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Only Doing Good When I'm Having Fun


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Fang settled to the floor, gnawing her steak and leaving a curious lack of a mess behind as she did. It was probably not coincidental that she was firmly placed between the reunion and the greater bar.

 

Matt just laughed, settling back and scanning the bar for what other patrons were drinking. "As someone who's been legally drinking for all of half a year myself, and never got too far into it, I guess I can only recommend you try a little bit of whatever sounds interesting and isn't gonna knock you flat."

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"Depends," said Riley evenly. "You're feeling festive, I've got this..." He slipped a small flask out of his sleeve and set it on the table. "But that's pretty strong. Don't want you going t'sleep in the middle of the party." He grinned. "Maybe just a white wine spritzer, that seems like rich girl type." He spread his arms, showing how he meant it. "If you think you can handle the hard stuff we serve in the future, that is." 

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Frostbyte

It had been a long day helping out on the farm, but Cathy was still up and about excited about another chance to visit Freedom City. She was a little late making sure her dress looked perfect, she would have gotten a new one but with the lateness of the invitation she’d not had time to make a trip to the mainland. Besides it was far to late find anywhere open, even if the tall lady from the Ministry hadn’t asked her not to use her powers to cross the mainland. She quickly grabbed the present she’d spent months working on, before after one last check was ready to go.

 

Her arrival at place was telegraphed by a sudden chilling of the room and a faint smell of sulphur. She hadn’t really changed much from the last time they’d all been together, though she wasn’t as bundled up as normal.

 

I hope I’m not to late?” she cheerfully greeted all her old friends warmly, before offering Raina her present actually wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string “Happy Birthday! Sorry about the wrapping but it was really late when I got your invitation.”

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"Cathy," said Riley, eyebrow raising for just a moment as he smiled. "Good to see you." He let Raina actually make the greeting, figuring that it wasn't his party. Looking around, he started to wonder if he should have sat on the edge; sitting in the interior of the booth in a party like this was rapidly hemming him in. He shifted for a moment, then took the opportunity of Cathy's arrival to work his way out of his seat, making a few apologies as he displaced the rest of the group, and gave her a hug. "Still cold," he said as he leaned against the wall by the booth, root beer in hand. 

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"Hey, Cathy!" Raina rose and gave Cathy a hug that involved as little actual skin touching as possible. "You're not too late, the night's barely getting started. Sorry that three weeks' notice wasn't enough, I'll make sure to send out save-the-date cards next time." Smirking, she pulled away and gave Cathy the same once-over she'd given everybody else. "You know, you look just the same, but the clothes you always wear have come into fashion now. So congrats on being avant-garde, I guess!" She shrugged, then gave her old roommate a nudge towards the booth. "Scoot in and have a seat, we're strategizing drinks for Fred."

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Frostbyte

Cathy blushed as Raina pointed out how much noticed everyone had gotten, she should have remember what a sharp mind her friend had for such things.

 

Well you see my powers are a hella rough on batteries and bad weather meant I didn’t get to the mainland for a few weeks and the long and the short is that I only got my messages a day or so ago.”

 

She slid into the seat as she explained herself managing to control herself enough not to chill the room any more than normal, though the drink might be the odd degree cooler than before. Cathy was thankful that she could now legally drink in Freedom City, it felt like the kind of night where a few drinks would be needed.

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"You can hardly hold it against Cathy that she was the only one of us who didn't need to change. Present birthday girls excluded, naturally," Winifred opined, giving Raina a look of exaggerated innocence before leaning over in the booth to give the pale woman a hug with her tattooed arm. "It's good to see you in the snow-kissed flesh. The latest batch of testers I sent you should arrive any day but honestly heaven only knows. I've stopped being amazed by the speed of the post and gone back to being generally irritated by its every aspect. You wouldn't believe the administrative nightmare involved in expanding our distribution overseas." With a huff she turned back to Riley in his new position. "Festive or no I think I shall avoid your particular brand of merriment, Smith. That seems an excellent way to ensure a visit from the Solution and she cannot be trusted to behave herself in social situations." 

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"Sounds like an excellent way to ensure a visit to the nearest bathroom," opined Matt, though it came with a good-natured grin. "Might take you up on that later myself, Riley."

 

Fang made a disapproving noise, but it was muffled around a mouth full of half-eaten steak and Matt didn't seem to pay it any mind. "And, hey, Cathy! It must've been...." He trailed off, brow furrowing as he tried to place a memory in time. That wasn't always trivial. "...I don't actually know how long it's been," he admitted. "That's kinda terrible of me, I dropped off the radar for a bit. How've you been?"

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"Mm." Riley didn't ask Fred how long it had been or what had happened. If he was going to talk about that sort of thing with her, it certainly wasn't going to be at a party, especially not Raina's party. "Think you're stalling," he said good-naturedly. "Get yourself a mojito, be a real party girl." He grinned. "Or stick with kid stuff, if you want." He sipped his root beer and asked, "Anyone else coming?" 

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Raina slid back in on the end of the booth, giving Riley's flask a skeptical look. "I know what you make is strong, buddy, but I'm not drinking it if you still brew it in the toilet tank. Have you actually got some kind of setup going these days?" Merlin hopped off the table and to his usual perch on her shoulder to free up space on the table, despite her skeptical glare. "I swear if you get fruit in my hair, you're walking home."

 

When her drink arrived, Raina slid it down the table to Fred. "Here, try the rebujito; see if you like it. It's basically sherry and sprite with a mint sprig, but it's good." With drinks arriving and guests greeted, Raina was free to concentrate on the envelope in front of her. "This is fancy," she observed, running her fingers over the heavy bond paper consideringly. A quick extra-warm breath softened the glue enough that she could flip open the envelope flap and pull out the contents.

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"We have a mutual appreciation for 'fancy' after all," Winifred noted casually, not entirely successful in hiding a bit of tense anticipation as she swirled the rebujito's mint around the glass experimentally and waited for Raina's reaction. Inside the envelope was a brochure for a guest ranch a ways upstate along with two vouchers for a weekend stay. "I know it's been some time since you've had opportunity to go riding. I confirmed that they allow, ahem, 'service animals' and their guest suites are rustic in aesthetic and modern in amenities, including internet access." Those assurances were primarily for Merlin's benefit, left the monkey fear he was being thrown to the proverbial wolves. "Whether you'd prefer to make two separate trips or share with your current beau I leave to you but hopefully a bit of a pleasant diversion either way."

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Years of experience had given Raina a very polished sort of half-amused poker face, but anyone looking closely could see the way her eyes widened slightly as the brochure and tickets slid out of the envelope. She glanced at the vouchers and then opened the brochure, skimming information about trail rides and amenities. "I... wow, I had no idea there were places like that around here," she mused. "I mean, it makes sense that there are places around here but I never really thought to look for one... Gods, I wonder if I even still remember how to ride anything that's not a broom." She went to set the brochure down but Merlin snatched it up first, opening and skimming it the same way Raina had, with intense interest.

 

Raina tucked the vouchers back into the envelope instead, carefully not rumpling the edges even a little. "It's a great present, Fred," she finally said, looking down the table towards her friend. "But if you think I'm wasting a full weekend of horse riding on some guy, you're nuts! Two weekends of riding is vastly superior to one weekend of trying to teach some rando how to sit a saddle." She laughed. light and easy. "Thanks, seriously. It's awesome."

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"Nice. Take pictures," suggested Riley, nodding with approval of Fred's thoughtful gift. Damn, that actually is a good idea! If I had any damn money I could get a spot at one of the places down in the Panhandle. "Did some of that myself this summer. These little cracker horses down in the swamp." He smirked a little, looking around at his friends and then at himself, then said, "Hm. Not like that." He sipped his root beer, then said, "Got a cowboy hat out of it. That's what you need, Matt." 

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"I understood that joke," Winifred snorted, pointing at Riley before returning her attention to Raina with an uncharacteristically bright smile and no small amount of relief relaxing her shoulders. "I don't disagree but the representative I spoke with was insistent about a 'couple's package' being tremendously desirable. She kept asking some very personal questions about my romantic life and laughing loudly at incongruous points in the conversation, very odd." She gave a small shrug. "Regardless, you're welcome, 'seriously'. I trust you'll have a good time. Now I'm trying to imagine Matthew in one of those hats. Black, presumably." She took a a sip from the glass that had been satin front of her absently and gave a small start. "Oh, bubbles!"

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Frostbyte

Whilst Raina was busy with Fred excellent present Cathy took the opportunity to pass a present to Merlin. The similarly wrapped package contained a perfectly monkey sized jumper decorated with a banana pattern. She’d taken up knitting to fill the time when she wasn’t patrolling, working on the farm and not snuggling. She’d gotten quite good and had been creating jumpers for all her friends and family, she’d bought a jumper for everyone but she figured Raina deserved her moment and she’d give out the rest of the knitting tomorrow before returning home.

 

Your always welcome to come visit the family farm if your in the area,” she been following along as she sipped her drink “But the local ponies are a little ornery tough little blighters though.”

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"You laugh but I could make a cowboy hat work," Matt insisted, looking up from a beer as if to imagine it. Fang made a steak-muffled sound suspiciously like laughter. "Absolutely black, yeah." Dreaming eyes were brought back down to earth, challenging anyone to crack before he did and losing immediately. "I could buy a cheap Yamaha guitar, see if songs 'bout trucks and cows sell better. Buy the whole outfit, vest, boots."

 

He paused for a moment.

 

"Assless chaps." Fang's laughter became a lot less subtle. "Seriously, though, that sounds awesome, I hope you have a great time. And you probably should take Cathy up on that, or you're admitting that the ponies are more stubborn than you are."

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"Pfft, Matt would never ride horses, he thinks they're bougie," Raina shared with a roll of her eyes. "He had, like, a dissertation on it the first time we went out and bought boots for Fred." She gave him a look, tilted her head a little. "You might be able to pull off the hat, but only if you got some facial hair going," she decided.

 

Merlin chirruped at her and waved his package, indicating that he wanted his sweater. Raina stole one of his pineapple chunks since she'd given her drink away, then started fiddling with the strings and paper on Cathy's gift. Merlin was much quicker, given that he had smaller fingers. "The drink's sherry and lemon-lime pop," she told Fred, "it's good for starting out the night. What do you think?"

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"Pfftah!" Riley burst out laughing and barely avoided spitting out his root beer, the former not a usual sight when he'd been a high school student. "Ha! Assless chaps..." He shrugged. "Funny. Would look good with a beard and cowboy hat," he added to Matt, gesturing with his root beer as he stroked his goatee. "Good look for a man. Shetlands too cold," he said to Cathy. "No offense." He grinned, tossing the cold bottle from hand to hand, then commented, "If you think you can handle the swamp, I've got a cowboy hat. Took it off a guy." 

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"It's quite light and refreshing! I'm a bit surprised, I associate you less with a citrus flavour than, I don't know, bitters and cinnamon. Grapefruit at a stretch." She paused to take another sip and examine that statement. "I may be attending too many marketing brainstorming meetings. Though as I recall, Matthew felt that horse riding was for vacations and people who don't know how to spend their money and he hasn't exactly been proven incorrect. And I only had someone explain that 'bougie' was a diminutive of bourgeoisie about a month ago. Also in a marketing meeting. I'm obliged to attend so many marketing meetings." She pulled a face and rolled her eyes. "I want to hear more about these 'assess chaps', please."

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Frostbyte

The paper had been folded with some care, and the string tied into a fancy bow, but it wasn’t at all difficult to open. It was wrapped around a rather colourful fisherman’s style jumper, the kind that Cathy herself was often seen wearing herself, with the colour coming from carefully knitted flames licking over the whole thing.

 

“I know it’s not normal what you like to wear…” Cathy remembered well Raina general attitudes to certain clothing “But I was teaching myself to knit and I though you’d might like one for those cold winter nights. I can assure you that they’re very nice to snuggle up against!”

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Raina held up the sweater and took a long, considering look at it. If she was nothing else, she was a shrewd judge of fashion, even fashion that didn't necessarily fall within her tastes. "This is really nicely done," she told Cathy. "Very sturdy, and the cables are tight. You made this yourself?" 

 

On the table, Merlin held up a jumper of his own, done in the same style on smaller needles and in sport-weight yarn. He gave his a good looking over as well, then pulled it over his head. The bar was cold, he explained, especially when people insisted on going in and out. 

 

"I'm not putting mine on," Raina replied firmly, "not with as much time as I spent on my hair and makeup. But it's a really nice sweater, Cathy. Thank you." She folded it neatly and tucked it into the knapsack.

 

"Now, assless chaps, grasshopper," she began, turning her attention to Fred, "are an amazing invention in men's fashion, in that they are pants that cover everything except the important business. Theoretically you wear them over regular pants, but the key is that this is optional and changes the look entirely, if you know what I'm getting at." 

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"Well, you have to complete the look," suggested Matt with all the good humor of someone who hadn't expected a joke to survive a turn around the table. "What's the point in doing anything halfway?"

 

He was mid-drink of his beer when an ashy, steak-muffled voice floated up from beside the table. "All chaps are assless," it said.

 

Matt was not going to dignify that with more than a pained look and a subject change. "I'm a little jealous of that sweater, though - looks like you've had a lot of practice. How long does that take to make?"

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"There's this cowboy-themed bar in Vibora," said Riley, looking for a moment like he was going to start a story, before he shrugged. "Lot of guys in chaps there. Not my thing but not hard to look at." He swirled his root beer and said, "Met a girl there." 

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Frostbyte

Cathy of old would have been a little embrassed about something as square as knitting, but they weren’t teenagers any more and the only cool she ever tried to be was with her powers.

 

I’ve been teaching myself to knit over the last few years, help filled those cold night when I was on my own.” she leaned in to whisper in Matts ear slightly conspiratorially

 

I knitted one for everyone, except Fang I’m afraid as I didn’t think they’d wear a little doggie vest however cute it was.”

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"Ah, Cathy! Those really are remarkably well crafted. And adorable!" Winifred gave a brief exaggerated pout when Raina didn't immediately don the sweater but quickly turned to point an accusatory at Matt and Riley in turn. "However I invoke 'bullshit' on you and you! You can't simply say you're going to wear trousers with the bottom removed and then fail to deliver, Matthew. Just look at me; this is barely a third of an actual blouse. I'm really quite proud." She placed the fingertips of her freehand lightly to her collarbone while taking another sip of her commandeered drink. "As for you, Smith! Who is this girl you supposedly met? Is she a cow-person? Is she a 'gator'? I demand details that I might live vicariously through your exploits."

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