Shocked, staggered, stunned, and incredulous in their elation, the Wylers spilled out of the Stormcrow before the echo of the engines had died away in the expansive hangar bay, one of many housed within Wayfarer Station. Tag was there to greet them, unable to conceal a broad smile. It wasn’t very often that she was privileged to be the bearer of good news about a family member to their loved ones in the midst of the dark days of war. It felt great.
Janet crossed the distance to meet her and the two women embraced, Janet allowing herself laughter unrestrained. “I can’t believe it!” she cried over and over again. “Is it true? I just can’t believe it!”
“Where is she? Is she here?” Les exclaimed excitedly, following close behind his mother and looking all around, reaching out to sense his sister’s signature in the Force and not finding her. “What happened to her? Where’s she been all this time? How did you find her? Can she go home? Is she okay? Really okay?” Mark came up quietly and laboriously behind them as though having to command each step. He said nothing as he looked on with an anxious expression, while alternately clenching and unclenching his hands fretfully at his sides.
“Yes, yes – she’s here and in excellent care,” she told him while holding up her hands to quell the flow of questions flowing out of Les faster than she could follow. “Come along, I’ll tell you all that I know as I show you to her quarters,” she said, not wasting any time, knowing how anxious they must be to be reunited with Asya.
As she led them through a maze of corridors and lifts, she reassured them concerning her physical health – malnourished and exhausted, but otherwise alive and well – and astounded them by the tale of her rescue, as well as the Vong craft that she, herself, had commandeered.
Lightheaded with joy, Les encountered a wave of giddiness and giggled. “That’s our Asya!” Janet laughed and put an arm around him. Mark trailed silently behind, wrapped in his own private musings. He wiped dry hands on his pant legs. Barely able to feel, he forced one step forward, then the next, willing himself to stay on his feet and not slither to the floor beneath the weight of the swelling waves of emotion.
“That’s the obvious,” Tag said as they approached a door flanked by a pair of armed guards. “What lies beneath has been difficult to obtain. The knowledge of our enemy that’s wrapped in that sharp young brain of hers could sure give us a leg up in this war. But she’s been pretty tight-lipped, like she’s not altogether sure her ordeal has ended.”
“Give her time,” Janet said, eyes glued to guarded doorway. Butterflies swooped and dove in her stomach – Asya was behind that door, waiting for them. What would she be like? Would she be her same little girl, or would she be forever changed by the things she’s been through? Trying to visualize her as she had been, to picture her face in her mind’s eye, she found that she could not. It made her all the more desperate to see her – and amazed that she was about to.
“Of course; she’s had a long journey through hell itself, and she’s got some recovering to do. So just let me warn you,” she said, the guards snapping to attention as they halted before the door. “She’s not come through unscathed. You may find her changed…distant; but don’t let that alarm you.” She nodded at Janet and repeated her words back to her. “Give her time.”
As Tag tapped in the security code, Janet felt a trembling hand slip into hers. She looked up to see Mark, who had turned silent from the moment he’d informed her of the news, standing on the precipice of falling completely apart, his gaze fixed on the door as it opened.
Washed and changed into clean, new clothes, Asya sat on the end of the bed, waiting.
They had arrived. By now they had received the news that she was alive, returned from the land of the dead, and were on their way to meet her. How did they react when they were told? They thought she was dead! What would it be like to see them again? What would they think of her now? Would they still like her? They had no idea the stuff she’d gone through…shuddering, she slammed the door on the recollection of horrible things.
For a long time all she wanted to do was to go home; now she didn’t know what she felt anymore. She certainly didn’t feel like the same person who had left Xenen for Atad with Uncle Vik, in that other lifetime, in that alternate universe she used to live in – that she somehow fell through a trapdoor and found herself living in once again. It had not yet sunk in that she could lie down and sleep with both eyes closed. She wondered if she could ever reach that place again.
The seconds ticked away as she watched the door through the strands of hair, long enough now to fall halfway down her back, that hung down over her face. They’d tried to tie it back out of her eyes, but there was something comforting about it closing over her face so she could peer out from it as from behind partially parted curtains.
After what seemed an eternity, she heard someone at the door; people talking. Pulse quickening, Asya swallowed hard and gripped the edge of the bed, and she began to remember, just an inkling, how much she had missed them – a feeling she had buried along with everything else, in order to survive. After a faint, polite knock on the door, it opened and Tag came inside.
“Asya?” she said, crossing the room to put a hand on her shoulder. Asya lifted her head slightly to keep an eye on her from between the strands. “Your family is here.”
Shifting her gaze to the open doorway, her mother appeared, just like in a dream.
“Asya!” she cried.
Before Asya could sort through how she felt or what it meant, Janet had crossed the room and knelt before her, throwing her arms around her and crying as she rocked her back and forth. As Les and Mark entered behind her, Tag slipped discreetly from the room and closed the door, instructing the guards that they were not to be disturbed.
When the tears had subsided, Janet sat back, and holding her at arm’s length, stared at her like she couldn’t believe her own eyes. Heart too full to form anything sensible into words, she simply smiled.
Smiling sheepishly, Asya knew that she should feel something, but feelings were something she’d buried so deep, like a treasure, that they’d become difficult to reach, even now, when she wanted them. Grasping for something that would dispel the worried look developing on her mother’s face, she said the only thing she could think of to say:
“Hi, Asya,” Janet laughed through more tears as she swept her daughter’s hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. Out from beneath the shadows of her stringy locks she had the look of a ghost, her face thin and unnaturally pale, with darkness encircling her eyes.
“Heya, sis. How’s it going?”
She looked up to see her brother, the Jedi Knight, looking taller and more dashing than she remembered, standing midway into the room, clenching his jaw to keep from crying. Things she’d closed off from her conscious mind rose closer to the surface as she gazed into his face. Rising from the bed she walked over to him and stood there for a moment, just looking at him, as though studying the statue of a heroic figure.
Les could stand it no longer and swept her into a big hug, saving face and stoically keeping the tears at bay by staring unblinkingly at the bright light set in the ceiling until his moistened eyes turned dry. The nightmare was over, ending unexpectedly with the sun breaking through the clouds and dispelling overwhelming darkness and driving the demons away – with his sister emerging as the hero.
Releasing her, he said, “Welcome back, sis. The Force is definitely with you!”
She smiled faintly, politely, though not necessarily in agreement.
Over his shoulder she spied her father, standing quietly behind everyone, leaning with his back against the door that held him up, his eyes brimming with tears. Following her gaze, Les moved aside.
Something awakened in her, at last, something suppressed along with everything else necessary to keep her going minute by minute, day by day – the longing to be held like a child in her father’s arms, the safest place in all the world. In fact, it had suddenly become the one thing she had to have now, right now, over everything else. She found she could smile for real for the first time in forever. She took a halting step forward. “Daddy?”
Mark gasped as though he’d just used up the last swallow of air in the room. “Asya….”
She stole over to him as his legs crumpled beneath him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders as they shook with sobs. As he repeated in the midst of uttering her name over and over again the words he’d wished he could say to her, one last time, never thinking he would again – “I love you,” – she felt the cold shell that had built up and hardened over her heart begin to melt, if only just a little, beneath the warmth of his embrace, joined by the arms of Janet and Les, as the family huddled together to welcome their youngest member home.