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How Lucky We Are To Be Alive Right Now (IC)

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January 20, 2017 

Port Regal 


"It's beautiful," said Mark, peering at the image Nina had found. "I love the lacework on the veil - and you've always looked good in white." Perhaps white wasn't the traditional color under the circumstances - but when he'd mentioned that the other day Nina had not been terribly happy with him. "I'll take you over as soon as we're done talking to everyone." Sitting next to his fiancee on their living room couch, he tried to keep his stomach from lurching with excitement as he remembered the purpose of the planned conversation. He'd kept Nina's secret because he loved her, but it had made January one of the hardest months of his life. 


"It's fine enough," agreed Nina, tabbing over to the page for her personal notebook.. Looking at the dresses had been Mark's idea - having found a satisfactory one, she'd already moved to the next step. "After I wear it, I can donate it to the Women's Center - Malikah's getting married this summer and she can alter it as she sees fit." The dress would do for their civic service in Freedom City in a month. For the wedding to come in Socotra's Great Mosque, when she would be her father's...overthrower, she would need something much more elaborate than this.


Mark gave no sign that he followed Nina's thoughts, instead kissing her on the cheek and rising to his feet. "Okay, it's 10:30...I should start the frittata so it'll be ready when they get here." Only an hour and a half left! Mark and Nina lived in a gated seaside development - just the place for two Freedom City residents who had wanted a house and Mark headed into the kitchen. "Everything will be okay," he said aloud, stepping around the bookcase and firing up the oven. "We'll have them over, we'll feed them, we'll tell them we're getting married in February because we're going to have a baby. It'll be a surprise - but everything will be great."

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Joe hoped he'd gotten it right. He'd learned a lot more about cooking since he and Asli had gone steady, seeing his tastes expand outwards - and not always in disaster. Asli had been there to offer pointers for this dish, but hadn't taken an active hand. She was staying behind today; she and Nina never got along, and Joe didn't want to drag her along in the name of a happy Liberty League family gather if it would result in passive hostilities. Instead, she was spending her day with family. 


Family. The thought echoed in Joe's head. They'd started making some real considerations about what came next. He hadn't sprung for a ring yet, but... there was the matter of what would come next. Something would - it wasn't like they were hitting a wall - but...


No. Don't think about the heavy stuff today. Just... have some fun. Hang with your friends. You can have one day away from considering your future. 


Joe entered, carrying enough mac and cheese to fill a cauldron. "Hey, Mark!" he said. "Hope you don't mind if I brought something to the table. With some Andouille chicken sausage - halal certified, I made sure." 

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"Hey Joe! Come in, come in!" As usual when Joe came to Mark and Nina's house, it was Mark in the kitchen - broiling a rich frittata that filled the air with the smell of spices. "Put it over there on the counter," he said, gesturing with his spatula. "This is almost done. We should have a real feast once everyone's here." 


"Joe, hello," said Nina, just stepping out of the downstairs bathroom at Joe's arrival. "I'm so glad you could make it, I-" She stepped inside the kitchen and wrinkled her nose, the scent of herb and walnut fritatta mixing with the smell of uncovered cheese and sausage, and gripped Mark's arm for just a moment. "I'm, ah, going to lie down on the couch for a moment," she said, hastily stepping back and out of the room. "Excuse me." She shot Mark a significant glance as she went. 


Mark hastily bent down, retrieving his fritatta from the boiler, and set it on the counter. Two minutes were almost certainly long enough. "So, uh, how have you been?" 

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There was a ring of the doorbell not long after Joe arrived. When answered, it would reveal Corbin standing there, dressed in jeans and a Kansas City Chiefs t-shirt, despite the cold. His broad shoulders supported two large coolers that seemed to steam in the cool January air, and he smiled easily as he was let in. 


"Hey hey folks! Brought some kebabs. Wasn't sure how hungry we'd be so I made plenty. Beef, chicken, and veggies, and plenty of each!"


When opened, both coolers would reveal stacks of foil-wrapped kebabs, still quite warm from being cooked. Probably enough to feed twice the number of people present. Then again, Corbin was one of those people, so food estimates could be hard sometimes. Folks occasionally wondered where he put it all. 

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With word that Erin and Trevor were on their way but detained by some last-minute hero business, Mark and Nina did their best to be good hosts despite the latter's fatigue. Mark stayed busy in the kitchen, keeping the food warm and pouring drinks, while Nina kept up her end of the conversation from the couch. "It's fine," she reassured Joe and Corbin when they entered the living room, "I've just been exerting myself today." Mark and Nina's house, as usual, gave the appearance of well-organized chaos - Nina's books on Arab history and global politics mixed with Mark's comic books and art books on the shelf, Mark's paintings matched with art Nina had bought through the Socotran exile community, all creating the appearance of a mismatched pair that nonetheless flowed together well. It suited the two of them well enough. 


"That blonde Amazon of yours, the one from the Christmas party, is she coming?" asked Nina with a smile at Corbin. She knew perfectly well who Quo-Dis was, after all, the tall woman having towered nearly a foot over the petite Middle Eastern woman at the party. 

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The rumble of a motorcycle engine announced the late arrivals as Trevor and Erin pulled into the driveway atop the Night Cycle in its more conventional guise. Dismounting, the former adjusted the collar of the maroon turtleneck he'd hastily tugged into place after the heavily armed robbery they'd run into along the way had been subdued. Thankfully with his jacket undone and his mask and belt stowed away in the bike's hidden compartments there was little to differentiate the rest of his costume from normal motorcycle leathers.


Stowing his helmet and retrieving the cooler bag from the back of the Night Cycle he quickly made his way to the door with long strides and let them inside. "Sorry," he called as they headed toward sounds of activity further into the house. The battered bag in his hands received a faintly glum expression from behind his sunglasses. "Food mostly survived."

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Corbin lounged on a comfortable chair conjured by his own power as he gave Nina a soft smile and a raised eyebrow.


"I think you and I both know who belongs to whom in mine and Quo-Dis's relationship, Nina."


He gives a slightly melodramatic glance toward the kitchen and then back to Nina. He was idly thumbing through one of the history books, one showing a collection of artifacts found representing thousands of years of history.


"But no, she won't make it today. She was planning to come, but there was some big fight out West that her team needed her to show up for. She pouted a bit but I'm sure she's throwing punches now with the best of them. She sends her regards and regrets about missing."


He had kept his speculation about just why Nina seemed so worn out and prone to sickness, and what Quo-Dis might blurt out in this moment, to himself. He restrained from trying to evaluate how far along she looked. For now, at least. Well, he'd given it one or two tries but he was terrible at judging these things. Even with decades of extra experience under his belt he was still terrible, just terrible at it. Though now that he thought about it, Mark and Nina on that war-torn Earth had had a young girl by this point...

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Erin tugged off her helmet and followed Trevor into the house. Her own blue sweater and jeans were slightly torn and blood-spattered from the fight, but she herself seemed undamaged. "Sorry we're late," she echoed his greeting. "Sometimes the crime just sort of falls in your lap. Or crashes into your motorcycle. We kind of have bagels and cream cheese." She tugged open the edge of the bag Trevor was carrying and looked inside. "Yeah, close enough. Did we miss anything?" 

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Mark and Nina fell silent, the latter having come out of the living room to greet their newly-arrived guests. For a moment they both looked downright stricken - before Nina actually burst out laughing, perhaps a little too forcefully for what hadn't actually been a joke. "...all right, Mark, I don't think you'll get a better moment than that." She took his arm and looked at the others. She'd broken the news to her friends at the mosque and UNISON - he'd broken the news to his mother. It only seemed fair. 


Mark took a breath, let it out, and spoke aloud, loud enough for everyone to hear. He put weeks of arguing back and forth, research, and frankly a little prayer into one short sentence. "Well, uh, we were going to wait until Mike and Alex got here...but we're moving the wedding up to February - because we're having a baby." He put his arm around Nina, a smile spontaneously erupting on his face. Nina smiled too, perhaps a trifle later, as they waited for everybody's reaction.

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"...ah." Trevor exchanged a look with Erin before clearing his throat and reaching into his jacket. From within he produced a small knitted cap, sized for a newborn and made from alpaca yarn dyed a deep black. Talking a half-step forward he presented it to Nina, a hint of sheepishness working into his usual stoicism. "Didn't realize we weren't supposed to know. Iyar will be excited." The corners of his mouth turned upward in what might as well have been a broad grin in comparison and the dark haired man gave Mark a light punch in the shoulder along with a minute, silent nod. 

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Mark hastily bent down, retrieving his fritatta from the boiler, and set it on the counter. Two minutes were almost certainly long enough. "So, uh, how have you been?"


"Can't complain," said Joe. "Asli and I have been working on a few things. Figuring out the best way to move forward. I mean, not saying that like we're weaving around a minefield, just saying... things are in motion. And I'm happy with 'em." Joe cringed internally at the words. He didn't feel like making any big statements, but the way he said it, it sounded like he should have a smile pasted so hard on his face that it silently screamed, "Help me." But that wasn't where he stood. He really was happy with how things were going. 


That was why he mostly traded in small talk, then stood silent as Corbin, Erin, and Trevor arrived. It was going to be a nice quiet brunch, and --




Oh, man.


After the dust cleared and it took time for the weight of the statement to register, Joe leapt off the couch, whooping with joy. "Congrats!" he said. "I mean, I know this is, uh, kinda sudden... but... you two are gonna be good parents." Joe was surprised to realize how much he actually meant that. "And, if you guys need anything... I mean, Mark, I'm sure you can take care of it, but if you need an extra set of hands or work putting together the nursery or something... I'll be there." 

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Corbin was standing over to one side, leaning against the wall, when Mark voiced what was happening. Despite knowing, on the one hand, that there was a baby coming, it was still a bit of a shock to hear of a wedding so soon.


"Ah. Well! Congratulations!"


He stepped forward and gave Mark a very light slap on the back. It was guaranteed to not launch him through a wall or anything!


"If I'd known about all of this I'd have gotten some bubblegum cigars! Hm, February, eh? Do we still get to throw you a bachelor party?"

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Erin looked startled for a moment, then just a tiny bit relieved, then gave Trevor a playful nudge. "You're supposed to act surprised, at least," she stage-whispered to him. "Congratulations, both of you." She gave Mark a hug that was only slightly awkward, which was about as good as Erin hugs ever got, then gave Nina a nod. "So, you doing okay?" she asked the exiled princess. "Got the whole doctor thing sorted out, and not too vomity?" She really had no idea how to talk to pregnant women, but it seemed like the sort of thing that ought to be asked. She wished that Alex would show up and take over. 

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As if summoned ( and since it was Alex, it was entirely possible that she'd caught Erin's absent wish ), there was the hiss-pop familiar to those that were used to AEON's teleportation device before Alex and Mike popped into existence in the room. As the AEON technology had been salvaged from Young Freedom's original HQ, it was almost certainly familiar to the majority of the room. 


"Sorry, sorry," Alex said as she stepped away from Mike to make her apologies. She was still wearing the pencil skirt and blouse of her working day. "Something came up at work and it took longer than anticipated. It always takes longer than anticipated." 

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"Yes, we've been seeing a doctor in Geneva who specializes in metahuman pregnancies - I didn't want to commit to anyone here in Freedom City on short notice." Unconsciously, with their secret out, she rested her hand on her stomach. "I've been a little lightheaded a few times, but so far those al-Darsah genes are winning the day." She grinned fiercely at that. "And thank you, Joe, we probably will need a nursery here." She took the hat, nodded in satisfaction at Trevor's craftsmanship, and handed it to Mark, who immediately put his hand over his mouth, tears visible in his eyes.


Without another thought, Mark hugged Trevor, then turned to Corbin. "As long as you think you guys can plan one before Valentine's Day! We've set a date and everything this time." He wiped his eyes. "I still can't believe it! I'm so happy..." He turned the hat around and around in his hands. 


"Iyar is very pleased, yes," said Nina, smiling up at Trevor. "All this changes is timing. I told her she'd better hurry up with her organizing - I don't want to look like a beached whale when we return home." 


"You look beautiful. And you will look beautiful," said Mark, kissing Nina's cheek. "We told my mom already. She's very happy for us, all she asked is that we don't raise the baby as a superhero - unless he or she wants to be." 


"And of course I said we have no intention of forcing the baby to be a-" At Alex and Mike's arrival, she briefly fell silent, turning to Mark. She knew what he wanted to say even before he said it. 


"Hey guys! Guess what!" Mark grinned. "We're having a baby!" 

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Mike arrived somewhat hunched as if concerned they might rematerialize in a  space not intended for one of his size.  Which was perhaps unreasonable objectively speaking but while he trusted his fiance's device he was less certain of her spatial awareness.  Standing as he saw they had arrived without incident he smiled wide at the gathering of friends.  At the good news Mike absolutely burst with exuberance and rushed forward to lift the smaller man in a congratulatory hug, "That's amazing!"  he boomed excitedly, and realizing his perhaps over enthusiastic response blushed slightly and set Mark down and glanced to Nina, "Uhm, Congratulations."  he awkwardly offered and reached out not quite patting her on the shoulder before dropping his hand to his side.  "You'll make a great dad Mark,"  he beamed and glanced to Nina to add, "Oh and you too, uhm but mother, yea."  he took a step back and grinned, "Sorry it's just such a surprise and great news."  he offered then looked around to the others as he realized he'd not even said hello yet, "oh uh, and hi everyone, sorry we're late."  he added to Alexs apology. 

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"Congratulations," Alex said with a small smile of her own, although her expression was equally warm. She feigned surprise, but not overly well, and more as if she were adhering to societal conventions than trying to fool anyone. She stood in the shadow of her larger fiance but comfortably and once he restrained his excitement, reached out to collect his hand and pat it gently. "If there's anything we can do to help with the wedding, just say the word," Alex said serenely. 


"I know that its probably a big surprise but I have no doubt that you'll do well with it." 

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"It was a surprise," said Nina with a  glance at Mark - but she held onto him anyway. "But it was always something we'd planned. It just happened sooner than we expected." 

"Yes, well," said Mark, "we've talked a lot about the future and what we plan to do about this. C'mon, everybody, let's eat." As was usual at a Lucas - al-Darsah meal, the small round dining room table was soon loaded with food, both what Mark had prepared and what their friends had brought. There was a vague Middle Eastern theme to the meal, one reinforced when Mark took out his phone and put some soft Egyptian guitar on in the background as everyone ate and talked. 


"We plan to have a quiet wedding," Nina was promising Alex. "The real wedding is going to be back in Socotra, in the Great Mosque." 


Mark shifted a little, knowing the implications of that, even as he finished cutting his frittata. "We already told my mother and she's very happy for us. We had to promise her we wouldn't make the baby grow up to be a superhero, but I'm pretty sure something like that will happen anyway."

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Erin's face was carefully blank as she exchanged a glance with Trevor over the comment about the Great Mosque. There were a very limited number of ways in which a deposed ex-princess would get access to that hallowed space, and very few of them involved a tearful rapprochement with family and everyone seeing the error of their ways. Erin liked Nina well enough, certainly felt a little better about her than she had before the water controller had hauled her up off the bottom of the ocean, but she had no illusions that Monsoon was anything more than a hero of convenience. She was helpful, at least for now. The problem was going to come if she managed to pull Mark and his phenomenal powers away from the path of righteousness. God only knew what might happen then. "Are you guys planning on staying in Freedom City?" she asked. 

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"I don't see you two forcing your child to do anything, Mark. I'm sure that'll go just fine. You'll probably be too busy with all the regular kid stuff to worry about them becoming a hero."


He took a few bites and chewed thoughtfully before continuing. 


"So...how quiet will the ceremony in the City be? Compared to the...formal ceremony?"


Corbin's looks belied his age, and while he would never quite be the master of subtlety some of his friends were, he could pick up on at least some of the implications in the idea of Mark and Nina getting married in the Great Mosque. Few of the implications were that enjoyable.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"When are you planning on holding the wedding in Socotra?" Alex asked with predictable directness. Her hazel gaze, un-blunted by the glasses she'd taken to wearing at work, was as usual, a touch too intense. It was hard to forget under Alex's full attention just how much she saw. There was no malice or disapproval in her tone, only curiosity. Her smile was genuine, softening some of the uncanny intelligence in her gaze as she added, "Mike and I have always planned on a small wedding and we're happy to adjust around everyone else. It's not like the ceremony makes a huge difference to us... I think it matters the most to Mike's dad at this point. He's surprisingly protestant about certain things."

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Socotra. Beautiful island. Horrible despotism. Joe remembered the last time they'd been there, when a giant deity from before the days of Mohammed was lying dead in the harbor and his brethren was holding Typhoon on trial for the murder. The League had to intervene to try to resolve the matter, facing divine judgment on one end and Typhoon on the other.


This will still be more awkward.


Still. Whatever awkwardness he felt about the prospect likely paled compared to what Mark and Nina were likely feeling right now. He would have cracked a joke about Asli wanting to be anything but his plus one, but he didn't want to poke Nina on the matter - even if giving her the chance to feel superior might help cut the tension. "Mark, if I know anything about you, it's that you don't force anyone to do anything. Coax, maybe, but force, no. And I know you're gonna be a great dad, who lets his kid be what he -or she - wants to be." 

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Mike was enjoying the meal with his usual gusto when the mention of the grand mosque drew him to a pause he looked up to Mark then to Nina, "Unless your father has had a significant change of heart on many matters that seems unlikely to be without conflict."  he noted as neutrally as he was able.  He wasn't exactly an expert in international relations but the sovereignty of Socotra and it's sometime arch-villainous ruler was a subject one didn't manage to ignore in the circles he found himself in more and more often.  "It must be difficult for you not being able to go home."  he did offer as perhaps weak conciliation to his statement and glanced around the table and shook his head, "That is a conversation for another time though I'm sure."  he tried to salvage perhaps too late as he dabbed at the edge of his plate with a scrap of flatbread.  "So have you discussed names at all?"  he asked trying to move on to less troubling topics, assuredly such a discussion couldn't be divisive. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

"We're going to be moving to Socotra," said Mark, adding quickly at the looks on his friends' faces, "but we'll come visit, honest, guys. That's the advantage of mass teleportation, the whole world is our oyster." 

"Well, moving is a little light, darling," said Nina with a hard smile. "We'll be changing things in Socotra - changing them for the better. I've been in consultation with my siblings and the 'Free Socotra' government, and they all agree that my father has gone mad. So, one of these days, preferably when I'm not pregnant, we'll be removing him."


"Not, you know, ha-ha, like lethally," Mark added, gesturing with his fork. "But Socotra needs to be free, and so we're going to do that." He looked a little uncomfortable at the words - but not actually afraid of them. "And if I'm living on Socotra after that, well, it's less weird. Not like some American mercenary is showing up to overthrow the government." 


"And to answer your question, Mike, it'll be Amir Richard for a boy, or Farida Martha for a girl. At least that's what we'll use with Americans, the formal name will be much longer." 

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