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With Lovers and Friends I Still Can Recall (OPEN)

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((Welcome to Trevor and Erin’s Big Enormous Wedding Thread! This is an experiment in how to tell a big story from many different perspectives. Below you’ll find an outline of the progress of the day, including some details of location and timing, as well as some story hooks requiring superhero intervention. This thread is open to everyone to post vignettes and mini-vignettes telling their characters’ stories from that day. 


Because this is not a traditional vignette offering (read: you do not get vignette pp for this), and it is also not a regular thread, we’re relaxing many of the normal posting rules. Your vignettes can be of any length, a full page is not required, and you may post more than one per character if you wish. The prohibition on multiple characters per thread is also lifted, so post with as many of your characters as you have stories for. Double and triple vignettes are still allowed, if you so desire, and also have no length requirement. 


As vignettes are added by players, expect that events of the day will change and develop. Later posters should try and read the vignettes that came before them so they can be sure their work will fit in with the way the day is going. That does not mean vignettes have to be in chronological order! Feel free to jump ahead or backfill anywhere you like, so long as it is on the wedding day. Story hooks are first come, first serve, so posting early isn’t a bad idea. If you don’t believe your character would’ve been invited to the wedding (and yes, not everybody knows Wander and Midnight!), feel free to post stories about your character protecting the city while a sizable chunk of its superhero population is taking the night off. Feel free to ask in chat if you have any questions, and have fun!)) 



Once upon a time, a girl and a boy fell in love. They were superheroes, so it wasn’t easy, and it was sometimes messy, but that was okay. They had adventures together, lived together, celebrated and mourned together, and eventually they decided that together was absolutely better than apart. There was a bridge and a motorcycle and a teddy bear and a ring, and then there was a wedding in a garden on an April afternoon. All their friends were invited. Some things didn’t go exactly as planned, and a few uninvited guests tried to horn in along the way, which happens to heroes a lot.  Luckily their friends were also superheroes, and they were determined that the happy couple should live happily ever after, at least for today. 


Preparations for the wedding began in the morning at the Hunter estate, with Erin and her bridesmaids and selected female friends in the house, and Trevor and his guys down in the basement. There were caterers and decorators and florists around everywhere, which made things a little complicated when some heroic intervention was needed to safeguard the venue from preemptive villainy (though at least the florist and the gardener were superhero-savvy!) Mani-pedis, makeup, lots of last-minute advice and a champagne brunch rounded out the morning for the wedding party, along with a few shenanigans designed to make sure that bride and groom didn’t encounter each other before the ceremony. 


In the afternoon, all the dressing-up began in earnest, and then the pictures. So many pictures, professional and otherwise, with people who don’t often get photographed with their own faces and looking their best. The photographers didn’t always confine themselves to the wedding party either, arriving guests might find themselves captured on film a few times for the album. The venue was beautiful, the sprawling backyard of the estate was lush with green grass and bedecked with growing flowers, as though a wedding had grown naturally out of the earth, spontaneously sprouting floral trellises and chair nosegays in just the right places. It smelled fantastic as well, and if the gardener was spotted diving into the pond after a few lost items, it didn’t detract from the ambiance too much. There were a few diversions to entertain the guests, a book to sign, a little display of childhood photos of bride and groom, a table of snacks. There was also a nasty traffic jam on one of the roads leading into North Bay, but it was sorted by helpful guests before it became a real problem. 


As the 3pm wedding start time approached, guests began to move to their seats while music played and a breeze whispered through the trees. The ceremony was beautiful and quite peaceful, though it’s hard to say what behind-the-scenes machinations may have been required to keep it that way. J.J. Faretti and Amaryllis Lumins nearly stole the show as ring-bearer and flower girl, despite subtle interventions from their parents. Otherwise, the simple and brief service, conducted by Claremont’s headmaster emeritus Duncan Summers, was focused on Erin and Trevor, who stood under a flowered trellis to exchange handwritten vows and rings in front of all their friends and family. 


With the business of the day taken care of, it was time to celebrate! The Manor’s ballroom had been prepared in case of bad weather, but a perfectly clement day meant dinner, drinks and dancing on the lawn and patio. A minor problem with the catering was quickly sorted, and if the bride and groom disappeared from their own party for a little while before arriving for dinner, nobody was inclined to say anything about it. There were toasts and a few short speeches after supper, and then the bride and groom opened the dancing with a showy and energetic swing dance that most people who knew them as heroes wouldn’t have expected from them at all. The dancing went on late into the night, helped along by a custom coffee bar manned by two experienced baristas. At one point in the evening, the power went off for nearly ten minutes, but inventive guests worked around it and the problem was quickly solved. Trevor and Erin left around 9pm in a hail of bubbles and sparks and flowers and beams of light from their friends, taking off on Trevor’s motorcycle with Erin’s skirt securely swept up over her arm as they waved and departed. Even with the guests of honor gone, there was plenty of partying left to do, and it wasn’t till nearly midnight that things quieted down and the cleanup was taken care of. 

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((This post is reserved for an ongoing timeline of events in the thread)) 



  • 12:15 AM Edge and Redbird talk weddings
  • 8:00AM  Fleur de Joie and Amaryllis decorate the yard and destroy an enemy scout. 
  • 10:00AM Monsoon and Psyche get to know each other over pampering.
  • 11:00AM Woodsman and Blue Jay help deal with a bad guy - and talk shop. 




  • 5PM Harrier and Miss Americana dance - and talk about dreams. 



  • 11:59PM Aquaria takes care of cleanup, and thinks of other matings, far away. 
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A heavy layer of dew covered the grass that morning, clinging to Stesha's tennis shoes as she jogged across the broad lawn behind the manor house. The sun was barely above the trees but she'd been working for hours already, bringing to life all the drawings and plans she'd made up for this singular day. It was paying off, too; the flowerbeds were alive with a dizzying array of color and life, while the chairs and trellises were decorated with thousands of blossoms in lighter and more muted shades, appropriate to the day. It was both easier and more difficult, Stesha had discovered, doing floral arrangements with the full use of her powers. It saved a lot of time and effort in shipping, trimming, arranging, and transporting flowers, but on the other hand, she'd gotten far more ambitious than she ever would have in her florist days.


Still, it was all for a good cause. Stesha didn't know Trevor or Erin particularly well, but she knew they were good people, very young people, who'd already given many years of their lives to heroic duty. She knew how Trevor's voice softened when he talked about his fiancee, and she'd seen how Erin's often-impassive face brightened when her intended came into view. Most of all, Stesha understood about love, and the breathtaking excitement of making a lifetime commitment to one person loved above all others. It was something that deserved to be celebrated at its start, no matter what might happen to it later.


“Mama, mama, look at me! I'm the flower girl!” Amaryllis shrieked joyfully as she ran barefoot across the grass to her mother. She wasn't dressed up yet, still in her favorite bib overalls, but her green hair was done up in intricate ringlet curls that Stesha would never in a million years be able to replicate. As she ran, she left behind a trail of blooming violets and white clover. “I got pretty!”


“Look at you, you sure did!” Stesha agreed, scooping up her daughter and giving her a quick spin. “You look beautiful! Come on and help me finish the edging by the pond, okay?” They walked hand in hand down to the pond behind the ceremony space, Stesha consulting the list on her phone as they went.


“Mama, the tree is sneakin' away,” Ammy observed conversationally.

“Mm, what?” Stesha blinked and looked up, only half-listening.


Ammy pointed. “The tree. It's going out of line. It's sneaky.” Sure enough, one of the stately old elm trees on the western border of the property had broken ranks and was edging almost imperceptibly towards the venue area. Stesha frowned at it and extended her senses to get a taste of it. Something definitely not right there. The tree didn't have a mind of its own, but it was being used by something else to get a look at things.


“You're right, baby, that tree is very sneaky. We better stop it.” With a flick of her fingers, Stesha teleported both of them across the yard, directly in front of the tree. “Whoever you are, you're biting off way more than you can chew,” she informed the elm coolly. Resting her hand against the bark of the tree, she focused her will for just a moment, and the tree was suddenly nothing more than a soft waterfall of mulch. “There we go, all better. Remind me that we owe Mr. Hunter a tree before we go home. How about some breakfast?”

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"What a mess," croaked Aquaria cheerfully, tri-bladed spear over her shoulder as she studied the remains of the party. There were Surfacer guests here and there still on the estate, she knew, but with the dancing floor empty and the food people gone, now it was time for the cleanup. She'd stayed away from most of the party, aware of how different she was from everyone else and of how strange such a great crowd of Surfacers could be, but what she'd seen had told her how much fun everyone had had. Surfacer pairings were very different than matings among the children of Dagon and Hydra - but she was sure Erin and Trevor would be happy despite all that. And maybe Jessie would pair off someday too, when the wounds in her soul had healed and her pod-sister felt like a human being again. 


No one should have to be alone. 


In the comforting cool darkness of the night, the air moist with the promise of the rain that had stayed away all the day, Aquaria crouched in the middle of the now-deserted dancing floor and closed her eyes, listening to the sounds of the Hunter estate all around her, and sang. 

"Look at me, great male. 

My legs are strong and my teeth 

are sharp as your spear.


I see you, great male. 

Your crest is tall and your eye

is sharp as my blade. 


Son of Lord Dagon. 

I am Hydra's daughter. 

Let us be as them. 


Let us be as one.

Let us be male and female.

Let us be together."


It was not the first time Aquaria had sung the mating song, all alone and hundreds of miles from her fellow Deep Ones - but today, maybe because the day itself had been about together - she didn't feel alone. She went to work, hopping around the dance floor and onto the nearby grass, gathering up forgotten napkins, bits of paper and plates, and other debris left behind by the ceremony, her keen eyes letting her see in the dark of the Surface as easily as she did in the light places beneath the waters. She took the opportunity to help herself to one of the crawling mammals that lived on the estate and came out at night, snatching it up with her tongue and swallowing it whole, wriggling and delicious. 


When she was done, she took up a rake and aggressively combed at the grass, gathering up all the things that wouldn't decay naturally into the plants, and put them all in the big garbage bags she'd already filled up and left on the wooden dance floor. She sniffed things out as she went, finding treasures like a forgotten piece of cake (which joined the rodent in her belly), horrors like the garments that absorbed the foul-smelling waste of Surfacer young, and certain mysteries. 


How did underclothing get up in that tree, she wondered as she climbed down one of the new trees Fleur de Joie had grown after the...problems of that morning. Or is this the one those two warriors on the roof shot? It has a bolt in it, but maybe that was later...She wasn't sure if the underclothing was male or female, only that someone must have thrown it up there with great force at some point during the festivities. I'd better save it, she decided, I don't think it would taste very good - and someone might want it later. It joined some of the other treasures she'd found; a child's toy, a forgotten telephone, and other items that people might come looking for the next day. 


That night, after carefully texting Jessie to let her know she was staying over at the estate, she slept in the pond - and dreamed of deep waters, and companionship. 


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12:15 AM


Of the small group gathered in the whiskey club’s back room the machine intelligence and the probability manipulator weren’t the first people one wanted to see sitting across from them at the poker table. That was probably part of why Mark offered to physically go and pick up the next round of drinks between hands and why Redbird’s hologram rose to accompany him even if her lack of physical form outside of a vehicle made it more of a symbolic gesture.


The somber expression framed by a few locks of fiery red hair allowed to hang free from the bun pinned with ornamental chopsticks behind the warrior’s head suggested an ulterior motive, however. The avatar subroutine translated Redbird’s hesitation into absentmindedly straightening the dark red cuffs peeking out from beneath her suit jacket before she blurted, “Luck-weaver, I require you to explain ‘weddings’.”


“Weddings? Oh, okay!” said Mark ebulliently. He was being a good best man and so had had only a drink or two himself so he could be there for Trevor. He didn’t drink to excess much anyway - with his powers, it wasn’t a good idea. “Weddings are when two people who love each other decide to unite together in front of everybody. Sometimes people do it in a church or a mosque, sometimes they do it some place that means something to them. Why?” he asked curiously. “Didn’t they tell you?”


Redbird’s avatar waved a hand impatiently while nodding. “The concept is clear enough!” She’d eventually learned to be judicious about sourcing her information about human culture and even if the litany of often mutually exclusive rules for weddings were perplexing she was confident she had the basic idea. “I do not understand the why of it. The shadow-walker and sheildmaiden already acknowledge each other as battlemates and neither holds closely to ceremony nor favours large gatherings!” She planted her hands palm down along the bar and gave Mark a brooding look that reminded him from where the autonomic being’s last imprint had come. “It seems deeply out of character. Perhaps even… sinister.”


Mark leaned on the bar and resisted commenting that after years of living in the same house as Trevor and sleeping in the same bed, Erin probably wasn’t a maiden, amazed at how clearly the bat coming at his head appeared in his mind’s eye even at the thought. “Well...it’s something we do, I suppose. It’s a way of declaring that you love someone in front of everyone else, and that you always want to be with them. People feel better when they make a ceremony out of things - it makes it harder to break those bonds. My...my parents had some problems, but they were always together when it mattered, because they’d made a commitment to each other that way.”


There was a moment of silence as a tray of drinks arrived on the bar in front of Mark and Redbird considered his words. She had only a second-hand understanding of parental relationships but it didn’t require any great insight to recognize the weight of any topic which could consistently give the gregarious luck controller pause. “Hnh. Then it is a sort of communal meditation, mental preparation for expected challenges. I had underestimated the dire import of this ceremony, then.”


“Well, kind of,” said Mark. “There are parts where they vow to be together, in thick or thin, till death do them part, and we take things more seriously when we’ve vowed to do them. It’s also like a challenge to the world, like you’re yelling ‘Here we are! We’re married! Come at us, world!’” He smiled, then said, “Hey, Redbird, do you want to know a secret about weddings?” He was briefly interrupted by the need to ‘helpfully point out’ the bottle of grenadine behind the bar that they needed for Mike’s Shirley Temple.


“Of course!” Redbird shouted, enthusiastically slamming her fist into the bar even if her audio inducers needed to fake the sound of impact. Framing the wedding as the ultimate challenge to battle had clearly won her over to the idea in general and the promise of some hidden technique or bit of forgotten warrior’s lore had sealed the deal.


“Tomorrow morning,” he looked at his phone, “Or, no, this morning! Yikes, better make this the last round for real,” he put his phone away and went on, “before Nina and I arrive for the wedding, I’m going to ask her to marry me.” He opened the box in his pocket and showed her the ring - a carefully selected one whose recessed diamonds wouldn’t interfere with Nina using her sword or her hydrokinesis. “And I’m pretty sure she’s gonna say yes. Just don’t tell anyone, okay? There’s a lot going on - and this is going to be Erin and Trevor’s big day, not ours.”


Redbird’s response boomed through the otherwise restrained atmosphere of the bar as she pumped her fists in the air. “Excellent!” The smattering of other patrons looked over in their direction but the machine intelligence either didn’t notice or didn’t care. “Already our war party is unbeatable; so strengthened there shall be no foe beyond our abilities! Merely say the word, luck-weaver, and you shall have the assistance of Redbird!” Her toothy grin said that she hopes that assistance would involve violence or explosions in some capacity.


“I’ll tell you what,” said Mark, “if we get married in America, I’ll see if Nina will let you be in the wedding party.” He grinned. “We could probably use a warrior for our wedding. Hopefully at this one, they’ll just need some friends.” He led the way back into the poker room, carrying their tray of drinks, and called, “Hey guys, it’s after midnight! Better make this last call…”


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There’d been a breach of security in the women’s section - an intruder who needed to be chased off by the alert security detail of the bridesmaids. But Mark had dropped valuable booty on the way - the massage chairs in a vacant upstairs bedroom that the bridesmaids were now using for their manipedis. With her feet in a warm salt bath and her slim frame resting in a black leather vibrating chair, Nina al-Darsah decided she was going to make Mark buy one of these and put it in their house. Surrounded by women of great fame and superheroic repute, perhaps she’d pushed herself a little too far in the bachelorette party games of the night before. Her neck was still a little sore. Her eyes closed, she let her mind wander.


Alex, at least, was no longer smacking into the occasional wall if she was seated in the massage chair. While her vaunted psychic abilities were useful in keeping any disturbances to a minimum, Alex had thumped into more than one corner or knick-knack as she bounced her senses between ‘here’ and ‘there’. Her hazel eyes snapped back into focus once more on the room before falling on Nina, “Mike says that things are going smoothly over on the boys end for the moment,” she volunteered, trying to coax Mark’s significant other into light conversation.


“Ah, good,” said Nina, nodding her head with approval. She shifted in her seat, sighing happily as a whirling roller dug into a stiff spot between her shoulder blades. “The boys had a long night as well. Longer than ours, I think - Mark was up first thing this morning; I found him on the beach as if he’d seen a ghost.” She turned her head and looked Alex up and down. “All this must be a dry run for you, eh?” she asked, smiling as she nodded down at the ring on the psychic’s finger. “Do you and Mike have a date?”


“I don’t think we’re going to have a big wedding like this,” Alex said as she glanced down at the ring she’d been wearing for quite some time now with a fond smile. “We’ll probably just have a small, intimate celebration after enough time has passed that I won’t be stomping on Erin’s day.” She said with a small shrug of her shoulders that might have seemed at odds with the excess of binders and plans and presentations she’d put together for Erin’s big day. “I just hope it’s everything Erin wants, really. What do you think of all of it?” She asked with some curiosity, aware enough that the Socotran customs were often rather different from American norms.


“It’s fairly typical for an American wedding,” said Nina thoughtfully. “If you leave superhumans out of the equation, anyway. I’m sure everyone will love it.” Aware she was being prompted, Nina hmmed for a moment before saying, “It’s much quieter than the ones I saw when I was a child. I think the largest I’ve seen was when my sister Murjana wed her husband Prince Adui - so it was both Socotran and Dakanan at once. There were thousands of people in the Great Square when they were wed, with thousands more in the streets of the city, and they all shouted as one and bowed to Typhoon when the vows were read. Ah, it was glorious.” She smiled thinly. “I’ve seen more traditional Muslim weddings here, of course. But I don’t think Erin would like a full nikah dress and veils.”


“Well, Erin’s not Muslim so it wouldn’t have the same meaning for her,” Alex agreed with an easy smile, glossing over the glory to the Typhoon portion of that conversation. She was well aware that Nina’s background was vastly different than most of the women or men in the mansion. “Do you think that you’ll want the full, traditional celebrations when you get married? Dholki and then all of the traditional days leading up to the wedding itself?” Alex asked and it sounded less probative and largely curious. She didn’t think that Mark and Nina would end their relationship any time in the near future and Alex DID like to be prepared.


“Those are for Indian girls,” said Nina, shaking her head. “But something like that. I do like the henna tattoos,” she said, spreading her fingers wide and setting a hand on the arm of the chair. “When I was a small girl, there was a woman in Court who had mystic tattoos she could bring to life with a thought - and I wanted them. I demanded my servants apply henna to me. I was so disappointed when it didn’t work, I think I actually wept.” She laughed. “They were brave people, my women; they’d helped raise twelve al-Darsahs by then. I understand you were a girl in a...government laboratory?” she hazarded.  


Alex nodded slightly at the correction, mentally filing it away before she smiled faintly at the question, “Sort of,” Alex agreed as she shifted her feet in the water slightly. “I was born here in Freedom City - Mike and I were both T-babies, but it wasn’t really known until we were five, or so. We were schooled - tested, really - at a facility in the city but we got to go home to our families after. I mean, there were a lot of restrictions on where we could go but it really wasn’t so bad. There’s a lot worse childhoods to have,” Alex’s tone was phlegmatic, with the assurance of one who actually understood the truth in that statement. “Some T-babies powers crop up later but both Mike and I were born a little different so, in a way, it was a good thing for us, at least. Plus, we had each other so…” She gave a little gesture with her manicured hand. “It WAS a bit of a culture shock when we switched to Claremont though.”


“Powers in my family come young, and through the blood - proof of who you are and your right to rule.” Nina nodded reflectively and looked down at her feet, not pulling them out of the water but actually pushing the water aside. “All right, I should be ready for my turn with the pedicurist. Water doesn’t permeate my skin the way it does normal skin, or else I could not dive so deep.” She lingered, though, reluctant to get up out of the massage chair - and to end the conversation. “I never knew what to make of American superbeings when I was younger. Of course, with so many, you could never have one ruler - but the idea that _no one_ ruled, and so few have even tried, made you all seem very...strange.” It was not the word her father had used in her raising.


Alex’s gaze cast down towards her hands, watching the way the color caught the light, “When others look to you to make their choices, you don’t really get to make your own anymore,” Alex replied, the words honest and she finally looked up to meet Nina’s gaze directly. Alex had learned helming AEON that her gaze could be too direct. It was always Alex’s eyes that gave away the mind behind it, too old for her young face. “I like to think that we maybe just value that there’s beauty in people leading themselves but, I think, it's much more that trying to take care of absolutely everyone is so very hard… And it’s not like it lasts forever, either. There’s something to be said for building a system rather than relying on one person, at least that’s the democratic theory. It’s not without its flaws, too.” Alex gave a little shrug before she glanced down at the water once more, wiggling her toes in it.


“When I was little, everyone seemed strange to me. I used to poke around in people’s thoughts to try and make sense of them - I don’t do that anymore!” Alex added, with some lingering embarrassment for the actions of a toddler, as if Nina might be concerned about the sanctity of her thoughts around the psychic if she didn’t add in that caveat.


“Talking is much easier. People will say all sorts of things about themselves if you know how to listen - even when they say nothing at all.” Nina didn’t seem bothered by the news of Alex’s childhood indiscretions - if anything, the telepath caught a look of interest on the other woman’s face. “I’m looking forward to seeing what people say on a day like today.” She smiled. “Let’s go have the women fix our feet - if we’re going to spend all our time a half foot shorter than the bride, we should make sure ours are as comfortable as possible.”

“Talking is a lot less easy for me than you’d think,” Alex agreed cheerfully as she stood up. She used her powers casually, making sure the water stayed in the bowl and didn’t drip across the carpet. “But listening - that’s something I can’t really help but manage.” Alex said as she caught up with the other woman on bare feet, easily tendering the invitation, “You know, you should come by AEON sometime. I’d love to get your insight into some of our programs with the intuitive grasp of hydrokinetic energy that you have. We have some projects coming up…” Alex said, chattering away as they went off to enjoy the pampering that came along with all the pre-bridal rituals.

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After his dance with Yolanda, who had practically had to stand on his polished shoes, Steve rejoined Miss Americana at their table. The reserved attendant had said very little during and after the service - he had played his part to perfection and honored the trust that the bride had placed in him. That was enough - and if he’d been tense during the service, at least he’d had no doubt whose eyes everyone had been on. He smiled at her and took her hand, and for a little while they sat together in the privacy that only a crowd could give. “I expect to wake up,” he finally said quietly, turning from watching Yolanda’s conversation with the young scion of a line of Earth-Prime superbeings to look at Miss Americana. “Or for the dream to turn sour.” Gina would know how poorly he’d slept over the last few nights.


Miss Americana reached out and rested her perfectly manicured fingers on the back of his scarred hand. She was not one for many intimate gestures in public, even in her polished and beautiful guise. “It was a beautiful wedding,” she murmured, “and you looked fantastic in your tux, by the way. Those kids have been waiting a long time to get what they want, I think they’re going to be just fine.” She shrugged elegantly and faked a sip of her espresso. “Sometimes if the person is right, it doesn’t matter if everything else is going to hell, you’re still okay.” She looked over, met his eyes. “So you never told me how you liked the bachelor party.”


“Ah, well, I thought the custom was not to speak of that to women. “ Steve hmmed. “It was pleasant. There was gambling, intoxicants, and the men spoke to each other at length. The machine intelligence and I partnered in the gambling, to our profit. She suggested I spend the money on something nice for my woman, which I have,” he added. He and Redbird had been the only partygoers unaffected by the intoxicants, which had helped their mutual strategizing. He took her hand in his and squeezed it lightly. “There was great talk of the women’s party today. But I doubt I would have appreciated the performances as they did.”


That got him a surprisingly Ginalike smirk from his companion. “Yeah, I’ll bet not. Just so long as everybody had fun, I guess. And it helps make up for the fact that you’ll be pulling doubles while your boss is on her honeymoon. You should negotiate for at least an extra piece of cake.”


“Perhaps,” said Steve in the noncommittal tone that he usually used to answer suggestions he promote himself. “She has done worse for me.” He studied Miss Americana across the table, thinking of Gina back at their house, alone in the basement but for her machines. They might never have an occasion like this - but they had this, and that was fine. “I will not linger long here. The images have been made, the compound is well-guarded, and my place is elsewhere.” He squeezed her hand again, his dark, scarred hand against her immaculate pale one. “But I have not yet danced with the most beautiful woman here.”


“No, but from the way her new husband is glowering at anyone who tries, I think you’ll be better off with me,” she quipped with a diplomat’s smile. Rising from the table, she took his hand and led him toward the dance floor. “No bad dreams tonight, okay?”

“Let them be forgotten - in pleasant memories.” No one would ever mistake Miss Americana and Steve Murdock for a normal couple - but on the dance floor that night, arm-in-arm and cheek to cheek, they were who they needed to be - and that was enough.

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3:15 PM




Joe wondered what had happened in his life that he'd become the person people counted on to keep things from going out of control.




He realized, when he took the time to think about it, that he'd actually been fairly grounded as of late. The night classes had been going for a few years now, and he was slowly but surely making his way to a History degree. He and Asli had been going steady for months, with a remarkable lack of explosions. When he'd been approached with the task of helping to organize the proceedings for the bachelor party, he'd been happy to do so. And then he'd realized he'd been brought in as a sobering influence, to make sure other proposals didn't go too far afield. 




Of course, that was always a matter of comparison. He was glad how things had worked out under Mark's guiding influence, with a classy evening of whiskey, gambling, and - again - nothing exploding. But Mark was... well, Mark. There was always a chance the evening's entertainment may have involved dancing explosions, singing elephants, and waking up on top of some hotel in Dubai. But they had survived. Joe had to pop a few extra Tylenol this morning, but everything had been... fine. No, more than fine. It had been great. Time to come together and commemorate Trevor and Erin's success. In the midst of his... he wanted to say fifth... whiskey, he'd gotten up and made a speech that he remembered as heartfelt, even if he couldn't remember all the words. He was sure he hadn't made too much of an ass of himself.




And now here he was. Standing as a groomsman. Listening intently as the minister read the words, watching with pride as Trevor and Erin took their places before the podium. As the ceremonies began, however, he began to drift off. Not removing himself, but... growing vigilant. Here was one of the big social events of the year, with most of the superhero community and those in the know gathered to wish well. One would have to be an idiot to attack here... but this town, and the world at large, had a lot of idiots. 




Joe thought back to one of his classes on medieval history, where the talk of the politics of the era had focused on how weddings had served as a means of forging alliances and cementing deals. This, of course, made them fraught with peril. In those days, the groomsmen weren't just there to make the groom feel secure on his big day. They were there to protect the wedding if raiders showed up with the intent of kidnapping the bride for their own. They were also occasionally there to kidnap the bride and ensure she got delivered to the wedding, because history was full of awful people.




That was where he stood right now. He was waiting. Waiting for the possibility that things would go wrong. There was a very good chance they wouldn’t—Trevor was the very soul of discretion, and as far as the world at large knew, this was just the social event of the season. Of course, “social events of the season” were always ripe targets, and it was possible someone had managed to deduce just why so many disparate individuals had received invites to this one event and figured it was full of superheroes. But that was just something to prepare for. Not a certainty. And probably not something to keep in the front of his mind.




Besides. It was a beautiful ceremony. Best to focus on that.

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Forest Brunch



Near the edge of the Hunter property


“No, we don’t need t’call the house,” said Woodsman into his phone in one of the quietest whispers Blue Jay had heard from someone on Earth-Prime. “Not gonna ruin their party because some punk has a lotta trees.” He hung up and pulled up his hoodie, rolling over in the tall grass to look at Blue Jay. Blue Jay, the legendary archer - the girl everyone at school was still comparing him to. “Less ya got weedkiller in yer quiver, we ain’t gonna help Fleur with those things.” He cocked his head towards the small grove where Fleur de Joie was patiently putting a stop to the animate trees that had been trying to march onto the estate for the past half-hour. “Les’ circle round through the grove there and catch the guy a’fore he gets bored’a playin’ Tree Army and starts ‘nuff trouble ta ruin the party.”


Blue Jay didn’t say anything, just nodded slowly and rose to her feet, still staying hunched over and moving silently. There was only an infinitesimal chance that someone would pick up her profile against the lights of the Hunter mansion, but one didn’t survive the Terminus by taking any chances; so she walked with her back bent and moved between pools of shadow.


The pair moved slowly, and they moved patiently, and they moved carefully, and so the pair made better time through the undergrowth than anyone else could have thought possible for a pair of unenhanced humans. Blue Jay had her amazing alien gauntlets on, but she had also picked up her old bow and quiver, filled with special ASTRO Lab-provided warheads. There wasn’t any point to keeping a quiet eye on the party if she was going to throw around glowing blue energy projectiles, after all. And if it just happened that she had a chance to show up Claremont’s newest refugee-turned-archer superhero, that was just a happy coincidence.


Blue Jay carefully drew out three arrows and nocked one, crouching in the darkness and observing the target. When she was sure that Woodsman was next to her, she spoke, in a tone just barely louder than the rustling trees. “I can put him on the ground,” she said, “make sure he doesn’t get away. But we need to make sure he can’t create more plant monsters to send at the house.”


“Gotta flashbang,” replied Woodsman, carefully notching a particularly fat bolt into his crossbow. His hands moved as he spoke with cool precision, his gloved fingers having picked the bolt from his belt without a backwards glance. His whisper was a fast, almost inaudible rush of words. “Hit ‘im from rear, you hit from front,” he suggested. “He can’t see - he can’t do crap; and then you’ll hit ‘im in the face. Once he’s down, we go in and take him out.” Their target was…Riley made a hiss that was the loudest sound Blue Jay had yet heard him make. She knew the figure of the Green Man well enough, the humanoid plant and his minions were a frequent threat to the people of Freedom City. But Riley seemed to be looking at him and seeing something else. “Goddamned freak,” he finally muttered as he began to move into position.


Blue Jay shot a look at Riley as the teenager moved deeper into the darkness, her eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed. She didn’t expect an outburst of emotion like that; emotion made people irrational, it wasn’t good on a hunt. There wasn’t hardly time to have a discussion, though. The archer crept out of the treeline and onto the manicured lawn of the Hunter mansion. The tails of her long coat hung down, obscuring the shape of her legs and body, making her into an indistinct, shambling shadow against the indistinct green-gray-black of the forest. Blue Jay made sure to avoid any pools of light until she was where she wanted to be; then she stood in one fluid motion and fired, the heavy warhead of the glue round making almost no noise as it soared through the air.


She had chosen her position intentionally, standing between the Green Man and one of the lit windows; she was immediately obvious, and the plant man instinctively raised his arms to defend against the incoming projectile. That was precisely what the archer had counted on, though, and when the glue warhead detonated it coated his head, arms, and torso in a sticky, fast-hardening shell.


He was strong, pulling at the gluey shell as if ready to break free, but a moment later Woodsman’s bolt erupted from the other direction and hit him in the back of the head. The flashbang was bright and loud, enough to stun the Green Man and keep him restrained. Woodsman was on the move - running up behind the Green Man, a razor-tipped bolt now loaded. “Hey, freak,” he spat. “Fleur de Joie is nice. We aren’t. Herbicide in yer eye, y’know? You stop fighting right now, do you hear me? Right now.” The Green Man turned as best his bonds allowed, saw the look in the eye of the teenager with the crossbow bolt aimed at his head - and surrendered.


After Fleur de Joie had stopped by to pick up the now-subdued Green Man, Woodsman (who had been dead quiet while Fleur was there) unexpectedly spat right on the spot when the plant controller had been subdued. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered. A moment later, he added, “Uh, sorry. I...had some trouble with guys like that. You know how it is, right?” He looked over at her and tentatively said, “They talk ‘bout you at Claremont still. The girl from the Terminus, with the bow.”


Blue Jay (who had been quiet and as helpful as she could to Fleur) watched Woodsman from behind her mask. She hadn’t maintained close ties to the school since she graduated, but she had heard about a new archer from another ruined world. It was almost enough to make her wonder if there was some connection between bows and the apocalypse. “I’m not from the Terminus anymore,” she said, and then “That’s an impressive weapon. Did you build it yourself?”


“Yeah.” Woodsman hefted the crossbow carefully, making sure it was uncocked with a matter-of-fact air that bespoke long, long practice, to show it to the other archer. “Gun’s too loud,” he said quietly, “‘n longbows ‘r no good in the woods ‘r in the city.” He showed her the various trick bolts, and the mechanism. “Built this one in d’Claremont shop. Lost the old one when I showed up on Prime. Y’know how it goes.” He smiled tightly. “How ‘bout you, how many bows’ve you gone through here?”


Blue Jay held her bow out at arm’s length, spinning it easily with one hand. The weapon was much more than just wood and glue and sinew; it was a masterfully crafted piece of ASTRO Lab technology, carbon fiber arms balanced to within a centimeter, housing silently-spinning wheels that could hold hundreds of pounds of pressure. It wasn’t the sort of thing a survivalist could craft in the woods or even buy at a sporting goods store. It was a Mazarati of longbows. “I’ve gone through a few,” Blue Jay said dryly. “They don’t respond well to hitting a robot across the face.” The unspoken fact being that it was even worse to try and punch a robot. “I knew a few people back home who used crossbows,” she said, crouching in the shadows of the trees. “They were useful for ambushes, but they’re slow and they don’t arc.” She squinted, mask zooming automatically in response to her facial muscles. “I could put a dozen arrows on the other side of that hill,” she said, pointing out a hillock at the northern end of the Hunter estate, “before you could get to the top and recock your mechanism. Better reload means faster switching means hitting a target exactly how I need to.”


Woodsman’s crossbow was a more modest affair - the mechanics looked relatively simple to Blue Jay’s trained eye, with the only real novelty being the reloading mechanism that Woodsman demonstrated for her. Pulling a recessed handle along the side of the bow pulled the string back and raised the bolts up one at a time from an internal magazine, letting him squeeze off bolts (into the nearest tree) at a rate _almost_ (but not quite) as fast as a trained archer with a longbow. “Don’t get penetration with that,” he admitted, “so I put junk on ‘em to knock ‘em out - or just binary explosives so it goes off in the skin. Just on really tough guys, though,” he said, perhaps a little too sharply as he walked over to retrieve his bolts. “Know it’s slow,” he admitted, “but where I’m from, they come fast and they hunt ‘n packs. You gonna take on a whole pack, might’swell break out the flamethrower or the razorwire.”


“It still locks you into a load-out,” Blue Jay pointed out. She drew an arrow from her pack, holding it near the fletching and running her thumb over the knurled end. The arrowhead unfolded as she rolled the selector, going from blunt to bodkin to serrated. “If you load surface-reactive warheads and then decide you need a taser in middle of a volley, you’re stuck reloading. Besides,” she added, “if you were being hunted by an Omegadrone you didn’t want to stand and fight. You want to run from them, or lure it into an ambush. You don’t want to turn and fight unless you can’t run anymore.” Sh paused and added, “And we didn’t have flamethrowers, anyway.”


“Heard ‘bout Omegadrones,” said Riley, his voice falling quiet in sympathy. “Bad stuff. Fer us it was the Ferals, uh...cannibals,” he added. “Ones who used to be super, you’ve gotta…” He turned his head and looked at the manor, half-visible through the forests, and then back at Blue Jay. “Hey, listen. I’ve got venison jerky and orange water in my canteen. You wanna get up in the snipers’ nest ‘in talk about where we’re from? Sounds like ya got some stories.”


Blue Jay considered the offer, tuning to look back at the light and laughter of the Hunter mansion. “I don’t want to talk about Omegadrones,” she said flatly. “But I can think of a few useful stories.”

Edited by Raveled
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10:45 AM


The foyer of the Hunter manor was nearly deserted as late morning began to edge toward noon. Those who needed to be there early for one reason or another had long since arrived and most of the wedding attendees weren't expected until later, which left young Yolanda Morales-Espadas guarding the guestbook alone in the big entryway.


Characteristically she'd already gotten all of her homework done by the previous night and though she'd brought along the subject of an upcoming book report to get a head start it had quickly been discarded in favour of a novel of her own choosing. Admittedly she'd have rather been up and moving or working with her hands but Erin had asked her to watch the guestbook and like any other responsibility she took it seriously. Even if she could hear the sound of plates being moved in one of the larger dining rooms just down the hall.


It was the clicking of atypically-fancy shoes that heralded the arrival of one of those very plates, borne on the fingertips of a young blonde woman who was, in an extraordinary show of self-control, not bearing a smile more befitting a self-satisfied cat. She cast her eyes around for offendable eavesdroppers before adopting the most dour, posh voice she could manage: "Lunch, order for one?"


Mara Hallomen deposited the plate on Yolanda’s podium and waved her hand over it, as if introducing only the finest of cuisine to both her 'customer' and Ellie Espadas... who'd had no small part in selecting the meal. "Apple slices, cheeses, tiny meats of unpronounceable origin. The finest of snacks for dutiful bookkeepers, mmh, yes." Her face only broke when she daintily plucked a morsel off the plate, the act of opening her jaws to un-daintily consume it letting her lips twist up in betrayal to her mood. "Thought you might be hungry. Didn't think you’d go find food on your own. Doing okay? Need anything?"


"Would've gotten something when I was hungry," Yolanda insisted even as she picked a piece of fruit off of the plate and promptly popped it whole into her mouth. She eyed the rest of the plate with the dilemma of a twelve year old choosing between a healthy appetite and making a point.


French braid draped over the shoulder of her jacket tucked herself in beside Mara and slipped an arm around her waist while giving Yolanda an amused look. "Of course. How many times did I have to ask you to put your guitar away and come to dinner on Sunday...?"


With an exasperated look the girl made a miniature sandwich for herself from the offerings on the plate. "I was practicing." She didn't say that it was either four or five depending on how one decided to count since the last time hadn't really been 'asking'. "I said I was sorry."


"Aw, I know you did, Yoyo, I'm just teasing," Ellie assured her, reaching over to fondly brush a few strands of dirty blonde hair behind her ear. "You've been working hard and it sounds great. You're sure you don't want to play something today? I'm sure Erin would--"


"It's not ready!" Yolanda interrupted, sitting up in her chair and hurriedly swallowing the food in her mouth. Eyes wide and jaw jutting out, she looked to Mara for support. "Tell her!"


"It's true," Mara admitted, raising her eyebrows in regretful sympathy. "Yoyo isn't ready." She took a moment to grab a piece of cheese, twirling in her fingers thoughtfully. "Would need at least fifteen minutes to warm up, didn’t bring her guitar." Dark blue eyes lit with barely-contained mischief, and the cheese disappeared behind terribly amused teeth. "Brought mine, though; welcome to use it. Been playing violin a lot, good to see the guitar not just collect dust."


Yolanda reared back with a look of abject betrayal. Folding her arms and sitting up straighter atop her stool she insisted, "You're not listening! I can't play at this wedding!"


The strength of the reaction took Ellie aback for a moment. The twelve year old could get worked up on a subject, certainly, but it usually took far more teasing to get more than a long suffering eyeroll out of her. "Hey, lucero, it's okay. Of course you don’t have to play if you don't want to." She ducked her head a little to try to catch Yolanda's eyes as the girl looked away, embarrassed. "What do you mean 'this wedding'?"


Whole face turning increasingly red Yolanda raised her shoulders and curled up enough to exaggerate her stocky frame. She mumbled something unintelligible and twisted her novel back and forth in her hands.


Mara was watching the young girl with a kind but critical eye, all mischief having been dropped the moment she'd reacted so strongly. "Genuinely didn't mean to upset you," she said, voice soothing, resting an extended hand on the top of the novel in hopes of keeping its owner from doing any damage she'd regret. "Am kind of curious, though. Anyone else we know getting married? Don't think Steve and his girlfriend are, they're... mmh." She hesitated, something like a wry smile tugging at one end of her mouth. "Don’t think Steve and his girlfriend are. Not the type."


Whatever the private joke was the cloudy expression Yolanda gave her said that she hadn't gotten it. Scrunching her eyes shut she fell back on the breathing exercises she'd learned in her martial arts classes until she felt less like she might tear her book in half. "I didn’t mean them," she clarified quietly as she set the novel aside and stared at her now empty hands in her lap. Eventually she looked up and met Ellie's eyes for a significant look, hoping to be spared answering the question aloud.


It took the dark haired woman a few moments to connect the dots but finally understanding flashed in her dark blue eyes. "Oh, hun." Ignoring the awkwardness created by the height of the stool and the nearby podium Ellie couched and wrapped her arms around Yolanda's shoulders in a tight hug. "Hey, it's okay."


Mara was a step behind Ellie, and in the hug-filled silence one could almost hear clockwork turning in her head as she caught up on the subtext. "...mmh? Oh! Oh. Aww, Yolanda." She moved around the other side, completing the odd family hug with one cheek resting on top of their ward’s head. "I'm sorry," she said, "didn't mean to upset you. Been really busy, and my parents weren't... just didn't think about what you'd meant. I'm sorry.


"It's something we need to talk about, when there's time,” she reassured, giving them both a loving squeeze, "but probably not today. Someone else's wedding, and it's important that they get to be the focus. Need to do what we can to make their day good, and then worry about our days later. Okay?"


"M'not upset," Yolanda objected even as she pushed her cheek into Ellie's shoulder and found Mara's forearm to grip with one of her hands. Gradually she transitioned from being embarrassed to being embarrassed about being embarrassed with a little frustration over the inherent ridiculousness in that. "Just being stupid."


Ellie raised her head enough to share a guilty look with Mara. They'd reached an age where it felt like every time they turned around somebody else was getting engaged or having kids and maybe that was part of why they'd been putting off the conversation. She'd never even considered that Yolanda might have feelings about it. "No, you weren't. Not stupid at all." Leaning back just far enough she kissed the girl's forehead. "Do you want to take a break from watching the guestbook?"


The twelve year old shook her head resolutely. "I said I'd do it," she said simply, scrubbing her eyes with the back of her bare forearm and sheepishly straightening her dress. She paused for a moment, taking stock of herself with a small sniff before asking quietly, "Do... do you maybe want to hang out here for a bit, though?"


"Yes." The answer was without hesitation, and that decided Mara gave Yolanda a final squeeze before standing back upright. "Would love to hang out. Also, plenty of cheese left. Should eat that; Ellie starts frowning when you skip meals." She nodded, the sagely voice of wisdom, and grabbed another bit of food. "Learned from experience. Very fearsome frowns."


"Proper nutrition is very important," Yolanda agreed somberly. It would have been an innocuous enough comment if not for an uncanny impression of the very frown the engineer was referencing. She managed to hold the expression for two full beats before needing to hide a small smile with a bite of apple.


With an exaggerated sigh Ellie shook her head, making no attempt to conceal her own smile. "What am I going to do with you two?"


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  • 2 weeks later...

5:30 PM


Trevor Hunter had never, so far as he could remember, been so surrounded by so many genuinely smiling faces, so many people legitimately invested in his happiness and in sharing his unbelievable good fortune. The parade of hugs and handshakes, the good wishes and advice seemed unending as each of his friends made their way over one by one or in groups to congratulate him before heading back into the heart of the reception to continue mingling. Erin had been pulled away by one of the bridesmaids and several of their guests had taken the opportunity to have a private word with the groom for one reason or another. He felt honoured and supported in a sense he found it difficult to put into words, lifted up by people he loved and respected.


It felt terribly selfish to admit, even if it was only silently to himself, that it was also absolutely exhausting.


"Penny for your thoughts?" came a soft French accented soprano below and to the left of Trevor's eye level.  There Eve stood, looking up at her friend with sage green eyes and a slender snow white eyebrow arched upward at the question.  It might strike some as curious for a telepath to actually ask someone what they were thinking, but not this telepath and not where Trevor was concerned.


Eve let the question linger in the air as stood next to the groom and rested her head against his arm.  She'd have leaned it against his shoulder if she could, but she couldn't quite reach it.


The corner of his mouth twitching faintly in a hint of a smile Trevor let his posture relax a bit. With a sensation something like exhaling he allowed the old psychic link they'd forged years ago to widen a bit, made easier with proximity. It was enough to allow emotion to flow freely in both directions, accompanying his reply.


"Just about reached limit for socializing in one day," he admitted wryly, looking out over the crowd, laughing, chatting, dancing. There was a fond lightness colouring his thoughts that was different from the cool composure Eve generally associated with him. There was a note of weariness, most definitely, but it was a good sort of tired, the sort that same with worthwhile exertion.


Eve chuckled. "Those who move in such rarefied heights can't afford to have such a low tolerance for socializing," she gently chided him.  She lapsed back into companionable silence for a few moments, looking out across the small sea of guests.  "Well, you might be able to get away with it," she added with a hint of amusement and acknowledgment of Trevor's ability to manage impossible situations flowing across their link.


He snorted quietly, giving the Frenchwoman a sidelong look. "I make do." He fell back into that easy silence for another minute or more, glad to spend time with a friend who didn't feel the need to fill every momentary break in conversation. Erin was around the reception somewhere but with so much going on he'd momentarily lost track.


Eventually he asked, "Set a date?" Eve would never have been so gauche as to announce her engagement on her friends' wedding day but she hadn't left her ring at home, either and they both knew he was too observant to convincing feign ignorance for the sake of a later, dramatic reveal.


"Not yet," Eve said, her eyes flicking toward the ring on her finger.  Though it was fairly new it was a comfortable weight, one that made her smile and her heart soar and Trevor felt a sudden surge of happiness through their mental link.  "I'd prefer something quick, quiet and intimate," she said, a strain of longing in her voice, "But remember what I said about rarefied heights."


Trevor made a flat sound in the back of his throat at that, though the tenor of the empathic link still brought a small smile to his face as he continued to look out over the crowd. "Friends. Family," he noted with a small gesture that encompassed the gathered wedding guests. "Socialites just need to know there was an exclusive event they can lie about attending. Scandalous." He regained his immaculate deadpan for that but ruined it immediately by raising an eyebrow in what was for him a comical exaggeration.


A note of melancholy floated between them as he considered who was in attendance and who was not. "Wish we hadn't waited. Mhn. No," he contradicted himself immediately with a small shake of his head. "Right time. Only… wish my grandfather was here."


"I do too," Eve said quietly but earnestly.  She had been fond of Travis Hunter, the original Midnight, and in fact had grown up on stories about the man.  Not the legends that the public knew but the secret stories from Amelie Dutemps' journals, the ones that spoke about the bond between Midnight and the Red Fox.  


She perked up when the music changed, and giving her best friend a quick hug she stepped back and smiled at him.  "Come on," she said holding out her hand, "I want to dance."

Taking the offered hand with a courtly half-bow Trevor matched her smile and allowed himself to be dragged toward the dancefloor. "Well. Twist my arm."

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  • 1 month later...



The second floor balcony in the Hunter Manor opened off the ballroom, which was spiffed and polished up in case of rain that hadn't happened, and overlooked the back lawn of the estate. This morning it was the perfect spot to observe all the work going into setting up the wedding venue without getting in the way or getting drafted. Jessie stood at the railing off to one side and watched with distant interest as hundreds of white flowers unfurled themselves over the trellises behind the wedding arbor. Despite her absorption, she did not startle when a sharp thud announced the arrival of a visitor from the third floor balcony above, instead turning fractionally to give her double a slight, polite nod.


Erin was still wearing the simple green dress she'd put on for brunch in a vain attempt to impress Trevor's mother; she took a moment to brush the skirt back into place before nodding back to Jessie. “You didn't come to brunch with us.”


“Wasn't hungry,” Jessie offered, but gave that up at Erin's skeptical look. One didn't pass up a meal just on account of not being hungry right now. “It seemed like it would be awkward,” she admitted.


“It's all awkward,” Erin pointed out bluntly, walking up to the rail next to Jessie. “You, me, Erin, it's never not awkward. But you were still invited, you should've come.”


“I don't really know why you invited me,” Jessie replied, looking down at her fingers wrapped around the balcony rail. “I'm happy for you, but this is your place, your friends, your life. I get in the way.”


Erin was silent for a moment, lips pursed as she looked over the lawn. “I know you have some of my other memories,” she finally began. “You know things besides the stuff that Alex deliberately put into you. I can see it when you react to people sometimes like you already know them. I see it in how you were around Travis and Trevor.” Her voice was very even, but she still didn't look at her doppelganger.


Jessie's head came up. “Is that what this is about?” she demanded, her voice uncharacteristically harsh. “To remind me that he's yours? Erin, that's not something I'm confused about, I would never-”


“I know, I know!” Erin cut in, frustrated. “That's not what I meant. I said it wrong.” She made to rake a hand through her hair, then when she remembered it was already gelled within an inch of its life and folded her arms instead. “So much of your life and mine is the same,” she began. “And we don't have any of it anymore. And when I tried to, I dunno, tried to fix you, it's not your fault that some stuff got mixed up, I just know that it did. I know you haven't made a lot of friends yet-”


“I have friends,” Jessie interjected, folding her arms across her chest. “You just don't know them.”


“Okay, fine,” Erin allowed, determined not to get sidetracked. “I thought that maybe you would enjoy seeing people that I've known for a long time, and the food and the dancing and the party stuff. It's not really about the wedding. If I was wrong, you don't have to stay, I won't be mad.” She tried to put sincerity into her words, but it was hard to shove it past the defensiveness that seemed to be her default posiiton when dealing with Jessie.


Jessie was silent for a long, uncomfortable moment, neither woman looking at the other. “Thank you,” she finally said, her voice quiet. “I appreciate you thinking of me. It's just... it reminds me of stuff I'm never gonna have. I know you saved my life. I owe you everything. And I'm really, honestly happy for you because you deserve him, and a happy life, and all the things you want.” Jessie did rake a hand through her unencumbered hair. “I don't understand how you managed to get better enough, but I'm glad you did. I'm not gonna get there.”


“Come on, Jess, it's too early to tell...” Jessie locked eyes with Erin finally, cutting off Erin's attempt at a platitude. “I don't know,” Erin admitted. “I didn't go through half the hell that you did, and what I did go through was more than enough for one lifetime. I wouldn't have made it without Trevor and Alex and my other friends. But I used to think I was never going to have any of this either,” she added, looking out over the lawn. “Part of me is kind of terrified that I'm still going to screw it all up. But I don't think I'm gonna. Time passes, we change. We get better. You won't always be this way.”


“Maybe,” Jessie allowed after another pause. “Guess if anybody knows about how weird and stupid fate is, it's us.”


“You're not lying,” Erin agreed ruefully.


Jessie took a deep breath. “I'm sorry I didn't come to brunch, I didn't really mean anything by it. I think I'm going to go see if Aquaria needs any help with the landscaping before it starts.”


“Okay,” Erin replied. “Um, I better get back upstairs before Alex comes and beats me over the head with the schedule.”


“Yeah, she's pretty scary,” Jessie agreed with a faint smile. “I'll see you later. Good luck.”


“See you later,” Erin nodded, smiling too. “Thanks.” She hopped onto the rail and back to the third floor with a light bounce, leaving Jessie to her solitude again. There was just too much to think about for one day.

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11:45 am


Erin climbed back over the balcony and into the brightly-lit third floor salon that had been appropriated for the bridal party’s use today. Her own bedroom (the one she’d used before she and Trevor started sleeping together full-time, and where she still stored much of her old school stuff) had been deemed too small and too dark for any serious wedding preparations, so instead this sun-washed room had been adorned with a dozen mirrors and nearly that many chairs and couches. It smelled like potpourri and hairspray, a smell that made her nose wrinkle as she walked in. “I’m back!” she called, hoping to head Alex off at the pass. “And it’s not noon yet, I’m not late!” She surreptitiously poked at her hair to make sure it was still all glued into place.


“It’s your wedding,” Alex replied with patient amusement. “If we were doing some sort of fundraiser for AEON, I’d have room to scold.”


The petite psychic remained as carefully put together as she had been right after finishing with makeup and hair, to the degree that she was probably using a little of her potent abilities to ensure she remained put together. She floated up enough to take over the job of ensuring Erin’s hair was all in place with more delicate fingertips. “You look lovely, and everything is going to be just fine.”


“No, don’t touch it!” Erin batted lightly at Alex’s hands, grinning. “You’re gonna make it all tickly and I can’t scratch my head for another nine hours. It’s why I made them put me last in line for makeup, so I can at least rub my face for another forty minutes. Unzip me?” With Alex’s help, she shimmied out of the green dress, then tossed on a puffy terrycloth robe that reached to her knees. She wasn’t quite ready to put on the dress yet, and Frank wouldn’t arrive till shortly before picture time anyway. Instead, she paced the room with long strides, careful not to tip over any of the hair and makeup stuff that was pretty much everywhere. “Ugh, I can’t settle down. Do you think there’s gonna be enough food?”


“There’s going to be plenty of food and if we happen to run out, you have at least two people in the bridal party alone that can make food appear in an instant with a very minor misuse of powers.” Alex replied patiently, turning her attention from the bride to tidying the room even if that might be a futile task in the face of the chaos of a wedding day. “And, really, even if everything went wrong, you’ll marry Trevor today and that will be all that really matters, right? That’s going to happen no matter what, so, the day will be perfect regardless.”


“Yeah…” Erin scrubbed both hands over her face, perhaps just because she could. “Yeah, that’s the bottom line. I just gotta keep that in mind. But the backyard is turning into a fairytale forest, and some of the Claremont kids and Stesha just killed a bunch of evil trees out by the pond, and I just finished dealing with the Ghost of Erin Past, and I think my head might explode just a little. I see why you guys want to do your wedding small. That sounds really good right now.”


“Minimizes the chance of another T-baby protest,” Alex agreed with a faint smile. She gave a slight shrug of her slender shoulders, “Mike’s secret identity is pretty fragile at this point, honestly, and large crowds remain a little exhausting for me to filter out. Besides, I don’t think we have the same super-hero connections to address. My PR person at AEON would love for us to do a big thing but I regularly disappoint her in my life choices.” Alex’s smile was impish before she added, “But everything’s going to be fine. If nothing else, Mark’s powers will ensure that it has a happy ending.”


“Yeah, Mark’s a little scary sometimes, but he does love weddings.” Erin agreed. “I’m surprised he and Nina haven’t made it official yet, except that her dad is pretty intimidating. But then, compare him to Rick Lucas… okay, maybe it’s not totally surprising that he’s okay with just living together,” she admitted. Walking over to the minifridge, she pulled out a bottle of water and opened it, then just held it for a minute. “Tell me I’m not going to hurt him,” she murmured, keeping her face down, and it was obvious she was no longer talking about Mark. “He’s the best thing that ever happened to me, but am I just being selfish? This is gonna work out, isn’t it?”


“I can’t tell you that,” Alex said, her voice very gentle. Out of long familiarity, she stood near at hand but not actually touching Erin; a palpable comforting presence without invading Erin’s personal space. “Sometimes love is hard. I can’t tell you it won’t ever be hard, or hurt, but I can tell you that the two of you love each other enough to get through the hard things together. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to him, too, and Trevor knows that.” Alex said, with not only a psychic’s confidence, but a steadfast friend’s. “This is anything BUT selfish. If it was selfish, Erin, it wouldn’t feel so big and scary.”


Alex paused, letting a touch of humor slip into her tone as she added, “And if Trevor ever forgets how lucky he is, there will be a line of us there to remind him with me at the front of it.” She leaned her head in until her red curls touched Erin’s, “Freedom forever, right?”


“Right,” Erin agreed with a small smile, reaching out to clasp Alex’s hand for a second. “Hey, if anybody ever has to beat some sense into Trevor or me, you’re definitely the first one I’d nominate. You’re like my tiny, scary, twenty-three year old grandma when it comes to laying out truth for the clueless. And that’s why I need you here talking me off the ledges. But hey, four hours from now it’ll all be a done deal. I can handle four more hours.” She took a long drink of the water. “Anyway, Frank’s gonna be here soon, you gonna help me get into my dress-slash-parachute-slash-concealed body armor? He’s very proud of it.”


“Unlikely it would ever come to that. Your husband-to-be is a smart man, and loves you to distraction,” Alex said with a chuckle and squeezed Erin’s hand briefly in return. She turned towards the vanity to start clearing it in preparation. “Of course I am. I’m pretty sure that’s in the Maid of Honor contract, you know?” Alex paused then in her tucking of the makeup back into the bag. She turned her head towards Erin, her expression softening slightly and her words almost hesitant. “I love you, Erin, you know. I’m really glad I get to be here today with you. I know…” Alex paused, uncharacteristically struggling to find the words; a habit that only tended to crop up when she was restraining the urge to share her thoughts and emotions telepathically. “I know you had a little sister, and I’m not trying to say that it’s anything like this, for you, I mean. I know that you wish she was here today. I wish she was here today too.”


Alex paused, tucking the lipstick neatly away in the bag, “But, for me, you’re like the sister that I never had, and I couldn’t imagine my life without you in it. I just, I want you to know that, that’s all.”


Erin was quiet for a minute, then made a noise suspiciously like a hiccup. “Dammit, Alex, you’re just lucky I haven’t put on my makeup yet,” she muttered mock-angrily as she swiped at her eyes. Taking two impulsive steps forward, she swept Alex up in a hug, nearly taking her off her feet in the process. “I wish she were here,” Erin admitted, “but I’m so glad you’re here with me. I don’t know if I could do it without you. Now don’t make me cry anymore, you’ll get me in trouble,” she commanded with a slightly watery grin. “I’m supposed to be radiant by 1pm at the latest.”


Alex snuffled, as she was picked up and squeezed. “I already put on my makeup.” Alex admitted with a watery laugh. “But I’ll redo it. No one’s going to be looking at me anyway.” She flung her arms around Erin’s shoulders, taking the opportunity to hug the taller woman back before she retreated before she could get any tears on the bride. Pulling out a handkerchief, Alex carefully blotted away her tears before they could hit her dress. She’d thankfully had the foresight to go for the waterproof mascara.


“I’d say you’re already radiant - and I think the groom would agree even if you showed up in your work uniform - but let’s get you ready for Frank’s handiwork then.”

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The vows had been said, the marriage had been pronounced, and now, it was time to celebrate. And celebrate this crowd did, with a hearty meal soon enough transitioning into dancing. But instead of just a slow, ballroom-style dance, the bride and groom had requested an energetic swing music number be played for their first dance as man and wife. Luckily, the man with the trumpet on stage knew how to swing the music just right, and as he finished his third song in a row, Carson Keefe smiled as he set his shining trumpet to one side. Normally he’d rather not leave it alone, but if there was any crowd where it wouldn’t get stolen, this was the one. He signaled to the rest of the band to keep playing, albeit somewhat more subdued numbers, before moving off the stage. He stood at one of the snack and drink tables, nursing a glass of ice water and leaning against a convenient pillar, not quite out of breath but definitely needing a moment to catch it nonetheless.


“So it turns out Gabriel really does blow a mean trumpet,” came an amused female voice from behind him. Stesha Madison stepped out from around the pillar, her own drink in her hand, and smiled at him. She’d changed out of the gardening clothes from this morning and into a simple yellow dress embroidered with dozens of tiny flowers across the bodice and down one side. “I think Ammy’s going to be bugging you for more music from now on,” she confided, nodding to where her daughter was being led in a slow box-step by Steve, gravely cautious with the tiny girl standing on his feet. After watching Trevor and Erin’s gleefully energetic first dance, Ammy had lost no time in begging Trevor to show her how to do it. Watching the usually taciturn young groom spin and toss Amaryllis in her frilly white dress had made Stesha laugh and tear up at the same time, and she was sure the pictures would be fantastic. “You done for the night, or just taking a break?”


Carson snorted at the joke. “I can honestly say you’re the first person to make that joke to me. Which is impressive, considering some of the company we keep.” He sipped his glass. “It’s just a break, but I can give them a few songs. I love playing, and when it’s for a celebration like this, I have more than enough energy. I’ll slow down when I’m old.” He stretched a bit, and winced slightly, a hand going down to his abdomen for just a moment, before shrugging it off. “Stupid scars. Anyways, I’d be more than happy to teach Ammy if she’s interested, but after the basics, I only know wind instruments. If she decides she likes strings, percussion, keys, or, Lord have mercy on our souls, the keytar, I’m not the man for the job. One of the monks can help, I’d wager. I think one of them used to be in a metal band.” Somehow, completely unshocking that that was the case. He watched the young girl dance, letting a comfortable silence rest between the two friends. “She’s growing up to be a fine young woman, Stesha. You should be proud of her.” His voice held quite sincerity to it, with more than a bit of empathy.


“Don’t call her a young woman yet, Carson,” Stesha pleaded jokingly. “She’s not even five till June. But I am proud of her. Look at her out there,” she gestured with her wineglass. “Never met a stranger, and she did a beautiful job during the ceremony.” She sniffled a little. “Sorry, weddings make me a little emotional, and this one was lovely.. God, they seem so young. I was their age when I started hero work, and they’ve been at it for ages already.” Stesha didn’t mention that she’d been barely older than the happy couple when she’d gotten married herself; there seemed no need to bring that up tonight.


Raising a child who can so easily exhibit kindness and charity is worth more than any super-power. And it’s fine. I think they’re designed to evoke our emotions, hm?” He chuckled at the age comment. “Yes, I kind of feel a bit outclassed myself; they’ve been at this longer than me, and I’ve got a few years on them myself.” He sipped again, then gave Stesha a somewhat sly glance out of the corner of his eye. “Was Ellis going to make it to the party here tonight? I see a lot up on stage, but obviously my focus isn’t really the crowd.


She raised one shoulder in a shrug. “I think he’s working tonight. His job involves a lot of late nights, so he keeps pretty busy. And he’s not really a big party kind of guy, I think.” Stesha set down her wineglass on a nearby tray and gave him an arch look. “I know the music’s probably not the same caliber with you here and not up there, but do you want to dance?”


Carson grinned a bit, setting his own glass down after another sip. “The band is doing a fine job. I’m not the only good musician on the stage. And you need more than trumpet for a good dance, anyway.” He stepped away from the pillar, straightened out his suit, and bowed toward Stesha before offering her his hand. “May I have this dance, milady?” The grin on his face betrayed his teasing. As they went onto the dance floor, Carson started off a bit slow, if with some inherent grace, before slowly finding a rhythm comfortable for both of them. “You should feel lucky I didn’t prep any square dance numbers. Might have been a great prank instead of the Chicken Dance, though.


“I heard from a reliable source that both the Chicken Dance and the Hokey Pokey were specifically banned from the set list for this reception,” Stesha pointed out good-humoredly, putting one hand in his and one hand on his shoulder with the careful formality of someone who mostly dances at weddings. She smiled quickly at Amaryllis, now dancing exuberantly  in a group with several other children, before turning her attention back to Carson. “No shop talk tonight, but when we get back to Sanctuary, I do need to meet with you soon about doing up the orchard for the monastery. I don’t want to wait till it gets too hot. Are you going to be around next week?”


Those songs are practically requirements at large gatherings. Then again, the bride and groom seem like the sort who only tolerate traditions that suit them.” He grinned and shook his head at that comment, before following Stesha’s gaze over to her daughter for a few moments, a hint of uncle-like pride showing. “Wouldn’t dream of boring you with shop talk. If I wanted to fill airtime I’d just quote Henry V” He shook his head and refocused, his eyes losing focus a bit as they flicked over pages of a mental calendar. “Hm. The Brothers have been mentioning needing to touch up the orchard. Probably wanted me to ask you about it, but it’s been work work work lately. Next week...yes, that should work just fine. I don’t have any plans that would keep me out all day. Morning works better; currently my classes are in the afternoon, and I prefer to patrol in the early evening for the time being. But I can swap patrol and ‘free time’ if it works better for you.” He gave a noncommittal shrug, then. “Not like I have many other plans, currently, and I’m off Monitor Duty for a bit yet.


“Well you can’t pretend to be sad about that,” Stesha teased. “The last time I pulled a rotation on monitor duty, I finished an entire adult coloring book in seven days. It was a nice break, I guess,” she allowed, “but it’s not exactly action-packed most nights. Not with so many heroes in the city these days. Why don’t you stop over for breakfast some morning and I’ll feed you and we can go over the plans.” The song changed, and she shifted to the new rhythm almost automatically, turning so they were in a corner of the dance floor and out of danger from the child mob in the center.


I’ll have to remember to bring one of those next time I’m on duty. They’re apparently all the rage now.” He gave a lop-sided grin at that. “And you’re right, it is pretty dull. Still. I’ll take that boredom over excitement.” He followed her over to the side of the dance floor as he mulled over the proposal, then nodded. “That sounds good. I do always enjoy free, home-cooked food. And that will give Ammy a chance to bug me about music without dragging all the other children into it.” He gave a long-suffering sigh with an over-exaggerated look of despair at that thought.


“Oh, you’ll end up as show-and-tell eventually,” Stesha assured him blithely, giving him a friendly pat on the shoulder. Up close, the scent of the jasmine in her hair mingled pleasantly with the aroma of candles and coffee in the room. “You may as well resign yourself and take it like a man. We might even be able to dig up some instruments!” She laughed. “Education in the arts is very important, Carson. You don’t want to deprive the kids, do you?”


Another melodramatic sigh. It’s like he’s an actor or something. “Now you’re pulling on my feelings of duty toward the arts, my pride as an Irishman, and my pride as a teacher. Woe is me! Hm.” A sly grin crossed his face. “Perhaps I’ll teach Ammy how to play the drums, eh?” He laughed a bit, shaking his head. “Look at me, acting more scared of a bunch of hyperactive kids than another world-ending apocalypse. Then again.” His eyes darted around a bit, and he spoke the next sentence in a slightly lower tone. “When you’ve been a Horseman of Revelations for a bit, many things seem duller.” He shrugged, and his voice went back to normal volume. “Now, it’s not the children that really frighten me. No. What’s this I hear about a betting pool that centers on me, among the women on Sanctuary?” His eyebrow arched imperiously.


Stesha cleared her throat. “I’m afraid that’s highly privileged information you don’t have clearance for, Mister Keefe,” she told him with grave seriousness. “Especially not when you’re threatening to teach my daughter to play the drums. Although,” she added, spinning with him along the edge of the floor, “if you were to give me a heads-up if you ever decide to date one of the visiting teachers, I could cut you in and make it worth your while. Not that I’m admitting to anything, obviously,” she added. “Just hypothetically.”


You sound like my mother.” His face had a bittersweet smile on it. “Except more polite about it. I swear, she’s practically a saint most of the time, but every once in a while, she’s downright scary.” He chuckled, though little humor was present. “But yes, if by some miracle I start dating, I will make sure my sister by another mister knows first. That way we can determine how to split the winnings. And if you to, hypothetically speaking, of course, warn me ahead of time if a third party was seeking to...actively end the betting pool, as it were, I’m sure we can give Ammy lessons in something more befitting her elegant nature. Maybe we can focus on her singing.” He was not the most inventive dancer, but his instincts meant he kept up just fine. “I’m sure even that won’t get me access to the top-secret information you have, Miss Madison.” He didn’t even stumble over it this time. Which would hopefully save them some embarrassment and awkwardness. He checked for eavesdroppers before he spoke again. “Though. You know. Friend to friend, near-sibling to near-sibling, you’d at least let me know if a….bet-seeker was, you know, a good Catholic girl, right?


“If you want me to fix you up, Carson, by all means just say the word,” Stesha told him with a grin. “I have vast networks at my disposal, you know. And you clean up pretty nicely.” She gave his tie a gentle tug as the music began winding to a close once again. “I’m sure I could find a nice Catholic girl or ten who might give your homely mug a second look. But god help you if you so much as come near my home with a practice pad and sticks,” she warned.


Hn. But how many would be seeking Carson Keefe, hm?” His face held a bittersweet smile, and his eyes looked lost in thought. “I mean, it’s never been an issue, but always been a fear, you know? And it’s doubly so with me.” Stesha knew Carson well enough to know the man was concerned not only about a “fangirl” for his heroic persona, but also the man’s concerns about his powers muddying up the waters a bit. “Probably just being melodramatic. It’s the classical training, some might say.


Stesha patted his arm. “If she’s the right one, she’ll love you for all of you, and that includes the part that’s Gabriel. You can’t separate yourself from your powers just because they make your love life more complicated. You just need a nice girl who’s mostly sensible and doesn’t mind getting swept off her feet every once in awhile.” She cocked her head and looked away, apparently thumbing through a mental rolodex. “Lemme mull it over for a little bit. How do you feel about superheroines?”


You treat all wounds, don’t you, Stesha? If you didn’t have such good folks already I’d try to get mine to adopt you. Your hair’s green, that’s good enough to be Irish.” He seemed to be joking, but the deadpan tone made it hard to tell. “Hm. I would say so long as they’re Catholic, or close enough my ma would only rant for a month, I’m pretty open. If you need rant-time criteria, I can ask my siblings to test the waters.” He smiled gently at her as he spoke his next words. “For what it’s worth, Ellis seems like a very nice fellow. I’ve gotten very good words about him from Tarrant. And Tiamat.


She sighed, and this time her look away seemed more purposeful. “He’s very nice,” she said quietly. “We have some things in common, and our kids like each other. I just… falling in love the first time was so exciting. It was like jumping off a cliff and realizing I could fly.” Stesha snorted softly at her own metaphor. “It didn’t last, and who knows if I would even trust the feeling if it showed up again, but I miss it,” she admitted. “We’re both moving heaven and earth to have time for coffee dates and quick dinners, and it’s just… it’s nice.” She waved a hand dismissively, then picked up a cup of coffee from a passing waiter. “Maudlin at weddings,” she reminded him with a laugh. “Anyway, I’ll keep an eye out on your behalf, so long as you promise to be a good boy and not whine about blind dating.”


Carson also grabbed a cup of coffee, before his eyes glanced around everywhere. He suddenly had a mischievous grin on his face. “Want to have yours Irish-style? Personal mix.” Whether she said yes or no, he would slip a silvery flask out and add just a bit of ‘something extra’ to his own coffee. “Mmm. That’s the best. But yes, I understand the both the excitement, and the missing it, if not in the same exact way. Nothing wrong with starting small and going from there. Please let me know if there’s something I can do to help you have a bit of extra time.” He sipped again, closing his eyes for a moment as he took in the simple pleasure of the taste of his “enhanced” coffee. “I would have you know that a Keefe never whines. They simply express misgivings.


“Of course you do,” Stesha deadpanned, holding her mug out for the addition. The alcohol would have no effect on her, but it seemed more polite. “Speaking of, I should probably go collect my daughter. I suspect she’s about to turn from fairy princess back into a pumpkin if I don’t get her to bed soon. It’s been a very exciting day! I’ll call you about breakfast.”


Carson gave Stesha the “add-in” as requested. He quickly finished his own drink and wiped his mouth dry with a handy napkin. He nodded and smiled when she said she needed to leave. “That’s fine. Can’t have pumpkins sprouting in the middle of the dance floor yet. Tell her Carson says to be good. It probably won’t work, but you never know. I should probably go help the band out. I think the groom is signaling that he wants more swing music.” Carson leaned in and gave Stesha one last hug before he started making his way to the stage. Once on the stage, he grabbed his trumpet, gave it a flourished twirl, and as soon as the previous song ended, he dove right in on another high-energy swing piece.

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4:45 am


Hunter Manor was very quiet and very dark as Erin crept down the first-floor hallway well before dawn, wearing an old Claremont sweatshirt and polka-dot pajama pants that had been a gift from Alex. There were many more people sleeping over than usual, but they were all on the second and third floors in the other wing, far away and all asleep for another few hours. She stopped in front of the door that led to Trevor’s bedroom (her bedroom too, most of the time), and knocked very softly, then cracked the door open. “Are you awake?” she called very softly through the opening. “I can’t sleep.”


The sound of a chair sliding out from the desk in the corner of the room answered her question. Not really needing the benefit of a lamp, Trevor had a bad habit of getting up in the middle of the night to jot down an idea and needing to be forcibly dragged back to bed an hour or more later once Erin was tired to pretending he hadn’t woken her up. “Me neither,” he replied with a touch of sheepishness, reaching out to open the door wider from his side.


“Don’t open the door!” Erin insisted quickly, leaning against it  to enforce the stricture. “It’s after midnight, we can’t see each other till the wedding. It’s bad luck, and Mark believes in it.” No more explanation was required: they’d both seen the power of Mark’s expectations on both luck and reality. “I just… I was laying in my bed not sleeping, and you weren’t there, and it was weird. Charlie wasn’t even there; he’s made himself scarce with all the people and vacuum cleaners around.” She rested her back against the door and sighed. “Are you nervous?”


There was a pause while Trevor took a half step back from the door and briefly debated the risks of flouting tradition before ultimately leaning against the wall next to the door frame with his arms crossed over his bare chest. “Completely terrified,” he confirmed softly, though the even cadence of his baritone made it difficult to believe. He glanced at the clock and counted the hours left before the ceremony. “Not sure why. Planned for everything, made preparations.”


Erin laughed softly, more a breath of air than a sound. “At least I’m not the only one,” she murmured. “I’ve been having this recurring dream of knowing that the wedding is starting and everyone is waiting for me, but I can’t find my way out to the backyard.” Bending her knees, she slid down the door to sit with her back to it. “It definitely makes me understand why people elope. I can totally deal with the idea of being married to you, that’s going to be the good part, but the wedding is kicking my ass. Not even twelve hours left now.”


Trevor was silent for several moments, quietly shifting himself down to the floor to follow the sound of Erin’s voice. Eventually he admitted, “A little worried about the first part.” Even without being able to see him she could recognize the sound of his fingers threading through his dark hair. “Not a spotless track record.” He was referring to his family as a whole, of course; Trevor tended to think in terms of legacy when he got introspective or apprehensive.


“Pfft. If you didn’t look so much like your dad, I’d find it hard to believe you were related to either of your parents,” Erin said, laying her head back against the door with a soft thud. “Maybe it’s better that we don’t have a lot of good examples,” she offered. “Nothing about us is really normal, if we tried to do things the way other people do them, we’d just screw it up. But we’ve got magic gardens and teleporting valet service and a cake that exists so long as you don’t think about it too hard, so I guess we’re doing okay with the weird stuff for now.” She was quiet for a second. “And I know Travis didn’t like to talk about your grandma and how things were with him and her, but it seemed like they must have loved each other a lot.”


With a single low chuckle Trevor inclined his head slightly to concede the point even if Erin couldn’t actually see the gesture. “Fair.” It did seem unlikely that they would repeat the same specific mistakes as his parents. His thoughts turned briefly to his grandparents but he refused to descend into melancholy on that day of all days. “Heh. ‘Teleporting valet’. ...last chance to elope, you know.”


“Don’t tempt me,” she snorted, grinning up into the shadows of the ceiling. “You know that ship has sailed. I have a literal psychic as my wedding planner. I think if we so much as started to sneak toward the car, she’d sit bolt upright in bed and her head would spin all the way around. There’s no way out but through.” She reached back with one arm, sneaking her hand through the crack in the door and groping for his fingers. “Least if I have to go up in front of all those people, you’ll be right there with me. And you look hot in a tux.”


“Very true,” he deadpanned without hesitation, his fingers interlacing with Erin’s without looking. Trevor gave her hand a gentle squeeze and sat there in silence for a while. The warmth of her palm was a steadying presence, a reliable constant. “Going to do this,” he spoke up finally, squaring his shoulders against the wall. “Going to be perfect, too.”


“And if it’s not perfect, at least it’ll be memorable,” Erin replied with a soft laugh, running her thumb along his. She was starting to feel considerably better now, and with calmness came a faint drowsiness as well. “We should probably try and get some sleep,” she finally said, somewhat reluctantly. “Hey, have you got Charlie in there with you? He isn’t in my room, I was wondering if he’s shacked up with one of the guests.”


Trevor made a quiet sound in the back of his throat before clarifying, “Perfect because I’m marrying you. Also because of tux wearing.” He allowed himself a hint of a smile as he scanned the room from the other side of the door. “Haven’t seen him. Might be hiding under something. Could ask Redbird to check downstairs.” The autonomic machine intelligence had weathered the bachelor party and emerged in much better shape than those physically capable of overindulging. Tilting his head slightly the groom asked, “Think something happened?”


“Nah, he’s probably freaked out by all the people. He’ll turn up eventually.” Erin squeezed Trevor’s fingers one more time, then released his hand with a little sigh. “Okay, bedtime for me. See you in the backyard tomorrow afternoon,” she told him, rising to her feet with one hand still on the door. “I’ll be wearing the big white dress, you can’t miss me. Love you.”  

Standing up as well Trevor considered for a beat before saying, “Cover your eyes.” With his own eyes closed behind one hand he shouldered into the door and stepped halfway into the hallway, using his free hand to find Erin’s waist. With familiarity unhindered by lack of sight he leaned down and kissed her slowly. When he finally broke away he stayed close, hip pressed to hers as he murmured, “Love you, too.”

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The house was starting to buzz with the final preparations for the wedding itself. Caterers swished to and fro, photographers raced to get situated for the Perfect Shot, and guests would soon be arriving. The wedding party, still operating in two groups that weren’t even allowed to see each other, had finished its pictures. And right now, an usher was power-walking the halls of the Manor, a thermos in hand and a mission on his mind. Finally, he found the library. He heard a voice coming from inside, and as he drew near, he was sure it was the bride, though he couldn’t tell what she was saying. By the time he got to the door of the library, she had gone quiet. So he knocked, speaking as he did. “Are you decent?


“Corbin?” Erin called from inside. “Yeah, I’m good, come in.” When Corbin opened the door he found Erin alone, perched in the window seat that overlooked the garden, her dress carefully spread to avoid wrinkles. Her auburn hair was curled and pinned up, her makeup subtle but perfect, and between that and a frankly rather stunning dress, she looked very little like his old high school teammate. Even so, she gave him the rueful half-smile he remembered as she waved him in. “Are we seriously doing more pictures already? I thought she’d finally run out of ways for us to line ourselves up in front of flowers.”


Corbin chuckled, walking closer. He himself cut a rather dashing figure in his suit, plain as it was; his sheer size, and the grace with which he moved it, made him the sort who drew at least some attention. “No, the photographer didn’t send me. Alex didn’t either, though your bridesmaids didn’t appreciate that joke as much. I come bearing a gift from the groom.” He held up the thermos as if it were some sort of ancient artifact. “The best cocoa that could be found, carefully prepared to your most luxurious standards. And I think I can help make sure it doesn’t spill.” He likely meant that he could use his Ring to protect her dress. Stains would be bad.


“That’s probably a good idea,” Erin agreed, reaching out to accept the thermos. She cradled it in her hands, feeling the slight warmth leaking through the cylinder, but made no move to open it. “I’m not sure I can drink anything right now, though,” she admitted with half a laugh. “Too many butterflies. You want some?”


Trevor would probably be wroth if he knew I drank all your cocoa. But perhaps I’ll have a sip in a moment. Before that…” His eyes scrunched just a bit in concentration, the ring on his right hand glowed a bit, and then suddenly Erin had a faint blue glow from the neck down to her toes. Corbin relaxed a bit. “There. Spill risk eliminated.” He took a step closer, a chair nearby sliding over, at which point he turned it around and straddled it, arms crossed on the back. It didn’t groan under his weight, which was almost a shock. “As for butterflies, it’s okay. I mean, sure, we faced down Omega, but this isn’t the same. But...you know, it’ll be okay. I believe it. Mark believes it, and we know how much that counts for.” He gave a sardonic smile there. His gaze grew distant then, and he went stiller than Erin usually saw him. She could recognize someone living a memory. “This...today...it’s great. Trust me when I say there are much...rougher...ways this could be happening. What you two have here...this is because you’re such incredible people. You’ll keep being incredible people after today. But I think the two of you will be even more incredible.


“It’s pretty amazing that it’s happening at all, I don’t doubt that I’m the lucky one,” Erin replied with great conviction. She smoothed her hands lightly over her glowing dress, feeling the faint tingle. “Believe me, it’s not the being married part that I’m worried about. That’s the prize I get for making it through the day.” She chuckled, relaxing a little in the window seat. “But I’ve never been comfortable in front of crowds. The first time Young Freedom made a public appearance, way back in the day? I got James to teleport me away just so I wouldn’t have to take a bow with the team. There were a lot of benefits to being the plain-looking one on that team, and anonymity was the best one. It’s not really my nature to want to get up there and perform, you know?” She raised a hand, waved it vaguely. “But once that’s over, it’ll be okay.”


So, don’t think of it as ‘a crowd’. Yeah maybe you personally don’t know everyone here. But this is about you guys, and your family and friends. We’re here to celebrate with you, and celebrate you. And  to stand as witnesses to your commitment to each other.” He shrugged. “Maybe try to focus on a couple handfuls of people in the audience? Rather than trying to take everything in at once. That’s what the pictures and video are for?


Erin gave him an arch look. “Try to imagine the audience in their underwear?” she suggested. “Don’t worry about it, Alex has been bucking me up all morning. I’ll be fine when we actually hit go-time and all the adrenaline and nerves have somewhere to go.” She stood up and smoothed out her dress again, then passed Corbin the thermos so she could pace a little. “I just think that if I try and eat anything at this precise moment I’m definitely going to vomit.” She took a deep breath and almost ran a hand through her hair, then remembered herself. “How about you, you seeing the future here?” she asked lightly. “Quo-Dis is still on the west coast, but that’s not forever.”


Corbin barely controlled a belly laugh that probably would have disturbed half the Manor. “Okay, so, while that is a technique, it’s not quite what I meant. But if Alex has you covered, that works well enough.” He took the thermos, holding it for a moment. “Do you want some water, instead?” He was trying to be helpful! At her question, he actually blushed a bit and shuffled in his chair. “Uh, yeah. Kinda. I mean. We don’t have a date yet. But she’s got a ring. I want it. I think she does, too. It’s just, between her job, my work, cultural differences, her mother, and her fath-” Corbin suddenly clapped his mouth closed and tried to look casual about it. “Yeah. Her mom. Have you met Sa-Ur? She’s...a character.


“Haven’t had the pleasure,” Erin replied, looking very interested in anybody’s problems besides her own right now. “But I know something about Ultimen and their general attitudes towards outsiders. “I take it she’s not a huge fan of Quo-dis marrying you and staying in the outside world indefinitely?”


Corbin huffed out a breath. “Sa-Ur is an...imposing….woman. I’ve met her only a few times. Quo-Dis has communicated some of their conversations to me. Sa-Ur is not a huge fan of most things, really. She thinks it is, and I quote, ‘something that will pass’. I don’t think the possibility of me even approaching their lifespans has entered her mind. At least…” Here he got a bit distant-eyed and fiddles with his ring for a moment. “Assuming something doesn’t happen. Then again. I guess that one future is completely blown. Which is good. But...yeah.” He shook his head a bit. “Quo-Dis still wants to get married, but she’s not really rushing it now, and without her mother providing impetus, there just doesn’t seem to be a rush. Her fath-her family otherwise are pretty distant. I’m still figuring out all the dynamics in Ultimen society.


“Nothing wrong with a lengthy engagement, I guess,” Erin offered. She picked up and fiddled with a couple of books on the shelves, replacing each one without really reading anything. “But it’s probably easier if you’re at least in the same city. Is one of you gonna move, one of these days?”


Maybe. It’s...hard to say. If I do, I’d need to dig up the Vault and haul it with me. Maybe she’ll come back out this way, or we’ll end up somewhere in the middle, or up or down the East Coast. The plus side is it’s not really a long trip for me; maybe it’s petty, but I can get there without much trouble, so visits aren’t an ordeal. She’s not quite as fast but she’s close, so it works both ways.” His smile got a bit wistful. “My folks love having her over. It was awkward at first, but they’ve all kind of learned how the ‘dance’ goes. And since Sa-Ur doesn’t care much about me, we don’t have awkward ‘future in-law’ dinners.


“That’s a plus,” Erin said fervently, rolling her eyes. “Trevor’s parents aren’t actually interested enough in him to have any opposition to his wedding. Not counting today, I’ve met each of them twice, and one of those was for the funeral. I’m pretty sure the less in-laws the better is a rule for a lot of people. If your folks are the rare good in-laws, then hey, even better.” Erin checked the clock again, which had crept forward a bare few minutes. “That photographer down there, she had me taking pictures with my family from Seattle. Talk about awkward. Me and Jessie and the other Erin all in one photograph, probably three different versions of the same pained smile. Maybe we’ll just keep that one out of the album.” She smiled wryly.


Maybe it’s worse with us super-types; my grandparents got along with each other and my parents fine, when they were...all still around.” He coughed awkwardly, and continued. “I can imagine. I’m glad Jessie is doing better, though. Her friend, Aquaria, seems like a good person. Deep One. You know what I mean. But you should totally save the picture. In 10 years it’s the sort of thing you’ll laugh about, I bet.


Erin looked troubled for a minute. “Yeah, that’d be nice. Jessie is… nevermind. Aquaria’s working here now, did you know that? Trevor hired her on to help with the landscaping, keep the ponds in condition and manage the insects. She does a great job.” She took a deep breath and looked at the clock again. “I guess it’s about that time. The cocoa is just going to have to wait. Walk me back to the ladies changing room?” she offered.


I’ve seen her moving about the grounds.” That was a more polite way of saying he had seen her diving in and out of the ponds. He stood at her mention of walking back, and the blue light around her faded as he made the thermos more secure at his belt. “Well, so long as the groom knows I delivered the present and it was delayed by the bride, sure. With that said, I suppose I need to get to ushering, too. Shall we, Lady White?” He smirked a bit and offered her his elbow, ready to begin guiding her back to the changing room. Not that she needed it, but he had that knightly streak every once in a while.


Erin took his arm and walked with him through the spotless halls of the Manor to the room where the women were assembling. She hesitated a bare moment, never quite comfortable with physical affection, then leaned in and gave him a light kiss on the cheek. “Thanks for the encouragement,” she told him, “and the cocoa. See you in a little bit.”


You’re welcome. What are friends for?” Before she went through the door, he gently laid a hand on her shoulder. “Erin?” He waited until she turned to face him for a moment. He grinned like a schoolboy and spoke. “Knock ‘em dead out there. Especially Trevor.” And with that last word, and a nod and salute to the other women in the room who probably could see and hear them, Corbin turned and power-walked toward where he’d need to be about his usher duties. After all, there was a wedding to put on.

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430 PM


Like a good best man, Mark Lucas was everywhere that day - his powers making his job easier. He didn’t teleport around the mansion grounds, though, not when the day was about his best friends in the world - and not about his powers. He carved out time for Nina, and Corbin, and his other friends, but the day was about Erin and Trevor and their marriage. Everything had gone well - with all the rules for a good wedding followed, Mark was sure that the lives that followed would be as wonderful as the day itself.


He disappeared once the male half of the wedding party was done with its pictures, reappearing about the time the party’s picture sessions were wrapping up. Taking advantage of a momentary distraction that saw the groom and his blood family posing together in a shot that the photographer kept fussing over, he approached Erin with a smile. “Hey, Erin! I put something behind the pagoda for you!”


Erin, looking far more relaxed now that the ceremony was over, looked up from her compact. Alex had redone her makeup for the pictures, but somehow she’d already removed most of her lipstick. She gave Mark a look that was half-affectionate, half-skeptical.“You didn’t get anything too extreme, did you?” she asked him dubiously. “It’s not like, a pony or something?”


“No,” said Mark, shaking his head. “You wouldn’t have any place to put a pony! I guess you could put a barn in the back of the property,” he added, “but you’d have to tear down all the nice garden stuff...anyway!” He shook his head - a few years earlier, he’d have talked at length about the new idea. “No, this is something I made for you guys. Made-made, not just poofed into existence.” He led her around the side of the pagoda, where she was confronted with a painting of herself and Trevor. Or, rather, of Wander and Midnight.


About three feet wide and two feet high, it reminded her of the Impressionism she’d learned about in school - it showed a Freedom City rooftop at night, the familiar glow of the city in the sky behind the two figures on the rooftop - one a dark outline marked by two glowing red eyes and a familiar fedora, the other a blur frozen in the middle of a leap, the silvery flash of motion in her hand recognizable as a cosmically empowered bat.


“I know you can’t hang it in your house, probably,” said Mark with a shrug and a smile, “but I thought you could put it down in the lower part of the Manor. Do you like it?” he asked.


Erin stared at the painting for a few moments, one hand pressed to her lips. “Oh wow,” she finally said, her voice soft. “Mark, this is really amazing. It’s beautiful. Did your mom do it?” She and Trevor still had the painting she’d commissioned from Martha, years ago now, hanging in one corner of their bedroom. This was much larger, but still beautiful and surprisingly evocative given the broad brushstrokes.


“Nope, I did it,” said Mark, looking pleased at Erin’s reaction. “I read a lot of books about painting first from my mom’s library, and I decided I liked this style the best.” He patted the top of the wood frame. “I started painting when I got the job at the UN, and I’ve been doing it a lot more since Nina and I moved into our house. I’d been thinking a lot about my dad and my mom, and how they both made things without any powers, and I wanted to make things too…” Unexpectedly, but maybe not given the emotions of the moment, Mark took out a handkerchief and started dabbing at his eyes. “I just wanted to give you guys something you’d always remember, because you’ve always been there for me….”


“Oh, Mark.” Erin turned and hugged him abruptly, hard but not hard enough to hurt. “You make being there for people into an art form, you know. Even if sometimes things get surprisingly crazy when you’re around, Trevor and I both know we couldn’t ask for a better friend.” She let him go with a smile, and took a few steps closer to the painting to examine it. “You did this yourself, with a paintbrush?” she asked, sounding a little surprised and a little awed. “I guess you take after your mom in artistic talent.”


Mark hugged her back, surprised but grateful for the contact. “I know we’re not like each other, but  if I had a sister or a brother, I know I’d want them to be like you.” He took a moment to calm himself, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief and blowing his nose. “My mom could have paintings hanging in galleries if she wanted to,” he agreed with Erin. “But she wanted a stable job where she’d get a pension when she retired, so she did Andi instead.” Castle Comics, unlike many of the big publishers in New York, provided ample benefits. “I should take this back to the house and hide it somewhere,” he suggested, “then I’ll meet up with everyone back at the party. Just don’t hurry back,” he said with a grin, “I’ve got to be there to come in with you guys.”

“Show it to Trevor,” she urged him, “soon as he’s done with his pictures. He’ll love it too. Then you can stash it in the library or one of the second-floor sitting rooms, nobody’s going to be using those tonight.” She took another long look at the picture, then cocked her head as somebody called her name. “I think my absence has been noted. I better get back. Remember now, no embarrassing stories during the speech tonight. I know where you live.” With a quick laugh, she turned and loped back towards the bridal party, holding her dress up with both hands.

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