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Family Matters: Friends

Outpost Phoenix: Personal Com-Net


by Lieutenant Lukas Behr & Doctor S. Vasari
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It was several days before Jane finally accepted the inevitable.  She had to move out and move forward. Lukas would undoubtedly want to the house to himself, to never chance seeing her again.  He needed to focus on Adelina and it was selfish of her to think their friendship could be salvaged. It was by some miracle that the German didn’t tell his niece that it was by her hand that her parents died.  The Italian woman was sure that the little blonde would hate her just as fiercely. Still, she couldn’t stand to sign an agreement to move back into the residence building. The choices were simply not great, especially after such a beautiful house had once been her home.  It was well past midnight before she let the shuttle touchdown on the far end of the island. A simple handheld torch was her only companion until she reached her studio space, where she turned off the handheld light and chased away the shadows with the hanging lights that illuminated her art sanctuary.

Exhaustion was easy to see in his features.  Lukas had become used to the feeling, but tonight he had to remain awake to finish up some reports for the outpost.  An incident with Adelina at the daycare had pulled him away - a fight with another girl after a misunderstanding - and they needed to be finished.  His sigh was the only intrusion to the silence that surrounded him in the office and he frowned when the words had blurred so much he could no longer read them.  He dropped the tablet lightly to the desk and pushed back to stand up and walk some energy into his limbs.

The first order of business was rolling up the unfinished oil painting for Lukas and sliding it into the protective tube.  She’d have to finish it elsewhere. She managed to fill one crate with the collection of acrylic paints and the appropriate brushes.  Crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels were quickly filling another. She’d barely used the space so it was fairly clean, never having much of a chance since Lukas finished building it for her.

He turned to make his way into the kitchen and pulled open the fridge to take out a bottle of water.  The German paused to note that anything the medical officer would have kept in the ice box was gone - except the water.  The Kottbusser beer had been untouched for months. Lukas straightened and turned his head to peer out the window when he thought he saw an unusual source of light.  His brows furrowed and he stepped closer to get a better look. It was pitch black except for a glow from the other side of the island. His own studio shed was locked but he wasn’t sure how secure Jane kept hers.  The thought of a thief making off with her art supplies had him pushing into motion.

The house was locked up and he held a hand lamp in front of him as he walked quickly over the lawn and into the woods.  His gaze shifted constantly between the light that shined in the distance and the path under his feet to ensure he didn’t trip.  Lukas didn’t even consider that he would be walking up on an intruder unarmed and without making the outpost aware of his intentions.  Protectiveness had flared and he just wanted to drive the person away.

“I have way too much paper,” she muttered under her breath as she started piling cardstock into the crate, careful to avoid bending the corners or possibly smudging the surface.  “I really shouldn’t have this much paper.” Dozens of sketchbooks joined the pile. Comfortable linen shorts hugged her waist and a simple black tee-shirt draped over her curves to hide them.  Pointed black flats covered her feet. “Gods. I never finished this one. I really should finish this one.” She held up one of the mounted canvases. Acrylic was the medium of choice, the painting barely touched by hues of reds and oranges.

He approached the shed quietly, dimming the hand lamp as he walked.  It was set on stool outside the studio so that he’d have both hands free if it came to a fight.  Lukas paused on the side of the door before stepping into the threshold to trap whomever was inside.  His mouth opened to shout a warning and the words silenced when he recognized the woman in the space. The operations officer gripped the door frame and gasped when he realized he’d been holding his breath.  “Jane,” he whispered in surprise.

She didn’t hear him and it wasn’t until she turned to slide the unfinished painting into the proper crate that she caught a silhouette with her peripherals.  “Holy! Get aw-!” She lifted the painting, ready to chuck it - because really, if she was going to get attacked, she wasn’t about to lament the loss of one of her unfinished projects.  Her arms held the mounted canvas above her head when her gaze locked with a familiar set of aquamarine irises. “Lukas?” Confusion easily overshadowed her dread. “What are you doing up so late?”

“I was working and saw a light,” he answered quietly.  His study of her appearance brought a wave of fear over him and his brows furrowed with the sorrow that crashed over him.  “What are you doing?” The question was asked timidly, as if he knew the answer but didn’t want it confirmed. Speaking it made it true.  He saw what he thought was determination in her irises and couldn’t help but berate himself again for driving her away.

Rich cognac eyes darted to the floor as her arms lowered the impromptu defensive weapon.  “I, uh-” There was no escaping the truth and she subtly winced as she prepared herself for the verbal lashing she was sure to get.  Again, she’d invaded his space and she had tried so hard to avoid having him deal with her. “I’m- I’m packing up my studio,” she revealed softly as she slid the unfinished painting into the slotted crate.  Jane turned to gather more of the stretched canvas.

His breaths came quickly as his mind raced with the implications of her statement.  She was leaving for good. He’d chased her away and hurt her bad enough that she couldn’t stand to be around him.  “But- I-” Whatever he thought to say left his consciousness and his mind blanked. Lukas hadn’t thought that he clung to hope that she’d forgive him but in that moment, it was apparent he had.  The heaviness in his chest returned and for a second, he could think of himself instead of Adelina first. “You don’t-”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.  “I’ll be out of your hair soon.”  She swallowed the lump in her throat and forced herself to move faster.  There was no time to care for her prized possessions. Her steps shuffled over the hardwood floor.

“You’re not!”  His low and raspy baritone was nearly a whine.  ‘How could she even think that?  Because you told her to leave you alone, Esel.’  Lukas shook his head and tightened his grip on the wooden door frame, as if he could act as a barrier between Jane and whatever transport she’d come in on.  “This is your home too,” he whispered, his voice thick with emotion. “Don’t leave, please.” He wondered if there would ever be a good time to speak of his regret and sorrow, how much he understood what she’d done for him.  “Anything I’ve said to hurt you wasn’t meant for you, Jane. It was for me- I don’t hate you or want you to leave me alone.” He paused and waited to see if she would at least turn to look at him.

The Italian woman found absolutely no strength to move, the small silver pail of natural hair brushes firmly gripped between her palms.  Her expression contorted in winces as she listened to him speak. There was some semblance of understanding, but it was not what she had expected.  “But you do-,” she managed finally, her voice cracking when she felt tears gathered in her eyes. She willed herself not to let them fall and her chin dipped to her chest.  “You don’t ever say what you don’t mean- And- And- You do. I don’t blame you. What I did- I shouldn’t have- You were right. Everything-”

His head shook vehemently with his denial.  Lukas took a few steps into the room toward her, but stopped when she appeared to tense.  “I wasn’t right about anything, Jane,” he pleaded with her quietly. “You did- you took something away from me, but the hate that I felt for it wasn’t for you, it was for me.”  His voice thickened with the sudden swell of his emotions. He lifted a hand to stop his grief from spilling from his eyes. “I wasn’t strong enough to do it, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I had.  So you did it, you forced my hand so that I could say I didn’t kill my parents, my brother and sister.” He hesitated but took another step. “I couldn’t see it then, but I know it now. They were already dead, you didn’t kill them either.  I still hate myself for everything.”

The wooden handles of her brushes rattled lightly against the pail’s edge.  It shifted in her hands so she could hug it to her chest. Her shoulders shook and her chin moved in denial.  “It doesn’t matter if they were already gone,” she argued softly. “It only mattered that you weren’t ready to let them go.  I’m sorry- I’m so so sorry.” She sniffled and shut her eyes tightly. “Mi dispiace. Mi dispiace. Stavo solo cercando di aiutare.  Mi sbagliavo. Sono così dispiaciuto. Sono così dispiaciuto. (I was only trying to help. I was wrong. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.)”  There was no way to stop the flow of Italian as she lost what little control she had, emotions quickly overwhelmed her.

“You don’t have anything- you didn’t do anything wrong.  You were the best friend I needed and I pushed you away because I couldn’t stand myself.”  He frowned and shook his head. He understood ‘mi dispiace.’ Lukas gave up on his restraint and crossed the space to take the pail out of her hands and set it on the desk so that he could wrap his arms around her unfettered.  “I don’t blame you, it was me. I was wrong- grieving.” It wasn’t right to say that he was wrong. His emotions were real, he simply reacted in a really terrible way. “Bitte verzeih mir. Ich kann dich auch nicht verlieren, (Please forgive me.  I can’t lose you too.)” he whispered into her hair.

Her head buried into his chest and she barely registered the fact that she was ruining his shirt with a mess of tears and snot.  Warmth surrounded her for the first time in weeks and Jane melted against him. Her fingers slid over his sides and curled possessively into his shirt.  There was fear that he’d simply change his mind and push her away and she clung to him desperately. She had no idea what he said, but she wanted to believe he didn’t hate her.  “Mi dispiace. Mi dispiace. Sei il mio migliore amico. So di essere egoista. Sono così dispiaciuto. Sto provando. Ci sto davvero provando. (You’re my best friend. I know I’m selfish.  I’m so sorry. I’m trying. I’m really trying.)” She was a blubbering mess, weeks of pent up emotion found a release and there was no stopping.

He groaned quietly and tightened his arms around her.  The heaviness in his chest lifted with the feel of her body pressed against his.  “Ich verstehe dich nicht. (I don’t understand you.)” It was a rarely used phrase, one he only uttered when the words she’d spoken in her native tongue were worthy of translation so he could understand her.  There was no thought to how he’d slipped into German just moments before. His chin dipped to better cradle the woman against him and he squeezed his eyes closed at the feel of her shaking with sobs. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.  “Please forgive me. I can’t lose you too.”

She shook her head to wipe her tears on his shirt.  It took several moments for her to calm herself enough to speak.  Suddenly, she felt entirely too tired. She wanted to say so much, but nothing felt right.  She wanted to ask if he still hated her, if he could forgive her. She wanted to tell him that she didn’t want to leave, that he was as much her home as the beautiful house he built, that there was nothing he’d done or had said that required forgiveness.  What managed to move past her tongue was not what she expected. “I think I swallowed lint from your shirt.”

All thought of his own confession left him.  Lukas blinked and tilted his chin so that he could look down at her, to his shirt and the dark spot where she’d wet the fabric, and then back to the medical officer.  His lips parted as his mind raced for an appropriate retort, but nothing came. “That’s unfortunate,” he murmured in a gravelly baritone. “I was saving it for a midnight snack.”  As if to back up his claim, a low gurgle of complaint sounded from his gut.

It started so softly that she didn’t even know she was laughing until the sound rumbled in her lungs.  It wasn’t that the friendship was the same - it had changed and grown from the unfortunate happenstance - but that it somehow survived.  Relief lifted the ache from her heart and her laugh caught in her nose. The snort couldn’t be helped and her hands immediately lifted to cover her mouth and nose.  Red instantly coloured her blotchy face. Of all the times to snort.

A small smile had managed to creep into his features when he first heard her laugh.  It wasn’t until he heard the abrupt catch of air in her nasal cavity that his face contorted into the silent crease of his own laughter.  Wrinkles gathered in the corners of his eyes and his cheeks dimpled. Moments later, a soft chortle escaped his throat and his mirth became evident.  He loved it when she snorted because it was something he rarely saw her do with anyone else. It meant she was carefree in his presence.

Her arms slowly dropped from his sides and she took a step back to add some much needed distance between them.  His arms had remained around her until she pulled away. He said he didn’t hate her, but it didn’t mean he wanted her hugging him all the time.  Jane glanced down as she felt his fingers interlacing with hers and she felt more comfortable when he squeezed her palm. She gave him a weary smile before releasing a long and exhausted sigh as he lightly tugged her into motion and led her out of the studio.  “Let’s go home.”

   
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