My grandfather died that fall. It was a bitter ending to a bright summer. We packed our bags and made the long trip to Earth. We arrived a day before the funeral. Jake greeted us at the airlock.
I'll never forget the look on his face. It was painfully empty. He caught sight of Julian and me walking down the connector hand in hand and his expression began to change. All the sorrow he'd been trying to hold at bay rose swiftly to the surface. Tears began to stream down his cheeks. I broke free and ran to him, throwing myself at his legs in a huge hug. I'd hardly known my grandfather but the pain I felt radiating off my brother was enough to make me cry as well. He put a hand around my shoulder and squeezed. Then I felt him kiss me on the top of the head. Jake reached out his other hand to my guardian, to shake his hand in heartfelt greeting. Julian reached passed his offered hand and embraced Jake as a father would a son. I heard Jake sob as I buried my face in his pant leg.
The funeral was long and the soft sounds of weeping were constant. Julian wore his dress uniform and sat with me and Jake the entire time. When it was over, a sea of mourners trailed passed us, offering short words of comfort. Uncle Miles and Aunt Keiko were there to take us home afterward. Julian stayed behind, looking tired and worn. I watched him from the window as we flew away, unsure when I would see him again.
Later that evening, I played with Yoshi in the backyard of the O'Brien's San Francisco home. On the deck, Julian and Uncle Miles talked quietly amongst themselves as they nursed their beers.
"I still can't believe it," Miles announced in awe, as he watched us play. "You. A father."
"Not quite," Julian corrected him, uncharacteristically somber.
Miles scoffed and took a sip of his beer. "Close enough."
"I wish she were mine," he admitted. "It would make things easier."
"What do you mean?"
"Michael." He referred to Michael Yates, my mother's youngest sibling.
"Oh for-" Miles stopped, cognizant of his loud voice. He started again, his voice deliberately quieter. "He's not trying to gain custody again, is he?"
Julian nodded. "He contacted me several days ago, right before we left."
Miles studied his friend's expression carefully. "You're actually thinking about it, aren't you?"
"There isn't a day that goes by without me wondering what the hell I'm doing."
The reaction he received wasn't at all what he expected. Miles chuckled and slapped him heartily on the back. "Welcome to parenthood, Julian."
The comment only seemed to make Julian feel worse.
"Look. Being a parent means thinking about more than just yourself."
"Don't you think I know that?" There was an edge to his voice.
Miles continued, unperturbed. "So ask yourself. Sending her to live with Michael. Would that be best for her? Or for you?"
He never had a chance to answer. I came running a moment later and threw my arms around his neck, crying. I'd scraped myself on something in the yard. He immediately put his arms around me and held me close.
"What is it, sweetheart?"
"I want to go home," I wailed.
Two days later, we did.