5

When he woke, he was back in a hospital bed, again. No straps, this time. He could leave. Someone was there, sitting in a chair beside him with a notebook in hand, leafing through its penciled contents with evident interest.

"Spare me the look," TinTin fussed crossly, as he turned his head. "Gennine had to have at least a few hours rest, so she asked me to sit with you, for a time." She set down the notebook, first dog-earing the page for later perusal. "And it was just getting good, too! Now, I suppose I'll have to keep you company. What are you doing? Gordon Tracy, are you mad?"

For, he'd risen to a sitting position and drawn the sheet around himself like a towel, yanking the IV tube out with savage distaste.

"Goin' to my room, if you don't mind," Gordon snapped back, bracing himself to get all the way up.

Haloed in the faint glow of her reading lamp, TinTin gaped at his preparations, while all around, the quiet breathing of his older brothers (and Cindy, who'd insisted on staying by Scott) whispered softly of healing and rest.

"But you can't even walk!" the girl protested.

"Then I'll crawl."

"You're serious..!"

He leveled a grim stare at the bewildered girl.

"As a damn funeral Mass. Now, get out of m' way."

Unwilling to allow even the thought of controlling his actions to cross her mind, TinTin went along.

"Very well, then, Stupid. I'll help you get there, if you promise to rest."

More relieved than he cared to admit, Gordon accepted the girl's assistance. As TinTin supported his shambling walk across the mansion and up the main stairs, Gordon said, a bit hesitantly,

"I'm sorry..., if I said somethin' wrong, back at the beach."

She gave a little shrug, quite a chore with a heavy arm across her shoulders.

"Don't give it a thought, Mon Couer. (Like you would, anyway!) You and Alan are just alike; idiots, both of you. But I suffer for the good of all womankind, keeping the two of you out of circulation."

Gordon laughed, glad she wasn't really angry with him. They'd stopped to rest on the third landing, so he wasted a little more breath saying,

"Thanks, Angel. Very noble of you, I'm sure."

"Tais-toi!"

She gave his sheet-wrapped waist a squeeze, maintaining a martyred expression. For an instant, she thought of the Olympics, but he'd been exhausted then, not radiation sick.

They made it to Gordon's untidy rooms at last. None too soon, either, from the look of things. He'd grown so pale and clammy that she began to wonder whether helping him out of the infirmary had been such a good idea.

Maneuvering past all the furniture, the ladder and exercise equipment that cluttered his sitting room, TinTin got him at last to bed. Then, assuming a tone and lofty hauteur somewhere between Lady Penelope and her father, TinTin said,

"And will there be anything else, Monsieur?"

"No," he replied, smiling sleepily, "Just your company, if y' don't mind staying a bit longer."

"I suppose... If I must, I must. No release for the weary and oppressed tonight," she sighed, gazing at the ceiling in feigned disgust. No chair being nearby, she sat down on the night stand. Had to move a framed picture first, though. No one she knew...

A laughing, sandy-haired man with hazel eyes and a very freckled face embraced a red-haired young woman, whose adoring green eyes looked up, not at the camera, but at him. Her love was gut-punch palpable, even through the years and the glass.

"Who are they?" TinTin asked curiously, holding the faded picture out to Gordon. He took it from her.

"Sorry. Shouldn't have it out, like that. The other night was really odd. Um...," For she was beginning to look quiet again, and he didn't want to chase away her suddenly lightened mood. "It's mum an' dad. Before I was born. Mum always used t' say...," and he turned the photo back to face her again, "that though you can't see me, I'm in the picture. She said she was a month along, when it was taken. Funny..." He frowned down at the snapshot. "...I know it was just a story she told, so I'd not be left out... but I still feel like I'm in the picture."

"Well," TinTin floundered, as he shut the portrait away in the other night stand. "I guess you are, then. Families are what you make of them, n'est-ce pas?"

"TinTin, I don' speak bloody French." Gordon was well under the covers now, and growing drowsy.

"I hate to be the one to bring the matter up, Mon Couer, but you aren't a scholar of English, either. Your diction is laughable. E-nun-ci-ate."

"Right, then... speech lessons start up tomorrow..." And he fell asleep, smiling slightly.

Thinking it better to stay with a friend than brave the long, dark walk to her own room, TinTin found a chair and dragged it over to Gordon's bed. She'd promised to watch him, after all. It was later, when the house was sleepy-silent, and her tired mind unguarded, that the presence struck again. Gasping, TinTin shot fully upright, reaching desperately for her sleeping companion.

'Wake him, and he dies. You will strangle him with your own hands, Little One, while I hold him helpless. But I am compassionate, Child, and require but one life this night. Rise, seek out 'John' , and kill him.'