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Avenger Assembled

Pater Noster (IC)

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Freedom Angel had gotten used to getting funny looks, at best, wherever he went in town. With his usual bluntness, he'd decided to simply live with that. Looks sometimes meant questions, and questions meant answers that he might be able to give to a city in need of guidance. So when St. Stephen's needed flowers for the special Feast of St. Stephen service, he decided to buy them himself. Taking money from the church coffers (carefully signing it out first), he simply looked online for a good flowershop, then took off, flying towards the downtown. A few moments later, he landed in front of Stesha's flowershop and simply strode inside, folding his wings close behind his back while he was inside.

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Stesha was in the back, hand-tying crystals into a toss bouquet, when Patty came racing into the production room. "Oh my god, you guys! There's a man with WINGS out in the front room. Like honest to go wings!" Patty was very excitable, but that was enough to get everyone's attention. "He looks like an angel or something!"

"Wings?" Stesha blinked, then laughed. "I think I know who it is. Don't worry about it, I can take it." Ever since the aftermath of the Grue invasion, when she'd accidentally returned to the shop in costume, not realizing some of her coworkers were hiding there, they'd been in on the secret of her identity. She was grateful to have kept her job, and to be able to use her unique skills more openly. It also made her the obvious choice to deal with any... unusual customers.

Setting aside her bouquet, she took off her apron and walked into the front, smiling. "Hello Heyzel," she told him cordially. "I didn't expect to see you here today."

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"Hello, Stesha," he said with a smile. "It's lovely to see you again." Looking around at the flowers, he smiled, a little wider. "This place is every bit as lovely as you described. It's such a wonderful thing for people to be able to come into a place like this and come away with as many flowers as they want," he said with honest, if naive pleasure. "I should have come here earlier. I'm actually shopping for my home at St. Stephen's."

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"Well, it's not quite that simple here," Stesha admitted with a chuckle. "If you want a churchful of takeaway flowers for today, you're going to have to go to Murphy's down the street. What we do here is mainly events, where you tell us what you want ahead of time and we make it for you. Is there a special occasion you need flowers for, a wedding or a funeral?"

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"Actually, this is for St. Stephen's Day, so we have a week of preparation yet. Though the church doesn't practice the same kind of veneration of individual humans as other sects do, they do celebrate the figure the church itself was named for; Stephanos of Jerusalem." He hmmed, looking around, and said, "I would like something in hyacinth, please. Stephanos always enjoyed their smell, and I think he would appreciate them being used to honor his name."

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"A week is cutting it pretty close," Stesha told him, "but luckily you've got an inside connection, and I know how to get my hands on some hyacinths real quick," she added with a grin and a wink. Then, as his words sunk into her brain, she added. "So, ah... you mean to say that you actually knew St. Stephen, the one who got, what was it, stoned to death or something, back in the Bible? Or is this a different St. Stephen?"

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"Not very well," Heyzel clarified. "With infinite time and infinite space, most of the older inhabitants of Heaven dwell in the farthest realms, beyond where the younger inhabitants visit on a regular basis. He arrived there nearly fourteen centuries before my birth, after all. But he's a friend of my mother's, so he visited occasionally when I was younger." He smiled a little, then shook his head. "He actually was involved with my education as well, but that's a different matter. He won't be attending, of course, but I'm sure he'll appreciate it. Do you participate in organized worship?" he asked her sociably.

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"Ah, well, nothing very organized," Stesha admitted, a little uncomfortably. "I do most of my worship during my work, and out in nature. We were never really big on going to church in my family, we were more about looking for god and truth in our everyday lives. Not that I think there's anything wrong about church and singing and praying and such, it's just not something I really do very much of. Hmm, now how many arrangements were you looking for?"

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"Forest and field are as fine a cathedral as any, if the heart is pure," Heyzel confirmed with a smile. He talked business with her for a while, describing the arrangements he wanted and where they'd need to be placed inside the building. His eyes fell on her hand as they talked, and his smile widened. "Ah, I see you're to be wed. How wonderful! When do you plan to have the ceremony?"

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Stesha smiled broadly. "Yes, Derrick and I are getting married," she confirmed, the glee of that still evident in her voice. "We're looking at the weekend before Thanksgiving right now, out in Chicago where my family lives." Unable to help herself, she raised her hand to show off her ring. "He just asked me a couple of weeks ago, over Memorial Day. It was wonderful!"

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"That's wonderful!" said Heyzel, actually glowing in his joy. "Oh, I've watched so many weddings, and they're gorgeous!" He beamed. "Do you have a dress picked out? I saw a wedding in the Congo once where the bride wore a dress she'd made herself out of thousands of exotic bird feathers, and it was beautiful! That was one of my favorite things." He hmmed. "I suppose Derrick will need one of those special tuxes..."

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Stesha laughed. "No, no dress yet, though I've started looking. My budget's not going to allow thousands of bird feathers, and I'm definitely going to buy instead of make my own, but I've got some good ideas going. Derrick will have a tux, and there are going to be lots of flowers. Millions of them." Her eyes sparkled with excitement as she talked about it. "That reminds me, do you get mail addressed to you at the place you're staying?"

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"I do!" said Freedom Angel, though his face clouded a few moments later. "Though it's difficult to send me personal mail these days. The Post Office has decided to use St. Stephens as the destination for most "Letters to the Angels" written in Freedom City, and it's difficult to read and answer all of them at once. People have very many prayers, especially now that they've seen an angel with their own eyes. If you send your message through the League, they can send it to the church with much more accuracy."

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"Ouch," Stesha said with amused sympathy. "Sounds like you need an angel intern to handle the mail. If you haven't ever seen Miracle on 34th Street, remind me to watch it with you sometime. It's about Santa Claus, but I think you might get a kick out of it anyway. In any case, I'll make sure to hand-deliver your invitation when I get them sent out, that way it won't get lost."

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"Oh, thank you. And I'd love to have you and Derrick over some time." he offered. "We have so much space in the church, but many of my superhero friends feel strange about visiting there. I don't know why, it's such a beautiful place, with so much history behind it." He smiled. "Do you have a venue decided for your wedding yet? I'm sure Derrick could build you a church under the stars."

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"He probably could, but I think we'll go with something more traditional," Stesha told him. Remembering why he'd come, she opened a few of her catalogs to show him altarpieces that might look good in the church. "I've been working on nailing down a venue. It's too late in the year for an outdoor wedding, but there's this gorgeous old mansion out by where my folks live that opens up for weddings and receptions. Costs the moon, but I have some savings and so does he, and hey, you only get married once, right? I'm hoping I can get that lined up, even on short notice."

She circled a few designs lightly with her pencil. "Any of these appeal to you? If nothing looks good, we can design something special, but it might take a little longer to put it together."

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"This one looks good, with the religious symbols," said Heyzel, pointing to a design that would take a great deal of work but would be gorgeous at the end of it. "If you can get this done in the time allotted, that would be best. But if you can't, this simpler one should be easier." He sighed a little, shaking his head. "Is this a good price?" he asked her seriously. "I don't spend money much, and I want to make sure this is a good deal."

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"It's an expensive design," Stesha told him with a half-shrug, "but it's very complicated, and it looks amazing when it's done. We have to rush-order everything from our wholesaler, and put it all together in time. And as the Good Book says, the workman is worthy of his wages, right?" Stesha's old boss had kept that Bible verse handy to deal with the very religious folks who told them it was unchristian to charge so much for wedding flowers. It shut them up about half the time. "If this is the one you want, I can have it finished in time."

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They finished the transaction with speed and professionalism, Freedom Angel a warm, reassuring presence as Stesha helped him make the right business decisions. She caught him studying her a few times, but it seemed far more professional than salacious. After all, he was an angel. When the transaction was done, he leaned close and asked her seriously. "Stesha, did something happened to you recently? Something of a mortal nature?"

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"A mortal nature?" she asked uncertainly. "I think most of the things I do are of mortal nature..." She paused, blushing as she recalled the entertaining things her mortal nature had encouraged her and Derrick to do early that morning before she'd had to go to work. Unconsciously, she lifted a hand to her hair to check that everything was still in place. "What exactly do you mean?"

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"I'm sorry, I shouldn't pry," said Heyzel apologetically. "I understand that humans have things they would prefer not to discuss. I know of things like that myself now." He studied her, then admitted, "You have a touch of Heaven about you," he said quietly. "I wondered if you had been in at a death. But it's not my place to ask of such personal business, I apologize."

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Stesha's smile fell away. "Well, yes... a few months ago. I was attacked by Derrick's evil double from another universe and... well, I died. But I came back again after they buried me, bloomed out of a flower, all good as new. I didn't even remember it. It left me sort of, hmm, confused, I suppose. And a little scared for awhile," she admitted. "It's hard to get back into doing what we do after something like that happens. But I'm getting better, slowly. Do you think I went to heaven, then?" she asked him curiously. "I thought maybe I would eventually remember something, but it's just a blank, like I was knocked out and woke up a few seconds later, but it was two days."

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"Almost certainly," agreed the angel. "You went to the happiest place that your soul deserved, and I'm sure that must have been Heaven. As for why you forgot...well, it's kinder that way. Most of those who see Heaven truly, don't want to go back. Even when there are finer things to do below." He hmmed at that, as if he'd said something he regretted, then said, "Well, I think these flowers will be adequate. Thank you again for your help, Stesha."

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Stesha refrained from rolling her eyes at the angel's lack of enthusiasm for the huge arrangement he'd picked out, one that would take a whole lot of work over the next week. They probably had a lot nicer flowers up in heaven, where sin did not blight nor sorrow fade, as the poet said. He'd given her something to think about anyway. "I'm sure you'll be very happy with them, and so will the parishioners," she told him cheerfully. "Should I have it delivered to the church, or will someone come and pick it up?"

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"I'm sure we will be too," said the angel with perfect warmth and sincerity, his brief moment of depression forgotten. "Thank you again," he told her, "I couldn't ask for better flowers, or, by all accounts, a better florist. I'll come by myself to pick them up," he promised, then added, "If it won't alarm your colleagues too much." He'd caught sight of several peering through the door to look at him, then glancing away when they saw him look that way.

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