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Gizmo

Bend to the Tempest (IC)

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Date: July 13th 2011

It had been two months to the day that Willow and Thrude had joined the Interceptors and moved into the brownstone apartment building. At least the goddess of thunder and lightning had moved in immediately; once the novelty of being indoors had worn off, it had haven some convincing to get Willow to actually use the room she'd been provided with rather than sleeping in the oak tree in their backyard. Even so, it was in those branches that she could often be found, and so it was there that the fencer known as Jack of all Blades went looking, dressed in simple civilian attire as he stepped out the back door. "Hey, pretty lady," he called, sauntering into the summer sun, "you around?"

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"My beloved Swordmaster," replied a soft, melodic soprano from amid the leafy canopy of the mighty oak. The tall, coppery-skinned woman dropped from the upper boughs and alighted gracefully among the verdant carpet of grass. As usual, she was barefoot.

"Your timing is, as usual, quite remarkable," she said with a smile, gliding across the lawn to embrace Jack, resting her cheek against his smoothly muscled chest. The ancient guardian smelled faintly of smoke.

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Jack laughed shortly as ankle length white hair tumbled down from above and bounced across his torso while he reflexively put an arm around Willow in response. "Well, I try," he replied with mock modesty and a broad grin, lifting her chin with his free hand and lowering his own to kiss her briefly, the winey taste of the dryad's skin brushing against his light stubble and mixing with the scent of campfires. "I had a thought I wanted to run by you," he explained, pausing for a beat before adding, "Well, two thoughts, now that you're all pressed against me and everything, but let's stick with the first one for now."

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The white-haired woman took a step back from Jack, one hand lingering for a moment on his own, before she folded both of her hands in front of her. "Yes, of course," Willow replied, amber eyes giving blue intense consideration. "What is on your mind?"

Jack was aware that Willow had changed slightly since they first met, though the other Interceptors hadn't seemed to have notice. Her affections toward the swordsman, he knew, hadn't changed. Truth is it almost seemed to have intensified in focus; there were still elements of playfulness but on occasion Jack would catch a glimpse of her watching him when she didn't think he was looking. What he saw was concern, protectiveness and... something else.

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Jack gave the slender woman a quizzical look for a moment before speaking. He wasn't sure what to make to the subtle changes in Willow's demeanor; they weren't significant enough to really be concerning and he supposed he hadn't really known her long enough to have a good frame of reference for what would or would constitute normal for her. Even so, he was troubled enough that he planned to pay greater attention.

"I was thinking about something you said off-hand once, about not being as powerful as you used to be, in the funky plant armor department," he explained, crossing his arms over his chest in a relaxed manner that allowed him to continue gesturing with one hand. "And I figured, that's kind of like me; I'm fighting way out of my power class most of the time these days, but even if I can't shoot lasers out of my eyes, I'm a better fighter." There was surprisingly little boasting in his explanation, his manner touched by the sober frankness he adopted when the gravely responsible and dedicated elements of his personality rose past the facade of light-hearted frivolousness. "So what would you say to some non-powered, hand-to-hand training, to start getting some of your edge back?"

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Jack could see the wheels turning behind those amber eyes as the dryad watched him. He saw her smile ever so faintly when he matter-of-factly spoke of his prowess. As he concluded his offer, the slender woman looked down at her hands, flexing the long and delicate fingers. Willow looked hesitant, almost unsure of herself as she mulled over the words of her paramour, but eventually she reached a decision.

"I will agree to this," she said nodding at Jack. "I would give much to hold a fraction of the power I once had but I must face reality. My time is past. I must learn to live--and learn to use--what remains."

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"Hey, way I see it, your time's just beginning," Jack corrected smoothly, his customary boyish grin returning to his face. "We can work on getting some of your old mojo back, too, but that's probably like a sciencey, lab test kind of thing, and I'm not much help with that. Work with what we got, right?" The swashbuckler knew from intimate experience that the immortal guardian was in excellent shape, but there was a considerable difference between that and the conditioning of a trained, close range fighter. They would have their work cut out for them. Fortunately, challenge had never been anything but an incentive for the dusty brown haired young man. "We can get started right away, if you're up for it."

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The dryad smiled, stepped closer to Jack and planted a tender, lingering kiss on his lips before nodding. "Now is fine," she agreed, and then she quietly added. "Thank you."

Willow wasn't sure if regaining her lost power was possible, truth is she wasn't sure just how much she lost. She still had many large and worrisome holes in her memory, a sort of fuzziness that increased the further back she delved. Now and then she had occasional, and unexpected, flashes of memory that were soon gone, unable to be recalled. Such glimpses often left her feeling hollow, empty.

"Lead on, brave Swordmaster," Willow said with a grin, banishing the dreary thoughts.

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Jack reflexively leaned forward slightly as Willow pulled back from the kiss, a little surprised by the soft gesture from the usually more aggressive wild woman. If nothing else, she certainly kept him guessing. "Hey, any time, florecita," he promised with an unguarded smile. Offering the slender dryad the crook of his arm, he led the way inside. As good as the neighbourhood was about respecting the privacy of the sometimes eccentric group living in the brownstone apartment building, holding a full on combat training session in the backyard was probably pushing their luck.

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They entered the brownstone together.

When they entered the stairwell that leads into the Underground, Willow tensed up slightly but quickly relaxed against Jack her hip brushing up against him as she shifted closer. "Sorry," she murmured, "Enclosed spaces still make me uneasy."

Then she chuckled to herself and shook her head, "But you know that, Jack." They exited the stairs and were standing in the hub of the Underground, the Interceptors hidden base under the unassuming brownstone. Willow didn't come down here much, not without Jack anyway. It was always better with him around, she reflected.

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"Hey, don't apologize, it makes sense," the fencer assured the ancient guardian, making an airy wave with his free hand. "You spent basically forever living outside. The underground base deal wigs me out a little too, sometimes." Even with the generous proportions of the central hub and hallways, there was something innately claustrophobic about the long metal hallways. After a beat, he cleared his throat lightly and added, "Y'know, you don't have to call me 'Jack' when we're... when I'm out of costume."

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"Then what should I call you then, dear Swordmaster, when you are out of costume?" Willow asked, a slender eyebrow arched over her amber eyes in an expression of curiosity. "Jack is the only name I know you by..." the dryad trailed off and favored Jack with an impish smile before continuing, "...that I would dare call you in less than intimate surroundings, at least."

Their footsteps brought them outside the entrance to the Wreck Room, and Willow smothered a growing sense of unease. She drew in, then let out a long-drawn-out breath. "No plants down here," she said, fighting to keep the nervous edge from her voice, "Feels so cold, so alien, so... dead."

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Jack stopped in his tracks as the door to the Wreck Room slid open before them, blinking in confusion. "What? No, I must have..." His brow furrowed as he thought back, wracking his memory until realization slowly dawned over him. "Aw, Dios," he groaned, planting both hands over his face with an audible smack. "I'm that guy. I'm the guy who... argh, I might as well have kept the damned mask on." As he pulled his hands down across his face slowly, it was clear he was mortified and more than a little angry with himself. "I swear, I'm only this big a jerk because I'm really, really stupid."

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Willow reached out and placed a long, delicate finger of Jack's lips, shushing him. "You're not a jerk," she declared imperiously, "Nor are you stupid." She lifted her finger from the swordsman's lips, only to meet them with her own. The dryad wrapped her arms around the metamagi, holding him close as she kissed him, a kiss that lasted for several heartbeats and was full of the fierceness Jack had come to expect from the ancient guardian.

When they parted, Willow smiled at Jack. "My name for you is not the same as the mask you wear. To me, you are Beloved. However, dearest Swordmaster, I know the great lengths you go to keep your identity hidden. I would not forgive myself if I undermined your efforts with an errant word."

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The acrobatic fencer's self-beratement ceased at Willow's touch, blinking in mild surprise at the immortal's stern tone. One of his arms encircled her waist and slid slowly down the small of her back as the aggressive kiss stoked and instinctual competitiveness and a similar intensity. When the finally broke away, his confident smile had been restored in full. "You make a compelling argument," he admitted, brushing at her long white hair with the fingers of his free hand. "Erik."

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Willow's smile briefly transformed into a particularly fierce grin and her amber eyes, like pools of gold, gleamed with satisfaction. She was content to stand there in Jack's--Erik's--arms and soak in the warmth of his company but the swordsman's offer, and her own plans compelled her to move.

"Come," she said extracting herself from Erik, pausing for a heartbeat to nip at his chin, before taking a hold of his hand and tugging him into the Wreck Room. "You have some teaching to do, and I some learning."

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"Then why do I keep feeling like I'm the one being taught?" Erik mused wryly as he allowed himself to be pulled inside the combat training room without resistance. The athletic young man tended to make decisions about people quite quickly, without many shades of grey between family and foe, but even by those standards he and the sender guardian had fallen into a complementary synchronicity with startling speed. Perhaps it was simply a case of intense personalities recognizing and easing a shared loneliness in each other, perhaps no one knew the futility of hesitation better than an immortal and a professional risk-taker. Regardless, it was a good feeling and if the training hadn't been Erik's idea in the first place, he might have been tempted to take advantage of their privacy for less professional use.

Striding to the center of the Wreck Room, he left the facility's more advanced systems alone, instead running through a series of quick stretches. "Let's start nice and simple with some basic blocks, okay?"

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"One moment," Willow replied, hands going to her waist. The dryad unbuckled her simple leather belt and pulled it off in one fluid motion, flashing an impish grin at Erik as she caught the small brown leather pouch as it worked free. She casually lobbed the bag of seeds toward the swordsman and started to snake the belt around her waist once again.

"I want to do this your way, hand-to-hand, no powers," she explained. "So I'm removing temptation, well, a temptation." The grin became a smile, "Now show me what you mean by simple blocks?"

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Erik reflexively caught the pouch with one hand, pausing for a moment to consider it's slight weight in his hand. As far as he knew, Willow could create her armor out of any plant matter that happened to be available, but the seeds in the small pouch were clearly her preferred source and down in the metal corridors of the Underground giving them up was a significant show of trust. "Okay then," he agreed after a long pause, closing his fingers over the pouch tightly before setting it aside and peeling off his shirt. Front a few steps away most of the fine scars that decorated his sienna torso were practically invisible, though a few circular remains of bullet wounds and angry slash marks were clear enough for the dryad to make out. Planting his feet in a steady stance, he indicated for Willow to imitate him with a nod. "First, bring each fist down here, to waist height."

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Willow observed Erik with frank regard, emitting a soft purr of delight, and the expression on her face was easily readable. "Not fair," she complained, her voice a little husky. Then she cleared her throat and gave her head a little toss to clear her mind, before fixing her gaze back on Erik her amber eyes holding an unspoken promise.

The dryad tried to copy Erik's stance the best she could; feet shoulder width apart, fists at waist height like he requested, but it was obvious after Erik started to guide her through the motions that she lacked any formal martial training.

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"Hey, I've got your attention now, right?" Erik grinned, his eyebrows lifting up toward his dusty brown hair. He had a pretty good idea where Willow's mind was wandering to, but unless they put that on the back burner for the time being they were going to loose the rest of the afternoon and evening, at least. "Okay, right idea, but... hmm." He straightened his posture for a moment, running his hand over the light stubble across his jaw thoughtfully. "Actually, a lot of people relate what we're going here to trees. Strong, rooted base, but flexible in the wind, see? Does that help at all?"

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She looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. "Some, at least," she agreed. "Like a reed, yes, bending and swaying in the wind?"

Willow had to admit that she never would have made that connection on her own, to her a reed or a tree simply was, comparing one natural thing to another was a peculiar concept but what Erik was describing made sense, a lot of sense. The ancient guardian told him this as she settled back into the basic form with a keener understanding with what Erik was attempting to teach.

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Erik was a little surprised Willow had never heard that particular idiom before, and briefly wondered just how little she'd actually spoken to humans over the millennia, but mostly he was pleased to have found an explanation that worked for her. "Okay, so the trick here is that we want to block and get the other guy's arm out of the way to open him up for attack," he continued the less, snapping one of his arms up in a curving motion that ended with his forearm horizontal at eye level. He let out a sharp grunt as he did so, pooling his strength in his chest before sending it outward. "You don't need to out-muscle your opponent, just nudge them a bit and let their own momentum do the rest."

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Willow let her mind and body relax, finding a sense of peace in the simple movements though she wasn't certain how much of this could be applied to her armored state. Her armor hindered he economy of motion, though she was still far more nimble than one would expect, not to mention she had two additional limbs to work with at times.

"I hope you will indulge a question." she said as she mimicked Erik's movements. It took her a little while until the movements started to gain some coordination; they weren't as smooth as her teacher's but it was clear she was picking up on the basics. "But will you tell me how you became as skilled as you are? It is unusual."

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Blinking for a moment, Erik dropped his stance and turned to look at Willow. "Oh. Ha, yeah, fair question," he laughed, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. The swordsman had to admit that he'd developed a habit of fighting well outside of his probably weight class; that was the premise of this whole exercise in the first place. "Well, part of it is my... background. I missed out on some of the details, but the broad strokes is that my old man's side of the family is a long line of French swordsmen who juiced up on mystic juju. They went up against your traditional fireball-chucking wizard types, so anybody who lasted long enough to procreate was contributing to some pretty serious natural selection." It hadn't been particularly fast or efficient, but the end result was that Erik's physique was practically designed for his chosen profession. "Beyond aptitude, though, it's training. All the talent in the world doesn't get you out of putting in the hours."

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