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A Leave of Absence

By Ben Douglas

Scifi / Drama


It was June 24th, 2009, the week after the great battle over Earth when Atlantis came home from the Pegasus galaxy. The SGC and Atlantis base fought the ZPM powered super Wraith ship and won. On the aftermath of this battle, the SGC granted Lieutenant Aria Israel leave from the Daedalus to visit her home in Australia. She returned to her hometown of Melbourne for an indefinite leave of absence to visit her family especially her father who was ill. He was admitted to the hospital. She just arrived from the airport to meet her sister on the beach called Brighton Beach. It was the small, secluded spot for privacy.

A small black and grey car pulled up into a parking spot. The engine was left running for a moment before it was cut off and the driver side door was opened. Aria came out placing her sunglasses on and closing the door. Taking out her key ring, she pushed the alarm button to lock it. On her form, she wore her blue uniform and black boots. Her hair was let down and rested on her back. It was long.

Aria walked across the lot toward a pier where she crossed it into the beach. She looked around taking in the beautiful scenery of the sandy beach. The breeze was cool and seemed perfect for her day. Even the ocean had good tides for a couple surfing, but she wasn’t here to play around. In fact, she had to meet someone after she touched down from the Tullamarine Airport and drove for an hour. On the phone, her sister wanted her to meet and Aria listened.

Soon as Aria’s boot touched the sand, a cheerful recognizable shout from her sister broke through the quiet gentle waves of the beach, “ARIA!”

After her boot finished making an imprint, Aria turned with a smile and removed her sunglasses. She responded, “Tali.”

Her twenty eight year old sister in a wet bikini rushed toward her and gave her a wet hug. Aria grunted as she stood her ground and hugged her back not caring if she made her uniform wet. She simply pulled her head back with her hands and kissed her on the forehead. Tally cried a little as she wiped her eyes, “I am happy to see you and glad you came to meet with me.”

Aria smiled as she cocked her head slightly to the left and combed her damp dark brown hair with her fingers. They walked closed together across the sand and sat down before the ocean. Aria continued looking out into the horizon as the sun dipped down slowly. Tally spoke sadly, “I missed you. A lot. There were days when I would wake up expecting you to be right there beside me. We’d play, run around, and walk along the beaches. Do you remember when we used to surf along the beach? Mom was always quick to worry.”

Aria nodded as she responded, “Yeah. I miss those days. How is the family?”

Tally gave her a look as she spoke shaking her head, “They are good. They missed you too, even Dad. Where have you been?”

Aria gulped as she looked at her and responded, “I, umm...”

Tally interrupted her with a slight scoff as she turned away, “I know. You can’t tell me, right? It’s classified.”

“Tali,” Aria started as she touched her sister’s arm, but Tally shrugged it away with a sniff and wiped her face. She continued as she looked into the horizon, “Why come back, Aria? What is the purpose of your visit? Was it to visit me? Was it to visit your hometown? Or was it to visit Dad? You know he’s sick, right?”

“Tali,” Aria sighed as she looked at the horizon and responded sadly, “Yes, I know. I am sorry I wasn’t there. I should have been. Has it been three years?”

Tally cocked her head and responded sadly, “Dad? Yeah. I’m kinda glad you weren’t there that day. It wasn’t pretty.”

Aria looked at her and let out another sigh. She placed her hand on the cool sand near her hand and touched it as Tally looked back at her face. She had been crying a little bit. Aria clenched her hand and brought her close as she responded hugging her sister, “Oh Tali, I am sorry. You know that. I came back for you to offer my comfort during this hard time.”

After the hug and kissing her on the forehead again, Aria moved her slightly back. Tally felt a little better and looked at her responding with a little smile, “Thank you. I feel better. I am sorry I came out a little harsh.”

Aria shook her head and combed her hair a bit responding, “Do not worry about it. I kinda deserved it. Shall we head home? It’s getting dark.”

Tally gasped as she nodded standing up with her sister, “Oh yeah, we should. If you don’t mind me being wet in the car seat as I lost my towel while I was swimming in the beach.”

Aria laughed a little as she shook her head while they walked back to the car, “It’s no problem. I don’t mind. Teal loaned me the car when I came from the airport but never really minded the mess.”

Tally smiled as she wondered, “Did you see him?”

She shook her head, “No. He left the car in the parking lot for like a couple hours. He is still angry at me. I don’t blame him.”

Soon as darkness came, that same small black/grey car pulled up in the driveway of the house. As Aria came out, Tally quickly came out of the car like lightning, shoved the door close and ran up toward the front door. As she pushed it open, she yelled, “Hey Mom, I’m back with Aria! I’ll be in the shower!”

Aria continued to smile as she closed the door and walked toward the front door in a military pace. The door was slightly ajar as a woman appeared with a huge smile, “Aria! I heard from Tally that you touched down but I wasn’t sure when you were going to be here?”

Aria laughed a little as she hugged her, “Mom. Yeah, I met with Tali first. I had to see her.”

Cassie nodded, “Oh I know. You two were always so close,” she continued and then gasped touching her uniform, “You’re wet, sandy and gone ruined your uniform! Have you no shame?”

“Mom,” Aria started as her mom corralled her into the house, but she interrupted with her scolding and nagging, “Don’t you start! Now I’m going to have to clean and press your uniform again. I took the liberty of putting out clean clothes for you. It’s upstairs in your old room. Your little brother is in his room again playing ridiculous games. I swear, no matter how many times I tell him to grow up and he’s still killing zombies in his late twenties.”

Aria laughed a little as she responded, “Mom, I missed you too.”

Cassie made a little scoff as she kissed her in the cheek and shooed her away, “I know and so did I. Now shoo. I need to make dinner. You know where to put your dirty uniform right?”

Aria rolled her eyes as she closed the door and muttered, “Yes, mom.”

Aria ran upstairs to her old bedroom that she shared with Tally. She changed from her uniform and put on her clothes. Taking the uniform, she folded it and carried it to the laundry room for her mother. As she tousled her hair, she walked with military precision toward her brother’s room and opened it. She let out a smile as she watched her twenty eight year old brother play Resident Evil on his Xbox.

She ran toward him and wrestled him down with a bear hug as he shouted, “Hey, get off Bruiser. You’re making me lose!”

Aria giggled as she wrestled the controller from him, “Too bad, little brother. I need you to say hey.”

As the game on the computer screen made a sound with blood splattered across the screen with the words scrawled across saying you died, Noah let out a snarl as he wrestled her back shouting, “You killed me, Aria! You killed me! That was three hours of gameplay of getting me to the end!”

Aria smacked him gently across as she teased him with her little snarl, “Mom said you played it for more than three hours. Aren’t you getting too old for fighting zombies, Noah?”

She started tickling him and Noah started giggling giving in to his sister’s roughhousing, “Hey stop, Bruiser! Stop it!”

They continued wrestling against each other laughing and giggling. As they stopped for a minute out of breath, Aria stared back at her little brother for a bit and sighed. She grabbed his head and kissed him on the forehead as he protested, “Eww, no! Stop it!”

Aria giggled as Noah pushed her away. Suddenly their mother’s voice cried out saying it was time to eat. Aria stood up with Noah’s head around her arm. She grinned as she pulled at her protesting brother out of his room for dinner. Noah was still struggling with her playing around as they wrestled down the steps. Soon as they stopped at the bottom of the stairs, the door opened.

Aria stopped as Noah straightened himself. Teal walked into the house and scowled at Aria. Aria copied his stare and hesitated. Teal let out an angry snarl and ignored her as he closed the door. He walked off toward the dining room.

Noah straightened out his hair as he responded tapping Aria on the shoulder, “Yep, big bro is still angry. Welcome home, sis. You haven’t missed anything important.”

He walked off and Aria let out a sigh with a strangled growl at the ceiling. She thought coming home was the right thing. Now she somehow doubted that.

Later in the evening in the kitchen, Cassie walked over to Tally and spoke handing her a set of plates, “Here, why don’t you go and set these. I will bring the chicken casserole over.”

Tally nodded taking the plates, “Yes, mom.”

Teal came into the kitchen as he passed Tally and Tally smiled at her brother. She pecked him in the cheek as he squeezed her arm with her responding to his touch, “Welcome home, Teal.”

“Lachlan Israel,” Cassie spoke sharply in a chiding tone as she faced him sternly and wielding her wooden spoon, “You didn’t return my call! I was worried.”

Teal continued to smile as he responded respectfully kissing her on the cheek, “I’m fine, Ma. Everything worked out. You didn’t need to worry.”

He proceeded to wash his hands and dry them off while listening to his mother’s scolding. She continued chiding him as she picked up a salad bowl and handed it to him, “If the whole point of me is not worrying about you, then I am not your mother. You need to call back, period. I am glad everything worked out, now shoo. Take the bowl with you to the table if you will please. Dinner’s starting soon. And say hey to Aria will you? She probably won’t be staying for longer than a few days.”

Teal nodded taking the bowl and left the kitchen muttering to himself darkly out of earshot, “One can hope…”

Aria looked up as Teal passed her. She responded meekly, “Hey Teal.”

Teal shoved passed her with a hurmph and placed the bowl on the table. He grabbed Noah and proceeded to rub his head with him protesting again and pushing him off. He offered a wink before sitting down in the chair and pulling himself in.

Aria stood there staring at her brother angrily. She couldn’t understand why he was acting this way. She knew the real reason but had no idea why he was so persistent. Tally watched the scene between them and offered her comfort to her as she approached Aria touching her in the arm. Aria responded to her touch as Tally spoke touching her hair, “Come sit with me, sister.”

Aria nodded digging her hand into her pocket and responding as she took out the car key, “In a minute.”

She approached Teal’s side and touched Noah’s head as he looked up and smiled responding affectingly, “Hey bruiser.”

Noah was always the soft spoken one in the family which made him a little more loyal to his sister than Teal. Aria smiled a little but quickly hid it as she faced her older brother while jiggling with his car key. Teal looked up at her and continued scowling at her. Aria gulped and spoke, “Hey, here’s the car keys back. Thanks for lending me your car.”

Teal let out a growl as he dismissed her prematurely, “Keep it. You’ll be gone in a few days. Just make sure my car isn’t scratched up or dirty.”

Tally quickly snapped at her brother angrily, “Teal!”

Teal shot her a glance and snapped back with an angry response, “What? Isn’t it true? She will be gone soon just like she always had been!”

He ignored them quickly as he angrily served himself some salads and took a sip from his beer to calm down. Aria managed to bite back her tendency to start fights by biting her tongue and turned away to hide her feelings. She didn’t come back to start a fight. She came back for her family and if Teal wasn’t ready to forgive her then what was the point of coming back? Noah touched her arm and she smiled at him while biting her lip. After she touched his hair again and tousled it around a bit, she walked around the table to sit next to Tally taking her hand briefly squeezing it.

At that moment, Cassie came from the kitchen carrying a casserole platter and placed it in the middle of the table. She took her seat and took Aria’s hand as well as Noah’s speaking, “Lachlan, why don’t you start grace?”

Teal nodded taking both Noah and Tally’s hand. As the elder brother in the family and only one in charge of the family since their father was in the hospital, he spoke while they lowered their heads, “Thank you for the meal. We humbly ask you to continue to watch over our father as he continues to be ill and ask for his quick recovery so that he will return to us whole. Amen.”

He cleared his throat and they began eating as they passed the plate to him with him serving the chicken casserole. They ate in silence with nothing much else to say. It was awkward, especially with Aria in the table with them. She hadn’t been home ever since she joined the Stargate program in early 2003. Taking her fork, Aria continued to eat her casserole and responded to her mother after taking a drink from her beer, “This is good casserole, mother. I missed it.”

Cassie smiled and affectingly squeezed her hand as she responded, “Thank you sweetie. So, Lachlan tell me. What did you do today in your agency? What is it again?”

Teal wiped his mouth with his napkin clearing his throat. He responded, “The NID, mom. It’s classified. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t tell you.”

Cassie raised her hands as she responded, “I was trying to make conversation. Do not talk to me like that.”

Teal shrugged passively and the matter was dropped again as he refocused his attention to his meal. Cassie sighed feeling a little angry. Silence resumed for a little bit longer until Aria finally spoke as she touched Tally and asked her, “So Tali, I’ve heard so much about your husband. When can I meet him?”

Before Tally could respond, Teal finally made an angry outburst that shook the dining table, “Uhh, how about never?”

Aria scowled at her brother and responded venomously, “Excuse me?”

Teal scoffed as he pushed back his chair a bit and spat back, “What would be the point of your visit if you’re going to leave anyways. You never come back. You never visit. Not once. And even if you do, it’s only brief as your duty takes you away even longer.”

They all stared at Teal with horror and Aria spat back angrier, “Watch your tongue, Teal! I have a reason.”

Teal continued with the outburst, “Well then there is no other reason for you to stay till tomorrow is there? You’ll be gone by morning anyways and that will be the last we see you.”

Tally angrily shouted at him, “Teal, shut up! God.”

Cassie responded sharply, “Aria, Tali, back off. Lachlan Israel, you will not speak like that in this table. There is no reason for your rude behavior!”

Teal continued shouting as he slammed his napkin onto his plate, “Fine, ma, because I am done. I am going to turn in early, so if you will excuse me!”

He left the table as he cleared his plate and exited into the kitchen in disgust. Noah was silent as he gulped his throat and stared at his half eaten plate. Tally looked like she was going to cry. Aria continued to stare silently into the kitchen fuming at her brother. Cassie let out an angry sigh as she tried to continue eating but gave up as she responded, “Okay. My appetite is ruined. So there. I’m gonna head off early too. Night kids. Welcome back home, Aria sweetie.”

She got up, kissed Aria on the cheek and cleared her plate headed into the kitchen. Aria blew an angry sigh, closed her eyes and collected her negative feelings together. She used her military training to take them all in and blew them away with another sigh turning back to Tally. She touched her on the shoulder and responded, “It’s okay, Tali. Thank you for having my back.”

Tally looked at her and smiled meekly as she nodded responding, “No problem sister. So, you still want to meet Neil and the kids?”

Aria smiled and wrinkled her nose as she responded cheerfully, “So much. I bet the kids are like us.”

Tally let out a giggle and responded, “Oh yeah. They remind me of when we all were little kids picking on each other. I told him you wanted to meet him and we set the appointment to noon. You’ll see him and the kids at lunchtime.”

Aria nodded and was about to respond when Noah spoke up, “Hey bruiser. I’m also happy you are back too.”

She looked at him and cocked head amused as she responded, “Aww, thanks for speaking up little bro. What’s up?”

Noah shrugged as he continued speaking, “Nothing. Its just, well nothing really. I just missed you. I hate killing zombies all alone. I just want you to know that no matter what Teal says, I got your back. Okay? No matter what.”

Aria cooed a little at her brother and responded wrinkling her nose again, “Well thank you Noah, but you’re still washing the dishes.”

Noah slammed his arms on the table as he shouted still protesting, “WHAT?!?”

Tally was startled and managed to cover her mouth to refrain from giggling. Aria continued to use her military training to stare down at her little brother while he continued to protest, “WHY?!? This isn’t fair. I missed you Aria! Isn’t that enough to not do the dishes? Why can’t you just give me a break? WHY?!?”

Aria continued staring and finished with her response, “I love you too, little brother. Dishes now!”

Noah slammed his hands onto the table again and cleared his plate while under protest. Tally continued giggling as Aria held her close. She finally spoke as Aria listened, “I missed these conversations you have with them. You were protective of me even from them. You know, Noah still respects you and understands more than Teal ever does. I am sorry for Teal’s actions, but give him time.”

Aria waved it off as she responded, “Do not apologize for Teal. It’s fine. I’ll give him time. Help me clear the table.”

Tally nodded and they collected the plates on the table to carry into the kitchen for Noah to clean. Later as the plates were all dried off, Noah was about to head off when Aria tackled him again with a bear hug affectingly. Noah started yelling again protesting, “Ow, Aria, get off! I give up!”

Aria kissed him on the face and rubbed her nose against his nose responding again, “Thanks Noah! I missed you too! See you in the morning!”

Noah managed to pry himself off and responded sticking his thumb up, “You too, bruiser. And maybe we can play some more video games?”

Aria nodded as she cracked her knuckles and neck and shoulder muscles, “You bet!”

Tally giggled as she watched Noah run off to bed. She grabbed Aria’s hand as Aria responded, “So, guess I’m sleeping on the couch tonight.”

Tally shook her head and squeezed her hand as she chided her, “Oh don’t be silly. You’re sleeping with me in our old room. Just like old times. Just like sisters.”

That made Aria smile as she let Tally lead her upstairs toward their bedroom. Tally went straight to change her clothes into her own nightgown and Aria went in to take a much longer needed shower. Tally found some old shirt for Aria to wear to bed. After taking a shower and brushing her hair down, Aria exited it and watched her sister in the bed reading a book. She smiled as she approached the bed, got into covers and kissed her sister good night as she fell fast asleep.

The following morning, Aria was up and in the bathroom. She was dressed drying drying her hair with the towel. After she wrung the towel off and hanging it, she moved her hair over her shoulder and exited the room. She smiled when she saw Tally seated on the edge of the bed. Tally smiled back as Aria approached her, grabbed her hands and sat down with her. Tally touched her damp hair attempting to comb it. Aria spoke, “So, remind me. How long has it been since you married?”

“Three years,” Tally smiled and continued, “Everyone was here for the ceremony. You know, I wanted you to be there as my maid of honor but you weren’t available.”

Aria sighed and responded apologetically, “I know and I am honored but I’m sorry.”

Tally gave her a look of sadness as she responded directly, “I know and stop apologizing. It’s in the past. No point bringing that up.”

Aria responded back sharply, “You brought it up.”

Tally whimpered a little as she moved her gaze away from Aria’s brief harsh glare. Aria let out a sigh as she closed her eyes and breathed again. She opened it, touched Tally on the chin and brought her to face her again. She responded, “I’m sorry. That was rude. Let’s start over.”

Tally let out a sigh and nodded, “Yeah, let’s. Neil is a great guy and we have two children. Seth is three and Ally is two.”

Aria gulped as she curled her lips with amusement, “Ally?”

Tally let out another sigh and rolled her eyes as she responded, “Yeah, yeah bring it in.”

Aria shrugged and shook her head, “Ah, no I won’t mention the fact that you always wanted to be named Ally.”

Tally responded, “Yeah? I never liked being Talitha considering it’s a pretty awful name. Talitha Israel. I mean, come on? Really? I’d sound like someone in the Taliban.”

Aria shook her head and shrugged as she responded with a little bit amusement, “I don’t know. I think it’s a pretty good name for someone undercover.”

Tally retorted back half amused, “Aria, shut up.”

She nodded trying to hide back her amusement, “Yes, ma’am.”

Tally sighed shaking her head and continued, “Seriously though. You’ll like them. Neil and the kids. They’re good folks and the kids are excited in meeting their aunt for the first time.”

Aria nodded and clenched her hand with enforcement, “I can’t wait.”

Tally smiled and nodded while rubbing her thumb on Aria’s hand. She spoke trying to start something, “So…”

“So,” Aria wondered but Tally finished for her, “So, are you with anyone?”

Aria looked at her oddly and shook her head as she shrugged, “What do you mean?”

Tally gasped at her and half shouted, “Oh, come on! You’ve been gone for five years! Surely you have eyes on someone?”

Aria shrugged, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. And even if I did, it’s classified.”

Tally responded a little annoyed, “I know, dummy! The whole point of our talks is we share secrets. I won’t tell anyone if you have a little crush. I know you.”

Aria continued to deny it as she responded, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Tally.”

Tally let out a scoff as she rolled her eyes and attempted to get up to walk away, “Fine, if you won’t tell me. Then I will go away.”

Aria grabbed her arm and pulled her toward her as she responded, “Oh, please don’t be like that. I love you. I’m just protecting my assets.”

Tally fell on her lap as she moaned when Aria held her close. She let out a groan as she tried pushing her away, “Oh don’t give me that. What’s the point of secrets if you won’t share it with me? I won’t tell, I promise.”

She looked at her as Aria responded back stroking her hair, “I know you won’t. It’s really more of a matter of national security. But I can tell you this. You’re, umm, right. Sort of.”

Tally gasped with cheerfulness and squealed as she responded kissing her, “Oh you mean I was right? Do tell! Please. Give me a name.”

Aria shook her head and responded, “That I can’t tell you. All I can tell you is he is the most obnoxious, narcissist, arrogant guy you’d ever met. He is also a little bit of a coward, for a lack of a better term but he delivers results in the best way possible. When I first saw him, I gotta admit I started having a little crush on him. He is kinda like Noah, you know, for a lack of a better description.”

Tally gasped again and responded amused, “Really? Like Noah? Have you approached him?”

Aria shook her head and responded, “No. I can’t. My job won’t permit me and I hardly ever see him much.”

Tally spoke again a little disappointed, “So he’s not there all the time? You’ve seen him around then? Why can’t you just talk to him? I’m sure he’ll understand.”

Aria responded again, “I can’t, Tali. Do not make me repeat.”

“But,” Tally tried again, but Aria glared at her as she responded again sharply, “Do not argue with me, Tali! My duty does not allow me much fraternization among officers and civilians. And even if I do, it’s ridiculous to even attempt a relationship like that deep in space.”

“Oh,” Tally gulped as Aria let out a slight snarl and got off the bed. She walked toward the window and stared out. Tally watched her sister and started to regret pushing her. She tended to do that and this time she somehow crossed a wire that she shouldn’t have. Letting out a sigh, she got up and gently approached Aria. She touched her arm and Aria responded with a grunt. Tally tried again and responded, “I’m sorry. I brought this up and I regret pushing you to tell me while almost saying something that you were supposed to keep secret.”

Aria sighed still a little angry as she shook her head. She let Tally hug her a bit and turn her around. She responded, “So, you are in space? That’s your secret?”

Aria shook her head and recollected herself by twisting her word again, “No, I mean deep in the ocean. Out there when I’m deployed in the Pacific.”

Tally shook her head and responded a little cheerfully, “A little too late. But no seriously I understand. I won’t tell anyone. Promise. Anyways, there is something else too is there?”

Aria spoke again unsure, “What do you mean?”

Tally sighed again and bonked her on the forehead with her finger, “Stop that, seriously Aria. It’s clear on your face and in your words. Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about him? Liam Dagenhart? Your sweetheart before you vanished from his radar.”

Aria shrugged responding, “I haven’t thought about him in a long time.”

Tally shook her head and responded, “No, really. You can’t have just forgotten about him. What happened?”

Aria let out a sigh and pushed her back a little responding, “Nothing happened, Tally. Please drop it. Do this for me. Drop it. Excuse me.”

Aria kissed her on the forehead and walked away leaving Tally watching her sadly. She let out a sigh and continued watching out from the window.

As Aria left her sister’s old room, she let out a relieved sigh. She needed a little more time from her sister for a bit as Tally can get a little bit too constricting. Of course she would never say that in front of her. Tally was always a bit fragile at times. Banging on the door into her brother’s room, she opened it and shouted, “Noah, you awake yet!”

She let out a laugh as Noah jumped at her tone and turned from his game to shout, “Yes, now go away!”

In the boys’ room, both Noah and Teal had been sharing it playing games on Noah’s Xbox since this morning. She stifled her laugh barely and shouted again, “You’d better be downstairs or I’m gonna eat all your bacon!”

Aria closed the door but listened as her brother protested, “What? NO! Teal, save my progress!”

Teal shouted at him rather angrily, “No I will not. I’ve been working on this level myself. Go away and hang out with her!”

Aria let out a quiet snarl listening to them bicker a bit. She was feeling a little unwanted by Teal and Noah was still arguing with him. As Teal removed the controller from the Xbox, Noah’s profile disappeared much to his annoyance. He let out a snarl and picked the pillow to toss at the jerk that was his older brother.

Teal caught it without looking behind him and turned to shout some more still feeling angry in the morning, “Leave now!”

Hearing from Aria just changed his tone and Noah realized Teal was on the war path. Giving up on his brother, he left the room to get him some bacon before Aria eats it all.

In the kitchen, Aria entered to see her mother cooking them breakfast. She spoke getting her attention, “Morning mom.”

Cassie turned and smiled as she responded, “Morning sweetie. Is Noah coming down too? I heard you shouting at him earlier.”

Aria smiled and nodded cheerfully, “Yup. Can I get two plates of what you’re cooking up please? With extra bacon.”

Cassie responded as she shrugged serving her two omelets with bacon on the side each on two plates and placed it onto the table, “Sure, if I can spare some bacon, I’d give you extra.”

Aria responded kissing her on the cheek and taking the plates, “Thanks mom.”

As she carried the plates to the table, Noah jumped down several steps all the way down out of breath and glanced at the plate set for him. He licked his lips and ran to sit down as Aria sat across from him. She giggled a little watching Noah chow down on his breakfast. She spoke, “Morning.”

Noah gulped as he drank his milk and responded, “Morning, bruiser. You gonna eat your bacon?”

Aria grinned as she shook her head and gave him hers, “Nope, you can have it all.”

“Thanks,” Noah barely responded as he continued eating at a fast pace.

Aria continued to eat her omelet and responded a little concerned, “Slow down, little bro. You’re gonna give yourself a heart attack.”

Noah shrugged and downed another gulp of his milk. Aria took a gulp out of her milk and set it down for a minute. Taking her finger, she bonked her brother on the forehead getting his attention. He gave her a weird look and Aria giggled again. He took his finger and bonked her on the forehead with it. Aria smiled and giggled again as he shook his head. He spoke wondering, “Aria, what’s going on that got you so up?”

Aria shrugged her shoulders and responded, “I dunno. Maybe I’m just feeling hyper today. I’m just so energetic right now and I gotta do something.”

Noah nodded and pushed aside his plate to respond, “What do you want to?”

Aria shrugged and responded again, “Dunno. Whatever you’re doing today.”

Noah asked again, “Don’t you have a lunch appointment with Tali at noon?”

She nodded and hesitated before speaking again, “I do, but…umm.”

Noah smirked as he was getting it and lowered his voice, “Ah, Tali is driving you a little crazy?”

Aria responded in a low tone voice hesitating, “A…bit. I just need, umm, space from her for a little while. Is that okay?”

Noah shrugged and nodded, “Sure, I don’t mind bruiser. I was planning on hanging out with mates this morning to catch some waves. What do you think?”

Aria smiled and responded cheerfully, “That sounds fun!”

Noah responded clearing his plate and taking her as well to the kitchen, “Okay. A friend is coming by to pick me up. I will call and tell him that you’re driving me there. Meet you in the car, bruiser!”

Aria nodded with a smile, “Cool. See you!”

She got up and walked toward the door. Tally finished going the stairs and stared at Aria sadly. She was about to say something but Aria gulped and stopped her by touching her shoulders and responding, “Before you say anything, sis. It’s not you. Don’t worry. I just want to hang out with Noah this morning and I will see you at noon, okay? I’m just taking turns so I don’t miss out all the fun alone with you two.”

Tally gulped and nodded hearing her. Aria continued to smile and responded kissing her on the forehead again, “I love you so much, okay.”

They hugged a bit and Tally turned to head toward the kitchen for her breakfast. Aria exited through the front door and headed to her car taking out her keys. Noah came running out shouting as he threw an apple at her, “Here bruiser, catch!”

Aria turned and nimbly caught the apple. Noah laughed as Aria became amused and bit into it. They entered the car and Aria closed it as she took out her sunglasses from the pocket above the rearview mirror. She put in on as Noah exclaimed in disgust when he sat down, “Why is the seat so sandy?”

Aria responded gulping down a piece of the apple, “Oh yeah, that. Umm. I shared the car with Tally the other day and she didn’t have her towel with her. I forgot to clean it out.”

Noah responded and got out, “Oh, well that’s fine than. Just gimme a sec to clean it out a bit.”

“Take your time,” Aria responded cheerfully watching her brother beat the sand out of his chair.

He got back in and closed the door but exclaimed in disgust again at his apple, “Eww, I got sand on it!”

Aria took out another a bite out of her apple and responded with a question, “So?”

“So,” Noah spat back and responded, “So? Do you realize how sand tastes like when you try to eat an apple? It’s nasty.”

Aria shrugged and offered her apple, “If you don’t want it I can eat yours if you want mine?”

Noah scowled at her with disgust, “Do you realize how many germs are all over your apple now? It’s contaminated!”

Aria shrugged again as she turned on the car and bit into her apple, “If you don’t want it, it’d be a shame to waste it. Give it to me.”

Noah let out a scoff and let out a growl tossing her his uneaten apple. He proceeded to buckle his seatbelt as the car drove out of the driveway. Aria give him a wrinkle of her nose as she smiled teasing him a little, “Thanks little bro.”

Noah spat at her with another growl, “You’re a jerk you know that! I forgot how much you were even before you joined the Navy.”

Aria smirked and tousled his hair a bit responding, “Love you too, little bro. Now where am I going?”

Noah let out an annoyed sigh and pointed, “Just straight ahead and turn at the light.”

After fifteen minutes of driving toward Brighton Beach and parking the car, Aria walked ahead as she beeped her car alarm on and placed her sunglasses on. She continued eating the last apple Noah gave her, the one with some sand on it. Noah ran ahead as he tapped her on the shoulder and shouted, “Come on, slowpoke! The waves wait for no one!”

Taking another bite of her apple, Aria smiled at her brother and jogged after him. It was a cool breeze in the morning which was perfect for her half naked body. She wore her bikini with her training top on to cover her breasts. After a few moments of following Noah, some of his friends ran over as Noah waved and bumped fists. He pointed, “Hey guys, remember my sister?”

One of them looked at her and responded slowly, “Bruiser?”

Aria giggled a little and nodded, “Yup.”

He responded bumping his fist on hers, “No way! That’s cool. Back from the Navy?”

Aria nodded as they walked across the beach, “Yeah, for a bit mate. I’m on leave.”

He nodded as they reached the tent with the surfboards, “Nice. You surfing?”

Aria smirked as she responded sarcastically, “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t, yeah mate?”

“Heh,” the boy muttered as he picked out a surfboard and handed it to her, “Here.”

She gasped a little recognizing it, “Isn’t that mine?”

He nodded laughing a little, “Yep. We kept it for you.”

She shook her head grinning, “No way. Thanks mate.”

Noah clapped her on the shoulder and started to run, “Let’s go, bruiser!”

His mate waved back after bumping his fist as well as Aria’s, “Have fun catching the waves, brother!”

They ran across the beach for a bit. Aria placed the band around her ankle and looked out into the ocean. Noah punched her and shouted, “Race ya!”

“Hey,” Aria shouted out and ran after him as they enjoyed themselves in the morning breeze and the salty ocean.

As it slowly got warmer into early afternoon just before noon, both Aria and Noah continued walking along the sandy pavement. They were both wet and a little bit sunburnt while carrying their surfboards. Noah was eating his chocolate fudge ice cream on a stick. It was melting under the sun so he was eating it quickly. Aria watched her brother a bit and giggled a little at his antics.

They continued walking into just outside of a storefront and sat down on one of the plastic tables on a balcony overlooking the beach. Aria continued watching her little brother eat his ice cream. She finally spoke getting his attention, “Hey bro.”

He looked up and smiled a bit with his chocolate fudge all over his mouth. He wondered, “What is it?”

Aria giggled a bit more and took a napkin to wipe off her brother’s mouth responding, “You’re a mess.”

Noah nodded and continued to lick and smack his lips, “Ah, yeah thanks. I love chocolate fudge.”

Aria responded cheerfully, “I know, silly. You never could stop eating them.”

“Heh,” Noah muttered eating the last of the ice cream on the stick. He continued to suck out the chocolate left from the stick.

Aria thought a bit and spoke, “Hey, do you remember that time?”

Noah wrinkled his face and shook his head shrugging his shoulders with his response, “No, what?”

Aria thought long and hard before choosing her words carefully, “Remember when you were eleven. It was 1991. We were walking along the beach with the family near Sydney. We went into a little bazaar in on the beachfront with all sorts of weird and exotic fruits. You used to try to taste everything in sight, even exotic chocolates and wafers.”

Noah had a distant look at his face as he remembered and responded slowly, “Oh yeah, that was long ago. I remember. That was huge for me.”

Aria shook her head a responded, “It wasn’t that big and they were only there for a week before they moved on. I remember because it was also where you discovered esperidoeidiphobia. The irrational fear of citrus. You went into the hospital that day because you had an allergic reaction to a certain starfruit. It was pretty bad.”

Noah let out a silent groan and knocked his head on the table before responding, “Oh yeah, citrus. I hate them. Anywhere I go.”

Aria continued, “It wasn’t that bad really. I mean, it was just starfruit. You were fine with citrus for a while before that time. After that, it kinda got worse. It became irrational.”

Noah let out a scoff as he responded irritably, “Yeah? I couldn’t stand them any longer. When we got home, I stopped eating anything with citrus. It drove mom nuts because she liked using or wearing citrus perfume sometimes. It felt like she was poisoning me intentionally.”

“NOAH,” Aria let out a shout banging her hand on the table and responded sharply, “Do not say that. She wouldn’t poison you intentionally. She didn’t like that change and after a while that was when she decided to stop buying or wearing anything citrus. Teal and Tali didn’t like being around you for a while as well cause you embarrassed them. After a few months of being irrational about it, it kinda got scary.”

Noah bowed his head down and responded a little embarrassed, “Yeah, I know. I did apologize.”

Aria sighed and rubbed her brother’s head as she continued, “Of course, I was the only one who had your side. I still loved you and I tried to help you get through it. Dad helped too.”

Noah looked up and smiled a bit, “Yeah. Thanks bruiser.”

Aria responded still smiling at him, “No problem, Noah.”

They looked at each other for a bit. Aria looked over his shoulder and let out a gasp seeing someone in front of a bar in the store. Taking the menu out, she hid herself behind it and whispered to her brother, “Don’t let him see me.”

Noah turned around a bit, but Aria rapped him on the wrist and spat venomously undertone, “Don’t look!”

Noah exclaimed in pain and continued to whisper, “What?”

Aria gulped and responded, “Liam Dagenhart is here!”

Noah responded again and tried to look again, “Ah, him.”

Aria let out a growl and smacked him on the head with her menu responding, “I said don’t look!”

“Sorry,” he responded apologetically and continued, “Why don’t you talk to him?”

Aria looked at him in horror and shook her head, “Me? Talk to him? Are you crazy? I haven’t seen him since ten years. What makes you think I want to talk to him?”

Noah shrugged his shoulders and continued whispering, “I don’t know. You two seemed pretty crazy for each other.”

Aria let out a strangled moan and buried herself into the menu trying to hide herself, “We did for a while. But then things got a little too crazy and I had to ship out for my training. I was hoping I would never have to explain or talk to him at all. Just don’t let him see me, okay. Promise me?”

“But,” Noah tried again, but Aria interrupted him with another growl, “Promise me? Or I swear to God I will hang you from this balcony.”

Noah gulped and responded giving up, “Okay, okay. I promise. What now?”

Aria let out a sigh and hesitated for a bit before speaking with another question, “What time is it?”

Noah looked at his watch and responded, “A little after noon.”

Aria was wide eyed and inwardly swore responding, “Shit. I’m late. Cover me, I gotta get outta here.”

Noah nodded as she left the table quickly running off. As she disappeared, he turned around soon as Liam turned his head around from another table. He looked a little surprised and waved his arms. Noah responded opening his arms and sighing. Liam shook his head and walked over to take Aria’s seat. He moved closer and questioned him, “What happened? You were supposed to lead her toward me.”

Noah shrugged responding, “Couldn’t be done mate. She freaked man. I’m sorry.”

Liam let out a sigh and lowered his head, “It’s worse than I thought.”

Noah looked at him and questioned him, “What happened man? She said you guys stopped seeing each other when she started her training.”

Liam blew a sigh again and responded shaking his head, “It’s nothing man. Just between us and I blew it. I’ll never see her again.”

Noah shook his head and responded, “Maybe or maybe not. Maybe she just needs a little more encouragement. How about tomorrow morning? There’s a little surfing tournament going on.”

Liam thought a bit more and responded carefully, “You think it’ll work this time?”

Noah nodded his head and enforced his words, “It’s possible, mate. Look, I know my sister. She just needs a little harder push.”

Liam nodded agreeing, “Alright, I’ll give another try. What time?”

“9 am,” he responded, “Be there. Sharp.”

Liam stood up and fist punched his knuckle as he responded before leaving, “Sharp. Got it. Thanks man.”

Noah let out another sigh and watched as Aria’s car drove off in high speed. He was worried about his sister and wanted her to not leave until she gets one little thing untangled. It wasn’t healthy for her to have this baggage inside of her.

As Aria took off in the car with her sunglasses on, she turned on the radio and called her sister. She spoke, “Hey Tali, I’m sorry for being a little late. I’m on my way.”

Tally responded through the phone on her dashboard, “It is okay. I was little bit worried. We’ll have lunch soon as you get here, no problem.”

Aria smiled and responded before shutting off the call, “Thanks.”

The black grey car continued on across the road away from the beach and toward a more suburban civilization where her sister’s family lived.

The speeding sound of Aria’s black and grey sedan zoomed across the small street that was marked with a twenty five mile per hour speed limit and peeled into the driveway as the wheels bumped against the small rounded pavement that separated the driveway from the road. She squealed to a stop before the other red sedan in front of her barely touching the rim of its bumper. A small trail of burnt rubber was visible from behind her car in a curve.

Aria let out a sigh and removed her sunglasses placing it into the case. Looking at the mirror, she made sure she looked fine without any smudges or dampness. She turned off the engine, left the car in a hurry and slammed it as she quickly went up the steps along the small walkway toward the front door of her sister’s house.

Letting out another huge sigh to calm down, she rang the doorbell. A few moments later, Tally opened the door and let out an excited yell, “Aria! You finally came! You had no trouble coming here?”

Aria smiled and shook her head hugging her, “Nope. Your directions were spot on. Sorry I’m a little late.”

Tally waved it aside and kissed her on the cheek, “Ah, its fine. As long as you are here,” as she turned, two of her kids came running. She continued to smile and respond showing her hand, “Aria, this is Seth and Ally. Guys, this is your aunt.”

Aria knelt down as they approached her and Seth asked, “Hi. Are you here to eat?”

Aria laughed a little and responded, “Hey. Sure. After I talk to your mother for a bit.”

She stood up as Tally bent down to pick up Ally. She lifted her gently and rocked her a bit as she spoke to Aria, “Come on. Neil is setting the food. We’re about to eat.”

Seth took Aria’s hand and pulled her along toward the dining table. Neil looked up from the table and exclaimed offering his hand. He had short dark hair and glasses. Aria shook his hand as he spoke, “Hello, you must be Aria, Tally’s sister and Cassie’s daughter. It’s good to meet you.”

Aria smiled courteously and nodded as she sat down still holding Seth’s hand, “Likewise, Mr. Rouge.”

Neil interrupted her, “Please, call me Neil.”

Aria nodded as Tally kissed her husband and they all sat down. Aria looked at Seth and gently took her hand away. He was looking at her oddly. That made Aria a little nervous as she gulped and turned her attention back to her sister. Tally set Ally on the chair and placed a bib around her.

Aria looked at the two year old child for a moment and she started to notice something a little off about her. For one, she looked a bit too quiet. Looking at Tally, she asked her, “Tally, how is Ally? She doesn’t seem to talk much.”

Tally responded a little sad but she managed to smile, “Oh well, she’s fine. She had some trouble with her speech and she can’t talk. The doctors tried to figure out what was going on. They did surgery on her box, but they said she won’t be able to speak for a while. We don’t know when she will but we are hopeful.”

Aria gulped and responded squeezing her hand, “I’m sorry, Tali. I shouldn’t have…”

Tally shook her head and smiled waving it off, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”

Neil reached over with a plate full of food for Aria and spoke, “Here Aria. Your food.”

Aria smiled and accepted it, “Thank you, Neil.”

He nodded and continued speaking, “Not a problem. Well, so Tally tells me you’re in the Navy?”

Aria nodded as she started eating her food, “Yes. A lieutenant in the Navy.”

Neal asked again as he drunk his beer, “You’re gonna get deployed soon?”

She shook her head, “Not anytime soon. I’m on leave.”

Neil nodded interested, “Ah I see. What do you do?”

Tally spoke up to her husband, “Neil, please. I told you.”

Aria responded touching her sister, “It is okay. Neil, I can’t tell you anymore than what I can say now, I’m afraid. All I can say is that my duty is to protect and serve the constitution.”

As Tally looked at her, her expression changed slightly giving her a little bit of a cold look. She quickly moved her hand away and continued eating as Neil responded, “Ah, I apologize. I didn’t mean to pry.”

Aria shook her head and responded waving her hand, “Oh its fine. Tell me, what do you do?”

Neil responded clearing his throat, “I am a veterinarian. I take care of farm animals like horses. I also take care of cats and dogs.”

Aria gasped a little surprised looking at her sister and touched her on the shoulder, “Cats, dogs and horses huh? You lucky girl.”

Tally looked at her and gave her a cold smile nodding, “Yes I am, Aria. We met six years ago when my cat Patches was hit by a car. You remember Patches?”

Aria nodded, “Yeah, briefly. She’s gone now is she?”

Tally responded, “Yeah. Well, if you will excuse me I need to do something real fast. I will talk to you later, okay?”

Aria asked concerned, “Is everything okay?”

Tally spoke again in a cold tone, “It will be okay. Love you.”

She got up, kissed Ally and her husband and cleared her plate. Aria turned back to Neil and asked, “Is everything okay?”

Neil shrugged responding, “I don’t see why not. So, you want to hear about my side of the family?”

Aria nodded and he proceeded to talk.

Later after about thirty minutes, Aria and Tally was walking outside of the yard. She had taken Aria around a little tour of the house and took her outside through the porch to see the pool. Both Seth and Ally were playing in the shallow mini pool. Tally showed her toward a path and they walked on it as Aria spoke, “Neil seems nice. I meant what I said. You are very lucky to have someone like him.”

Tally responded with another cold smile, “I know. He has a good family. They were all raised in the farm in the Australian outback.”

Aria nodded fascinated with Neil’s history, “Well that makes sense. There are a lot of animals in the outback that deserves to be taken care of.”

Tally nodded but remained silent. Aria watched the kids continue to play in the pool. Tally observed her sister’s enjoyment of seeing her family but something else continued to bother her. She moved around and got her attention with a question, “Have you talked to Teal lately?”

Aria made a scoff in her tone as she responded, “Nah. Even if I try, he wouldn’t want to talk to me.”

Tally paused a little and responded, “Maybe he’s right.”

Aria looked at her a little confused and asked, “What do you mean?”

She responded again, “Well, we know Teal is with NID but as far as he can say that he is in the NID, he can’t say anything else. Everything he says about it is classified but he tells us that he is with the NID because he’s with the family. You can’t even tell us.”

Aria responded defensively, “That’s not…”

Tally raised her finger and continued, “The other day when Teal was shouting something about you never coming back home. Not once for almost five years. Whenever you get deployed or you come back, you never visit. I defended you because I believed you had a reason, but now I don’t know.”

Aria responded again trying to help her understand, “Tali, what I do if for my family. Secrecy is the only way for you to be safe. It’s my duty and it’s my job. I can’t ignore it.”

Tally shook her head and continued with her cold tone, “No, I understand that. Completely. There is also a matter of you being rude in the dining table when you told him the same thing you say to everyone. When you interrupted me, you embarrassed me in front of my husband and my children. I am now having a hard time dealing with this.”

Aria gasped a little and tried to speak but Seth took her leg. He shook it to get her attention, “Aunt Aria.”

She tried to respond, but Tally bent down to him and touched his head. She responded, “Seth, Aunt Aria is going to leave soon. She can’t stay.”

Seth looked at his mom and wondered, “Why not?”

Tally responded coldly, “She’s busy for the afternoon. Why don’t you take your sister and go inside to get ready to go to your father’s ranch?”

Seth looked at her sadly and responded, “But I don’t wanna go! Grandma Rouge is scary.”

Tally finished as she continued, “We have to go. How about this? I’ll let you ride one of the horses.”

Seth looked at her with excitement, “Really?”

Tally smiled as she nodded, “Yes. Make sure you and your sister is ready by thirty minutes. Also, make sure your sister has her bath first.”

The little boy nodded as she kissed him on the cheek, “Yes, mom.”

He ran off as Tally stood up to stare at Aria. Aria stared back unsure of what just happened and questioned her, “What just happened?”

Tally looked at her and coldly responded, “I don’t want you near my family again.”

Aria let out a gasp and asked her again, “What? Why? What did I do?”

Tally responded as she shook her head, “What did you do? Isn’t it obvious? Your secrets and lies are hurting the family. They are hurting me and your brother. Teal was angry and he has the right idea to be angry so maybe it’s time for me to angry as well. I don’t want to ever see you again. I don’t ever want to step foot in mom’s house as long as you are staying there. You may have my room, but for as long as you reside there I will not see you. Ever. And you will not come back here again.”

Aria continued to protest still trying to talk to her sister, “But what about all that time we talked? All the things we shared? I love you so much. Don’t do this to me please.”

Tally touched her on the cheek and coldly responded, “I love you too and wish you the best but it’s time for you to leave. Do not make me repeat.”

Aria was tear stained and red on her face by the time Tally coldly turned away and walked back toward the front porch. Neil met her through the door and they were mumbled from a distance as Tally told him something. Neil continued to smile unaware that the sister’s bond was broken. He waved and Aria waved back while biting back her emotions. She bit into the nail of her thumb to release pressure as she walked around the back toward her car.

Tally shut her out coldly. She’s done that before but never anything this severe. It broke Aria’s heart as she went into the car. She broke down in tears and yelled out banging at the rim of the wheel. Wiping her tears she put on her sunglasses, turned on the engine and peeled out of her driveway. She sped off down the street and away from the suburban houses back towards the beaches.

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