"Do you plan to go back?" I asked Theresa as I was washing bottles again. She'd been staying for a couple days to help with the babies while I made arrangements for Nyaari's burial and met with the Embassy a few times.
"I don't think I can really." she said sadly. "Aside from stealing James's truck - which I have had returned by the way! - I don't think I'd be very welcome."
"James would probably reassign you to another area...since he got his truck back." I said with a small laugh.
"Maybe...I think I'm done though." Tes said with a shrug.
"So what's next then? You're welcome to stay here...not that it's much to offer." I looked around the tiny apartment with the cracked and peeling paint.
Tes was a great help with the babies - when it was just Katara and I, we were managing alright but me against two infants - the odds didn't seem to be in my favor.
It didn't help that though Azula looked to have lighter skin and hair, she had just enough of Nyaari's features to remind me of her every time I saw her.
In the beginning, I insisted on Tes taking the one bed while I slept on the couch. I knew she thought I was being silly but I wanted her to be comfortable and there was no room for another bed in the apartment. There wasn't even really room for the second crib I had to get but I managed to squeeze it in. Unfortunately, Azula was a very light sleeper and would wake up if Katara even just shifted in her sleep when they were in the same crib together.
She jabbed me awake one morning, a couple weeks after she'd become my "temporary" roommate. "You're being ridiculous." she said as I sat up and stretched out the painful kinks in my body. She handed me a bowl of cereal before sitting down next to me. "Seriously Faromir, we slept in a one room hut together for two years - I think we can sleep in the same bed..."
"I just want you to be comfortable..." I protested.
"Well I'm not, I feel bad thinking of you trying to sleep on this tiny, cruddy couch. So, if you want me to be comfortable - you'll sleep with me." she said. She must have noticed the look of embarrassment that crossed my face because she laughed. "Not like THAT!"
The first night I tried sleeping above the covers, but then she did as well just to prove a point. She really is stubborn!
So I stopped fighting her after that on the sleeping arrangements.
Only I couldn't sleep really. When I tried sleeping on the couch, I thought it was just the fact that it was terribly uncomfortable that kept me awake most of the night. But even in the bed I couldn't fall asleep until sheer exhaustion took me.
I wonder what she'd think if she woke up and saw me watching her sleep like this?
Theresa's presence was particularly useful in the evenings. When Katara would wake up, her fussing would wake Azula up even if Azula wasn't needing anything. "You get Katara..." Tes muttered groggily. "I'll see if Azula actually need anything."
A couple months had passed and I still seemed no closer to getting home with the girls. "Why do you live here Faromir?"
"Huh?" I asked, looking up from the Monopoly board. I'd found an old version of Monopoly in a shop and it was one of our sources of entertainment after the girls fell asleep.
"I mean, I know you could afford a nicer...and bigger...place. Why'd you pick this apartment?" Tes asked.
"Oh! Well, when I first arrived I figured it wouldn't take THAT long to get everything in order and most other places wanted a six month or longer commitment. I didn't want to think I'd be here that long..." I explained.
"And now you have been...so why don't you move?" she asked, moving the little dog piece to the "Free Parking" spot.
"Because then I'd be admitting we'd be stuck here another six months at least..." I said.
She narrowed her eyes at my explanation. "And you think I'm stubborn." she said with a laugh.
"Well what about you? Why are you still here?" I countered with a smile. "Don't you have family you want to get back to? A boyfriend or something?"
She shook her head and shrugged. "My family and I....we're different. I joined the Corps to get away from them to be honest."
"I'm sorry." I said softly. We continued the game in a slightly awkward silence after that. Tes had never spoken much about her life. I knew she'd gone to medical school and joined the Sim Corps right out of it but knew nothing of her family.
Even as I became more and more exhausted, sleep continued to evade me most nights. If I was lucky, I could catch and hour or two of dreamless sleep. Usually when I closed my eyes, Nyaari's face filled my thoughts. Sometimes Jhana was there too - the mothers of my daughters who would never see their girls grow into women. I felt haunted by them, but it wasn't scary or terrifying - just sad.
I rolled over onto my side and tried to close my eyes again. She was there, they both were this time, bruised and beaten. I started to open my eyes, unwilling to look on their faces again, and felt Tes's body curl against mine, her arm wrapped around my waist. I'm sure she was asleep but her very closeness seemed to chase the ghosts away. I slept soundly for the first time that night.
She never said anything about it, I don't even know if she realized she was doing it or how much it was helping me. I would always be grateful that Tes came to stay was us when she did.
Azula was almost six months old when I got a call from the Embassy. It had been near a month since I'd last heard anything from them and I'd been on the brink of giving up on the possibility of ever being able to leave the country with the girls.
"I have good news Mr. Taffity." she said, almost before I was sitting down.
"I like good news." I replied with a careful smile. I hoped her good news was actually progress.
"Well, we having everything in order. You can leave anytime you want - with your daughters." she said, holding out a thick file of papers to me.
"Really?" I asked, my eyes wide with shock.
"Yes, we have all their travel paperwork, including passports, birth certificates...you'll just need to sign a few places." she said, already pulling out all the forms and papers I'd have to sign.
I may have signed my name fifty times in that hour but I didn't care. "Thank you." I said, tucking everything securely back into the folder.
"Safe travels." she said with a smile.
Back at the apartment, I grinned at Tes as I entered. "We have everything! Finally!" I exclaimed.
"Oh! That's...wonderful..." she said, though her face didn't seem as excited as I'd expected.
"It is...only you look like I just told you bad news." I said, frowning with concern.
"I...I guess I....it's wonderful news Faromir - you can go home to your family..." she said.
"Tes...what's wrong?" I asked, putting a hand on her shoulder.
"I guess I just sort of liked it here..." she said, looking down at her feet.
"Here?" I looked around the shabby apartment with a critical eye.
"Well not here as in the apartment...or even the city....but...I liked the company..." she said to her feet still.
I was silent as the realizations rolled over me. "Oh..Tes...I'm..."
"No, don't say anything..." she looked up and gave me a weak smile. "Look, Faromir - I like you...more than you like me."
"Tes...it's not..." I interrupted and she put her fingers to my lips.
"Shh, I get it...you like me just not like that...I think it's time for us both to move on..." she said.
"Thank you, for being here - for helping..." I fumbled over the words - not sure what I could say to make a pain in her eyes go away.
"Thank you - for giving me a place to stay and...well thank you..." she said, looking away from me awkwardly. "When do you fly?"
Tes arranged to leave the country at the same time we did so we all traveled to the airport together. "If you're ever in Barnacle Bay..." I said, holding out a note for her with my address and number. "Look us up..."
She took it and nodded. "I don't travel that way often but I will. Goodbye Faromir...." she kissed each of the babies on their foreheads and then headed for her own flight.
When I got to the house, I heard a lot of commotion coming from the kitchen. Both the babies had slept through much of the flight and the cab ride to our house - which no doubt meant they'd be up all night. They were still conked out in their carseats so I left them in the living room before following the noise to the kitchen.
It was sheer chance that I arrived on the day they were celebrating their birthdays. Mom was in the midst of making her wish when she saw me and he face lit up. "I think I got my wish early." she said, and blew out her candles. She didn't even wait for Dad to finish before she ran over to me to hug me. "I'm so happy you're home!"
Dad smiled at me but as the wax from the candles was dripping onto his cake, he went ahead and blew out his candles as well before coming over to join in the welcome home.
We all grabbed some cake and walked into the adjoining dining room while they fired questions at me about when I'd gotten back, why hadn't I called, what had I been up to...I answered some and ignored others because the answers would take too long.
Dad heard the crying before me, "Is that a..." he started to ask.
"Oh Azula!" I said, jumping to my feet and hurrying into the living room. All the talking and laughing must have woken my little light sleeper up. I unstrapped her from her carseat and patted her until she calmed down.
"Faromir?" Mom asked first, her eyes wide as she noticed not only Azula in my arms but Katara cooing in her seat.
"What exactly were you doing in the jungle man?" Theodin asked with a grin on his face.
He looks so....sad!