Once I got dressed up again, I left the room, it hadn’t been an uplifting experience; I couldn’t stand being naked, it made me vulnerable and powerless. I could feel the metallic taste of blood in my mouth from how hard I’d bitten my lip.
Kenzie must have seen how shaken I felt because she gave me the tightest hug of my life when I came out.
“Are you okay?”
“I’ll be.” I said, noncommittally, tugging my clothes to cover the maximum amount of skin.
“KB says that you’re all done. Let’s go to the lounge and relax.”
We went down the elevator to the lounge.
The entire team was there, waiting for us, spread out over the place.
Volley came toward us, he wasn’t in costume, instead wearing a very conservative set of pants and a button up shirt. “Chuan gave me the good news. Since you're a part of the team now; we can go by our real name. I’m Stanislav Zharkov, Stan for short. I’m the current team leader, if you need something, just ask me. Have you chosen a cape name yet?”
“I was thinking of Shell.”
“It’s short, indicative and above all else it’s not gauche. I like it. Welcome to the team, Shell.” He said, offering his hand. I shook it lightly.
“What exactly makes a superhero name gauche?” I asked.
“Calling yourself ‘insert-name or adjective boy/girl/lass/man/lad/kid, Naming yourself after a bird of prey, honorary doctorates and captains or trying too hard to be patriotic.” He explained. “In the early days, lots of people went the easy route when choosing their cape name and now it’s a good way to get mocked.”
“What about Mega Girl and Singularity Girl?” I asked.
“They’re the exception, mostly because they happen to be talented and charming.”
I wasn’t very in the know about Capes, but certain names were so well known that even I knew about them: Names like Envoy, Crusader, Patriot, Gestalt, Red Star, Scion, Superior, Mega Girl and Singularity Girl. Some of them were famous, others infamous. Mega Girl had the benefit of being the most well liked and known of the first young guardians team while Singularity Girl was the first openly transgender superheroine.
“If you want to be extra lame; you can call yourself Captain american eagle girl!” Chuan said, I noticed that Amarok and Bandersnatch glowered at him. “Oh sorry, Kenzie, bad choice of word…”
“It’s okay.” She said, rolling her eyes. I made a mental note not to use that word and there was a second of awkwardness.
“Can we eat the cake already?” Bandersnatch asked. “I’m hungry.”
“It’s not a cake, it’s a clafoutis.” Chuan answered.
“What’s the difference?”
“It won’t make you sick. Like a normal cake would. And yes we can eat it.”
Chuan went to the kitchen and everyone followed. It was my first time getting a good look, it wasn’t huge but it was bigger than my apartment's, all in black, white and stainless steel, with a table on one end, the kitchen on the other and a brunch counter with space for eight people.
“I really hope everyone likes it, I kind of had to find something in an emergency both Kenzie and Victoria could eat without getting sick in the last half hour. Good thing I know this super eco-crunchy-hippie bakery that’s nearby.” He took the box out of the fridge and opened it. “This is a pear almond and honey clafoutis, that’s a flan cake in case you don’t know. The lady who runs the place says she uses lactose free milk, so it should be alright for you Kenzie and there isn’t any chocolate, gluten, coffee or any types of grain in it for you Victoria.”
It did look delicious and smelled even better, this bit of companionship was what I needed after the awful weekend I had had.
Chuan began cutting the dessert into portions and without needing to be asked, Stan handed him plates to put them in along with forks.
“I’m Jessie.” Amarok said standing next to me, startling me. She always talked in this quiet and timid voice and it was clear she normally kept to herself. She wore a cute little dress with yoga pants and her hair was held in shape by a butterfly brooch. Of all the young guardians, she was the only one who was clearly younger than I was. She couldn’t have been older than twelve.
“Nice to meet you Jessie. In case you don’t remember, I’m Paige.”
“We’re doing the introductions?” Hedron spoke, it was the first time I saw him without his concealing helmet, turned out he was a black guy, if fairly light skinned, his hair worn in a pulled afro with the strands more or less separated rather than forming a ball. If I had to guess, he was around sixteen or seventeen. “Well, I’m Travis.” His eyes were obviously cybernetic in nature, dark with slightly luminous blue highlights when he turned away I saw hearing aids attached to his ears. “Say, Stan, have I filled my team-spirit quota for the day?”
Stan sighed and Travis picked his plate leaving us alone.
“Is he always like that?” I whispered to Kenzie.
“Pretty much, he’s not big on socialization or team spirit, I’m the one he tolerates the best. Still he plays well with the team during fights and he’s also our best blaster and our only bomber and shaper.” Like the others she used those designations even though I had no clue what they meant.
“What can he do?”
“He makes floating solid constructs that can explode at will and split into smaller shapes that also explode. Essentially, he makes barriers that can turn into cluster bombs.”
That sounded rather destructive, but then I remembered that according to Chuan he had razed a building before joining the team.
I received my part of not quite cake and dug into the sweet goodness of it, soon receiving a cream soda to go with it from Chuan. We all dug in, just enjoying the treat for a moment, Victoria standing up, one hand on the counter to stabilize herself while the other clumsily held an oversized fork. I noticed that her front limb were more humanlike with four huge fingers including opposable thumbs while her hindlegs were more like a cat’s.
“You know me, Chuan in case you didn’t hear the first twenty times.”
“I did. Nice hair by the way.”
“Thanks. Just don’t get used to it, I dye my hair every few weeks, I can do yours too if you want.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Alright, does anyone want to watch a movie?” Chuan offered. “I’m feeling in the mood for something silly and lighthearted.”
“That sounds good.” I said.
We all relocated to the couch, plates and drinks in hand.
“I’m Victoria.” Bandersnatch said as we moved, even though I’d already caught her name earlier. “Are you going to pet me again?” She gave me what I interpreted as a mischievous grin, exposing her impressive array of teeth. Rather than walk bipedally, she knuckle-walked, much like a gorilla did.
“I’m really sorry about that time…”
“It’s okay, I’m used to it.”
“PR sends me to children hospitals. I get lots of petting and cuddling. To make me more public friendly, less scary, they say.” I couldn’t help but smile at the cuteness image of sick children and toddlers playing with her.
Victoria didn’t seem all that scary to me, but I could see people getting nervous about her appearance; Whenever she stood on her hind legs, she definately measured a little higher than seven feet tall and she had to weigh somewhere around the half a ton mark with how bulky, and muscled she was. Despite all of that, she moved with a certain grace and fluidity, her tail swinging lazily from one side to the next.
I sat down at the end of the couch and Kenzie took the seat next to me, with Victoria laying down on the ground on a mat next to the couch, just like she’d been the last time I’d been here. I took good care to keep my hands to myself.
Chuan took care of unveiling the TV, hidden behind a wall panel between the bathroom and shower room when it was not in use.
“I’ve got this collection of older movies and I’m sure you’ll love them.” He said, sitting down next to Stan and Jessie, the two had left a spot open between them.
I couldn’t help but think how surreally normal all this was, after the insanity of the last few days sitting down with friends to watch a half century old comedy movie about an american singer getting involved in cold war spy shenanigans in east germany was just so oddly normal. I didn’t really know or understand the political context of the movie, being of a time before my parents had been born, but it was still a nice and funny sit.
After all this time, watching a movie, eating popcorn or a bowl full of apples in Victoria’s case, was just so normal as to feel alien...
It was then that I realized; I had friends again. Things would get better. They had to.