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"Is there room for one more in that box?" Gina Espadas asked, wheeling herself backward in a tight arc with one hand and holding up a framed photo with the other. "It's one of the bigger ones." The retired police officer and single mother of two was in fully serious organizational mode partly in deference to the task at hand and partly to sidestep some of the lingering awkwardness that resulted from being left alone with the other woman in the room.

 

Talya Browning - Gina had enough aliases to keep straight these days without worrying about whether that was the correct civilian identity for this apartment or safe house or what have you - was on the nearby couch with the last new open cardboard boxes, rearranging pictures to pack them as efficiently as possible. The renovations of the apartment Talya shared with Gina's son and daughter-in-law were close enough to completion to move most of her personal effects over but unsurprisingly there was some last minute packing left to do while Erik retrieved the borrowed truck. That left the two of them to sort things out between them in more than one sense.

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"I imagine so," Talya said, taking great care with the organization of the photographs, partially because it was always easier to have something to do and partially because they really were irreplaceable. Most of the people in Talya's older photographs no longer existed. Theirs, after all, was not a career that led to lengthy retirements - especially in Talya's former line of work. The small two bedroom house had been neat when they'd started packing things away and now it was downright spartan. Unlike Talya's more flashy apartments, this was the place she'd had since fleeing Europe for America and although it had been carefully updated to remain contemporary with the surrounding homes - at least enough to not draw suspicion, the interior held only the objects that Talya was not willing to burn to the ground with an identity. So, other than the basic necessities, it was mostly photographs, books, and other assorted odds and ends that one accumulated but didn't wish to discard. 

 

Standing up as Gina drew near, Talya levered herself from the couch with grace still, for all that bending at the middle was becoming a more difficult task. Absently she dropped one hand onto the top of her belly to nudge either a fist or foot from digging into her ribs as she bent her head to peer over Gina's shoulder. "Oh, must have been at the back - that's my service photo." Talya said with some surprise as she reached out with careful hands to look at a face that in years, at least, was not all that different from the way she looked now. Arguably, Talya looked younger with her hair pulled back and her cheeks slightly softened from the pregnancy. The young woman in the photo, however, had a reserve that Talya had lost years ago, an uncertainty in the black and white photograph that Talya had discarded. Giving her head a slight shake, Talya pivoted to find room for it in the box, "Thank you, Gina. I really do appreciate your help." Talya offered the words as she went to place the photo face down in the box and carefully tuck it in so that it wouldn't be damaged in the car. She glanced over her shoulder with one of those easy, practiced smiles, filling the silence with polite chit-chat which was as much defense as Gina's efforts at organization, "Though to be entirely honest, it is nice to have something to do. With nothing left to prod at with the construction, I'm a bit at loose ends and there's little I loathe more."

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Gina craned her neck to get a better look at the photo before Talya packed it away, having been more focused on the size of the frame than the contents of the image as she'd pulled it from the low shelf. "Hm, I sometimes forget you served," she admitted mildly as she leaned back into her chair, expression thoughtful. It was one thing to know how old the blonde was and have a broad idea of what she'd lived through but in practice the Espadas matriarch had a very difficult time internalizing that she was actually the younger woman in the room, the one with less life experience. It was also hard to reconcile the woman in front of her with the girl in the photo but Gina knew from experience that the people behind a uniform could come in all shapes and sizes. "The stir crazy I can appreciate," she continued, doing a last visual pass of the room to make sure nothing was being forgotten. "When I was pregnant with Erik was one thing but the second time, well."

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Talya gave a short, almost abrupt shake of her head although she quickly softened it with a smile, "I suppose I should be grateful that this pregnancy is ever so efficient," she offered with her characteristically dry humor, blunting the very real knee-jerk reaction that flickered across her features at the thought of doing this again. She shook her head once more and added, "It was a long time ago," about her service, "And I was very much a different creature."

 

Following Gina, she gestured towards the kitchen, "Here, let me show you something while you're here," she suggested. "Just in case." Talya added, although her definition of 'just in case' could be both dire and distressingly broad. As she led the way towards the small kitchen that looked even more sparse with her cookbooks and minimal clutter packed away, "I think this will be the only go around for me. As it is, I try not to think about the next three interminable months. There's the physical discomfort, of course, but I am uniquely ill suited to waiting for people to come home at the end of the day. I remain astounded anew at Min's serenity."

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"I can't say I envy you that," Gina admitted with a none-too-subtle glance to Talya's stomach. Her reaction when the prospect of twins had been confirmed had been best described as nonplussed but like everything involving Talya she'd been making a game effort to roll with it. If those efforts had been punctuated by a fair number of awkward silences and quiet sighs it didn't change that she'd made herself readily available for whatever assistance she could provide where the pregnancy was concerned. "I get the impression Min's hooked up a little differently down there but if you feel the need to vent, have at it."

 

She followed after the blonde woman, navigating around furniture with precision and sure movements. "Is it a concealed weapon?" she asked simply. It was the sort of thing any woman living on her own ought to have around the apartment in Gina's estimation and it certainly would have fit what she knew about Talya's lifestyle.

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Talya chuckled at that, "Most likely. But, no, I more meant her serenity in the face of waiting. Oh, she's a creature of wroth and fire when she knows something has gone wrong but until that's the case, she maintains that calm assuredness that we're coming home. It isn't a mentality that I can say I share. I envy it." Talya said simply as she crossed to the cupboards, specifically the thin faux face of a cupboard that was usually used to shim the space between the fridge and the rest of the cabinets. With a sigh, Talya folded down to her knees, knowing that the going down was much easier than getting back up. 

 

"That too," she agreed as she slid her fingers along the wood to find the hidden catch and paused to point that out to Gina. "Its a simple button - just well hidden." She explained as she pulled out the drawer. It was only just wide enough for an old fashioned hard shelled silver case - the sort one usually saw handcuffed to a spy's wrist in classic movies which Talya pulled out. "I do keep a Browning 1911 in the case along with a spare clip." Because in Talya's particular experience, if you couldn't solve the problem with sixteen bullets, it was unlikely that you'd be able to solve it with more. 

 

"I don't really consider it the emergency gun in the house - there's one in the bedroom that's easier to get at." Setting the case on the ground as there wasn't space left in her lap, she popped the clips on it. The gun was unassuming and carefully secured in its holster in the top. The case, however, held bundles of bills from various countries, "Euros, Dollars, Pounds, Canadian, Francs and Yen." Talya rattled off with an absent wave for what was easily several thousand dollars in various denominations. "Non-sequential and released to circulation in the last five years." She tapped the small box that was nestled among them, "These are false passports if you ever need them, although I'd only trust them to hold up to cross a border or two, not really for long term cover. I have ones for the girls and Yolanda and ones for the adults in your family - although we're all well are that most of them are unlikely to go anywhere in a crisis." 

 

Talya shook her head a little at that but it was with fond bemusement. "Anyways, its worth knowing where it is, just in case." Talya had always kept a few fail safes here and there out of habit and training, but she'd had a lot of time on her hands of late and was well aware that while she could get herself across any number of borders with a smile and a pair of high heeled shoes in hand, it would be a much more involved task to make sure everyone was safe. "It probably sounds a bit like paranoia, I know." 

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Gina raised an eyebrow at the stacks of currency but extended at hand to request a closer look at the passports. She flipped through the one Talya passed her with eye of someone who knew her way around official documents and made a soft grunt of approval before handing it back. "You're about to be a parent, dear. There's no such thing as 'paranoia' even without... everything." She waved her hand in the air vaguely to encompass international spies and magic swords and giant space heads and all the rest of it. "This must have taken some doing." If she was concerned about the legality of the fake passports or when the money had come from it was obviously overshadowed by the importance of ensuring the safety of her family and she gave Talya a look as though she were reevaluating some of her preconceptions about the other woman.

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"A few favors here and there. I still know a few excellent forgers that understand discretion." Talya replied as she handed the passports up for inspection. There were certainly passports for every member of the rather extended, adopted Espadas clan, even the ones that Talya was well aware could probably handle themselves. There was even one for Raina, although Gina might not recognize the teenager on sight unless she'd been around to see the Claremont training sessions. She shifted on the ground, folding her legs up tailor style under herself. Her lips quirked in a small, wry smile as she pointed out gently with her typical humor, "Well, parent, again. I don't really see any difference between jamming a foot in my ribs from the inside versus poking me in the eyeball while I'm napping because the telly's no longer showing the proper singing puppets."

 

Only when Gina was done did she neatly sort things back into their proper compartments, "But I've had nothing but time on my hands of late. Honestly, I'm running of things to keep busy with. One can knit only so many hats, you know?"

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Gina conceded Talya's point with a short grunt followed by a much longer look when the more-or-less former thief mentioned her mounting boredom again. Her lips pressed into a thin line and her eyes narrowed with the same look her son got when he was about to make an attempt at being diplomatic. "Mmh. Well, I can give you some suggestions for hobbies you can perform while seated," she began dryly in a transparent attempt to ease toward her real question with a bit of humour. "But I want you to answer something honestly for me. What happens when you finally run out of patience for all of this and decide you have better things to be doing? What happens to Erik and Min and the girls then?" There was a lack of heat in the question that was worse in some ways than a shouted accusation. Gina simply folded her arms and looked steadily at Talya, waiting patiently for a response.

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Talya's hand stilled on her neat stacking of the case and she turned her face up towards Gina. It had the studious polite expression that Talya had taken to turning in Gina's direction since Thanksgiving. She could have crafted any number of emotions and they all would have seemed extraordinarily genuine so she rather hoped the woman appreciated the lack of artifice as Talya really no longer had natural reactions. Her emotional tells showed in micro expressions, tension in muscles that looked relaxed and with that much training and effort to presenting a mask, it was near impossible to discard especially when under stress. "I do understand that you have only the most public of my facades to really base expectations on and it is perhaps my finest work but the Bombshell that is presented to the world at large is just that, you know." 

 

She reached up with one elegant hand to flick the forelock of curls back when it threatened to obscure her vision. Talya sighed, deeply, "I can't tell you that the relationship is never going to end - I can't forsee the future and relationships do turn sour. I have no intention of going anywhere, Gina, but it is entirely possible that Erik may grow weary of the odd looks as he ages and I fail to do so. Oh, I can fake it with make-up - I've done it before - but Erik's the noble sort. If he feels that he's saddling Min or I with a failing body, I can't promise he won't do something phenomenally stupid. I can't promise that Min won't spectacularly implode past my ability to hold her together if he DOES go that route. I can only promise you two things."

 

Talya lifted one slender fingertip, "The first, that no matter what, all the children shall have what they need from me, as long as I live - and that promises to be an obnoxiously long time if history is any indication, regardless of anything else." She lifted the second fingertip, "I won't be the one to walk away." 

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The retired police officer let Talya say her piece without interruption, expression almost as cool and composed as the one the Englishwoman wore. She'd half been expecting a shouting match but that wasn't what she wanted so instead she merely listened closely and took a deep breath as she weighed the words. Eventually she titled her head to one side and allowed herself a wry smirk. "Well, you noticed the 'phenomenally stupid' thing, so that's encouraging," she drawled, wheeling her chair back enough to begin turning it back toward the living room. "And I appreciate your being straight with me about it. I think you see where I'm coming from but I ought to at least be meeting you halfway." 

 

Leaning back she rested her chin atop the back of her hand between two knuckles. "I like to think I'm pretty good with this sort of thing but what am I even supposed to call you? I've been using 'daughter-in-law' but if there's a better term or you want something different...?" The tense didn't escape Talya; even if Gina still had reservations she'd evidently made up her mind about the blonde already or when wouldn't have been there helping pack to begin with.

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"Whatever you feel comfortable with. I have long ago learned that it is an Espadas trait to feel strongly about names," Her lips quirked then, the bemusement genuine. "And one that I best not stand in the way of. I don't want to make you uncomfortable, Gina. I like you, I always have. I am well aware that I'm not the sort that most people look for in a daughter-in-law... especially when they already have one to start with, for that matter."

 

She gave a little shrug then, reaching out to gently shut the case and put it back in its hiding place with careful fingertips. She checked the weapon even though it hadn't been touched to ensure that the safety was on and secured before she snapped the clasps on the case and pushed the door shut. Now for the only slightly embarrassing part, as she shifted to reach for the counter top and pull herself back to her feet, making an annoyed noise at having to put in the effort for something as simple as standing up. Resting her hands at the small of her back, she straightened, "Though - and mind, I am terrible at this full honesty sort of lifestyle. A little white lie does wonders for smoothing over the social awkwardness of many a situation - but I'm not bored." 

 

Talya turned to follow Gina towards the living room, giving the chair wide enough space to turn, "I'm just phenomenally bad at waiting." That, really, was an absurd statement from someone who spent the better part of two decades in prison to have a bit of a snit. Talya waved one hand in the air, "This is the first time in my life that if something goes wrong, I can't just... you know... DO something about it. If I stay busy, that's easier to not dwell on but most of my more engaging hobbies are rather off the table too."

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"Yes, I'm sure you're completely without resources while you're not in a position to do cartwheels," Gina drawled without looking over her shoulder, wheeling into the living room and over to the stack of smaller boxes filled with more fragile momentos. "Not as though you could talk your way out of it or use a firearm or - crazy thought - ask your partners for helps, hm? Or your live-in super computer or emergency responder sister-in-law or the Russian or the mix-and-match grab bag of armoured, teleporting, regenerating, punching and kicking you've got on speed dial." She began stacking some of the easier to reach parcels on her lap, tone dry and showing no signs of running out of steam as she underlined her point repeatedly. Talya was given reason to suspect that Erik's verboseness didn't come solely from his father's side of the family. "And those powered high schoolers you help teach, I've seen them on the news bringing down a small army when it suits them. Truly, dear, you are helpless and without recourse."

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"Or I might just send my mother-in-law to scold some sense into them," Talya responded in an equally dry vein although it was with a small half smile. "Though the students would really be my very last recourse as I have seen far too many children sent to war in my lifetime to do it myself. Children should have time to be children, after all."

 

She went to seat herself gingerly on the couch near where Gina was working so that she might seal up the photos as they returned to work. Talya was never an easy read but in the small, subtle gestures, she seemed lighter. "I could use your thoughts on how to go about having a firearm in a house with small children, speaking of which. I very rarely use firearms but I think - absurd or not - I'll be more comfortable with one in the home. Do you have any advice?" 

 

It was a simple question - and a valid one as the former police officer certainly had experience with firearm safety that would no doubt be helpful but, really, it was meant as an olive branch and a subtle invitation for Gina to establish a more firm and familiar relationship.

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"I might hold off on giving them safe cracking lessons for a few years," Gina suggested dryly before heaving a small sigh and adopting a more serious expression. It was a question that had cost her more than a few hours of sleep, mainly when her children had been much younger. "It's nothing you should ever be completely comfortable with, really, but then most families don't have idiotas with swords showing up to cause trouble every other week either. Which might be worth bringing up when you explain it to Erik. Good luck ther--" She was interrupted by a horn beep from the street. Moving herself over to one the windows she confirmed that her son had arrived with the truck and was already in the process of jogging to the door. "Speak of the devil. Have you got everything you'll want?"

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"Eden is well aware that she has to be able to pick a deadbolt before we move onto more complicated thievery," Talya murmured, and she might have been joking but mostly the ex-theif was distracted by glancing around the small living space now that it was bare of decoration. It certainly wasn't the first time that Talya had moved but this safe house had been a constant since the 1950's and it was, if not sad, then a little surreal to see it stripped down to mere furniture. 

 

Realizing she'd paused with the box top in hand, Talya shook herself into motion as she leaned forward to secure it with tape, "It's not like we can't come back if there's something I can't live without. That does remind me that I ought see if I can get these photos scanned during the move process. Never know when the latest villain might decide to smash a few vases or rip down something hanging on the wall." Talya tsked, never a fan of collateral damage. 

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"Animals," Gina grumbled derisively at the notion. It wasn't the first time Talya had seen the Espadas life philosophy in practice; woe to anyone who fell under the category of a threat to the family. The matriarch was at least less inclined to brooding than her eldest and moved on easily enough. "Mara set up my computer to back up automatically, something about the 'cloud'." The retired officer shrugged in bemusement. "It's awful to say but I still only understand about half of what that girl is saying even when she's not talking technology. Hm. Is that worse for you, being older, or does staying young keep you from getting crusty up here?" She tapped the side of her head with a smirk.

 

Three quick raps on the front door sounded before Erik opened it and let himself in. "Hey, ladies, all set?"

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"Well, let's be fair - I'd say that most people aren't going to understand a good half to two thirds of what Mara says. She's leagues beyond most people in terms of technological savvy," Talya replied although she turned to smile when Erik let himself in with a bemused smile, "If you have a key, you really don't have to knock, you know."

 

Her tone was teasing as she went to push herself up off of the couch with only a bit of difficulty as she answered Gina's question, "I haven't had any trouble keeping up with technology but I couldn't honestly tell you whether that's because physiologically I fail to age or because my particular sphere of talents has always included staying up to date on trends in security and espionage. I think, though, that the peculiarities of my particular affliction probably help. I generally remain fixed as I was at twenty-two although, clearly, some things do override that."

 

She gave a wry gesture down to her midsection before leaning in to peck Erik on the cheek. "I think unless I've forgotten anything, all the necessities are packed. I showed your mother where the emergency kit was as well."

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"Wanted to give you ladies fair warning to stop talking about me," Erik explained airily with a broad, lopsided grin. He let a hand drop to rest lightly on Talya's hip when she came close, tilting his head to catch her cheek in a kiss in return. His expression turned more sober at the mention of the packet of emergency documents and supplies she'd shown him previously, exchanging a nod with his mother. "Good call, just in case." He didn't need to put too fine a point on it; they all knew that if something bad enough happened to require the use of Talya's preparations chances were he wasn't going to be in any shape to retrieve the them himself. He had a talent for being right in the middle of emergencies when they happened or for causing emergencies wherever he went depending on one's perspective.

 

Not letting himself dwell too long on that train of thought, he adopted a more cheerful look. "We should get going, then. I called Min while they were brining the truck around and she's doing that thing where she's excited for something and getting impatient but won't admit it because centuries and eons and so forth." That assessment was probably coloured a little by his own sense of urgency. After all the work renovating the apartment he was looking forward to having Talya moved in 'officially'.

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Talya's chuckle was husky and bemused, "Well, we're all ready to go so she shan't have to wait over long. Its really not all that much. Just boxes of photos and mementos and the like... plus the clothing and jewelry," Talya added almost as an afterthought even though the latter was by far the bulk of what they had to move. Unsurprisingly, the former jewel thief had amassed quite a collection of shoes and trinkets over the years and while they might have been honestly of less importance to Talya than the photos and journals from the last six decades, they took a great deal more room. 

 

She paused and then added delicately, "And my gun safe." 

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"Well there's an oxymoron," Erik replied glibly, stooping to grab a pair of stacked boxes and carefully heft them to shoulder height. His posture was easy and relaxed with nothing to suggest he was going to offer more than a few token grumbles over the matter. It was, by any reasonable measure, an exceptional bluff. Besides her own prodigious powers of perception, however, Talya had had opportunity to become familiar with the very specific sort of relaxed that meant that Erik was poised to spring in any direction faster than conscious thought, a coiled spring of trained muscle and hair-trigger reflexes waiting only for a target. Had the shoulder blades under his light t-shirt been a fraction of a centimetre closer together or the index finger of his free hand tensed the way it did when he was feeling outward for the spark of energy he would ignite into a weapon... But in the span of a blink he had exhaled and a more genuine if less complete relaxation worked its way from his chest outward. "Did you have an idea of where to put it? There's a couple spots if you wanted to hook it up with Vince but maybe it makes more sense to leave it off the grid?"

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Talya waited until those muscles had relaxed before she put one slender hand on the center of his back. "Dearest, its a safe that takes me a good minute to crack into - no electronics involved and I won't be sharing the combination with the children." Her teasing tone had fallen away to quiet reassurance. She also had every intention of instilling proper firearm etiquette from the time any child grew old enough and curious enough to need it but that was a conversation for another day. "I thought I'd put it behind a false wall in my closet. The days I need to roll out of bed with a gun in hand are thankfully in the distant past. Movies make the life of a spy far more glamorous than the reality, I assure you."

 

She leaned forward to push open the door for Erik before she added, "But if you'd feel safer with it out of the apartment and down in the place where sharp and pointy things are kept, that's alright as well. I'm not overly particular beyond 'somewhere in the place I'm currently living'."

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Erik opened his mouth for a moment to protest that he didn't need any assurance but the silent, pointedly look his mother shot him from over Talya's shoulder turned his excuses into a short sound in the back of his throat. "I know. I know! I just need some time getting used to the idea." His chagrined expression said that he knew he'd already had a good amount of time for that. He'd honestly thought he'd made a sort of peace with it back in the days at the brownstone but that had been before the girls. "But no, it should be close by, right? We'll figure it out." He offered a sheepish smile and gestured toward the door with a nod. "It's gotta be more than just 'somewhere you're currently living'."

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"Not really," Talya replied with a shrug of her shoulders, smoothing her shirt down as she went to lift up a much smaller box to balance as she followed towards the truck. They were all neatly labeled. Talya was not the type to throw things into boxes at random which while it had slowed the process some would make unpacking much easier. She set the box on the back of the open truck, leaving the stacking to Erik since he had no issue bouncing up into the back of the van and back down again. "As I said, the days where I needed a gun under my pillow are well in the past."

 

She paused and then pointed out, "If I need to use something more lethal than my hands or batons, or any number of other weapons readily at hand at home, then I have time to go fetch the weapon required and make sure its truly necessary. I haven't had to use a gun in years outside of practice. Well, or because I was playing a role that required it."

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"I guess so," Erik agreed with a note of hesitation in his voice as he tried to discern whether or not Talya was just being accommodating or not. He certainly preferred to have his weapon of choice close at hand but in his case it would have been difficult not to. "We can stick in in the lockup with the training equipment for now," he suggested as he stepped into the back of the truck and deposited the boxes he was carrying. "It'll be fine there until we can figure out a better spot, yeah?"

 

"Look at you, talking through your problems like some sort of adult," Gina drawled as she rolled up to the back of the vehicle and lifted the box sitting on her lap up for her son to take.

 

Grumbling, he crouched to take it and stack it with the rest. Within a few trips the condensed contents of the apartment had been slotted neatly into the truck and secured for transport. Pulling down the sliding door Erik turned to Talya, glancing back the way they'd come. "Ready?"

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