“I don’t know. There’s just something .. restful about it.”
Alex nodded slowly. “It’s probably – and I’m taking a big guess here – because it’s so totally different from the day job.”
“Not that different,” Nick remarked. “It’s thorough, painstaking, you can’t cut any corners and, when you get to the end of the day, you do know you’ve made a difference.” He shrugged. “Another wall’s been painted.”
She grinned. The work on the new house was progressing. Merlin’s timeout was nearly over so the progress was also due to slow right down.
“How is Peri?” she asked. “I’ve hardly seen her since she woke up from that coma.”
“She’s good. She’s really enjoyed these last few months. If I didn’t know better .. I’d say she doesn’t wanna go back to work,” Nick replied.
“We all feel like that during a vacation. Okay, I know renovating a house from scratch isn’t exactly lazing on a beach, but it isn’t the work she usually does. But, when we do go back, we tend to enjoy it.”
Nick wasn’t at all sure Alex had the right spin on it. Merlin had been .. not different exactly but she’d really been down and had thrown herself into the work on the house. The third floor was finished, the first floor was nearly done, and only the second floor was still a shell. But that had carpets in all the rooms. They’d moved in to one of the top floor bedrooms until theirs was finished. She’d spent a fortune on furniture and drapes. It looked fantastic. Nick had put in the hours too. Every night and weekend. It felt like home now. Angel Island was the place where he came to work.
“Is she really okay?” Alex frowned. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say she’s a little depressed. And that just isn’t like Peri. Things are okay between you guys, aren’t they?”
And that was the truth. Merlin had leaned on Nick like she’d never leaned before and he’d relished the experience while hating the reason why. Their marriage had grown closer, stronger. They’d each seen into the other’s heart and soul, and liked what they’d found there.
“She can always talk with Rachel,” Alex suggested.
“If she wants,” Nick agreed. “When’s Derek due back?”
Alex heard the hint and took it. Enough with the personal questions. She knew Nick knew the answer to that question but she answered it anyway.
“Tomorrow. His plane gets in at one thirty.”
Rachel had come to the same opinion as Alex and had called round on impulse. It was her first visit to the new house and she was very impressed with the exterior. Merlin opened the door and blinked in surprise.
“Rachel! Is there a problem?”
“No, not at all. I was .. just passing an’ I thought … You know I’m lying. Okay. You’ve seemed down the few times I’ve seen you since you woke up. I thought I’d call by an’ see how you are .. plus sneak a look at all this work I’ve heard so much about.”
“Sure. Come on in. Not the size of Derek’s place but, when it comes to decorating, it sure feels bigger.”
“He never has to paint,” Rachel commented in sympathy. “He has acres of wood paneling.” She stepped into the foyer. “Wow .. it’s fabulous.”
“It’s a lot lighter than it was. Burgundy wallpaper and gilt made it feel so small and this is a wonderful entrance. Thru here is the lounge. The small lounge. That’s one we’ve finished. The big lounge is over there and still resembles a construction site. You want some coffee?”
“Love some. So .. how have you been?”
“Peri, you’re not sounding like the Peri I know.”
Merlin shrugged. “I’ve had a lot on my mind, Rachel, but I’m okay.”
“Is it Nick? Has he been giving you a hard time?”
“No, he’s been like a rock.”
“Is it because – ?”
“It’s personal. I won’t talk about it. Yes, I’ve been a little down but I know why an’ I’ll get thru. Honestly, you don’t have to worry about me.”
“I’m worried that you’re overdoing it in this house. You’ll be back at work soon an’ you’ve had no time to relax.”
Merlin looked around at the pale walls, elegantly modern furniture, sheer drapes and tasteful carpets. “Yeah. I have.”
Murray Snowden put down the phone and stared blankly at the wall for several long minutes. Then he shivered abruptly and roused himself. This was not normal. He couldn’t believe it was happening. He walked quickly from the cramped room he called his office and, as he moved along the passage, broke into a run. He slipped in his haste as he went into his bedroom and reached to the top of the closet for his suitcase. Throwing it on the bed, he began to toss clothes into it. Murray was running, yes. Running for his life.
“I still say it isn’t necessary,” Derek protested but there was a lack of fight in his voice. It was the voice of a man who could see defeat looming.
“And I understand why, Derek, I really do. But we have to face facts, don’t we?” Paul Emery responded. “Since Philip Callahan left, you’ve had a vacancy.”
“Kristin Adams – ”
“Filled it, temporarily. But she is no longer there either. You are a man down in your team.” Paul held up a hand. “Nick’s wife doesn’t count. Never has, an’ she’d be the first to say so. She’s very welcome in your house, sure, an’ she does great work for you. But.”
“All I ask is that you give these files some serious consideration,” Paul concluded.
Sighing again, Derek nodded.
Rachel toyed with her cup. She listened carefully to what Merlin was telling her as she spoke of the house and the pool, and the work they’d finished, how much they’d loved doing it because they’d done it together and had fun together, and how much was still to finish. But Merlin wasn’t saying what Rachel wanted to hear. There was a problem. Some, no doubt small, piece of grit was fouling the smooth working of the machine.
“Peri,” Rachel began into the eventual silence.
Rachel couldn’t put her finger on it. The voice was the same. Cheerful, upbeat, the exact same dry sense of humor which was almost cynical but definitely wry. The face was the same. No lines of strain, the mouth didn’t turn down in unguarded moments. The body language was positive and the eyes were just as sharp and as bright. Her hands didn’t fidget. There were no clues at all, no pointers to give Rachel an idea.
“When you were in the hospital and I was making the arrangements to have you an’ Derek flown home … ”
“Nick asked me as a friend not to look in your notes. All he’d tell me is that you’d had surgery.”
Rachel waited. Merlin continued to gaze back. “Have you fully recovered from it?” Rachel was forced to ask.
“Yeah. I’m a hundred percent. Fighting fit.”
“An’ have you kept up your training?”
“Every night, without fail. I may be having timeout but I also have a responsibility to stay sharp.”
“You never really do have timeout, do you?”
Merlin leaned forward. “Rachel, where are you going with this? I’ve told you I’m fine. Why can’t you leave it alone?”
“Because,” Rachel replied, opting for total honesty, “there is something different about you. I don’t know what. It’s .. a lotta little things not exactly as I’ve come to expect. You don’t come over to the island as much. Hardly ever.”
“I’ve been kinda busy.”
Rachel shook her head. “Are you looking forward to working again?”
It had been a desperate question, asked to fill an awkward silence. Enforcers and the job were indistinguishable. Looking forward to hunting down evil and killing it .. even Rachel had to admit it was a strange thing to ask. But she got the reaction she wanted. Merlin’s eyes went dull and her mouth turned down.
“Not really, no,” she admitted.
“Why is that?” Rachel was startled. This amounted to almost dereliction.
“I’m not sure. The job itself doesn’t bother me. It’s … ” She looked around the kitchen. “I feel I have unfinished business. That thing with William … It left some loose ends I’m having trouble tidying away.”
“Leaf ..?” Rachel ventured.
“I’m not so much bothered with him.”
“Derek told us – ”
“I’m sure he did but Leaf Langnel .. think about it. Last time Derek encountered him was two decades ago. He isn’t hanging around on the corner. Not his style. He’s the kind who works very much in the background. His plans are laid over tens of years, even centuries.”
“You’re saying that he won’t put in another appearance in your lifetime.”
“No, I’m not saying that. Anything’s possible, after all. I’m saying that, when he does show up again, I’ll have tens of years more experience an’ power. He may be outta my league now but no one can see that far into the future.” She smiled. “Rachel, please. Don’t worry. I know what I have to fix. I’m working on it. If I feel I need your help, I’ll call you.”
“Okay. Well .. I’m here for you. You’ve been here for us. It’s time we paid back the favors however we can.”
“I appreciate it.”
Rachel smiled too. “I have to get going.”
“Thanks for calling by .. an’ now I have an appointment with a paintbrush.”
When Derek got back to his hotel to pack ready for the flight home the next day, he did nothing. His case was open, waiting. He ignored it. Instead, he sat on the bed and spread the files around him.
Serious consideration. It was an almost impossible task. Derek was more than happy with the setup he had in San Francisco. He knew the people, knew them very well, and he trusted them. It was as simple as that. To introduce a new member into the mix … There would be the settling in period, on both sides. And then there would be the resentment. It wouldn’t be overt or necessarily expressed at all, but it would be felt. We’re not doing a good enough job so Derek’s brought in a stranger.
It wasn’t the truth. The truth was that his team was doing a fantastic job and they really didn’t need a fifth member. However, Legacy rules stated five members per house and San Francisco had only four. There was a vacancy and, he’d been surprised to learn, a waiting list of people wanting to fill it. San Francisco had a good reputation – good people, strong people with strong talents, a good mix, a good environment. People wanted to join his team. It was a compliment to all of them.
Derek picked up the first folder and opened it. He scan read the summary and nodded, then picked up the second. Five minutes later, he’d looked at them all and noticed several patterns. They were all existing Legacy members requesting transfers from their present location. They were all fairly young. Early thirties. They were all single. And they were all men.
Derek wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that. He knew he didn’t have a problem with it, nor would Nick. Nick’s position as second in command was not in jeopardy so he wouldn’t get into a pissing contest with an additional male on the team. Rachel and Alex might be slightly offended, however, or they could be interested. Had Paul chosen these men because he thought Derek needed extra strength? If he had, the women may be insulted. Even Nick might protest at that reason.
The least he must do is consider these possible additions. He might even seriously consider them, as he’d been asked. He had time yet. Derek put the folders into his attaché case and turned to packing his bags.
Merlin stepped away and wiped the back of her hand over her forehead. She gave the freshly painted wall a critical inspection and declared it was good. Then, remembering, she checked the time and swore. Nick would be heading home soon and she hadn’t even begun to think about food.
The house had been a godsend. She had done exactly as Rachel had suspected – plowed all her energy into it. Busy hands, busy mind, push away the thoughts she didn’t want to think about, then crash at the end of the day, go training, then wake and start over. She had talked with Nick – long, long conversations. But he couldn’t help her with the fact that .. it was over. The chance would never come again. Of all the possible futures they could have shared, the one as parents was now denied. The truly sickening part was that it had come and gone and she hadn’t even known about it. Yes, she had chosen at a young age to have surgery. She and Nick could have lived with that. Adopted maybe. But to have been healed without knowing, been pregnant without knowing, and to have lost that baby and again had surgery without knowing … The sense of loss was palpable, a living thing. She had never thought about being a mother until nearly three months ago, and now she was finding it very tough to go back to that earlier state of ignorance. She did it thru exhausting herself with work on the house.
And Merlin knew that, soon, this respite would be over as well. She dreaded it. Not the return to work but the return to waiting. To spending that waiting time thinking. She dreaded it because she knew she wouldn’t be able to hide from the loss any longer. She’d have to face it.
“It’s looking great.”
“I really wish you guys could learn to knock,” she remarked without looking back. Merlin headed on down the stairs. “Is he afraid to come here?”
“Not really,” Gabriel replied. “Embarrassed more than afraid. He knows he screwed up big time but he still believes it was what you wanted, deep down inside.”
She nodded. “No ulterior motive about continuing the line.”
“Actually, no. That would’ve been a bonus for us. Anyway, the boss has a lot on right now.”
“Leaf showing up.”
“Well .. yeah. He has to consider what moves to make long term to counter any advances.” Gabriel grinned. “It’s all go. Never any rest.”
“Right. Been there, done that.” She halted to look at him. “So .. why the visit? Come to remind me that my timeout is just about up?”
“No. I’ve come with a proposition.”
“The boss who, I hasten to add, has cleared it with his boss.”
“Sounds important,” she commented in a flat voice. “What’s the job?”
Gabriel paused. “I think you’d better sit down.”
Anna Cowley stepped into a dreary, overcast day which threatened rain but she smiled. She was used to weather in all its forms. It was a backdrop to life, not a barrier. She could work in searing heat, draining humidity, and drenching rainstorms. A uniform blanket of cloud was nothing in comparison.
She approached a waiting cab and the driver opened the trunk for her cases. They were battered and dented, scratched survivors of many a foreign trip. They’d been chairs and tables, and, pushed together, a bed. She’d chosen them for durability and they hadn’t failed her.
On this occasion, however, they were taking a vacation. She settled in back with a vastly satisfied sigh.
“The Saint Francis,” she instructed.
“Honey, I’m home!” Nick called as he went to shut the door by kicking it with his heel and thought better of it. He didn’t get an answer and he frowned.
On every other night, Merlin would appear at a door or on the stairs, bubbling with excitement and the invitation to ‘come see’. But not tonight. He could smell paint – fresh paint and not the background, lingering odor he’d come to feel was a constant element in his life here – but not the aroma of supper.
“Merli? You here?” he shouted.
There was still no answer and he felt a thrill of alarm.
He began to run, bursting thru rooms, one after the other, until he got to the patio out back. Merlin sat on one of the loungers, her face utterly blank. Nick squatted down next to her.
“Merli? Can you hear me, babe?”
She jumped, sucking in a breath. “Nicky! When did you get back?”
“Few minutes. I called.” He watched her. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I’m .. I’m fine. Just a little .. stunned.” She nodded. “Yeah, that’s definitely the word. Stunned.”
Nick took a quick look around but there didn’t seem to be any signs of a fight or intruders.
“What happened?” he demanded in a hard voice.
“Gabriel called by with a message from the boss.” Her eyes rose to his face. “I think you’d better sit down.”
Andrew had, by now, become used to reduced numbers for supper and breakfast. Not including himself, for instance, tonight there were only two – Alex and Rachel, and Rachel wouldn’t be staying overnight. Tomorrow night, it would be three as Derek would be home from Boston where he’d gone to meet with Paul Emery. Andrew was interested to hear what Derek would say when he arrived because he’d gone there to discuss the Forum. Had it worked? Was the format right? More importantly, how had the domestic arrangements been?
He knew enough by now, and especially after his last vacation, to know that an uneventful conference was one measure of success. And the Forum had been extremely uneventful. Professor Ellis had been on hand every day. He hadn’t done much that Andrew could see – just endlessly walked the corridors. Once or twice, they had seemed to call him by another name, or maybe Andrew had misheard. He had wondered about the name. Profelis … It was Latin for some type of animal, wasn’t it? But the Forum had begun, continued and concluded exactly as Andrew had expected it would – on schedule and without hitches. The catering had been exemplary. The rooms were dry, warm and comfortable, and there had been enough. Andrew felt he’d done a great job, but he wanted to hear it confirmed.
He was just overseeing the final preparations for supper when the phone rang. He waited several seconds to hear if Rachel or Alex would get it but it went on ringing.
“Damn,” he muttered then hurried across the kitchen. “Good evening, this is the Luna Foundation. How may I help you?”
“Is Derek there?”
“No, I’m sorry, madam, he’s in Boston,” Andrew replied.
“Oh. When are you expecting him back?”
“Tomorrow afternoon. May I take a message?”
“Thanks, yes. Tell him .. tell him Anna called an’ I’m in town. He promised me a tour an’ I’m holding him to it.”
“Anna. Will he know the name?”
He heard a soft, throaty chuckle. “He should but you can jog his memory. Tell him I haven’t run into any big snakes just lately.”
“Very well, madam. I’ll be sure to tell him.”
“Thank you. I’ll call again tomorrow .. around four.”
The line clicked and Andrew hung up. He paused for a second. Big snakes ..? He shuddered. Best not to speculate.
“Talk me thru it again,” Nick requested in a quiet voice.
“You don’t believe it either,” Merlin commented.
“I want to but I don’t think I do, no.”
“Talk me thru it.”
Merlin went back to the beginning …
She sat down and watched Gabriel’s face. “Well?”
“Let’s play a game of ‘let’s suppose’. C’mon, this is important.”
“Okay, let’s play,” Merlin agreed on a sigh.
“Let’s suppose Michael’s plan hadn’t been … ”
“I was trying to avoid that word to be sensitive to your feelings .. but yeah. Would you have gone thru with it?”
“Yes, I would. Children, a child, is what Nick wants.”
“What about you? You’ve made your feelings very clear on the matter.”
“Where’s this going?” she asked. “It’s just making me feel bad.”
“Let’s suppose,” he reminded.
She sighed again. “I don’t want to raise a child to be what I am but, let’s suppose I did conceive by accident, yeah, I’d go thru with it an’ I would train that child to do this job.”
“Do you want a child?”
Merlin looked around the kitchen. “I guess so. I don’t know, Gabriel. Maybe I just want the chance. Maybe I need to know if I could do a good job as a Mom. But, games aside, it isn’t gonna happen.”
“Sure. You’d .. heal me again.”
“More than that. We could let you conceive a normal child.”
Merlin froze. Then her eyes looked up. “Excuse me ..?”
Gabriel sat opposite her and leaned forward. “Peri, we can’t take your power away. Reuben Meyer wanted that an’ we couldn’t do it. But we can, temporarily, switch it off. You could conceive a child, bring it to term, give birth to it, and it would be a regular child. Then we could switch you on again.”
“It’d be just the one time. After the birth, the .. equipment would wither, die back.”
“Why ..? I mean, why do this for me?”
“Because you’ve always, without hesitation, put yourself on the front line for us. You dealt with Reuben when we couldn’t. You deserve your chance. You’ve earned it. But it has to be your choice to make. Michael won’t authorize this without your full agreement. You need to talk it over with Nick. You need to seriously think about this. You could have the child you want but there are disadvantages too.”
“What are they?” Merlin frowned.
“You wouldn’t be a Flamefall. You’d have no access to any of the abilities the power grants you. You wouldn’t be able to build bridges or bring light. Your senses would be like everyone else’s. You wouldn’t be able to read people’s emotions any more than the next guy on the street can. You wouldn’t be able to detect evil, or to fight it if it jumps up in your face. Aquila would be able to train but she won’t be able to fight. She’ll be isolated, cut off from you and your baby. You’d become vulnerable to injury, pain, illness, disease. In short, you’d be Mrs Average Mortal.”
He shrugged. “Like I said, you need to think seriously about this. We can do it but it has to be your choice. Yours an’ Nick’s.” He rose. “I’ll call back tomorrow.”
Merlin fell silent again.
Nick shook his head. “It seems too easy. It isn’t worth the risk.”
“You could get hurt. You wouldn’t be able to fight.”
“It wouldn’t be permanent, Nick. Only temporary. We could have a child which wouldn’t have to be kept locked away an’ trained every day of its life. It could live a completely normal life .. well, as normal as it can bearing in mind I’m an Enforcer an’ you’re a member of the Legacy.”
“You wanna do this?” he asked quickly.
“I want the chance but, if you don’t, I understand. It’s a massive commitment.”
“I do want it. If it’s with you, yeah, I want it bad.”
“Then .. I guess I tell Gabriel .. to go ahead.”
“Yeah.” He didn’t move for a few seconds then he took her hand and asked the question he never believed he would be able to ask. “Which room should we use for the nursery?”
Derek’s conscience was nagging at him and so, tired and irritable, he took the files from his attaché case again. He knew why he was being so hesitant. Looking at the files didn’t mean he had to choose one of them. Paul hadn’t demanded that of him, only that he look. The inference was there, however. Derek felt it was a risk and an unnecessary one. His team was fine. Bringing in someone else … He was reluctant to do that because .. even though all these potential additions were already Legacy members, he didn’t know them and, thus, didn’t trust them. But that, in itself, was not reason enough to refuse.
Derek knew that each Precept went thru this process and felt these emotions. Someone leaves or has an accident and dies, a replacement is needed. He’d bent those rules when Philip had left because, even now, Derek was convinced that Philip’s departure was only temporary. One day, he’d come back and take his place in the house. The place Derek had deliberately left open for him. It might be wishful thinking but Derek was loyal to his people and Philip Callahan was one of his people. How would he feel if he did select a replacement only to have Philip walk in the door and announce he was returning?
Paul Emery understood all that, yet he’d still asked Derek to assess these candidates who were at the top of the waiting list.
Derek opened the first folder again. Paul Hobbs. A member of the London Legacy house. Age thirty one. Tried and tested. His Precept – Paul Emery – gave him his full support and recommendation. A first class researcher, very thorough in his work. Dark haired, dark eyed. Five feet eleven, one hundred forty three pounds. His background was impeccable.
Derek, Rachel, Alex, Nick and Paul … Derek wrinkled his nose, berating himself for descending to that level. It was like choosing an automobile not on its performance but on the shape of the lights and the color of the upholstery.
He looked at the second. Darius Pickering. A member of the Madrid Legacy house. Age thirty five. Again, tried and tested in the field and with an impeccable background. His mother was a Legacy member. Dark haired, blue eyed. Five feet ten, one hundred fifty pounds. His Precept gave him a glowing report, so glowing, in fact, that Derek was a little suspicious and, again, berated himself for being trite. If Rachel or Alex, or even Nick, ever indicated they wanted to transfer elsewhere, Derek would be fulsome in his praise of them. God forbid he would ever have the need.
He set Darius to one side and picked up the third folder. Scott Gilbert. He sighed as he read it. This was like reading the same résumé over and over – only the faces were changing. Legacy member at the Montreal house. Personally recruited by Elizabeth Melville before she was murdered in London. Scott at least had a degree of psychic ability to make him stand out from the crowd. Five nine, one hundred thirty nine pounds. Fair hair, blue eyes. Age thirty. His Precept offered the opinion that Scott was Precept material.
Nothing like having someone measure your shoes while you’re still in them, Derek mused with a cynical twist to his mouth.
Number four was Marc Westcott. Member of the recently formed Austin Legacy house. Prior to that he’d been in New York where his Precept had been Paul Emery. Again, future Precept material. Paul had personally groomed Marc for the hot seat – all he needed was more experience. At thirty six, the oldest of all the candidates but with a rock solid reputation for being loyal and dependable.
Finally, Derek looked at Steve Anthony. Thirty three. Five ten, one hundred forty two pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes. Member of the New York house. An excellent researcher not afraid to go into the field and who actively sought field assignments. Background in forensic archeology. He could speak three other languages and read two more. The ancient world was his hobby, specializing in the Far East. He’d been in the Legacy for five years, joining after a career in education.
Derek felt that Paul’s best course of action was to establish a new Legacy house somewhere and use these guys as the founding members. That would be far more preferable than appending one of them to his team.
He decided to sleep on it. Maybe, by the morning, his mind would have found the best way of courteously dealing with this and, if it hadn’t, he could read the files again on the flight home.
Derek put them away, siwtched off the light and lay back with a long sigh.
Murray Snowden found himself at the airport with no real idea of where to go. Armed police patrolled the concourse at Heathrow and occasionally they cast a polite glance his way. He couldn’t blame them for taking an interest – he was nervous and sweating, and he hugged his briefcase to his chest. Murray fully expected to be arrested on suspicion of something but he didn’t believe for one second that he’d be safe in custody. He’d have to tell them why he was nervous and they just wouldn’t believe him.
Check out the facts, he’d urge. Look into my story. You’ll know that Professor Daly is dead. He shouldn’t be, but he is. He was fine yesterday when we spoke on the phone. And, two weeks ago, his assistant died. Natural causes, heart failure – that’s what the autopsy said. Right. Heart failure in a perfectly fit twenty eight year old man who never had a day sick in his life. It isn’t natural. I know some people can just drop dead – fit, healthy people .. but then they find they had a problem no one knew about. A weakness. Phil Bateman didn’t have any weaknesses. Neither did George Daly. They both had full medical workups two months ago and checked out as A1.
And Gayle Daly, George’s wife. Explain that one. Nothing wrong with her two months ago either. Now she’s in the hospital on life support. They don’t have much hope. Rebekka Staleygate. George’s other assistant. Lovely girl. Dead these past eight days. Another one who’s dead for no reason.
So why does that make me nervous ? I’ll tell you. I helped George Daly too. Six weeks ago, I was in Egypt. Check my passport. I was there nine days to consult. I helped him. I was there with George, Phil, Rebekka and Gayle. No, I’m not just nervous. I’m bloody scared I’m going to be next.
“Even now .. I can’t believe they can do it. Y’know?”
Merlin nodded. “I said much the same thing. He told me there are any number of precedents. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. She was barren .. and then, lo an’ behold, guess what?”
“Barren is one thing,” Nick commented. “All the equipment’s still there, just not working.”
She didn’t respond. He glanced at her.
“I’m scared. I’m torn, y’know? I want this yet I don’t know if I can cope with .. being normal.”
“I manage,” he grinned. “Every day.”
“I realize that. And it makes me sound so .. arrogant. But … ” She shook her head. “It’s what I’m used to, Nicky. I don’t think about it in the same way you don’t think about breathing. It’s just there. Soon, it won’t be. I’ll feel .. numb, half blind, half deaf. A big piece of me will be shut away so it can’t contaminate our baby. And I won’t be able to help you in your work. I’ll be a definite liability.”
He rolled onto his side and put an arm around her. “Merli, you don’t have to do this.”
She closed her eyes, sighing and frowning.
“Okay, let’s talk it thru,” he said. “On the plus side .. we’d have a child. A normal, regular child. Wouldn’t need training .. beyond what any kid gets to learn. On the minus side .. you’d spend at least forty weeks having what you’ve always dreamed of – a normal life. Okay, you wouldn’t be able to kick ass. You’d be open to .. any bugs going around, same as the rest of us. You’d have only regular senses. It’ll be tough but you’ll know it’s only temporary. The day’s gonna come when it’ll all come back.”
She nodded slowly. “Another minus to think about – if I’m called away suddenly, you’ll get to be Mom an’ Dad till I get back. Will Derek understand?”
Nick grinned. “Are you kidding? Alex an’ Rachel will help out. They’d love to help out. If I don’t ask them, they’ll never speak to me again. Someone invariably has to stay behind at the house. The kid can stay with ’em. Kat’s done it often enough. And she’s old enough now to babysit.”
“All right. Number one minus – what if we both get killed?” Merlin asked. “It could happen, Nick. What then?”
He didn’t say anything for a moment while he thought. “My Dad wasn’t around for me when I was a kid. An’ when he was .. it wasn’t exactly what I’d call fun. I know, now, why that was, but, at the time … It wasn’t till a lot later, an’ I mean a lot later, that I found the family I’d always wanted. Someone to tell me straight when I screwed up but also tell me when I did good. Someone who accepted me as I was. People who cared about me, in good times an’ bad. I think of Derek as a kinda father. If we both get killed, I’d trust him to raise our child. Rachel would be happy to be a surrogate Mom an’ we know she can do it. Alex would be a big sister or aunt. An’ your parents .. they’d help out too. Our kid wouldn’t be left alone, Merli.”
“You’re right. And, of course, we could always come back too. Keep an eye on things.”
“So, that’s all the – ”
“No, it isn’t. We’ve talked about what I want. How are you gonna cope with this? What do you want, Nick? How do you see yourself in .. five years?”
He thought again. “I see myself .. carrying a little kid on my shoulders. Playing catch. Hide an’ go seek. Teaching ’em elementary martial arts. I want to be a Dad,” he admitted. “It’s a bit like getting married, y’know? All those years I could never see myself wearing a ring. Never see myself growing old with one woman. I wanted to but .. I never found the one. Then I did an’ it was all I could think of. Settling down. Growing old with you. Having kids, being a Dad .. similar story. I could never see it happening. None of the women I knew were right. An’, even when I met you, you’d told me the truth. You couldn’t have them. I was okay with that. But now .. yeah, I want you to have my baby. I want us to be parents. With you, it’s right an’ it never was before.”
He tightened his hold. “Still scared?”
“I think it’s natural. It’s a big unknown, Merli. A big chance with no guarantees. But we live with that every day an’ we don’t give up. I believe you’ll be a fantastic Mom. You have so much love to share. So much .. strength, an’ I don’t mean any special ability. You’re strong anyway. You think straight. You live for today, an’ that won’t change. An’ we’ll go thru this together. We’ll make this baby together an’ I’ll be with you every step of the way. We’ll see it into the world together, then we’ll raise it together. It’ll be the biggest adventure of our lives.” He kissed her. “Being scared is all part of it. Trick is, like with every thing else we find scary, is to do it anyway.”
“Leap of faith?” she asked.
“Into the darkness, no safety net. Absolutely.” He waited. “We’ll do it then?”
“Never any doubt,” she smiled.