Chapter 14: Blood Doesn't Define Family
"Happy Birthday, Alexavier! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you!" so many voices sung the familiar tune of a memory. He was surrounded by his parents. How are you alive? His sister was sitting beside him, clapping happily to the song. What's going on? She reached down below the table and held out a present for him. "Happy Birthday little brother!"
He cupped the neatly wrapped box with his hands. It was light, but filled with the familiar feelings of love the two siblings shared as a family. The parents waited for the child to blow out the candles. This is my birthday party. With the gentle breeze of his whistle, He blew out the candles and sat back to hear the excited clapping of everyone in the room. This was the most ideal and yearned situation. Aria leaned in close to give him a hug and slipped in something into his pocket. Only after they parted he took notice of the object.
It was a movie ticket. She winked his way quietly showing another ticket to the same movie. The parents were none the wiser, it was to be just the time alone for the siblings. He smiled looking forward to it. No matter how tough things got or how strained things became between the siblings, they would always be there for one another. But such happiness seemed hollow at best. It was unreal. The candles on the cake suddenly lit up again. The wax began to melt at a dramatic pace.
The fire spread from the cake and onto the table. It crept up to its surroundings, and melted those around the boy. They began to drip down into the void of emptiness. What was left inside of the feeling he felt now was emptiness. The lonely boy gazed at the destruction around him. The bones of his family lay at his feet. His hand shook as he reached out petrified. My family…no, I know this is a dream. Wake up, wake up, wake up!
The ceiling was blurred. His eyes felt moisture. He blinked once and felt water run down his face. Ken sat up and rubbed the side of his face. A tear? He wiped his eyes clean and stood up. Is it that time of the year again? He wondered recalling every other year where these memories would resurface leaving an everlasting psychological impact on him. He got out of the bed and walked over to his desk. Ken slid open a drawer and took out a metal box. As he opened the box, the vault of memories burst open flooding him with emotions of happiness, sadness and anger of the various times with his family.
Ken swung open the lid and found a locket inside. Heh, this was the locket I gave to her for her eighteenth birthday, before she went missing. Why, just why did you get involved with them sis? He sat down deep in thought. I know we will meet again, but what will I say to you then? How can I even bring you back to the place where it was just the two of us, happy together as a family?
He clutched the locket tightly and rested his forehead against his hands. Things can never go back to being the same. But surely there must be some way to fix our fucked up family. He eyed the wrist blades resting on his desk that he kept with him at all times. If she really is the organization leader, then it may prove to be more difficult than I initially thought it to be. Ken gently placed the locket by his side and breathed out a heavy sigh. Oh how I wish for a normal life. Once all of this is over, I'm going to quit all of this and live a normal life…I only hope that you are by my side when that time comes sister.
Ken stored the locket into the box and stared at a photo of him and his sister inside. He gently brushed a finger over his sister's face and wondered. Did Siris always know about her being the leader of our enemy? If so, was he keeping this a secret just to keep me on their side all along or was this orchestrated by a higher force than him?
"Is that a box of memories?"
Her voice awakened him from his thoughts. He eyed to his left towards the door frame in which stood the orange haired woman.
"You like sneaking up on people?"
"Then I hope you don't make a habit out of it," Ken noted nearly shutting the box. But he was stopped by the sudden approach of Carolina. She eyed the photo inside and slowly took it out. "Is this a photo of your sister and you on a vacation perhaps?"
"It may be."
Carolina squinted her eyes to get a better look at Aria. Now that I think about it, even though she is young, she looks somewhat similar to me. Carolina in annoyance brushed her hair to the side. A habit she has never been able to rectify. She preferred to have a clear line of sight when concentrating intensely. The assassin beamed a grin towards her. Carolina looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "What's so funny?"
"My sister, she had the same habit as you. She would get annoyed similarly and brush away stray strands of hair," he closed his eyes and remembered a similar memory with her. He smiled up at the ceiling and imagined his sister carrying out the custom on numerous occasions. Carolina however was not yet done with her questions. She wrapped her arms around one another and stared at him until he was sitting upright again, albeit somewhat uncomfortably. "You know Ken. I caught wind of a rather interesting rumour as of late."
"And what would that be?"
"That you might not have brought me into ATSG for purely professional reasons, that there may be something more to this than you are letting on."
Ken nearly lost composure, but as soon as his eyes widened to hear the words, he quickly composed himself. "Where did you hear that, was it Chloe?"
"Well we have been spending a lot of time together since I accompany her most due to her injury."
"Great, I will have to have a word with her later," he snickered under his breath and then faced the older woman. "Look, it's true that I didn't bring you here purely out of professional obligations to ensure the success of our mission."
He motioned towards her face and with a reminiscent tone said. "When I first placed that trace on you and followed you, and when I first saw you out of your armor I was captivated. It was like, my sister had returned. You look very much like her, so much so that it can be scary talking to you face to face sometimes."
"But reality is different, I know," he interrupted calming his voice. "However, personal reasons aside, I still did have a professional stake in this. While I admit to thinking about you as someone similar to my sister, I also acknowledge your skills needed to bring down the enemy."
Carolina walked with gentle steps and sat by his side. She looked down to his level, but he kept his gaze fixated on the ground. The slowly turned his chin towards her and offered an understanding smile. "I know that feeling of wanting your family back. I still want my father and mother back, but I also have come to make peace with their deaths. Your sister is a unique individual. I can never be a replacement for her. I can't be that same exact sister that she is to you."
"I know," he jerked up and his eyes gave her the determination she wanted to see in him once again. "I know that every person is unique. I never meant for you to be a replacement, sorry."
"You don't need to apologize for anything," Carolina gently bumped his arm with her fist. "You already understand what is real and what isn't. I can be only me. In doing so I can also be there to lend you an open ear for whenever you need to talk to someone."
She stood up at the understanding and thankful nod from Ken. But she stopped midway at the doorway and turned back around. "Have you made up with Siris yet?"
"We both agreed that was a complicated matter," Ken rebuffed with the gentle shake of his head. She gently bumped him on the head with a sigh. "Don't put this off Ken. The longer you do, the more it will affect the overall team dynamics in the grand scheme of things."
"Then why don't you tell me what to say to the man who killed my parents?" Ken rubbed the spot she bumped him on as she was deep in thought. "Be truthful with one another. Like I said before, try to talk and understand one another."
She then left him to his own thoughts. Try to understand him. But to do that, how should I even start talking with him? Do I just go up to him and start talking like I used to before, can I even do that now? He watched his shaking hands from the subtly raising anger. He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. "On one hand there is this feeling of wanting revenge, but then there is the feeling to have things to back to the way things were…even if it won't be completely same, fuck."
Siris sat in the main control room eyeing a ring he played with in between his fingers. The name engravings made him quietly smile. They were indeed good times, times that are now gone past. He rested the ring by its side on the desk and spun it to watch in a hypnotic manner. He stopped the ring upon hearing new footsteps. The object fell to the desk wobbling about from side to side. Carolina walked in to the notice of Siris who gave her a welcoming nod. "Anything I can do for you?"
"I was wondering if I could help with any jobs," she inquired noticing him storing away the ring. He seemed very protective of it, and handled it with care. It must mean a great deal to him. Siris looked around for any tasks that needed to be completed. "Honestly I got nothing. But I was about to go out on patrol. If you want, you are welcomed to join me."
"You don't usually head out on these sorts of things do you?"
"Nope," he stood up and stretched his body. "But I figured with everything that's been happening, everyone else deserves to rest for as long as they can. We don't know what will happen tomorrow. I need everyone in their top form. Plus this gives me a nice excuse to get out of the bunker and get some fresh air."
Carolina took him up on his offer and quickly got ready in her armor. The two were off to patrol the nearby area of the bunker. Siris ran ahead of Carolina on their route. "Keep an eye out for anything and anyone suspicious."
Their patrol went smoothly, however nearing its end Siris had a request to make of Carolina. "You don't mind if we take a detour do you?"
"Well I want to go somewhere before heading back down into the bunker. I don't get many opportunities to."
"Thanks," he once again led the way jumping from rooftop to rooftop with the help of their jets. He landed firmly onto the floor beneath him and perched near the edge. Carolina bent down behind him and followed his stare into the apartment in the opposite building. It was a neatly kept apartment, there were two women inside. One was clearly older than the other who seemed like the mother. Siris reached into his pocket and clenched the ring. At least they are doing well. He could feel his emotional defenses slowly lowering at the sight of the young girl having grown up so much.
"Who are they?" she asked. He looked back from the side of his eye and back towards the women. "The ar- were my family."
Siris held out his marriage ring and dropped it in Carolina's hand for study. "My wife left me when my daughter was two years old at the time. God, to see her grown up now in her early teens is quite something."
"You didn't see your family up till now?"
"I do from time to time," he took back the ring and stared at it with some sadness in his eyes. "But I can never get close to them. I can never again reach out to my daughter, to touch my own flesh and blood. To be the father I always wanted to be."
"My wife…she has warned me to stay away from them both," Siris lowered his head in shame. "She left me and issued this legal warning after she found out about my not so legit work life. I suppose even she has her honor when it comes to remaining clean."
Carolina sat up straight now curious at what Siris did that made his money illegal. He could tell this sudden change in her and sat back. "I can see that you want to hear the story. Since we have the time, why don't I indulge you for a bit?"
"That would be appreciated," Carolina smiled under her helmet with a nod. Siris looked up at the sky and took in a deep breath. "Originally I wasn't doing anything illegal. It was mostly with me engaging in small time jobs like bounty contracts. Soon I moved up to more dangerous bounties, which is where I had met Locus and Felix. But that was too good to be true. Thing were changing and that killed off my options for legitimate means of earning money with doing what I knew how to do best."
"What changed so much that forced you to consider other methods of earning money?"
"The new government's regulations in regards to bounties changed things for us mercenaries making a living off of these prizes. The bounty hunting business died out and it was only the police that could handle these dangerous criminals. Other means of earning money as a mercenary were also dried up thanks to everything becoming standardized and legal laws becoming even stricter. I wasn't exactly the best prospect for hire, especially since I didn't really have higher education."
"Really? I figured that you would have gone to university and what not."
"What makes you say that?"
"Well you are very smart."
"Heh," Siris grinned in acknowledgement. "Get yourself a warm cup of coffee, a book on subjects that interest you and even you will be surprised by what you can learn. Knowledge doesn't always have to come from an educational institute."
"So as I was saying," Siris cleared his throat and continued. "The bounty business was dried up. I couldn't just change my line so easily and I had a family to feed. I had no choice but to turn to robberies. It was small at first, but the payoff was good. But as things escalated, the risks increased as well and eventually we had our first accidental death."
"Yes, accidental," Siris affirmed with a stern voice. "We never intended to kill anyone ever. We would go in, rob the store and run free. But one time we were caught, and in our panic one of our partners shot the person. I can still remember them lying there in their own puddle of blood, lifeless like all the joy had been sucked out of their body."
"Did the killings continue?"
"Unfortunately, yes," he replied with lowering his head. "We became more comfortable with the prospect of killing the innocent to cover our tracks. But eventually it started to build up a noticeable body count, one large enough to leave a trail behind. Those murders made my past, one which I was caught and convicted for. It was at that time my wife left me and warned me to stay away from them."
"Do you ever wish to talk to your daughter?"
"Of course I do," Siris answered with a blunt tone. "Any caring and sane parent put in this situation would feel the same. Some things in life can't be fixed just by talking. All these years apart from her can't be fixed with some words alone. I'm sure to her I would just be another stranger now."
"Just like with Ken," Carolina said nearly in a whisper catching Siris' eye. He looked back towards the apartment with a heavy breath. "I think I know where this is going."
"If you know where this is going, then you should also understand the value in my words," Carolina argued doing her best to maintain his interest. "Hate and big mistakes in life can create a huge rift between people. The only thing that can possibly close that rift is talking to one another, enduring through those times together to achieve a mutual understanding."
"Look Carolina," he clenched his fists carefully considering his argument. "I understand what you are saying but you also have to remember that I was a soldier at that time. I followed orders, but I also personally thought I was doing the right thing. If the parents were to still be alive, who knows how much stronger the organization would have been by now. If only had I known that it was the child of the parents I murdered that ATSG accepted, then I would have probably divulged these secrets to him long ago."
Carolina agreed with his words to a certain extent. "But the matter with Ken losing his parents is not a matter of believing in your mission. It is a matter of keeping inner conflicts from growing any further. It is also a matter of getting Ken to understand your point of view while remaining open to his. Only once you talk to one another and understand, can we at ATSG again achieve unity like we had before."
Siris agreed to her words and stated. "You know, I had always intended on telling Ken after I found out myself. I guess I was just waiting for the right moment. But in the end I couldn't do it, perhaps because I was afraid of our relationship becoming strained like it is now."
Carolina patiently waited for Siris to gather his thoughts. "Or perhaps I was afraid of losing the only place I have in Ken's life as his mentor. So I kept it quiet until the truth decided to speak up for itself."
Throughout these words, she could see the pain in his eyes. It was very similar to the one her father had when he was at the end of his life. "Do you think of Ken as an adopted son?"
"What makes you say that?" he inquired waving his hand around. "I simply took him under my wing for training. I needed to in the event we required a successor to take charge in my place. But through our time together, it felt like I had gained a son."
Siris let out a hearty smile remembering all the times he scolded the boy. "Spending all of these years with him gave me the opportunity to feel like a father again. The desire to raise a child was in a sense being fulfilled through Ken I suppose. In that regard, he did kind of become like my son."
The man rested one hand on his knee and leaned back with the other. His eyes faced up towards the darkened skies. "I suppose that this was inevitable. After all, no matter how much I may think of it, he and I don't have any blood relations that could actually tie us together."
"Family isn't defined by blood, but by the bonds we make with others," Carolina recited earning a questionable look from her partner. "Your bond with Ken is stronger than you think. If it wasn't, then I'm sure Ken would have left long ago and try to find Aria on his own. There is still a chance to repair the damage by understanding one another. Show one another just how strong your bond is with him. Just because he isn't your 'son' by blood can't make him one through bond."
"I appreciate the kind words Carolina, but our trust can never go back to being as it was before."
"No it can't," she confirmed. "Nothing can ever go back to being exactly the same. That's life. The past will always remain in the past. The things that have gone past are gone for good. But as people only dong our best to survive, we have to learn to live with that. We have to learn to live in the present while being mindful of our mistakes from the past so that we don't repeat them. Our past doesn't define us. It just gives us the starting point for who we are going to be. We are always in control to be the type of person we want to be."
Siris let out a gentle laughter at the mouthful Carolina laid on him. He nodded his head deep in thought. Our past doesn't define us. That is quite the saying. He stood up and stretched his neck. A satisfying crack echoed from his neck. Carolina stood up behind him and followed him off the rooftop. "So try your best to finally make up with him?"
"Yeah, but time will also tell how this works out," Siris noted before smirking and looking back with a firm belief. "You know Carolina, you say some really wise things."
She chortled at the compliment and thanked the man as the two returned to the bunker to carry out their other tasks.
A/N: Another more or less a development type of chapter. I focused on Siris quite a bit and decided to give him a back story in regards to his family with the intention of giving him more depth. I hope the effect was present as you were reading.
I also want to say that I may not update for a week or two perhaps. I need a break. I feel like I'm burning out here and that is never good for the excitement and passion for the story. This rest will give me the time to once again feel that brimming excitement I felt at the beginning of this fan-fiction hopefully, and that will definitely be a good thing.
Thank you for reading this story so far and supporting it!
Constructive feedback is always welcomed.
Catch you all after my break.