The following is the donator-chosen interlude that we had a tie-breaker vote to determine, which is why it is coming after 17-01. In a few days to a week after people have had a chance to read it, I’ll rearrange things to put this back after Interlude 16B where it belongs.
Flick was okay. She was safe. After weeks upon weeks, going into months, of worrying about the trouble-prone girl after she had been abducted by Fossor (and then vanished just when the rescue party had found their way into Fossor’s stronghold), she was finally home where she belonged. Granted, there had been a brief detour even after that psychotic fuck’s death in order to rescue Elisabet from the Meregan world (and find out what the Meregan themselves were up to in the process). But now, after all that, Felicity was home, safe and sound, though perhaps more than a bit worn from the whole experience.
With any luck, she would stay out of trouble for awhile. Or, more to the point, trouble would leave her alone for awhile. God knew that girl had had enough problems to fill an entire library full of books about them. And that was just in the past year and change. It was time for the whole universe full of annoying bad guys who wanted to cause trouble to just… back off for awhile and give Flick time to get her head on straight. Not to mention time to spend with the mother she had only just managed to save.
It was that certainty, that Felicity desperately needed a break, that had led Avalon to spend the past weeks running herself ragged. As it turned out, killing someone like Fossor didn’t end his control and power over people. The old Necromancer didn’t exactly have a lot of friends, but he did have minions who had various reasons to want to start acting up after their master was obliterated. It was some vague form of loyalty, magically-enforced or otherwise. Whatever it was, the weeks since his death had been filled with a handful of Fossor-aligned monsters making trouble. They were acting up, making noise in Flick’s old hometown or places she knew about in an obvious attempt to get the girl’s attention.
Avalon wouldn’t let that happen. There was no way in hell she would let those people tear Felicity away from spending time with her mother. Thankfully, several others felt the same way, including Professor Dare, Nevada, Kohaku, and Klassin Roe. Plus Shiori, Asenath, and several others. They all knew what was going on and understood that these minions of Fossor were doing their level best to get revenge for his death, from Flick, Joselyn, or both.
So, ever since then, Avalon and those others had been doing everything they could to deal with the not-so-random threats that had popped up several times without letting Flick or the rest of her family know there were any problems. It wasn’t fair to expect them to drop their whole reunion after finally having some time together, just to go fight some more. Fossor had already taken enough time away from them. The people who cared about them could deal with the stragglers and wannabes, the threats who were either trying to avenge their master’s death (whatever their reasoning), or fill the void he left by killing those responsible for that death.
And even once it seemed those particular problems were over, there had been the spell to worry about. Her ancestor’s spell. As soon as all her time wasn’t taken up with helping to handle Fossor-related minions, it had instead been taken up by helping to put the protection spell together, in being available for those who knew what they were doing to draw blood and use various magics on both her and Professor Tangle (the other descendant of Liesje) in their efforts to update the original enchantment to their new specifications.
But, for the moment, that was done with. There were no currently standing threats, no one making a nuisance of themselves. And the protection spell was in place. And Flick had her grandparents back. Not to mention the other reunions that had taken place.
There was nothing else to focus on, nothing else to drag her attention and efforts away. Which meant that, for the first time in awhile, Avalon had some actual free time. And she knew exactly how she wanted to spend it. Well, beyond more training. Enthusiastic as she might have about all that, even Avalon had her limits. And these past weeks had been busy even for her.
Besides, the thing she needed–wanted to do now had been building for quite some time. There had been–she had been too distracted and distraught during Flick’s disappearance, too focused on looking for and worrying about her to actually follow through on it. Not to mention the guilt she felt whenever the thought came up. But now that Flick was home safe, there were finally no active problems, and Liesje’s spell was in place, it was time.
So why was it that, standing outside the house directly next to the one she lived in, Avalon felt so awkward and nervous? There were no immediate threats, nothing demanding her attention (besides her missing adopted mother, but there was literally nothing she could do about that for the time being), and yet as she stood there, the dark-haired girl couldn’t stop her stomach from turning itself into knots. It was still early enough that the artificial sun hadn’t done more than barely begin to rise, leaving most of the college-aged neighborhood cast in shadows.
It was in one of those shadows, barely on the edge of the house’s porch, that Avalon stood. Her gaze was centered on the row of buttons next to the door. Each button had a different name under it, and pressing that button would connect the person outside to that person’s room through the intercom. There was also a general doorbell that would ring through the common areas of the house (along with any personal room that had been set to accept them). But, early as it was, Avalon wasn’t going to press that one. Her attention, instead, was centered on the one simply labeled, ‘Aylen.’ Taking a deep breath, she reached out, pausing slightly to collect herself, before pushing her finger against the buzzer.
She didn’t hear anything immediately, of course. The intercom would be ringing in that room. After a few seconds of silence, there was a click, and the girl in question spoke up. “Good morning, Avalon. Are you ready?” As she spoke, Sovereign, the cyberform hawk, flew out of the opening to land upon the edge of the porch railing so he could survey the neighborhood.
“I am,” she confirmed before her insecurities and doubts could take over. “If… if you are.”
There was a very slight pause before the other girl replied, “Yes. I… I’ll be right there.”
The intercom clicked again, and Avalon stepped back into the shadows once more. She fidgeted, looking down at herself for a moment. She had tried on no less than seven different outfits that morning, discarding all of them one by one. Finally, she’d settled on wearing wine-red tuxedo pants with a matching jacket that was left open over a black button-down shirt. She also wore black leather boots, and had taken roughly an hour putting her hair and make-up together after a long shower. In truth, she had been up since around three in the morning making herself some form of presentable in her own mind.
And yet, now, standing here, Avalon started to doubt everything she had previously decided was fine. Should she have gone with lighter make-up? Or maybe a darker shade of lipstick? Was her hair curly enough? Wait, should it have been straight? Was using the curling magic a bad idea? What if she’d gone with the white suit instead? Or not a suit at all? Should she have waited another hour and arrived when the sun was actually all the way up and it was lighter? Was her breath okay? Oh fuck, was she sweating? Were her armpits soaked? She couldn’t take the jacket off, not anymore. If she took it off and there were two big sweat blotches she would completely die. Magic. What was the spell to clean up clothes? Damn it, what she wouldn’t give for a Seosten perfect memory. Maybe she had it written down in the–
At that moment, before the panicking raven-haired girl could allow that train of thought to drag her any further off the rails, the front door opened. And just like that, she found herself looking at Aylen. But this was not the sort of Aylen that she was accustomed to seeing at school or in battle. This was an Aylen who had dressed up. Like Avalon, her hair was dark, though hers was drawn into a tight braid rather than worn loose. She also wore black slacks with matching shoes, a loose-fitting white button up shirt with long sleeves, and an open vest whose color almost perfectly matched Avalon’s own tuxedo jacket and pants. To cap it off, she wore a tie very loosely around her neck, which matched the vest (and Avalon’s suit).
Standing there, the two girls stared at one another for a moment. Aylen’s head tilted, before she found her voice. “Uh, you look… really nice, Avalon.” Visibly swallowing, she straightened up and gave a slightly stronger nod. “Really, really nice.”
Feeling the warm blush cross her face, Avalon took a second before hesitantly responding. “So do you. I mean–” She looked down a bit, then up once more to meet the other girl’s gaze. “You look great. I uh, I thought I might have come too early and woke you up.” There was a note of apology to her tone.
“No,” Aylen assured her. “I’ve been awake since two. I kept thinking about–ahh, hang on.” She stepped out of the house finally, closing the door after herself so the two of them could stand alone on the porch. “I kept thinking about my family. I love them, they’re just… a lot. So uh, just… keep that in mind, okay? They don’t mean anything bad, they’re just–they can be intense.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” With those murmured words as her own stomach flipped over, Avalon turned on her heel and started to move down off the porch, before awkwardly halting herself mid-step. She glanced over her shoulder, offering a hand back that way. “Shall we go?” Shall we go? Why would she say that? There had to be a better way to bring up the subject of leaving than ‘shall we go.’ What was wrong with her? Why was this so awkward?
To her relief, Aylen accepted the offered hand, and began to walk with her. The two of them had just reached the end of the yard, when she glanced over toward the other house and asked, “You’re sure Flick is okay?”
The question made Avalon hesitate, standing there at the end of the sidewalk. She took a breath, glancing to the house in question before turning back to the girl in front of her. “I’m sorry,” she started in a quiet voice. “I’m sorry that.. that the past few months have been so… busy. I wanted–I wanted to take this… I wanted to go out like this before. But I was preoccupied, and that wasn’t fair to you. If you want–”
“Stop,” Aylen interrupted. Her gaze locked with Avalon’s. “Listen very carefully, okay? I get it. I understand. What happened with Flick being taken, that was important. If you just–if we went out together, you wouldn’t have enjoyed yourself. And after that, there were other things to do. You had to give her time with her family, and with you too. And you had to… you had to work on your ancestor’s spell. You don’t have to explain it, you don’t have to apologize.” There was another very brief pause before she hesitantly asked, “Is that why you’ve seemed so…”
“Awkward?” Avalon finished for her, blanching a little. “You noticed that after all.”
“A little,” Aylen confirmed, offering a very faint, unsure smile. Her voice was even quieter. “I thought you were having second thoughts about the whole thing.”
Overhead, Sovereign circled while giving a low screech, clearly informing the two that he thought they were being silly.
“I’ve had seventh thoughts about the whole thing,” Avalon informed her flatly after glancing upward. “But not because I don’t like you. I uhh, I do. I do like you. I just… I don’t want you to feel like you’ll always come second, or third, or… I don’t want you to feel like you’ll never be a priority.”
“Flick needed you,” Aylen replied. “And then your ancestor needed you to finish the job that she started. If… if you had walked away from that to spend time with me, I wouldn’t have respected you as much. I wouldn’t have liked you as much. We have time. I’ll have my chance to be the priority. If… if you still want to give this a shot.”
Finding a genuine smile in that moment, Avalon offered the other girl a shrug. “Well, I didn’t get dressed up this much just to go to the training room.” Even as she said that, however, a look of consideration was crossing her face. “On the other hand, it might be a good idea. I do like to practice moving in different clothes, just in case…”
“Later,” Aylen interrupted, hand squeezing Avalon’s.
Their gazes met for a few long, silent yet somehow comfortable seconds before Avalon leaned over. She hesitated, staring into the other girl’s gaze for a moment before leaning in the rest of the way. Their lips touched softly, a bare brush at first before both gave a soft sigh of enjoyment and acceptance. Then they kissed fully.
“Later?” Avalon finally echoed once they drew apart slightly.
“Yes, later,” Aylen confirmed. “You can’t get the suit all messy just yet. After all, you still need to see my family.
“And Grandfather is going to want pictures.”
A blinding flash greeted Avalon and Aylen as the front door of the small, cozy-looking two story house somewhere in northern Iowa opened. The unexpected light made Avalon reel back a step, seeing stars even as she snapped her hands out in the specific way to make her bracelets transform into their gauntlet forms, ready to deal with whatever threat had suddenly–
“It’s okay, Avalon.” Aylen’s hand found its way to her shoulder just as the weapons transformed.
Only then did the young woman’s vision clear enough that she could see the source of the light flash. And even then, the sight on its own still might have made her lash out, if she didn’t already know better. Because standing right in front of them, framed in the doorway, was a Fomorian. Yes, a Fomorian wearing rather eclectic clothing that would have given anyone pause, but a Fomorian nonetheless.
In this case, that eclectic clothing consisted of rainbow-colored pants, a beret, and a big white shirt with the words, ‘This Grandpa Belongs To’ written across it. Below that on the left was a cartoony picture of Bastet with her name under it, while Sonoma’s cartoon face and name was next to her wife. Under Bastet was Aylen’s sketched face and name. And to the right of that, below Sonoma, was a picture of the Earth itself, with ‘All Of You’ written under it.
Only once Avalon had taken in the entire shirt did she finally see the source of that flash. Clutched in the Fomorian’s hands, having just been lowered from his face, was an old-fashioned-looking camera, like something out of the very late 1800s.
One more thing, besides the clothes and camera, would have given Avalon pause about the uniqueness of this particular Fomorian. His smile. She had seen them grin before, of course. The one back on the Meregan homeworld had done plenty of smiling, but it was the terrifying sort of smile, the sort that twisted a person’s soul and made their skeleton try to escape. This? This was an open, goofy, beaming smile of pride and love.
“Oh! I forgot to say it!” the ancient creature abruptly announced. “Do it again!” Without any further warning, he slammed the door in their faces.
“Uh.” Avalon started. She had met the eccentric old Fomorian before, of course, back when she, Flick, and several others had come to hear his story. So the fact that he was a bit different wasn’t shocking. But still, she hadn’t expected this, exactly.
“It’s okay,” Aylen assured her before reaching out to knock once more, two quick raps against the door as though they hadn’t already been through that.
Once again, the door swung open just as it had before. This time, when the old Fomorian appeared with his ancient-looking camera raised, he didn’t trigger it immediately. Instead, he called, “Say Timberdoodle!”
Without missing a beat, Aylen promptly echoed the word while nudging Avalon with her foot, who mentally shrugged and said it as well. As soon as she did, the blinding flash came again.
“Perfect!” Grandfather declared, stepping back. “That’s a good first one. Come in, come in out of the cold. Wait, is it cold?” Sticking his finger into his mouth, the Fomorian extended his hand past them into the outside air before considering briefly. “Hm, two-seventy point nine. Why aren’t you burning up yet?” A concerned expression crossed his face, and he leaned between the two girls, gaze snapping up and down the quiet suburban street. “Come to think of it, why isn’t everything on fire?”
“That’s Kelvin, Grandfather.” The response came from further back in the room, as Avalon caught a glimpse of the small and somewhat delicate-looking Native American woman who was one of Aylen’s mothers. Sonoma. She stood next to a large, quite elaborate cuckoo clock. “You translated it into Kelvin again.”
In that moment, Sovereign glided down out of the sky outside, shot through the narrow opening in the doorway just next to Grandfather’s head, and landed on the back of an armchair next to Sonoma so the woman could reach out to rub his metallic wings.
“Aha! Mystery solved.” Stepping back out of their way once more, Grandfather noted, “In that case, it’s twenty-eight degrees Fahrenheit and negative two point two Celsius.” His gaze found Avalon’s before he smiled even brighter, cheerfully adding, “Isn’t it just wonderful what overachievers you all are? I gave you the chance to name everything and you eager beavers have looped back around several times to name the same things over and over again.”
With a quiet chuckle, Aylen gave a single, graceful nod. “We do enjoy our various languages, Grandfather.” After saying that, she stepped over to hug the Fomorian, who had set the camera aside. The two embraced tightly, before Aylen did the same for Sonoma. Then she stood by her mother (or one of them at least), and looked back to the girl she had arrived with. “Ah, you met–wait, is Mother here?”
Mother, Avalon knew, was what Aylen called Bastet. Sonoma was Mom. It was how she differentiated them.
“She’ll be up in just a moment,” Sonoma informed them. “She’s just… attending to something downstairs in the basement.”
That raised several questions in Avalon’s mind, but before she could find the right words, Grandfather had stepped in front of her. He started to lean in close before catching himself. Holding up both hands placatingly, he recited, “Hm, ah, I have been told my appearance and eagerness can be a bit unsettling. Would you, ah, perhaps mind if I were to examine you closer so that I might see the one who has come to mean so much to our little Aylen?”
“Grandfather…” Aylen half-groaned, though she clearly couldn’t help the very faint, somewhat embarrassed smile that crossed her face.
“It’s okay,” Avalon assured her before offering the Fomorian a slight shrug. “I mean, you basically made us, right?”
Promptly producing a pair of bifocals that she in no way believed he actually needed, Grandfather set them atop his nose and leaned in close while hmmming to himself. He peered into her left eye, then her right, before leaning around to stare intently at her earlobe. Very carefully, he took hold of a bit of hair and lifted it up, then let it drop. “Hmm, yes, a proud line indeed. Aha, haha, I remember when he fell in that mud pit trying to impress his mate. Would not believe the places he had to pry leeches out of.” Abruptly leaning back to look her in the eyes once more, he noted, “You have greater balance, I hope.”
“So do I,” Avalon fervently agreed. It was a lot to take in, even having met Grandfather before. But he had a way of being immediately endearing that made the whole thing easier than it should have been.
By that point, the nearby closed door had opened, allowing Bastet to step out. The blue-haired, pale woman was pulling what looked like bloody dishwashing gloves off her hands. “Well, that thing’s not coming–” The lid of the trashcan had opened seemingly of its own volition for her to toss the bloody gloves inside before she looked over to Avalon. “Ah, glad you made it.”
Rolling her eyes, Aylen gestured. “She did that on purpose to mess with you. Mother, stop. Mom, Grandfather, Mother, this is Avalon. Please, be nice.”
With a very small smile, Sonoma cleared her throat. “I don’t think that will be a problem, dear.” She looked to the girl in question then, adding a little more gently, “But I think we all understand if we can be… a lot.”
“Eh.” Avalon made a point of shrugging. Her hand reached out to take Aylen’s. “I’m used to people who are a lot. You all seem great. Aylen’s very lucky.” She said that while interlacing their fingers.
“Yes,” Bastet agreed with a genuine smile. “She is. And I think that luck is continuing.”
“But enough of this,” Sonoma announced. “I’m sure you two would like to be off for your date.”
Grandfather, however, gave a quick shake of his head. “Not yet, not yet!” The man’s hand snapped out to snatch his camera up once more. “Come, we need to get a couple pictures out in the garden, next to Peaches and Apricot.”
“Peaches the apple tree and Apricot the blueberry bush,” Aylen informed Avalon. “Don’t ask, he named them.”
“Ahem, they simply informed me of what their names are, young lady,” Grandfather corrected. “They would give me the silent treatment for a month if they didn’t get to meet Miss Sinclaire as well. Besides, they’re blooming beautifully right now after the cold-resistant upgrade I gave them, so those pictures will be just wonderful.
“And they’ll look perfect on the quilt I’m making!”