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Avenger Assembled

D(ate) Day

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Alone in his room a little before six, Mark took a little while to check himself out in the full-length mirror on his closet door. He'd gone with a dress shirt and slacks for this evening out, taking advantage of a sale at a the nearby florists' to buy a classic bouquet of roses for Alex. Apparently posies weren't a real flower at all, an embarrassing discovery that fortunately he'd been able to make alone. He wasn't feeling embarrassed now, though; more confident, expectant, and just a little bit nervous. He'd planned to wait until exactly the hour of eight, but eventually his nerves were such that he gathered up his bouquet, adjusted his little Freedom League collar pin, and headed upstairs to greet Alex. He was going on a date!

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Fortunately, Alex wasn't the type to linger over her mirror so she was ready before six. Having washed and dried her hair, she'd taken the time to brush it out straight and curl the edges a bit before pulling it away from her face in a loose clip. It was, of course, one of her sparkly-clips, but this one at least was a more subdued white than any of the usual eye-blinding colors. Clipped back, it curled softly down her neck and shoulders. She wore the dress that had been so carefully picked out with Erin, with it's red fitted bodice and the cheery geometric print skirt that swished just above her knees. She'd even broken out a pair of low heeled sandals and a simple locket for a necklace.

It was probably a good thing that Mark was a little early as she hadn't really had time to start to fret as she'd been focused on getting ready. When the knock came on the door she did have a moment of jitters. Telling herself to not be such a ninny, she opened the door to smile up at Mark, "Hi... Oh! Those are lovely!"

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"Hi, Alex," said Mark with a warm smile. "You like them?" He looked very pleased at her compliment, gently handing her the bouquet already in a matching red vase. (It had been a long couple of hours since he'd hit the flower shop.) He smiled and looked her over, looking quite pleased with what she'd done with herself. "You look great, Alex. I really like that outfit." He had no idea if it was new or not; that wasn't the sort of thing Mark thought about. What mattered was how nice she looked; that they'd both dressed up for an evening out at one of his favorite spots in Freedom City. "Are you ready to go?"

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"Yup! You have excellent timing. I just slipped on my shoes!" Not that it was surprising with his luck. Alex sometimes wondered what it would be like for everything to function under the laws of kismet, but it usually ended up making her head hurt. And that was saying something in and of itself. She accepted the vase with a smile of thanks and set it neatly on the corner of her desk before she gathered up her small purse and shut the door behind her as she fell into step with him, asking curiously. "Are we driving there?"

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"That's right," Mark agreed, "today we're riding in style courtesy of my family's Ford." As they left her front door, Mark took a chance and reached down to take her hand. When she didn't pull away, he repressed an even bigger smile. This was going to be a good night. "I know we could do a lot better than an Escort, but my dad's pretty old-fashioned. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes that's a bad thing." He smiled, giving a friendly wave to Magni as they passed him on the stairs. "You know how it is with parents."

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Alex blushed as he took her hand, ducking her head slightly but she threaded her fingers through his and silently prayed for her palm not to go all sweaty and weird on him. Between that and managing the stairs in heels, she was quiet for much of the walk with an occasional "Mmmhmm." Or "Oh, yeah."

Once they reached the bottom stairs, she piped up again. "Still, its nice of them to let you borrow the car. Especially since we all have other ways of getting around the city, but I don't think I'd wanna go flying around in this. I'd probably go all Cinderella on you and lose a shoe somewhere. They don't buckle. Makes me understand why super-heroes wear boots. So what part of the exibit did you want to see the most tonight?"

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"Well, all of it," said Mark with a smile. "I love that place; I've been going there since before I could walk. My dad wanted me to know that the people I'd grown up with weren't just my honorary uncles and aunts, they were heroes who'd saved the world a dozen times over." He smiled, ducking his head a little. "But I know most people aren't as into that stuff as I am, so it's okay if you just want to see a little of it. Not everyone's a hero-nerd like I am." He squeezed her hand as they undertook the short walk to the student parking lot. "As for the car, it's the gentlemanly thing for the guy to drive the first time," he said with a confident smile.

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"Hopefully its the gentlemanly thing to drive until I get my liscence cuz' otherwise we're gonna end up super-heroing it around next time," she wrinkled her nose at him playfully before she smiled, "I'm easy going and I like museums. Honestly, I'll probably be more comfortable there than I would be at, like, a club. Or whatever else kids do for dates."

She frowned and looked down, clearly trying to remember what else was normal to do on dates from observation of television and other cultural references. Other than going to the movies and parking somewhere in the car, Alex couldn't think of any other standards. And knowing about clubs as a dating place was only from having spent time with Eddie.

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"I don't think I'd want to go to a club," said Mark doubtfully. "I know the one where Eddie works lets in kids under twenty-one, but I think that would be like drinking diluted root beer." He grinned as they reached the car. "I think the best places to go for dates is wherever the two people on the date want to go. Whether that's the museum, a club, or anywhere else." He could tell she was a little nervous, and wanted to make sure she was at ease so they could both have fun. So he opened the door for her when they got there, reaching in from the driver's seat to unlock it for her. "We're gonna have a great time tonight," he promised.

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"Oh, I know," she agreed with a rueful smile and slid into the car. Alex carefully tucked her skirt around her legs and automatically reached up to fasten her seat belt while Mark walked around to the other side of the car. Once he was in, she twisted in her seat to look at him and picked up the conversation thread once more, "I just haven't done this before. I mean, go on a date, not ride in a car obviously. So, it's all new, you know? Social nuances are complicated."

It honestly never entered into Alex's head not to explain her reactions to Mark.

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"Oh, this is your first date-date?" He looked her over as she sat down, thinking about that. "Well, I'll have to make sure it's a memorable experience for both of us." He laughed a little as they pulled out of the spot, heading away into the evening together. "I'm surprised you haven't been on a date before," he said with a light tease in his voice. "I'd have thought someone like you would have had the guys hanging around before. I'll have to make sure I'm worthy of the honor. What do you like on the radio?" he asked.

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"Anything's fine. Even country," she joked, remembering Eddie's particular foible about that kind of music. She fiddled with the locket at her neck and smiled at him, "It's already special."

Alex turned towards the front, watching the other cars go by as they drove out of Claremont and into the city proper, "Well, of all the kids in the facility - and there weren't many of us - I'm only close to Mike. We were collected at the same time, and knew each other before. I mean, they kept us pretty seperate. We'd go in like normal school time, then sit with psychologists and researchers and teachers now and again while they figured out what we could do. We weren't really supposed to go out a lot unless we were monitored in case we were dangerous. It wouldn't have made a very good date."

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Mark frowned just a little, listening to Alex's story and not really understanding it. "Alex, can you clear something up for me? I know this is a personal question, so if you don't want to answer it, that's okay." She saw his brow furrow in thought before he asked with simple honesty, "Why didn't your parents just go to the Freedom League for help? I mean, I don't know anything about Mike's family, but I know your mom knew a lot of superheroes. I know the League has stuff that helps control powers when they go crazy. I mean, my dad's still got the old power nullifier they used on Blackthorn on his desk. Was she really that uncomfortable with superheroes?" He looked a little embarrassed to have asked, but the question had evidently been weighing on him.

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"I don't mind talking about any of it," Alex replied honestly, her expression open and thoughtful, "No, I know my mom tried everything she could to get us out of the program but it wasn't really bad. I mean, they didn't hurt us or anything. The League would have stepped in then, but they were just studying us."

She hesitated, fiddling with the hem of her skirt for a moment, "And they were trying to help. There was this boy - when we were just little kids - and Mike hit him like little kids would. Except he flew accross the room and cracked his skull against the wall. We could have been a danger to society, I guess, and they couldn't tell. So in a way, they were protecting the world from us. They were government sanctioned, even. In the end, though, I think that's why the study ended. My mom called Mr. Summers and now we're here."

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"That's pretty rough," agreed Mark. "Poor Mike. I guess that explains why he's so down on himself." He frowned briefly, then brightened. "Well, I'm sure being at Claremont will help him out. He's got good friends, and good teachers too." He liked Mike well enough, but on their date he was hoping to talk more about himself and Alex. "When my powers first appeared, I made the cafeteria ceiling fall in on Sloth when he was trying to smack me around. He was okay, though, just really pissed. Too bad he couldn't do anything about it." He grinned. "That was back when there were still a lot of non-powered kids in Claremont. My parents knew I was going to have powers because I'd tested positive for one of the meta-genes, so they sent me off to school to see what would happen there. And eventually, when I was under the right stress, my powers did show up. That was pretty sweet, I've gotta say. Claremont's a great place to have powers."

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"I really like it here," Alex agreed with enthusiasm, as she tucked her hands in her lap. She was equally happy to move off the subject of the Incident, "I've always had my powers. Like, forever. It was just one more sense I developed. Do you know where yours came from? We're pretty sure mine came from the whole Terminus Invasion."

She smoothed her skirt out again with a nervous gesture and glanced up at him, "How long have you been a student here?"

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"I guess it would be too obvious to say I'm just lucky," said Mark with a shrug. "Current theory is, it has something to do with all the radiation and magic my father and grandfather soaked up over the years. I mean, Granddad once got vaporized by Superior before Centurion and his genie flew back in time to rescue him, and even my dad couldn't tell you all the stuff he picked up when he was on the Freedom League." There was not a trace of doubt in Mark's mind that either of those stories, both implausible in their own way, were perfectly true. "So my genes have been messed with a lot. Terminus Invasion, huh?"

He shook his head. "I was just a baby when that happened. When the Omegadrones appeared in our neighborhood, my mom grabbed me and ran out of the house till she found the old bomb shelter in the church in our neighborhood. My dad went into the city to help fight. He was one of the last couple of people to see the Centurion alive." Mark blinked, then looked her date's way. "Sorry, I guess that's something I think about, even though I don't remember it at all. The Invasion wound up being one of the defining moments of my childhood. Same it was was for everyone else our age. I've been at Claremont since I was thirteen, as soon as I was old enough. My dad knew Mr. Summers from old times, and he made sure I got in."

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"I guess you could say the Terminus Invasion was the last fight my mom was in. She was at the hospital for a tour during it all and got a bunch of women to safety. So they figure being so close to one of the portals while pregnant s'what caused my powers," Alex said, pride in her mother's actions apparent in her voice.

"You've wanted to be a super hero for forever, haven't you?" she asked after a moment, her tone curious.

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"I have," Mark agreed. "I mean, there's really nothing better if you've got powers. I don't think I could ever just be a stockbroker or a gambler, or whatever I'd be able to do with my powers. If you've got some special talent, you should do everything you can with it to make a better life for everyone else. Being lucky shouldn't mean your life is easy. If you don't have to work hard for yourself, you should work hard for other people." He nodded at what was evidently a simple truth to him. "If I hadn't developed powers, I think I'd have been a police officer or a firefighter, or an adventurer like my dad. How about you?"

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"What about me?" Alex repeated for a moment, almost as if surprised before she turned thoughtful, "Well, once I realized I could do things others couldn't, I wanted to use them to help people. So hero work was kinda a natural progression. Other than that, I think I wanna do psych work as a grown up. Maybe work with missing persons. I mean, there's so much good I can do with my powers once I'm grown."

She spoke with an animated enthusiasm, her gestures quick and her eyes sparkling. Helping others was something Alex was personally passionate about.

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Mark smiled. "That sounds great, Alex, and like a useful job to boot. Being a hero is about what's on the inside, not the powers you've got. I'm sure you'd be helping others whatever abilities you had." Traffic was fairly heavy this late in the day, but Mark's good luck meant they could easily pass back and forth in the spaces between blockages, easily making their way into the heart of the downtown. He'd turned on the radio by now, a cheesy pop song providing a quiet counterpoint to their conversation as they made their way into a parking garage near the museum.

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Alex slipped out of her seat as soon as the car parked, making certain she had her purse before she shut the door. She wasn't used to carrying one as she generally had a back pack instead but even Alex knew the backpack wouldnlt go with her look. Tucking it over her shoulder, she threaded her free arm through Mark's and looked up at him with lively curiosity.

"Since you are clearly the museum vetran, you should decide what we go to see first." She suggested, snagging a musuem map as they headed inside.

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Mark rubbed the foot of the "Atlas Triumphant" statue as they walked into the building, following an old tradition of Freedom's supers. "Well, I'm supposed to be the tour guide, I should be letting you pick." He grinned at her, his lifetime membership enough to get them both in past the gate. "Why don't we go into one of the theaters?" he suggested, his arm around hers as they headed into the big atrium, the walls covered with many heroic artifacts. "We can catch the 4-D showing of The Real Liberty League Experience, then go see the Revolutionary War heroes exhibit, then maybe eat at Champions...it'll be great."

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"Sure! Sounds good to me. I'm actually really interested in the Revolutionary exhibit. I was reading an article in the paper about it the other day," Alex agreed easily. She chuckled and looked up at him, "I probably didn't even need to pick up a map. I bet you have everything memorized already."

She looked up at the exibits that they passed on the way, her usual curious gaze on her surroundings but she was equally aware of the arm under her hand and the solid presence at her side. It was a nice feeling and Alex relaxed a little more against him. She looked up from a vivid color photo at him, "If your dad took you here a lot as a kid, what's your favorite memory?"

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"My grandpa," said Mark immediately. "I was so little that my dad had to boost me up to see over the cordon, but I could always pick pictures of my grandpa out of the biggest crowds. And of course, now he's got a statue up in the Hall of Heroes of the 40s. I would see him, and my dad would tell me what a great man he'd been, how he'd been the Centurion's friend and had all those adventures even though he never had superpowers. Never had any training, either; he was just a student and a writer." He gave Alex's hand a little squeeze. "I never met Grandpa Lucas. He died almost five years before I was born. But those stories really shaped my life."

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