Normally, I’m not one to judge somebody’s character based on my first meeting with them. Some of my best friends in life had seemed like arrogant jerks, and vice versa. I obviously made an exception for Marcus.
“Wow…” I managed to mutter, staring at my feet.
Then a sudden thought occurred to me. What was I going to do until this weekend? I didn’t have anywhere to go.
“You could go back to Sero’s mansion, buddy-o,” Havok advised. I gritted my teeth at the thought.
"We need to come up with a plan of action for the meeting, and for the time until then," I told the two of them, making my voice steady. Everyone had gone a bit catatonic after Marcus' announcement and departure. With both of them still reeling, I saw that I was going to have to take charge. Leave it to the oldest to have to think the clearest--the two youngsters were no doubt still too full of anger and helplessness to see things through.
"Aaron, I'm afraid there is no way we can trust to keep you around here with Kate and the rest of Cadenza's family... not as you are. We're not even sure if you're stable yet... we'll have to keep you at a place of mine. But you also shouldn't be alone..."
I met Denza's eyes and as soon as she understood what I was drivin' at, I could see her pleading with me not to put her in such a position. Her emotions were going to be ridin' on high at a time like this. She might not even trust herself with the job I was thinking of. But there were few other choices.
"I'm sorry, Denza, but I think it's the safest way. If you stay with Aaron at my place at the Dome and keep an eye on him, Rain, Jessi, and I can watch over our little girl." I was careful not to even mention where we would be, in case that knowledge might come back to bite us later, if Havok took control and could find it in Aaron's memories. "I would take the job, but I couldn't... I couldn't subdue him like you could if something goes wrong. You have to, unless you want to get Rain to instead..."
She sat for a long moment, refusing to even so much as look at either of us. Then finally, she balled her hands into fists and sat up straight, looking me in the eye. She had a look that could burn through steel. "Fine, damnit. I don't want to get Rain more tangled up with this, he didn't see what I did back there... he doesn't know as much about Aaron as I do. You all should do fine with Kate... I'll look after Aaron until the meeting. Can you deal with that, amigo?"
Cadenza shot over a look at Aaron, giving him a chance to finally cut into our conversation. Until then, neither of us really had asked for his input. I think we all were in agreement that the most important thing was what was best and safest for Kate. Even if it hurt some feelings...
I slumbered silently and deeply, tired from the day's unexpected surprises. I didn't even stir as they entered her room, not in the least. I was dreaming. I dreamed of Cadenza and Louis, Mommy and Papa as I knew them, of happy days with my family, and even of long ago memories involving Daddy and I. I dreamed about us playing together, all four of us, and how fun it would be to try the different games. Of course I didn't know anything about how we'd all live together, but that was a small thing to worry about.
I knelt down by my daughter and watched as she slept. Nothing… Not Marcus, or Havok, or even Sero could take away from the joy I felt just being near my baby girl. She was sleeping so peacefully that I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to wake her up.
"Mmm..." I turned a little, hugging my stuffed bunny closer, the one my Daddy had given me, chosen just for me, when I was too little to remember. "Daddy..." the word escaped my lips on a soft exhale, still drifting away into dreamland, but soon fading into reality. "Mmm?" I moved under the sheets and my soft eyelashes drifted open enough to see Daddy by my bedside.
"It was about how we used to play together, when I was real little, and you would wash my hair and we had the family of rubber ducks that I played with in the bathtub, you remember?" I asked, sitting up. "Oh Daddy, I thought you coming back was a dream, but it wasn't, was it? You really are here..." I hugged his neck tightly and buried my face into his shoulder, his cheek, where I could feel his warmth and smell his familiar smell. No matter how different he might have been, he was still my Daddy, and he was here now. Nothing else mattered. "I missed you so much... I looked so hard... and now you're here."
I held her tight and let out a content sigh. This was the most comfortable and secure I’d felt in two years. Despite Marcus, Havok, and Sero, one thing was for certain: No matter what, Kate and I were reunited. I didn’t care what kinds of hoops Marcus wanted me to jump through.
Whatever the cost, I knew it was worth it. It was a miracle that I was even holding my little girl. I turned my head and softly kissed her cheek.
“I love you baby girl,” I said, gently rocking her, “I always have, and I always will. I’m so happy I found you again honey.”
Somewhere in this warm family moment, I tried to work up the courage to let her know that I had to leave for a few days. I didn’t want to break that kind of news to her. Leaving again was something I couldn’t do in good conscience.
Here I am, saying that I’m back, and I love you, and all this other mushy stuff… And then I’m supposed to just leave? Return after a TWO YEAR LONG ABSENCE, and then just disappear again?! I didn’t want to think about what kind of an effect that would have on her.
I gave Cadenza a pleading look. My eyes, glossy and sad, sent a very clear message… I wasn’t sure how to tell Kate that I had to leave again.
Damn you for knowing I can't hurt her like this. Damn you for playing on my sympathies. Damn you for looking at me like that while you're holding her in your arms, and she's clinging to you like she wishes she could stick you there with glue. You know I can't f♥♥♥ing do it. Or maybe you don't. But if you had any idea how I feel, if you realized how much it hurts me to separate a parent and child after all the s♥♥♥ I've been through myself... damn you, Aaron. Just... damn...
"Your daddy will be... sleeping in the basement, honey. Mr. Marcus expects us all to be here for a visit this weekend. But don't worry because Mommy will be checking up on your daddy to be sure he's all right each night when he's sleeping down there, okay? I... promise you that."
Louis looked surprised, but I think there was understanding underneath that. He knew--he knew I couldn't refuse when Kate looked like that. We couldn't make Aaron go away as planned, even though it would be the safer option. But as long as I could be here to protect Kate, to monitor him, to make sure he stayed stable enough... it might be okay. Damnit, it had to be. I'd put him down if he stepped out of line again, showed one sign of reverting to Havok near her. She might hate me at first for it... oh gods Kate, you might hate me sweetheart... but I would do anything... anything to make sure you are safe. Your well-being comes first. My own feelings... me... hell, those aren't even in the same ballpark of importance. I'll look out for you even if it kills me.
"In the basement?" I repeated, a little confused by this. The basement was a dark, scary place. A place where scary noises happened often, like the creak of the house settling or the strange noises the water heater made. I didn't much like it, so I wasn't sure why Daddy would want to stay there, especially when we had other places that seemed much better.
But, I was only little. I didn't know anything as much as Mommy did. So I nodded and said in a small voice, "okay... as long as he doesn't leave ever again..." I nuzzled again into Aaron, comforted by his being near after the lapse of several years being tortured and played upon by others.
I squeezed Kate tight, rocking back and forth ever so slightly. A gentle rocking had always been enough to put her to sleep when she was younger. As she’d grown older it wasn’t anywhere near as likely to put her to sleep, but the last time I’d seen her she still considered it to be a very comfortable and reassuring feeling.
“Thank you,” I silently mouthed to Cadenza, grateful for being allowed to stay near my daughter.
"Yeah..." was all I could manage, before I just had to turn away. I resisted the urge to slam my fist into the hallway wall--I was supposed to be the stable one. At least, more than Aaron. But while he was sitting there... rocking my little girl to sleep... I was... I had to get a grip. Breathe in, breathe out. Calm myself. I could feel Louis watching me with concerned eyes. How did he do it? How did the old farmer stay so composed all the time? Was it really just a matter of age and wisdom? Or was it personality... temperament...
Probably all of those things. I wasn't really made to be the calm, cool type. There was probably a reason even my fire-breathing dragon sometimes tread with caution around me and my tough love and care towards him. I was like a pressure cooker about to blow my lid off sometimes. Sure it was easy to stay cool in peaceful times--but when the tension wound up, so did I. Even in my most professional moments, even on the job, I would feel the heat of anger sometimes. I tried to stay detached from it. Distant. But when it hit close to home like it did today...
He was more in control than I was right now. Aaron had faced Marcus, had his wishes stomped on and ignored by all of us, and he had sat there and took it and never snapped. Maybe he was right, back in the lab... it hurt to think about it, like I had put up some makeshift roadblock in my memory around it... but he'd mistaken me for... he'd thought I was the monster... Were either of us really safe? I had done all right with Kate thus far... maybe he could.
I just had trouble trusting anything yet.
OoC: Shall we skip to nighttime/time for sleep?
Night came as quickly and unexpected as usual, and I, dressed all in my favorite pink pajama dress and little soft robe, clutching my special bunny, had just finished my pre-bedtime snack of a cookie and a glass of milk, brushing my teeth. As I finished my spitting, I got down off the little stool and entered the living room where my three parents had stayed throughout the day.
"I hafta go to bed now..." I said softly, looking at all three of them with wide brown eyes full of exhaustion. "Can I kiss you goodnight, Daddy?..." I turned my eyes on him.
I watched them even though it hurt, even though it stung fresh wounds that had already been cut into me earlier that day, because I wanted to see her happy. And she was... she was so happy. Her little hand clung to the fabric of his shirt as he hugged her and she looked as if she felt so safe there. Even as it hurt, it was also sweet to see her so comfortable. A bittersweet kind of thing. My mouth started to feel dry.
I wondered, when she was done, if she would ask Louis and I for kisses too. And I wondered what Rain would think of all of this when he finally got home from an emergency job that had taken him away for much of the day...
"Mommy?" I offered my cheek to her too, expecting a kiss from all three of them. She looked almost sad as she did it, and I thought maybe she was crying. Did I ask for something wrong maybe? As Papa finished the trio of kisses, with a few more than one squeezed in to make me giggle, I looked at my real Daddy. "Goodnight..." I couldn't help but yawn as my bedtime had long since passed in the hurry of the day, and took my bunny with me to the stairwell, looking back once. "I'll see you in the morning...promise." It was a solemn exchange of some silent oath, a swear, even though I'm never supposed to swear.
"Right..." I tried to round up my thoughts and ready them for what I knew I needed to say. I don't drop grudges easily. But then again, my little girl's dad doesn't just show up and prove himself to be a fairly decent guy every day either. He was keeping even-keeled and Kate was happy. I had to... I had to recognize that. I hadn't been a very easy person to endure the past few hours. I exchanged a glance with Louis before stepping up to Aaron and looking him in the eyes.
"...Look... Aaron? I'm sorry... I'm sorry, I obviously judged you too soon. I can't speak for Havok, but... the man that's been trapped under his hold all these years seems like a patient man who deserves his daughter's love and I... I'm sorry it took me so long to believe that. Truce?"
I held out my scarred and bandaged hand, wondering what was going on in his head.