Freebie Mondays: A Wordless Bond

Freebie Mondays: A Wordless Bond

Back in November, I started streaming my writing sessions. I did it as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and in part because I met a lot of other writers streaming for the same event. I had no idea what to expect, but the Twitch writing community came out in force to support me. I quickly realized it was something I would enjoy doing long term and looked at my schedule to find ways I could stream without giving away too many spoilers about novels I hope to one day publish.

Then I remembered that I write shorts for my blog every other week! This was the first short I wrote on scene, and it was a pretty interesting experience. My vods disappear from Twitch relatively quickly, posting the story here will forever immortalize the experience.

I didn’t use a prompt for this one; it was one of those random scenes that just popped into my head involving Domerin being a dad. It’s part of the Space universe (a story I haven’t started expanding just yet). Enjoy!
. . .

When Robin first came to live on her father’s spaceship, everything frightened her. Every clank and bang set her nerves on edge, causing her to glance over her shoulder and seek the source of the sound. Having grown up on a planet, on a farm, around horses, she was used to an entirely different soundscape. She missed the music of crickets, the soft chirp of birds and insects, and the only loud bangs she was used to were horse’s hooves connecting with wooden barriers – an extremely unique noise.

After weeks of laying awake, staring into the impenetrable void of darkness unbroken by street lamps or barn lights outside her window, listening to the steady whirr of engines through the hull plating, Robin had grown accustom to her new environment. Those distant clanks and rattles were no longer alarming warnings of impending doom, but gentle reassurances that her home continued to function properly.

After nearly a year spent exploring the small tunnels and service corridors that allowed the ship’s engineers to keep the Dragon’s Heart functioning, Robin was now comfortable with just about every nook and cranny of her father’s flagship. She as even fairly sure that if she quieted her mind and allowed the ship’s sounds to enfold her, she would be able to tell if something had gone wrong just by the sounds humming through the thick sheets of metal.

Here the darkness was broken by a series of dim orange lights set at regular intervals into the crease where wall and ceiling met. In an odd way, it reminded her of the barn loft where she would retreat whenever she fought with her mother. And in later days, when her mother was weak from the sickness, she practically lived in that loft, watching the horses paw the soft ground and inhaling the scents of hay, heated animal flesh and drying manure.

These corridors were filled with the acrid smell of oil and coolant. And if she inhaled deeply enough, the entire ship seemed to have an oddly sterile scent, as if it were regularly coated in disinfectant. But these things were not nearly as off-putting to her as they used to be, and she wriggled deeper into the service tunnel, rather than retreating through one of the vents that would have carried her into the cargo section of the ship.

Her fingers trailed along the cool metal, noting the distant buzz and thrum that came from the massive engines pushing the vessel through space. They struck her flesh like a heartbeat and made the spaceship feel like a living thing.

“Have you found anything yet?”

The voice was muffled by the thickness of the deck plating between Robin and the speaker, but it was still loud enough to make her jump. And the space she occupied was so cramped, even for a frame as thin and slight as hers, the motion nearly bounced her head off the low roof.

But she would have known that speaker anywhere, even if her ears caught only a sliver of his voice. It was her father; he must be somewhere in the cargo bay.

With an ease born only of long practice, Robin backtracked down the corridor, reverse crawling until the dark bars of the vent she so recently passed came back into view.

The space beyond those tiny squares was vast, light by a series of long, incandescent bulbs almost bright as daylight. But her vision was stymied by a series of heavy metal crates set at regular intervals throughout the bay, allowing her to glimpse only a pair of boots facing each other.

“Nothing yet,” the owner of the second pair of boots replied to her father’s initial question. The tone these words carried was heavy, almost tired. But despite how out of character those emotions were for the speaker, Robin again recognized this man as Rilan, one of her father’s dedicated Seconds.

A long, heavy sigh reached Robin’s ears. She assumed this, too, belonged to her father, though there was no way to be sure without a vocalization attached to it. Then she heard a sharp thunk as one of the men slammed a hand against the crate.

“God damn it! She has to be somewhere,” Domerin Lorcasf growled, and the force of the desperation in his voice drove claws deep into Robin’s chest.

They were talking about her. Which meant they must also be looking for her.

“You’d think there would only be so many places for someone to hide on a spaceship,” Rilan murmured, clearly trying to console her father, maybe even ease his temper.

Robin bit the inside of her lip. She hadn’t lived with her father very long yet, but she had been around long enough to know that Domerin Lorcasf had a legendary temper. The men who riled it often had to run laps around the Heart‘s massive training track in full combat gear, lugging their heavy armor for most of an hour before they were allowed to take it off.

She hadn’t meant to anger her father. In fact, the idea hadn’t really occurred to her until now.

But she should have realized they would come looking for her. Her aunt always had. Sooner or later, her family realized she wasn’t in her room working on homework or in the barn tending the horses, or performing any of the other chores she was responsible for on a daily basis. Then they’d check the usual places and, if they didn’t see her, they’d call out the search party.

She supposed it simply hadn’t occurred to her, given how busy her father tended to be, that anyone would note her absence.

“There are far too damn many,” her father growled, “especially if she’s gone into the service corridors, though I can’t imagine what would drive her down there.”

“You want me to expand the search party? We could cover twice as much ground in half the time if we need to re-check.”

“Maybe,” her father muttered, and one of the boots Robin had been watching tapped the crate against which its owner leaned. “I really don’t want to institute a lockdown. We could inadvertently trap her in a sensitive area in the ship, and that could be terrifying. Especially if it takes us awhile to find her.”

“It sounds like we should really work on refining that program meant to identify individual life signs.” There was a lightness to Rilan’s voice, as if he were trying to regain some of his usual levity. But it was strained, and the comment clearly didn’t hit his mark.

“Good luck with that,” Robin’s father growled. “All the radiation and signals occupying the void make it incredibly difficult to be that singularly selective on a small scale. I just wish I understood why she ran off. That might at least give me some idea of where to look for her.”

Robin pressed her face closer to the mesh of bars that  made up the vent cover behind which she hid. Her father didn’t sound angry anymore. Frustrated, certainly, but not like he was about to order her to run laps with his errant mercenaries.

If she didn’t know any better, she might think he sounded sad.

“The two of you didn’t get into it over anything this morning, did you?” Rilan pressed, clearly choosing his words with great care.

“No,” her father admitted without hesitation. “I’ve spent the entire morning reviewing our last week of interactions. Robin’s been diligent with her studies. She seems to have shown an immense interest in the ship in the last few months. And if she’s upset about something, she certainly hasn’t mentioned it. I know I’ve been busy, but I go out of my way to have dinner with her every day, and breakfast as much as I can. I just… I don’t know.”

Her father snorted, then a long sigh flowed from his lips. “Maybe if I was even halfway competent at being a father, I would know what to do in this situation. Hell, for all I know, Robin’s hiding because her father’s a fucking halfwit who has no idea how to actually tend to her needs.”

“Don’t,” Rilan said without hesitation, and the shifting of the boots Robin had been observing indicated that he might have laid a hand on his commander’s shoulder.

Robin ducked lower, dipping her head closer to the floor, but she still couldn’t glimpse above the two men’s shoulders. Rilan did indeed have his gloved fingers wrapped around her father’s arm, probably applying gentle pressure, but she couldn’t see any of their expressions.

Did her father really think that? Not just that he was a bad father, but that she would actually run away because she didn’t want to be around him?

“There are any number of reasons why a kid her age might want to be alone without the interference of adults,” Rilan insisted, his tone forcefully reassuring. “And it isn’t as if she has friends her age she can talk to or hang out with. The anniversary of her arrival is coming up. She went through a pretty rough time before that. Maybe she just needs a chance to process how much her life has changed.”

“Sure,” her father replied without hesitation, his tone resigned this time. “I’m sure what she really wants is her mother back. And if it was at all within my power to grant that kind of wish, I’d happily deliver her right back into the arms of her old life. I’m a poor replacement for what she had during the first decade of her life. But she’s kind of stuck with me now, so I want to at least make sure she’s safe and maybe give her a half-decent shot at happiness if it’s within my ability. Lord knows, she’s not going to grow up normal and well adjusted among this lot.” Her father’s arm made a sweeping gesture to encompass the cargo bay.

A lump of emotion rose in Robin’s throat. Not only had it not occurred to her that her father might get upset if she disappeared into the bowels of the ship for a few hours, she had no idea he felt this way about being her father.

“You’re doing your best,” Rilan insisted. “I’m sure she understands that.”

This time, Robin’s father shrugged his shoulders in dismissal, neatly dislodging his second’s hand from its perch on his arm. “Expand the search parties,” he ordered, his tone indicating he no longer wanted to discuss the matter. Robin was shockingly familiar with that particular edge in her father’s voice.

“I’m going to go back to our quarters and check her room,” Domerin added as the pair of boots retreated around the crate. “Just in case she decided to go back there for some reason.”

The collective bootfalls indicating both men’s retreat quickly faded, leaving Robin alone with the buzz and whir of the ship’s distant engines. She was stunned by everything she just heard; there was no way her father would ever have shared any of it with her. That just wasn’t the kind of man he was. No doubt he didn’t want to trouble her. But everything she just witnessed made the formidable Commander Domerin Lorcasf seem far more human than he ever had before.

Robin ran a quick mental calculation, tracing her internal map of the ship’s many corridors. She wasn’t sure if she could beat her father back to their quarters, especially not from the heart of the service tubes. But she had to give it her best shot.

*   *   *

“Where in all the layers of hell have you been?” Domerin demanded. He was standing in the doorway to his daughter’s room, bracing against the doorframe, even though the automatic door wouldn’t try to close so long as the sensor detected someone in its near vicinity.

He could hardly believe his eyes when the thin metal plates shifted into the wall to reveal his daughter curled up on her bed with an open school book as though it was a perfectly normal day and nothing had gone wrong. He could almost convince himself he had hallucinated the whole incident, except he had checked her room on at least three other occasions and knew for a fact it had been empty.

The slight wince that occupied his daughter’s face when she glanced up was enough to reassure him he had not lost his mind, but it also indicated he had probably spoken more sharply than he meant to.

He had been a father just long enough to recognize the expression that flitted across her face next – that odd war that young people always engaged in when they were trying to decide whether or not to lie or speak the truth.

Guilt won out in the end, and Robin jutted her lower lip forward even as her eyes grew wide and pleading. “I’m sorry, Daddy,” she murmured, her voice barely more than a whisper. “I didn’t mean to cause a fuss.”

Domerin sighed. No matter how short their association, that expression had the power to melt his heart. He wished he understood how to wash it away, how to make things better. Though probably the solution in this case would have been not to yell when he walked in here.

He took a step back, clearing the automatic sensor, allowing the door to separate them. He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath.

If he were dealing with one of his mercenaries, he would never be able to do this. He loved every one of the misfits that worked for him in some way or another, but they would latch on to even the smallest sign of weakness or vulnerability and take full advantage of it.

Fatherhood, he had learned very quickly, was nothing like being a mercenary commander. He could not treat his daughter the way he might treat one of his errant soldiers. That would only make her hate him. She didn’t need rules and regulations; she needed understanding.

But Domerin had never been very good with emotions, which made it shockingly difficult to provide what he knew Robin required. He only hoped that a moment to gather his composure and clear the air between them would allow him to reset this interaction.

She was still sitting on the bed when the door slid open again, but she had set her book aside. Her hands lay on the blankets beside her, and her head was tilted to one side, causing some of her long black hair to cascade across her shoulder. She glanced at him out of the corners of her eyes, perhaps trying to gauge how much trouble she was in, but she did not speak.

Domerin held his breath as he crossed the threshold. He crossed her room in three great strides and perched on the edge of her bed. None of the rooms in their shared quarters were very large. Robin’s room was probably six feet by six feet. But there was a wide window set into one side, allowing her to view the vast void beyond the ship and the distant flickering dots that filled it. Aside from the bed, there was a writing desk and a chair tucked into one corner, and most of the rest of the walls were filled with shelves.

Actual paper books were a rare thing in this day and age, but Robin had several digital devices in the shape of old style books that made it more comfortable to read the digitally displayed books scattered throughout those shelves.

Domerin set his hand on the leather-bound cover lying beside his daughter and gently pushed it aside. His gloved fingers gently brushed her hand as they passed, and he was somewhat relieved that Robin didn’t flinch away from the contact.

In fact, as soon as his hand came to rest on the bed, Robin snatched it and drew it closer, squeezing with all her might. The warmth of the contact spread through Domerin’s thick leather gloves, and he shifted his hand to squeeze hers in return.

“I really am sorry, Daddy.” Robin’s voice was far stronger this time, though it hitched with emotion when she spoke his title. “I didn’t mean to worry anyone, I just wanted some time alone.”

Domerin was silent for a moment, trying to unpack what this statement might mean. When it came to business matters, he took everything at face value. But emotions rarely worked like that.

“Did something happen?” he asked at last, lifting his gaze to meet his daughter’s eyes.

The blue that ringed his daughter’s pupils was so similar to the color he saw in the mirror, it still took his breath away. She shook her head slowly, causing her dark hair to dance about her cheeks.

“I just wanted some time to think. And I think better when I’m alone.”

Again, Domerin took a moment to consider before responding. There were things he felt like he was supposed to say in these kinds of situations, a script provided by all the parental-help articles he’d been reading since his daughter came to live with him. But none of them felt exactly right for the situation.

He settled on, “I just want you to know that if there is something wrong, you can tell me. Even if I’m busy, you can interrupt. I always have time for you, Robin. I hope you know that.”

“I do,” she insisted as she squeezed his hand. Then, after a heartbeat, she abandoned her curled position on the bed and practically vaulted into his lap. The unexpected pressure against his bionics sent a wave of pain rippling through his legs, but he gritted his teeth until it passed. By then, Robin had snaked her arms around his waist and pressed her head to his chest.

He was so shocked by this sudden affection that it took a moment for him to embrace her in return. He wasn’t sure what to do, so he just sat there for a few minutes, holding her, until he became aware that she was looking up at him. Swallowing a nervous flutter, he glanced down to meet her imploring gaze.

“You’re a really good dad,” she said, her voice raw as though it scraped against a lump in her throat before it reached his ears.

A painful pinch closed Domerin’s throat so tightly he could hardly breathe, let alone respond. There was a sensation in his chest that he would have initially described as pain. But the longer it sat there, the more it seemed to radiate warmth throughout his body. He couldn’t give a name to the sensation. He doubted it was pride, and it didn’t quite feel like love. But he was fairly sure that, whatever it was, it was a good thing.

He tightened his arms around his daughter, drawing her closer. “What brought this on?” he asked, unable to quite give voice to the words so that they came out as a ragged whisper.

“Nothing.” The way she said it convinced him it was a lie, but it seemed the kind of lie that was worth accepting. “I know I don’t always do what I’m supposed to. And sometimes I slip into the ship because I’m curious or because I like its hidden spaces. But that doesn’t have anything to do with you. I like living here. I’m really glad I came with you after we met. And I’m happy. Really happy. I don’t want to leave or go back home. So please don’t worry about stuff like that, okay?”

Domerin resisted the urge to wince. Based on her point-by-point reassurance, he was fairly sure she’d overheard him talking at some point during the search. He could only hope she hadn’t heard the worst of it, when he had been muttering every curse he knew, practically begging for some clue as to might have happened. There was a solid hour during which he worried she had hurt herself in some difficult to reach niche they wouldn’t think to check until it was too late. But it seemed, like everything else involved in being her father, he had simply been overthinking things.

“Well…” he managed after a moment, forcibly swallowing the lump of emotion in his throat. “I can’t say that I feel particularly deserving of this praise but, thank you, Robin. Your happiness is the most important thing to me.”

She smiled, clearly pleased that her message had been well-received. She squeezed closer to him and, for a few more minutes, they sat in silence.

Domerin was pretty sure that as the parent, he should have been the one reassuring her instead of the other way around. He still didn’t really know why Robin had gone trolling through the inner workings of his ship, and he wasn’t sure how to convey to her that it wasn’t the safest hobby. This whole situation troubled him though, if he was honest, not more than any other aspect of parenthood had to this point.

Perhaps he would merely have to accept this curiosity for the time being and hope he could impress a number of best practices on his daughter as she grew more and more inquisitive.

At last, Robin’s grip around his waist loosened, and she slid free of her perch on his lap. Domerin allowed her to go, though he did grasp her arm before she could completely escape and squeeze it gently.

“Next time you feel the need to go wandering in the depths of the Heart, maybe at least let me know where you’re going, okay? If something goes wrong, I need to know how to get to you.”

Robin hesitated for a moment, perhaps trying to think of a counter argument. But then she nodded. “That doesn’t sound too unreasonable.”

“Good.” Domerin mustered a smile and slid to his feet. He felt like he was skipping a lot of the prescribed steps for dealing with this kind of situation, but he’d still consider it a victory if his daughter never disappeared off his radar quite so completely again.

He was standing in the doorway when the small clearing of a throat caused him to turn. Robin had retrieved her book and re-opened it, but she was looking at him instead of the digital display.

“I do miss Mom,” she admitted, her voice soft, her eyes momentarily downcast. “But I’m really happy that I have you now. You can’t take her place. But no one can take yours either.”

Her eyes were shining by the time she finished speaking, and Domerin’s eyes burned in response. Again, he swallowed hard to clear the lump of emotion forming in his throat and nodded.

“I never thought I would ever be a dad,” he admitted, not for the first time. “But since I met you, I can’t imagine my life any other way. I know I’m not always the best at expressing that, but I’ll try my best to do better.”

“It’s fine, Daddy,” Robin reassured with a wide grin. “I know you better than you think.” She winked.

Domerin thought about asking her to elaborate, but then decided it might be best not to know exactly what she was thinking. They had clearly forged a bond that didn’t always require words – and that made him happier than he could ever express.

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