Location: Pandora, Brennan-Griffin quarters
Being back in their quarters on the Pandora was a sublime feeling. Everything was right where they left it, down to Aoife's toys strewn across the floor. Eva immediately recognized every last bit of it, from the toys, to her bed with the galaxy blanket made from Ignatius' pretty material, all the way down to the holographic fish tank above Aoife's bed, Eva remembered it all and felt at home.
It was somewhat heart wrenching Shae, watching Eva play with her sister's things, pick a pretty dress out of her sister's clothes, and wear her sister's dress to go play with her sister's friend... but of course, why wouldn't Eva feel at home; she remembered it, the place smelled like her, this was as much her home as it was Aoife's. With a sigh, Shae changed into some of her own clothes, finally feeling comfortable for the first time in months, then nurse Eoin over a proper cup of tea while they waited for the Temples to arrive. They hadn't told Eva, they wanted it to be a surprise, but the Temples were on their way over with Katrine to see if their friendship could survive Aoife's death.
Cailus was going through very much the same thing, watching Eva settle in just as her sister once had. Eva was physically weaker than Aoife had been, but in all other aspects, she looked and acted exactly the same. It was simultaneously heartwarming and heartwrenching, wonderful and terrible at the same time, a confusing mix of emotions that Cailus couldn't even begin to sort out. When he remembered that he still needed to return the katana (their quarters were certainly not an appropriate place for the weapon), he left with a brief sense of relief, glad of the opportunity to walk a little and take a break.
He returned in only a few minutes, however, joining Shae in their main living space as she nursed the baby. "She looks happy," Cailus said, smiling as he crossed his arms. A fish toy was hurled out of the bedroom and he ducked under it, frowning as he stood straight again. "Good aim, too."
"She's been chattering excitedly; she knows she's home," Shae said. Then from around the bed Cailus could see Eva hobbling along as she held onto the bed.
"Papa, help!" Eva said as she held out a dress she wanted to wear, one that Shae had embroidered with little fish. Shae recognized the dress as Aoife's favorite, and she sighed with a smile, a mixture of sadness and happiness.
"Alright, you," Cailus said with bemusement, glancing at Shae with a smile and a shrug before moving to the bedroom. "Up we go," he said, picking Eva up and depositing her on the bed. It didn't take long to get Eva into Aoife's dress (Cailus couldn't quite think of it otherwise), although Eva's enthusiasm didn't help the process. It was just as well they hadn't told Eva who was coming, else she would've likely been bouncing off the walls.
Katrine had been up and down since she found out about Aoife's passing, and for Nyx and Emilie it was a daily process of talking, sharing, and trying to cheer her up when they could. This was the first time the child had been so closely effected by death and trying to explain that she couldn't go see her friend any more had been incredibly difficult. She would come bounding out of her room some mornings, saying how she was going to spend all day with Aoife in the play centre, listing all the activities they would do. Painting, climbing, make-believe games. Emilie and Nyx would share a look between them, knowing they would have to sit her down and explain once again why that wasn't going to happen. Those days were the hardest. Once Katrine had woke from a dream where Aoife was having a sleep-over in her room that was so vivid to the girl that her parents found her frantically searching through the bed covers trying to find where her friend had gone.
"She was just here!" Katrine had insisted, tears in her eyes.
When Shae and Cailus returned with Eva, the Temples tried to find a way to let Katrine know gently. They had been telling her that Aoife was gone for so long, they wouldn't know how she would take the news that someone who looked, talked, and acted just like her friend would now coming back and, in many ways, taking her place. They tried to explain it was like a twin sister, who was the same but will be noticeably different. Emilie and Nyx didn't want to lie to their daughter, but they also didn't want Katrine to be disappointed or confused if Eva didn't take to her like Aoife did, or if Eva didn't behave the same way, or if she didn't remember all the games they would play together. Katrine had sat there pouting for some time, trying to process this.
"But is she Aoife?" Katrine had asked.
Emilie and Nyx again shared a look. "Not exactly." Nyx replied honestly.
Katrine frowned, "I want Aoife!" She had burst into tears.
As the family approached the Brennan-Griffin quarters, Katrine was lagging behind. She used to run up to their doorway with endless excitement, now it was like she was going somewhere scary. She held her favourite bear close to her chest, sucking on the earlobe. She dawdled some distance behind Nyx and Emilie, not far enough to get into trouble but obviously enough that she didn't want to keep going. Emilie looked back and tried to encourage her along.
"Come on, darling," Emilie said soothingly, "We're almost there."
Katrine nodded solemnly but made no attempt to hasten her pace.
"You'll get to meet Eoin, too." Nyx said, as he carried Will in his arms. "They've got a new baby boy like we do."
Katrine just nodded once more. Finally they arrived at the doorway and pressed the chime. Emilie brought Katrine to stand in front of her while they waited, the parents sharing a hesitant look between them. They both hoped this meeting went well.
Eoin had finished nursing, so Shae got up to answer the door, and there was Katrine. "Well Hello, Katrine," Shae said gently, holding Eoin in her arms.
Hearing Katrine, Eva was racing to get off the bed and to the door as fast as she could, holding tight to her Papa's hands to help keep her upright. "Kat-y?" Eva said, then she saw Katrine and it was like a light illuminated within her, her eyes were so bright and her smile so big as she kept repeating, "Kat-y!" over and over again in excitement.
Katrine stood on her tippy toes to look into the room, hearing what seemed like Aoife's voice. She saw the young fox girl approaching and couldn't tell the difference. She ran over to Eva and wrapped her up in a hug, "My friend!" She called out happily.
Nyx put his arm around Emilie, glad that Katrine had embraced Eva, though he wasn't sure if Katrine fully understood that it wasn't Aoife. Emilie watched with a slight smile, the same question running through her mind.
Eva hugged Katrine as tightly as she was able to as she chirped happily, all the while tears of joy sprang to Shae's eyes at the beautiful sight. The children would probably never fully understand the situation, and maybe they didn't need to; their love was genuine and pure regardless of their level of understanding.
"Oh, come on in, please," Shae said, suddenly remembering her manners and letting the Temples in. "We have our suspicions of how, but the long and short of it is that she remembers a lot from Aoife's life. I don't know if we'll ever know exactly how much she remembers, but it seems to be enough for the two of them," Shae explained, smiling.
"Some friendships transcend lifetimes," Cailus commented to the Temples with a smile. Still holding Eva's hand, he glanced down at the children. "Eva, do you want to show Katrine your drawings?"
"Yes!" Eva said, then led her Papa around to collect her notebook, then plopped onto the floor with Katrine and all her crayons and pages and pages of pictures that helped get her through all the isolation of travel.
Emilie and Nyx waited patiently as Katrine and Eva started drawing together, happy for now. Katrine was busy commenting on all of the pictures in great detail, complimenting the colours and shapes and artistic interpretations. She saw one of Brennan-Griffins together on the ship and she cried out in amazement.
"This is so pretty." Katrine gushed, "May I keep it?"
"Sure!" Eva said, then with a tug on Cailus' pant leg for help, he neatly tore out the page so Eva could give it to Katrine.
Meanwhile, Emilie turned her head and spoke softly to Shae and Cailus, "So, Nyx has explained to me but I really don't want to say the wrong thing. Eva is Aoife's... twin sister?"
"That's how we're treating them," Shae said softly. "It's a bit more complicated than that in reality, and I can break it down for you later if you want, but seeing the girls as sisters has helped us both with bonding and grieving," she explained.
"We'll explain the truth when Eva is a little older," Cailus followed on, crossing his arms as he watched the children. "For now, she's earned the right to be happy and live carefree. With everything Eva has been through, we want her to move on as best as she can."
Emilie nodded along, eyes still watching the children. Katrine was telling Eva where she was going to hang the picture she was given, but the location changed every thirty seconds. Emilie smiled, "That's for the best. So she's coping well to being back home?"
"She's doing wonderfully," Shae said with a nod, shifting little Eoin in her arms. "She felt right at home, recognized everything as soon as we stepped through the door."
"Wow." Emilie replied, "That's a relief."
Next to Shae, Nyx had manoeuvred William around to face Eoin and was putting on voices for the babies to pretend they were conversing with each other. He wiggled William's little chin, "'I think farts are the best.'" He switched to Eoin, whom he gave a deep voice similar to Griffin's. "'No, no, burps are better.'" William disagreed,"'But farts are stinky and then daddy has to check my diaper.'" The Captain was greatly amused by this, bouncing William around while the docile, unaware boy just lay there drooling.
Emilie looked at him with bemusement, before turning back to Shae, "And how are you doing after your new addition to the family?"
"It's been rough," Shae replied with a slight nod. "I was slow to recover and we had to deal with inquisitions and all the intrusions that came with the investigation, then travelling with a newborn was a nightmare, then more investigation stuff, then we were kidnapped... we've barely had a chance to stop and breathe, let alone enjoy our family!"
"We have that chance now," Cailus mused, unconsciously looking just as bemused by Nyx's antics as his son was. "We're much better off here than at Carnwennan. This is Eva and Eoin's first home. We weren't planning on a baby this soon, actually, but Eoin is perfect. His timing is awful, though. His sister...ah, Victoire, not Eva...at least she had the courtesy to wait for the appropriate moment before coming into the world. I need to get Eoin up to that same standard."
"Oh, he still has some growing to do before the drills start... He was so tiny when he was born, I swear he could fit into Cailus' hand. The doctors at 242 figured he was more than 2 months early," Shae said as she lovingly played with her sleepy boy's hands.
Emilie cooed over the little one, "That something so special could happen among all that chaos. It's a miracle."
"There must be something in the replicators on this ship." Nyx commented, still focused on bouncing William. "We've had four babies born in the last six months. Maybe I'm just not giving you guys enough work to do?"
"Oh, so then Krysia had her babies? How is she and what did she have?" Shae asked.
Emilie gently prodded Nyx for his remark before turning back to Shae, "She's doing fine. The birth was... dramatic, but that seems to be par for the course here. She's had a girl and a boy, Amelia and Joseph."
"Then we'll have to make time to go congratulate her," Shae said.
Nyx's eyes lit up as he suddenly looked to those around him with glee. "We could start a band! The Pandora Babies. We'll have tours, merchandise, adoring fans. They'll be bigger than the Beatles!"
Cailus stared at the captain in amazement, then glanced at Emilie in askance. "You married this man? Really?"
Emilie nodded solemnly, "This was not in my vows." She gave a wink to Nyx, "To be fair though, he's only been in this mood today."
"When I found out you guys were coming back." Nyx admitted, "Can't blame me, though. Thought I'd never see you all again."
"As soon as we left, we wondered if we would ever see the Pandora or any of you again, and the longer things were drawn out, the more hopeless it became. We are so glad to be home," Shae said, then stepped in to give Nyx a one-armed hug, being careful of the babies sandwiched between them.
Cailus had a small smile, his arms crossed, although there was a weight in his eyes. "Extremely. I didn't know how much I missed this ship and everyone aboard until we were gone." He glanced at Shae, knowing that it was time. "There will be one change, besides Eva and Eoin. I've been waiting for the right time to tell you, Captain." He paused, then decided to simply get straight to it. "Shae and I were subjected to expedited court martials at Carnwennan for our actions. Stealing the shuttle, going AWOL, everything that happened when we rescued Eva, all of it. Shae was given a C-1 reprimand. I was issued a mandatory honourable discharge from Starfleet."
If there was anything that could have ruined the Captain’s mood, it was this. Nyx was speechless, looking to Cailus and Shae to see if this was some sort of joke. No such relief would come.
“Aoife liked this green, but I liked this one.” Katrine was saying, holding up two very similar looking crayons, her excited tone breaking the silence. “Which do you like?”
Cailus, grateful for the interruption, crouched down next to the children, considering the two crayons very seriously. "I think that they're both pretty," he judged after a moment with exaggerated severity. "How about you use Eva's green crayon and she uses yours for a little bit? Best friends share everything, you know."
Katrine thought about this before nodding, "Okay." She said, before looking back to Eva and said earnestly. "It's okay with me if you don't like this green any more."
"Thank you!" Eva said, then went back to scribbling away.
"Oh, that reminds me," Shae said, then reached into her pocket for a note. "From Admiral Milne," she said as she held out the paper for Nyx.
Nyx held the paper accidentally upside and he didn’t quite know what to say. “Umm... the Admiral’s squiggles are something. I’m not saying my kid could do better but... well...”
Cailus rolled his eyes, snatching the paper out of Nyx's hands and flipping it the right way up. "I swear, the more pips they get..." he grumbled in exasperation. "It's a subspace frequency and a passcode that will give you direct contact with Admiral Milne even around the Pact comms blackout. I don't know how she managed that. The signal might bounce halfway around the quadrant to get to Carnwennan, but regardless, it should work."
"Oh." Nyx said with a nod, before frowning. "I should contact her, this could be urgent."
"Now?" Emilie whispered impatiently.
Nyx could only shrug, pulling in close to kiss her cheek before holding out the baby. "I'll be quick, promise." He nodded to the others, as Emilie took hold of William. "Sorry guys." He turned and jogged out of the room, folding the paper into his pants pocket as he left.
Emilie sighed, but William's blue eyes staring up at her caused her to smile. "He'll be right back."
Shae smiled. "A Captain's work is never done," Shae said playfully.
"Of course." Emilie sighed. She looked towards Cailus, "I'm sorry about the Court Martial. How are you doing?"
Cailus was quiet for a moment, sharing a look with Shae, who knew the answer better than anyone. "I'm handling it," he said succinctly, looking at Emilie. "Long term, I need to find a new career, which is...I don't even know where to start with that. For now, at least, I can focus on being a father to Eva and Eoin. In a way, the discharge is a blessing. We don't have to constantly juggle duty shifts and budget time anymore. I can be here for the kids permanently and Shae can be more relaxed about work."
The words were said with enthusiasm and good humour, but there was nevertheless a melancholy about Cailus as he spoke. "If you have any advice for a fellow stay-at-home parent, Emilie, I would welcome it. I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of each other anyway while our spouses gallivant around the galaxy being big darn heroes."
Emilie frowned a little, "Hm, it might be a little different for me because I was never a Starfleet officer, but I did hold a high ranking civilian role. Even so, your partner's job will likely... dominate discussions." She looked to Shae with an apologetic smile, "I mean, every house hold is different, so I mean no offence. But given so much of our lives are influenced by events of the ship, it's natural for that to become the primary focus and that's hard, when you're not part of it yourself."
Cailus nodded. "Yes, that's logical. It'll be a substantial adjustment, I'm sure." He looked at Shae, smiling. "I don't understand half of the science and mathematics you talk about anyway, but I still want to hear about things, to talk about your day. I enjoy that. I even enjoyed that during our lunches back on the Tornado."
"Yeah, but you need more than just me to fill your day. I'm sure you'll find things to keep you occupied," Shae said, smiling warmly.
It was then that Shae felt a tug on her leggings and she looked down at Eva. "What's the matter, darling?"
"Kat-y stay? Mmmm, bedtime stay?" Eva asked awkwardly.
"You want Katrine to stay the night with us?" Shae asked, then looked to Emilie. "What do you think? I don't mind if you don't mind."
"PLEEEEEEAAAAASE!" Katrine cried out, jumping to her feet and rushing to hug her mother's legs. William stirred in Emilie's arms from the sudden noise, causing Emilie to raise her eyebrows tellingly at her daughter. Katrine stick out her bottom lip. "Sorry."
Emilie sighed, looking intently at William to see if he was about to burst out in tears. A moment passed and he seemed to settle again. Emilie looked down at Katrine once more, "If it's okay with the Griffins, then yes. But you must be on your best behaviour."
"I will!" Katrine insisted, a smile growing once more. "I promise!"
Emilie turned to Shae, "Are you really sure? Your household isn't full enough already?" She laughed.
Shae sighed with a smile. "It is, but I just don't have the heart to separate them right now. They've both been through so much, and to see their friendship surpass death... It's like a miracle to me, and we always have room for those in this family."
Smiling, Emilie looked to her expectant daughter, who was dancing in one spot with anticipation. "You can have a sleep over." Emilie said, which caused Katrine to starting twirling in happiness.
"Yes!" She half-whispered, half-yelled.
"I'll message Nyx to bring her pyjamas and stuff." Emilie said, looking to Shae. "And maybe some wine for us."
Cailus smiled, resigned to the inevitable. "I'll go set up Eva's bed for them. It's about time she starts sleeping there anyway." He glanced at Eoin, clearly settling in for a nap of his own after all the excitement, and Cailus's smile grew fond. "I'll put this little man down for a nap while I'm at it. Here we go, my boy, here we go," he said soothingly as he took Eoin from Shae, holding the baby expertly in his arms, so smooth that the baby didn't even stir. With that, Cailus went to the bedroom, whispering under his breath to his son the whole way.
Katrine soon returned, bounding up to her mother with an important question. "Momma, how long can we stay up for tonight?"
Emilie smiled, "A little later than normal but not too late. You've both got school tomorrow, remember."
"I just want to spend all my time with A-Eva." Katrine said with a earnest grin.
"Well honey you have all the time in the world to spend with her now." Emilie replied, cupping her daughter's chin in her hand.
At this, Katrine blinked a little. She looked to Shae hesitantly then back again to her mother. "I... hope so." She said.