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alderwitch

Second Chances (Or Third?)

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Between working at the dojo and... other things, Talya was clocking an awful lot of hours at the Espadas School of Self Defense and Swordsmanship(!). Today was no different, except that the dojo was currently empty of students - and most other bodies - save for the blonde currently standing in the main work out area with a decent size ring in hand as she examined the ceiling. Talya was almost always in the 'do what you want, beg forgiveness after the fact' mindset so this indecision was new. New and unpleasant!

It was a good idea, Talya told herself firmly. One couldn't have students practice hanging upside down and doing things without having something sturdy to hang FROM. If Erik had only been her employer, Talya would already have had this installed in a joist and been ready to smile prettily when asked about the new addition to the workspace. It was even designed to fold up when not in use. It was a good plan. 

Muttering under herb breath, Talya resolutely turned towards the wall and within a few seconds had scaled the wall to balance with one foot on top of the stand of practice swords and her palm flat against the ceiling as she began running the stud finder over the ceiling. She was going to be perfectly normal, darnit!

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With Miss Americana busy with a teleconference in Tokyo, Steve had excused himself to walk around the city - a process that he found much more relaxing than public transportation. As had been happening more and more lately, he found himself walking to the Interceptors' training center in the West End; the school founded by his friend Erik Espadas. What was a walk of several miles was hardly an exertion for him - and so it was in the evening hours he found himself walking in the front door with a faint jingle of bells. Not one for idle conversation, he walked in without a word, his heavy footsteps creaking on the wooden floors as he caught sight of the unknown figure working on the ceiling. 

Steve made a few assumptions - that anyone inside the dojo was there for a reason, that the mysterious woman was delicately balanced and that speaking would startle her (and probably fall on the floor below, padded or otherwise, so instead he politely walked over to the free weights in one corner of the room (which had been left out by the previous class) and began casually stacking the weights back, starting with the 500 lb unit. Disorder was never something he'd enjoyed. 

 

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Talya heard the bell ring and she scrunched her nose. This was what happened when one waffled about one's choices - it led to being caught in the act rather than feigning apology or ignorance after the fact. She paused, going still on her precarious perch on the off chance whoever was here might head directly upstairs only to glance over when the footsteps entered her peripheral view. She blinked once as he crossed to put the weights away, not so much from surprise at an unfamiliar face - she still didn't know most of the people moving through the space - but rather the casual ease at the way he hefted the weights. Talya had taken one look at the measurements and promptly turned around to find something else to do than clean up weights as she wasn't going to be able to budge half of them without some sort of additional aid. 

"Hello...?" She said as he moved over to put things away and pulled the stud finder from the ceiling, ignoring the cheerful chirp it made before she turned it off. Leaping down nimbly, Talya landed on the floor on silent feet before walking over to offer one hand. "I'm Natalya. Thank you - those are terribly heavy so I was going to leave it for someone who was not me."

She added that with a bemused quirk of her red lips. "You're very strong."

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"Yes," agreed Steve as he finished stacking the weights. Shaking her hand firmly, he said, "Hello. My name is Steve." His hand felt slightly odd in Talya's grip, as if he'd been the subject of reconstructive surgery, or if his flesh didn't quite fit onto his bones. He was, he knew, an odd-looking fellow by Earth-Prime standards - his brown skin completely hairless, but married by scarring along the joints that bespoke long-ago trauma, his height matched by muscular breadth across the chest. "I am a friend of Erik's. I do not know who you are," he admitted, his deep voice slow and precise. He looked up at the ceiling. "What were you looking for up there?" 

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Talya watched him, her blue gaze flicking over his features and taking in the faint scars that were more apparent up close. She retrieved her hand, tipping her head to the side at his precise speech patterns. "I'm also a friend of Erik's," Talya offered as if that might answer the faint question not knowing who she was, "I also am teaching a few classes here in the gym, as a favor. Well, as favor to me. I get terribly bored, I'm afraid and this is much, much better than bored."

She left off the additional information that being bored invariably led into getting into trouble as that did not usually endear her to most people right off the bat. Talya lifted up the device she'd been using by way of explanation, "I was going to install some rings before Erik came back into the ceiling. To hang from. It's impossible to teach someone how to pick a lock while upside down if I have nothing to suspend them from in the first place." The fact that breaking and entering didn't fall under self defense or swordsmanship did not seem to dissuade Talya in the slightest from her course of action. 

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Steve cupped his hands, then offered them to her with a glance up at the ceiling. Between her height and his, it looked like there'd be no problem with her reaching the ceiling with room to spare - and her weight would not be a problem. "I am sure he will appreciate your labors," he told her with firm reassurance. In the mirrored reflections on the wall, Tayla could see Steve not so much as glancing upwards as she ascended him, instead staring at his own reflection in the glass. "I come here as well. But I am too heavy for the equipment. I am usually here when the children are." He breathed in and out, slow and regular like a metronome. "Are you a reformed criminal?" he asked.

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"Erik often appreciates my labors. It might take some time before he agrees that this was a good one though," Talya agreed with a sly smile even as she put one foot in Steve's hand to be hoisted up high enough to reach the ceiling. Her foot was bare but for a wrapping the toes and arch - the sort of sock a dancer wore to practice in on the floor. She balanced on his hand with a graceful ease, her weight on the ball of her foot as she went back to the task at hand. Her expression remained smooth and unruffled at the question, her lips curving into a small smile, "Most of the time. Most of the time, I'm a reformed criminal. I was a thief - among other things - but these days I'm a teacher."

Pulling the pencil from behind her ear, Talya marked off the places for the screws on the ceiling and began to put the ring in place with deft, practiced hands. "It was mostly during the 1960s, though. I served more or less most of a sentence in jail for it so I am not currently a wanted criminal."

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"Oh." Steve looked up at her for a moment, judging her words, before resuming his vigil as her support. "I am a security guard at HAX - Mara Hallomen's corporation. I am sorry if that was a personal question. The people Erik knows who can pick locks are generally former criminals." He was showing no signs of pressure from supporting her weight. In an utterly generic white T-shirt and blue jeans, he could have easily blended into a Freedom City crowd if not for his impressive build and distinctive appearance. "Clandestine entry is a valuable skill. When I am working with Erik, I generally..." He looked up at her and decided, "The 1960s were over fifty years ago. You are a superhero. When I am working with Erik, I generally enter through the front while the remainder of the team enters through the rear." 

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"I am also sometimes a superhero," Talya agreed with a small smile as she glanced down at the man holding her up, the ring halfway into the ceiling. "I somewhat assumed that you were as well. Most people can't lift quite that much without breaking a sweat. Or their back for that matter. I'm ninety-eight years old - but I wear it well, I think. It's alright, I don't mind admitting that it was one of many hats I've worn over the years. I'm easy to google if one has the desire to do so. I don't really have much of a secret identity - well - that's not quite true. Regardless, I make more of an effort when here for Erik, Min, and their children."

Sinking the ring into place, Talya pushed it up so that it locked out of the way and gestured over to another section of the room. "Would you mind helping me get a few more of these in? I can do it, but this is easier. And thank you, it's a valuable and under appreciated skill set. I was very, very good in my hey-day," she said with no small amount of pride. "That's an important skill set too. Strength and taking a hit are your ballpark skill set then?"

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"Yes." Steve did not comment for a moment, instead walking over with Talya still balanced in his hands, to the other side of the room. "I am glad to be of help. My strength has been cybernetically enhanced. I have lifted objects as large as one of your city buses." Again the silence, as Talya went about her work. "My, ah, woman uses Google frequently. I will tell her about you." He hmmed. "If you know Yolanda Morales, I was part of the mission that rescued her from her murdered homeworld some years ago. She has grown into a fine young woman." He looked up at her and frowned. "Do you have children of your own?" 

Edited by Avenger Assembled

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Talya remained balanced in his hands, her thighs flexing minutely as she kept her balance while perched on the strong man's palms. As she did it with her tools in hand, it was an extraordinary display of balance to match Steve's feats of strength. It was likely fortunate that no one was in the dojo as they were doing a truly terrible job of not looking like super heroes. Or at least some sort of bizarre circus act. 

Talya's hands didn't stutter as she took in the series of staccato bursts of information in stride, even the last question about children. Her efforts in sinking the screw into the ceiling were easy, practiced as she continued to balance on Steve. "I do not have children, no. I had nieces and nephews but no children of my own - it wasn't the sort of lifestyle that led itself towards accumulating a spouse and children." She offered as if that were explanation enough, "Natalya Browning - Bombshell - the whole name will probably be easier to google than just Natalya. I haven't yet met her. You're the first of the family I've stumbled into working down here, I'm afraid."

She finished putting the ring in and pointed across the room towards the last spot she'd marked, "Last one! Thank you again. Do you have children, Steve?"

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"No. Though Erik and Min say I am excellent with children." He walked where Talya had pointed, taking his time with slow, heavy steps that were graceful for a man so big. "I have helped with adoptions. That was a pleasant task." Knowing Talya did not know Yolanda meant he decided to save his question about her for Erik. When Talya was done, he set her down as gently as if he'd been handling a paper doll the whole time, and with as little fatigue. "I am privileged to call Erik and the others friends. Do you know when they will be returning?" 

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"Hopefully not before I've finished," Talya replied, landing lightly on her feet again and offering Steve a pleased smile. "Although, it should be any minute now - at least for Erik. He said he'd not be gone all that long but, who knows. There could aways have been a mugger and that can certainly add time to any errand."

Talya was cavalier with many things but not the potential safety hazards that dangling from the roof provided. As she spoke, she crossed over to pick up a smooth length of rope and with practiced effort secured it through the ring. She continued to keep up her half - really more than half by pure metrics - of the conversation with Steve as she tested her weight on it, putting one foot through the loop at the bottom like it was a swing and wrapping her other leg around it. 

"Would you bring me one of the weights there? Something lighter than the big one. Like a fifty pound weight?" Talya asked as she bounced up and down gently on the rope before being satisfied with the results. "Did you say that you teach children's classes here or I did I infer that incorrectly?" She asked then.

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The bell on the front door chimed again and the school's titular proprietor called from the entryway, "Hey! Back!" Even with the weather turning cooler Erik hadn't given in and started wearing a jacket just yet, making do with a plaid flannel shirt hanging open over a plain white t-shirt. A step behind him his sister had no just compunctions, a well worn denim jack sitting over her shoulders and a large brown paper bag in her arms that matched the one the elder Espadas was carrying. "We got burritos! Hey, Steve, man, we-- Talya, why are you hanging from my ceiling?"

"I don't know what else you'd do with the rope and rings," Ellie quipped dryly, waving to the pair already in the room. "You guys like guac? We went half with, half without so you might wanna call dibs."

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Looking up at the rings and Talya's work, he said, "She is planning to teach the students inverted burglary - a valuable skill," he added approvingly. "I was walking and thought to come here." He'd been holding the fifty pound weight in one hand while they talked, and carefully transferred it to the dangling Talya - well aware that her strength likely did not match her dexterity. "I will eat whatever remains," said Steve without changing expression when the subject of food came up. He'd long since learned that the Espadases did not respond well to the idea that someone might not want to eat when there was food on the table - which, to be fair, was not far from his own reaction when it came to other people. Of course, normal people couldn't go days without eating

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"Without for me, please," Talya answered Ellie first, her focus on not dropping the heavy weight. Steve's estimation was correct as while she had the toned strength of one who made a habit of dangling off of roof ledges, she was much more quick than fast. She offered the stoic man an approving smile at his praise for her plans. Talya ignored the instinct to look over and gauge the response immediately, waiting until she was certain the weight was safely tucked against her chest and that the device itself showed no signs of giving way.

Only then did she turn, offering helpfully, "I am weight testing the limits. It should safely hold a good  three hundred pounds but I think it's best to make sure that's true before suspending students. Don't you think?" Talya twisted slightly so she could take in the returning siblings, her expression was studiously innocent, "Want to help? And hello to you, Ellie. How have you been?"

 

Edited by alderwitch

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"Talya. Dear heart. Unless 'inverted burglary' means 'charity' I'm not completely convinced that's on-message for-- hey, that's really holding you up there with that weight," Setting down his bag of burritos Erik walked further into the room craning his neck to look at the setup Steve had helped her install overhead, distracted from his initial objections. He reflexively reached out to steady Talya's spinning with a hand on her knee while the other tested the rope with a hesitant tug. "I mean... we could definitely use that for some gymnastics work or just mixing up the strength training to keep things interesting, yeah. I-- no, wait, back to the burglary thing."

Ellie rolled her eyes at her brother's back-and-forth but turned to Steve as she retrieved the abandoned bag with her free arm. "I know you don't need to eat, big guy," she assured him with a smirk that suggested they'd had similar conversations before, "but c'mon, refried beans! Eh?" With her hands occupied she gave Talya a nod rather than a wave. "Hey, pretty good. Brassy move with the sex swing." From her sidelong glance it looked like she was less teasing the blonde and more just egging Erik on.

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"I will eat with pleasure," he assured Ellie, a faint smile on his face. He tugged at the rope himself, experimentally pulling until he heard a faint creak. "It should hold anything close to human weight," he agreed. "Possibly more than one." He considered the tactical situation posed by Talya's problem, automatically accepting her into the Interceptor group without further comment. "The special students will understand that they are learning a valuable skill. Tell the other students they are AEGIS agents, infiltrating the headquarters of some dire foe. The children will be delighted." He blinked for a moment at Ellie's words, not offended so much as baffled. The lightbulb went on over his head almost visibly. It...oh! "That is unlikely," he told Ellie seriously. "These ropes would chafe human skin."

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Talya should have fired off with a witty retort without missing a beat. Most people likely wouldn't have noticed the heart beat's pause at Ellie's commentary or caught the slight pinking of her cheeks. It was as close to blushing as Talya was really capable, "Steve's right, you'd have to use a different rope. Unless, of course, chafing was the goal. I hear some people are into that sort of thing. Rumor has it."

Her voice was light, easy, as she fell naturally back into comfortable banter. As Erik's hand on her knee turned her his direction, she held the weight out for the swordman to take and once her hands were free, reached to pull herself up and slip her foot from the loop at the bottom, "You say theft like its a bad thing! I wasn't going to start Mrs. Martinez on dangling by her knees and trying to trip a deadbolt, certainly. I think we're still working on saying 'no' in a firm, loud voice there, but you've been getting more Claremont students and they could certainly use a diverse skill portfolio."

She paused and then, because she was Talya, couldn't help but add, "But, yes, I'm sure we could put them to other uses too."

And it certainly didn't sound like she was talking about additional strength training.

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Erik let out a sigh that suggested he knew when he was outnumbered. "Fine, sure, clearly I'm the crazy one for not immediately wanting to hang students from the ceiling," he huffed with exaggerated outrage. His hand still lightly on her knee, he looked up and gave Talya a lopsided smile as she mused on the versatility of the set-up. "It is actually a good idea. It's always nice to have more options for training. Training and nothing else," he added with a sharp look toward his sister. "I don't even want to know why that's the first place your mind goes."

"Well, Mara's an inventor..." Ellie quipped back serenely without an hesitation, having had the rejoinder chambered and reading to fire from the first moment she'd suggested that the rings and ropes looked like a sex swing. She gave more consideration to the placement of her sibling's hand, frowning faintly but not commenting just yet.

"Dios, not in front of Steve!" Erik protested, lifting both hands to cover his face with a groan.

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Steve had flushed along his scars, an interesting palette development given his dark coloration. "I...have heard worse," he reassured Erik a little awkwardly, trying to smooth over the moment. Gina certainly used much fresher language when they were alone - when they were alone. Returning to what was to him the much more interesting subject of the swing, he looked up at Talya in position and suggested, "With the security shutters closed and lights dimmed, you could simulate students working in darkness. Fans and sonic devices could provide inclement weather, or other distractions." 

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"I like the way you think, Steve. It is ever so much better to simulate a scenario and run it before encountering it in reality." Talya agreed with approval as she went to pull up smoothly on the rope. She reached out with the toes of one foot to nudge Erik in the back, setting herself spinning lazily again. Holding the rope between her knees, Talya let go, until she was dangling upside down on the spinning rope hands free in front of her and her head about even with the shorter individuals in the room. "Truly, how often does one end up having to hold on and dodge at the same time? Too often."

She smiled at Erik then, "I often have many good ideas. You can see if Steve's right and the rope will hold both of us. It should. The rings come from the same catalog the Crime League gets their gear from. They swear it should hold Centurion himself in your dungeon but everyone know's that's an exaggeration."

Talya blinked at them once on her next rotation and added, "I'm still on the mailing list."

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Erik opened his mouth to respond to Talya with something clever when the younger Espadas interrupted, "Why don't we test it with me? I'm lighter than Chubs here, just in case." Ellie turned to shove the bags of burritos into her brother's arms, not incidentally turning her back to the upside down woman in the process so that she could give Erik an arch look. He took the bags reflexively and frowned, mouthing a silent question and getting only an eyeroll in response as Ellie turned around again. "Alright! Where do you want me to grab on?" she asked, lacing her fingers to crack her knuckles and rolling her shoulders once. "Not an innuendo; unlike some people, I'm a professional."

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"May I see one of those?" Steve picked up one of the spare rings Talya had brought and held it in his hand, weighing it thoughtfully. Taking the ring in both hands, he pulled, the steel giving an unhappy screeching noise as it slowly, begrudgingly parted in his grip. "This would not hold the Centurion," he said seriously, gradually crushing the steel into a ball between his fingers. "But it is very strong." He looked up at the ceiling, then turned to Erik as he spoke. "Come, let us prepare the food for the women." On the way up the stairs, he commented without a trace of teasing in his voice. "Talya seems very dedicated. How long have the two of you been working together? I guessed you had found her a position here when I saw how she had made herself at home."

Edited by Avenger Assembled

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Talya shrugged, the gesture looking very odd as she remained hanging upside down, "Largely, because I care less if your brother lands on his backside if we all come tumbling down, but if you happen to be game, I'm not going to nay-say you. Far be it for me to serve as the voice of reason in any given situation," still, despite her easy banter, Talya shifted in her perch, locking her legs in a better grip on the rope and scooting up just a little to give Ellie more room. "Although don't edit the innuendo on my account. Banter is a dying art form."

She held out one hand for Ellie to take, "There's a loop at the bottom, just put your foot in the loop and step on up. We'll save stress testing for after dinner. Never risk bodily injury on an empty stomach if one can help it, after all."

Talya hadn't worked with Erik's sister and so she shifted to steady the rope just in case the young woman wasn't as acrobatic as her sibling as she shifted so her body weight would hold the rope still, one hand out to steady Ellie. She heard rather than saw the creak of steel as it gave up the ghost to Steve's strength, "Nor you, I imagine, Steve. It is merely hype to sell the product. I always test the gear before I risk breaking my neck due to unintentional failure. No one likes that."

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