by Amy L. Hull amilynh at comcast dot net
written for: cassievalentine in the Yuletide 2008 Challenge
I was thrilled with this prompt, which gave me the idea for a story that was exactly what I wanted to read as well. Many thanks to triciabyrne and Inga for betas.
"Let's do something."
Diana felt her stomach turn over. What did 8-year-old girls do in the 1940s? She had work to do. Work with viruses, epidemics, the clean numbers and familiar shapes of cells dividing and death spreading across a map.
She gripped the steering wheel, casting about for ideas, buying time. A man was jogging with a dog. A few kids played on playground equipment while their mothers sat on benches in the park's shade. Pre-teen girls rode pink bicycles and teenage boys played basketball. The people like her were in offices or labs, or were around them in cars driving home or to meetings. God, what had she been thinking, bringing home a child to care for? She had a job, a life, a purpose, and none of it included taking time to entertain a little girl.
"Do something like...what?" She risked a quick glance in the rear-view mirror and saw Maia looking tentative, cautious, and small.
"Something together. Something fun. I don't think you have enough fun."
Diana felt the chill that always accompanied Maia's serious, dark gaze, especially when she spoke with such calm certainty. They were quite a pair, the two of them, suited in their views of the world, in near-casual knowledge before which many would cow. It wasn't really surprising the first young couples Maia had gone home with had been uncomfortable hearing quietly-stated truths.
Maia's face was still, but the corners of her mouth tugged upwards and her face shone with hope. Diana felt her eyes narrow. "Are you trying to play me, Maia Rutledge?" she asked. "You already know I'm going to say yes, don't you?"
Maia shrugged. "I was pretty sure." There was a long silence from the back seat. "Are you mad?"
"No. I'm not mad."
"Are you still going to say yes?"
"I think so." Diana's response surprised her. She'd have to call Tom to tell him she wasn't coming back to NTAC. "But you're going to have to come up with an idea. What do you want to do?"
"Something new. Something I've never done before."
"Maia, how do I know what you have and haven't done before?"
"It's easy: what are some fun things that didn't exist yet when you were my age?"
Diana glanced over her shoulder. "Thin ice, there, kid. Next you'll be calling me old and I'll have to point out that my mother was born after you were."
Maia sounded a bit smug as she said, "I'm still not wrong."
"No," Diana conceded, smiling. "You're not wrong. You are rarely wrong."
"So...what are some new fun things?"
"I don't know...the circus and the zoo are old. You had ice skating, bicycles, and roller skates. There were carnivals with rides where...when...you came from, right?"
"Yes. Merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, the Tilt-A-Whirl. My parents took me once, even though it was two counties over. They got me cotton candy and I'd never had that much sugar before."
Maia's tone revealed her sheepishness as clearly as her face in the rear-view mirror.
"I threw up."
"You're right. It's time to form some new memories of this new time. Let's see...there's paintball, roller blading, laser tag, indoor rock climbing--"
"Let's do paintball!" Maia paused. "What is it?"
As they walked from the car to the paintball park Tom had found them, Maia bounced up and down on her toes, eyes twinkling with delight, more animated than Diana had ever seen her.
"Do we get to choose what color the paint we shoot is?"
"I'm assuming so. Remember, I've never done this either."
Maia's eyes narrowed. "Aren't you going to be automatically better since you shoot a gun for your job?"
Diana grinned. "Well, you did choose the activity, so if I totally win, you can't blame me." She put an arm around Maia's shoulders as they went to the booth and paid.
It took the owner at least fifteen minutes to explain how everything worked, then easily another twenty minutes to get into the protective gear with its vests, silly goggles, and ammo belts. Diana wondered how long it would be before her increasingly strange and unpredictable job and life would lead her to wear tactical gear for real.
"We look like photos of soldiers from World War I," Maia said, and Diana shuddered at the image of them in trenches.
"You ready to get creamed, kiddo?"
Maia hefted the paintball rifle that was half as big as her and lifted her head slightly. "Bring it on, NTAC-chick."
"They played lots of movies to keep us busy in quarantine." Diana could hear the bright grin in her voice, then Maia turned on a dime and dashed out into the maze of bales of straw and logs both standing and lying. Diana moved forward slowly, her paintball gun pointed at the ground as she scanned around her, scoping out the lay of the land, listening closely, mentally imitating Scully from The X-Files (which, of course, she hadn't watched...much).
She glimpsed a movement and fired. There was the pop-pop of her gun, the pop-pop of the oversized rifle Maia had chosen, the splatter of paintballs against surfaces, the stomping of feet, the sweet smell of trampled straw. She flung her back against a surface and looked to her left and right.
There was more running, more pop-pop sounds, and she led with her gun toward where she heard movement and fired.
"Gotcha!" she shouted.
"Then show me there's no paint mark!" Diana didn't know which of them was the child.
"I'm smarter than that; you'll just shoot me if I come out!"
Diana peered around a tree trunk and a heard a pop as a yellow blotch appeared on the lens of her goggles and she felt another sting on her arm as she ducked back behind the tree. There was the rustle of feet in dry grass and she ducked down and ran for new cover, circling around to get behind Maia. She almost managed to flank her and, of the ten shots she let fly, hit with a torso and thigh shot before the eight-year-old dropped to the ground and rolled behind another barrier.
Diana flattened her back against a wall, listening again for footsteps or crackling twigs, even the scent of dust and mold in the straw as it was disturbed. Hearing nothing, she crept along and turned a corner, only to feel another two pings hit her in the back.
She turned and they began an all-out shooting match, burning through the rest of their paint balls before ducking behind barriers, giggling breathlessly.
"Are you ready to give up?"
"No way!" Diana called. "I've still got..." she peered into her stash, "at least 100 rounds or so. Come get me!"
They dashed from pole to post to wall, chasing, taunting each other. "I'm over heeeere!"
Finally Diana found herself facing down Maia and, when she pulled the trigger, nothing happened. Her stash was empty and Maia's eyes crinkled with a huge grin behind her goggles as she emptied her last rounds onto Diana's chest, then ran to tackle her.
They rolled on the ground for a moment, then leaned against a straw bale, laughing breathlessly. Diana reached over and pulled off Maia's headgear, then removed her own. "Looks like you showed me, huh, kid?"
Maia nodded eagerly, pushing her hair from her face with a still-gloved hand. "You weren't so bad yourself, but I think NTAC is going to want you to work on your form."
Diana put an arm around Maia's shoulders and looked over her face with a half smile and narrowed eyes. "I think I'm totally disturbed that your battle tactics are so well developed."
"My dad and I watched lots of war movies at the nickel theater on Saturday mornings."
Diana rubbed at a pink smudge on Maia's cheek. It almost blended in with the bright flush of her skin from the chill and exertion. "Did you have fun?"
"Oh, yeah. Next time, can we go to one of those extra-big carnivals?"
"Amusement parks? Yeah...we can plan to go to Six Flags in the spring when it's warmer. I think you'll want to try out the roller coasters and water rides when it's not this chilly."
"Thank you." Maia leaned in and hugged her tightly.
Diana stiffened slightly then hugged her back, suppressing a slight shudder at how right it felt and at how certain Maia had been that they were to be together as a family. There certainly was something to that, she realized; she herself was already planning things for the spring.
"Well, kiddo, I'm getting cold. What say we return this stuff, get some food, and get cleaned up."
"Good idea. Your whole face is spattered with yellow."
"You should talk! You're smeared in pink."
"I think that's the best part," Maia pronounced as she and Diana scrambled to their feet.
"Skouris! I need you and Baldwin..." Dennis Ryland stopped mid sentence and frowned. "What happened to your hands? They're covered in...what is that?"
"Oh, just something...don't worry about it. I'll get Tom." Diana smiled to herself as she headed for the Theory Room, remembering Maia's rare laughter from the previous afternoon and her first dinner of Chinese food and first attempts to use chopsticks.
She wasn't sure precisely what, but it was definitely something. Something old, something new, something scary...
Diana poked her head into the room where Marco was pontificating about ripple effects and the impact of the 4400 while Tom's eyes glazed over. She watched for a moment. Everything since that ball of light was something new.
"Tom?" She tapped the door frame. "Ryland wants us in his office."
Tom looked at her like she'd saved him from a slow death and hopped from his perch on a desk. "Talk to you later, Marco." He moved to usher Diana out and asked, "So how was paintball?"
"It was...different. Thanks for your help on that. Maia had a great time and I did too. Something new for both of us."
"Like being a family?" Tom pushed the elevator button.
"Yeah. Like that."