Breakfast was a silent affair, with Jack shooting Annie warning glances every few minutes. And every time Annie tried to start a conversation, to ask Jack a question, to bring up the topic of the night before, Molly would come in, interrupting her.
::She's going to start thinking we're keeping secrets from her, with the way we stop talking every time she comes in,:: Annie reflected more than once. ::Then again,:: she'd realized, ::we are.::
Not only that, but Jack didn't seem overly inclined to talk about it. And when Annie *did* bring up the topic, he either became angry or stalked away. Or both. Later on in the day, Annie kept trying to track him down to one place and keep him there long enough to ask a question. Finally, she resorted to knocking on Jack's bedroom door.
She wasn't really sure whether he would actually answer the door. She had rather expected for him to go on sulking, silently, inside his room, without giving any sign as evidence that he was even there.
As such, she was a bit taken aback when he threw open the door, and stood glowering down upon her as she stood before him.
"What?" he demanded.
Jack stared unimpressedly at her until she found her voice.
"I need to talk to you," she finally blurted out.
Jack crossed his arms, obviously doing his absolute best to maintain the facade of Large, Intimidating and Annoyed. Annie remembered Fi's assurances, though, and pushed bravely on.
"About what she said - the Guardian. It's important, Jack," she insisted as he began to scowl. "I need to know. And so do you."
Finally he sighed loudly, and stepped aside. "Come in," he said. "But don't get your hopes up."
Annie edged gingerly past him, and sat down on the first piece of furniture that caught her eye - Jack's desk chair. She swivelled around, watching as he closed the door and came to sit heavily down on the bed. Settled, he turned his head to glower quizzically at her. "What is it that's so important?" he asked. "You should mind your own business, Annie."
"It is my business!" she protested, fists clenching on her lap. She had to keep herself from leaping dramatically to her feet. "I live here now. And she said I'm involved too. Or will be. Jack, I need to know. Is it true, what she said?"
Jack looked away, glaring sullenly at the bedspread.
"And more importantly, is it true, what you said about *her*?
Jack started, looking up, and met Annie's widened eyes. She was looking at him with pleading in her eyes. And as he felt her eyes on his, his shoulders fell.
"No," he said softly, this time without looking away. "No, it's not true, not exactly." He sighed, dropping his eyes. "She didn't exactly *kill* him." And now he looked up again, eyes smouldering. "But it *was* her fault - if it wasn't for her, he never would have been in the car. Dad... Dad was doing something for her when he had his crash."
"But if it wasn't her fault, then why--"
"It WAS her fault!" Jack raged, jumping to his feet. "She... she... he left... us... deserted us... *because* of her. Because of her STUPID fantasy world, her imaginary war. Chasing aliens and angels and ghosts. That's why he was away from us, all the time. That's why Mom wanted him to stay away from her and all her ideas. Why she asked him to. And he said he would. Promised he would. But that night, that one night - I don't know. He told her he would be back in a few hours. Just going for a drive. A few hours later, Mom got a call from the police. He never came home. He went out and got himself smashed into a truck chasing a THEORY! He lied to Mom! He broke his promise! All for something that just doesn't exist! And it was HER idea! HER fault!"
Annie was pressed back into the chair, stiff with the force of Jack's anger. She took a deep breath, stilling her heart. "But Jack," she said quietly into the oppressive silence that followed his tirade, "Arrah... she said it was --"
"She was lying." He said it with certainty, low and gruff.
"How do you know that?"
"Because Mom said--" he began, but then the question seemed to really register, and he pulled up short on a point he'd failed to consider. "Because... Mom always said... she said so." He was speaking very quietly now, eyes distant and confused. "Mom never told us - except that he... but she never told us, exactly, and she never told us about *them*, and she never... I guess I must have overheard, or something."
Annie looked at him - he was shaking his head as he spoke, as if he were trying to make sense of the things inside his head. "Jack; did you ever ask her? Did you ever ask anyone what happened? Ever?"
"I... no." He ended on a quiet note, his face reddening. "It was just always... I thought I knew. I..."
"Jack, maybe you should try to find out for yourself. Maybe --"
He passed a hand over his eyes. "I don't care what *she* says, Annie." He seemed to be trying to regain his previous resolve. "I don't believe her. I *know*..."
He stiffened, then, and looked up, suddenly, to the doorway. Annie turned; Areahannah stood there, hair tied back and looking serious.
"Yes," she said. "Maybe it's time we did talk."
Annie looked quickly between Jack and Arrah, and then stood up. "I'll go," she said, but neither of them seemed to notice her leave, eyes locked on one another.
"I said I'd come back," she said, coming into the room and closing the door behind her.
"Did Mom see you?" Jack asked.
Areahannah hung her head for a moment, and a shadow of pain crossed her face, though it was gone as quickly as it had appeared. "No. I didn't think it was a very good idea."
She sat down in the chair Annie had abandoned and leaned forward, forearms resting on knees. "Can I ask you a question, Jack?"
She must have taken his glaring as an affirmative, because she went on. "Do you remember your father? At all?"
He stared at her, warily. "Not really."
She sighed, wincing a little. "That's too bad. You would have gotten along quite well, I think. Even if you aren't much like him."
Jack was annoyed. "What do you mean?"
Areahannah made an abortive gesture of throwing her hands in the air. "Well... Fiona is so much like him. So faithful. So... just so... I don't even know how to describe it. But I suppose you're more like your mother, that way. Though you both look more like Rick." Her eyes dropped downward, to her hands, which she clasped together in her lap. "He was a good man, Jack. I miss him, too."
"You have no right to even say his name."
Her head snapped up, a flash of anger in her eyes. "What?"
"He died because of you." Jack's voice was steady, his expression guarded, watching her for a reaction. The only one he saw was a moment of tension where her fists clenched, and then relaxed.
"I suppose your mother told you that."
"It doesn't matter if she did. It's true, isn't it?"
He watched as she paled slightly, swallowed, and stood up. "It's not as simple as all that, Jack." She was turned away from him now, shoulders hunched. "It's complicated. It always has been."
"It's not *complicated*! Either it was you or it wasn't!*"
"Let's get one thing straight, Jack -" she turned around, and he saw that she had her arms crossed over her chest, as if she was holding something in. "It wasn't *me* who killed your father. I may have been part of the reason, but I *didn't* kill him. I... he was my *friend*. And he was doing what he thought he had to do. That's why he died." Her arms had dropped to her sides by this point, and her shoulders sagged. Then she looked up at him again. "He died for what he believed in."
Jack's burning glare was steady. "You never give up, do you? Trying to make it seem like some big romantic sacrifice. A car accident..."
He'd expected her to react, to reply, and surprised when she didn't, he looked up and met her eyes. What he saw there in her pale visage was shock and a little horror, and a dawning understanding.
"She never told you," she pronounced in a whisper. "You don't know - she never told you how he really died."
"Of course she told me," Jack spat. "He died in a car accident."
"No," she looked a little horrified, but more certain, and just a bit annoyed - even really angry, but that part was carefully controlled. "No, no, he didn't. That's how it was made to look, that's what the police told her, but your mother knows as well as I do that it wasn't true."
Jack's expression was all denial and defense. "You're lying."
"I don't lie, Jack," she said sternly, but returned quickly to earnest. "When Fiona knew, I thought for certain that you did too - he was murdered."
"No; he died in a car accident --"
"No." Areahannah shook her head solemnly. "He didn't die in any accident. He..." She shook her head again, this time in disbelief.
"I can't believe she never told you."
"Told me WHAT?"
She started at his threatening tone, glancing up. "Jack..." She sat down rather abruptly, running a hand over her face and sighing. "Just after you were born, something happened; that *was* nearly an accident, and your father was nearly killed. Your mother... she was angry, and frightened that something else, something worse, could happen, so she... she left us. She denounced the Circle and anything connected to it... but your father didn't; though he never told her."
Jack was silent.
"He was a good man, your father; a good friend. And loyal to a fault, to us, and to his family. When we found out that He was after you.."
Jack's eyes narrowed. "Who was after me?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Something... I guess you could call it a spirit. It was the servant of our greatest enemy, and it had been following your family for centuries, as long as you had been a part of the Circle. And that... that is a long time. Something happened, something that destroyed the defenses that had been built against it, and it..."
"What?" Jack demanded as she trailed off uncertainly.
"It went after you, or would have. After you and Fiona. You were only a toddler then, and Fiona an infant. When I found that out... I told him. I realise now that that was my mistake, but hindsight is twenty-twenty, and... well, he decided to go out and stop it by himself. He couldn't tell your mother, or ask for her help, because of what she'd decided. She would have been angry and frightened. He didn't want to inflict that on her."
"So instead, he went out and got himself killed. Real classy."
She looked at him sadly, and a moment later, there was guilt there too. "Don't speak so hatefully, Jack; he was only trying to protect you - and maybe me. I told him not to go, pleaded with him to wait, and he said he would, but in the end, I suppose he felt it would be better if he dealt with it alone - he went in secret. He never should have done it, and if he had only waited, there would have been help, though... if he *had* waited, I suspect you and Fiona would be dead now."
Her head drooped, and her hands laced themselves tightly together. "I couldn't have foreseen what would happen, and neither could he. If I made any mistake, committed any sin, it was in telling him about the threat to you instead of going myself; that would have suited better, I suppose. But I think he probably would have found out anyway."
"What was it?"
"What was it? The thing that killed him?"
She looked uncomfortable. "We're really not certain. Even now. We only know that it was created by very, very old dark magick. Your sister has encountered it before. It calls itself... Bricru... it's very powerful. He might even have defeated it, but not alone."
Jack was staring silently at the Guardian with an expression of smothered horror. "Mom. He couldn't do it without Mom. And she..." He trailed off.
She looked away again. "Yes. I suppose that's one interpretation of it."
"You mean... when Mom left you, she broke those defense things? It was because she gave up all that..."
Areahannah was silent, and was beginning to look very unhappy. "We can't be sure of that."
"Oh my god..."
"We still don't know exactly what happened, but we do know that he didn't die in a damned car accident. He was dead before the car ever hit."
Jack stared at her, and as close as they were standing, might have seemed for a moment by his posture as if he were about to strike her - but insted, he surged past her and out of the room, tearing open the door with such force that it swung around and knocked a dent in the wall.
Areahannah sighed shakily and vanished.
Molly was tuning her guitar when he came in, plucking the A string slowly in repetition. Her eyes were closed, listening to the note and its pitch. When Jack entered, the slam of the sliding door being thrown open made her start. The guitar string snapped with a loud *twang* and flew across the room, silently past Jack's shoulder. Molly looked up and saw a thin trickle of blood running down the side of his face where the string had passed by him.
Molly leapt to her feet. Something was wrong - she could sense it in the air, in Jack's bearing, in the sound of the lingering vibrations of the broken string. Something was terribly, deeply wrong. Her suspicions were confirmed when, moving forward to dab the blood from Jack's face, she was pushed away.
"Honey?" Meeting Jack's eyes, for a moment, frightened her, and she dropped her arms to her sides. There was something bordering on unreadable there - but not to his mother. His mother saw fear, and betrayal, and maybe even hatred in her son's eyes. And when he spoke, the fear solidified into a lump of ice in the pit of her stomach, a sharp spike of dark anticipation in her spine. His voice was completely cold. Molly fell back into her seat.
"Mom, let me ask you a question."
Bravely, Molly met his eyes again. "Yeah, honey?" She strived to keep her voice casual, not to betray the tremor she felt.
"How old is she? The Guardian?"
Molly's face contorted for an instant, then smoothed out. "I didn't know you'd met her." The words could have been taken as a question, but when Jack didn't answer, Molly sighed, then straightened, obviously making mental calculations. "When you were two, she was fifteen; so... I guess she's about twenty-eight, twenty-nine." Molly eyed her son suspiciously. "Why?"
The cold in the room suddenly became thinly-veiled animosity. "She doesn't look that old."
"Why are you asking about her?" Molly's voice had a dangerous edge to it.
"She told me something, Mom," Jack said, crossing his arms. "She said Dad was murdered." Jack wasn't certain how to feel; his throat was tight and his face was burning, and he couldn't feel the pain of the blood running down his cheek. He was too numb. He suspected that he ought to be angry, but the anger was warring frantically with newly-woken grief and outright confusion.
Molly's expression, though, was now all anger. "She told... it isn't true."
The tremble in his mother's voice was all Jack needed. "You're lying," he said in astonishment. "You lied about how he died. You lied to me! To Fi!"
"Jack --" Molly rose again to her feet.
"No!" Jack threw off her reaching hands. "Everything you told us was a lie! Fiona's been right all this time!" He shook his head. "You made her out to be some kind of raving conspiracy theorist. She was just - just a kid! Younger than me!"
"Yes, but --"
"You didn't think that I should have knonw, in all this time, that what Fi said was true? That there really was a Covenant, and that we were supposed to be helping them? That maybe even people might be dying because we weren't there?"
Apparently in desperation, Molly had affected her "angry mom" face, her hands on her hips. "Actually, we don't belong to "them" anymore. We haven't for a long time."
"Yeah, she told me that. And she said that it was you deserting them that made the things protecting us break down, and that dad couldn't fight that ... thing without you. That's why he died - because you wouldn't help him!"
Molly went red, then white.
"I never," she said in a harsh whisper, "Imagined that even *they* would stoop so low. To say something like that..."
"Tell me it's not true, Mom." this was said without emotion the first time, but the second, it was shouted. "Go on - tell me!"
Molly stared into her son's eyes for an instant longer, and then looked away. She disn't even bother to call to Jack as he stormed silently from the room.
It took Annie a moment to notice Jack standing in the doorway - although "looming" might have been a better description. It might just have been his quiet that threw her off, given that he usually knocked, or said her name, or made *some* noise to get her attention. The fact that he hovered respectfully in the doorway just waiting for her to notice him was downright bizzarre. And when she finally did look up and meet his eyes, he flinched momentarily as if she'd caused him some pain. It ws that apparent pain that made Annie get to her feet.
"Jack? Is something wrong?"
He stared at the floor, and then his eyes darted up to meet hers. "Want to go for a walk?" he asked. "I need to talk to you."
Outside, the sun was setting, and the wind in the trees behind the house was almost deafening. At lest, it was until they passed under the trees - at that moment, a giant hand might have reached down and stilled the trees, because the wind fell all but silent. Jack turned to her once they were out of sight of the house.
"Annie, I - my mother lied to me. About a lot of things. And it's started to make me wonder about a lot of things I grew up believing were true. One of them involves my dad, and me and Fi, and --"
"The Guardians?" Annie volunteered, and Jack stopped in his tracks, his shoulders tense.
"Yeah. them." He turned to look at her, warring emotions in his eyes. "The Guardian - I mean Areahannah --" he shook his head, "She's been telling the truth, I think, all this time, and..." he swallowed, "I think Fi was right. And that means that you were right, too."
Annie stared. Such an admission from Jack was unheard of, especially when the admission was one of his own fault. And now he was searching her face for something - forgiveness?
"I made a mistake," he finally blurted. "I was a jerk - I'm sorry."
Then Annie found her voice. "Jack, I--" She closed her mouth, opened it, shook her head. "Forget it," she said. "But what changed your mind?"
He stared at the ground. "Areahannah did. She told me some things. About my dad. At first, I didn't believe her. But she said that if I needed proof, to ask Mom. I did."
Annie saw his right hand clenching and unclenching, a sure sign that he was distraught.
"She couldn't deny it. And..." He trailed off, eyes focused somewhere over her shoulder.
Annie reached out one hand to touch his arm. "What is it, Jack?" she asked softly. "What did she tell you?"
There was an uneasy moment of silence before Jack's eyes snapped back to hers. "My mom always told us he died in a car accident, Annie," he said, his voice shaking. "She told us it was an *accident*. But Fi never believed that. *She* said... she said that it had to be something more than that, otherwise why wouldn't Mom talk about it, or about what Dad was like? She... she was right all along. He was murdered. My father was murdered, Annie! And she knew it all along and didn't tell us! How can you not tell your own children that their father was *murdered*?"
He was shouting again now - and there were tears in his eyes. Annie was aghast. For a moment she just stood and listened: there was total silence surrounding them, as if Jack's distress had quieted the forest itself.
"Jack," she finally whispered, squeezing his arm. "Listen."
Jack looked at her in surprise, and as he lifted his gaze to look around them, a tear escaped his eye, and ran down his cheek, mingling with the blood that was already there. Annie saw that and started.
"What happened?" Annie asked in soft concern, touching his face. Her fingers came away red with blood.
Jack touched his cheek. "Oh;" he said, staring numbly at his hand. Annie pulled out a tissue, and pressed it into his hand as they both listened to the silence. He wiped away the blood. "It happened when I talked to Mom," he said. "One of her guitar strings snapped."
They stood listening to the silence a moment more before he looked down at her. "It's so *quiet*. I don't understand."
"I think it was you, Jack," Annie whispered, afraid to disturb the silence. "You did it. I don't know how, but..."
Jack *looked* at her. Annie fell silent, reddening. "Sorry," she mumbled. "You probably think that was stupid."
"No," he said, quickly. "Not stupid. It's just... a week ago I wouldn't have even thought that could possibly be true, but now it..." he laughed bitterly. "Listen to me. I sound like Fiona."
A sudden gust of wind suddenly tore past them, stealing their breath. When it subsided, Annie said: "Is that a bad thing?"
Jack looked down. "I don't know anymore," he said honestly. "Not long ago I would have answered you yes - but now that she might have been right. Annie, I don't know."
"Jack..." Annie took a deep, steadying breath. "You said that Fi believed the was something special about your family. What did she mean?"
For a moment his face froze in the old expressioin of skepticism, of unspoken ridicule. "If you think that means I've got some kind of magic powers..."
"Areahannah said that your family was part of some kind of Covenant. That you were one of a lot of families wo were their allies. What do *you* think that means?"
Jack looked uncertain, but Annie continued, seeing that he ws beginning to bend. "Areahannah just blipped into your room. You can't tell me you don't think there's something... pranormal about her. Even you, Jack, can't ignore that. She can *do* things. You know she can."
He slowly shook his head. "Maybe," he finally admitted. "But that doesn't mean I--"
Annie pushed on, not letting his doubt gain any footholds. "And Areahannah said things about your mum and dad, and you know that at least part of that had to be true."
Jack was standing in the uncomfortable silence of one who knows they're being out-reasoned. Annie pused for a moment, and stepped forward just enough to force him to look her in the eye.
"And Jack, I *know* Fi can do it too."
Jack started and fell back a few steps. "What -- how did you know about Fi?"
Annie held up her hand. The silver ring gleamed on her thumb. "When I first got here, Fi gave me this ring. She told me the carving had worn off."
Jack peered at the ring. The carving was completely intact. "But--"
"I know - and when I put it on, the carving was perfect, fine, just as it should have been. Even though I could have sworn that the ring was *blank* when Fi took it off her hand."
"I don't understand."
"Jack, it re-appeared when I put it on! Areahannah told us that Fiona had done something - cast some spell - to try to protect you and your mother. That it involved some kind of symbolic sacrifice on her part. What if Fi gave up her powers... whatever... in order to do it?"
"How would that change the ring?"
"Where did the rings come from, Jack?" Annie clenched her right fist in front of his face, the little triangular symbol glittering, even among the complicated knotting patterns. He stared at it, and said in a hushed voice:
"Great-grandma Fiona gave them to my parents when they got married." He dropped his eyes in a motion of surrender. "They've been in the family for centuries."
Annie dropped her arm. "Jack, do you know what Fi once told me about you?"
He looked up. "What?"
"She said that if ever even half of what she believed about your family was true," Annie laid a hand on Jack's arm, "That you were probably a hundred times more powerful than she could ever be."
Jack searched her eyes. "What are you saying?" he asked.
Annie tilted her head to one side. "Jack, when you walked outside, the wind was going *miles* an hour. When you lost your temper, it went dead still."
"You're saying I'm making the wind blow?"
"I"m saying you're influencing the weather, somehow, some way. I can't explain it - I only know that it's true."
Jack abruptly looked irritated again. "Annie, that's bull! It - it's insane!" He shook his head. "I can't believe I let you coax me so far. Lead me. Damnit --"
"Jack..." Annie's voice held a note of mild panic.
"...just like Fiona. I can't believe I listened to you at all. This is all a pile of --"
"What?" He looked at her and stopped shouting just as a clap of thunder, followed closesly by a blade of bright lightning, tore across the sky.
And then, with a blast of wind, it began to pour.
Jack looked up, and then at Annie. For her part, Annie had trouble keeping herself from laughing as he glared at her, rain dripping off the end of his nose.
"Oh, shut up."