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Dramatis Personae

Lucien, Matt





It's as quiet as the city gets, very early Sunday morning. The twittering of birdsong in the garden outside. The cars that pass by are infrequent. The regular wail of Saturday night sirens has finally tapered off.

Inside the Tessier house, there is stirring -- quiet, though. A door opening on the first floor, the soft pad of paws against the wood. Lucien trails after Flèche, letting the dog out into the backyard as he goes to check the slow cooker -- the mushroom-onion-green pepper smoked cheddar-and-egg casserole in it is nearing completion. He turs the oven on, takes a pan out of the fridge -- uncovers the cinnamon rolls neatly tucked and rolled within it. Disappears outside, for a time.

Returns, dog at his heels, to tuck the pan into the oven. He glances at the clock, but does not set a timer. Just vanishes back into his bedroom, slipping into the bathroom shortly thereafter.

The shower runs, though not for overly long. When he emerges it is wrapped in a towel, hair damp and tousled just so. The kitchen, now, has filled with the warm scent of cinnamon. Slip briefly inside, retrieve the tray from the oven. Set out a plate, fork, knife, glass, at the table. Fold the napkin just so. Start a pot of tea. Disappear again into his bedroom.

And back -- neatly dressed, now. In time to decant the tea into a pair of thermoses. One he leaves on the counter. The other he takes upstairs -- slipping just as quiet into Matt's bedroom. He vanishes into the impossibly large closet. Comes out with an armful of clothes that he lays, neat and careful, on the windowseat, his jaw tightening as he presses fingers down over the tactical pants. the sturdy black jacket.

His eyes close. His fingers trace lightly against the braided cord around his wrist. Still quiet, he goes to set the tea on the nightstand. A soft click of the tongue, a gentle pat on the mattress, calls Flèche to lie snuggled up in the bed as he leaves. Padding back downstairs to pluck his thermos up from the counter and hold it tight to his chest as he heads out into the morning beyond.

Matt stirs when Flèche joins him in bed, but does not wake until an alarm goes off, some minutes later. He groans and slaps at his phone until the alarm stops, then slowly levers himself up. He reaches out to stroke the dog snuggled against him, swiping the thermos from the nightstand to take a careful sip, humming appreciatively.

He rises, leaving his pajamas in a trail as he strips on the way to shower in his immense bathroom. A moment later he ducks back out and gathers the discarded sleepwear into his laundry hamper. His ablutions are brief and he dresses rapidly, but he does takes some pains with actually coiffing his hair.

He leads the dog downstairs and feeds first her and then himself. Sitting alone at the kitchen counter, scrolling through his social media feeds, his black tactical outfit strikes an odd juxtaposition with his surroundings. That he manages to finish his meal at all seems a near thing, and he loads his plate and cup and silverware into the dishwasher after with more care than really altogether necessary.

Flèche follows him to the front door and weaves anxious circles around him while he laces up his combat boots. He pets her and murmurs gentle nonsense into her one upright ear, kissing her firmly on the nose once before he disappears out the door, thermos in hand.

They're not quite at the facility yet, but the van has pulled into a thick copse of trees off the beaten path to allow the team bathroom breaks and a chance to gear up. There's a fair amount of praying, as well.

Matt is not praying. He has, however, taken his time donning body armor--strong and lightweight and altogether modern--and adjusting each strap again after, checking his range of motion. Last, he checks the braided loop of green and black cord on his wrist to see that it is securely tied before twitching the elastic sleeve of his mid-layer down to cover it.

Next he methodically field strips his sidearm, briefly inspecting each component of the sleek black CZ75B. His fingers move over the cleaned and oiled metal with a kind of fluid but meticulous grace that he does not often show. Spreads the parts out before him on the drop cloth, arranging each almost meditatively before reassembling them.

He wipes down the slide and nests the barrel carefully within before pushing the powerful spring into place. The entire assembly glides smoothly back onto the tang, and he locks it securely into place before pulling back the slide to check its action. Evidently finding this satisfactory, he makes sure the safety is engaged and inserts a magazine loaded with 16 9mm rounds. It clicks it into place with a note of finality, and he settles the weapon in its holster at his right hip.

It's not quite red carpet time yet, but -- in true theatre fashion even these things, tonight, take more than an average measure of magic to maintain the illusion. Lucien has been in this chair a long time. Quieter than his usual familiar banter with his makeup artist, if no less polite.

For some time he's been praying, silent, eyes half-lidded, his finger tracing a slow and steady looping pattern against the arm of his chair. His transformation tonight is incomplete -- mottled makeup and soft grey fur applied meticulously only up through his wrists. Neck. Meticulously cutting off at face and hands.

Which leaves it all the neater, when he is finally done and can -- carefully -- get into his elegantly tailored grey tuxedo. Seating his cummerbund just so. Tucking the cord on his wrist beneath the cuff of his sleeve before he fastens his cufflinks. He takes his time with the bowtie, though the smooth grace of his movements suggests this is not out of any unfamiliarity with the process. Checking to make sure the hints of makeup are carefully concealed behind this more elegant veneer as he settles this costume into place with a final precise tug of his tie.

The bright lights are the same. Lucien does this -- over and over and over again. Eight shows a week, more or less. Some things become so deeply ingrained -- a muscle memory that lets him hit his marks night after night.

It makes this all the tenser, all the harder. A number practiced and performed to perfection for months on end in the same familiar space, the same familiar theatre. Some things, yes, take a grueling effort to summon up -- every single time -- but some things come automatically. Not so on a new stage, a foreshortened version of familiar songs, a medley practiced in intensive crash-course in the runup to doing these -- almost familiar numbers on a not at all familiar stage.

Still. It's been practiced. Over and over and over until his back might nearly give out from the constant ache of dancing, spinning, twirling small children over his head in heavy constructed goat-hooves. He can do it now, here, in this new venue. As he hears his cue and slips out onto the stage, there's something grounding about the bright hot lights -- one consistent thing -- that bear down on him.

The light isn't his, but Matt knows it well. The Danger Room's verisimilitude will always have its limits, but the glowing lines that are crackling the reinforced wall in front of the team now feels precisely the same as it had in the weeks of training preceding. But then, its source is the same.

Matt's senses are alive with it--not just the power that Jax is pouring into the wall, but the photokinetic himself. Even when he shuts his eyes against the brightness, partly shaded by Dusk's wing, he can feel it in washing in fierce waves across his skin. With the perception that is uniquely his and, at the moment, focused on bolstering his team leader, he knows even the roiling power the man holds within himself.

He lifts an arm to shield his face against the final blast of heat. With a searing flash and a roaring, almost ecstatic burst of energy, the wall crumbles into smoking rubble. With his teammates, he steps onto the same stage they've been walking in fantasy for so long, finally made real.

It's not real. In the midst of a chaotic firefight, the appearance of any child would be incongruous. This one, though. This particular child has brought Matt up short, his breath hitching on a pang of grief.

Sera is small for her seven years, her cheeks not so plump or rosy as one might expect on a healthy little girl. Her wispy hair is coming loose from its french braid, and she wears a pink-and-purple striped t-shirt under dirty denim overalls, her Frozen sneakers dusty from play. The bright flutter of her empathic field washes Matt with her fear, her confusion, and even her defiant bravado.

But it isn't real, because Sera is dead.

He's furious now, but the fury is abstract, in a way. He's busy. There, yes. Beneath the lie of his sister's achingly familiar power is another, insidious and alien. Matt reaches for it, but his power is at its limit, and even thinking about stretching it any further makes all the other effects he's propping up waver. He draws his sidearm instead, flipping off the safety on the pistol as he raises it and opens a window for himself in the force field. His hands are steady and his focus absolute despite his rage as he takes careful aim at the little girl's head and pulls the trigger.

It doesn't feel real. Not in the way Lucien had expected, insofar as he'd expected anything. Moments like these should have a touch of surreality to them -- people always say.

It isn't disbelief, though, when the Best Lead Actor is announced for the musicals category, not shock when his name is called. Just something else, remote and abstract that keeps this carefully boxed up and separate from the rest of the demands this day is making on his attention. Take this moment -- tuck it away for examination later. Is it exciting? A relief? A thrill? Is it drowned beneath the worry he ought to be feeling?

Later, he will decide. For now, he is squeezing Desi's hand. Putting on a practiced smile as he gets up, rehearsing his remarks in his head. A proper dose of gratitude to the brilliantly talented crew and cast, a warm appreciation for the steadfast support of his family as well. An appropriately metered dose of just-oblique-enough allusion to the struggles he faced getting here and how overjoyed he is to make for a pithy soundbite. Carefully metered as well -- only *this* much pathos, constructed neatly shy of tipping toward maudlin, a mention of the little girl who continues to inspire him nightly in bringing a wonder and a whimsy to other children that his sister will never get to see.

It's nearly as quiet as the city gets, very late Sunday night. A few lingering voices -- in hushed conversation, raised in argument, brighter with laughter -- intermittently punctuate the sidewalk. Occasionally a glare of headlights passing by shines through the gauzy-curtained windows, illuminating the spotlessly tidied living room behind. The aquariums' filters burble softly.

Flèche dozes on Matt's bed upstairs, its sheets very recently changed out for fresh-laundered ones, silken soft. The closet has been neatly tidied, the bathroom scrubbed; on the ledge by the enormous tub a selection of bath salts and oils stand waiting and ready.

Lucien's room, downstairs, is in a bit more disarray -- by his standards. Futon actually out in its bed configuration -- the bed not entirely made, the sheets only pulled halfheartedly up. His tuxedo jacket hangs on the back of his chair, though the rest of the outfit is nowhere in evidence. An elegant black box sits out on the desk, atop a stack of papers and folders.

In the kitchen the light is actually on. One light, near the kitchen island. On the stove there's a large pot of stew, left on simmer and with a stirring spoon still inside it. A plate of scones is out on the counter. The teapot stands ready near it, teacups out beside it and tea measured but the water not yet poured.

Lucien sits on a stool, in black pajama pants and a plain soft white undershirt. His phone is still gripped in one hand, thumb tracing absently against its darkened screen. He has slumped against the counter, though, head pillowed on the crook of his arm, the meticulous regimenting of his mind relaxed into the relative quiet of sleep.

Headlights cast long shadows into the living room for just a moment. A car door opens and closes outside, though the ancient van lingers at the curb until Matt has actually made it inside the house. He's shucked his combat gear and is carrying his jacket over one arm, his thermos in the other hand, looking uncharacteristically plain in a white athletic tee and black tactical pants.

His power stretches out ahead of him and keeps Lucien asleep even if he fails, in his profound exhaustion, to make his entry as quiet as he really intends. He struggles out of his boots with difficulty and almost just leaves them there. But then, with an unreasonably large expenditure of willpower, puts them away. His socked feet drag on the floor as he drifts unerringly to the light in the kitchen, to the smell of food, and to his sleeping brother.

For a moment he just stands, watching Lucien. One of his hands goes to his mouth, and it is unclear whether his shoulders are shaking with silent laughter or silent sobs. After a moment, he goes to fill the teapot with hot water and a bowl with stew, though he only manages a couple of bites before setting it back down .

Only when the tea is ready does he go to his brother, setting two steaming mugs and a plate of scones down on the counter. He lays his hand on Lucien's shoulder and finally allows him to wake, the frayed edge of his overworked powers falling away only too gratefully into quiescence as he stoops to press a kiss to his brother's temple.