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The High Stakes Quickstep

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Life as a spy meant keeping parts of her life in neat little boxes. It was surprisingly useful in superhero work as well, it turns out. Talya had her life as the costumed crimefighter Bombshell and the domestic side of her existence with Willow and Erik. Unfortunately, though, there was a third box to keep up in the air; Bombshell was known as Talya Browning, after all, which meant she had a public persona to keep up appearances for as well. That's where things got tricky to juggle. While Talya didn't mind making those necessary appearances alone - it certainly was in keeping with the public perception of Natalya Browning, thief - it was a rare treat to have one of her spouses on her arm for an engagement. 


"Should be a relatively boring evening, really. It's just a fundraiser with some of the more... ah, well let's go with 'shady' upper crust of Freedom City. I know, you'd think with so many heroes, they wouldn't be nearly so blatant but they're not super villains. Probably. Most likely," Talya offered over her shoulder as she finished her makeup in the mirror. "Super villians have their own secret identities so while I wouldn't be terribly surprised if one crops up, I don't know of any who have RSVP'd."


A masquerade, however, meant that she had a little leeway in keeping the boxes separate which meant she had a date for the evening. Willow was content to stay home with the children; a boring evening party with potentially rude people she wasn't allowed to smite was not high on the dryad's list.


Honestly, she had to remember exactly how she did her makeup to go with this outfit. Talya hadn't worn this costume since the nineteen sixties after all. Hard to believe that she'd made a name for herself scaling buildings in a black minidress and go-go boots. It had really been a different era. At least the hollow heels had space for lockpicks and a few other emergency odds and ends. The black domino mask still sat on her vanity as Talya stood up and slipped the dress over her shoulders before padding out barefoot to find Erik. She turned around, presenting her back to be zipped up. "You truly don't mind coming with me? Your reputation is far more sterling than mine. Being on the same team is one thing but fraternizing is another."


It was a testament to how much their relationship had grown that rather than cavalier, Talya's tone was at turns wistful and sardonic. That she made no effort to hide her emotions, at least in their bedroom, was real growth on the part of the former spy. That she both wanted the company and that she worried for any gossip or rumors, entirely on his behalf was quite clear. 

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"Hey, fraternizing is a young man's game," Erik objected over her shoulder as he pulled up the zipper, a little more slowly than was really necessary. "If anything this is canoodling. Or possibly being in cahoots. Canoodloots. Oodles of cadoodles. I'm not great at conjugation." Gracefully sidestepping around to Talya's front before she could turn around herself he gave her a lopsided grin that was equal parts reassuring and pleased with his own ridiculous joke. "People are already jealous of my phenomenal ass, they can be jealous when I'm spotted on the arm of history's greatest cat burglar, too." He glanced over at the clothes laid out on the bed and rubbed the back of his head. "I'm a little less sure about the outfit..."

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Talya slipped her arms around Erik's waist when he went to turn. Her smile was brilliant red and sharp as a knife's edge. "Well, you know that I'm just as happy when you wear nothing. Happier, really, but it would be a little breezy for a party, and chances are good we wouldn't even make it to the front door. Having all four children ambulatory does not make for the sort of antics we used to get up to."


She brushed her lips against Erik's cheek before moving past him to bend over the options on the bed. "I vote for highway man. Black coat, black hat, black mask but very Jack of All Blades as an ensemble. I'm positive we have a pair of black leather pants just a shade too tight..." Talya drifted past him and into the cavernous space that she called a 'closet'. "I know I bought some for you... Ah, here we go." 


It was probably best not to ask WHY Talya bought those. She took great delight in shopping for Min and Erik, both. Erik was now the owner of a tailored tuxedo 'just in case' he needed one. Talya thrust one gloved hand out with the pants. "Here, try these?"

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Erik slipped into the pants easily enough, theatrically raising one knee at a time to work some additional movement into the stiff material. "Shade too tight, she says. I get it, I'm just the arm candy tonight. So tragically put-upon!" The swordsman continued to dress while heaving dramatic sighs and periodically striking poses.


Master of body language that she was, Talya didn't miss that he was also watching her expression. "So... probably a dumb question but if there's nobody we like going to this thing and nobody you think is interesting and nobody I'm supposed to punch, you're still sure you want to go? 'Cause you've kinda been talking about it like the sort of holiday staff party you lie about a visiting aunt to avoid."

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"I'm not sure at all, honestly," Talya sighed, picking up the black domino mask that she'd worn for many years. The choice to wear her own costume from the sixties was a strategic one but not without its own ghosts. She glanced down, those long lashes hiding her gaze for a moment as she looked at the mask. After a long moment, Talya twirled it in her hands and glanced up. "But I don't know how to stop being Natalya Browning, Erik. I can kill her, I suppose, but I've done it enough times that no one will believe it or expect it to stick. Walking that line between light and dark... I've done it so long. It's the one thing that I bring the team that no one else can but it has a price."


Those red lips quirked in a smile that held no humor. "Everything does, I suppose. I don't want to drag anyone else into the shadows with me but it's a lonely road. Yes, I think about stepping off it but..."


Her shoulders moved in an expressive shrug. She didn't need to verbalize those worries aloud, really. Erik well knew what it was like to have worries that kept you up at night. "... But what if tonight we get information that helps someone. Or next week? Or the week after that?"

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Erik raised both hands, black shirt only halfway on. "Woah, hey, I'm sorry. I thought I was talking to my wife, the unparalleled badass super spy fascist fighting master thief world travelling ex-con real estate baroness move-making name-taking hip-shaking absolute MILF superhero." Stepping closer he folded his arms around Talya's waist and pressed his forehead against her own. "Did you happen to see which way she went? I swear she was just here." He tilted his chin to kiss her, long enough and hard enough to test the staying power of her lip colour. When he broke apart her remained close enough that his voice was a warm whisper against her cheek. "You, not unlike a certain milkshake they talk about, bring plenty. I was just worried you were going to be bored, cielo."

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Erik was treated to Talya's low husky laughter and the tension leaching from her shoulders. The red of her lipstick was still bright and unsmudged as she leaned in to press a butterfly light kiss against the corner of his mouth as she murmured. "I do love you, Erik Espadas."


"I have never been bored when we're spending the evening together. I don't expect for that to change tonight," Talya replied, a slow smile curving her lips. She leaned into Erik's embrace and he heard the faint chime of metal on metal before she revealed a pair of handcuffs produced from somewhere inside her costume. Dangling them from one finger, Talya twirled them around playfully. "If the party gets truly boring, I'm sure we can find a more pleasant way to pass the time."

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Potential distractions aside Bombshell and 'The Highwayman' arrived at the private event invitation in hand, not that with so Iconic a member of the cities shadowy elite it was entirely needed.  "Ms. Natalya Browning and,"  the doorman looked down his nose at Jack, "Guest."  The pair were shown into a well apportioned ballroom with a whos who of wealthy and morally ambiguous at best Freedom.  Staff made their way through the crowd with trays of champagne and hors d'oeuvres pausing to offer their delights to interested party goers.  


They hadn't long to mingle before an old acquaintance  made his presence known with a sweeping if strained bow, "Mademoiselle Browning it has been too long."  the elderly gentleman greeted with a slightly yellowed smile.  The Compte du Destin had been quite the charmer in his prime, age, and rumor had it luck, had finally caught up with the old thief.  He was well and truly retired, cottage in Provence living off occasional sales at auctions like this of his greater finds.  His eyes slid to Jack and his smile faltered slightly before he regained his composure,   "Still have excellent taste in companions I see."  he praised clearly considering Jack little more than arm candy, very sweet arm candy but arm candy none the less.


On the far side of the room the Items for sale were on display in varying forms.  Some were attended only by guards, others under lock and key in sealed cases like the museum pieces they were, a rare few telesales present via screen if one trusted the owner to deliver it.  Hard to make out all the items available but some had attracted crowds and security was tight with several well trained security officers stationed just out of the way enough to be noticed without being in the way of the goods.  Of course it was mostly for show, no one here was trustworthy but robbing the place and getting caught would mean no invite next time.

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"Monseieur le Comte," Talya said, offering the same slow, almost playful smile that she'd offered the man in his prime. Neither her features nor posture betrayed anything but casual warmth as she offered  her hand for the man to bow over. Her gaze flicked briefly from the older man towards the auction itself. "Dare I hope that you are finally selling that Carravagio? I would love to add it to my collection. I know it has great sentimental value for you but it's truly priceless. It would look stunning on my wall."


Talya retrieved her hand, sliding it through Jack's arm once more with easy familiarity. While Talya did have an expansive art collection, most of it actually was on loan to a variety of museums. Their home was far more likely to be adorned with  children's art or at least decorations that could withstand a lively,  young family. She tipped her head towards Jack to explain, "The Comte was little more than a youth in the 1940s. His first great theft was right at the end of the War from a bunker that held some of the collection of the Kaiser Fredrich Museum. I've been trying to get the Portrait of a Courtesan from him for decades now. I had resigned myself to stealing it from one of your descendants, du Destin. It'll look lovely next to the replique of Gervex's Rolla that I picked that up at Sotheby's last year."


Truth sprinkled with lies. It was a painting that Talya genuinely did want to have in her possession but she wasn't about to steal from the Comte's grieving family. It was, however, exactly the sort of verbal barb he would expect from Bombshell. 

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  • 1 month later...

"Mister the Comte," Jack greeted the older gentleman with a lopsided smile and a deep nod. Talya could tell he was ever so slightly exaggerating his natural New Jersey accent and holding himself with a purposeful cant that both emphasized his physique through the layers of his costume and stood in contrast with the du Destin's aging stiffness. "Do a guy a favour and imagine I said something insightful about Caravaggio's use of colour, yeah?" He tossed him a broad wink and made a show of looking about the room, the distractible accessory. In truth he was scanning the crowd for any faces he might recognize; the guests were more likely to be the patrons of people he'd tangled with but you never knew.

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The gentleman ruefully shook his head, "Not your lucky day Ms. Browning."  he replied with a shrug.  He rolled his eyes in a moment of honest distress, "oui I should be so lucky as to have someone of your talents liberate it before they sell it to some tech mogul to hang in his office."  he shuddered at the thought.  "You'll have longer to wait yet my dear but you are nothing if not a patient woman no?"  he teased back lightly.


The old thief frowned ever so slightly at Jacks reply and glanced with a raised brow to Talya, "I certainly see the appeal though ..."  he shrugged and leaned in conspiratorially toward Jack to stage whisper, "A gentleman does well to share his ladies interests."  he advised with a wink, "Lest she become enamoured of another young man..."  he suggested with a lingering gaze towards the displays at the far side of the room.  Flashing the once dazzling smile once more, "This old man won't keep you any longer do enjoy your evening."  and with that the comte disappeared into the crowd showing he hadn't entirely lost his touch.

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Talya frowned as the other thief left; a real frown and not one of her feigned expressions. Talya was very, very good at masking her expressions but Jack had the advantage of seeing her day in and day out, with all the little stresses that came from a full life. When Talya actually laughed, her nose scrunched and when she was displeased, the frown caused a slight furrow between her brows that was absent when it wasn't genuine. If her features ever aged, she'd have ended up with a wrinkle right there but thanks to the black magic that left her immortal; the skin remained obnoxiously smooth no matter how many times she frowned. 


Linking her arm through Jack's, she gave him a slight tug to circle towards that corner of the room. Picking a glass of champagne up off of a passing tray, she lifted it up with her off hand so it obscured her mouth and gestured towards a different painting on the opposite wall as if she were making small talk.


"That, my love, was stolen from Poland," she murmured and cut her gaze towards the painting in question. "And I'd very much like to see what - and who - might be here selling Nazi plunder."


The slight tension in her posture didn't show in her lazy stroll across the floor, her booted heels clicking easily across the high polish floors but Talya was in high alert. She wasn't the only immortal from that war, after all, and anyone on the opposite side had clashed with her too many times to ever think she was 'merely' a thief. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Jack raised an eyebrow but otherwise kept his own pokerface and relaxed posture. He didn't like to think about it too much but he really was an accomplished liar in his own right, albeit not classically trained or as refined by half as Talya. "Damn. I hope it's not that Destin guy; he seemed fun and I'd feel weird about punching an old man in the face repeatedly." He kept his voice low and feigned the look of an easily distracted dilettante to glance about the crowd. He wasn't sure what he was looking for exactly, besides anyone who looked like hired muscle. Most Nazis he'd encountered were at least smart enough to have a bodyguard before walking around Freedom City, for all the good it ever did them.

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The picture in question was not technically on auction, it was being shown along with a handful of others from a collection where a small number of the lower value works were at auction.  It was a common grift in these grey legal auctions.  Provenance and sale of such a piece was out of the question for even the shady auctioneers that ran this event.  But showing it beside works for sale meant the owner was making it available for the right offer.  A word or envelope of offer to the staff would find it's way to the owner or more likely the owner's representative.  When the collection was packed it would find it's way onto a different truck and likely vanish into a private collection unlikely to be seen again in a normal lifespan.


If it wasn't sold or the owner new and old were identified of course it would be trivial for a thief of Talyas character to find it's resting place and acquire it of course.   But IDing either was a risky proposition and if there was too little interest or it sold it may well be in some mysterious vault in Dubai before Eric and Talya were back at the dojo.  She could of course make an offer, recover it for the rightful owners, with the downside of enriching the descendant of a collaborator at best.  

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