“Someone is gonna call the cops,” Jack muttered as he hunched down into his jacket and shivered. “Nobody innocent stands around by a couple of empty automobiles on a deserted street at this time of night. Especially in Carmel. Except me because I am innocent. Totally, irrefutably blameless.”
“Hi there,” he nodded, smiling quickly and, to show he was not attempting grand theft auto, waving one hand before it burrowed back into his pocket for warmth. He watched the man stroll along the sidewalk and wished he had a long coat like that.
In the house on the corner, Derek stood as Selene hurried out carrying a suitcase. “Still here?” she asked sarcastically.
“We’re just going. We wanted to see you safely on your way .. and to caution you. I’d forget all about the Legacy if I was you.”
Her gaze flicked to Nick and back. “Or you’ll send your muscle after me?”
“Because pursuing us could get you killed,” Derek replied, “but not by us. We have enough real enemies to fight without having to deal with curious people on the fringes. Our enemies are not so considerate.”
She pushed past them and opened the door, took two steps onto the porch and began to retreat into the house. The man in the long overcoat came up the path toward the door.
“L-Leaf .. I can explain,” she began in a carefully controlled voice which, nonetheless, had a faint edge of desperation to it.
“I’m sure you can. Hello again, Derek. I thought I’d find you here. And Mr Boyle,” he nodded. “You’ve grown a lot since the last time.”
Nick swallowed quickly and wished Merlin was here or one of the other Enforcers. His skin was crawling but he didn’t back away.
Now Derek had a first name for him and it was an unusual one. There again, he was an unusual man. Leaf hadn’t changed one iota in nearly twenty years. His skin was as smooth, as tanned, he was as handsome, his hair still had that glossy sheen. His taste in clothes was just as exquisite.
“You know these people?” Selene whispered.
“They turn up like bad pennies,” Leaf smiled. “Unlucky coins, you could say. Where’s William?”
“They stopped me. I was so close,” she replied. “He was right here, in this room, one step away from completing his journey back from death. That man there, he told me! Another few hours .. I swear, I would’ve had him.”
Leaf nodded. “And then ..? What would you have done with him then, Selene?"
“I-I would’ve given him to you! Like you wanted. Why d’you ask? What use could I have had for him?”
She’d dropped the case and was retreating slowly. Leaf seemed uninterested in Derek and Nick. He moved past them, leaving the door accessible but they didn’t use it. Some kind of macabre curiosity kept them rooted.
“And the suitcase?” he inquired.
“They told me to get out, to leave.” She hit the wall and couldn’t retreat any farther. “I can try again. There has to be another one of those coins – ”
“It was unique.” He glanced over his shoulder at Derek. “I assume you destroyed it?”
“Yes,” Derek nodded.
“A pity. A great pity. Tonight, a plan long in the making has come to nothing. That is really .. very irritating. However, the night isn’t a total waste.”
Nick and Derek tensed but Leaf turned back to Selene.
“I still have you, my dear. And all packed for the journey too. A time saver.” He leaned in closer. “If there is one thing I truly love about humans, it’s their capacity to lie and cheat and to deceive.”
Selene gave a hesitant smile, not sure if he meant it as a compliment or a warning.
He pulled back. “You go on ahead. I’ll follow along shortly.”
“Sure, Leaf. I – ”
He flicked a bored hand and she burst into flame. A shriek started to rip from her throat but it was cut off almost as it began as the fire vanished into the floor, as if sucked away by a giant vacuum pump.
Derek felt bile in his mouth. “She might have been devious and a liar but – ”
“Don’t interfere. She was mine to do with as I chose.”
“Because you seduced her?” Nick asked.
“She was mine long before that, Nick. Can I call you Nick? It’s a nice name.”
“Can I stop you?”
“You could ask me not to. I may listen.”
Nick shrugged. “Whatever.”
Leaf smiled. “Selene was always ambitious and I can always use ambitious people. I’ve watched her career with interest, kept her hungry, made sure she never progressed too far. Wasted talent is such excellent fuel for reckless decisions and hasty action. So it was again this time.” He turned to face them. “And now you’re wondering about your future.”
“It isn’t unreasonable, in the circumstances,” Derek responded.
“I enjoy our little skirmishes,” Leaf remarked, “so I won’t punish you for wrecking my hopes for William Sloan. Be content with that. Believe me, you wouldn’t want to be rewarded either. I’ll just let you walk away .. this time.”
Derek’s knees were like water and he wondered how he was still managing to stand.
“But we will meet again,” Leaf promised. “One day. Of that .. I have absolutely no doubts at all.” He winked and, wrapping his coat around his body, vanished away.
Derek collapsed into an armchair and Nick sagged back against the wall. Both felt sick and also had the strangest feeling that they were very, very lucky to still be here. The air seemed thick to breathe but slowly it passed.
“Er .. guys?” Jack called softly from outside on the sidewalk. “Are you gonna be much longer? Only I’m freezing my ba .. my toes off out here.”
Nick pushed himself upright. “Lucky escape?” he asked cautiously as they headed for the door.
Derek nodded. “This time, yes. Definitely.”
“An’ .. is it over?”
Derek didn’t answer.
William paused, his eyes narrowing. “This isn’t home. Where have you brought me?”
Merlin shrugged. “Derek said that you had few regrets in life but you did have some. This is .. your chance, maybe, to clear one of those regrets. I’ve brought you to the east coast.”
He started forward and halted again. “Patricia ..?”
“You can say goodbye.”
William had to look away for a moment and Merlin smiled gently.
“Under that devious bastard exterior, you’re really just a big teddy bear, d’you know that?”
He laughed gruffly. “Don’t let anyone hear you say that.”
“There’s only you an’ me here. C’mon, let’s get inside.”
They drifted up the steps, across the porch and thru the front door. He looked around and nodded. “I like it. I would’ve felt at home here.”
“Don’t tell me. Tell her,” Merlin urged. “She’s upstairs. Asleep.”
He headed for the stairs and began to climb. “You won’t get into any trouble for doing this, will you?”
“I’m on special assignment. You’re my responsibility until I get you home. Within certain parameters, I have a little room to maneuver.”
He nodded, suddenly nervous. “What do I say?”
“I’m not going in there,” Merlin replied, halting outside the door and folding her arms.
“You have to relay what I’m saying.”
“Oh right. Sure. I appear in her bedroom, wake her up an’ say ‘Patricia, I have William here an’ he says’, she’ll think I’m nuts. She’ll definitely want to know how I got in. No, William, you tell her yourself.”
“Then there’s no point. She won’t hear me.”
“You never see The Sixth Sense ..?” she queried. “This is how it goes, okay? When you sleep, you draw near the veil. Sometimes, you even pass thru, find yourself in the forest. She’s sleeping now, William. Go to her, talk to her. She’ll hear you. Maybe not with her ears, but she will with her mind an’ her heart,” Merlin straightened. “I’ll wait right here for you.”
For some reason, he fussed with his tie and his jacket, then smoothed his hair. Merlin grinned to herself. He vanished thru the door and, abruptly, was glad he was doing this unaided. William went to the bed and sat down on the edge. He wanted so much to take her hand, to smooth her face.
“Patricia .. hello, darling.”
She moved her head, turning toward his voice.
“I can’t stay long but I can stay long enough to tell you that I love you. I did from .. almost the moment I met you and, from that moment, I’ve never stopped. All the days we were separated, apart, for whatever reason, my love for you kept me sane in an insane world. The Legacy is a fighting machine and we all fight in our own way .. but you were my reason for fighting. Without you, it would all have been meaningless.”
She murmured under her breath.
“When things looked bad, hopeless, you kept me on track,” William continued. “I should’ve resigned after I got back. I shouldn’t have waited. That was a mistake. We could’ve had the time we deserved. I’m sorry I never gave that to you. And, when I flew to San Francisco that last time, we parted in anger. I bitterly regret that, my love. You didn’t deserve it. Then, of course, it was too late for me. I never got to say goodbye or tell you that I love you so much. You’ve been my strength all these years. I miss you but I’m patient. I can wait.”
“William … ” she sighed. “I love you too.”
“I didn’t plan to die,” he continued after a second. “I always meant to come home again and take you on that vacation I promised.”
“You saved a life,” she whispered. “And we have time yet. We can still do everything we always planned.”
“You have my word on that.” He bent a little closer. “I wish I could touch you, just so you know I’m here.”
Her hand rose, stretching out toward his voice, and William went to caress it. His fingers passed thru hers but she smiled.
“I like this house, what you’ve done with it. I would feel very much at home here. Now, when you wake up, you’re not to feel sad. You’re not to grieve any more. I am as happy as I can be and you have to live your life, Patricia. Don’t waste a day of it and, when you do come to join me, you can tell me all about everything you’ve done. Give my love to the children, tell them how proud I am of them, how they’ve turned out.”
“I will,” she breathed.
“Sleep now,” William urged. “I have to go. Goodnight, my love.”
“Goodnight, William … ”
He bent and kissed her forehead then rose and retreated toward the door. Already her face was calmer and she seemed to be slipping back into a deeper sleep. He paused for one last look, then turned and drifted thru the door.
“No regrets?” Merlin asked.
“Not now,” he smiled.
“Time to go home,” she said and took his hand.
Alex jumped as the phone rang. Her startled eyes watched Rachel as she pounced on it and scooped it up. Neither had been able to sleep since Derek and Nick had set out. Instead, they’d kept a lone vigil by the phone waiting for news.
Rachel’s face cleared suddenly and Alex relaxed.
“Oh, that’s good news. When will you be home?” She listened and nodded. “A few hours. Okay. An’ everything went according to plan?”
The smile slowly left her eyes and Alex frowned, leaning forward.
“Who is he?” Rachel asked. “Why did he take Selene? Derek, your signal’s fading. Okay .. yeah. Later.” She hung up. “He said he’d tell us later an’ that we’re to go to bed.”
“Selene’s gone?” Alex queried.
“A man turned up .. an’ killed her.”
“They’re all right, aren’t they?” Alex demanded.
Rachel nodded. “He let them go. Derek seemed .. relieved – ”
“So would I!”
“But I could hear something else in his voice, Alex,” Rachel went on. Her eyes narrowed in thought. “Not fear exactly. It was more .. more like dreadful anticipation.”
William pushed open the door to his house and looked around as if making sure nothing had been stolen, then he turned.
“Thank you .. for everything. Please pass on my thanks to Derek and his team, but especially Derek. Tell him … ” He smiled. “Tell him all bets are off.”
“I will tell him that. He’ll be relieved to hear it.” Merlin took a step back. “It’s been a pleasure, as always, working with you, Dr Sloan. Now .. do me a favor, huh? Stay dead?”
“I will most certainly try,” he promised, his eyes twinkling.
When Merlin woke up, the first face she saw wasn’t alive.
“Welcome back, sweet pea!” Joe smiled. “Where you been?”
“Joe, leave her alone,” Shauna instructed. “At least let the nurses see to her. You can interrogate her later. Welcome home, Peri.”
She smiled at her parents and tried to talk but her throat was too dry. Alarms were sounding in the distance and she could hear running feet.
Shauna leaned in closer. “Nick has to talk with you.”
Merlin’s eyes grew puzzled.
“He has something big on his mind and he won’t talk to anyone before he speaks with you. He wouldn’t even tell me or Rachel.”
Rachel ..? Merlin frowned. Why would he need to talk with Rachel?
The nurses came in and began to talk calmly to her. Joe and Shauna backed away. “When you’re settled, come tell us everything,” he called.
She nodded and watched them fade away. The nurses were disconnecting the monitors and starting to check her over, even as they told her she was all right and safe.
“Water,” she croaked.
Oh, God, I hate these long stays away. It takes hours to get back to normal …
The first thing Derek did when he arrived home was call it a night and go to bed. He knew Alex and Rachel would be keen to hear what had happened but he wasn’t entirely sure he knew enough to be able to tell them. Nick, on the other hand, despite having had no sleep whatsoever, prepared to head back to the city to pick Merlin up from the hospital. They’d called and left a message to say his wife had come out of her coma but that was no real news to him. What occupied all his thoughts as he drove down to the ferry to wait for it to make its first run of the day was how he could tell her. What should he say? How should he say it? And what would her reaction be? It dominated everything, even his second encounter with the man in the long coat. Two meetings now, and two very lucky escapes. And it wasn’t over, he knew that.
Maybe Derek had been wrong to send the Enforcers away but, to be fair, he couldn’t have known the man would turn up like that. He may have suspected it but he hadn’t known it for a fact. Tigris had been there to protect William. Profelis had come along as backup. With William gone, their job had been over. Why keep them hanging around? The Legacy wasn’t weak, it wasn’t dependent on the Enforcers. They assisted, yes, but they shouldn’t be there all the time or it would lead to dependency.
Nick watched the ferry angle toward the jetty and his heart began to sink. He’d been looking forward to Merlin coming home so they could talk and, now the moment was almost here, he felt only dreadful anticipation.
Merlin was waiting for her clothes to arrive so she could dress and get out of the hospital. There was one thing puzzling her, however, and it was unexpected. She had believed that, with William back over the river and most of the loose ends tied neatly, whatever was left of the puzzles wouldn’t concern her .. but one did. She had a fresh scar. It was healing rapidly, even faster now Aquila was back and working on the inside, but it shouldn’t have been there. She couldn’t look in her medical notes because they’d been taken from her room.
There was a soft knock on the door and she looked round to see Nick angling his head thru the opening.
“At last,” she grinned.
“You hate hospitals almost as much as me,” he remarked, handing over her clothes. “Welcome back.”
“I hate being dependent. On strangers,” she added quickly. “I don’t trust them, Nick. You know that. And with good reason,” she said, thinking of the scar. “Of course,” she went on as she began to dress, “if I’d known in advance the plane would fall outta the sky, I would have told you so you’d be there to look out for me an’ watch my back. Must’ve been hard getting that call.”
He thought back. “Yeah. A shock. The last conversation we’d had, we were gonna talk when you got home.”
She paused. “The last conversation we had alone was only yesterday .. yet you said the same thing.”
“Not here,” Nick muttered. “Outside.”
“My Mom was here when I woke up. She said you wouldn’t talk to her or Rachel, that you had something big on your mind. Why Rachel, Nick?”
He caught her arm, pulled her round and kissed her. “I love you. There’s no one else. We’ll talk outside.”
Merlin frowned uneasily. It was getting more and more difficult to tell his truth from his untruths. It was all blurred. But she knew she couldn’t force him to talk, not if he’d made up his mind. Nick stood by the window, his back to her while she finished dressing, his body language indecipherable.
“Okay, I’m ready.”
“Docs discharged you?”
“Do you think I care? Let’s go.”
Outside in the parking lot, Nick slowed. He felt he’d spent way too much time just lately in hospital parking lots wrestling with inner turmoil. Now he could get it out in the open. It was make or break time.
“Before you left with Derek for New York – ” he began.
“I was difficult, I know.”
“I asked you about having kids.”
This seemed so bizarre, talking about it here.
She nodded as she leaned back against the Mustang’s hood. “I thought about it, Nick, long an’ hard – ”
“When the plane crashed .. they took you to a hospital in Chadron. You started to hemorrhage badly.”
It was getting more bizarre by the second and she frowned, trying to keep up with the change in direction. Did he want to talk about kids or the plane crash?
“They had to operate,” Nick said, his voice carefully controlled. “They had to perform an emergency hysterectomy.”
Merlin half laughed in disbelief. “That’s impossible. I’ve been sterilized, years ago.”
Nick hesitated. “I don’t understand this, Merli, but you were eight to ten weeks pregnant. The doctors couldn’t save it. You lost our baby.”
There. He’d said it but it was no relief. Now he waited for her reaction.
Merlin stared, dumbstruck. Her mouth worked but no words emerged. Then she looked away, yet didn’t seem to see anything. She shook her head and her shoulders dropped. She took a few steps away. Then she began to cry.
Nick wasn’t sure if this reaction was what he’d wanted or not and he went to her, put his arms around her. Merlin clung to him, her body shaking as she sobbed silently on his shoulder.
“There was no other woman,” he murmured in her hair, unable to trust his voice to speak any louder, “but there was someone. Someone very small. Our child … ”
She pushed him away and angrily wiped her cheeks. “I don’t know how it could’ve happened, okay? I didn’t want kids. I wouldn’t bring them into this world only to raise them in a prison .. I wouldn’t do that. You know my reasons. But … Oh, God … ”
She began to walk briskly but blindly, the pain of loss tearing her apart. Nick ran after her, upset that she was upset yet grateful nonetheless.
“Merli, wait,” he begged.
She halted, not looking at him, her hands curled into fists.
“It was my baby too.”
She spun on her heel and saw the tears in his eyes. “Oh, Nicky, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know about this. I swear, I didn’t know …”
This was like everything else they’d discovered since the day they’d met. It was an experience which had affected them both, and now they had to learn to share the grief and the loss, and then, together, they’d learn how to get thru it.
“Peri should be home soon,” Rachel commented.
Derek nodded slowly. Despite five hours’ deep sleep, he looked not totally aware and Rachel thought he wouldn’t be around much over the next few days. His recovery was really only starting now, physically and mentally. She could help in both areas.
“So .. what was it like?” she asked, sitting opposite him.
“Where you went in spirit.”
“Limbo. Not Limbo with a big L but limbo. The area between life and death.” He paused to examine his memories. “It was an interesting place. A lot to see and do. A lot to think about. I suppose it’s the place we all go to when our lives flash before our eyes.”
“There was never any chance that you could die, Derek,” she assured him. “You had no injuries. It was a miracle.”
“Actually, it was arranged. Peri and I had to be there to meet William as he passed thru in the opposite direction. And it was his life we saw, not mine or Peri’s. For a long time, hours, it seemed, we thought we were still on the jet and wondering when the crew had abandoned us. Limbo is .. anything. Any event, any time. A strange, wonderful experience. You feel completely safe there .. until something happens to change it.”
She nodded, not quite understanding. “And then you came back.”
“Back to the here and now, yes, but not back to my body. I got the chance to be a living ghost for a while. It has its advantages,” he remarked with a quick smile.
“Well, I’m glad you really are back,” Rachel declared. “And, if you want my advice, it is to take it very gradually over the next couple of weeks. Don’t expect too much of yourself. The best exercise is swimming. It’ll help rebuild your muscles.”
“I’d start with fifteen minutes twice a day and add to it from there. You know your own limits, Derek, an’ when you start to exceed them. Listen to what your body’s telling you .. just this once.”
“Of course,” Derek said gravely.
“Okay, lecture over. Now tell me what happened to Selene.” Rachel leaned forward. “Who was the man who killed her?”
Derek hesitated, unwilling to confront those memories. “All I know of him is what she told me. His name is Leaf. And last night was the second time I’ve met him.”
Rachel bit at her lip. “Is he a man?”
Derek shook his head quickly. “No. I don’t know what he is but he isn’t human.” He glanced up. “He terrifies me, Rachel. I don’t think I’ll survive a third meeting.”
When Merlin and Nick got back to the island, she didn’t want to go inside and be greeted by the others. Not yet.
“Nick .. I know it’s tough for you but at least you’ve had a few days to think about this. It’s still so raw for me. I have to figure it out, deal with it. Or start to, anyway. Be on my own for a while. A half hour. Hour tops.”
He held her hand. “Sure. As long as you need.”
“An’ we will talk. I promise. An’ cry. An’ .. a lotta other stuff.” She sighed suddenly. “I was always so sure I knew what I wanted. But .. I would’ve had that baby an’ I would’ve loved it.” Merlin forced a smile. “I would’ve been as mad as hell about it .. but I would’ve gone thru with it.”
Nick swallowed and hugged her tightly.
“Now I never will … ” she whispered and began to cry again. After a moment, she eased back. “An hour. By myself.”
He nodded, thinking he’d take a half hour on his own as well to get his emotions back under control. “I love you so much, Merli. We’ll get thru this.”
She smiled, a wobbly, fragile thing, then, looking shrunken and miserable, she walked away.
Thru all this, Aquila had been silent. Merlin could sense the numb shock. Then, slowly, Aquila said in a hesitant whisper, ‘How was it possible ..? When did it happen?’
She sounded small, lost and vulnerable, and that upset Merlin even more. Aquila was the strength, the steel. She was bright, shiny edges. She never gave up, never faltered. And now she was stunned and hurt.
I don’t know. I don’t understand. It shouldn’t have happened at all but it did. Thinking back .. we were in that damned bubble at San Stefano. Things were screwy in there. It could’ve changed us internally. Made us .. whole again. We could’ve conceived in there. And then because we didn’t know .. the plane crash. We weren’t there to protect it. But it’s too late now. We’ll never know.
They walked on, lost in thoughts of what might have been but now never would.
Alex was carrying out an inventory of the new wing. Someone had to think of the Forum. Unlike William Sloan, that hadn’t gone away and the date was creeping closer. Andrew was beginning to silently panic, not over the arrangements – he had those well in hand – but over the delay. He needed to get into these rooms. Thus far, although he’d aired them, he’d been refused permission to work in all but the first floor rooms.
She had approved most of the rooms on the second floor for use, the exceptions being Winston’s study and his bedroom, and Barbara’s sitting room and her bedroom. These she intended to lock. She climbed the stairs to the top floor and was surprised to see one of the doors open and light spilling into the corridor. Warily, Alex approached, her clipboard held like a rather insubstantial shield, and cautiously glanced in.
“Derek ..?” Her voice held relief. “What are you doing up here?”
He looked back over his shoulder. “It’s all right. You can come in.”
She eased inside and her eyes softened. “Was this your nursery ..?”
Derek nodded slowly, his face, his eyes filled with memory. “When I was on the plane, before it crashed, I was both dreading this and anticipating it. I knew I’d told you to open up this wing and I wanted to explore, to relive old times. I relived William’s old times instead, yet, in the very back of my mind, I knew I had all this to come. I was .. impatient to get back. Then I did get back but couldn’t indulge myself. Not till now. And, after last night, this is even more important to me. Yes, this was the nursery which Ingrid and I shared. The old rocking horse. The cowboy fort. The castle. The box of wooden soldiers … Ingrid’s doll and my teddy bear.”
Alex looked at the threadbare, one eyed toy laid on the box under the window and she smiled.
“The Legacy was banned from this room .. or so my mother believed,” Derek remarked. “We didn’t know of it but … ” He smiled suddenly, his face lighting. “We acted out stories. One day, I was the knight in armor on the horse rescuing the damsel in distress which was Ingrid, and, the next, she was the righter of wrongs and I was the helpless victim. We battled imaginary monsters .. and then grew up to learn they were no figment of the imagination.”
He gestured at the open connecting door. “That was our bedroom. My mother would settle us for the night, read to us – some slight fairy story – and then wish us sweet dreams. As soon as the light was switched off, when we were alone, we told each other the most blood curdling stories. You wouldn’t believe it, Alex. Ingrid, my sweet natured sister, would have me cowering under the blankets in fear of my life. Then she would laugh, very softly, and wish me sweet dreams. The next night, I would tell her a story and do the same soft laugh, make the same wish.” He still smiled. “I’ve seen things so much worse than in those stories, yet I can still feel the shivers of dread racing up my spine at Ingrid’s quiet voice in the darkness.”
Alex said nothing, happy to share this with him in silence.
“It may be something all children go thru,” he concluded. “But .. just maybe, it gave us the strength to feel the dread yet continue to fight against it. Legacy children don’t grow out of that phase. They grow into it.”
“I’ll mark these two rooms as off limits,” she decided.
“I’m not a child now,” Derek responded. “This should all be cleared out.”
“Cleared away, maybe. Crated up and put in the attic. But not yet.” She looked around the room. “It deserves a reprieve. You deserve some time to relive your past. Maybe it’ll revive the strength you first learned here.”
“Very well,” Derek accepted, and thought he would need all that strength and more when he next encountered the being he knew now as Leaf.
Merlin decided to go back to the mainland. Profelis was on the island and, as far as she was concerned, her three months’ timeout started now. She could use it to work on the house. A part of her mind touched very briefly on which room would be best as a nursery but she turned away from that. It was too painful to even ignore.
“Are you sure?” Nick asked. “Should you be alone? You’ve just had some major surgery.”
fine. I’m a little sore, stiff, but
it’ll go faster if I’m busy. Take my
mind off things, y’know?”
“Been there, done that,” he admitted sadly.
Merlin touched his face. “It must’ve been hell for you, knowing that yet keeping it inside. I appreciate you not telling anyone until you told me.”
“I don’t think I will tell anyone,” Nick decided. “It’s our business. Our loss. An’ it’d only raise questions we can’t answer. Keeping on going over it, asking how an’ why .. won’t help us recover.”
She nodded. “Right. Will you come over later?”
“Around six thirty,” he confirmed. “I have stuff to do here. The Forum an’ all.”
“Tell Profelis I’ll call him about Paul’s requests for our involvement.”
“It’s all in hand. Profelis spoke with Paul while you were in the hospital.”
“Great. Then I got ninety days clear downtime. We can get a lot done in ninety days.” She lifted her chin. “Time to .. look forward.”
Nick heard the brave words and saw the lie in her eyes. “Right. I’ll be home later. You need me, for anything, just call, okay?”
“I will, I promise. Even if it’s only to talk.”
Nick watched her head toward the garage and thought this had served one very good purpose in all the bad. It had brought them even closer together.
Merlin thought a lot as she drove to the ferry and during the crossing, and then on the short trip home to Paradise Drive. She hoped her parents wouldn’t decide to come visit, not for a while. Merlin couldn’t understand this yet herself so she didn’t know how she could explain it to them. And she definitely wouldn’t be able to cope with their tears and sympathy.
She thought it best to focus on what she had achieved over the last few days rather than dwell on what she’d lost. William Sloan was safe. The spell and the chain had been broken, and the coin was destroyed. Selene McAdam had paid the price. William’s father had learned the truth, and Winston Rayne was innocent. Derek had fought a good battle and won. She’d survived a plane crash and emergency surgery. That was a good list of accomplishments .. and it didn’t come anywhere near balancing the loss.
“I’m glad you got rid of the cherubs.”
She turned sharply and the anger erupted. “You could’ve warned me!”
Michael blushed. “I didn’t know it was as intricate as it turned out.”
“You could’ve warned me that the plane was gonna crash!” She ran an agitated hand thru her hair. “You might’ve told me what I stood to lose … You knew. You had to have known.”
“Yes, I did,” he admitted.
Merlin stared at him. “How? How was it possible?”
“You love your husband. When you chose not to continue the line, it was before you met him. But then you did. Children were an option – ”
“Not when the equipment’s been removed!”
“I can heal. I healed you. You conceived. And then … ” He looked away.
“Then? Then the plane crashed because you made it crash .. an’ I lost my baby! You bastard!”
He shook his head. “The boss found out what I’d done. He was livid. He said .. He granted free choice and you’d made your choice. I’d been wrong to overturn that. Way outta line. When the plane was guided down, my mistake, my .. error of judgment was corrected. Your choice was reinstated.”
She shook her head, turning away in disbelief.
“Your mistake, your .. error of judgment was corrected. My choice was reinstated … ” she echoed, sounding bemused. “It was a human life, Michael, not a matter of semantics. You’re putting me thru hell an’ Nick too. An’ there’s no time limit on this one. We’ll never put this behind us.”
“I’m sorry,” he said simply. “I screwed up. I believed it was .. would have been what you’d want in the longer term. I still believe that .. but I shouldn’t have done what I did.”
Merlin shrugged. “Well .. if I learned one thing in limbo, it’s that the past can’t be changed. It’s happened. I’ll just have to learn to live with it.” She glanced back over her shoulder at him. “But don’t you ever mess around with me like that again.”
“You have my solemn word,” he promised. “All I can do is repeat that I’m sorry and ask your forgiveness.”
She nodded. “I forgive you an’ accept your apology.”
He paused for a moment to let the air clear a little. “As you mentioned limbo .. I’d like your report on the mission.”
Merlin led him thru to the wreck of what would be the kitchen, starting her report as they walked. Michael listened in silence, nodding occasionally, until she got to the part about the man showing up in limbo. There, he frowned.
“It struck me as pretty weird too,” Merlin agreed. “This was no illusion or image from anyone’s mind. It was real. He was there .. an’ he was evil.”
“Go on,” Michael requested tersely.
Merlin continued but got the feeling he wasn’t really listening. She’d startled him and she found that curious. His next reaction came when she was telling him about Selene McAdam.
“Derek asked who the guy was an’ she said she knew him as Leaf.”
“What?” he exclaimed.
“Leaf. As in thing which grows on a tree.” Merlin watched him. “You know who he is.”
Michael rose and paced away, then halted.
“Who is he?” she asked.
“Leaf Langnel,” he said quietly. “An assumed name. An affectation.” He looked back. “Be glad you didn’t try to take him on. He’s outta your league, Aquila.”
“I don’t know the name …”
“You’ll figure it out,” he commented. “Tell Derek an’ Nick they were damned lucky.” Michael’s broad shoulders twitched. “I’m not sure if this is bad or worse so I have to get back an’ report it.”
“Sure. Hey, boss. I get three months’ timeout, right? You promised.”
“Three months,” he confirmed. “No work. Enjoy.”
Merlin sat alone then and tried to figure it thru. Slowly, she became very still, then she swallowed.
Derek had taken his first turn in the pool and now he sat quietly in his office, catching up on very minor matters. Nick came in with a clipboard.
“If you’re feeling up to it,” he began. “The Forum.”
“Yes, of course. We have to – ”
The phone rang.
“ – answer this. One moment.” Derek picked it up. “Luna Foun – ”
“Derek! I know who he is!”
“Peri ..? Whom are you talking about?”
“Leaf. Leaf Langnel. I just got it. The boss showed up for my report. He knew the guy. He told me it’s Leaf Langnel. An assumed name, an affectation. He said I’d figure it out an’ he said too to tell you an’ Nick you were lucky. He told me to be glad I hadn’t tried to take him on cos he’s outta my league.”
Derek had scrawled the name on a pad and Nick came around the desk to read it. He didn’t know the name at all and watched as Derek began rearranging the letters.
“I knew he sounded familiar!” Merlin went on in a rush. “I just couldn’t place him. I’ve never seen him but I know who he looks like.”
“Michael,” Derek said on a choked breath.
He’d rearranged the letters into two words and he showed them to Nick who, suddenly, felt like he was going to throw up. The fear rose again to blind and deafen them.
“Yeah. How’d you know?” Merlin asked.
The words Derek had written were Fallen Angel.
Poltergeist: The Legacy
A Good Deal Too Strange
© Jay Brown, 2003
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