In Sleep a King
by Nancy Brown (nancy@tooloud.northco.net)
copyright 1998, 2001
PG-13

The characters belong to Disney/Buena Vista. No infringement on
their rights in intended or should be inferred. The rest of this
story belongs to me. Do with it as you please, but keep my name
attached.

For my daughters; learn the lesson well. Surely some revelation is
at hand.

***


He sat cross-legged by a still pool, staring into its mirrored
surface as if it held the secret of life. If that were the case,
life held no secrets. All he saw were columns, white fingers
surrounding him, holding up he inverted teacup of marble dome above
his head. He saw his own reflection inside the prison of the
columns, saw the gaudy finery of his tunic and hose, for some reason
could not make out the features of his own face. His innate curiosity
compelled him to look closer into the water.

The pool shivered, like some pixie had stooped to touch her
own echoed face and had accidentally broken its glassy stillness.
His form and the columns wavered crazily before vanishing from sight.

He saw a goddess. Her hair was long and straight, the color
of the clouds at daybreak. Her green eyes glittered like a cat's,
but with far more cunning. There was a hungry smile at her sharp
lips. She stared at him, and he stared back, transfixed, not
breathing. She reached towards him, towards the surface of the
water, and only as he noticed this did he also notice that her skin
was the color of the sea.

He had to reach her. He held out his hand towards the water
as she beckoned him from beneath it. His fingers brushed the
surface, and as they touched against hers, he felt warmth tingling
from his hands through his body to the tips of his toes.

The pool's surface shattered, and she was gone.



His eyes opened to darkness. Always a light sleeper, he felt
no transition from sleep to instant wakefulness. His clock ticked
to itself beside the bed; four am. It was too early to rise, too
late to expect anything but a fitful nap until the alarm went off
at five. He pulled the blanket closer around him, sweat-chilled in
the early morning air.

Perhaps twice in his life had he dreamed that dream, of that
same woman. Once, they had reposed together on grass softer than
silk, naked and unselfconscious of the fact. There had been water,
and moonlight, and Her. The other dream had come when he had been a
boy, just twelve years old, and he could not help but recall it
with a certain sense of shame.

From that first night, he'd searched for her everywhere, found
some fragment of her reflection in almost every woman he'd ever
met. He took small comfort from that, for he was thirty-one years
old and he'd seen no trace of her in the daylight world.

The first woman he'd been with had eyes like Hers, or so he'd
thought. Peg had been seventeen, the same as he, and he had
deluded himself into thinking she could be the woman who had
haunted his dreams each night. Peg ... He hadn't thought of her
in ages, felt a passing guilt for thinking of her now. But the
dark hours of the morning were the best time for considering old
lovers, were any time truly right.

As if in response to his mental infidelity, the woman beside
him turned in her sleep. She reached out a blind hand until she
felt him, then became still again. He listened to the rhythm of
her breath settling back into the ease of her own deep dreams. Of
the four women he'd taken to his bed since Peg, the one with him
tonight was the first in whom he *hadn't* seen some aspect of his
dream-woman. He watched her as she slept, as he had more than once
in the months they had been lovers.

She would have been a beauty were her face not quite as thin,
her eyes not so sad. He had taken to her the first time he'd seen
her, wanting to defend her from that internal sorrow she carried.
As they had grown closer, he'd tried to penetrate the cool armor of
her reserve and discover the fire within her. She remained closed,
aloof. Even when they made love, she held herself apart from him,
never losing herself to passion, almost automatic in her touches,
calculating the maximum pleasure she could give him, barely smiling
when he brought her to an edge of her own. He loved her, supposed
she loved him in her own way, but there were times like this, in
the depths of the night, when he admitted she demonstrated more
outward affection for her houseplants.

Still, she was intelligent, and on occasions so rare he
savoured them for all their worth, she would make a deadpan remark,
then smile, just enough, that he could not imagine a life without
her. If only it happened more often ...

He was going to ask her to marry him. She was a good match
for him, intellectually. Only madmen sought women in their dreams.
He had a good woman sleeping beside him, here and now.

Satisfied with his decision, he rolled over, placed his arms
around her. He would ask her over lunch tomorrow. No, dinner.
That would give him a chance to pick out a ring beforehand. It
would have to reflect her personality, something small and
unassuming, something practical.

"I love you, Julia," Halcyon whispered into her hair. She did
not stir, and he settled into a dreamless half-sleep, awaiting morning.

***

*beep* *beep* *beep*

Keeping his eyes closed, he tried to hit the top of the alarm,
found that he could not move his arm. Must've slept wrong, he
thought groggily, and opened his eyes. They were dry and achy, and
refused to focus. The infuriating beeping continued.

"Will someone turn that damned alarm off?" he growled. His
voice came out as a gasp; his throat was raw. His eyes roamed
around until they settled on a long thin tube taped to his arm. He
traced the line with his sight, into an IV drip bag above his head.
"Oh, damn."

Now that he was awake, he could identify his whereabouts, and
everything attached to him. A saline solution was dripping into
his veins, as oxygen was fed to his mouth and nose through a mask, almost
hiding the acrid smell of antiseptics. No wonder his throat hurt.
Electrodes, indicating his vitals for all and sundry on machines to
either side of him, were affixed to his chest with that disgusting
adhesive. Just thinking about it made him wince in anticipatory agony for
when the electrodes were removed.

This wasn't the first time he'd woken up in the hospital. He
was hoping it wouldn't be the last.

His left arm was free. He used it to locate and press the
call button. "Nurse?" he wheezed into the speaker. "Is someone
there?"

The speaker spat a tinny voice back to him. "Someone will be
right down," a pause, "Mr. Renard."

"Doctor," he mumbled to himself, knowing she wouldn't hear
him. He turned his head towards the door.

A bespeckled woman with short dark hair opened the door, and
his mind, still partly caught in memory, thought "Julia!"

Someone else came through the door. "Janine," he said,
ignoring the woman who was not Julia. "Where is Mr. Vogel?"

Janine stopped, then continued walking to his bedside. "He's
back at the Tower running your business. How do you feel, Daddy?"

"Terrible. What happened?"

"According to Mr. Vogel," said the other woman, "you fainted
in the middle of dinner." He closed his eyes in embarrassment.

"He called me on the way to the hospital," said Janine.
"We've both been here all night." She took his hand, wrapped her
fingers in his, an unusually affectionate gesture.

"Thank you," he said simply. He turned to the unfamiliar
woman. "Who are you? You're not my regular doctor."

"This is Dr. Howard," his daughter said. "She's my and
David's personal physician." The woman smiled pleasantly at him.

"Where's Dr. Tribbut?" Len Tribbut had been the least
objectionable of the parade of doctors in his life these past
several years. The man had a sharp mind, and knew keeping secrets
from his patient was the best way to get fired.

Janine shifted her hands. "Dr. Tribbut isn't handling your
case anymore."

"Janine ... "

"David and I want you to move in with us at the castle." She
said it quickly, firing through the words, then sat back, fear on
her beautiful face.

"No."

"Daddy, I think it would be for the best. We have plenty of
room, and we can provide state-of-the-art care for you."

"I don't need to be taken care of. What I do need is to
continue my work. In *my* lab." Her eyes shifted. He regretted
his barb, but the fact remained that Xanatos Enterprises was in
direct competition with Cyberbiotics. He wasn't about to let
anyone, even his own daughter, steal corporate secrets from him.
Never mind that the business was going to Alexander, would
eventually become part of XE; he had over a thousand employees
counting on him to keep the company afloat in its own right.

"Your work can wait. You deserve some rest. When you're back
on your feet, you can go back to work. Until then, you should stay
with us."

There was no deception in her eyes. His heart ached for her,
both the little girl she used to be, and the woman she was still
becoming. She honestly believed, had made herself believe, that he
was going to recover eventually. She didn't understand this was
how things were going to be, nor that if he lived another three
years, it would be a miracle. He'd felt the coolness of death on
him since he'd lost the last sensations in his legs. When the dark
claimed him, the blow would strike his daughter hard.

"No," he repeated. He turned from her. "What does Vogel
think?"

She made a noise. "That you should stay on Fortress 2,
rattling around alone up there with him. Away from medical care.
If something happened to you ... "

"He would deal with it. That was why I hired him in the first
place."

"I don't trust him."

"I do." He turned back to her, adjusted his hand so that he
was holding hers the way he had when she'd been tiny. "I
appreciate what you're trying to do. But I intend to stay in
Fortress 2 until I physically can't. After that, I'll probably
live in the Tower." You're doing it again, he chided himself.
You're encouraging her to think you're going to live longer than
you will. The only way they're taking you out of Fortress 2 is in
a casket.

"We'll talk about it later," she conceded. It wasn't a
surrender, merely a withdrawal. She would bring it up again in
every conversation, and he would have to be firm in his rejection
of the offer. As much as he might want to be near her and
Alexander, he had to finish his work, at least take it to a point
where someone else could pick it up and complete it. He was so
close and he had so little time.

***

"Dr Renard?"

Halcyon's head shot up from his desk. A notebook he'd been
holding precariously in his sleep fell to the floor with a sharp
*thwap*. He rubbed his face with both hands, smoothing his hair as
he did so. This wasn't his first catnap at his desk, but it was
the first time his secretary had caught him at it. The undisguised
smirk on her face told him she'd be mentioning it later around the
lab.

"Yes, Gladys, what is it?"

"The applicants for Dr. Kleinspehn's job are here."

"How many are there?"

"Five. Six more have appointments later this afternoon."

He sighed. Interviews were the second worst thing about
running his own company. Paperwork was the first. He loved
Cyberbiotics. He loved the work, the ability to do research
without having to answer to anything but his own conscience. In
the three years since its birth, however, he'd come to see the cost
of running it as almost not worth the hassle. Fair lot of good it
did him to have his own lab if he spent all day filing tax reports
and interviewing aspiring new scientists to take his place.

"Send them in."

The first applicant was a young postdoc from Hopkins. His
credentials were impressive. He'd worked with the National Cancer
Institute in Bethesda for two years doing his graduate program, had
already published eight papers, three as sole author. His
recommendations were solid, from some of the best in the field.
He'd spent three undergraduate summers volunteering time at a camp
for children with polio.

The interview was less than stellar. The man was very
nervous, and could only explain in the sketchiest terms why he
wanted to join Cyberbiotics. His hair was a little unkempt, his
clothes rumpled. In short, he looked like a scientist. Halcyon
counted his blessings, and privately considered the man already
hired as he shook his hand and watched him leave.

He glanced half-heartedly at the pile of resumes still on his
desk. He really didn't want to go through all these people,
especially since he'd already decided who was to get the job.
Perhaps he'd just finish the first five, then tell Gladys to tell
the rest to go home.

There was a knock on the door. "Come in," he said, not really
paying attention.

"Hello, I'm here about the biochemist position."

You and everyone else, he thought glumly, and glanced up at
her.

In later years, he would be able to recall nothing of the
interview. Her curriculum vitae would be lost within a few days
and he would never ask for another copy. If he did, he'd have to
admit to her that he could not remember one word of it. There were
schools listed, yes, good ones, but if he were ever asked which,
he'd hem and haw and look for something else to do. She had
papers, a number of them, and times would come when he was
researching the literature and discover her name, and feel
embarrassed that he did not know she'd been there. His memories of
his first sight of her began and ended in her sea green eyes.

When she drifted out of the room, he called Gladys in and
canceled the rest of the interviews, informing her that Dr.
Anastasia Lisle would be joining the staff on Monday.

He ignored her smirk as she went to get the forms ready.



Because of the interviews, and because he thought better at
night, he stayed at the lab much later than he'd first thought he
would. Only when Julia left at seven did he feel belated guilt at
not having gone to the jeweler that afternoon. The guilt was
doubled; he'd been thinking about Dr. Lisle the entire day. That
also hadn't helped his productivity.

This was not a good time to be unproductive.

The truth was, he really shouldn't have been hiring another
Ph.D. at this point in time. The company had been barely afloat
due to a handful of patents in his name, and could just support the
current staff. Then George had gotten an offer from a small
college, where he could be free to teach. It was a dream job for
George, and Halcyon couldn't blame him for taking the chance while
he had it. With his departure, Cyberbiotics was short a much-
needed link to the biological world, right when they needed one
most.

The science of robotics was in many ways still in its infancy
compared to other disciplines. There were a few large corporations
dabbling in it as side research, soliciting government contracts
for research into mindless, metallic soldiers programmed to kill
without question. Even the pharmaceutical companies, whose primary
goals were supposed to include the improvement and prolongation of
life, dedicated a portion of their robotics research to artificial
limbs designed as weapons. Their justification for this was that
the research could then be used for more humane reasons.

There had come a point. Halcyon had been told on which
project to focus his energies, and he could not face the thought of
causing someone's death, even by such a remote means. He'd
resigned his position and founded his own company. His former
employers hadn't taken kindly to this. He'd fought hard for
projects, from NIH rather than the DoD, and lost every one.

This current bid was almost to the eleventh hour; if he could
demonstrate to the review board that Cyberbiotics was capable of
the job, they had a good chance of finally netting a contract. The
rise in tensions with the Soviets a few years back had never really
calmed. People expected war, and weren't sure of when it would
come, or on which terms. Would there be a sudden nuclear strike
from one or both sides, wiping out civilization in a few hours, or
would the combatant nations have the remaining sense to keep it
ground-based, one army thrown upon another? If the former, they
had no hope. The latter meant wounded men. There were men of his
own age who'd lost limbs in Korea, fumbling through their lives
with their motor controls not their own. Better prosthetics were
needed, with better interfaces between artificial and biological.
Cyberbiotics had been working on that problem since the day they'd
opened their doors. Getting the contract meant they could work on
the important things without worrying about losing their jobs in a week.

The electronics were being capably handled by two engineers;
the biological angle had been George Kleinspehn's responsibility,
with some assistance from Julia. Now it would be Anastasia
Lisle's. He had been out of her presence for hours, and now
wondered if she would be up to the challenge. George had made
headway, but he'd been flummoxed on the final execution. There
*were* signals sent through the nerves to the muscles --- the
problem was finding a neurological pulse that could be transformed
into an electrical one.

His own work was focused on that problem as well, but he
needed to spend his time overseeing the business as a whole, not to
mention the other projects in the wings. It would be ideal if they
got this contract; his eyes were already on the next, and the one
after that. He'd taken over George's work in the interim time, was
making little progress on his own. He hoped his new employee could
do better.

He realized he wasn't going to accomplish anything else
tonight, and the jewelry stores were probably closed. He didn't
want to face Julia without a ring. He locked up and went back to
his own apartment, trying not to think about contracts, or taxes,
or marriage, as he settled down to sleep. It almost worked.

***

Vogel came to see him in the early afternoon. They went over
the day's business, as much as Dr. Howard would allow. Renard had
found out from a nurse that he was her only patient in the
hospital. Like a hawk, she hovered outside the door the entire
time his assistant was there, finally pouncing on him after the
designated hour's stay and making him leave.

The collapse was diagnosed as a combination of overwork,
stress, and the gradual onslaught of his disease. He would be held
overnight for observation, then released in the morning. To whose
custody there remained a question.

When Vogel returned at eight pm, he agreed with the decision
to keep the new physician, much to Renard's annoyance. His
assistant explained his reasoning to be twofold on the matter.
First, Dr. Howard, while currently acting as General Practitioner
and occasional emergency surgeon for the Xanatos extended family,
had spent her residency exploring neurological disorders such as
his. She had the potential for bringing a new perspective to his
treatment, something he'd lacked since he'd chosen Len as his
doctor. In addition, her presence would ease his daughter's
worries, and if he agreed to continue seeing Dr. Howard, she might
not press the issue of where he should live. Renard agreed with
his logic, but chafed under the woman's presence nonetheless.

Visiting hours ended again at nine. By eight-thirty, his mind
had begun drifting, unable to make sense of what Vogel was telling
him. He kept an ear open, but mostly watched him as he spoke,
noted the abbreviated movements of his arms. There was no wasted
motion in him, nor did he use an unnecessary word. He was
efficiency incarnate, actively fighting against the natural entropy
that surrounded him. Janine was the utter opposite: both liquid
and fiery, like quicksilver, always in motion, and just as
dangerous. Her existence had always been dedicated to waste, of
time, of energy, of anything she could consume, and he had indulged
her in it. What kind of a father did that to his own children?

"Sir?" Vogel looked at him with concern. Had he spoken it
aloud?

"Nothing important," he said, waving his free arm. "I think
I could use some rest."

"Very well. I'll make the arrangements tonight to bring you
home as soon as Dr. Howard releases you."

"Do that. And make sure Janine knows I'm not doing this
because I'm avoiding her. I'm doing this because I need to."

Vogel nodded and stood. "Good night, sir."

"Good night."

Dr. Howard came in as Vogel left. She removed his IV,
bandaged the puncture, informed him she would be there all night if
he needed anything, and turned out the light as she left. He was
alone in the darkness with his thoughts.

As they often did, they turned to Anastasia.

***

The daylight found him rested and renewed. On a whim, he
decided to take a morning stroll through the Park before he headed
back into the lab. It was a Saturday; he could permit himself the
indulgence of sunshine.

The early Spring air was unusually warm, the good smell of
thawed earth temporarily overpowering the city's more usual odors
of exhaust and humanity. People walked their dogs along the
pathways and on the wide lawns. He stopped to watch a couple with
two children, wistful at the image. Someday, he'd bring his own
children here to picnics. A boy and a girl, he thought, watching
a pigtailed sprite dash off after her brother.

The sunlight seemed to have brought everyone out. As he
walked, he noted a few Negro faces among the white, and nodded his
approval. He'd seen the insides of more than one body in his
education, and he'd learned quickly what the people around him were
still struggling to understand, that skin had the exact same
function and significance of wrapping paper. He passed another
young couple. The young lady was Negro, but her beau was a swarthy
man, maybe Greek or Mexican. Seemed he wasn't the only one to
think that way.

"Dr. Renard?"

He turned. Who on earth ... ?

Anastasia Lisle, Ph.D., lounged on a towel spread over the new
grass, her shoes off, holding a book. She smiled up at him, her
eyes twinkling.

"I thought it was you."

"Dr. Lisle." He fumbled for words. "How nice to see you,"
seemed forward. "Do you come here often?" sounded like a pick-up
line. He settled for: "Lovely day." She nodded.

He noticed her shirt's neckline, more modest than the style of
the day, revealing only a hint of slim collarbone as she dipped her
head. He could not help but notice she wore shorts, again just the
right length to show off perfectly sculptured legs, which he hadn't
even noticed the day before. The sunlight moved along her body
like a hand, highlighting the vibrant strands of her dark hair with
amber and honey. She stretched, moving easily from repose into
readiness, still at rest, but easily enough shifted into flight.
Whom is she running from, he wondered?

Me, he thought. I've interrupted her reading, and she wants
me to leave so she may go back to what she was doing.

"I'll see you Monday," he said clumsily, and turned back to
his path.

"Leaving so soon?" Her voice was teasing. He looked back at
her, saw the playful smile on her face.

She scared me. And she knows it.

"I should be getting to the lab."

"I'll go with you, then. I should accustom myself to the
facilities." The fluid motion of her body caught his breath as she
went to her feet. He cursed himself for a schoolboy as she again
noted his expression with open amusement.

"You should enjoy the weather," he demurred. "It's a rare day
to be this nice. Monday is soon enough to come in."

"Nonsense. I've seen my share of spring days, and I'll
certainly see more than this one." She was very near him now. Her
perfume was sweet, indefinable, reminding him of cherry blossoms
and summer nights.

She scooped up her book and her towel, folding the two into a
compact bundle which she managed to carry without any kind of
awkwardness. They walked in silence in the general direction of
the laboratory, as he grasped at something, anything to say.

He noticed, angrily, that people were watching them and
smiling, as if they were together, as if they were a couple. Just
because a man and woman happened to be walking through the Park
together ...

"Have you been in New York long?" he asked.

She turned her attention back to him. "Not really. I've been
here before, but I don't usually stay." She didn't elaborate. He
tried again.

"You have friends here," he guessed. She didn't respond at
first. They walked in silence past one of the small lakes dotting
the park, and she smiled.

"A few."



No one else had decided to come in, and it being Saturday, he
didn't blame them at all. Today he was glad of their absence.

Dr. Lisle knew her way around a lab. George's equipment,
which had seemed sufficient in his day, looked mean and crude when
he showed it to her, the glassware out of some B-rated Frankenstein
movie. His own workspace wasn't any better; the electronics which
were literally the top of the line felt like toys under her
critical glance.

She asked to watch as he worked, to better familiarize herself
with the problem, and he could find no easy way to tell her no.
She pulled up a chair, and perched quietly for an hour, observing
him intently.

At the end of the hour, she asked one question, of rather
basic electronics.

After another half-hour, she asked another question, more
complicated.

Fifteen minutes passed. Dr. Lisle asked another question.
He raised his head. "What did you say your degree was in?"

"Biochemistry. I'm a fast learner."

She asked no more questions after that. She waited another
fifteen minutes, then disappeared into her own area, presumably to
tidy up and put things to her liking.

He listened for a few minutes, then, not hearing anything,
ignored her existence completely and returned his attention to the
task at hand. After a while, he assumed she'd left. Hours passed.

When the clock in the lab read seven-thirty, he decided he'd
had enough for one day. Also, he was hungry. He put his work
aside, thought briefly about taking it with him, and left it
anyway. He could always come in tomorrow.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow was Sunday. The jewelry stores would be
closed. Damn. If he left right then, he could possibly make it to
Alcorn's before closing. The necessary energy to do so was
lacking.

He would go Monday.

He turned off the light.

"Excuse me," came a voice from the ghostly darkness. Dr.
Lisle! Hurriedly, he turned the lights on again. She had moved
into the lab proper, silhouetted in sudden brightness. "That's
better."

"I'm sorry," he stammered. "I thought you'd already left."

She shook her head. "I've been busy. Would you like to see?"

He followed her into her area. The equipment sparkled under
the incandescent lights, humming quietly with life. He saw a
notebook on her desk, already covered in neat, precise handwriting.
Out of curiosity, he picked it up and read. He continued reading.
Then he looked at her.

"You'll need test subjects," he said simply.

"I know."

"I'd suggest starting with mice and guinea pigs. If it works,
I can probably arrange an orangutan."

"No."

"What do you mean, 'no?' This is brilliant. We can start
testing as soon as the animals arrive."

"No animal test subjects."

"But ... "

"Give me time. I can find another way."

He stared at her. Not even the first day on the job, and
she'd come up with a protocol for effectively sampling signals from
the nervous system. He didn't know if it would work for certain,
but it was miles ahead of what he'd been expecting.

"All right. You can have time. But if you can't, we need to
go with this."

She took the book from him gently. "You can do that, but I
won't be a part of it."

He didn't ask then, and soon, he would be in too deeply to
hope to form the question properly, but he wondered sometimes
afterwards, why did she write it down if she didn't want him to
see?

"Do you have any plans for dinner tonight?" she asked, as if
the previous conversation had never been.

His traitor mind thought of Julia, and reminded him that he
had not promised to meet her this weekend. No, he thought, I'd
just planned on asking her to marry me. Nothing major. "Not yet."

"Then perhaps you'd be kind enough to join me." She watched
him without expectation, unnerving him. The papers and magazines
spoke of a new culture forming, with more women joining the
workplace, and the redefinition of sexual roles. Halcyon generally
skipped those articles, fleeing for the comforting familiarity of
the back pages announcing tiny discoveries and corporate mergers.
The notion of a woman asking *him* to dinner had frankly never
crossed his mind.

It was with surprise, then, that he answered, "I'd be
delighted."




The Brown Pelican, one of the city's nicer dives, wasn't far
from the lab. Halcyon had gone there innumerable times with his
employees for lunch or dinner. It gave him a chance to relate to
them on equal ground. Once, he'd taken Julia there alone and she'd
opened up to him. Their relationship had progressed quickly
afterwards.

He frowned as he slipped into the booth. The parallel was
disturbing. He ignored the thought. He was here with Dr. Lisle because
she was new in town and to the group. That was all.

"Are you all right?"

"Fine, fine," he said. He didn't bother opening his menu; he
knew what he was getting. She unfolded her own, reading through it
as carefully as she might a journal article. The waitress took
their drink orders, then disappeared.

"What's good?"

"The sandwiches. The pasta isn't bad, either." The dim light
of the room cast her face into soft shadows.

The waitress came back to take their order, a reuben for him,
pastrami on rye for her. She sipped at her grasshopper. He
swirled the ice in his scotch.

"Would you like --- " he said.

"This is --- " she said at the same time.

He chuckled. "You first."

"This is nice," she said. "I haven't really seen much of the
city."

"Your friends haven't taken you touring?" Already, he was
considering Staten Island, Chinatown.

"The last time I was in the city, it wasn't to sightsee." She
took another sip.

"Scientific convention?"

She paused. "No. Funeral. An old friend." She smiled
sadly. "I hadn't seen him in years, and suddenly, in one terrible
moment he was gone, and I lost whatever chance I might have had to
explain."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry."

"You didn't."

Their food arrived. They continued to talk over their meal,
idle chatter. She'd moved around a bit in her life, more than he
would have expected. She described places he'd longed to see:
Paris, Rome, even Nairobi. He tried to keep her attention by
describing his other research interests, realized belatedly that he
was probably boring her, then was surprised again when she
mentioned she'd once had the opportunity to hear Einstein speak,
which had been what had lit her onto her career. She never
bragged; she simply stated what had been, narrating her adventures
with fondness. At the same time, she pulled things from him like
a weaver pulling thread. Without meaning to, he told her about his
life, about being a child during the Depression, about Grandmama.
She listened to him with neither scorn nor pity, simply acceptance
of the tale, and interest, as though he'd told her the adventures
of a knight in some far-off land. Never once had he doubted her
candor. As the coffee had been cleared away, he found himself
wondering what other depths had he not yet discovered in this
marvelous woman.

She allowed him to walk her home, as it was dark. She didn't
invite him inside, nor had he expected an invitation. He remained
on the steps of her apartment building for a while, watching the
window he knew to be hers, until finally, common sense sent him
home.




He stepped into his office at seven-thirty Monday morning, intending
to get a head start on the day's business. He'd spent the previous day
here and still he was falling behind. It was his own fault; he'd spent
most of the day listening for footsteps and the turning of a key in the
door, rather than focusing on his work. He'd accomplished very little.

Anastasia, as she insisted he call her during dinner, hadn't
come. It was within her rights; that she'd come in Saturday had
been no doubt just a means of impressing the boss. As he thought
about it, he wondered if her dinner invitation was the same kind of
ploy.

No.

Never once in his admittedly few conversations with her had
she shown the slightest artifice or deceit. Her laugh, a warm
pleasing sound, was genuine. No matter how unlikely a story she
told, he believed her. He found her veracity refreshing; while
Julia had never lied to him, he knew there were things she had not
told him about her past. Anastasia had already shared large parts
of her soul with him, and they had just met. At the same time, he
had a completely unfounded but stirring suspicion that she would
not open up for just anyone.

This was mad. He was already involved. He had neither the
time nor the right to even think about another woman. It made no
sense to continue thinking of her, long after reaching home, nor to
hear her dignified voice, accented with her travels, echoing
beautiful laughter in his ears, nor to wonder how smooth the skin
on her jaw would be if he placed his lips there.

"Good morning, Doctor," said Julia. He blinked, clearing his
vision. Julia stood before him primly, short dark hair pulled back
from her face with bobby pins, unsmiling as always.

"Julia ... I'm sorry I didn't call you. I was here most of
the weekend."

She didn't appear affected. She trusted him. Of course she
trusted him. He'd done nothing wrong. "I went to see my parents."

Her parents. Oh yes, her father had been ill. She'd told him
that on Friday, hadn't she? He'd forgotten. He'd simply expected
her to be at home, waiting for his call to come over, or to invite
him, not once considering she might not be there.

"How is your father?"

"Recovering. Did you make any progress?"

"I didn't, but Anastasia has already made remarkable headway
on her work."

She raised a delicate eyebrow. "Who?"

He flushed. "Anastasia Lisle. She's George's replacement."

"I see." Something in her tone suggested she saw *everything*
that had wandered into his mind these past three days. "When will
I meet her?"

"This morning, as soon as she arrives." He wondered suddenly
if this was a good idea. On an impulse, he bent to kiss her. She
stepped away.

"Not here." He pulled back. She was right. Their workplace
was not an appropriate venue. They had decided that when they'd
started dating, and he was too well aware of the remorse which had
driven him to do it anyway. "I'll be in the lab."

Halcyon returned his attention to the ever-growing stack of
papers on his desk, and cursed the universe in general.

At eight-fifteen, Gladys poked her head into the office. "Dr.
Renard, Dr. Lisle is here. I'd like her to fill out some forms
before she starts work."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"You need to sign them when she's done."

"Then tell me when she's done," he said with very little
patience. She was here. She would come into his office, and he
would strike up a conversation with her before she left, and ...

And this was not a good thing to be considering.

Twenty minutes later, he heard a tap on the doorframe. Not
really paying attention to the papers in front of him, he said,
"Come in."

What he had been expecting, he wasn't certain. Anastasia had
foregone her shorts for sensible slacks and low-heeled shoes. Her
mane of auburn hair had been tied back into a neat ponytail. She
looked ready to work.

"Good morning, Doctor," she said pleasantly. "Gladys tells me
you need to sign these."

He caught a waft of her perfume. "She told me the same thing.
Did she happen to mention where?"

"No." Her green eyes glittered, as if they'd just shared the
wittiest of jokes. She handed him the form. Ah, yes. Taxes and
payroll and all those lovely headaches he hadn't considered when
he'd decided to form this company. He found a likely-looking
dotted line and signed with a flourish.

"Would you like to meet everyone?"

"Yes. I would."

He almost offered her his arm, then knew exactly how bad an
idea that would be. Instead, he indicated the door, and followed
her out. Delaying the inevitable, he introduced her to Ray and Max
first, and noticed how taken they were with her. Jealously, he led
her away to meet the other lab techs. And Julia.

The moment the two women shook hands, he felt himself to be
standing on a steep mountaintop, overlooking two possible destinies:
small, mousy Julia, hiding behind her spectacles, needing his protection;
sparkling Anastasia, undeniably attractive, filled with layers he'd
barely imagined.

This is nonsense, he thought. I barely know her.

"It's good to meet you," said Julia.

"Likewise," said Anastasia. "Dr. Renard has spoken highly of
you. Are you as good as he says?"

"Better." Julia went back to her work.



He didn't make it to the jeweler on Monday.



The two women worked well together. Anastasia continued to
make progress on the research at a lightning pace; Julia remained
beside her, providing assistance as needed. Halcyon stayed away
from their part of the lab. It was safer. That night, he bought
dinner for himself and Julia, then walked her home. He did not
stay.

Days went by in this fashion.

Friday night came, and again, he walked her to her stoop. He
reached over to kiss her, here where it was safe. She pulled away
as she had in the office.

"Don't."

"What is it?" he asked, afraid of the answer.

"You don't mean it."

He took her shoulders. "Julia ... "

"Halcyon, do you love me?" She looked at him askance,
measuring his response like some reading on a meter.

"What? Of course I do."

"Don't do that. Don't answer so fast. Think about it. Then
tell me." She tiptoed up and kissed his cheek, a light quick pat
with only the slightest pressure. "I'm going to see my parents
this weekend. Give me your answer Monday." He watched her as she
moved up the few stairs, noticed the motion of her calf muscles
beneath the prim hem of her skirt, the set of her shoulders, the
way the streetlight leached the life from her hair and clothing.

Not wanting to be alone in his home with these thoughts, he
went back to the lab.

~Do you love me?~ Her words lingered.

The liquor, kept in his desk for the darkest of nights, burned
his throat as it went down.

"Of course I do," he repeated to the silent darkness. The
sound was hollow.

"I love you." He tried again.

"You are my life." He attempted to form an image of Julia's
face in his mind.

His vision swam. Her skin was the color of the sea, her eyes
the deepest green, and he knew that he would never love Julia as he
did the woman from his dreams.

"My Queen," he muttered, but did not remember later.

***

Halcyon woke and stared at the ceiling, wondering what had
wakened him. He heard the steady beeps of the monitoring
equipment, a familiar cadence. He heard the vague shufflings and
murmurs that were a hospital late into the night shift. The doctor
had retired somewhere for the evening, and no nurse had come in
with a midnight dose of medication. Nothing should have bothered
him, but something had.

He made an effort to roll over to his side, found that the
wires and tubes would just allow that motion.

The pillow was damp.

He used his free arm to brush at his eyes, discovered he had
been weeping in his sleep. He hadn't cried since the divorce, when
he'd received the finalized papers, held them in a hand trembling
with drink and grief at what he'd lost.

The last time he'd seen her had been that day Alexander had
been born. She had still been young, still beautiful, still
breathtaking. When she'd mentioned her remarriage, his heart had
stopped. He had not looked at another woman in that way since the
first moment she'd stepped into his office. He'd completely
forgotten that she'd been married once, and it amazed him to think
he could forget. Perhaps it had been part of the glamour surrounding her.

His reading material of late had included much on the legends
about the Third Race. He'd reread "Midsummer" until he could recite
entire acts by heart. The name Tam Lin filled him with trepidation; he,
too, had been seduced by the lure of the Fairy Queen.

No, that was not fair to either of them. Whatever enchantment
she had worn, he had chosen to accept it as truth.

The years had drifted by. His encroaching disease, her waning
interest, and their obsessive work habits had set them to gently diffuse
away from each other until divorce was only another word for the marriage
they no longer shared. Even then, when he took the time to look at her,
he saw her as he had that first time, and on the morning after their first
night together, and his heart was filled with reverence and with sorrow.

***

Anastasia came into work on Saturday. Julia did not.

It began simply enough. He went to her work area to observe
what she was doing. The ensuing discussion had lasted over three
hours. Each time he pointed out something that could be wrong with
her logic, she explained her answer. Her notes were neat,
interspersed with terse comments from Julia. The two of them had
been busy the entire week, and he hadn't even noticed. Not a good
thing, he thought. He needed to take a more active role in the lab.

She was going to need live subjects after all, but they would
not be harmed. She'd seen to that.

Anastasia joined him for dinner Saturday evening. He didn't
dare take her anywhere close; he settled for a quaint little place
on 63rd. They ate and drank and talked. Again he was amazed by
her frankness. She spoke of her first marriage, pledged when she'd
been far too young. His instinctive envy was lessened when she
added she hadn't seen her ex-husband for ages. The mystery of her
deepened.

He walked her home, and when she invited him up to her
apartment, he felt the precipice once more. His conscience
whispered ~Julia,~ his mind ~Anastasia,~ his soul a name he did not
know. Julia was in Pennsylvania, and his Lady had not once come to
him in his waking hours.

She tasted of apples, and mist, and worlds yet to be.



They arrived together at work Monday morning. There was no
help for it; he had not gone back to his apartment. They hadn't
even gotten out of bed Sunday, save for the most basic of human
needs. He had spent the day learning her, loving her, thinking
only of her. The stark weekday morning shattered his fragile sense
of eternity.

The change was brought home as they walked into the front
office, in Gladys' knowing face. In Julia's eyes, later in the
day, he read the knowledge and the pain. She had her answer.

Her resignation was on his desk on Friday. The official
reason she gave was the declining health of her father and a desire
to be closer to home. She refused to acknowledge any other reason,
and he feared what would happen if he did. He wanted her to yell
at him, to hit him and call him a bastard. He feared that she
wouldn't, that she would continue to stare at him calmly, make him
feel worse for her acceptance.

As she walked to the door for the final time, he knew he
should say something, but "I'm sorry" didn't begin to cover the
depth of his regret, and "I love you" no longer applied.

"Be well," he said. He never knew if she heard him.



He presented the preliminary data a month later. Cyberbiotics
was the smallest company attending the meeting. His former
employers, Baxter Chemical, were also in attendance. He recognized
several former coworkers, as well as his former boss. He hadn't
seen any of them since he'd walked out, and only Anastasia's
comforting presence kept him now from quaking. This was it. They
would sink or swim with the results of this meeting.

The day the decision was announced, the day he knew his company was
going to live, he asked for Anastasia's hand. To his surprise, and
perhaps to hers, she accepted.



He opened his eyes, and knew himself to be dreaming again.
She, the eternal She, crouched beside the opened window to his
bedroom. Her candy-floss hair hung askew around her, was more
lovely for its muss. With no surprise, he felt the absence of his
new bride beside him. Of course Anastasia would not be here, not
with Her so nearby.

Did he dare sit up, call to her? No, that would shatter the
dream. He could not face losing her so quickly. He remained where
he lay on the bed, drinking in her sight with thirsty vision, dying
for one verdant kiss from her luscious mouth.

She did not seem to notice his torment. She stared out the
window, her lips parting just enough to expel misty breath in the
cold air. He realized that she was speaking in the quietest of
tones. He heard another voice respond.

"I'll never understand what you see in them."

"Someday you will. I find them fascinating."

"They cannot fly."

"They build machines, heavier than air, which they use to fly."

"Iron machines."

"Some are, yes. They cannot communicate with their thoughts,
so they use electricity to carry their words. They cannot heal
with a touch, so they develop elixirs and potions that can, and
meanwhile unlock the secrets of Nature Herself."

"Nature doesn't like her petticoats lifted, especially by such
fragile beings. Amaterasu lost thousands of her charges at
Hiroshima in an eyeblink. Mortals *die*."

"Do not forget your own heritage, Puck." A crystal quiet
moment passed. "They are fragile, yes, and mean. They are short-
lived, and many of them never see beyond their own noses. We are
beautiful, and strong, and long-lived, and many of us never see
beyond our own noses. In the brief span of a mortal life, they
dream braver and love more deeply than any of our kind, because
they do not have time for tricks or games. They strive to become
like we are, not understanding that their perfection lies in their
unyielding imperfections."

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room, he saw the
impossible: a little man outside the window, floating. His hair
was long and white, his face caught in a perpetual smirking grin.
He seemed less a man and more an apparition brought on the chill
night wind. He spoke to Her in as soft a voice as She to him.

Anger, hot and proud, surged in Halcyon's gut. How dare this
interloper, *anyone* break this time he had with the one great love of
his life? How dare She meet with another? Wounded more than any cuckold
catching his bride with a groomsman, he summoned all his strength, to
uncoil and strike them both before she faded from him again, laughing in
his fragmented dreams.

"Do you love him, Lady?"

The voice that inquired had nothing of jealousy in it, nor
pain, nor treachery. It was not the question of a potential lover,
come to steal Her away, nor of a former love, cast aside for other
pleasures.

She turned towards him, perhaps knowing he was listening. Her
features melted (Anastasia?) fractured into a smile too young for
Her aged green eyes. She was dressed in the same nightgown his
wife had worn to bed, and the part of him who'd once thumbed
through a psychology book hammered at him with hard guilt. He was
married, to a wonderful, attractive, intelligent, and above all
else, *real* woman. What could any dream offer him that Anastasia had
not already given in surplus? And why did he strain to hear Her response
anyway?

"I do." Her head turned back to the man in the window,
allowing him a view of her delicate neck. "I thought he was merely
a means of furthering our plans. Instead, I have found him to be
quite ... remarkable."

"Our plans? Then you carry his child." There was worry
there, and awe. "If You Know Who finds out, he'll kill you both."

"When the time comes, he will come begging *my* favour. He
will allow my daughter to live because it shall please me that he
do so."

A pause. "Daughter? But the prophecy ... "

" ... is mine to interpret. She will be born on Lammas."

"Yes, my Queen."

If there was more talk, he did not hear it. He knew precisely
where *this* dream was coming from in his subconscious. His mind
had taken aspects of his life, in this case Anastasia's pregnancy,
and put it in light of his obsession with a green woman who had
appeared in his other sleeping thoughts. This made clear to
himself, he rolled over and fell into a deeper sleep, and dreamt he
was being chased by carnivorous ethyl groups.



He reread the letter. There was a chance he'd mistaken
something in it for something else. He doubted it. Julia had
never been one to splurge on meaningless words. When she spoke,
she used the exact minimum number of words required to explain
precisely what she meant.

The picture enclosed with the letter was in sharp, clear black
and white. In the six month old face, he could already see Julia's
eyes, his own nose and chin. Written on his face was the truth, as
shameful as Julia's family would make it out to be.

Dr. Renard:

I should have written you sooner on this matter. I discovered my
condition shortly before I received your wedding announcement. I
believed myself capable of taking care of the problem without
assistance. I was mistaken. I realize your own situation. As a
courtesy to your wife, I am sending this directly to Cyberbiotics.
You may tell her or not, as you wish. He and I do not require your
time. I would prefer to raise him alone. There were some small
complications with the birth, which necessitated two weeks' stay in
the hospital for both of us. We are now in good health, but owe
the State Line Regional Hospital five thousand one hundred
thirty-seven dollars. I hope you and Anastasia are well.

Sincerely,
Julia


He flipped the picture over. On the back, in Julia's neat
handwriting, he read the name and birthdate.

He asked Gladys to hold his calls.

There were four roads before him. The first was a path he'd
almost taken once, would have taken in another lifetime. He could
still annul his marriage to Anastasia, persuade Julia to marry him
after all. That would solve nothing, only exchange one child's
happiness for the other's.

He could go home now, tell his beautiful wife that he had a son,
perhaps bring him into their lives. He could already see the
disappointment in her eyes, accusations in the eyes of all the rest.
He'd carry the shame with him, watch it grow beside him, mature into a
man with questions he could not answer.

He could throw away the letter and pretend it had never
darkened his "In" box. He could spend the next thirty years
hearing his conscience accuse him of the worst kind of cowardice.

He settled on the second-worst kind. He opened his desk,
pulled out his checkbook, and made out a check for six thousand
dollars, payable to Julia Vogel.

***

He moved his chair through the wide corridors of Fortress 2,
the measured tread of his aide-de-camp at one side, Janine's
catlike tread silent to the other. She was scowling, as she often
did when they were together.

"You can still change your mind."

"No," he replied, "I can't. This is where I belong. Where I
need to be."

She stared at him oddly for a moment, then returned to her
gentle tirade. "It's not healthy for you to be alone all the
time."

"I assure you," Vogel's flat and icy voice cut through, "Mr.
Renard is not alone."

Her eyes flicked to him, annoyed. She didn't consider him
company. What else she didn't consider him ...

There had been many more checks after that first one, he
remembered, watching the two of them now. The checks had covered
doctors' visits, glasses, braces, clothing, and later, private
schools. He had sent money for frills, found out much later that
Julia had wisely invested it. She'd died of cancer, diagnosed too
late to treat, and when he'd received the letter, he had grieved
for all he'd never given her, a life, a family. He had invited
Preston, a week out of college, to join his company as a junior
executive. Except for one memorable slip, the boy had never
faltered in his loyalty. And if he could not hold Janine to blame
for it, how could he hope to blame Preston?

"Daddy, I wish you'd reconsider."

"My mind is made up, Janine. It always was."

She sighed, and he knew he'd won, not just the argument, but
the war. He would not go live with his daughter and his
son-in-law. Yes, it meant not seeing his grandson as often as he
wanted, but that was the kind of sacrifice he knew too well.

Janine bent down to kiss him. "You're a stubborn old geezer
and I love you."

"Give Alexander a hug for me. And bring him by to visit. I
want to see him before he's in kindergarten."

She nodded and left him, with a final disapproving glance at
Vogel. As soon as she was gone, they could take off. He spent the
time watching his assistant while trying not to watch him. There
was so much they never said, never spoke of, and so much they
needed to say. He had too much of his mother's aloofness, too
little passion, and it was Halcyon's own fault. Always his own
fault. If he had another chance, he would try to make it right for
both his children.

It was a nice dream, to think he could bring them all together
under the cover of his love. It was a dream, and no more. He
couldn't change the past, nor did he even dare to think he might
win back the love of the Fairy Queen.

"'But waking, no such matter,'" he muttered.

"Sir?"

"Nothing. Let's get aloft." He moved to his position. Vogel
moved to his own mirrored place and waited for the order.

"Heading," he paused, "third star on the right."

"Straight on until morning. Yes, sir."

***
The End
***