"How are you doing?" the Amazon asked as she helped Megan with her cufflinks.
"All right," Megan said, frowning down at her wrist, where her mother was twitching the small silver Trylon-and-Perisphere emblems into place. "I don't think I remembered to thank you for bringing my suit with you and coming in time for me to wear it to the funeral with Simon. So thanks."
"You're welcome," the Amazon said, stepping back to take in the effect as Megan shrugged into the black suit coat. Her own suit was an impeccable navy blue. At least, Megan thought, her mother had eschewed the string tie and cowboy boots she'd affected until a few years ago.
"I wasn't hurt, after all," Megan said, checking that her wallet and keys were safely in her trouser pockets.
"There are ways and ways of being hurt," the Amazon said, running a tanned hand through her very short salt-and-pepper hair. "Blue Eagle's body wasn't very pleasant to trip over, I expect."
"Well," Megan said, hesitating for a second over the memory before saying, "no."
"I understand they just found bones for the Bronze Guardian," the Amazon said, opening the door of her daughter's apartment and stepping into the hall.
"Yes," Megan said. "That and his armor." She followed, pulled the door shut, and locked it.
"Got the umbrella?" the Amazon asked. "It looks like we're in for another storm."
"Yeah," Megan said, picking up the golf umbrella from the stand in the hall. "Think all this weather is some weather villain being a jerk?"
The Amazon snorted. "Weather villains aren't likely to be this successful," she said, and went out the front door into the freezing, dank air. The sidewalk crunched under her feet, the sleet from the other day having solidified into rotten ice.
Megan saw that the sky was leaden, as it had been for the last several days, but that there was darker lead, as it were, to the west. "Guess it's going to be a white Christmas around here."
The Amazon beeped the lock on the van she'd rented and glanced casually over her shoulder at Megan. "I was wondering if you'd like me to stick around for Christmas."
Megan stopped and stared at her mother, who climbed into the driver's seat. Then Megan got into the passenger's side. "I... really hadn't expected that you'd do anything else. Than stay, I mean."
The Amazon gave her a twisted little smile, and Megan noticed the lines in her mother's face, cut into the southwest tan around her mouth and between her brows and around her eyes. "I don't want to cramp your style, kiddo," she said, starting the car. "You wanted to come here to make a life for yourself. I don't have to stick around if it bugs you."
There was a little silence as the Amazon backed the van out of the Marigold Lane driveway and Megan breathed. She wasn't really sure how to take the offer. Was her mother trying to weasel out of holiday stuff? Was there a new girlfriend waiting back at home? Another in the long string of starfuckers her mother still
managed to bring home? Or was her mother being sincere about not wanting to get in the way? And one way or the other, how did she feel about doing the holidays with her mother, but on her own turf?
Pretty good, actually.
"I'd like you to stay," Megan said cautiously, "if you don't have anything pressing to get back to."
She decided that her mother's real smiles should be on the National Endangered Species List, because, like so many endangered species, they were stunning in their beauty when they crept out of the woods into clear sight.
"I'd like to stay," her mother said. They drove for a while in companionable silence.
"Zoltan's having dinner for everyone in the house who doesn't have somewhere to go," Megan said. "Simon's going to his mom's, but everyone else will be there. If you'd like to come, I'm sure Zoltan would be flattered."
"I've never had dinner with a vampire before," the Amazon said.
"Well! I never thought I'd ever
be able to offer you a novel experience other than childrearing," Megan said.
"Will wonders never cease?" her mother said, turning the minivan into the already-crowded parking lot.
"Mom, that's a terrible thing to ask in this town," Megan said.
"I know," her mother said cheerfully, parking the van. "You're sure you don't want to walk with the Gold Stars? I can grandmother you in."
"No, thanks," Megan said. "I'm going in the back, with the retired people and other relatives, like Simon and his Puppy Pack."
The Amazon shook her head. "You're going to bitterly disappoint the media. They're so certain you're the new me."
"I would rather face Simon's crazy-ass sister Jasmine and all her puppies than give one moment
of satisfaction to that
rumor," Megan said, turning away.
Her mother's laughter followed her as she headed for the back end of the biggest heroes' funeral procession in Wonder City for years. She paused to acquire her two armbands -- one black with a bronze stripe for the Bronze Guardian, and one black with a blue feather printed on it for the Blue Eagle -- from a thin, conventionally pretty white girl in a fluffy white down jacket.
Simon was leaning on his crutches, chatting with a taller, slightly lighter-skinned black man about his age, and a slightly younger, rounder, darker black woman. He waved her over. "This is my sister Ivy and this is my brother Malik," he said. "Jasmine's around somewhere with the kids."
"I'm sure we'll hear them before we see them," Ivy said, shaking Megan's hand. "It's good to meet you finally." Ivy looked just like Jasmine -- the taller, sleeker build than Simon -- but her hair was in fine, shoulder-length braids tipped with multicolored cloisonné beads that clicked together agreeably when she moved. She was wearing a light grey wool car coat over black slacks.
Malik claimed her hand next. "I understand you extracted my wild man of a twin from the mess." Malik was stockier than Simon, and had a long natural afro held back from his face with a band, as well as a narrow strip of chin spinach under his lower lip. His coat looked like a crazyquilt of various striking jewel-tone fabrics (varying from plain to patterns, full of fleur de lis and paisleys and African prints), with big pewter wolf's head buttons fastening the asymmetrical front. His well-worn jeans were neat enough under the calf-length coat.
"No, no," Megan protested. "Simon totally saved the day!"
"By biting the jerk in the ass," Ivy said, nodding. "Typical."
Malik nodded sagely. "He always was a dirty fighter."
Simon's ears were turning dark red. "Standing right here, guys." Megan noticed, in the subsequent grimace, that Simon's newly-regrown teeth were bright white.
Ivy leaned over and kissed Simon on the cheek impulsively. "I'm just glad I don't have to call you 'Stumpy' now."
Megan had only seen Simon look really angry a couple of times before. "That's rude, Ivy, and fucking ableist," he snapped, "and I'm really glad Speed Dugan wasn't here to overhear you."
Megan recalled that Speed Dugan, one of Wonder City's speedsters, had lost a leg to diabetes a little less than ten years ago. It had been big news, apparently, but she'd heard about it because her mother was one of his boyfriend's friends.
Ivy recoiled and looked contrite. "I'm sorry, Simon."
Simon continued, almost without hearing her, "And the only reason I've got
both legs right now is because I'm a hypocritical jerk who didn't hold up to my principles..."
"... and got completely fucking terrified, just like any normal person," Malik said, punching Simon in the shoulder hard enough to make Simon wobble on his crutches. "I know you're angry about it, and that you're angry you're in the situation, but Mom would never
have let you refuse treatment anyway."
"Y'all," Megan said over the impending argument doom, "funeral? Not the place for this. We'll go back to the apartment later and have drinks, and that
will be the place for it."
"Did I hear the word, 'drinks'?" a black woman nearly as tall as Megan said, strolling up.
"Tizemt!" Megan exclaimed, hugging her. "So Professor Canis let you out of the lab today."
"She couldn't avoid it," Tizemt said. "I said that as she was leaving me in the lab, I would run a few of my own experiments, and oddly enough, I found myself brought along for this historic event."
"Haircut?" Megan said, gesturing toward Tizemt's closely-shaven head.
Tizemt smiled sheepishly. "Lab explosion. Now I know why the prof keeps her hair short."
Whistles blew in the crowd, and a couple of Guardians flew by overhead, calling for silence, and calling directions. Megan gave Simon's shoulder a gentle squeeze, and he smiled tightly at her.
Megan heard the drums start with a riff that was clearly a call to attention. She recognized one of the drummers, after a moment, as one of the duplicates of Thomas Jefferson "Dozen" Baker, a handsome dark-skinned hazel-eyed man she knew from news stories as an activist for biracial, para, and veterans issues. After everyone fell silent and faced the correct direction, he started a slow beat. Megan knew that elsewhere in the crowd, his other duplicates were drumming in perfect synchronization with him.
A trumpet sounded somewhere overhead (probably, inevitably, Iris in her chin-to-toes iridescent spandex, high above, invisible in the weather), and everyone slowly started forward through the dreary freezing mist.
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