Disclaimer: I don't own The Guardian or its characters. I do, however, own this story.

Time: Set sometime before Burton Fallen's heart attack.

Author's Note: This story is a bit AU, as I've worked it so that Burton knew Laurie long before Nick ever met her.

The Darkness Awaits by peacejaw

"Tell Nick that … I'm proud of him…"

When I was a little boy, I knew that my father was proud of me. He actually let me know by his actions instead of by words. Things like taking me out to celebrate a good report card, taking an interest in what I liked, and constantly bragging to his friends about me all let me know that he was proud of me. I guess that it would also be expected if you were an only child.

Still, any number of things about my life could lead you to think that a lot was expected of me since the day I was born. In a sense, that was actually the case … but I was willing to live up to that expectation. There has been a long line of Fallen's here in Pittsburg who became lawyers and judges … and not surprisingly, dad passed on that expectation to me. I had to be the one of the great Fallen's, a true Fallen by blood and reputation.

And then there was my view on things. It'd be easy for me to say that my father pushed me too hard when I was a kid … trying to make me into the best and brightest lawyer Pittsburg has ever seen; and in my own right. After all, I'm smarter than even my father. But the truth is, I pushed him. Being a lawyer has always been in my blood and I simply wanted to be the best lawyer that I could.

But I slipped. Hell, I screwed up big time … and it was entirely all my fault. I could tell you that being pushed beyond my limits and having too many expectations is what helped screw me up … and you would undoubtedly believe it. Yet I don't because I know the truth. And truth be told, almost everything that has ever happened in my life was a result of my own selfish choices. Sometimes I wonder if I actually screwed up my life on purpose, 'cause it's a lot easier to be a failure then it is to be the person that I know that I can be. Yet, there is a part of me –albeit a well hidden part of me- that knows that I can be someone special … that I can be someone important … that I can be something great. And that's despite the fact that I have made a lot of my own mistakes in life … that I've screwed up too many times to count… and that I have failed quite a few times in my life.

There's also something in me that knows I'm not worthy … that I'm nothing … that I'm a nobody and I can't do a damn thing about it. I can't do anything right and everything that I actually do right always manages to blow up in my face. As much as I don't want to admit it, it truly is hard to live such a double standard … so I find that it's easier to hide in whatever I can. I hide it in my work, in a cocky assurance, arrogance, and sometimes, even pride. I play the part of the hero as well as the perfect lawyer who doesn't show his emotions.

"Tell Nick that … I'm proud of him…"

Unlike the others here at Legal Aide, I didn't have too much of a choice in working here … at least not at first anyway. I was working off a criminal sentence because I got caught doing drugs. In the process of starting over, though, I realized that I had lost all of my close friends and had nearly lost my father … although I knew by then that he wasn't proud of me any more. I had lost his pride long before then.

At Legal Aide, I quickly gained responsibilities, duties, and real friendships. It's hard to believe, but I was actually given another chance … and I've been doing my best work here. The surprising fact is, I've come to realize that this is the kind of work that I was born to do and that I love working with children.

Yeah, I'm not the greatest lawyer at Legal Aide. And yes, I know that I still make mistakes, but I hold a great deal of respect for the people around me. And they have started to respect me as well.

Okay, so maybe I'm still hiding … and maybe I still want to fail at this job too. Why not? It's certainly pretty challenging work –always facing life and death choices and what not. My probation will also be over sooner or later and it will give me a chance to move on. I guess it would boil down to one simple question: if my father really knew me, would he be proud of me with all the work I've been doing at Legal Aide? I've asked this question over and over, but I never come up with an acceptable answer. As sad as this makes me, I know that it's mainly because I don't know my father just as he doesn't know me.

When I was little, I didn't have to earn his respect or his pride. I simply had it because I was his son. When I was older, it became obvious to even me that he was proud of me only because I wanted what he wanted for my life. So what made things go from bad to worse? I managed to disgrace him, just as I disgraced our family name. I knew that the moment it'd happened, I'd lost all hope of him being proud me at all.

But then I started making a difference at Legal Aide … and I've started making a life for myself at the one place that I could truly do some good. Yet I still don't know if he could ever be proud of me again. How could I when there is still a certain distance between us. Maybe after all this time he still considers me to be his son and I just don't know it. Or maybe he actually wants to be proud of me just because I'm me? After all, I'm finally doing something worthwhile with my life. But would he, could he tell me before its too late?

"Tell Nick that … I'm proud of him…"

Am I though? Am I really worth being proud of? Am I making that much of a difference in my father's life? Have I done something for him to be proud of me? Truth be told, I really don't know. I don't know him well enough to know anything for sure. What I do know, though, is that sometimes I feel like I'm just along for the ride with him. I also know that since starting at Legal Aide, I've screwed up just as much as I've done some good.

No, he wouldn't be proud of me –he just couldn't be. After all, I'm not proud of me … so how can he be? Maybe he's saying that he loves me or that he's sorry for something. That should be enough, but it's not. Why would I want to know the truth of what he's saying? Why can't I just accept … ?

Only one person might have the answer for me … and that's because she's the only one who knows my father well enough to actually know. And I can't ask her mainly because she's also the only person who knows the real me … the real me with all of my faults and weaknesses. She knows about the part of me that is hidden so carefully from the world … the part of me who fails on purpose because I'm afraid to live up to my full potential, and despite everything, knows that she can see right through me. She's been able to since the first time we met.

Maybe it's because she's known my father for so long that she knows how to read me. Or maybe it's because we trust each other like we trust no other. After all, she just didn't know him … he's her mentor… always has been and probably always will. And she's certainly everything I'm not. If there's anyone out there who can turn me into a good person and lawyer, it's her.

I just wish that I could ask her, but I know that I can't do such a thing. I wouldn't know where to start the conversation, let alone ask her something as serious as this. Besides, I'm not sure if I actually want an answer. Sure, she'd give me answers, but it would be the truth and not some lame excuse. That's who she is and there's no turning away from the truth, or from her. Laurie is a lot like my father in that way.

"Tell Nick that … I'm proud of him…"

Walking from the hospital to her place, I try talking myself out of actually showing up at her front door unannounced. It is, after all, pretty late and she could be asleep. Yet I knew that if I didn't go through with this now, I never would … and it's unlikely that I would have another chance to respond to what she has to say.

She answers the door after the second knock, and for whatever reason, she doesn't seem to be surprised to see me. Thankfully it doesn't seem like she's anywhere near close to going to bed with the stack of papers on the table waiting to be dealt with. "I hope that I'm not keeping you from something important …"

Laurie gives me a heart-warming smile and waves me in to the couch. "Not at all, Nick. I always have time for a friend who needs a good listener."

Damn! She's already sensed something in me … or maybe she was actually just expecting me. I make my way over to the sofa and sit down. She sits in the chair across from me and waits for me to speak first. I thought that I had something prepared for this moment, but that doesn't seem quite right now that I'm here. It's almost as if what I had prepared was false … not really from my heart … and not worth saying. So instead I simply say, "Well, I wanted to seek some answers from you. When I first met you in the court-house that first time, you said that you knew my father." She nods her head as her answer.

When we first met, I had just started working at Legal Aide –though back then it was called by another name- and she was the one who handed me my first case. When she introduced herself, she told me how she worked in my father's office while she was putting herself through college. They grew close during those four years and their friendship only continued after that. Only I never met the women until after my own trouble with the law.

And now our friendship has grown close since our initial meeting. "Right," I say matter-of-factly. "Well, I know that you're closer to him than I'll ever be. Until now, I had convinced myself that it really didn't matter. Now…?" Now my father is in the hospital and dying of cancer.

"Tell Nick that … I'm proud of him…"

Now I don't know what to think or what do now that my father is dying … and she seems to understand that. She waits for me to continue. And eventually, I do. "I know what he said to you today … that he told you that he was proud of me. I don't think he is proud of me because I think he's proud of you for being a role model to me and keeping me in line since my arrest."

She almost seems surprised with what I've said. Still, her voice was calm when she said, "I think that you are too hard on yourself, Nick. Of course your father is proud of you! He's seen the way you have turned yourself around since starting at Legal Aide … and you are well on your way to becoming everything that you can be. And it's all because of your working at Legal Aide … and none of it, I might add, had anything to do with how I see you."

I wish I could just crawl away and cry now. She's proud of me … is it possible for him to be proud of me too? She interrupts my thoughts by saying, "Sure you've made your mistakes, Nick, but look at you now. You are learning from your mistakes and you are making a difference … not only at Legal Aide, but also in the children that you work with. I think a lot of what I see in him I see in you … that same pride in the work that you do, the same bearing, and the same desire to make a difference at everything you do."

Tears slid down my cheeks then. Most people would have never be able to guess how much I wanted to walk away from the truth right at that moment in time, but she did; and she moved in to hug me. As unbelievable as it was, she was teaching me another important lesson: That it's okay to cry. I haven't been able to cry in a long time, mainly because I have had to be the strong one in most of my surroundings.

She's also teaching me that I have lived behind a false armor for way too long. And with the one person who I can always trust, I decided let it all go … but only because she was right.

And there in the darkness, I realized something about her too. I slowly realized why she has always been able to see through all of my barriers … and right through me, even with all the armor that I had built up. She's always been able to see me because she has all the same barriers, armor, and protections. The darkness, however, has brought us together.

"Tell Nick that … I'm proud of him…"

I take my time in heading back to the hospital so that I could think of what to say to my father. When I finally arrive, I realized that my father knows that I heard him earlier today … and the only words that I need to say is, "I heard you today … really heard you … and thank you for accepting me as your son again." Peace fills his face and I know that we have come to an understanding with each other … something I thought that would never happen before his untimely death.

"Tell Nick that … I'm proud of him…"

I heard you dad … and I love you too.

The End! – Feb., 2003; updated Aug. 2004