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Talya's directions had them parking well away from the school. The racy sportscar was more suited towards the life that went with the high end apartment building than her West End activities so she never parked it in the same place and never close to the school. Walking wasn't exceptionally onerous, after all. When she stepped out of her car, she pulled a different jacket over the top of her blouse, modernizing the pencil skirt enough to distance it from the tailored retro style she favored in public appearances. As Talya's quick changes went, it was relatively minor on the spectrum of what Dimitri had seen before as far as Talya's efforts went. There was no wig and only very minor make up and clothing adjustments. He was well aware that there was probably no less than four or five very different disguises in the trunk of her car. 

 

She threaded her hand through Dimitri's parka covered arm, her Russian still flawless despite the definitely loose swing of her hips and the roll of her steps. She wasn't sober, but it would take a discerning eye to notice such things. Talya put on a very convincing facade of sobriety, aided by the fact that she could probably still scale the building in her heels and narrow skirt without missing a step. Fortunately, that wasn't necessary as she fished a key out of her pocket to unlock the closed door to the front of the dojo, "We ought stay down here. If the girls are asleep, I don't want to wake them." Talya said as she opened the door and then locked it behind them, "But, I can show you where I'm spending my time, nonetheless. You can tell me what you think of the very minor addition I made."

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Talya had turned down Dimitri's offer to visit one of the West End's liquor stores on the way; a sign, he reflected, of how seriously she must take this relationship. So he resolved to be on his best behavior, despite his skepticism that the people who lived in this place had anything of emotional weight to offer his best friend of so many years. "I will be quiet as mouse," he promised her, pressing his white-skinned finger against his lips. "And not even demand cheese as reward." He pulled down the hood of his parka as he looked around the dojo. "A fine martial establishment," he commented, studying himself in the reflective mirrors that lined one wall. "How many girls here you say again?" 

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Talya's heels clicked on the floor as she stepped in to follow Dimitri before pausing at the threshhold. Reaching out to steady herself against one wall, her palm flat against it as she balanced on one leg to start unbuckling her shoes. They were lovely, really, but stilettos were unkind to wooden floors. She fumbled with the buckle once before slipping it off and the other followed suit. Once she'd pulled them off, she padded after Dimitri on silent feet, her shoes dangling from crooked fingertips. "Upstairs? They have two little girls, under the age of four. I am winning Eden over with my ability to replicate an 'Elsa braid' in her hair slowly but surely," Talya provided as she turned to watch his reflection in the mirror. Gesturing upwards with one hand she added, "I find I actually enjoy the teaching. There's a teenager who comes for private lessons that I'm growing fond of as well. I may very well have finally gone soft in my dotage, Mitya."

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"Dotage, pfah! You are four years my junior, woman, practically a sweet young thing." He walked up to the mirror, studying his reflection. "Whereas I am aged old ice monster." Index finger extended, he began writing on the mirror, his icy-cold finger leaving behind a solid line of frost like writing with chalk on a board. It didn't take Talya long to figure out he was writing the letters of his name on the ice. Two little girls, eh? Well, that leaves out one theory - unless that is they desire more..."You always were good with young people, as I recall. With me is ever "Aaah, is ice monster, mama!" He waved his hands dramatically. "Came to Hall one day and found that Fleur de Joie had brought leetle girl of hers to work. Was not popular that day." He hmmed. "So tell me about this teen! You teach him violence?" he inquired, executing an exceedingly awkward karate kick. Dimitri's talents had never been based on physical dexterity. 

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"I'm good with people of all ages. That was, if you might remember, ever my role to play," Talya pointed out with a weary sort of truth to her words. Still, despite the lingering melancholy from earlier, her mouth curved in a faint smile. "I'm the charming spy, you're the ice monster, and almost anyone who might remember otherwise is so much dust."

 

She reached out to catch a trail of frost on her fingertip from the last letter of his name, letting it turn to water droplets against her skin. "You're going to hurt yourself if you kick any higher, old man," Talya teased him, injecting levity back into her voice deliberately, "And it's a 'she'. I am teaching her many things but also violence, yes. Violence is a useful skill set. Eventually, though, I'm going to teach her how to pop locks open. At least the basics. Everyone should know the basics!"

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"Eh, if I lose powers, I am withered old man who can only wound enemies with pity. And if I find enemy immune to cold, well, I have ways to punish him even so." It was an old argument. "Glad to hear you have protege," he said, not wanting to comment on the number of young people who had looked up to Talya over the years, and himself for that matter - many of whom were now gone too. "You make fine teacher, I have always thought, especially for dynamic young Millennial woman." He rolled his eyes slightly at the too-familiar buzzword. "So is she young superheroine, or young, ah, independent businesswoman? If you know what I mean." He winked. 

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"I know what you mean," Talya said with bemusement, "But no. She's a young superheroine. A magic user, ironically." Talya's susceptibility to magic was a closely guarded secret but Dimitri knew both the origins of her immortality and had certainly seen the reaction when Talya didn't bob and weave fast enough to avoid an errant spell. She gave a little wave of her hand, "But I'm not helping with any of that, don't worry. I'm sticking to the punch-block-kick sort of skill set primarily so there is little fear that I'll end up roasted during a practice session gone wrong."

 

Probably. "I'm taking her to Blackstone to visit her parents in the near future. I'm debating what sort of baked goods to bring my fan club. Any thoughts? Maybe olive-bread. No one actually likes olive bread do they?"

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"Hmmm, a pyrokinetic, eh?" Dimitri winked. He didn't press further, knowing that Talya would have mentioned the young woman already if she was a suitable woman for him to flirt with. I wonder how young she actually is. It was hard, he knew, for people their age, when adults with children might as well be children themselves for what they knew of the world. "Parents in prison is difficult. Have known children like that in Russia, even now." He put his hands back in his pockets and sighed.

 

"Ach, when did we become responsible ones to care for children? My young friend the Canadian ghost, she calls me  other day to ask for advice on romantic feelings she has developed for dark wizardess she lives with. What could I say to that? 'Demonstrate these Sapphic tendencies for me with kissing?'" Admittedly he'd thought about that, but that was not a good way of handling a relationship with a pupil. "But I said words and now they are together, so was right thing to say? Maybe?" He shrugged. "You have rooms here? Or would we wake leetle children above?"

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"Too young, too damaged for antics, darling. In ten, fifteen years... who can say," Talya gave a shrug of her shoulders and crossed the room to find a place to set her shoes and jacket, "There are empty apartments upstairs we could chat in but they have less amenities than down here. I don't have my own rooms - I share theirs when I stay here. It's not that large a place."

 

Talya glanced over her shoulder at his question. She offered a sigh in response as heartfelt as Dimitri's, "When everyone else died, I suppose. Age confers a certain gravitas that is probably not all that deserved in either of our cases. I suppose we could provide lists of all the things one probably ought not to do. It's a long list." Liquor in large enough quantities invariably turned Talya past fun well towards morose. Combine that with a veteran's memorial event and there was no surprise she began looking for maudlin music on the MP3 player and speakers. "Time will tell whether or not the advice was any good, Mitya. You did your best, what more can you do but try? What more can any of us do? Doesn't seem like enough though. Do you think if it had been others of our company 'blessed' with life quasi-eternal, that they would have done better?"

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Pausing in the stairwell while Talya spoke, the ancient guardian recognized the voice of the person her blond paramour was speaking to but she hesitated to intrude upon the conversation.  She thought of continuing on her way but the tone of the Englishwoman's voice had Min moving in her direction before she realized what she was doing.

 

"Hello Frost," Min said with a casual wave to the thermovore.   "I find it best to not dwell too much on the past, dear heart," Min told Talya, her voice sympathetic,  "It is easy to become lost."

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Dimitri had been about to tell Talya that yes, of course the people they'd known in their youths would have done much better with eternity than them - though Talya had certainly done more with hers than he had. As it was, when Min entered the room, Frost was silent for a moment as he took in the relationship laid out before his eyes between Willow and Bombshell. "Ah-hah! So this is mysteeeerious West End lover. Very nice, Talya, I know Willow from times we travel to other dimension and defeat decadent bourgeois cult of plant-worshippers. What a time that was!" He winked at the immortal plant controller. "But I think this is first time I have seen her out of uniform!" Frost was himself still in his own, for all that his hood was pulled down. "See if they have 'Sacred War', is always favorite tune." He had no real idea how MP3 players worked, having only reluctantly given up on cassettes, but he trusted Talya knew what she was doing. "Have you any liquor here, Willow?" he inquired ingenously. "We have left vessel in car."

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Talya turned then, barefoot on the floors of the dojo - her shoes and jacket neatly stacked next to the speakers. Her smile was warm for Min. There were subtle nuances that flickered across her fine-boned features, the lift of her lips and the inclination of her head as she welcomed the lovely woman, "Min, did we disturb you?" She asked as she flicked her fingertips over the iPhone to pull up the requested song before abandoning the MP3 player to cross the room.

 

Talya's walk was more fluid, as while she was in no danger of losing her balance, she was past the point of adjusting her stance to hide her training. Catching Min's hand, she gave the woman a brief kiss, "Ah, so you've met, at least professionally." She said, sounding pleased, "Dimitri is an old, old friend. He can't actually get drunk so I take on that particular duty. It has been a dreadful day."

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"Some, upstairs in to kitchen, feel free," Min answered Dimitri, gesturing toward the stairs with a free hand, though her attention didn't leave Talya.  The look on the ancient guardian's face, as pleased as the expression was when Min caught sight of Talya, was one of concern.

 

Fingers traced up the probably-ex-thief's neck and lightly lifted her chin.  "Tell me," Min quietly insisted.

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"Was my fault," said Dimitri apologetically, picking up Talya's bad mood with the ease of long practice. "Talya is fine friend to do such things for me. Hence, ahh, why I owe you wodka!" he declared before turning and heading upstairs, tromping along rather than leave icy patches on the stairs of Talya's new friends. It took him only a moment to find the kitchen, where to his relief he found the vodka stored the way it should be. "Sealed, dated, and labeled," he declared as he opened the refrigerator. "Ah, Talya, you are ever connoisseur," he said, reaching in to grab the vodka. Not sure of Min's tastes, he searched in the cabinets before he found the flavored liquors. "Purple, orange, ah...Sunny Daiquiri! Well, seems legitimate beverage." He stacked the three bottles he'd selected on the table, then turned to head back downstairs. 

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"It's no one's fault," Talya said, her words clearly directed to Dimitri although she didn't glance away from the other woman. As Dimitri's solid footsteps thumped off upstairs, Talya's serene mask faded as her bow creased and the corners of her full lips pulled downwards, "It's nothing to fret over, love, just ended up bandying words with another former agent. Old memories, most of them not good and not worth fretting over." Talya's voice softened and her hand came up to brush the pale white strands of Min's hair back from her face with tender fingertips, "She's contemplating immortality and wanted some genuine answers about personal matters, which you know I'm not overly prone to discussing. What's it like to love and lose, what's it actually like to watch people you care for age and die. I gave her good advice mixed in with a healthy dose of deflection but it's just old ghosts and too much vodka. I'm fine." Talya said and then corrected, "I'll be fine. Better now, certainly."

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As Dimitri turned around he found himself confronted with a three year old in green, lizard themed footie pajama standing in the doorway that led further into the apartment and sizing him up with a small frown. The girl's hair was a light brown the edged toward blonde, messy from the sleep from which she'd evidently been woken and the old draugr fancied he saw something of Min in her features. Squinting and jutting out a lower lips, the child placed her hands on her hips in an exaggerated impression of what she imagined disgruntlement to look like. "You're not Mama or Daddy or Tal'a," she accused fearlessly, staring down the unexplained Russian with dark, forest green eyes.

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A witness! Damn! 

 

"Why hello, child!" said Dimitri warmly, balancing his bottles under one arm where they would stay cool and refreshing for Talya's palate. "I am a friend of your mother's and, ah, Talya's." He looked around the kitchen for a moment before he found what he was after. "Ahah!" He stepped over to one of the cabinets and came back with a full-sized bar of Hershey's chocolate. "Would you like...a candy?" he offered her with an elaborate wink. "Is delicious chocolate!" 

 

As delicious as American chocolate gets, anyway.

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Min leaned into Talya's hand while it fussed with her hair, like a cat does when someone scratches their head.  She stood close to the Englishwoman, arms wrapped around her and resting lightly on her hips, a soft smile on her face.

 

"I can understand her fears," Min admitted.  "I have seen civilizations crumble, I have lost others of my kind--my sisters--but loss has never really touched me."  She brought one of hands around to rest lightly on her heart before putting it back around Talya.  "When I first thought about mortality, Erik's mortality, I panicked."

 

Her lips quirked up into a small smile, "This is how Eden came to be."

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Talya's deft fingertips smoothed over Min's hair, the gesture tender. The smile she offered in return was one of those rare, gentle ones that was caught only in private moments. "Clinging to the promise of new life in the face of death is a very normal reaction. There's a reason so very many babies were born after the last massive war. I adore that little girl so while I can't complain about the end result even a little, I am sorry that this fear is a new, raw one for you, dearest."

 

She let her other hand fall to Min's hip, encircling her waist. For once, Talya was slightly shorter as she'd abandoned her shoes in one corner with her jacket, "I wish I could tell you that time makes it an easier burden to bear. The woman I spoke with today, her spouse is immortal but she is not and time marches steadily on. She's not sure if she wishes to join her wife in forever's rather long lasting embrace. It isn't a choice one makes lightly, I assume." Talya, after all, had no real say in her circumstances. She gently tucked the strands she'd been playing with behind one gracefully pointed ear with very careful hands and tried for a smile as she asked, "So, then, how did Mia come to be?" 

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Eden gave the Russian a supremely skeptical look; she was old enough now to know that an adult wasn't about to offer her an entire chocolate bar unless there was some sort of dire catch like a doctor's appointment or the need to sit quietly for a whole twenty minutes or more.

 

Before she could come to a decision a male voice called from down the hallway, "Edie, what part of 'time for bed' was--" The strapping man with short cropped, dusty brown hair rounded the corner and caught sight of the draugr and several things happened in rather quick succession. A plain stainless steel lighter appeared in the man's right hand and flicked on before being tossed aside just as quickly but the tiny flame it produced remained, floating above his palm and erupting upward. Simultaneously he stooped down and scooped the little girl up in his left arm holding her protectively against his shoulder and shifting to place the fire between her and Dimitri as it coalesced into the unmistakable form of a dueling saber. Cool blue eyes glared at the intruder, reflecting the light of the dancing flames as his fingers clenched around the hilt, knuckles white. "Buddy, you'd better have a really good explanation for what you're doing in my home and you better have it really quickly."

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Frost looked down at the cooling chocolate in one hand and the vodka bottles balanced under his arm. "Bribing your child so she will not tell that I am stealing liquor," he told Erik frankly. "She did not take bribe, by the way, good girl," he told Eden with a nod. He extended the chocolate bar Erik's way like an elderly Russian grandfather. "Would you like chocolate, young fellow?" He looked the flaming swordsman in the eye and burst out guffawing. "Oh, I am sorry, but your face!" He did not sound very sorry. "Hello, I am Comrade Frost late of Peoples' Heroes and Freedom League. I am old friend of Talya's. She has had bad day, and we are here to drink. Perfectly healthy beverages!" he reassured Eden with a big smile. "But only for adults!" He looked back at Erik, still jovial. "You must be Min's famous young husband, the hockey fellow. Pleasure to meet you." 

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Min blushed, momentarily seeming to be the the mid-twenty something she looked like.

 

"Well, you know how I can get and you've seen him with his shirt off, among other things..." Min murmured, trailing off.  She was aware that she was still blushing, and aware that whenever she tried to be lighthearted with Talya it always came across as coy and coquettish.  She brushed her nose against the Englishwoman's, fighting the urge to stop speaking.

 

"All of that," the dryad continued while trying to sound a bit more serious, "And he and I visited a former teammate of ours, Grimalkin, and while the discussion revolved around her and Colt and their kids, it made us think about family a little harder than we usually do."  Min lifted her shoulders in a slight shrug, and stole a quick kiss from Talya before continuing, "I can only bear daughters, it's how I was made."

 

"Thus, Mia."

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Talya's smile deepened as the dryad flushed appealingly, letting her brow rest against Min's. As the other woman stepped closer, Talya linked her hands together at the small of Min's back, encircling her waist. As Min pulled back from her brief kiss, the corner of Talya's lips quirked as she teased, "I think you have forever changed the way I think of strawberries."

 

"Personally, I enjoy having little girls to spoil. I have no complaints," Talya replied to that last which was certainly true. Despite her early protestations that she was ill suited to child care, Talya was without fail a willing playmate for Eden's whims much to her delight and never actually turned down a chance to let Mia nap on her shoulder. Clearly, though, while she had no problem adopting their children, Talya had no plans for having any biological offspring. "Besides, think how much they'll be able to exploit any lingering sexist expectations and trounce all comers on their fencing teams when just a bit older."

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Erik glowered dangerously at Dimitri's jesting and laughter, an expression that might have seemed more dangerous if the girl in his arms hadn't been wearing an identical albeit smaller version of the look herself. "...I guess there's something to be said for honesty," he grumbled after a moment, gauging that the Russian was probably a greater danger to his patience than to his daughter. He'd never crossed paths with this particular Freedom Leaguer but he knew Min had at one point and Stesha had mentioned him a handful of times, even if doing so had strained her legendarily friendly nature. "Wait. 'Bad day' how?" he demanded suddenly, lowering the fiery sword but not yet dismissing it. "What happened? Is Talya alright?"

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"No one in this house likes chocolate! Such a scandal." Frost put the chocolate bar in his pocket before extemporizing, "Was, ah, my fault. I dared her to meet old friend from war with me." His smile pulled tight across his pale face. "Was friend no longer. So, I owe her liquor, and whose better than you mine generous host, eh?" He winked at Jack, his jovial mood revving up again like an engine that had briefly become stuck in the ice. He still had questions for Erik - but these were questions best not asked in front of a child. The way a man acted could be a better guide than his words in any event. "Will you join us in liquor?" he asked as he began negotiating his way around Erik and out the door. "Or have you a lady for evening already?" 

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