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April 2020 

Two weeks to prom 

 

...Det, sa Peter till Wendy, var vägen till Neverland; men även fåglar som bär kartor och konsulterade dem i blåsiga hörn kunde inte ha sett det med dessa instruktioner. Peter, du förstår, sa precis allt som kom in i hans huvud...

 

...Jag avvisade dessa svar; istället valde jag något annat. Jag valde det omöjliga. Jag valde ... Rurland. En stad där konstnären inte skulle vara rädd för censuren. Där forskaren inte skulle vara bunden av små moral. Där det stora inte skulle begränsas av de små!..

 

"Yes, I, hmm, know people at Archetech. And HAX." said Eira archly to Kam, turning from where she sat besides Pan to speak clearly to the Dakanan teen. "Archetech gives you the strength and power of a great corporation, with a mastermind as its leader, while HAX has a more...intimate atmosphere. Fewer limits at one, more good friends at the other, yes?" She smirked at that, leaning back with her hands on her lap as if she'd said something very clever. 

 

...of course - I am not a fool. But still - just imagine what it would be like. We are here - I will see you soon VINCE...

 

When the Claremont van stopped in front of the dojo, Eira stepped out, duffel bag slung over her shoulder, in her grey sweats and white sneakers looking ready for an informal workout. This was technically a gym elective, something that got them all out of playing "Quidditch - but with POWERS!"  - and it promised to be an interesting evening. 

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"I suppose it depends what areas of research most appeal."  The young prince replied with a confident smile at the odd inflection the Swedish android gave her speech resisting the urge to look behind him for the camera or teleprompter.  One often felt Eira was speaking to some unseen audience.  "What about you Pan?  Any thoughts on what to do after graduation?"  he inquired curiously as the van came to a stop.  He slung his backpack over his shoulders as he stepped out onto the curb in loose trackpants with good mobility and a fitted tank top stretched across his much filled out shoulders and chest. 

 

He looked askance at the rather mundane appearing Dojo not exactly what one expected for an elective at a super hero school but the smirk Janus had worn when he'd mentioned the outing had him not quite believing the appearances.  "Shall we?"  he asked of the other students as the piled out and strode up to the door holding it open for the others with a polite smile.

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Pan shrugged at the question. He had been following the conversation, sure, but that was the future, this was the present. "Well, I hope for a lot of adventure, at least." He smiled slightly, looking at Eira for a second, before looking to Kam. "But no, no plans. I will have to find out when the time comes, I suppose."

 

He stepped out of the van with the others, a grey duffelbag on his shoulder, dark green shorts that reached his knees but no further, a lighter green t-shirt with a dark grey jacket over it. He eyed the dojo before them. "Not really impressive looking, is it? Of course, appearances can deceive, no?" 

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Collapsing bodily out of the van, Leroy stumbled a few steps away from the vehicle before turning and fixing the thing with a look of utter, unquenchable loathing. "You, mechanism, are of the Devil" he said with crisp finality, turning from it as he tossed the silver scarf back around his neck, where it contrasted nicely with the purples and blacks of today's tunic and trousers. As a remarkable first, he wore neat, level black and white dancing shoes. "Thank goodness we have arrived, I had given us up for dead halfway to this dancing dojo!"

 

He nodded in agreement of his schoolmate's assessment "A curious fact I have learned, Pan, is that here the more extravagant covers hide the less impressive contents. This deception is a great art practiced by every people, so no matter where one travels the humdrum boxes will always have more of interest than the gracéful spires or sprawling arcades." He shook his head, curling his long hair into a tight braid thick as one of his muscular arms.

 

"Speaking of grace," he added, glancing curiously around the homely streets of West End, laden with red brick and concrete as the inner city was with glass and steel, "this is the territory of the Interceptors, is it not? Do you suppose we will see them?" A light had come on in his golden eyes "Ever since I heard of him, the chance to see Jack of all Blades, the First Sword of Freedom, thwart evildoing has been a mighty lure!"

 

Keeping up a steady stream of such talk, Leroy ducked inside the dancing dojo.

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Horrorshow

 

"Aw, geez, y'know," a white-suited, Saturday Night Fever-era John Travolta said as he stepped off the van, "sometimes a place really is what it is.  Like these two ovah heah," he jerked his thumb towards Kam and Leroy, "you can just look at 'em an' tell they'd give ya a thrashin' if they wanted to.  An', yeah, maybe this was," he gestured in the direction of the studio, "some big-time dance studio, way back when.  But now..."  He let his words trail off, shrugged.  "Maybe they tricked us inta some community service thing, cleanin' up run-down joints like this."  He looked to Eira, cocked his head, "wouldn't be tha first time they tried ta, whatchacallit... channel us, right?"

 

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The cheerful little tinkling of the bells above the door as they entered didn't do anything to persuade the teens of the potential excitement to be had within. That attitude quickly changed as they stepped around the reception area's partition and into the training area, where a pair of unconscionably good-looking adults waited for them in the middle of a hard laminate floor, the cushioned mats rolled up against the walls for once. The woman in the knee length black dress and matching halter top balanced atop prodigious heels with the coiled grace of a longing jungle cat, blonde hair tied back and eyebrow arched. The man next to her wore a white dress shirt with fewer buttons fastened than not, tucked into high-waisted black slacks, piercing blue eyes shining above a knowing, lopsided smirk.

 

"Hey kid," the latter greeted Eira with a nod, looking over the group in open assessment. He paused on Dayvd with the look of someone unimpressed with a joke's delivery. "Alright, Carbon-Copy, drop it," he instructed with a snap of his fingers. "You're doing this with your own muscles. Or protoplasm or whatever you've got."

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Talya chuckled,  the sound low and husky. Since this was a private lesson, she hadn't bothered with any of her efforts of disguise. No, the bright red lips and cat-eye were classic Bombshell. 

 

"You're going to want to take this seriously," she offered with a clear, crisp British accent. She uncoiled from her relaxed posture to sway through the teens and towards the door. Flipping the locks, she put the sign in the window for when the dojo was closed for private lessons and closed the blinds. "Don't let the smile fool you. The man has no patience if you're not putting everything into these lessons."

 

To be fair, Talya wasn't any better. Their lessons were about survival and she could be every inch the taskmaster herself. She'd set up entire obstacle courses for Raina to run in heels and none of that had been anything but utterly serious. Talya was very much on the side of 'do it in practice so you're not surprised when it matters'.  To the teens, as she waved her way through them, "You can keep your shoes on for this lesson. I suggest stretching a little and making sure that your clothing isn't going to pull or bind when you're moving and twisting."

 

Talya made her way back to Erik's side once the doors were locked and offered him a sidelong smile along with her hand. "You may call me Talya. My husband is Erik. I hope you're ready for a workout."

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"This is not punishment," she told Davyd frankly on the way inside the building. "This is opportunity. You should appreciate it more than stupid regular gym." Eira had been smirking, that was no other word for it, all the way inside the school, staying close to Pan and shooting him knowing glances as if a big surprise was about to be unleashed. When Erik and Talya were revealed she grinned at Pan (there really was no other word for that, either!) and shot him a look that seemed to scream "See? See?" 

 

"Hello, Erik," she said with a smile bigger than her schoolmates had usually seen her use when speaking to an adult. When she saw Talya, she said seriously, "I brought my new sword and outfit, I am going to go change." And with that, she slipped away to the one-seat ladies' room at the edge of the gym, locking the door behind her once she was inside. After all, there was not going to be a need for her to use the showers unless something vital broke. With that, she began quickly pulling off her old grey sweats and looking down at the duffel bag she'd brought. Time to try it out... 

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"Appearances can indeed be deceiving."  Kam agreed readily and frowned slightly at Davyds supposition the frown perhaps equally for being forced into the awkward position of agreeing with Eira.  "I highly doubt the Headmistress would censure us without taking the opportunity to tell us why precisely we were."  

 

Following the rest of the students into the dojo he carefully took in the interior with a critical eye.  While it certainly wasn't opulent the facility was well cared for and equipped with a startling array of kit for a variety of styles and activities.  He finally focused on the apparent teachers and suppressed a laugh at the gentle admonishment Davyd had earned.  Watching how the pair moved and stood it was increasingly clear appearances were indeed deceiving.  And with Eiras comment it clicked, this was the expert Janus uncle had sent her to train with.  This woudl prove most educational indeed.

 

He followed the suggestion and dropped into a round of careful stretches as he did before any workout still keeping an eye on the instructors, until he grew concerned about staring given the wrong impression and focused on the floor and his stretch before rising to his feet once more arms loose at his sides and his weight balanced in a relaxed stance.

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Benny was reserved, because that's how he was, normally.  Especially when not in his comfort zone.  He was here because they asked, and generally he was never one to shirt such a thing.  The big, blocky, bouncing boy had sat in the van with shades and a pair of earbuds, the latter of which was a technological advancement he was a fan of. He was in his normal attire, a hooded sweater, over a t-shirt, boxing shorts, and a pair of canvas style sneakers. No reason to pay Eira any mind, she wasn't talking to him after all, and there was the anticipation of what was going to happen to contend with.

As it came to a stop, he straightened up, and waited for everyone to slide out before he did, "Looks like a lotta boxin' gyms," was his assessment. He stepped a bit away from people to swing his arms back and forth. Though he did sort of look at others at the mention of the Interceptors, those were the ones the other Ben went on about, right?

Then came the introduction, and a curt nod at the names being bandied about, "Name's Benny D'amato," he said, moving toward and extending his right hand out towards the teachers as an 'aw shucks' sort of smile spread across his features and he looked from Erik to Talya, and back again, expectantly. At the sort of dismissive intructions, he nodded, and then went through a pretty straight forward, it somewhat dated seeming calisthenic warm up and stretches.

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Pan had not objected to Eira staying close, he continuously kept an amused smile at all the things that were going on, especially Davyd's little performance, even if he didn't understand the reference. "Is that so?" he asked Eira, to the statement of the opportunity. "You seem to know more than us about all of this, no?" For once, he kept his feet on the ground as they moved to these trainers. 

 

He leaned closer to Eira, after Erik had greeted her, before she slipped away. "Another old friend or uncle, I suppose? You could have told me this was going to involve swords." His tone was teasing, even if only slightly so, before he let her leave and instead turned towards the teachers.

 

He made a quick bow to their hosts, turning his head slightly up mid-bow to smile at them. "Hel-lo, I am Pan." He stood up and let his bag drop, then pulled off the jacket and let it drop as well. Fine, fine. Time to see what had Eira all excited.

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Horrorshow

 

He blinked when he saw both instructors.  Hunh.  Guess I'm not as heterosexual as I thought.

 

'Travolta' nodded solemnly to Jack and Talya, "yeah, yeah, of course," then smoothly shifted back to his human form -- round face, slightly short arms, slightly long legs, in a blue-and-gold shorts and tank top that made up a basic Claremont gym outfit.  ('Basic' save for that it was made of morphic molecules, so it could match his changes.)  "I'm Davyd, or Dayv.  Or Horrorshow.  And clearly I need to work on my delivery," he continued, keeping his tone low, and turning slightly to Kam, "as I would think it obvious that a shapeshifter saying that things are what they seem was a joke.  But there'll be time for that later," he turned back to their instructors, "when we're not on your time."

 

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Leroy patted Davyd on the shoulder. "I am sure your next effort will be flawless, good Davyd!"

 

"Hullo, Espadas!" Leroy waved to Talya, "hullo, Mr. Erik," he added with a bright smile at their host, "you keep a very lovely place! I am Leroy Conte."

 

In obedience to their instructions, the boy doffed his black tunic and silver scarf, the latter with some reluctance before folding it gingerly and placing the two swathes on a coatrack. Tapping experimentally with one foot, the starhearted prince wrinkled his nose as the shoe clacked against the floor. "It is just an uglier sound," he complained, sighing in resignation, "this will take some getting used to." Belying his words, Leroy set willingly to the job of loosening up before the lesson proper began, the golden tattoos of monsters dancing and glittering in the light as his muscles tautened and relaxed.

 

"What sort of dancing do you intend us to learn, Espadas?" he asked Talya politely, legs straining in opposite directions as he sat upright, "Thanks to my girlfriend I have some light instruction in ballroom dancing, but very little more than that."

 

"I must say, good Ben," he added to their boxing buddy, "if this place is so familiar, training centres the world over must follow a very common code! Is that the aim, do you suppose Like chain restaurants?"

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Talya's lips curved in a slight smile. As Erik lightly tugged on her hand, Talya smoothly turned spinning so that she was facing him as her partner. Her skirt flared, hiding her hand as she filched the stereo remote from Erik's pocket. She flicked her fingertip across the button, turning the music on. Talya wiggled the remote once, as if showing her prize, her brows arched in wry amusement as she declared the prize for their impromptu match. Trying to get the remote back from Talya wouldn't have been an easy task in an actual fight. The woman was sneaky but trying to do it subtly without breaking the rhythm of the dance would be a true challenge. It was rare that Talya got to have the upper hand on the dojo floor and she was going to enjoy every minute of it. It made up for the times that Erik mopped the floor with her with a sword. 

 

Lifting her hand high above her head so that the teens could catch what she was doing. 

 

"Sometimes, you have a lady - or gentleman - that you have to subdue a bit more... subtly," Talya said, and nothing more as she left the explaining to Erik. Why? Because it was one more thing for him to focus on.

 

Talya did  so like to win. 

 

It was some sort of tango, for the teens who knew what different ballroom dances looked at, but neither instructor was holding back. Talya spun, clearly intending to break away. After all, she was the thief, her goal was to escape, until Erik caught her wrist at the last moment. Pivoting smoothly with the momentum and in time for the music, Talya ducked down, letting Erik take much of her weight as she swung her leg up in a lethal kick that just missed his face by a fraction of an inch. It looked like a choreographed dance to the casual observer but all of these teenagers had seen enough actual fights to catch the small tells. Talya had absolutely aimed that kick with the intent to connect - and laughed when it missed. When she was tossed, it was only catlike reflexes that let her land on her toes rather than her back. 

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Luckily for Erik he rarely wasted much of his attention on what was coming out of his mouth.

 

"On the other foot," he countered while tilting his head just out of the way of a spear-like heel and letting Talya's calve slide along the palm on his raised hand, "some of us find subtlety overrated." He used the leverage to toss her back away from him, using the moment's grace while she cartwheeled effortlessly to spin theatrically on his heel and adopt a chest-forward, shoulders-back stance. The pair circled around each other slowly, gradually pulling closer like magnets. "Any real fight is about misdirection. If your opponent can't take their eyes off of you, they can't get up to anything else... untoward."

 

He stepped in suddenly on the downbeat with a hand around Talya's waist and a pivot that brought them back-to-back briefly before bringing them about again, close enough that he could feel her eyelashes across his face. It also gave his the opening to entwine the fingers of his other hand with hers so that they were both holding onto the remote.

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Inside the bathroom, Eira looked at the sensor she'd extended through the security system, her eyes narrowing as her cheeks flushed red. With a moment's hesitation that would have been barely perceptible to anyone actually sharing the bathroom with her, Eira pushed open the door and walked out to rejoin her classmates. With all the attention on Erik and Talya, she was able to get close to them before they noticed her - amid quite a transformation. 

 

The dark heels were short (as she had little practice with them), but her dress was sparkling silver that began below her neckline and stopped above her knees, baring her pale arms and legs (the latter underneath what looked like sparkling nylons.) There was a black hat perched on top of her head, and in her hand (both of which were covered in silver gloves) was what looked like an old-fashioned walking stick, its head glittering brass. She was wearing what looked like a silvery wrap around her torso, until she opened it up and revealed the gossamer crackles of her wings. 

 

She looked Pan in the eye - and snorted laughter through her nose as she stage-whispered, "Fooled you! It's dance fighting!

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Kam nodded slowly to Davyd opening his mouth to reply but thinking better of it and focusing instead on the lesson in progress.  "For some styles the sound is the point Leroy."  the dakanan suggested quietly to his roommate as the instructors proceeded through their not so choreographed display.  He glanced to Eira who clearly had been prepared for the lesson of the day and shook his head slightly at her 'revelation'.  "Kameron, Kam, Kingdom."  He introduced as he completed his stretches the accent of his homeland faint but present.  

 

He pondered the spoken portion of hte lesson even as he memorized the maneuvers utilized watching with care teh careful grace of the give and take.  No not choreographed but both working to make it look as if it were.  Interplay and teamwork within a real conflict, it was a marvel in it's own way, "As you say misdirection is part of any combat art Mister Espadas."  he pointed out with some care, "Though in this case it seems the misdirection is for the audience to disguise the conflict?"  He could see the utility particularly for heroes working the high society beat.  

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"Oh how wonderful," Leroy breathed, his face cupped in his hands as he watched Erik and Talya twirl and feint, strike and dodge with nearly choreographed grace. His golden eyes sparkled at the display, and Ben heard him murmur "This must be what true love looks like" just before Eira made her reappearance and announcement.

 

"Wait. This was not all an elaborate metaphor for outmaneuvering a social opponent, practicing awareness and emotional and mental flexibility through the medium of dance? This is more fighting?" His face clouded instantly, the slender brows contracting and the six claw-mark scars on his cheeks widening just a smidge, something dark oozing from them.

 

"In any case, you are superlatively skilled. The chance to learn anything from you is a rare treasure, Espadas." Getting to his feet, Leroy glanced around at his fellow students. "Are we to pair with each other, or be assigned? If the first, I would like to pick good Kam!" 

 

"You look very imposing, Night." he added with a smile at Eira.

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When Eira returned with her dramatic pronouncement Benny pointed to the pair dancing and fighting, "Yo, I think we's got it figured out." His arms pulled back and he folded his arms across his big chest, as he idly mimed their foot placement. "And this isn't the kinda teachin' they'd have at Catholic school," he mused out loud in his rough Jersey baritone.  

Rocking back on his heels, he leaned back, stretching his back out as that happen, and he looked to Kam, "Maybe they want us to look pretty doin' it, if that's the case, some else shoulda been invited from me, I'm ugly an' I fight ugly." He laughed, and an arm flicked out whiplash fast to give a backhand to Kam's stomach, that was felt like a brush (no one had still played three card Monty with him, except one night showing and practicing with Heroditus). "Eh?" his jovially prodded Kam, which knowing Benny, if he knew the secret he'd've probably done the same thing.

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Something thin and reflective flashed between Benny and Kam's faces before ricocheting off of the fire alarm bell mounted to the wall with a bracing CLANG. The stiletto dagger spun back through the air over the teens' heads until Erik snagged it between two fingers, offering it to Talya so she could secret it away on her person once again. "Going down the list!" the instructor called in a raised voice, jaw set. He pointed at Benny. "You want to fight mean? Fine. You want to fight sloppy, you can hit the bricks." His finger moved to Leroy. "Less talk, more watch, Ivanhoe." Dayvd was next. "Jokes are good, comedy's hard. You want a laugh, work for it." He encompassed Eira and Pan together. "You can flirt and play with your new toy in a minute. Focus."

 

Finally he pointed to Kam. "You... actually asked a relevant question." The fencer folded his arms across his chest. "First objective is hiding what you're doing from any onlookers. Maybe you want to avoid a panic, maybe you need them watching you instead of a teammate. Second objective is pulling a fast one on your opponent at the same time. Anybody who doesn't think they can do that without talking over the music can dance with one of us." He moved to toss the slender remote to Kam only to realize that Talya had lifted it from his fingers while he'd been talking. He pursed his lips in amusement and gave her a theatrical bow of concession.

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Talya twirled the remote between her fingers before pausing the music while Erik talked. With a slight smile of amusement, she clasped her hands together around the remote before opening them like a magician to show that it had vanished. She nodded her head slightly as Erik finished before offering her own explanation. The smile fell away to deadly seriousness. 

 

"Not everyone who graduates Claremont goes on to become a costumed crime fighter," Talya offered, lightly lacing her hands together in front of her skirts. Her voice was dispassionate, neither proud nor ashamed. "I've been a thief, a spy and a soldier. Some of you may go on to work in covert operations of one kind or another. Others of you may end up in government," her gaze flicked ever so briefly to Kam and then away, "In one form or another. If you can't come up with half a dozen scenarios where subduing an opponent in a crowd without anyone noticing anything, then you're not trying hard enough. Dance alone will teach you balance, footwork and body awareness."

 

Talya lifted one slender shoulder in a shrug, "It can be fun. It will be hard work. You're just lucky that Erik vetoed ballet for this afternoon."

 

Her lips quirked in a slight smile that made it hard to tell whether or not she was joking. Absently, she patted Erik's chest as she passed over to the cabinets. "What do you want as the prize to fight over? Scarves or something breakable?"

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Pan watched, his lips slowly turning into a smirk as the teachers danced, his eyes following their every movement. He stayed silent for once, just watching, his eyes following the dance, following the movements. His eyes were lit up with a keen interest, a hand on his chin as he leaned lightly back. His eyes followed the remote, he was so focused on the dance before him that he failed to notice Eira's approach.

 

"Yes, and it is brilliant." His reply was short, his eyes barely even leaving Erik and Talya to look her in the eye, not until the dagger was thrown and Erik called them all out.

 

Blinking, he was brought out of his daze. He took a single step forward, his eyes shining at Talya. He seemed more than ready to get started. "What do you have?" He was rather short for words at this moment, it seemed.

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Kam tightened his core fractions of a second before Benny made contact but otherwise restrained himself from 'Flinching' as was clearly the boys intent.  He frowned at the display but remained focused on the lesson speaking lightly out hte side of his mouth, "I'm sure they will explain Leroy."  hoping his roommate would get the message and quiet down to focus, while knowing such outcome was unlikely at best.

 

He weathered the flung blade with far less aplomb dropping into a defensive roll on reflex alone as the blade whipped past only arresting the motion as his mind caught up to his body and he snapped to his feet once more with his focus much more tight on the instructors now.  He nodded at Eriks explanation, he could see the utility certainly.  His next comment died on his lips as Talya's pointed gaze accented her comment about work in the government.  The insight more disturbing to the youth than the glittering blade she'd made vanish with such ease.  He closed his mouth and viewed the pair with a new level of both respect and suspicion, no longer even remotely convinced by the dojo's facade literal or figurative.

 

Regaining his composure after a moment he forced his posture to relax while Erik and Talya determined the prize and he awaited the next stage.  "While useful for footwork and general conditioning I imagine it would be less applicable to this context than more partner focused styles would it not?"  he inquired the question genuine and welcoming correction if his assumption proved false.

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Benny immediately questioned Erik, it was underscored by a knife being flung in his direction.  It wasn't like he hadn't rough and tumble teachers before, just... Was this guy gonna team them all Bill Sikes-like? It was a knife.  "Huh."  He was looking back to Erik when the knife landed in his hand, his own amiable cuff dropped to hang at his side, and when he was chewed he was suitably sheepish, and chagrined.  He started to say something, to defend himself, "Was- Fuggetaboutit." His lips shut, and pressed tightly.

There was a rise and fall of his broad shoulders in a shrug, those big mitts twitching at his side. Taking in what they were saying.  What, they thought he was gonna be some kinda agent secret guy? Was AEGIS tryin' a make him somethin' else? That'd explain the padre who could throw out a choke hold... He felt very much out of place, and very alone in the moment.

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Eira scowled and stared at Erik and Talya as they worked, her eyes unfocusing. 

 

Sorry, kiddo, said VINCE's voice in her head, I'm under strict orders from the President of the Double-E Fan Club to keep the system on lockdown when you're here..heh-heh, especially that stuff! Too bad, that would have been a good gag. 

 

Eira sent him a rude GIF but nothing that would burn any bridges, then focused her eyes on Erik and Talya. "When do we do the sword dancing?" She pulled her walking stick apart and blue-white lightning crackled between the brass tip of the wooden sheath and the cunningly concealed rapier within. "You know, like with...the time?" She couldn't very well describe what the time had been around people who didn't know who Erik and Talya were. 

 

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