Charles Adair found his daughter in one of the smaller libraries, tucked away in a plush chair reading a large tome that centered on physics, specifically as applied to gravity; which he found odd. Not the choice of reading, that made perfect sense given the development of her abilities. No, what was strange was that it was Christmas Day and she had made no effort to seek him out. Normally she made at least cursory attempts to pull him from his office, if for nothing else than lunch. Today, as she had this entire break, Alice left him alone; so much so that Charles had worked himself into a fine state of hunger without even realizing it.
Charles was not a foolish man. He understood that keeping Alice at an emotional arm’s length might one day cause her to pull away. Still, he’d expected that to come in her teens, the most difficult of years, or when she’d first gone off to college and tasted independence. Instead, it seemed to have come at the end of her sophomore year, and she was showing no signs of changing course. He’d known it was inevitable, necessary really, yet all the same he felt a strange pang in his stomach as he watched his daughter curled in a chair, eyes darting methodically across the pages.
She really did look so much like her mother.
“I seem to have worked through lunch.”
Alice looked up from the book, no signs of surprise on her face. Either she’d known he was there, or such reaction had been trained out of her by the Lander staff. “You did. I had one of the cooks run to your office to let you know everything was ready, but the door was shut and you didn’t answer.”
Of course, had she been the one to come get him, she’d have opened it without a second thought. That had been their dance for years now, her barging into his life while he tried to keep her at bay. Charles was beginning to wonder if perhaps he had drawn more from that strange arrangement than he realized.
“Ah well, I must have been caught up in something important. I assume they’ve kept everything warm?”
“As always.” Alice’s tone carried no venom; such an addition would have been superfluous. The word choice alone drove her meaning with the force of a stake through the heart.
“Alice, you know I don’t enjoy all this work, don’t you? I don’t take pleasure in working through the holidays, or in so rarely getting to see my own daughter. What I do is necessary. I may not be an active Hero anymore, but my company and abilities still help safeguard this country; even if it’s the economy instead of individual citizens.”
“My Subtlety professor once taught us an interesting theory: ‘A person will lie with their words, face, and even actions. What they can’t lie through is their habits. No one keeps doing things they hate, not long-term. Human, Super, Powereds, everyone eventually weasels out of things they dislike. You want to know what matters most to someone? Look at their habits.’”
“Interesting thought,” Charles said. “A bastardization of Machiavelli?”
“So far as I know, it’s a Pendleton original.”
Charles Adair winced at that name, only for a moment, but Alice’s efforts in Subtlety had not been wasted. Charles could tell she saw the twitch, the unintentional reaction to the word ‘Pendleton’. True, she had no idea what it meant, but she’d seen it all the same. Alice was growing more dangerous with every passing day.
“I suppose I can’t entirely dispute that. I do love knowing I am helping our country, making a safe world for my child to grow up in. Even if you can’t always see it, Alice, so much of what I do has been for you.”
“Maybe it has been. I know so little about what you do; it’s hard for me to judge.”
“Be fair, much of the work I do is incredibly classified. It’s not like I keep you in the dark out of joy.”
“So that’s to protect me too.” Alice shut her book and set it down, leaning forward in the large chair. She locked eyes with her father, and for the first time Charles saw Alice Adair as more than his Powered daughter who’d cried for hours every time she fell from the ceiling. Staring into her fierce green eyes, he realized his child had grown up into a powerful woman, capable of commanding respect and fear, with the strength to back it up if she didn’t receive them. Simultaneously, Charles’s heart was broken and filled with joy. He never wanted this life for Alice, but it reassured him to know she’d manage to survive when he was gone.
“Yes, dear. To protect you, and the country, and the billions of citizens who depend on what we do. You don’t have to like it; I don’t even ask that you respect it. Just try to understand that sometimes personal sacrifice is required to serve the greater good. As an aspiring Hero, I suspect that’s something even your Professor Pendleton would agree with me on.”
“I think as long as you were disagreeing with me, he’d be on your side,” Alice said.
Charles would have loved to explain to her how Sean Pendleton would sooner swear off scotch and sarcasm than even find himself on the same side as Charles Adair, but such explanations would require opening old wounds and stories, ones best left undisturbed for now. She was already glaring at him with too much suspicion; clearly she either knew something or thought she did. Best to offer her as little to go on as possible.
“Then perhaps that education isn’t entirely inadequate after all,” Charles said. “I’m going to have a late lunch. Would you care to join me?”
“No, thank you. I was planning to go visit Mom.” Her eyes never wavered, never flicked away. She was watching him, watching for any sign of a reaction to that statement.
“Take some flowers from the garden,” Charles said. “Planting one was her idea, you know. When we were young and poor she would often talk about the lavish garden she’d like to one day have. Though she was gone by the time I built this house, I still tried to give her one.”
“You never told me that.” All of Alice’s suspicions were gone, momentarily purged in the sudden onset of emotion at hearing a hidden detail from her mother’s past. Alice was strong, but not so hardened that her emotions couldn’t still be played against her.
“I didn’t? Perhaps you’re right. When we lost her, I found even talking about Shelby too difficult to bear. After all these years, silence has become my habit, but that isn’t fair. Not to you, or to her memory. I tell you what, after lunch, we’ll go into the garden together to pick flowers and visit her. I can tell you which were her favorites.”
“I… I’d love that.” Alice rose from the chair and walked over, all thoughts of interrogation abandoned.
“Then that is what we will do.” Charles put his arm around his daughter’s shoulders and kissed the top of her head, just like when she’d been that crying child so many years before.
Someday he would tell her everything that had happened. Someday, when she was strong enough. Someday… but certainly not on Christmas.