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Avenger Assembled

Where the Past Comes Alive

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Jack called Stesha back a few days after he'd been to visit her at her shop, after mulling over the call a little. Who was to say he couldn't go out on a date with a cute girl just because he liked her? He owed her the time, and time spent away from both superheroes and vampires might be fun. He was confident enough in himself to know that he could show a lady a good time, too. After some consideration about a good destination, he gave Stesha a call early one Sunday evening to chat.

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Stesha had to dive over a pile of folded laundry to get the phone, which was merrily blasting out a They Might Be Giants tune to indicate a call from a stranger. Her hopes immediately rose, then the butterflies. She'd decided the guy from the shop wasn't going to call after the first couple of days, but maybe... or maybe it was a telemarketer. She picked up the phone and unfolded it. "Hello, this is Stesha," she said, then waited breathlessly.

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"Hello, Stesha," said Jack warmly, his voice a silky purr through the phone. "I hope I didn't catch you at a bad time." He was reclining in his apartment, the very image of the modern-day vampire lounging in his boudoir. She sounded very...human on the phone, and that was a nice thing. That was what women were supposed to sound like, wasn't it? "I was wondering if you were interested in going out."

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"Yes," she blurted, then tried to back up a little. There were rules about this sort of thing, she knew, and one of them was that you weren't supposed to be too eager for a date, or too disinterested, or too excited, or too aloof. Screw it, she was a superhero, she reminded herself with great boldness. "I mean, it'd be great to go out with you sometime. Did you have something in mind?" There, that sounded good, she decided. For god's sake, she wasn't in high school anymore.

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Jack had given this one a lot of thought. He'd go out with her in the day, because that was what normal people did, and he'd go somewhere that normal people went. "Well, how do you feel about visiting the Super Museum?" he asked her with a small chuckle in his voice. "I realized the other day that with all the years I've lived in Freedom City, I've never actually been there. When are you free?"

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"I love the Super Museum," Stesha said enthusiastically. "I've been there twice just since I moved here. But I'd love to go again," she added hastily. "They've got a new traveling exhibit up that I wanted to see. This week I'm working late most days, but I get off at seven and the museum doesn't close till nine. There are some nice restaurants in that area too," she suggested helpfully.

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"Well, we'll see," said Jack a little doubtfully, already planning the stomach upset that would keep him from having to eat anything when he was around her. And this wasn't the sort of date that would likely end with his teeth in her neck, either...though by all means, if she was interested in that sort of thing, he wouldn't discourage her in the slightest. "But after seven on Monday? sounds good. Where would you like me to pick you up?

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"Oh," she said, a little surprised. A date tomorrow wouldn't give her much time. She'd have to go with an outfit she already had... but surely she'd find something in her closet that would do. She'd just skip going out tonight and tear her wardrobe apart. "Yes, that sounds great. If you would come to the shop, that would be fine," she told him. "It's much closer to the museum, so it would be silly for me to go home first." She'd just bring her clothes and change at the shop, and do her very damndest not to get dirt in her hair for once.

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"If you'd prefer to go out a later day, that would be fine too," said Jack gently, picking up on a few hints of emotion in her voice. He was very good at that sort of thing. "Or meet later. I know you might not want to get picked up at your place of business. Believe me, nighttime is my best time. I can meet you anytime after your work that you'd like. You're not imposing on me."

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"No, it's fine, really," Stesha said. "It's probably better that it's earlier in the week," she admitted with a chuckle. "Between your friend's shower and the two weddings we're doing this weekend, I'll be burning the midnight oil at the end of the week. Going out tomorrow will be really nice. June's really kind of a crazy month. So, tomorrow at seven, at the shop? The doors will be closed, but you can just knock on the glass."

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"All right," Jack agreed. "Tomorrow at seven it is. Wear something that shows off that lovely hair of yours." He laughed softly. "I'll be there promptly, and we'll have a lovely time together." He spent a lot of time thinking about their date in the next day, even when he was busy running the usual errands on behalf of the elders of the city. It was a normal, human thing he was doing, just like everyone else. So why did it feel so odd?

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Stesha spent most of Sunday night puzzling over what to wear, and then most of Monday gossiping about her date-to-come with her coworkers. It was just smart strategy, every girl knew not to go out with a stranger without telling someone, but mostly she just wanted to dish with her friends. It had been a depressingly long time since she'd been on a date, and never with someone so good looking and, suave, she guessed. Maybe it was the confidence that came with being a real superhero. That was a nice perk!

She rushed through her work at the end of the day, giving her enough time to duck into the bathroom and spend twenty minutes changing clothes and fooling with her hair and makeup. She'd finally decided on a simple sundress covered with poppies, and matching shoes and earrings. She'd worn them to a wedding last summer and everyone said it was very cute, plus it was easy and cool. She braided her hair in a ring around her head and dressed it with tiny red flowers, then slapped on a little makeup and declared it good. Stuffing her day clothes in her locker, she grabbed her purse and waited at the door, suppressing the tiny, high-schoolish worry that this was some elaborate joke and she'd be left standing there like a moron.

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Despite all of Stesha's worries, Jack pulled up in front of the store at seven o'clock sharp, his black Lexus high-quality enough that he knew he'd have to be very careful driving the thing. After all, it wasn't his car. In an impeccable black suit cut tight enough to show off his well-toned body, he walked into the shop and immediately realized he was overdressed. Crap! I got it wrong. But he smiled anyway, and said, "Hello, Stesha, you're looking lovely today. I love that dress, it really seems like you."

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Stesha mentally slapped her forehead when she saw Jack. The entire package, from sleek black car to sleek black suit said high class, a significantly higher class than she had any business aspiring to. And here she was in a sundress and sandals, looking like she was ready to go march in the hippy parade. The dress really was her, it's just that that wasn't necessarily a good thing. But who wore a suit to the freaking Super Museum, a small, indignant part of herself maintained. It wasn't like they were doing dinner and dancing or something like that. She smiled through the mortification. "You look great, too," she told him. Some of her coworkers were bound to be watching from the back room, she knew, so at least they'd be impressed by the caliber of guy she was totally striking out with.

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People wear this kind of outfit to museums, right? Darn it darn it darn it. He offered his arm to hers, all old-style class and elegance. "Thank you, I do my best. So, shall we go to the museum?" He smiled as they walked out of the shop, adding in a soft, self-deprecating voice, "I, er, borrowed the Lexus from a friend of a friend. We'll have to make sure we take good care of it as we go."

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Oddly enough, that made Stesha feel just a teeny bit better about the whole business. She smiled at him as she climbed into the car. "Don't worry, I washed all the potting soil off before I changed my clothes," she assured him. "Just mind the corner up here, no one ever stops at the stop signs." She carefully buckled herself in, the soft perfume of flowers filtering through the car as Jack started it up. "How long have you lived in Freedom City?" she asked conversationally, remembering his words about not having visited the museum yet.

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"Oh, about five years now," said Jack. "I was born downstate, near Bedlam. I came up here to go to school." There was only so much he could say, not when saying too much would lead a potentially curious date down all sorts of dangerous paths. He looked over at Stesha. "You said you've been here long enough to see the Museum, but your accent doesn't sound Freedomian. Are you from the Midwest?" he hazarded.

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"I grew up in Chicagoland," she confirmed, "just on the outskirts of Evanston, if that means anything to you. It all sort of blends together out there. I just moved to Freedom City a few months ago, when I got the job at Flowers By Design. I really like it though. It's always so exciting here. Do you ever get tired of it?" she asked earnestly. "I mean, after you live here for awhile, does it feel normal to see superheroes just flying by overhead?"

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"No," said Jack, warming to a subject that he felt very strongly about. "Living in this city has...well, it's had its ups and downs, but it's done some great things for me. Looking up in the sky when someone's flying overhead, or looking over at the Centurion statue, are some of the greatest ways I know of to remind myself to be better than I am. To be better than myself." He turned and looked at her. "Do you know what I mean? Living in a city with heroes is a reminder for me to try and be a hero myself in my everyday life. Even if it's just something like buying flowers for my friends, or showing a pretty girl a good time on my treat." He grinned at her, his smile disarming. When they reached Allen Street, he circled a few times, driving very carefully indeed, before he found a parking garage they could use.

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She nodded enthusiastically at the sentiment. "I know exactly how you feel," she told him. "It seems like Freedom City is a place where you can come to be better than you are, because there are so many good examples all around. And sure it might be dangerous sometimes, with the supervillain attacks and things like that, but that's what the heroes are there for, right? And even with the fights, they make the world so much better." She waited till he pulled into the slot to unbuckle, but didn't think to wait for him to open the door. "If you feel like that, I know you'll love the museum," she told him confidently. "It's like a concentrated dose of everything that's best about the city."

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Arm-in-arm, they walked down the street to the museum, the soft light of the streetlights casting a gentle glow down on them and the rest of the crowd. The streets were busy tonight, the museum itself much more brightly lit up with spotlights and banners advertising the exciting new traveling exhibit "HEROES OF MAGIC!" They stopped for a little while, Jack taking pictures of the 20-foot statue of Atlas holding the world on the steps of the museum, before they headed inside. Jack paid the bill, pulling a crisp fifty to buy their tickets, and let Stesha led him inside the museum.

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As always, Stesha felt like a little kid at the amusement park when she walked into the museum, but she restrained herself tonight for the sake of whatever image of maturity she'd managed to preserve. The little red flowers in her hair did brighten up a little, responding to her pleased excitement. "Let's see the traveling exhibit first," she suggested. "I've heard it's supposed to be great." The museum wasn't too busy at this hour on a weeknight, so the crowd didn't press as they walked along past the iconic images of the city's greatest heroes. "And I love the heroes of today room, too," she confided. "It's so neat to see heroes that you might one day watch in the air, or even pass on the street!" It was her great ambition to one day get a spot in that room for her name, but of course she didn't say that aloud.

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Jack chuckled a little, focusing on Stesha's words. His mind was elsewhere; he didn't notice the flowers. "You never know," he teased, "one might be walking behind us right now." They walked through the exhibit hall devoted to contemporary heroes before they reached the magic exhibit, giving both of them a chance to see familiar sights. 'Contemporary' heroes applied, of course, to everything after the 1960s or so, so there were statues of everyone from long-running heroes like Daedalus and the recently-"returned" Scarab all the way to dead heroes like Brainstorm and Tectonic. Jack looked up at the statue of the Scarab in particular, smiling a little. "Always liked that guy," he murmured to Stesha, "Too bad they never found out what happened to him."

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"Well, maybe he came back from the dead." Stesha replied, looking up at the statue. "But I guess that wouldn't explain why he's female now...but stranger things have happened." She chuckled, looking over at him. "I mean, if you believe in superheroes and magic powers and supernatural beings, coming back from the dead really isn't that much of a stretch, is it? More things on heaven and earth..."

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"It could be, it could be." The pair of them walked along to the Heros of Magic exhibit, displaying everything from Lady Celtic and Britannia, two of the most famous magical superheroes of Europe, to more recent magically-enhanced champions like Siren and Lady Liberty. Jack read the little plaque attached to the Lady Liberty exhibit with interest, nodding a little as he read the display. "Hmm, it sounds like some people don't believe Lady Liberty's powers are magic. I guess some patriots think that anything that has to do with America can't be magical. At least she's a strong woman doing her thing, right?"

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