“I’ll only be gone a little while, I promise.” Janet swept the hair from Asya’s face to better see her eyes. The way she let her long hair fall over her face and peek out from behind the strands made it tempting to have it cut, but she was unsure what that would do to her at this point, she seemed so fragile – fragile, yet strangely strong at the same time. She’d been returned to them an odd tangle of contradictions. “I need to meet with Indy, get caught up on what’s gone on since we’ve been away, all right, honey? Then I’m coming straight back here. We’re staying wherever they put you until Intel releases you back to us. Okay?”
Asya’s eyes registered no fear or disappointment; they were like shining marbles, green like her father’s, yet without that spark, cold and distant. They were very hard to read, as though a shield had been deployed before them to obscure what went on behind. Janet smiled at her encouragingly, hoping for some kind of response. She was rewarded with a wan smile; it wasn’t much but it warmed Janet to the core. Wrapping her arms around her daughter, she held her close, not wanting to be separated from her for a single minute – all the more reason to get going; the quicker she got business over with, the quicker she could get back and spend more quality time with their little miracle. Though Asya returned the embrace, there seemed to be a gulf yet separating them, confusing and frustrating, but as Tag said – give her time. It broke her heart to imagine all the things she must have gone through, and worse that she probably couldn’t imagine all she’d been through. By several degrees her heart hardened against those invaders that had done this to her baby.
Les looked on, overwhelmed with happiness, yet suspended in a state of shock and disbelief, feeling as though he were locked into a vision that seemed real but not at the same time. “I’m going with you, Mom,” he said, hearing his voice as though it were someone else’s. Her eyes met his. Into her mind he conveyed his need to speak to his former master, and she nodded.
“She’ll be fine,” Mark assured them, putting a hand around his wife’s shoulder and kissing her firmly on the lips. “We’ll have a nice chat while you’re gone.”
When at last they’d pulled themselves away, Mark sat in the easy chair in the little living area of the quarters alotted to them, large enough to accommodate their family so long as they’d be together on the Wayfarer until they’d either transferred Asya planetside or released her into their care. He tried to look comfortable while she just stood there in the middle of the room looking at him through the curtain of her hair, the locks having fallen again over her face since Janet swept them aside.
“Why don’t you sit down and talk to me?” he invited. “Or you want something to eat? Drink? You hungry?”
She continued to stare, saying nothing. She’d said little since her rescue, frustrating Intel and perplexing her family. What had those eyes seen; what was going on behind them?
“Is there something else that you want?” he asked, crying inside just to look at her, to be in the same room with his little girl, truly living and breathing and standing right there in front of him. If this was a dream, he hoped never to wake. “Anything at all, kiddo – you just say the word and it’s yours.”
Through the mask of her expressionless face, Mark could sense the wheels turning. Abruptly she turned and walked to the door. Thinking she was about to head off after Janet and Les, he started to rise from the chair, but stopped when she turned instead to the coat hooks beside the door, and reaching for Mark’s flight jacket that hung there, rummaged through the pockets. He puzzled over what she was doing, until she turned around, clutching the leather pouch containing his pipe and tobacco like it was a rare bird that would, if given the opportunity, fly off and away. She crossed the room, and stopping a few feet away, with both hands extended it out to him.
Brows raised, he reached out and took it. “You…want me to smoke?” Her nod was nearly imperceptible. Whether or not smoking was permitted in this area was not a consideration; Asya wanted him to smoke, so smoke he would. With rapt attention to his every movement, she gazed on as he filled the bowl and lit it. Her eyes followed the wisps of gray smoke as they rose into the air, filling the room with a woody aroma. His eyes fixed on her face, what he could see of it, it seemed for a moment as though she softened and might cry, but it passed and she returned to her detached state.
“Come here,” he said, patting his knee, welcoming her to sit on his lap like she had when she was younger. The thought that she might balk at his invitation was dispelled quickly; it was as though that was the one thing she’d been wishing for. She hurried into his lap and settled there as he put his arms around her and, unable to fight the tears back, hugged her tight and kissed her forehead. But still she didn’t relax, as though there was still something to be unsure about.
Following a few silent moments in which he imagined that he might have left his sanity behind and landed in some kind of dreamland or alternate reality in which Asya lived, she gave him the pinch that convinced him that he was, indeed, not dreaming. Literally. Lifting her head to give him a critical stare, she caught him totally off guard with a firm tug on the flesh over his cheekbone, pulled forcibly between her thumb and forefinger.
“Ow!” he cried in surprise as she let go. “What’s that fo- ouch!” he said as she did it a second time, giving the skin covering his jawbone a good twist. Not sure whether to be wounded or amused, he leaned away from her to prevent being assaulted a third time. Confused, he stared hard at her; she stared back. “Why’d you do that?” he asked at last.
“Just making sure it really is you,” she said, and gave him a smile that was reflective of the Asya she used to be.
“…okay,” he said uncertainly, relaxing a bit once he realized the attack had passed.
Apparently satisfied, her lips held the smile as she settled comfortably against him with her head on his shoulder, arms clinging about his neck.