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Heading for the Maul

"Almost ready to go?"

Simon looked up at Megan from where he was polishing the counter. "Just got a couple more things to do."

A plain, freckled, brown-haired girl, wearing an apron that matched Simon's, gave him a shove. "It's not like you're closing, jerkface," she said. "Go on with your girlfriend."

Simon looked at her, alarmed. "She's not my girlfriend!"

Megan felt that she must look at least as alarmed as he did. "His girlfriend's not... she's a bit... she's older," she finally concluded, drawing stares from both of them.

"You mean," the girl said slowly, "that middle-aged office lady that comes in and moons at you over the counter?"

Simon blushed a dark mahogany and turned back to polishing the counter. "Megan, this is Lizzie, our resident busybody. Lizzie, this is Megan, one of the many busybodies living in my house." He made perfunctory gestures of introduction without looking up. "You ought to get along famously," he muttered.

Megan shook Lizzie's hand, and Lizzie grinned up at her familiarly. "He talks about you all the time," she said.

Simon's ears were red and he glowered at them over his tinted glasses. "I have a couple of things to do in the back, and then I'll be ready." He marched off.

"So, how long have you worked here?" Megan said into the silence that followed the departure of their target.

Lizzie shrugged. "A couple of weeks. I'm staying at the Y, up the street."

"You mean the YPCA?" Megan said.

Lizzie nodded. "The rooms aren't bad."

"No, they aren't," Megan said. "I stayed there for a while when I moved to town in September. Is that great old guy still there? Mister Manhattan or something?"

"Mister Metropolitan," Lizzie said. "Yeah, he is, though they took him off night duty."

"Awh," Megan said. "He was always such a nice guy. Friendly face to see on the way out to work and all that."

Lizzie nodded and used a rag to take some fingerprints off the espresso machine. "He had a fainting spell." She scrubbed at a particularly stubborn stain. "I don't think he's very happy on daytime duty."

Megan said, "I think he'd made a niche for himself. I wouldn't want to give it up either." She grimaced. "My mom always says that getting older means giving up the things you love."

Lizzie smiled up at her, and Megan was surprised to see that her hazel eyes were full of tears. "Yeah," Lizzie said, looking away abruptly and rubbing her wrist across her eyes. "Oh, hey, customers."

Megan politely drifted away from the counter and sat at a nearby table. She aimlessly picked up the newspaper and flicked through, barely glancing at the headline story of supervillains captured by the Guardians, an astronomer's observations of the remains of the asteroid the Ultimate destroyed a couple days earlier, and the body of a minor para hood called the Jellyfish found down by the docks. She went in search of the comics page, and chewed through the first three strips: a re-run Peanuts, a trite and bitter strip about office life, and a mid-storyline strip of Brenda Starrfighter -- the plucky redhead was rescuing her pirate boyfriend again, just as she had all through Megan's childhood. Then Simon arrived, bereft of his apron.

"Let's go," he said through clenched teeth, "before you and Lizzie decide to humiliate me some more."

Megan got up and said, mildly, "It wasn't humiliation. Just embarrassment. Quit being pissy or I'll let you shop for Suzanne's Christmas present alone."

Simon gave her a stricken look. "You know how stupid I get in malls."

Megan nodded. "Yep. And I'll get you into the middle of one and abandon you if you don't quit it."

Simon grumbled, mostly under his breath, but cheered up once they were out of the Great Scot.

They walked in silence for a while, then Simon said, "So, what's up with you and G?"

Megan glanced at him. "You of all people should know."

"Actually, I only know that I've heard her going into her apartment really quietly at ungodly hours of the morning, but that's not really unusual for her." Simon scratched his chin. "And I heard you leaving her place early."

Megan frowned. "You're nosy."

Simon rolled his eyes at her, letting his glasses slide down his nose as he did it. "I could tell you things about smells..."

Megan held up her hand. "No, please don't."


Megan snorted. "What do you know about G, anyway?"

Simon examined her over the edge of his glasses, then pushed them back into place. "Well, what do you know about her?"

Megan looked thoughtful. "She's white, a dyke, and an architect. In her early 40s. She smokes. She's crazy about cats. She's very nearly the butchiest corporate butch I've ever met. She got her undergrad degree at Rochester. She got a Master's in something -- historical architecture, I think? -- at Wonder City U." She chewed her lower lip for a few moments, then shrugged. "And I assume she's para, because Jack Hammer said something about it being the house of crazy queer paras, but I have no idea what her powers might be."

Simon gave a mocking little bow. "And there you have it. That's all I know. More, I think, 'cause I didn't know about the degrees."

"Huh." Megan jammed her hands into her jacket pockets. "I think she might be kind of invulnerable."

Simon raised his eyebrows.

"I haven't accidentally bruised her yet," Megan explained.

Simon dramatically rubbed one hip. "Ah, yes, the telltale sign."

Megan poked him -- gently. "Jerk."

Simon snickered. "I kind of assumed that she had one of the, you know, subtle powers. Because she and Watson have always seemed to be tight."

"Watson? Subtle?" Megan said, remembering the little outing to Suzanne's house.

"She's one of those superintelligent types," Simon said, waving his hands. "She's a natural linguist and you never, ever want to play board games against her."

"She always takes and holds Asia in Risk, right?" Megan said.

"Something like that," Simon said. "She once said her power is the reason she drinks so much."

"The superbrains always say shit like that," Megan said.

"So, how are things going with her?" Simon said.

"I've got a big ol' crush," Megan said, feeling her cheeks burn. "And she seems to like me. It's hard to tell. But the sex is amazing."

"Really?" Simon said, eyebrows high.

"You sound skeptical," Megan said.

"Well, her last girlfriend, a couple years ago..."

"She hasn't had a girlfriend in a couple years?"

"Not that I've seen."


"Anyway, her last girlfriend bitched no end about how much G would talk and talk and talk and talk, and they'd never actually get around to, you know..."


"Yeah." Simon grimaced. "I didn't exactly ask to hear all this."

"It's interesting," Megan said, looking up at the cloudy sky, "but G never talks in bed. It's like... this is the first time I've really ever understood the phrase, 'like rabid weasels.'"

"Maybe she just likes you better than the ex," Simon said, grinning.

"Maybe," Megan said, rubbing a hand over her face. "But she's been a kinda scary-intense experience. I'm not sure how I feel about it."

Simon nudged her leg with his elbow. "You're having a relationship with an older woman with a complex herstory." He grinned up on the last word. "How does it feel to date a grownup?"

Megan laughed. "Not bad, I guess."

The mall loomed into sight.

"She's not as 'older' as yours," Megan said out of the corner of her mouth.

"Suzanne's got more life experience," Simon said complacently.

"You said she hadn't been with a guy for ten years!" Megan said.

"She's been in mourning," Simon said.

"I guess so," Megan said.

"Not for Coma Boy," Simon said, then he looked around and leaned closer to Megan conspiratorially. "She told me last night that she was just about to leave him for another Guardian when the whole thing happened. And everyone says the other guy tried to kill her husband in the final fight, and died instead."

Megan stopped and stared down at Simon. Then she shook her head and kept walking. "Fucking spandex is never a good idea."

Simon nodded. "We just don't need the drama."

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