The whole flight they were silent, both thinking after their own revelations.
When they landed in an alley not far from the hotel and Mildred hid the broom back inside her bag Alec regarded her curiously. Mildred followed after him into the hotel where they bypassed the reception and drove back up to their suite. When they entered he motioned for her to sit down on the couch and offered her something to drink. She agreed to water while he grabbed the bottle of straight vodka.
They sat on the couch in silence, no one really willing to start.
Finally Mildred breathed in and told him: “I think I’m the more obvious one, so I’m gonna start.” She took a deep breath and played with the hem of her shirt. “I’m a witch.”
After a few tense seconds she looked up and she saw the guarded look of her father who motioned for her to continue. So she did. She told him her story from the beginning. On how when she was small there had been moments, when strange thing around her happened, how one day her friend Maud had crashed into her on her balcony and how she realized that she was a witch. Her entrance exam and her admittance to Miss Cackle’s academy for witches after she had somehow saved the school from the evil Agatha Cackle. Her adventures and how she met her other best friend Enid and all their adventures after, how desperate she was to find out if she came from a witching family because she was the only and first one to have ever come from a non-witching family and how it made her feel, what had happened to her and finally how she found his face on her family tree. How she worked to find him and how she finally did. She ended her tale and finally turned around to look at him.
Alec had barely said a word, but with every passing sentence he lost the tension in his shoulders, laughed out loud when Mildred told him of the funnier ones of her adventures and raised disapproving eyebrows when he heard how she was sometimes treated. In the end he smiled at her, shaking his head good naturedly.
“Well, that answers a lot of my questions,” he replied. “Like how you knew my name when only a handful of people do and how you found me and entered my suite.”
His smile turned sombre. “I guess it’s my turn now.” So he did. And she could barely believe her ears. So fantastic was his tale. How he came to England and entered the military after he was orphaned, how he worked his way up until he became part of MI6 and then he hesitated. But he sighed and said that even though this was highly classified and way above her clearance, he shot her a playful wink at that, making her giggle, it would be only fair to tell her the truth. So he told her of the double 0 program, how he gained his status as 006 and his license to kill. He told her how the missions took him around the world, never giving him much time to rest, not like he wanted to, and how he always put his life on the line.
He ended his tale and averted his eyes, not knowing how Mildred, his daughter, would react to it. “So I guess that makes me just a murderer for hire after all.” He admitted with a kind of self-loathing he had never felt before. He felt bitter and unworthy and stared in disgust at his hands. In his eyes they were tainted with blood. So much blood that they were coloured black. He realized that he wouldn’t be worthy of the innocent and amazing girl next to him. A girl so special, she belonged into another world. A girl so special he didn’t deserve to hold her with his blood stained hands or even look at.
Alec was afraid of her reaction, so he avoided looking at her. A few seconds past and Alec was sure that Mildred would be disgusted with him, probably planning on flying back and forgetting their meeting after all, when small soft hands covered his.
Surprised he looked up and stared into the soft face of his daughter. Mildred looked at him, her eyes shining with unshed tears and giving him such a warm smile that he felt his breath stop and at the same time warmth spreading inside him. Something he had never felt before.
“I don’t think you are a cold-blooded murderer.” She said and glided next to him, her should touching his arm. She still looked at him and held his hands.
When Alec didn’t answer she explained: “Well, maybe you kill people, but it’s not like this is all you do, right?” As the agent still refused to say anything Mildred shrugged her shoulders. “Your missions aren’t just killing people. They are more about information gathering, saving innocent people and preventing bad guys from hurting the civilians, right?”
Mildred threw him another smile. “So you take the most dangerous missions, but not to hurt people but to save them. I think that’s awesome.” She grinned at him. “I think that even makes you some kind of hero, don’t you think?”
The Russian stared at her dumbfounded. He had never thought about it that way. Sure, in a way this was true, but he had always thought about all the bodies he left on his way, making it so slippery and dark that he couldn’t see the ground anymore. He only thought about how killing a person didn’t even make him flinch anymore, he saw it as just another part of the job. Just another thing he had to do. He had only thought of all the wounds he had suffered all his life, all the pain, all the loss. How he sometimes woke up in the middle of the night sweating, heart pounding and adrenaline cursing through his veins. How he would wake up at the slightest sound because he had to expect an enemy attack at all times. How missions were the only times where he really felt something. How his feelings had stopped existing. How he drank more than he should just to forget his life and worries and everything happening to him. And finally, how lonely he was.
How, every time he left the plane and saw happy faces around him, reuniting with families and loved ones, but no one waiting for him and how every time he left the airport another part of his heart splintered. How his apartment was in the best part of London, penthouse with an amazing view but utterly lonely and void of life. How it looked straight out of a luxury magazine, all furniture high class and expensive but without any warmth. How his rooms were plenty but with no familiar or personal touch, no pictures, no mementos, nothing. It looked exactly like it did when MI6 had first moved him in and had designed it for him.
He didn’t know how to tell her that the last 24 hours with her had held more warmth and more emotions and having her next to him this hotel suite felt more like home than anything else he ever possessed.
He didn’t know how to tell her that he already regarded her as his daughter, as something so precious and special and that he would love to share his cold apartment with her, letting her decorate it like she wanted and finally turning this cold place into a real home.
But at the same time he felt like it would be selfish. He was egoistical, greedy and selfish by nature but something about her wanted to make him be different. He wanted to be a person she could be proud of. Someone she could call her father wholeheartedly and say it with gleaming eyes. Yet his job was dangerous. It put everyone at risk that would be close to him, making them a prime target for revenge. He didn’t want anything to happen to her. She didn’t deserve it. She deserved better.
Yet he hesitated to tell her this. He didn’t want to tell her that it really would be better for all parties involved if they would just stay as far away from him as possible. That they would be saver this way. That they wouldn’t have to worry about enemies coming after and trying to hurt them. That he was just a monster who had sold his body to England.
It was his job to use his body as a shield and weapon to the country. It didn’t matter what they wanted, he had to give it. Be it a soldier, a diplomat, a spear or a whore, what the country needed he would be. It wouldn’t be fair to involve this small family.
Yet he couldn’t stop imagining how it would be like. To come home to Mildred, smiling at him and waiting until they could eat, watching movies together or just sitting together. A normal domestic life. He didn’t know how it worked, he never really had one, but that didn’t stop him from imagining it.
Mildred didn’t realize the plight her father was in and just continued to talk: “I think that’s awesome what you’re doing. I mean, it must take a lot of courage and knowledge to pull this off, right? So I think you’re awesome.” She grinned at him.
Alec, finally out of his dark thoughts, smiled at her. “And you don’t have any concerns about it? I have quite a few enemies and there is always the possibility that they could find out about you and go after you.” He asked, still not really believing that she would just accept him like this.
Mildred shrugged her shoulders. “Well, I’m sure it’s not gonna be easy, but honestly? I don’t really think it’s going to be that bad. I mean, I’m not exactly normal either.” She smiled at him. “And that makes it kind of handy, don’t you think? You seem to be really worried about me getting hurt.”
Alec sighed. “Yes I do. You might not really understand it but I really do have a dangerous life. It’s impossible to plan, I’m never home and worst of all, it’s unpredictable. You can never know what might happen next. That is not something you really need to be a family.”
But Mildred only sighed. “So what? I’m at school most of the time anyway. I only really come home for vacation. So it’s not like we would be able to see each other often even if you had a desk job. And I’m not something you call normal either. I mean, I’m a witch! I do witchy things!”
She was now waving with her hands around to prove her point. “Like flying on a broom stick and playing witch ball with my friends. Brewing potions and wearing pointy hats and turning things into animals and back or charming people into things. It’s not like I’m sitting around totally helpless, too.”
Alec looked at her waving around and trying to prove her point. He realized that she really wanted to make this work. And honestly? He wanted it, too, but he was scared. He was scared of getting attached and then suddenly losing her. Like everything else in his life. Yet she made him want to try. His mind was raging a war with his heart. His mind screaming at him that it would be a terrible idea, that he would just drag innocent people down with him and getting everyone hurt. Yet his heart was urging him to try. To be selfish and greedy and hold onto her, the little girl made of warmth and sunshine which had melted his walls in such a short time, telling him to finally let someone in, to ease the pain and finally chase away the loneliness he had felt since he had lost his parents.
And finally, to prove his nagging fear wrong and prove to himself that he would be a better father than his was to him. To prove everyone, but most importantly to himself, that he was capable and not like him and that he could do it.
“What’s ‘witchball’?” He asked her instead in hopes of giving himself just a bit more time to think.
Mildred paused but sighed. “It’s a game. A mix between volleyball and basketball, but we play it without touching the ball.” She explained.
Alec’s eyebrows rose. “How do you play it without touching the ball?” He asked incredulously and Mildred threw him a pointed look. “Right. Forget I asked. Magic.”
Mildred shook her head. “You’re changing the subject.” She countered and grabbed his hands again, squeezing them. He squeezed back despite his better judgement.
“You’re scared that something might happen to me. But you forgot that I’m not completely defenceless. I have my magic. If someone tries to hurt me, I can turn him into a mouse. Or a frog. Or a pig. And I’m not afraid of either of those animals. And if you’re so worried about me, wouldn’t it be better to keep an eye on me, just to make sure?” She explained and looked at him imploringly. “Why don’t you give us a chance?”
Alec couldn’t answer. He knew she was right. Yet he was still afraid. But his heart was winning. His resistance was crumbling and he knew she had won. And he saw that she realized that she had won.
Finally he nodded. And was awarded with the brightest and widest smile yet.
“I don’t know what it’s like,” he whispered. “I don’t know what it’s like to have a daughter.”
Mildred’s smile softened and she hugged him. Alec hesitatingly laid his arms around her before he gave in and pressed her close to his body, burying his nose in her hair and just breathing.
Mildred whispered: “I don’t know either.” She hugged him harder. “What it’s like to have a father.”
They just sat there, enjoying the closeness and feeling how all the puzzle pieces finally seemed to click.
“But,” Mildred continued, “We’re going to find out together, okay?”
Alec took a deep breath and nodded.