Whoo hoo! My second big fanfic is finished! Too bad it's planted seeds of sequels in my head...I'll never get a rest! LOL
Sorry about there being no responses to you reviewers of the last chapter - I've been told it's now against policy and you know what TPTB around here are like...there were responses here, but I've had to play it safe and delete them. Any reviews given in future will almost certainly receive a PM via the new feature instead.
"Lara!" The name was uttered several times almost simultaneously as, alerted by Kurtis, pairs of eyes turned to search her out.
"Lara, you're alright!" Bryce dropped the rope he'd been using to pull Kurtis to safety, leaving him to swim his way through the now-calm waters, and tore, stumbling and slipping in the mud, across the bank to Lara.
She was dripping wet, shivering from cold, and dazed as Bryce reached her, taking hold of her arms and trying to grab her distracted attention. "Are you ok? Lara? Lara!"
Lara only managed to nod weakly as Hillary, delayed by having to disentangle himself from Sunderland, slid to her side, voicing his own concern as he yanked her sodden jacket away and started removing Bryce's from off his shoulders to give to her. "We should get back to the hotel or you'll get pneumonia. Both of you," Hillary fussed, directing the last part at Kurtis as he and Maria jogged up, the girl having waited to help him up the bank. The butler began to usher Lara towards the Jeep but she pulled away and looked over at Sunderland, slumped by the river.
"What about him?"
Kurtis followed her gaze, his expression hardening again. "Sunderland!" he called harshly, starting off towards him. "Get your ass over here!" Sunderland didn't answer. He was kneeling on the bank in the mud, oblivious to the earth that caked his expensive clothes, staring, unmoving, at the river.
"Sunderland," Kurtis said again, stopping at his side and looking down at him unsympathetically. "I said get up. We're leaving."
"I'm going to die," Travis said quietly, helplessly. "I'm going to die."
"Yeah. You are."
"It's your fault!" Sunderland suddenly leapt to his feet, turning and laying into Kurtis with uncoordinated fists and feet, angry at the world and almost crying. "It's your fault!"
"Alright!" Kurtis shouted, fending him off without returning the blows. "Cool it!"
Sunderland gave up, suddenly exhausted, and fell to his knees again. "You took away my only chance," he complained. "You won't open the gate again. Not for me. Why did you do it? Why? Was it revenge? I mean…" He looked up at Trent pleadingly.
"You told me cigarettes would kill me. You've got cancer, right?" Sunderland nodded, dropping his eyes as a tear fell to the thin grass. "It's your time, Sunderland. People aren't supposed to be immortal. Drinking the Styx is not the answer. Facing up to your fate and living life whilst you're still well enough is."
"What the hell do you know?" Sunderland cried. "What do you know?"
"You've got it all wrong, Sunderland," Lara said gently, appearing behind Kurtis. "It's living you should be afraid of, not dying. Trust me, I know."
"You don't have cancer!"
"But I have died. Alone, cold, in pain, with regrets. You have time to make sure it isn't like that for you. And you have proof right there," Lara continued, pointing to the river that glistened gold in the rising sun, "that it's not the end." She knelt, placing a hand on his. "It's time to stop hiding."
Travis raised his face, tears still falling quietly. His eyes flicked to Kurtis and then away again. "I'm sorry," he said. Then he got up and walked to the Jeep.
Kurtis folded his arms and turned to watch Sunderland walk away. "He didn't deserve that," he said to Lara, his voice cold.
"You didn't stop me."
Kurtis didn't reply, so she set off behind Sunderland.
Lara's hotel room door was opened to reveal her in a bath robe, still towelling off her hair after a shower. "Maria," she said. "What can I do for you?"
"Gareth," Maria said firmly. "No-one will tell me what happened to him."
Lara nodded, the towel slowing. She said nothing, just stepped back to allow Maria to enter.
"Gareth…really proved himself down there."
"What. Happened?" Maria reiterated, folding her arms and standing in the middle of the room.
"It wasn't nice down there," Lara said simply, sitting on the bed and gesturing for Maria to join her. "Gareth saved Sunderland from some bad people, walked us back to the spot where Kurtis could open the gate again… someone wanted Gareth to stay to fight a war and when he refused, the Minotaur was set on us. Down there, you can die again and if you do, your soul dies. The Minotaur was about to get Sunderland when Gareth pushed him out of the way and took the attack instead. I went back for him and that's when Kurtis was sucked through the gateway. Then…then we managed to kill the Minotaur and Gareth went on to the heaven he believed in."
Maria was disbelieving, incensed. "But why didn't he come back with you?"
"Because he knew he shouldn't."
"Oh so he just left me here alone?" Maria shouted, jumping up and turning angrily on Lara. "Just left me, just like that?"
"He wasn't supposed to come back!" Lara retorted, raising her voice to shout the young woman down and standing, rising above Maria in her taller stature. "Getting shot was his time!"
Maria stared back for a moment, eyes darting and her expression suggesting tears just under the surface. "So that's it then? He's just gone."
"Yes," Lara nodded, her voice quiet. Maria's head slowly bowed. "Maria," Lara continued, slightly at a loss as to what to say, "maybe this is a good time for you to strike out on your own and work for yourself. Gareth trained you well, I can tell. You probably don't feel ready but, in this game, no-one does."
"No," said Maria, turning and walking to the door. "I think that maybe tomb raiding isn't for me." She reached out to lower the door handle but stopped when Lara called out to her.
"Gareth was very proud of you. He said to tell you that."
Maria opened the door and left.
Bryce's phone rang.
"Hello?…Akira, hi!…No, I've not been away. At least, I don't think I have…are you sure?…really?…wow…really! That's great news! Brilliant! Next week…yeah…ok. See ya, Akira! Say hi to Takeshi for me."
He hung up, scribbled some dates and times down on a nearby notepad, and dashed next door to Hillary's room.
"Mate! You know how all the reception staff were giving us really weird looks when we came back this morning?"
"Yes," sighed Hillary, putting aside his copy of The Independent that he'd bought in the lobby, giving up on getting any reading done whilst Bryce was around.
"Well, according to Akira – you know, Takeshi's friend from Japan? – apparently I haven't been answering my e-mails and my mobile phone has been completely off the radar, and he's been trying to get hold of me for over a week!"
"A week?" Hillary replied, confused. "But we only left the hotel last night!"
"Slower time must have crept through the gateway, like Maria said. For us it was one night, for everyone else it was one week. We must have been out of phase or something, which is why the archaeologists didn't see us and we didn't see them."
"No. No," said Hillary, reaching for his newspaper. "There must be a – " He stopped himself mid-sentence as his eyes fell on the hitherto unnoticed date at the top of the page. "Nine days," he breathed. "Nine days?"
"Wow," said Bryce simply, apparently over the shock already. "Look, er, Maria's probably going to want a shoulder to cry on so, er…I'm off…anyway, I need to come up with an excuse to get Lara to send me to Tokyo next week. Got to see a certain games company about a certain new games franchise with a certain Japanese business partner."
"Don't you take advantage," Hillary warned.
"I've already done that, don't you think?"
"I meant with Maria."
Bryce smiled, dropping the joke. "Wouldn't dream of it."
The next morning, Kurtis rubbed his forehead tiredly as another sob floated out of one of the bedrooms of a suite in a different hotel that Sunderland's party had booked into upon their arrival in Ukraine. Before, it had been Kurtis' prison. Now, it was just as depressing, for different reasons. With Harding dead and Sunderland's two guards apparently becoming deserters after the fire fight on the bank, it was large and empty, quiet save for the sound of Sunderland's misery.
Kurtis rose from the sofa where he'd been sitting most of the night, feeling the effects of not sleeping deep within his head, in the beginnings of a migraine. He crossed to the French doors that opened out onto the balcony and stepped out into the cold air, closing his eyes and lifting his face to the chill breeze as he allowed it to wake him up. He took a cigarette and a lighter from his pocket and lit up.
Soft footsteps trod across the thick carpet indoors and then became harder as they joined him on the concrete balcony. "Couldn't sleep?" asked Lara's soft voice.
"Nah," Kurtis grinned.
"Me neither." There was a comfortable silence as they both looked out over the town before Lara spoke again. "We're all waiting in the lobby. When you're ready, we'll go. Your plane lands at Norfolk Airport. Bryce didn't book you any airport transfers though, because we don't know exactly where you live."
"I have to go back to Virginia already?" Kurtis asked with a small laugh, turning to her. "We haven't even celebrated your birthday yet. At least let me come back to England with you and take you to one of those quaint little pubs you guys have."
Lara laughed at his comment. "Kurtis, you're more than welcome to come whenever you want, you know that. Bryce can change your ticket, I'm sure."
"I'll pay you back when I get hold of my cheque book again. All I've got here is two tiny little bags with a couple of changes of clothes, my passport and my weapons. Sunderland's guys weren't exactly thorough when they broke into my place to get my travel documents, you know?" There was another pause and then, "God, I hope they didn't leave my front door open."
Lara laughed again. "How's Sunderland?" she asked.
"Not good. He'll deal, eventually. For now, he's a wreck. I hear Maria's quit the business. Running away from things, isn't she?"
Lara sighed, nodding, and leant her hands on the railing. "There'll be trouble there. Just you wait."
Kurtis gave her a sideways look. "You think?"
"Oh yes." Lara slapped her hands on the railing and pushed her weight back onto her feet. "Well, I'll be in the lobby. Come down when you're ready." She handed back the keycard to the suite that Kurtis had given her and turned to leave.
"Lara?" Trent called over his shoulder. "What happened to the Helmet?"
Lara smiled, stopping and turning towards him. "I still had it with me when I was brought out of the Underworld, but it was gone when I woke up. I assume she didn't let me keep it."
Lara opened her mouth to speak, smiled to hide her mistake, and then decided what to say. "Oh…nobody. Just a figure of speech. Anyway, I think we're all a lot better off without that Helmet, don't you?" She smiled again. "See you in the lobby."
Kurtis Trent leant on the hotel balcony railing and stared out across the town. He took a drag of his cigarette, breathing in deeply, and then exhaled. The smoke mingled with the early morning fog, already shrouding the skyline into ghosts of silhouettes.
He thought for a moment, contemplating all that he had been through, all that had happened, finalising his thoughts that had been running all night.
"They say still waters run deep," he concluded to no one but himself. "I guess they're right."
Then he dropped his cigarette on the floor, stamped it out under his boot, and went inside to pick up his bags.
As he passed Sunderland's open door, another sob caught his attention. Travis was on his knees, distraught.
Kurtis removed his pistol from where it was tucked down into his waistband. He levelled it squarely at Travis' head. His finger put a slight pressure on the trigger.
Then he let out a sharp, heavy breath, shoved the gun back into his trousers, and marched out.
Well, that was at times difficult, but totally worth it. Sometimes it frustrated me but overall I really enjoyed writing this whole story and I'm glad that so many of you have apparently enjoyed reading it just as much.
Thanks to -
Akkon, for reminding me that Minos wasn't just a person I knew, he was also the guy whose wife had the Minotaur. A big part of the story was thanks to you.
The show La Femme Nikita for yet more inspiration.
The video game Silent Hill 2, for being a source for homages!
Simple Minds, whose song 'Don't You Forget About Me' inspired Kurtis' crush, Jennifer (gee, guess what my name is, people!)
Everyone who helped with No Man's Land, since it was the source of several 'injokes' in this story.
Core Design and the creators of Hillary and Bryce, who gave me these wonderful characters to work with.
Last but not least, my wonderful readers and reviewers. Love you all! Mwah!
No profit was made, I just really, really enjoyed writing this.