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Supercape

Vision in White (IC, Closed)

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17th December

Rene glanced at his antique watch. He would be damned if he got one of those new-fangled digital contraptions. No class. Who cared if they told the time precisely. Pffft. Like he needed to know the time anyway. The sun rose, the sun set. A good old fashioned clockwork watch was the thing. It lost a random amount of minutes a day, and frequently stopped, but he had had it for a century now, and wasn't going to give it up.

And damn this wearing it on the wrist thing. Perfectly fine on a waist coat, at the end of a chain.

He set up his easel, and made sure he had all his paints at the ready. He rarely painted for money these days, and was going to start today. However, for love, that was quite a different thing.

Damn that beast love. And as for marriage, pffft. Nothing bad heartbreak and misery, the whole stupid business... and that would be his final thoughts on the matter.

"C'est magnifique!" he conceded, reflecting on it.

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Right around the time his antique watch said two pm, there was a buzz at his doorbell. The young woman who stood there looked about twenty five, and was neither as tall nor as slender as women today tended to be. She was, however, definitely his client. The green hair was something of a giveaway. She carried a large white garment bag and was dressed as though preparing for an Arctic Expedition.

Stesha was proud of herself for being on time, especially after the hectic morning she'd had. It was nuts, trying to prepare other peoples' weddings and Christmas parties and baby showers, all while trying to coordinate the million details of her own wedding in her spare moments. This expenditure of time was probably not the wisest thing she could've done, but as soon as she'd heard there was a superhuman portrait painter in the city, she hadn't been able to get the idea out of her head. She'd hoped to get one with Derrick too, but his schedule was even tighter than her own, and it hadn't worked out. Still, getting her own portrait painted by Rene de Saens would be an honor, and she had to do it now before she got a single iota fatter!

She smiled warmly at the man who opened the door. "Hello, it's so nice to meet you," she said. "I'm Stesha Madison, I believe we talked on the phone? That is, if you're Monsieur de Saens, of course," she added with a chuckle for her own presumption.

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"Oui Madame, zat I am!" replied Rene, drawing himself up to his full height and looking down at Stesha.

"You are neither tall nor skinny. Good, good! A real woman! and... your hair! the colours! I can do wonderful things! wonderful!"

Good thing I had stocked up on Green! he reflected.

"But please, forgive me, yes, I am Monsieur de Saens, master artiste! and it will be mon pleasure to paint you this afternoon. "

He brought Stesha up a few flight of stairs in the old house. He looked a little over seventy, yet he was still able to traverse three long flights of stairs and was hardly breathing heavy at the end of it. At the top of the house was his studio, a wide open floor, with large windows embedded in the sloping walls. Paints, canvases, and materials were littered everywhere. Rene was not a tidy man.

"So, I understand you are to be wedded soon, is that right? And you wish for a portrait to capture that moment of young love, ze romance, ze passion! oui?" he nodded, barely listening to Stesha, already caught up in the event. "I can see it now!"

"Has madame any thoughts on how she would like to be painted?"

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It took Stesha longer than Rene to catch her breath after the trip up the stairs, which was a bit lowering. She needed to up the quality of her light exercising, apparently. "Yes, I'm getting married on January second, exactly three weeks from now. I was afraid the wedding wasn't going to happen because my fiance was captured by evil aliens and held prisoner aboard their ship, but he escaped! That's why we're in such a rush now," she explained, "because we had to reschedule everything. But it's going to be wonderful." Her face went momentarily dreamy thinking about it. "I wanted to talk to you about the right pose. My, um, my gown is a little tight in parts, and I was hoping you could help me find the most flattering pose."

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"Zut Alor!" exclaimed Rene

"Aliens? Escaping from a Ship? How romantic!" he grasped Stesha's hand. "How artistic! How noble! How brave!"

He gazed into the distance for a moment before regaining his senses. "Well, Madame Stesha, ze right pose, ze right pose... hmmm. Let me look at you..."

He took a few steps back and gazed at Stesha. It was a few moments before she noticed he actually had his eye closed. Despite this he seemed to be scrutinising her, and held his hands up as if framing the picture, occasionally stroking his white beard.

"Ze portrait must capture ze woman, not merely ze image of ze woman" he exclaimed with a waggling finger that suddenly circled in front of his nose. "So, so, we must reveal ze woman!"

He circled around Stesha, his eyes open now, with his hand behind his back. He had a frentic energy and enthusiasm that oozed with every pace. "And what would be revealed in such a painting? Who is Madame Stesha?"

He paused, and looked directly at her. "What would you say, hmmm?"

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Stesha took off her hat, scarf, mittens, and coat, watching Rene with fascination. The hat had been loose enough to mostly preserve her hairstyle, which had much of her yards of green hair braided and pinned close to her head, so as not to completely overwhelm the dress. Right now she was just wearing a loose pink blouse and khaki pants, the outfit she'd worn at work all morning.

"What do I want it to show?" she echoed. "I suppose the most important thing is how happy I am right now. Happy and excited, and proud and... and powerful," she added decisively. "I'd like to be able to look back and remember how I felt at this time in my life, when everything is changing."

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Rene looked down at Stesha, examining her midriff. "Happy... oui...."

"Madame need not, of course, answer, but as an artiste I must ask, for art's sake. Is Madame Pregnant?"

He held up his hand "Please do not get offended. These things are private, I understand. But if Madame is with child, then it may explain your feelings, and how you want me to capture them. Proud, Happy, and...oui...Powerful! that is the state of the Mother, is it not?"

He shrugged "and of course, Madame must instruct Rene: is this something for the portrait?"

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Stesha blushed a little bit, but didn't lose her smile. "Um, you can call me Stesha, that's totally fine. And yes, I'm four months pregnant, which is why my dress doesn't quite fit like it used to! We'd been planning on waiting at least till after the wedding, but well, things happen..." She chuckled and blushed a little deeper. "I would like to perhaps minimize the tummy and all that in this picture, focus on the wedding, one event at a time. Maybe later on I can get something else done for the baby, when I'm really popping."

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"I see, I see..." replied Rene "I understand" he smiled, patting her on the shoulder "Life does not always work out ze way we want it to, oui?"

He took a few steps back and looked her up and down "I can make a portrait of the face, if you wish, or a full length portrait, perhaps with madame sitting, or at an angle. In any case, I can make the bump... a hint maybe? you would know, others would not. Perhaps that is ze best?"

He nodded at himself.

"And yes, proud, and strong, and happy. Are you those things? or are those the things you wish to be? Do not take offence, Madame, but these things are the essence of my work. "

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"I am," Stesha said with confidence. "I went through a dark place while Dark Star, my fiance, was lost. I didn't know what to do with myself, I didn't know what I would do when I realized I was pregnant and he was gone. But I came through it." She clenched her hand, then opened it to reveal a rose that had bloomed in her palm out of nowhere. "I found myself, and then I found him again, and now everything is so much better than I thought it could be." She smiled again, brilliantly this time, revealing the hidden beauty in her just-above-average face. "And I do like the idea of the turned profile, with just a hint. My dress has a beautiful train that I'd like to get in the picture anyway."

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Rene grinned from ear to ear. "Madame, you have made my day. Non! my year! Non Non NON! my century!" he proclaimed with obvious but well meaning exaggeration.

"And the rose! we must have the rose!!!" he pulled up a slightly rickety old chair. "And the sunlight, yes... yes... the sunlight!" he set about placing Stesha on the stool, continuously adjusting her face, her angle, and her posture, until she was half sitting on the stool, her face towards him, her body at an angle, and a hand with the rose on it over her lap. The sunlight beamed across half her face.

"And now... the smile!" he gestured, producing his own, unforced, one, and enthusiastically demonstrating its shape with his hands.

"Just think of ze feelings you have described! let zem overcome you! let zem flow through you and out of you! and, madame, I will paint zem!"

Glancing between Stesha and the canvas, he started the preliminary sketches with fury and passion.

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Stesha was a little confused about sitting to pose without even putting the dress on first, but Rene was the expert, and he seemed very sure about how things would go. It was sort of fun, getting moved around and arranged in the right pose, and it wasn't hard for her to smile when he asked her to, still cupping the rose in her hand. For completeness' sake, she made roses bloom in her hair as well, tiny white tea roses in a halo, the way she planned to have them on the big day. Now that she thought about it, she hadn't really expressed all her feelings about the wedding and the baby to anyone before now, not even Derrick in so many words. They hadn't made the baby announcement yet, after all. But she was pleased with the self-analysis, and confident that if anybody could make her look the way she felt, it was Rene de Saens.

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Rene scribbled away for only a few moments, just getting the outline of Stesha whilst giving her encouragement.

After what was probably quater of an hour, he stopped, and called her over. "Ze preliminary sketch!" he announced. "Done quickly, in order to capture ze moment, ze feelings".

The sketch was indeed very basic, a series of lines depicting the main flow of her body, the room, and the light. One could barely recognise a body, let alone Stesha. However, there was something indefinable about the way the lines moved.

"A short break now, and onto ze next stage. For this, we will need ze dress!" he gestured towards some screens at the end of the floor.

"I can assure Madame, there will be no, as ze English say, Peeking of the Tom!"

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"I have the utmost faith in you," Stesha agreed with a laugh. "But I might actually need a little help getting the zipper up. It's something of a two-person operation these days." She was able to get herself into the dress well enough, and the shoes, and used the little mirror to arrange her hair the way she wanted, but she did need some assistance from Rene to get the zipper all the way up. She was glad her mom was going to put a new zipper on this before the wedding, because she'd need it! For now, the dress itself did a lot to hide what she only wanted to hint at, its a-line shape and beautiful embroidery drawing attention elsewhere quite nicely.

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"Madame, It is mon pleasure" said Rene, as he wrestled with the zipper. "The dress is beautiful, as is the bride!"

She better have this wedding soon, or that bump is going to play havoc with the zip... he thought, despairing at the thought of Stesha not fitting into a dress that she had obviously taken a lot of time to choose - and time well spent, he thought.

"And now, we must continue! this stage iz a little bit more complicated, and lengthy. So relax, and just be yourself. We can talk, it helps me to get to know you. "

He lead her back to the wooden stool.

"The same pose now, but you needn't hold it. Just remember how you where... yes...yes... that is it!" he said, gently guiding her to an equivalent pose to the original.

"I know have to make a more detailed sketch, match some colours, but ze finished work will take more time than we have today, alas."

He stared at the easel, and at Stesha, and brought out a selection of brushes, paints, and pencils. "To start with, I must capture that hair!" he said with eager eyes and a smile.

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She laughed again, her eyes warming with humor. "I assure you, many have tried... mostly me in the morning. It's hard to capture, and even harder to hold in place. When it's loose, it stretches halfway down my thighs these days. I decided to put it up because I didn't want it to look like I was wearing a green veil for my wedding." She shifted a little, rested one foot on the bar of the chair and tried not to think about the bathroom. "I was wondering, how long have you been living in Freedom City? I thought I knew most of the metahumans here, or at least knew of them, but I only heard of you a short time ago."

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"Ah, metahumans! pffft! what a name! I am human, you are human! why the name? always we have to name!" he threw his hands up in momentary exasperation.

"What does that make my neighbour? a subhuman? ah! listen to me, talking on like a fool. I shall answer your question. Because you are beautiful and because the sun glides through your air like honey".

He paused for a moment, then continued daubing away at the canvas, talking as he did so.

"I have only moved to America in the last few months, Madame, and I came directly to Freedom City. I may well visit other places, but I thought this the best place to start. For the rest of my life, I have lived in Europe. In many cities, London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Rome, and Barcelona to name the longest and biggest residences. I am a painter, Madame, and I trained in the finest Schools in Paris. But, also, and perhaps more importantly, I am a magician. A sorcerer, a warlock, a witch, a mage, a mystic... whatever you wish to call it. Whatever the name, it is the case that I am schooled in and can command forces beyond the will of what you might call 'normal' men. "

He smiled "but there is a little magic in all of us, is there not?"

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Stesha's smile dimmed a little at the reprimand over the use of "metahuman," but it came back as he talked about all the places he'd lived and worked and studied. "So I've been told," she agreed with him, "though I know some who choose to doubt. It's certainly magic that lets me make the plants grow, and if I can have it, anyone can have it. What brings you to Freedom City, after living in all those wonderful artistic places?" she asked curiously.

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"Ah well" sighed Rene, wistfully, as he continued to study Stesha and paint. "I miss Paris, it is true".

"But, I have never been to the new world. And for all the lack of culture and terrible wine and cuisine, it has much to commend it. It helped forge liberty for the world, and liberty is priceless. "

"And at my age, I could not die without seeing, and living in, America"

He paused, chewing on the end of the brush, closing one eye then the other as he studied Stesha.

"And then... And then... I am also master of the arcane arts. And for two centuries I have helped defend this world from the threats that lurk... in the beyond. And I am not going to stop now. Freedom City is at a... how would you say... crossroads of time, space, and other things. It is here that I need to be. I do not know exactly why, or when, or how".

He shrugged "but I have lived long enough, and know enough to be sensitive to these things. All the signs are there. And here. It is my fate to be here, and my purpose is here. "

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"Freedom City certainly does seem to be the world's hotspot," Stesha agreed ruefully. "I have a friend who speaks the way you do, Phantom, the guardian of the dimensions. She says that Freedom City is a nexus for our dimension, and that's why so many strange things that crop up, crop up here first." She shrugged, trying not to disrupt her pose too much. "I know that I came to Freedom City because it seemed like the best place for a superhero to get started out, and it's full of superheroes to learn from. It's worked out well for me so far!"

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Rene pondered Stesha's words. "Nexus for our dimension, hmmm? Oui, that sounds appropriate. I should like to meet your friend Phantom, La gardienne de la dimension"

He continued to paint away. It was coming on very nicely, he thought. Despite his speed, he was producing something of fine quality, even for him. The smile had captured some enigmatic quality, yet still full of all those attributes that Stesha had desired.

"And so, Madame, tell me of yourself. What do you do? both as a woman, and as a heroine?"

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"I'm a florist," Stesha told him with a slight increase to her grin. "I suppose it seems like an obvious profession, but it's what got me into the hero business in the first place. As a hero, I'm a plant controller, I grow and manipulate plants. Sometimes I fight villains, but most of my time is taken up beautifying the parks and gardens around the city. It seems to me that there are plenty of heroes patrolling the streets at night, and it's also a public service to make the lives of the citizens better by making the spaces where they live and play more beautiful. Plus, you meet the most interesting people in the park at night!" She laughed, her eyes crinkling even as she tried to hold still.

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"Oui Madame, that you do... that you do..."

Over two hundred years. Yes, he had met some most interesting people in the parks at night, particularly in the countries and times were homosexuality had been less than tolerated, and in many cases illegal. Fortunately France had a more progressive history than the rest of the world in that matter.

He suspected that Stesha had other things in mind however, and that also was true. Nowadays, it was probably drugs, and muggings. In some ways, that was progress, in some ways, that was sad. Ah, Le cercle des progrès...

"And viola, it is most appropriate that madame is holding a flower then. And it is admirable that you create and heal, not just war and destroy. You are the gardener of Freedom City then? in so many ways?"

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"Freedom City has thousands of gardeners, of all levels of skill and enthusiasm," Stesha told him. "I would call myself more the patron saint of gardeners, but I suspect it would be a little sacrilegious." This time she managed to laugh without moving her face too much. "I like to go and support the efforts of all those gardeners, especially when the weather is poor, or things aren't going well. I have a website," she explained, "and sometimes people will email me asking for help with their gardens. Sometimes I give them advice, and sometimes I go take care of their garden myself, or both. It's very rewarding to do what you love for a living. Have you done much painting since you arrived?" she asked him.

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"Always painting!" replied Rene.

"Well, not always literally painting. But painting with my mind and heart. There is art in everything I do, and everything I feel. It is art that fires me, drives me, gives me passion. As for putting this" he held up his brush "to this" he gestured to his easel "when I have time. In fits and starts, it can consume one for days, and there are days when one can sit and nothing comes" he shrugs.

"Have a look around" he gestured. And indeed, there were several paintings, all in various stages of completion, and of various stages of complexity lying around the studio.

"However, my other duties come first. I am, after all, a superhero, and fight for liberty and good, wherever it may be found. And I fight to protect this world from all kinds of threats from... other worlds, and other places. These duties are not, I must say, without their interest too. I am just as passionate about life and liberty. "

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