By: Cheryl W.
Disclaimer: I don't own The League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen or anything in conjunction with LXG nor am I making a profit from this story. No copyright infringement is intended. Sadly, I do not own Tom Sawyer either.
A lone figure stood on the conning tower, seemingly oblivious to Mongolia's arctic cold that kissed his skin with the promise of frostbite or to the gales that tousled his blond locks, causing his white shirt and cotton pants to flap like over-exuberant flags. Nor did he register the presence of the man that stood behind him, whose eyes watched him in helpless concern. No, there was only one thing that had the ability to seize the solitary figure's attention: a funnel of smoke that crept up into the clouds, soiling them black.
The other man let his own gaze rest upon the telltale sign of destruction and, where he had once believed the sight would give him satisfaction, even pleasure, now it only brought him more pain. M was dead, his fortress burning, victory had been won. 'But at what cost? Was it at a cost that this young valiant man can bear to carry?' Those ruminations too dark and incalculable for such a man of logic, he pushed them from the forefront of his mind and stepped forward to stand beside the despairing man. "You should put this on," he quietly ordered as he held out a winter coat to the American.
Numbly, Tom Sawyer, pulling his gaze from the soiled sky, looked down at the coat like it was something foreign to him. He made no move to take the garment as his eyes swung up to meet the Captain's.
Whatever breath the cold had not robbed from Nemo's lungs was snatched away by the utter despair in Sawyer's eyes. Struggling to say something to ease the other's agony of spirit, the Indian found himself awash with failure. He didn't know any words or sentiments to balm the young spy's hurts and he felt wretchedly for repaying Sawyer's steadying presence at Ishmael's side so inadequately. In bitter truth, Nemo knew that only one man would have known what effective words of consolation to say to Tom Sawyer …but that man was not here.
Shying away from Nemo's pitying gaze, Tom focused on the coat the captain held out to him. With measured motion, the American took hold of the coat, instantly crushing the downy fabric in his clenched hands while making no move to don the garment.
Afraid that the coat would not get the chance to offer the protection it could to the young man, Nemo quietly said, "He would not want you to neglect your own well being." Whatever reaction Nemo had envisioned his reference to Allan Quatermain would have on the young man, he was wrong. There was no reaction, as if the wind had stolen his words away, never to allow them to break through the barrier the young man had constructed around his heart and soul. Contemplating the necessity of physically putting the coat to its intended use, Nemo nearly jumped when the other man's detached voice interrupted the howl of the wind.
"I know." Then with slow deliberation, Sawyer shrugged into the coat, fastening the buttons as if the task required his full attention.
Mollified that the young man would at least not succumb to the cold, Nemo nearly sighed. As pathetic as this accomplishment was, he knew it was the best he could achieve for the young man. So without another word he walked away, leaving Tom Sawyer alone on the conning tower with his pain.
With Nemo's departure, a shiver shook Tom's body, not born of the coldness of body but that of the spirit. Wrapping his arms around himself did nothing to temper the reaction. 'Keep it together, Sawyer!' he screamed internally. 'You don't have the right to fall apart! You don't have the right for sympathy! You don't have the right to a release from your pain! You don't even have the right to breathe another breath!'
But he did breathe, deeper and harsher until he sank to his knees, bowed his head and locked his jaw, unwilling to unleash the sob that threatened to overwhelm his every fiber. Everything he had sworn to conquer, every emotion he swore to conceal, it all seemed to shatter into a thousand shards that embed themselves in his soul. All the good he had hoped to accomplish in his life, all the evil within himself that he had tried so hard to diminish, it had all been a pipe dream, futile and naïve.
Unleashing a roar of frustration, despair and anger that drew all the air from his lungs, Sawyer sat back on his hunches, his eyes searing into the clouds above. "Why them! Why him! Why didn't You punish me! WHY DIDN'T YOU PUNISH ME!" he screamed, demanding an explanation, a justification for the unbearable outcome of the league's adventure. But there was no reply to his question, no succor offered to his soul.
It was ironic that, on a boat full of over a hundred people, he felt utterly alone. 'Alone, that's what you should have been all along. People that get close to you, they come to rue the day they met you…if they live that long. How many more people will you condemn because you are unwilling to walk away! Who will be next? Mina? Jekyll? Nemo? The whole crew of the Nautilus! When are you going to have the guts to do the right thing and walk away from the League, from the Secret Service, from anyone you care about?'
"Starting right now," he bitterly vowed, his words whipped away by the wind as he repositioned himself on the floor, his back braced against the conning tower. With a ragged breath, he leaned his head back against the frozen tower, watching as the plume of black smoke blotted out the white clouds. It seemed more a sign of defeat than victory, of a time to despair than to rejoice. Bitterly Tom wondered if M's fate and the league's had always been irrevocably intermingled. That to conquer the madman they also had to suffer a defeat of their own.
"Victory," he said aloud, his voice rough and bitter. Even the word left a vile taste in his mouth and a crater size hole in his heart. Ruthlessly his own thoughts contradicted his musings, 'This isn't about victory over M! This is about me! Skinner attacked that flame throwing tin can man to save me! Quatermain..' he clenched his teeth, holding back the emotions that clamored to find release as he mercilessly finished his thought, "And Allan, he turned his back on his enemy, on one of the most murderous bastards in the history of the world, to save me. Me, not for the world, not for another member of the league, not for some wild eyed innocent, but for me. He did it for me, felt the knife stab into his back knowing he felt that pain because of me. Felt his life ebbing away even as I'm acting like some pathetic school boy as my shot takes down M. I'm celebrating and he's dy…' Tom bowed his head, his hands clenching his hair. He could not go there, he wouldn't let that thought curse whatever grace that allowed Allan to cling however precariously to this life.
Vividly the scene in that cold, tower room played in his head again, taunting him with hope, drowning him in fear. Allan Quatermain still drew breath but how long could the man's spirit stave off the total failure of his gravely wounded body! How long could the hunter shut out his body's plea for an escape from agony? Unbidden Huck's words rang in Tom's ears over the whine of the wind, "Even the stubborn ones die. It's my time, Tom."
Allan had not said those words, but as Tom sat here alone and colder than he had ever been, he knew the truth. 'He didn't have to say them, I read the expression in his eyes, the same expression Huck had..right before he left me. And I couldn't bear to hear the words, to hell with what Allan needed to say, I shut him down. Made it about me, made my demands known. Linked his soul to mine, his fate to mine. Guilt, that's what I offered him instead of telling him I loved him. He's bearing this agony to stay here for me, to save me! Damn it! Wasn't it enough that he sacrificed his life for me! Why have I condemned him to this living hell!'
The long held back sob burst from him as he hunched over, his head bowed, his hands buried in his wind swept hair. He knew what he had to do, what he should have done in M's fortress as he saw the light fading in Allan's eyes.
Seeing the light fading in Allan's eyes, Tom swiftly came to his side, dropping to his knees, his trembling hand shooting out to clutch unto his mentor's hands. "You're gonna be fine," his voice tremulous and emphatic.
His breath coming only with great effort, Quatermain's response was a small shake of his head. He had things he wanted to say to the boy, promises he wanted to offer, love he wanted to express but his own body was failing him, turning traitor here at the last. With agony of spirit, he felt the hands that held his own cling more tightly to him, saw the mounting fear and pain in the young man's eyes. This was not what he wanted to leave to the courageous man he had come to love but fate was claiming his soul, mercilessly and without his consent. He wondered if these same thoughts had gone through Harry's mind as his life ebbed away, the desire to stay strong within him but the pull of his fate inescapable.
Desperately, Tom drew closer to the man that felt more father than mentor. "You told me that Africa wouldn't let you die…well neither will I. Now show me that British grit and let's get outta here," he growled. Then, not waiting for the hunter's protests, he put his arm around Quatermain and pulled the seemingly mortally wounded man to his feet.
Stifling a cry of pain, Alan could hardly believe he was standing, though nearly all his weight was upon the younger man. "No..I ..I can't. Go," he protested and ordered, unwilling to let the building crash down upon Sawyer's head as the younger man made a futile attempt to rescue him from a fate that had already been sealed.
"Not without you," Tom vowed, stumbling for the door with his burden. "M stole my best friend from me if he takes you from me…"
"M lost..he's dead," Allan assured as darkness began to fall over his vision.
When Allan stumbled, Tom forcefully braced the weakening man against the wall, his eyes obstinately snagging unto the fading light in Allan's eyes, refusing to relinquish the spirit that still burned in the soul. His breath hit Allan's face, even as his anguish reached into the adventurer's very heart. "I can't lose you too! If you're going to just give up then you should have just let M's henchman slit my throat!"
In horror, Allan saw the truth in Tom's eyes, knew that the young man's words weren't cultivated for his benefit. The spy would welcome death to claim him than bear more sorrow…more guilt. The spy's next words left no room for misinterpretation.
"You said we were fighters, that we don't quit. Well, if you quit, I quit." Gripping tighter to the older man's shoulders under his hands, Tom shook the injured man. "You hear me, you quit, I quit. You die…".
Sawyer didn't need to finish his threat, it screamed through Allan's soul. 'I die.' Managing to lift his hand, Allan wrapped it around the side of Tom's neck. Imploringly he choked out, "No", would have bellowed it at the lad had he the strength.
"Then don't quit," Tom brokenly responded, unwilling and unable to abandon his threat.
"Let's get the…. bloody hell out…. of here, Sawyer," Allan forced from his burning lungs, brutally silencing the belief that thrummed through him that he was going to die, that not leaving Tom wasn't his decision, had never been his decision. 'I'm not leaving the boy! The boy needs me, You hear! God, please don't make me leave him!' he fervently prayed, knowing that to lose his own life would be to forfeit Tom's life, a life he cherished more than anything else.
With relief that nearly sent him into sobs, Tom, once again, latched tightly onto Quatermain and began the long trek back to where he had left Skinner. Prayers and pleadings ran constantly through his mind as they maneuvered the halls of the crumbling fortress. 'Help me to get Allan and Skinner out of here alive and keep them alive. Don't make them pay for caring about me with their lives, not like Huck paid. Make me pay, not them. Me. Let me pay my own debts for a change.'
Now with the arctic wind slicing into him like knives, Tom Sawyer knew the choice he had to make, the debt he had to pay. His debt wasn't to die, just as it hadn't been on the docks. His debt, his punishment was to watch those he loved slip away, knowing they had died not necessarily because of him but definitely in his place.
He had to let Allan go, had to release the man from the pact he had exacted from him in the fortress. The man's pain was too great, his grip on this life too brittle. Tom had seen this in the way Allan's body had shook as they carried him across the white expansion back to the Nautilus. In Allan's eyes, he had seen the strain upon the adventure's very soul as he grasped to life even as Tom's hand desperately clung to his.
Death was not the cruelest fate for Quatermain, life was. Life in agony, life when the comforting peace of eternity was so tauntingly close. 'Peace. It's what I wanted for Huck, what I fought for. And now, for Allan, I have to surrender the battle, I have to let him go so he can find it on his own.'
The conversation between Mina and Henry ceased as Tom Sawyer entered the medical area, the young man's visage a map of anguish as his eyes rested on the man that drew ragged breaths on the bed beside the two doctors. Henry came to Sawyer's side quietly, trying hard to gauge the young man's ability to handle the news he had to impart. He nearly startled as the low rough voice questioned, "He's in a lot of pain, isn't he?" but it was the dull eyes that came up to sear into his that jolted the doctor to the core.
Swallowing, Henry nodded before he found the strength to utter words. "Yes, he is. But I …I don't know how long he can last. Truthfully, I don't know what's kept him here this long."
"I do," Tom managed, his voice nearly breaking on the two words, as he forced his trembling legs to propel him to Allan Quatermain's deathbed. Numbly he sensed Mina watching him, hesitant and then draw back to give him the privacy he craved.
Now, standing beside the bed, looking down at the pale trembling form of Allan Quatermain, Tom found his heart hammering rapidly in his chest, his hands shaking and his resolve eroding. 'How do I let him go when I want him to stay, need him to stay! Can I choke out the lie and make him believe it! 'Sure, go on to greener pastures. Don't worry 'bout ole Tom Sawyer. You pegged me right, I'm a fighter…even if you're not.' No, scratch that bitter ending there. I have to sound hopeful and strong and ready to tackle the world, that's what he needs to hear in my words, needs to read in my eyes. Lord help me, I've never needed to be the best liar in the world more than I do right now.'
When Allan's eyes flutter open, the tenderness in them nearly shattered Tom's tenuous reign over his emotions. Only the agony echoing from the dark depths of the hunter's eyes enabled the spy to stay upon the path he had resolved to tread. Claiming a chair beside Allan's bed as the hunter's eyes tracked him, Sawyer realized that Allan would have initiated the conversation if his every breath wasn't a labored gasp.
Tom's eyes flittered around the room for a moment until he forced them to rest upon the man who lay there, injured, dying because of him, because the hunter protected him instead of protecting himself. The brown eyes were veiled and Sawyer knew that the other man was trying to hide his pain. An impossible task, a burden too heavy for any man to bear, even the infamous Allan Quateramin. 'A burden he bears because of me, because he gives a damn about me. '
'Take a good look. That's how people who care about you end up. Hurting like Skinner, dying like Quateramin, dead like Huck.' Tom's first words weren't what he had intended but lately his intentions have been on a wayward path. "Thank you..for what you did back there," his voice rough, his self recriminations unspoken. Quatermain didn't need to hear them, he knew the spy's failings better than anyone, was dying because of his mistakes.
To Tom's surprise, Allan's hand reached out for him. And in that moment, in that last chance for a fatherly touch from the man he had in all intent purposes killed, he flinched away, skittered to his feet as if the touch would send his soul into the four corners of the wind. 'Whatever he's offering, I don't deserve it. Not his touch, not his compassion and sure as hell not his forgiveness.'
Looking away from the hurt now in the older man's eyes that went much deeper than physical agony, Tom's breath came out almost as harshly as Allan's. 'Let him go! Let him go! If you care one damn speck for him, let him go now, release him from his agony!' Steeling himself, Tom drew himself up to stand stock still at the bedside and met Allan's eyes again. And then he said the words he had to, said them because it was the kindest thing he could do for Allan, said them because the truth was, he loved the old man, couldn't love him more if Allan was his father.
"I know you have to go," Tom began, his voice thick with emotions yet surprisingly steady. A watery version of his cocky smile was forced unto his face as he quoted Quatermain, "You can't protect me all the time." He faltered then, the words a bitter reminder of why Quatermain was indeed dying.
A protest sprang into Allan's eyes and again his weak hand sought to latch onto Tom. This time the spy permitted the touch, relished the cold hand's grip around his wrist. "Tom.." Allan rasped, needing to wipe the guilt from the lad's face, wanting to ease the pain the other bore on his soul for actions that were not his.
But Tom pressed forward, knowing that he was doing the right thing, though it nearly was too little, too late. 'But not too late, not yet.' Unwrapping Allan's feeble grip from his wrist, he clasped the hand in his own. "What I asked of you…it wasn't fair. It was selfish and heartless." Allan's hand gripped tighter to Tom's as if in protest to the younger man's words. "You deserve to have your peace, Allan. I won't deny you that any longer. Go be with your son, be with Harry." Unknowingly tears slipped down Tom's face and dropped onto Allan's hand. "I'll keep fighting the good fight in your place. I won't quit.." he nearly choked on the words, wishing with every fiber that quitting was an option, that it could afford him some peace of his own. "And I will take better care of myself. After all, I have a legacy to carry on, right? The legacy of Allan bloody Quatermain and the league of the extraordinary gentlemen."
Tears welled in Allan's eyes and he used all the strength he possessed to pull on the hand that held his. Though the hunter had not the strength to achieve his intent, Sawyer knew unmistakably what Quatermain wanted. Leaning down, Tom enveloped Allan in a gentle hug. "Be at peace, Allan. I love you," Tom quietly murmured before abruptly pulling back from Quatermain and stealing from the room without a backward glance.
Bright sunlight glittered off the water, heating the boards of the London dock where Tom Sawyer crouched, his fingers skimming over the patch of darkly stained wood where Huckleberry Finn had died in his arms. It had been more than a month since he had sat here, Huck in his arms, his life in tatters. It felt like forever. If felt like just a moment ago. "I miss ya Huck. Guess I always will."
Blinking back tears, Tom looked over the water. Bodies of water seemed to be the one constant in his life, always a silent spectator to his joys and his heartbreak. 'Just as it was for Huck,' he realized and found that thought eased some of his grief. It was a fitting spot for Huck's last battle. It wasn't the Mississippi River but it still pulsing with the same life, inspiring some of the same sense of awe.
Focusing again upon the wood under his hand, Tom confessed, "I can't go back, Huck. Not to St. Petersburg…not to Washington…not to the agency. If you were here I know you'd wallop me and call me a quitter…" here he broke off as his voice cracked. He could almost hear Huck's outraged reply. When he spoke again, his voice trembled as he begged his friend for understanding, "If you've been sitting up there watchin'…you know why I can't go back. You're dead…he's dead…" his jaw clenched for a moment to restrain the onslaught of pain, "I don't want any more blood on my hands, Huck. I know we always bragged about how much good we were going to do, how the ladies would faint when we told them our heroic stories," a bittersweet smile turned up Tom's lips before fading away. "But I never figured being the hero would come to mean so little to me…or cost so much, too much." With a firmness in his tone, he continued, "I'm getting out of the hero business, Huck. I know that disappoints you..makes you feel like what you did…that dying for me was a terrible waste of your life. I never thought things would turn out like this…not for you, not for me.." his voice trailed off a little.
"What was it that the old geezer who ran the "Red Lady" steamboat used to say? 'Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.' Old fool forgot to tell me how useless it was doing right, how much it would steal away from me. I actually thought if I did right, that I would get some kinda reward…that if I was a good person the ones I loved would be protected, that if I saved the world from certain doom, nothing would touch me and mine. Guess I was still that naïve little boy you tried to toughen up all those years back. Well, that naïve boy's dead now, part of him died with you, and the rest died with Quatermain. Your job's done, Huck. The Fantom's dead, his base of operation went up in flames, the world isn't on the brink of war anymore. It's your victory Huck. You're the hero…you always were."
Swiping at the tears that he hardly knew had been streaming down his face, Tom stood up, his gaze taking in the sight of the river like it was something else he was saying goodbye to. Then, as his senses finally came back to the here and now, his muscles went taut. He was no longer alone on the dock.
From behind him came a thick British street accent that reminded him of Rodney Skinner…but Skinner's tone had never been so menacing. "You lead us on a merry chase, lad." Tom slowly turned around to see three burly men on the dock, their clothing rough and well used, their faces hard and worn. These men were from the streets where living and dying were the difference between a good day and a bad day. The man who spoke came toward Tom, his eyes hard and calculating. " 'Bout figured you turned tail and sailed back to your country…till I saw ya getting off that steamboat today." The man bared yellowed teeth into a smile, "That was rottin' luck for you," he pulled a knife from his waist band, "good luck for me. You're worth a lot of coin …dead."
With cold detachment, Tom knew these men were the assassins M had hired to kill him. Apparently M had not considered him enough of a threat to warrant a higher class of killers. It would have been insulting if he gave a damn. Instead he felt numb with bitter acceptance. Was it some sick coincidence that it was yet another knife being brandished in his face? Was it his fate to watch the people he loved die by the knife? Was it to be his fate to meet his end at the edge of a blade? Was this Injun Joe's last curse upon him? Anger surged through him, anger at Injun Joe, at fate, at the man who stood before him, thinking that he could scare him. 'You can't scare a dead man,' Tom snarled internally before he bound forward, grasp the wrist of the man who held the knife and snapped the bone like it was kindling. A cry of agony tore from the man even as Sawyer deafly slipped the knife from the now slack grasp. Then Tom's fist plowed into the man's face with a right cross, sending him to the ground.
The two other men simultaneously charged him, the man on Sawyer's left banishing a billy club and the man on the right was preparing to plunge his knife into the spy's vulnerable flesh. Tossing the knife he had confiscated into the air, Tom caught it by the blade and sent it flipping through the air to sink into the foot of the man with the knife. "Let's not rush our fun boys. You might be dead before I've gotten a chance to enjoy myself," the secret service agent taunted, his smile maniacal and his eyes gleaming with danger.
As the man with the knife knelt down to pull the knife free from his foot, the other man rushed Sawyer, sweeping the club high, intending to knock the American's head from his shoulders.
Ducking the blow as if it was delivered in slow motion, the spy plowed a left hook into his attacker's gut and ruthlessly slammed the arm bearing the club down across his knee. With a spasm of pain the club fell from the man's hand. Without thought, Tom kicked the club backwards and heard the satisfying splash as it hit the water. Raising his fists in a fighter's stance, Tom challenged, "You won't be offended if we forget about the Marquess of Queensberry rules, will ya?"
With his stance mirroring the American's, the now unarmed man retorted, "Markie who?" leaving Sawyer wondering if the man was being funny or simply daft. When the man's right jab aimed toward his jaw, Tom decided it didn't matter.
Ducking and dodging to the right, Sawyer slipped the jab and delivered an uppercut, catching the man under the jaw, sending him stumbling backward, his stance a little wobbly when he halted a few paces back. He didn't have time to wonder what the man's next move would be as he sensed the attack from behind. Without turning around, the spy raised his elbow and slammed it into the face of the once knife bearing man who thought to join the fight already in progress.
"Ah..my nose," the man hollered and stepped back from the arena, clutching his now bleeding nose.
Having now recovered, the other man gave an outraged grunt and lobbed a right cross toward Sawyer's jaw. Though Tom dodged back he had not reacted quite soon enough and the blow glanced off his jaw, snapping his head. Instead of anger, sick pleasure gleamed in his eyes. It felt good, this pain, it was a pain he knew, a pain he could retaliate against, a pain that he could avenge, without worrying about morality, rules, and or bothersome regrets. Faking with a left hook, Sawyer instead unleashed a right cross that sent the man crashing to the docks.
"You aren't done are you?" he taunted the three men, one nearly unconscious on the ground, the other still holding his broken nose and the first man sat on the docks, his broken wrist gingerly cradled against his chest. It felt too good hitting flesh, visible flesh at that, flesh that didn't hide behind armor or a mask. He wanted more, needed more, wanted to inflict more pain, pain that rivaled his own.
"The coin warn't that good," mumbled the first man as he stumbled to his feet, roughly aided his nearly unconscious mate from the boards and began walking away. The man with the broken nose gave a measuring glare of hatred to the American.
"You ready to collect your coin?" Tom encouraged, a deadly smile on his boyish features.
But it was the look in the young man's eyes that had the other man shake his head and drop the knife he had retrieved from his foot. Lumbering to his feet, he walked away from the American. He wasn't interested in dying today.
Disappointment almost hummed through Sawyer as his opponents turned the corner, leaving him standing once again alone on the docks. Walking over to the discarded knife, he crouched down. With a motion almost quicker than the eye, he sent the knife sailing through the air. A grunt of pain was heard as the knife landed into the chest of a man who had stood behind some crates, watching the fight, his gun having tracked the American spy's every motion.
Standing, Tom approached the still standing but mortally injured man, his clothing worth more money than the last three assassins had ever seen in their lives. 'So when I seemed to have slipped away M decided to pay a little more to get a little more,' Tom rationalized, having encountered this caliber of assassin before. The man's eyes were wide in shock, the gun limp in his weakening hand, his body consumed with agony as his prey came toward him like some jungle predator that knew no fear.
Grabbing the gun roughly from the assassin's numb hold, the spy viciously ripped his knife from the man's chest and watched the man sink to his knees. Crouching down to be eye level with the dying man, Sawyer spoke almost gently, "Hate to tell ya this but the man that hired ya is dead. He died about a month back. Don't you hate how slow the mail is these days?"
"You can't stop it," the man gasped with conviction, a dark smile on his dying face as his hands latched onto Tom's coat lapels.
"Stop what?" Tom asked, his curiosity getting the best of him.
"The war. The Fantom put the wheels in motion and there's no stopping it now. The world we know will change forever, it has to. It always has to," the man gasped, his fingers slipping from Tom's coat as he crumbled to the ground and breathed his last.
Shaken by the man's words, Tom stood up and stumbled back from the dead man. Had all he had lost, all that he had sacrificed been for nothing? Was war still looming? Was change inevitable once the world had a taste of it?
"He might be right, ya know," came a voice behind him, a voice that Sawyer believed no longer belonged in the realm of the living.
Spinning around, his knife at the ready, Tom nearly dropped to his knees at the sight of the specter of Allan Quatermain. "It can't be…you're ….Jekyll said…you were too bad off…I let you go," he stammered, the knife slipping from his numb hand.
Love and anger mixed in the old hunter's eyes, "If you didn't go vanishing off into the wilds of Mongolia you would have been around to see me prove the good doctor wrong."
"Africa," Tom guessed, grasping for some reason that the man he had presumed dead now stood before him, his dark eyes looking like he had just geared up for the hunt of his life. "Africa wouldn't let you die."
"Don't be addle brained, Sawyer," Allan growled with affection, his eyes greedily taking in the sight of his adopted son, liking little of what he saw. The boy was gaunt and disheveled, and missing was the light that Allan had come to love seeing in the young man's eyes, snuffed out like it had never been. Approaching the spy like he would a cornered wounded animal, Allan gently continued, "It wasn't Africa that saved me…it was you."
Tom shook his head, swallowing hard at the miracle before him. "No…I ..I let you go, gave you your chance for peace."
"I found peace," Allan softly said, now standing directly before Sawyer, his eyes tenderly meeting the young man's. "I found it here," he repeated, putting his hand against Tom's heart. Seeing the tremulous look in Tom's eyes, Allan sallied "For a smart boy you can be so daft sometimes," before he slipped his hand behind Tom's neck and pulled the young man into his arms for a hug. "I love you, son."
Immediately Tom flung his arms around the older man. "I thought you were dead," he breathed, the words catching in his throat.
"If it wasn't for you, I would be. You know it's bloody rude to pull someone from the brink of death and then bugger out on them," he joked.
A watery laugh broke from Tom and with a tight squeeze he stepped back from Allan. "Is that what I did, I buggered out on you?" his voice trying for lightheartedness even as it threatened to shatter. "We'd say I turned tail and ran."
"Call it whatever you want, just don't do it ever again. You hear me," Allan threatened, his love for the American shining in his eyes.
Like a scolded boy, Tom blushed, before swearing, "I hear you and I won't run out on you again."
"Good. Now that that's all cleared up," Allan began, coming to stand beside the American, he put his hand around Sawyer's arm and began steering the spy off the docks. "Son, would you like to learn how to fight?"
Laughter erupted from Tom and joy pushed away the darkness that had nearly consumed him. "I can already," he cockily replied like he did back on the Nautilus's conning tower seemingly a lifetime ago.
Barely holding back his own laughter, Allan choked out his lines, "Oh I saw…very American."
With his full blown smile beaming on his face, Sawyer boasted, "Don't worry…I can teach you all my tricks?"
"You teach me?" Allan groused, the gleam of happiness in his eyes unmasked.
"Yeah," with a pitying look, Sawyer clarified, "I saw you at Dorian.." here he shook his head in sad horror, "very British, throwing all those punches..hoping to hit your target."
A mocking warning was in Quatermain's eyes, which only made Sawyer's smile broader as he gave the first pointer, "Now first you gotta balance out your weight on your stance."
"That's easy," Allan boasted, loving the interaction even as he groused at it.
"Here's the part that's not," Tom continued, trying to let a reprimand enter his voice for the older man's unappreciated attitude.
"Let me guess, feeling the punch," Allan hazarded.
But his reply earned him a snort from Sawyer. "No wonder we whipped you guys. No, the most important thing is to forget about the rules. There are no rules in a brawl."
"A gentlemen…..." Allan began to protest.
A smug smile turned up Sawyer's lips, "A gentleman wouldn't brawl. Ever."
Without an ounce of regret, Allan confessed with a unruly smile, "Guess I'm no gentleman."
As they stepped off the dock into the street, Tom continued his lesson, "Now that that's all cleared up, there's a lot I can teach you. After all, a war might still be heading our way, you should be better prepared."
"Better prepared!" the famous hunter Allan Quatermain scoffed, ruffling Sawyer's blond locks. "I was out saving the world before you were born, laddie."
"No wonder it's in the state it is," Tom shot back, laughing at the mock outrage in Allan's eyes.
For a few paces they walked in silent companionship before Allan softly said, "Huck would be very proud of you, Tom. I know I am," his eyes tenderly watching the young man at his side who had bore the worst of the hurt M had caused.
"Yeah, I think he would be too," Tom honestly replied before smiling up at Allan. "But he'd tan my hide for that stunt in Venice…course he never did appreciate the thrill of going fast."
"Going fast is fine…it's the leaping over a river, crashing into the building I object to. We're going to have a serious talk about your reckless ways," Allan threatened, love shining in his eyes as he pulled Sawyer out of the way of a hackney that was about to run him over.
"How serious?" Tom smirked, having knowingly turned a blind eye to the horse and carriage that he had every intention of sidestepping…at the last instant of course.
"Very serious, my lad, very serious," Allan promised, steering the spy toward a coach, wondering how he had ever been blessed to get a second chance to be a father to such a wonderful man like Sawyer.
Being led like a naughty child, Sawyer felt no resentment spring up in him but instead a deep sense of being loved washed over him as Allan's words of a few minutes prior came back to him. 'I love you, son.' Tears pricked Tom's eyes but for the first time in years, it was tears of happiness. Shooting a glance back to the docks, Tom silently bade, 'Be at peace, Huck. I am,' before he climbed into the coach followed by Allan.
"Now, how about you tell me where you've been. You look terrible! And I don't want the fairy tale version," Allan warned, as the driver urged the horse into motion.
"You know, someone once told me that truth is the most valuable thing we have and we should economize it.." Tom replied with a cocky smile, anxiously anticipating the older man's reply even as he was thanking the Good Lord that he found himself once again at the man's side. With Allan Quatermain guarding his back, Tom found that he was more than willing to take up the mantle of hero again. The world always needed heroes…and with a league of heroes…woe to the evil that dared bare their teeth to them.
quotes from Mark Twain
Author's Notes: I almost hated to see it end! You all have been so wonderful and supportive! It's amazing how each review had me smiling and helped to shape this story. So I offer a great big thank you to all my reviewers! If you drop me a signed review, I'll try and respond back to you via email. And I also want to say I appreciate all those silent readers out there! (I'm more a silent reader than a reviewer myself)
Have a wonderful new year!