Jason stretched, slowly moving through his entire range of motion while the seamstress watched. "Do I really need to be so.. so..."
"Yes, I know it's embarrassing, but I need to watch how you move," the seamstress sighed. "And I need to see where- hold that position!" Jason froze and waited while the seamstress took another set of measurements. "Alright, continue. I need to be able to see where your muscles tend to bunch up, get a feel for the entire flow of your movement. And I can't see much of anything if you're fully dressed!"
"Fine, but surely I could at least wear something more than my underwear?" Jason begged.
"For the last time, no!" the seamstress clicked her tongue at him. "If I'm going to get these leathers fitted properly, I need accurate- hold it! - measurements." Again she took another set of measurements. "It's not just about having it fit in one pose, it's about making sure it fits in all possible poses. And that takes time, a lot of time!"
"Well, at least we're almost done here today," Jason groused.
"Yes, for now. I'll spend some time setting up a manikin and doing some rough fitting," the seamstress agreed. "Just remember, I have to do the final fitting on you personally, I can't use the manikins for that."
"I am so not looking forward to that," Jason sighed.
"Well, it could be worse," the seamstress smiled. "Alright, that's enough. Hold that pose for a moment and then we're done." Jason sighed when she was finished with her measurements. Grabbing his clothes from the corner he pulled them on, quickly. "How long until the next stage?"
"Leather isn't easy to work with," the seamstress sighed, "and there will probably be a number of false starts. Ronan pays me enough that I don't have to do any other jobs, but I do need to do at least a few to keep up appearances. Besides, my daughter's wedding is coming up, and I fully intend to do her dress myself!"
"So, it's going to be a while?" Jason asked.
"At least a week, possibly more," the seamstress told him. "And I need to know about the design you want, too!"
"Design?" Jason asked.
"Ronan set a few rules for the design of the leathers, but inside those rules there is a lot of variation," the seamstress explained. "Here, let me show you..." she pulled out a sketch book. "Here is the design Ronan and Lara used; a single piece suit with ties up the front and for the arms. The legs are left open because the both prefer full length boots, but you can also have ties there if you want a shorter shoe of some kind. They don't like that because it leaves a gap, but a lot of Guardians feel the extra mobility is worth it," she pointed out one design.
"Here's another option, it's two pieces, top and bottom, and a lot easier to get into, or out of," she pointed to the next page. "It's almost as good, but the waist is a bit weaker in design. The leather needs to be skin tight to work best, and there has to be a slight overlap here or you wind up with a gap as you move. Leather stretches, but not well enough to really make this design a good one. A few guardians prefer it because it's closer to normal clothes, and quicker to get in and out of, but it's definitely an inferior design."
"Another option, which no one has ever taken me up on for their first leathers, is this design," she turned the page. "It's almost identical to the first, with the exception that it uses zippers rather than leather ties. It's very quick to get in and out of, but the metal is a weak point."
"No thanks," Jason shook his head. "I can see where it might be useful if you needed to get suited in a hurry, though."
"Which is why a few Guardians have come back and bought it as second suit," the seamstress nodded. "If something comes up and you need to be dressed right this second, it's far better than something that works better, but you can't get on in time."
"Good point," Jason nodded. "Maybe after I've fully broken in my first set I'll think about it.
The seamstress nodded. "Good. Obviously you won't want this one," she pointed to the fourth page. "It has all the weaknesses of page two with page three's use of zippers and buttons added in. Quicker and easier to get on, but..."
"And the next page?" Jason turned it.
"It's just an idea I had," the seamstress shrugged. "I generally don't even show it off, but..."
For a moment Jason couldn't see the difference between this design and the first one, and then he saw it. "Perfect!" he whispered to himself.
"What was that?" the seamstress asked.
"This design, it's just like the first, except it ties up the back," Jason said, looking at her.
"Yes, there was a couple that looked like they were going to join the Guardians, I thought they might like that touch," the seamstress nodded. "They already did everything together, so suiting up together didn't seem too unlikely. It's also a bit more effective, defense wise, since most attacks will come from the front. Despite my best effort, with Ronan's help of course, the ties are still weaker than unbroken leather, and have a tendency to burn very readily. Alas, I haven't come up with any way to protect them better, the leather really needs to be skin tight to serve it's purpose and I just can't manage that without exposing the ties."
She proceeded to show him the rest of the sketchbook, and Jason didn't like any of the other designs. They were good, most of them, but most of the changes were cosmetic in nature, not very useful and tended to detract from the leather's primary purpose: armor.
There was one page where he saw something he liked, though. It wasn't even a part of the leathers themselves, just an idle sketch of some accouterments that caught his eye. "This," he pointed. "How difficult would it be to add that to a design? As something that could be added or taken off, at need."
"Hrm..." the seamstress pondered for a moment. "Depends on how it attaches; if you want it attached directly to the leathers it would require a tie of some sort, but... quite doable, and I don't think it would actually cost you anything in the way of strength. But why-"
"Because, while I may not let my vanity control me, when it doesn't actually cost anything to indulge it a bit..." Jason shrugged.
"Ah, I see..." the seamstress frowned. "Yes, I think I can add that quite readily. Just stitch on an extra loop of leather, the seams won't weaken the fabric underneath, but it'll be quite possible to attach..." her voice trailed off. "Do you want this version," she pointed, "or that version? The first one I'd have to modify the actual leathers for but the second is actually designed to fasten around the neck. You'd want to be careful with the ties, in a fight you wouldn't want someone throttling you by grabbing it, but..."
"Hrm..." Jason looked down at the page. "They both look good, but I'm not sure..."
"How long do you want it?" the seamstress moved on. "As you can see, I thought of several different lengths. The shortest ones only really work with the first design, and the hoods only really belong with the largest..."
Jason nodded. "Ankle length, and make it more like this one," he pointed.
"Alright, give me a minute to sketch..." the seamstress grabbed a sheet of paper and a pencil. Pausing every few moments to gaze at Jason, lips pursed, she quickly sketched out a picture. "How does this look?"
Jason stared at the paper, shocked. "You're good," he told her, touching the picture gently. He looked... handsome. Very handsome. "One thing," he said, making a decision. Pointing back at the sketch book, he flipped back. "Use this design, and I want two. One for me, one for Ronan."
"Ronan?" she asked, surprised. "Well, I... Ronan?" she asked, shaking her head. "I never would have guessed!" She sighed.
Jason blinked. "Oh God, I didn't even think... Please, don't cause any problems because we're in a relationship, I mean-"
The seamstress cut him off with a laugh. "Young man, I'm not upset over Ronan being gay; I figured that one out the day I tried to seduce him!"
Jason sighed with relief. "Then what's the... I mean..."
"Young man, and I mean young," she said firmly, "I've known Ronan for years. He's been protecting his heart for a very long time. I've known at least three very handsome boys who set their caps for him and he turned them down cold. Didn't even give them a first date. Now here you come along, having known him for all of what, a year? And you manage to capture him? I sincerely doubt it!" She laughed. "You'd do better to set your cap for someone else. I've got a son, very nice young man, who's about your age... I could always introduce you to him!" She laughed. "You'd have to vie for his attention, but a nice young boy like you could probably manage to catch his eye!"
Jason laughed. "I've already captured the eye of the only man I want, and his name is Ronan."
She looked at him, skeptical. "I've known Ronan for years, are you sure... I mean, he wouldn't deliberately string you along, but are you sure you aren't misinterpreting something?"
Jason smiled. "I'm quite sure, madam," he said happily. "I've melted the ice... well, not an ice maiden, but you get the idea."
She smiled. "Well, well well well well well..." she said thoughtfully. "Now there is something I never would have guessed!"
"There's something else I'd like to talk to you about," Jason asked her. "I'm not... I'm not actually shopping for a ring right now, but how difficult would it be to design a glove that fits over a ring?"
She smiled even broader. "I generally don't sew the gloves; I can outsource those to others very readily without too many questions. I'll ask my suppliers, but it depends on the design of the ring. A flatter ring, like a normal man's wedding band, would probably be pretty easy. Something bigger, with a large gemstone perhaps, would probably be much more difficult. You'd have to stress the leather out where the gem would sit, but I think you could manage it."
"I'll keep that in mind while I'm shopping," Jason nodded. "When I get to shopping," he smiled.
"Alright. I'll start up both sets of leathers right away. I'm... not entirely certain how I'll get Ronan in for his fitting without ruining the surprise- this is meant as a surprise, right?" she asked.
"Oh yes, most definitely," Jason nodded.
"I'll see..." the seamstress trailed off, thoughtfully. "I may have a few ideas. I'll just tell him I want to experiment with a new series of designs; honestly I've been wanting to do that for a while, and he usually winds up helping me."
"Thanks," Jason smiled.
"You're welcome. And, young man..." the seamstress smiled. "That son I mentioned? He happens to work in a jeweler's shop, he's an excellent ring maker, so when the time comes..." she shrugged. "Just give me a call; he works for the best so even if he can't do it right, his bosses can, and will."
"I'll keep that in mind," Jason thanked her. "Any idea how long it's going to take?"
"Do you want both sets at the same time?" she asked.
"Ideally, yes," Jason told her.
"Hrm... that could take some doing..." she said thoughtfully. "Oh, of course!" she grinned. "I can't possibly do final fittings for you until after I have the special underclothes that go with the leathers, and my suppliers for the silk have a very nasty habit of running short. I've actually been considering switching suppliers for just that reason, so perhaps it's time to start doing some 'research' with Ronan, while you, unfortunately, are just going to have to wait on the replacements!" She grinned. "He'll never see that one coming, because, honestly, we should have done it months ago. It's just that neither of us has been looking forward to it."
"I will leave the manipulative, deceitful necessities to you," Jason grinned. "It's clear I'm over matched anyway!"
"I can't tell if that was an insult or a compliment," the seamstress grinned, "but I'll take it as the latter, for now."
"Is there anything else?" Jason asked.
"No, no," the seamstress shook her head. "Now, shoo, I have work to do... lots of work!"
Jason left the shop, smiling as he rearranged his helmet. It had been a month since the battle, and life was finally starting to get back to normal. His classes weren't going very well -- you didn't miss two weeks of class without consequences, and his attendance was spotty at best even now -- but he could live with that. Training was a bitch, but he was getting better, fast. And his research on Ronan's past was proving more and more fruitful with every passing day. Ronan had done a very good job at hiding his past, but the more Jason dug the more holes he found. Just yesterday he'd managed to find, purely by chance, an article that changed... well, it changed everything. The only question was if Ronan knew, and Jason honestly didn't think it likely. Ronan had done his best to vanish from his old life the day he turned eighteen, and as hard as it was for Jason to trace his life backwards, tracing it forward had to have been harder still.
Jason gunned the engine on his motorcycle and took off, enjoying the thrill of the wind against his leather pants and coat. They weren't proper 'Guardian' leathers, but for riding a motorcycle they were far better than his old outfit would have been. And his motorcycle would provide a perfect excuse to wear leather on a regular basis, something Ronan was still laughing over. Apparently no one in the Guardians had ever really considered the advantages to getting a motorcycle before, but now they were all looking at it seriously. Some of them would have a hard time hiding it, with their official jobs simply not giving them the income to afford such a 'luxury', but someone would figure a way around that, Jason was sure. It was just too much fun to ride a motorcycle, and the advantages in mobility and speed were huge.
With the wind in his face -- well, his helmet, anyway -- and the road before him, Jason couldn't help but grin. He had no idea before he bought the bike that motorcycles were so much fun! He was glad the state let him ride with just the learners permit, though hopefully he'd be able to take the test and get a full up license sometime soon. Not being able to drive after dark was just a pain in the rear, and he'd love to take Ronan out for a ride sometime.
Jason's grin died a little as he thought about Ronan. So much pain, and he was just starting to piece together the causes. A few phone calls had given a lot of the information he'd needed, without even giving away too much of his purpose, but sooner or later something was going to get back to Ronan, and that could be very, very bad. It all depended on his next call.
Pulling up to the public phone, he glanced around. No one he recognized in sight, which was good, but the area was a bit busier than he was really happy with. "Oh well," he sighed, and started dropping quarters into the machine for his call.
"Hello, this is Jason Bester speaking; do I have the privilege of speaking with Kyle Brown?" Jason asked amiably.
Jason placed his hands on either side of Lara's face. Her physical wounds had long since healed, but they couldn't hide the fact that she was in a coma for much longer. Her parents were poking around, upset that they hadn't heard from her in weeks. They wouldn't accept excuses for much longer, and if the police became involved everything would get just that much worse.
Jason reached deep below the physical, finding in himself the spot where he prayed and then reaching out towards the same spot in Lara. He felt himself stretch across an infinite distance, and then like two hands clasping he found the flickering spark of life that was Lara. Not her body, but her heart, her mind, her soul. Slowly he fed power across the link. Slowly. Too much and he'd drown her in it, she was so weak. Too weak to accept any more, so he withdrew, infinitely slowly.
When he opened his eyes, he saw her smiling up at him. "Jason?" she'd whispered, voice dry.
"Let me get you something to drink," he'd told her. "I'll be right back!
Unfortunately, she hadn't rallied for long. By the time he'd come back with the water, she was back in her coma. Murphy looked at Jason, worry on his face. "I'll try again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that," he told Murphy. Placing his hand on Lara's head, he concentrated for a moment. "She's stronger than she was; and she'll be stronger still tomorrow."
"What about her child?" Murphy asked.
Jason froze. "Oh my God," he swore. Placing his hands on her belly, on either side of the scar that still marked her wound, he pushed his mind into her body.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm so sorry."
Murphy nodded. "I was never destined to have a child," he sighed. "When Lara told me she was pregnant, I didn't believe her at first. I'm sterile, or nearly so. I shouldn't have been able..." he shook his head. "I was convinced for days that she had to have cheated on me, that she was just refusing to tell me who with. I wouldn't have minded, not really; we were always... open about these things. We married because we love each other, but we were both swingers at heart. Hell, we met at a swingers party!"
"Swingers?" Jason asked, not sure he wanted to know.
"A discussion for another time, perhaps," Murphy told him. "For now, can I be alone with the woman I love?"
"Alright," Jason whispered. "I'll be back tomorrow for another session."
It took two weeks before Lara could stay awake for more than a minute at a stretch, but she was gathering steam fast. Jason had started the ball rolling, but once it started it moved with ever quicker speed. Soon he could wake her up for all her meals, and then within three days of that landmark she didn't even need that. She still slept a lot, exhausted, but she had broken the coma.
Jason didn't have the heart to tell her that she'd lost the child, and she didn't ask. Not then. But she knew. She just didn't admit it until one day, when Jason was helping Murphy dress her. "I'm bleeding, aren't I?" she asked when they froze.
"Yes," Murphy whispered. "Hun, I haven't..."
Tears trickled down Lara's face as she shook her head. "I've known. I knew the instant the bastard stabbed me."
"We should never have let you come," Jason shook his head. "We just didn't think!"
"Jason, could Ronan have stopped you from coming?" Lara asked.
"No," Jason shook his head.
"He couldn't have stopped me, either," Lara told him. "Not given what I already knew."
"What do you mean?" Jason asked, confused.
"Quentin couldn't identify most of them, but he recognized one of them," Lara told him. "My rapists... did Ronan ever tell you about that?"
"No, not really," Jason shook his head.
"They were never caught. I hunted for them, after I gained my powers, but I never found them," Lara said softly. "But Quentin... the second he described him, I knew. I knew!"
Jason felt his eyes widen. "You mean..."
"Just one of them. One of three," Lara snarled. It was weak, but it was definitely a snarl. "And sooner or later, I will find the others. I will!"
Murphy took her hand. "I love you," he whispered. Lara turned and smiled at him. "But you need to let go of your hate, before it poisons you."
Lara closed her eyes. Jason, recognizing when he wasn't wanted, left.
"Hey Ronan," Jason said happily. "How was your day?"
"Lousy," Ronan growled as he chopped some celery. Over the past several months they'd fallen into a bit of a habit with dinner. Ronan always started it and Jason joined in once he got back from class. This semester was going much better than the last one, he actually managed to attend most of his classes. "Some city inspectors are poking around again, and I'm not sure I can make this just go away without being obvious."
Jason sighed. He'd been shocked to hear the history of the gym, but it made a great deal of sense the more he thought about it.
Ronan, immediately after graduating college with a psychology degree, had attempted to get a job as a social worker. It hadn't worked out as well as he'd hoped, but he'd made more than one contact that had helped him move onto the next stage of his 'grand plan'. He'd put it before various charities and government agencies and gotten funding for a special form of halfway house, a shelter for abused and homeless teenagers. He'd acquired the building cheap from its former owners, and cleaned the place up. The upstairs apartments had suited his needs perfectly, and the gymnasium downstairs was going to provide ongoing funding by teaching a variety of self-defense classes, both paid and free. Everything had been going great, with all the permits and funding arranged quite cleanly...
Until the city had suddenly rezoned the area in an effort to shut the plan down. Some of the city councilors had been less than enthused by the idea of providing a home for 'fags and runaways', and while they hadn't been able to nix the plan as a whole, they could and did manage to throw a wrench into the works at the last minute. Ronan had tried, hard, to work around it, but the entire plan had collapsed after that. Unable to sell the building to recoup the investments the various charities had put into it, Ronan had started up a gym and lived in the apartment sections. He'd planned, originally, to simply run the facility until he'd found a buyer, but then he found the Arch. Recognizing the danger, he'd worked instead to pay out the investments himself. Pointing out all the valuable charity work he did through the building despite the scuttling of the original plan, he slowly got several of the charities to forgive his debt, and the others to turn it into a loan. Jason didn't want to think too long or too hard about how he'd convinced them; he simply did not want to know if Ronan had used his new found powers to 'persuade' them against their will.
Jason wasn't sure if his willingness to accept the possibility that Ronan had done that was a sign that he was coming to terms with the unique nature of their powers, or he was simply starting to loose his grip on ethics. He hoped the former, but sometimes in the night he wondered. He'd done what he'd had to that night a month past, fought because the battle had to be fought, but... he had blood on his hands. A year ago he would never have imagined, even in his worst nightmares, that he'd have this much blood on his hands. Sometimes, at night, he woke up, gasping for breath. The nightmares weren't about Carpenter, not anymore. He'd shed those shortly after the battle. They were about the blood on his hands. The faces of the men he'd killed parading past him, a line of murder that stretched for an eternity.
Jason shook his head to break his reverie. "Sorry, lost in my thoughts for a moment," he told Ronan.
"The nightmares again?" Ronan asked softly as he put the celery aside.
Jason washed his hands in the sink. "Yeah," he told Ronan. "And I know, they're normal. I'll get used to them."
Ronan sighed. "What bothers me most isn't how long you've been having them; it's that you put Eric at the front of that line, Jason. He doesn't belong there. You didn't kill him; he chose to-"
"Ronan," Jason said tersely as he pulled the salad dressings out of the fridge, "we've been around and around this subject already. Drop it."
"Sorry," Ronan apologized. Over the months since the battle they'd been over the subject several times. Ronan simply couldn't accept Jason's calm insistence that he felt guilty for Eric's death, whether or not he caused it. Neither of them could agree on it, but usually they managed to agree to disagree.
Jason set the table as Ronan pulled a roast out of the fridge. "Where are Mary and Daniel?" Jason asked, frowning as he looked at the silverware Ronan had set out for him.
"They're off visiting Ashley," Ronan said with a smile. "Just us tonight." As he pulled candles out and lit them, carefully using a flamethrower rather than his powers, Jason realized that dinner tonight was more than he'd expected. The roast was an expensive one, not the cheap one he'd first thought, and Ronan had not only placed a crisp white tablecloth over the table, but the silverware and dishes were all fine china and sterling silver. Very fine; Ronan had to have bought it recently, he didn't own this stuff.
"Ronan," Jason gestured at the table, "what's all this?"
"It's..." Ronan shook his head. "Today is a very important day."
Jason's brow furled as he tried to figure out what Ronan meant. Today wasn't special, was it? He rapidly ran through various possibilities, but none of them quite made sense. Their six month anniversary wasn't for another few weeks, and nothing else...
Jason closed his eyes in realization. "Not a time I like to think about," he agreed. "Has it really been a year?"
"Almost exactly," Ronan told him with a sigh. "We met pretty close to midnight, so it was either today or tomorrow, I'm not completely sure which."
"A year," Jason whispered, then smiled. "Well, it wasn't a pleasant time, but... meeting you is definitely something worth celebrating."
Ronan smiled. "I certainly thought so. I'm... glad you agree.
A year... had it really been that long already? Jason shook his head and smiled. Yeah, it had. He was changed, almost completely.
Ronan served dinner, refusing to let Jason do any more of the work now that he knew what was going on. Jason almost joked about Ronan cutting his meat for him, but he didn't want to give the man any ideas; he just might insist! The roast was excellent, and the wine Ronan had chosen for the evening was just about perfect. The vegetables were perfectly seasoned and the salad crisp. Ronan had wanted to make everything perfect for Jason, and the smile when Jason told him he'd succeeded was well worth the hassle Ronan was making of everything. They retired to the living room, where Ronan had already set up a movie he'd rented, and just enjoyed each other's company for a while. Finally Ronan shifted around, pushing Jason to the other end of the couch so he could face him. "Jason," Ronan said hesitantly, "I have a present for you. I'm not sure... you may not like it, and I want you to know that you can say 'no', I won't... I won't be hurt."
Jason stifled a laugh. "Ronan, I love you. I'm sure I'll love whatever it is."
"Good," Ronan swallowed nervously.
"Ronan, stop being nervous!" Jason laughed. "I don't know what's going on, but you don't need to be as nervous as a man about to-" the doorbell interrupted Jason before he could finish. "Oh of all the... Damn it, the timing couldn't be worse!"
"I don't know who the hell is at the door, but they had better have a really good reason!" Ronan snarled. Taking a deep breath, he stood up. "Jason, please wait here, don't go into the bedroom?" he asked. Begged, really.
Jason smiled. "Of course. I'll wait."
"I'll be right back," Ronan told him. "Right back!"
Jason leaned back into the couch, luxuriating in the moment. About all it needed was a roaring fire in a fireplace, and the removal of the interruption. Jason picked the afghan that Ronan had dislodged back up and wrapped it around himself. Everything was just so... so perfect!
Seeing a box on the floor, he leaned over and picked it up, curious. What was a jewelry box doing around... I don't know what's going on, but you don't need to be as nervous as a man about to propose to the woman he loves. Or in this case, man. Hands shaking, Jason put the box down. He wasn't going to open it. He was not!
Ronan finally reached the door and Jason could hear the force he yanked it open with. "Yes?" he practically snarled. Poor man, Jason mused, he went to all the trouble-
"Hello, I'm looking for Jason- Wait..." a vaguely familiar voice at the door started. Jason bolted upright as he felt the tension rise. Something big was happening. "J... Justin? Is that you?"
"No..." Ronan whispered as Jason raced to the door. "Kyle? Kyle?! But... you're dead! You're dead!"