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Gizmo

Kill A Man: Eighteen (IC)

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One of the benefits of building a royal palace into a mountainside, Trevor Hunter reflected as he gazed out on the breathtaking view of Dakana spread out before him, was the excellent balcony placements. The sun was just dipping into the horizon, bathing the land in fiery oranges, tinted slightly redder by the young man's mutant eyes as he turned to finish preparing the table. Dressed in a black dress shirt with the top few buttons undone and equally dark pants, Trevor had forgone both the featureless mask that was his face as the legacy mystery man Midnight as well as the sunglasses he used to conceal his onyx and crimson eyes while in public. M'Balla had promised him total privacy, and given the nation's reputation for airtight security, the visiting vigilante wasn't worried.

Not about that, anyway, he admitted inwardly as he caught himself adjusting the trio of staggered candles that formed the small table's centerpiece one more time. The entire spread certainly reflects their opulent surroundings for the trip, from the delicate cups to the masterfully prepared food. Trevor had had to convince M'Balla's head chef to have everything ready ahead of time rather than delaying the courses to be served immediately, but the younger man was determined to maintain the spot's sequestered intimacy. It was rare that he and Erin had time for more traditional dates, as opposed to patrolling or training together, and he had resolved to make her birthday perfect, the day's earlier explosive crisis aside.

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There wasn't a lot that made Erin nervous these days. Battles with epic foes were old hat, and even being called into the headmaster's office was more a cause for dull dread than nerves. But her heart was beating a little faster than usual this evening as she showered off a volcano's worth of ash and sweat and slipped on the dress that Alex had convinced her to buy herself for her birthday. It wasn't anywhere near as fancy as the one Frank had made her, but the navy blue dress with its deep (but not too deep!) neckline and asymmetrical hemline had fit well on her body and in her budget. It had managed to avoid making her look like a furless Yeti in a dress, which was a very important consideration. It looked plain until she stepped under lights, where the little sparklies sewn into the fabric began to shine, and matched the earrings she already owned. She didn't have a curling iron, but she brushed her hair flat and pinned it back, and even put on makeup for the occasion. She looked, she decided, almost like a real grown-up.

Following the instructions she'd gotten from Trevor, she made her way silently on flat shoes through the corridors of the palace, wondering what exactly he was up to. If this were a television show, he'd probably be out with his motorcycle, wondering why she'd gotten dressed up to go patrolling in the city. She wasn't too worried about that, though. Tonight was a special occasion.

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Trevor turned as Erin stepped outside on the balcony, the setting sun back-lighting the open, easy smile that seemed to be reserved for the auburn haired young woman. "Hi," he greeted softly, a hint of goofiness slipping into his expression as he stepped forward and offered her his hand. "Look amazing." The candlelight from the nearby table played about the sparkles in her dress, flickering across the blue fabric like a reflection on deep water. Leaning forward slightly, he kissed her lightly, lingering for a moment before moving backward half a step. "Happy birthday."

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Erin rested one hand on his shoulder and one on his waist as she kissed him back, relaxing as she rarely could around anyone else. The nerves slipped away as though they'd never been there at all. "Wow," she murmured with a smile. "I can't believe you arranged all this for me. It's beautiful." She looked over the table, where a beautiful tray of fresh fruit had pride of place, surrounded by all sorts of other delicacies, some she recognized, some not. She hadn't even known she was hungry, but it all looked too wonderful to resist. She cupped his cheek in one hand. "And you look great, too. You'd never know that four hours ago we were fighting to save the world... again. You didn't have to do all this."

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"Kidding? Would have made them postpone the apocalypse until tomorrow if it'd run too late," Trevor assured her in a soft murmur of his own, tracing the line of her pinned back hair with his fingertips before gentling resting his hand on her back. "Your day," he insisted emphatically, instinctively pulling Erin a little closer, catching a hint of freshly washed hair as he inhaled the crisp evening air. "Never going to go uncelebrated if I can help it."

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"This makes up for a lot of missed birthdays," Erin murmured, inclining her head to rest her cheek against his. Her eyes stung for just a moment, but she wasn't going to let any sad memories intrude tonight. She was eighteen now, and this birthday was a celebration of her future, not a remembrance of her past. Smiling, she turned her head to look out over the balcony at the stunning sunset view. "I can definitely say I never expected to spend a birthday like this. It's funny how things work out."

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A baritone chuckle rumbled in Trevor's chest as he turned to look outward himself, leading the way over to the table. "Worried a bit when I heard we'd be here. Had to come up with a whole new plan." Taking a few faster paces forward, he pulled out on the the chairs at the table with a shallow bow. "The king's staff deserve most of the credit," he noted, retrieving a small, nondescript remote from next to bowl of sliced imbe fruit. "Did manage a few contributions of my own, though." At the press of a button on the remote, a half dozen balls of dim light rose smoothly into the air, floating silently above their heads and casting just enough light to supplement the candles at the center of the table as the sun continued to sink from the sky. "Anti-grav daka crystal lanterns," Trevor explained, looking a little pleased with himself.

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Erin's mouth dropped slightly open for a moment before she laughed and shook her head. "Daka crystals really are the most useful substance on the planet. And they seem weirdly appropriate after the day we had." She took a couple of pineapple slices and kiwi stars off the tray, figuring that if there was some ceremony to be observed here, she didn't know what it was and Trevor wouldn't care. "So," she asked with a grin as she sampled the fruit, "do you get to take the crystals home now?"

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"Made those with what was left stuck on my uniform," Trevor confirmed as he took a seat himself. "Had the rest of the parts with me; using the dust seemed like a nice touch." He picked out a sort of meat dumpling in a tamarind sauce for himself, giving Erin free reign over the array of fresh fruits. "Should last through the night before burning out." Retrieving a tall, ornate kettle, he poured himself a mug of the local coffee, setting it back down among an array of juices and seasonal ciders. "Try the miracle fruit with one of the citruses," he suggested, passing on some of the crash course in local produce he'd received from an enthusiastic chef in the palace kitchen. "Careful with the imbe, though; it stains. This is my third shirt since we got back."

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Erin looked over the plate of fruit. "Well, if you tell me which ones are the imbes, I'll make sure to avoid them. This is my only dress, so I'd better not ruin it." She took half a mango, something she could recognize, and got into the hot food as well by dishing up some fried plantains and one of whatever Trevor was eating. "I didn't realize the dust was useful. Probably could've run a flashlight for a year on what I showered off earlier." She shrugged philosophically over the missed opportunity. The food was amazingly good, as good tonight as last night's feast, and Erin thought it was almost a shame that she preferred concentrating on her tablemate to focusing on dinner. She could always do both, at least. "Which one's your favorite?" she asked him, gesturing to the tray.

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"Favourite..?" Trevor seemed a little surprised to have the focus of the conversation turned upon him, but considered the question with a studious frown for a moment nevertheless. "Heh, I guess I like the imbe, or I wouldn't have ruined the second shirt, too," he suggested with a small, rueful smile, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand and indicating the ping-pong ball sized red-orange fruits with the other. "On the whole, ah, cantaloupe, maybe? Which is yours?" he asked in kind, feeling as though he should have already known the answer.

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"I like a lot of them," Erin replied, considering the fruit tray with some gravity. "I guess probably the kiwi," she decided at last. "If I had to pick just one. I used to take them and cut off the end, then scoop the inside out with a spoon and eat it, because I wasn't patient enough to peel it. I like that you can eat the whole inside and there's no core." Avoiding the imbe, she took some more kiwi, spearing the already peeled and cut pieces with her fork. "Did you know there's no official lottery in Dakana?" she asked, seemingly apropos of nothing. "I was going to buy a lottery ticket, sort of to celebrate what I'm legal to do now, but there isn't any. I'll have to wait till I'm back in Jersey. I'd get Mark to buy me one, but I think that would be cheating." She chuckled.

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Trevor smiled quietly as Erin described her impatient kiwi eating tactics, his own food largely forgotten. "Skin is the best part," he opined with a look of mock conviction. He actually had known that Dakana didn't have a state sanctioned lottery, but snorted in amusement at the thought of their perpetually fortunate friend participating in any sort of gambling before pausing for a silent moment. "Is... this alright?" he asked with unusual self-consciousness. "Though after today simple would be good; didn't know if you'd want to do something or..."

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Erin resisted the urge to make a face at the idea of eating kiwi skin. She was, after all, trying to be grown-up tonight. "It's perfect," she told him with a nod for emphasis. "Sometimes going out and doing stuff is okay, sometimes it's fun, but it's always challenging. This... it's just right. It's just how I'd like to spend tonight, quietly, with you, doing something special. I'm glad everyone else understood." She looked out over the balcony again. "The fact that it's a really amazing quiet something special is a bonus."

Standing up for a moment, she went to the balcony rail and put her hands on it, looking out over the city and the mountains and the sun that was now just a thin sliver of light on the horizon. She could leap over the rail right now and land totally unharmed a mile away, but that didn't make it any less awe-inspiring. "Look at all the lights," she murmured. "Think of all those people. It makes me feel good to see them."

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Trevor reflexively let out a shallow breath of relief. The young man wasn't used to second guessing himself, making life or death decisions with ease and no regret. When it came to Erin, however, he found his pulse quickened and his mind racing, an exhilarating feeling for the normally reserved teen. Rising from his own seat, he stepped softly over to the balcony to stand just behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist so that her head rested in the space between his neck and collarbone, silently gazing into the distance.

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She leaned back into the embrace, resting her hands over his with a small sigh of pleasure. It felt really good, which was a little surprising considering how touchy she was about anyone coming up behind her. She wasn't going to analyze it. They stood quietly for several minutes, comfortably silent, with none of the mounting pressure to speak that usually accompanied long conversational pauses.

Finally, Erin spoke. "I figure most of the people down there won't ever know we saved them today. Most of the stuff we do, people are never gonna know about. But I think that's okay. It's good." Unconsciously she rubbed her fingers over his, then closed her hands over his as they rested at her waist. "They don't have to be afraid of the monsters, because we were there. That really is what I want to do with my life."

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Making a low noise in the back of his throat, Trevor squeezed Erin gently in his arms, crossing his hands at the wrist to lace his fingers with hers, closing his eye from a moment to focus solely on the closeness of her. "And you had to ask why I'm in love with you," he noted dryly. It never ceased to amaze him that after all she'd been through, Erin had ultimately come out the other side not consumed by bitter rage but with a determination to protect others from that same suffering.

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"Maybe I was just fishing for compliments," she quipped, turning her head to smile at him. "I was half-drunk at the time, remember." Maybe Trevor was too good for her, and maybe they were doomed to eventually go down in flames and she'd eventually be devastated. But for nights like this, and a guy like him, well, she'd taken big risks for far lesser rewards. Before the moment could get too heavy, she asked, "Do you really eat the skin on a kiwi?"

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Trevor laughed at that, his eyebrows raising into his black hair as if making room on his face for his widening grin. Tilting his head to one side, the young man knocked it playfully into Erin's forehead. "The skin is perfectly edible," he insisted mater-of-factly, affecting a vaguely pedantic tone, "full of fiber and Vitamin C." As the sun finished sinking out of sight, the floating lanterns compensated partially, bathing the balcony in a warm, dim glow, the candles on the table providing a brighter halo of illumination.

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"They're fuzzy," Erin pointed out with a half-disgusted chuckle. "I can take a little pill that tastes like oranges and get all kinds of non-fuzzy Vitamin C." She turned in his arms so she was facing him with her hands on his shoulders, as though they were about to dance. "To each their own, I guess. You generally have pretty good taste." Brushing her lips across his, she tested the theory. "Taste like berries. What else is in all those covered dishes?"

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Letting his hands slide around to Erin's back as she turned, running over the deep blue of her dress, Trevor leaned forward slightly at the brief kiss. "Guess I won't be growing that beard, then," he deadpanned, the joke coming out in a content murmur. Glancing back over at the table, he considered. "Think there's some mandazi with a sort of chocolate fondue in one and a sweet pea soup in another. Birthday cake, too, obviously."

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"Kiwi skin and flower soup," Erin muttered, shaking her head. "I don't know about all this exotic food. But I know chocolate, and I know birthday cake." Laughing, she extricated herself from his arms and went back to the table, uncovering the rest of the dishes. She dipped a piece of mango in the fondue and sampled it, nodding appreciatively.

The realization, mundane as it seemed, that she really did want to do hero work, that it wasn't just something she did to stay at the school, or to stay in the good graces of the Freedom League, or even to atone for her own inaction, was strangely comforting. She was an adult now, and could make her own decisions, and she chose to ignore the other paths she could travel and be a hero instead. Even if on her next birthday she was broke and living in her car, she at least had a direction, one she was choosing. She smiled at that, and took another piece of mango. "You should try this," she told Trevor.

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Retaking his seat, Trevor followed Erin's suggestion, skewering a bite-sized, triangular mandazi and dipping the doughnut like flatbread into the melted chocolate. The dark, unsweetened flavour went was intended to go well with the sweet fruits, but suited his palate on its own. After they'd had some time to sample the various dishes, Trevor cleared his throat a little self-consciously, and retrieved something from under his seat, passing Erin a small, flat box across the table. Wrapped in what appeared to be newsprint comic strips, the square package was roughly the size of of both his palms held side by side and only a little taller. "So, ah, yeah. Happy Birthday," he repeated.

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"Oooh." Grinning, Erin accepted the package and flipped it over, neatly opening the wrapping along the seams. "MIght want to read that later," she explained, though mostly she was deliberately going slowly to prolong the anticipation. Birthday presents were a big deal, especially ones from special people. Unconsciously, her fingers went to her necklace, the irreplaceably priceless heirloom that had been her grandmother's. It didn't really match the zirconium earrings, but it looked nice with the dress, and she'd wanted to wear it today. Thank god she hadn't decided to wear it all day. Setting aside the newsprint wrapping, she opened the box.

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Beneath the the lid of the nondescript white box, three object were set into a custom cut piece of soft black foam with a satiny texture. The first was by far the larger of the three, a pair of sunglasses with dark red lenses. The frames were black but laced with hints of a deep blue that caught the light of the table's candles and matched the headband she typically wore when in uniform. The style was sleek and utilitarian, but distinctly feminine. "They're made from the lenses of my old mask," Trevor explained, watching her reaction closely, "before... well." The youth gestured vaguely to his discoloured eyes. "They'll let you see in the dark and through my mist."

Placed below the glasses were a pair of matching earrings, their facets revealing inky depths with swirls of blue. Surprisingly, they appeared to be cleverly disguised clip-ons rather than using her actual piercings. "And those... they're actually noise filters. They'll help cancel out extremely high frequency or decibel sounds, things that would be disorienting or damaging." The flicker of shame that crossed Trevor's inexpressive features as he looked away for a moment made it clear where he'd gotten the idea for that part of the present. "I, ah, I went through a lot of ideas, but I though, maybe, something you'd actually use, but not boring because it still had to be, I mean, romantic, obviously, and I wanted to apologize, too, because I never really did, not enough, and..." Folding his hands in front of him and moving his thumbs distractedly back and forth across each other, he let his uncharacteristic rambling trail away.

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