The following takes place out in Seosten space shortly after Isaac’s betrayal.
Haiden Moon sensed the girl approach, but said nothing. He didn’t want to startle her, not with her being as skittish as Larissa had said she was. To that end, he kept his focus on the sheet of metal on the table in front of him, running his hand along it to make the metal shape itself properly. Once it was done, it would be yet another in the line of repairs that had to be done to the cargo bay to fix the place after what had happened with Isaac.
She stood in the doorway of the workshop, both hands on the edge of the hatch while pensively watching him. More than anything, Haiden wanted to turn and take the girl into his arms. She was a piece of his wife. But he couldn’t do that, not yet. It would scare her if he moved too fast. She was so sensitive, so prepared to be rejected and hated that he was almost afraid to do anything. He had to let her make the first move.
For a minute, they continued like that. Each knew that the other knew they were there, but neither said anything. Haiden was giving a girl a chance to speak for herself, while she was working up the nerve to do so. The best he could hope for was that she understood why he wasn’t making the first move and that it wasn’t a rejection of her. It was a fine line to walk.
Finally, he felt and heard her take a step further into the room, seeming to definitively come to a decision. Sure enough, moments later, the girl spoke very tentatively and softly. “M-Mister Moon?”
Moving his hand away from the metal he had been shaping, Haiden turned to her. Gods, just looking at her like that, he saw his wife. He saw the woman he loved. She was absolutely Sariel’s daughter, and a lump immediately formed in his throat at the sight.
“I—I can come back later, if… if y-you’re busy,” the little girl stammered with obvious fear as she squirmed from foot to foot. She was still half-clinging to the hatchway, as if afraid that if she let go, she would fall. Her eyes were wide. “Or I can just leave you alone. I-I me-mean… I’m not trying—”
“Tabbris.” Interrupting her with that, Haiden took a single step that way. “Your name is Tabbris, right?”
Biting her lip, the girl slowly nodded. “Yes, sir. That’s the name my… my mama gave me.”
Haiden smiled a little. “Sariel was always good with names. Somehow I think yours probably means something pretty important.” Slowly, the man lowered himself to one knee before asking, “Do you mind if I tell you a secret, Tabbris?”
She still looked nervous, but a little better now that he hadn’t snapped at her. Slowly, the girl gave a curious nod. “Oh, um, okay.”
Lowering his voice a bit to sound more private, Haiden informed her, “I miss Sariel so much it hurts sometimes.”
Her mouth opened and shut a couple of times before the young girl managed a somewhat weak, “Me too.” It was an understatement, he could tell. She missed her mother with every fiber of her being, and was desperate to find and save her. But she also saw that as selfish, so she was afraid to express it too much. Or maybe part of it was fear of getting her hopes up. Either way, it wasn’t good for her. And it was another thing that he saw her having in common with his wife. Something that he really wanted to nip in the bud.
“Hey,” he started, holding a hand out that way, “come here, please?”
She obeyed, releasing the hatch to slowly make her way over to him. He could sense her hesitation and nervousness about the whole situation, that little heart in her chest beating wildly as she approached.
Once she was close enough, Haiden gently put his hand over hers, squeezing it a little bit while meeting the girl’s gaze. “We both miss your mama, right?” When she tentatively nodded, he smiled slightly. “Well, that’s good.”
The words made the girl blink in confusion. “It’s good that we miss Mama?”
“Good that we haven’t stopped missing her,” he clarified. “How long do you think it’d take you to stop missing your mother?”
That prompted the biggest reaction he’d gotten from the girl, as her head shook back and forth fiercely, her voice rising a little bit. “I’ll never stop missing Mama, not until we…” she hesitated then, her fear of voicing the help driving her to silence.
He finished for her. “Not until we save her.” Squeezing her little, soft hand, Haiden met her gaze unflinchingly. “We will. I promise you, we will save her. I’ve been working on saving her for ten years, before I could even remember her properly. Now I do remember her, and I’m not giving up anytime soon. Do you understand? We are going to save her. No matter what it takes. We will save your mother, Tabbris. And when we do, she is going to be so proud of her children. So proud of her son… and her daughters.”
He emphasized the last bit, seeing her eyes widen a bit, lower lip trembling somewhat. Her voice was weak. “I… I didn’t want t-to… make you think that I wanted to take her for myself. I was afraid that you might… might see me and think about… about Mama being in that place. I was afraid you might look at me and see all the bad things. Mama didn’t choose to have me. She didn’t choose anything about me.”
For a moment, Haiden said nothing. He simply knelt there with one hand on hers, watching the girl. Then he took a deep breath and spoke firmly. “Now you listen to me. I have spent a lot longer with Sariel than you have, and I will tell you this. Your mother loves you with everything she’s got, okay? She may not have chosen exactly what happened to create you, but she would never, ever trade it for anything. She would never trade you for anything. You are a brilliant, beautiful little girl and your mother loves you. We don’t always get to choose situations that lead to the people we care the most about. I certainly didn’t choose what happened to put me in Sariel’s life. I didn’t choose what happened to put me out here for ten years. But knowing everything that I do now, knowing that it would lead to two wonderful children of my own and a little girl as special as you, I wouldn’t change it. You are Sariel’s daughter. Which means that you are a part of our family. And you always will be, do you understand?”
He saw the tears forming in the girl’s eyes while her head gave a quick little nod. It took her a moment to trust her voice, and even then, it cracked noticeably. “Y-yes, sir.”
“Please, it’s—” He paused, not wanting to push her too far too fast. “It’s Haiden, okay? You can call me Haiden. You can call me that, or uncle, or… or anything you want to. But you don’t need to call me sir or mister or anything like that.” He smiled at her then, reminding her, “Family, remember? Family doesn’t call each other mister.”
Giving a tentative smile, the girl quietly replied, “You’d be pretty weird if you called me Mister. That’s not my name.”
Giving the girl a broad smile at that, Haiden replied, “Yeah, I guess I would, huh?” After winking at her, the man sobered up a little bit. “I just wanted you to know… I want you to understand, that I don’t care how you came about, okay? You are wonderful. You are a brilliant little girl. You are a gift. No matter how it happened, no matter what was… no matter what was attached to it, no matter what the intention was, you are a gift. I think so. Larissa thinks so. And I know with every part of me that loves her that your mom thinks so. None of us will ever, ever regret that you exist.”
Tabbris looked like she was about to cry, and he felt the same way. With a little smile, he gave her a slight tug by the hand, pulling her up against himself. His arms went around the girl, as he hugged her to his chest. Her face went against his shoulder and he felt a shudder run through her before her own small arms went around his back. She clung to him like that, and Haiden slowly stood while picking her up to hold the girl tightly.
For a silent minute, the two stood there like that. Each held on to the other while thinking about Sariel, how much they wanted to have the woman with them again. Both loved and missed her more than they could say. Yet no further words needed to be exchanged. They each understood.
But there was still clearly something bothering the girl, which she made apparent by leaning back in his arms to bite her lip pensively. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t figure out what Isaac was doing. I was… I was distracted. I should’ve noticed what he was working on. I should’ve seen there was something wrong. I should’ve—”
Haiden stopped her then, interrupting. “Hey, no.” His head shook then. “If there was ever any doubt that you were Sariel’s daughter, that definitely clinched it. Blaming yourself for everything, taking entirely too much responsibility on your shoulders, thinking that it’s up to you to fix things no matter what it costs you. You are absolutely your mother’s daughter.”
Shifting one arm under the girl to hold her up, he put his other hand against her cheek gently. “Don’t you do that. What Isaac did is what he did. Everyone he hurt, everyone he killed, that’s on him. Not on you. Never on you. Ulysses—” His voice cracked a little bit and he had to blink a couple times. “Ulysses would never want that. Do you understand? He would never ever want you to blame yourself. No one would ever blame you for that.”
They were still tears welling in the girl’s eyes, as she whispered a weak, “But I still feel bad.”
“Tell you another secret?” Haiden offered. When the girl hesitantly nodded, he whispered, “So do I. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to give advice than it is to take it. I feel like I should’ve noticed there was something wrong with that kid, like I shouldn’t have been fooled by his bullshit. I feel like I should’ve been there with Ulysses, or something. It’s stupid, but it’s the way I feel. Feelings are hard. And they don’t always listen to logic or reason. But you know, sometimes we mistake wishing we had done something for guilt that we didn’t. Or vice versa. You can wish for anything. That’s fine. It’s healthy to want to change things or do things better. But taking guilt and blame onto yourself for something that you aren’t responsible for? That’s not.”
The girl seemed to consider that for a moment, sitting on his arm as he held her up. Finally, she swallowed. “Y-you’re right, advice is harder to take than it is to give.”
Smiling just a little at that, Haiden nodded. “It really is. But hey, how about we focus on keeping Ulysses’ memory alive, huh? And I’ve got a pretty good idea of how we can do that.”
Tabbris blinked, shifting in his arms. “You do?”
He explained. “I know when his birthday was. How about, when that day comes, you and I, and whoever else wants to, go out and find people to help? Feed the needy, work on a shelter, visit kids in the hospital, things like that. And if they ask, we can tell them that it’s Katarin Day. Which is the day when you go out and do nice things for other people. And even if nobody else ever does it but us, for even just those few people that we get to help, they’ll remember Katarin Day.”
They agreed to talk a bit more about that plan later, and he walked over to the table where he had been working on the metal plating. “So, you wanna help me with this?”
Shifting a little in his arms, Tabbris asked, “Help? Real help or ‘boy you sure are helping by holding onto that screwdriver I’m never going to need and beating it against that piece of wood I’ll throw away after you get bored?’”
Snickering despite himself, the man set her down. “Real help, I promise. You’ll be making this a lot easier for me. Usually I would say you’re too little, but Larissa says you’re good with magic.”
She beamed at that. “Mama taught me! I mean, sort of. Most of it. Aunt Larissa was supposed to be there to help when I woke up, but…” She paled then, giving a quick headshake. “I mean, I don’t blame her or anything, it wasn’t her fault after everything that happened, it’s just that…”
“You were scared, confused, and lonely.” Finishing that for her, Haiden put both hands on each of her small shoulders. You don’t have to be lonely again, okay? You need to talk, or just spend time with someone outside of work, you do it. I’m right here. And Larissa will be there too. So will the others. You’ll never have to feel that alone again.”
He knew how incredibly guilty Larissa felt about not being there when the girl had woken up the first time. She had worried for so long about what Tabbris was doing, if she had been caught or had shown herself, and if she found anyone else to help her. The thought of that little girl being left completely on her own had haunted the woman’s thoughts both day and night for quite a while.
With a little blush, Tabbris asked, “You wanted me to help with something here?”
Letting the poor, embarrassed girl change the subject, Haiden nodded. “Yeah, you see these metal sheets? We need to reshape them to fit very specific spots. I can do that with my power, but if we want them to retain all of their strength, we need to put a spell on them to make the sheets temporarily malleable. That’s where you come in. If I teach you how to do that spell, you can start on those sheets over there and then I’ll reshape them and we can get done in half the time.” Pausing, he added with a raised eyebrow, “Of course, you could always go do something fun instead. I really wouldn’t blame you.”
Tabbris shook her head. “I want to help. Besides, I like learning new magic.”
So, he taught her the spell, and the two of them fixed the metal together. Even with both of them, the work took quite a while to get just right, since the sheets needed to be perfect. By the time they were done, it was late enough that Tabbris yawned widely and loudly.
Seeing that, it was all that Haiden could do not to scoop the girl up in his arms and hug her to death. But that clearly would have embarrassed her even more, so he simply chuckled. “Sounds like somebody’s had a long day.”
Tabbris blushed deeply, her voice a quiet murmur. “I’m, um, I’m not very used to being… you know… out like this for a long time.”
Her words, and the meaning of them, made Haiden sober a bit. “Right, well, as a thank you for all your help, why don’t we go get some of that ice cream that Larissa and I have been stashing away? Then you can… you can take a break.”
The thought of ice cream made the girl’s face brighten, and she gave an eager nod. The two of them gave their work one more quick look before heading out.
Once they had their treats and were settled into the small kitchen area, Tabbris asked, “ The banishment orb, it affected your memories before, right? Like it affected Mama’s.”
He nodded, swallowing. “Yes, for a pretty damn long time I couldn’t remember much about my family. When Vanessa contacted me, when she jumped into my head, it fixed that. A lot of it anyway. Now I keep remembering more and more, and retaining it. I guess the orb breaking meant the memory suppression was weak enough that having Vanessa in my head could break it.” He shrugged. “That’s the explanation we’re going with, anyway. Your mom could probably explain it better.”
Shifting a little in her seat before taking a bite of her ice cream, Tabbris offered, “I could tell you about them. I could tell you about how Flick met them, about things we saw them do. I could tell you stories if you want.”
Yet again, it was almost impossible for Haiden to resist the urge to pull the girl into an embarrassingly tight embrace. He swallowed hard, meeting her gaze. “I’d like that a lot. You… you’re an incredibly bright, compassionate girl, you know that?” Just the thought of hearing stories about his children, the children had missed for so long, made his heart ache. He wanted to see them, wanted to touch them. He wanted his family back together. The thought of hearing stories told through Tabbris’s perfect Seosten memory was almost too much.
Blushing even more at the praise, Tabbris wiggled in her seat before looking up at him. Her face was bright as she repeated her earlier words. “Mama taught me.”
Haiden, however, took her free hand, squeezing it. His voice was gentle. “Your mother definitely got you started.
“But at this point, I am pretty sure that you’re the one teaching the rest of us.”