I spent most of that night sitting on the floor talking with my new charges. We laughed, cried, listened and talked… not always in turn. We told stories of our past, though little Hayden didn't remember much, and bonded with each other through our shared misery. Both the children and I had lost parents and siblings. This one fact alone drove us into each others' hearts.
I paced though the shadows, long after I had put the children to bed, and let my thoughts wander. I knew I had to be more careful with my own life now than ever before because these children depended on me. As far as I could tell I was their last ray of hope for being taken care of and they were far too young to be on there own. I was positive that I could never give up my quest to find my family but I had to take care of those innocent little lives.
Each child had been brought a small pile of clothing, at my request of course, which I put in the dresser drawers along with a few more things that had been brought for me. Mostly the clothing was black and rather worn looking but it would do for now. The black colouring was, or so I had been told, the colour of the Agents and their families. This little bit of information told me that whomever had brought my first outfit to my room had known that I would push to become an Agent. That thought was a little unnerving but I didn't dwell on it very long.
The children slept huddled together, on my rather small bed, wearing over-sized t-shirts. Both had full bellies for the first time in I don't know how long, and had lazily contented smiles on their little faces. The little amount of light in the room allowed me to just barely see their faces. Without the stress of being awake they looked so peaceful and as their little chests slowly rose and fell my heart seemed to ache. They had, without even trying, gotten past the barriers I had put around my heart and wormed their way into my life forever.
I yawned softly as my fingers made quick work of the various belts holding my weapons closely to my body. Each one fell to the floor with a dull thud and my body tingled as their familiar weight lifted from me. Bending as I walked I snatched a spare blanket off the floor and curled up in one of the leather chairs covering myself. I sighed knowing that my body would hate me for sleeping like that but I didn't want to risk waking Hayden and Arien as I climbed into bed. As I drifted into the fog of fitful sleep it slowly dawned on me that I would do anything necessary to make those babies happy.
I whirled across the front yard with Nellie barking and dancing at my heels. I stopped and pounced on her, squealing and laughing as we wrestled in the sticky mud. I knew Mama would be upset that got my new dress dirty but Daddy was coming home so I wouldn't get spanked.
The war was over and all down my street I could see other boys and girls playing outside. The sun was shining and a gentle summer breeze whistled through the trees. Only the sounds of laughter, excited screams, songs and barking could be heard in our safe little suburban town.
A huge black car slowly creeped into the driveway beside my house and Mama seemed to fly out of the house. She flung herself into Daddy's arms before he even had a chance to fully stand. I wasn't far behind her, wrapping my arms around his leg while Nellie jumped around and barked.
I looked up into my parents' eyes, the deep brown of my father's first then the shimmering emerald of my mother's. I smiled at the love I saw there, seeming not to notice the pain etched deep in their depths, and chirped, "Where's Matt?"
Mama frowned and looked at Daddy, who knelt slowly in front of me. His gentle smile didn't quite reach his eyes and he whispered softly, "Who's Matt, Princess?"
I blinked slowly looking from Daddy to Mama and back again. I took a small step back and shook my head. This had to be a joke… it simply had to be. How could Mama and Daddy not know Matt?
I smiled and a nervous giggle slid past my slightly parted lips. Reaching up with one sweaty, shaking hand I gently tugged one of Daddy's red curls. They were joking with me. "My brother, silly."
Daddy put one hand on my shoulder, my matching red curls just barely brushing his knuckles, and Mama knelt next to him. Her eyes slowly darkened from emerald to forest green as she gently spoke to me, "Tani, you don't have a brother. Honey you're our only child…"
"No!" I cried and shoved Daddy's hand off me. I stomped my little foot as my vision was blurred by tears and I couldn't stop my bottom lip from trembling. "Matt is my brother! He taked care of me when you and Daddy was gone to war! He gots red hair and brown eyes just like Daddy!! I calls him Fatty Fatty Matty all the time!"
"Shhhh Princess…" Daddy crooned and pulled me against his chest. He looked up and down our street before hooking his big arm under my bum and slowly standing with me crushed against him. The day had gone unusually silent as he whispered roughly in my ear, "You don't have a brother Tani Charlotte Jackson. You need to stop this foolish tantrum right now…"
"I do have a brother!!" I shrieked, not caring the he held me so my mouth was right next to his ear, and pounded my little fists against him. "I member! I member him! Why can you not member Matt?!"
Suddenly a loud high-pitched siren broke the silence and a red light on the top of our house began to flash. I saw Mama drop to her knees in the middle of our green yard and begin to beat her fists against the damp ground. My eyes widened as I looked back at Daddy's face and saw big fat tears rolling down his stubbly cheeks. He sighed and looked into my eyes.
"Why couldn't you just forget? Now we're going to lose you too Princess…"
As he spoke a huge black van with black paint over all but the windshield pulled up in front of our house and a scout demon got out followed three strange people. The people looked like they were wearing black astronaut suits and they frightened me. The humans stood next to the vans with guns (yes guns!) in their hands while the massive ugly demon ambled towards Daddy and I.
Daddy sighed heavily and handed me up to the demon despite my pitiful screams. I hit, kicked, scratched and bit any part of the demon I could reach but nothing worked.
The last thing I remember before the van door slammed shut was looking at Mama and Daddy. They stood in the front yard with his arms wrapped around her and they openly sobbed.
My body screamed in protest as I slowly drifted back into reality. I stretched each cramped muscle in turn and eased myself from the chair detangling myself from the blanket as I went. A quick glance at the bed told me that the children were still asleep and so I headed towards a nice hot shower.
I walked out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around my long hair and immediately noticed that Hayden was alone in the bed. My heart rate seemed to double in that instant and my eyes frantically scanned the room. Thankfully my heart was able to settle when I saw Arien sitting in one of the massive leather chairs with her arms wrapped around herself.
The towel dropped from my head as I darted over to her, my heart seeming to drop into my toes at the sight of her little shoulders shaking. I dropped onto my knees in front of her, barley feeling the tinge of pain shoot through the bones, and pulled her down into my lap. Her tiny frame felt like nothing in my arms as I began to slowly rock her back and forth making soothing sounds in the back of my throat.
When she had finally stopped shaking I pulled back a little and tucked a stray bit of hair behind her ear. Looking into her deep blue eyes I whispered softly, "What's wrong Princess? What happened?"
"Bad dream." She whimpered and wrapped her arms around my neck, clinging to me like I was a lifeline. She sniffed heavily in my ear and the sound made me want to cringe but instead I rubbed her back gently.
"Tell me about it?"
"Me was home with Mommy and we were waiting for Daddy to come home. He came in a big scary black car and we were so happy to see him that we started to cry." She paused to wipe her eyes on my shoulder and I could feel my jaw drop as I listened and my own dream flashed before my eyes. "Daddy picked me up and I asked him where Hayden and Hanna was. He said that he didn't know anybody named Hayden or Hanna. Mommy agreed with him and that made me start to cry. Daddy asked me to be quiet but I couldn't cuz I wanted my brother and sister. Then a big black car comed and a demon took me away and I woke up."
I blinked a few times my mind racing with these dreams and I wondered if Hayden and Matt were having the same ones. "It's okay Princess, nobody is going to take you or Hayden away from me as long as I can help it."
She nodded silently against my neck and snuggled closer to my chest as I kept rocking her slowly. Her warm body in my arms brought me a shocking amount of comfort and I couldn't stop the small smile pulling at my lips. It was amazing how quickly I had fallen into the role of mother and how easily I put their needs before my own.
A gentle moan from the bed made both Arien's and my head snap up and turn towards the bed. Little Hayden rolled over, peeking out from under a big blue comforter, and smiled at us. His chubby hand popped out of the blankets and rubbed his left eye before he waved at us slowly.
I stood, with Arien still clutched to my chest, and wandered over to sit on the edge of the bed. With one arm wrapped around her I stroked his hair with the other and felt my smile widening without my consent.
"Good morning sleepy head. Did you have good dreams?"
He nodded and yawned looking at his sister. Arien reached down and stroked his cheek like an adult. He grinned and climbed out from under the blankets, right into my lap next to his sister.
A thousand thoughts raced through my head as I watched the pair of them carefully. It seemed to me that Arien had been acting as Hayden's mother for way too long. My little girl had lost a big part of her childhood and I wasn't sure that I could get it back but I was ready to do everything I could to try. I also began to wonder about the dreams and what they had meant. I wanted to know why Arien and I had had them but Hayden hadn't and if Matt had it where ever he was.
The rumble of Hayden's stomach dragged me from my thoughts and we all looked down at it. The children then looked up at me and we all began to giggle.
"How about some chow?" I laughed when they both nodded vigorously and set them on the bed. "You two wait here and I'll go get someone to bring us some food."
As soon as I had my arms out of the way Hayden gathered his legs under him and propelled himself into Arien. I heard her squeal with laughter as I turned towards the door and was still chuckling as I stepped into the hall. Luckily for me a guard just happened to be walking by on patrol and he said he would grab some breakfast for the kids and me on his way by the kitchen. I thanked him, smiled and walked back into my room with a bounce in my step.
I stood in the middle of the room for a few minutes and just watched the children wrestle across my bed. Their grunts and groans reminding me of the play fights I had had with Matt years ago that had really turned out to be early training sessions. Watching my kids wrestle I knew that I'd do my best to make sure that they would never have to use their play fighting skills to defend themselves.
I blinked and shook my head slowly, my mouth falling open as I realized that I had just thought of them as my children. I knew I said it out loud to others, and even to them, but I hadn't ever thought it quietly to myself. As the initial shock wore off another slow smile curved my lips.
I watched the children for a few more minutes before they rolled dangerously close to the bed. Then I darted forward and pulled them apart. "Alright you two, I think that's enough now. Why don't we go sit and sing songs until breakfast gets here?"
How harmful could singing be right? Wrong. Their voices were loud and purposely off key as they shared the leather chair across from my own. They sat with their arms around each other and sang "The Song That Never Ends" while I prayed that someone would kill me. They smiled and seemed happy to me and so I kept silent, letting them sing their little hearts out.
The knock on the door signaling breakfast almost made me moan with ecstasy. Their singing wasn't really that bad but I was starving on top of everything else. The singing immediately stopped and another knock echoed through the room.
"That's one impatient breakfast," I laughed and winked at Hayden and Arien as I unfolded myself from the chair and wandered over to the door.
Yet another knock sounded as I reached for the handle and I had to stop myself from screaming a curse through the wood. I don't think that's something a woman should do in front of her children, even if she does know curses in languages they wouldn't understand. Instead I took my anger out on the door, jerking it open and glaring at what I thought was a guard with our meal. Lucky me, it wasn't the guard and she didn't have any food with her.
Helen marched into my room and wheeled around to face me. "Is that anyway to greet someone Tani?! That was down right rude and I expect an apology!"
"Nope." I laughed and stepped away from the door, leaving it open, "You were the rude one banging on my door like that and disturbing the quality time I was having with my children. I think you owe us an apology..."
"Children? You don't have any children! What are you playing at Tani?" She turned to look around the room and caught sight of Hayden and Arien. "Them? Tani they're not you're children! They're refugees from Toronto! You can't just wander around taking in children from the street!" She shrieked this at me and once again I had a strong urge to become violent with the woman.
Fortunately for her I had this weird thing about not ripping people bodily apart in front of children. So I wrapped my right hand tightly around her left arm incased in a pink blouse and dragged her slowly into the hall. Closing the door behind me I turned to look at Helen and she took a slow step away from me.
"What do you think you're doing?" I said in a normal and yet quiet voice, my hands clenched in fists at my sides.
"You can't just wander around adopting children! You're going to mess up my research!" Helen screeched as she pulled on out my grasp and put her hands on her slender hips.
"Screw you Helen," I growled looking down at her, "I'll do whatever I want and you and your research can go to Hell!"
"Don't you take that tone with me little girl!" She snapped and almost made me giggle. Helen couldn't have been more than five years older than me. "Now… Sam wants to see you. Run along and I'll take care of the children problem for you…"
"The Hell you will!" I stepped between Helen and the door as she reached to open it. "You wont touch my children. Is that clear? If you ever, EVER, do anything to hurt them I will personally come after you. I wont kill you, but you'll wish I had…"
My voice had barely rose above a whisper but I saw Helen's eyes widen and I knew she understood. I took a quick step towards her, just to see what she would do, and grinned when she jumped back.
"Now," I smiled and leaned back against the door as my voice settled back to normal, "Sam said you would come in the evening, it's morning. So why are you here?"
"It may be morning to you," her voice shook as she spoke and the sparkle slowly drained from her emerald eyes, "but up top it's evening. Can we just go to Sam's rooms already?"
"Hold on." I sighed and opened the door to my own tiny room. Looking inside I saw Arien standing between the leather armchairs, holding Hayden to her. They were both shaking as they starred at the door with their matching blue eyes wide.
"Oh Babies!" I whimpered and hit my knees in the doorway. They raced to me hand in hand and I gathered them in my arms as I stood. "It's ok. Shhh now… it's ok. Helen and I were just having a little fight but it's ok now…"
They buried their faces in my neck, each on one side, and said nothing. I turned to look at Helen and glared daggers into her teary eyes. The poor little blond was almost shaking and her gaze shifted quickly away from me as she cleared her throat a few times.
"Well how about I take you to Sam now?"
"I think that would be best. Her and I need to have a little talk about you." I stomped out the door and waited quietly while Helen closed it behind herself.
She led me off down the hall and o noticed that with each corner we turned we went up a little. It hadn't occurred to me before but it was only logical for the leader and the first line of defense (the Agents) to be closer to the surface.
After walking for a good twenty minutes the air began to lose its dampness and the temperature steadily rose. The chill my body had accumulated seemed to seep from my very pores. I physically felt the children relax in my arms and smiled as they began to look around us.
My skin began to lightly tingle as my mind drifted to the way the breeze would caress your flesh above. The air under ground is stagnant despite the air ducts in every room and there wasn't a breeze to be found. My muscles seemed to cramp and scream all over again when I began to think of running through an open field and remembering the coolness of a lake in mid-summer made me sigh with longing. There hadn't been many swimming expeditions for me, thanks to the demons, but Matt had taught me to swim. Just like he had taken the time to teach me readying, writing and arithmetic.
"There's always time for life's lessons," he would say. Then he'd chuckle and ruffle my hair making me giggle.