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They Grow Up So Fast


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Wading Way, Freedom City, New Jersey

Friday, November 1, 2013

10:04 AM


The Wading Way was best known for the towering office buildings that dominated the Freedom City skyline, the most easily recognizable being the three towers of Pyramid Plaza, but even it had a few small greenspaces wedged in among the business that dominated the area.  While miniscule compared to Liberty Park, the Promenade or even Riverside Park, they still had plenty of trees, bushes and other plants to provide a discrete location for Stesha Lumins (more widely known as Fleur de Joie) to make a discrete appearance.


One of Stesha's teammates on the Freedom League, Megan Howell (better known as Velocity) had called yesterday asking to meet with the greenhaired woman at Megan's apartment in this part of town.  That building stood just across the street from the park Stesha arrived at, rising up over forty stories into the air.  Megan's was up on the thirty seventh floor.


It had been several months ago that Megan had come to visit Stesha at her home in Sanctuary, to talk about Megan's recent encounter with a former lover (a man named Robert Harrow) and learning that she might someday have a son with Robert who would have powers that allowed him to seemingly destroy entire timelines.  In large part based on some of Stesha's advice, Megan had renewed her relationship with Robert, and had Stesha had gotten a number of reports about how well things seemed to be going over the intervening months.


There had been an incident in early June where pieces of some sort of prototype to the Stopwatch that Robert had wielded during the earlier encounter in February that had led to Megan learning about their future son.  But Megan had been able to handle gathering the fragments of that prototype Stopwatch with the assistance of an android named Hronos that had powers allowing it to control time, as well as Robert and a female archeologist/adventurer named Heather Steed.


Since that incident, everything Stesha had heard from Megan seemed to suggest that things were continuing to go well.  Early in October, the younger woman had even indicated that she and Robert were investing together in a property on an island in Fiji.  In fact, Stesha had not seen Megan in well over a week, as Megan had gone to spend some time with Robert at their new home on the South Pacific island. 


But then Megan had called yesterday, stating she needed some advice and to talk, though the young speedster had not provided much else in the way of details.

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Stesha popped out of an evergreen bush with ten minutes to spare before her meet-up with Megan, plenty of time to cross the street and ride the elevator. She was in her civilian clothes today, for all the good that did her. After almost five tumultuous years in Freedom City, the small woman with the long, long green braids was a pretty recognizable sight to inhabitants who paid attention. It was probably just as well that she spent so much time on Sanctuary these days, made life much easier. On her way up to Megan's place, she paused long enough to smile hello to the doorman and buy a selection of newspapers and magazines from the newsstand in the lobby. It was nice for all their transplants to get regular news from home. 


Right on the dot of 10:15, Stesha walked down the hallway and knocked on Megan's door. She'd never been to this place before, but it was nice, clean and quiet and spacious. Thirty-seven floors up was too high in the air for her own tastes, but she suspected it would not bother the speedster at all. Certainly navigating the stairs would be no problem in an emergency!

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Stesha was not at all surprised that the door the apartment was opened almost instantly after her knock.  "Right on time Stesha.  Its so good to see you."  Megan stated cheerfully as she opened the door and greeted her teammate with a wide smile.  The blonde speedster was also dressed in civilian clothes, in her case a pair of dark jeans and a white cashmere sweater.  Though she looked just like she had when Stesha had last seen her a few weeks ago, there was something else there in her face or eyes that was hard to place. 


"Please come in and make yourself comfortable."  Megan added, stepping aside to allow Stesha in.  Just inside the door was a small foyer with hardwood floors.  A narrow table sat under a mirror on the right hand wall, and a closet was to the left.  Stesha could see a hallway leading off to the right a short ways in, and straight ahead the entryway opened up into a larger, brightly lit room.


Just as Stesha entered the apartment, another figure seemed almost to appear ahead of her.  A young boy who looked about six years old stood there looking at her.  He had short blond hair and fine features.  His bright blue eyes were filled with a curiosity and intelligence that was hard to miss, and were the very image of Megan's own blue eyes.


"Hello."  He said with a warm smile and something of a refined British accent.


Megan glanced over to the boy a smile coming to her face.  "Lawrence, this is mommy's friend Stesha.  She and I are going to  visit a bit, so why don't you go back to the bedroom and reread a couple of the Harry Potter books."

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Stesha couldn't help but blink at the surprising appearance of a little boy in Megan's orderly apartment, any more than she could stop the raised-eyebrows expression of surprise at hearing the speedster refer to herself as "Mommy."  But she'd been working in Freedom City for a long time, so within seconds she'd covered it with a warm smile for the little boy. "It's very nice to meet you, Lawrence. I love the Harry Potter books too. When my little girl Ammy is older, we're going to read them together." Theories immediately filled Stesha's mind, dimensional refugee, accelerated gestation, time-travel, genetic cloning... there were really all sorts of ways to come up with a child suddenly, and her friends and acquaintances had experienced most of them. She held onto her questions for the time being. 

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The smile on Lawrence's face widened as Stesha mentioned loving the series as well.  "My mommy and father read them to me when I was little, but I can read them on my own now."  He replied, a great deal of pride evident in his accomplishment. 


Megan gave the little boy an adoring look, but then replied, "you will have a chance to visit a little later, back to the bedroom," She then quickly added, "and walk please!"


There was a brief look of disappointment on Lawrence's face, but he then gave his mother a small smile and started off down the hallway to the right.


"That ought to keep him busy for an hour or so."  Megan stated quietly as she closed the door to the apartment.  "Can I take your coat?"  She then asked.

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"Yes, thanks." Stesha set down her pile of papers and shrugged out of her coat, passing it to Megan while still looking down the hallway. She folded her hands together and looked around the apartment for a moment, letting her mind settle. "So..." she finally began, a faint smile on her face for the absurdity. "Either it's been way longer than I thought since you and I last caught up, or some things have changed. He's very cute," she offered, walking down the hall towards the living room. 

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"Thank you."  Megan responded as she hung up Stesha's coat in the closet near the door.  "He is the very image of Robert. But of course, has my eyes."


As Stesha move forward the apartment opened up into a large living room area that ran perpendicular to the foyer, connecting to a small dining room further along the wall to the left.  There was a slight step down to the living room area, and just along the right hand wall was along table on which sat a laptop, printer and some other well organized office supplies along with a pair of low bookshelves.  Straight ahead, she could see the doorway into the kitchen.


The living room had two large black leather couches arranged around a glass to coffee table.  There were a number of other low bookshelves, containing both books and a number of small sculptures and vases.  One contained a number of home entertainment components, connected to a large flat screen TV mounted on the wall above it. 


But what really stood out in the room was that the living room wall to the left as one entered from the foyer, continuing on into the dining room area and then wrapping around to the other wall, was all large windows providing an amazing view of the buildings of Wading Way outside, including the three twisting towers of Pyramid Plaza rising up in the distance.


"No, it has not been that long since last we did some catching up."  Megan replied with a small smile as she followed after Stesha.  "At least not for you."


"Would you care for some coffee?  Tea?  Maybe a glass of wine?"  The young blonde then asked.

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"Coffee would be great," Stesha replied, walking over to the windows for a better look. "Cream and sugar if you have it." The last time she'd been up this high, it was to pull a rogue plant controller off the top of Pyramid Plaza, but the wide-angle view was more reminiscent of the times she'd gone flying with Derrick, back when they'd been dating. Her powers had been so new then, and flying over the shining towers of Freedom City with a superhero had been like a giddy dream. It was strange how long ago it all seemed now.


She twisted the gold band on her finger for a moment, then turned her back on the window and deliberately refocused on matters in the here and now. "I love your place," she told Megan as she took a seat on the couch. "The view is spectacular." 

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"Coming right up then."  Megan replied as Stesha indicated coffee would do.  A moment later the blonde was setting a tray down on the glass coffee table with a coffee pot, two cups, a bowl of sugar and a small pitcher of cream.


She sat down as well, waiting for Stesha to prepare coffee first as she glanced over at the windows.  "Thanks, the view as certainly what sold me on renting the place."  She replied.  "It will be what I miss the most."


The young blonde woman then looked back over at her teammate with a small smile.  "Well, I think you now have some idea why I wanted to talk."

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"I think I have some inkling," Stesha responded with a half-smile as she stirred sugar into her coffee. "It looks like you've had some changes in your life since last time we got together. But you seem happy?" It was half a question; Megan looked happy, but they were both women entirely accustomed to wearing masks. "I remember you saying once that you and Robert had some time-travel and future prophecy shenanigans complicating your relationship. Does this have something to do with that?" 

Edited by Electra
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"Lawrence has everything to do with that."  Megan replied as she prepared herself some coffee.  "And I am pretty happy.  Lawrence is wonderful.  So smart, inquisitive and energetic.  He has certainly brought some changes for me and Robert, but most of them good."  The blonde young woman pause a moment then gave a half-smile of her own.  "But now that we have brought him back with us, there are a number issues we have to consider.  So I could use for a bit of advice."

She the paused a moment as she looked back at Stesha, grinning slightly.  "But then, I expect you might want to know just how Lawrence came into the picture?"

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"Well I hate to prod," Stesha demurred, a hint of mischief in her eyes, "but I am expecting a good story here any minute now. I mean, it is Freedom City, and every so often one of my friends or acquaintances pops up with a kid or spouse or an entire family and nobody knows how it happened, but it's still a pretty noteworthy thing. Did you go to an alternate dimension?" she guessed. "I don't know if you remember Phantom, she's pretty much based extra-dimensionally these days, but when she was pregnant, she hopped into another dimension and shortened her nine months to about three. Sometimes being superpowered really does have perks." Of course, Taylor's baby had been half-vampire and all the forces of hell had showed up at the birth, but that was just the downside to the whole superpowers thing. "Come on, I admit it, I'm dying to hear all the details." 

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Megan smile again at Stesha's comments about looking forward to hearing a good story.  "No, I did not know Phantom very well."  The younger blonde woman stated.  "But I guess saying a trip to an alternate dimension was involved is a pretty good description.  But that is only part of it."


"It started last week while Robert and I were at our new place in Fiji.  I had gone to check on Robert when he was supposed to be making us some lunch and arrived just in time to see one of those time agents I ran into in Switzerland back in February disappear with an unconscious Robert.  After a quick search of the entire place just to be sure they had not gone invisible, I was certain that Robert had been taken from the time stream, possibly to the future, but most likely to the Null Zone that this group operated out of."


"So, after suiting up, I ran back to Freedom City.  You and much of the rest of the League was tied up on some mission or another, so I got in touch with Hronos to help me try to rescue Robert.  We took the parts of the prototype and the finished Stopwatch and went to see a man named John Smith, whom Hronos had encountered months ago in possession of one of the prototype fragments.  Apparently Smith had possession of that fragment for thousands of years.  Smith was able to operate the Stopwatch to take us to the Null Zone, a place outside the normal flows of time and where time operates in a very different fashion."


"We were able to locate Robert.  But we also found Lawrence.  He is a clone of the future son I have in some time streams, the one that is the threat to all the time streams.  By growing him in the Null Zone, outside the normal flow of time, the belief was that he would be removed from the problems Collapse has normally.  From what we have been able to determine, that belief appears to be true."

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Stesha listened to the story with great interest, and not a little sympathy. Any hero with vulnerable family members could understand the nightmare of work crashing into the home. "Coming after your family, that is the absolute worst!" she exclaimed with great conviction. "I'm sorry I wasn't around to help, but I hope you kicked their asses for it. Is Robert all right?" She looked down the hall where Lawrence had gone. "And is Lawrence just... does he have powers like the one in the future?" There was really no polite way to ask is he normal, is he safe, so she just let it hang in the air unsaid. 

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Megan could not help but smile at Stesha's outrage over the attack on Robert.  The young speedster had certainly felt that way about the incident when it happened, but for her it now was much further in the past than it might seem.  "I was rather upset following the kidnapping, but Robert is just fine.  And things were much more complicated than simply attacking him to get at me."


At Stesha's other question, Megan looked back in the direction of the bedroom as she responded.  "He does have powers, but not quite like those wielded by the one in the future.  And they currently are not particularly strong."


The blonde speedster turned back to look at the green haired plant controller.  "He is not connected to the other version of Collapse, so does not strengthen him.  The general theory is that Lawrence might be the Alpha to Collapse's Omega, immune to Collapse’s powers and possible the means of stopping him."


"But there is a bit more to the story as well.  When we found Lawrence, he was a newborn, not long out of the artificial womb that held him during gestation."  Megan paused a moment, seeming lost in thought before she continued.  "I may not have given birth to him, but there was just something about finding that little baby, so fragile and helpless.  Even then it was easy to see Robert in his features."


"Robert and I knew we had to care for him and raise him.  And from our perspective, that is what we have been doing for six years in the Null Zone."

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That was enough to widen the eyes of even a seasoned hero, and to have Stesha surreptitiously checking for signs of change in her teammate. For the life of her, though, she couldn't see any real difference. Come to think of it, Stesha didn't have a perfect idea of how old Megan was to start with, and the speedster metabolism often brought with it other beneficial biological changes. She herself, hardly changed from how she'd looked at twenty-two, was hardly the poster girl for normal life processes. She shook her head. "Six years..." she marveled. "That's so strange to think about. It must be hard to settle into being back after so much time away. Are you doing all right?"

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"Well, settling back here has been somewhat easier than adjusting to staying in the Null Zone for so long.  I think it was a year in the zone before I stopped waking up in the middle of the night a couple of times a week in a panic about how concerned my family and friends must be, or worried about what was happening with the League."  Megan replied with a small smile. 


"We decided it was time to return, there was a bit of a discussion on when to come back."  She then continued.  "The idea of skipping ahead six years was one we talked about, but eventually rejected.  It was just likely to cause way too many problems, with us likely to have been declared dead or something.  I just could not do that to my parents and siblings, and Robert did not want to put his mother or sister through it either.  Not to mention he is the current Lord Harrow, and there really isn't anyone else to succeed him at this time.  So, we opted to come back the day after Robert disappeared and I left to find him, and after filling in Daedalus on what all happened, we took Lawrence back to our place in Fiji to finish up the trip that those who knew us believed we were still on."


The blonde speedster stopped a moment before continuing.  "But truthfully, I wanted to talk because as far as the world is concerned, I am a twenty two year old who suddenly has a six year old son."

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Stesha considered that, nodding her head slowly. "Yes," she agreed, "that's definitely going to be a problem." She gave Megan a useful half-smile. "It's funny, when you first adopt a secret identity, nobody ever tells you half of all the crazy things you'll wind up trying to cover over, rationalize, or explain." Wrapping her fingers around the cup, she took a sip before speaking again. "For this... I guess it'll probably be one of those things where you have multiple layers of need-to-know. For people who don't know you well, it wouldn't be too difficult to mock you up new identification, make yourself five or six years older, and just act like you've always been that age. For your family, tell them as much of the story as you think they can accept. And for all the people between those poles," here the smile came back, "well, it's sort of amazing what people in Freedom City can rationalize, given half a chance." 

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Megan nodded at Stesha's reply, giving a small smile of her own.  "Yeah, the secret identity thing has often been a pain, but still I believe in the long run it has been for the best."


"But now seems like the perfect time to tell my parents and siblings the truth and enough of the story with Lawrence so they understand why they suddenly have a six year old grandson or nephew.  It is something I probably should have done some time ago anyway."  The blonde speedster stated.  "Where it is going to be a bit tougher is those who have known me for years, from high school or college or family friends.  In addition, my parents know quite a few of the rich and powerful in the Freedom City and the state, politicians, attorneys, business men and women.  And those people know I am twenty two and have never heard anything about a son before."


Megan sighed slightly as she went on.  "I mean, I suppose we could work up a story about adoption, which is technically true.  There is just a part of me that feels badly about downplaying the relationship, which is so very complex anyway.  Lawrence is our biological son, only he isn't at the same time.  I also worry how using that sort of cover story might affect Lawrence if he hears about it the wrong way."  

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"It's not going to be easy, no matter what you decide," Stesha acknowledged. "But having your family behind you will help. When I did it, I found that worrying about them finding out and trying to keep the truth from them was way more stressful than actually just coming out and telling them. Take Robert with you," she advised with a smile, "it helps to have the support."


Stesha took another sip of coffee. "If it really becomes an issue," she went on, "the whole business of people knowing too much about your life to believe Lawrence, you could always move." She shrugged one shoulder. "You're fast enough that a commute wouldn't be too much of a problem, and in a different town, who is going to know how old you really are, or even care?" 

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"Yeah, I know I have certainly stressed over the years about having to lie so much to my parents and siblings."  Megan replied as her teammate mentioned how she had found it more stressful to lie to her family than to actually tell them the truth.  "Though I am not sure I will be able to bring Robert along, at least if I tell them when I was planning to.  He is back in England at the moment and has things he needs to take care of over the next few days.  But I think I have been ready for telling my family for sometime now."


The blonde speedster then smiled as Stesha mentioned the possibility of commuting from somewhere else to avoid some of the problems that could come from Lawrence's sudden appearance.  "Commuting is certainly an option, could be from most anywhere in the world really.  I had been looking at some potential places to buy in Riverside back before the trip to Fiji.  That is not really a good option anymore.  Lawrence has been used to having lots of space in the Null Zone, so I probably will want to look for something somewhat more rural.  Of course, there won't be dinosaurs roaming around, but he will just have to get used to that."


"And that sort of brings up another point.  I only know a bit about the Nicholson School, but I cannot really think of any good options at the moment for Lawrence."

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"Oh, it's a wonderful school," Stesha assured her enthusiastically. "I've been in touch with the staff there almost since Ammy was born, even though she's still much too young to go. But with my powers and... and Derrick's, already starting to manifest, she's definitely going to attend eventually. I can put you in touch with the principal there, I have her number in my phone." She set down her coffee and dug into her purse. "But the teachers are amazing, and they tailor the curriculum for every child. I can't think of a better place for him to get training in how to use his powers responsibly right from the start." 

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Stesha's brief pause before she mentioned her husband did not go unnoticed by Megan, but for the moment she did not bring it up.  As the green haired plant controller started to go for her purse to get out her phone, there was a blur of movement around Megan.  If it had not been for that blur, it likely would not have been noticeable that the speedster had even moved, other than the fact her long blonde hair swished up slightly to one side as its momentum continued while she came back to a halt.  And the fact that Megan now had her own phone in her hand.


"Thanks, I really appreciate that."  The speedster replied with a smile as she opened up her contact list to add the information for the Nicholson school's principal. 


Once that was done, Megan set the phone aside on an end table and looked back up at Stesha.  "I will give her a call early this afternoon.  Thanks for everything, it has been really helpful to get some different perspective on all this."

"But how are things going with you?  How are Ammy and Derrick?"

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"Ammy is doing great," Stesha began, cheerfully enough. "She's old enough now to have some understanding of seasons and holidays, and we're already seeing a little snow on Sanctuary, so it's exciting. I leave her in the creche in the village while I'm working, and she's been very happy there. I couldn't ask for a better babysitting situation. And Derrick..." 


The hesitation was palpable now, and went on long enough to be a little uncomfortable. Stesha was obviously struggling to decide what or how much to say, very uncharacteristic for the normally chatty woman. "I got a call from him just last week, actually," and now the cheer in her voice was artificial. "He was in the Sagittarius Arm last month, which is practically local considering where he usually works, and he thought of us. Wanted to know how Ammy was doing, all the usual. And he's going to try and make it home for Christmas, if the interstellar war on the far side of Andromeda doesn't heat up. Lot of people out there who might need saving, you know?" 

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Megan had at first been smiling as Stesha talked about Ammy.  The blonde speedster had always found the little girl so charming, but her understanding of the pride the green haired woman had for her daughter had certainly changed given her recent experiences. 


But when her teammate turned to talking about her husband, Megan's smile faded some, as it became clear that subject was something of a painful subject for the green haired plant controller.  She felt rather bad about bringing the painful subject up.


"Yeah, I would imagine so."  The speedster replied back quietly.  "But still, hopefully that won't be necessary and he will be able to come home for a bit."


Megan paused a moment, looking over at Stesha, who had been so willing to listen and offer advice the times she had come to talk to her about things.  "It must be very hard for you with him gone so much."

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