Somewhere on the eastern coast of Australia
Irina stood barefoot on the beach, watching the two children playing in the surf. A pair of arms encircled her from behind, and she leaned against her husband's chest. She turned her head so that he could kiss her.
"You're up early," Jack said.
"Alex doesn't yet understand the concept of sleeping in."
Jack chuckled. "Like his big sister."
Irina was silent for a moment. "She slept through the night again."
They looked at their children; in the months following their departure from Cape Town, months of constantly moving from place to place, of continually looking over their shoulders, Sydney had been plagued by nightmares. It was only now that they'd found a place to call home that she was beginning to settle.
Alex helped, Irina thought. Sydney adored her brother, doted on him so much that Jack teased that Alex had two mothers.
As Irina watched Sydney chase Alex across the beach, she smiled; Sydney was acting like a little girl again. She'd grown up too fast in the last year.
Here, hopefully, she could learn to be a little girl again, and she and Alex could grow up normally. And Irina and Jack could learn to be ordinary parents who weren't constantly looking over their shoulders.
They'd had a lot to work through too, Irina thought. Especially in the first few weeks when Irina's own nightmares had returned, and she'd had to battle her grief for her sister and her cousin. Jack had been her rock, though he'd been dealing with issues of his own. When he'd found out the dead man was Cuvee, he'd gone back into the house and emptied his gun into the body. Over the following days, he'd been afraid to touch Irina for fear of making things worse for her, and she'd eventually slapped him and told him to stop being an idiot; she needed to be held.
But that was behind them now. They had each other; they had their children. It was all they wanted.
Irina turned to face Jack and wrapped her arms around his waist. She kissed him again. "This is more than I could have hoped for, Jack. I never thought—"
He put his finger to her lips. "We promised each other forever, remember?"
He pulled her closer, and bent his head to hers.
"Mommy and Daddy are kissing again, Alex," Sydney said. "It's 'cause they love each other."
Jack and Irina broke apart, and glanced down. Sydney was standing next to them, holding Alex's hand. He grinned, then held up his arms to be picked up. His mother's eyes, his father's curls; Irina knew he was going to be a heartbreaker one day. She picked him up, and kissed his cheek.
Then wrinkled her nose. "Someone needs his diaper changed."
Alex placed his hands on either side of Irina's face, then gave her a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss on her chin. "Kiss Mama."
"I'll change him." Jack took Alex from Irina, accepting his own sloppy kiss from his son, then went up into the house.
"You and Alex have fun?" Irina asked.
"Good." Irina held out her hand. "Want to go for a walk?"
Sydney nodded again, and the two of them slowly strolled across the beach.
"Are we safe here, Mommy?"
Irina stopped walking. "I think so, sweetheart. I can't promise that we won't have to move again one day, but I can promise that Daddy and I won't let anyone hurt you or Alex. Okay?"
Sydney was quiet for a long time. Then, gazing out over the ocean, said, "I'm glad they're dead. Those people who came – I'm not sorry they died."
Irina blinked back tears. One day she would tell Sydney about the Elena she remembered growing up; someone completely different from the woman she'd been at the end of her life.
"Does that make me a bad person, Mommy? Because I'm not sorry?"
"Oh, sweetheart, of course not." Irina hugged Sydney. "I wish you'd never had to go through that, and I'm so proud of you for being so strong, baby. I love you so, so much."
"You're proud of me?"
Sydney smiled. "I love you too, Mommy. Can we have pancakes for breakfast?"
Irina thought for a moment, pretending to give careful consideration to Sydney's request. Then she nodded. "Here's the deal: I'll race you back the house. If you win, we can have pancakes."
Sydney was off like a shot, her laughter a balm to Irina's soul as she chased her across the sand. Irina thought of Nadia then, imagined her following Sydney for the briefest moment, and then she was gone.
Irina's heart felt light.