She closed her eyes, lifting her face into the wind, letting it lift her long, red-brown hair away from her shoulders and fly out behind her. The cool breeze dried the fresh tears on her cheeks into chill streaks, and she wiped them away as she started to feel colder. It was beginning to rain as the temperature dropped and night deepened, and she still had so much to do before she could sleep.
First Guardian of the Circle of Crystallis and arguably one of the most powerful people on the planet, Areahannah had never considered herself a very emotional person. Even when she'd led a normal life, she'd been this way - closed, by some definitions cold and even unfeeling. Strange, she often thought, that her own feelings should show so little when her chief Gift was empathy - the ability to sense the emotions of others, sometimes so strongly that they affected her more than her own. The tendency to keep herself closed, to keep her own emotions and those of others from affecting the way she lived her life, carried out her duties, had become a necessity over time as her Gift had developed to its full strength. And the abrupt sensation of feeling the entire *planet* constantly on the edge of her senses when she'd first come into contact with Crystallis had even emphasized her already-powerful Gift to a point that had almost rendered her comatose for several weeks. But she had learned to control it - learning to control her own feelings had been a kind of side-effect, a necessary one if she was to keep from losing her mind.
Though more than once in the past, this tactic had been, perhaps, mis-interpreted. Molly's hatred of her, for example - she had been so very *angry* with Areahannah for such a long time, for more reasons than one. And Areahannah's seeming lack of emotion over the death of a man she had called friend had probably contributed greatly to that anger. But Molly had never seen her when she was alone, later, seen her venting the pain she felt, almost equalling Molly's own, but hidden away where others couldn't see it, where the others in the Circle who depended on Arrah's strength and courage wouldn't be made uneasy and uncertain by the apparent weakness on the part of the First Guardian. It was a trap she'd locked herself into, she knew - that letting others believe what she tried to project, that she was inpenetrable, unmovable, would lead to them expecting the same from her forever. She'd known that when she'd taken the job - she knew it now with an almost painful certainty. Just as she knew that Molly would never trust her again - and that perhaps, whispered a voice in the back of her mind, she shouldn't, and neither should anyone else.
::Having a crisis of faith again, love?:: came the soft voice from behind her. She felt the wash of warmth and nearness as he approached her, emerging from the Gate, far beyond them in the trees. She felt equally, and with a wash of gratitude, the gentle touch of his mind on hers.
She didn't miss the tinge of concern, of worry. ::It's nothing, Terren.::
She heard the sound of a branch snapping under someone's weight - but intentionally relaxed her suddenly tense posture. It was only Terren.
When the mental warmth became physical warmth, and she felt him right behind her, she relaxed and leant back into him as he slipped his arms around her waist. "I've never known you to lie, Arrah," he whispered into her ear, chin resting on her shoulder. She tensed for an instant, then relaxed, sighing.
"You must not have been paying attention this last week, then," she whispered, her voice low and strained.
He turned his head toward her, looking into her eyes quizzically. "I get the feeling I missed something."
She flicked her eyes toward his, close as they were. "I lied to him, Terren."
Terren blinked. "You mean Jack?"
She nodded, her posture becoming stiff again as she tended to do when she felt vulnerable.
"I don't understand. What did you... oh." He tightened his arms around her waist as he sensed the wisp of quickly-smothered pain/guilt/loss/guilt that crossed over her thoughts. He pulled her back against him, not missing the fact that her lower lip was trembling, ever so slightly.
"It wasn't your fault, Arrah," he said softly into her ear, holding her firmly. "You know it wasn't."
She clenched her jaw - only Terren knew that meant she was holding back something like tears. She pulled out of his embrace and took a few steps away from him, arms wrapped around herself.
"How do I know that, Terren?" She shook her head. "I *don't*. You don't." She bit her lip, turning towards him. "That night Rick died... I was there."
Terren froze. "Ah," he said, beginning to understand. He resisted the urge to take her into her arms, because he knew she would only bat him off. "But how does that made it your fault?"
She stared off into the trees. "I felt it happening - even from that far away, I could feel it. And... I reached out to him, and I..." a gust of wind whipped her hair up around her shoulders, making her seem ephermal, wild. "I felt it killing him, Terren. I felt it chasing him, and I felt it find him, and I felt it... I felt him die." She clenched her jaw again, and Terren stood stiff and awkward before her, unsure of what to say.
"Why didn't you ever tell me that?" he asked gently. "The others?"
She shook her head. "What good would it have done? To tell them that I'd been frightened out of doing my job?"
Terren considered that for a moment, and then said: "Okay, sorry, but you lost me again."
"I felt it," she said. "I felt it in his mind. I reached out to him, and it - it saw me."
"It saw you? How-- oh."
She nodded. "I was in his mind, and he was telling me, screaming at me to go, to leave, to get away before it could get me too - and it... it touched me." She gave a visible shudder. "It looked into me, sliced past my shields like they weren't there, went far down where no one should ever go... To the things I don't even..."
She was struggling to remain calm, to keep her breathing even, but shallow gasps showed she was fighting against tears. Terren stepped forward now, put a hand on each shoulder. "This would be that bit you don't even let me see, wouldn't it?" His voice was quiet. She nodded.
"I *ran away*, Terren." Her voice was full of shame.
He looked at her in surprise. "So what? If it would have done to you what it did to him..."
She shook her head fiercely, backing away. "That thing posed no threat to me!" she said, self-disgust evident in the tone. "I was a dozen times its equal! And it was distracted! I could have destroyed it with a thought, if I'd tried. But instead, I ran away, because it saw something about me I didn't like, and because it scared me."
Terren regarded her sternly. "That doesn't make it your fault, Arrah. Even if you had..."
"If I had, he would have had a chance. I could have given him a chance and I didn't."
"Arrah... don't start believing Molly Phillips. You didn't kill him." He said that more softly, with concern.
She winced. "Maybe I didn't tear the soul from his body, but I allowed it to happen. I could have done more to stop him."
Terren threw his hands in the air. "What? Lock him up on the Island? Let the thing go after his kids? You know you couldn't have done that. And you couldn't have gone with him. There were other things - you told me as much. You told him to wait. He didn't. Someone had to go. He did what he had to, what anyone would have. It's not your fault."
She looked at him, and now there was a suspicious-looking gleam in her eyes. "I just don't know, Terren. I don't know."
She had a desperate, uncertain expression now, and Terren took the moment to wrap her in his arms and hold her until she'd stopped trembling.
"It's okay," he said, smoothing over the roughened edges of her emotions with a gentle touch as he stroked the back of her head. "You can't do everything, you know. You're only human."
"Mostly," she said into his shoulder, her voice muffled. "But gods help us if anyone ever found out."
Jack waited, sitting on the steps at the back of the house, the hood of his jacket pulled up against the cold and damp. He had gone from rubbing his hands together to sitting on them fifteen minutes ago - neither seemed to be keeping him any warmer, even if the sun was ponderously close to rising.
He hadn't really been sure, when he'd done it, what would happen. Making an actual request for Areahannah's help had seemed traitorous, despite the things he'd learned over the last several days. But he'd done it anyway, he'd needed to - he needed to know, for certain, if it were all true, if he wanted back what had been taken from him.
He did - but he needed it back in order to be sure.
But still, he waited, not sure of who, exactly was coming, not sure of what would happen. He'd slipped out of bed and out of the house as soon as the opportunity had presented itself, and with any luck he'd left Annie sleeping. He assumed she'd gone back to bed after she'd left his room - it was the middle of the night, after all. Jack, however, hadn't seen his mother's car parked out front, and didn't know she'd returned.
"Jack? What are you doing out here?"
Jack started and leapt to his feet, wheeling to face his mother, clad in the same robe Annie had been wearing and looking very tired. She was barefoot, and she must have come straight from sleep.
"I didn't know you were back," he said, dropping his arms to his sides.
"I got in around midnight," she said, her posture tense. "Jack, what are you doing out here? It's almost sunrise - you should get back to bed. It's cold."
She had reverted back to old mannerisms, Jack noticed, as if their confrontation had never happened, as if he'd never been angry with her, never questioned her. She'd done it many times before, Jack realized. Her way of smoothing over arguments without ever facing them. He'd never really seen it, before, the way she pretended about things, all sorts of things, even with her own family. He supposed he'd just always been too close, before, to realize what she was doing. He wondered, absently, how long it had been going on, right in front of his face.
"I'm fine," he said. "I'm going somewhere pretty soon."
"What?" her voice was close to panic. "Where?"
He kept his face carefully blank, his voice measured and even. "I think you know," he said.
He saw the blood drain out of her face. "No," she said.
"Why'd you do it, Mom?" he asked. "Why'd you lie to us? Why'd you block me, so I'd never know what really happened?"
Molly shook her head, lost for words.
"You had no right, Mom," he said.
"I was only trying to protect you," she said. "I didn't want you to end up like your dad. I--" she swallowed.
"You lied, Mom," he said flatly.
"I'm sorry." Her voice was thin, wavering, desperate. "I didn't want to. I didn't want anything to happen to you, that's all. Baby, you know that I only wanted to keep you safe."
Sadly, Jack shook his head. "No, Mom, I don't think even you believe that anymore. You don't lie to people you love. You don't freeze them out, like you did Fi. You just don't. And you did."
Molly stiffened, hands curled into tight fists at her sides. There were tears in her eyes. "Jack, baby, please don't do this..."
"I have to, Mom." He leaned forward and kissed her pale cheek. "I think I get Fi, now. Why she always had to do stuff the way she did. I'm starting to understand. And I need to understand."
"I won't let you," she said suddenly, tears on her cheeks. Jack looked down; she was grasping his sleeve with white-knuckled fingers, trying to hold him. As gently as he could, he pried her fingers loose.
"You can't stop me," he said.
An unreadable expression came over her face, and she turned even whiter. Then she turned without another word and disappeared into the house, slamming the door behind her. Jack only sighed, too determined now to even summon anger against her, and sat back down on the steps to wait - for what, he still wasn't sure.
He didn't have to wait long - within minutes, as the first grey light of sunrise began to inch its way across the yard, Jack spied a small figure approaching from the woods. For a moment, he thought it was Areahannah - but the hair wasn't long enough, wasn't dark enough. And she didn't move like Areahannah.
Jack stood up as he saw a flash of colour - she wore a dark red sweatshirt, one of the tour's crew shirts, with the stylized "MP" on the back and the word "crew" on the front in white block letters. He couldn't read it from here, but he recognized it.
"Can't be," he whispered, but ran towards her all the same. He stopped a few feet away, staring in dumbfounded shock, not caring that there were tears running freely down his face, because there were tears on her face as well.
Fiona laughed, observing him, and shook her head. "Never thought I'd see this day, Big Brother," she said, smiling. Then she threw herself at him, her arms around his neck, and Jack hugged his sister, lifting her up into the air. He finally set her down, hands still on her shoulders, while Fi looked appraisingly up at him, a smirk on her face disguising the joy she obviously felt.
"How's Mom?" she asked, the smile, for a moment, all but disappearing.
He shrugged. "To be honest, right now, I don't care. I just..." he shook his head. "How did you get here?"
Fiona laughed again, her smile returning. "That's the first of a whole lot of big questions, Jack," she said. "And I can't believe it took you so long to start asking."
She caught up his hand and tugged him toward the trees. "Come on," she said. "They're waiting. There's a whole world out there, and this is only the beginning."