Scene 1 – Two Years Ago
Interior MLED Compound, Early Evening
It was a fairly normal night. I was, as I often did when otherwise unoccupied, reading a book in the common room of the MLED Compound, making myself available in case any crises called for my assistance, if the other heroes were injured, or simply if any of the Journeymen needed me. I had just finished a chapter of Going Postal when Susan entered the room, followed by a nervous-looking young man with short red hair.
“Deputy Director Shepard,” I said to her with a smile, closing the book. “And who’s this young man?” The younger redhead flinched as I said that, and I wondered why.
“This young lady,” Susan said, emphasizing the word, “is the newest member of the Journeymen. The MLED will also be in loco parentis for her.” She caught my eye meaningfully, and I nodded to assure her that I understood the hidden meaning. A clearly transgender young woman that the MLED was taking parental responsibility for? I could read between the lines.
“I’m terribly sorry, young lady,” I told the poor girl. “Must have been a trick of the light to make me mistake you like that. What’s your name?”
“I, um, I haven’t chosen one yet,” she whispered. “I guess… just M, for now? That’s my first initial.”
“Well it’s nice to meet you, M,” I said, smiling at her. “If you ever need advice about anything, feel free to ask me, okay?”
“I’m going to leave you here with Anima for the moment, if that’s all right with you,” Susan told M. “There’s paperwork related to your case that you don’t need to be directly involved with and, I suspect, would rather not be. I’ll be back in a few hours with papers for you to sign – until then, just wait here.”
“…okay.” M sat in one corner of the couch, curling her knees up to her chin and staring at me worriedly.
Susan left, but not before giving me another warning look from behind the couch, where M couldn’t see. The woman pretended to be stern, but I knew she cared more for her charges – agents, heroes, and especially the Journeymen – than she let on.
I returned to my book, but more slowly, keeping an eye on M. She was obviously shy – and, more than that, nervous. It seemed as though she was afraid of me, which, if I had parsed her previous home life correctly, I couldn’t quite blame her for.
As I read, I tried to think of some way to set her at ease. A few minutes later, I had it, and glanced up with a smile. “M, dear, my hair has been getting kind of long,” I told her, pulling a strand of it out straight to show her – it hung down well past my shoulders right now. “I think I want to braid it back – would you like to help me?”
M blinked in surprise and hesitated before quietly answering, “I don’t know how. I… don’t know a lot of things…”
“That’s fine,” I promised her. “I’ll show you. It’s never too late to learn – never too late to start being better.”
After a moment, she said, “…I’d like that,” with a shy smile.
Scene 2 – One Year Ago
Interior Townhouse, Early Afternoon
I fluttered around my apartment, cleaning up as quickly as I could – momentary infusions of vitality bringing things to life just long enough for them to fling themselves to where they should go, tiny statues holding dustclothes and rags to wipe things down afterward. I should have cleaned up long ago, but it wasn’t as though I had company all that often – my home wasn’t very large, so when my friends gathered we typically went out, or Essa and Maria’s home, not mine. And since I didn’t spend much time here anyway, always feeling a little depressed by the place’s emptiness… well, the clutter built up.
I wasn’t quite done clearing up the dishes when the knock came at my door. “One moment!” I called. A spark of power flowed into the dishes, and they spun into the air, flying into my room and landing on my bed. As I walked to the front door, I bumped the door to my room with my hip to close it. It clicked shut, and I opened the front door.
“Hi Miriam,” said M, grinning up at me, and I smiled back. Since the MLED had taken her in – and since going on hormone therapy about a month later – the girl had slowly been perking up, becoming more cheerful and happy, although she was still shy around new people. “Thanks for inviting me over!”
“But of course!” I assured her. “I’m happy to have you here, and very glad to help.” I led her over to a table where I had set out makeup supplies. “I’m glad you felt that you could come to me for help.”
“I asked Holly and Simone first,” M confessed, “but Simone obviously doesn’t have any makeup that would fit my complexion, and apparently Holly never wears any – it’s all her powers.”
“Her magic is useful that way,” I agreed. “Did you ask Emilia?”
She shrugged. “She doesn’t wear makeup much either and her skin is too much darker than mine. I didn’t even bother.”
“Well, I’m very happy to be teaching you.” We sat at the table, and I took a bottle of foundation. “We’ll start with foundation…”
I took it slowly, one by one explaining to M how to use each of the tools in my makeup kit. For today, I had decided that the best way to teach would be to demonstrate putting them on myself, then for me to put them on her, so that she could feel what it was like. Next time, she could try putting it on herself.
M was a good student, paying close attention and asking questions when she needed to. Of course, she had always been a fast learner – she was well on her way to becoming the best martial artist in New Venice’s MLED, already beating out me, Holly, Canaveral, and even Nic. She was even well on her way to matching Ben – so it was no surprise that she would pick makeup up quickly as well, now that she finally felt comfortable enough to try it.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I had to wonder if Zacharias Cobalt – the Blue Phoenix, an elderly man whose powers activated and rejuvenated him on his death bed – was the reason that she had been holding back from many aspects of transitioning over the last year. He had signed onto the Journeymen for training a few months after she did, and had recently graduated and been transferred to Boston’s team. While he had been here, though… well, Zach was an old man, set in his ways despite his new, amorphous body, and he had repeatedly misgendered both M and Holly, no matter how many times he was corrected or disciplined for it. And though I had complained on M’s behalf to Susan – who had replaced Henry as the local director of the MLED following the loss of his legs to a robotic army created by Motael – the the policies set out by Chief Director Redding didn’t let misgendering alone serve as cause to fire the man, at least not without a complaint from the affected person. She, Henry, and Abe had all watched Zach like hawks, hoping to find another reason to get rid of him, but he had toed the line on everything else. And with M not willing to file an official complaint…
Well, at least he was gone now. And M was beginning to experiment, finally – she had gone shopping with Simone the previous weekend and come back with several dresses, and commented to me on a patrol that she was thinking of adding a skirt to her costume. And now, I thought with an internal smile, she was letting me teach her how to use makeup!
“Alright,” I said, putting the finishing touches on her makeup. “All that’s left is a setting spray, assuming you want to keep this on. But first…” I turned the mirror I had used to put my own makeup on towards her. “Take a look!”
M smiled widely as she gazed rapturously into the mirror, her eyes flicking from the subtle lipstick to the light blush to the sharp eyeliner. Her eyes began to water after a moment, and she brought a hand up to wipe away a tear before realizing that it would probably ruin her makeup. “Oh… oh-!”
I handed her a tissue. “Here you are, dear.”
“Thank you.” She carefully dabbed the tear away, then turned that dazzling smile on me. “Thank you, Miriam. This…” She sighed happily. “I look wonderful. I feel wonderful. Thank you.”
“It was my pleasure,” I told her sincerely. “Any time – although I’m sure you won’t need my help to achieve this look before long.”
“I might come to you anyway,” M said, turning back to the mirror. “You’re… really good at this.”
“I try.” I stood and peered over her shoulder at our reflections in the mirror. I had given us approximately the same look, and with both of our hair in similar bobs, we looked quite similar.
M couldn’t seem to stop smiling, but a moment later, still looking at herself, she said, “So I’ve been thinking more about names.”
“And?” I asked. M had tried out a few names – Claire, Emily, Elizabeth – but none had stuck.
“I realized I might be thinking about it wrong,” she told me. “I’ve been trying to find something that had meaning to me, but… most people’s names don’t have any inherent meaning. They’re just names that they were given, and they grew into. Or for nicknames, they’re names that they just make people think of. So…” She met my eyes through the mirror, her happy smile turning a little nervous. “What would you name me?”
I blinked in surprise. “Are you asking me to pick your name?”
“To suggest some, at least.”
I tilted my head, thinking. “Hmm… Do you want to keep the M as your initial? You didn’t with names you’ve tried so far.”
“I think so. I don’t want to change my last name – I may hate my parents, but I’m proud of my Irish heritage – and the one thing I liked about my deadname was the alliteration.”
“Understandable,” I said with a nod. “Alright, M names. Let’s see. ‘Maureen’ or ‘Mabel’ would both be pretty old-fashioned, and so would Matilda – not for you, since you’re a modern, forward-thinking girl,” I winked at her. “I think ‘Mackenzie’ is a cute name… but the obvious nickname for that would be ‘Mac’, which might be…”
“Edging to masculine with the nickname there, yeah,” M agreed.
“’Madeline’ is quite pretty, but again, ‘Maddy’ is pretty close to ‘Mat’ – and might also be too similar to your last name. How about ‘Megan’?”
She considered it. “Megan… Megan Maddigan… maybe,” she decided, then chuckled at how many ‘M’s were being thrown around. “Let’s put that on the table and keep going.”
“I believe ‘Maeve’ is an Irish name. Maggie – well, Margaret, but you’d probably be called Maggie. Margaret could also be short for Molly-”
M’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, yes! That!”
She nodded eagerly. “Yes. That’s my name!”
“You seemed to settle on that rather quickly,” I teased.
“It’s like…” M – no, Molly – bit her lip, trying to think of the words. “Like, the names I tried before, they were nice names. But something about them didn’t quite fit, you know? But here… it just kind of clicked. Like, yes, that’s it, that’s what my name is supposed to be. It was the same way when I realized that I was really a girl, like that’s why I’ve felt wrong my whole life. This is why my name never felt right.”
I wrapped my arms around the girl’s shoulders, hugging her from behind. “Well, I’m very glad to have been the one to find your new name, Molly.”
Her grin, already wide, spread further at hearing her name. “I’m glad it was you too, mom.” A moment later, she tensed and blushed heavily – enough that I could see it through the makeup. “I mean-!”
“It’s okay,” I chuckled. “You’re not the only Journeyman who calls me that. I don’t mind.”
“But, but… they call you that as I joke, and I just… I accidentally…”
“I understand, dear,” I said, my heart warming even further, and pressed a soft kiss into her hair. “You can call me ‘mom’ if you want to. I would be very proud to have you as my daughter.”
Slowly, Molly relaxed, and reached behind herself to hug me back as best as she could. “I love you, mom,” she whispered.
“I love you too, Molly.”
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