Thanks to TheatricalBarrister, Jackaniny, Raider, Wolfkin, and Stardust for responding to the previous poll. Erm, Hawkehunt and Idmonscat, thanks for the reviews but you forgot to voice an opinion poll-wise. The current outline has at least ten more chapters scheduled and I'm reworking it to include a bit of Asgard's return and the opening of Civil War, and so since I do have some time to burn, I'll keep the poll open for everyone else to offer their say.
"What's wrong with calling them dumplings? Close enough, right?"
Dawn rolled her eyes but decided to be patient. After all, the closest Cassie had probably come to international cuisine before her was Taco Bell and Wang Chung's Chinese takeout. "Actually, they're really not as close as you'd think, sweetie. Dumplings are usually one fruit or sometimes a vegetable or meat. Gyōza are made from a mix of minced pork, garlic, cabbage, nira - Chinese chives - and sesame oil. And dumplings are usually baked while gyōza can be pan fried, boiled, or deep fried like these are." Using her chopsticks, Dawn picked up another of the fried treats and dipped it in the left half of the divided sauce dish, coating the end in the flat brown tare sauce that was seasoned only with rice vinegar - as opposed to the rusty brown mixture of tare sauce and rāyu she'd prepared for herself in the other half - before holding it up to Cassie's lips. "This is one of the few dishes I haven't found a way to improve yet. Still thinking on that front."
After a long moment of silence, Cassie leaned forward and bit down on the gyōza. "Well, just a thought here… but would 'improving' our anniversary dinner really have been a good idea? Last time you had me try something you'd 'improved', I ended up throwing up twice before going to the hospital to make sure there wasn't something seriously wrong with me."
"You know, you'd think that after a week and a half you'd be over that. I said I was sorry. And I paid all the bills out of my own pocket because I know your family isn't exactly rolling in it." The mention of her family made Cassie's face close down and Dawn cursed herself for her stupidity. "So, I kinda forgot how romantic New York City isn't at night. At least around here. Too noisy, can't see the stars…" Cassie nodded in agreement and Dawn waved one hand in the direction of the yellow-tipped pipe they used to come and go from the building while shrunken. "Want to head inside? I guarantee it's got one hundred percent less drunken hobo than being out here does."
Even as Dawn made that joke, another barely coherent cry came from down at street level, extorting people to repent for the end was near. She just snorted. Which end? The Council had at least five apocalypse-level events on its calendar in just the next twelve months. Cassie seemed about as enamored with the bum as she was, though, and nodded in agreement before rising to her feet. "So, what's for dinner, anyways?"
Dawn dipped the remaining half of the gyōza into her sauce, savoring the bite of the jalapeño-infused rāyu she'd prepared herself. Mmm. That had bite. Much better than chili powder-based version she'd picked up in Chinatown. "Karē raisu."
"God bless you."
"Funny." Dawn stuck her tongue out at Cassie for a moment before gathering used utensils and dishes and rising to her feet. "Yes, I realize a lot of gairaigo sound funny, but that's what happens when you take English words and make a foreigner try to wrap their tongue around it. In this case, we're looking at a Japanese version of a British version of a word that has its origins in Dravidian languages. Ironically, the transliterated Japenese is closer to the transliterated original 'kari' than the English version is…" Cassie blinked owlishly and Dawn blushed faintly. "Sorry, linguistic geek moment. Karē raisu is the Japense name for curry rice. Rice, vegetables, meat - pork in our case - and curry sauce. I'm keeping on a Japanese theme tonight. Wait till you see the desserts I made." Looking around one last time to make sure she had everything, she made her way over to the marked pipe, shrinking herself as she went. "Alright, I should probably go drop this crap in the kitchen and…" Dawn noticed Cassie looking down at her oddly and trailed off. "What?"
Cassie's body shrank as she came down to Dawn's level, shaking her head in disbelief. "Either you're just better at this naturally or you're sneaking extra lessons with Janet on extending your bubbles. Because I'm not sure I could even manage to keep myself in that dress, much less bring a blanket and a bunch of other stuff along for a size reduction."
Oh. Huh. Dawn looked down at the load she was carrying. "I didn't even think about it, really. I just wanted to shrink so I could bring it down and I shrank. Maybe the mental component isn't quite what we think it is? You have to want it but if you overthink it, you can end up limiting yourself?" Cassie appeared to ponder that and Dawn leaned in to kiss her girlfriend's jaw before whispering into her ear. "Maybe after dinner, you can change into real clothes and we'll practice? I know I wouldn't mind if you accidentally shrank yourself right out of that nice red dress of yours…"
"Maybe if someone wasn't still on relationship probation, I'd consider it." A hand came down against Dawn's ass, making her squeak in surprise, and Cassie grinned before stepping backwards. "Now go dump that mess downstairs so you can come back and get me. And if you're good and my present is something shiny, we'll discuss second base later."
Wings rising from her back and vibrating rapidly, Dawn shot up into the air as she offered Cassie a sloppy salute. "Yes, ma'am!"
"Mmm." Tongue flicking out to clean a bit of sauce off her spoon, Cassie grinned as she waved the piece of silverware in Dawn's direction. "I'm glad at least one of the items on the menu can be eaten the normal way. Having to be fed by you for those… bah, I still say they're dumplings… was embarrassing."
Dawn smirked, her own spoon sliding across their shared plate to gather up a nice mix of sauce and rice. "Oh, I'm sure you hated being half into my lap like that while we ate." Cassie blushed and ducked her head but with her hair pinned up at the back of her skull, her normal method of hiding was cut off and Dawn was treated to one of the girl's utterly adorable blushes. "So, is my present shiny enough for you?"
That got an enthusiastic nod out of Cassie. "I have no idea how to use a Mac, but considering my only other computer access was one Blake bought back when the Yankees still knew how to win championships, I'll learn." Her eyes flicked over to where the white MacBookPro box was sitting behind the couch, waiting for her to finish dinner. "How'd you get the cool paint job, though? I thought they only came in white."
"White or silver, depending on the model. There used to be some black ones, and those famous ones that were white with colored accents. In this case, I bought a complete second outer body, took it to a graphic designer, and had it airbrushed. Hank's a certified Apple service provider and so he did the swap and it didn't even void the warranty." Dawn shrugged when Cassie's jaw dropped; it hadn't been too hard for her to pull off. A few phone calls, some money changing hands… "Take good care of it, though. With all the bells and whistles, it set me back close to forty-seven hundred dollars. And that's before the parts and labor on the paint job."
Thankfully the full spoon hadn't quite reached Cassie's mouth yet, or Dawn was sure she would have been subjected to a truly disgusting display as Cassie's jaw dropped. "What… how… for a one-month anniversary present? Why? Are you serious? How do you spend that much money on a laptop? I mean, I was considering selling a few interviews and stuff to papers to raise money for a new laptop for school so I went on Dell's website, and theirs are…"
"The only machines even close to a Mac are those clunky AlienWare monsters that weigh almost twice as much as your laptop and even then, yours is better in some areas. I mean, I really don't think you're going to miss the super duper dual graphics cards for video games… we have real life for that." Dawn ticked points off on her fingers. "But I upgraded to a faster processor, more memory, better versions of the standard hard drive and display, got a few pieces of software added, some accessories, the extended warranty plan is a must… if you think that's bad, you'll faint when you hear how much that desktop in my room cost."
Cassie's spoon hit the plate with a soft clink as she pushed back from the table, stalking over to the couch and picking up the laptop box. Returning to the dinner table, she thrust it out at Dawn. "Send it back. The only reason I made a fuss out of an anniversary was because I wanted to keep you at arm's length until I was sure you were really looking for a relationship. And I'm a jobless teenager who only gets money through her allowance and not eating lunch so she can pocket her lunch money, and my present is completely pitiful next to this. I accepted it at first because I thought we were talking like, ten times as much as I spent and I could handle that because you have a lot more money than me, but when we're getting into like… forty-seven times as much money as I spent? I love it, it's amazing, but it's too much. I can't take this, Dawn."
Rolling her eyes, Dawn set her own spoon down. "I don't suppose we can hold off on this discussion until after dinner?" Cassie shook her head vehemently. "Damn. This stuff is good and it's not really that great cold. Alright, I was planning to offer you a job. I'll have to change some of the details after the fun at your parents' house earlier, but I'll make it work. And you're going to need that laptop for your new job. It was a functional present."
One blonde eyebrow rose as Cassie set the box down on the table, sliding back into her seat. "Umm, you do remember that I'm still technically a minor, right?" Dawn blinked and then Cassie's face burst into flames and she looked down at the plate. "Oh. Sorry. I assumed… you know, need a laptop, job, I'm a teenager with pretty much no marketable job skills…"
"…what, you thought I was going to try and put you out there as one of those softcore porn site girls?" Dawn's jaw dropped. "What the hell? No! God, you've been spending way too much time around Janet. You're starting to inherit her 'logic'. I mean… you're my girlfriend. Why would I want to let other people see that much of you? I haven't even seen that much of you!" Dawn shook her head in disbelief before trying to get back on track. "No, I was going to hire you to be our publicist. The laptop has movie-editing software and can interface with your visor and the new designs Hank is creating for Sophie and Vi's new costumes. You three would hook up and download footage after a battle, you would spend some time editing it, and bam. We have a product. Sell it over the iTunes Music Store, take it with us to interviews, you name it."
After twiddling her thumbs for a second, Dawn grabbed her spoon and dove back in to the curry, which gave her an excuse to duck her head and avoid Cassie's gaze. "And I might have bought a Blu-ray burner for Hank to put into my computer that you can burn with, and a digital camera for you to take stills with. I just didn't want to dump the whole mess on you at once because the laptop can be used away from work and it made a good present. Well, I suppose the other stuff can be too. And I'm going to shut up now." And she did, shoveling food into her mouth to keep from rambling on further.
Dawn froze, spoon in her mouth, as a finger tapped on the underside of her chin, guiding her head up. "Do I want to know how much you spent on me total?" Dawn shook her head and Cassie sighed. "Great. Dawn, you do realize you don't have to buy my attention, right? I'd still love you if you were like, a girl I met who lived on the street and stole food to survive and slept in a box and spent all day in the library because it was safe and dry."
Pulling the spoon out of her mouth, Dawn eyed her girlfriend. "Thanks? You, uh, think about the possibility of dating a homeless person often?"
"Hmm? Oh, no. I was looking for something to throw at you and then I realized that's pretty much what I'm looking at, now that my parents have thrown me out." Cassie looked down at the plate of curry before picking her spoon back up and digging in herself. "Should probably eat as much as I can, then; need to remember food isn't a guarantee anymore. Would you mind if I went crawling back to the Young Avengers? I mean, Kate's got more house than she knows what to do with. Maybe she'd let me stay there. I could always do housework to earn my keep. No clue about school, since it was parochial and I won't have tuition money anymore…"
Why did Cassie think she was going to… oh, right, she'd been upstairs when Dawn was confronting Peggy. "Well, you could do that… or you could move into our spare guest room. I had two ideas for how we could handle things: either you could take the publicist job - or maybe a sidekick stipend - and since you'd have a regular income and parents who want you gone, we would be able to get you emancipated pretty easily. You could move in here or take your luck with renting a place somewhere else. Or, option two, you can let Janet take you under her wings and your parents would sign over guardianship rights to her until you turn eighteen."
Cassie shoveled in another three heaping spoonfuls while she pondered that before pausing in her suddenly frantic inhalation of food long enough to answer. "Well, let's toss out the adoption choice. That'd make us related, at least legally, which would be gross. And, uh, I'm flattered you think I can do it, really, I am… but I don't know how to use a Mac. I barely use a PC; I know Word, a little PowerPoint, AIM, and I check my email and Facebook. Do you really think I can do what you want me to do? I mean, would you offer this to someone you weren't dating? One of the Wasp girls or Kate if her parents went bankrupt or Astrid?"
"The Wasps, probably. Kate, maybe. Astrid, definitely not. And sure, I'm a little biased when it comes to you, but I think you can do this. Because Cassie? If you can learn to use a costume that gives you two spare legs and three new spectrums of vision, you can learn how to use that computer." Reaching across the table, Dawn covered Cassie's free hand with her own. "And while yes, part of why I want you here is for selfish reasons, I'm also the reason you got kicked out. I want to help you out of the mess I'm responsible for."
"Think you're taking a bit too much credit here. I was Stature before we met, remember? Things with my mom have been shaky since forever, since she was the reason I didn't get to see my dad much, and Blake barely tolerated me even before he found out about the catsuit in my closet." Cassie looked down at their joined hands, waited a beat, and then set her spoon down so she could reach for her glass of water. Dawn retracted her hand, embarrassed at her failure to perceive Cassie's desire. Tapping her fingers against the rim of her glass, Cassie sighed. "I guess I could try the working option. I mean, either way I'm going out patrolling with you as Ant-Girl, and so I'd feel weird getting money for nothing. Either way it's basically charity, but earning a paycheck for doing some real work makes it easier to swallow."
Dawn sighed in relief as she leaned back a bit in her seat, taking up her spoon again as she went back to eating. One down, one to go. "Any ideas where you're going to want to live? You can camp out here tonight and then we can go apartment crawling tomorrow if you want. I'll give you an advance on your first paycheck so you have some money to work with."
Making a vaguely agreeable noise, Cassie took another sip of water before looking over the top of her glass at Dawn. "Or I could stay here tonight and just not leave, like you were offering earlier. I mean, it makes sense. My boss is here, my costumes are here, my repairman is here, my trainer is here…" She trailed off and Dawn narrowed her eyes, realizing there was one specific item missing from that list. "…and my girlfriend is here. Although I think the costumes and Hank are more important."
Sticking her tongue out, Dawn flipped Cassie off with her free hand. "You know, just for that, I think our guest room needs a nice thorough cleaning. You might have to sleep on the couch for a few nights."
"Oh. Really? On the couch?" Cassie's eyes met Dawn's as she slowly dragged her tongue over her upper lip. "Aww. And here I was hoping we could share your bed tonight. Oh well. So much for that plan, I guess."
Grr. Now how was she supposed to respond to that?
Poking Dawn in the side, Cassie tried to regain her girlfriend's attention. "Hey. You're supposed to be teaching me how to use this thing, not playing with cookies."
Dawn huffed, setting down the last of the chocolate filled ningyo-yaki she had been arranging in a line across the coffee table and leaning back against the couch beside Cassie. "Alright, what's up? You ask, I'll answer."
"Alright, well, I'm getting used to Finder and the Dock. Can actually get around the computer now. Little weird that you've already gotten into my iPod and downloaded all the music I owned onto this one, but handy so I'll let it go. But yeah. I can get around." Cassie opened a window and navigated to the folder that held all the computer's applications, gesturing to it. "What am I supposed to be going to? I mean, I recognize Office, iTunes, and QuickTime, and things like 'Mail' are pretty obvious, but what's the rest of this crap?"
Leaning against Cassie, Dawn trailed one finger over the touchpad, using the cursor to point out various icons. "You'll want a few of these to make the most out of your iPod. Address Book is a duhh, it lets you create contacts phone numbers, addresses, emails, and screennames. That info can be put on your iPod so you have it on the go. iCal is calendars. Might be handy when I start putting you to work; manage your appointments, patrol times, school, set aside time to do work on movies, and so on. iPhoto will open whenever your camera plugs in and lets you download and organize your pictures. iMovie and iDVD… well, ignore those. They came with the machine. You have something better: Final Cut."
Cassie batted at Dawn's hand, regaining control of her computer. "Ah yes, the software with the big box full of manuals and instructional DVDs I need to watch because even you don't know how to use it. Great present there. Alright, how do I surf the Internet and IM my friends? AIM isn't installed and I can't even download it because there's no Internet Explorer. This thing does get on the Internet, right?"
"No, dear, I gave you a ridiculously expensive high-end laptop with no way of getting on the Net." Dawn rolled her eyes before pointing at one of the icons in the dock: a fox curled around a globe. "Firefox. It's Internet Explorer without the slowness, crashing, virus potential, and assorted other problems."
"If you say so. Does that mean you already have AIM on here for me too?"
"So impatient." Dawn shook her head, leaning forward to grab one of the ant-shaped ningyo-yaki she'd fried up for dessert. After staring at it for a moment, she bit the head off, savoring the chocolate filling as the flavor spread across her tongue. "Mmm. Seriously, sweetie, you might wanna grab one of these before they're gone. Janet and I are both chocolate fiends and these are really good." Cassie rolled her eyes, selecting a hornet to counter Dawn's ant, before gesturing back to her laptop. "Alright, this icon is for Adium. It does… well, you name it. I didn't know your passwords, but once we either set up your existing ones or create new accounts, logging in will connect you to every network known to man. No matter what someone uses, they'll be able to talk to you. It's a bit behind, though. No audio or video chat, so if you want to hop on cam and flash someone for cash, you'll need to download Yahoo Messenger or I'll set up iChat for you."
Cassie growled and drove an elbow into Dawn's ribs for that one, grabbing her laptop and scooting away down the couch. "I already apologized for jumping to conclusions there. And so shoot me for wanting to know everything about this thing as fast as I can. Someone dropped a high paying job on me that requires me to know how to use it, and since that job is going to be keeping a roof over my head and food in my stomach…"
Sighing, Dawn reached over and pulled the laptop out of Cassie's hands, closing it and admiring the lid's artwork for a moment; the black body with two red ants fighting over possession of the lid's glowing apple was an inspired design, given the owner. Setting it down on the far end of the table, she turned back to Cassie and wrapped her arms around the shorter blonde, resting her cheek on one shoulder. "Cassie, no matter what, I'm going to be here for you. What kind of girlfriend would I be if I wasn't?"
"A bad one?"
"Exactly. So why don't we save computer lessons for tomorrow, and just relax and try to enjoy what's left of our anniversary tonight?" Dawn reached down, grabbing Cassie's wrist and shaking it gently before trying to tug it upwards to guide the hand towards the blonde's mouth. "You haven't even tried dessert. Do you know how many stores I had to try before I found ant and hornet molds?"
Letting out a soft laugh, Cassie allowed Dawn to serve as a puppeteer, guiding her hand up to her mouth. Biting the hornet in half, she chewed thoughtfully before swallowing. "Hmm. It is good. Very normal, especially for you. What's in it?"
Dawn leaned in, capturing the other half of the hornet for herself. "The hornets, since I didn't think you'd want to eat your own totem animal, are just flour, sugar, and eggs with chocolate filling. I rubbed the bits of chocolate I used to fill mine with wasabi, since I tried some chili pepper dark chocolate and it was divine. Flavor profile's a bit different, but it's just as good if you ask me."
Ant halfway to her mouth, Cassie abruptly froze. "Right then. No eating the ants."