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alderwitch

Unraveling the Gordian Knot [IC]

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Now, while Alex had been genuinely busy - running a corporation, planning a wedding and tackling post-college course work WAS a full workload - she'd put off this particular visit deliberately. Oh, it wasn't the first leg to visit Erin that she had quietly been dreading. No, her available hang-out time had been genuinely eaten into by countless obligations. The second leg, to visit Erin's alter-ego in prison - that was not a visit Alex had ever wanted to take. She had hoped, despite the odds, that one of the other counselors could undo the machinations of Pathos. Really, it would have been better for Singularity herself as Alex's visible appearance was not one that was going to help at all, but so far no one had made any significant headway. Alex wasn't surprised, but she was saddened.

 

She looked not much different than she had at graduation when she knocked on the door of the manor Erin was sharing with her boyfriend. Her bright red hair was pulled back in a simple tail that made her look younger and for once she wasn't dressed for the office. No, it was Old Alex, with her brightly colored clashing sneakers and tank top, a light jacket covering her slim shoulders. The only jewelry she wore was the bright engagement ring and as a nod to adult hood, small hoops in her ears. In her off hand, she held a simple closed portfolio and the smile she gave Erin when the door opened was bright and beaming, despite the faint shadows under her eyes. Alex had been burning the midnight oil a lot lately.

 

"Erin! I'm sorry that it took a necessary errand to get me to come visit but how are you?" Alex started talking the moment the door was open. She'd already knew who was on the other side, of course.

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Despite the nature of the errand, Erin couldn't help but smile broadly as she saw her best friend for the first time in weeks. They'd both been consumed by work of various sorts, and it was hard to get away! She gave Alex a quick hug as she stepped out the door, clad in her new purple and black uniform, though she was foregoing the mask today. She didn't want to deal with her counterpart in her civilian guise, for reasons she couldn't quite articulate even to herself. Besides, if something went bad and there was a fight, she didn't want to risk her fragile regular clothes.

"It's so good to see you!" she said with genuine pleasure, grinning at Alex's cheerful ensemble. "I didn't realize things were going to still be so crazy after finals were over. How have you been? How's Mike?"

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"Mike's settling in at the fire-house. He's out to all of his bunk mates and that... was nerve wracking for him but he's loving it. He' s in his element getting trained. I don't know if it will be what he ends up doing, but it's been good for him," Alex smiled, the expression softening as she talked about her fiance. Her gaze flicked up to Erin's hair and her expression brightened, "I love that. It's really cute. It makes you look older, but in a good way."

She stepped back and shifted the paperwork to the front of her chest carefully, her expression just a bit nervous. "I, uhm, have a present for you. A graduation present." Alex looked briefly guilty which was an uncommon expression to filter across her face. She knew that she'd been sneaky about this, even if she'd skirted outright deceit.

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"A graduation present?" Erin looked blank for a moment, then briefly guilty herself. She'd gotten a few presents for graduation, the bat from Mr. Archer, a little money from her Prime family, a blank journal from Dr. Marquez, the picture from Corbin, but she hadn't realized that it was good form to get presents for her friends that were graduating as well. She thought about making up an excuse, but realized just as quickly how useless that would be. "You didn't have to get me anything," she said instead, "I mean, just coming with me to do this today is way more than enough." Inwardly she cast about in her mind for a gift she could pick up for Alex. It was not easy to shop for a girl who had more money than God, even more money than Trevor or Eve or James. Why did she have so many rich, hard to shop for friends?

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"Sort of. It's actually yours. You remember when we started AEON, well, the stock trading company that became AEON? And I said part of your wages was a buy in to the company?" Alex said, shifting slightly on her sneakered toes. She looked away and cleared her throat before thrusting the portfolio out to Erin. It was something she'd recognize as Erin's work in the company had involved buying and selling the stocks that Alex had laid out. "Well, here. I rolled it into AEON, so here's the shares you have and I jotted down what they're worth. It's conservative with the current market fluctuations. I was going to cash you out...."

Alex looked up, entirely embarrassed, "But I was afraid you'd think it was charity if I didn't have all the paperwork to show that it IS yours. I waited until now, well, because I thought that after graduation you'd know what you wanted to do with it. It's more than enough to go to college or get a place of your own, if that's what you wanted. It's... you know. A nest egg. And you earned it all. I just held onto it for you."

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Erin took the binder automatically and opened it, but stared at its contents without comprehension. "But you paid me for watching your stocks for you, it was how I bought cat food for Oliver and Christmas presents last year." She dimly remembered Alex saying something about paying in stock like all good startups, but she'd sort of ignored that. The point of the endeavor had been to get money for Zoe's future, even if it had expanded beyond anything Erin could've imagined. "I don't think this can be right," she told Alex, looking again at the final figures. "I didn't even do that much work, I just put in the trades you told me when you told me to. You're the one who had all the ideas and did all the planning and stuff."

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Alex came around, she was prepared for this part and dutifully pointed out the numbers, "Well, I did get the lion's share of the fortunate too," Alex pointed out with a quick grin. It was true, she was impossibly wealthy thanks to her lucrative corporation. "I gave you a small percentage and I even kept it completely in line with other comparable start ups, just a small percentage that vested when we rolled it into AEON. Both you and James were given the same amount and the option to roll it over or cash it out at the merger."

Alex beamed at that, "But when you did, you had stock in AEON which went up like crazy practically over night and now those shares instead of being worth pennies on the dollar are quite worth while. I promise, it is entirely legitimate. The only thing I kind of cheated on, was I didn't give you a chance to turn it down because I knew it was a gamble that was going to pay out."

Her smile faltered then and she sighed, "Which I really do feel guilty over but I wanted it to be sort of a surprise. Also, I was afraid you'd say no if I laid it out all ahead of time. So, happy graduation?"

Alex looked up at her hopefully.

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Erin looked a little dubious, and Alex didn't need her psychic powers to know that her friend was torn, but after a moment Erin closed the binder and tucked it under her arm, smiling maybe a bit bigger than she actually felt. "It's not a present if it's already mine," she pointed out teasingly, "and if it is a present, you spent way too much." Truthfully, Erin wasn't sure she wanted to take the gift, as much because she had no idea what to do with that kind of money as because she didn't want Alex's carefully devised charity. But she didn't want to disappoint Alex either, not when she looked so hopeful. And it wasn't as though she didn't need the money...

She pushed the entire thing out of her mind for the moment, There would be plenty of time later to obsess about it. "Are you, ah, ready to go?" she asked Alex. "We could maybe wait another week or two, see if the doctors there make any more progress."

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Alex's relief as Erin took it lasted only until her next question. Then it was Alex's turn to force serenity that she didn't feel to her features. "No point in waiting further. I know that they need to know whether I can help to plan the next phase of therapy, or whether they'll have to try and track down the Scarab instead."

She straightened her shoulders, accepting the burden of her doppelganger's action as she had accepted so many others. Silently, without fanfare or complaint. "Besides, even if I don't make any progress, we all know that I'm the most likely person to be able to explain what was done. That'll be useful in devising the regime and I'll unravel that much faster than any one else could."

Alex looked up at Erin, the shadows deepening under her eyes, "After all, it's my handiwork. Or close enough to as not be able to tell the difference."

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"It wasn't your handiwork," Erin reminded Alex as they headed towards the car. "You're nothing like Pathos, you could never be anything like her. She's..." Erin paused for a moment, repressing a shudder. "She's evil. But you're right that you're probably the one who's going to be best at figuring out what Pathos did and maybe how to undo it." Climbing into the tiny VW bug that Alex was so attached to, she buckled her seatbelt and sat back. "I don't know how you're going to start, though. She freaks out at telepathic contact, and she's going to flip out when she sees you. She didn't like Eve one bit, and Eve was a total stranger."

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"I know," Alex said, her expression sad. She waved off the comments about the differences. Yes, Pathos was evil but Alex was aware that she had the potential for that. She had always been both insightful and introspective. It was why she had so very many rules about what to do with her powers. "And I'm far too familiar."

Alex slid into the driver's seat and eased the car onto the road. She drove carefully and at the speed limit the entire way, but her focus was on Erin. She had plenty to go around. "I think first we're going to start by talking her down from the screaming and rocking fit that my appearance causes. I don't think it's going to be possible to make her happy with any sort of telepathic contact. It's going to be awful."

Her lips were grim but the set of her jaw line was stubborn, "For all of us."

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"You could mind-whammy her into being calm," Erin suggested halfheartedly, but she already knew that was off the table for Alex. Despite her power to effortlessly cloud the mind, Alex dealt in truth and reality, however painful. "Yeah, it'll be bad," she agreed, resigned. "Maybe you could give me a minute with her first when we get there," she suggested. "She kind of trusts me a little bit, because I've been visiting and bringing her stuff. She probably won't believe me when I say you're not Pathos, but it's worth a try, maybe. Can't hurt." She shrugged one shoulder. "You and Mike set a date yet" she asked abruptly, hoping for a more fun topic.

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"If you think that will help, by all means," Alex smiled back at Erin. Even if it didn't help, they could feel that they'd tried to soften the blow as much as possible. She switched topics, grateful for the chance to talk about something more pleasant until they had to deal with the grim reality of the day's task, "We're still going back and forth. The fall, I think. It's mostly for Mike to get settled in. He wants to come out as Phalanx before we have the wedding but... two terminus kids getting married? It's going to be a zoo. Not to mention the protesters we'll get..."

Alex trailed off for a moment. It was sometimes overwhelming the legacy of her birthright. But, it was Alex, so she rallied after pausing for only one quick beat, "You ARE going to be my Maid of Honor, right?" Alex's eyes twinkled at Erin, "I promise, the dresses are all one solid color. Very tasteful."

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"Yeah, of course," Erin replied with a grin, relaxing a little herself. "I'm going to get Trevor to dye my new bat to match so in case anyone tries to disrupt the ceremony, they'll wish they hadn't. That's somewhere in the job description, right? Or you could just invite Mark," she suggested with a tilt of her head, "and so long as he doesn't get it into his head that he' bored and what we really need is an old fashioned superbattle, everything will go totally smoothly. And maybe people won't care as much as you think about the terminus baby thing. It's been almost twenty years now. Nobody knows for sure that just because you were in Freedom City and a baby in 1992 that your powers have anything to do with the Terminus. Maybe by fall there'll be a whole new bogeyman for people to worry about. We probably know people who could arrange it."

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Alex laughed, "Well, of course we're inviting Mark. Although Mike is still trying to figure out who to ask to be his best man. I'm just lucky that the choice was easy for me. Here, let me show you what it's going to look like."

Without even a wrinkle of her brow, the giant wedding binder in the back seat levitated and slid between the chairs in the front to settle gently on Erin's lap. It was no surprise that Alex had organized the hell out of her wedding already. Even in school, she'd been queen of the note books. Everything from photographs of the huge church to the sketches of the decorations and favors, to menus were all carefully organized. The guest list looked like it included half of Freedom City.

"We're holding the reception in the same ballrooms that we used for junior prom... although hopefully it won't be half so exciting," Alex's smile was quick at the mention of that dance, "That way I can add AEON's security to the actual event. Ooh, look, dresses!"

Alex nodded to the section holding fabric swatches and clearly designer sketches. They were custom designed, and as promised, all one color in a soft butter-cream with what looked like floaty layers of organza over silk sheaths. The wedding dress wasn't much more complicated, same fabrics although it had fuller skirts and instead of saying that soft golden color, it started with that pale golden yellow at the top of the bodice and ran through a sunrise of colors until the hem was a deep blushing pink.

"I couldn't do all white, but I figured it IS my wedding. What do you think?"

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It was always just a little bit unnerving to see Alex take her attention off the road while driving, especially since Erin had been in Driver's Ed with her, but being a powerful extrasensory psychic did make it a lot easier for Alex to multitask. "It's beautiful," Erin said sincerely, looking over the dress. "I don't think white would suit your coloring anyway but this is so... you. Mike is not going to see anyone else in the whole building except for you when you're wearing this." Her lips curved into a grin. "And I know this guy who can make it quick release, for when you finally get him alone afterwards," she teased.

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Alex groaned, her tone almost whining. "He still holds me like I'm going to crack and he is stubbornly set on nothing happening until the wedding night. I told him that was practically archaic but he just got all broody and quiet. And then started going off about RESPECT."

She waved one hand in the air in little circles, the other steady on the wheel. "I KNOW he respects me. It's important to him but, man, you'd think we were living in the nineteen fifties. I'm halfway worried he'll back out of it on the wedding night and spend the entire evening on the moon or something. I think he's nervous."

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"You're just going to have to be a little more aggressive," Erin decided. "And by the wedding, he'll have totally run out of excuses. We'll make sure he gets some champagne, or that you get some so you can project to him, and nudge you along out of the reception early. Frank can tailor a dress so that it comes off with one button. You pop that button and show off your... whatever it's called, wedding underpants, and see what happens." She rolled her eyes. "As long as you don't electrocute yourself. That's just a horrible, stupid plan, okay?"

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"Well, it was a successful if horrible and stupid plan. Which only really makes it far more likely for there to be further horrible and stupid plans," Alex laughed at that, shaking her head slightly. "If it was more Trevor's style, I'd offer to go over his plans and point out possible safety precautions but... he likes being the quiet and mysterious type. And I wouldn't go plucking things out of his head, that'd be rude."

Alex wrinkled her nose and tapped the side of her temple, "Makes me glad that Mike and I have that link, honestly. At least it gives me forewarning when he's going to try something near-suicidal.... So just how DO you know about these one-button dresses? Seduction, as we all know, so not my forte."

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Erin's grin broadened. "Frank, you know the tailor I was telling you about, the one who made my prom dress? He made my new uniform, and he's been trying to talk me into getting a new dress made up, like I have the money for that. But while I was getting my fitting, he was whispering in my ear all these features he can put into formal clothes for superhero work. Like my prom dress had a tearaway skirt, but he was telling me how he could make one where the neckline fits my uniform so if I needed to I could wear the uniform and pull the dress off entirely in one pull." She arched an eyebrow at Alex. "I was just inferring what might happen if there wasn't a uniform underneath."

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"Oooh," Alex said, drawing out the sound as her eyes rounded slightly. "I think, somehow, having all my clothes just fall off might freak Mike out more than usual. I don't want to spend fifteen minutes explaining that no, he did not accidentally rip my wedding dress off of my body. He still frets about that super strength getting out of control, and all that."

Her eyes twinkled, "Though the look on his face... I might have to save that for later on the honey moon. I have a teeny-tiny bikini already tucked away. That's neat though. You know, my Granpa says that's a dying art what with all of the manipulable molecular fabrics coming out on the market. Well, he grumbles it more than anything. Apparently it was all the rage when it was him and my mom doing their heroics."

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"Yeah, Frank's dad, I think, did up uniforms and clothes and stuff for Trevor's grandpa, so it's a big family thing. He makes Trevor's uniforms too," Erin explained. "I'll get Trevor to give you his contact information. I really like what he did with my uniform." She looked down at her uniform, smoothed down the cuffs. "Definitely a lot better than blue and gold. Still feels weird to know we'll never go back as students, though. I still find myself heading that way sometimes at night, thinking like I'm going back to dinner and the dorms."

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"Those days are behind us," Alex said, her expression sad. "And they went by awfully fast. But, there's still a lot of good things up ahead and we made a ton of memories and friendships that will last forever. Besides..." Alex's sunny smile reasserted itself, "...you COULD always go back. And teach. You know you'd love running some freshmen through the gym basics. There's gotta be a whole crop of new people that are getting run through the ringer, just like we were."

Alex went to signal and turn off towards where they could park. Blackstone was off the shore but they wouldn't need a boat with Alex's power set, provided Erin didn't mind the lift over. Putting the car in park, Alex took a deep breath, "Ready?"

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"I'd have to battle Mr. Archer for the job, and he fights dirty. I think I'll leave him to it for a few more years." Erin took a deep breath and got out of the car. "Guess I'm not going to get any more ready," she decided. "If it doesn't work, it doesn't work," she said, a reminder to both of them. "If we have to leave and don't accomplish anything, it's still better than if we didn't try." She took her bat from its holster and tossed it under the seat of the car, then closed the door. "Anyway, they're waiting for us.

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Alex took a deep breath and nodded, spreading her hands slightly to spread the glowing aura that covered her to Erin as well. Within moments they were both airborne and on their way to the grim fortress of Blackstone. It took the usual time and then some to get through security. Fortunately, like Erin, Alex had visited the prison as well so her identity was on record. It just was the interminable process of verifying that for the security on the place. Once they were deep inside, Alex extended her hand towards the hall, "I'll give you a few minutes to prepare her."

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