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Gothic Christmas (IC)


Avenger Assembled

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Jack's responsibilities didn't go away on Christmas Eve, newly-married or not. Indeed, the world of vampires didn't change very much at all on that mortal holiday. Those vampires who did cling to their humanity tended to disappear from each other's company to celebrate the day, if the secular version of it counted. I guess the people on the news are right. Some people just don't keep Christmas holy these days. From his perch opposite one of the Fens' few surviving strip malls, Jack watched a small coterie of young vampires go into the community Christmas celebration, snow just beginning to fall.

The gentle buzz of his alarm watch at the six o'clock hour told him that he had other matters to attend to, though, and with the happy thought that some of his people were truly celebrating Christmas this year, Jack stepped back into the darkness, moving swiftly through the city streets before he arrived at the apartment he shared with Taylor. It was time for the very first Christmas celebrated by Jack and Taylor Faretti as a pair.

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The aparment that Jack returned to was a good deal more festive than the one that he'd left. For a mystic who could lift a car with a glance and tuck it into her pocket with just as much ease, getting the fir tree up in the corner by the fireplace had proved an easy task.

The tree was decorated with scarlet and red, which blended well into the apartments dark and glossy finish, most of the ornaments already hung on its green branches and a few packages tucked underneath. A box half filled with ornaments sat open on the table next to a cooling mug of cider and the remains of a once thick spool of ribbon.

A cheery fire crackled in the rarely used hearth, one of the many advantages of their penthouse. New stockings were draped over one of the couch cushions haphazardly.

As for Jack's bride, she was floating above the coffee table, lips pursed and ornament in hand as she tried to decide on the perfect placement. Apparently Taylor felt that tree decoration demanded a certain degree of perfection in the placement of ornaments. Unaware of Jack's scrutiny, Taylor plucked a red ornament from the tree and replaced it with the gold one in her hand.

She floated to the ground, bending to place that one on a lower branch before she stepped back to examine her handiwork. With her hands on her hips, Taylor tilted her head to the side. She was dresse for the evening but as usual, her feet were bare with her shoes kicked off in one corner. Jack had learned by now that there was almost always one pair of shoes abandoned under the coffee table.

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Jack took a moment to enjoy the cheesy sentimentality of Taylor's radiant beauty at the holidays before he broke the mood with a discreet, entirely feigned cough. His wedding had taught him not to let such feelings drag on forever. "It looks fine, you know," he said with a laugh in his voice, walking up behind her to put his arm around her shoulder. "Just like you. Perfect for the holiday."

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"You should be grateful you missed me fussing with the ribbons." Taylor laughed and pivoted in the act of floating another ornament into her hand and smiled at him. Snuggling into his embrace, she changed the course of the ornament with a glance and floated it up into the top branches of the tree.

Slipping her arm around his waist, she leaned up to kiss his cheek. "Merry Christmas, honey. All done with work?"

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"All done," Jack agreed. She didn't ask for more details than that, most nights, and Jack usually didn't give them. "The doors are locked and the wards are up, and I'm ready for a holiday indoors." It was his first Christmas in a long, long time...well, the first that he was celebrating, anyway. He kissed her back, reveling in the peace and quiet of the house. "Did you call your folks?"

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Taylor's smile was both sudden and unusually impish but she didn't disagree with his Christmas plans. She did, however, have something a little different in mind.

"Briefly. They're enjoying their vacation on the sandy beeches. Mom thinks she may make it a new tradition." The siblings had sent their hard working parents on a two week vacation for the winter. Not only did they deserve it but as Taylor privately confided to Jack, it saved them from their mother's well meant if terrible home cooking.

Taylor twisted in his embrace to twine her arms around his shoulders and press playful if distracting kisses along the edges of his lips, "I have an early present for you if you want to open it."

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"Oh really?" asked Jack, a pleasant smile on his face. From the predatory look in his eye, it was obvious he'd made certain assumptions about the nature of that gift. "Well, I think I can open that. I had something similar for you, actually." He reached down, caught her by the butt, and smoothly lifted her up into his arms as if she didn't weigh a thing.

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Taylor let out a little shriek but as she didn't immedeately ghost through his arms, she'd been expecting a response along those lines. Actually, Jack provoked those responses less and less even when he did forget to clear his throat or stomp his feet. Even surprised, she trusted Jack.

But Christmas wasn't the time for those sorts of musings. Instead, Taylor contented herself with wrapping her hands over his shoulders and distracting them both with a deep kiss before she almost regretfully broke it off, "Actually I really do have a real present for you. Here."

Before Jack's clever hands could convince her that it could wait until morning, Taylor wriggled out of his hands and tugged a large and somewhat heavy box from behind the tree. It made a rather odd clanking noise as she pulled it out.

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Surprised, but not displeased, Jack dropped down next to the box with an inquiring eye. "Well, that's interesting..." He picked up the box and shook it gently, like a child on Christmas Eve, and looked up at her. "I have no idea what this is," he admitted with a smile. "If you want your present, I'll..." He thought about telling her exactly where it was; tucked away safely in the refrigerator. "I'll get it," he suggested, even as he began to tear into the box.

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"I hope not. I've kept it in the Void since I picked it up." Taylor chuckled and sank down next to him on her knees as he pulled away the foil and ribbons. She'd tucked it into a large clothing box and Taylor watched his expression as he opened it, twisting the rings on her fingers nervously.

Inside the box was a thick leather jacket with a high collar and some heavy chains that served as some sort of decorative element, looping around the shoulders and across the front. As Jack lifted it up, a smaller folded scrap of leather fell out and Taylor rescued it, holding it up so he could see the half mask for the lower half of his face.

"You've been talking about outgrowing the hockey mask for a while now." Taylor said with a shy smile.

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"This is...wow," said Jack in admiration, looking with a close eye over all the work she'd done on his costume. Or had done, more likely. "This is the big leagues now!" he said with a chuckle, standing up to kiss her. With a vampire's lack of modesty, he started stripping out of his clothes right there to change into the costume. "I've got to try this out! Thank you," he told her with a little smile. "Let's see here, I think this goes around here..."

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Taylor blinked as Jack began shucking clothing. She sat back on her heels, briefly distracted by the impromptu show before she visually shook herself and rose to her feet to help.

"Here, this goes through this loop," Her fingertips trailed over the waistband of the leaher pants, before she began working on the buckles of his jacket. She'd best move her fingertips to safer areas or neither of them were going to see him in his new costume.

She handed the leather mask up to him, modified from a snowboarder's face guard and then modled in more black leather. Taylor reached up to flip his high collar up before she stood back. Her smokey gaze flicked up and down him before she declared it, "Stylish but still menacing."

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"I'll take your word for it," growled Jack, but Taylor could hear the humor in his voice. "Looked good; can't check myself out in the mirror." He looked her over as well, a predatory glint in his eye. "I've got something for you, too...but you'd better close your eyes first." He laughed a truly evil laugh that he hoped was a good cover for where he'd have to go to get what she needed.

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Taylor's laugh was husky and low and she dutifully covered her eyes with her hands. Of course she could have peeked, but what would the fun in that have been.

"I was thinking we might see how well you can strike terror into the hearts of muggers later tonight," Taylor suggested from behind her the hands covering her face.

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"Have to see what I can do. Anyone out on Christmas Eve needs a good scare." At that he stealthily made his way into the refrigerator, removed the box there, and silently drifted up in front of Taylor. "For you," he told her, hefting a grey and black jewelry box into her line of vision. "Picked it out myself from a friend's collection." The box hummed quietly with a softly active trace of magic, and when open revealed a gorgeous little silver skull with tiny red gemstones in the eyes, suitable for wearing around the neck on a silver chain. "The Necklace of Voices. Go on, put it on," he suggested.

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Curiously, Taylor lifted it from the box and examined it between her fingertips before she slipped the chain over her neck and settled it against the collar of her shirt.

"Its lovely! And enchanted," Taylor beamed at him as she stood up on her tip toes to tug his mask down and kiss him properly. She pulled back but left her hands on the thick leather jacket over his shoulders, "Thank you. Are you going to tell me what it does or shall I start divining?"

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"It was described to me as being like a communicator," said Jack, pleased that she liked the present so well. His new mask was better at conveying his emotions than his old hockey-ski mask, he'd have to work hard to master his facial expressions. It was a good thing his nature already made that a little easier. "The wearer can use the magic in the amulet to reach out to their sub...er, friends, even in other dimensions."

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Taylor beamed at him and threw her arms around his neck in an enthusiastic hug. She pressed another kiss to his cool cheek and bounced back on her toes cheerfully. Taylor knew full well that any mage Jack knew was most likely a necromancer, but necromancy wasn't by nature evil. Just frequently used for it.

"Thank you! That's perfect. I hate when I get caught with work and can't cross back to let you all know. Or on the rare occasion I get in over my head." Taylor winked at that. It might be a little more often than rare. Just a touch.

She tilted her chin up and gave him that impish smile as she asked, "So shall we snuggle in front of the fire or hit the fens for lowlifes?"

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"Could burn the Fens down," Avenger suggested with a teasing glint in his eye. "Clear out a crackhouse and burn it down so the neighborhood can stay warm on Christmas." Jack actually knew better than to do that, as Taylor well knew, but it was part of the character. "Or maybe we go out and kick some lowlifes, and then come back here and light a fire for just the two of us. " The fire actually meant nothing to him, physically...but there was no use dwelling on that. Besides, the canoodling before it was nice.

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"As long as we're not burning crackhouse logs here," Taylor agreed with a twinkle in her eye as she reached up for the amulet at her throat, "We'd never get that smell out of the carpet."

The Eye of Heshem winked between her fingertips and Taylor's holiday clothing fell away to the floor with the soft whisper of cloth hitting the floor. It was replaced with the leotard-and-leather costume of Phantom beneath her volumnious cloak. She could have just as easily stored the clothing in her pocket, and usually did. Her wardrobe bill would be astronimical if she just left clothing lying around every time she changed. Leaving them here, however, she would have nothing in her pocket to change back into once she wished away her costume. Normally, that would be a hindrence but it was tonight it was part of the plan. Stepping away from the clothing pile, she gave Avenger a saucy grin from under her hood and held out her gloved hand. "The Fens?"

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"The Fens," agreed Jack, who was feeling rambunctious enough to pull down his new mask just enough to kiss Taylor deeply on the lips as her cloak swept up around them both, carrying them into the darkness between dimensions. They reappeared on the roof of a burned-out old arcade that had seen much much better days, a place that gave them a perfect view of the worst parts of the Fens, a region of porn theaters and petty drug dealers, a place where the most violent criminals did their business with no law to protect them. It was a good place for a street hero on Christmas.

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It was going to be a bad day to be a thug. Anyone who was out robbing people on Christmas, however, deserved what they got in Taylor's estimation. She released Jack and floated over to the edge, her cloak billowing out around her. The white snow dotted its folds and melted away without leaving marks. Occasionally it passed right through her instead as she flickered in and out of solid form like a sputtering candle flame. "Do you want me to bother scanning or are we just doing it the old fashioned way? I say we leave them tied up with pretty bows in front of the police station. I even have extra ribbon."

She flashed him a wicked smile before turning that lambent gaze to the seedy street corners.

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"You find them, I'll grind them," said Avenger, driving one fist into another with something Taylor recognized as good cheer in his eyes. It was the holidays, Jack thought; why not split the difference. "Will save plenty for you," he added with a wicked leer. After all, he'd been blasted in the chest by Phantom often enough to know that Taylor was quite thoroughly formidable in a fight. "Ghostface Killahs have a fake Santa on Ash Street. Have been meaning to deal with that."

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"Race you," Phantom challenged him with a sharp grin below the shadow of her hood. She floated up, her cloak spreading out like giant dark wings, casting a shadow over the white snow. "I'll even make it sporting and not teleport."

But not that sporting as she took flight almost as soon as she threw down the gauntlet, ghosting up high in the night sky like some fell spirit.

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Avenger was faster on his feet than ever these nights, and took advantage of his knowledge of the geography of the Fens to leap and bound his way almost ahead of Phantom. Still, Taylor's flight was hard to beat in the air. The gang stronghold they found was fairly underpopulated at the Christmas season; even drug-dealers and hoodlums had families to go home to, or at least had shelters they could visit. That meant some people in the crackhouse tonight were the worst addicts, those who simply had no place else to go. It also meant, though, that the others there were simply the worst: criminals and fugitives who couldn't go to a shelter for fear of arrest.

And when Avenger didn't so much burst through the door as he appeared behind them on the second floor of the ratty old building as they counted their cash and lit their pipes, it was with the knowledge that these guys had it coming. "Think that money belongs to the Salvation Army. Think you need someone to save you."

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