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Beenevolent Benediction (IC)


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Morrison Street Go-Mart, 10:56 PM

December 12th, 2012

The West End, Freedom City


There was something about the chilly weather that always set Baxter's heart aflutter. It was a hearkening of winter, with Christmas - and, more importantly, Christmas vacation! - looming on the horizon. It was a time of merriment and festivities, and even here in the shadier side of the West End, the multitude of row houses and urban complexes screamed with festooned lights, blinking and glowing pleasantly in the night against the fresh white piles of snow, Baxter - incognito as the Bee-Keeper! - watched with great enjoyment from above as he swooped over the sprawling sea of asphalt below the darkened sky.

But not everyone seemed to be in good spirits, as the Hero of the Hive soon discovered as he soared over a nearby row of homes and an all too familiar store came into view: a Go-Mart, its '24/7' light gently flickering from disrepair but nonetheless signaling its openness to all. But this was no ordinary pit stop for hungry pedestrians or thirsty teenagers prowling the streets for action on a Wednesday night; no, this one in particular was in the midst of a heist! Three men clad in black leathers and ski-masks stood astride the wall-mounted automated teller machine, two of them busily beating against the bricks of the simple store in an endeavor to pry it free! The other one was quickly exiting what had to be their intended get-away vehicle, the truck bed empty and awaiting its delicious monetary cargo. Probably armed and eager to host a theft most sinister, there was no way he could just let them walk in all hoity-toity and stick up some honest Joe for some cash! It was totally harshing his Christmas cheer!

Plummeting sharply to the ground with a discernibly audible thump just beside the goons attempting to strong-arm the ATM out of the all-too-welcoming convenience store, it was clear that the insectile hero had gotten their attention as they whirled around to meet his steely personage, surprise etched across their faces.

"Heya, fellazz!" greeted the surprisingly upbeat superhero with a cordial wave, his other hand clenched in a fist and resting against his metallic hip dramatically. "Kinda late to be out makin' a withdrawl?" His tone was quite chipper, modulation and all. But this wasn't some social call; the way the armored vigilante stood, it was obvious he meant business - the kind of business crooks really didn't need to be embroiled in, if they could help it in any way.

"How about you guyzz juzzt walk away and turn yourzzelvezz in to the polizze, and we'll call it zzquarzziezz, huh?"

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Gabriel's expanded patrols still tended to gravitate to areas with a decent bit of "petty" crime; while he was always glad to help stop some mad fool from destroying the building/city/state/country/continent/world/universe/those jocks who picked on them in high school, he was determined not to forget one of his original missions, helping and protecting average citizens. Besides, it was (for him) rather relaxing. Sometimes the guys on the street just surrendered without a fight! Definitely a nice change of pace for him.

Tonight looked like it might be interesting, though. He had, of course, gotten word from Stesha about the newest Bee-Keeper, a young man working to be a hero, not a villain. He was glad Barry wasn't on the loose again, but part of him still wanted to get a feel for the character of this new armor-clad hero for himself. He didn't want to just stalk the boy, but if he happened upon him, well...

Such was the way of things this day. If Bee-Keeper (the Third) hadn't been there, Gabriel would have casually intervened. As it was, the hero in white perched himself on a roof across the street and turned on his "long-distance ears" (as Sonya sometimes called that particular ability) to listen in. He couldn't help but smirk at the humor in the armor-clad hero's words.

'Kid's got commitment to the theme, that's for sure. And it seems like he's not in it just for the fight, that's good to know...'

He settled in to see how things progressed.

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"Or you'll what?" one of the men threatened, brandishing his crowbar menacingly as a grim expression of determination etched its way along his black-clad face. While his colleague beside him agreed with a nod and readied his own pry bar, the other man closest to the door into the Go-Mart didn't seem so certain. "You think we're scared of some wannabe cape in a tin suit?! You better think twice - I ain't goin' nowhere, specially not to the police just 'cause some guy in a costume told me to!"

With a wistful sigh, the bee-themed teen put a hand to his noggin, exasperated by the all too familiar scene of criminals choosing to do things the hard way. It was almost ironic, really. You try to be nice, and what do you get? Oh, you get all the back talk, of course.

"Man, zzeriouzzly? No one ever wantzz to do it the eazzy way?" the Bee-Keeper moaned, slumping as if in defeat. "You guyzz win. What am I gonna do againzzt dudezz with crowbarzz and zztuff?" said the hero as he turned around, his voice a mocking, satirical jib of a loss. "Guezz I'll juzzt go home and-- BLAM!"

In a whirlwind flurry of activity, the gold-and-black hero spun back around on his heel, hand outstretched and palm laid out towards the criminal with the silver tongue. In one loud thump, a stream of honey-colored liquid struck the man soundly, knocking him off his feet and against the brick wall beside the ATM he'd only moments prior attempted to liberate from its stony home, where the man remained affixed quite soundly.

"You guyzz crack me up. Thizz izz Freedom Zzity! You know how many zzuperheroezz live here? And you think you're gonna juzzt get outta thizz mezz by beating me up? Zzeriouzzly! How lame izz that?" the armored avenger quipped back towards the other two men who remained still, shocked that their friend had so thoroughly been dealt with in one spontaneous motion.

"Jokezz azzide though, you guyzz can zztill zzurrender. No hard feelingzz or anything!"

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"I'd listen to the kid. Splitting headaches are never fun; I hear having one in prison is even worse."

In all the excitement, everyone present had somehow missed the man clad in silver and white (with golden trim) flying down from a rooftop to land next to the get-away truck, a vehicle he was now leaning against. He had his arms crossed over his chest, but uncrossed them as he spoke his net words.

"Besides, it looks like you've got two flats."

Before the robbers could protest, he'd pointed the index fingers of both hands at the tires on his side of the car. There was a brief, high-pitched humming sound, and suddenly the tires noisily burst, the truck quickly sagging to the ground on that side.

"I am honestly shocked punks like you still try stunts like this. Have you tried going to a city where there aren't hundreds of hero-types always in town? Just a thought."

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Equally as surprised by the sudden emergence of a white-clad vigilante as the crooks in front of the Go-Mart, the Bee-Keeper was struck silent by the figure's appearance. How had he not seen this guy floating around earlier?!

The two remaining thugs looked to one another, as if in deep contemplation. But the moment passed just as soon as it had come as the men reviewed their situation silently: their getaway vehicle in tatters, and one of their number disarmed. How could they have possibly stood against not only this bizarre bug-themed hero, but a member of the Freedom League proper? In a clatter of metal against concrete the thugs dropped their improvised arms, hands upraised and sinking to their knees.

"We're sorry! We give up!" one of them decried, intimidated by the angelic interloper who'd more-or-less shell-shocked them into surrender. And just like that the robbery was over; one man held against the wall, whilst the other two rendered themselves unto the pair of heroes whom had interceded.

"Wow. That wazz... uh... definitely eazzier than I thought it could bee," the battlesuit bearing hero mumbled, surprised the armed men had so willingly conceded in the wake of this vaguely familiar emissary's arrival. But, hey, as long as the job was done, that was all that mattered! "Thankzz for the help! Probably would've had to fight em' if you hadn't zzhown up and zztuff."

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Gabriel gave a sage nod as the criminals relented. He walked over, patting each of them on the shoulder. The fact that their bodies locked up to keep them from changing their mind might not be immediately obvious to Bee-Keeper. That odd humming seemed to rise and fall a couple of times before the older hero turned to face the battlesuit-user, his arms crossed over his chest, his expression thoughtful.

"The police will be here soon enough; I sent in a tip to the nearest precinct. They've got someone on the way."

He glanced back at the frozen criminals, shaking his head a bit.

"Always sad to see folks turning to things like that. There's always a better way..."

He sighed and refocused. His expression was...not quite "stern", but perhaps "evaluating".

"So. Fleur de Joie told me about the encounter the two of you had. First time I've heard of money golems....Could we perhaps fly and talk? Or walk and talk? Or at least hit a roof?"

He gave a slight smile.

"I don't think this is quite the place for a heart-to-heart talk."

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Glad to have the saintly interloped present and capably disarm the crooks, the Bee-Keeper's mood suddenly shifted at the mention of Fleur de Joie and Gabriel's gauging look. For a moment, a small pit formed in the belly of Baxter Bowles; not just awkwardly intimidated by the sudden emergence of one of Fleur's friends, but the notion of having a 'heart-to-heart' with the white-clad entity. It was a strange sense of fear that gripped the Bee-Keeper from behind his unflinching helm, lip curled inwards even as the young teen bit down in thought. What could this mysterious guy want to say that was so important they needed to be... well, not here?

"Uh..." stammered the Bee-Keeper, as if mulling the idea over in his head. Looking to the criminals, they seemed like they weren't going anywhere. Almost like they were imitating mannequins or some such; light as a feather, stiff as a board. A valid excuse escaped him at the moment as the foreboding air of doubt began to creep its way into the Hero of the Hive's chest. It looked like he didn't have a choice this time.

"Yeah, zzure. We can cruizze or whatever. Y'know, if you're zzure thezze guyzz'll zztay put for the copzz..."

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Gabriel didn't look over his shoulder, but the criminals could almost feel his gaze, and they heard his...amusement.

"The officers of the law will be here soon, and these young men won't be able to move before then. And even if they could...I might be listening for a bit yet."

With that, he slowly took off in the air, trying to make sure not to out-pace Bee-Keeper as the young battle-suited hero took flight. He gently guided their course (though with greater speed once they'd gotten airborne) until they ended up rather high, above the peak of the highest sky-scraper. Gabriel had been silent the whole flight, and when he stopped and hovered in the air, gently-humming sonic force keeping him aloft, he was silent for a few moments as he gazed down at the city. With no warning, he broke the silence.

"Why are you a hero?"

His tone was calm, though not openly friendly, not yet. Gabriel turned to face Baxter, and his face was openly curious.

"I know you told Fleur, but I'd like to hear it with my own ears. What about the hard, difficult life that is "super-hero-ing" made you decide it was something you wanted to do? What inspired you to be a hero in general?"

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Having silently followed along with his new escort after being assured the young crooks wouldn't be scampering off anytime soon, Baxter as mentally abuzz with his own queries. What, exactly, had Fleur told him about their little escapade with the fake Malador? And why the sudden interest in his personage? Sure, it was nice to actually meet some new heroes who didn't instinctively decide to punch him in the face, but this time it felt... odd. Almost intentional.

And then Gabriel spoke, and whatever semblance of stoicism was hidden behind the Bee-Keeper Armor's helmet evaporated in a heartbeat.

"Wow. That... uh... that wazz more blunt than I wazz exxpecting!" laughed Baxter, a little shocked to hear the question at all. Straight to the point and all business, the Bee-Keeper III paused for a moment as he considered both his own words and those of his inquirer, fluttering with a low buzz in-place above the well-lit city below. It was a tricky thing; he wanted to be honest - especially to a friend of Fleur's! - but had to be wary of giving away too much.

"You ever zzee thozze moviezz where there'zz zzome guy down on hizz luck, and he'zz given thizz chanzze to turn hizz life around through zzomething like leading a crappy hockey team or whatever?" the Bee-Keeper began, trying to find the right analogy. "Y'know, how they figure out along the way that thizz wazz what they were born to do, and everything juzzt turnzz around becauzze of it? Get the girl, get the job, win the trophy, yadda, yadda, yadda? Yeah... it wazz nothin' like that for me."

Looking away from the man towards the shadowy remnants of his hometown in the horizon, the Bee-Keeper almost seemed to space out for a moment, as if lost in thought. He didn't even seem to look back to his chronicler as he continued anew, his modulated voice rife with seriousness.

"When I wazz a kid, I grew up reading comiczz about the Freedom League and the Atom Family. Uzzed to zzay that when I grew up, I wanted to be a zzuperhero. Cute at firzzt, but after a while, your parentzz zztart to... y'know, get conzzerned, 'zzpecially after having zzuffered through the Terminuzz Invazzion. Dangerouzz zztuff trying to zzave the day, rizzking everything for people you barely know, fighting people and monzzterzz and other villainzz... to a lot of people, that zzoundzz crazzy. But me? I wanted to bee zzomething more than juzzt zzome boring ol' guy, living a boring ol' life, alwayzz zztuck doing zzomething I hated. And for a time, that aczzually zzeemed okay," confessed the yellow-and-gold bee-themed hero, turning his view skywards. "But then I found thizz; found the zzuit. I wazz ready to juzzt be a regular guy forever; and here comezz thizz thing, built by the zzupervillain himzzelf who took on the Freedom League on hizz own. I coulda turned it in; called the copzz and maybee even picked up a nizze reward for zztumbling acrozz zzome crazzy guy'zz zzuperweapon before zzomeone elzze did. Coulda left it there, too, I guezz, and juzzt let it keep on collecting duzzt..."

The young man paused again, conviction rising in his voice as he turned back to the sonic-emitting hero lodged in the air alongside him. The helmet might have been a stark and unflinching facade, but there was something about the way the Hero of the Hive looked at the nosy colleague of Fleur's - a strange passion exuding from his very person.

"Inzztead, I took it. I zzaw thizz battlezzuit, and thizz? Thizz wazz my one chanzze - a one-in-a-million opportunity to live the dream that juzzt landed in my lap. Maybee it wazz zzelfish; man, I don't know. But with it, I could be more than juzzt zzome lawyer, or teacher, or janitor. I could be like thozze people in the comiczz - like the people I alwayzz looked up to. I could be zzymbol; zzomething for people to rally towardzz inzztead of away from. Able to make a differenzze, even if it wazz juzzt a little bit and left the big leaguezz to every other cape and cowl that livezz here in Freedom."

Looking away again, the armored would-be hero just laughed again; a short staccato against his own overwhelmed explanation.

"I don't even know if I'm really cut out for thizz zztuff. Beetween the beatingzz, the bruizzezz, the... man, zzeriouzzly, have you ever been electrocuted? That hurtzz!" the Bee-Keeper laughed again, but just as soon as he finished, the vigilante was once again overcome by a somber sense of status. "But even though I've been beeaten up a bazzillion timezz, I've alwayzz gotten back up. Alwayzz done by bezzt to do better nexxt time. It'zz not eazzy, but I'm trying, y'know? Trying to live up to thizz... thizz idea of beeing a zzuperhero and turn thizz Bee-Keeper deal around. I don't know if I can zztick with it - if I zzhould zztick with it - but I'm not gonna know for zzure if I don't give it my all."

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Gabriel listens patiently, not interrupting Bee-Keeper as he speaks. He nods once or twice, but isn't looking at the young man; instead, his gaze roams over the city. When it's clear the armored hero is done, he waits a moment, before turning to face Baxter.

A smile lights up his face.

"Excellent. That's what I'd been hoping to hear, and somewhat what I'd been expecting to hear. I'm sorry if I unsettled you, but...well, considering the legacy you've chosen to take up, part of me had to be sure."

He clapped the young man on the shoulder.

"And now I am. Your dreams from years ago weren't just of glory or fights, but of helping people. And what was your decision when you stumbled on that armor? Help people. When no one was looking, you chose the heroic path. You chose sacrifice, and even a bit of redemption, at least for the legacy you're working to uphold. That you didn't quit the first time you took some bruises tells me you'll be in this for a while, young man."

He grinned at the boy's mention of "electrocution".

"Cut, stabbed, punched, kicked, blasted with hellfire, electricity, anti-sound, regular fire, ice, nearly disemboweled by super-ghouls...I've gone through a lot."

He grew more serious.

"I can't tell you what you must do. That's for you to decide, ultimately. But I think you're doing well so far. You're already turning the name "Bee-Keeper" around. Keep at it. If someone gives you trouble because of your legacy, don't let it get you down. If they try to get you in trouble, you let the Freedom League know. I'll have a chat with them, or Fleur de Joie will. Either way. And if you ever need help, you ask. If there's one hero-lesson I can pass on tonight, it's that you should never, ever be afraid to ask for help. This is a good thing we do, but it's dangerous to go it alone sometimes. Take help where you can get it. Network. Who knows? Maybe in a year or two you could look at joining the Freedom League, if you haven't already founded your own superhero team."

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Behind the bee-themed facade, Baxter brimmed with both relief and jubilation. Joining the Freedom League, leading his own team... now there was a dream come true, far and away they might seem. Heck, they might not ever really happen! But still, the thought was enough, and Gabriel's odd sort of conviction in Baxter's own endeavors struck him profoundly. Before Fleur de Joie had vouched for him, he hadn't had anyone really speak for him; to elucidate on the fact he was not in fact a wanton criminal in sheep's clothing. Now he was two up!

"Thankzz," mumbled the Bee-Keeper as he tried to hide his enthusiasm behind his helm, the weight from his shoulders at the sudden inquisition evaporating even as the two hovered in-place as he struggled to find the words for what he had to say next. It was a struggle, especially after just opening up like that. It was... weird. He felt weird. The whole situation was weird. Never before had he been questioned about his heroic qualifications! Sure, he gave a little spiel for Fleur - and meant it! - but he didn't have to explain his reasoning. It just felt so... out of place? Baxter wasn't sure, but it made him feel oddly uncomfortable. A change of subject was a must!

"Zzo... my own team, eh?" he inquired, perking up at the prospect. "Guezz we'll zzee how that goezz. Y'know, eventually, or whatever. Juzzt gotta find a catchy name!"

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"There's certainly enough heroes in the city for a bunch of teams! Who knows? Maybe you'll join one sooner than you think. Either way."

He fell silent as well for a few moments, apparently just enjoying the view.

"Made a "nemesis" or three yet? That's one of the "fun" parts of the job. Whether it's specific villains, or groups, it's honestly kind of funny when they just hyper-focus on you."

He shrugged.

"Gallows humor, I don't know. But I guess it's the same reason I scratch my head at some of these folks..."

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"Uhh... not that I'm aware of," Bee-Keeper replied, honestly trying to think of he'd yet earned a 'nemesis' of sorts. "Mozztly zztick to, y'know, gangbangerzz and zztreet thugzz. Uzzually, anyway."

But the more he thought about it, the more it started to see like he might have! Maybe. Sort of. Though it might as well have just been coincidence, it certainly felt odd now in hindsight that every big outbreak therein, the Bee-Keeper had been present.

"Actually, y'know what? Maybee I have!" he suddenly mused, still fluttering away with a low buzz above the city streets. "A couple of dayzz ago, me and Cobalt Templar got ranzzacked by zzome weird ninjazz wearing wazzp outfitzz. They juzzt... I don't know, came outta nowhere! Before that? There wazz thizz bank robbery. Guezz what? Yep. Giant robot wazzp," the Bee-Keeper hummed, as if now truly re-examining the circumstances.

"Y'know, it'zz kinda weird. Like, every time zzome wazzp-thing zzhowzz up, I'm there. I mean, not to zzound like zzome zzorta conzzpirazzy nut, but... y'know, two for two."

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Gabriel frowned at the descriptions of the rather thematic encounters. He scratched his chin absently in thought.

"Hm. I know Cobalt Templar; good kid. Haven't encountered "Wasp Ninjas"; only ran into any sort of "ninja" once, and that was a few working for the Crimson Katana's gang. Weren't too much trouble all told. That's...a lot of ninjas to have such a unified theme. Hm. Maybe they were more...mercenary...and someone specifically had them use a wasp theme? Can't be that hard for bigger groups to get discounts on themed clothing these days; plenty of "no questions asked" super tailors in town.

As for giant robot wasp...the only giant robot stinging insects I've seen are bees. Who are all on Sanctuary."

His earlier joking was mostly gone as he continued.

"I haven't heard of a wasp-themed villain. At all. But, you know what they say. Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action. And this is a mighty strange coincidence. I'll keep my ear to the ground, but I have a feeling you'll keep "running into" these "coincidences". Like I said earlier, if things get really hairy, no shame in asking for help. Last thing you need to try is taking on a Wasp League or something. Unless you have robot doubles or something."

He gave an exaggerated sidelong glance accompanied by a grin to show he was (mostly) joking on the last bit.

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"Haha. Zzeriouzzly!"

The Bee-Keeper couldn't help but laugh at Gabriel's little jib. But maybe he was right. Maybe there really was some sort of Wasp League out there with a bone to pick. Had his uncle been in-league with them? Perhaps a competitor? It was hard to say, given the strange means in which he'd stumbled across them each time. But serendipity is one thing; in hindsight, it was beginning to border on the realm of ridiculousness.

"But, yeah, I'd apprezziate all the help I can get, and for you keeping a lookout for thezze Wazzp guyzz. Juzzt watch out for them, 'zzpezzially the Wazzp Botzz. Thozze thingzz are dangerouzz!" buzzed the boy behind the bee-themed battlesuit, giving his erstwhile comrade a nod of acceptance. Turning away, he peered towards the city below again, the street lamps flickering here and there along the West End's derelict streets. It was getting late - later than Baxter had intended to linger. No doubt his parents were going to have a thing or two to say if he wasn't back before midnight; a thought that filled Baxter with more dread than anything else.

"It'zz been... uh... zzomething," he murmured, not sure how best to evaluate the subject of this impromptu inquisition. "Zzeriouzzly. Thankzz again for the help. Nizze to know there'zz zzomeone I can call out to if I need a hand. But I've really gotta get back to, um, finizzhing thizz patrol. Y'know, crime never zzleepzz and all that."

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"If they're anything like the Robo-Bees, that's not a huge surprise. I'll keep my eyes peeled for more wasp-themed folks, as well as rumbles on the street when I can manage. The bad part is the "theme" is the only consistent thing so far; there's no independent pattern beyond "keep pestering Bee-Keeper". And if you run into any demons or faeries, be careful. I've ticked a few off in my day."

His tone suggested he was entirely serious.

"Something, indeed. And you're welcome. It's what we heroes do, after all! I'll let you get back to your patrol."

He made a quick sign of the Cross toward Bee-Keeper, a smile on his face.

"Go with God, Bee-Keeper, and take care."

With a quick salute and smile, Gabriel was racing off through the night, apparently heading back to his "typical haunt" in Southside.

'That kid's going to go places and do great things, I just know it. I've got a good feeling about his future.'

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Watching as Gabriel took off down the skyline of Freedom City, Baxter was left momentarily to ponder his words; confusion and disbelief about faeries and demons notwithstanding. The theme was certainly disconcerting, and perhaps Gabriel was right: maybe there was an ulterior motive from these guys, and they had it out for the Bee-Keeper!

With a sigh, Baxter could only struggle at the concept of being targeted for reasons unknown. It didn't make any sense. But whether it was coincidence or a conspiracy, it didn't make any difference - at least not right now. The Bee-Keeper had to focus; finish up this patrol super-quick, then back home before his parents were none the wiser! Taking a deep breath, the Hero of the Hive steeled his nerves before taking off into the night sky and back towards Bayview. Hopefully he could give his home turf a quick sweep, and then a nice, long sleep; and a chance to process the odd yet strangely fortuitous meeting.

Besides, tomorrow was going to be another busy day. It always was.

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