any serious incidents with her powers - which was, dammit, another strike. Because if she could control her powers, why do something so risky as keep her at Claremont, with all it exposed her to? 

 

Expose her to people she'd never seen before, and places like she'd never seen before, and a place where she could actually find some answers about what was happening to her - The idea came to her so fast that she sat up. Well, what if I can't control my powers? It would have to be careful, so careful, something that her parents could plausibly see as an accident despite her recent argument with her mother, something that wouldn't hurt anyone else but that could stand as proof positive that she needed more training, and the only place to get that was Claremont. Maybe her powers were a curse, something to keep her up at night, but if she couldn't turn that curse into a blessing...

 

 

At this point Judy's story broke off, her eyes burning as she looked away from Ashley. "It sounds so bad when Ah say it out loud," she whispered. 

 

 

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When Judy was done, she faced Ashley across the table. "So there you have it. Ah did it. Ah did it on purpose." She reached up and scrubbed her eyes, unable to cry even though her gaze was burning. 


Ashley licked her lips, took a breath, and said, "Why?" 

 

"Because Ah know there's something better than this now," said Judy softly. "Ah'm sorry, Ah know Ah should be loyal to my family, and Ah do love them, but this is...this is not how it should be!" she said, making a gesture with her hand to include the whole hotel room, and the world beyond it. "Ah shouldn't have to lie to everyone because it makes their lives easier. Ah want to go back to Claremont because...because it's better for me to be there as long as my parents live in the White House."  

 

Ashley considered what to say for a moment, then went on. "You know more about your powers than I thought," she admitted. "You managed to scorch that hotel room without irradiating anyone through the walls or the floors. Smart to count it out until your staff was at the edge of the perimeter." She looked her charge in the eye and said, not unsympathetically, "But this can't happen again. I will be here for you, for the rest of this year, for however long this takes, but I can't protect you if you're going to do things like this." 

 

Judy deflated, slightly, but didn't collapse. "Ah guess you must be disappointed in me now."  

 

Ashley reached across the table and took the girl's hand; as usual, Ashley was fever-hot to the touch. "Remember what I told you when we first met?" she asked the girl. "I'm with you to the end of the line." 

 

"Why?"

 

Because I know what it's like to have the superworld crash into your life and take everything from you. Because I know what it's like to have your family turn their back on you because they want things to be normal. 

 

"Because somebody reached out for me when I needed it." Unbidden, the face of Callie Summers flashed in her mind. "And I want to help." 

 

"Okay." She took a breath, then said, "I've been thinking about becoming a real-live superhero this year..." 

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