Cassie's last day among them came sooner than Mace would have liked, given what he'd done to screw up the first night she might have had with Capa. Two mornings after that first night she was back in the visitors' lounge, her duffel packed, saying her goodbyes before she headed out. She was to be flying the Daedalus to the moon in three days; she needed to stop home first, and a vehicle from the motor pool was coming to take her to LAX for the afternoon jump-flight to San Diego.
She and Capa were standing at the windows, their arms loosely around each other's waists, watching the early morning sunlight chase lingering pockets of dusk across the desert floor. Whitby and Rosa had shown up, too, to see her off, as had Mace, who kept himself out of the way.
"I've been here almost three days," Cassie said. "And you haven't asked me why I left."
Capa tipped his head until his hair was just barely touching hers. "I didn't know if I had the right."
She smiled, a little wonderingly, a little sadly. She slipped her hand around his, squeezed, released. Then she dug in her duffel. A wallet inside. She unfolded it, took out a picture, and handed it to him.
Capa went very still. From the photo, a toddler was looking back at him. Brown dark curly hair, dimples around a baby's laughing smile. Eyes ethereally blue.
"His name is Charles. Charlie. He's staying with his nanny and his grandma." Cassie's face brightened as she spoke. "He'll be two and a half in July."
"He looks like you," Capa said softly.
"He has his father's eyes."
Capa took a step back, staring at her. Cassie looked back at him evenly.
"I wanted something of you to survive," she said. "Not your research. Not your work. Something of you. I don't expect anything from you. You've already given him the world-- I couldn't ask for anything more than that. But if-- someday, if you could meet him, that would be nice. He's a good boy. I think you'd like him."
Capa passed fingertips over the face in the photo. Then he held the picture out to Cassie. She gently pushed his hand away, back toward him.
"Welcome home, Robert." She leaned up, pressed her lips to the corner of his mouth. Capa turned his face toward hers, and their kiss was tender and longing and sad. They didn't close their eyes. When their lips parted, Cassie stepped back.
"Take care," she said to him.
Then she slung the strap of her duffel over her shoulder and walked out. Mace forgot to tell her goodbye.
Rosa looked at Pilot and said, "Why are the smart ones always so bloody stupid?"
Capa heard; he turned from the window and looked at her sharply. Rosa met her brother's shock-blue eyes with eyes just as shockingly intense in deep brown. "Robert, what do you think you're doing--?"
Capa knew-- Mace could see that-- he looked past Rosa and Whitby to the door of the lounge, where Cassie had gone and was no longer. And he hesitated--
Rosa went to him. She gestured at the door. "Go on. Go after her, Robert."
"I have responsibilities here--"
Mace said: "You saved the world, Brainiac. Think that's a golden ticket out of 'responsibility' right there."
Capa glanced at him, smiling slightly. Then he looked back at his sister. Rosa caressed his cheek.
"You came back. That'll do for now."
"I love you," Capa said.
"Love you, too," she said back. "Now go."
He was going. He took a dozen steps with intention and purpose, life behind him, more life than that ahead. But after those dozen steps, just outside the door of the lounge, he paused.
Whitby was there. Pilot. Noticing her, moments later, Capa wondered how much of his hesitation she had shared.
She walked up to him, stood close, and said: "An observation, Dr. Capa: Captain Pinbacker never got to know his son."
Capa stared at her. Pilot looked back at him with her sea-storm eyes, calmly. Then she smiled.
"Go after her."
And Capa ran after Cassie, the way she had gone, toward the front entrance, the doors leading out into a fresh clear desert morning.
If Mace had ceased to exist that morning, if he had blinked out when he passed from Capa's sight and consciousness, he never knew it. He stood a week later on a clear warm morning much like the one on which Capa had started his new life on Earth, outside the main entrance of the Icarus Project's main building at Edwards, sunning himself against the building's sandstone exterior. A car stopped in front of him. He tipped his head away from the wall, opened his good eye, looked.
Richard Whitby, from the driver's seat of a red Jeep, called to him roguishly:
"Our Miss Whitby's not asking-- in case you haven't noticed, she's quite shy-- but would you like to go for a ride, Mr. Mace? We're off to Los Angeles to fetch my nephew from the airport."
His nephew, Pilot's boy. Peter Whitby, ten years old. His mother smiled at Mace from the Jeep's passenger seat and said: "Climb aboard, Lieutenant."
Mace grinned. "Yes, ma'am."
He pushed away from the wall. He swung himself into the back seat of the Jeep. And off they drove, away from the base, toward L.A., under the strong hot desert sun.