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Just Another Fishing Trip? Right. (IC)

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March 19, 2012

11:30 AM

Wharton State Forest

New Jersey

The wind whistled through the trees of Wharton State Forest, ruffling the fur of small and fluffy animals that spent their days hunting for nuts or food. A squirrel poked his head up on a high branch, sniffing the air, then dashed up to the higher branches as a figure came crashing through the brush. Morgan Crowe, wearing hiking boots, a duffel bag, a far more durable windbreaker than his usual outfit, and carrying a tackle box and fishing rod, squinted and looked left and right. Somewhat disoriented. Not that he was going to say that out loud...

The teen looked behind him and plastered a grin on his face, gesturing forward with his rod.

"No worries, Bri; the lake's just over that next hill! We're nearly there!"

It had better be, or I'll never hear the end of it...

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Brian Harris followed behind his friend, a frame backpack loaded down with camping gear on his back. He was wearing jeans, a brief tee-shirt, and hiking boots, and his face and red eyes shone with a simple joy at being out in nature. He'd spent many a day, when he was younger, before learning about his parents and his powers, hiking and camping in forests and parks. Being out here with his best friend reminded him of those simplier, happier times and took his mind away from the stresses of the present.

Watching Morgan Crowe, usually so self-assured and confident, struggle vainly against the environment was just a bonus. Brian had eschewed trying to lead them, instead letting his friend take point, and had managed to keep his mouth shut over the job Morgan was doing navigating. "I thought it was just past the last ridge," he joked, "or the rise half a mile back." It wasn't like they were in any real danger; even if they were lost, Brian could fly into the air and get back to the city in less than an hour. He just enjoyed the chance to rib his friend. Morgan worked so hard to be the best at everything, but sometimes it could do a person good to be brought back to earth.

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Brought back to Earth was putting it mildly, as a branch whipped into the teen's face. Morgan sputtered a moment and rubbed his nose, the grin disappearing under irritation. And stinging pain.

What is it with me and trees?!

Crowe cast another look left and right, still rubbing his nose, and racked his brain to remember the map of the area they'd agreed was best for the trip. Two ridges, over the hill, around a hiking trail...wait, around or up? Morgan rummaged through his pockets.

"Uh...yeah, just...taking the scenic route. Scenic. Pretty countryside. Spend too much time in the Doom Room, man!"

Which is one reason I asked for this trip...where the heck is that map?

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Brian came to a halt and watched Morgan for a long minute, then spoke up. "You know, if I remember the map correctly, the lake is supposed to be due est of Pyramid Plaza." He glanced at his watch and then up at the sky. "It's near noon and near the equinox, but since we're in the northern hemisphere the sun is just a bit to the south. Which means if the Plaza is over there." He pointed off to the east, where the tallest building in Freedom City could be seen glittering the bright sun. "So if we just put that at our back and walk for a bit, we should find it pretty easily." He paused and grinned. "Unless you want to walk in a circle for another hour, that is."

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The expression on Morgan's face was one that he was sure Brian would relish for a very, very long time. If the fishing trip panned out, a comparison to a freshly-landed fish was likely the most apt. Somewhat wide eyes, mouth opening and closing, right to a slack jaw. Which was rapidly followed by a distinctly irked look and Morgan stomping over to poke his roommate in the chest with a finger.

"And you did not say this three ridges ago why?"

Right, whoopee cushion under the pillow for this. It shall be glorious.

The teen picked up the dropped tackle box and gave Brian a Look, then shrugged and started off in the right direction this time. "Bah. Change of subject. You got the snacks, right? Fish is good, but if nothing bites..."

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Brian laughed. He didn't need to eat these days, of course, though he wouldn't turn down a fresh, nicely-cooked fish either. In the meantime though, his pack had been loaded down with energy bars, trail mix, and vitamin water. He dug out a bag of mix from his pack and underhanded it in Morgan's direction without breaking stride. "You don't understand fishing, do you? It's not about whether or not you catch anything. It's about having an excuse to walk through all this!" He spread his arms wide to encompass all the forest. "Seriously, man! How are complaining about being out in the middle of all this beautiful nature?"

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Morgan gave Brian a black look, catching the trail mix, then shook his head. And rubbed his red nose again pointedly. Though he did look about with an admiring gaze shortly afterwards - Avalon was one thing, but natural glory like this was something to be treasured.

"Aaah, I'm just touchy about trees. And nature generally doesn't like me." A wry smile. "Then again, a lot of that is due to folks close to nature who I tend to tick off."

And the understatement of the year went to....

"And who said I didn't understand fishing? I like fish! Especially in batter and fried to crispy brown with fat chips on the side and a nice tartar sauce from that place by the waterfront..." Drooling was unbecoming of Crowe, so he didn't do that; although his expression did go a bit glazed as he remembered several very tasty meals back home.

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Brian laughed as the pair hiked up the hill. "I don't think I packed the fryer this trip. We might just have to deal with frying them on a spit or a rock instead." the pair kept a good pace up and soon they crested the top of a hill and saw the glittering expanse of a lake spreading out before them, shining in the sun. "You see," he said, shaking Morgan's shoulder. "You were right! It was just over the hill! You were just wrong about which hill it was." He grinned and added, "Race you to the bottom," before taking off at a sprint, heading down the sharp incline as fast as he could plant his feet.

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"Oh, you cheating wan-" The rest of Morgan's swear was obscured by the sound of thudding boots as he sprinted down the trail. The hill was short, though; and courtesy of his roommate's head start (along with the effects of their usual murderous endurance and sprinting training), Brian hit the bottom with Crowe a few steps behind. But by that point he was laughing.

"...oooh, imma getcha for that when we get back to Claremont! Top of my List, man!" Grin. "Whoopee cushion's too generous. Way too generous. Mwahaha."

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Brian kept going until he was at the very edge of the water and ended up splashing into up to his mid-calf as he slowed to a halt, raising his hands in the air like a champion boxer. "Three time winner of the Claremont Races, and world champion, Brian 'Bomber' Harris, folks!" He splashed out of the lake and dumped his pack on the ground. "As master and victor, I demand that you set up the fishing lines," he said to Morgan, digging in his backpack. He pulled out a wrapped bundle of canvas and shook it out, letting several long metal tubes fall to the ground. "Meanwhile, I'm going to get started on the tent. Last thing I want to do is set this thing up by firelight."

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Morgan eye-rolled, but got started on the lines - the two rods were fairly straightforward, but he had a bit of trouble with the new reel he'd picked up just for the trip. She was a beauty, though; stainless steel, conventional, multi-disc drag system, heavy-duty clicker, chrome-plated metal. Granted, he'd have to send it back home afterwards so dad could use it, but still - so worth it. "'Bomber', Bri? That one's new...so your exam records finally went mainstream?" Smirk. Then a more serious expression, and he affixed a hook to the end of one line.

"Hey Bri, question - you and Flora...how you two doing? Haven't seen her around lately."

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Brian stuck his tongue out at Morgan. "I've got to show you more Guy Ritchie, man. You might like Brad Pitt in that one, actually." He fell quiet as he fitted metal poles together and then stretched canvas over them. In a few minutes he had the tent up, a big enough space for both him and Morgan to lay in, tough not quite enough for their gear. He set up the packs outside the tent flap and sat down a ways back from the lake side, legs out in front of him. He picked up a piece of grass and stripped it, watching the fish lines. "I don't know, man. I think she wants to travel after graduation, maybe even go back to helping in South America, but I don't want to leave Freedom City. Not that I even know what I want to study in college." He scowled and tossed the grass stem away. "What about you and Vic? Going back to Boston over the summer?"

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Morgan looked up from the lines musingly, and shook his head. "Been asking myself that off and on the last few weeks, man. I'm missin' Boston, but Freedom's feeling a lot more like home, y'know? And I've got Parkhurst to crash at if need be. What do you think?"

He didn't talk about Victoria right off the bat, though a smile creased his face just thinking about the girl. It was a bit dampened by the fact that he didn't know precisely what she meant to do; her going back to Chicago for the summer was a painful thought in and of itself. Still, her call; he wasn't going to play a possessive boyfriend card.

"Vicky...not sure what she's planning, man. She's getting a job in town, last I heard; art work. Fulcrum's giving her a big hand too...pun intended." Chuckle.

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"Yeah..." Brian fell silent as he stripped another grass stem and chewed on it for a solid minute, thoughts turning over in his head. "It's just a couple of months, and then I'm out of Claremont forever. Got to go to college, become an adult, all that jazz." He bit the grass in half and spat the bits out. "Dammit. This is getting downright depressing." He stripped off his shirt and stepped out of his shoes, then left his pants by the tent. Clad only in his boxers he took a running leap and dove into the lake, disappearing beneath the surface with a splash. After a moment he poked his head up above the surface and shook water out of his eyes. "Brr! Come on in, Morgan, the water's fine!"

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Morgan snerked and waved a hand, picking up the reel and leaning it against a handy tree.

"No thanks, man - gotta finish up camp."

Rest of the camp accoutrements soon followed - hoist the cooler up into a tree to avoid animals, set up a fire pit a goodly way from the tent...a few other more esoteric things went up as well - small runes inscribed on the trees around the clearing, a tiny pile of rocks at each corner of the tent, and a mark by the fire pit. He nodded with some satisfaction, then unfolded a camp chair and kicked back by the shoreline. A thought rolled into his head, and he spoke idly.

"Oi, Bri - question. This team we got goin' on - you think we'll be able to stick together? Y'know, after graduation?"

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Brian did a backstroke out to the middle of the lake, dove into the cold water and came up splashing. He cut through the water with a textbook breaststroke back to the shore, where he touched ground lightly, his toes resting against the sandy lake bed as it sloped up to shore. "I don't know," he said honestly. "I don't plan to go anywhere after graduation." In truth he didn't even know what he wanted to study in college, but he'd probably study it at FCU. "Vic's folks life in the city, right? So there's no reason for her to leave. John... well, he doesn't really have family, does he? Except for us. I guess he could join AEGIS, but that doesn't seem like a likely career move. I think Etian's girlfriend lives out in Port Royale so she's not going anywhere. I guess it's up to you, Morgan." Brian cut his arm across the surface of the water, raising a splash and watching the fishing lure bob up and down. "Are you going back to Boston after you graduate Claremont?"

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The rune-casting teen let out a breath and looked up at the darkening sky, musing on the potential plans he'd laid.

"I...dunno. Freedom's feelin' a lot more like home, y'know? If I didn't know you guys, I s'pose I would be goin' back, but there's a lot more for me here than there. Dad made his bones here way back when, with the Freedom League? And there's Parkhurst too - helped build it, y'know?"

He thought for a sec, remembering an imaginary weight in his pocket and where that weight currently was.

"Thinkin' I might go for a detective license. Paranormal and mundane investigations, no job too small...get my name on a door! Cover job, keep up the hero biz. Don't think any of us could drop that, hah." Snerk. And a big grin.

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"Would kind of miss the point of going to Claremont, yeah." Brian shifted to his back, floating on the top of the water and watching the light fade from the sky. "Are you going to do that straight out of high school? Graduate, and then set up the private detective thing? Or are you going to study detectiving in college first?" He flipped idly at the water, setting himself to spinning gently.

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Morgan snerked. "Detectiving? Detection, man; come on - don't those old noir movies Vickie and I inflict on you guys once a week make any impact? I mean, it's Bogey, man! Bogey!"

Mmm. Humphrey Bogart. Sam Spade. It was the highlight of his month when he found out Vickie loved those type of films - the two of them just planted themselves in front of the student common room TV, and not heaven, hell, all the villains of Earth, or Omega himself could've budged them from that film festival. Happy memories, though; a wide grin involuntarily split his face.

"And I dunno, man - gotta get a license first, and I still dunno how to do that. And hey, there's the hero bit. Prob'ly'll move into Parkhurst for a while. Or hey, maybe you, me, and John can split the cost on a place." The grin turned warm. "Now will you get outta there? You're scaring the fish!"

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Brian barked out a laugh and rose out of the water, duckweed clinging to him. He flew over the campsite, shaking his wet legs at Morgan and flicking green flecks at his friend, before landing on the far side of the tent. He ducked inside and came out towling his head off, slowly working down the rest of his body. "As long as John doesn't do the cooking," he said, rubbing his legs down, "we might just be able to survive."

He pulled his jeans back on and lay back on the grass, watching the clouds scud across the sky. "Do you think that'll be how it'll be, then," he asked, his voice growing quiet. "You and me and everyone, the team together from now until Doomsday?"

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Morgan shook the water out of his hair and gave Brian a truly horrendous example of the Crow-Glare until he disappeared into the tent. After that, it was just a matter of remembering old stuff from camping trips; hook the worm, dangle the string, rig up the lure, and let fly with a fairly passable cast...huh. He actually made it past where Bri had been swimming. Riiiighteous.

He sat down and leaned back against a handy rock, watching the lure bob up and down until Bri landed beside him. His roommate's demeanor made him curious for a moment, at least until the other teen's question. His expression changed to a more musing one, and he joined Brian in watching the clouds float by; that was...a very good question, actually.

The musing look passed the minute mark, and he smiled wryly at an amusing thought. Then tweaked the rod a bit.

"Well...if y'buy what Young Freedom said, Doomsday's already kinda come and gone already." Snerk. Had to laugh at it - it was too unreal to do anything else.

Morgan's look sobered slightly, and he put one arm behind his head. "I dunno, man. All good things gotta end some day. Don't think we'll ever lose track of each other, but..." He shrugged. "Hero biz is pretty crazy. One of us could...well...get chucked to an alternate dimension? Remember the reniassance faire? Or end up working in another country - heard one of the old YFers went that way." The sober look was replaced with a meaningful look. "Or...the big one." His mind rebelled at those thoughts, and he shoved off that particular topic quickly. There was one inherent danger in hero work; one his dad had drilled into his head after the talk with his mother; and with all of Archer's lessons - consequences were something he kept reminding himself of. Sometimes it worked. The teen shook his head; getting off that tangent was a good idea, yeah, really good idea.

"Let's enjoy what we got for now, Bri. Watchin' the future doesn't do nothin' but bring up worry." Sage nod. Another tweak to the rod.

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"Yeah." Brian's voice trailed off and he stared up at the clouds for a moment. Then he laughed and reached out to poke Morgan. "Hey, look at this way. If one of us does die, it'll just give us a reason to go kick sand in your mom's face, right?"

Hours passed and the two young men threw barbs back and forth in good nature. Brian took a couple jogs around the pond and another swim to cool off, and when he got back to camp Morgan was deboning a trout, while another flopped on the ground nearby. The bigger teen sat down next to his friend and grabbed a spare knife; before long the two fish were skinned and sliced and sizzling on a collapsible skillet held over a campfire. Brian sat opposite Morgan and watched the fish cook. "Okay, so. Hypothetical. You don't have superpowers, you don't have a crazy god for a mother and you never find out that your dad was a hero back in his day. What would you want to do with your life?"

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Morgan scratched his chin, poking at one of the sizzling trout slices with a fork. He was hungry, damnit. And trail mix could only do so much before you ate the whole bag and had to stash it so your buddy wouldn't start adding a tendency to eat like a bear into the thrown barbs. Hypothetically speaking, of course. He would never do such a thing. Not at all. So far as Brian knew.

That, and his bump of trouble was acting up again. Probably nothing, though...

"Hm...good question, Bri. Probably woulda gone more with the boxing - I was pretty damn good on the rookie circuits, might've gone semi-pro right about now. Eventually hit the big leagues...Morgan Crowe versus some poor sap for the World Championship at Madison Square Garden." Smile. "Yeah, that sounds about right. How about you?"

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"I was hoping to get into pro ball." Brian flexed his arms and squeezed his bicep. "Become a receiver or a kicker, maybe. Make ten million a year, retire when I hit thirty. But, you know, getting shot at in an alley every night is a good second choice." He winked at Morgan and let his eyes fall down to the cooking fish. His mind drifted back to per-adolescene. His father had been a consummate geek and not really interested in physical activities, but his mother had insisted that Brian keep himself in shape, taught him to fight and even enrolled him in Scouting. That was where he'd learned to navigate, and trap animals, and swim, and de-bone and cook a fish. Given how red one side of the meat was and how black the other looked, it was an experience that Morgan had skipped.

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"But, you know, getting shot at in an alley every night is a good second choice."

Morgan held up his hands with mock gravitas, and boomed in as bass a voice as he could get - "Yo, preach it, brother!" And indeed, his experience with cooking was generally restricted to the odd experiment in the old brownstone kitchen. He thought himself a fairly decent cook, actually; after all, the charring added that nice seared flavor. At least, he thought so. He flipped the meat over just in case - well, the other side didn't look that badly charred. Mostly.

"I dunno, man - aren't there metahuman leagues out there you could go in? Maybe get a job coaching or something? Any team in the NFL'd probably go ballistic having a hero on the squad; publicity and good press and all that."

He shrugged - his shtick was a bit more low-key, so Morgan wasn't planning on throwing down in the ring anytime soon (though he bet he was pretty close as-is to a shot at the semi-pro title if he really tried; Archer's training was pretty damn effective); but Brian was flash and looking big. He was a good face for their group a lot of the time; it could translate well. At least in Crowe's mind.

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