Author: Kethrineth PM
Sometimes even Nick needs help to find the truth beyond the illusion.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama - Words: 16,805 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 2 - Published: 07-04-01 - id: 340782
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Standard disclaimer: They don't belong to us. We just borrowed them and the powers that be can have them back when we're done. This one is a 'what if?'
Nick woke up screaming, clutching frantically at the soft blanket that covered his aching body, his eyes darting around the dim room.
It was gone.
He drew his legs up to his chest and bowed his head, gulping in deep draughts of air. The one rapid scan of the room had told him he was in a hospital, safe now from the demon that had been ripping apart the San Francisco Legacy House, and very nearly him as well.
One hand moved down across his chest and stomach in search of the injuries left by the creature's tearing claws even as his other hand traveled upward to his aching head. Both hands stopped as they found the painful lump near the crown of his head and the smooth bandages that covered his torso beneath the thin gray T-shirt he wore. Derek must have completed the banishment Philip had begun before that thing had torn the priest to pieces and flung Nick into the wall for trying to help him.
Nick brought his right hand down from his head and stared at the thick bandages that swathed it. He didn't remember hurting his hand, but things had been so crazy right before he blacked out that he might have done just about anything to it and not noticed. There had been a lot of broken glass lying around, from what was left of the terrace doors, and he did remember tumbling in that direction a couple of times during the battle.
"Hey, are you okay in here, Hon?" The warm, familiar voice automatically released much of the tension knotting Nick's shoulders and he furtively scrubbed his tear-slick face before looking up.
"Alex, what happened? Is everybody else all right?" Nick scrambled for the edge of the bed, not surprised when his fellow Legacy member restrained him from getting out of it. He was surprised that he wasn't more sore. In the moment before he'd passed out, Nick could have sworn he'd been able to see his own entrails through the gaping gash in his middle.
Nick found himself being pushed back down on the bed with alarming ease before he could get very far. The sight of his own arms clutching the loose, nondescript blouse Alex wore was frightening. They were pasty pale, with almost no muscle tone to them. He could feel how thin and weak he'd become as he was pressed down against the firm mattress and held there until he'd stopped squirming. "How long have I been here anyway? Where's Derek?"
Nothing about this was right, not even Alex. She never dressed like this, in plain slacks and blouse and practical shoes. The concerned frown on her face was more distant than it had been on the first day they'd met when he joined the Legacy.
"Nearly two years now, I think." The nurse's expression had grown pitying as the woman turned back toward the door without answering his last question. "I'm going to see what's keeping Dr. Corrigan. You just stay in bed, all right? We don't want those stitches pulling loose now, do we?"
Nick slid out from under the blanket he'd been covered with as soon as the door closed and hurried over to it. He couldn't have been here two years! There was just no way that was true, and yet, as he looked around the room he could see that it looked lived in, as if he had, indeed, been here a very long time. It didn't look like the room of a man who'd been comatose for two years either, but Nick was sure he didn't remember this place. He had to find out what was going on here.
The busy hallway that greeted him when he poked his head out was enough to make Nick stop and consider his options. There really weren't many. He could sneak out and try to find out what was wrong or he could wait for Rachel and hope she would give him some answers.
"Going somewhere?" The options narrowed to one as Rachel pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped inside.
"Yeah, home." Nick told her. "I feel fine. I just want to get back to the castle and find out what's been going on."
The uneasiness that had been growing in him since his unsettling encounter with Alex increased as Rachel got a disappointed look in her eyes and closed the door behind her. So far, no one was acting the way they normally would have. She took Nick's wasted arm and firmly led him back to his bed.
"Is that what you thought you were doing this afternoon? Working for this Legacy outfit at their castle again?" The psychiatrist had pulled the single chair in the room close to his bedside and was watching him now with eyes that weighed every emotion flitting across his face.
"I was unconscious this afternoon! Look Rachel, it's obvious I've been in here a while." Nick held up the thin, white arms that had been tanned and well muscled the last time he had looked at himself and tried to, somehow, connect to this cold stranger who wore the face of a friend. "What's been going on? Is Philip all right?"
Rachel looked surprised for a moment but then reached out to hold his hand and rub some warmth into it. Nick hadn't even realized how cold his hands were until then. "Father Philip is fine, Nick. He didn't come last week because he had a funeral to perform, remember? He'll be here tomorrow just like always."
"What are you talking about?!" Nick's voice rose with frustration and the return of fear.
"Calm down." Rachel's grip tightened as he tried to pull away and held him in place, facing her. "I want you to do your breathing exercises now, all right? Just close your eyes and take deep, slow breaths until you start to feel better."
"No!" Nick yelled. He pulled sharply away from the woman and scrambled off the far side of the bed to stand eyeing her warily, his chest heaving with emotion. The increasing wrongness of Rachel's whole demeanor sent the warning bells in his mind to clamoring. "Whatever they did to you, Rachel, fight it! We have to get out of here!"
"Nobody's done anything to me, Nick." It didn't seem possible but the doctor's voice grew even calmer and more reasonable sounding than it had been before. "If you'll just sit down and talk to me, we can straighten everything out, okay?"
The blatant attempt to humor him into doing what she wanted only served to alarm Nick more. I have to get out of here! I have to find Derek and figure out what's going on. The thought pounded inside Nick's skull, nearly drowning out the doctor's soothing litany as she slowly moved around the bed and approached him.
He wasn't so distracted that she could sneak up on him, though. Just before Rachel got within reach, Nick scrambled over the bed to lunge for the unguarded door. In his weakened condition, a fight, even with the doctor, was out of the question.
"Nick! Get back here!" Dr. Corrigan rounded the foot of the bed angrily as her patient started to slide out the door. Her cheeks were flushed with embarrassment at her inability to control the situation.
Nick's attention was focused so completely on avoiding his companion that he never realized someone was nearby until strong arms caught him around the shoulders. He started to panic as he was pinned against someone's chest but stilled when he recognized the voice of his captor ordering him to hold still.
"Derek! I am so glad you're here. You have to help me."
"I know. That's what I'm here for." Derek kept a tight grip on his arms as he steered Nick back to the bed, making the younger man more nervous. Whatever was going on, it looked like they'd made a clean sweep of the San Francisco Legacy House.
"I've got to get out of here! Let me go!" Nick began to struggle again with all the strength left in him, but he was too weak. No sooner had he gotten an arm loose than Derek wrapped his own arm around the smaller man's waist and hoisted him off his feet.
"Help me get him down before he hurts himself!" Rachel panted, grabbing one kicking foot before it could connect with her stomach and using it to swing her panicking patient toward his bed.
Nick screamed in frustration as he was lifted onto the narrow bed and pinned there while Rachel pulled heavy fabric straps from beneath the mattress and began to tie his thrashing body down. The restraints didn't scare him half as much as the soothing litany Derek had begun to try and calm him down. Nick grew still to listen, his eyes wide and his heart breaking.
"It's all right now. Everything's going to be all right." Derek gently stroked his face with one hand, his other hand resting over Nick's wildly beating heart. "I'm here, Nick. Dad's here. Do you remember when you were six and I took you with me up in a little plane for the first time? You told the pilot you weren't afraid because you knew nothing bad could happen as long as your Daddy was with you."
"Nooo . . ." Nick moaned, not wanting to hear this fantasy. He'd dreamed too many times as a child, and even as an adult, that Derek was his real father -- not Jonathan Boyle. The twisting of that dream by whoever was doing this to them tore at his heart and he pulled harder at the straps that bound him, wanting only to find whoever had done this and tear their hearts out -- assuming they had any, that was.
"Shhh," Derek whispered soothingly, not noticing the doctor leaving the room. His eyes were blurring with tears as he watched Nick start to struggle against his bonds again. "I promise I won't let anything bad happen to you, Nick. You were right all those years ago, you know? I would never let anything happen to hurt my little boy."
Nick jerked his head away from the trembling hands that tried to comfort him and tried again to break through the programming Derek and the others must have undergone while he was unconscious. Two years.
"I'm not your son!" Nick screamed, pushing on in spite of the deep hurt he could see the words caused the suddenly haggard-looking man leaning over him. "My father was a drunken son of a bitch who beat me and my mother and I'm glad he's dead!"
"Please, Derek." Nick drew in a deep, shuddering breath and his voice grew softer as he pleaded with this man he wished with all his heart really had been his father. How different his life could have been if he'd been Derek's son! "You have to remember the Legacy. You're precept of the San Francisco House. You don't have any kids, the Legacy has always been your life."
"Please, Nick, don't talk like that." Tears rolled freely down Derek's face now and he choked with the bitterness of his son's denial. "I know I haven't been a very good father. I haven't always been there when you needed me but I am your father and I'm here now. I love you very much. You're my life."
Nick froze at the pain and the genuine love even he couldn't deny was in Derek's face. He didn't see Rachel come back into the room with the needle until it was too late. The sudden pinch of the hypodermic and the coldness in his arm was over and done with before he could pull away. Everything in the room seemed far away and unimportant all of a sudden. Still, he struggled to break through to one of his colleagues.
"It's gonna be awright, Derek." Nick slurred his words as he fought for focus. "Sloan. He'll help. Call -- call London House."
"It's late. You should go home and get some rest." Rachel Corrigan laid a gentle hand on her companion's arm. With his graying hair disarranged into a wild mane around his face and deep shadows haunting his eyes, Dr. Rayne didn't look in much better shape than the young man in the bed. "He's going to be pretty out of it for the rest of the night."
"You haf ta call Sloan." Nick mumbled as his head rolled to the side trying to find his precept. He knew that if Derek would only listen to him, he could shake it off and get them all out of here.
Derek stroked Nick's cheek gently and shifted his shoulders to a more comfortable angle where the straps wouldn't pull so badly before pulling the fallen blanket up over his son's chest, tucking him in as if he were still a small child. "No, if it's all right with you, Dr. Corrigan, I'll stay with him until he falls asleep."
Rachel frowned and looked down at her watch. It was already later than they usually allowed visitors to remain on the ward, but then, she supposed, this wasn't exactly how Dr. Rayne had expected to spend his Saturday night. "I can give you one hour, then you'll have to leave whether he's asleep or not. Okay?"
"I understand. You have rules here that you need to follow." Derek forced a smile of thanks for the woman's kind gesture. "Thank you."
Derek yawned as his early morning habit compelled him to his favorite coffee machine by the west wing nurse's station. He wasn't sure why, but after coming here at least twice a week for the past two years, he was absolutely certain that there was something different about this machine. It was the only coffee in the place that didn't set off his ulcer.
Hastily swallowing the scalding mouthful, Derek turned to face the man who'd greeted him. "Father Philip. What brings you out here so early this morning?"
"Mr. Hayes, from campus security, was at early mass this mornin' and told me what happened yesterday." The serious young priest smiled self-consciously and a little sadly. "I wasn't preaching today so I decided to come out t' the hospital a little bit early to see how Nick was doing and if there was anythin' I could do to help."
"Can you sit with him for a little while? I only got here a short time ago myself and he was still asleep." Derek was glad Nick had finally been able to get some rest. When his hour was up last night, the boy had still been tossing restlessly and alternately trying to convince him to either call this 'London House' or help him get out of the hospital.
Once he'd gotten home, Derek himself had been unable to sleep, remembering the pitiful scene. "The nurse said he'd had a rough night and they're going to let him sleep. Nick's doctor wants to meet with me this morning. Something about trying another new treatment for him, I think. After what happened yesterday, I'd rather he didn't wake up alone."
"Of course I'll go in and sit with him." Father Philip Callaghan reassured the worn-looking professor. Despite the fact that Derek rarely made it to mass these days, preferring to spend as much time as possible with his son, Philip still considered the man one of his favorite parishioners. He slipped quickly down the hall to the familiar room before Derek could embarrass him with thanks. Hospital visits were a part of his job after all, and even though Nick had been institutionalized for two years now, he was still a member of Philip's parish.
Nick blinked sleepily at the nightstand just a few inches in front of his face and frowned. Where his clock-radio should have been, there was nothing but a turned down picture frame and the stand, itself, looked wrong somehow.
"Nick? Are you awake?"
The familiar, lilting voice inquiring softly from somewhere behind him made Nick stiffen as the memories came flooding back. The demon that Hitchcock had sent to kill them all, the pitched battle in the foyer of the Legacy House and, most of all, Philip dying in front of his eyes. As much as he'd hoped the priest had survived when he'd first woken up in this strange place, Nick knew that no one could have recovered from the injuries he'd seen inflicted. He burrowed deeper into the blankets and shut his eyes as tightly as he could for a moment. "You're not real. I saw you die."
Father Philip stood there for a second, absorbing the impact of what the younger man had just said. Nick had finally incorporated him into the world of his delusions and, it would seem, killed him. Philip wasn't sure how he should interpret that.
"Father?" The entrance of the regular ward nurse saved the priest from having to respond to the accusation of being deceased. "Is he awake yet?"
"Alex!" Nick tried to lunge upright but was pulled back by the straps on his wrists. They didn't allow him that much movement. The reminder of what had been done to him last night by his supposed friends made Nick reconsider his reactions. If he was going to find out what was going on here and help his teammates, he was going to have to play their game. For now.
"Good morning. How are you doing this morning, Hon?" Alexandra Moreau smiled warmly. She was fond of Nick -- she had just been too tired last night to cope with him in one of his more psychotic moods. He was supposed to have been at home this weekend. It had been disappointing when he was brought back in as a psychiatric emergency less than twenty-four hours after being released on a pass.
"I'm fine. I have to get up, though." Nick tried to look calmer than he felt.
"I'll bet." The nurse frowned in sympathy. She knew how rough it was on the patients when they had to be kept in restraints for any length of time, but they really hadn't had much choice last night. "If I undo those are you going to give me trouble or take your meds like a good boy?"
Nick's mind raced. The drugs were probably the first step in the brainwashing procedure they'd used on the others. Obviously, as long as he'd remained unconscious he'd been safe from whatever had been done to his House. Now that he was awake, it looked like it was his turn to have his brain turned inside out. If he took the drugs, he risked ending up in the same fix as his teammates but, on the other hand, he wasn't doing anyone any good tied to a bed. "I'll take them."
Nick sat up slowly, rubbing his wrists to stall for time while Alex produced a small plastic package of pills from her pocket and got him a glass of water from the connecting bathroom he hadn't noticed the night before. The ex-SEAL obediently popped the pills into his mouth and sipped at the proffered glass, careful not to actually swallow the things.
"Good. Now, open."
Nick stared, wondering what she meant. Then he got it. His heart sank as he opened his mouth and lifted his tongue on command, exposing the medication acridly melting beneath it.
"Okay, let's try this again, shall we?" Alex stepped forward, confident she wouldn't have to call on the orderlies for help but prepared to force the issue herself.
Nick knew when he was beaten and this time swallowed the medication without further evasions. They had probably been dripping the stuff into his veins intravenously for weeks now. He could only hope that whatever had kept him from succumbing so far was still working.
"That's better." Alex offered him a sad smile in reward for the effort he'd made to cooperate -- once she'd checked to make certain he had, indeed, swallowed the capsules this time. "Unfortunately, you lost points with that stunt. I'll have to put it in your behavior chart. I'm afraid it's liable to be awhile before you earn another home pass. Now, why don't you sit down and let me change those bandages so you can get dressed?"
An hour later, with his hand and midsection wrapped in fresh bandages, Nick was ready to check out this strange world he'd awakened in. He was glad the man claiming to be Philip had stuck around. There were other questions he needed answered, foremost of which was whether this was really his old friend somehow miraculously retrieved from death.
Nick edged a little closer and let Philip guide the way as they went out into the busy hallway. The fluorescent orange surgical scrubs and soft socks he'd been given to wear made him feel acutely vulnerable even though he could see other people in the hall dressed the same way. Most of them were obviously crazy. Even some of the normally dressed people looked a bit off to him and Nick guessed they were also patients. It was pretty obvious this wasn't a general medical facility that he could simply check out of once his injuries healed sufficiently.
"What did she mean by saying I was back at level one when she locked the closet and gave me these clothes?" Nick asked abruptly.
Philip jumped, a bit startled by the sudden question. Nick had been so quiet, he'd assumed there was something stronger than the usual chemical cocktail in this morning's medication and he hadn't been expecting very much from him. Sometimes when he came here to visit the patients, Nick would be so doped up he couldn't function at all and needed to be physically guided. The priest regained his composure quickly enough. "They use a tiered program here that lets you earn more privileges as you get better to encourage patients to try and get well."
"I'd guess level one is the lowest." Nick looked down at himself, a bit disgusted at the glaring color, before reaching out to pull his companion to a halt. "If I'm supposed to be some kind of nutcase that's been locked up here for two years, why don't I know this stuff? Tell me that . . . Father."
"Sometimes, Nick --" Philip spoke as gently as he could, licking his dry lips as he struggled with the best way to phrase what he wanted to say. Usually the doctors would have explained these things but this morning's meeting had left his one-time friend dangling. "-- when you're having a rough time of it -- you forget everything but what's comin' from your own head."
Nick shivered at the pained look on Philip's face. It was obvious he believed what he'd just said and it actually did sound completely plausible. They walked in silence until the hallway ended and deposited them in a sun-filled day room. It frightened Nick the way several of the people scattered about the bright room recognized and spoke to them both. This was awfully elaborate for even the Legacy's many enemies.
"Okay, so how did I get hurt so bad?" Nick shook himself free from his dark musings -- they wouldn't find him the answers he needed -- only asking the right questions could do that.
"You were home for the weekend and you started to hallucinate or something." Philip shifted uneasily. He'd gotten in trouble here before for telling the patients things he thought would help them, only to have their attending physicians disagree. "I wasn' there, Nick, but campus security said your Dad had to knock you out because you were hurting yourself."
"And my Dad would be. . . ?"
"Your father is a professor of Anthropology at the University of California. His name is Derek Rayne." Philip looked around the room, hoping to see Derek or the nurse or even that new lady doctor who'd been working with Nick since he'd insisted that his regular doctor was out to get him. One of the patient's advocates who visited the hospital on a regular basis had helped Nick get the man taken off his case. "Look, I really think you need to ask the doctor these things . . ."
Nick had to laugh even though the situation he was in definitely wasn't funny. The nervous good intentions of this man were so very like the Philip he remembered. "It really is you, isn't it?"
Philip smiled, relaxing a little. "Yes, Nick, it's me."
"So, why are you alive?" Nick looked directly into his friend's eyes and hurried on, hoping to see some spark of recognition that would indicate there was a chink somewhere in whatever brainwashing had been used on his teammates by their unknown enemy. "I saw that demon rip you nearly in half."
"Nick, you can't keep . . ."
"You have to remember something! We got an artifact, allegedly from the Hong Kong House, for study -- only it was a trap. As soon as one of us touched it with our bare skin, a demon came roaring out and started tearing the place apart, yelling something about getting even with Derek for something." An edge of desperation crept into Nick's voice, making him ashamed of his own weakness. Philip was listening but he could see the priest didn't believe him. "You started a banishment but it didn't do any good. Before you could get very far, that thing picked you up and shredded you."
"What else?" Philip's face was stiff and expressionless as he sat waiting for Nick to get this latest delusion out of his head. He'd always personally thought it was best to let Nick talk out the things that upset him and he'd sit and listen now. The young priest carefully noted their proximity to the big orderlies monitoring the room anyway and hoped he was concealing the fear he'd begun to feel. In the past two years, Nick had told him some bizarre and violent stories but they'd never involved his own death. What he'd done to Nick to trigger this reaction, he didn't know.
"I don't remember much else." Nick looked down at the table, defeated by the wall of disbelief. "That's when I was picked up and thrown against the wall. I woke up here with everyone telling me I was crazy and the life I remember never happened."
"Will you listen to what I remember about the time we've known one another?" Philip asked quietly. The doctors could yell at him all they wanted to about overstepping his bounds. They could even have him removed as visiting chaplain for the hospital. Right now, Nick desperately needed someone to help him make sense of what was happening around him and Philip was the only one here for him at the moment. He wasn't just a bystander any more, not since Nick had incorporated the young priest into the intricate delusion he used to cope with his life.
"Why not?" Nick laughed bitterly. He didn't have a prayer of swaying his friend to his perspective. Maybe knowing what the others perceived as reality would help him figure out who had done this to them all and how to fix it. He wanted to know whether they had allowed him to remember the truth for a reason or if whatever had been done to the others just hadn't worked on him.
"Five years ago, when I first came t' this country, your dad sort of took me under his wing. He remembered what it was like to be so totally lost in another culture." Philip looked down at his folded hands to avoid the bitter pain in Nick's eyes. He wished it wasn't so hard for Nick to find his way back from these episodes. It hadn't always been this bad. "You were still living at home to save money and give you more time to work on your degree. I used to come over for dinner a lot and sometimes we'd catch a game or a movie and you'd play tour guide for me around the city afterwards."
The priest broke off his story and looked up at the small, vaguely frightened sound that came from across the table to find Nick pale and trembling as he stared at something on the other side of the room. "Nick? Are you okay? What's wrong?"
Getting no response from the other man, Philip twisted around to follow his companion's eyes. A small plume of smoke was wafting from a waste basket in the corner beside the old television set. A heavyset blond woman with a bad perm was crouched over it, peering inside, with a book of paper matches in one hand while she used the other to fan the growing column of smoke.
The room became all action as the orderlies, too, spotted the growing disaster and rushed to intervene. The fluorescently clothed woman, a particularly sneaky and vindictive individual Philip thought he remembered being called Carrie, began to scream and swear, trying to bite the men who were pulling her back from her fire. Normally, Philip would have tried to help calm the other patients, who had begun to react to the disturbance, but right now his only concern was Nick. Any brief fear he had felt of the young man earlier was overwhelmed by the need to help him now.
Nick had begun to gasp for breath, trapped in a fire he'd never been in and couldn't even remember most days. His eyes were rolling in terror and he'd gotten to his feet, backing across the chaos-filled room, looking for any escape from the panic attack brought on by the smoke and confusion.
Philip moved quickly around the table and caught Nick by both arms, right before he backed over a low table filled with magazines. "Nick! Look at me!" Philip shook him slightly, trying to make him focus on anything other than his fear. "You're safe! They're putting the fire out now so that nobody gets hurt. You have t' try and calm down for me. Can you do that?"
Nick screamed wildly, wordlessly, and yanked himself free, only to fall over the table and have the breath really knocked out of him. A nurse was beside them in a moment, helping to hold Nick still and make sure he hadn't hurt himself in the fall.
"We need to get him out of here so that he can calm down." The pale blond nurse Philip had never met before sized the situation up coldly while she helped get Nick back on his feet and moved toward the door. He was still gasping for breath and had begun to shake wildly, jerking to get away whenever one of the out-of-control patients careened into them.
Somehow, they got Nick out of there and back to his own room where he curled up in a miserable ball on the broad windowsill, still struggling to breathe. Philip caught the nurse by the arm as she started to walk back out without seeming to give another thought to the frightened young man she was partly responsible for. He glanced at the name tag on her uniform. "Miss - uh - Kristin? Can't you do somethin' for him? Give him a shot or somethin' to help him relax?"
"I'm sorry, Father. New orders were just posted at shift change." The woman smiled so insincerely she may as well not have bothered. "His chart says no more medication without direct authorization from his attending. They need to get his system clean for the treatments. Unless there's a life threatening emergency, he's just gonna have to deal with it. I'll let the dining room attendant know not to expect him and arrange to have his lunch sent in here."
Philip could only stare as the young nurse left without a second glance at either of them. She looked fresh out of nursing school. For the patients' sakes, the priest hoped she'd lighten up a bit once she got a little more experienced in working with the severely disturbed. Treatment like this was the last thing people like Nick needed.
"Nick?" Philip moved over by the window and reached out a comforting hand. When his former friend flinched sharply away, the priest retreated to the familiar overstuffed armchair he'd spent so many difficult days in. Sometimes, all he could do was simply be here for his parishioners. Father Philip Callaghan hated those days.
Derek Rayne shifted uncomfortably in his seat at the small conference table in the hospital administrator's office and tried to focus on what Dr. Sloan was saying instead of how horribly wrong this weekend had gone.
"If I may interrupt?" Randolph Hitchcock leaned forward in his seat and glanced briefly at his superior for permission to continue. "Derek, I know you only want what's best for your son, but we have to be realistic here. Conventional therapy has been useless in Nick's case. In fact, he's gotten steadily worse. You were the one who first realized that his behavioral changes went far beyond simple grief for his wife and child, or guilt for being with his mistress instead of at home with them when the fire broke out. That's when you brought him to us for evaluation. All we're asking now is for you to do what's best for him again."
"I know that! I'm just not convinced this is the best thing for him." Derek looked around the table, searching for anyone who would support his side of this. Dr. Sloan, the administrator, only looked tired. The newest therapist, Dr. Corrigan was red-faced and would only stare down at the table. He almost felt sorry for her. She'd only been working with Nick for a few months and plainly hated to admit she'd been unable to make any progress with him. The court-appointed social worker sitting in on the meeting simply looked bored and anxious to move on to her next appointment. Ironically, the only face that contained any sympathy at all for his plight was that of the doctor who Nick had gotten dismissed from his case three months ago.
"You said he would make a quick recovery once he accepted that he couldn't have saved Julia and the baby even if he'd been home -- only died with them." Derek fastened his eyes on that one sympathetic face, pleading with him to explain away the nightmare that had gotten steadily deeper since that horrible night his daughter-in-law and grandson burned and left his only child a shattered wreck of the happy, successful man he'd been.
"Two years ago, we thought he would." Randolph Hitchcock leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table as he met his friend's tired gaze. He had come to genuinely like both his patient and the young man's father during the time he'd worked with Nick and had remained friends with Derek, even after Nick incorporated him into his delusion. "Today we have to face the reality that Nick has become steadily more disturbed and our treatment options more limited. His delusions are all-encompassing now. According to last night's log he's even worked Father Callaghan and Dr. Corrigan into his private little world."
"That isn't even the worst of it." Dr. Corrigan finally looked up, her voice a bit strident with emotion. "The delusions -- seeing orderlies as demons or inventing invisible forces that are out to destroy him -- those things were bad enough, but now it's worse. You said the two of you were alone in the house when Nick broke the hall mirror and started slashing at himself with the broken glass -- screaming about a demon the entire time -- until you finally had to knock him out! That's not delusional, it's a flat out hallucination."
"I disagree." Dr. Hitchcock broke in before the woman could go on and upset things even further. "We know he decided that Karen, his former lover, was some kind of evil, sexual demon. I believe he's simply gone another step and decided he, himself, is some sort of evil monster. That is still a delusion, not an hallucination. However," he continued before Rachel could argue with him about it, "I agree that Electroconvulsive Therapy is our only real choice anymore."
"I can't accept that." Derek sat there, numbly shaking his head to clear it of the frightening image of the doctors deliberately firing jolts of electricity into his only child. He could accept that such extreme measures might well destroy the false world Nick had created in his head. He just wondered how much of Nick would be left when they were done. "Surely there's some way you can adjust his medication so these kinds of lapses don't happen."
"Derek, we've done all that we can with the medications. They aren't working any more." Hitchcock leaned forward, trying somehow to convey just how badly he wished there were something more they could do, some 'wonder drug' to make it all go away. "He was on medication this weekend. We checked his blood levels when he was brought in and they confirmed that he didn't hide a dose and skip it on you. We've simply done all that we can for him with drugs and therapy alone."
"Our only other choice, chemically, would be to keep him so doped up that he's barely even sentient, with no hope of eventual recovery." Sloan quietly interjected. "He needs this therapy. It will be much easier to get court approval for it if you back us."
"Can I have a little time to think about all this?"
"Of course," Sloan got up, making it clear, much to the social worker's obvious relief, that the meeting was over with for now. "I understand that you want to spend some time with Nick before visiting hours are over with. Please get back to me with your decision before Tuesday. I'm afraid that's as long as we can wait if we want to get it on the court calendar."
Derek Rayne was growing a little alarmed as he hurried toward his son's room. He'd already checked the sunlight-filled day room where he knew Nick preferred to spend his time and found the entire room in a stir of agitated patients and harried staff members trying to calm them down. There had, however, been no trace of Nick or Father Callaghan, only the frightening scent of burning.
The small stir of alarm in Derek's heart was validated as he reached the room's doorway and found Nick huddled on the windowsill, shaking and struggling to breathe. To his relief, the man that he could only think of as the little boy he had once been, came willingly into his arms when Derek held them open and slowly grew still with his face buried tightly in the warmth of his father's sports coat.
As soon as he felt the muscles in Nick's back begin to stiffen beneath his gently stroking hands, Derek released his son and moved silently to one of the two armchairs in the cramped room, allowing Nick the time to collect himself and recover a little of his damaged dignity. Derek never took his eyes off his son as he leaned close to the man hunched forward in the next chair with his hands clasped miserably in front of him. "What happened?"
"There was a fire in the day room." The young priest replied as softly as he could to avoid disturbing Nick. Philip glanced over at his companion and hastened to finish as he saw the man's face tighten. "It was just a little one that got started in a wastebasket when one of the patients got hold of a book of matches. Nick started to have a panic attack and a nurse helped me bring him back here in the hope that he'd calm down once he couldn't see or smell the fire. They didn't want to give him meds if he could be calmed down any other way. The nurse said something about needing to clean his system out for some new therapy."
The priest studiously ignored the soft string of Dutch obscenities that greeted his explanation. "He was callin' for Julia." Philip Callaghan risked a glance at his companion, wondering if he should go on. "That's not a bad thing, Derek. The fire and Julia's death were both real. I was beginning to doubt reality could reach Nick any more."
"I'm not sure it has now." Derek sighed, watching the slight form of his son as Nick sat cross-legged in the middle of his bed, fiddling with the plastic ID bracelet he was required to wear when in the hospital and seemingly ignoring both them, and the untouched meal tray on his nightstand.
Father Philip Callaghan didn't know how to respond to the doubt and defeat in his parishioner's voice. As the man's priest, he had a duty to offer some sort of counsel, he just wasn't sure what. It was a relief to catch sight of the small clock on the dresser beneath the window. "Look, Derek, I'm not sure what I can do to help, but I'll stop back by here after my service. If you want to talk about it, I'll be here to listen."
"Thank you, Father. You've helped just by being here. Right now, I think you have patients waiting for their communion service." Derek smiled. "Nick always looks forward to that when he's well enough to attend and I'm sure others do, too. You should go."
"I will be back. I promise." The young priest cast one final look at the man still sitting on the bed, ignoring them, and slipped out.
Nick knew peripherally when Father Philip left the room and where the priest was going. He probably would have been more shaken by the memories flashing through him of attending services in the psychiatric hospital's small chapel if he wasn't already coping with so much.
The bracelet slipping between his fingers listed his name as Nicholas Rayne right above his hospital ID number. Somehow, the name felt incredibly right even though he knew it wasn't. "Why don't I have an accent?"
"Hmm?" Derek blinked at his son, startled by the question. It wasn't one that Nick had asked him before. Not since he was a little boy, at any rate.
Nick stopped fiddling with his bracelet and looked up. "If you're my father, why do you have a foreign accent and I don't?"
Derek smiled and nearly laughed. Sad as it was that Nick was in such severe denial, the question did bring back memories of a better time when Derek couldn't walk through the door at night without having a chattering bundle of energy assault him with the million questions that generally occurred to a five year old in the course of a day at play. "I was born in the Netherlands. You were born here."
Derek stood up and went to the dresser beneath the window. He pulled a large photo album from the top drawer and came to join his son on the edge of the bed before opening it to a picture of a young woman sitting on a patch of grass next to a much younger Derek. "You asked me to bring you this album when you started to get confused so that you could remember what your childhood was really like. That's your mom. We didn't know about you being on the way until we'd been in this country for nearly a month."
"So, how come you came here in the first place?" Nick flipped through the first couple pages. They were all tourist-type pictures of the young couple taken around the Bay area.
"I was offered a chance to teach in this country for two years. It was too good an opportunity to miss out on." Derek smiled. "When we found out about you, we talked about going home, but neither of us had any close family. In America, I had a good job and we had friends to help out, so we stayed. Until you were eighteen and made your choice, you were a citizen of two nations."
"I don't remember her." Nick fought to hold onto the shifting picture of his past and reason with the man it was all too easy to think of as his father. "Don't you think I'd remember my own mother?"
"Nick . . .," Derek gently rested a hand on his son's shoulder, careful to hide his hurt when Nick jerked away from the contact, "you never knew her. You were born nearly six weeks premature. Your mom died in the delivery room from complications. That's why I chose to apply for citizenship -- so that I could stay and raise you here. I had friends here to help out, and the first few years, I really needed that."
"Because you hated me for taking her from you and couldn't even look at me." Nick mumbled the words without even thinking. They just seemed to come from some place deep inside him.
"Who told you that?!" Derek got to his feet and rounded angrily on his son, only getting control when he saw the arm thrown defensively over Nick's head. "I'm sorry, Nick, of course you don't know where that came from."
The tall Dutchman sat back down and took his son's hand, not allowing Nick to pull away from him this time. "No, I never hated you. I spent hours just standing over your bed watching you sleep. You were all I had left. I needed help because you were very sick those first few years from being born before you were ready. Your lungs didn't work right for a long time. We stayed in San Francisco as much to be near your doctors as for any other reason."
"Why don't I remember any of this then?" Nick was pleased at how level his voice came out as he asked the question. It felt like he was shaking apart inside. All this sounded so reasonable -- so right.
This time, Derek did laugh in a slightly desperate fashion. "If I could tell you that, neither of us would have to be here right now."
Nick smiled in return and calmed down a little. He decided to see if, just maybe, he could jog some of his precept's real memories loose while Derek was so relaxed and open. He spoke very slowly and quietly as he started out, to avoid upsetting the older man with his story.
"I remember my parents being named Jonathan and Christine Boyle. Things were pretty rough at home. Pops used to beat up on both of us when he got drunk. I still had bruises when I left for basic training after joining the navy. He didn't leave me with much ability to trust anybody. In a way, he was still controlling my life right up until I told you what he used to do to us. That sort of exorcised it a little bit. It was when you brought that kid, Michael, to the castle when that ghost was trying to kill him. I thought it was really his dad abusing him the way mine had done to me. Remember?"
"No." Derek clutched the hand a little bit tighter as if, by hanging on to Nick physically, he could keep him from slipping any further away mentally. "We used to have a housekeeper named Christine Boyle until you were seven. Her husband had a drinking problem and she finally left him and went to live with their grown daughter in Ohio. I told her not to let him in my house when I wasn't there but I always suspected he was coming around drunk and scaring you. He's probably the one who told you that I hated you. As for Michael, that was the name of your son, Nick. He was only eight months old when he died."
"What about the castle?" Nick yanked his hand away and scuttled higher on the bed, speaking through clenched jaws as he fought to deny the images Derek's words had conjured. For just a moment he had seen the life being described to him. "What about the Legacy?"
"I know where you think we live but there is no castle on Angel Island, Nick. I can show you the Park Service maps to prove it. The castle you remember is at a university in Canada. Look, I can show you." Derek reached for the discarded photo album and flipped ahead to a picture of a boy about fourteen standing in front of an ivy-draped stone structure in a school uniform. "I sent you to a boarding school near there one year while I was out of the country on an expedition. You fell in love with Hatley Castle and talked for months about going to school there when you were old enough. You stayed here in San Francisco because you met Julia and fell in love with her. You had just gotten your degree in archeology when she got pregnant. You were never in the navy and I had never heard of anything called the Legacy until you mentioned it in here for the first time about five months after you began seeing demons and witches all around you."
Nick pulled his knees up as close to his chest as he could and rested his forehead on them while he tried to catch his breath. It felt like he was being crushed. He hadn't had this much trouble breathing since he was ten and tried to climb to the top of Angel Island without stopping. Nick could still remember how scared he'd been, lying in his father's arms after his collapse, with a paramedic holding an oxygen mask over his face while his dad crooned a soft lullaby in his native language.
Nooo . . . I don't speak Dutch! Nick began to gasp harshly as he fought to deny the memory of a day that could never have happened. He couldn't deny understanding the gentle reassurances Derek was murmuring to him now in his native tongue. Finally, he stopped trying and reached out, trembling, for the photo turned down on the stand.
Julia stared back at him from the simple frame, looking exhausted but radiant. Nick, himself, was seated on the edge of the bed beside her with such a look of pride and adoration on his face that it left no doubt that he was the father of the tiny, dark-haired bundle in her arms. Nick's eyes blurred with tears even as the fist clutching his chest loosened enough to let him breathe a little easier. "What happened to them?"
"They died, Nick." Derek spoke very gently and stayed where he was near the foot of the bed, giving Nick the space he needed to cope with his emerging memories, while offering support in case they were too much to handle alone. No matter how often Nick tried to block out reality, this was always the first memory to really return to him and it was always the hardest. "There was a fire during the night while they were sleeping. It was summer and everything was so dry that the house just went right up. They never had a chance to wake up, much less escape."
Nick choked back the sob that tried to push its way free of his throat and brushed angrily at the tears that were betraying him. "Why am I alive then? If I'm supposed to have married Julia and had a baby, why wasn't I with them?!"
Derek looked down at his tightly clenched hands. For him, this was the hardest part of all. It had taken more than one session with Father Callaghan before Derek was able to forgive his son for his shameful conduct those last few months. He'd thought that he had raised Nick better than that.
"Things were stressful for the two of you during Julia's pregnancy. You had to give up a spot on an archeological expedition you'd fought for over a year to land in order to be there for the birth and you resented it. Everyone was saying you had a promising career ahead of you and you didn't like having to slow down to have a family. Anyone who looked at you saw a happy, successful man who had everything he could possibly want out of life. They had no idea what went on when no one else was around. The two of you started to fight almost continually and you ended up storming out a lot. One night, you met a woman in a diner and she made you feel good about yourself again. When I found out about the fights and the affair, I told you that it was a mistake, that she was no good for you, but you wouldn't listen to me."
"No . . ." Nick tucked his legs back up against his chest again as though to protect himself from the images flashing through his head, but the older man pressed on.
"You kept seeing this Karen woman even after Julia had the baby. You didn't even try to hide it anymore after awhile. That last night, the two of you had gotten into a fight about the affair and your drinking and you stormed out, as usual, to see your mistress. By the time you sobered up and came home, it was too late." Derek struggled briefly to get his emotions back in check. Nick's behavior had been reprehensible but it hadn't caused the fire. For both their sakes, he needed to stay in control.
"No . . . I wouldn't've done something like that to Julia. I loved her." Nick abruptly unwound, got up off the bed, and began to pace with his arms wrapped tight around his middle as if to try and hold himself together. His voice rose to a scream as he turned to confront his father. "You're making this up!"
Derek ducked as first a magazine, left lying out on the dresser, and then Nick's tray was hurled at him. He barely had time to raise his arms to defend himself before his son was on him, fists flailing wildly as Nick fought to deny the words he recognized as true.
"Stop doing this to me!" Nick couldn't seem to stop himself now. Images were flashing through his mind of things that couldn't have happened. He saw himself entwined with Karen, in a bedroom he didn't even recognize, with a wedding ring he somehow knew was his abandoned on the bedside table. He somehow remembered pulling to a stop in the street and running past the fire engines to reach a small house engulfed in flames. A house that he knew was his. He'd been screaming Julia's name, fighting to break free of the firefighters who held him back, unwilling to believe them when they said no one could have survived.
He was screaming again today as orderlies piled into the room in response to his cries. By the time they had him securely wrapped in a straight-jacket, he was limp in their arms, sobbing exhaustedly. "Why are you putting these things in my head?" He looked up, pleading with his precept even as he gulped back the sobs still filling his throat. "None of it was ever real. Those are things somebody made you believe so they could beat us. Why won't you listen to me?!"
"Come on, Kiddo. You can scream and cry all you want in time-out. Right now, you're making everybody else upset." The shorter orderly expertly hooked a foot around Nick's ankle to stop him from trying to brace himself against the door frame and muscled him past it into the hallway. The feeble effort was the last token of resistance Nick made. He barely even looked conscious now and it required both orderlies just to keep him upright.
Derek Rayne didn't even bother asking if this measure was really necessary as he followed the two men dragging his son down the hall. They had been through this before. Any time a new medication was tried on Nick, he had to be taken completely off the old one first and, without his meds, he got much worse.
In the meeting, they had said Nick would need to be off all medication for at least two weeks in preparation for the shock treatments and that the order had already been written in anticipation of court approval. They had asked for his support so that the matter would go through quickly and lessen the amount of time Nick would spend waiting and suffering without the anti-psychotic drugs that allowed him some degree of normalcy on most days. If this was the shape Nick was already in after missing his mid-day meds, what was he going to be like in two weeks?
The exhausted Anthropology professor was sitting on the floor of the empty, padded cell, cradling his son's head in his lap when a doctor finally came in to check on Nick over an hour later.
"How's he doing?" Rachel Corrigan crouched down beside the father and son and smiled encouragingly, not really aware of how condescending she sounded.
Derek thought for the hundredth time that the woman really should've gone into pediatrics instead of psychiatry. She talked to everyone as though they were five years old -- and stupid at that! He really wished Nick hadn't gotten Randolph dismissed.
"He fell asleep almost as soon as he let me hold him." Derek sighed heavily. "Tell me, Dr. Corrigan, if I back the hospital on this shock therapy, how soon would you be able to begin the treatments?"
"With your support, it should only take a week or so to clear the courts. After that, we just need to wait until his blood levels show there are no more traces of any sort of drug in his system. Two, maybe three weeks total -- only I won't be handling the treatments."
"Oh?" Derek looked up sharply in surprise. No one had mentioned this in the meeting. "Why not? I won't allow some strange doctor I know nothing about to handle this!"
"Whoa, no one was suggesting bringing in a stranger." Rachel glanced quickly down at Nick to make sure he hadn't been disturbed. It was a relief to see that he was still out like a light. After the day he'd had today, on top of yesterday, he was probably going to sleep all the way through until tomorrow. "A doctor needs special qualifications to administer ECT. I don't have those qualifications. Dr. Hitchcock is the only one at this facility who can supervise such a procedure."
"Nick had him taken off his case. How can he help us now?"
"The court ruling will specify that the nearest qualified doctor handle the treatment. Nothing else matters."
"Could we possibly have him taken back to his own room now? I hate having to see him in here." Derek looked around at the thick mats that covered every flat surface in the empty white room. They even covered the ceiling to help deaden the noise as well as absorb any impacts.
"Come on, it's not that bad. We keep it warm enough in this room that he doesn't really need a blanket, and the whole place is one big mattress." Rachel smiled at her own lame joke, wishing she could do more. Mostly, she wished that she could have done something for Nick Rayne other than give up on him, but he'd been too far lost in his delusions by the time she came on board the case. The smile faltered at the look on the big Dutchman's face and she sighed. "You're right. It's an awful place to have to be, and I'll have him moved if you want, but I think it would be better to leave him here. With no meds he's only going to get worse. In here, we can keep him from hurting himself without strapping him to a bed for two weeks."
Derek simply nodded his acceptance. He was too tired to argue any more. He just wanted his son back. "If the university will grant me the time off, would it be possible for me to spend more of it here, with Nick, just in case -- just in case something goes wrong and he doesn't know me afterwards?"
"Not a problem. I'll arrange with the staff for you to stay with him as much as you want. Stay with him as long as you need to tonight. The rules don't really apply under these circumstances. Right now, I have to go check on our little firebug and see if I can find out what happened there." Rachel squeezed the sagging shoulder before standing up to leave. It would all be over soon enough. Nick would either respond to the shock treatments or be shipped to the state hospital to be warehoused as untreatable. She hoped the grieving man on the floor would never have to learn about that final recourse. The incorrigible wards up at State were a lot bleaker than this isolation room.
"Derek? How is he?"
Derek Rayne mustered a smile at the young priest who had just laid a hand on his shoulder. "About the same. He knows something is going on and --when he's not ranting about this 'Legacy' of his or battling imaginary demons -- he insists we tell him what it is. The doctors have explained it to him but he just can't retain the explanation. They have to keep him in the jacket all the time now so that he can't hurt himself or one of the attendants."
"You're doing the right thing for him, Derek. He can't go on like this." Father Philip Callaghan wished he could offer more comfort but wasn't sure how. Things had seemed so much simpler this morning, before he came out here. He'd made a father's love for his children the subject of his sermon this morning, and spoken at length about all the incomprehensible things God sometimes allowed to happen for the good of his children that they would never understand, but it had all deserted him now. What did you say to a father who had to allow something horrible to be done to his child all in the name of what was best?
"Don't you mean I can't go on like this?" Derek laughed bitterly. "Nick was fine with his own little world until I brought him here and tried to make it all better. What right did I have to interfere in his life after all the years when I've ignored him, left him with housekeepers or in boarding schools, while I went about my own life?"
"He wasn't fine, Derek. He held a lab researcher at gunpoint and accused the poor man of cloning a demon. That's why he was finally committed, remember?" Philip's tone softened a little at the stark agony in the older man's eyes. Grief had turned the hazel eyes nearly black today. "You were a single father, Derek. You spent as much time as you could with him. Every parent I have ever talked to in this place has blamed their child's illness on themselves and they've all been wrong. I can say with absolute certainty that this wasn't your fault."
"Then why, in his delusions, does he make me some cold, distant bastard who's always playing mind games with the people around himself? According to him, I'm not even his father! The man he's created as his father was an abusive drunk!" Derek deflated abruptly and turned away from the pity in his priest's eyes. It was time he got back to Nick, anyway. "The truth is, I obviously wasn't there as much as he needed me to be."
Father Callaghan grabbed his arm before he could turn completely away. "The truth is," Philip spoke strongly, trying to convey his own conviction to his parishioner, "you're here for him now. You've been here with him every step of the way these past two years. You've worked closely with his doctors to make sure he's receiving the best care and you've given up all of your free time to visit him here, even though he wouldn't know it if you took a day off now and then. You've even put your job at risk by taking time off at mid-semester to be with him now. I work with a lot of families here, Derek. Not many of them go this far for their loved ones. You're a good father, Derek."
"I wish I could be so certain of that, Father." Derek Rayne gently pulled his arm free from the younger man's grasp. "I have to get back to him now. They're going to give him the first treatment in the morning and I need to be with him until then."
"Dr. Rayne?" Alexandra Moreau touched the man's arm lightly to get his attention. "He's all the way under now. We have to take him. You can see him in his regular room in a couple of hours."
"Of course." Derek stepped aside so that the pretty, dark-skinned nurse who had been so kind to them both could reach Nick and help move him onto the waiting gurney that would take him away from his father, perhaps forever.
He could only hope, as he watched Nick wheeled to the small, tiled room at the end of the wing, that he was doing the right thing. Most of all, he hoped that Nick would know him again afterwards. He would even be content with his place in Nick's little delusion as long as he still had some place in his son's heart.
"Randolph! You frightened me." Derek Rayne could feel a dark blush creeping over his features at how tense he must've appeared to his friend when he jumped like that. "I was expecting you earlier, but . . ."
Dr. Hitchcock smiled gently at Derek's helpless gesture. "But you got distracted watching your son sleep. I quite understand and I'm sorry I kept you waiting so long. That nasty little firebug of Dr. Corrigan's got loose again and I had to deal with her after she stabbed Rachel in the back with a pen. I'm afraid my colleague still has to learn that there are just some people one shouldn't turn one's back on."
"Is she all right?" Derek inquired, a bit alarmed both by the attack on Dr. Corrigan and the fact that his son was kept confined in the same wing with such a dangerous and hateful individual. "What are they doing to insure this doesn't happen again."
"Hmm?" Hitchcock looked up from his examination of Nick's pupils and let the eyelid he'd been holding fall closed again. "I'm sorry, Derek. I didn't mean to scare you or cast any slurs on Rachel's ability as a doctor. Dr. Corrigan is fine. She just got a well-deserved lesson in dealing with the more dangerous paranoid psychotics. As for her attacker, we've already moved her to a maximum security ward. Nick is quite safe and his doctor is entirely competent to care for him."
"I see you still read minds!" Derek laughed, his first real, honest laugh in days. He could already feel himself relaxing in the company of the doctor who had been such a strength when Nick was first brought here and diagnosed and who had rapidly become his friend.
"But of course." Randolph Hitchcock smiled and bowed to his audience of one before getting down to business. "Nick came through the procedure without any noticeable complications and we have very high hopes for the results. We'll have some idea of how well he's going to respond to this course of therapy pretty much as soon as he wakes up."
"You can tell that quickly?" There was still a great deal Derek didn't understand about this whole process. He'd intended to study up on it before they began, but Nick had been so difficult these past few weeks that he'd spent all his time either helping to calm his son, or cradling the boy while he slept. It had actually been somewhat reassuring to learn that he could still calm and comfort Nick when no one else could, even in the depths of a delusion.
"Usually, yes. If this is going to help him at all, we should see a noticeable improvement immediately." Hitchcock picked up the chart he'd set on the foot of the bed and made a few notations. "He'll have to go through the entire course of treatment, regardless of how he reacts now, you understand, but this one's the important one."
"And the memory loss you said he might suffer?" Derek reached out to reclaim his son's hand and squeezed it tightly despite the fact that Nick couldn't feel the tactile reassurance.
"That we take one session at a time. Permanent, long-term memory loss is very rare, but temporary loss of the short term memory isn't unusual at all. Nick will probably be a bit confused when he wakes up but, hopefully, that will fade." Hitchcock studied the worried eyes watching him and quit trying to explain. The only thing that would reassure Derek was Nick waking up and remembering who he was. He couldn't resist one last comment, though. "Would it be so bad if his memory has been destroyed? As long as we get rid of the delusions that put him in here, you can help him to build a new life. Others have done it before."
"I suppose it couldn't be as difficult as what we've already been through." Derek grimaced. He didn't think anything could be as bad as what they'd already been through! "I just worry that this was the right thing to do."
"Well, then, stop worrying. This was the best thing you could have possibly done for him." Hitchcock let his eyes rove over the emergency equipment that crammed the room just in case of a complication and turned to go. "Call the nursing station as soon as he starts to stir. I'd like to be here when he regains consciousness. One sure way to see if this worked or not will be to see if he tries to drive a stake through my heart!"
Five Months Later . . .
Nick Rayne smiled and waved back at the second grader who had run over to hug him before getting on the bus back to school. He got a kick out of playing tour guide for the school groups that came to visit the Winston Rayne Hall of Antiquities and their awed reactions when he revealed that the museum was named for his grandfather, who had been killed on an archeological dig in Peru before he was born.
He ran his fingers lightly over the plaque beside the door that told the story of how a group of wealthy businessmen in the Bay area, who had financed many of Winston's expeditions, had all contributed to building this museum and named it in memory of the Dutch archeologist. He wished his father's employers had valued him as much as these men had valued his grandfather.
It bothered Nick sometimes that his father had lost his post at the university to be with him while he was sick, but he was glad they could both work together now, here at the museum, thanks to the kindness of those same businessmen. As soon as they learned Dad had lost his job, they had offered the position of head curator to him, bumping Miranda Blake down to his assistant.
Looking up at the clock in the foyer, Nick headed for a narrow door marked 'employees only' and made his way to the curator's office in the back. His stomach growled a greeting as he walked in and filched a French fry from the little bag on his father's desk before excavating his own leftover submarine sandwich from the little refrigerator in the corner and perching on a low filing cabinet.
"Hey! Who taught you to steal from other people's lunches?" Derek demanded in mock indignation as he snared another fry for himself.
"Uh . . .," Nick flashed a smile that nearly made his eyes disappear as he realized he was being teased and decided to give as good as he got, "the same person who used to steal my fries when I was a kid?"
"They were bad for you." Derek retorted, leaning back in his desk chair and changing the subject. "Was that the last group of students for today?"
"Yeah, they were funny!" Nick became animated and began gesturing with his sandwich as he described the antics of his latest group. "You should have been there. One of the boys tried to climb one of the suits of armor while no one was watching, just to see what was inside, and the whole thing fell apart. Pieces were all over the floor. The teacher was practically hysterical and I was laughing so hard at the look on the kid's face that I wasn't much help. Then this little girl, couldn't've been more than seven, walks up to me with the helmet in her arms and says, 'Mister, I think you lost your head.'! After that I really couldn't stop laughing and it wasn't even really funny. Everybody else was laughing, crying or yelling except for this one incredibly serious little kid who was bound and determined to pick everything up and help put it back together again on the spot."
"I should write you up or, at least, lecture you about maintaining the decorum of this museum, not to mention keeping better track of your tour group, but that story's too priceless." Derek allowed a snicker to escape him at the mental picture being painted. "You should probably help get the armor put back together before tonight's presentation."
"Don't worry, I will. Even if I have to stay late tonight." Nick slipped down from his perch to get a fresh cup of coffee from the small coffee maker on the bank of tall file cabinets lining the opposite wall.
For a few minutes, the pair ate in silence, each lost in his own thoughts. Finally, Derek broke the comfortable stillness to carefully broach the subject that had been troubling him all morning and, if truth be told, all week. "I didn't have a chance to talk to you when you got back. How did your session with Dr. Corrigan go this morning?"
"It was fine. Don't worry so much, Dad. You're the museum's curator. You have to be here tonight. I'll be fine home by myself for a few hours." Nick reassured his father patiently. He'd been waiting for this conversation all week and knew exactly where it was going. In all honesty, he was a little worried about being alone tonight for the first time since leaving the hospital. That was why he'd talked to his shrink about it. "I talked to the doctor about it and she thinks I'll be fine. I have her phone number if things get weird and I also wrote down the numbers for the museum and your pager in case I need you and can't remember them."
"All right! I give up. I won't stop worrying, though. That's my job as a parent, no matter how old you get." Derek shook a French fry at him and smiled. He'd been doing a lot of that lately. Nick had made such a drastic improvement over the last few months that he couldn't help but smile sometimes. He was glad the trustees had let him hire Nick to work here so that he was nearby.
Even with the improvement, he would have been too worried to work if Nick had been all by himself in some halfway program designed to help him reintegrate into society the way they had originally planned. Derek had worried enough when Nick started taking the bus to Dr. Corrigan's office for his sessions instead of getting a ride. While his son no longer suffered from delusional or psychotic behaviors, Nick hadn't become his old self and, according to the doctors, probably never would. The young man Derek had finally brought home from the hospital was less driven to succeed than he had formerly been, a bit more hesitant to trust himself, and extremely dependent on the approval of the people around him.
The lull in the conversation was broken when Nick came to sit on the corner of the desk with a much more serious expression on his face. "She started nudging me again about getting a regular job. According to her, it's not healthy for me to work here with all these antiques because of the similarity to the world I made up when I was crazy."
Nick paused guiltily before plunging ahead. He needed to talk to somebody about this and he shared everything with his dad these days. Most of his former friends were nervous around him and, even when he was included by them, their world was just too fast paced and phony for him to handle any more. His father and his priest were the only friends he could count on. He wouldn't hold back on either of them. "She said I was too dependent on you, that you were smothering me. It was all right for me to go back to live with you and come to work here, at first, but now she's saying that it'll stunt my recovery if I keep letting you take care of me."
"How do you feel about that?" Derek tried to keep the hurt and concern out of his voice, not wanting to upset Nick.
"I don't think you're smothering me, but I do think she's right about getting a real job. I'd like to have a job I earned by myself -- where I don't get special treatment as 'the boss's kid' that had a nervous breakdown and can't handle anything harder." Nick twisted his sandwich wrapper nervously until his father reached out to still his busy hands and made him look up.
"It's obvious you have something in mind. Tell me."
"I want to be a teacher." The words burst out of Nick before he'd even consciously decided to say them and he rushed to explain before his father could judge the idea. "I've been thinking about it a lot ever since Dr. Corrigan first suggested that I needed to get some kind of focus back in my life. I love working with the kids here. Telling them stories about the artifacts and watching them put stuff together in their heads. Some of the teachers have said I'm really good at explaining things so that the kids understand them."
"Nick," Derek broke into the breathless stream, "you know I'll support whatever you feel you need to do. I only want to be sure you're not rushing things too much. Are you sure you want this and that you're ready for it?"
"Yes." Nick calmed down a little and clasped his hands tightly in his lap before looking his father directly in the eyes. "I want this, Dad. This is the first thing I've really wanted since Julia died. My career in archeology is over. Even if I could handle getting back into it all without going nuts again, my credibility is shot."
"This won't be any easier, Nick. People are going to be frightened at the idea of anyone with a history of mental illness working with kids. You'll also have to go back to school to get a teacher's certificate and they'll put a lot of pressure on you there. Pressure you may not be ready for." Derek reached out to cover Nick's hands with one of his own, hating himself for the disappointment he was putting in those hazel green eyes, so like his late wife's.
Nick pulled his hands away, hurt at hearing all of his own doubts being dredged up by the person he needed to have support him most. "I have to try, Dad. I can't stay protected like a little kid forever. I want a life. I was hoping you'd help me build one."
"I will. We'll tackle any obstacles together. I promise. I just want to be certain you understand what you're letting yourself in for." Derek got up and held his son briefly by the shoulders, just enough to convey his strength and belief to his child. He let go and headed for the door before either of them could be embarrassed. "After we finish getting ready for tonight's presentation! I believe, if you're finished with your lunch, that you have a suit of armor to reassemble."
Nick laughed with pure happiness and tossed the empty wrapper he'd been mangling into the trash. He'd show his father the application he'd already filled out for college tomorrow. Today, it just felt good to have some purpose again. It felt even better to know he wouldn't have to fight this battle alone. He felt a little sheepish, though, as he ducked out of the office. When in his life had his dad ever made him fight a battle alone?
Six years later . . .
Derek had to laugh as Nick literally bounded into the small office he kept just off the foyer of the old townhouse they'd moved to nearly seven years ago when Nick's illness had forced him to leave his job, and his home, on the university campus. The comfortable little room with its thick carpets and small stone fireplace had, pretty much, become the center of their small household. That was part of why they had stayed here instead of moving back to staff housing at the university when he'd been rehired two years ago.
"You're still walking on air, you know." Derek teasingly informed his son as Nick flopped down into his usual comfortable chair.
"Do you blame me?" Nick retorted, still grinning broadly. Six years ago he'd only hoped they would let him try to teach. He'd never dreamed of anything like tonight! "I couldn't believe that I'd been nominated! I never expected to win. I mean -- look at me. Do I look that special to you?"
"Yes. Obviously the school district thought you were something special, too. They take these outstanding achievement awards very seriously. Only one teacher is chosen each year to receive it and this year they gave it to you." Derek's face had clouded over slightly. Even after all these years -- after all he had accomplished in his life -- Nick still hadn't regained the confidence he'd once had in himself. Derek leaned forward in his own heavy armchair to catch his son's eyes. "You earned this, Nick. Whether you realize it or not, you give a lot more of yourself to the kids, with the coaching and the extra tutoring, than most teachers do."
Nick shrugged, embarrassed by the sudden intensity. He knew he tended to sell himself short, but it was hard not to, and he really enjoyed his work. It didn't feel like he was doing anything special when he spent extra time with the kids. "I've known a lot of other teachers who set up tutoring programs for their kids or coached one of the teams."
"True, but not many of them do both. You coached two school teams this year. You coach little league during your summer break. You're the one who's always there, Nick, after everyone else has gone home. You come in early just to unlock your room and get ready. Your door is always open and you're always there. You're never too busy to listen to people either, even if it means you'll have to stay until eight o'clock at night to get your own work done! I've seen kids from other classes, and their parents and teachers alike, all come to you with their problems. Even if you don't have an answer for them, you at least listen to them and you care about them." Derek laughed at the red flush creeping up Nick's neck. The man truly had no idea how his students and colleagues treasured him, or why.
"It works both ways. I learned that from watching you with your students." Nick pushed his own embarrassment aside to enjoy the slight blush the small compliment had elicited from his normally cool and controlled father. "I like working with grade school kids better than I think I'd like teaching at the higher levels, though. They don't judge people the same way. Kids look at you for who you are today, not who you used to be. I get a lot out of the time I spend with the kids and I've found a lot of friends among their parents that've stayed friends even after summer comes and I'm not teaching their kids anymore."
Derek made a small noise in his throat and straightened in his chair as he remembered what he'd wanted to ask at breakfast this morning before the toaster caught fire. "What are you going to do this summer? You told me you weren't going to be working at the same day camp you were at last year but you never said what you were planning on doing."
"Not much at all, truthfully." Nick admitted, suddenly feeling a little nervous. He'd been waiting a long time for the right moment to tell his father about his plans but hadn't found it yet. Now, there wasn't much of a choice. He couldn't claim not to have made any plans yet. Classes would be out for the summer at the end of next week. It was best to just go ahead and get it over with. "I'm going to be too busy for anything but classes and homework."
"You're taking some advanced training?"
"Yeah. I want to switch to Special Education." Nick rushed on before Derek could say anything. "I talked to an advisor and we think I can get certified for at least an entry level slot over the summer if I really load up on the classes."
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Derek asked, the enjoyment draining out of the evening as he considered the kind of world Nick would be throwing himself into if he did this. "Some of the kids you'll be expected to cope with will be emotionally disturbed. With your history, Nick, there might be a danger that one of them will pull you into their delusion. I don't know if I can go through that again." He admitted quietly.
"You won't have to, Dad. I promise." Nick smiled as he realized he had more confidence in himself than he'd thought. He'd had the same fear, despite the reassurances of others, right up until his father voiced it. Now he knew he could handle this.
Nick got up and went to sit on the edge of the small stone hearth, near his father's knee. He suddenly needed to share his excitement at all of this and his dad was still his best friend. "My history is exactly why I should be good at this. I've been helping out a lot with the Special Ed. class at Emerson and they keep telling me that I've got a talent for reaching the kids that are really out there in their own worlds. I know what they're feeling, how scared and alone they are, and I know how to get in and convince them that it's safe to come out."
Derek reached down to grasp his son's hand and squeeze it tightly. "I just want to make sure you can get back out. I don't want to lose you again!"
"You won't. I called Dr. Corrigan a couple weeks ago." Nick smiled at the surprised expression on his dad's face. He hadn't needed to see his psychiatrist for years now and she had been just as surprised and worried to suddenly hear from him after all this time. "She thinks I'll be great at this and she doesn't think I'll get sucked into anybody else's delusions as long as I'm careful and communicate a lot with the other teachers about what goes on in class."
"I suppose that will have to be good enough for me, then." Derek could feel himself unexpectedly relaxing a little bit and let go of Nick's hand. He had the distinct impression Nick had gone to see Dr. Corrigan, not because he had any doubts about this course of action, but to reassure his father that this was all right! It seemed he hadn't been paying enough attention lately and was going to have to revise a few of his ideas about his son. Nick obviously had more faith in himself than he'd thought. "Have you talked to the superintendent yet about your plans?"
"Yeah." Nick could feel himself blushing again. He'd been doing a lot of that tonight. "I didn't mean for you to be the last to know, Dad. I just knew how worried you'd be and I wanted to be able to show you that I'd thought everything out and had it all covered."
"Now I understand what your principal meant when he said that they'd miss you next year." Derek smiled a little crookedly. He was suddenly feeling just a little bit useless. Nick had relied on him so heavily ever since the breakdown that it was strange to be presented with something his son hadn't come to him to help work out. "Do you know yet where you'll be teaching this fall?"
"That's what I was really worried about telling you." Nick shifted so that he could lean against the edge of the chair and let his head fall back onto his father's knee so that he could still watch his face. "There's an opening in the Special Ed. department at Garfield Elementary that they said I could have if I wanted it -- as long as I pass all my courses this summer anyway. I haven't taken it yet. I wanted to talk with you about it first. I have to give them my answer in two more weeks."
"Garfield?" Derek frowned in thought. Even though he didn't teach at that level he did try and stay abreast with what went on in the school district, if only because it affected Nick. "I don't think I know where that is."
"It's across the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, not far from the Embarcadero. That's the catch. To do any kind of a good job, I'd have to move over there. Otherwise the commute would be a killer!"
"Absolutely not!" Derek regretted the automatic reaction as soon as the words were out of his mouth and hastened to explain himself. "Nick, you haven't lived by yourself since -- well -- since Julia and Michael died. It's going to be hard enough trying to get your course work done and then adapting to a new school and new responsibilities. This will be totally different from the kind of teaching you've been doing. Please, just wait a while before you consider this step. This isn't the time to be by yourself."
"Yes, it is, Dad." Nick could feel himself getting stubborn and even angry and fought the feeling. He'd been expecting too much of his dad, dumping all of this on him at once, but he didn't have any choice now. The news was out and he really needed his father's approval. This was a big deal to him. "Don't you see? This can be a new beginning. A new job, a new place, a whole new life! I'm ready for this, Dad, even the doctor said so."
For his part, Derek Rayne knew when he was beaten and decided to give in with good grace. He was beginning to get a glimmer of how hard it was going to be to give Nick back his independence. "I'm sorry, Nick. I'm not very good at letting go."
"I remember! After Julia and I got married, you wanted us to come and live with you." Nick looked down for a second, embarrassed, before twisting around to look his father in the face again. "I would've, you know. Julia said she wouldn't marry me if I didn't grow up and start being a man. She really wanted her own house to take care of."
"She was right. You were old enough to live your own life. Now that you aren't sick anymore, I suppose it's time for me to let go of you again so that you can have your own life." The evening's high was truly gone now and had left a dull apprehension in its place. Derek had worried over his only child for so long that it was hard to stop, no matter who had said that Nick was ready to make so many changes in his life all at one time.
"I'm just going to be across the bridge, Dad, not across the continent." Nick rolled his eyes and smiled, hoping to bring back some of his father's joy in his achievements. "You can help me find an apartment over the summer and, once school starts, I promise to come home to visit on the weekends. At least until we both get a life!"
Derek couldn't help laughing at the raised eyebrows and teasing lilt. "So, I need to get a life, do I?"
"You might." Nick looked his father over appraisingly, trying not to laugh at the astounded look on his face. "You aren't too bad looking. You've got a good job. A place of your own. You're smart. Not a great cook, but a lot of women like to find an older guy that needs them. I seem to remember Miranda Blake being pretty interested once she got over being bumped out of her job so that you could have it!"
"You must've still been delusional." The retort slipped out without thought of the consequences and Derek waited apprehensively for the shadow that seemed to fall over Nick whenever he was reminded of the loss of both his family and his mind. It didn't come. This time, Nick laughed.
"Maybe," he admitted, "but at least three women at school have asked me if you were single this year alone. I don't think they were taking a survey, either."
"I hope you told them how deeply in debt I am, as well." Derek began to relax into the teasing, pleasantly astonished at how well Nick was handling things. He had viewed his son as sick and in need of protection for so long now that he'd somehow managed to miss it when Nick quit needing him so much.
Now, the familiar shadow did fall across Nick's face. "I wish I could help with that. You shouldn't have to be responsible for my psychiatric bills. Maybe --"
"No. You have enough to handle, paying your student loans off." Derek broke in before Nick could get started. They'd been over this before and, as far as he was concerned, it was a closed subject. "Besides, I made all the decisions about that. It's only fair that I foot the bill for the treatment I insisted on."
"You did the right thing, you know." Nick got up and shoved his hands deep into the pockets of the dress slacks he'd worn to tonight's awards dinner. Despite his sudden case of nerves, he looked his surprised father directly in the eye to make certain Derek knew he meant what he'd said. "Approving the shock treatments, I mean."
Derek was speechless at the sudden turn in the conversation. He'd never expected to hear such a thing from Nick and didn't know how to respond. Until that moment, he hadn't realized just how much he'd needed to hear those words from Nick.
Nick looked down self-consciously at the oriental carpeting. "I asked Dr. Corrigan once what would have happened to me if you'd stopped them. Without you, I would've ended up in some dead-end ward at the state hospital, too doped-up to even qualify as human, and I would've never gotten out. They should've given the award to you. G'night, Dad. I love you."
Before Derek could think of what to say, Nick had disappeared through the open doorway and could be heard hurrying up to his own room at the top of the stairs. Derek just sat there beside the small fire and cried. Tears of relief at the absolution he'd never realized he needed from his son. Tears of joy at the sure knowledge that Nick was finally, really, going to be all right. Most of all, tears of gratitude for the loving and giving man his son had grown into.
E-mail the authors with any comments at Kethrineth ~at~ aol.com