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After the War

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”Your dad is a Disney princess,” Cindy said, looking at the scene with slight incredulity.

Jenny laughed, and the deer started with the sound before running towards the woods. John merely turned towards the sound and smiled at his two ladies.

”You should see him in a dress,” Jenny said.

”A dress,” Cindy stated, with obvious doubt.

”She was a little girl,” John said, reaching them, and patting last of the grain off his hands. ”She wanted tea parties.”

Jenny shrugged, but smiled at her dad with fondness no tween should have when being reminded of her childhood games.

”And I had promised to be both a mother and a father to her. So if that meant I needed to wear a dress and lipstick to attend a dolly tea party, then I wore a dress to a dolly tea party.”

”Tell me there are photos,” Cindy implored.

”I'm sure he'd wear the dress for you if you asked nicely,” Jenny said, way too innocently, and this, finally, made John splutter.

*

Cindy just sort of never went away. At first because she was their pilot, then because someone needed to look after them when Jenny wouldn't let go of her father for a while, her fear and trauma hitting her bad.

So Cindy took them home, her home, the tiny apartment she had so painstakingly decorated, and fed them, and cleaned after them, asking herself all the while what the hell did she think she was doing, acting like a servant.

But then John would look up with all the gratitude and admiration on his surprisingly open face, and Cindy would smile, pat his shoulder, and tell him to get some rest.

The next day Jenny asked to go home.

"Are you sure?" John checked, and yeah, he told Cindy about how they were taken, so she couldn't help but echo his doubts.

"I want home," Jenny repeated, with the obstinance she had to have learned from her father, the same trait that had helped her survive her ordeal and even escape, and that was that.

Cindy drove them to the mountains and helped them clean.

She did have her job, so she did leave at some point... but it seemed natural and expected to come back after. Soon she had a change of clothes in the cabin they were renovating. Then a spare work uniform. After that, a favourite coffee cup, one Jenny and John bought for her, with a picture of Snoopy flying his doghouse on it. It was silly as hell, and she couldn't tell which Matrix' sense of humour it represented. She loved it.

*

Jenny still had nightmares, of course, and John found her a therapist.

”I'm surprised,” Jenny said.

”Why?”

”I just... you look like such a macho stereotype, and therapy is...”

”Something soldiers get after traumatic experiences, if they are lucky.”

”Okay, I'm pretty sure I love you, you know that?”

”Because I believe in therapy?” John asked but he was smiling pretty widely by then.

”Because you are a goddamn Disney princess. Come here, Matrix.”

Soldiers were also pretty good at following orders. Cindy had no complaints on that account.

*

It took them days to even kiss the first time. But somehow everything they'd shared had already made them closer than most couples were by the time they considered cohabitation. You can learn a lot about someone in a crisis, and, testosterone aside, Cindy had learned that John Matrix was a man you didn't let go easily, even if you only wanted him as a friend.

There were the obvious cons – the kidnapping, the killing, the wanton destruction... but there were the positives too. His love for his daughter, his worrying over Cindy, the way he trusted her from the start, and even after she'd betrayed him... the way he looked without a shirt...

In the end the pros outweighed the cons big time.

And Jenny liked her too, which just made it easier. She liked Jenny too, the little badass. It was so easy to become a ”them” with them, the fluid transition into a family.

You also learned a lot of a person sharing routine with them, and Cindy grew to love her routines with John and Jenny. They learned to expect that every Saturday was a spaghetti day after she moved in, just as they'd done in her family, and she learned to experiment with fish dishes, even if she left the fishing for the other two.

They jogged together in the mountains, even if John occasionally had to help Jenny over the rougher spots... and yeah, Cindy too, she wasn't a mountain goat. But John was also open to trying yoga in the sun.

When Cindy decided to leave her job – it was only ever going to be temporary anyway, and now that she had a family it took her away from it too often, not to mention the pain in the ass commute – they both helped her study for her exams.

”You can help people with your body,” she explained to John. ”I want to do it with my mind and knowledge.”

”I am all for someone making sure the scumbags that stay alive stay behind bars,” John merely replied, and bought her another coffee mug, this one with some German lawyer from a TV series she had never heard of.

*

As easy as it was, it was surreal too at times. Here she was, turning into her mother, worrying over her family while cooking massive amounts of food – because holy hell could John get through a lot – without ever learning to be a part of a couple first.

But she couldn't ever picture it happening any other way. The John she loved was the John who was already a father, already willing to do everything for the little girl that was his whole life. Was he this big softy with animals before her? She didn't think so. She knew he had to have learned form the girl as much as she had learned from him.

(Jenny was helping her with her karate lessons, and John was teaching them both to shoot.)

(And as much as Cindy wanted to keep Jenny away from anything that even hinted at violence, she could not ever fault him for wanting her – them both – prepared for everything.)

And he let Jenny fly with her, trusted Cindy to keep them both safe in the little plane that had somehow arrived, registered in her name. And Jenny loved flying with her.

She couldn't imagine being without Jenny either, no matter who gave birth to her.

*

“Do you really still have the dress?” Cindy asked after he had caught her breath, snuggling up to him in the bed after the first time they made love.

John laughed, and his whole body shook, making her own exhausted body try to have ideas.

“It wasn't really a dress,” he confessed. “It was a curtain I wrapped around myself with a belt.”

“And the lipstick?”

“She had a doll's make up kit. She applied it.”

“You are a very good father.”

“Had to become one. She was... not a surprise, not an accident, she was a miracle. A gift.”

“And... her mother?” She didn't know what she was expecting, why she had taken so long to ask. But she obviously had no room in their lives, no photo in Jenny's room, so either they had lost her in a really traumatic way or... or she'd never been there.

“She... did not consider her a gift.”

“Look, if you want to tell me, I'm here. If you don't, you never need to. Unless you killed her, and are planning to do the same for me in which case, do tell me. You promised you would.”

John turned so that their bodies disengaged for a moment, and just for that moment she was actually worried she had insulted him. But he only moved them so he could look at her face, and the smile was tender, almost sweet. Something she'd only ever seen him looking like when he was looking at Jenny.

“We weren't together, not really. I was seldom in the country, and seldom for long, or in a very good condition. So we were... long term casual. But I knew she was telling the truth when she told me she was pregnant and the baby was mine.”

He closed his eyes, as if entranced in the memory. “She said, my body, my choice, but you get a vote. Do you want a kid? Just to be clear, the offer does not include me.”

He opened his eyes to meet her gaze again. “I was afraid. I have never in my life been as afraid as I was that moment. If I said no, we would both go back to the life as it was, me flying all over the world, fighting other people's wars, she my port of call when ever I was in town. If I said yes... everything would change.”

“But you said yes.”

“I lost my parents when I was young, everyone else was behind the iron curtain. My team was all the family I had, but they were... it's not the same. And suddenly when she said that, all I could think about was having a family. Having something permanent to come back to, and I wanted it more than I'd even wanted to get out of East Germany.”

“So you said yes, and she carried the baby to term.”

“I was able to be in the country for the birth, and the first time I met her... everything changed, for real. She was not 'something permanent' to keep me home, she was a person, a tiny person, who would rely on me for everything, and I was even more scared. But I loved her already.”

“And her mother?”

“She didn't want to meet her, afraid she would feel as I did, and not be able to leave and go back to her life as she wanted.”

“Were you angry with her for it?”

“She had given me this miracle even though it meant she needed to take a year off from her own life, her own plans. I couldn't understand it, but I never blamed her for it. I swore to this new born little wailing thing I would be enough for her, I would be her mother and her father, enough family for her for always.”

Then his smile widened, and he looked at Cindy with so much love it made her lose her breath. “I am glad I was wrong.”

She didn't dare to hope he actually meant what she thought it meant.

“I am glad there was someone waiting to be a family with us.”

“Sap,” she said, but she was blinking too rapidly to hide how much that had affected her.

He opened his mouth, with the wicked glint in his eyes, and she stopped him with a hand on his lips. “No. Don't. Not this time. Do not spoil the moment with a stupid quip. Let me bask.”

*

Of course it wasn't the last time. It never would be, Cindy feared.

The first time it happened, seven months into their new lives, Jenny was as close to hysterics as she ever was, screaming that “you promised! You promised! You promised never again!”

“There is another little girl taken from her father,” John explained with grimness underneath his supposed calm, and Cindy wanted to strangle the General for doing this to him, to them. He had known just what to say to get John back.

But Kirby wasn't the only soldier she was mad at. She didn't know which pissed her off more – the fact John was just assuming she'd drop everything to stay with Jenny, or the thought he might not trust Jenny to her care. But after he had talked with Jenny he turned to her, worry now openly on his face.

"I'm sorry, I know you have the thing this weekend, but can you stay with her? Or take her with you? You are the only one I trust to keep her safe."

And the anger was gone, the fear it was masking all that remained. "Two days. After that, we'll come after you," she said, pulling him close to a hug.

He was good at hugs, and she was sure that had only come after Jenny too. He even allowed Cindy to be the big spoon some times – even needed her to do that, and the trust he kept showing him day after day, week after week, month after month kept reinforcing the fact her decision which was never even consciously made was the right one.

"After two days, I would need you to."

*

“Stay safe, Jenny,” John said at the door, crouching to meet his daughter's serious gaze and to receive the tight hug. “Be good.”

Then he turned to Cindy, smiling, and saying the same. “Stay safe.”

She kissed him and held him close for a while, her hold as tight as Jenny's had been.

“What, no telling me to be good?” she joked.

“I already know you're good,” John said, and left with a wink.

Jenny was laughing in a way no tween should when hearing a reference to her parent's sex life.

Then the laughter died, and she took Cindy's hand, squeezing it as tight as she'd hugged her father, and turned to share a tremulous smile with her. Cindy's heart was in her throat for the fear, but also swelling with love for her charge.

Fine. Parents' sex life.

“Come on, let's secure the perimeter.”

*

The marriage was an afterthought, almost, just something they got out of the way so that Jenny's little sister's name and status was clear.