Perhaps it is some ineffable power of a mother, to know when a child is missing, even when you are missing far too often yourself to that daughter’s mind. There is a message, waiting for Talya when she returns, is questioned, drags herself home. It’s handwritten, propped against a glass on her kitchen table. This is what you get when your parent is a teleporter.
Talya had been making strides on that front—before space, it would have bothered her slightly less. Now it bothers her so much. So much. A firebird bursts at the folded paper, to burn it to ash, sight and sound and—nothing. Only thus. Not a full teleporter, not a full illusionist. She’s hardly home, but in a huff, Talya summons a portal and steps through into New Rus and delicate snow and icy lacery along bare branches and a little carousing before bed. She missed it, though she’d never admit that. Maybe it missed her a little too. Nothing attacks her in the night she sleeps there, an indulgence she has not allowed herself for years.
The next night, after a day of explaining and smiling and apologizing to her bosses—no, she knows they wanted her in the office at least a couple days. No, she doesn’t even have a couple weeks’ worth of work she’s done at home—she sends a message to her mother. Through her Eyes, the way god intended.
Illyana, not stupid, however much she prefers trying to motivate her daughter to face her issues head-on, is aware of them, will on occasion bow to them. Perhaps there was something in the tone of Talya’s message—Illyana teleports into the hall. Knocks, only when the portal is quite gone.
She has much presence, does Illyana, in her maturity. More than Talyacan even conceive of at her current age. She is still quite tall, still quite slim, and has turned a need for a certain sort of care, a certain sort of slowness to her movements into elegance. Her hair is turning from blond to white, too subtly to track, but very much new snow now, braided up in a crown much as Talya wears hers when she can be bothered.
A clinging hug, a story rolling out of the teller, a mother listening—these are things that are to be expected. They do not need to be scrutinized. Begin again, then, with this:
“Your father as a young man?” Illyana has her arm around her daughter’s shoulders, drawing her to lean in, lean against, as they sit on the couch.
“I think so.” Talya closes her eyes in an aide to picturing him in memory. Same smile. “I didn’t have long between when I recognized him and when he fucking knocked me out. Just that easy.” A snap of the fingers. “Never got a rematch. And now that’s gone.”
“Had I thought the world needed a clone of myself, or even Jason—” Illyana does not practice self-deception either, and she has to stop and smile wincingly at such a thought. “I would have found a spell to provide it.” A uniquely maternal flavor of asperity brushes her tone.
Talya knuckles at her eyes. “I know, Mom.” Old argument. No ground to be won at this point, especially not when she knows what deactivated tech lurks under her skin, against her mind. Talya pushes away, pushes up. “I wish I could know what he thought of me.”
Illyana settles her hands on her knees. “As a rival illusionist, without the clouding influence of paternal feeling?” Again, a smile. “You could send a message in the direction of your real father. Is he not still in contact?”
Talya quick fingertip-flicks that away. “I have, but there no point holding my breath waiting for him. It’s his secondary mutation, showing up when I don’t want him, and hiding when I do.” The real question, that takes more thought, enough thought to still her endless fidgeting, not quite pacing. “No—yes. I wanted to tell him, but then I wanted to see what he would do, without having known me as a child. Would he ask me to join him? After the Seeker crap was deactivated, I mean.”
“Well.” Illyana stands, brushes down her skirt. She extends a hand. “Perhaps you would like to see what might have been? I will not insult you by describing the price of such knowledge.”
“It is a lie, except for the part that is true, and neither part will you be able to cast from your mind, and so will be ever changed by it, even the lie,” Talya says, falling very easily into the speech pattern, for all she presents herself to her new friends. “Yeah, duh.” She is not her mother, you see. She can assert the difference with a few words of her own. She takes her mother’s hand.
Rus is—well, it is not New Rus, but any observer other than the two women who enter it and walk with sure steps toward their destination would be hard put to articulate why. Both are wild, both have winds that carry both the danger and certainty of pure story. Perhaps it is in the air so blown, a scent almost tasted.
This seeing is in the drinking from a pool, still as a mirror once the ripples of cupping hands have died down. Then one drinks, then one feels the sensation of falling in and drowning: no breath and thrashing and a heavy suffocation of water streaming into the lungs—
And that’s not even the price. That is only the bad taste to the medicine that enhances its effect, the effort of achievement that gives value to the prize won.
“Who are you, then,” says the man lounging at a bar in space. The man with red hair, with sharp features, with the same smile, though he is too wary of his surroundings to use it at the moment.
“The daughter of another you,” Talya says. And so. It is said. She stands, hands at her sides. Stillness for now.
He turns, lounging becoming more pointed. A certain kind of weapon, a trickster announcing himself. Talya has immunity, of course, all the more because she doesn’t realize she does. “Your mother must have been a hell of a looker to have softened this—” a circle of a hand around his own face. “Into something not half bad.”
Stillness is fed by surprise for a second, before Talya snorts and breaks free to rub at the back of her neck. “I thought I might have to convince you. Instead, you’re already starting in on the insults.”
The man holds up one finger. Point of order. “Faint praise, my dear. Family deserves no less.”
Talya looks down at the floor, shakes her head at a realization that seems so clear now. “You’re not going to be impressed by my illusions. Even now. Even this other you. I suppose that’s unconsciously what I wanted, but consciously, that’s stupid.”
“Ha!” The laugh is a bark. “I am never impressed. It is not in my blood to be impressed.” He gestures up and now. This blood, here, beneath the skin. So that’s it. Talya’s answer. Is it the true, or the lie?
Then he tosses back his drink and walks past her, though that is not quite the direct path to the door. “So this was just boring old daddy issues all along? Boo-hoo, he walked out on mommy and me?”
“No.” The answer comes quickly, emphatic even as Talya frowns. Her expression has a mirror in his, both surprised, both probably for different reasons. “You—he—didn’t. Can’t say you raised me either, but you certainly did plenty to inflict yourself on my life.”
“Huh.” The surprise fades with time, but it was there. Definitely. The man leaves, but while Talya watches, she adds something more in a passable imitation of his speech pattern. “There must have been something to interest him.”
And then back kneeling in the chill wind beside a pool that ripples too much to see her face in it, with a thirst so powerful it seems what she last drank was not water at all, but some anti-water that drew all of the real thing out of her. Talya lets her mother help her up, and together they go in search of a drink.