Do Svidanya is not Goodbye
(posted Wednesday, January 17, 2007)
Nataliya Novakovski was no stranger to this. Her change had begun at the age of thirteen, when she was given a gift. She didn't see it as a gift at first, but rather a curse from God. For four years this belief was all but pounded into her; You are a mutant. You are unstable, dangerous. You are a freak. Kick a dog long enough and it will come to see it as a sign of affection...
When Nataliya was brought to Paragon City as the Russian heroine Nova Requiem, she was barely seventeen and completely on her own. She survived as best she could on the edge of society, more often alone at night taking shelter in an underpass with a grumbling belly. She became an addict to her own powers. Nataliya was rescued from the brink of death and fell into 'immoral capitalist ways'. But soon the KGB found their little lost devushka, and they 'fixed' her. Nova Requiem had indeed become a new song.
Death hadn't given up its claim on Nataliya, not yet. Back in Paragon City, deep in the grip of the final stages of Vahzilok's wasting disease, Nova Requiem was once again slipping through the cracks until the light came to her; a vibrant blue light carried within Belladonna Aura. Bella brought her back from the brink and into the arms of those who would care for her, about her. The CCCP took her with open arms, took care of their own. Even if she could never touch them, Nataliya knew they would always be there for her. And she loves them for it.
With that love and care also came the strength to stand on her own feet, becoming a bright star in her own right. No longer was she the wayward lamb fallen through the cracks. She was brave, she was confident, she was a Hero of the City.
And standing amongst the crowd gathered in Pocket D, welcoming back the one known as Electric Keet after her own trials and finding that which was lost to her, Nataliya Novakovski was scared.
She was staring down at a new trial of her own, and she didn't know if she had the strength. Maxwell Running Cloud stood by her, lending his quiet support, and she knew that Gabriel St. Thomas, the young man with whom she shared hearts, was a mere phone call away. It didn't make looking over at Belladonna Aura any easier.
The initial meeting and revelation with Keet and her wife was winding down, and the congregated heroes made their way towards the bar. Bella wordlessly followed along after the crowd, and Nataliya held up her hand after her. "Bella? Could you stay a moment?"
Lost in her own thoughts, Bella didn't respond. Nataliya lowered her hand and debated if a small empathic nudge to her friend would be going too far. In the end, she did nothing but watch her go.
"Wait, Bella," said Maxwell, trying again to wave her down.
Krasniy Zakat tsked. "Bella's got way too much on her mind..."
Nataliya let out a heavy sigh and looked out the gigantic picture window overlooking the Shadow Shard. They all did, it seemed.
Max put a comforting hand on the young woman's shoulder. "Let's head over to the bar," he offered, not yet ready to give up.
"All right," said Nataliya, and followed after the professor. Standing once again at the edge of the celebratory crowd, Nataliya ignored the inquisitive looks thrown her way and sought out her blue-skinned friend from the crowd. She spotted Bella over in the thick of the people. A bit of Bella's conversation floated through the noise of the club, telling everyone she had something to take care of and would be right back.
With a tired sigh of her own, Bella broke away and looked around the room for Tasha. She spotted the statuesque Dakota man first, and made her way over. "Max?" she asked quietly, finally spying the petite blonde next to him. Nataliya's eyes glimmered with a hidden smile.
"Actually, Nova was trying to get your attention," answered Max, gesturing to his side.
Bella nodded absently, glancing back toward the throng at the bar. "I know, I kind of got sidetracked."
Nataliya sighed and shook her head. "I know, was not rushing you. We've just had little time to talk."
"I know," affirmed Bella. It was a regret they both shared, "What can I do for you, Tasha? Max?"
Max smiled and Bella and said, "I believe that Tasha has something to say. She asked if I could be here as well."
This made Bella pause and look at the pair, her expression falling ever so slightly. "Why does this sound like the buildup to something I won't like?" she asked.
Nataliya summoned all of her courage and drew herself up strain, radiating a feeling of comfort the best she could manage. "It has been trying time lately, for all of us in different ways," she began, gesturing at the Amerindian, "Max has his ladyfriend recovering from near-death, I the same with Gabriel, and well..." Tasha glanced off, not wanting to state the obvious. "You know."
Belladonna Aura listened silently, closing her hand around her ring-finger. Max pushed his glasses up, staying silent as he waited for Tasha to continue.
Be strong, Tasha. You can do this. "Regardless, Bella, is no secret that between school work and participating in Gabe's treatments, I have been spending most of my time at the University."
Belladonna Aura's tone was as flat as the expression on her face. "You're leaving the CCCP."
Nataliya gazed back, millions of responses dancing through her head ranging from denial to pleading. But she knew none of them were adequate. Bella had cut to the heart of the matter right away. All Tasha could do was close her eyes sadly, and bow her head.
"You don't have to sugar coat it or beat around the bush, Tasha," Bella continued after a brief moment of silence. "I won't ask anyone to stay who isn't happy."
Max cleared his throat and pushed his spectacles up a little further. "Now, wait Bella. We have an excellent line of courses. And this is a choice that Tasha has made, and it is a choice made to further her education." He put a hand on the young woman's jacket as Bella shrugged off the response and Nataliya looked up again.
"Never think that, Bella," replied Nataliya, wishing for all the world to fill the widening gap and halt its progress. "Nothing has changed. I am not unhappy with anyone, or any thing. Am not leaving you. Am not leaving anyone. I am still here. I am still the Tasha you found dying, and gave new reason to live." It is a gift I can never thank you enough for, she added in her thoughts, projecting everything she had said as best she could manage with her burgeoning empathic gift.
Bella kept her composure, kept the strain contained. "It's a free country, Tasha," she said matter-of-factly, "If you feel you fit better somewhere else, you need to go there. I won't say you won't be missed, because you will. In fact we were pretty much counting on you for..." She lowered her eyes slightly and shook her head. "well, it doesn't matter."
Nataliya kept her gaze on her friend. "Speak your mind, Bella. Is only fair."
Bella shook her head again. "Really, it doesn't matter. I am the last person to hold you back. But you owe it to the other Commissars to explain your reasons to them." She glanced off towards the bar and the laughing crowd. "You used to consider John a friend, at least."
Max arched an eyebrow at this, but kept his peace when he felt Nataliya's hand on his arm. The young woman's expression became stern without admonishment. "I do not like your tone, Bella. Did I not just say nothing had changed?"
"Everything's changed," answered Bella softly, barely above a whisper, "Everything's changing. It's probably me."
Professor Running Cloud relaxed his stance and said, "Things do change, Bella. Tasha's desire to further her education is one of those things."
"It is all of us," added Tasha as a familiar passage wafted through her head: O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console...
Bella's strain was becoming more apparent. "I just seem to poison everything around me," she said.
Max shook his head. "I wouldn't say that, Bella."
Bella didn't respond right away. She looked off to all corners of the crowded bar, seeking familiar face, and an escape. "I should go," she said to Nataliya and offering a tight smile. "You should explain all this to Johnny."
"Bella..." whispered Nataliya, reaching for her hand. But her friend had already turned and disappeared into the crowd. She scanned around, wanting so badly to reach out with her thoughts and feelings. It wouldn't have done any good, not with a gathering this size, but it was all she could think to do short of chasing Bella down. And she didn't want to do that. So she stared ahead to where Bella had been standing, saying nothing.
Max looked down at the young woman with a small nod. "Perhaps you should speak with John," he said. Nataliya closed her eyes and bowed her head silently.
Hearing his name from across the room, John Murdock perked up, looking up from his drink. He picked up his glass and wound his way through the people over to the pair. "What's up?" he asked amiably.
"Mr. Murdock," acknowledged Max with a nod to the Kheldian Commissar.
John returned it in kind and said, "Running Cloud. What's shakin'?"
"Am never knowing 'what's up' anymore, John," replied Nataliya in a tired voice.
John cocked an eyebrow. "Whatcha talkin' 'bout, Tasha?"
Nataliya looked off in the general direction where Bella had fled, shaking her head. She looked back at John and said, "You are still friend, John. Always remember that. You have done for me and my family more than I could ever pay forward."
John grinned at the compliment, although the rest of his face held a bit of confusion. "Well, it ain't no thing, kiddo. What's goin' on? Are y'alright?" He chuckled and added, "You're talkin' all sentimental at me."
Max pushed his glasses up again and regarded John evenly "I believe that Tasha has a desire to further her education. She..." He paused, glancing down at the young Russian with a smile "Perhaps she should explain fully."
John looked from Max to Tasha, the confusion and more importantly, the concern obvious. Nataliya took a deep breath and looked her friend in the eye. "Am enrolling at University full time," she explained, "I wanted to tell Bella to her face, so she did not hear it from rumor mill. But she..." Nataliya stopped and looked off again, somehow hoping she might catch a familiar glimpse of blue even though she knew Bella had to be long gone. She drew a ragged breath, blinking away a tear forming.
Professor Sofia, more widely referred to by her call sign of 'Krasnaya Zarya', had stood by silently while the scene unfolded. She took the opportunity to weigh in, saying, “All right, that is not bad news. We both are, technically, enrolled full-time." She grinned over at her husband, also amiably standing nearby. "However, by the way you are acting, I take it it's not nearly as thrilling as it seems..."
"At least until we finally get tenure..." muttered Zakat.
John took it all in with his usual friendly shrug. "Well, that's alright, kiddo. Hell, y'ought to; education is important, especially in this meritocracy." He met Nataliya's gaze and asked, "I guess this means you're goin' on Inactive status for a bit?
Max looked back to Sofia. He'd run across her a few times on campus, as well as out on 'extracurricular' activities before and after he had left the Knights. "I don't believe that she isn't excited to begin classes," he offered, then looked again at Tasha. "However..."
Say it, and be done with it, Nataliya admonished herself as she had so many times before. You can do this. "It means I am leaving, John," she said calmly, "Once school is finished, I would reapply like any other. There is too much I need to focus on." Nataliya took another deep breath and met John's gaze. "And I have not exactly been useful, lately."
"You're leavin' Paragon? How could---oh." Realization dawned on the Commissar. "Y'mean you're leavin' the CCCP?"
Nataliya swallowed hard and nodded, thankful that the mouthguard hid her quivering lips. "That is what I mean."
Zarya nodded as well. "So I thought. I would advise against it." The professor shrugged and continued, "We manage to maintain full-time jobs, research and the CCCP, somehow... One should think students have it much easier. But that is not unanticipated."
"There's also the option of the Young Champions, too," added Zakat, "Many CCCPers go inactive there."
Nataliya glanced at Sofia. "And how many of your students are registered heroes?" she asked, mostly to herself.
"Huh," said John with a shrug, then offered up a lopsided grin. "Well, that's alright, Tasha. We're not goin' anywhere anytime soon. Y'need to focus on your education, you're more than welcome to. We'll still have that spot warm for ya, once y'get done. I mean, we hate t'see ya go; you're a comrade, an' always will be. But, sometimes folks need to pursue different things."
Max smiled and nodded at the sentiment. "I have faith that Tasha has made the decision in her best interests. She is an excellent student and would make a fine addition to the student body at PCU."
John glanced sidelong at Maxwell for a moment, then looked back to Tasha. The young woman replied, "I appreciate it, John. As I said to Bella, I am not leaving anyone. I am still here, whenever I am needed."
"Don't sweat it, kiddo," said John while Zarya blinked in disbelief, "Just keep in touch with us, an' study hard."
Nataliya's eyes sparkled with a smile--sad, yet still a smile--as she took the official CCCP communications device from her pocket and pressed it into John's hand. He took it wordlessly as Nataliya drew herself into a salute. "Has been honor, privilege and pleasure to serve among fine friends and comrades," she said aloud in a strong voice, "And I will still answer the call."
The deed was done. There was a general murmur around her, but Tasha heard none of it. Her heart pounded and her mind strayed, having taken such a big step for herself. She looked to John Murdock again, who simple gave the young woman another friendly nod before looking past her and flagging down Petrograd's attention. Their business here was done.
But for Nataliya Novakovski, like so many times before, a new chapter was just beginning.