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The small marina was residential, if one could call it that, dotted with houseboats that were just a little bit too small to be luxurious and probably not really seaworthy enough to handle more than a few small waves out in the bay. It was the sort of place where you bought a boat if you wanted to live on a houseboat rather than take one down the coast; the sort of place that had to get its mail from mailboxes by the marina office and where it was hard to find you if you turned off your phones and didn't give directions about which small secondhand house that was technically older than you was yours. 


It was perfect for the Patriot. Most of the time. Of course, now she had company just a couple of days before Christmas. Ashley stood at the bow of her houseboat, gripping her mug of hot cocoa tightly to stop her hands from wringing together. Everything will be fine. Ellie and Mara are good people. These are your friends. So what if that friendship had come from Ellie being the only underclassman to make her laugh out loud when they were Claremont students. It had been a good start, even if they'd mostly lost touch with each other until after she'd moved back to Freedom.


She turned her head, surveying the small space where she lived. It was a beautiful December day and the sun was shining brightly, casting a cold bright glow on the water. It was pretty, anyway, even if it was cold out. That was why they weren't sticking around, she was going to show them around her place, have some hot drinks, then maybe walk down to the nice Arab place down the road. 


The truth was, Ashley had been nervous - and she was nervous. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a guest other than Fa'Rua - and even that had been entirely too long ago. She had scrubbed every surface, arranged the furniture so it didn't look like a crappy bachelorette pad in here, and even splurged on some new throw pillows for the tiny couch. Now, as she glanced around the front room, she couldn't help but feel a twinge of anxiety. She slipped a hand into her jacket pocket, fingering the box there, and tried to steady herself. She'd made important decisions, especially after her talk with Stesha on her birthday. She was doing the right thing. 


She tried to push the negative thoughts aside. Everything was going to be fine. She had worked hard to make this day special, and she was determined to enjoy it. It was going to be a freaking magical afternoon with her friends. Once she was done cleaning up. She grabbed a broom and started sweeping the deck, repressing the catastrophic planning urge that had her remembering where her life jacket was and how long she could hold her breath for the swim out to the nearest water access to her motorbike. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

"And only being able to copy other people's cool @#$% is sort of a raw deal when you're a teenager," Ellie was explaining to her wife as they walked from where they'd parked Mara's own bike toward the marina. One arm was linked with Mara's at the elbow before her hand retreated to the warmth of her white puffer jacket's pocket white the other supported a small gift bag balanced atop a tin of cookies. "I dunno, maybe it would have been cool for some of the kids with weirder situations, like they'd have somebody to practice with or relate to about whatever but with the side-effects nobody was lining up to shake Ashley's hand, right? So she pretty much never used her powers at school and got a reputation for having big hall monitor energy." After a pause she rephrased to account for Mara's lack of high school experience. "Fun police, I mean. My point is it's kinda huge that she'd reach out at all and making friends as an adult is like pulling teeth so I just want it to go well. Do I seem nervous? 'Cause if I seem nervous she's going to think it's her fault." She huffed, breath hanging in the chilly air.

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"That makes sense. The explanation, not her blaming herself," Mara amended. She had never gone to school, and had arguably never had a chance to be a teenager, so she genuinely appreciated the context. "And thank you for the clarification." She had already started trying to design some kind of hallway-monitoring surveillance system with school-budget level technology. It was probably too late to stop now, but she could keep that in the back of her head where it wouldn't cause trouble.


Mara did not have a gift bag to carry, which left her free to shove both hands in the pockets of her layered winter jacket - even with her riding gloves on, she was happy for a chance to warm them back up after the ride over. That, though, only after she'd used her off-hand to try to fluff the helmet out of her hair. She grew those wavy blond locks long in the winter, and sometimes regretted it. "Seem a little nervous, but I promise to be awkward enough to distract her from it," she deadpanned. "I will be weird enough for the both of us, won't notice tooth-pulling until it's too late and she's already our friend. Will be a very clever trap." Beat. "Unless she's actually fun police. Then no friendship, we keep the cookies."

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"Welcome aboard!" declared Ashley when Mara and Ellie arrived, almost immediately kicking herself for sounding so corny as they stepped onto the boat. It's gonna be fine. It's gonna be fine. She didn't actually know Mara except by her reputation in the sciences, and supposed it made sense that someone who did so much super-science would be tied into the super community enough to be Ellie's wife. "Ashley Tran, nice to meet you." 


"Sorry it's so damn cold, I was hoping things would even out a little by the time you got here. But hey, I made cocoa!" The cocoa was in plastic mugs from Squib Kick, a place Ellie recognized as a particularly raucous West End sports bar with cheap beer and good wings, and was steaming hot. The blue waters of the bay were calm, the boat only gently rocking as Ashley greeted her guests. "How was the drive?" She caught sight of Ellie's gift bag and took a moment to be glad she'd planned out her own gift, giving it the usual level of attention that any normal person would give - just over the space of the last few weeks. 

She handed the box to Ellie and Mara while they were handing over gifts. "Here you go, Merry Christmas!" Oh hell what if they're allergic to moondust. Wait, that's not a thing - is it? _Hell_. She kept smiling as she said, "Here's my little home away from home," showing them around her tiny living room and attached bed and sink attachment, looking a bit more like a small dorm room afloat than anything else. "I got the pillows at that little thrift store you told me about," she told Ellie, "it was nice!"  

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  • 3 weeks later...

"Ahoy, Captain," Ellie deadpanned as she stepped aboard, giving a flourish that vaguely implied a salute. She overcorrected for the gentle rocking of the boat for a moment before years of gymnastic training and real world experience saved her balance and her pride. "This is great," she assured Ashley once they'd entered the main interior space of the vessel. "It's honestly wild that we don't know more people with houseboats. We're around a lot of people with big 'lives on a boat' energy."


She handed off the cookie tin and gift bag so she could walk in an admittedly small circle to take in the living room, leaving Mara to accept the box Ashely presented in return. "This is how I know we're getting old, because I unironically love those throw pillows. I have throw pillow opinions now, Ashley. Hot throw pillow takes." The gift bag was surprisingly heavy and nestled in bright red and green tissue paper Ashely found a soft plush cat with cartoony smiling eyes, about the size of a dinner plate and almost as flat. It's weight shifted with the telltale sound of dried grains pouring as it was lifted and an attached tag explained that the pancake-esque calico was a saffron-scented reusable heating and cooling pad for soothing aches and pains.


The cookie tin was also densely packed, a wild variety of homemade cookies grouped into several sandwich sized resealable bags for easy refrigeration and piled atop each other so that the lid barely stayed attached. "Yoyo and her cousins had a baking day with mi mama so if you like those for the love of all that's holy let me know so we can foist more of them off on you. I cannot overstate how many cookies we've been working though. Just an unconscionable number." Ellie picked up one of the mugs and noted the sports bar's logo while blowing gently across the steaming liquid. "Tell me again how you thought you were passing for straight...?"

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"Mara," said Mara, by way of introduction as she accepted the box, following in Ellie's wake and letting the far more social partner break the ice. "Please take cookies. You'll save lives. Yolanda is very proud, which makes it very difficult to not eat...all of the cookies."


"I will not judge you for thinking you passed as straight," she...reassured?...their host, turning her head away from her open inspection of the boat. She wanted to see the engine, even if she could guess what it was - was that weird? Did people normally want to see engines? Probably not. Mara spent too much time around engineers. "I don't have the cultural background. My childhood was nonsense. They are nice throw pillows, though; helps make it more house than boat."


For lack of additional boat-related things to pry into without tools, Mara carefully opened their gift box and took one of the little statues out to inspect. "These are nice," she said, gently pulling one out of the box to show her wife. Was she supposed to know what space dust felt like? She would not comment on the space dust. She needed to look into having normal friends, this was becoming a problem. "We're reorganizing some of our shelves, these would look nice on the little middle shelves, left of the couch, Ellie? Thank you, Ashley."

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"I wouldn't want to do it in New Orleans or Miami," said Ashley, "but the weather's mild enough to stick it out 90% of the time." She rapped on a wooden panel for luck. "Which is good, because Little Blue and I wouldn't even get out of the harbor if I tried to dodge a hurricane." She didn't sound terribly concerned about that prospect; after all, what superhero would leave before a hurricane got there, unless they were leaving inland to help refugees? She opened Ellie's presents and smiled, giving the cat-face pillow a rueful look. "Well well well, if it isn't my old friend." Tossing it neatly onto the couch, she opened the cookie bag, took a bite, and said "Nice! I can use the pillow when I'm on and and eat cookies when I'm off." 


Damn, she thought, these are really good? And what did I get them? Moon tourist crap! I should have planned harder! The statues turned out to be hand-sized, squat-bodied and big-eyed figures vaguely recognizable as humanoid women, one pure white, the other slate-grey. "I got those in Farside City, they call them Earthwomen. You know, because-" She made a gesture encompassing the height and slender build of Farsiders, an average one of those probably being unable to fit inside the cabin. 


She sat down in the bolted-down desk chair on the other side of the small 'living room'. "Just for the record, sports bars are great places to meet guys who are - definitely not your types," she snorted. "Speaking of...stuff I got on the Moon, look at this." 


She reached into her pocket and pulled out the box; clearly a ring box, and cracked it open, revealing a gold band with a single small gem that looked like something between an opal and a diamond. "I've decided that - the next time I see my girl - I'm going to ask her to marry me." And break it off if she says no. She wasn't ready to say that out loud, though, not yet. 



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  • 3 weeks later...

"Aw, nostalgic," Ellie approved of the statuettes, turning one over in her hands and giving a little laugh at the explanation for its design. She stopped short when Ashely segued into her announcement. After a slow blink the young doctor's expression split into a broad grin. "Well @#$%, that's huge!" She set down the tchotchke to step closer and clap a hand on Ashley's shoulder. "Do you need help with the proposal or were you thinking more low key? You were never big on having an audience. Intimate is probably better anyway. What about location? Are you going to make her dinner? Our kitchen isn't huge but it's got more room than the boat if you want to borrow it."

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Mara mmh'd her assent, eyebrows disappearing up into her bangs as she looked the ring over from a polite distance. "Good appliances, too," she added, putting both little statues back in their box. "Built most of them. I did, I mean; very precise machines. I might be owed favors from a couple nice restaurants, too." Pasta bandits. That had been a weird day. "If you wanted something traditional."


She paused, fingertips tapping the box. "....would she be moving in with you?" she asked, cocking her head, and deadpan as ever. "Hopefully it's something you discussed. This is not a big boat."

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Ashley lit up like a bulb inside a shade, obviously trying to hold herself back but not being terribly convincing. "Yeah, if that's all right with you. She already knows you better than anyone who works groundside," the League, with its satellite base, didn't really count. "I'm going to make her garlic noodles with extra fish sauce, we're going to open the wine she likes, and then I'm going to get down on my knee and do it." It wasn't the sort of proposal she'd imagined when she was a little girl, but then again maybe it was - she'd just changed around who was doing what. "We've been talking about it for a while, but something always comes up for me, or for her, right when we're getting serious. So this is it. We're going to make this work." Or we aren't. She slipped the ring box back in her pocket.


She bit her lip, and added, "We are...going to need a bigger place," she admitted, "because we've both been talking about how, after we got married, we want kids." She blinked. God, just put your heart out there for them to watch it break if this doesn't work-It's okay. These are your friends. You are allowed to have friendsShe took a breath and smiled, "Between you two and Fleur de Joie, I know it is actually possible to be a superhero and a mom, and that's what I want." Okay. Okay. Things are going to be fine. But we do the other stuff after we eat. "But enough about my early midlife crisis. Come on, let's head out to the restaurant and you can tell me what's happening out in the West End!" She was shining a little brighter now.


It really was a little cold to be walking around outside, the wind coming off the bay with some force as it whistled down the bayside streets. Luckily the Arab place wasn't too far away and it was warm from a busy kitchen. Ashley was obviously no stranger here, calling a boisterous hello to (from his nametag) "Mr. Sid" thickly-muscled, grey-mustached man who came out from behind the counter to steer them to a seat in front of the television playing the national news, where a subtitled President O'Connor was giving a speech to a railroad worker's union. "We should get the kibbeh," she offered, "it's great. Hey Mr. Sid, I'll have a mint tea, and the ladies will have...?" The place was decorated for South Arab culture; there were tourist pictures here and there, Yemeni and Socotri flags, and the crowd seemed to be a mixture of out-of-town tourists and Arab locals. 

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Ellie followed Ashley's lead while ordering, giving the proprietor a broad, lopsided smile as he ushered them to their table. She noted the news segment with a glance but decided to steer away from politics given the occasion. "You don't need to go big with any of it, is all I mean," she continued an earlier thread of the conversation, reaching under the table to link fingers with her wife. "Everything online is going to say you need these flowers and this cocktail menu at the reception and some relative is going to have opinions about tradition all of the sudden and if they want to propose to their 'out-of-town' girlfriend they can do whatever they want. It's not like you've ever been about dressing up all ostentatious and giving speeches in front of a huge audience and you shouldn't have to fake it on a day that's supposed to be about the two of you." She paused. "Unless you want the princess gown and everyone you've ever met in attendance, in which case go off, queen, absolutely."

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"Cardamom tea?" was Mara's request off the menu; she was happy to follow Ashley's lead on the food. She was happier still to squeeze her wife's hand under the table, smiling the Ellie Smile that marriage had not diminished.


"Not just an online problem either," she agreed. "People can be awful out of real care for you. Don't know your friends and family, but it's easy for them to try to live through you or try to make sure it's their idea of perfect for you, forget - to forget that it's your wedding, not theirs. Do what makes you both happy, remember that it's about you two and not actual ceremony or tradition. Best advice I got was from my mom, who said that the perfect wedding is one where everything goes wrong and you can still laugh about it when it's over." She paused, tapped a finger against the table, and added, "Mom never married, but apparently advice was from her mom, so...probably still good."

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Ashley's face fell just a little. "My mom's going to come," she said, projecting confidence. "She's been on my ass to get married for ten years and she was in the front row every time one of my sisters got married, she'd better come to this one, right?" She finished their order, and made sure to order the kibbeh to start them off, which let her not think about how her mom would react to the news that she was finally getting married to her girlfriend. That was a piece of feeling she didn't need to deal with right now, so she changed to something easier to deal with. "Back when I was little, I was sure I'd get married in Mary Queen of Vietnam, but that doesn't seem too likely unless they elect Gabriel Pope." She snorted. "Where she's from, they usually do it, you know, just with signing forms, so she said it's up to me." If she says yes. "I don't want like a full...Bridezilla dress, but maybe something in red." 


She smiled a little, then glanced up when Mr. Sid excitedly declared, "Look! Patriot! And Patrioteen!" The masked, costumed patriotic defender of American civil liberties was conducting an interview with one of her young proteges, an armored, winged patriotic young man who kept his own identity close to the vest but was widely known to be Arab-American. "He is Soqotri you know! I love this country," he added cheerfully to the ladies as he brought out their tea in faded red cups that looked like they'd been in use there for years. The context looked to be an interview for one of the big cable news channels; not the sort of thing your average hero did, but one of the few costumed super-people working for the US government was not your average hero. 

The Patriot looked to be in no mood - though you had to go by voice with the upper part of her face invisible behind her helmet. "Neither of us are ever going to run for office," she was telling the interviewer firmly. "Superpeople shouldn't get involved in politics." 


"What about your recent role as grand marshal of the DC Pride Parade?" she asked in reply. 


"Being queer isn't political," said the Patriot, "anymore than being Asian is. It's just what I am. But the minute people like me start telling people like you how to vote, we're spitting in the face of personal freedom in this country. We have superheroes, not super-rulers."

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  • Gizmo changed the title to Americhristmas

Patrioteen smiled at the praise from Mr. Sid, though he shifted a bit at being called out as Soqotri. He'd been more than willing to be open about that part of his identity, but it was still awkward at times. 


"To add on to what she's said, we always encourage the people of this nation to vote and participate in the workings of the country. But Patriot is right, in that while there's real value in people like us being symbols, it's a lot murkier for us to be leaders, let alone rulers. We've seen a few examples of it going...okay-ish, and many examples of it going poorly. Patriot's part in the parade was specifically for the parade, and isn't her taking some sort of semi-permanent leadership role."


He took a quick sip of water from one of the water bottles these programs always had on hand. 


"We've committed to never endorsing candidates, or even really endorsing political positions beyond 'Please do not do crime'. We work for the people of the United States, and we'll do our best to never forget that."


He'd been coached for literally hours on this by Ashley, but it seemed that Sharaf had been developing his public speaking skills well in recent months. 

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Ellie looked up to listen to the televised interview as the proprietor drew attention to it and was polite enough to wait until he'd delivered their tea and stepped away before pulling a face. "Can't say the lady's not trying, at least. Wouldn't see me taking that job. Sucks they trot the kid out there too, though." She looked across the table to Ashley and gave a gesture of embarrassed apology. "Sorry! Not what we were talking about. It just gets me, like, meta-humans can't have a political opinion? Should we not vote, either? The government's going to make laws about people with powers, about our bodies but watch out, it'd be inappropriate if we had opinions about it?" The subject had obviously hit a bit of a sore spot and the young doctor looked over her shoulder briefly to make sure she wasn't disturbing anyone else in the little restaurant.


Lowering her voice just in case she extended a hand toward Ashley. "Like, we both come from cops, yeah? Can't be a cop if you've got powers. But how is the Patriot not a cop? So what even are the rules?" She made an irritated gesture before picking up her teacup. "Don't get me wrong, I'd rather it was her doing it than some bro from your hot wings place; everything I hear is she's good people. You can just tell there's ten speech writers off camera vetting this stuff. They know exactly what they're doing getting the Soqotri kid up there going, 'meta-humans in government is bad, actually,' like that's the squeaky wheel in this country." She hunched her shoulders and covered most of her face with her cup. "Ugh, Mara, baby, help change the subject again or I'll keep being totally unbearable. Sorry, Ash."

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"Definitely would not want that job," said Mara, having spent Ellie's rant trying out her tea. Good tea. She used her free hand to pat Ellie on the back. "Can barely stand business press things, or meetings with government officials during contract work." She paused halfway to another sip of tea and added, "...not really worse than big business types. Different kind of annoying sometimes."


She glanced back at the television, sipping thoughtfully. As Dragonfly, she usually avoided the press; as Mara, she tried to minimize press and government both. "Do you think they show up on your doorstep if you choose a very patriotic name or costume? All hero stuff is political, and the red-white-and-blue ones are positioning themselves as leaders, representatives, whether they like it or not. Bet government has a whole PR department trying to keep up with heroes trying to represent America specifically. Lots of underpaid state workers trying to keep heroes from saying whatever things current establishments don't like, without forcing the issue. Must be awful for everyone involved."

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"Thanks, Mr. Sid. Free Socotra!" she said automatically, raising her cup in salute, even though technically a pretty boy she'd gone to school with was now the Prince-Consort of that particular nation-state. And wasn't that a fun couple of weeks, she remembered, counseling Judy about why it was bad to have a super coup d'etat even if it was against a real son-of-a-bitch. 

Ashley hesitated at the turn the conversation had taken, then figured what the hell - they were all just friends having a friendly conversation. I can talk even when I don't have people writing my lines for me. Technically they tended to get very specifically-worded suggestions rather than a script, but that seemed like a small point to niggle on right now. Hell, how did Mara know about - well okay, she is a super-genius. 

"With those two, you don't want them endorsing anybody, because then you get superheroes who are hired and fired because of their politics - and that's going to turn into an army like that." She snapped her fingers with one hand while drinking her tea with the other. "For the rest of them, it's a slippery slope on both sides. Capes have power that people let them have, but if they start really using that power, a lot of people are going to freak out - so you either get the government biting down on the supers, which is just going to get you killed the next time there's an invasion, or the supers take out the government and suddenly we're all in that evil dimension..." She sipped her tea again. "And that's leaving out the people who would vote just because a cape told them to, even if they were voting to put their kids in an orphanage. Or hell, even vote for a cape because they told them to. Phalanx walking into the White House and deciding he's President is a problem. Miss Americana getting elected President, that's a whole other one." 

As the TV station switched back to an Arabic music video, she considered just how much she should say about the Patriot. "Between the dragon, and the earth god, and the plant goddess, and the lady who can pluck bullets out of the air, and the guy with 'love my beautiful voice' powers, the lady with the gun is probably the least threatening person on the Freedom League. And really, I know they went without one for forever, but isn't it better having somebody from the government on that team especially? Somebody who works for us and not for a giant bee."


She grinned at Ellie. "Hey, don't forget, you're talking to an official government drone here. If you ask me, cops with powers doesn't sound that bad."

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Ellie rolled her eyes at 'government drone'. "I've worked too may ER shifts to think cops with guns sounds like a good idea and I've never had to wonder how one of the bees' body cam footage mysteriously went missing. And look, this is obviously a downer but people already vote to put kids in cages; would it be inappropriate if, whoever, say Gabriel said that was a crappy policy?" She leaned back in her chair, not looking terribly pleased to be committing the the more serious topic but also unwilling to brush it aside for the sake of social niceties. "The main issues with policing come from them prioritizing property, wealth, maintaining established power structures because they're part of those structures. The system is actively hostile to cops who actually want to "work for us" and being a fewer steps away from lobbyists and @#$%s jockeying for re-election doesn't seem like it would make the Patriot more effective, does it?"


The brunette raised her empty hand in a vague gesture and looked into her teacup. "Look, obviously I'm coming from some bias here since I've met most of the current League but the geology nerd has gone of bat for "us" time and again. On the other hand, last time a Patriot was on a League there stopped being a League. Which, with the benefit of hindsight, I think we can confidently label 'not great'? I didn't miss any campaigns on social to make McCarthyism cool again? I never check mine, the algorithm is still showing me nothing but wedding stuff, it's unusable."

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"I turned the algorithm inside out until it stopped doing that," said Mara, as if that was a perfectly normal thing to have done. "Get lots of weird online accreditation ads now, though. Not sure it's an improvement." Mara did not have a college degree; she still wasn't sure if or how an algorithm had figured that out.


She tapped her fingertips against her mug, tap-tap-tap, as she mulled several things over at once. "People already vote by fame or because they're told to," she said, "capes don't change that - would bet a hero arguing for a party would sway opinion of the hero more than opinion of the party unless they're...the Centurion, or similar. Would also have to bar actors and athletes and influencers from political spheres to make meaningful impact. Not going to hold the old Patriot against the new one, though - willing to judge them on their own terms."


"Nobody on the League is elected; Patriot's just one more unelected person. They represent us or they don't." She shrugged, running a hand back through her hair in a futile attempt to get it to stay. "Understand why the government would find it comforting to have someone on the team, not really bothered by it, but think the League has better track record than government. Job's also simpler, probably, but I've met a couple and like them better than most politicians. Probably wouldn't mind too much if the plant goddess was on the ballot, as long as she was there honestly. Wouldn't vote for the dragon. Would be very suspicious of the voice, but only because his specific power is abusable to get and keep that position."

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"We've got lucky. The guy with "do what I say" powers mostly wants to tell people to follow the Golden Rule and clean up after themselves; the guy with "what I want happens" powers who helped his wife take over a UN member mostly wants to be a Youtuber Bob Ross." She had actually been a little worried about Gabriel, but he was rather more forgiving about certain things than the Catholic priests she'd grown up with. As for Mark, well, Ellie would remember him too. "Better to nip it in the bud before we get a super rights party." She looked down at her reflection in the teacup for a moment, mulling over her relations with the League. "It's not a question of passing laws, anyway, since people would just do it anyway if it was banned, it's just - it's the right thing to do. You put on a costume and start telling other people how to live, it doesn't matter _what_ you're telling them at all." 


She shrugged slightly. "I grew up hearing about what happened back in the old country, and why coming to this one was the best thing my bà nội and my dad ever did. Unaccountable people who think they know what's best for the proles may be very nice and they may be even be right about some things. But a boot's still a boot, even if you like the person wearing it. I just feel better knowing there's somebody out there who's bound by something a little stronger than doing what they feel like."  


Ashley hesitated, realizing what she was doing - lying to her friends by omission, again. 


 I'm not supposed to be doing this anymore. What are they going to think when I tell them, that I'm just laughing behind my hand right now?


"But, anyway, speaking of wedding stuff..." She hesitated again, then smiled nervously. "I did have a dress picked out." She fiddled around on her phone, then produced an image of a red and gold Vietnamese ao dai spread out on a mattress. "I'd - I have to get it let it out because I've got a lot of muscle mass on the other women in my family, but it's the same one two of my sisters wore to their wedding. My dad bought it for my mom before they were married." That seemed to be all that needed to be said about that. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

"Wow wow wow!" Ellie leaned over the table, halfway standing out of her chair to get a better look at the photo on Ashley's phone. "I love the shoulders on that. And that's such a sweet tradition." Thinking on the 'traditional' along with the reminder of the other woman's fairly conservative politics gave her a moment's pause. She leaned back in her chair and took a moment to choose her words. "This is always the thing with weddings in the community but does your family know that your ladyfriend is from 'out of town'?" Ellie chewed on the corner of her bottom lip and wrinkled her nose in a muted wince as she added the potentially more delicate question, "And, y'know, a lady?"

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"I...I don't know if my mom will come," Ashley admitted, not quite able to meet Ellie's eyes. "She's not - homophobic," she said defensively, even if she wondered if it was true, "she just - has never wanted to talk about it." She hesitated, then added, "She really fell apart inside after my dad was killed. She moved out of the city, married my stepdad, got really involved with his church. I always thought it was helping her." She smiled thinly, making herself look up and continued the conversation. "...My sisters, meanwhile, all swore they suspected this whole time, so I know they're coming." Even the one not by blood, who doesn't even have blood anymore, knew me that well. "So that's going to be them, their husbands, their kids...and that's just that side of that family." 

She already knew Ellie's family had been supportive, even if she didn't know all the details there, so instead she turned to Mara. "How about you?" she asked. "Was everyone okay with - everything? Even Ellie's job?"

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"I married a doctor," Mara deadpanned, eyebrows raised. "'Everyone' who matters is just my mother, but she was delighted. She was...not around for a long time." Mara paused, tapping a finger on the table and searching for a way to explain that without raising more questions. "Not her fault. Think she was...surprised, but initially just happy to be part of my life. Got a lot of hints she was disappointed she wouldn't get more grandchildren. Otherwise very supportive."


She cocked her head, hair spilling out of place as she spooled a few mother/daughter conversations back through her head. "Worries about Ellie's job." And Mara's own. "Ellie won her over, though. Mostly just get phone calls when something makes the news. Very lucky - our relationship is...odd." Her mouth did something that wasn't quite a smile and wasn't quite a frown, but she shrugged and ran a hand along the side of her head to try to get her hair back where hair should go. "But I have one good parent. Many don't have that. Yours might surprise you when she evaluates missing her own daughter's wedding."

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  • 1 month later...

“I’m a catch,” Ellie confirmed serenely, touching fingertips to her chest and nodding.

She tilted her head to one side, one eye closed while the other sought out Ashley’s gaze but she didn’t press the issue when the other woman looked away. Gently she continued, “It’s not your job to convince her or win her over, y’know. Representation or normalizing or whatever is one thing but I think that’s more about giving closeted folks some courage and shutting up the real %$&?s. If someone who knows and loves you specifically wants to put conditions on that it’s up to them to get their heart in order.”

She gave a small shrug and tried to adopt a lighter tone. “Every family’s different, though, yeah? Might be messy but I’m sure it’ll work out in the end.”

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"She's still my mom," said Ashley softly, reflectively. "But if she doesn't want to come, that's her problem, not mine. The people who matter are going to be there, one way or another." Assuming we can get the thing to go off, anyway. But that was a thought that was painful to think about; and after a lifetime of preparing herself for the worst in each and every possible situation, maybe it was okay to let herself think it wasn't going to happen. They talked about light subjects for the remainder of the meal; her extended family across Louisiana, Colorado, and beyond, and the ever-growing Espadas clan here in Freedom City, and when she could be persuaded, maybe how many kids she saw herself having. "Nothing crazy, not five, I'd never be able to work that much. But maybe just one or two. I'd like to have a boy," she admitted, "but with just X-chromosones, I guess we'd have to..." She hesitated for a minute, staring off into space, then said, "Hm. Hm. Well, that's for another day. You two ever think about having another?" When the bill came, she was briefly torn - the Patriot was paid well enough that she could easily have covered the whole meal, but government agent and part-time superheroine Ashley Tran should have let her friends the doctor and the science genius cover it. 

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