Ilya awoke to find herself in her mother’s bed, her riding coat removed and the old blanket wrapped around her. Her mother and a husband were sitting on either side of the bed watching her.
“Kostya?” She croaked to her husband.
He took her hand, “My pyari, how are you feeling?”
Even in the dim light of the lamp, she could see concern his large, dark eyes. It seemed like ages since she had last seen his round, boyish face. His brown skin had a red flush to it from working the family land with her cousins. He nervously tucked behind his ear a strand of hair that had fallen from where he tied it back.
Her mother held out a glass of water. “Here, rebacchka, drink.”
Ilya leaned forward a bit and obeyed. “Kostya, where is Osip?”
“He took Nessabha to the city, yesterday.”
“Little Nessa? Is she sick? Is she okay?”
“It’s only a fever. Children get fevers.”
She nodded and tried to sit up more.
“No,” Lyubov held her down. “Don’t exert yourself.”
“Amá, I feel fine.”
“You run off, and you come back unconscious. You know better than to worry me so much.”
“I’m sorry.” Ilya looked back and forth between the two of them. “I’m sorry.” She shrugged. “It was kind of a dramatic moment. You know how I get.”
Her mother was not amused. “You caught up with him, then.”
“Your cousin said as much. I told you it was too late. You should not have chased after him.”
“I had to. I had to try, Amá.”
No one replied.
“What? You were the one harping on how important he was to the family.”
Lyubov said nothing.
Her mother’s eyes darted to a dark corner of the room and for the first time Ilya noticed a man sitting there. His dark gray suit camouflaged him so well….
And cold shot of adrenaline spiked through her body. Ilya tried to cry out a warning but her throat only squeaked and wheezed. The rapid fluttering of her heart made it hard to breath.
“Ilya. Stoep. I am noet haere to huert you.” He spoke slowly, his accent over enunciated the vowels, giving them time to bend and warp into the appropriate sound as he wrenched the new language under his control. There was cold authority in the voice, and she couldn’t draw comfort from the words.
“Is it tomorrow already?” Her voice shook.
“Whaere es he?”
Kostya squeezed her hand. “He says if you tell him where they went, he’ll leave us alone.”
Ilya looked at the ghostly figure in the corner. His dark suit melting in and out of the shadow so well her eyes were having trouble establishing the edges of his silhouette.
“I… assumed as mouch. Whaet ship? Whaet names?”
It felt wrong, but she couldn’t stop the words from coming out of her mouth.
“I… I don’t know. He was all over the saitos and port-com boards, yesterday.” A new wave of insight hit her. Had Cael been planning to leave before Alberich even knocked on their door? No… no, because, “he checks them every day.”
Not the port-com boards, whispered something from the back of her mind.
“Yaes. Kiran. Told mae. You spoeke at the poart.”
She looked to her husband, who could only return a pleading gaze. She looked back and shook her head. “I didn’t hear much over my own screaming. Sorry.”
The shadow sighed and adjusted in his seat. “No matter. I will caetch them at the Gaet.”
Ilya swallowed hard. “What… what? Will you do to them?”
“Alberich will be taeken ento custody.”
The blurry silhouette seemed to shrug. “I am noet concerned with heim, but I cannoet guarantee his saefety. If Alberich has an episode, or Cael triaes to stoep mae, I will use whaetever force I joudge necessary.”
Ilya eyes searched the face in the shadow, but she couldn’t quite make out the details.
“Why do you tell me all of this?”
“So thaet you will haelp mae.”
“Come with mae. Bae my advocate… or distract heim long enough for mae to do my joeb. Either waey, once I have Alberich, I weill leave Cael to… your custody. You could breing heim home, if you wesh.”
Her mother stood. “No! She cannot leave. Ilya is too weak for travel, you cannot expose her to this kind of danger.”
The silhouette cocked his head and watched them for a long moment. Ilya’s mother sat down again.
“Vaery waell. I do noet doubt you are corraect. It seems I have mouch to work out and little taime to spare. I weill beg your leave.”
Ilya’s eyes saw him rise and slip his way across to the door. He was gone without a sound, before the silhouette even had a chance to disappear from her vision; and she had to blink a few times before she could be sure he really wasn’t there anymore. No one spoke for a few minutes. The man left so quickly, and ordeal over so suddenly, no one knew how to react. Her mother walked over to the door and flipped on the harsh overhead light in the bedroom and the hallway. It struck Ilya has something that was done after waking from a nightmare.
Lyubov clutched at her silk robe and kept watch at the door until she was satisfied the man was really gone. She walked over to the little skrina on the nightstand and spoke to one of Ilya’s uncles in hushed tones away from the bed. The few words she passively overheard confirmed the whole compound was on alert. However, Ilya’s attention was on her husband. His eyes were on their clasped hands. She reached up with her free hand and brushed a few strands of hair that had fallen over his face again.
He closed his eyes for a moment but didn’t respond.
Lyubov propped the skrina back on the side table. “I need to run downstairs and make sure everyone is okay. You two will be fine in here?”
She looked up. “Yes, thank you.”
Her mother gave her a quick hug and Ilya watched her walk out into the hallway.
Ilya was about to reach for her husband again when he finally spoke.
“I’ve never been so scared in my entire life. Not even during Nessabha’s birth.”
“He’s gone now.”
“And he didn’t even do anything. He didn’t threaten us, or hurt anyone… but I still couldn’t move. I could barely speak.”
“Kostya…” She tried to comfort him but she couldn’t think of anything to say, and he refused to respond to her touch.
“But you, you spoke to him as if it was nothing.”
“No, I pretty was terrified.”
Kostya finally looked at her.
“Please don’t go after him again.”
“Cael; please just let him stay away.”
“I… why would you….”
“Kiran told me what happened at the dock. He said you begged Cael to take you with him.”
“No, I mean… I panicked. I was only trying to buy some time… to get him to stay.”
He shook his head. “Is he so important? We’re your family, too, Ilya, and we’ve barely seen you this past year. You didn’t even know that Nessabha had a fever yesterday; your own child. What if he had said yes? You would have just left your entire family without even saying goodbye?”
He held her gaze in the harsh light.
“He was important, but not for the reasons you think.”
“The genetics thing your mother goes on about?”
Ilya glanced at the door her mother had walked through.
“Well, you already have a daughter. If you want more children we can visit the fertility clinics again.”
“No, I don’t… want to do that. I don’t want to talk about that right now.”
“Okay, fine. Then just tell me you won’t go after him. That’s all I really care about.”
She looked at the scared, determined face of her husband. “I won’t.”
“And you’ll stay home with us? No more work in the town for a while.”
“I… I couldn’t very well see patients without Cael, could I? He always did most of the work.”
Kostya bowed down and kissed her hand. “Good. Good, thank you.” He reached up and they held each other for a moment. “As soon as we know Nessabha is okay, we’ll move you back into the house. No point in getting both of you sick.”
He sat back and held her hand again.
“Yes, my pyari?”
“Do you mind if… I still feel pretty weak form all of this excitement. Do you mind if I rest awhile?”
“No, of course.” They hugged again. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
He helped her settled back down into the bed, and she watched him as he flipped off the light and left her alone in the darkness.
So it was back to this life, then? No work, no “unnecessary exertion,” no stress, no excitement. Cael leaves and they can’t wait to lock her back up in a sterile, boring room. Ilya turned onto her side and stared into the blackness. For her protection, clearly; always for the protection of their precious, fragile girl.
She thought of the first time she heard news of the hapless foreigner. Too stupid to stay out of trouble, too nice to leave the wounded behind and avoid getting arrested; that was what she heard her cousins laughing about. Her mother saw the possibilities immediately, of course. After her bed ridden year of pregnancy and postpartum, all Ilya could see was a chance to get off the family property; a moment to spend away from her smothering, doting husbands and the emotional extremes of a demanding, sickly infant.
The fact that Cael took her for granted was even refreshing in the beginning. He never acted as if she were in danger of fainting any moment. His gaze never took on the intense stare of an examination, looking for signs of anemia or illness with every encounter. If he was to be saddled with her as an assistant, she had to catch up with the needs of their little clinic.
With Cael, Ilya’s work was important, her opinions were respected, or at least they had been until recently. It was a strange dichotomy, he cared less and made her feel more important. She wasn’t just some rare pet whose whims had to be tolerated; to ensure she is protected and able to breed, to produce more.
She tossed the sheets aside and rolled to her other side with a sigh. Her eyes were adjusting to the faint line of light emanating from under the door, and she could just make out the outline of her mother’s altars.
But maybe that’s just what she was to him; a pet of her mother’s whom he dutifully watched over while she “assisted” him at the office.
The thought struck her so hard in the stomach, she sat up convulsively.
What if he had only been tolerating her this entire time? She could imagine him being so desperate to leave in the end, it was no wonder he jumped at the chance with Alberich. Kostya was right; it was best she that she left the man alone. Not that she was planning on going after him. A foreigner such as Cael, with a shady past such as his, could no doubt take care of himself. It had worked out for him so far, hadn’t it? Until he got himself arrested on this little planet, she supposed.
Ilya let herself flop back down to the pillows. He was too nice. That was his problem. If he had been meaner, she would have gladly bid him farewell. He wouldn’t even have been in that bar long enough to get arrested in the first place, and she would never have heard of him. But was that really so bad, being too nice? Maybe he had only tolerated her, but he’d made her feel appreciated and independent.
No, she thought, his real problem now was that his problems weren’t HIS problems, they were Alberich’s. Ilya was easy enough to escape, but this Lukas was a different animal. Cael may have gotten into trouble before, but Alberich’s trouble may be beyond his abilities.
But… if she were there, maybe… maybe she could help him. If she could trust this Lukas at his word. Return the favor for her three years of freedom, however false they seemed in hindsight. Maybe he would be willing to stay a while before leaving again. Say goodbye, and give her time to prepare for a return to this life of stillness so it wouldn’t feel so suffocating. Maybe her mother’s idea of another child wasn’t so crazy. Her stomach cringed at the memory of her first. No, she wouldn’t have to think about that right now, anyway.
But was she really thinking of joining Lukas, this shadow that caused such terror in her life already? Ilya curled into a ball and hugged her knees. Maybe… Kostya had admired her bravery just for talking to him. Maybe she was braver than she thought.
Don’t be stupid! He doesn’t need you, remember?
She imagined him floating in the vast sky, a metal spec of a ship indiscernible from the stars; so frustratingly arrogant and cowardly, and vulnerable to the endless, cold vacuum; with Lukas racing after him.
Ilya had thrown off the sheets again and had slipped on her shoes and coat in the dark before she realized what she was doing. Her feet found their own way tiptoeing down the hall and the steps to the back door. She found her cousin’s truck parked there, and in its bed, her bike. She dragged it down as quietly as she could in her weakened state, and peddled it off the compound before starting the engine. All the while, she tried desperately to keep her mind free of thought, to let her body do the acting. If she was going to do this, she couldn’t delay any longer. Lukas may have already taken off, for all she knew, and then her decision would be made for her.
As she approached the city lights, she couldn’t help but see how pretty they were. The familiar skyline blurred with the tears in her eyes, and a thought slipped through wondering how long it would be before she saw those lights again.
Lukas’s ship looked like a single, sleek, black wing. Its surface was glossy and reflective like a dark mirror. He leaned casually against the hatch that dropped down in the back, and watched Ilya as she walk her bike up to him across the dock platforms. She stopped as the wing’s shadow fell across her.
“I haed a feeling I’d saee you again.”
“Just,” bring him back to me, she thought, “take me with you.”