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November 2021 

 

Houseboat life wasn't always the most comfortable thing on the East Coast in November, especially when your lizard-brain was forged in the fires of New Orleans summers. Ashley woke up early on the hallway side of the bed, spooned against Fa'Rua's back, and decided it was too cold to get up. But of course she had to anyway so she reluctantly slipped out of bed, wrapping a button-down shirt around her torso. She'd gone to sleep in pajama bottoms, a habit she'd picked up at Claremont and never actually gotten away from. You never knew what you were going to wake up to. 

 

She took a moment to study Fa'Rua, hair dappled in the light of the Freedom City dawn, and smiled goofily before she turned to get herself cleaned up. This was going to be a big day, and not just because she was actually going to be going around town with her girlfriend when neither of them were working. Figuring Fa'Rua could get herself out, she fished leftover Chinese out of the fridge and parked herself by the side of the boat, away from the city where you could see the sunrise over the water. 

 

Damn. It really had been a good day. Nobody had wanted anything from the Patriot, or Special Agent Ashley Tran, or for that matter the lovely guest she'd been escorting around the city. And that, at least, was perfect. 

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It didn't take long for the absence and chill on her back to roust the Lor from her slumber.  Sitting up with a long stretch and yawn she marveled at the space afforded Ashley by her work with her government, civil service apparently was well rewarded on earth.  Shrugging into an oversize hoodie that draped just far enough down for modesty she padded out after Ashley.

 

Draping her arms over her girlfriends shoulders to offer a gentle peck on the cheek she stole a morsel from Ashley's container and popped it in her mouth gasping a bit at the heat.  "Well that'll wake you up I guess."  she acknowledged with a light lilt of laughter.  "But it's no coffee drink."  she pointed out with a grin, "And coffee is the second best reason to come to Earth."  The star ranger teased as she stood to look out over the water, "Maybe third."  she admitted as the golden hues of the sunrise broke over the low swells.

 

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"Hey there, ma chere," Ashley entertained thoughts of firing up the boat's engine, heading out to sea with Fa'Rua, and seeing what happened next. You have to call for rescue because this thing is barely rated for a storm in the bay, much less the open water. "I don't put that much black bean sauce in it," she teased. "You should try the real hot stuff." She'd been about to say next time, but she wasn't ready to think about that any time soon. She took a moment just to enjoy the company and the view, in more ways than one, then said, "You're always welcome on this planet. Even if not everyone's as hospitable as me." She snerked and cracked open a bottle of tea, passing one over to Fa'Rua. "Here's to cool mornings - and warm nights." She grinned, feeling not for the first time like a teenager in her first relationship, and took a swig. With great reluctance, she checked her phone, scrolled past a few messages from Daisy the night secretary, then nodded. "Okay. They're still set for the meetup. You always have to check with supers," she said easily, "somebody's always getting thrown into the future or back in time, or they wake up and they're their own mother or something." 

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"I'm just saying it's weird they want to meet me for this," Erik expressed for the umpteenth time in the past few days. He refilled a glass of orange juice from the pitcher in one hand and slid an omelette onto a plate with the spatula in the other. Breakfast was a busy affair at the Espadas household between the number of mouths to feed and remembering who'd decided they were a picky eater that morning. Navigating the crowded kitchen as deftly as a battlefield he swapped out the container of juice for a steaming pot of coffee and filled a mug.

 

"Tu hermanita asks you to do a favour for one of her school friends and suddenly you've got an attack of what? Modesty?" Gina fixed her son with a flat look and a raised eyebrow as she accepted the mug. Technically Min was more than capable of corralling the kids on her own while Erik and Talya were occupied, pregnant or not but Raina was busy with plans of her own and Neko and Owain were at Claremont and Gina didn't need much of an excuse to spend time with her grandchildren and daughter-in-law.

 

Erik made a scoffing noise and made a gesture of protesting innocence with the pot. "I said I'd go, I'm gonna go! But this is the sort of thing people go to, like, Stesha for. Or honestly Martel and her bunch in the castle if you're a space lesbian."

 

Gina took a long sip and leaned back in her wheelchair, making no attempt to hide her amusement. "Sounds like you need to accept you've become a respected community elder." She received only offended sputtering in response.

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"Someone is having a little trouble adjusting to turning thirty four this year," Talya agreed with some amusement as she slipped through the room on sky high heels that really should have made more noise than they did on the tile floors. She leaned down to press a fond kiss to Mia's head and ruffle Eden's hair before giving each or the twins a quick snuggle. Somehow, despite all the little hands, the stark black of her skirt and jacket was unmarked by any sort of mess. The smile she aimed at Gina was fond. "I've offered to get him a truly rediculous sports car so he can embrace the midlife crisis in style but so far, he remains uninterested. Good morning, Gina."

 

It didn't show on her features. The black cat-eye was immaculate and the signature red of her lips looked picture ready but there was something in her eyes that suggested weariness. "I do wish, though, that you could use that vaunted leadership role to gently suggest that perhaps next time we could meet at a more civilized hour. You'd think there'd be some appreciation for the fact that some of us work nights." 

 

Talya pressed a quick kiss to Erik's lips as she deftly stole his coffee from his hands. It was a testament to the fact that she really was tired that had her taking a few sips with only a mild grimace or two at the bitter taste. "I laid out clothing for you on the bed." 

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"MmmmHmmm,"  Fau'Rua hummed in response, "I assure you I have tried the real hot stuff and found it most satisfying."  She flirted shamelessly and took a the bottle and taking a long pull herself.  

 

"Is that a thing?"  The lor asked with some concern.  Where earthlings were concerned it was difficult at times to draw a firm line between truth and hyperbole.  She padded reluctantly back into the cabin glancing back over her shoulder at Ashley, "I suppose we ought get ready then."  she suggested with a smile, "Might take a bit to find everything."

 

"So these are friends from work or?"  she inquired trying to weigh what suitable dress for this meeting might be as she hunted about the small sleeping area looking for her discarded garments and bags.  "You going with full stars and stripes or are we more incognito this time around?"

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"The Patriot's for work. Copycat is for friends." Ashley paused in the middle of pulling off her tank top and rolled her eyes. "Great, now they've got me doing it." She dug around under her bed for a costume Fa'Rua had seen a few times before; an armored dark purple number with a heavy equipment belt and short cape behind it. "Ellie played it coy about who exactly is coming to the coffee, but it'll be at least her, her brother, maybe somebody's wife...which means we all act like we can't read faces behind a domino mask, but that's just how it is in the community." Though the Copycat costume looked like a one-piece suit, it actually was armored trousers and a top, the join between the two hidden by a thick armored belt. 

"Don't get me wrong," she added as she pulled her short-cut hair back with her fingers so it wouldn't get caught under the costume's mask. "They're all good people, they're...just thick in super culture." Copycat's mask, big enough to cover all of Ashley's face, was at its base bone-white, painted with the exaggerated face of a Terran housecat, and Ashley took a moment to spray the inside with cleaner before attaching it to her head. "Me, I like a little work-life balance." She bumped Fa'Rua lightly with her hip as they passed. There were advantages to living in a confined space. 

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Part of supporting the community and being a resource of experience and expertise meant that Erik needed to make himself accessible. That wasn't at all compatible with the carefully guarded anonymity of a secret identity. While he liked to think that he'd mellowed somewhat in the last ten years - not that he liked thinking about his life in blocks of ten years because that meant he was getting old - he absolutely had more to lose now than he had at the beginning of his career. He'd expressed those concerns to his partners on more than one occasion; Min had put things into perspective by describing in vivid detail what she would do to anyone foolish enough to endanger their children.

 

Talya's advice had come in the form of her specific brand of spy craft, which was how Jack of all Blades exited the stairwell out onto the building's rooftop in a sharp navy blue blazer, cut with a collar that referenced his costume's greatcoat. The jacket was reversible, with an opposite side that matched his slate grey slacks with a subtle herringbone pattern. The black dress shirt he wore undone to the middle of his chest was better tailored than anything he would have gotten for himself while the belt buckle in the shape of a filigree spade was more tasteful than it had any right to be. He'd put on his bandana mask and a version of his costume'd persona's wig Talya had designed, with the long black hair pulled back in a ponytail.

 

"We should do this sort of thing more often." His sister was already waiting for him, leaning against one of the rooftop garden's trellises in a similar outfit, her own jacket a deep crimson with a dramatic flared bottom that echoed the wider cuffs of her pants. She twirled a grappling hook launcher idly around one finger, a stronger and more compact design than the models they'd once used, curtesy of her own wife.

 

"What, socialize as a family?"

 

"Things that involve Talya buying me clothes, but sure. Your thing, too."

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"I am happy to do both of those things but, again, I prefer to do them after ten in the morning," Talya said dryly, her smile slanting towards Jill O'Cure. "Though it does look lovely on you. I actually have tailored street clothes for all of the Interceptors and attached family but the trick is coaxing everyone that there's a good reason to wear it. Chris, especially, seems very set on his personal brand of 'style'." 

 

The quotation marks around 'style' were absolutely audible although it was said with as much fondness as exasperation. 

 

She smoothed her hands over the tight pencil skirt and squinted a little at the skyline. While Talya was perfectly able to swing across the Freedom City skyline even in the tightly fitted skirt, it would certainly be more difficult. Plus, there was a far more attractive option. Wrapping her arms around Erik's shoulders, she gave him a small smile, "Indulge me and play the hero, would you? I could tell you that it's so I can have my hands free to text the doorman but, really, it's just that my chance to get carried like a rescued damsel comes across so rarely."

 

The building that served as Talya's legal residence had been brand new in the early sixties when she'd purchased the penthouse to serve as her new base of operations. At the time, it had been one of the tallest in the city but several newer buildings had since eclipsed it in size although it retained a degree of grandeur and unlike some of the contemporary buildings, had been meticulously upkept while maintaining the mid-century charm of the original design. It exuded a certain degree of expected wealth of the residents, from the fact that the building employed round the clock staff that were more in line with an upscale hotel than an apartment building. Landing on the deck, it couldn't have been more different than the cozy garden rooftop terrace of their actual home. The plants were minimal and manicured, the furniture was sleek and spotless with a glittering infinity pool in one corner of the expansive patio that was more suited for adult parties than children's sleepovers. The colors were in Talya's monochrome grayscale with occasional pops of red accents or gold hardware and only broken up by expensive paintings or statues on display at various places in the interior. Their children would have destroyed the entire penthouse in a handful of seconds. It was exactly the sort of residence that the average tabloid reader would expect of Bombshell by reputation. For those that knew her, it didn't even hold her favorite artworks; just the most obvious ones and, rather deliberately, the most infamously stolen ones.

 

When Talya's heeled toes touched the patio she hummed softly, "Perhaps you'd rather we meet your classmate downstairs in the restaurant a few levels down, Ellie? I rather designed this place to give me the advantage in meetings but it might not be as warm as you might want for the initial backdrop to the conversation. I've let the doorman know they're coming and we can have them directed wherever you prefer. I might be able to soften up the lounge if you give me a moment... Move the Duchess's Sapphire out to the bedroom, at least." Picking up the necklace in its display case, Talya went to stow a sapphire about the size of a walnut deeper in the penthouse. "I may have to redecorate if we're going to make this a more regular thing. Raina would enjoy that, I think."

 

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Through an act she categorized as a heroic level of will power Fa'Rua managed to avoid making them late by any significant margin.  After some rummaging about her duffel she decided on the flight suit normally worn under her armor the Black and Purple geometry of the form fitting suit not unlike the standard spandex clad heroes of Freedom city and the mount points for the armored plates she'd left in her bag added high tech feel accentuated by the lavender visor band she added to keep in coms with her ship should it become necessary. Accessorizing with a basic survival belt more for aesthetic than utility though it did bear her badge as an official Star Ranger across the buckle.  Finally adding a black synthetic leather longcoat it certainly took the look from space opera to sleek if campy cyberpunk aesthetic.

 

"How'd I do?"  she asked performing a little twirl for Ashley and leaning in for a quick kiss, "This is the place right?"  She asked holding up a holomap of the city highlighting the place they were to meet.  With confirmation there was a twisting sensation as space folded in on itself around them before they found themselves in a small alley down the block form the agreed meeting place, She may have been counting on the short commute making up for the slow start.

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In the elevator up, after complimenting Fa'Rua on her fashion choices, it occurred to Ashley that this wasn't a bad dry run for introducing Fa'Rua to her mother and sisters...oh yeah, she thought, just imagine the same situation but infinitely worse right before you walk into it, great tactical sense right there, Patriot. Now introducing Fa'Rua to the rest of the people around Callie Summers - well that was a thought that didn't quite bear thinking about yet either. So instead she prepared herself as they rose up, thinking about how surely someone as famous as Bombshell couldn't make a regular habit of living in a place as high-profile as this without being a subject of considerably more attention than she already was. So it's a front. All right, that's sensible - it's not like you're inviting her over to the boat. Or New Orleans, for that matter. 

 

Unconsciously, she ran the tip of one finger over her left ear, a ghost of a recent connection with Fa'Rua. "Okay, here's the floor," she said, leading the way outside. "All right. All right, we've got this. Ready to beard the wild Terrans in their den..." she joked before knocking on the door. 

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The door opened almost immediately, revealing a masked man in a deep blue suit. "Hey, how you doing? C'mon in," he greeted them with a lopsided smile that seemed a little chagrinned with the whole situation. Stepping out of their way he continued, mostly for Fa'Rua's benefit, "I'm Jack of all Blades, obviously just call me Jack. Otherwise this would be weird." He quirked an eyebrow to emphasize the wry punchline - either the result of spending a lot of time talking to young children or just having dramatic body language. "Now, mi hermanita didn't say; which one of you is Copycat?" He immediately raised both hands to forestall a reply. "Wait! Don't tell me, I can use my famed powers of deduction." The swordsman made a show of looking between Ashley's clearly cat themed mask and her Lor partner's visor as if in deep thought.

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Talya had made short work of swapping a few pieces for those let overtly felonious in nature. Provided no one went into the bedroom, the open living areas were a little intimidating but at least were less 'look at my ill gotten gains'. As Jack let them in, she was frowning slightly up at an oil painting hanging in the entryway, her head tipped to one side. 

 

"I am truly disappointed this is still here," she admitted in an aside to Jill as the door opened. "I keep hoping that it will entice some young up and coming thief to take it to prove themselves but so far, no luck. I might not even steal this one back. It's both heavy and not terribly attractive."

 

Because while Talya couldn't in good conscious set about planning heists like she used to, it was entirely fair game to steal something back. Thus far, however, no one had taken the bait on the current mid century monstrosity occupying a place of honor in the foyer much to Talya's dismay. Did that mean that this entire place doubled as a honeypot? Yes, yes it did. 

 

She hung back as Jack made the initial greeting. "Famed or infamous? It's such a fine line," Talya commented dryly, "He's only Mister Blades to his enemies, after all. I'm Talya. Do make yourselves at home."

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