"Hey, Tony, you looking for Juliet?" Nikko called across the hallway to the may who had just entered.
"We had a lunch date," the tall dark man supplied with a shrug.
"Well, she's around somewhere, but I don't know where," Nikko breezed. "Cal was looking for her earlier, I know. Dunno if he found her. Haven't seen either of them since."
Anthony mumbled a reply with a raised eyebrow and Nikko turned back to what he was doing and carried on in silence. I few minutes later, Juliet stormed past him, purse in hand and cheeks flushed.
"Sorry I'm late," she muttered to Anthony as she caught his arm. "Let's get out of here."
Before Nikko could say 'hello' the pair were gone. He stared after them in contemplative silence.
"I think I could use those crutches now," said a voice by his side, startling Nikko out of his reverie. He looked round to see Cal staring at the door, his face dark and unreadable.
"What happened when you fell down that hole in Syria?" Nikko asked outright. "And don't say nothing, because I am not going to stop until I have worked out exactly what the heck is bugging you two!"
Six months and three weeks ago:
"We're fine Professor, honestly," Juliet was saying. "What we've found here is really interesting and might be a huge discovery. I don't want to say too much just yet, but it could change our understanding of European architecture immensely. We just need to do a few more tests and take a few more readings and sketches, then we'll be done and back on our way again."
"Okay, well, make sure you let us know if you need anything Juliet," said Professor Zond's voice. "And tell Cal to go easy on the local liquor!"
The mechanically rendered voice shut off and the darkness descended once more.
"Did you have to tell him I was hung over?" Cal asked wearily.
"Your other suggestion was that I tell him you'd gone off to look at stuff on your own," said Juliet matter-of-factly. "If I'd told the professor that, you know as well as I do that he'd be back on the jet and flying out here himself. This way, he believes me, he's not worried about either of us and our delay is explained."
"Could you try and sound a little less like I actually had a hangover?" Cal asked, pushing himself into a seated position with his back to the wall of their current abode. A breath of air against his cheek told him that Juliet had been close and he shot an arm out on the off chance. His arm connected and he pulled her in beside him. "Don't worry," he said quietly. "I got the ability to move back, I'm sure the ability to see will follow."
"It's been two and a half days, Cal," said Juliet, her breath warming his neck and left ear. "You were able to move again within a half hour. What if..."
"Don't!" Cal's voice was sharp. Sharper than it needed to be. "We have to assume that whatever caused the paralysis also caused the blindness. If the former has gone, the latter should follow, it just takes time! Don't freak out on me now, Juliet!"
A light touch traced the line of his jaw, turning his head to the left, and he felt Juliet's forehead touch his own and rest there.
"I'll be here," she said. "No matter what."
"So you were blind and could hardly move," said Nikko with a shrug. "So what? Juliet told me that much herself: the paralysis lasted half an hour and the blindness lasted three days."
"What else did she tell you?" Cal asked, easing himself into a chair and frowning up at Nikko.
"Not a lot," Nikko shrugged. "I mean, she told me how you fell down the hole, obviously, and how you both got there and what you thought the place was, but that was as far as we got."
Nikko sauntered over and sat down in a chair opposite Cal.
"Oh yeah," he said casually, almost as an afterthought, "and she mentioned somthing about you seeing bright lights and hearing voices. Care to share?"
The curse Cal bit back was obvious, as was the rising anger behind it. It took a minute or two for him to martial his features and turn back to Nikko. When he did, there was a cold beer by his right hand.
"Please," Nikko shrugged. "You don't think I know my own father well enough to figure out where in his office he hides the beer?"
"Put it down," Cal nodded at the similar beer in Nikko's hand. "You may have graduated, but you're still under twenty one."
"And in my own home with a responsible adult..."
"Who's telling you to put the beer away if you want to hear any more of this story."
Nikko pulled a face and set the beer aside. "A small price to pay, I think."
"Okay," Cal paused. "The first thing you have to understand," he began, "is that I am quite willing to accept all of this as the result of a concussion. Even when my sight did return, three days after the accident itself, the bruising on my head was certainly serious enough to cause one.
The first thing I remember about the fall was this feeling of weightlessness. Time seemed to slow down too: so much that I could see the rubble falling around me, piece by piece. Then I couldn't see the rubble. All I could see was this bright, white light. I couldn't feel anything: no pain, no gravity, no tons of rock and dust falling past me, nothing. All I could see was this light. And all I could hear was this voice."
"What was it like?" Nikko interrupted. "The voice, I mean."
"I dunno," Cal shook his head. "It's hard to describe. I didn't really hear it, you see. At least, not in the normal way. Not with my ears. It was like it was already in me. In my head. But it wasn't my voice, you know? Like the voice you feel in your head when you think something to yourself? It wasn't like that. It was different. It was like nothing I've ever experienced before."
Cal was silent for a few moments, staring down at the Persian rug, apparently engrossed in unpicking the intricate design.
"What did it say?" Nikko prompted.
"What?" Cal frowned. "Oh. Yeah. That. It's weird, but I can't really remember. It's like, the more I try to think about it, the harder it gets to actually recall. Sometimes I get flashes. At least, I think they're flashes. I only seem to get them when I need them, like in Alaska. I knew I'd survive that fall. I don't know how, but I knew. And the only thing that happened to me hanging there, before I cut the rope, was a flash of that bright white light and some vestige of a barely remembered voice. Then it was gone, and I knew what I had to do, and I knew that I'd survive, so I did it.
What I do remember, about the voice during the fall, was that I didn't recognise it. I mean not at all, not even slightly. But somehow I trusted it. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that whatever this voice told me was the truth. One hundred percent, absolute. I don't know how, or why, I knew that, I just did."
"Can you remember anything about what it said the first time?" Nikko asked, leaning forward in his chair.
"Not in so many words, no," Cal shrugged. "I remember the light, and the idea of feeling this voice in my head, but nothing about what it actually said. The next thing I remember was cold, pain and Juliet's voice shouting my name from somewhere above me. The weird thing was I knew, as soon as I heard her and without any doubt whatsoever, that I was in love with her. Completely, devotedly and utterly. She was the one for me, and I was the one for her. And I knew, just as surely, that it would all work out."
"Hasn't done so yet," Nikko raised an eyebrow.
"I didn't know when it would work out, just that it would," said Cal patiently. "I know: it sounds crazy. You think I'm crazy, I think I'm crazy, she thinks I'm crazy..."
"Wait, you told Juliet this?" Nikko's voice went up about an octave.
"Yeah, okay, maybe not the best tactic in the world, but I wasn't exactly thinking straight at the time."
"And that make it so much better..."
"Nevertheless, she knows, and now you know, and so far that's it. Nobody else needs to know about this Nikko. Your father has way too much on his plate with the Alaskan artefact to be worrying about whether or not I'm becoming stalker material."
"Man, you can't be sure of that..."
"I am. We have enough crazy around here on a normal day without adding my extra helping to the pot. It affects Juliet and me. We both know all the details. Nobody else needs to know them. I wouldn't even be telling you if she hadn't already given you half the story."
"So that's it?" Both Nikko's eyebrows rose this time. "Juliet's given me her half and now you've given me yours? Then how come it doesn't feel like even a fraction of the whole story?"
Cal opened his mouth to reply but was cut off by the sound of a door slamming. It was the main door. Heels clicked past the now closed office door. Juliet was back from her lunch date. Cal rose stiffly to his feet and put out a hand to steady himself.
"Addition of beer or lack of crutches?" Nikko grinned.
"The latter," Cal growled. "Excuse me while I go find them."
Nikko watched him go, then picked up his unopened beer and replaced it in the mini-fridge masquerading as a wooden wall panel. He sat back in his father's office chair and thought over the two competing stories. Cal seemed to be claiming that the flash of light was the first he had known about his feelings for Juliet. Juliet seemed to be hinting that there had been something there from much earlier. Cal claimed he had told Juliet everything, at least everything he had told Nikko, as far as what had happened in Syria was concerned, maybe more. Juliet, however, despite her obvious feelings for him, had chosen Tony. And she had been with Tony how long? She had said six months at her graduation ceremony. That was a month ago now. And the trip to the Holy Land was when? Not quite seven months ago. So she had already been seeing Tony before everything happened with Cal? Only about a week, though, if that. If something had changed between her and Cal on the trip, surely it would have been easy enough to tell Tony that she didn't want to see him any more?
Something niggled at the back of Nikko's mind. Something wasn't quite right. Not about Cal, but maybe about Juliet, and definitely about Tony. Before his thoughts could untangle any further, the office door opened and Vincent was propelling him out of the room, both verbally and physically, towards the training area.