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Birthday Girl

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Serena’s Apartment, the Fens, Freedom City

Saturday, August 17, 2019 (Serena’s birthday)

Evening

 

“Jenna, honey, I’m back with dinner,” Serena said as she muscled into her apartment, carrying a big bucket of fried chicken. She hadn’t been feeling like cooking, lately, not that she ever really did, and it was hard to figure out what the latest arrival to her home was into. Ever since she had taken Jenna in, it had all been touch and go.

 

She flipped on the light to her apartment to see that no one was there. Then, she remembered. Jenna was over with Lester for the weekend to spend time with her little brother. Looking down at the bucket of chicken in her arms, she groaned. Well, I guess I’m having chicken for breakfast tomorrow, she thought to herself. Sighing, she tossed her keys onto the tiny kitchen counter, and wandered towards the fridge. Seeing the six-pack of Coors she had stored in there, she picked it up by the ring and flopped onto her couch, turning on the TV.

 

 

Time passed pretty quickly. Serena’s pants were gone, she was on her tenth piece of chicken and her fourth can of beer. The lights were back off, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force was flickering on the screen. She giggled dumbly to herself at the stupid gags, eyes fixed to the screen. The fact that she was going to the Moon in 3 days was now far from her mind as she focused on the show instead.

 

Raising the can of beer to her lips, she saw a small reflection in the glossy cover of the can. She blinked, and then turned around to see the person who had entered her house. Lynn? She looked down, seeing that she was in a grease-stained t-shirt, crummy zip-up hoodie and her underpants and flopped down off the couch.

 

“AAAAaaaaaa how did you get into my apartment?”

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Mia had made an unexpected visit to Silberman's Books earlier that day, which she did from time to time. Not that Lynn objected; she was a cool kid, and their powers were similar enough that the older heroine could give her a few pointers now and then. But this time, the awkward teen had a very specific mission: that her mother not be alone on her birthday. She produced a key to the apartment and placed it on the counter, and warned the changeling to be prepared for anything. 

 

Which turned out to be painfully accurate.

 

"Ah, vintage Adult Swim," said the shapeshifter with a sigh, like a wine aficionado savoring a rare cabernet. "You have excellent taste." Lynn was dressed fairly casually (though not quite as casually as Serena) in a pair of loose jeans, Teva sandals and a faded Princess Jasmine T-shirt. Over one shoulder was an overdized canvas bag, and she carried a plastic bag filled with delicious-smelling Chinese food. Her curly brown hair was up, revealing her pointed ears and graceful neck.

 

"A little bird stopped by the shop today," she began as found her way to the kitchen and began unpacking things onto the small kitchen table. "Well, more of a great blue heron, really. Anyway, said bird informed me that a woman of her acquaintance was going to be spending her birthday alone, getting drunk and eating junk food. We both agreed this was unacceptable, and I was provided with a key in the hope that I might rectify that."

 

Lynn came back into the living room with a plate piled high with egg fu yung, mushroom fried rice and veggie egg rolls, as well as a bottle of Maker's Mark and two glasses. "May I sit?"

Edited by Heritage

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Serena scowled up at the sky. Mia had insisted on doing birthday stuff with her yesterday, even though Serena had never really been one to celebrate her own birthday. Partially it was because she wanted to save the money to spend on Mia’s birthday, and partially because birthdays had never really been a happy thing for her growing up. Serena was, in some ways, a birthday Grinch, and her daughter knew that.

 

She sighed, and hurriedly yanked on her jeans, looking at Lynn over her shoulder. “Yeah, sure, why not,” she said. She looked down at her grease-stained shirt, wondering if she should change more, but decided against it. She placed the cardboard lid back on top of her bucket of chicken, and sat up straight so Lynn could take a seat.

 

“If I had known you were coming I would have dressed up a little more,” she said glumly. “Or, you know, been wearing pants.”

 

From out of her bedroom came a massive orange and black cat, a Maine Coon, which was both fat and had a face like Ron Perlman. It waddled through the room, before immediately leaping up onto Lynn the moment she sat down. It was not a comfortable experience, given that the cat was at least 28 lbs, but he was already rubbing himself against her and purring.

 

“Hey, this is Beelzebub, my cat. He was… one of Wu’s projects. He’s about… 25 years old? I don’t know. He’s one of Wu’s first attempts at slowed ageing and it seems like he’s probably just immortal.”

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"If you knew I was coming, you would've barred the frickin' door,Lynn said with a chuckle as she took a seat, placing her food and the booze on the crummy Ikea coffee table before her. Then Beelzebub made his dramatic entrance. "Oof! Well, at last we meet, Beelzie! I've been smelling you on your mom so long, it's like I already know you!" She extended her claws and oh so gently scritched the big old cat behind the ears, and like most cats he practically melted. "Yeah, he likes that!"

 

"So, she stated matter of factly as she poured them both two fingers of bourbon. "Other than getting wasted, what should we do?"

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Serena nodded at the door statement. She very much would have done that. But now that Lynn was here, she was okay with giving up the fight for now and just letting things progress as they would. She did smile as Beelzie gave Lynn his love. The cat wanted to be everyone's friend.

 

"Well, look, Lynn. I don't really... Do birthday stuff. It always sucked at the foster homes and after Mia was born I wanted to save money to spend on her birthday instead since it's so close to mine. And, and, and it's like... We're going to the Moon in three days and I am stressed out and I am worried about taking Jenna in and how Mia is just sort of pretending she doesn't exist and..."

 

She sighed and took the glass of whiskey, taking a strong gulp of it before setting the glass down and holding her head between her hands, staring down at the carpet, which definitely needed a good cleaning.

 

"I don't know what I am doing anymore."

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"Hey now," Lynn said in a comforting voice as she put an arm around Serena's shoulder. "That's the great thing about being a parent; nobody knows what the f### they're doing!" She took a sip of her drink and winced. "Look, we're all making it up as we go along, right? The fact that you're worrying so much about all this, that your stomach's all twisted up in knots? That shows you care. You're going to make mistakes, and you're going to agonize over them. The ones who're convinced they're great parents? Ninety-five percent of them are f###ing their kids' lives up; I guarantee it."

 

She sighed as she rolled her glass back and forth between her palms. "Bill and I made so many mistakes with our kids; I was the indulgent parent while he was the strict one. Jewish mother, right? I'm always going to pamper my little noodles. They were constantly getting mixed messages from us, plus my daughter kinda hated me for years because I looked so frickin' perfect all the time. I never thought about the impact looking like that all the time would have on my daughter; I was just being vain and selfish."

 

Lynn set her glass down and sighed.

 

"This thing with Mia and Jenna, it's going to be rough for a while, no question. Jenna needs a good role model now, but on the other hand, how can Mia not feel weird about it? You're going to have to give them both some time to sort it all out. Thank God it sounds like Mia's got some good friends at Claremont she can lean on for a while when it gets tough; Jenna doesn't really have that yet."

 

And here she gave Serena an affectionate shoulder shake.

 

"And remember, you're not alone in this; you've always got me to talk to, am I right?"

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Serena nodded, feeling weirdly nice about having Lynn's arm around her shoulder. She understood everything Lynn was saying. This was a weird situation for all of them, and it would pass eventually. Though probably not without work on Serena's part. For that, she was going to try and be the best about it as she possibly could. After all, both girls were going to need her in different ways.

 

"I'm... glad you're a friend, Lynn," she said with a small smile. "Why you keep doing so much for a screw-up like me, I will never understand but I really appreciate just... having you around."

 

She chewed her lip for a moment, then looked over at Lynn. "I really wish you hadn't seen me like this, like this messy... I don't know. It's embarrassing, you know?"

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"Feh! It's your day, be as comfortable as you want." Lynn waved a hand dismissively, and her jeans melted into a pair of men's boxers and her sandals disappeared. She then slid down on the sofa and balanced her plate on her belly.

 

"All of us, and I mean all of us, spend too much time worrying about what other people think of us. Now, I'm not saying that means we should be a##holes, but I do think taking the occasional break from obsessing over our appearances is valid."

 

The beautiful changeling scooped a big spoonful of mushroom fried rice up and completely missed her mouth, getting greasy rice and soy sauce all over Princess Jasmine.

Edited by Heritage

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Serena rolled her eyes. "Oh my God, you are just the most theatric," Serena said with a smirk. "And I guess, but I care what you think of me. I mean, you're my friend and I know you wouldn't judge me, but... You know. I don't want you to see me like that."

 

Serena leaned forward and picked up a plate of chinese food for herself. She looked over at Lynn for a moment, then koo began to stuff her face with egg rolls to try and distract herself. Who even gets a crush on their boss, anyway? Serena thought to herself. Then she realized. Wait, I am 41 years old. Why am I doing this teenage stuff?

 

"Lynn, I gotta be honest with you. I am probably attracted to you. I meant, not probably. I am. And um... I just need to be honest with you about that. I'm sorry to make this weird, but like... I'm 41 today, and that's just... I don't want to wast any time hiding that fact."

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Despite herself, Lynn stiffened a bit. "Ah." Her boxers discretely shifted into a pair of pajama pants that slid down her legs, as she sat up and ran nervous fingers through her hair. "I, uh...s###; this happens a lot, actually." She winced and shook her head. "Not 'a lot' a lot, I mean not...recently. Gah!"

 

The changeling rolled her eyes, took a deep breath, and then turned to face Serena, holding one hand out to count off her points. Her voice was awkward and stilted, filled with a mixture of both humor and frustration.

 

"One: Thank you for the complement! It is nice to hear! Two: I find you attractive as well - yay! Three: I am your boss! This makes things complicated! Four: I have slept with an employee before! Her name was Gretchen! Five: I'm not always a good person! Sometimes I do things that are wrong!"

 

Then she flopped back down on the couch and covered her face with her hand, and sighed a long sigh.

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Serena frowned at Lynn's response, and felt the need to clarify this situation. "Look, it's just... We're going to the Moon in three days to fight my insane ex-best friend and the man who used me. And, and it's, it's like... This is all crazy. Even just going to the Moon is probably the most dangerous thing I have ever done. I hadn't even left the United States until I went to Bosnia two years ago," she said, sighing.

 

"And it means you're doing something dangerous for me that you didn't have to do. Hell, twice now, considering that Heather sicced her kids on us just a few weeks ago. And... I guess... Ugh. Okay, so, what I mean to say is that first, I am sort of motivated because like, come on, the MOON? There are just so many dangers up there and I don't want to... Yeah... And the second is that I don't believe in good people or bad people, I believe in people that do good and bad things and you've done a lot of good for me when you didn't have to," she said.

 

She frowned in thought, trying to salvage this on you. "I am sorry for springing this on you. I just... Even if nothing came of it, I hate lying about how I feel... And I understand if I messed things up and you have to let me go. I can find something elsewhere if you'd prefer it."

 

 

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At the mention of finding a new job, Lynn sat bolt upright and jabbed a finger at her employee. "Wait one damn second. Do not even think of finding a new job because of this nonsense; you need the money and we're both mature adults. As far as the Moon goes-" She paused and sighed. "Part of my whole 'older than I look' thing is, well...I spent a few years in space. On Mars, to be specific. Mostly down in the subterranean colonies, but also on the surface, and even in some spacecraft." She shrugged, looking slightly embarrassed. "I was...part of the Martian Resistance during the Third Colonial War. Commander, scout, spy, assassin. There's actually a very nice Jewish day school named after me, on Mars. And I think there was a statute and a commemorative plaque."

 

She held up her hands and shrugged. "Anyway, it was in another universe, but I assure, it was pretty damn cool. Well, except for the POW camp with all the copper dust; that was awful..."

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Serena stared at Lynn as though she had grown two heads as she told her story, and then, when it was done, was unable to stop it. She laughed, burying her face in her hands. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “That’s not funny, but… God, super stuff is so god damn weird. I just…. Everything about it. When I was a little girl, everything seemed more muted. Sure, there was Nightrage and stuff… but… I don’t know. I couldn’t… Have ever imagined being in the same room as an immortal fairy woman who has fought in wars on Mars and been to other dimensions.”

 

She drained the last of her drink, and looked at the glass, analyzing her reflection in the glass and then looking over to Lynn. She looked very tired at the moment. Then she straightened up and put the glass down.

 

“And of course I find out I’m probably never going to die of old age. Checked in with Rachel, and my cells and the DNA in them have basically been made so tough as to never really break down. Which, you know, hard to kind of accept that I’m apparently just always going to look like this. Eventually, Mia and I are going to look the same age, and then… If she’s inherited that… Same thing will happen to her kids,” she said.

 

“Do you think people who put on the costume are cursed to deal with weirdness, or something? Because this didn’t start happening again until I started doing this whole Corona thing.”

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"Yeah, it's a weird life," Lynn admitted with a wry chuckle. "And I'm with you on the whole 'not aging' thing, although as a shapeshifter, I get to cheat a lot." She drained her beer and then snagged another one, flipping off the top with a nonchalant thumb talon. "You know, you might want to give some thought to, like, learning aging makeup, or maybe getting a magic charm or holographic disguise watch or something. Y'know, if you want to change you're appearance. You can only laugh and joke about 'good genes' for so long." 

 

As to Corona's last question, here the changeling could only sigh.  "I do think something changes once you put on a mask; I think the Universe sits up and takes notice, and starts sending curveballs your way. My husband Bill used to call us 'weirdness magnets', and I think that's about right; weirdness does start seeking you out like a homing missile the minute you slap on some spandex."

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"I think... once Mia's old enough, I might stop doing the whole 'secret identity' thing. Or maybe not. It really depends on who I am protecting. Like...  I don't really act different in costume anyway, and the government definitely already knows since they have that file on me from when I was.... Y'know, Revolt," she said, staring at her reflection in the glass. "Man, if I could go back in time... Ehhh, I dunno."

 

She fished out a piece of fried chicken and waved it around. "I mean, I've done pretty well for myself despite the weirdness. Made a lot of new friends now that I'm doing this, uh... Helped a lot of people, but... It's not something I was really ready for. I was just going to do small time stuff. Help out of the little guy, y'know? Stop muggings, maybe intervene when a cop starts to do the whole police brutality thing, that sort of stuff. Instead, I've gone from street level to like... This feels like Freedom League stuff. And I'm not Freedom League. They're all perfect and understanding and kind... They had the Centurion with'em and I'm just some lady who can throw star-stuff at people and used to rob banks."

 

"Maybe this is penance. Used to be a little brat, and now I have to deal with my ex-best friend trying to turn people's brains into pudding and save her kids from whatever crazy crap she has going on," she mused to herself.

 

"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't this... desire to run and hide and just go back to delivering stuff out of the back of my car, or waitressing, or... Anything but this. Wasn't great, but you know, I wasn't afraid I was going to die."

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Posted (edited)

Lynn shook her head at Serena's statement. "The Freedom league is far from perfect. The fact is, they screw up all the time; they're just better at hiding it." She poured herself some more Maker' Mark, then looked down at her boxers and sighed. "Okay, solidarity is all well and good, but I need some f###in' pants." With a gesture, she summoned forth magic pants before continuing. "So in my time, I've belonged to two different super teams, the Freedom Knights and Interceptors. The Knights self-destructed within like a month of me joining, and the Interceptors were a major dumpster fire. But now hardly anyone remembers the Knights, and the Interceptors are a well-respected team of crime-fighters. They're all just people, doing a job; no different from the rest of us."

Edited by Heritage

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"The Knights, the Interceptors. Don't even have a name for our group. We're just the Group That Bails Serena Out of Her Mess," Serena said. "I guess you're right, they're not perfect, but... Ionno. I still feel like a screw up in comparison. I've never managed to do anything right. I messed up my whole life by being young, dumb and angry, and then I messed up my daughter's life by being too afraid of the consequences of what I did, and now... I just don't feel very heroic."

 

"I'm sorry, I am being a huge downer. Like I said, I know I did well for myself, but you spend most of your childhood with people who tell you you're not good enough or you're not their REAL kid so you better remember to behave yourself oand you end up with... Self esteem issues, I guess. MAN. The 80s foster care system sucked. Especially in Jersey."

 

Serena poured herself a double shot and downed.

 

"I'm trying. I really am."

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Lynn sighed and shook her head. "Look, you need to be willing to accept good things into your life, kiddo; you've gotta stop...mistrusting happiness and waiting for the other shoe to drop. You deserve to have good things happen to you. Stop punishing yourself!"

 

Then the changeling abruptly stood up and put her hands on her hips. "Alright, get your ass up." She gestured, and a low wooden table with a padded surface appeared in the middle of the room. Lynn noisily pushed the coffee table and miscellaneous trash out of the way. "Face down, on the table. You're getting a f###ing massage, right now. Now!" She added the padded 'face hole' to one end of the table, then conjured up a table with several bottles of scented oils.

Edited by Heritage

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Serena pouted. "Don' call me kiddo," she said under her breath, but she wasn't able to hold onto the sentiment for long because what Lynn did next took most of her attention. The idea of a massage was not one that she expected to come up tonight.

 

"Ah, I mean, ah... I mean, alright!" Serena stuttered, removing her hoodie but leaving her shirt on as she walked over to the table, looking back at Lynn for a moment, before laying down on top of it, face down as instructed.

 

This one threw her for a loop. She wasn't entirely sure what to make of this entire situation, especially as Lynn had turned her down earlier and was now giving her a massage. She told herself she was the one making this weird, not Lynn, and just tried to go with it. Lynn was a free spirit and this fit her MO, anyway.

 

"Alright, I'm complyin', officer," she joked, her accent momentarily becoming even thicker than it normally was. "So what's the procedure here? Because I have never done this."

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"I'm not entirely sure," the shapeshifter admitted with a shrug. "I'm doing what I usually do: improvising." She paused and looked down at Serena's back, then sighed. "I owe you a shirt." And with that, Lynn extended a single talon from her index finger, and with barely the slightest pressure, drew it carefully down the younger woman's back, slicing the shirt all the way open, leaving a faint pink line on the skin.

 

"I think you might have misunderstood me a bit earlier," the older woman said as she poured some warm oil into her hand. "I have conflicting feelings about everything; I'm a Gemini, we're insane. My brain and my body are quicksilver; I zig when you think I'll zag." There was a rustling of fabric as Lynn shifted into a sleeveless T-shirt and loose cotton pants, and she added a few inches of height to get a better position. "Shapeshifters, man; there's no telling what they'll do."

 

And then two strong hands with impossibly dextrous fingers began to work their magic.

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"I'm suddenly really glad I'm not wearing one'a my band shirts," Serena remarked. Revealed on her back were more tattoos that Lynn had never seen before, some of which were definitely old stick and pokes. One was a roughly made heart with an arrow through it on her shoulder, with faded names that were now illegible, while a much nicer looking small one detailed a woman holding a billowing red and black flag

 

Then she shivered. Not at the massage, but at Lynn's correction. Okay, a little at the massage. But her mind raced at the possibility, before it all melted away thanks to whatever it was Lynn was doing to her back. She exhaled sharply, and almost sounded like she was deflating. 

 

"Okay, yeah, I could do with more of this," Serena mumbled. "I swear, yer good at so many things."

 

"Mmf, thank you, Lynn. I know I'm... Oh, okay, something popped just there... Kind of a birthday hater but this... I appreciate this," she said, sounding relaxed for the first time that night.

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