Parents' Day, Late Afternoon
The Quad, Whateley Academy
"Setup!" a loud, deep, booming voice called out angrily, halting Martina and her mother who were just going into Crystal Hall for lunch.
The pair stopped, with Martina still holding the door partway open. "Oh, shit," the girl swore under her breath. Without having to look, she knew what her mom's reaction was going to be. "Sorry. But it's ... her! The Italian hemmorhoid!"
"The what?" Tatiana goggled at her daughter's choice of wording
Martina shrugged. "I think I'll call her that, because she's a pain in my ass!"
"I thought she'd backed off after your team won," Setup glanced questioningly at her daughter.
Martina shook her head, watching her approaching nemesis, who was walking next to a stocky, dark-haired man. "Mostly," the girl admitted, "but occasionally, she does some subtle crap. Her and her team." She looked at her mom. "Someone you know professionally?"
Tatiana Hughes cringed. "You could say that." She pasted on a pleasant smile. "How are you, Pugno?" she greeted the approaching man. "Or do you prefer Giorgio?"
The approaching man frowned deeply, but before he could speak, his daughter piped up. "You have a lot of nerve coming here, villain!" she practically spat while glaring at Martina, implying with her disapproving look that the only reason her father's old enemy was here was because of Martina. She'd completely missed that Tatiana had called her father by his given name, not his code name.
Giorgio Volante put his hand on his daughter's shoulder and said something in Italian. Judging from the Italian girl's reaction, she'd probably been told to not make a scene. When he looked back at Tatiana, his expression looked a bit pained. "I ... need to speak with you?" he said.
Martina and the Italian girl looked at the man simultaneously, with matching surprised expressions. From all she'd heard, Giorgio Volante, also known as the hero Pugno Silenzioso, was a boisterous man.
When her questioning look went back to her mother, Martina saw a look in her mom's eyes that she hadn't seen before. "Mom?" Martina asked, suddenly worried.
Tatiana shook her head. "It's okay, Martina," she said softly.
Tatiana gave her daughter a thin smile. "It's okay. Neutrality, remember? Mrs. Carson and security won't let anything happen." Her smile widened a bit. "Go get your lunch. I know my way around campus, remember? I'll join you in a few minutes and you can introduce me to your friends."
"Mom?" To say that Martina was worried would have been an understatement.
"I'll be with you in a bit."
The Italian man spoke to his daughter, and though Martina couldn't understand Italian, the girl's reaction indicated that he'd told her pretty much the same thing Tatiana had told Martina, and she had the same skepticism that Martina had.
When the two girls had gone, Tatiana gestured to a table on the patio and sat with the man. "It's been a while," she said hesitantly.
"I hated you," Giorgio said bluntly. "It was all a game to you, wasn't it? Seduce and distract the hero and make a fool of him?" He shook his head. "It was all so your partners could do their job?"
Tatiana shrugged unconvincingly. "We're in different lines of work, and we have our different methods."
"I was ready to leave my Sofia for you," the man said very softly, his voice cracking. "I ..." He shook his head. "You broke my heart. And it was all just an act on your part. I think Sofia knew about you, but she never said anything, and when Sofia became pregnant, I forgot about you – until I saw your picture when I was having a video call with my Christina."
"I see," Tatiana said uneasily. She had no idea where this conversation was going.
"All the rage, all the heartache, all the bitter hatred – it all came back," Giorgio admitted. "I found out everything I could about you, because I wanted to destroy you."
"Your divorce – it was months before you came to Italy, no?"
Tatiana nodded, suddenly uneasy. "That's why I took up the career I did. No-one wanted to hire a mutant."
"And Firenze was your first job ...." Giorgio said with certainty. "And you had a child. I am puzzled about a couple of things, though."
"You had a son Martin?" Giorgio asked. "Not a daughter?"
"I had a son," Tatiana admitted sadly. "We were backpacking, and he had a bad accident. The only matching blood was mine." She saw the Italian man's eyes widen as realization dawned on him. "Yes, regen cloning. That's why Martina – once Marty – looks so much like me."
"And your son's ... daughter's ... day of birth? The timing ...?"
Tatiana winced, and then slowly nodded. "Marty was your son," she said with a strange calmness in her voice, belying her jangled nerves. As she spoke, she reached into her purse and pulled out her wallet. "Now daughter." She handed a picture to the Italian hero.
"You are sure of that?" As he stared at the picture, doubt faded from his voice.
Tatiana nodded. "One hundred percent."
For several awkward moments, the two – hero and villain – sat at the table, the Italian staring at the picture while Tatiana sat silently, not sure what to say.
Finally, Giorgio spoke. "Now what do we do?"
"Martina doesn't know," Tatiana replied firmly. "I lied about her father because ... what would happen if, when she was older, she came looking for you? I couldn't ... I couldn't do that. Not after I found out you were going to be a father."
The Italian man gawked, stunned that Tatiana knew that he had a family almost immediately after their involvement.
"I didn't want to do that – to make things awkward for your family. What would you have done if she showed up? What would that have done to your family?" She sighed. "Someday, I think they will both need to know, but ... right now, that would be ... difficult – for both of them." She smiled. "From what Martina says, your daughter adores her father. It'd be a shame for that to be ruined by our indiscretion all those years ago, don't you?"
Giorgio nodded, his face a mask of relief. "I will tell Christina that we talked about how to ensure our girls do not violate the Neutrality pact," he said after thinking for a few moments. "I will let her know that is a serious concern to me, and that I do not want her eagerness to cause her to be expelled." He glanced once more at the picture, then handed it back to Tatiana.
"I think that's a good story," she agreed, putting the picture back into her wallet.
As they parted, Tatiana glanced over her shoulder. "Marty ... had your eyes," she said to the departing hero, causing him to nod and smile faintly.
After taking a moment to clear her thoughts and calm her nerves, Tatiana smiled at the nice young man who had very nicely opened the door for her. The noise of Crystal Hall hit her like a thunderclap, and she began to look around to find her daughter. She took one last glance over her shoulder with a somewhat wistful expression "And it wasn't 'just a job'. Not entirely," she whispered softly.
Parents' Day, Early Evening
Outside Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"Are you sure you're okay?" Tatiana asked Martina. The two stood with lots of other students and parents in the parking lot outside Schuster Hall. Parents' Day was over, and the parents were slowly saying their goodbyes and filtering onto a series of buses for the ride away from campus.
Martina nodded, trying not to wince. "Not a good afternoon to ... you know," she said softly to not be overheard.
The mother nodded, smiling sadly. "Another reason you wish you had my regen?"
"Yup." She wrapped her mother in a hug. "I'm glad you came, but I wish you'd get here more often."
"A few weeks to Thanksgiving," Tatiana reminded her daughter. "What do you want to do over the break? Desert camping? Winter camping in the Rockies?" she asked enthusiastically.
"How about something different?" Martina asked. "Maybe nice quiet camping in the Keys? On a white sand beach?
Tatiana gawked at the girl. "That's kind of tame, isn't it? School isn't making you soft, is it?" she added, teasing.
Martina smiled broadly. "Elle suggested maybe we could go to Norway, and maybe do some winter camping!" She chuckled. "She loves cold weather, you know."
"I'll work on passports for ... you know."
Martina knew exactly what her mother was talking about. They would travel under their aliases, necessitated by Tatiana's former occupation, which was often of questionable legality and required frequent changes of identity.
Parents' Day, Late Evening
Outside Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Imp had been in her classroom late to carefully put away all the art projects her students had displayed for their mostly-proud parents; she didn't trust anyone else with most of the projects because of the efforts her students had put into them. Most of them, anyway. She didn't mind a late stroll across campus back to her apartment in The Village because the temperature was a pleasant sort of chilly. If it hadn't been for a finely-honed sense of situational awareness developed over years of operating on the shady side of the law, Imp would have never noticed a girl sitting by herself at one of the tables on the quad. She slowed, watching the girl and then looking around out of habit.
The girl was leaned over, arms crossed on the table and her chin resting on her arms, and she didn't move as the Imp approached. It appeared to Imp that the girl was upset about something. She walked softly toward the sitting girl, wondering if she shouldn't call security instead.
"Martina?" she asked as she got close enough to recognize the girl in the dim campus lights.
The girl didn't move. "Hi, Miss Imp," she said softly.
"Nice night," Imp said conversationally, wondering why Martina was sitting out here alone and looking quite forlorn.
"I guess," Martina replied unenthusiastically.
"Something bothering you, kiddo?" Imp asked. She knew Martina's mother professionally, and had promised Tatiana that she'd try to keep an eye on the girl.
"I don't know," Martina replied softly. For a moment, she was silent, then just before Imp spoke, the girl talked again. "What would you do if your mom lied to you?" she asked.
Imp's eyebrows rose. "Well, I suppose ... sometimes a parent might have to lie to protect a child." Her eyes narrowed. "Why? Do you think your mom lied to you?"
Martina sighed. "No. I know she did." She could practically hear the Imp's eyebrows shoot skyward in surprise. "I ... I heard her. I wasn't supposed to, but ... we bumped into Christina Volante and her dad, the Italian hero."
"They sent me and Christina away so they could talk. But ... the cafeteria was crowded, and I went back to see what Mom wanted for lunch so she wouldn't have to wait in a long line. They didn't see or hear me."
"And this ... supposed lie?" Imp asked.
"Not supposed. I heard her say it bluntly. The man that Mom said was my dad left long before I was ... you know. Evidently, I was conceived as a result of a job she did," Martina blurted out, "in Italy."
"She had a thing with a hero named Pugno Silenzioso, and I was the result," the girl continued.
"And this hero is ...?" Imp was hesitant to ask.
"Christina Volante's dad. She had to distract him or get his biometric data or something – and he had an affair with Mom," the girl continued unhappily.
"I see," Imp said carefully. "Did your mother say why she lied to you?"
Martina shrugged. "She didn't say exactly, but I think by the time she found out she was pregnant, she also found out that Christina's mom was expecting Christina, and she didn't think it would do any good to mess up his family."
"And Christina ... is the one who's been making your life miserable?" Imp asked.
"She adores her dad. She wants to be a hero like him. I ... I could really mess with her, couldn't I?" the girl asked. "I could tell her what happened. It'd probably destroy her image of her dad."
"What do you think you should do?" Imp asked, concerned that this knowledge could really escalate the rivalry between the two girls into all-out war. At the very least, Christina might be so enraged or upset that she'd do something rash.
"I never knew my dad," Martina said softly. "After ... the accident, it doesn't really matter who he was anyway, does it? I mean, I don't have any DNA except Mom's," she semi-chuckled. "So ... what do I do? Go to meet him in Italy and say 'hi, I'm your daughter, and I'm here to bring chaos and turmoil to your family'?" The girl shook her head. "What good would that do?"
"So what are you going to do?" Imp asked.
Martina shook her head. "Nothing, I guess. It'd be nice to know a father," she continued, "but Mom and I have ... had ... a good family without one."
"You still have a good family," Imp reminded her.
"Knowing that I'm Christina's half-sister – what if her mother left her father? What if she started hating her dad?" Martina shook her head. "It wouldn't do anyone any good." She stared blankly across the quad. "I'm .... I guess I'm not doing anything."
Imp put her hand on Martina's shoulder to reassure the girl. "Yes you are." The girl turned, gawking at the teacher. "You're going to talk to your mom about this the next time you get a chance," Imp continued. "And you're going to be as mature as your mom said you are and not ruin Christina's world."
Martina nodded. "Thanks ... for listening."
Imp stood. "You need to get back to your cottage before curfew. And if you need to talk, I'm not your mother, but I can listen."
"Thanks." Martina smiled, then turned and started back toward Poe Cottage. Imp watched her walk off, wondering to herself if she'd have been able to raise a girl even half as mature as Martina. Tatiana had done a good job as a mother, and Imp was a little envious.