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Family Matters: Observer

Outpost Phoenix: Personal Com-Net


by Lieutenant Lukas Behr & Doctor S. Vasari
[Stardate ]

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A fellow medical officer offered his extra room, so she was comfortable enough - though Attiq Farsi and his girlfriend were far too loud for their own good.  It was worse than when she had lived over the Orion, simply because she shared the wall. There were just some things she never wanted to know about him and the mental images gave her nightmares.

It’d been a week since Lukas returned from his travels to pick up his niece and Jane had managed to steal glimpses of him during her walks on the Phoenix campus.  She never turned her chin to spare him a glance, worried that if she attempted to even wave the attempt would be rebuffed. She simply didn’t have the strength to deal with another rejection.  The ache in her heart was familiar, but she’d simply learnt to accept the grief that came with losing a good friend. There was nothing she could do.

On her way to the medical building, she spotted a mess of dirty blonde hair climbing a gnarly tree.  Glancing around, she didn’t see parents or other children. It looked a bit odd and she meandered closer.  When she reached the young child, Jane smiled warmly. “Hello there. What are you doing here all alone? Shouldn’t you be in school?”  Her head tilted to one side as she attempted to appear rightside up to the young kid who was trying to hang upside down from an outreaching branch.

Adelina giggled quietly as she gripped the branch to keep from falling.  Suddenly shy in the presence of a stranger and without knowledge of what she’d said, the girl simply blushed and smiled.  She waved timidly and started to maneuver so she could climb out of the tree.

The Italian woman chuckled softly.  “Are you lost? Do we need to get you back to the school?”  Jane offered her hand. The child didn’t appear much older than five.  Strikingly icy green eyes caught her attention and she couldn’t help but think her lucky.  Cognac, the rich earthy brown, were muddled compared to such pristine hues. She remained at a safe distance to allow the girl to climb down the tree on her own.  She seemed to know what she was doing so there was no need for her to step in and ‘save’ her.

Her gaze dipped to the offered hand and she glanced toward the daycare from which she’d wandered away.  Lina could hear her uncle scolding her for leaving the safety of the yard but she’d really enjoyed climbing the tree a couple days before.  She glanced back to the woman and slipped from the branch to drop to the ground. It was a short drop and she brushed the bark from her clothes.  “Ich verstehe dich nicht. (I don’t understand you.)” She kept her hands in front her and hesitated to take the offered hand.

She didn’t understand a lick of German, but it gave her a hint of who the kid was.  Assuming, however, could be dangerous. Jane smiled warmly and lifted her offered hand to her chest, her palm resting flat against her uniform.  “I’m going to butcher this, so- Well, you’re four. I think you’ll forgive me.” She laughed and winked. “Ich bin Jane.” That was the extent of what she knew.  It seemed like an easy task to combine the few words she recognized from her friendship with Lukas. “What’s your name?”

Adelina’s eyes lit up and she smiled brightly.  “Du kannst Deutsch! Oh gut! Ich möchte Standard nicht lernen! (You know German!  Oh good! I don’t want to learn Standard!)” The girl clapped her hands and nodded in excitement.

The string of German that rushed from the girl’s tongue was dizzying.  She caught some words. Deutsch was German. Gut was good. Standard was, well, standard.  Still, Jane couldn’t help but laugh at the young girl’s excitement. It was hard not to feel joy around children.  

“Sag Onkel Lukes ich muss es nicht lernen! (Tell Uncle Lukes I don’t have to learn it!)”  She reached out for the woman’s hand and took a step toward the daycare. Lina was intent on informing the woman that ran it that she didn’t need the lessons in another language.  “Sie können Fr*ulein Weneran auch erz*hlen! (You can tell Miss Weneran too!)”

“Uncle Lukes, huh?”  A grin pulled at the corner of her plump lips.  That was enough of a confirmation that the young girl who suddenly took her hand was Lukas’ niece, Adelina.  She was easily pulled into motion and she gladly led the child to the daycare.

She watched as the operations officer’s niece waved about as she spoke quickly.  The subject was completely lost on her. Jane had absolutely no idea what Adelina was attempting to communicate, but there was something about watching the pintsized German spout out, what she assumed to be, complete sentences that tickled her.  ‘She sounds like a little dictator.  Oh. That was a really wrong joke- But-  Kids kinda are little dictators.’  She laughed as the childcare coordinator attempted to appear calm despite the exhaustion in her eyes.  

Lukas jogged toward the daycare, slowing as he saw Jane and Adelina in front of the building with Marilea.  He’d been called when they couldn’t find his niece again. His breaths slowed as he walked closer and he lifted his hands to rest on his hips so he could fill his lungs after the run - he’d been on a patrol close by so didn’t bother with a car.  The operations officer slid his hands into his pockets and stepped aside to wait for the Italian to leave. She seemed happy without him around and didn’t want to force himself on her, like he’d already done before.

Later that night, Adelina proclaimed during dinner, “Ich habe einen Freund gemacht!  Sie spricht Deutsch! Ich muss Standard nicht lernen! (I made a friend! She talks German!  I don’t need to learn Standard!)”

“Sie ist eine wirklich gute Freundin,” he replied with remorse in his tone.  “Aber Sie müssen immer noch Standard lernen. (She’s a really good friend. [...] But you still need to learn Standard.)”  A forced smile was hidden by a drink of water.

* * *

Timing was everything.  Jane did her best to avoid appearing in the house whenever she was sure Lukas was there.  It was dangerous to do so over the weekend when he didn’t have a shift, but she had no choice.  She had delayed as much as she could, anything to deny what she was planning on doing. Leaving her dream home was painful for more than she cared to admit.  It wasn’t the house. It was the friendship that didn’t exist any longer. Still, she needed her clothes and she needed to save her succulents from a horrible death.  They’d been left without water and her calendar reminder was a scolding in her eyes.

Her steps were quiet as she made her way upstairs to her master suite.  Despite how the shuttle was parked on the smaller island, there was no sign of the German man or his niece.  It gave her some reprieve until she heard the soft clanging of tin coming from the room she’d decorated. Curiosity pulled her body in that direction before she could stop it and the Italian woman looked around the room, half expecting to see Lukas.  Surprise lit her cognac hues when she didn’t see him. Looking to the left and to the right, she wondered if perhaps he was hiding in some corner of the house that was not known to her.

Carpenters always built weird hidden rooms.  They didn’t, but it was fun to believe.

Adelina sat at the small table that had been set up in her room.  She was dressed in a frilly pink dress with costume pearls around her neck.  Stuffed animals were propped in the other three chairs and she talked to them in sing-song German as they shared tea.  There was no liquid in the pot or cups, but the girl believed. “Herr Brown, darf ich Ihnen noch eine Tasse einschenken? (Mister Brown, may I pour you another cup?)”

It would have been better to leave, but there was no way to know where Lukas was and Adelina appeared a bit lonely.  Jane lightly tapped her knuckle against the door and smiled when the girl turned to stare at her. “This looks like fun.  I’m glad you like the set,” she greeted before entering the space. With a gentle motion of her hand, she silently requested to take a seat that a fluffy flamingo occupied.

“Fr*ulein Jane!” she greeted with a smile.  Her nod was immediate and she reached to yank the stuffed pink bird from the chair, tossing Miss Pink to the side to allow the woman to sit.  “Magst du Zucker und Sahne? (Do you like sugar and cream?)” Adelina tossed the ‘contents’ of the cup that the flamingo had been using and poured more.

The surgeon lowered to sit and smoothed her hands over the black leggings she wore.  She lifted the tin teacup and pretended to take a sip, smiling with appreciation for the imagined taste.  “Uh- Ist gut.” It was so foreign speaking a language that didn’t flow so quickly off her tongue.

Her brows furrowed briefly but she shook aside the question of why Jane hadn’t answered her question.  A smile quickly lit her features.

“Sai, sarebbe molto più divertente se parlassimo la stessa lingua.  Uno più carino in questo (You know, this would be far more fun if we spoke the same language.  A prettier one at that),” she laughed softly and winked teasingly at the child. She placed the teacup down on the table and reached for one of the small child size hats.  The pink flower was gigantic on the straw wide-brim and she felt no embarrassment about letting it sit on the top of her head.

“Ich dachte du sprichst Deutsch, (I thought you spoke German.)” Adelina accused Jane with a wrinkle of her nose.  She poured herself more tea and added to lumps of imaginary sugar before stirring it.

“No Deutsch.  No matter how much your uncle speaks it.”  She smiled warmly despite the hint of sadness that glinted in her eyes.  Lifting the teacup once more, she leaned forward slightly. “Though, if you want to make friends, you really should learn Standard.”  With a hum, she tapped her polished nail against the painted tin. “Teacup.” Jane raised a brow at the little blonde.

“Tasse,” Adelina offered before sipping on her tea.

Giggling, Jane nodded once in understanding.  “Tasse,” she repeated to appease Adelina. Her finger tapped once more against the tin in expectation.  “Teacup.”

The blonde poured tea for her guests.  “Tasse,” she insisted.

She really couldn’t help the soft laugh that tickled at her throat.  “Just as stubborn as your uncle, hmm?” Jane mused to herself. She hunched over slightly, her head moving slightly so that she could force the young girl to look at her.  A gentle smile lit her features. “Adelina?” she called out to the four year old. “It must be so hard not being able to understand the people around you. I bet you’re sticking to German - to Deutsch - because your parents used it all the time.  But, it’s pretty lonely isn’t it? All the other kids don’t understand you and you don’t understand them.” She spoke softly and slowly, as if Lukas’ niece could understand her.

‘We didn’t learn Standard until primary school.’  The operations officer stood in the doorway, his shoulder leaned against the jamb as he watched.  He had walked by after waking from an apparently much needed nap. Lukas remained silent and folded his arms over his chest to observe the interaction.  He was glad to see Jane but heartbroken in the same instant. As much as he’d coped with losing his family, he hadn’t time to mourn the loss of her friendship.

“Teacup,” she attempted again, her nail tapping lightly on the tin.  

“Nein.  Tasse.”

Her lips pursed and she met Adelina’s stubborn gaze.  Theatrically, she carefully pulled the hat from her head and placed it back on the hook.  She pouted and stared cutely at the little German girl. “At tea, it’s hard to have conversation when we don’t speak the same language.”  She made a show of sighing and shifted slightly as if to stand. “Tasse sounds awfully like teacup. Tea. Cup.”

A flash of panic moved over the girl’s face.  She had a friend to sit and drink tea with her.  She wrinkled her nose as she averted her gaze. Stubborn to the end.  “Tea. Cup.”

Quickly, she lowered back to sit on the small chair.  Jane clapped her hands and giggled with her glee. “Teacup!  Yay!” She nodded and reached for the empty tin and eagerly lifted it for more of the imagined tea.  “Yes, please. I would love more tea in my teacup.” She didn’t insist on Lukas’ niece repeating more words, but she was careful to repeat certain ones.  Teacup. Dish. Table. Bear. Whether or not it did anything, there was no way to know. She only hoped it helped.

Lukas wanted to stay, to watch, to cheer on his niece in taking the first steps of learning.  But he didn’t want to get in the way. He took a slow step back and turned, walking down the stairs to start dinner.  Maybe the medical officer would stay. Somehow, he knew better. He didn’t deserve her friendship after how he’d treated her.

* * *

A visit to the property hidden within the collapsed volcano was simply to gather some flowers as a gift.  Attiq apparently forgot his girlfriend’s birthday and he was struggling for a gift to ease the woman’s anger.  Seeing as she was nothing more than a guest, it felt only right for Jane to offer the beautiful flowers from her garden.  There was no way replicated blossoms could compete with the real thing. He flew her to the property, dropping her off at one end of the island, and told her he’d return for her.  A friend lived only ten minutes away and offered to save him by giving him the truffles he’d made earlier.

She watched as the shuttle flew away, her summer dress dancing lightly in the breeze.  A shallow basket was carried in one hand, gloves, string, and shears tucked against the wicker.  The song whispered through the trees as it moved over the lake. It was hard to dwell on the worry that she’d happen upon the operations officer when nature was so calming.  Quietly, she made her way through the treeline towards the garden. It was only a few minutes walk. She passed her studio and silently lamented not having had a chance to work on the final gift to Lukas.  She made a mental note to return one evening to pack up the space. It would make for a great playhouse for Adelina, albeit huge.

He stood in the kitchen, nursing a skillet on low heat to properly cook the cubed chicken for a modified parmesan casserole.  Lukas lifted his gaze frequently to check on his niece who played outside. She was enjoying herself on the shallow beach that he and Jane had cleared of rocks.  Their routine had finally settled and it gave him more time to reflect on the Italian woman and her absence. He suspected that she’d moved in with a new fling to better forget how he’d hurt her.  The ache in his chest that had been from grief in losing his family had been replaced by regret for how he’d treated her. Erik Vaeros had been right. He hated himself for it.

Flowers and vegetables crowded in the raised beds, which had been left relatively untouched for nearly two weeks.  Signs of weeds were peeking around the stalks and stems. There was no hesitation to lowering to kneel and slipping on the gardening gloves.  She started by pulling the weeds. She didn’t have much time, but she couldn’t help herself. A minute into the process, Jane decided it was time to create the flawless bouquet.  Bright colours were gathered together, oranges and pinks and creams.  Fillers were added and the collection of flowers simply grew larger and larger.

Adelina sat in the shallow water, her eyes intent on the fish that swam near her legs.  She remained still to watch them. A leather cord was tied around her ankle, the item a gift from her uncle.  Ice green hues studied one particularly brave fish as it wandered close to her foot. Her breath stilled in her lungs and she watched the fish open its mouth and attempt to eat the end of the her anklet.  The resulting tug scared her and she jumped from the water. A scream ripped from her lips and she scrambled away, shaking with fear. Water sloshed around her until she gained the beach and she ran toward the house in tears.  “Der Fisch! Es hat versucht mich zu essen! (The fish! It tried to eat me!)” she wailed for Lukas’ attention.

At the scream, Jane quickly jolted up to stand and turned her chin towards its source.  “Adalina? What’s wrong?” The bouquet was quickly dropped into the basket and the gloves ripped from her hands.  There was no worry about being found by Lukas. She ran immediately to the young child and lowered to kneel. “What’s wrong?”  Her eyes swept over her in search of the injury. There was none and she chuckled quietly to herself in understanding. “Did you slip?  Did you get scared? A pinch perhaps?” Her touch was gentle on her shoulders.

“Der Fisch!  Es hat versucht mein Bein zu essen!” she tried to explain again, now also frustrated that she didn’t understand in addition to being terrified.  Her body shook with fear and cold.

The Italian woman could only nod her head.  She had no idea what was wrong, but the first instinct was to wrap her arms around her.  Jane whispered soothingly in Adelina’s ear as if she knew exactly what bothered her. “Such big feelings,” she whispered.  “It’s okay. You’re safe and you can cry.” She leaned to one side to sit on the grass, pulling the blonde girl onto her lap as she cradled her, her whispers lost in her ear.  She could only hope that being held would calm her enough that she could attempt to explain what happened.

His quick steps brought him out of the house, the door opened with such force that it slammed against the railing behind it.  Lukas ran toward where he’d last seen his niece and stopped in his tracks when he saw Jane holding the young girl. There were a few moments in which his brain froze and he couldn’t decide what to do.  In the end, he had to make sure the child was okay. “Lina, was ist los mit dir? (What’s wrong?)” he asked her as he walked quickly toward the medical officer. “Bist du in Ordnung? (Are you okay?)”

Adelina glanced up from her tight grip around Jane and nodded slightly.  Her shaking had subsided a bit but she still shivered in the woman’s arms.  “Der Fisch versuchte mein Bein zu essen, (The fish tried to eat my leg.)” she murmured in explanation.  Her arms tightened around the Italian’s neck.

Lukas knelt next to Jane and reached out to caress her dirty blonde hair back from her face.  “A fish may have bitten her,” he murmured to the medical officer before raising his voice to talk with Adelina.  “Welches Bein? Lass mich sehen. (Which leg? Let me see.)” He held his hand out and picked up her ankle when he saw the young girl wiggle her knee to indicate which leg.  The German inspected her lower leg and foot to ensure that she hadn’t been bitten and his fingers tugged gently on the end of the leather around her ankle. “Es hat so gefallen? (It did like this?)”

At hearing his voice, she became tense but her attention was focused on the little girl in her arms.  Her gaze darted briefly towards the operations officer and she couldn’t remember the last time she stood so close that she could see the glint in the aquamarine that coloured his irises.  Her eyes dipped towards the foot as Lukas examined Adelina’s ankle. From her angle, it appeared fine and it was as she expected - the four year old was simply scared. Jane continued to whisper softly in Adelina’s ear, telling her that her fear was justified and that it was good she expressed it.

Her body tensed and she hugged Jane tighter as she quietly nodded her head.  She sniffled and buried her face into the Italian’s shoulder. “Es hat mich erschreckt, (It scared me.)” she whispered.

“Das würde mich auch erschrecken.  Aber das Ende sieht wie ein Insekt aus das der Fisch isst.  Er war nicht an deinem Bein interessiert, (That would scare me too.  But the end looks like an insect that the fish eats. He wasn't interested in your leg.)” he explained gently.  Lukas shifted his gaze toward Jane and offered her an appreciative though small grin. “Thank you,” he whispered.

“You don’t have to thank me,” she answered easily, her voice soft as to not startle the girl.  Her hand continued to rub gently and heavily against Adelina’s back. “Would you like to pick some flowers?” she whispered to the blonde.  With a slight lift of her chin, she met the young girl’s gaze and silently nodded towards the raised beds.

“Fr*ulein Jane möchte wissen ob Sie mit ihr Blumen pflücken möchten, (Miss Jane wants to know if you’d like to pick flowers with her.)” he translated quietly.  He smiled gently when Adelina glanced in his direction and he nearly chortled at the look of determination that crossed the young girl’s features.

A soft ‘oof’ left her as the young girl scrambled off her lap and Jane watched as Lukas’ niece ran towards the flowerbed.  “Ah- to be young and have short attention spans.” The quip was accompanied with a soft chuckle. She slowly pushed to her feet and brushed the grass from her palms and her bottom.

Lukas waited several beats before adjusting to stand.  He didn’t bother with the grass that stuck to his knees, he was more concerned about the woman that was next to him.  His gaze wandered over her features for any sort of hint into her intentions. He found that his heart had risen to his throat and he couldn’t swallow the lump of emotion away.  “I’m making parmesan-” The operations officer silenced his statement. It would have been followed with a question, but he knew her answer. He hadn’t thought to make anything healthier for her because it’d been so long since he’d cooked for Jane.  “We never see you,” he murmured quietly.

Her mouth opened and closed as she tried to utter some sort of reply.  It wasn’t that she was avoiding him. She was simply honoring his request that she leave, as much as it broke her heart to do so.  There was no way she could say it without it sounding absolutely horrible so she shrugged and an awkward laugh managed to slip over her tongue.  “Busy. I have an exam coming up in two weeks.” Jane avoided his gaze as she pushed into motion towards the flowerbed. The bouquet was done. All she needed to do was wait for her friend to come back from his truffle run.  She couldn’t help but smile as Adelina ripped flowers from the stems. They were always far too short and far too close to the petals. She would need a shallow jar to keep the flowers hydrated.

He followed her after a moment.  His gaze shifted toward Adelina to be sure the girl was still okay before he focused on the medical officer.  Busy with studying for an exam could mean several things and he could feel the last of his resolve melting away to continue talking with Jane.  She had left him and this was probably the last time she would do such a thing. She’d never come back to him. Hatred rose with the bile in his throat and Lukas silently berated himself for being such an asshole to his best friend.  “You’re not moving out, are you?” The question was faintly tinged with hope that she’d forgiven him.

She was quite literally saved by a shuttle.  The hint of hope in his tone could have swung in either direction and she really wasn’t in any state of mind to think that Lukas had forgiven her for murdering his family.  Jane pulled back the strands of dark hair that whipped around her chin as the vessel touched the grass. With the operations officer distracted, the surgeon used the opportunity to make a quick getaway.  She grabbed the basket with the bouquet and took a moment to rest her hand on the top of Adelina’s head.

“Hey!  Jane! You done?”  Attiq leaned out of the open door and he waved at the surgeon and nodded in greeting to the child and the operations officer.  “Sorry it took me so long. I got the truffles!”

“Yeah!  I’m all done.”  She quickly ran for the shuttle, a hiccup in her step when she passed Lukas.  “I’ll see you around.” The words were quickly spoken, as if frightened to even offer them.  She knew better. He didn’t want to see her. Jane hid her face, sure that the German would be able to see the pain in her eyes.  She disappeared behind the door, silently thanking her colleague for his timing.

The girl smiled and waved after her friend before returning to her task of pulling green things from the flowerbed.  There was no distinction between flower and weed, so long as it had colorful petals.

Lukas stared after the shuttle, watching as it lifted from the island and turned toward the outpost.  His heart remained in his throat as he once again felt the cold void settling into his consciousness. He had mourned his family because he knew they were gone.  There hadn’t been time or confirmation that his best friend had left until that moment. The German sighed heavily and turned to make his way back into the house.  “Lina,” he called quietly. “Abendessen ist fertig. (Dinner’s ready.)” There would be no time for him to mourn again.


   
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