Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Avenger Assembled

The New Man

Recommended Posts

It was late on the hot first day of August when Taylor's cell phone rang, the number an unfamiliar one. When she answered, the voice on the other end turned out to be very familiar. "Taylor, it's Jack." He was obviously out of the secret identity he used to answer the phone half the time, but he sounded like he had something serious on his mind. "I want to cash in that favor you owe me. I'm going to the skyview on top of the Pyramid Plaza." It wasn't technically on top, as well Jack knew, but it was certainly really high. "Can't ask just anyone to go there when the door's locked."

Share this post


Link to post

For once, Taylor was neither doing homework nor acting as her mystical alter-ego, instead she was lounging on the couch with her legs crossed and watching the television. After the conversation with Stesha, she was giving the whole introduction of normalcy a shot. So far she'd discovered two facts. The first was that while she could stand the cool void of space in a leotard, an August heat wave was still an uncomfortable August heat wave. The second was after spending so much time learning magic in another dimension and then spending the last year or so as Phantom, she had no idea what was going on in any of her shows. Television was amazingly boring when you had no idea what to watch on it. In short, she was discovering that this experiement was boring and hot.

So it was with relief that she glanced at the cell phone and discarded the remote in favor for answering the phone call. She glanced at the number and frowned but flipped it open with her usual, "I'm here."

Once she connected the voice to face, she ignored the slight skip of her heart firmly. The Phantom voice fell away to Taylor's usual husky tones and warmed noticeably, "Won't take me any time at all. Is this a costumed sort of thing?"

Share this post


Link to post

"No costumes," Jack promised her. "Just...just people, here." He chuckled faintly. "I'll meet you in the elevator lobby on the 87th floor, where the regular passenger elevators meet up with the express line to the top floor. Hour and a half enough time to dress and get over here? I'm already working near the building myself."

Share this post


Link to post

"Plenty," she assured him with confidence. Teleporting would only take a half a second at most. Which gave her exactly one hour, twenty-nine minutes and fifty nine seconds to find something appropriate to wear. Probably more than enough time to go through her wardrobe twice over, and still find nothing. Pushing the voice in her mind that pointed out she would be better off with a costume as at least then there wouldn't be a choice involved, she said with good humor, "Barring sudden act of imp infestation, I'll be there on the nose. See you then."

Once she hung up, she tossed the phone aside and reminded herself that this was a teammate. A teammate asking for a favor, not a date. It became a quiet mantra as she stood up and stretched once before heading for the shower. Once out she knotted her hair up in a loose clip against her crown - as it was frankly too hot to let it hang down her back, and she lacked the skill to pull off anything fancy. Her wardrobe left her few options, as she had jeans and t-shirts in spades and then a small handfull of dresses that she usually saved for family dinners.

Has it really been so long since I bought clothes...? I can't remember the last time I went shopping. Team-mate. Favor.

It took some searching that a random observer might have termed frantic until she managed to turn up something that split the difference between dressy and casual. It was pre-Phantom, back when she'd intended to go on interviews for real jobs and do the college shmoozing bit. A lifetime ago. Frankly, she simply hoped it fit. She glanced out of the clock out of the corner of her eye and hurridly pulled on the soft black linen slacks. A little tighter, perhaps, but not too tight thankfully. They'd been cut to fit through the waist and hips before straight-legging down. She had enough time to pull a silk sleeveless blouse in a deep blue on and give herself a once over in the mirror. It would simply have to do.

Telling herself to not be such a ninny, she closed her eyes and flashed to the place she was supposed to meet Jack.

Share this post


Link to post

Jack was on the phone when Taylor arrived, an unaccustomed display for the grim vigilante of the night. "I don't care what it costs! Get it done! That is not acceptable behavior now." He hung up and sighed, leaning against the wall opposite. It took him a moment to realize Taylor was there, and by the time he turned he had a half-smile on his face. "Heh. So that's what that's like." Jack was in a brand-new black suit and tie that still clung perfectly to his body, not yet having broken in the brand-new outfit. He smiled at Taylor, concealing from his face the horrors of the last two weeks. How long has it been since I've had a real conversation with a live human being?

"I'm glad you could make it, Taylor. I was hoping you would, even after last time." He walked over to her, giving her a quick up and down. "I like it. Have you been in the Plaza much before?" he asked her. "I know your family's from the area, but you never know with lifelong Freedomians. Sometimes they never learn to look up and see the wonders." He smiled.

Share this post


Link to post

She stepped forward, glad she'd decided to dress it up at the last minute with a pair of heels and smiled up at him. Having stood next to him before, she was vaguely aware that he was tall but it still surprised her. He always managed to seem much shorter in costume somehow. She chuckled, telling herself to ignore the appreciative look except for the compliment it was. "Of course, I made it. Wouldn't have missed it. I'm just glad I wasn't late."

Taylor turned her head to look out over the city line, partially because it was beautiful and partially to give herself time to let her racing heart settle, "Actually... True story, first thing I did after I came back - after my training - was teleport up to the very top. A little higher than we are now, just for the sheer joy of being able to do so. It wasn't all that long ago but sometimes it seems like..." A life time ago. "...Much longer."

Turning her face back to him, she lifted a shoulder in shrug that caused the Eye at her throat to shift against her collarbone and changed the subject, "It's been a while since I was in the building itself though. You look handsome tonight."

Share this post


Link to post

"Thank you," said Jack sincerely. "I don't get a lot of chances to dress up." He remembered the top of the skyscraper and felt a strange twist in his chest, right where Melinda had stabbed him before. So why did you invite her here? Oh yes, because of this. He stayed away from the big bay window, hanging close by the elevator. "Well, if you've already seen the observation deck, I'll just have to make it up for you with my scintillating conversation." He grinned, his eyes falling to the necklace at her throat. And what a throat! Easy on, Jack. "It's been a tough month," he admitted. "I've missed human contact. How have you been?"

Share this post


Link to post

She fell in next to him easily and smiled, "Neither do I. As I'd like to keep some modicum of dignity, I won't tell you when the last time I wore anything like this was. Suffice to say, I had to do some digging in my closet."

Taylor unconciously took the outside. If she'd ever had a fear of heights, they were long since gone. Before she could start to fiddle nervously with the amulet, his commentary on a difficult month distracted her and she looked up with genuine concern, "I'm sorry to hear that. Truly. Anything you'd like to talk about? I've just been busy."

The last she said with a downward twist of her mouth. She was currently sitting at six exploded imps and not one bit closer to figuring out why they were thick as flies. Must learn to stun first.

Share this post


Link to post

"A professional colleague of mine recently died," said Jack, staring at the wood-paneled doors before him. "Not my superhero work; my regular job. No one you'd be familiar with." He rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I've been trying to replace her, but it's not an easy task...taking an organization over, trying to reshape it for the better. Sometimes I think being Avenger just gets in the way of my personal life. You know I haven't even gotten the mask on in two weeks?" He shook his head. "Do you ever feel like it's more trouble than it's worth?"

Share this post


Link to post

"I'm so sorry, Jack." Taylor said, looking pained and she reached out to touch his arm gently, "So very sorry. It sounds as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders."

She left her hand in place, fingertips curled around his bicep as she tried to give the question an honest response, "Do I think it's more trouble than worth to me? Often. I know how important what I do is, better than just about anyone could. Do I wish when things are truly hard that I could just pass the mantle on to someone else and hide under my pillow? Sometimes. Its like trying to hold back the ocean with bare hands and a prayer that not even you fully believe in."

Taylor kept her gaze steady on his profile. The least she could do was not shield her expression away, even if the topic happened to be a difficult one. She knew that her expressions tended to betray her emotions. There was a reason why almost all of Phantom's face was covered. "Even if I could, I wouldn't be able to go back. I can't unsee what I've seen, or change what I've done. I can't go back and I'll be damned to have sacrificed this much only to give up now. A friend of mine told me, recently, that its about finding a balance. Finding the peace - the normalcy - when and where you can."

After a moment's pause, Taylor added with a reluctant smile that dimpled her cheeks, "But, all that said, all I've discovered is I really, really suck at finding it."

Share this post


Link to post

"I know the feeling," said Jack quietly, laying his hand on hers. His fingers were cool from the air conditioning, which ran even this late in the day at the beginning of August. "This is pretty normal. You and me going up to see the roof of the world." He smiled a little at her. "It's been a long time since I've been on a real date with anyone." He thought of Stesha, briefly, and pushed those memories aside. "Since you've already introduced me to your parents, I thought that was fair enough."

Share this post


Link to post

Taylor's eyes widened slightly and she was almost positive that her heart flipped over in her chest. So much for her mantra. Really, so much for her ability to form a coherent thought.

Okay, so it's a date. I can do the date-thing. Right? Right. If I can get my mouth to start working again, that's probably a good place to start.

She moistened her lips, finally breaking eye contact but not in time to hide the rather charmed smile, "Okay, it's been a long time since I did this, but I'm pretty sure that the first date comes before meeting of the parents. I could be wrong. It has been a while."

Share this post


Link to post

"I can't guarantee any conventional dates," said Jack with a crooked smile. "But I can give you tonight." Her pulse was racing. It was a good thing Jack had eaten before he called. "It's not another dimension, I suppose, but we all have our own talents. Even if my only talent is...being me." The express elevator didn't take long to reach the observation deck, and within the space of a few minutes they were up at the roof of the world. Jack walked out slowly, staying away from the windows as he glanced up at the darkened historical monuments all around. "How's your night vision?"

Share this post


Link to post

She stepped into the room after him, one hand going to the amulet in a gesture of pure nerves. It was a good thing that Taylor never played poker as she had some definate tells to her mood. As Phantom, the gesture usually passed off with the whole mystic look but standing there without artifice, it looked a good deal more vulnerable.

"Better than most as I spend most of my time out at night these days but not in the preternatural range." She admitted, glancing towards the windows automatically before she flicked her gaze up to his face. She hesitated then asked curiously, "Can I ask you a question?"

Share this post


Link to post

Jack took that as a good excuse to flick on the lights, walking back and forth as he hit all the big switches and cast the observation deck into light. Anyone looking from below would see nothing other than...well, people who could get away. "Sure thing," he said, dreading the question despite himself. He already knew Taylor had magically acute senses. "If I can ask one of you, too."

Share this post


Link to post

She blinked, automatically tilting her face away as the lights came on, only turning her face back towards him once there were no more flashes. Before she could ask her question, she paused for a moment to just look around with an expression of wonder at the observation deck. Pivoting slowly in place, Taylor took it all before she spoke again, "This is such an amazing city. It's easy to forget sometimes."

Taylor looked back at him, remembering her question finally. She stepped back towards him, "You can ask me anything you'd like. I just wanted to ask, why did you call and ask for a favor?"

Share this post


Link to post

Jack repressed a laugh, not at Taylor, but at himself. Of course she'd ask him that. "Because I like you," he confessed to her, an unexpected admission of honesty for himself after so many lies. "You know what it's like to be someone like us. It doesn't stop when you take off the mask or go home for the night. Elena is the same, but she's also Alexander Rhodes and about forty other people who don't relate very well to people on the ground like you and me." He smiled thinly. "And you have a nice family. That's not something I get to see a lot of, and it was a nice way to get to know you."

He took a few, cautious steps towards the window, mindful of what he'd see there. "Why do people care about me?" he asked her. "I know that sounds like self-indulgent twaddle, but the question's been on my mind more and more this last month." His voice was tight. "I break legs more often than a Mob enforcer, I act and dress like a dime store psychopath, and I talk like a refugee from a bad movie." He laughed, once. "You know how much practice it was to talk like Avenger?" He shook his head. "I just...I just don't understand why I have so many friends."

Share this post


Link to post

She blinked, startled by his admission but very flattered. Her lips quirked ruefully at his list of reasons before her smile softened at his question, "I can't tell you why you have all the friends that you do have. I'm not a telepath. I can tell you why I'm fond of you and I imagine it's not all that dissimilar reasons for the other people who've come to care about you."

Taylor took a step after him, automatically stepping to the side so that he could see her in the window's reflection. It was an unconcious movement of someone who never put herself in an ally's blindspot and she didn't even think about it when she moved to his left side. "You've answered part of the question with why you called me. I know what it's like to be 'on' all the time, to not have a normal life to go back to. I don't make friends easily and I treasure those few that I do have. As for the Avenger part of your life, you proved I could trust you at my back in a fight the first time we met. As Avenger, you might be seem rough around the edges - and your tactics are often brutal - but you're a stalwart ally and all too often a voice of reason. Of rough gravelly reason, but reason nonetheless."

Stepping up alongside him, she touched his arm once more, "For the man behind the mask, you came and did me a favor despite whatever issues were hounding you that night. I don't know what they were, but I know it wasn't easy to help me. You did, and you never complained. It's a simple answer in the end to a complex question. People care about you because you care for them, and it shows. No matter how many masks you wear."

Share this post


Link to post

"Thank you, Taylor," said Jack sincerely, turning to her with one of his odd little half-smiles on his face. "I...I appreciate that. It's not easy for me to understand how other people think sometimes," he confessed. "It's just the way I am. And you'd better believe I didn't get into the superhero business to make friends." He shook his head. "But I have made friends. And I'm glad about that. I'm glad we're friends." He cocked his head, looking her over. "And I was happy to help you, Taylor. It's been a long time since I've been in a household that happy. And it's been a long time since I've had the kind of friends who would call on me for something like that at all."

Share this post


Link to post

"I think if anyone gets into this business to make friends, they're severely underestimating what they're signing up for," Taylor said wryly, tilting her head up to look at him. She let her hand fall away from his sleeve and reached up to the amulet once more to twist it idly on the chained links. She smiled, her lips quirking up at him with a moment of genuine mirth, "My folks were charmed, you know. You're welcome back anytime, and I certainly enjoy your company."

She turned her face back to the windows, chin still lifted slightly to watch the skyline. "I do like you quite a bit, Jack."

Share this post


Link to post

"I like you too. It's not many people who could take on the responsibility you have and be so approachable. I can't imagine a cold entry into the Knights of Freedom is an easy task, either. In costume, at least, none of us are particularly welcoming. At least in a conventional way." He looked down at her. "Just as long as they don't serve garlic," he said with a half-smile, moving away from the windows again. "Not that I didn't appreciate the food," he added, sounding oddly apologetic. "Everyone there was very friendly, and very welcoming. The only awkward thing I felt was being so tall." He grinned, his eyes following the movement of her hand again. It was because she had a lovely neck; he told himself, not because he was appreciating anything else about her.

Share this post


Link to post

She laughed, twisting towards him to follow and said dryly, "No one's ever accused me of being overly likeable in costume either. Or approachable. In fact, you may well be the first. Not to mention it was stressful for all of us. Stressful for me, certainly. I hate full-blown dictator gone mad invasions of the multiverse."

Taylor shook her head fell into step with him as he retreated from the windows. He was a good bit taller than any of her relatives, and Taylor was on the short side among them. Youngest and shortest was a heavy burden to bear sometimes. "No one minds at all, and trust me, you missed nothing special. At least nothing special in an exceptionally edible way. I love my mom to death but she's not the greatest cook, especially when going creative. I would be getting pestered with more phone calls about you if my older brother hadn't gotten himself engaged to his longtime girlfriend. Not Jackson, the other single one, so my mom is in full tilt wedding mode."

Share this post


Link to post

"Hey! Well, good for him." Jack wondered if the wedding would be in a church, and if Taylor might invite him as her guest since the last time had worked out so well. Deep inside, he repressed a wince at the image those things conjured up. "I'm not really a big eater at public events like that, so I didn't really miss anything personally," he confessed. "Big family gatherings like that are usually more about emotions than anything else." He smiled faintly. "I missed the big family experience growing up, but I've had plenty of chances to see it in action with others. You're lucky to have those guys around." He grinned.

Share this post


Link to post

"I am lucky although it was hectic as a kid as there was always someone around. On the one hand, there was always someone to talk to. On the other, it was always a hassle to try and keep your stuff from getting relocated all the time. And, being the youngest, there was always someone to offer advice. That part, at least, hasn't changed," She reached up to tuck a rebellious lock of hair back out of her eyes quickly. Her expression softened as she spoke about her family. It was so rare to have anyone to talk to them about. Even if she and Jack had disagreed about the secret identity thing when it came to the family, he at least knew about both aspects of her life.

"You were an only child?" Taylor asked curiously at the opening provided. Jack was so close-lipped about anything like that and she didn't want to pry but that seemed a safe enough question to ask.

Share this post


Link to post

"I was," agreed Jack. The memories here were painful in a way very different than the thoughts about his lack of ability to socialize with normal people, but they were at least familiar enough for him to push past. The superhero with the dead family was an old fictional cliche, one he'd been painfully conscious of early on in his career. Like I'm the voice of experience now. Seven months since I put on the mask? "Very boring stuff. Exurban family, parents and one kid. We didn't even have a dog. Freedom City was the place where you went to watch first-run movies, or eat at restaurants that weren't Applebees."

Share this post


Link to post
Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...