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November 2019 


What in retrospect would start out as one of the most significant conversations between Judith Cahill and Ashley Tran during their time at Claremont started out a week or so before they were due to swing back to Washington for the First Family's Thanksgiving. They'd packed their bags and made their excuses about a "classified trip"; Ashley had enjoyed a very interesting conversation with Fa'Rua, and she was just thinking about turning in when she realized that the click-click-click of Judy's knitting needles had fallen silent. Usually a failure with the tools meant that her ward was about to slam them down on the desk and mutter a few words under her breath. But when Ashley glanced that way, she saw Judy instead staring off into space with a tense expression on her face. 


This caused the Secret Service agent some tension - was it better not to probe into matters that weren't her business? Better to ask and be seen as being there for Judy? Eventually common humanity won out over professional ethics and she said, "Judy, are you all right?" When Judy turned, her face was crumpled up, tan skin reddened with the look around her eyes that meant she would have been crying if she still had normal tear ducts. 


"N-no." And then she was sobbing, dropping her knitting and clutching her midsection, and Ashley crossed the room in a few steps to embrace her, because she knew what worked and what didn't, and leaving the girl all alone was about the worst thing she could imagine. She held Judy as she sobbed, muttering encouragement for a moment, and then pulled back to look at her. 


"What's the matter?" 

Maybe it was the distance of just a few inches, bringing an honesty that usually didn't creep into their professional relationship - maybe it was just the experience of more than a year at Claremont already. "Ashley, Ah need to ask you something. And Ah need you to be honest with me about it. We've always been honest with each other, right?" That was not actually 100% true, but it was close enough, so Ashley nodded and said, "If I can be, I will be." She'd never broken her word, anyway; that was something to cling to in the nights when she wondered how the hell she'd wound up going undercover at a goddamned superhero high school. 


"If...if Ah was your real sister, or your daughter, or...or somebody you were taking care of because it wasn't really your job..." Judy took a breath, her eyes glowing slightly as she did so, then whispered, "What would you have done with me?" She didn't need to fill in the details - Ashley knew perfectly well what she was asking about. Ashley felt a weight drop into her stomach and settle there, and for a barely perceptible moment she wished Judy had confessed to having sex with Leroy, or having intercepted one of her texts to Fa'Rua, or any other number of questions that would be easier than that one. 


"I...I don't...why are you asking?" she asked for lack of anything easier to say. 


"Because Ah want to know," Judy whispered back, her body warm like a fever patient this close up. "Ah want to know what a normal, decent person would have done." 


"I'm...I'm not your parents, Jaycee," Ashley stuttered, hating herself for the hesitation. "I can't tell you what they should have-" 

"That's not what Ah asked you," hissed Judy with a spark of anger in her eyes, her body warming and not in a happy way. "Ah asked you what you would have done." 


Ashley stared at her and said, "Well...I don't have any kids, but if you were one of my sisters, and your powers developed in the same way, I'd have done the same thing - I'd have helped make sure you got to Claremont, so you could learn how to control your abilities and decide what you wanted to do with them." Her knees were beginning to hurt from crouching by Judy's chair, so she went and got her own before she continued their conversation. "Because I think you deserve the choice to decide who you are, and what you want to do with your life." 


"Would you have kept it a secret?" There it was, barreling down at her like a freight train. 


"I'd...have done whatever you wanted." There was more she could say there, about how a superhero-turned-Secret-Service agent naturally had expectations of secrets very different from the President of the United States and his family, about how family was something you stood by no matter what, but she didn't think the words actually needed to be said. "Because part of love is respect, and I think I would respect your choices, because I love my sister. If loving...her made my life harder, that's what I'd do." 


Judy looked away for a moment, considering those words. "Your madeup sister, s-sure, okay...wwhat if...Ah don't want it to be a secret anymore?" 

"Well." There it was. "That's going to make your life harder, and it's going to make my life harder, and the lives of a lot of other people harder, so I hope you wouldn't make any rash decisions. I'm with you to the end of the line, whatever you decide to do, but...we've had this talk. Anything you do that endangers your life endangers mine and everyone else guarding you." 


"Ah'm not talking about...going on TV or something," said Judy, shaking her head. "That would be crazy, and it could get people looking at the school. But just...letting people know, who we already know can keep secret identities..."  


"I can't tell you what to do," said Ashley with a small, sad shrug. "That's...not how it works. You're seventeen. I already know that you're smart, and you're brave, and telling the truth matters to you. Whatever decision you make, I'll be there for you." She looked at Judy and said, her voice tight, "Because I love my sister." 


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