[Arthur Farmstead, Virginia, Earth]
The wind that whistled along Walker Mountain still carried with it a hint of winter's breath. Not enough to be overly-noticeable, but enough to remind someone who had been careless enough not to have brought a coat. Down into the valley did the wind breeze, stretching across the floor and picking up a touch more chill from the river. By the time it reached Gabriel, it was enough to send shivers down his back as it kissed his perspiration-soaked forehead.
Reaching down, Gabe picked up a small chunk of poplar wood, setting it upright on an old, oaken stump. He took a half-step back, measuring the distance in his head and bringing his axe-head over in a perfect arc, shearing the poplar in two nearly-symmetrical parts. That done, he picked up another piece, as he had been doing for the last two hours.
"I don't even need wood, boy," Jim Arthur mused, from his perch atop a split-rail fence. The older man gave a sideways grin, cutting into a piece of cheese with his pocket knife. "I mean, we can just tell the house what temperature to be." Gabriel stopped mid-swing, cocking an eyebrow and returning exactly the same grin. "I'm familiar with the concept, grandad," he chuckled. "I'm still an engineer, after all." Jim shrugged, a slight rolling of his shoulder. "Seems to me that you've been more focused on committin' dendricide than speaking what's on your mind," he said, popping a piece of cheese in his mouth.
Gabriel sighed, leaning the axe against a fencepost. He shrugged into his coat, staring off into the rolling hillsides that looked so blue in the distance, not needing a map to know that he was looking at a very specific overlook, as the crow flew. "You're right," he finally said, after a long silence, during which Jim stayed knowingly quiet. Jim Arthur's way had never been a pushy one. Rather, he tended to lead people to the conclusions that they should have come to long ago.
"I failed her," Gabe quietly said, taking an offered bit of cheese and chewing it sullenly. "I should have been stronger." Jim made a softly-exasperated sound in the back of his throat, shaking his grey head. "I don't know everything about it, Gabe," he said. "I won't even pretend to. But the kind of things you dealt with...both of you did...it was more than one couple, or any one family, should have to. Not in one lifetime or ten."
Gabe picked up the axe again, burying it swiftly into the oaken stump, wishing it could have been into Ikelos' skull, instead. Victoria, his therapist, had said much the same thing. Everyone seemed to be ready to proclaim it all 'not his fault'.
Everyone but him.
Jim finally broke yet another long silence. Gabriel hadn't seen his grandfather move, but the older man was standing by one of his apple trees. "Blossoms'll be out soon," he mused, pulling down a branch to examine it. "You and Chira used to climb this tree. I'd have to watch, or you'd start throwing green apples at each other." Gabriel laughed a little at the memory, but he still sounded distant when he spoke again. "Anxiety-induced nervous breakdown," he said, touching one of the apple buds. "That's what they called it. Fancy word for 'failure'." He held up his hand, forestalling any further protestation from his grandfather. "Whatever it was...I can't go on like this. We can't go on like this. Those girls need their mother." Gabe glanced back toward the house, where Anna was likely feeding Seika and Aria more sweets than they needed. "I know she needs them, too."
"What about you?" Jim asked, crossing his arms. "It's a fair question, Gabe. Do you feel she still needs you?" Gabriel shook his head. "As an officer? No. I proved incapable of command, and Starfleet likely would agree, even if they would declare me medically sound." As a husband? he thought, feeling an intense wave of sadness wash over him. Likely not, either. Weak of blood, weak of spirit. The weak human who though he could harness Fire. The wings that burned in the sun.
Reaching out, Jim put his hand on Gabriel's shoulders. "Blossoms first, boy," he said. Gabriel looked at him questioningly, and the old man continued. "When the winter's over and the world comes alive again, out here off the weather grid. Blossoms first, and then the fruit. Rebirth. You can't know what kind of apples you're gonna have without the blossoms. You can't know if she ever really needed you if you don't go back. All you'll ever truly know, if you stay here...is that you'll never know."
Was it true, then? Would he finally be able to give the girls an answer when they looked up with their sad eyes and asked why their mother wasn't on vacation with them? Why she was still in space and they were down here? Yes, it was...even if Archangel did or did not need him, he at least had to try. For their sake.
And your own sake, that little voice in his head added.
For promises yet unkept.
Click the ID for full bio!Retired