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It was a small list - the friends that Talya still had from her time among the Allies of Freedom was a small list that grew smaller yet every year. Most of them - all of them, really - had public personas just as flashy as Natalya Browning's public facade. They were also well aware that Talya's actual private life was something she had always kept decidedly so, so the understanding that discretion was expected was well understood alongside her invitation to visit the recently renovated apartments above the Espadas' School. Well, to most of them, it was likely well understood.


For Ace, she made the effort to include a pointed phone call alongside sending a private town car - lest she get the damn Dangermobile hovering outside a window just because he wanted to tease. 


It might have been any other cheerful weekend afternoon at the rather noisy home of four very young children. That Talya was tense was only clear to those who knew her very well - and those who could compare her usual level of tidiness to the current downright sparkling level of cleanliness in an apartment with very young children. It was, frankly, unnatural to see the living room looking like something out of a magazine as the blonde Brit frowned before going to rearrange the art fully folded quilt on the couch's arm for the third time. 

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"Ooh, you weren't going to put the blanket there, were you?" Erik asked from the mouth of the hallway, brow furrowed in comically exaggerated apprehension. He waited just long enough for Talya to glance over before raising his hands in his own defence and switching to a disarming grin. "Kidding! Kidding! This is the best this place has ever looked, cielo. Don't worry!" He'd dressed up a bit himself with a freshly ironed, dark blue dress shirt miraculously tucked into his pants but something about the way the collar sat and how the top two buttons were undone gave the impression it had been tossed on without a care and might be torn off at any moment; that might have said more about the man than the attire. 


Seemingly without his notice Eden had her head planted against his knee and was doing her level best to knock him over like a charging rhino, socked feet slipping on the living room carpet while she giggled manically. Excitement over impending visitors had given her a font of excess energy all afternoon but she'd thankfully been diligent about keeping her own outfit more or less in order after seeing the care Talya was taking in tidying up.

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Comrade Frost was all discretion on the way inside the dojo, his parka and jacket making him look like a Floridian or some other inhabitant of warmer climes in the dying days of a Freedom City winter. Once on the stairs, though, he dialed 'up' as he usually did when someone other than Talya or Ace was about - as he especially tended to do when he was going to be around the Espadas children. They were only periodically impressed but then American children could be cold. By the time he was knocking on the apartment door, he was all smiles, a gift bag dangling from his left hand and a chill in the air. When it was Talya on the other side of the door, he dialed things down a bit - especially when he saw her face. "Talya, my sestra, I bring gifts for your children." He handed her the bag, marked with the Champions logo. "And myself for you. Hello, Erik!" he added with a wave. 

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Klara was normally not one to skulk around, confident enough to stand out at her height, but today she was trying to keep a low profile. Her friend had chosen to try, for a while at least, to live a relative normal mundane life. As she had retired for a few decades to raise her daughters she understood the appeal such things, though her distinct height meant she was never truly out of mind. That and her busyness with various teams she’d not had time to visit the Esperades as much as she’d liked.


Having made her way unseen to the dojo she made her way up to the entrance of the living quarters and gently knocked on the door. She wasn’t yet comfortable enough being here to just let herself in to there home.

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"The twins are fed and sleeping," Minerva said, breezing into the room as she was wont to do.  Her extremely long white hair was done up in a braid, the end of which was held but their second child Mia who was comfortably ensconced in a sling that crossed the dryad's chest.  Min herself was dressed comfortably in the loose clothing she preferred.


And she was barefoot, naturally.


She stepped past Dimitri, favoring him with a faint smile to answer the knock at the door.  Her smiled widened when she saw Klara, not because she knew her--she didn't--but she had heard enough stories.  "Please, enter," Min said, stepping aside and gesturing further into the cozy home.

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A few moments later Ace approached the door artful make up putting him a good thirty years closer to his actual age and the assorted intelligence agencies and criminal syndicates put off his trail with old fashioned double backs like the good old days in berlin.  


He offered Talya a quick kiss on each cheek and a bottle of wine form his cellars that was in no way appropriate as a casual gift but he wasn't paying particular attention and a good dinner party needed a good red in his opinion.

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Saved by the bell, Talya had no time for banter - only time to scrunch her nose at Erik in mute dismay - before the centenarians had descended on their house. Talya turned with a whirl of skirts to answer the door. It wasn't much that gave her away but Dimitri had almost seventy years to learn the small ticks of tension in her aristocratic features. She pressed a quick kiss to each of Dimitiri's cheeks, affectionate for all that his skin was downright painfully cold sometimes. "Dimitri, you'll spoil them. Thank you," she teased, looking a bit more herself with the reassurances from Erik and Dimitri and Min's ever-implacable serenity. "Do come in, won't you. Can I get you anything?"


Her greetings for Klara were warm after Min had said her hellos and Ace's appearance drew an actual laugh. Taking a step back towards Erik, she bent to scoop Eden up before she could demonstrate her very impressive tiny bull impression on any guests. "Good lord, Ace." She said with a laugh, "That's fantastic... all you need is a cane and you can play dapper man of mystery. Come now, give us a dazzling quick change?" Talya's steps backward had put her next to Erik, certainly casual and even affectionate but also strategic in a way that still betrayed the nerves that Talya covered so very well in every other way. 

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"Hide the chocolate!" Eden shouted at the full, impressive volume of her growing lungs at the sight of Dimitri, dissolving into another fit of giggles as Talya swept her up.


"I didn't tell her to say that," Erik insisted through a short chuckle, "but I kind of wish I had. Hey, Corncob. Thanks." He accepted the bag to set aside with one hand while shaking the Russian's gloved hand with the other. The fencer's expression were much easier to read than Talya's and it was clear that the gratitude wasn't wholly on account of the children's gifts. "And you must be Klara, yeah?" He turned to greet the second arrival with a lopsided grin as Min led her into the apartment. Her prodigious height didn't seem to surprise him; she wasn't the first seven foot tall woman he'd met, after all. "Good to put a face to the name. Lemme grab your coat." He also knew well enough not to extend the same offer to the draugr.


Ushering them toward the couch and armchairs in the living room he stepped halfway into the opening that led to the adjoining kitchen, leaving Talya to greet Ace as he arrived just behind Klara. "What's everybody drinking? We can do tea, coffee, I've got some local craft beers?" The grin returned as he added, "I mean, I don't want to assume vodka buuuut..."

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"No no, I am good guest, leetle Eden," said Dimitri cheerfully. The interior of the bag, on close inspection, revealed a considerable quantity of chocolate candies of various sorts, heavy on Russian specialties like Alenka. "Today, I have chocolate for you!" He supposed chocolate wasn't the best gift for a house with so many small children but on the other hand it would make the children happy and he suspected it would soon find its way into adult hands as well. "And only wine I need is the pleasure of distinguished company," he added with a nod towards the other new arrivals. He didn't pressure Talya, confident that they would soon find out why they were all there. Still, he could certainly speculate. Hmm. With so many of Talya's wartime allies together, he wondered if they were about to go to war with someone. Or something. 

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Unlike her two contemporaries Klara was in no way reserved in her behaviour, and gave both her hosts large friendly hugs. She offered her coat and cheap but pleasant bottle of wine to give Erik a moment to recover.


“What gave it away?” she gave a broad grin “Thank you for inviting me into you home, you have a beautiful place here.” unexpectedly she didn’t have a particularly strong accent, rather she spoke in a measured tone


She followed her host to the living room and tried to get herself comfortable, most furniture really wasn’t designed for someone of her size. Though she could endure much worse without much discomfort.


“It does not feel like it is yet time for Vodka. Tea will be fine for now thank you.”

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"Oh so I am to be the entertainment for your soiree young miss?"  Ace inquired with a hearty laugh, "I'm not certain if I could I'm quite out of practice."  he noted with a sly smirk as he set his coat on the rack by the door and rounded the couch.   With a dramatic pratfall he vanished behind the couch and rolled to his feet  transformed to his persistently youthfull mein once more.  He made an elaborate flourish and flashed a smile to the little ones who much of the performance had been tuned toward.  "I've heard much of the West End's micro-brew renaissance,"  he said with a nod to Eriks offer, "I'd gladly sample  the fruits of their labor."  He beamed down at Talya with the child in her arms, "This suits you."  he said with a small nod sounding genuinely surprised by the revelation.  Offering Eden a wide smile he let out a small chortle, "And you so big."  he congratulated, "Almost big enough to go on adventures with your parents!"  he seemed to think this not only a possibility but the appropriate course for a child of that age.


"I'll have to dig up a video watch for her."  he said with a wink to Erik,  "Klara it's been too long!"  he offered finally turning to the other guests to offer greetings in kind, "And Dimitri it's not been long enough."  he teased with trademark smirk.

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  • 4 weeks later...

"Tea it shall be then," Min said, vanishing off in the direction of the kitchen with a quick glance toward Talya and Eden.  Generally speaking the Englishwoman was the true tea expert of the family but the ancient guardian picked up a few things over the years, besides she watched Talya do it often enough that she was an adequate substitute.


It was a short time--by how an immortal measures it at least--later that Min returned with some tea for Klara and a small tray of snacks for the guests and Eden.  

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"No, Ace, we are not taking the children to raid tombs," Talya sighed at the younger man, shaking her head at the peculiar style of parenting that the Danger-Clan felt acceptable. Unconsciously, she tightened her grip on Eden until she felt the toddlers hands encircle her shoulders in return. It took conscious effort to relax her shoulders. Oh, she trusted Ace wouldn't let harm come to them but his idea of babysitting wasn't one that she'd be trusting the Espadas clan to anytime soon. "Mercy, given Erik's predilections for finding wormholes, I'm already this close to sticking dimensional trackers on them all. Just in case."


She bent over to set Eden down, letting her enjoy the undivided attention of the adults while her siblings were all sleeping. It was a rare enough occurrence, after all. Pausing for a moment, almost as if the glib super spy was out of polite small talk - truly a sign of the end times if anything was. Truly, though, it was more of a sign of her comfort with these people than anything else that she didn't work the question into her conversation but rather moved directly to the question that she had. She directed the question primarily towards Dmitri but the question was clearly open to the assembled capabilities of those invited to the Espadas house. "Terry's eye hasn't improved. D'you think you could look at it when he wakes up?" 

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Once she was on the floor Eden made a beeline for Dimitri and his promises of chocolate while babbling in a rush about the adventures she'd already had including something about her babysitter setting a bad clown on fire which in most other households would have sounded like an exaggeration. Erik returned from the kitchen while Min prepared tea and placed a mug of scalding water still steaming from the kettle in front of the thermovore without comment before handing Ace one of a pair of bottles, stems held between his fingers. The label featured what looked like a heavily stylized boxing match and a largely unreadable font that would have looked at home on a heavy metal concert poster. "It's an IPA, kinda citrusy," the fencer provided as he prepared to sit down.


Before he could a plaintive wail sounded from down the hallway, quickly followed by a second. Rolling his shoulders with a sigh, Erik put his drink down on a coaster before standing back up. "Well, you were going to get to meet the twins sooner or later anyway. I'll be right back."

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Dimitri smiled paternally for Eden and did indeed produce her chocolate, handing over a whole half-bar to the little girl while he idly caressed his drink with the other hand, the steam slowly fading as he traced his fingertips over the surface of the mug. He listened with seeming fascination to the little girl, stroking his chin and nodding at the key points of her story, all the while wondering what was happening. Is Talya pregnant again? No, she would not be so irresponsible. And if it were the dryad, she would have already announced it. That left open less pleasant possibilities. She would just have told us if there was some great battle in store. He kept thinking. "Really! Your babysitter has fire magic!? She sounds like excellent babysitter." Someone is sick, he thought. Or dying. It was hardly the first time that had happened since he'd known Talya. 

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Klara sipped the tea as she watched the little domestic scene play out, as always it made her think of her own home life.


"This is lovely tea thank you." she smiled having a lot of respect for Willow, the only person here older than herself.


"They are so great at this age aren't they, I think you always think of them at this age, however old they get. I'm sure my mother still does and she's older than this country." she smiled slightly wistfully as she spoke.


As much as she was enjoyed this little scene Klara was aware that something serious was bubbling along under the surface. So for now she was going to enjoy all this.

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Ace shook his head at Talya, "Of course not that'd be irresponsible none of you are trained in anthropology or archeology."  he noted pointedly as he took the beer from Erik with a quiet, "Thank you."  as he settled into a comfortable corner of the couch.  "But that's hardly the only adventures to be had."  he added with knowing nod, "Can't just leave them here all the time."  he shook his head, "You're too young to retire."  he nodded to Erik, "Or too stubborn."  The immortal admitted with a grin Talyas direction.  He did look uncertainly from Min to Erik for a moment before adding, "Perhaps on the other hand there is another person who I would not be able to easily guess the identity of based on unusual characteristics in common."   He admitted pointedly which was really given the circumstance the best he could manage to preserve the air of mystery Erik seemed to fid of such great import,  "Regardless!  With you you can show them the ropes, and keep an eye on them."  He shook his head, "Can't leave them with some washed up company man like the Atoms it just gets creepy, next thing you know they're off with moon people and you're stuck as a glorified robo butler."


He took a long pull on the beer wincing slightly at the potet hoppyness of it, "Right that'll last a long voyage to calcutta."  he murmured looking back to Talya, "So you going to tell us what this is all about before Dimitri decides someone is dying and launches into one of those speeches?"

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"Someone is always dying," Min murmured, tucking a strand of hair behind a slightly pointed ear.  She was holding a cup of tea herself and in the brief, if uncomfortable silence that followed her quiet statement she looked down into it so she'd not glance at Erik.


Forcing herself to smile she looked up at Ace.  "I do not particularly care for archaeology," she admitted.  "I have seen more than enough civilizations collapse that picking their their bones seems.. disrespectful.  I prefer to focus on that now."

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Talya made a soft noise in her throat, reaching out to lightly touch Min's shoulder in mute support. The gesture was quick and quiet before Talya added aloud, "Well I do want to get some thoughts on Terry's eye as I can't exactly take him to a normal doctor and ask the pediatrician if I ought be concerned about an eye that's white and, frankly, glowing." Her words were deliberately light before she dutifully turned her attention to Dimitri, "Though I suppose I may have also invited the three of you to ensure that Erik has a multitude of people to talk to when he inevitably begins to question his own mortality."


Talya's shrug was deliberate and casual as she admitted her machinations without any sort of apology in her tone. Frankly, with her history, that was downright honest even if she'd not run any of that by anyone before hand. "But he won't feel comfortable doing so if he hasn't gotten to know you before hand, hence... coffee and tea. And adorable babies." 

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"Mia gave me the look so I let her go back to sleep," Erik explained as he returned from down the hallway with an infant in each arm. Emily had gone back to dozing as soon as he'd picked her up, burying her little face in her father's shoulder. Terry on the other hand seemed fully alert, making uncertain sounds while his head swivelled about trying to take in the whole room at once. Just as Talya had described his right eye was a uniform silvery-white and radiated a pale glow that was subtle in the lit room but unmistakeable whenever he looked directly at one of the guests. Whatever he saw seemed to distress him further and Erik bounced him up and down gently to settle him down.


"Did I miss anything?" he asked, splitting his attention between the twins and the gathered adults.

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"Hm." said Dimitri. "For pediatrics, would recommend young witch Seven for magic questions - Miss Americana more generally. Believe she handled birth of Fleur de Joie's child." He didn't bother saying that of course he'd be happy to handle Terry; Terry, the child of his greatest friend, born beneath the eyes of his patron goddess, marked with magic as clearly as if the child had been branded with a hot iron. For Erik, well - he is a young man in the prime of his life (though it's hard to tell with so many children about!) who is brave and true, and fights for his friends and his loves with courage, thus surely he will live a long and happy-Dimitri smiled tightly, restraining what might have been a laugh if he'd been thinking of a stranger instead of Talya's husband. "Oh, is Erik troubled?" he instead asked guilelessly. "They have treatments these days if hair has begun to recede..." he offered, turning to the swordsman with a wink as he reached to take Terry onto his lap.

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Klara caught herself before she made a disparaging remark about Dimitri, this was a time for friendly discourse, not a blazing argument and the breaking of furniture. Besides, it wasn’t Dimitri that she had the problem with, it was the state that he represented and what they thought of her and her lifestyle.


“It is always good to keep the happy memories of times past and tell tales of what has gone before. But for now I will happily toast to tea and adorable babies.” she raised her cup before taking a sip of the lovely tea.


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Ace lowered his beer to the table as Min spoke raising a brow slightly at the rather morose observation, "You and Dimitri will get along famously."  he cajoled in a casually friendly tone, "That was probably the most russian thing I've heard anyone say since that thing with the boat in Budapest."  ne noted with a sly glance at Talya.  "Well bones is more paleontology." he countered with a shrug, "But living in the now is certainly something I can get behind."   he seemed to take in stride the hint as to Mins lifespan and made an internal note to congratulate talya on finding a woman with Dimitris sense of humor and his own good looks when it was less likely to get him stabbed by an angry husband with fire sword tendencies.


He spared a glance for the babe in Erics arms, "Now that one is going to be a heartbreaker."  he offered with a smile, "Particularly if he manages his father's rumpled bad boy look."  He left any speculation as to the child's condition to the more qualified in the room but did offer, "I have heard a bit about someone who might have the medical and supernatural chops to give some insight."  he weighed carefully, "Though he doesn't usually cross the beams as it were."  he added with a very nearly apologetic look to Eric, "I've learned recently that can be a sticking point for some of the more reclusive sorts."  he played off jokingly though with a thread of contrition that was, it seemed at least, genuine.  He'd wait to weigh in on Talyas young mans mortality for the moment, at least give the poor fellow a chance to catch up to the conversation before warning him away from what he suspected Talya already intended to suggest.

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"You ought to hear her come winter," Talya commented, the words dry. She gave Min's shoulder one last squeeze before ghosting back towards the couch on silent feet. Rather than talk around Erik as if he were a problem to be solved, she turned towards the man in question, her hands loosely clasped in front of her skirt and that lock of blonde hair obscuring half of her face. Oddly enough, Talya parted her hair on the same side that her son's odd eye was on. "No, I was just explaining that I wanted you to get a chance to get to know them better... so that when you really start wrestling with the immortality thing, you'll have other people to ask."


It might have sounded as if she were implying they could suggest where to go  to find immortality but, really, that was the easy part. Erik fell through magic portals on his way to get groceries. No, what Talya truly meant, was that he'd have people to ask about whether he should, or he shouldn't. 

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The white-haired woman's lips twisted into a faint smile at Talya's reply to Ace.


Min's smile faltered slightly, however, when the former thief finally got around to why everyone had gathered for the evening.  She had known the subject was coming, but she still wasn't prepared for it being laid out in the open like that.  


Probably, Min thought to herself, because I had resigned myself to losing him and I had made peace with that.  The idea that I might not...


Min quietly excused herself from the room, heading back to the kitchen for more tea and to put a tray of snacks together.  She could still hear everything in the room, people often forget that her hearing was well beyond the human norm, but she didn't quite feel as if her presence would be much of a help.

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