How long will you be trapped in this nightmare?
No press–that was the one thing Commander Iyo had demanded–but it seemed her efforts were for naught, judging from the crowd that had gathered around the airfield even before the helicopter had landed. Many of them were probably just well-wishers who had come to show their support for one of the ‘national heroes’ after DOGOO had released an official statement outlining the outcomes of that disastrous mission–but no doubt there was a good portion who were just there for the fuss, to catch a glimpse at the infamous ‘Dark Angel’ himself, and even a peek at his intensely private family life.
“Tou-san, why’re there so many people?”
“Just ignore ‘em.”
He sighed, regretting using such a sharp tone with his son, but the exhaustion and stress were already causing him to be on full-tilt for more than 24-hours. That, and now there was an entire crowd of…sightseers, and just too many people in general–he grit his teeth when the helicopter finally landed, luckily Saint-Germain having thought well enough in advance to pull the limo right next to the landing pad, so they would only have to endure it for a short time.
Heaving the duffle over one shoulder while making sure the baby was tucked in safely, he was about to lead the way when a pull stopped him.
“T-Tou-san…I, I don’t wanna…” Large emeralds were starting to water, and suddenly he felt like that himself; so frustrated and tired at everything and wishing someone else could just take care of him instead.
But you’re an adult now; a parent. This is your responsibility. Heaving a sigh, he took a few moments to compose himself (because he had to be strong, for them) and offered his best reassuring smile.
“Hey, what’s wrong? Don’t tell me you don’t wish to see grandmum?”
The boy shook his head. “N-No, I do…but, strangers…” He glanced tearfully at the crowd, which seemed all the more menacing now that they were on the ground.
“Don’t you worry; I’ll be here the whole time, all right? I’ll protect you.” He ruffled the fine auburn strands on his son’s head and took his hand. “I promise.”
“Jack, the vehicle is ready to go. We can depart whenever you’re ready.” Like a shadow did Saint-Germain appear, taking the duffle from him and showing the way out.
“C’mon squirt, it’ll be all right.”
At least DOGOO had provided enough security to give them a sizable amount of space, but nevertheless even after they settled into the car with tinted windows, he could still hear their whispers; about how tragic the Dark Angel’s loss was, widowed and left with not one, but two young children. And then there were also those lesser words; the filth that no matter how many years had passed and how hard they had fought to keep the world in the relative state it was now, that hissed past his ears. About how this was his punishment, his sin of merely existing as the reincarnation of London’s most-hated individual.
About how he deserved to suffer for the rest of his life.
The outskirts of London proper, the southern district of Greenwich; this was his place of birth, where he’d spent the majority of his life being the sullen-yet-ace student, getting into scrapes and not knowing what his life was going to be, before being whisked away to some secret military organization and only keeping in the most minimum of contact with his mother that as time passed, grew more and more scarce. Come to think of it, what was it that the Commander had said to him right before he’d left–that his mother had 'requested’ his presence home?
‘Probably more like demanded, knowin’ her…’ Even as he’d gone through all the phases–moody awkward teenager, national hero on the cusp of manhood, then (surprisingly) a loving husband, and now, a single father. And through it all, she never once batted an eyelash or showed anything other than full, proud support for all the hurdles that he’d managed to jump over so far.
Surely, she must already know…what had happened to Sio…
“Uwaaa, look! It’s a birdy!” Eager fingers pointed at the rare black swan that had waddled closer to the limo as they pulled to a stop, the River Thames but a stone’s throw away, curious perhaps as to what this car was doing in its territory. “Here, birdy…”
“Careful, they don’t like it ’f you get too close…” Hastily he pulled the child back, just before the swan reared up and flapped its wings, the boy crying and shrinking back before burying his face in his father’s leg. “It’s all right, just leave ’em alone…”
“I don’t think I like birdy anymore…” Sniffling, he sulked while Adam ruffled his hair and shifted the still-sleeping infant in his arms.
“Yeh, they’re flashy an’ all, but not the nicest of temperaments…” After all, he could vouch from personal experience.
Whoever claimed that swans were graceful and nice creatures clearly never had their arm fractured by one as a child.
“…Jack. A word if you will, before I depart.” The glasses glinting in the fading sunlight, obscuring his eyes.
What now? What more was there to say? But he was so tired, just the events of the past 24 hours taking everything from him… “Yeh?”
“As the Commander has said, we have not set a timeframe on your convalescence period. And as this is such a…unique case, we want to make sure you take enough time to recover both physically and…emotionally.” The glasses were pushed up and Adam sensed the secondary point, the underlying message they always liked to put last.
“…If…you decide that, you no longer wish to be a part of DOGOO…we will accept that decision. The choice has, after all, been yours and yours alone.”
So, they feared he would never return…though he could understand their sentiments, where they were coming from–and hell if he was any less of a man than he was now he’d probably want to wash his hands of this entire incident. But here and now, after all the blood, sweat and tears that had been irrefutably poured into this fight, because he and Sio had both agreed–this was necessary, not just for them but for their children, the future. Without realizing it, he growled low in the back of his throat, and Saint-Germain’s faced showed, for the first time since he’d known him, a sliver of unease.
“We are not saying that you would abandon the organization, Jack. But, we want you to be aware of all your options…”
“Tch…’f you’re worried about losing ‘Jack the Ripper’…don’t bother gettin’ you’re knickers in a twist. I’ll be back. You can count on it.”
“…Very well then. Please take care…Adam Muirhead.” And that cool, controlled mask was back, white gloves as impeccable as ever as he gently patted the boy on his head, before bowing to the man and then getting back in and driving away as if nothing had ever happened.
Even after all these years, that pathway up to the small cottage he’d grown up in hadn’t changed; the vines just as, if not more, overgrown, hanging low over the small wooden gate as he ducked underneath. ‘I wonder if she’s expectin’ us…’ Nothing more to lose, he gently knocked, and the door immediately swung open.
There were no words to be exchanged; he simply stared, almost not believing that just a day ago he was laying his wife to rest in near-permanent stasis, and now suddenly he was back in his home, his mother still there and well–as well as one could be, getting on in years. Her hair, now streaked with silver as well, and for some reason his mind noted that it matched his now, the brown nearly all gone.
“…Welcome home, Adam.”
“Grandmum!” Oh, the blissful simplicity of a child’s mind, as she eagerly scooped up the toddling boy and gently led him in, he himself still trying to comprehend everything in an orderly manner that was slipping hard and fast as the memories of his own home, family, life–threatening to break that fragile mask he’d been forced to put on.
It hadn’t changed at all. The rugs, the chair, the table–even his room was practically untouched, save for the thick layer of dust over the windowsill that reflected its lack of inhabitants. The mantels were lined with photos, a timeline of his existence, and each and every single letter that he’d sent (when he remembered)–all carefully displayed.
“So, when were you going to inform me of my second grandchild?” The wedding photograph nearly fell from his grasp but he caught himself in time, as she gently rocked the baby before settling her into the crib.
“I–sorry; things were, she…wasn’t supposed to come…so early…” Weak, he felt so weak all of a sudden as the events started to tumble, fall, images and scenes and voices over and over–
“–shh, it’s all right, it’s all right…you’re home, Adam…” He didn’t even realize he was swaying until he felt his mother’s arms around him, cradling his head and a surge of nostalgia threatened so strong but he couldn’t–what kind of grown man broke down–but just everything that had happened and now he was home–
“S-Sio…she…an’ it just…I didn’t…know what t’ say…” To his horror his vision was blurring with moisture; maybe he should stop talking because it was getting so hard to keep those emotions under wraps, to have to keep bearing that burden–
“–I know, I know; your Commander told me everything, after that public report…” His head was aching and everything was so tired and it hurt and somehow he was lying sideways on the bed now, though he didn’t know how he got there.
“…I failed…I failed Sio…” His wound throbbed and he knew he should tell his mother, about what Hunter had told him before they left but first he had to tell her about what happened, why he hadn’t been in touch and also, his children–were they okay now–
…Everything…he had to do everything, had to take care of it right now…
“Shh, no you didn’t, Adam…it will be all right. I promise…"
No, it wouldn’t be; at least, that was not what he felt now. But enough was enough, and even for someone like him, there is only so much a person can take before they reach that tipping point, and reincarnation or not, Adam was no exception. With a strangled gasp, he cried, one tear then two then a whole streak running down his face as all those feelings he kept pushing away, the fear and anger and anxiety and doubts that piled up, up up until he finally broke.
“Oh, Adam…it’s okay. Don’t worry, things will work out all right…I know they will…” He could hardly hear his mother through his sobs, and he hated showing any sign of weakness, even to his own mother–but he couldn’t seem to stop; now that everything had finally passed over, the weight of the very real possibility of spending the rest of his life without Sio seemed to fully sink in; the ache unbearably painful, even more than his physical wound. The harder he cried, the more it hurt; but somehow he couldn’t stop thinking–of all the things he did wrong, should’ve could’ve would’ve… He tried to hold them back but his body had reached its limit and he let out an animal-like groan, both from the physical and mental anguish.
You will be alone for the rest of your life. That is your fate.
“Adam? Are you all right?” His mother had been alarmed by his sudden retreat, pushing himself off and onto the musty sheets as he curled onto his side, trying not to moan in pain. “Adam! You’re still wounded…badly, at that.”
“Y-Yeh…C-Command, they…thought it’d be best t’ get some…distance, ASAP…hnng…”
He could hear her muttering under her breath, cursing those idiots at DOGOO–what were they thinking, letting a man who could barely walk on his own out of the hospital–but he knew that she was relieved at his return. “I’ll unpack your things and look them over; in the meantime, try and get some rest; you haven’t slept much, have you?”
“Nah, I’ll–hnn–do it, myself…you should, just, take care of–” Since when was he unable to sit himself up? The dizziness returned with a vengeance and he had to lay his head back down, nevermind the pillow was wet with tears.
“Adam! Don’t be foolish; you’re in no condition to do anything but rest. You’ve done more than enough already; please, I can take care of everything else.” She was already unfolding the comforter and sweeping his hair back, gently wiping his tears before placing a cool towel on his feverish forehead as he struggled with the waves of exhaustion that were washing over him. “…I raised you all on my own, and look at how well you turned out. I think I can handle a toddler and an infant.”
Turned out well? Maybe a few years ago, he would’ve actually agreed but not right now; and he wanted to tell her this, that he royally screwed up, because Sio never should’ve gone on that mission in the first place but his voice didn’t seem to be working, in fact nothing seemed to be working at all–
“Shh, just go to sleep. We’ll be here when you wake up.”