Ok, ok, no more poking, I give in, here it is! The end. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all have reviewed. You brighten up my e-mail account, and if nothing else, the pokey sticks are good for toasting marshmallows. ;-) Italics are the depths of Kurtis' mind, as ever. Here we are then...
Tearing into the swimming pool conservatory, I was met with panic and disarray.
Breakfast tray scattered on the floor.
Hillary frozen to the spot, staring with hysteria in his eyes at the chillingly still water in the pool, leading off from which were the tunnels that were cruelly suffocating Lara.
Bryce practically hyperventilating as his hands flew over the keyboard at the control computer, eyes wild but focused on the monitor, as he tried to drain the maze.
Me. Eyes wide. Mouth open. Panting from exertion and shock.
I dove in and sped through the water into the maze, eyes darting for her panicking oxygen starved form. She was there, arms flailing, legs kicking, eyes wide in fear.
I reached out and grabbed her wrist; her wild eyes locked onto me, a flicker of relief in them. Dragging her back out behind me, we surfaced, both gasping for air, gulping in desperate lungfuls. I was still clasping tightly to her wrist, her free arm beating the water as she fought to keep above the surface in her instinctive state of flight.
"Lara," I gasped, turning to her, still gulping in air and trying to calm myself.
Except I didn't. I just stood. Doing nothing.
"YES!," Bryce screamed. He'd succeeded.
The computer wielded, and the maze drained, filling with healing and soothing air, and the roof of the maze opened up, revealing Lara lying in a heap, spasms of coughs racking her soaked, abused frame as she expelled water from her lungs and fought to keep from throwing up.
Hillary and Bryce flew over to her, her butler and almost adopted father pulling her into his lap and stroking her back as she wretched, Bryce taking her head in his hands and touching her forehead with his in relief as he was assured that she was conscious and alive.
I ran a few steps with them, but at a slower pace, stopping feet from her, as concern for her well-being was quickly replaced with horror and shame at what I had done. Hillary glared at me, apparently incensed that I wasn't showing the same degree of concern. It wasn't right that I be there. I turned and walked slowly away.
Reaching my room, I locked the door behind me and crossed to the bed with heavy steps. I flopped down and put my head in my hands, not able to believe what I had done.
The virus that Bryce had cleared from the house's computer network had concealed a second tampering. One that had caused the maze to close off at both ends and had disabled the panic buttons inside that should have drained it in an emergency. He'd never seen it because any traces of it had been put down to the virus. And its effects? Probably blamed on the original virus too.
A second malicious program. And I had planted it. I had written it, planted it, and completely forgotten all about it, drunk. My gaze fell on the half empty bottle of vodka that Bryce and I had been working through that night. Crossing to the table where it sat before I had even realised that I was moving, I screamed in rage and hurled the bottle at the wall, where it smashed, the pieces falling to the floor and the contents sliding down the wall like colourless blood.
Snatching up one of the larger shards, I stormed to the window, throwing it open. The glass blade was held at my wrist as I screamed into the wind.
"FUCK YOU! It's all your fault! This is what you made me! This! Some screwed up human being who tries to kill his friends and pretends he's helping them! I'll see you IN HELL!!"
I raised the glass gash an inch, ready to bring it down on my veins, but couldn't. I screamed in frustration and threw it to the floor, spinning round and reducing my hand's sentence to an almost knuckle breaking blow to the four poster bed. Dropping to my knees, my anger spent, I bowed my head and cried.
Three hours later I was packing when someone knocked at my door. I stopped and stared at it, waiting for I knew not what. They tried the handle, but the door was locked, and I continued to stare, not moving, as soft disappointed footsteps faded away. I stayed that way, frozen as if the slightest movement would give me away, for almost two minutes after the sound had gone, before looking back to my suitcase.
My case packed and ready to go, it stood on the floor behind me patiently waiting for the inevitable as I sat at the desk by the window, penning a careful letter to Lara on her complimentary stationary with her complimentary pen. None of these things were mine anymore. It was time to go.
I'm sorry I couldn't say goodbye, but that's not how I do things. That's not how I leave. I move, and I don't look back. Sometimes I think it's easier for all involved, sometimes I think I'm just a coward.
What happened this morning made me realise that I can't live the life you want me to. I used to know that, but these past couple of months, I got confused. It's not who I am, and it's not the life I lead.
I can't be with you, Lara, or anyone. If I get close to people, they get hurt. Friends and family get caught in the crossfire of the life I live, and people who share that lifestyle with me - people like you - come with their own danger that I can't handle.
I'm not prepared to deal with the pain that comes with loved ones getting hurt.
Again, I'm sorry.
Maybe our paths will cross in the future, but when and if they do, I hope enough time will have passed for me to have become numb enough to be able to work with you again. Goodbye,
I read over the farewell one last time and folded it, slowly, carefully, considering my words. Sometimes I think it's easier for all involved, sometimes I think I'm just a coward. Yeah, that was about right. Why hadn't I told her that it was my fault? Because I was sparing her pain, or because I was too scared?
I laughed bitterly as I slowly, regretfully, stood. The letter was placed properly on the desk, in a manner befitting a grand and wonderful house owned by a grand and wonderful Lady. A wonderful lady.
Leaving the house silently and under the cover of dusk, I crunched over the gravel in the rapidly gathering night, the cold English evening falling felt but not unwanted against my pants and jacket gathered protectively around me. My suitcase rolled behind me as it had always done, following obediently to wherever we would end up next. Exiting Croft's lands, I turned down the country road the way we had come in the Bentley, and trudged on.
What? What?! Don't look at me like that! Maybe I'll set things right in Part 3. Maybe. I'll see how I feel. ;-)