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Avenger Assembled

Coming Through the Rye (IC, Closed)

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Jack stood in an apartment transformed into abbatoir, the swanky Midtown pad adorned with a body in a way he really didn't enjoy looking at. What made it worse was that the culprit was right there beside him, a look of guilt mixed with anger on her face. "So just when I was starting to panic, he got back up!" Claudia threw her hands up in the air, her pale, elegant fingers stained with blood and other things. "So you can imagine how much worse I felt when he tried to bite off my head! I told him time and time again to stop taking the zombie powder, but did he listen to me?" She pointed down at what was left of the man on the bed. Jack had the idea the other man had been naked at his death, but it wasn't easy to tell. "You knew this couldn't last forever!" she shouted, her husky voice full of anger at the dead man. A moment later she coughed and went on, considerably more politely, "So I went a little crazy, and now there's a mess higher than I can reach. Can you help me out?" She gave her child-in-darkness a big-eyed smile, her elegant red lips transformed into a girlish pout.

"Okay..okay, fine," said Jack, running his hands through his hair as both vampires tried to avoid the sunbeam streaming in through the window. "I know you can't call anyone else in during the day, and if you wait until tonight it'll make it harder to dispose of everything." Would he have been so generous, so instinctively helpful if Claudia had asked him to help dispose of someone she'd actually killed in cold blood rather than a zombie she'd torn to pieces in a panicked frenzy? He skated across that moral divide briefly for a moment...then decided it was better the question hadn't come up at all. "But you're going to help with this," he added, some heat in his voice as he pointed to the disaster before them.

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Vampire and vampire worked together to clean up the mess, picking up broken things and disposing of them either in the trash or into the pile Jack would take away to burn, Jack making sure that his sire didn't turn away from cleaning up the messy consequences of what she'd done. She noticed the force in his voice as they talked, and seemed to smile as the two of them went about their work. "It sounds like you're really toughening up, Jack. Working for Melinda must agree with you."

Sure, that's what it is. Jack actually thought Claudia would be amused rather than offended at the idea of him playing superhero in Freedom City, but he couldn't tell her something that would potentially put her life in danger. Vampires generally couldn't trust each other that way, and besides, it was just rude to tell someone you'd committed a capital crime nearly every night for the past several months. "It has its moments. You've done your share of tasks for her, as I recall," said Jack with a half-smile at memories that were both pleasant and horrid at the same time. "But you said things weren't so great in New York?"

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Claudia shook her head as she bare-handedly climbed the sheer wall to pick something off the ceiling. "No, not since Leonid was deposed by those [shlruk]ing terrorists." She tossed the piece down to Jack, who similarly caught the fragment bare-handed. "They ruined a lot of people's good times, let me tell you. I don't have thirty years to wait around for the local politics to settle down; I have a social calendar to keep, y'know." The vampire king of New York had recently been murdered by masked, unknown vampires each specializing in a particular vampiric talent. The chaos in the city afterwards had been a serious bummer for the parties Claudia loved, bad enough that she'd come back to the city of her siring.

"Well, things are going all right here. Melinda's working on some big project that she's not telling any of _us_ about, but the parties are still going around the circuit just as much as ever." Jack smiled as she climbed back down, keeping his own thoughts on that subject firmly off his face. "You'll have a great time." He didn't hate Claudia as he once had, but that didn't mean he thought of her as anything more than his dam. That was a word that could mean a lot of things to different vampires.

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"I hear you haven't been having such a good time, though," said Claudia, her voice getting more serious as Jack turned away to get back to work. "Dave tells me you missed the last couple of parties Melinda threw, even the one with the ballet dancers. Got someone on the side?" There was definitely something teasing in her voice, but there was a solid note of concern expressed there as well. Concern for Jack's welfare; or concern that he had a girlfriend who wasn't her? To Jack's surprise, he honestly wasn't sure.

"I've been running with my own crowd lately," Jack admitted, careful not to name any names. The social world of vampires was very small, and a butterfly of that scene like Claudia basically knew everybody. "Dave, Pitt..."

"What, the old wizard from the Imperator?" Claudia thought that was hilarious. "What do you do, just sit around and drink vintage blood and listen to old victrolas? He's been dead about as long as I have, but that man's still frozen in the '20s. C'mon, honey, I know you better than that. You like adventure."

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"Well..." Jack looked down at his hands for a moment, then said, "I'll tell you when we're done. We've got a lot of work that needs doing here." That, of course, was enough to make "interrogate Jack" Claudia's favorite game until they were done cleaning up the mess she'd left behind. It was hard to remember how much they'd hated each other when she parted; all the angry words and bloody tears, the animalistic fury and rage they'd both felt. Maybe seperation had been a good reminder of how hard it was to find a friend in the world where they both lived.

When they'd moved from cleaning up to gathering up what they'd cleaned for disposal, Jack finally spilled the beans to his dam. Well, what she thought were the beans, anyway. "I've been studying," he admitted with a wry smile. "Studying a lot of things. I'm not like you," he said as they carried their heavy trunk full of things down the frieght elevator. "I can't just ride the circuit every night and do business favors every day. I want to make something of my eternity. And that is an adventure; for me, anyway."

"You'd be surprised how much "something" you can have on the circuit, honey," said Claudia with a liquid smile. On the way down she told Jack a story involving her and a couple of handsome fellows with magically enhanced constitutions that sounded implausible, though entertaining. It never occured to Claudia that Jack might not enjoy hearing about her with other men, and Jack opted not to enlighten her about his real feelings. when they were in the back alley loading the truck she'd had him bring along, she pressed him further. "So, studying, huh? Something besides Melinda's neck?"

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"Yes, actually." They'd made several trips down already, and Jack gathered up a large trunk loaded with a bundle of now-filthy sheets wrapped around even filthier things to load inside the back of the truck. Nearby, the slim Claudia was easily wrestling another huge trunk, this one holding the broken remains of her bed, into the back of the panel truck. "History, magic...a lot of things. I can't just be someone's boytoy forever;" he reiterated, not wanting to get back into an old, familiar argument with her.

"Well, honey, the key is to be the one who _has_ the toys..." They talked only about business on their way to the incinerator that the vampires owned, and when Jack paid off the blood-servant there to look the other way while he and Claudia disposed of their vile cargo. The sun was especially high in the sky now, and the two vampires opted to shelter for a little while in the comforting darkness of a nearby dive. Neither of them were regular customers, or dressed like regular customers, but with the help of their natural charisma and supernatural powers no one objected to them moving into the Southside bar for a little while.

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"I just think that there's more to life than how you and I have been living," Jack murmured quietly, neither of them touching the beers the waitress had brought them at their corner table. She was cute, and both vampires had been instinctively flirting with her since they walked in. It was part and parcel of what they were; what Jack was when he wasn't in costume.

"Hmm...nope," said Claudia cheerfully, "I don't think there is. But good for you if you're happy, or whatever." She shrugged. "Everyone's got to find their own path. I'd rather you be happy on your own than hooking up with some other slut, that's for sure." She snorted, then laughed when Jack replied with a suggestion that maybe he shouldn't call them that.

"What can I say, I've had reason to get in touch with my feminine side lately," Jack admitted, by no means about to get into the finer details of how exactly he'd become a woman and how exactly they'd solved that particular problem. "I think I haven't treated women with enough respect."

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"Don't go all limp-wristed Anne Rice on me," said Claudia with a smirk."You've done plenty fine by me." She took a few moments to compliment the waitress when she came by, flattering her hair and her sensible shoes. It was all easy stuff, but it seemed to work fine on the young Latina.

"I know," agreed Jack without heat. "I just think...I could do better. We all could do better." Claudia didn't agree, which was maybe one reason why she was so much more successful in getting herself invited home to Carmen's place that night. Still, the two vampires walked out of the bar arm-in-arm, in good charity with each other if not with anything else. "Claudia, if something happened...if I was in a fight, or something, you'd back me, right?" she shot him a serious look, and gave him a serious reply.

"Always, Jack," she swore. "That's what I'm for." The worst part about watching her lie to his face, Jack reflected later, patrolling the streets in costume, was that he was fairly sure she believed every word of what she'd just said.

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