The corded phone in the bedroom just reached the dresser, and Bob held it between his shoulder and chin as he grabbed Helen's supersuit, meticulously pressed and folded, as he knew it would be.
For the second time in the last twenty minutes, he willed the other line to connect. Dicker had told him where Xerek's old lab was — someplace outside New York City — but the newly sanctioned NSA was still being reconfigured and reinstated, and he had no way to get him across the country, so Bob was calling in a favor.
"Helen?" The tinny voice brought back so many memories. "It's good to hear from you —"
"Snug, it's me."
"Yeah, long time no see." It had been; Helen had kept in touch, but Bob hadn't talked to Snug since their wedding. "Look, Helen's been kidnapped, and I need transportation. Can you hook me up?"
There was no hesitation. "For Helen? I'll pilot you myself."
Bob had had a feeling he'd say that. His wife had that effect on people.
"I'll be at the Municiberg Airport in an hour," Snug said. "Where are we going?"
"New York," Bob answered. "Be prepared for anything."
Violet didn't consider herself a master of stealth, but she was learning. Invisibility gave her the unique ability to sneak around, but she still needed to hone her actual sneaking skills. She thought back to the unfortunate incident on the Everjust where she foolishly knocked over a plant and almost got hypnotized for it. That wouldn't happen again.
Her balance wasn't the best, but she'd been doing yoga every morning to improve. Tony had been a Boy Scout and had taught her how to walk silently by putting one foot in front of the other and transferring her weight evenly as she moved.
And now she was putting it to the test. Her dad was going to find her mom, and she was coming with. Not that he knew that yet. He had told them to put their suits on under their clothes and that they'd be staying with Uncle Lucius. The trip into Municiberg had been quiet, everyone ignoring the empty front passenger seat. They'd parked the car — Dad locked the doors, Violet noticed — and made their way up five flights of stairs to the immaculate apartment. Honey had been there with hugs and snacks but while she and Lucius talked with their dad, Violet had cornered Dash and told him that she was going with him to find Mom. When Dash had wanted to come, she reminded him that they couldn't all sneak out together, but she needed him to swipe the car keys. He did so easily — sometimes it scared her the things that they could get away with — and Violet hid her street clothes under the guest room bed.
Hiding herself from view, she took the key and snuck out the front door just as Dash announced that Jack-Jack could stick his entire foot in his mouth. She made her way down the stairs as quickly and quietly as she could, flattening herself into a corner as another resident made his way up the stairwell.
Once he was out of sight, she raced off, less worried about making any sound than that Dad would be coming down the stairs any moment. She slowed again when she got to the lobby and waited for a woman to exit the revolving glass doors so that she could jump into the next compartment.
Outside, it was easier to move without being worried about noise, and she ran to the car parked on the adjacent street. She looked around, trying to find a moment when she wouldn't be noticed, and unlocked the front door. She scrambled over the seat and into the back, trying desperately to slow her pounding heart.
She called up her yoga techniques to quiet her breathing.
Deep breaths ... in ... and out ... in ... and out.
She'd have to be perfectly silent once her father got into the car, and she still didn't know if it would be possible to follow him, wherever he was going.
But she had to try.
Something big was going on, and when he'd emerged from his den, her father's determined face only partially masked how spooked he really was. And it wasn't just the fact that Mom was gone ... it was that man, with the dark hair and the unnerving, pale blue eyes. Violet shuddered. He'd tried to grab her, but her mom had been there instead.
She'd placed her head to closed door and heard him talking to Dicker. Xerek, that was his name. And her mom had been connected to him somehow. Not just professionally, not just like he was her superhero arch-nemesis, but ... Violet swallowed. Personally.
She didn't want to think about it. She didn't want to think about any of that in relation to her parents. But ... it could explain a lot.
It wasn't something that she thought about. Not really. But they'd learned about genetics in 7th grade, and Mr. Axl had told them to bring in pictures of their families.
Violet remembered sitting at the table in the science room before class, smiling at her new photo. Mom had gotten it developed especially for this assignment. It had been the first family picture they'd taken when she and Jack-Jack had come home from the hospital only two weeks before. They'd set up the camera in the living room and then crowded together on the sofa. Dash had his arms crossed and looked a little put out, Violet noticed; he'd told Dad that he was sad that he wouldn't be the baby of the family anymore. Violet, though, was staring at Jack-Jack, who was asleep in her mother's arms. A little tuft of spiky red hair was already visible on the top of his head. He didn't have any powers, but he was perfect, and Violet loved him so much.
"Is that your family?" A different flash of red hair crowded in on Violet's field of vision, and she instinctually pulled away. Her seatmate, Teddy, had buckteeth and terrible breath to go with them. She drew the photo closer to her, but he leaned over and grabbed it away.
"Don't touch that!" Violet tried to keep her voice down. She didn't like being the center of attention, but she didn't want him to damage the picture. "You'll get fingerprints on it!"
Teddy held it away from her and looked at her family. Then he turned back to her. "None of them have black hair."
"So?" She tried to swipe the picture from him, but he slid it across the table to their tall, blond tablemate.
"Hey Scott! Look! Violet must be adopted or something." Liz and Penny looked over at his words, and Violet blushed behind her wall of dark hair.
"I am not!" she hissed.
Scott picked up the picture and studied it like Teddy had. He looked at Violet and then back at the image before saying, "If you're not adopted, then that must not be your real father."
He slid the photo back to her. She glowered at him. "He is too my real father."
"Genetics don't lie," Scott said with a shrug. "You don't get black hair from red and blond."
Violet grabbed the photo and stuck it back in her bag. She hated them. She hated Teddy with his buckteeth and Scott for his oily, smudgy fingers. She couldn't believe what they had said; she wouldn't believe that.
But the thought had never really left her mind.
Violet tried to swallow against the lump in her throat. She wanted to know, and at the same time, she was afraid of the answer. But she couldn't turn back now even if she wanted.
She could see her father rounding the corner of the apartment building. He was running; he hadn't run before.
Violet clenched her fists together, determined that this would work. The key cut into her palm, and Violet's eyes widened.
She still had the key!
Her father was crossing the street now, darting between two oncoming cars, and already reaching into his pocket. Panicking, Violet lobbed the key over the center console and it landed on the front seat.
Her father's brow furrowed, and he patted each of his other pockets before looking inside the car. His eyes widened when he saw it inside, but his alarm dissipated when he tried the door and it opened easily.
He grabbed the key and slid into the car. But he didn't turn it on.
He just sat there in complete silence before reaching up and adjusting the rearview mirror. She could see his eyes looking her way.
Violet held her breath.
"Vi, I know you're there."
Disappointment of the strongest variety washed over her, and as she slumped back on the seat she allowed herself to be seen.
"How did you know?" Violet crossed her arms and met his eyes sourly.
"I always lock the doors," he said. "Otherwise, you might have gotten away with it."
"I'm coming with you."
"Dad, I want to help."
"I'm not having this conversation," her father said. "I need to go, so I need you to go back inside."
"Who is he?" Violet spoke over him, determined that she wouldn't be shut out so quickly.
Her dad swallowed hard. "He's just someone that your mother knew when she was younger."
"Why did he try to take me?"
"I don't know."
"Is he my father?" She blurted it out before she could even stop to think.
Her dad placed his shoulder on the back of the seat and turned to look at her. He looked pale, but his lack of surprise told her that he'd already asked the same question. "Why on earth would you think that?"
Violet rolled her eyes because it was the most obvious reason in the world. "Don't you think I've noticed I don't look like you?" she said. "We've studied genetics in biology, Dad. It's not rocket science."
"You look like your great-grandmother."
Violet raised a skeptical eyebrow at him. That's what she'd always been told, but she'd never been completely convinced, and she really didn't think he was convinced now.
He sighed, and in that moment, he looked older than she'd ever seen him. "I don't know, Vi. I don't know who he is or what he wants." He reached over to pick up her hand, and it was so small and unsubstantial next to his. He looked up, and his blue eyes held hers firmly. "But what I do know is that I am your father, and that nothing is ever going to change that. No matter what."
Violet felt a weight rise off her chest that she hadn't even realized was there, and she leaned forward to wrap her arms around her father's neck. "I love you, Dad."
"I love you, too." She felt his arms wrap around her back, strong and sure and loving, and she didn't doubt him at all.
"So I can come?" She infused her voice with a lightheartedness, hoping to capitalize on their tender moment.
"Nice try." When her father pulled back, his face was serious. "I don't know where your mother is, but I'm not going to be able to focus on looking for her if I have to worry about you."
She wanted to say that she could take care of herself, but she knew that wouldn't matter. He'd still be thinking about her and not how to rescue Mom, which was what all of his focus needed to be on.
"Okay," she said. "Go and find her, Dad."
"I will," he said, squeezing her hand. "I promise."
Violet smiled, never doubting that either, and moved to get out of the car.
"Um ... Vi?"
She pulled back, hoping he had changed his mind. "Yeah, Dad?"
He made a general gesture at her. "You might want to ... disappear."
She looked down.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. The suit. "Right!"
She flashed him a thumbs up before she hid herself, opened the car door and raced back to the apartment.