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Electra

Housewarming [IC]

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Stesha cast one last look around her little sanctuary, making sure that everything was looking beautiful and in order. The leafy walls were awash in fall colors now, giving the place a homey, cozy atmosphere that she liked very much, even if it required more maintenance. The whole place required a little more maintenance these days, the grassy floor was running wild lately with flowers and even mushrooms sprouting up every time she turned around. Must be one last gasp of vibrancy before winter, she supposed.

But everything had to look perfect today because Taylor was finally going to see her world! It was exciting and just a little nervewracking at the same time. Taylor was, after all, the guardian of the dimensions, there wasn't much out there she hadn't seen. Stesha just hope she liked this simple little sanctuary. At least it was as babyproofed as Stesha could make it, so that was one less worry!

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Taylor stepped out of thin air, baby bundled up in her arms. The bundling was more for Taylor's preferences than any actual need on JJ's part. For the first time since JJ's birth, she looked relaxed and happy as she stepped onto the grass. Her dark hair was back in a simple braid and she had on a thick sweater and a casual pair of jeans.

"Hey, Stesha," Taylor crossed over to her best friend with a few quick steps and offered her a quick one armed hug. "This place looks amazing. It's absolutely stunning. I hope you didn't go to any special effort for us."

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Stesha hugged her back, taking a quick look at the baby at the same time. "It's so good to see you, it feels like it's been forever since we've gotten together!" she exclaimed happily. "And look how big JJ has gotten! He's a little man now! I've got coffee in the pot, and soft drinks and snacks if you'd like anything. I didn't know if you're in the eating habit anymore these days," she added with a chuckle. "Looks a little bit different from last time you were here, hmm? I've been putting in a lot of time here, fixing the place up. I've got a couple thousand square miles fixed up pretty well now, but the rest will have to wait for spring. Let me show you the house."

Stesha's little house was looking very homey now, with a little kitchenette made of wooden cupboards and with a coffeemaker, microwave and minifridge all hooked up to the solar generator out back. There was a little table and chairs for eating, and a conversational grouping of sofa and chairs around a coffee table, set in front of a space heater. A little hallway connected to a small bedroom and a bathroom with a chemical toilet and portable shower. It was only a few steps up from camping, but it was still nice.

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"Oh, this is charming. I think you could make a mint with post cards or lovers retreats. If it wasn't so sunny, I might talk to you about a second honeymoon local." Taylor said with a contented smile as she set JJ down on the ground to show off his scooting and crawling skills. He was a fast little thing. Taylor pulled out a few of his toys from his pockets and set them down, sending the lit ball bouncing to keep him distracted. Raising a baby vampire seemed to be like a cross between an infant and a house cat. He seemed unimpressed with baby Mozart but give him a light up ball to chase around and he could be busy for hours.

Taylor turned back to Stesha and nodded, "I'm still doing liquids, actually. The bottomless pit down there is still breastfeeding but my appetite for solids has returned to pre-pregnancy norms. Which is probably good, it's awkward when only one person in a family is on a solid diet. So, other than busy, how have you been?"

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"I've been all right, filling up the hours with all sorts of things," Stesha said, just a little bit too brightly. "Look at you, aren't you the cutest thing?" she cooed, getting down on her hands and knees with the baby. "You look so much like your mommy, with your pretty eyes and dimples... Oh! Should he be doing that?" she asked Taylor as the baby latched on and began gnawing on a throw pillow. "I... I don't really know if that's edible or not."

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"Sorry, he's teething." Taylor explained and she went to go wrest the throw pillow from him and provide a more appropriate substitute. "He won't eat anything that isn't part of his limited diet and he can't choke, so he should be fine. He's hard on the upholstery though. Jack and I are constantly repairing the couch from teeth marks."

Taylor shook one of the toys a few times until he latched onto that and started to keep himself a bit busy with lots of growling and hissing. The adult JJ probably found displays like this more than a little humiliating. That might be why the elder time displaced version was so frequently absent. "You sure you're doing okay?"

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Stesha sat with her back against the couch, folding her hands in her lap. "Derrick hasn't been home in over a month," she admitted with some difficulty. "I've had a few short messages, just to tell me he's okay and that fending off the invasion is just taking longer than he'd planned, but even those have been few and far between. I miss him so much!" She rubbed her hands over her face. "I know this is how it has to be sometimes when you're a hero, or when you love one, but I hate it. And I hate that I'm not getting married this month like I was dreaming, and I hate that it matters so much when he's out there risking his life and that's all I should be thinking about!" The whole thing sort of came out in a flood, everything that had been pent up for ages.

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"Oh, Stesha," Taylor sighed. She wasn't a physically demonstrative person, so she reached out to gently pat one of her friend's hands gently, "I know. I so, so know where you're coming from... because not that long ago, I was totally that person in my relationship. Jack and I had some terrible fights. It's really hard to find time when you're both super heroes to stay together as a family. I think, it's worse when you're both heroes, because you take for granted that the other person will understand that the world just has to be saved again. I had to really reevaluate my priorities. But, we worked through it. So will you. Probably with less broken furniture."

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"I don't think he can re-evaluate his priorities," Stesha said quietly, looking up at Taylor. "He's literally saving the lives of millions of people, and he's been doing stuff like that since almost before I was born. Even if I could compete with that, what kind of hero would that make me if I tried? I just... I just want him to come back and be an Earth hero, with me, and it's ridiculously selfish to want that. So I've been stressing out over that for a little while now. How did you do it?" she asked Taylor suddenly. "You have a job like that, where you have to save all the worlds. How can you make it work?"

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"I had to think outside the box." Taylor admitted, twisting her wedding bands on her finger, her expression creasing in memory, "It wasn't easy and in the end, I took on more responsibility but with it the realization that I am not alone. It's true, I have unique powers and abilities but that doesn't make me the only one who can deal with crisis. I chose to bear that burden alone - which was needed for a time - I had to grow and learn in order to understand."

She smiled slightly and looked up at Stesha, "But I get it now. Heshem didn't choose me because she wanted a drone who patrolled the pathways between the world, she wanted someone who could be both human and other. Who could understand both halves of the equation because without both, there is no flexibility..."

Taylor shook her head and waved her hands, "I'm going on and on and its probably not helping, the short of it, is I realized that I can mentor and delegate and the more people I teach what I know to, the more the work is shared. Sure, I'll have times where I get busy but we all do but without my family, without Jack and JJ I'm so much less."

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"Maybe he can find some way to do the same thing," Stesha said, sounding as though she were trying her hardest to hope for that. "He's so powerful, but he's not the only hero out there, and he's entitled to have a life of his own, no matter how strong he is. We all need to have real lives, or how do we remember what's worth fighting for?" She stood up and went to the kitchenette, plugging in the coffee machine and letting it run. "For instance," she added, moving the subject along, "you have to tell me all about what the baby's been up to. I can't believe he's already so big!"

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"He will..." Taylor said and sat back in her chair, steepling her fingers together in a classic sign that she'd spent far too much time of late being the inscrutable mystic. "You know what the problem might be with Dark Star, however, is his scale of time is... skewed, I think. Remember, he hied off to space for about twenty years and came back a bit startled at how much changed? You might try getting him a Dark Star friendly watch. When he's out in space, he doesn't really have anything to gauge off of to know how time is passing."

Taylor smiled, feeling that she'd stated that possibilitiy as politically as possible. "As to JJ, he's been up to and into everything. We're having... some problems getting him to try solids. Well, a lot of problems, really. But other than that, he's ahead of the curve for just about everything else. He's a bright boy."

She beamed like the proud mama that she was.

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"I can tell! Look how he crawls already, he must be keeping you hopping!" Stesha laughed, reaching for the exploring baby. Quick as a striking snake, JJ lunged and sunk his tiny fangs into her arm! Stesha yelped in surprise, even as JJ let go with a look of startled disgust and began wailing. Pulling her arm away, Stesha cradled it to her chest, giving the squalling infant a rueful look. "Like father, like son, I see," she murmured dryly.

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"Sorry, I should have warned you." Taylor apologized, even as she knelt down to scoop up her wailing son and snuggle him against her shoulder while she rooted around for a bottle in the dimensional pocket. "He's gotten some of Jack's, hrmm, dietary quirks. We're trying to keep him on, well, human food as much as possible but it does make weaning him hard."

She popped the bottle into the still snuffling infant's mouth, tucking him back against one shoulder. JJ wound one chubby fist in the tail of her pony tail and eyed Stesha with teary-eyed suspicion. "He doesn't pass at all well which makes it hard to take him out places although we've been trying to socialize him a little bit but... well..."

Taylor glanced at Stesha's injury as if that was explanation enough and offered, "I can heal that, by the way. I am so sorry."

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"No, it's okay," Stesha assured her friend, deliberately relaxing her arm to de-emphasize the severity of the bite. "I wanted to show you around anyway, and the sun will heal it right up anyway. I'm better at that than I used to be," she said wryly, thinking of a long-ago hickey she'd taken plenty of teasing over from her work friends. "Do you need to, um, cover him up or anything to take him outside?"

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"No, he'll hide his face but we've proven that the sun doesn't do anything but make him lethargic and cranky. If he's biting, a little lethargy isn't such a bad thing." Taylor said as she snuggled him against her shoulder and grabbed a blanket for him to hang onto and hide behind if he really got unhappy. "So, show me around the place! You've been busy, it seems. Did you do this all yourself?"

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"Most of it," Stesha said, leading the way out the door. "I've had a little help here and there. Supercape did all my glasswork, the windows and the dome you'll see pretty soon here. It's gorgeous stuff, and he just makes it out of nothing!" They stepped outside onto a pathway made of seashells and small stones, leading through a clearing in the middle of a thick forest of trees. The change from the last time Taylor had been here was immense. Then, this place had been a wasteland, almost totally barren, with nothing growing but scattered hardy grasses and the occasional gnarled tree. Now it looked like the woods from a fairy tale, complete with the houses of woodland gnomes or something fanciful like that. Stesha's house was the biggest and most complete of the structures in the clearing, others were half-finished or completed but small and windowless, obviously for practice or storage.

"It's a lot of work," she continued, "but I've really enjoyed it. It's great practice and I've really sharpened some of my skills. And," she admitted ruefully, "working hard helps me take my mind off things. I just worry all the time, and at least when I'm doing this, I work till I'm exhausted, and then I actually sleep."

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"I know how that goes. Well, not the sleeping. I don't do that anymore. I'm not sure if that's new or I just never realized that fatigue was about the same with two days of constant activity versus two months." Taylor shrugged slightly as she glanced around, tilting her face up to the sun. "It's magical. You must have been spending a lot of time here, then?"

Taylor glanced around, her pupils vanishing into a soft white glow as she shifted her perceptions around to check the work. She blinked and her eyes went back to normal as she smiled at Stesha, "It's just stunning. Have any plans for it?"

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Taylor's widened perceptions told her that the whole world was not like this, that Stesha's work so far covered a space about the size of New Jersey and not much further. Beyond that was still the barren landscape she remembered, but it was a start. "I have lots of plans," Stesha told her, almost skipping as she led the way down the path. "I've already started doing a few things with it. I built the holding area I wanted, to keep civilians when I have to teleport them out of danger. You remember at your wedding, when I had to send all the guests to the park in the freezing cold? This is much better than that, and much better than just shoving them into plants and making them stay there."

They came upon the holding area as Stesha spoke, a large structure the size of a football field and about three stories tall. The walls were made of hedges, considerably taller than either woman, with leaves going red and gold and bronze for the autumn. Above the hedge soared a massive crystalline dome, suspended on pillars of the same substance, which enclosed the space while still letting in plenty of sunlight. "Isn't it pretty?" Stesha asked with great satisfaction. "Supercape made it for me."

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"It's very pretty. What's it for?" Taylor asked curiously, running one hand over the leafy walls of the structure, "Is it just to store people or...?"

All in all, she was taking the use of this dimension and the planet here in stride. So the changes to her outlook had affected more than her relationship with Jack but Stesha rarely saw the scary side of Phantom. "That reminds me. Our anniversary is coming up. I need to do something special for Jack but I have no idea what. He's been so grim lately. Well, grimmer than usual at home."

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"It's mostly just a holding area for people I move out of danger, till I can drop them back on Prime," Stesha confirmed. "I figure it might come in handy for other things, heck, I could throw a party there sometime, but mostly it's just to be a better solution than dumping people somewhere random. There's food in there, and some sleeping bags just in case, and first aid kits. I used the heck out of it, without the dome on top, at Halloween, getting people out of the way of the zombies. It worked really well."

She walked along the hedge, perking up wilted leaves here and there as she thought about Taylor's problem. "Maybe you guys could get away together?" she suggested. "If he's been bummed because you haven't gotten a lot of time together, it might be worth it to try and clear your schedule for a romantic weekend, just for the two of you." It was a little bit galling to give relationship advice on how to make Jack happy, especially when her own relationship was in limbo, but Taylor was her friend. "If you need someone to watch the baby, I can pitch in some time, I'm sure."

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"We have a wonderful young woman who baby sits for us. She's nigh-impervious." Taylor added dryly as JJ snuggled into her neck to hide from the sun. He was indeed much more lethargic and cranky in the sunlight but his natural instinct to blend in with the day walkers kept him from hissing and biting. "You should hold the wedding here when it happens - and it will happen, Stesha. It never goes as we plan but that doesn't make it any less wonderful. I mean, Dracula's goons invaded my wedding and the birth of JJ but that doesn't make me cherish the memories any less. It's just the way life happens with all of this wonder."

She waved a hand at the dome and the tiny paradise, eons away from home.

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"It's a nice idea," Stesha replied wistfully, "I just don't know if I'm ready to be quite that open with basically everyone I know about my secret identity. Telling my folks was one thing, and that went pretty well, but telling all their friends and all my siblings and everyone in my hometown... I'm not so sure about that. But if we can get it all together by spring, it's going to be just amazing here. It'll be like fairyland." She sighed, looking around. "JJ will probably be running around on his own by then. Wow."

She led the way away from the dome, back towards the forest. "Oh, do you want to see the giant bee meadow?" she suggested.

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"Oh, that could be a problem. I forget. Except for my family, everyone at the wedding was more or less in the superhero community." Taylor agreed. JJ clung to his mother, chubby hands fisted in the blanket draped over her shoulder but more interested and alert once they were back in the shade of the trees. He had Jack's bright blue eyes still and rather than the usual vaguely unfocused gaze of an infant, his would zip back and forth to focus on micro movements. Shifting him to her hip, Taylor nodded her agreement, "Giant bee meadow?"

There was probably a story in that one.

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"You remember the Beekeeper, right?" Stesha asked, grinning a little. "Last time we fought him, he brought in bees the size of semi-trucks to fight us. It was pretty intense. We beat him, thanks to some clever and sort of creepy disguise work by Ace, but while he went off to Blackstone, we had a dozen sentient bees the size of semi-trucks to deal with. So we sort of parleyed with them and I told them that they could come live here, where I can make flowers big enough for them to eat from without much problem. Then we found some fire-breathing bees who'd been kicked out of the hive, and I brought them here too. It's not the whole hive, but they're doing pretty well here." Touching Taylor's arm, she moved them all the ten miles or so to the bee meadow, where flowers the size of houses waved on redwood stalks or sat cozied in leaf cups that covered football fields. In the distance, gigantic black and yellow shapes flew through the air.

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