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Avenger Assembled

All For The Applause

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September, 2015 

Nicholson School 

After some consideration, Richard decided the best to track down Taylor Chun would be through their common bond - the school. And so it was that at Parents Night, a couple of weeks after the formal start of classes, Taylor and Jack Jr. (the younger version of her son, anyway) were approached in the hallway at the school by a smiling man in an expensive track suit and a bored-looking girl of 10 in an LA Clippers jacket. "Hi! You must be Taylor," said Richard, the celebrity instantly recognizable even before you saw the nametag all the adults were wearing. "I'm Richard Cline, and this is my daughter Holly." 

Holly gave Taylor and JJ a polite smile and wave. "Hi, nice to meet you." She looked at JJ, who at the moment was hanging onto his beloved, albeit battered, school backpack, and gave the little boy a puzzled look. 

"I hate to talk business here, but I think our better halves are at the thing in the cafeteria. Can we walk and talk?", he asked, pointing towards the hallway down and awa from the kindergarten corridor. From inside that rather old-fashioned track suit jacket, the man was radiating somebody's magic - something old and scholarly that felt as out of place around Richard Cline as one of her own sigils would have been on TLC. 

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Taylor had never been fond of crowds. After spending the better part of a year without worrying about whether or not she was solid, she found she was sorely out of practice in managing herself in tight confines and these sorts of things were always crowded. Wearing jeans and her hair drawn back in a ponytail, she looked slightly harried and JJ wasn't immune to his mother's tension in these new environments. It had been with great relief that Jack had taken over whatever meet-and-greet needed to be done in the cafeteria and let her escape to the quieter confines of the hallway to catch her breath. 

"It's a pretty nifty school, hunh, buddy?" Taylor said to the kindergartener who had been pointing out some of the work adorning the walls. JJ's macaroni and glue decorations might have looked a bit more like Dagon's ward than a pony but Taylor was more or less sure that one couldn't make a proper Elder sign out of dried pasta. 

She turned automatically at the approach of another parent, stepping slightly in front of JJ automatically before she caught herself. Taylor recognized both the face and the name - they watched Supercrime! after all. It was one of the more interesting offerings on the television, although she wasn't above protesting aloud if she disagreed with assessments on the mystical episodes.

"Hi, yes, I'm Taylor Farretti. This is Jack Jr. Say hi, JJ." Taylor said as she coaxed JJ to step forward to take the other parent up on his invitation. She was curious, but also guarded, the latter mostly out of habit but whatever Richard had on him contributed to both emotions without question. 

The little boy grinned, showing his unique little smile as he lisped, "Hi. I like your show. Sometimes I get to stay up early and watch it on the tee-vo!"

Despite herself, Taylor smiled, the expression easing lines of tension on her face as she fell into step, one hand smoothing over JJ's unruly hair. "I can both walk and talk. What can I do for you, Mr. Cline?"

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"I have a question for you as an expert in dimensional magic," he said, his tone nice and easy. "We're already planning ahead for the next season of Supercrime!, and one of my producers suggested we do a series themed around other dimensions." He hmmed, not worrying about the strange conversation in the very mundane setting. After all, he'd had plenty of experience with that. "We've done alien-themed stuff, and of course you saw the time travel stuff this last year, but other dimensions are a little new to my wife and I. The last time I traveled to another dimension, I met a version of me who worked for TLC and things got pretty hairy, ha-ha! Must have been one of the evil dimensions." He patted his side, the touch outlining the shape of the item he was carrying inside his jacket, what looked to be a small quarto-sized text. "Anyway, if we were gonna go take a dozen or so dimensional trips this coming year, is there an place you'd recommend? We can't just go out and buy a Fodors for dimensions."

"Daaad," said Holly, looking up from her phone. "Nobody looks things up in books anymore!"

"Don't be saucy, honey," said Richard with the tone of an experienced father. "Unless you want Mrs. Faretti to hear about your copies of-" 

"Daaad!" Holly went back to her phone.  

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Taylor's expression shifted from polite interest to genuine alarm rather rapidly. She was not so urbane about the open discussion of her supernatural qualifications in school hallways and the casual ease threw her off early on in the conversation. By the time she caught up, her lips were pursed as she tried to find a polite way to tell the nice super hero what a terrible idea that was. Arguing with super-heroes was sort of old hat at this point about the dimensional barrier and the need to not waltz back and forth across it but she didn't want to make trouble for JJ at his new school.

"You've got something old in your pocket that vibrates with magic, Mr. Cline," Taylor said, her voice studiously polite as she held out her bare hands, "Do you think I could take a look at your artifact while we talk?"

Leaving her hands out, she continued out, choosing her words with care, "I'm not sure I'd recommend taking any trips across the dimensional barriers, especially if you aim to do it with those not used to such journeys. The Paths of the Magi are treacherous to those not trained-"

JJ had been watching the conversation with wide eyed interest and piped up, cutting his mother off, "You should go to the one with the dinosaurs! There was this biiiiig t-rex and my daddy punched it. Right in the shin! POW! Just like Centurion!"

Taylor's expression could only be described as consternated, whether it was the cheerful volunteering of their 'working vacations' or the comparison of Avenger to the Centurion, that was hard to say. She coughed once, clearing her throat, "It really can be dangerous. And not just the risk of getting eaten by a dinosaur. I'm sure you'd handle carnivorous predators just fine."

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Richard grinned at Jack Jr, his eyes lighting up at the boy's words. "Dinosaur, eh? Be right back!" And with that, he vanished from sight with the faintest patter of rapidly receding feet. Holly assumed a long-suffering look and buried her face in her free hand. 

"Here we go..."

Even as the words died on her lips, Richard was back with something for Jack Jr - a shiny, polished tooth belonging to a long-extinct animal. "This is a velociraptor tooth," he told the boy with absolute confidence, handing it over to the kindergartner. "I got this from the _king_ of the velociraptors before the aliens came and took them away into space, just before the asteroid hit! It was sacred to their god and now I've got like six." 

"Wow!" said JJ, his eyes lighting up. "Can I have it?!", he asked, looking at the most interesting adult right now. 

"For now, uh, if your mom says it's okay," Richard said quickly. He put his hand protectively over the book in his pocket and went on. "What if we do it technologically? I know some people at STAR Labs who owe us a favor and I think they've got a machine that'll do the trick..."  

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Taylor blinked once, reaching up to push back the errant bangs pulled free with the faint gust of wind the speedster left in his wake. JJ, however, was bright eyed about both the display of super powers as well as the shiny trinket. As he cupped it carefully between fingers that were still little-boy chubby to examine with bright eyes, Taylor couldn't help the small, indulgent smile tugging on her lips. Her voice gentled for her son, "For now. It's Mr. Cline's tooth and you'll have to give it back."

"Awww..." That was soft, under JJ's breath as he turned to study the tooth with the sort of interest that would have done his archeological ancestor proud. 

Taylor returned her direct gaze to the speedster, reaching up to the amulet around her throat to twist it absently. The gesture was a nervous habit and it looked less solemn mystic without the rest of her costume to add to the effect. She sighed. "Mr. Cline, it isn't about the 'how'..."

She trailed off and then with one of her hands gestured slightly, pulling with a small 'pop' of displaced air a scroll from with in her own pocket of space. She unrolled it with care. It was covered with almost incomprehensible lines and cross lines - looking very old and making very little sense. "Look, with a bit of magic or a bit of technology you can probably - probably - get near enough to where you're aiming for but dimensions are funny. Pathways open and close, doors open and shut and it is very, very easy to get lost between 'here' and 'there', and every time you punch, slip or slide through, it frays the fabric just a little."

Taylor spread out the map and added, "This is one mage's attempt to track the worlds he could scry. The entire life's work and its just an infinitely small fragment. It's a single water crystal on the tip of an entire iceburg. Some places move faster, some move slower. Some go backward. Even if you did everything right and were wrong about the dimension you were aiming for, you could come back to centuries having passed by. I have years and training, and the favor of one of the gods, and its still dangerous for me."

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"Well, I mean, I can travel in time," Richard offered. "Remember when we went back in time to do the dinosaur thing?" 

"Dinosaur! Groar!" offered JJ cheerfully in the middle of their conversation. 

"But I guess you are the expert," he said doubtfully, peering uncertainly at the scroll. "All right, well, it was just one of a couple of ideas. Maybe we'll do another international thing; my wife's been wanting to visit the Mediterranean again." He studied Taylor herself, then went on, "Hey, have you ever thought about going on TV yourself?" It was a sincere question. "We've gotten some people from the Bay Area who can do some spells on in the past, but even they'd say they're no real wizard." He grinned, snapping his own book out into his hand. "We'd pay you our expert consulting fee, and I could let you see my magic thing! I looked up the name inside once, I think she was a real Master Mage back in Victorian times or something!" 

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Taylor was relieved that there seemed to be some easing of the awful plan in the first place, "You could always do a show de-bunking the dangers of dimensional travel. This particular Earth is such a nexus for activity that its awfully easy to cross in and out and people never realize the sort of ramifications that can have, believe me. The number of arguments I've gotten into with other people in our industry about the sort of consequences that can have..."

She gave a little shrug but her attention sharpened at the book in question. The offer that went along with it, though, that Taylor was more hesitant about. They really tried to keep to the shadows and going on national tv seemed counter-intuitive to that particular cause. Taylor DID want to see that book, though.

"I'd have to talk it over with my husband," Taylor finally said after a long moment of looking at the tome, "Even costumed, that's a bit more out in the open than we generally operate under. I could certainly help you with behind-the-scenes consulting of some sort, certainly. I might be able to find you a more tv-friendly mage though. I have a fair amount of contacts in the field still that do more traditional forms of magical-work. My knowledge is fairly expansive but I'm an a-typical practitioner."

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"You'd be surprised how much it can keep you relaxed," said Richard easily. "Nine times out of ten, if somebody sees me on the street these days and gives me crap, it's about the show instead of my old life - and nine times out of ten somebody recognizes me, they're a fan and they want an autograph." He leaned back and rubbed Holly's hair affectionately. "Big change from before this little girl was born and Paige and I made money busking on the street and living in our van. That's how our oldest boy grew up, and he's just finishing up at Claremont." He slipped his hands in his jean pocket for a moment, then went on, "It was a little different for us because we tried to stay in the limelight even when we were bad guys, but it's freeing not to worry about having to hide things about yourself anymore. If you put yourself out there, you don't have to worry so much about people looking into you." 

He knew nothing of magic, but he knew a conservation starter when he heard it - as well as fuel to the fire for his desire to get Taylor on television. "Atypical?" he asked curiously, not wanting to admit he didn't actually have any idea what that word meant. 

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"We have a kid at Claremont too. Just started this year," Taylor offered, being put at ease despite herself. To be honest, the efforts to change the public perspective had worked on Taylor as well, as she associated the man and his family with the television show rather than their criminal past which was before their time. The points of personal connection and Richard's casual manor kept her engaged and at ease despite Taylor's natural inclination to shutter up. "You do have to find a way to make things work for the kids. Jack and I can vanish easily when we want to, or deal with any threats that might crop up, but having kids... you have to find ways to make it work for them."

Taylor's gaze dropped down to JJ then, where he was fiddling with the dinosaur tooth. Her expression gentled, "We weren't even supposed to be able to have a kid so its been a lot of adjustment but for the best of reasons."

Her fingertips lightly touched the back of JJ's spiky hair to get his attention, "Hey, buddy, what's the three rules of magic?"

JJ's head snapped up, because while dinosaur teeth were awesome, nothing was in fact as cool as magic. He focused on his mother with the laser sharp attention of a natural born predator, even a bit of his lisp falling away as he recited by obvious route something he'd learned alongside his ABCs. "Intent. Knowledge. Power. Intent of whatcha wanna do, knowing how to make that happen, an' the power to tell reality to do somethin' different. Mama, are we doing magic?"

Taylor gave a small shake of her head, her approval clear, before she turned back to Richard. JJ still watched his mother intently in case any more of his budding lessons in magic might be in the offing. Unintentionally, Taylor fell into the speech patterns most mystics did when offering their sage advice, "A lot of thing in magic comes in threes. Three for the faces of the Modrossus, and so on. You can break any school of magic down to those components and some play more heavily to one than the other. An untrained kid can summon a demon if they have power to make up for their lack of knowledge and someone who is well skilled can make up for a lack of mystic 'oomph'. Still, though, you'll see most working with magic speak or gesture to focus the spell although it will look different depending on their training which isn't something I do. I don't need to, which is a bit abnormal as far as magic working goes."

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Fast-Forward visualized some sort of plane flying over his head. "Okay, sure," he said brightly, "that makes sense. I'll keep that in mind if we ever get someone from your line of work on the show." He shook his head. "Speaking of demon summoning, back in the 80s, Paige and I actually rented a room from a Satanist for a while. Weird guy, fun at parties. He just up and disappeared one day, though, and when we went looking there was a big pentagram on the floor and everything smelled like crap. So we cleared out and I guess he hasn't been seen since. Weird times." He sighed, looking back on the memory. "You know, there's a gentrified apartment building in that neighborhood now, and some kind of artisanal cheese restaurant? Bunch of hipster kids riding around on their Segways listening to their Shania Twain." He shook his head. "Kids these days. Not you, buddy!" he added to JJ. "You seem all right. And you too," he said to Taylor. "We'll blur out anything you wanna say on the show that might be too fresh for the ears of impressionable viewers. Like we did for the pocket nuke episode." 

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"I don't think that Shania Twain is what most kids are listening too," Taylor murmured, the words a little doubtful. Sure, she wasn't the most up on pop culture lately but as she remembered Shania Twain from college, she felt that it was a safe bet. She touched JJ's spiky hair, her maternal efforts to smooth it down rather futile. Despite her best efforts, the boy's hair tended towards disarray unless kept very, very short. The thoughtful noise she made in the back of her throat hummed before she added, almost absentmindedly, "Probably eaten or dragged to hell. Sulfur's generally lingers for days after a manifestation."

Taylor sighed, and then finally, gave a reluctant nod, "Alright. Sure. I suppose a show about it is better than people blundering into things blind, right?"

She might have been trying to convince herself more than really anything else before nodding once more, this time more firmly. "Alright, alright. Sure, I can do something for you on your show."

After all, she'd convinced him to nip the multiple dimensional antics episodes, right? Least she could do in return. Of course, Taylor had no frame of reference at all for what was involved. She had a mental image of spending an afternoon out answering questions and offering a bit of advice. That was probably accurate, right? Right.

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